Saturday, January 6, 2007

The Attic

Originally posted 9/14/06

Last weekend my family met at Dad's for barbecue. As the evening wound down, after a couple of glasses of wine, we decided exploring the attic seemed like a fine old idea.

The first box overflowed with dusty stuffed animals. Wuzzles. Ninja Turtles. Bath toys that changed color in the water. Beloved but forgotten teddy bears and Rocky Raccoon. And a few oddities none of us had the vaguest memory of.

The weirdest find was a stuffed rabbit with a dirty latex doll's face sewn on. We tossed it at each other, delighted by it's creepiness.

The second box was treasure. My She-Ra Crystal Palace! I set it up that night, brushed the sawdust out of each doll's hair, and arranged my new toy in the corner of my apartment. As a conversation piece, I left the creepy doll on the mantle.

I expected to sleep well that night.

Dolls. Dead dolls. I've got a closet full of them. Porcelain treasures waiting to be restored. I feel a pang of guilt every time I look over those shattered features, missing eyes and whisps of polyester.

I can't even remember where I got all these things. I really should empty the closet before it's too late.

I closed the door and took the stairs three floors down to daylight. As soon as I hit the sidewalk I heard him calling me.

"Emma! Emma, help!"

And then it was too late. He tripped against their hooves and disappeared beneath the carriage. Poor child.

I drug his body up the stairs, into the darkness. At each pause in the stairs someone had hung a clock. The clocks hung loudly. I couldn't even feel the weight of his body by the fourth clock.

The dolls in the closet began to stir.

It was about five in the morning.

I reached for the clock to see if I'd set the alarm. Not that I could fall back asleep anyway. But if the alarm was off, then I'd fall asleep.

My hand hurt as I tried to work the tiny buttons. My fingers were curled and locked, screaming as I forced movement and blood into them. Maybe the nightmare's paralysis was moving backwards through my body, lingering in my fist. Maybe I'd been sleeping with it curled under me.

But, no, I didn't think that was it.

I could feel something sticky under my nails, my fingertips slick and sliding across the top of the clock. As sunlight began to creep into the window, I saw the blood on my hands, traces on the pillow... I ran to the bathroom and felt the nightmare sensation clench my stomach again. I'd made jagged scratches down the left side of my face and chewed my lips. My teeth matched my fingernails.

Most people would begin by asking themselves why they'd done it, how such a thing could happen in their sleep. Not me. I wondered, How am I going to hide this? I'm no fool. You have to keep the darkest, strangest shit hidden, or you'll really be in danger.

I called in sick after looking in the mirror yesterday morning. Now I'm just waiting for this strange, sudden storm to blow over. It's been raining today. The thunder has slowly gotten louder and more frightening, and it's gotten harder to see in or out of the windows. They're sweating. Even the inanimate seems nervous.

There are far too many people to hide from. Too many people who will see the blood on my face or hear the panic in my voice. Boss, lover, it doesn't matter, I can't see you right now. Please leave a message. I'll return your call. At some point. If you still want to talk to me.

I think there are mice in the attic, or squirrels, or toys shifting around in an intruding gale. Specifically, there is something in the spot directly over my hanging lamp. It keeps scratching on the ceiling. It's going to finish the job of driving me nuts if I don't investigate.

I pulled a kitchen chair into the hallway and eyed the attic door skeptically. I don't really want to do this, but I don't think I've got much choice. Finally I reached for the dirty string and pulled the hatch toward me.

Heat and mothball stink washed over me.

Bulb out, but enough gray light to work with filtered through the dormers. Nothing was scurrying or swaying or scratching at the floor. Not that I could see.

I could almost stand up straight, keeping my weight on the support beams. Once, my father fell through the attic, the ceiling, and into the bedroom. I didn't plan on ruining my ceiling. The place was a rental.

Was I supposed to look for rat turds? How does one tell if there have been squirrels in the attic? I started moving boxes out of the corners, checking along the edges of the walls. Most of this stuff wasn't even mine. Artifacts from previous tenants.

It's fascinating what people will leave behind. Forgotten, but not gone.

