Lost and Found by Debbie McQueen
To start this post, we'd like to congratulate Debbie McQueen for being our first winner of the STORY STARTERS' WRITING CONTEST!
Debbie took part in our June challenge, and submitted this fantastic story, and we're thrilled to share it here with you! For her work, Debbie will be receiving a YABC prize!
Lost and Found
by: Debbie McQueen
The sound of jack hammers was muffled by the ear protection that covered Will’s ears and helped block the harsh sounds of construction. He was walking through the site, and observing the work being done. His crew of forty men, were working on clearing away the debris and busting through the earth to get to the desired depth for the foundation they would lay. The construction site was in a previously residential neighborhood. A wildfire had scorched the area and had burned through the neighborhood over ten years ago. The neighborhood had sat as a wasteland, a haunting shadow of the life that once thrived there, of the laughter of children, of the love families shared within their homes.
Will hated seeing the charred remains of broken walls, of the shattered dishes, and of the burned portraits he came across. His heart ached for those that lost so much. After a decade of insurance fights, and politics, and consultations, the land was finally slated to have new life as a shopping center. His company had been given the contract to begin the demolition and foundation work. After approving the work that was being done, he wandered mindlessly through the street, looking sadly upon the corpses of the homes.
A bright glint caught his eye. Something metallic was reflecting the sun’s light. He was drawn to it, curious to what was hiding among the rubble. He moved a couple bricks, and found a blackened circular locket. Whatever chain there might have been was long gone. He picked up the locket, and thumbed across the front of it. His thumb was covered in soot, and the metal seemed to be in good shape underneath the char coating. Will tried the button which would pop the locket open, but it was lodged with dirt and debris. He pocketed the locket without thought.
In the evening, he tried to scrub the locket with a paste of baking soda and water, he had once heard that helped with burned pots, maybe it would work on the locket. He scrubbed with a sponge and some of the soot started to come off and reveal the gold beneath it. It had very intricate vines and flowers designed on it. On the back he could almost make out some letters. Not wanting to damage it further, he decided it would be better to take to a professional.
That following Saturday, he took the locket into an antique jewelry store. He showed the locket to the old man that worked there. The man turned it around in his hand, admiring the work. He agreed he could repair it, and bring it back to life. Will was so relieved to hear that, for some reason this locket had become important to him. It was something special that belonged to someone, and he hoped he could get it back to the person who probably missed it.
After about an hour, the jewelry restorer handed him a shiny, gold locket on a new gold chain. To show that it was completely restored, the man clicked the button and the locket opened. There were two pictures within. One, black and white, with a woman in her twenties, her hair done up in liberty rolls, and her long straight skirt looked like the picture was taken in the 40’s. In her arms, was a baby, wrapped up in a blanket, and the smile on the woman’s face shone with love. The other picture was a colored picture, but probably taken in the 50’s. It held a girl of about 10, holding hands with a young toddler girl. Both pictures were surprisingly untouched by the fire, the locket’s metal protected them. He turned it around and saw the initials on the back. It was marked with J.A.S.
The desire to find its owner grew even stronger having seen the pictures within. He spent his free time over the next week trying to track down who it might belong to. He found a record of the names and addresses of the houses that were on the street before it had burned. He finally found one house that seemed to be right about where he found the locket. The owners of the house were Frank and Jane Knudson. The initials didn’t match, but perhaps it was Jane’s maiden name.
In reading the articles about the families who had lost their homes, and had been relocated after the fire, he followed the Knudson’s steps. He found they had moved to the next town over. When he looked up information on Knudsons, he found three listed. One, Elizabeth Knudson lived in an apartment. The address listed for Frank was different than the one listed for Jane Knudson. When he googled the address for Frank, a website for the cemetery popped up. A weight settled on his chest, afraid he wouldn’t be able to return the locket to its owner. He clutched the locket against his chest. He was not normally a sentimental man. He had nothing in his life that held value or beloved memories, but somehow this inanimate object reached inside his heart and held on.
