Lodgers in the Attic

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What have I done? I asked myself.  And the question sparked excitement.  And the question sparked fear.

I remember feeling that same mix of emotions when I first moved out of my parents’ place.  And I felt it now that I had just moved in to my new house.

My house.  Mine. 

What have I done?

The first week was a flurry of movement.  Boxes, deliveries, meeting new neighbors, casseroles, assembling, sweating, sleeping.  I wasn’t alone in the house for the first two weeks.  So that feeling, that question, the excitement, the fear, didn’t have time to hit me until I spent my first night alone. 

My mind was spinning out thoughts.  My to-do list for the weekend, interrupted by a reminder to send an email at work, interrupted by a reminder that I now had a backyard large enough to host a tea party.  I closed my eyes and let the thoughts go as soon as they arrived, knowing at some point, they would all fade, and I would fall asleep. 

That’s when I first heard the noise.  From above me.  In the attic. 

Trembling, fluttering noises.  Scuffling.

My neighbors had warned me that I might get birds in the attic.  I thought I caught the cooing of a pigeon.  I decided to check it out in the morning. 

The sounds stopped.

My thoughts spun up again.

The sounds resumed.  A subtle squeak and then something like rice or pebbles spilling on the floor, and then something like tiny pattering feet.

I took a deep breath and grabbed the flashlight on the nightstand.  I could at least make sure it wasn’t someone’s cat having run away and taking refuge from overly affectionate humans. 

The attic had one of those trapdoors, a feature that intrigued me when I first came to view the house.  In the two weeks I’d been in the house, I’d only been up there a few times.  I cleared out any old things, made sure there was no toxic insulation present, did some basic cleaning, and walked around, thinking of what I might do with the space. 

***

I pulled down the trapdoor and realized how much creepier it seemed at night.  A darkened stairway, leading up.  The new wiring had been installed yet.  There were no lights in the attic.  I didn’t want to scare whatever was up there, but I didn’t want whatever was up there to scare me either. 

I climbed up and into the attic, and swept the flashlight around.  In one corner, I spotted something.  A nest maybe.  That definitely wasn’t there before. 

But I didn’t see any birds.  I considered taking a closer look, but thought twice.  There might be eggs or chicks.  I didn’t want to get thrashed by some angry bird-mother’s beak in the middle of the night.  So I started on my way back down.  When my head was just above the door, I took a final look at the corner with the nest.

A pair of glowing eyes looked back at me.

I gasped and cried out.  The eyes vanished and I saw something skitter away. 

I rushed down the stairs, and pushed them up to close the trapdoor. 

The first thought that came to mind was frightening.

Opossum.

I had an opossum in my new house.

***

I called an exterminator from work.  I locked the trapdoor so I or anyone else wouldn’t accidentally pull it down and release the vicious opossum into the rest of the house.  I put up with the scuffling sounds for another night. 

The next day, the exterminator came.

And he found nothing.  No opossum.  No birds.

No nest.

But I knew I’d seen something the night before.  Something in the shadow that hid behind the light pooling in from one of the attic windows.

I was sure of it.

And maybe if I hadn’t been so sure, or if I hadn’t kept thinking about it over the next several days, I wouldn’t have noticed the other strange thing that started happening around the house.

Friends and family were dropping by all the time that first month.  Bringing me food, little housewarming gifts, trying to give me decorating advice.

So when I noticed that I didn’t have as many yogurts as I thought I’d had, or that the milk carton was only half full even though I’d just bought it the day before, I didn’t think much of it at first.  When it started bothering me, I asked my friends and family.  No one was eating or drinking anything beyond what I was already aware of. 

The attic had gone quiet.  And I checked up there every day, but this new thing made me wonder. 

***

Before I bought the house, I’d asked all the practical questions—plumbing, structural integrity, financing and all that.  And I asked all the reasonable questions—had the house ever been involved in criminal activity, and all that.  And finally, I’d asked all the questions that I thought would make my realtor rethink her decision to sell me the house.  Had anyone ever died in the house?  Were any of those deaths violent?  Had any previous owners or residents complained of strange occurrences? And in case she didn’t catch on to the gist of my line of question, my final question was direct and to the point.

Was the house haunted?

It wasn’t at the top of my fears of being a homeowner.  I’d never had any supernatural experiences in my life.  But whether or not it was a reasonable fear, it was a real one.

