It had been a relief to go outside, to get away from the endless talk about nothing that mattered. She’d drained her phone’s battery on the long drive, and had spent the first hour of the visit kicking herself for leaving the charger on the kitchen counter at home. The next hour had been taken up with answering the usual questions about school and summer in between bird-bites of a stale cheese sandwich. Bored beyond belief and showing it, she’d asked after lunch if it was okay to take a walk by herself, halfway to the door before getting permission.
“Just steer clear of the shed,” warned her great-aunt as the screen door slammed shut.
The neighborhood’s banality was a perfect mirror of the family visit she’d sought to escape: quiet, familiar, and utterly uninteresting. Every lawn had been mowed, every sidewalk swept, every curtain drawn on every window. The center of town with its obligatory 7-11 was probably only a few blocks away, but she wasn’t sure which direction, and she’d left her bag at the house anyway. Well, this was a bust. She might as well go back and wait it out inside, where it was cooler.
Walking past her father’s Outback in the driveway, she remembered what aunt Rose had told her and stopped just short of the screen door. What was in the shed to steer clear of? Before she could talk herself out of it, she moved with quiet speed down the porch steps, along the side of the house, and around to the back yard.
The shed looked ancient, with peeling paint exposing the rotten wood beneath. Below its only window were four discarded tires, and looming above the structure was a huge oak tree, strangely bare of leaves in the middle of summer.
It’s probably just full of cousin Jared’s old stuff, like car parts, she told herself. He’d passed away when she was six years old, and her recollections of him were dim, at best. It would be cruel to go through a dead relative’s things out of boredom.
Unless Aunt Rose was keeping something else in there.
The wind kicked up, lifting her hair and causing the bare oak’s branches to brush against the side of the shed. She didn’t have to go inside to see what was in it. All she had to do was step up onto the tires and peek through the rusted window screen. What harm would there be in that?