Valley of Secrets

Chapter One    Rainy Days

Secrets.

We all have them.

Everyone we ever knew. Everyone we never knew.

Looking at the over-flowing boxes of paper, files and writing books now stacked in my grandmother’s lounge room, I realised that places keep their secrets too. Dark secrets. Forbidden secrets. Concealed truths that were never meant to be revealed to others.

Now that my aunt and I were sorting through them, I felt apprehensive about unearthing those family mysteries. And I wondered, just for a moment, would those questions I had about my own life be answered at last?

#

“Fancy a drink, Tammy?” Aunty Amanda yelled over the rain pounding on the single glazed windows. I had visions of a cold pint of cider but I knew that wasn’t what she meant. To be fair, it was only eleven in the morning. Too early … even for me.

“Yes, please,” I called back without enthusiasm, as I lifted yet another box of papers from the ancient cupboard, almost choking on the dust cloud that swirled around the container. Removing my glasses to rub my aching eyes, I sat back on the velvet-covered settee and took a break.

 Nineteen ninety-five was shaping up to be another boring year in my life. Don’t get me wrong. Boring was a good thing these days. No fights between my parents or rows with my would-be boyfriend, Kyle. Also, my health problems hadn’t been too bad for the past few weeks although that usually was a sign of forthcoming days of payback.

Unfortunately, my quiet life away from other people was on hold again.

 I’d been asked to spend time, assisting Aunty Amanda to clear out my grandparents’ house in the middle of nowhere. Gramps had long since passed on and Gran had moved into town to a smaller home. Not that I had anything against Yorkshire but this particular place in The Valley now seemed so isolated. I didn’t much like being here away from the bustle of Manchester. Even the nearest town, with the exception of the chippy and pubs, closed at six.

I was a business consultant and worked by myself at home, using one of those new- fangled computers. What outstanding tasks I did have, I’d brought with me to complete during the evenings.

I was well and truly cheesed off being here though.

Worst still, it was bucketing down cats and dogs. Judging from the sound, I’m certain that there were a few cows thrown in too.

It wasn’t as though I knew my grandparents well, or my aunt for that matter. We’d not seen one another for eleven years so I’d been surprised when Aunt Amanda had rung to ask for my help getting the house ready for sale. She said she’d had to call in a few favours to track me down though I was certain I’d sent details in my last unanswered letter to Gran.

When I’d protested, she’d told me I was entitled to half the proceeds from the house sale so I’d better get my ‘rear end’ over here or she’d drag me here personally. I’d been shocked to find out that I was entitled to so much money. I’d thought me and Mum had been … what was the word? … Disinherited. After all, none of my letters had ever had a response.

Right now, opening yet another folder of junk in a creepy old house cut off from civilisation by a flooded road, I wondered if it were worth it. After all, it didn’t make up for the lack of family contact regardless of me constantly trying. I hadn’t mentioned my anger or the reason for it as yet. When I saw my gran, the first thing I’d ask her why she’d abandoned me.

#

Amanda returned from the seventies-styled kitchen, carrying a tray of two black coffees plus a packet of biscuits. Custard creams … my favourites.

“Thought that would bring a smile to that sour puss,” my aunt said. I looked up as she sat down opposite me, placing the tray on a small table.

She was right. I’d been a right misery. I apologised before going to wash my hands.  For all I knew those boxes had been stored there since the war. The first one.

Removing my glasses again, I put them on the shelf under the partly silvered mirror. I preferred not to be reminded of my blemished skin any more than I had to.

When I returned to sit down, a folder was accidentally knocked onto the well-worn carpet. A bunch of envelopes spilt out, scattering from the neat red bow that had been used to tie them together.

“Great,” I said. “A bit more mess.”

“Just leave them, Tammy. Relax. Besides, I want to have a chat; one that’s long overdue.”

Here it comes, I thought. I stared out the window to the incessant downpour. Four days now.

In spite of the illumination from the overhead lights, it was dark in the room and even darker outside. The bushes and trees in the garden didn’t help, overgrown to the point of unruliness.

At least I could have some snacks whilst I listened, putting four on my plate and passing the rest across. Then I noticed that my aunt was staring at the floor. A newspaper cutting had fallen down as well.

“What is it?” I asked, a little puzzled. Amanda bent down to retrieve the cutting as well as the pile of mail.

“This.” She passed it to me.

I read it and glanced at the grainy photo; some thirty something guy on holiday. “So, this Darren Bruce guy has gone missing, possibly kidnapped. No big deal.”

“Read it properly, please. Use that clever brain of yours. What’s wrong with this?”

I sat up straight, putting the half-eaten biscuit back on the plate. I’d just been given a compliment by someone I hardly knew. My memory had helped me through school and university when my illness had often made me bed-ridden.

The connection hit me immediately. “He’s from Uppermill … That’s where you live, Aunt Amanda.” I recalled one of those useless bits of information that were stuffed into my brain. Uppermill in Saddleworth; population four thousand four hundred and seventy-eight at the last census. “Did you know him?”

“No … but it was one of my misper last cases before I went on maternity leave. No joy unfortunately.” Police jargon I thought; ‘misper’ must be missing persons.

“You’re both from the same town. And Gran has some info about him. Coincidence.”

“A copper doesn’t believe in coincidences and neither should you. What are the chances of my mum having a local newspaper article about a missing guy from the same town as me?”

“Since Uppermill is a fair old way from here, the chances are slim.” I confessed. “That is unless she recognised that you both lived there and decided to keep it for some bizarre reason. I remember Gran was always a hoarder.”