And, after all, I was right.

Because a few days after visits from loved ones tapered off, the attic sounds started up again.  The disappearing food and drink became more obvious. 

I mentioned it to a few people. 

One of my friends told me a terrifying story she’d read about. This guy was living in a house where a family lived, without their knowledge, for the longest time.  He hid in some hidden closet they didn’t know about.  He’d come out at night when they were sleeping, to use their shower and eat their food.  He’d only made himself aware to the youngest child, who just thought the man was an imaginary friend.

After learning that, I went home praying that the noises in my attic were just a friendly little opossum.  Hey, if I ran into it and it bit me, no problem.  I’d go get a rabies shot or whatever I needed.

Maybe that story was why I was in the state of mind I was in when I finally saw what it was that was living in my attic. 

It couldn’t have been by chance or accident.  I was making my usual sweep of the attic—of the whole house now—before going to bed for the night.

I swept my flashlight across that same corner where I’d seen the nest, and the glowing eyes.  Nothing there.

I arced the light around to the other side of the attic, and I heard a familiar scuffling sound.  I stopped moving the light, and let my eyes adjust to the shadows. 

And there it was.

A tiny figure, much smaller than an opossum, smaller than a cat, larger than a mouse.  About the size of a pigeon.  But it wasn’t a pigeon. 

It was shaped like a man.  A tiny man.  Dark, shadowy.  Its eyes—or his eyes, maybe—didn’t glow.  But I had a feeling it was—he was—looking at me.

We just stared at each other for a while.  I kept expecting him to scurry away.  Maybe he was waiting for me to leave.  I dimmed the flashlight slowly, slowly, until it was still bright enough for me to see, but dark enough for that corner to be pitched back into shadows.

That’s when he started moving again.  I watched him.  I was near the stairs, ready to run down as quickly as I could.  But he didn’t move toward me.  He walked along the wall.  It felt as if he was keeping his eye on me too.  It got harder to see him as he moved into deeper shadows. 

I blinked.  And he vanished.

I watched for a few more minutes, still ready to flee in case he leapt out of a shadow next to me.

But those few minutes, they were enough time for someone as small as that little man to have run around the entire perimeter of the attic.

Finally, I turned the flashlight’s brightness back up.  And I cast the light in the direction where I’d last seen the attic man. 

There was no one and nothing there.

***

I went downstairs. 

I trusted what I’d seen, at least enough to start documenting it.  I grabbed a notebook and described the encounter, tried to draw the little man.  I closed my eyes and wrote down whatever I could remember perceiving with my five senses.  Cool attic, overlapping shadows, the scent of cumin wafting up from the open trapdoor. 

I wrote down what I felt.  Tension.  Anxiety.  Curiosity.  Incredulity.  Disorientation. 

When I was done, I read the entry.  And I noticed one word was missing.

Fear.

***

That night I heard the sounds in the attic.  I furrowed my brow, wondering what he was.  I closed my eyes and I recognized something in the sounds.  They were like the sounds of that little man, but different…multiplied.  I opened my eyes and my furrowed brow relaxed and stretched up, as I wondered what they were.

***

I confirmed that there were more than one in the following days.  Some nights, I saw nothing.  But on two more nights, I caught a glimpse of tiny men-shaped shadows walking around in the attic.  Four at most, I saw.  And when I slept and heard them, I tried to figure out if there were any more than four.  But my ears weren’t skilled enough.

I took pictures with my phone on that third night.  Secretly at first, thinking they’d be shy.  But then I’d pulled my phone out and started snapping away in night mode.  They didn’t seem bothered.

Maybe they were being a little careless (the house was empty for a few years after all), or maybe they were purposely making their presence known to me, the owner of the house, to test my response to them. 

The pictures were pretty blurry.  Not very convincing.  At least not to anyone who hadn’t seen the tiny shadow people in person.

One night I was feeling a little whimsical.

I’d baked some chocolate chip cookies for a thing at work.  Naturally I consumed a few “test subjects” to make sure they tasted okay.  As I was packing them away, I hesitated, thinking about my—not roommates—guests in the attic.

I left a plate of cookies out as an offering.

The next morning, the cookies were all still there.

