Word Count: 1000 words
The scent of lavender greeted her as she cautiously opened the door. It wasn't an over-powering scent, the way lavender often is. In fact you could hardly call it a scent at all. It was more of a suggestion, the lingering ghost of her grandmother's fragrance, which clung to the chintz drapes and to the doilies placed so fastidiously on the slightly frayed armchairs.
Into each of the lower drawers of the ornate china cabinet that dominated the parlour, her grandmother had always tucked a bar of handmade lavender soap. It kept her collection of table linens, family heirlooms handed down from generation to generation, free of the moths and other vermin that plagued the house. These will be yours eventually, she always reminded Diane, whenever she chided the young girl on her haphazard towel folding techniques, you'd best learn how to care for them properly.
In front of the china cabinet, three overstuffed armchairs faced each other at precise angles around a mahogany table, whose dark surface had been buffed to a deep glow. Layers of wax, applied diligently over the decades, reflected the room back at Diane, the dainty flowered wallpaper, the portraits of dead ancestors anchored in heavy gilt frames.
It was at this table that Esther Lawrence had held court, the overstuffed chairs with their fussy doilies serving as thrones for neighbourhood royalty. It was at this table, under the watchful and judgmental eye of Grandmother Lawrence, that the restless grandchildren were coached in etiquette, pouring tea into delicate china cups, passing plates of sandwiches with crusts cut off.
How ironic, thought Diane, that she had once detested those sandwiches, those pretentious fingers of soft bread with watercress filling, the way they were arranged just so upon the tiered silver platter. She and Rob would take great glee in kicking one another under the table, at making faces at one another across the tea cozy. Tormenting one another, hoping to bring down Grandmother's wrath upon the other person was the only joy they could salvage out of those dreary Sunday afternoons when they had been summoned to Grandmother Lawrence's parlour. What Diane wouldn't give for one of those boring sandwiches right now, what she wouldn't give to see Rob alive again.
Her stomach rumbled at the memory of those high teas. It had been three days since she had eaten anything more than the granola bar and the apples that she had stuffed into her pockets as she fled. It had taken her three days to traverse the devastated city, three days of picking her way cautiously through deserted streets, giving a wide berth to the ravaged corpses that littered the sidewalks. She hadn't dared to enter any of the looted stores she had passed. They were in there, waiting, hungrier than she was.
She wasn't sure what she was going to find at Grandmother Lawrence's house, but it was the only place she could think to go. It had solid doors and heavy wooden shutters on the windows. It had a root cellar filled with preserves below the basement stairs, locked, but she knew where the key was.
She longed to collapse into one of the armchairs, if only for a few minutes, to rub her aching and blistered feet, but she knew she had to refrain from such luxuries. It was best to find her way down to the root cellar now, while there was still some light on the horizon.
Diane crossed over to the china cabinet that presided over the room, and crouched down, her thigh muscles shrieking in protest. She pulled open the bottom drawer and rummaged under the stack of neatly folded table linens for the root cellar key that she knew she would find there. Clasping the old-fashioned skeleton key in her hand, she painfully started to straighten up, then reconsidered and bent down once again to pull one of her Grandmother's lavender-scented tablecloths from the drawer. She could carry more if she used the table cloth as a rucksack. The more jars of pickles and jams that she was able to bring back with her to the parlour, the longer she would be able to barricade herself inside its flowered walls, against the hordes of undead that she knew would eventually descend upon the house.
The lavender scent of the tablecloth, which once - a lifetime ago - she had dismissed as fussy and stifling, would now be a godsend. She would press the linen against her nose as she stepped past the corpses that moldered in the kitchen. And she would not look down.