Chapter 3 - The Creature in the Attic


I'm 8 years old. Maybe 9. I don't know.

It's night time, and I'm sitting on a step in the middle of the stairway that leads to the bedrooms upstairs. The carpet is rainbow-colored shag, and it's worn at the edges of the steps and smashed down in the middle. I'm listening to the television from the front room. I don't want to go to bed.

I'm scared.

I was in bed. I asked to stay up, but grandma is babysitting, and grandma follows the rules. "Don't worry," my sisters say. "If an axe murderer breaks in, he'll have to kill all of us down here before he could get to you." I don't know why that's a calming thought.

"Oaf!" says grandma. She's Danish.

I go upstairs, and I'm in bed, and I'm fine, when I feel a sort of rumbling. It's my bed. Like when a train rolls through town and the whole house shakes. But I listen and there are no whistles from the train or bells from the crossing. And I don't hear the train. I just feel it.

I keep my eyes closed. Wait for it to pass. Maybe my ears are filled with wax. That happens to me more than you'd think. I keep my eyes closed, and I wait.

I see a flash.

Like you do sometimes when your eyes are closed. Then you open them and there's nothing there but darkness, and you wonder where that flash came from, but when I open my eyes there is a light. In the middle of the darkness. A small yellow light in the air above me. And it doesn't light up the rest of the room. And before I can even be properly scared, it flashes once more and it's gone.

I've never seen anything like it. Or maybe I have. It seems familiar, somehow.

---

I can hear my sisters and my brother downstairs. They're older. They don't have to go to bed so early. If I can stay where I am on the stairway without getting caught, I can run up to my room when it's time for them to come.

Then at least we'll all be on the same level. There's some comfort in that. Though I suppose it would make things easier for the axe murderer.

---

When we have a babysitter, things can get weird. Not so much with grandma. Grandma doesn't put up with it.

But more than once, we've convinced a teen-aged babysitter that it would be hilarious to spell out "help me" with little rocks and sticks on the front porch and then stage an elaborate massacre scene for when my parents walk through the door. Ketchup for blood. Extreme contortions to indicate our traumatic deaths. Bodies generally splayed over, across, or through some piece of furniture, because to be dead on the floor is not gruesome enough. I don't know why we think this is funny. But it is.

Part of me always feels sorry for my parents though. What a shock to find us that way. All they wanted was a nice night out of the house.

---

I can hear Ed McMahon on the television now, and there's movement downstairs. I spring into action.

Avoiding the squeaky steps, I scamper back to my room, dive under the covers, and pretend to be asleep. I hear footsteps on the stairs. My brother. Scott comes into our room. He's two years older than me, but he's mentally retarded. He doesn't really speak, but he does "talk" in mostly incoherent words and some sign language. He says goodnight to my sleeping form in that way he has and gives me a loud, smacking kiss on the cheek before climbing into his own bed.

I hear my sisters in the bathroom. Grandma stays downstairs. The lone first defender against axe-wielding intruders. I hear water running. Teeth being brushed.

When I'm lying awake and afraid in bed, the noises of my sisters in the bathroom - of water in the tub, of blow dryers, and the bathroom radio are like a drug that instantly calms me. I know someone's there. Nearby. Someone familiar. Doing mundane things. I try to get to sleep before the noises stop.

And then screaming begins.

Something explodes through the door into my room. Two screeching projectiles land on my bed.

"STOP IT!" I scream. 

I try to kick and push my sisters off of the bed, but I was already securely encased in my covers for the night, and now they hinder my freedom of movement.

"STOP IT!"

"BRAD!"

"STOP IT!"

"BRAD! QUIET!"

We struggle.

"GET OFF OF ME!"

"BRAD! LISTEN!"

"STOP IT!"

"TAH-IH!" says Scott in defense of his little brother.

"LISTEN!"

"STOP!"

"LISTEN!"

"LISTEN!"

"TAH-IH!"

"STOP! WHAT?! WHAT?! WHAT?!"

"SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.... SHH! SHH! SHH! SHH! Brad!"

Whispering now. In my ear. Breathing hard. Shaking. One white, flannel sister on either side of my face: "Brad, there's someone in the attic!" they tell me, and my heart skips a beat.

"Someone's in the attic and they're trying to get out!"

---

The attic.

The stuff of endless nightmares.

Like the basement, it's a dark place where people rarely go, and in order to get there you walk a narrow, wooden stairway, and with each step away from the cob-webbed light switch it's more and more likely that the light will burn out in mid-step, as you descend, and leave you stranded in the inky darkness, breathing the dust of centuries, as a slimy hand caresses your cheek, and something cold and scaly slithers up your leg, and you realize with horror that the screeching you hear - that horrible, horrible screeching - is coming from your own bone-dry throat until something drops from above onto your shoulders and burrows into your mouth to stop it.

