Abstract – Uncle Otto

Today begins the third full week of the Thursday Doors Writing Challenge. Of course, Mondays are also the day I like to join Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge. Let’s see if I can take care of both of them again.

My story was inspired by a door submitted by Miriam Hurdle. I’m linking to a recent post on her Showers of Blessings blog. Once again, my story is much longer than my normal posts. If you’d like to skip to the photos (hopefully to come back later, click here. Otherwise, I give you:

Miriam Hurdle – Longleat

Uncle Otto

John C. Trestle and Robert Denslow had been driving for six and a half hours. Other than a quick stop for gas and a swing through the drive-thru across from the gas station, they hadn’t been out of JC’s truck. The relatively new Dodge Ram 1500 had comfortable cloth bucket seats, but John ran a landscaping business, and used the truck for plowing, so it was a stiff ride. Bob had asked, but JC hadn’t explained why they had to drive to southwest Pennsylvania from their home outside Syracuse, NY. JC had only asked Bob if he was up for a road trip.

JC hit the brakes as his truck cleared a row of trees. The nose of the truck bounced a little as he slipped off the road onto the unimproved shoulder. He continued into a small parking area and brought the truck to an abrupt stop. The unexpected motion caused Bob to spill some of his coffee.

“Dammit, JC, why are you pulling over here? Is something wrong with the truck?”

“No, we’re here. Number four, Longleat Lane.”

“Here? What is this, a new client? Are you expanding into Pennsylvania? I mean, this guy certainly needs your services.”

“For your information, I own this house.”

“Are you serious, JC? Why would you buy this overgrown throwback to the middle ages?”

“I didn’t buy it, I inherited it from my uncle Otto.”

“Otto? The old guy that babysat you when you were a kid. When did he die?”

“He didn’t like being called a babysitter. He preferred to say I was visiting him. Anyway, he died two weeks ago. When I hadn’t heard from him, I called my cousin, Sharla.”

Bob shook his head as he got out of the truck and pushed his way through the gate. Staring up at the walls and the overhanging thatch roof, he shook his head again.

“I hope you like birds. I think you have about fifty nests up there.”

“Ottie did like birds. But he loved books. That’s why we’re here. I want to collect some of the books he used to read to me.”

“If you guys were so close, why didn’t your cousin call you to tell you he died?”

“She was pissed that he left this place to me. The last time I visited him, he told me that she wanted him to sell the place and move in with her. He said she was worried he’d spend all her inheritance trying to maintain the house and grounds.”

“Did he have a lot of money? If so, I hope he left you some of that because you’re gonna have to spend a bunch to even get this place on the market.”

JC pulled back some vines by the front door. He discovered a real estate lockbox. “Looks like it’s already on the market.”

“Wouldn’t someone have to tell you if that were the case?”

JC nodded. “I would think so. ‘Everest Realty’, I think we should check these guys out.”

Bob turned back to the road as he heard a car pull up. “JC, it looks like we’ve attracted some interest. A police cruiser just pulled up.”

JC walked back out through the gate. He greeted the large man walking toward him. “Good afternoon. Can I take you to be Sherriff Thompson?”

The Sherriff coughed, then quickly took another drag of his cigarette. “Yes. Are you Mr. Trestle?”

“I am. I only recently heard about my uncle’s passing. I’m on my way into town to see why there’s a lockbox on the door.”

The Sherriff stepped out his cigarette. “I can explain that. I’m sorry to tell you, but this place was broken into. Most of your uncle’s valuables were stolen last week. Harlan Butts, he owns Everest Realty, put the lockbox on for me so my guys could get in and out during the investigation. I told a MS Sharla Müeller about the break-in. I’m surprised she didn’t tell you.”

“I’m not, but that’s an old story.”

Bob walked over to the two of them. JC introduced him. “Sherriff Thompson, this is my friend Robert ‘Bob’ Denslow. He rode down with me to pack up some of my uncle’s things.”

“Pleased to meet you, Bob. You boys can call me Brian. I hope the big screen TV wasn’t one of the things you were hoping to load up. The mount is still on the wall, but the TV is long gone.”

JC laughed. “No. I was hoping to snag some books. My uncle loved reading, and there are some books that have strong sentimental value to me.”

The Sherriff walked toward the door. “I can let you in. The code for this box is two and three together, then one, then six. The robbers didn’t take any books, as far as I can tell.”

Inside, Brian turned on the overhead light in the kitchen. JC and Bob followed him in. Bob walked over to a small table and started laughing. “I’m surprised they didn’t take this lamp.”

Brian laughed with him. He looked over at JC. “Your uncle was pretty eccentric.”

JC laughed. “You’re being kind, Brian, but that lamp is one of the things I was hoping to take home with me.”

Bob laughed as he walked over to the table. “This? We drove seven hours for a lamp with a pie pan for a shade?”

