The Secrets We Keep

Selena entered the late Mrs. Docherty’s kitchen and heaved a sigh. She had only met Levinia Docherty on a couple of occasions. She’d been a character in the community for most of her long life, and having no living family left when she finally passed away, a handful of people from the community had volunteered to help clean out her house. Some were there out of curiosity, most out of a sense of charity, others with motives less clear.

It wasn’t like anyone expected to find any kind of wealth in that little cramped house. As far as Selena could tell, the old lady had been a hoarder, and very specifically, a collector of empty glass jars. Already a team of men were loading boxes of them into the back of a pickup truck destined for the recycling center in the next town. The only reason Selena was there was because she still hadn’t done her community service credit that she needed for graduation.

“I know,” someone said from the doorway.

Selena turned to find Greg, a youth pastor from her church.

“It’s overwhelming,” he said, gazing around at the assortment of colorful jars lining the kitchen windows. The day’s light sparked in through them like a row of jewels. Each jar was sealed in one way or another but they were all empty. “You should see the stockpile in the basement. I think she’s been collecting them her whole life.”

“Why?” Selena asked. She went to the table and opened the flaps of one of the cardboard boxes that had been tossed there.

“I was over here with my parents once when I was little,” Greg said, handing her one of the jars from a shelf at his shoulder. “She had me whisper a secret into a jar, and then she sealed it up tight and told me it would always be safe.” He shook his head with a wistful smile. “I don’t remember there being so many back then. I guess she had more kids over after me.”

Selena picked up an ornate cobalt colored jar with a fancy stopper from the table.

“Oh, I think that’s the one she was holding when she passed away,” Greg said.

Selena put it down quickly. A cool chill traveled her nerves at the thought that it had witnessed the woman’s transition from this life.

“It was heavier than I thought it would be,” she said.

“Yeah, I’ve been hearing a lot of that,” Greg said. “A lot of these jars are pretty old. Who knows, maybe they used thicker glass or other ingredients or something back then.”

They both heard glass breaking in the basement and traded a parting smile as Greg went to investigate. Selena went about packing up the kitchen and after that helped in the living room. It wasn’t like her to steal. She wasn’t even sure that it was theft, since all of the other bottles had been taken to be destroyed. Whatever it was, by the time she had packed up all of the jars in the kitchen she felt a funny compulsion to keep that blue bottle separated. Before she left the kitchen it was tucked into the bottom of her purse. She had a little satisfaction in knowing that she wasn’t the only one, either. She saw several fancy bottle tops poking out of pockets as people departed. Even Greg had a heavy bulge weighing down his right jacket pocket and she glimpsed a bit of green glass with a flash of silver when the light hit it for a second.

That evening Selena studied the surprisingly heavy bottle in her room and tried to remember everything she could about Levinia Docherty. She’d been almost a hundred years old, so Selena’s only concept of her was as a seldom seen and wildly hunched over thing who shuffled slowly to her mailbox each day.

Selena pulled the stopper out and fiddled with it. Suddenly, the bottle in her lap felt lighter and she had the chill sense that she was no longer alone in her room.

The woman sitting in her desk chair was not the ancient woman she remembered, but she knew it was Levinia Docherty. She was in her twenties or thirties, and her clothing was from an era that Selena had only seen in pictures and depicted in movies. Her back was straight and her hands wrung nervously over her lap.

“If I’d known,” she said mournfully, “oh, if I’d only known I wouldn’t have let it happen.”

“Mrs. Docherty, are you a… ghost?”

The woman didn’t seem to have heard Selena. She dabbed a tear from her cheek.

“It started as a silly game between us girls. We thought it was funny, to trap a secret in a jar. We were constantly opening them again to add something new. Mostly who we hoped we might marry someday.” She gave a short, sad laugh. “I became known as the Secret Keeper because mother left the cooking to me and no one checked or minded that the cellar was filling up with my silly trapped secrets. All sorts of people left their secrets with me. I never listened in, so how was  supposed to know?”

Selena had stopped cowering on her pillow, but she didn’t quite relax either. Mrs. Docherty’s eyes seemed to focus on her for a chilling second but they moved past her again and the woman kept going.

“Of course I noticed that some of them had grown heavier as time went on,” she said. “Isn’t that just like a secret?” she added, chuckling hollowly. “Completely invisible, but oh the weight. The weight is important. When they’re heavy, that means that the secret in there can still do harm. When I dropped Lawrence’s jar, for instance.”

