Stories, writing

Short Story: The Locket

There’s a locket that’s been in my family for years. It’s a little silver thing, kind of plain.

When Aunt Lola died Grandma gave it to Mom with a warning never to wear it, and never let my sister or I wear it either. Most of the things Grandma said were things Mom laughed off, but this Mom took to heart. She put it in a safe deposit box at the bank.

I asked Grandma once what was so important about the locket to never wear it. She swore it was cursed, and while I was too old to believe in magic or anything, she went whiter than her hair when she said it and told me not to ask about it anymore.

This week though, there was a robbery at the bank where Mom had the safe deposit box. Everything was recovered, including the locket. Apparently when the thief managed to get the box open, she put on the locket, and while trying to escape, somehow shut the car door on her neck and broke it.

That was the first thing Mom asked when we went down to identify our missing items. “Was she wearing it?”

The detective on duty helping sort everything out looked up from his paperwork. “What?”

“The robber,” Mom said and lifted the little baggy with the necklace in it. “Was she wearing this when she died?”

The detective nodded, real slow like he’d just had someone hit him across the face. “Yes, ma’am.”

Mom didn’t say anything more about the would-be-thief, just nodded and put it back on the table with a little pat. “Just make sure no one else tries to wear it,” she said.

That evening, I tried to ask her about it while she was cleaning up after dinner. “What’s so important about the locket?” I asked.

“Hmm? Oh, it’s just an old family heirloom,” Mom said with a smile.

“Then why is it so bad to wear it?”

She put one last plate in the dishwasher and looked at me, the way she had when I was younger and had been smart mouthing enough to get me in trouble.

“Go do your homework.”

“I don’t have any.”

“Go. Now.”

I knew better than to argue with Mom when she took that tone, so I went to my room, but I didn’t exactly let the subject go. Instead I found a copy of Aunt Lola’s obituary online.

Turns out Aunt Lola had been wearing the locket when she died too. There was a little article written about it in her local newspaper. She’d gone to a fancy dinner party, and pictures from that night showed her wearing the locket.

The problem was, she’d choked on a hard mint after the feast and no one had been able to save her. One of the witnesses had even tried the Heimlich, but it hadn’t worked. The newspaper quoted him as saying ‘it was as if it was being held down.’

After school the next day I told mom I had a history project I needed to work, and I went to the library to try and track down more about the locket. I ended up finding a lot of deaths in my family that all had to do with the neck.

Broken necks, hangings, strangulations—even one great, great aunt that had been partially decapitated by a collapsed tin roof.  This went back into the 1900’s, when my family had first emigrated from France.

I could find a few records on the locket, but not a lot. Most of the time it was just luck finding it in pictures of those who had died while wearing it. Where exactly it came from remained a big blank.

With my sister’s prom coming up, Mom was busy and I didn’t think she’d want to talk about the locket anyways. Instead I took the bus on a Saturday to the retirement home where Grandma had taken up residence a few years ago. She seemed surprised enough to see me, and invited me to sit in with her knitting circle and chat.

“Why did you come all this way to see me so suddenly, dear?” She never missed a loop as she spoke. The click of her needles kept time like some otherworldly metronome.

“I wanted to find out more about that locket you gave to Mom and Aunt Lola.”

The needles stopped and the sweater she was knitting came down to rest on her lap. Grandma looked at me. Age had whitened her hair and wrinkled her skin, but it had never touched the piercing gaze she’d passed on to her daughters.

“That cursed thing? Should be bricked up somewhere.”

“Why do you think it’s cursed?”

She snorted and brought her needles up again. “You’re smart enough to figure that out,” she told me as she started her knitting again.

I nodded, and glanced at the others in the knitting circle. The old biddies never seemed to notice our conversation. “All the deaths. Broken necks. Strangulations.”

“You must never wear it,” she said. “Don’t let anyone wear it.”

“Where did it come from?”

Her knitting stopped again and she let her hands fall to her lap once more. The lines at the corners of her eyes crinkled up a little before she sighed.

“The story goes, as I was told, that originally the locket was given to a young girl in France shortly before her father died. Her mother eventually remarried, and the stepfather had a son a little older than the girl. They were very well off, but her mother caught some illness and died.

“When that happened, it came to the attention of the stepfather that the little girl had been left a great deal of money. Originally it had been left to her mother by her father, but since she was now the only one left, the fortune was hers. The stepfather however, had no such fortune to leave his own child and knew that, as caretaker for the little girl, he could take the fortune and use it as he saw fit.

“And for many years, he did just that, until such a time when she was old enough and began to court a young man. Eventually, it was decided the two would marry, and then her stepfather faced a problem in that he would lose her fortune, as it would now go to her husband.”

Grandma paused for a moment to consider things. “I’m not sure which is the true story,” she said. “Some people told me the stepfather tried to sabotage the marriage and the girl died in an accident. Others told me he used the locket to strangle her in a fit of rage when she refused to call the wedding off. Either way, she was strangled to death.

“The son however, had been seeing a young maid and when his father found out, forbade him from seeing her. On his last meeting with her, the son gave her the same locket the girl had been wearing, and in despair, the maid hung herself. This is where it came to our family, as the maid’s family was poorly off and took the locket to buy passage to America.”

“And it just keeps killing,” I said.

Grandma nodded. “That it does.”

I went home, thinking about everything Grandma had said and what I knew about the locket. I found out when I got home that Mom had been down to the police station again to collect what was hers.

I asked why she didn’t just leave it with the police. When she looked at me, I think she knew why I was asking. It would be safer with them, in a place it would never be worn.

She just told me it was a family heirloom and asked me to go put it in her jewelry box for the time being. She had to make dinner.

My sister’s prom was that Friday. She looked good in her dress, but she kept changing out everything else—hairstyle, jewelry. Nothing felt right to her. It was a once in a lifetime experience, she needed something special. Mom eventually gave her permission to borrow some of the fancy, expensive jewelry from the jewelry box in the bedroom.

It’s Saturday now and I still don’t want to believe it. The hospital had to snap the chain to get the locket off her, and that’s been bagged up with the rest of her personal effects. Right now, my sister’s got a tube in her throat so she can breathe. We’re still waiting to find out what happened.

I think I already know what happened, and I asked Mom if we had a hammer at home. She told me we did and I told her I had a special project in mind for when everyone can go home.

In the meantime, I’m keeping the locket. It’s been in my family for years.

by A.J. Helms


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