There is a loud thud. The door trembles, and Lucy looks up at Vivian with wide, terrified eyes.
“I told you not to open the box!” Vivian hisses, pressing her shoulder against the door so hard it aches.
“I’m sorry!” Lucy’s wail is pitiful and tremulous. There are tears crawling down her cheeks, and Vivian looks away. On the other side of the door there is a hellish scream — a broken, tearing sound that scrapes inside her head — and Vivian squeezes her eyes shut, leaning harder against the door. The thing outside slams into it, thudding against the fragile wood with such force that Lucy screams, stumbles back, and trips into the bathtub. There comes another crash against the door, and it shudders beneath Vivian’s shoulder. She remembers pleading with her mother, time and time again, for a lock on the bathroom door. Her pleas had been to stop people barging in while she was mid-shower, however, not to keep out a murderous wraith awakened by her sister’s own curiosity and stupidity.
They’d discovered the box in their mother’s cupboard amongst the relics of her occult past, all locked safely away from curious children and a more prosaic present. A bored Lucy had found the key, accidentally left behind when their mother had gone to visit a friend. Tucked away in the forbidden cupboard they’d found elaborate glass vials, an ivory-backed mirror, several leather-bound books… and the box, carved out of rich ebony and inlaid with silver runes and symbols. Vivian had felt ill just looking at it, but Lucy — stupid, idiotic Lucy — had flicked the catch and opened the box without a moment’s hesitation. The furious shade had burst from its prison and clawed three long scratches down Lucy’s throat before they managed to shut themselves in the bathroom.
“What do we do, what do we do?” Lucy sobs, crumpled in the bathtub with her legs dangling over the edge. Vivian glances around desperately, but she already knows there’s no way out — no windows and just the one door. She doesn’t know what to do. In her spare time, she devours stories about witches and magic, hungry to know more about the things their mother refuses even to mention. But everything she’s read about ghosts won’t do them any good — there’s nothing made of iron in the bathroom, no salt, and she knows no spells or incantations. She’s not even sure it’s a ghost, since it appears to be corporeal; the blood turning Lucy’s yellow shirt crimson, and the solid weight slamming into the door with increasing frequency, can attest to that.
Vivian is the older sister. She’s supposed to know what to do. But she’s choking on terror, and as the wraith slams into the door again, there’s a cracking sound that makes her breath seize. It’s not going to hold much longer.
“We’re going to die,” Lucy whispers in a broken voice. Vivian feels desperation like a living thing in her chest, devouring all sense. She’s never been so terrified in all her life, and all she can think is that the moment the wraith breaks through, it’s going to tear them both to shreds. It will be a death more painful than anything Vivian could ever imagine. The thought seems to suck all the air from her lungs, until she’s fighting to breathe. She doesn’t want to die like that. There’s only one thing she can do.
She glances back at Lucy, who is hugging her knees to her chest and whimpering, tears streaming down her ashen cheeks. Vivian’s heart tugs at the sight of her, but terror leaves no room for doubt. She twists her hand on the doorknob, pulls the door towards her and shrinks behind it, holding it as a shield.
The wraith sweeps past her in a cloud of silver and black, shrieking as it descends on Lucy. Vivian ducks out of the room and runs, tears blurring her vision, and Lucy screams behind her. There is so much agony in the sound that Vivian stumbles and nearly loses her feet, but she manages to keep running. She’s almost at the front door when suddenly it opens. She skids to a halt to avoid cannoning into her mother, whose face drains of colour at the sound of Lucy’s desperate cries.
“Lucy opened the box,” Vivian blurts out, and Beth’s expression hardens. She opens the Tupperware container she’s holding and empties honey-almond cookies onto the floorboards, starting down the hall.
In the bathroom, the screams die with a horrible choking sound. Vivian’s heart seizes as she realises the wraith will be after them next — and then it sweeps howling into the hallway, claws outstretched. Fear pulses through her and she turns to run, but before she can take more than two steps Beth shouts a rapid string of words that make the very air seem to shudder. There is a flash of blinding light, and Vivian instinctively covers her eyes as the wraith lets out a terrible shriek — and then, suddenly, there is silence.
Vivian lowers her trembling hands and turns around, blinking rapidly. Beth is still holding the container, but now its surface is covered in the same runes and symbols that had decorated the ebony box, and inside writhes a dark, silver-edged shadow.
Without sparing Vivian so much as a glance, Beth sets down the container and runs towards the bathroom. Vivian can’t bring herself to follow, far too afraid of what she might see. She is trembling with shame and shattering relief — the wraith is gone, and she is alive, but…
In the bathroom, Beth cries Lucy’s name with a voice that sounds like heartbreak, her desperate sobs filling the hallway. Vivian squeezes her eyes shut and sinks to the floor, a rising tide of horror and guilt threatening to drown her. “Lucy,” she whispers, voice breaking — and then, sick and scared and shivering, she begins to cry.
Amy de Jong: a writer, student, and lover of chocolate who alternates between penning fiction and typing essays for her history course at the University of Melbourne. She spends her free time dreaming of space and science and magic, and sometimes she turns these dreams into stories.