***

Cue the internet rabbit hole.  I fell down it that night after work, trying to identify what these shadow people were.  I started with the reasonable stuff, that they might not be people, but some kind of animal I might not know about.  After all, as a kid I’d once spotted what I thought was a beetle with the face of a human baby in our backyard.  I’d never seen anything like it before.  I knew it wasn’t something unnatural.  I was too afraid to get a closer look.  Years later I remembered the thing and decided to solve the mystery.  It wasn’t too hard.  I wasn’t the only person who thought potato bugs looked like they had the faces of human babies.

My search moved on to cryptids and supernatural beings from cultures around the world.  I started coming across details that perked my attention. 

Some peoples believed in household spirits or household gods.   In one account, these spirits built “nests” in the houses in which they settled.  By modern interpretations, these nests were actually little dimensional pockets where the household spirits lived and slept.  They came into our dimension—the human dimension—to hunt for food. 

They ate and drank mostly what humans ate and drank, and like many animals, their most reliable source of food came from humans.  One article posited that the concept of Santa Claus eating cookies left out by children at night actually originated from the custom of leaving offerings for household spirits.  Some stories described the spirits as mischievous.  Some as benevolent.  In many stories, they were just neutral. 

Early stories did attribute pest control qualities to the spirits.  Households with such spirits were free of mice and harmful insects.  But the spirits themselves were said to take the form of lizards and crickets, to hide from humans, or to move about during the day, being as their native forms could only abide in shadow.  Later stories of household gods looking after a particular residence may have followed from accounts of such helpful qualities.   

Even that custom of not thanking the spirits for boons because it would insult them was thought to originate from a custom of not acknowledging the creatures’ existence in the house to ensure that they felt safe.  They were small and could be easily overpowered even by young children.  But they did know how to elude capture.  They were able to create those pocket dimensions anywhere and jump into them to hide.

The next morning when I woke up, those cookies were still on the counter.  But I checked the fridge, and an entire head of broccoli was missing. 

***

My birthday was in October, so I’d decided to hold off on a housewarming party until I could combine it with a birthday celebration.  It was a week before Halloween and a month after I moved in.  Only a month.  Seemed longer.

Someone decided we should try to have a séance.  (Said someone claimed to have taken a course to learn the safe and proper way to conduct one.)  I wasn’t too keen on the idea.  Why take a chance?

The person leading the séance specified that she was summoning only good spirits, who wished to get a message across.  She insisted I be part of the circle gathered around my dining room table so she could try to find spirits connected to the house.  At first she conveyed sweet messages from an elderly couple who’d lived in the house and spent their lives making wonderful memories there.  They bickered mildly about each other’s recollections of shared events.  This we could tell because the medium changed her tone of voice and turned her head in the opposite direction as she switched between the two.  I’ll admit, I had begun enjoying myself. 

Once the couple moved on, and after the medium gathered herself, and continued her summoning, she found what seemed to be a sullen spirit who complained in a gruff voice about how noisy everyone was.  Someone joked about turning down the music and trying to chat softly at a party.

“It’s the breathing,” the spirit said through the medium.  “The breathing is the loudest.”  The medium’s lips curled into a sneer.  She lowered her head and her eyelids flickered, then stopped.  “If only I could stop that infernal breathing.”

A few people around the table widened their eyes, but they were smiling.  We had watched a little comedy.  Now, it seemed, it was time for the horror show.  I frowned and felt my hands getting sweaty.

“If only I could swallow their sounds,” the spirit said, groaning just a little.  “If only I could leave them silent.”

People around the table started asking the spirit questions.  

They asked who it was.  The spirit said.  “I am me.”

They asked where it came from.  The spirit said, “Here.”

They asked if the spirit had ever lived in that house. The spirit said, “Yes.”

They asked when the spirit had lived in the house. 

The spirit said, “Now.”

But when they asked what the spirit’s name was, and how the spirit died, the spirit seemed to speak to itself, answering a question no one asked. 

“I have playthings now at least,” the spirit said.  The medium’s face sneered.

I started to pull my hands away from the two people holding them.  I’d had enough.  I was ready for some food and drink.  The lights flickered and then went out, startling everyone.  In the dimness, I frowned again.  We could tell from the darkness outside the window that my house was not the only one that had lost power.  It was an outage.  My party guests recovered themselves quickly and shared a few nervous laughs.

The lights came back on after about fifteen or twenty minutes.  Enough time for me to light practically every candle I owned and for us to eat dinner.  Someone had just suggested a round of campfire stories when the lights came back on, along with the music, and the sounds of the neighbor’s televisions.  The atmosphere was disrupted.  The plan for telling campfire stories was nixed.  I didn’t mind the disruptions.

