A flash fiction story by J. Parrish Lewis
A present-day woman finds an antique mousetrap, left behind by the tormented widow who is determined to keep her home ready for her husband’s return from the Civil War.
Molly’s beat-up sedan—the same she’d driven since high school, nearly a decade ago though she was loathe to admit it—lumbered onto the gravel lot behind the house, barely making it into the spot before the engine quit. Even as she climbed out of her own car, she already had her eye on the cherry car of the rental lot. If she could buy it from Stan, she would.
Sighing, she walked across the lot—shoes crunching in gravel— and along the pavers around the house toward the front. The bullet holes, half hidden in the moss-covered brick walls, no longer snared her attention. The sign tackily blaring the name STAN’S RENTALS for all to see, however, couldn’t be ignored. She noted a crack in the corner, wondered if it had always been there and decided most likely not. She’d have to have a word with Stan about it. She hoped he wouldn’t dock her pay—Stan could be like that.
After finding the red-rimmed key, she opened the door, feeling the low and satisfying clunk. Inside, the stale weekend air lingered. She’d dust later—the house always needed it.
She poked the computer awake and then the fan, within moments enjoying the cool oscillating breeze. She checked the clock. 9:50 am. Ten minutes to go, but she knew the day would be dead anyway. As she swung her purse toward the other end of the desk, she struck a glass—an inch of sour-scented, likely molding coffee milk still in it—and knocked it crashing to the floor. Glass shards skittered across the floor, slick with ruined coffee.
She went down the hall, opened the first doorway to the broom closet. The light was out. She stepped in, reaching into the darkness, fumbling. She found the broom handle, its dustpan latched on, and pulled it out. Immediately she felt a weight against the bristles and a low sound as something slid forward.
Reaching down, she felt something she couldn’t identify, wooden and metal, with curved edges. She picked it up. It was heavy and smelled of oil. She brought it back to the front room and set it on the counter. It was a strange object, divided in three with a metal container on top. Pressing one side, she saw how it worked like a trap. When she let go, it clanged shut.
Sarah looked out the window. John was not back yet. He will be, she told herself. Soon. She would not believe their lies. The war was over, had been for two weeks now, though they’d managed to steal their Abraham away. John would be grieving at the news still, she knew.
She went back inside and went to the closet. She pulled out another trap, the 5th of the day. It was tedious work, she admitted silently, but for him she would do anything. He deserved to come home to a house safe of vice and vermin, to a home where love waited instead of bullets. She would not fail him. She would awake in the night, hearing the clangs of the traps, and smile. In the morning she would toss their broken bodies beyond the garden wall.
The trap set, she pulled the small bottle from her pocket and took a sip. A small one, not too much, not yet. She didn’t mind its bitterness anymore. The laudanum smelled of burnt syrup and made her think of winter mornings. She went to bed, slipping under the cool covers. For a moment their son was dead again and she felt the grief well up in her heart, the shame that came with knowing he had died—of tuberculosis, that rotten fiend, no less—while John was away. But she shook her head and she took another sip. He would be alive again in a few minutes, asleep in the other room. Sleep took her.
She would relive this life, one day at a time, setting her traps and denying the passing years. In the morning they would be emptied, and in the evening put in their places. It was always only another day. On the morning the doctor came, the bottle was on the floor. Her eyes were open, but her life shut. He picked up the bottle and slipped it into his coat, then drew shut her eyes. Heartbreak, he would tell them. That is all it takes, the weight of a few grieving years.
The mousetrap clanged. The metal trapdoor had fallen on its own, even as she’d watched. She had reset it and had studied it close, entranced by the craftwork. When it shut, she reared her shoulders back. Then she heard it, a series of squeaks and skittering noises from inside the trap. Slowly she leaned forward again and looked, but nothing. Again squeaks emerged, slightly louder now as if the creature panicked, but the trap looked empty. She brought it closer, thinking perhaps she’d missed another chamber, but no. She felt the vibration of its skittering through the wood and got a whiff of the musky scent of mouse and droppings. As she held the trap, she felt the touch of fur graze her hand through the bars. She jerked her hands away.
Two hands reached out from behind, picked up the mousetrap and brought it over Molly’s head. Molly sprang to her feet, reeling from the sight of the woman now staring into the mousetrap. With her hair in plaits and her dark dress so elegant—aside from a strange tear at one sleeve—she seemed a woman stepped out of time.
Transfixed by the mousetrap, the woman walked soundlessly toward the hall, then stopped. She smiled, turned aside at Molly, and matched her gaze.
“Oh good,” she said. “One less to trouble my John.”
Then she was gone, as if a blink could steal her away, mousetrap and all. Molly rushed to the closet. She fell to her knees, leaning into the dark space and searched until her fingers found the mousetrap.
Copyright 2019 by J. Parrish Lewis. The flash fiction story above was my entry into a contest hosted by NYC Midnight a few years ago. Each participant was given a few key requirements. This one had to be a horror story that included the word mousetrap and set, at least in part, at a car rental place.