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They swooped in like vultures, picking over the corpse of an old and beloved home.

“Get the windows open, it’s musty as hell in here.”

“Jeez. I don’t think we brought enough bin bags. Couldn’t we, y’know, get somebody in to do this?”

Curtains were jerked aside, windows wrenched open on complaining hinges, and sunlight and fresh air drifted through the house.

“Nah, do you know how much those companies charge? We’re not going to make much of a profit on this as it is, after all the cleaning and redecorating’s done.”

Hands on hips, eyebrow raised, she looked at him askance. “Profit? That’s all you’re thinking about?”

A shrug. “What else should I be thinking about? I didn’t even know him. Far as I can tell, he stopped talking to my dad donkey’s years ago. Must’ve been a lonely old coot if he had nobody else to leave the house and everything to.”

She unfolded a packing box and started wrapping up ornaments from the mantlepiece. “You could keep the house. It’d be quite nice, redecorated.”

He laughed. “Yeah, but it’d still be in Sunderland! No thanks. I’m staying in Manchester.”

They went through a lifetime of belongings in just a few days; packing what seemed to be valuable, throwing away what was only valued by the deceased. Old letters, postcards and photographs were cruelly discarded; everything that told tales about the man who had called this house a home was soon gone.

Finally, all that was left was the cupboard under the stairs.

“Crikey,” she said, coughing, “Did he ever dust in here?” She waved her hand in front of her face then, still coughing, ran to the back door for air.

He shook his head and dropped a mask over his face before leaning in. There wasn’t much in there; an old cool bag, mostly rotted away and hanging from a peg by the remains of one handle, a broomstick with no broom attached, the skeleton of an ancient vacuum cleaner.

And right in the centre of a shelf, all by itself, a jam-jar, thickly encrusted with dust.

He picked the jar up and wiped the dust away with a blue and white cloth which quickly turned grey.

He frowned. The jar felt heavy but light at the same time, and even with the dust wiped away it was hard to see what was inside. His eyes seemed to become unfocussed when he tried to look through the glass, and try as he might he couldn’t shift the lid.

He shook the jar.

His stomach turned, and his throat went dry. He was assailed by a sense of déjà vu, fear and foreboding, all wrapped up together in one sickening lurch.

He put the jam-jar back on the shelf and quietly closed the cupboard door.

“You know what,” he said, calling out of the back door, “I think we can just leave that cupboard. Maybe even paper over it, or something.”

On the shelf, the universe settled back into place, safe in its jar.

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note: This is one of my “Ideas in Abundance” stories, based on a quote from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.)