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An Excerpt from The Attic

A Novelette

Published by Ava Blu Wilson 

      It was the first day that summer kissed the horizon in 1932 London, and I hid. I hid in the best place I could think of even though I was wary of cobwebs and damp, oozy things that should never be in a dry place, but its condition was inevitable as it was the less frequented part of Congleton Manor.

     I closed the old wardrobe door and shut my eyes while I told myself not to be afraid. I was worried.

     I was worried about my little brother, Christopher, who broke away from me and headed toward the north hall and down the staircase, with the hope, he would make it out of the front doors and out onto the front lawn. He saw them too; I hoped they hadn't seen him.

     I stepped further back inside the wardrobe. My hair tangled on a rusted wire hanger. I reached up to untangle it, and rust sprinkled my face. Footsteps neared the door; my throat burned with the urge to cough out flecks of rust. I covered my mouth with both hands.

    "Margaret. Margaret, are you in there?"

    It was the voice of my little brother, but I couldn’t be sure; they imitated others. I rendered no response. They fooled Mother that way; that was how we lost her.

    We called them Chinny-Chats because, from the side, their chins were pointy, very long, and even longer when they began their chattering high-pitched and fast. We caught a glimpse of them, quite by mistake, earlier that day when adventuring to the attic against Mother's wishes.

    We crept up the attic stairs and tiptoed by old furniture covered by dusty, white sheets. We weaved our way through stacks of old wooden crates filled with dodgy what-not's until we stopped dead in our tracks, gobsmacked by what we saw. They noticed us too, and we ran.

    Footfalls slow and solid like unearthed boulders trailed behind us. We wondered how something so small could be so heavy. We stumbled down the creaky staircase, through the attic door, and slammed it closed.

    Mother stood a few paces from the doorway with her arms folded. She held one of her palms out for the key and locked the attic door before she scolded us, but her brow was crinkled more with worry than anger. In a huff, she marched into Father's study and shut the door behind her. Their voices took turns, but what they said could not be understood through the thickness of the dark cherrywood.

  •  

    The attic had been there for generations and for generations had been forbidden. It was an odd thing to speak of it in such a way as it was unavoidably connected to the manor, but the attic was considered more of a separate entity than anything purposely attached.

    Congleton Manor was passed down by inheritance from my great-great-great-grandparents, which without question meant that either my brother or I was expected to one day uphold the tradition even though neither of us fancied the opportunity.

    Nevertheless, the attic had always been a curious thing, and my brother and I were the most curious of creatures—until that day.

    As far back as I could remember, the attic door remained locked. Howbeit, earlier that morning, Mother was otherwise occupied, and Christopher retrieved the key from the middle drawer of Mother’s vanity with all the giddiness of a sugar-drunk tot.

    I heard it said that curiosity came with childhood. Nevertheless, at fifteen years old and five months, I considered myself to be more of an adult than a child and, as it was, had been an accomplice to my brother’s actions and gone to the attic solely to satisfy the curiosity of an eight-year-old.

    Our parent’s voices faded to a halt. We hurried away from the study door in enough time to dodge Father’s heavy, disgruntled footfalls as they left his study and headed down the hallway toward the attic. Mother pleaded with him not to go, but he would hear none of it.

    With the key to the attic in hand, he unlocked the door and marched up the attic stairs but returned straightaway. He said nothing as he fumbled the key and made haste to lock the attic door. He brushed by Mother, went back into his study, and called upon a stonemason to come and build a sturdy wall that would cover the attic door and extend down the east corridor.

    Shortly after, Father opened the front doors of the manor to a big, burly man in dingy clothes who brought along a few more stonemasons, whom we assumed were there to speed up Father’s request. It was too late—albeit Father was unaware. He was the first to go. There were no farewells and no funeral; Father was just gone, and the attic door and the east corridor stayed as it was.

    As one would expect, Mother was beyond distraught after Father’s disappearance, not to mention quite protective and most upset with my brother and me. We were unsure of what exactly we had done, but we were wise enough to pack our things straightaway when Mother told us in no uncertain terms that Christopher and I were to stay with one of Father’s sisters for a spell.

    "Take only the things you need," Mother said, "the rest is not necessary."

    We expressed our concern about Mother staying at the manor alone, but she insisted, and we did as we were told, posthaste, for one of the first times in our lives. Meanwhile, Christopher took to sleeping in my room since spotting the attic-borne creatures; I welcomed his company.

  •  

    Three days have passed since Mother instructed us to pack. She headed down the staircase to the front door to let the driver in; we haven’t seen her since. We only heard a knock at the door moments before Mother descended the stairs.

