I stood beneath the attic door and drew a breath of determination. I was securely armed with a mask and gloves. I wielded both a broom and a bucket as weapons. Still I hesitated. In all of the years I’d lived in this house, I’d never entered the attic, much less cleaned it. Alas, the man coming tomorrow needed to get into that space. I had no choice but to survey the horrors that lie in wait for him. I felt compelled to clear the attic of spiders and cobwebs, rid it of dust and, heaven forbid, dead rodents, for his sake.
As I mustered the courage to climb the ladder I told myself, “It’s a fair exchange. Frigid air pours from the ceiling into our bedrooms year round. I will clean the attic. He will fix that goddamn hole.”
“What the hell?” My bucket and broom crashed to the floor below. Shock claimed me as I entered what should have been the space directly beneath my roof. It turned out, however, to be a broad corridor turned closet. It was unfinished, so racks, shelves and mirrors were mounted directly upon the skeleton of my home. Vintage garments, fine accessories, classic coats and a myriad of shoes decorated nearly every empty spot in this room. Not only that, but the space was pristine, untouched for decades and completely immaculate. It was eerie and magnificent at the same time. My thoughts swirled as my brain struggled to make sense of my surroundings.
“Of course,” I laughed, “the old man built all sorts of private rooms in the basement. His wife must have kept her secrets up here.” It made sense. The house was over a hundred years old. The couple that lived and died here previously was eccentric to say the least. Still I was in awe of the cache that had been kept hidden from me, just yards from where I lay my head at night. I removed my mask and gloves and began taking inventory of my newly found treasures.
“It is freezing in here,” I whispered through chattering teeth. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I shouldn’t be there. Quite honestly, a smarter woman probably would have left immediately.
“So many discoveries remain. Just a few more minutes…”, I thought. Upon a hook, at the other end of this glorious wardrobe, I spotted a coat hanging all alone, the showcase piece in a collection of old apparel. Stupidly, I smiled as though it was fate. “Perfect, I’ll throw that on while I poke around a while longer,” I decided.
I admired my find. It was in flawless condition and of remarkable quality too. The lining was a delicate silk, splendidly still in tact. Not a defect could be found on the textured ivory exterior. The deep brown fur collar was still as soft and sleek as I imagined it was when it was new. However, as I donned my new threads, something felt peculiar. It was as though I was resting fear squarely upon my shoulders. I literally caught my breath as a cold wall of air moved through me. Before I could muster the sense enough to run, light through a horizontal crack between the wall and the floor caught my attention.
“This must be where that cold air is coming from,” I deducted as I examined the gap closely. After some investigation I realized this was not a crack but the outline of a hidden doorway. My good sense lost the war with my intense curiosity at this point. With a little effort I managed to pry it open just enough to reveal a poorly lit, narrow passage between the walls. I poked my head inside for a preview of the next phase of my adventure. Icy air slapped my face like a bitter winter blast.
Still wearing that cloak of horror, I shuffled slowly within the restricted confines of my freezing space. Inside the blackness, fissures of light filtered in softly but provided little immediate insight into my environment. It took several moments for my eyes to adjust to the dark. As the scene around me unfolded, panic rose in my chest. Man made catacombs extended throughout my house. Anyone aware of their existence could have easily navigated my home completely undetected. All at once my gut screamed, “run away now!” while my brain insisted, “you must proceed.”
I ignored my flight instinct. Instead I focused on the heaviest concentration of light that seeped into the darkness. I forced my feet in its direction. As I neared my reluctant destination, anxiety tightened its grip. It felt as though the topcoat of terror had shrunk a size. As I unsuccessfully fumbled with the buttons, I could not shake the feeling that I was being watched.
“Come on! No. I am being ridiculous. There is an explanation for all of this.” I tried to laugh it off but noted that the air temperature continued to drop around me. I convinced myself that I left the cape of consternation on because of the chill, and not because I just couldn’t get it off.
Suddenly an unseen force pulled me rapidly toward the glow. I could feel it tug on my overcoat but I don’t think either of my feet ever parted with the ground. It was like my environs fast forwarded around me. They didn’t stop until I was standing before a heavy door with a glass handle. I trembled in dismay as a single tear escaped my eye.