At least the séance was over.

***

The last few people left after helping me clean up.  I went to throw out the trash, so I could sleep in as long as I wanted without worrying about all that food trash rotting in my kitchen.  But rotting food was preferable to what found near the trash bin, a dead opossum.  It was all torn up and bloody.    I could hardly recognize it for what it was.  It looked like someone’s dog had gotten to it.  I suddenly became aware of how sore my limbs felt.  I rushed inside before exhaustion could settle in.  I grabbed some wrapping paper, wrapped up the carcass and threw it away in the trash. 

That night, despite how drowsy and tired I’d been when I slipped into bed, I woke up.  It took me a moment to get oriented and realize what had woken me. 

Sounds in the attics. 

At first, I just turned over, ready to go back to bed, but then I heard a loud knock.  I froze and opened my eyes. 

I knew by now what the household spirits sounded like.  Their skittering and scuffling and tapping, they were all light sounds.  Light and soft, and by now, for me, normal.   But that knock, that sounded as if someone, a person, was in the attic.  I heard the knock again.  Then another one.  My chest felt tight.  I grabbed my phone.  The knocking stopped. 

I was not sure what to do. 

I pictured myself sneaking downstairs and out of the house.  But what if there were other people in other parts of the house?  I didn’t know my neighbors that well yet.  A couple had been at the party.  But I didn’t know if they would wake up and let me in. 

I was trying to decide if I should call 911 when more sounds started up in the attic, familiar sounds this time.  It was the scratchy squeaky sounds of the household spirits.  I strained to listen.  I was certain it was them.  I silently prayed for them to help me and protect me.  But I had to do something more than pray.  I couldn’t just go to bed.  And I couldn’t go up to check out the attic by myself if there was a chance of an intruder being up there.

One of the neighbors who’d come to the party was a night owl.  I texted him.  I remembered to put my phone on silent just before his response came in.  I explained what was going on.  He said he was walking over, and he was bringing a neighbor I hadn’t met yet, who happened to be a cop.

I waited a few minutes.  Knowing people were coming, it made me feel bolder.  Bold enough to try and make it to the front door.  I gently opened my bedroom door, wincing when I heard it squeak.  I glanced around, and I got low to the ground in a crouch.  For some reason that felt like the safest posture.  I made my way downstairs and to the front door.  I opened it after my neighbors arrived.

***

We checked the whole house.  We checked the yard.  If there had been someone else there, they were gone.  The only weird thing we found was apple slices scattered on the attic floor.  Fresh ones.

My neighbors were troubled, thinking the fruit was a sign that someone had been in the house.  I was troubled too, and I thought someone had been there too, but for different reasons.  The apple slices had tiny bite marks on them.  The household spirits had never before been so careless as to leave proof of their thievery.  I pictured them dropping the apple slices in the middle of eating.  And I wondered what would make them do that.

My neighbors called home to tell their families that they were going to stay over at my place for the night just to make sure I was okay.

I fell asleep, grateful, a little sheepish, but also relieved. 

I woke up groggy from a restless night.  I untangled myself from my sheets and went to go find and thank my neighbors for staying with me.  After ensuring them I was okay, I went to get ready for the day.  It wasn’t until I got in the shower and felt a sharp pain from the warm water hitting me that I noticed the scratches along the side of my right leg.  I thought I’d scratched myself in my sleep.  I did that sometimes, especially dry season.  I’d wake up scratching the dry and itchy skin around my ankles, sometimes hard enough to bleed.  But these scratches looked different.  They were long and there were only four deep scratches, as if I’d just scratched once and hard. 

I went up to the attic.  I didn’t need a flashlight during midday.  The windows provided enough light.  I didn’t see anything up there.

***

I continued to find dead animals around the perimeter of the house.   One time a mouse.  One time a few pigeons.  Even a skunk.  I wouldn’t have been suspicious if I had a dog.  Because it was as if something were defending its territory. 

I didn’t heard the loud attic sounds anymore, but I felt a difference when I went up there now.  It was cold, always cold, and I felt exposed, uncomfortable, the way I’d feel if someone was just sitting in front of me and staring at me

I woke up with more mysterious scratches on my body a few times.  One day I woke with a bruise on one knee.  The next day, I had several bruises along one arm.  I had to wear long sleeves to hide them.  I didn’t remember getting the injuries.  And they didn’t hurt until I woke up. 