Just the thought of the attic terrifies me.

The attic door is in the bathroom.

The bathroom across the hall from where I sleep.

---

My sisters know this about me. They know my fears. They created most of them in ways not unlike this.

I look outside to see if it's raining. Tami is afraid of thunderstorms. When she knows one is coming, she tells ghost stories until I'm too scared to sleep alone, then she allows me to sleep in her room. There's safety in numbers. But it's not raining tonight. I see stars outside my window.

"There's no one in the attic!" I push them from my bed. "Stop it!"

"Tah-ih!"

They return to the bathroom. I reach for the clock radio on my headboard. Try to find a baseball game. Nothing puts me to sleep like baseball.

I love my clock radio. There's a tiny speaker that disconnects from the top. You plug it in. It lives under your pillow. No one but you can hear what you're playing. The baseball announcers talking about God knows what. The Beatles. Disco. Radio Mystery Theatre.

My sisters are screaming again. Bursting through my door.

"TAH-IH!"

"There's nothing in the attic!" I insist. "Go away!"

They argue. I'm immovable. They leave. I wait.

---

The third time I start to worry.

They tend to give up if I don't fall for things right away. They look genuinely afraid. Their eyes are wide. Their acting isn't this good. I sit up in bed.

"Just look," they say. "I swear to God. Just look."

"How do you know there's someone there?"

"Just look!"

"Did they say something?" In my mind I imagine a voice filled with gravel and burbling mud.

"Just look! Come on!"

There would be ragged fingernails scraping the inside of the door.

"But what am I supposed to do about it?"

"Just look!"

"Get grandma!"

"No, look!"

"Why me?"

"You're the boy! Come look!"

I'm the boy.

I'm the boy who has to sleep with his parents for a week after an episode of Doctor Who. But this doesn't occur to them now. What do they expect from me?

I get out of bed. I follow them to the bathroom. Past the bathtub. Around the corner. We stare at The Door together.

Silence. I wait for them to shout, "BOO!" They don't.

Silence.

Water drips from the faucet into the tub. It sounds like a liquid explosion. There's a breeze outside, and a tree branch scrapes the window. A car turns the corner down the block and its headlights briefly light up the room. We wait. And wait. And watch.

Finally.

"There's nothing there," I say. But my throat is tight. My voice is hoarse.

"Just wait!" they whisper.

I wait.

A little longer.

I wait.

I wait.

Enough.

"There's noth..."

There's a tap on the inside of the door knob.

Frozen.

Another. Barely audible. I can't breathe. Another car lights up the room. The tree branch tap-tap-taps. I hold my breath and slowly back into the wall.

The door knob starts to turn.

---

The screams must be audible from wherever our parents are. We stumble over each other. Past the tub. Down the stairs. Pile onto the couch. On top of grandma. Incoherent. "there's someone in the attic there's someone in the attic there's someone in the attic!"

No fake murder scene for my parents tonight. Tonight they'll get the real thing.

"Call the police call the police call the police! Grandma! Call the police!"

"Oaf!"

She stands. She walks toward the stairway.

"NO! Don't go up there!" we scream. "Call the police, grandma!" "Don't go!"

She won't listen. She's on the stairway.

Too scared to follow. Too scared to be alone. We creep to the bottom of the stairway. We hear her footsteps on the bathroom floor. They stop.

The turn of the knob. The squeak of the door. The briefest of moments that seems like a century.

A screech, as whatever it is attacks.

We scream in terror as it skitter-skitter-skitters across the linoleum above. It screeches around the corner, leaps onto the stairway, one, two, three bounds down before it hisses past our screaming figures and into the front room. Our screaming increases.

Then...

Silence.

Steps in the bathroom.

"Now go to bed. It's late." Grandma from the top of the stairs.

In the front room, the cat silently mocks us from the seat of dad's recliner.

---

We do as we're told. We go to bed. One by one, single-file up the stairs. My sisters to their rooms. Me to mine. Scott stayed in bed. He's not so easily frightened.

As I walk past the bathroom toward the door of my room, I see a flash out of the corner of my eye. Just another car down the street, I think. But this one doesn't move.

I stop. Turn around. I peek through the bathroom door. Grandma's left the attic door open. There's a light shining out onto the floor where we'd been standing.

No.

The door is closed. The light is coming up from the floor. I take another step, and now the light is pulling me. Pulling me forward and down, through the floor. The light pulls me down through the floor into darkness.

Then nothing.

---

I awake the next morning from a vaguely remembered dream.

About a rusted folding chair.

In the bushes behind the shed.

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Chapter 4 - Sex, Drugs, and Garfunkle

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