Val slipped the old, rusty key into the door’s lock, holding her breath as it turned. She felt the key catch and the door handle turned freely in her hand. The old door groaned as she pushed it open. The door opened only a quarter of a foot before it hit something and stopped where it was.
“What is it?” Olivia whispered in Val’s ear anxiously.
“Something’s blocking the door from opening all the way.” Val explained as she put her shoulder against the door and tried pushing it further. But whatever was on the other side of the door wouldn’t budge.
“Push harder.” Olivia’s voice was in Val’s ear again.
“I can’t. It’s stuck.”
Olivia placed a hand on the door, felt it’s immobility, and sighed heavily.
“What now?” Olivia whispered.
Val took a step back and looked around the front of the broken down Victorian-style house. She noticed the window to their right. It was missing a shutter, and was cracked open about an inch.
“Look,” Val said.
Olivia looked at her older sister with skepticism. “You want to climb through the window? Without knowing what’s inside?”
“It’s the only way.”
Val slid her hands into the space between the sill and the window and pushed upwards. The window didn’t move easily, but she was able to open it about a foot and a half before it stopped and wouldn’t give any more. She peeked into the window opening, but the interior of the house was filled with looming shadows. She started to lift herself, holding onto the windowsill for support, but found that the opening was not quite wide enough to accommodate her.
She ducked back out of the window and faced her younger sister, who was glancing around the empty street apprehensively.
“Liv, I can’t fit through.”
Olivia’s eyes grew wide. She looked from the window to her sister frantically. “But you have to. It’s the only way.”
Val put a hand on her sister’s shoulder in a way that she hoped seemed maternal. “No Liv. I need you to go in. Just find whatever is blocking the door, move it out of the way, and I’ll come in. Then we can look for the chest together.”
Olivia hung her head and shook it almost imperceptibly. “I can’t. It’s dark in there.”
Her older sister sat on the top step that led up to the porch they had been standing on and patted the space next to her. Olivia took a seat obediently and watched the empty street. The petrichor hung heavily in the air and Val knew that soon the rains would come and their father would expect them home. She took her sister’s hand in hers and patted it gently.
“There’s nothing inside there that can hurt you, Liv. It’s just old furniture and books and clothes that haven’t been touched in a decade.”
“It’s dark, Valerie. I can’t go in the dark.” Olivia’s voice shook. Val knew that her sister’s achluophobia went well beyond the typical fear of the dark that often manifested in young children. Until this moment, she had always been there to help her little sister avoid her phobia. But, just this one time, she had no other option. She needed her sister to go into the darkness.
A special shout-out this week to Kameko Murakami, who gave me a jumping off point to actually get some words out.