Something was in the house with me.  Something that wasn’t human.  Something that wasn’t a household spirit.

That séance.  That damned séance had caught the attention of something, something that wasn’t native to the house or the grounds, but that saw the open door and wandered through. 

It should have been a relief that I wasn’t dealing with a human intruder.  But I was just as terrified of whatever unnatural spirit was occupying my house as I would have been if a human being was breaking in night after night.

One day, as I was cooking dinner, I glanced out of the kitchen window, and saw a woman standing in my yard, staring at me.  She startled me.  I cut myself with the knife I was wiping down, and in the split second that I instinctively glanced down at my hand, the woman vanished.  I went outside to search for her.  I was getting to know my neighbors well by this time.  I called a few and asked about the woman, describing her as best I could.  Maybe she was someone’s relative who’d gotten lost.  Maybe she needed help.  But no one I talked to recognized her.

Then next morning, I woke with a bruise around my eye, as if I’d been punched.  My nose had bled a little, the blood crusting over my upper lip.  The dried blood had clogged my nostrils, making it harder to breathe.  That’s what woke me.

***

I started staying at work even after clocking out, so I could catch an hour or two of sleep in my car before heading home.  I knew I could test if I was being hurt by a ghost or spirit if I checked into a hotel for a few nights or something.  But aside from not being able to afford something like that, I was afraid that it might follow me to whatever residence I stayed in.  That also ruled out staying with anyone I knew.    

I didn’t tell friends.  Not because I didn’t think they’d believe me.  But because I knew they’d offer to stay at my place and keep watch while they helped me figure it out.  But I truly did not want to risk that whatever was attacking me might latch onto someone else. 

I tried staying up all night a few times.  Sure enough, when I stayed awake, I made it through the night without any new injuries.  So whatever it was, it needed me asleep to hurt me.

I arranged for a spiritual cleansing of the house.  I thought about the tiny shadow people in the attic.  I didn’t want to drive them out, unless they had turned on me and they were the ones who were hurting me.  I was sure they weren’t.  I hadn’t heard them in weeks.  I wondered if they were already gone, chased off by whatever was tormenting me now.  If so, maybe they would come back after the house was cleansed.

I spotted that woman again in my yard, staring at me, just before the people doing the cleansing arrived.  I called out to her.  She didn’t answer.  I told her I’d be right out.  I had to lose sight of her to get to the door.  I wasn’t surprised when I found she was gone by the time I got out to the yard.

 The people came.  They claimed to have cleansed the house, and then they left.

***

The following morning, I woke with a throbbing pain in my left shoulder.  The pain sharpened when I sat up.  I couldn’t raise my arm past shoulder height.   I called in sick and went to urgent care.  They did an x-ray.  It showed a crack in my collarbone.

So I’d have to wear a sling for a couple of months.

I was still trying to research things.  What was happening to me?  If there was an angry spirit in my house, what could I do to drive it away, or trick it into leaving?  How was that woman connected to everything?  Was she the thing that was haunting me, reaching for me from the shadows? 

But I was too tired—both physically and mentally—to make any kind of significant effort.

I started staring out of my kitchen window whenever I washed the dishes, as if daring that woman to appear and start staring back.  That’s what I was doing when I heard a mewling one evening, and saw a cat jump into my yard.  I sighed and went outside to chase it away.  I didn’t want any more dead carcasses.

From the doorway to the yard, I watched the cat saunter around, as if my yard were his yard.  At one point, the cat stopped.  Its hackles rose.  It seemed to be shrinking away from something in front of it.  It starting backing away.  I thought I saw a shadow looming toward it.  But I couldn’t see what was making the shadow.  Suddenly the cat stopped moving and gave a chilling yowl.  I rushed out to the yard.  The way it had stopped moving.  It was as if the cat was being held to the ground by something.

“Hey!” I cried.  And I wasn’t yelling at the cat.  But the cat suddenly sprung up and dashed away.  I tried to find that shadow.  But it was gone.

***

That night, I slept with all the lights on and pointed in several directions. 

The next morning, I didn’t seem to have any new injuries.  But I couldn’t find my car keys.  I ended up getting a ride with a neighbor.

When I got home, late again, after my nap at work, I found my keys.