JC cautioned Bob as he started to pick the lamp up to examine it. “Among other things, yes. I remember when he made that shade.”

“Made? That’s not the word I would use.”

JC pulled out a chair and sat at the table. He motioned for Bob to join him. “Let me tell you about that day.”

Brian interrupted. “Would either of you mind if I smoke in here?”

JC answered. “It doesn’t bother me, Sherriff, but stay in here. My uncle never smoked or let anyone smoke around his books.”

Bob smiled. “So, what’s the deal with this lamp?”

“I was ‘visiting’ one day, when my Aunt Helen was still alive. She had this lamp on the table because they played cards here every night. The harp broke, and the shade fell off. When Ottie opened a book to read, she yelled at him. ‘Don’t turn that lamp on, honey. The bare bulb hurts my eyes.’ That’s when he got this idea.”

“For the shade?”

“Exactly. We had finished an apple pie she bought at Thorofare, that was the supermarket around here, earlier. He retrieved the pie pan from the garbage, rinsed it, dried it and cut a hole in the center. He put it on the bulb and secured it with masking tape.”

“Which promptly burned, by the looks of this.”

“It didn’t burn, but it started smoking. Helen yelled, but Ottie told her it wasn’t going to catch fire. It stopped smoking, and he used it ever since. Probably changed the bulb a few times and repeated the ‘burn in’ process.”

The Sherriff wet his cigarette in the sink. “Thorofare is still in business. The chain closed a long time ago, but Charles Burns ran it as an independent. His son Charlie took over after his father died. In fact, if you want to pack up some of those books, he might be able to set you up with some boxes.”

Bob turned off the lamp. “Despite your late uncle’s wisdom, I don’t think we should leave this on. Why don’t we go to that store, get some boxes, some food and maybe a twelve-pack.”

The Sherriff coughed. “You’ll need to stop at Hanson’s Distributor to get that beer. This town never adopted the retail sales laws. You can get a six-pack at any bar, but Hanson’s is your best bet, ‘course you’ll have to buy a case. I’ll head out with you. You remember the code, right?”

JC nodded. “Two and three together, one, six.”

JC and Bob got in the truck. “Let’s hit the grocery store first. We can get some snacks, maybe something to eat later and some boxes. We’ll stop for beer on the way back so it’s cold when we get home.”

“Home?” Bob asked with some trepidation in his voice. “You mean we’re staying there tonight?”

“Why not? My uncle always had the guest rooms made up. I used to visit him when I was near here on business. I always stayed overnight. I know where everything is.”

JC pulled into a parking spot on the edge of the Thorofare parking lot. They entered the store and walked over to the manager’s office. The store was modern, with a group of self-checkout stations, a bakery, and a big deli that appeared to serve everything from chicken wings to pizza.

“Can I help you gentlemen?”

JC was startled. “I’m sorry, we’re looking for Charlie Burns, I believe he’s the manager.”

“I’m Charlie. Can I ask why you’re looking for me?”

JC introduced himself and Bob and explained the situation. “So, we’re going to buy some food, but I was hoping you might be able to help us out with some boxes.”

Charlie’s tone was bitter. “I doubt it. We crush them as soon as they’re empty. If you need help finding anything, ask any of my employees.” With that, Charlie turned and stepped back into the office.

JC looked over at Bob. “Was it something I said?”

Bob laughed. “His face turned sour when you mentioned owning your uncle’s house.”

JC walked toward the door. Bob tried to stop him. “JC, leave it alone. Maybe the guy didn’t like your uncle. We can get boxes somewhere else.”

JC was stubborn. He knocked on the office door. Charlie Burns opened the door but didn’t step out and wasn’t inviting JC in.

“Mr. Burns.” JC began, trying to sound as polite as possible. “Have I done something to offend you? Did my uncle do something to offend you? You seem to have a problem with me, and, frankly, I don’t understand.”

Charlie stepped back and invited JC and Bob into the office. Then he closed the door.

“Mr. Trestle, was it? I loved your uncle. He’d been shopping here all his life. As he got older, I let him open an account, and I would deliver his groceries. It’s not a service we offer, but I did it for him. Every time I got there; he invited me in. He offered me tea or ginger ale, and I’d sit at the table with that stupid lamp. He would have been reading. Sometimes, he’d read me something he thought was interesting. I had been hoping to buy his house after he passed. Imagine my surprise when Harlan Butts told me you had already sold it to him.”

JC started to respond, but Charlie waved him off.

“Mr. Trestle, I know that house needs a lot of work, but I’m capable of doing it, and doing it right. Harlan Butts will slap a coat of paint on it, make some half-assed repairs and double the price, putting it out of my reach. So, yeah, you’ve done something to offend me.”