I knocked a television sized box over, figuring it was safer away from the supports than I. Stuffed animals tumbled out and sank into the insulation. But those creepy eyes were staring right at me.

I reached down to pick up the rabbit-doll, and heard the door behind me click shut.

As the door closed, the wind picked up, whistling in the dormers. It made an almost childish noise: Oooh, you're in trouble! The absurdity of it calmed me down a little. A little. I broke my gaze from rabbit-face, giggled, and maneuvered my way back to the hatch. I'm sure it's just an old spring and habits of timber that slammed it shut. Slammed it up. Screw you, gravity!

But it wouldn't open. With all my weight on it, I couldn't even let a crack of reassuring, artificial hallway light in.


Oh, shit. Oh God. I'm trapped up here with it.

With what?

Good question. Rabbit-face, for one. Which couldn't even be mine. I left the one I found at Dad's downstairs. Were they really so popular that I'd found a second one in someone else's relics?

'Relics' is a bad choice of words, hon.

Rabbit-face and the relics. And whatever else has collected up here, forgotten but not gone.

You can't clean out the attic without facing what's in it.

Bulb's out. Dead baby dolls. Resurrections. Clocks. All manner of ink and blackness and blood. I examined the red flakes on my fingernails. Again?

It's really getting bad. I'm not sure you should put this off.

I can't do anything in the dark, by myself.

You can sort through everything like a responsible person, or you can start demolition.

Well, I've never been a responsible person.

One way out. I felt around in the insulation with my sneaker, checking for wires, beams, hypodermic needles... you know, whatever dangers might hide in a pool of pink fur. You never know in a house like this. I jumped into the sheet rock.

Oh, Emma. I know it looks like the easy way, but it ain't. It doesn't even work.

[from Emma's journal, January]

I think I understand better now the cause of my unhappiness. Discomfort. I can't find quite the right word. I'm uncomfortable in my skin. My distress. I don't know.

But the distress is still there. It's constant white noise. Maybe I don't even understand the cause, though. All I know is it's been downhill since adulthood. I was good at school. I didn't even have to try. The real world, on the other hand, is a motherfucker.

This is the bullshit I present to you today. You force it from me. Sometimes I give you the truth. Sometimes I create elaborate fantasies. Sometimes I'm not sure what the hell I'm doing. I don't know if you read these things anyway. You've accepted that there will be no confessions in these pages. I've accepted that I'll be here forever. I'll be here until you believe me, or convince me I'm crazy. Which I am not.

[from Emma's journal, February]

You tell me I did all of this to myself. That I managed to tear the flesh from my leg and braid my skin from cheekbone to twisted ankle. How do you explain the nail in my ribcage?

I swear to you, I jumped through the sheet rock to get out of that attic. The fall wasn't exactly pleasant. I never got that fireman's pole installed. Makes jumping through ceilings a bit dangerous. I don't see why you don't see it. That's where my injuries came from.

There were too many relics and voices in there. They'd have driven me crazy. Which I am not, thank you. I think they were going to attack me...

[entry ends, as found]

What's that?

My God, one of them found me.

Hey, doll-face.

My voice, almost, but older. Meaner. Ominous.

You really don't get it?

I don't think you get it. I remember falling from the attic, bleeding all over the rug, calling 911. I don't understand why I'm here. I know the Rabbit-face part sounds crazy, but I didn't tell them about any of that. I just needed help with the blood. There was too much blood.

You were renting an apartment, remember?


Third floor.


There's no attic in your apartment, you fucking crazy bitch! The only messed-up attic is in your head.

There's no attic.

I'll give you a moment.

There's no attic. You were right. There was no easy way out.

Spring-cleaning, love.

I looked up at the yellowed drop-ceiling tiles. A dirty string hung down for me. I reached for it. I'll face whatever's up there this time.

I climbed up into the darkness and the heat. I wonder if they will find me huddled on the floor later. Or maybe they'll only find my journal, and wonder.



Grimorous Girl said...

That is some creepy shit. Sewn on faces freak me out. Oh, and you are brilliant

Katie M. said...

Whoa. That was, that was just too cool.

Dolls have always freaked me out some, and this story won't dilute that very soon.