Levinia Docherty stared at something not present in Selena’s bedroom. Perhaps it was something from the woman’s memories. She didn’t say anything for a few minutes and fresh tears sparkled down her cheeks.

“I loved him,” she said at last. “I hate that now, but at the time I loved him completely. When I swept up the pieces, and I… heard the whisper of his secret…” She paused to dab at her tears again. “She’d been my friend once. We’d all thought she’d left town when her father took work elsewhere. I had no idea that they’d left to search for her, and didn’t return because they suspected the truth. Ah!” she gasped, covering her face with her hands.

The ghost remained like that for so long that Selena thought the visitation may have reached its end. She moved forward, shifting herself back into a sitting position at the end of her bed. From here, she could reach out and touch Levinia’s ghost if she wanted.

“I thought about destroying them then,” she said through her hands.

Selena froze as Levinia rose again to her straight-backed position, her face resigned and composed.

“It’s good that I didn’t, as it turns out, for the next heavy jar that broke, years later, was more than a whisper. It terrorized me for weeks. It had been the confession of a woman who was more disturbed than anyone could have guessed. All of our best dishes were broken and I’ll never know if mother’s fall was caused by the… haunting.”

Selena wondered if she should have stayed where she’d been.

“I’m afraid now,” Levinia continued. I can’t release them. Some of them, the ones I accepted back when I was caught in the fun and egotism of being the Secret Keeper, well they’ve grown far heavier now than Lawrence’s or Amelia’s. Some, I don’t recall anymore who they belonged to, and there’s the green one with the silver filigree from…” she shuddered. “I’m older now and far wiser to the true nature of secrets in this world,” she said. “Some secrets are so dark and terrible they become… well.” She shifted uncomfortably.

“For whatever reason,” she continued, squaring her shoulders, “my little game has turned into something more, and I carry the burden of it. I can’t bury them. There would be no assurance that they wouldn’t break under the soil and poison the land. I have just written a will, asking that the jars be donated to the local museum and that they never be opened. If I collect enough jars I’ll be an eccentric. Museums love eccentrics.”

“They closed the museum earlier this year,” Selena said, forgetting for a moment that she wasn’t part of this conversation.

Levinia’s eyes flicked up in Selena’s direction. Selena caught her breath. Levinia’s gaze didn’t remain on Selena though and she seemed to be collecting her thoughts together.

“Children’s secrets I could still collect,” she said with a private smile. “So often they’re just wishes, anyhow, not secrets at all. Yes, that’s what I’ll do. I must collect so many that they cannot be ignored. I must warn someone that the heavy ones, especially that… one… can never be opened or destroyed. Too much time has passed. If I’ve learned anything it’s that a secret over time grows  powerful and grotesque. I can’t imagine what would happen if…” she shuddered and stopped speaking.

Again Levinia’s eye lifted toward Selena, but this time they held her gaze steady. Selena was frozen in that gaze, too afraid to breathe.

“The heaviest ones,” Levinia said, and Selena realized that she could see through her suddenly. She was fading. “They cannot be released. There is one among them, green, with silver. Please, you must warn them that it is e…” but the last word on Levinia’s lips did not reach Selena’s ears before she vanished.

Selena sat panting for some time before she returned the stopper to the bottle. Levinia, in her last moments, had clutched this bottle because she’d wanted her warning to be discovered. Selena thought of the truckloads of jars that had been taken to the recycling center that day and wondered how many of them had been broken already. Then with a gasp she remembered the green and silver glint in Greg’s pocket.

“Honey, dinner’s almost ready,” Selena’s mother called as she ran out the door.

Greg’s house was only a few blocks away if she cut through backyards. Selena sprinted, trying to formulate what she would say when she found Greg. She was relieved when she saw movement through his sheer curtains and she pounded on his patio door, trying to catch her breath.

“What a pleasant surprise,” Greg said, sliding the door open with a toothy smile. “Come in, please.”

“Thank goodness,” Selena panted, stepping past him into the dim house.

No, not dim, dark. The only light, in fact, streamed in from the fading day on the other side of the shutting door, illuminating a little green bottle with silver filigree sitting open on the table and reflecting unnaturally off Greg’s eyes.

Written by W. C. McClure. This may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or events depicted are meant to represent anyone or anything this side of dreams. Comments are welcome!  Also, please help support this indie author by telling your friends about the excellent short story blog at and buying W. C. McClure’s books at Thanks for reading!