JC stopped him. “Charlie. I didn’t sell the house to Harlan Butts. I’ve never met the man. If you were close to my uncle, I’d love for you to buy that house. I think he’d like that. I’m going to stop and see Mr. Butts. I’ll explain the facts to him, and maybe I’ll get a contract. Stop by later, and we can work something out.”

Charlie’s smile hardly fit on his face. “I’ll do that, JC. And I’ll bring some boxes and I’ll bring some food from our deli.”

JC stormed out of the store. Bob was running to keep pace. They got in the truck and Bob asked if they were going to Everest Reality.

“Yes. I want to meet Harlan Butts and I want to find out what kind of game he’s playing.”

Everest Reality was located in the center of town on the main road. JC parked in front and stormed toward the door. Bob yelled after him. “JC. Calm your ass down. There might be an explanation. Maybe your uncle made arrangements you’re not aware of.”

They walked in, and JC asked to see Mr. Butts. The receptionist walked over to the office door, spoke to her boss, and then invited the men in. She offered them coffee. JC walked past her, but Bob asked for a cup.

“Mr. Butts, I’m John Trestle, Ottfried Müeller’s nephew. I was shocked to hear that I’ve agreed to sell you my uncle’s house. Would you care to explain?”

The receptionist stepped in and handed Bob his coffee.

Harlan Butts smiled at her. “Thank you, Mira. Mr. Trestle, I spoke with your cousin Sharla. I had assumed she was inheriting the house. I told her I’d like to buy it. I buy houses, fix them up, add modern appliances and conveniences and resell them. She told me you owned the house, but said she thought you would be happy to sell it to me.”

“Well, I’m not. I don’t want to see my uncle’s house flipped for a quick buck. I think I’m going to sell it to Charlie Burns…”

Harlan interrupted. “Excuse me, Mr. Trestle, but Charlie Burns is a glorified stockboy. He couldn’t afford that house, even in its current condition. I’m sure when you consider the alternatives, you’ll find mine to be the better offer.”

JC walked up and leaned over Harlan’s desk. “I’ve considered the alternatives, Mr. Butts, and here’s what I’ve come up with. I like Charlie Burns, and I don’t like you. Now, if I can trouble you for a blank real estate Bill of Sale, I’ll be going.”

Harlan stood up and offered his hand. JC shook it abruptly. Harlan called for his receptionist and asked her to get the forms JC would need.

JC and Bob stopped for a case of beer on their way back to the house. Once inside, Bob started looking around. “Hey, JC, you might have something valuable in here.”

JC walked into the next living room. Bob was pointing to a series of books on one of the many bookshelves. “These are the Thorofare Books. Your uncle has the complete series.”

“The what?”

“Thorofare. Grocery stores in the late fifties used to give these away, well, almost. Every time you spent twenty dollars in the store, you could buy a book for ninety-nine cents. A woman had an incomplete set of these—I think she was missing three books—on the Antiques Road Show. The appraiser told her they were worth three hundred dollars. He said, if she had the whole set, they would be worth five hundred dollars.”

“That’s cool. What else is up there?”

“All kinds of crap. He has several sets of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, seems like every Time Life series ever published and a ton of paperbacks. He has some children’s books, is that what you were hoping to find?”

“Yeah. I’m also looking for his copy of ‘The Twenty-Elephant Restaurant’. He bought that after I graduated, knowing how much I loved woodworking.”

Suddenly, Bob stopped. He took a book off the shelf, looked inside, and then took out his phone and began typing. JC noticed and asked what he had found.

“This is a first edition copy of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. My quick research says it’s worth ten to twelve thousand dollars.”

JC was stunned. “Really? I’m surprised Uncle Ott would have something like that. Maybe he picked it up at a flea market by accident.”

Bob shook his head. “I don’t think it was an accident. Here’s a first edition copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. That’s worth fifteen thousand dollars. It’s tucked in randomly with the Reader’s Digest books. JC, there are tons of these rare books scattered around in these shelves.”

As JC was flipping through Uncle Tom’s Cabin, he was surprised to hear Harlan Butts.

“I see you discovered your uncle’s secret. Too bad you won’t be around to benefit from it. You should have agreed to sell this place to me.”

JC snapped. “This place and its contents. No wonder you were willing to outbid Charlie Burns. You knew these books were here all along.”

“Not all along. I discovered them after the robbery.”

Harlan pulled a gun from his jacket pocket. “Now it looks like those robbers came back. Too bad for you two. Perhaps your cousin will be easier to deal with. As I understand your uncle’s will, this property passes to her if you’re unable to take possession.”

They all turned toward the kitchen. Charlie was unloading some boxes and had placed a couple bags of food on the table. He walked into the living room and was shocked at the sight.

Harlan waived his gun to motion Charlie off to the side. “Well, well, I guess it wasn’t robbers after all. It was the disgruntled stock boy. Upset at losing the house, Charlie here decided to kill us so he could buy the place from your cousin. He killed you two, but I grabbed the gun. We struggled; the gun went off—sorry Charlie.”