    Christopher and I clamored to one of the windows on the upper level that overlooked the drive, but we saw no vehicle. We knew then, and we dared not separate from one another after the fact. We were orphaned by a peculiar cause, though precisely how remained a mystery.

    Christopher and I stayed even closer together after that. We figured they didn’t, or maybe couldn’t, take people two at a time. We made three trips downstairs; the first, was to grab a fair amount of eats from the kitchen, and the second and third to fetch as much water as our arms could carry. We brought everything we gathered up to my bedroom and placed it all on a corner table across from the bed.

    We thought it best to stay quiet though we took to pinching each other from time to time to make sure we still existed. We made no sound but winced a great deal. We figured Chinny-Chats might not react to pain.

    It was most challenging when we needed to relieve ourselves, but we did what we thought was safe and best. We went into the lavatory together, but the one who had no business to do turned and faced the door covered both ears, and closed both eyes for the sake of privacy.

    The morning next, my brother couldn't wait. He had gotten rather thirsty the night before and ran out of the bedroom door before I could get one foot out of bed.

    I ran after him, but he closed the door before I could reach him, so there I stood outside the lavatory door, wide-eyed and quiet, flat up against the wood, my heart pounding hard enough to knock on it.

    The door creaked a bit when he made his way out; I grabbed his hand; my movements were too sudden. They saw us. Christopher pulled his hand from mine and legged it in the opposite direction. He motioned for me to follow, but I froze, terrified of the short shadows with long, pointy chins that moved in darkness without a known source. I darted the other way down the south hall and into an old wardrobe musty and unreasonably dank.

    I shut my eyes and held my breath. Short, hard breaths labored against the wardrobe door; slow tears made their way down my cheeks. I wedged myself tighter in the corner where I stood.

    "Margaret. Margaret, we know where you are. Answer us, Margaret."

    It was one voice. Yet, it was all the voices I had ever really known: my grandmother, grandfather, mother, father, and—my younger brother. I refused to answer.

    I refused to respond, even though the thought crossed my mind to do so and take my chances. I stayed silent, and I stayed where I was until I was positive that half an hour had gone by without me hearing so much as a whisper, but it was not enough to convince me to come out. If I knew anything, I knew they were trained tricksters, and I was alone.

    My stomach rumbled and broke my silence. I willed it to stop but to no avail. I wanted the Chinny-Chats to forget about me as much or more than I wished I could forget about the likes of them. I was famished, however, so I could count on my stomach to betray me again. I pulled something old, thick, and a little damp and malodorous off of a hanger and tied it around my belly to muffle its grumbling.

    Inside of the wardrobe grew stuffy, but I had no eagerness to step outside of its doors, knowing what awaited me on the other side. With the tips of my fingers, I felt around the back of the wardrobe. I had no idea what I was looking for and was even less enthusiastic about what I’d find. Eight-legged creatures and critters were known to be in places like where I found myself, and I was no fan of either.

    Scattered tapping taunted outside the door; I held my breath; they were tired of waiting, and I was tired of hiding, but, for the moment, I was not one of them and had no plan to become one. My identity was still my own with no tricks attached, and I reasoned hiding was better than the alternative.

     I explored the back of the wardrobe some more. My hands discovered a crack, but more of a straight line than anything jagged or likely dangerous. My fingers crept along the crease across then down. I stooped lower and kept feeling until, midway, my fingers stopped on what felt like a latch of some sort.

    Hardened pieces of what I imagined could only be peeling paint or wood coated it, but still, it startled me; I snatched my hand away and hit my elbow on the side of the wardrobe. Tapping, much faster and louder, beat against the door. I panicked but choked back the noise that wanted to escape minus a small whimper.

    “Margaret. You have to come out, Margaret.”

    It was Mother’s voice but not her person; I was sure of it.

    I pushed their statement to the back of my mind the best I could. The thought of it being correct had the potential to drive me mad. I was determined to do anything but that—and even more determined to make what was stated a lie.

    I grabbed the latch again. It was too dark to see exactly how it was situated, but I tugged at it anyway. It moved a bit, then a bit more, but not without a scratchy, echoing, revealing screech. There was no going back; the tapping behind me turned into deliberate knocks and threatening bumps.

     My fingers ached as I tugged the latch. I dug deeper into the crack, not knowing if it would open up into something or if it led to anything at all but anywhere was better than staying put.

    A crease of light peeked from behind me while a rift of darkness from whatever I opened up was before me. There was no need to turn around; the heated breath that crept up my back told me the creatures were inside the wardrobe.

    Something grabbed the item of clothing wrapped around my middle and snatched it away. My chest heaved as I yanked the little door opened and forced myself into the darkness; I closed the door hard behind me. Nothing followed me, and nothing knocked or banged. I was possibly safe for the time being.

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