“You really need to give yourself a total break, my dear. Why not try the sea spa at Trouville? It would be perfect for you. They do thalassotherapy, there’s a spa and a Michelin restaurant”... [+]
Anyway, as I shuffled on down the sidewalk that night, my house grew before my eyes. I’d stood in front of it, staring for a long time but rooted to the spot like a reluctant tree. Hours must have passed with me standing in the yard because the moon had suddenly appeared high overhead by the time I went inside. I’d pushed through the front door, not taking note that the lights were already on despite the late hour and not noticing that my sister was still awake even though she shouldn’t have been. She’d looked at me, asked me where I'd been, and I'd answered, crawled up the stairs, closed myself in my room. I hadn't turned the light on, I didn't go to sleep. I’d stared for a long while at my ceiling—I’d waited for it to arrive.
At exactly five in the morning, with the first bird call of dawn, it didn't fail to show up. It came to my room right on time. A big, good-sized bag appeared beside me on my bed and I grabbed it up hastily. The bag was a deep black, drawn tightly shut by a red drawstring to keep its contents contained. I took the bag and shoved it under my pillow, taking care that it was hidden out of sight. The problem was that its contents bulged almost beyond the bag's limits—the thing inside it was large. I frowned at it, but I was tired and my head was spinning with exhaustion and my leg was throbbing with pain. I found that I had fallen asleep after that. Or at least I must have because my memories only recollect from around two o'clock that afternoon. I got up from my bed, fell down the stairs, and ate a loaf of bread as I stared blankly at the dead squirrel that had been on my back porch for three weeks. My mother had walked in then, had seen my leg and silently patched me up. I don't remember if it hurt. She asked me where my bag was. I didn't answer. She asked if I’d gotten one. I nodded, absently. She nodded, too, I don't know why, and then she left the room. I was alone for a while, until I got up and drifted down the hall, stopping in front of my sister's open door. Her room was nothing like mine: she sat on the floor surrounded by toys, playing with her dolls, and the weird thing was that her bags were strewn all around her. They were everywhere, small and large, some in black bags, some in red, and they decorated her room on every shelf and on her bed as well. She made no effort to hide hers. I told her she should go to the Keeper, have them taken care of. She gave me a scrunched-face look, her nose shriveled up like she smelled something bad. She told me nobody else in our family went to see Him, including me. I couldn't say anything to that.
One of my friends last year had gotten a bag so large—or so he claimed—that it controlled his every thought. One day he was found dead with his bag beside him, unopened. That happened a lot. People died with their bags beside them, unable to deal with them. You see, these bags of ours contained secrets. Some secrets were big, some small, but we never shared them with anyone else. Only the Keeper could empty the bags, and not all of us believed it was possible. My family didn't. They scoffed at the idea, like it was humiliating. But I didn't like holding onto my bags; they ate away at my conscience, and I didn't want to end up like my friend. I didn’t want this guilt that hung over me all the time no matter where I went or what I did. I couldn't help but know it was the bags.
I went into my room and stared at my pillow. It was under there, bulging out slightly, glaring at me, and I could see the charcoal black of the bag that held my latest secret. I knew that stashed in my closet were countless more. Sweat beaded on my lip, my room felt small and I had a hard time breathing. I almost passed out. I jumped over to my bed, swiped the secret and snuck out of my house. I had to take it to the Secret Room. I got there in a few minutes, but I stood outside for a long time. My mother would have killed me if she’d known that I went there—but I had to. I hesitated, staring at the open door. I just wanted to get this one off my chest. It was the biggest one I had, and I knew it would get bigger if I left it alone: I had to get rid of it, and soon before I lost my mind. I took one step forward; I went into the Room. It was pretty dark in there, but a light flipped on somewhere and I blinked. Someone was standing in the corner, someone immensely large, wearing a white cloak that covered their entire being. I shook, uncertain of what to do and afraid of moving. The giant in the corner beckoned me over patiently. I inched forward on fluttering legs, holding out the bag, my tongue too dry to speak. He held out His hand, waiting, and He said my name, His voice a tiny whisper and a mighty echo all at once. I remember that I had been shocked then, that He knew me. I was afraid, but I could feel the power and restraint pulsing from Him, I could feel it resounding through the hollowness of my bones. I dropped the bag in His hand. Immediately it burst open, my secret flooding out into the Room. It hovered over my head for a moment, suspended in time, the image of that night which resounded with such clarity in my memory.
That night which I'll share with you now. I’d been driving, originally, having come from some party some kid down the block had thrown. I’d been driving, not paying attention, possibly buzzed, when I saw—or didn't see—the person step out into the road. What happened next, I could recount physically. The impact, the jolt of the car, the windshield shattering as they flew through it to meet me in the driver's seat. I’d been driving fast, too fast maybe. I didn’t know if they’d died that night. But I’d clambered from my car, stared for a long moment, and then staggered off wanting to die. And all of it weighed on me in that moment as I stood in the Room. The image wavered over me, lingered, then withdrew into a cloudy fog. The Keeper breathed out a long, soft sigh, then he breathed in the cloud and the memory, whisking it away. I remember watching Him closely, what He did next, and I remember my life never being the same after that. He pulled out a book from somewhere beneath His massive cloak and He dropped it open. He procured a pen, considered me silently. He put the quill to the paper, right beside my name that was already written there, drawing a line through my secret—nullifying it. He wrote something beside my name. It wasn't until I’d brought all my other secrets over the next few months, not until winter had passed, that I dared to ask what it was He’d written. He looked at me from beneath His hood, and I could feel His eyes burn with lively fire as they caught me. I heard His voice a tiny whisper and a mighty echo colliding. One word, and I was forever changed. It echoed in the Room, in my mind, in my heart, and it will echo forever: "Forgiven."