Only I didn’t really find them. 

In a pool of shadow in the front hall, I saw the keys, lying just outside of the shadow, metal glinting.  But just within the shadow was a tiny form, lying still.  I couldn’t quite make out its shape.  But I knew what it was.  I reached out to touch it, but I stopped myself.  I didn’t know what might happen.  I glanced around to see if any others were around, waiting for me to leave so they could collect the body.  I took my keys and turned on most of the lights in the house, leaving the hallway ones off, so that shadow pool remained.  I had a feeling that if I cast a light on that shadow, the tiny figure lying within it would vanish.

***

Morning came, and the figure was indeed gone.  And I was again free of any new injuries.  Still healing from the old ones.

That night I did the same thing.  Slept with all the lights on.  But when morning came, I realized I’d missed something.  I’d hung my jacket on my chair next to the bed.  Even with light sources coming at it from all directions, it cast a slight shadow onto the left side of my bed.  A patch of my mattress that fell within that shadow was in tatters.  Bits of cloth and foam lay in a pile on the floor.  Right at the top of the shadow, I could see the shape of claws.  I could picture them straining to reach me as I slept. 

Did it travel in the shadows?  I wondered.  Or did it just appear out of them, the way my household spirits seemed to, making some kind of portal?

That night I left every light on in the house, except for in one place.  They lived in the attic.  And they were still here. 

My household spirits. 

I had to keep it shadowy in there for them.  But from what I could gather, that other thing lived in the shadows too.  The yard wasn’t lit well.  I hoped that the other thing in the house would stay outside.

My hope was not fulfilled.

***

I woke in the middle of the night in the brightness of a fully lit home.  I woke to the sounds of something knocking around in my attic. 

This time it could have been an intruder.  I thought I could tell that it was my unwanted guest.  The thing that had scratched me, bruised me, and cracked me.  I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t a human intruder.  I still had my sling on because my collarbone wasn’t quite healed yet.  But I went to the attic anyway. 

I went out of desperation.  I went because I knew it wasn’t coming for me.  I knew it wasn’t coming for me, because I knew it couldn’t reach me.  I had protected myself with shields of lights.  So I knew what it was doing, why it was in the attic.  It was coming for them.  It could reach them, touch them, in ways it could not touch me. 

So I pretty much knew what I would find, what I would see, when I opened that trap door into the attic.  I knew I would see red glowing eyes.  Shadow upon shadow.  One seeking to devour.  One seeking to survive.

What I did not know.  What I could not have expected, was my reaction at seeing the tiny creature, struggling, its frantic limbs thrashing, just thrashing uselessly. 

A new emotion flickered in me.  An old emotion.  Familiar.  At times unwanted.  At times very much welcome.  Sometimes restrained.  Sometimes reckless.

The bigger shadow, my enemy shadow, turned its head.  I couldn’t see its eyes, if it had any, but I knew it was turning toward me, that it could see me.  And as soon as its invisible eyes fell on me that flicker of emotion burst into a blaze.  A welcome blaze.

Of anger.

The enemy shadow threw the tiny shadow to the ground.  The enemy shadow raised its leg. 

Without thinking, I surged toward my enemy.  And just as I realized that I would be passing right through a shadow and crash against the wall on the opposite side, I smacked into something solid.

It wasn’t the wall.

I felt a tangle of spindly limbs around me as I fell to the ground.  Spikes of pain pierced my left shoulder.  I cried out.

I rose immediately and saw shadow made solid.  It was the woman from the yard.  They were one and same after all.  She was under me.  As I rose, she rolled away and swiped a clawed hand across my face.  I tried to grab her wrist and she yanked it away from.  She looked slight.  But she had some vicious strength that kept me from grabbing hold of her.  The edges of her form grew hazy and dark.  She was trying to become shadow again.

“Look at me!” I said.

And to my surprise, she did.  She looked at me.  And when she did, I locked my gaze with hers.  She wouldn’t look away, I knew, unless I looked away first.  Just like the other times I caught her staring at me and I stared back.  Still staring, I stepped toward her, and she step back.  I advanced again, and she retreated.  I walked her back, away from my household spirits and their nests. 

My eyes began to water, but I was ready with another shock.

Just as I blinked, I shone the full force of my flashlight in her face, her eyes.  She screamed and rushed toward me.  I dropped the flashlight, but managed to side-step her and grab her from behind, wrapping my arms over both of hers to lock them in place.  She screamed again and struggled.

