Terror overflows the darkness; shadowy shapes, sweat-soaked pyjamas, tangled bed clothes. My voice is paralysed and it takes forever to force Sally’s name out.
Within seconds she’s at my side, hair cascading over her shoulder like blossoms in the sun. I bury my face in it, inhaling the freshness.
“It’s alright, Sophie.”
“Don’t leave me.”
“Did you dream about the cellar again?”
“Oh, honey.” She prays quietly as she wraps her arms around me. She’s my foster mom but I love her like a real mom.
I awake late the next morning as Sally comes in with a tray of hot cinnamon pancakes. “How’s my honey bear this morning?”
I stretch out, feeling my pyjamas stiff with dried sweat. “I’m feeling much better – sorry for waking you up last night.”
Sally smiles. “You know I don’t mind.” She sits on the edge of the bed as I slice the pancakes and drizzle syrup across them. “I’ve been thinking it might be a good idea to go and visit the cellar.”
My heart feels like it’s been dipped in a bucket of ice cubes. “No, no! No, Sally, I can’t!”
“Okay. It was just a thought. I’d go with you and we could stop anytime you got uncomfortable.”
“What good would it do?”
“Facing the past can take the fear out of it. You remember it as a dark scary place but we could take a bright lamp and expose it for what it is.”
After hours of thought and another excruciating nightmare, I relent.
The house looks different, smaller somehow and not as scary. That’s probably because Mom is safe in rehab and Uncle Lionel is in jail. “Here’s the key for the padlock.” The new owner has a gentle face and smiles at me. “We’ve haven’t touched the cellar since we moved in.”
Sally checks the halogen lamp and pulls back the rusty door. I shut my eyes and it’s as though Lionel is there, shoving me towards the pit, cursing, and raging. My heart thumps wildly and I feel my stomach churning. Sally puts an arm around my shoulders. “We’ll go down together, Sophie. Just stop me if I’m going too quickly.”
She shines the lamp into the doorway and the darkness fades somewhat. The stairs are just as I remember; rough concrete rectangles, blackened with age and neglect. The air is stale and the odour of damp and mould burns my airways.
“You’re doing well, Sophie.” Sally hugs my trembling shoulders. “I’m going to shine the lamp in front of us and we’ll walk around the cellar. Is that alright?”
I’m already gazing into the corner. Frightening shapes and spectres are revealed as harmless as the lamp burns away their secrets. The sticky hanging curtain is just a few cobwebs. The clinking glass is an assortment of old jam jars and sauce bottles. The sour rags I huddled into for warmth are old gardening overalls and kitchen cloths. My breathing becomes easier and I can almost see the fear evaporating.
“Can we clean it out, Sally? There’s a box over there we could use.”
She stands the lamp in the middle of the floor, the light driving darkness from every hollow and corner. “Let’s do it.”
The sense of freedom increases with every handful of junk, with every memory that I stuff into the box. Sally attacks the cobwebs with a broom and soon the ceiling is clear too. As she makes to lift the box, I stop her. “I’ll take it out, Sally. I want to do it.”
As I heave it up the stairs, I hear Sally praying behind me, thanking God for His victory and the power of light that drives out darkness. She’s prayed it dozens of times before - after every nightmare and often at bed time, but it was just words. Now I understand the truth of what she is saying. The light has overcome the darkness, not just in the cellar, but in my heart too.
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