The Halloween Project Day 16: The Attic
The coffin lid of the “Halloween Project” is officially nailed shut with this final tale. 16 days, 16 stories. It’s been an intense labor of darkness, imagination, unexpected directions, and, oh yes, love. I did not anticipate the stories that came to me and I am not disappointed with them. You can tell the best from the worst, and I’ll leave that up to you. I have played with technique and genre. I have used obvious motifs and classic monsters and themes. The pace was daunting.
But let me remind you as I stated at the beginning. My rules. Beholding to no one. There is only one overriding connective thread between all these stories.
I was trying to scare, upset, and terrorize you. I hope I did.
Until next year.
So, we finish with a claustrophobic, little tale.
This piece is a small homage to two of the classics of the horror genre. Serious kudos to Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived in The Castle”.
The attic is cold, fiercely cold in the deep winter. The ragged sweaters do little good. I wrap myself in worm-eaten blankets. I must follow my fingers with my eyes to make sure that they have found their grasp. I tear old newspapers into long strips and place them about me; in pant legs, sleeves, anywhere for extra protection. They help, but the cold persists. I move about only when necessary. When sister brings food, then I move. My frosted breath hangs on vaulted spider webs reminding me of cracks in the ice of a frozen pond.
I remember what a pond looks like. I can see it, picture it in my mind. A pond outside the attic.
Summer is hot here. I move even less in an effort to stop the perspiration. But some months are quite fine, weather brisk or mild. I sit at the window and look out over the fields to the south. No houses are in sight. That is just as well, someone might see me.
Time passes, the years have been fast, but not kind to me. I often read from the large pile of dusty leather books arranged neatly in the northwest corner of the attic. They are my outside world.
My sister, as I said, brings me food from below. Bread and vegetables mostly, small slabs of meat or chicken. Fruit sometimes. Water. I leave a bucket with my movements which she cleans and returns. She is good to me, as good as I deserve. About four years ago we stopped talking. There was no need for talk. Sometimes I will still talk to myself. I talk about the books, Charles Dickens or Nathaniel Hawthorne. More often I will talk about that day. That day when mother died. I will ask myself why? And how? But there are no answers, except that I am in the attic.
I am lucky to have not fallen sick in the 13 years I have been here. A man of fifty-three with little exercise and no stimulation should be less robust than I. But illness does not claim me as I sometimes wish it would. Punishment is appropriate. I will never live long enough to pay for what I have done.
We left her in the basement for a few days after it happened. We couldn’t decide what to do, my sister and I. We took the shovel I had used and burned the handle in the furnace. The metal blade with its dry, crusted blood found its permanent home in the marshy pond out beyond the fields. The murky, nighttime blackness sucked the shovel into itself. It is the same pond I can see when I tightly close my eyes and force its image on the retina of memory.
We were distraught and running was impossible. I have lived with mother and sister forever. For my entire life. When she called in the accident to the authorities, I mounted the stairs to the attic. I watched them from the window as they removed her body, mother’s body, but they never looked up. The police were not fools, but they also were not clever. They looked for me at the train station, at the bus depot, on the streets, across state borders. They never located the shovel head, rusted, blood diffused. The attic refused to yield its secret. Within a year the clamor had fallen to whispers. The food appeared daily on the stairs. She kept her silence. After all, we are brother and sister.
I can’t tell you why it happened. At that exact moment, on that particular day. It was no different from a thousand other days. Ten thousand. Mother was laughing and laughing. Mother was going to punish me again and I just could not stand the basement one more time, dark and wet, with cornered horrors. And so I got angry. The shovel was there. It was too easy.
There are times when I know there is something wrong with me. Not just murder, but something terribly wrong. A birth that should not have been. I can see it most clearly in those times when my sister’s eyes meet mine in tight focus across the attic door’s threshold. Across the space of 13 years. She will not look at me often now, but occasionally it still happens. The wrongness is not only with me. It rests in my sister as well and she knows it. My eyes simply reflect her own image back to her.
We grow older and I am sure that circumstances will change here. In the last few months I have felt an urge to go below, to leave the attic. I descend the narrow staircase to the attic door and stand there for hours, sweat matting my back, limbs shaking, perceptible and beyond my control. The handle rests just scant inches from my quivering fingers. The door is unlocked. Has never been locked. All I must do is turn the handle and step through.
But I have not been below for so very long. I am afraid. And mother is not there.