The Vault
by Georgepat
forum: The Vault
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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The Vault


        After turning the key and unlocking the vault, John Talbot looked over his shoulder one last time before he grabbed the heavy handle and slowly opened the steel door to the old family burial vault. The rusty hinges squealed in protest but he managed to open it enough that he could slip inside and complete his job before the next round of the security guard.

        He pulled a Luma-Stik from his pouch and cracked it against the edge of the door and within a few moments, the interior of the vault was bathed in a soft, green glow. He pulled the door until it was almost closed and then turned to the nearest casket and looked for the nameplate.

        “Winifred Talbot. Winifred Talbot. Where is good old Great, Great, Granny Talbot?” he muttered to himself, as he examined the three nearest coffins before moving to the next row.


        Winifred Talbot had been married to the family patriarch, Richard, back when the Talbots had been known as the first family of Midland, Virginia and had been among the richest families in the state.

        Family legend had it that before Winifred died, she had insisted that she be interred with all her gold and jewelry, and after her death, Richard saw to it that her wishes were followed to the letter and that a solid steel door was installed on the vault and only one key made to fit it.

        The family had fallen on hard times soon after her death because Richard began to drink excessively and spent much of every day at a gentlemen’s club, playing cards very badly and eventually losing most of the money he had accumulated to traveling card sharks that could certainly smell blood when they laid eyes upon him.

        As time passed and more of the Talbot family died and were placed inside the vault, the tale of Winifred’s treasure became just that, a tale that was told to the youngsters as they sat by the fireplace on a winter’s night and dreamed of a wealth that they would never have.

        The last member of the family to take up residence in the vault was placed there over forty years ago and the door had been locked and the key tossed into a cubbyhole in the back of the old roll top desk in the family room and was soon forgotten.

        John Talbot heard the story of Winifred’s treasure over and over while sitting at his father’s knee and secretly wondered what it would be like to have that treasure and be rich beyond his wildest dreams.

        As he grew into manhood and because he wasn’t well educated, he had to work at menial jobs and was often laid-off for one reason or another. He would pass the time either in his room sleeping or wandering around the old cemetery and was inevitably drawn to the family vault where he would spend hours staring at the locked, steel door and daydreaming about the family legend.

        It was in one of these periods of being temporarily unemployed, as he liked to call it, that he happened to sit at the old roll top desk and was looking for a pen to use when he happened to catch sight of a single brass key attached to a short lanyard.

There was nothing identifying what the key was intended for but as soon as he picked it up and looked at it closely, he knew exactly what it fit and where the lock was located.

        He could feel the excitement building in his body as he made plans to visit the old cemetery as soon as he could. He used the last of his money to purchase the few supplies he thought necessary to accomplish his mission and placed them in a small, belted pouch which he tossed under his bed until he needed them.

        He visited the cemetery the next day and studied the vault much more closely that he usually did. He discovered that a security firm had been recently hired to patrol the grounds after dark to help dissuade juvenile vandalism and the occasional drunk that wandered in to take a drunken nap on top of one of the tombs.

        He squatted beside the steel door and removed a small can of machine oil from his inner pocket and squirted several dollops on each hinge, hoping that it would be enough to help loosen the rust and allow the door to open readily when he carried out his plan.


        On the next to last coffin that he checked, he found what he had been searching for, Winifred Mildred Talbot.

        His heart was pounding in his chest as he withdrew the screwdriver from his back pocket and began to remove the screws that held the top of the wooden coffin firmly in place.

        One by one, the screws came out and dropped at his feet. Sweat was rolling down his face although it was not particularly warm inside the vault; in fact it was downright cold.

        The last screw dropped to his feet with a metallic click and then rolled to the side. He stood back from the coffin and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He was so excited that his hands were shaking and his breath was coming in short gasps.

        The moment of truth had arrived and the legend that he had listened to as a child would be settled once and for all in a very few minutes. Taking a deep breath, he placed his hands on the lid of the coffin and pushed.

        He could hear wood splintering and the top moved slightly under his hands but wouldn’t budge. He took the screwdriver and with the palm of his hand, drove it into the narrow crack between the lid and bottom of the coffin.

        As the blade of the screwdriver pierced the wood, the loud hiss of escaping gas could be heard and the air in front of his face became dank and foul. He stepped back, taking a quick breath of stale air and then returned to completely remove the lid.

        “All right, Granny Talbot,” he whispered with a hoarse voice, as the lid moved aside and crashed to the floor, breaking into several smaller pieces. “Let's see what you’ve got for me.”


        Winifred Mildred Talbot had grown up in a family of nine brothers and seven sisters and being the youngest never had anything new or special in her life. Hand-me-downs were the order of the day and it was not unusual for her to be seen in a dress that had been altered many times before she ever put it on.

        Suppertime at her house was eaten in shifts with the boys getting the larger share, for they worked long and hard in the family’s fields, and the other children dividing what was left. Winifred never left the table hungry, but by the time she was thirteen she knew that she deserved better than scraps and leftovers from others.

