A Family Secret - Chapter One

My uncle was always an odd man. To be completely honest I didn't even really know if he was my uncle - no one ever talked about him unless he was there, which was very rarely. I think in my life, & his, I had only seen him two or three times. At a wedding or two, & a funeral. At each, I remember him being dressed oddly, & the aroma around him being even more odd. It was a mix of chemicals that could cut through any blockages & an earthy smell, like dirt. Sometimes, if the winds were particularly unfavourable, you could catch a hint of something putrid on the air, just a hint, barely there. He usually dressed in dusty old coats, with the clothes underneath often being rugged, dirty, even at the weddings he had attended, the funeral too. He never appeared to be clean shaven or recently washed - he seemed to me to be very much a man who neglected basic necessities in the name of pursuing some mad goal, although I never really figured out what that goal was.

Even more odd than his clothing or smell was that I looked almost exactly like him. Spare some light stubble & differing weights (him more gaunt than I), we looked the same. It was often the topic for conversation when he was there. It didn't matter who I was talking to, it always came up. "You look just like that old dusty guy who's here". "You're the spitting image of that creepy guy hanging about". I sometimes, in a drunken stupor at the weddings, had mistaken him for a mirror. I often turned my head to find him eyeing me from the other side of the room & momentarily thought it was a mirror but would eventually realise that it was just my uncle (great uncle, to be exact) watching me. It was definitely odd, especially since he seemed so totally sober.

The funeral had raised even more questions about him. Beyond the obvious & common questions; "who is he?", "which side of the family?", "why is he dressed like that?" - we had also wondered about his age. He was my great uncle, the brother of my grandfather. But he looked about the same age as my father, his nephew. The funeral we were attending was the one for my grandfather, his older brother so how he had managed to look half his age was beyond any of us. The mystery around this man was one of such unusual fabric. It never got solved.

He died not long after his brother did. "He's family" my father had reasoned when trying to make us go. "Barely", my mother muttered in response. It seemed no one really knew anything about him. He was born some years after my grandfather, but had disappeared at a young age, back when it was possible to disappear. He was ostracised by his family & the wider community it seems; people either had no idea who he was or seemed to know but not want to share what they did know. His eulogy shed no light on his secretive life. He left home at about age 20 & was not seen again until recently, when he moved back into the town. There was some fuss about his return, especially because he had moved into the old family house. The house had become the thing of local legend, stories passed around by bored kids trying to scare each other. Stories of disembodied screams or strange lights, putrid smells lingering in the air, that sort of thing. It certainly had the look of a typical haunted house - damp, rotten wooden board making the porch, a creaky front door, smashed windows. It was only natural that people would come up with stories about the place. I had never lived there because by the time I was born, the family had lived away from the old family house for a long time. My mother barely remembers the place herself, only some vague recollections. She remembers she was never allowed into her uncle's old room, for whatever reason, when playing. After my great uncle disappeared, my mother's father met her mother & they married & moved out, leaving my great-great grandparents alone in the house. My mother's family visited occasionally, until her grandparents died & the house was left to rot. That is until my great uncle moved in. He never restored it to its previous heights but he did live there until his 'untimely' death.

The funeral was rather small, barely anyone showed up. It was me, my parents, my grandmother & some other people from the local village - I assume they came just for the event, or were a part of the church's flock. I got the feeling they were there to see if he had really gone. Perhaps they had wanted him to die, like a weight lifted from the communities' shoulders. The service was short as there was not much to be said about the man. He had lived & he had died in secrecy. One odd thing that did pique my interest was that the man giving the service, a rather serious man who struck me as one to believe in the fire & brimstone, noted that his life was one that was "in some ways unholy". The mystery continued to grow, even in the smallest of ways. The whole affair felt akin to the awkward goodbyes exchanged when bumping into an old colleague in the street when you had somewhere to be - rushed, a necessary thing given the circumstances but utterly unwanted & hoped to be over as soon as possible so everyone can move on swiftly & forget it ever happened. There was no wake.

We stopped by the old family house after the funeral. As the only family really left we were given the unfortunate task of sorting through the old man's things & distributing any inheritance he may have left in a will, or really anything about him. We decided to do it right after the funeral since it was early in the morning & we had nothing else to do for the day & I believe the whole family felt that the sooner this whole thing was over the better. So it was settled, we drove to the old house & came out with some answers, but with more questions raised.