I couldn’t make a sound.  I just gasped at every pulse of pain in my shoulder. And I gasped at how cold she felt.  Freezing cold.

I glanced around the attic, the empty attic to find anything I might bind her with.  Even if there had been anything, I wouldn’t have been able to reach for it.

I felt my grip slipping. 

***

In the shadows outside the fallen flashlight, I saw two tiny sparks of red and yellow eyes.  Two tiny shadows moved toward me as I struggled to keep the woman—the ghost—from breaking out of my grasp.

The tiny shadows, my household spirits, had brought a length of cord. 

My enemy struggled.  She kicked at the tiny shadows, but they stayed out of her reach.  I gasped as the tiny men reached my foot, and then climbed on top of it.  They began to climb along my leg.  I felt nothing.  They stretched that cord between them.  They climbed on my shoulders and down the lengths of each arm, and back up around the other arm.  Doing this, they wrapped that length of cord a few times around my enemy—our enemy.  They tied off the cord. 

My enemy had said nothing.  But she spoke now, and her voice was familiar.  I’d heard it before, filtered through another person’s voice.

“Playthings,” she said.

I squeezed tighter with my good arm.  I would take her down, out of the attic, keep her tied up, and try to figure out what to do next.

But I couldn’t move, afraid I would lose my grip.

***

More sparks of red and yellow appeared in the shadows of the attic.  Half a dozen.  Then a dozen.  More and more.

I counted two dozen and then some.  I began to make out their shapes in the shadows. 

One of those glowing red sparks had no partner.  It was bigger than the other sparks.  It began to grow, swirling in shades of red and orange.  I felt the air of the attic being sucked toward that swirling vortex.

The round shape, the layers and the textures of this growing thing, it reminded me of something.  A bird’s nest.

This “nest” glowed brightly, but didn’t affect my ability to see in the dark.  I actually seemed to be seeing more clearly.  I could now see the two dozen tiny shadows with glowing red-yellow eyes. 

In unison, they all pointed to me.  Then they pointed to the glowing “nest.”  It had to be half the height of an average door.  One of them ran over to the nest.  He jumped in and then turned around and pointed to me.

Struggling with a ghost had made me slow on the uptake.  I didn’t understand until that moment that the large, swirling red mass growing in my attic wasn’t an eye or a nest.  It was a dimensional portal.

And they wanted me to put the enemy spirit into the portal.

I squeezed harder and took a step toward the portal.  My enemy thrashed her head around.  She kicked and dragged her feet to hinder me from moving.  Every time she struggled, pain shoot through my left arm.  It was started to go numb.

So I took a risk.

I released my enemy for one second, and then shoved her as hard as I could toward that portal.  The portal’s vortex pulled her in.  She was gone three blinks.  In another two blinks, the portal was closed.

The attic was cast into darkness. 

I don’t know what happened to my flashlight.

It felt warm in there.

Something was different.  Something felt different.

I didn’t see any sparks of light in the dark.  I released a breath and my shoulders sunk.  I heard that scuffling, scraping, squeaky sound of my household spirits.  And something tapped my foot.  When I reached down to feel, I found my flashlight lying next to my foot.

“Thank you,” I said.  “I’m going to turn it on now, so I can see my way back.”

I set it to the dimmest intensity.

I hesitated on the stairs when my head was still above the door.  “Thank you,” I said.

***

I didn’t sleep well that night.  I tossed and turned.  I fell asleep, woke up.  I went to the bathroom twice.  And I heard sounds in the attic.  But they were familiar sounds, and comforting.

When I woke in the morning, my mind was still spinning and tripping over thoughts.  I would feel calm one moment, and anxious the next.  I hoped that what I remembered happening had happened.  But I feared that it was just a dream, a wishful dream.  Relief was interrupted by resolve.  If my enemy was still in the house, then I would fight her again. 

I wasn’t sure if I should just go to work as if it were a normal day. 

I opened the fridge, reaching for the sandwich I’d prepared for lunch at work.

The sandwich was gone.  A few apples had also disappeared.  A banana was missing.  And a bag of my favorite sour cream and onion chips was gone.

I raised my gaze to the kitchen ceiling, above which was my bedroom, above with was the attic.  And I grinned.

 

Copyright © 2019  Nila L. Patel

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