whatever occurs – the brass lock.
Allie turned on the light, pushing the switch with one finger. The switch snapped and light erupted from the bare bulb hanging down in the center of the room. Water stained the ceiling some time ago, leaving a mottled brown map to spread to one corner. The faded floral wallpaper peeled where the water had touched it. Piles of dust marked where the sofa once sat. Random debris from the previous owner sprawled carelessly outward. Strange, Allie thought as she stepped gingerly through the room, how the dust avoided falling outside the lines of the imaginary furniture. Tiny puffs of dust rose up as she walked to the kitchen. The wooden cupboards stood open, shelves empty. One of the doors hung precariously by one hinge over the sink. An old coffee can huddled in the corner of the top shelf. Allie made a mental note to retrieve it before she left. She continued to inspect the house, room by room. It had only been six months since Michael had died. He’d gone quickly. Everyone said it was a blessing that he did not suffer for long. Allie never understood why someone would say that in the first place. How was it a blessing to suffer at all, she often wondered.
When Allie heard the news that her brother had died, she didn’t cry, although a part of her had died with him that day. It was as though the ocean that moved inside of her suddenly dried up the moment she heard the news. He died on a Tuesday night, just after dinner time. Allie had felt it the moment he passed, not that it mattered. Michael left and Allie was left to clean up the mess. Allie started to climb the stairs to the second floor when something caught her eye. There was a strange little door that sat a few feet above the second step. The latch was worn to a shine. The key hole stared blankly back at Allie. She searched her pocket for the key ring that kept all of her brother’s keys. Allie look at them one by one, but none of the keys looked like they would fit in the tiny keyhole. She tucked the key ring back into her pocket. She turned around and looked up. There was a small lip where the wood that framed the door. Allie stood on her tip toes and reached with her fingers, searching tentatively across the top. She grunted with satisfaction. Her brother, at least, was a predictable man. She took down the little key and slid it into the lock. She turned it carefully. The well oiled lock mechanism clicked and then the door swung open easily. Allie looked in. The shelves of the little cupboard were empty. Disappointed, Allie continued to climb the stairs, leaving the door open.
The rooms on the second floor were just as bare as the first floor, except for the dust piles. Broken blinds covered the old windows. Allie wondered how her brother lived in the old house. She paused at the top of the steps again. He didn’t live, she thought, that was the problem. Allie took out her cell phone, and scrolled through her phone book. She touched the screen and held the phone up to her ear. She had a short conversation with the realtor. Allie had not found anything left behind after the movers had come in and taken what little was left of her brother’s belongings.
“Yes, tomorrow is fine. You can bring your people in to stage the house. The quicker we sell this old place, the better.” Allie said sullenly. She got the job of inspecting the house by default, Allie was the only one left who could do it. Allie and the realtor discussed some more details and then Allie put the phone back in her pocket and started down the stairs. She didn’t know the third step was broken under the carpet runner. She didn’t know until she stepped on it, and crashed into the wall. Allie bounced off the wall and into the railing. She tried desperately to grab at it to stop from falling all the way down, but she couldn’t. Allie tumbled head over heals and fell in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. She lay perfectly still, not moving in the dim light. Allie groaned finally and tried to pull herself up to sit. She rubbed her shoulder. Her head pounded. Allie touched her forehead and took her hand away to see; blood. She struggled to stand, fighting a wave of dizziness. She needed to look in the mirror to see how badly she had been hurt. Her knee buckled and Allie reached wildly for the railing again.
“Oh God” she moaned. Allie didn’t know what it was that made her look up again. Something caught her attention, cutting through the pain. The door of the little cupboard swung back and forth on its hinges. Allie saw a strange light coming through the cracks in the wood behind the shelves.
“What the hell?” Allie said. She stood up slowly and leaned against the wall of the cupboard, peering closely at the small shelves. Blood was dripping into her one eye. She pushed the back of her hand to her forehead, brushing away the growing stream. Allie pushed the middle shelf with her other hand. It gave away easily, revealing a storage space behind it. Allie realized as the wood fell away, that the light was coming from a tiny light that was hung just above the opening. It had been turned on by the opening of the second door. Tucked within the cupboard were stacks of envelopes tied in red string. Allie reached for the closest pile and pulled it out carefully. The top letter was addressed to her. Stunned, Allie reached in again and pulled out another pile and then another. Every letter was addressed to her. She didn’t recognize the handwriting. Allie’s head swam. Fighting to stay conscious, Allie braced herself against the wall and tried to pull out the last of the letters. Behind the letters were boxes. Allie wondered how much more there could be. She felt the relentless pull of darkness at her eyes, forcing her to kneel on the steps. Allie put her head down, pleading with herself. ‘Please, I need to know.” The string on the stack she was still holding suddenly broke, spilling the letters down the last steps to her feet. Allie grabbed at them frantically. She toppled once more to the base of the stairs, lost to the darkness.