Harlan was laughing at his play on words when Charlie ran over and pulled his jacket down from the collar. Harlan’s arms were trapped in the sleeves as Charlie pushed him and slammed his face into the brick hearth. Then Charlie called the Sherriff

Brian Thompson placed Harlan Butts in custody. He looked at JC. “You’ll have to stick around for a deposition, perhaps come back for a trial.”

JC smiled. “That’s fine. Bob, you can take my truck home. I rent a truck so I can get these books out of here. Charlie, the house is yours. We can wrap up the paperwork before I leave. In the meantime, Sheriff, I hope you won’t mind if I change the lock on that front door.”

Cee’s Fun Foto challenge this week has been Abstracts – I may be a bit off the mark, but here we go:

If you like magical realism with suspense, action and a bit of family sarcasm, you will enjoy these books:

The Evil You Choose
When Evil Chooses You

Series page on Amazon

My profile page (and books) on Lulu

All available on Kindle Unlimited!


  1. I read half the story. And was amazed again at how you moved from the door to the estate to a theft. Will continue the rest later.
    I find the spider web coated with fog like the one in the picture beautiful. The picture of the yellow tree with reflections and the one stuck in the windshield, from the windshield…are all really nice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed your story, Dan! The lengths that some go to in order to profit from anther’s passing is unfortunate. An excellent parable. Greed and envy seem to pop up when inheritances are to be had, sadly in some cases.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They need places where they can find water. It’s good that you put some out for them.

      Bunnies, squirrels, everybody likes the bowls down low. Now we have a robing that walks around the yard late every afternoon if the big birdbath isn’t full or clean. We go out, and (if we aren’t carrying a bucket) he’ll walk over to the birdbath to remind us. We empty it, fill it, and he takes a drink, then a bath. We are easily trained.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I like that first look through your windshield and the way the shadow looks like a staircase on the wall. The reflection in the park and the spiderweb are terrific. Love the photo of Old Glory!

    Most of all, I loved your story. I would have loved Uncle Otto. And I loved Uncle Otto’s house. A happy ending is always a plus in my book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ginger. It took me a while to find photos that might qualify as abstract. I’m glad you liked those. I was happy to fine a flag.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. I think Uncle Otto would be easy to love. The house/door Miriam contributed was gnawing at me. I knew there had to be a story there.

      I hope you have a great week!


  4. Ooooh…Dan…love, love, love the spider web photos. Excellent catch with the camera!

    I’ll be back to read your story. Today is a busy day and I will be heading out soon to help plant the Loaves and Fishes garden and make an appointment. Have a wonderful Monday!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Always have a will! This sounds like it could be a true story, Dan.
    I love overexposed photos. The light makes them look like they were taken so long ago, which is a plus to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Lois. It’s not my story, but when there’s an inheritance involved, I would think any amount of fiction could probably happen. That overexposed photo is one of my favorite mistakes. I’m glad yo like it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Gwen. Miriam’s door was so interesting. I think it looks like the kind of place an eccentric person would live. I love it when we see those holes in the snow. We sometimes see cobwebs with that same shape, in the summer. I was sure I had a picture of that, but I couldn’t find it. I hope you have a great Monday.


  6. As always, I read your stories trying to figure out how they work, trying to learn how to tell a story. The element of uncertainty in your first paragraph worked well. I read the whole thing studying it and thinking of the photo. I too was drawn to that photo but with no inspiration, let alone a story. Your challenge to us is a good one. The photo abstracts are interesting; they make us wonder what we’re looking at — that’s a good thing sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Maureen. It took me a long time to come up with a story that I thought fit that photo. I’m trying to be less afraid of short stories, so it makes me happy to hear that something works. I didn’t think I had many photos that were truly abstract. I tried to find some where the subject wasn’t clear. I hope you have a great week.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Pam. I’m glad you liked the photos and the story. Cee’s challenge was hard this week. I was glad i was able to find some pictures that don’t clearly look like what they are.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m working to get on board with this challenge, which I enjoyed so much last year. But I can’t figure out how to include the door when I post on my blog. How do I get the door from your gallery to my blog post?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Good story and pics, Dan. I like the idea of getting a 99-cent book for every $20 I spend. Not that I need more books, the way my shelves are groaning …


  9. Oh, a proper storyteller! This page is alive with action and details. Happy for the happy end. I love too many photos to name them all: both windshield shots, the staircase, the puddle, the leaves! In a way, your shots tell stories as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a great story, Dan. Fifty nests? I would love to have two here. At first, I worried the burglar took the antique books. Then I was afraid was sold to Harlan. I’m glad it had a happy ending. Love the photos, especially the spiral staircase.

    Liked by 1 person

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