Finally, all of my senses agreed that it was time to flee. Unfortunately, it was too late. I could turn and look behind me but I could not compel my own legs to move in any direction except forward. Whatever specter had brought me there, had no intention of allowing me to leave now. Hoping to find an escape on the other side of this entrance, I reached for the handle. Trepidation gave way to tranquility as the door revealed a small set of stairs that culminated in an inviting luminescence at the top. Again I found myself advancing through no will of my own.
I turned the corner at the top of the stairs. I had to rub my eyes to be sure of what I was witnessing. I was not prepared for the impact of what awaited me there. I was astounded by the mysteries that my own home had kept hidden from me for the past decade and a half. I stood there in a full kitchen. It was likely last decorated in the late 50s, perhaps early 60s. It should have been held together by cobwebs after so much time but it was perfectly tidy. Natural light flooded the area, bouncing off polished surfaces. Most notably, there was no crisp air current; it was warm.
I made my way toward the window that I had only ever seen from the outside of my home. A panoramic view of the city sprawled out before me. It was utterly breathtaking. As I absorbed the impressive landscape, I once again tried to shed that trench coat. My efforts were short lived as the sound of canned laughter penetrated my ears.
“Is that a TV?” I wondered aloud. I crossed the room, past the antique formica table toward yet another closed door. I did not think to hesitate until I touched the knob. Ice cold.
“Well, if there has been a television set on day and night since I moved in, it’s high time I turned it off.” It didn’t occur to me that perhaps now wasn’t the time to get conservative about energy usage. Instead I threw open the door to find a very old black and white set on and in perfect working order. The monitor sat upon its speaker, which was supported by four small short wooden legs. In each corner above the screen was a knob. I hadn’t seen a TV this old since I had thumbed through a dusty photo album at my grandmother’s house.
I moved toward the television but the closer I got to it, the further away it seemed to be. It was as though this gadget took two steps backward with each step I took forward. I could feel the fear creeping in again. New movement in my peripheral vision paralyzed me. My eyes widened with dread. Slowly I turned my head in the direction of this rogue action. The empty rocking chair swayed violently back and forth.
“SHIT!” I meant to yell, but merely choked on the word instead. There was, in fact, someone else here. I was most certainly not alone.
“Go, Carrie, RUN!” I begged myself, “go NOW!” I tried to scream for help but my voice failed me.
The frock of fright contracted until I could barely breathe. I desperately ripped at the buttons and fought against its clutches. The more I struggled, the more the coat constricted. Cold air spun like a cyclone around me, pummeling my face and stealing the breath from my lungs. Objects in the room were lifted from the floor and torn from the walls. They swirled about rapidly, obliterating one another as they crashed. Collisions sent splinters like wooden nails into the twister. The wind continued to churn, turning the debris into speeding bullets that whizzed past my head.
I dropped to my knees to avoid being wasted by shrapnel. I intended to fight until I drew my last breath but that time was rapidly approaching. My invisible assailant showed no signs of mercy. The deep brown pelt around my neck began to strangle me. Using what was left of my oxygen to wail would be a waste. No one would hear me up here, even if I could force my voice to make sound.
I fell to my side. My fingernails dug into the flesh of my neck as I made a final attempt to get my hands under the pelt of my collar. I flailed hopelessly and attempted to tear it away from my neck. Hot tears stained my skin as I whimpered silently. It was no use. I was going to die.
“NO!” In my dream I refused my fate one last time. “NO!” again I howled. This time my voice was strong and true. So loud actually that it woke me from sleep with a start. I attempted to sit up in bed and regain my bearings. However, I was encased in my own bed sheets. From the tips of my toes to the base of my chin, I was wrapped like a mummy. If I hadn’t still been so utterly afraid from that vision, I might have actually laughed at myself.
My dream world is a vivid, memorable, ethereal, but sometimes terrifying place. My brain doesn’t stop writing stories just because I am asleep. This story was inspired by the first I remember having in a series of haunted nightmares. I have not attempted to go into the attic since this dream, despite the fact that it does actually spill cold air into our bedroom.