He decided with the other address not that far away, he would just, and see what came of it. He went to the address for Jane Knudson. It was a corner lot, with a small yard in front, there was a porch with rocking chairs out front. A few cars were on the street parked near the house he was looking for. He took a deep breath, resigning to get out of the car and go to the door.
Will walked up to the door, knocked and stepped back. After a moment, a woman with wispy red hair, and a perfect hour-glass figure opened the door. She was stunning, or would be if it hadn’t appeared that she had been crying. Will, suddenly unsure of what to do, rubbed his hand through his short black hair.
She stood, staring at him with her green eyes, waiting for this stranger to say something.
“Yeah, hi, umm…is this the home of Jane Knudson?” He felt so stupid, how was he going to explain this?
She nodded slowly. “Yes, it is. I’m her daughter, Beth. How do you know my mother?”
“Well, this may sound crazy. I don’t actually know her, and I am not even sure if I’m in the right place.”
She looked at him puzzled. “Who are you?”
“I’m sorry, my name is Will Grant. I am working a construction site in Ludlow. Did your mom used to live in the Suncrest neighborhood?”
Again she nodded, her face looking more bewildered. “Yes, my parents had a house there for twenty years, I grew up there.”
Will dug into his pocket and pulled out the locket, before he could even ask about it, Beth sunk to her knees, with her hands clasped over her mouth. “How…where…how do you have my mother’s locket?” Fresh tears seemed to be forming in the corners of her eyes, as she reached for the locket.
Will felt a huge weight lift off of him, knowing he had come to the right place. He felt awkward standing while Beth was on the ground in front of him, so he kneeled down before her.
Beth looked up to him and launched herself into him, hugging him tightly. He hesitated a moment, before hugging the woman back. As they separated, they both stood. Will didn’t know what to do, so he began sharing how he found it and what lead him to this house.
“You have no idea how much this means to me.” Beth started. She grabbed his hand and pulled him gently into the house. “Aunt Lilly, come see what this man brought.” An older woman came around the corner from the living room, and stopped in awe at the sight of the locket. Her face looked familiar, Will couldn’t place it at first. The woman held out her own matching locket from beneath her shirt. Now, he could see the resemblance to the woman in the photo inside the locket. This must be the little toddler in the picture.
“Sakes alive, how did you find this? Jane… Anne… Simmons…” She said the name as she read the initials on the back.
Will was elated to have brought the locket back, and have it met with such delight. He knew his heart had lead him here, and looking back to Beth, whose smile hit him square in the chest. There was a reason he found that locket.
“Is Jane here, I would love to see her get the locket back.” Will asked.
A hush fell over the room, and he looked around, observing more. There were dishes of food on a table, and several people gathering in the living room. Each person had a look of sorrow on their faces. A sadness crept into him as well, beginning to understand what was happening.
Beth pulled Will again, they went back to the porch, and sat on the rockers. Beth took a heavy breath, and held Will’s hand. He squeezed her hand back in support.
“My mother loved this locket. It was her most treasured possession.” Beth opened it, and circled the photos with her finger. She showed it to him. “This was her mother, my grandmother. I never knew her, she dies when my mother was eighteen. This other picture shows my mom with her little sister, Lilly, whom you just met. My mom became her guardian, and was like a mother to Lilly. She was heartbroken when it was lost in the fire. That you found it, and brought it here, there aren’t enough words, for me to share how grateful I am to you. She passed yesterday.”
Will felt for this woman he had just met, he regretted that he didn’t make it in time to give it to her mother though.
“I am so sorry for you loss, and that your mother didn’t get to have her locket before she passed.”
Beth looked at him, moved by his tenderness and compassion, and by the lengths he took in getting the necklace to her.
“It being here in my hand, is a miracle in itself.” She put it on over her head, and clutched it by her heart, much the same way he had once. “Now, I will have it to keep with me, and that is a special gift. Come back inside with me, and stay for a while, if you can.”
Will agreed to stay, and felt something special, even though he felt as if he was intruding on a private family moment, he felt welcome, more than that, he felt home.
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