Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Iago M. has won first place in the 12-14 age group for the Scary Stories 2021 Youth Writing Contest with his piece "The Trapdoor"
Oliver’s antique shop was not exceptional in any way. It did not have much inventory, what it sold did not hold much significance, it was not even the most popular antique shop on the street. This meant nothing to Oliver. When he opened the front door to the shop in the morning, he was at the crossroads to a thousand worlds.
The old china teacup resting on an equally ancient coffee table could have been the crown jewel of a man's kitchen. Perhaps he had saved up for ages to buy the teacup, and when he finally did buy it, he made sure that all his guests from there on out took special notice of his cup. The novel accumulating dust on top of the cabinet, overlooking the rest of the shop, could have belonged to a young woman, who tried to escape the toils and monotonies of her day by wistfully spectating the fairytales of old. The pocket watch resting on the stand in the back of the room could have been the perfect wingman, a trusted companion for a man applying to his first job, present when he proposed to his sweetheart, comforting him as he paced in the maternity wing of the local hospital, hanging on to every bit of news from the nurse.
Oliver walked into his shop. The soles of his leather shoes were worn, but firm enough that there was a slight clack whenever he stepped on the thick oak floors. The finish on the floors had been scuffed and frayed over the years by customers captivated by the odd trinkets here and there that breathed life into the otherwise unassuming shop. Although the oak plank floors were not as shiny, nor did they glint in the overhead lights as they once did, that detracted nothing from their honor and their pride. They were oaks, after all, even if they were no longer standing.
Oliver closed the front door behind him and flipped the closed sign over on its back, so that it would read “open” to whoever looked through the glass door. The strings that held the sign up were getting tighter and tighter each time Oliver flipped them over. He chuckled to himself, imagining the day when the sign would fly out of his hand as he picked it up, unwinding itself at breakneck speeds.
He took off his wool coat and hung it on the old, rickety, wooden rack. The rack fit perfectly in between the door frame and the windowsill. That was so that pedestrians could look into Oliver’s world unperturbed, and if they were fascinated enough to come inside, the coatrack would not look out of place. He finished hanging his garment and walked towards his counter. He had built it himself, with short plywood walls that separated him from the customer, and a step leading up into it. It even had a gate with a Dutch door bolt, salvaged from his grandfather’s rifle. He was especially proud of the gate, even though half of its hinges were broken, and he had to kick it open sometimes because it was so stiff.
The counter was positioned in just the right place where Oliver could see every corner of his shop, and he took special care to make sure that he could always see what was happening in the room at all times. He loved watching people become infatuated with the charms that he sold, but there was always a pain in his heart that came when that same customer came to the counter, eager to introduce the new piece to their home. Oliver would watch that happy customer leave, and imagine them hurrying back home to show the purchase to their family, put it on a shelf, and (Oliver tried to keep himself from getting too bitter, but sometimes he just couldn’t help it) forget about it until moving day.
Oliver could have been happy living and working in his shop for the rest of his life, and he imagined he would do so, but there was something that nagged him about his refuge. In the farthest corner to the left from the front door there was a square cut in the floor, with long-slit gaps disconnecting it from the rest of the oak floors. Oliver thought it might be a trapdoor, but there was no handle. A while back, he had tried to wrench it open with a pry bar, but it would not budge. Oliver then forgot about the trapdoor for a while and put a desk on top of it and stacked with the writings of some long-gone author who never really made it into the public eye. Recently, however, Oliver had started thinking again about the trapdoor and he just could not stop.
He was sure it was because of the toys. Occasionally, Oliver found a spinning top, a broken crayon, a paper doll. Not that surprising, considering that a family used to own the shop. Their girl disappeared months before Oliver moved into town. Some people thought that she was taken, or got lost somewhere, or ran away, but nobody knew for sure. Her parents couldn’t bear living in the town anymore and moved away. Now, whenever Oliver thought about the trapdoor, the girl always came to mind.
Worse, he had started to wonder if the girl ever left the store. He could imagine a doll tumbling from the girl’s small hand into the hole, and the girl trying to get it back but tripping over and falling unconscious. A well-intentioned shopper could have closed the gap on the floor and accidentally trapped her below. Though surely, the girl would have screamed when she woke up? And then her parents would have pried open the floor and rescued her as soon as they heard her cries?
Oliver loved his shop and intended to live and work in it for the rest of his life. It was not good to think too much. But every now and then, after hours, Oliver walked over to the trapdoor, pushed the desk off it, and stared at the tampered floor.