In the Attic
We’ve been here a long time now, my daughter, Madison, and me. I’ve lost count of the days. Madison writes in her diary. Her long blonde hair hangs over the page and she licks the end of her pencil before she writes, forming the childish letters with care.
The attic door is re-enforced with steel bars, and six padlocks hang like heavy fruit, grey circles against dark oak. Shutters keep out the night. That’s when they come, slithering, sliding, long arms hugging the brickwork as they make their way up. Distended bellies scrape the walls and leave a silver trail to mark their passing.
Before we came up here I showed Madison the trail. She didn’t believe me at first.
‘That looks like an old snail trail,’ Madison said, and touched it with her fingertip.
‘That’s what they want you to think.’
Her blue-green eyes opened wide. ‘Who are they?’
‘Things that suck at you until you disappear.’
‘Mummy disappeared. Is that what happened to - why she didn’t take her things when she left?’ She looked down at her nails, her lips drawn in tight as if to hold back a sob.
‘I don’t know what happened to Mummy, darling, but we have to be careful - prepare things.’
I close my eyes. Strange shapes flicker behind my closed lids. Fountains throw red water high in the air. Hammers flash silver in a macabre dance. I see them too, long grey maggots feasting on a blonde head, one brown eye staring from below a crushed cheekbone. I try to shut them out and picture my wife, but the 'Mummy' Madison talks about has faded from my recollection.
The bottled water is almost gone, perhaps enough to last us a few more days. Madison wants something to eat. I can’t go downstairs because they’re in the house now. I hear them move about. Whispers and clicks. Clicks and whispers.
Madison is ten and too young to understand danger. She's going to open the door. I know this because I read her diary.
There is something wrong with Dad. He has locked us in the attic. He says there is something on the other side of the door, talking in whispers. I can’t hear anything. There was no breakfast today. The cornflake boxes are empty. My stomach is rumbling. When he is asleep, I will get his keys, go downstairs, and make a cheese sandwich.
I’ve thrown away the keys to the padlocks. I watched them flash through the air and land in the shrubbery. There’s a knothole in the shutters. It’s a perfect round. That’s good, because my eye is a perfect round, and a perfect, perfect fit. I can only see straight ahead and it’s dark. I’m waiting for the moon to cross by – that’s a perfect round too, like cheese, pale with blue-green tinge. Madison likes cheese and crisps – She wrote in her diary.
I’m so hungry I wish I had some cheese sandwiches and crisps - or cake - Mum used to make cherry cake. I wish she hadn’t run away. I wish she would come back and let us out.
I flip back the pages. It’s filled with words, but I can’t take in the meaning.
Since Mummy left he keeps washing his hands, over and over.
He empties the rubbish every day but the house still smells bad.
Who is the 'he' she was writing about? The inside of my head feels as if it's filled with cotton wool and I search in among the empty folds for answers.
Madison doesn’t write much now. She sleeps all the time. She talks about food in her sleep.
They’re inside under the floorboards now. They’ve seeped in, greasy, grey bodies twisting through electrical wiring and water pipes.
They came while we slept and sucked at our flesh. They did it slowly, savouring a little of us every day. They think I don’t notice Madison dissolving. Her bony wrists lie on the coverlet and she hasn’t moved today. They’re feasting on me too. My clothes are too big. I rub my face and skin falls like grey snow onto my lap. I sit on the floor facing the door, waiting, waiting.
I saw one of them last night, in a circle of moonlight and my heart contracted. On a crushed cheekbone, a brown eye swung from a thread. Somewhere a memory stirred, I grasped at it, but it slipped away.
I draw my knees to my chest and rock. Rocking is such a comfort. I’m back in my mother’s arms. She wouldn’t let them hurt me.
My heart pounds and I look around the empty attic. ‘Big boys don’t cry.’ That’s my dead mother’s voice. My cheeks are wet, so I must be crying.
I hear voices in the garden, the distant clamour of an ambulance, the wail of a police car.
Madison opens her eyes and smiles. ‘They’re coming to rescue us, Daddy,’ she whispers.
‘I don’t think they’re coming here, Madison.’
‘They are, I pushed a note through the hole in the shutter when you were asleep. They’ll break down the door and rescue us.’
My heart jack-hammers and I don’t know why.