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St. Croix Noir Writing Challenge Winner: Skeletons in the Closet by Gabriella Houck

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An odd fascination with bones is what others might say about my father’s life obsession. I, on the other hand, know that to be a ridiculous understatement. My discovery of his, hobby, we’ll call it, began the day I decided to poke around in our musty attic. I was a young boy at the time, maybe eleven or twelve. Rainy days often spark curiosity in the minds of boys at such an age. What I was looking for, I honestly don’t know. The point was merely to kill time, and perhaps find something interesting. I indeed found that something when rummaging through an old crate. A femur, a tibia, a handful of ribs, all belonging to a human. At the time I didn’t find it all that odd, seeing as my father was a professor who focused mainly on human anatomy. He had a life-like skeleton in his office, I simply assumed the pieces I found belonged to one he had previously broken and decided not to throw out. Being the child I was, how was I to know the difference between a real bone and a synthetic? Jumping to ridiculous conclusions would only earn chastisement from my mother. It wasn’t until after I graduated high school that I started to grow suspicious. Over the years of my youth I accumulated much more than one human’s worth of bones. I had found enough for exactly seven. Each time I chalked it up to nothing more than research, or a project, or whatever excuse my brain could muster up. When I finally built up the nerve to ask my father about it, he brushed it aside, saying that they were from cadavers and that he’d used them to study. The eeriness of it all made me a bit uneasy, but I had no reason to doubt that my father would tell me anything but the truth. Well, that is, until I found the articles that were stuffed beneath his mattress. I had come home from university on holiday, and my mother was feeling ill, so I helped pick up the slack on the house work. When I went to make their bed, I must have lifted the corner of the mattress to slide on the fitted sheets higher than my mother ever had. My hand found something that felt like paper and I pulled it out. A handful of clippings about a missing hiker, or a dog walker, or a soccer mom, none of which had ever been found. At least, not according to the papers. They all vanished without reason and no one ever saw them again. I tried to keep my mind from going to the place I knew that it was headed, but it was too late. I held my breath and slowly counted the number of articles in my hand. A chill made its way down my spine as the number sunk in. Seven. Seven missing bodies. Seven skeletons in my attic. There was too much compelling evidence for me to call it a coincidence. My father had literal skeletons in his closet, and I needed answers. I immediately ran for his office. There he sat, cool and collected, his countenance the same as it had been every day for as long as I’d known him. Accusations spewed from my mouth, talk of murders and kidnappings, and a childhood built of falsehoods. Not once did his expression falter.

“It was for the research.” He said.

“They had such lovely bones.” He said.

My ears could not believe what they were hearing. Yes, I went into that office with presumptions and hopes of catching him red handed, but deep down I knew that I wanted the truth to be something much less disturbing. I wanted a reasonable explanation more than I wanted to be right, making my father out to be a serial killer. I fled from the house—a house that held nothing but secrets and lies since my birth. The weight of a lifetime living with a sociopath crashed down on me as I ran aimlessly down the sidewalk. I finally came to my senses and decided to call the police. He may have been my father, but that didn’t excuse the lives he took away. When I arrived back home, there were cars with flashing lights and yellow tape all around my home. I had expected there to be an arrest, what I didn’t expect was a body bag containing my father’s corpse.


Skeletons in the Closet by Gabriella Houck was a submission of the St. Croix Noir Writing Challenge, part of NEA Big Read in the St. Croix Valley. NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. All submissions for St. Croix Noir Writing Challenge were judged by a committee of St. Croix Valley writers and readers.