        What few possessions that she did manage to accumulate were hoarded. Hiding them where her siblings wouldn’t ever find them. They were hers and hers alone and she would often sneak off to see them, to touch and hold them, at every opportunity.

        When she turned sixteen and had been introduced to the most handsome man she had ever seen, she had been swept off her feet. When asked to marry him, she had jumped at the chance to leave her meager existence and join the handsome, young man as his wife.

        As the years passed, her husband, Richard Talbot, by sheer determination and guts and a will to succeed where others had failed, had built a sizeable estate and business that allowed him to shower Winifred with lavish gifts of gold and jewelry. She reverted to the little girl she had been and hoarded these possessions above all others.

        The older she became and the more gold and jewelry that she accumulated fueled her obsession, and she begged her husband that if she passed away before him, to promise her on his life that all of her prized pieces be buried with her.

        He gave her his word and assured her that her wishes would be honored. Furthermore, he assured her, he would see to it that her possessions would be with her for all eternity.


        Just as he started to peer over the edge of the coffin, his Luma-Stik sputtered and died. Taking his last one from the pouch, he cracked it against the coffin behind him and waited a few moments for the green glow to come to full intensity.

        He didn’t know what he expected to see when he was finally able to peer into his ancestor’s coffin but in his wildest dreams, it wasn’t the sight that his eyes encountered at that moment.

        Lying amid dozens of gold rings, necklaces, belts and assorted gem stones of various sizes and colors, on what was once white satin, was the shrunken, shriveled remains of his long dead ancestor, Winifred Talbot.

        Her funeral clothes, long since rotted from her body, remained as small, indistinct threads of some indeterminate color scattered around the perimeter of her body under the green glow of his light. What little remained of her skin looked like cheap parchment with the exposed, uneven edges rolled towards the center.

        Her skull was still adorned with a few small wisps of dried, white hair in patches on either side and the lower jaw had become unhinged and over time, had dropped around her collarbone and appeared much like a horseshoe around a steel peg in a game he had once played.

        He didn’t care about the way her corpse looked. He didn’t care that she was family and that the blood that had flowed through her veins in the past was the same blood that flowed through his own body at this moment. He didn’t care that what he was doing was the one thing that was despicable to all the civilized people on earth; he was not only desecrating a grave, he was robbing it. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about any of that and could not have cared less. All he wanted at this moment was the riches that surrounded the long dead corpse in the coffin, and his self perceived family’s legacy left only to him.

        He brushed her ribs aside and the dry, brittle bones crackled briefly and then turned to dust beneath his hands. His eyes were as large as saucers as he pulled handful after handful of gleaming metal and glittering stones from her final resting place and slipped them into his waiting pouch.

        He was seeing chances he had never had, of women he would have never been able to meet, opportunities that would go unfulfilled, and all this because he had no wealth, no status, no standing in the community.

        All that was soon to change, though, because after this, things would be different. He was destined to be a rich man, a very rich man, and nothing could, or would, stand in his way. He would finally, in his own mind, have what he so richly deserved… respect.


        Had his senses not been clouded by greed and the delusions of grandeur that were flowing through his head, he might have heard the noise of the screws being unscrewed by unseen hands and dropping to the floor behind him.

        He might also have heard the lid of the coffin open and the sound of old bones rattling as they stepped over the side of its final resting place and took a position behind him. He was so intent, so focused on robbing his ancestor’s possessions and of how his life was sure to change, that he didn’t sense or hear a thing.

        It came as a great shock when the skeletal hand slammed into the side of his head and knocked him to the floor. He had dropped the pouch containing the gold and jewels and the light stick from the impact and quickly tried to gather both. The pouch was out of reach but he managed to reach the green light and held it out in front of him.

        His guts turned to ice and an ever widening dark spot appeared on the front of his pants as the green glow illuminated the skeletal apparition standing in front of him.

        He scooted back as far as he could and stopped only when his back hit the wall. He turned his head to check if there was any other avenue of escape and it was then that he noticed three piles of bones lying on the floor, dressed in tattered, rotting clothes from different times past.

        He looked back at the apparition in front of him and screamed in absolute terror as the skeletal remains started to walk slowly towards him. Like a bolt of lightning from a clear sky, he realized that his dreams of wealth at the expense of his long dead ancestors was dashed and that his future lay like the three men that had tried before him and failed.

        His bowels released as the skeletal remains in front of him bent over and retrieved the pouch from the floor and slowly turned towards the woman’s coffin, where it gently emptied the contents around the remains in the coffin.

        His heart was pounding like a kettledrum and a brilliant stab of pain shot through his body as he felt his heart explode in his chest.

        As life faded from his being, the last thing he saw on earth was the apparition gently touch the woman’s skull in a soft caress and then return to its own coffin, his eternal promise to his wife fulfilled once again.


        The bright light from the security vehicle’s headlights alerted the guard that the door to the old Talbot vault was slightly open and he parked the car and walked to the door of the vault.

        Seeing no evidence of forced entry or any reason to report it, he used his foot and pushed against the heavy, steel door until he heard the old lock click solidly back into place, glanced around briefly and then returned to his car.




copyright 2006 Georgepat.