Chapter 19: A Hidden Room


We are up in the courthouse attic with Parker and Sophie. Parker held his breath and pulled on the door very slowly. 

It creaked and squeaked on its journey 'round its hingepin. Sophia stood behind him with her hands shaking. A dusty, musty smell hit their noses, but nothing rotten or decaying. They shone their lights into the room and gasped. A tiny apartment! Someone had sleeping quarters here in the attic of the courthouse! They stepped in and looked around. 
No bodies, either human or animal to be found, at least none they could see. 

The room was about 8’ wide and 8’ long; 64 square feet. Small indeed, when you consider that each storey of the courthouse has about 10,000 square feet of space. There was a thin, narrow mattress laid out on two rows of vegetable crates. Along one wall sat a dresser, again, pieced together from crates, with a rough-plank top and a drawer-set on each side, salvaged from an old treadle-powered sewing machine. 
On the dresser was a kerosene lamp, its fuel long dried-up. In one corner, sat a swivel wooden chair, from downtairs. 

There were other things too. A shabby blanket covered the bed, no pillow. On the wall over the dresser, was a small mirror.  If the occupant hung the mirror at eye-level, he would have been about 5’6” tall. Near the bed was a calendar dated 1912, advertising the local coal company and hardware store. 

“Wow!” said Sophie. “This is cool. I never imagined we would find something like this.” 

Parker swatted the blanket on the bed before sitting down, to check for dust. The dust billowed up and he decided not to sit there. Instead, he pulled back the cover to see if there was anything between the blanket and the mattress. 
Nothing, not even a sheet.

“Look, a brick on the bed.” Said Parker. “I wonder what that is about.” 

There was indeed a brick toward the foot of the bed. Although Parker and Sophie didn’t know it, in the old days, before modern furnaces, people would heat a brick on their wood or coal stove. Then it was wrapped in cloth and put under the covers, at the foot of the bed, to help stay warm. 
Then Parker folded over the top half of the mattress to see if there was anything between the mattress and the vegetable crates it laid on. 
The mattress crinkled as he moved it. It was stuffed with dried corn husks, as was typical for that time and place. 

(Every year after corn harvest, people with these kinds of beds would restuff their mattresses with fresh, dry corn husks. 
They were a lot softer, for a couple of months. People also used corn husks to make dolls for little girls. )

It made Parker think of the mattress in his grandparents’ house. The mattress Parker sleeps on has a hole under the pillow. Parker didn’t make the hole. It used to be his uncle’s bed. Parker found it one night while trying to fluff his pillow. He found a jack knife, an old clacker-toy that was a shoe advertisement, a cheap, adjustable ring that probably came from a carnival that went through town, and a tiny bottle of perfume, that he guessed was from a girl that his uncle once dated. Parker would take the stuff out and play with it, then put them back. 
He found it when he was six, and it’s never been discovered yet.  (or maybe it was, but Grandma never said anything).

He folded the mattress forward and found a book there. It was ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens. 

Meanwhile, Sophie was going through the things in the crates that made up the dresser. There wasn’t much there. 
On top, besides the kerosene lamp, was a set of 1910 train tables. This was a schedule for the train that came from Des Moines up to Jefferson, Iowa. And there were a few rags and a pair of socks that needed mended. 

Sophie got an idea and sat the lamp and other things, on the bed after Parker was done, and then lifted the wooden top. 

“Let’s see if there is anything to find inside this thing." said Sophie. 

Between the top of the dresser and the orange crates was an envelope. She peeked in the end of the envelope and saw folded pages in it, but it didn’t contain any objects, just papers. Even so, Sophie squealed with delight at the discovery.

There was a little rug beside the bed and they looked under it. Nothing there. They were in the room of a very poor person. The truly poor don’t leave much behind, because they don’t have much to begin with. 

“Anywhere else to look?” Asked Sophie. 

“I don’t think so. There wasn’t much here to hide, and not much place to hide it.” 
“I want to see what those papers are all about.” Parker said. 

Just then, Sophie’s phone rang. It was her mother, and it was past 2 pm. Where had the time gone? Sophie answered the phone and spoke with her mom, and arranged to take the hamburger out of the freezer that her mom had forgotten, before leaving. They agreed that Sophie and Parker would be home when Sophie’s parents arrived. With that, they determined to get out of there. 

They straightened up the place, (but they didn’t dust) and then went out and re-secured the hook on the door. 
Sophie carried the large envelope with the papers in it. They made their way to the hatch and down the ladder. 
The trip down the three flights of stairs was easy and they closed the door in the closet and stacked the boxes over the door, just the way they had found them. 

Down into the tunnel they went. 
They pulled the door tight, and were safely back in their own domain…the tunnel. 
They both breathed a sigh of relief as they walked the strip of ground between the two buildings. 

Back in the Stricklund Building, they put the bookcase back in front of the tunnel opening and cleaned up a little, 
remembering to set out the hamburger to thaw. 

Eric J. Rose
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