A young girl's obsession with an abandoned orphanage leads to death.
|Attic by Jesse Haltom|
There's this house on the corner that has its windows boarded up and covered with ripped up trash bags. Sometimes she pretends that she's sitting in the center of the living room, crystal light shining through the broken glass, and smiling because she's alone and because this house is haunted. The attic window is still intact and there are children's clothes littered all over the floor and falling out of wooden chests, full of dead spiders and ripped floral wallpaper too.
"Is it bad," she asks, "to pretend your someone else sometimes?"
"Only if your pretending to be someone you could never be," Alicia says. She flicks her bleached hair behind her head and takes another drag on the cigarette.
"Alicia," she says. "I'm not that naive. But I feel alive when it feels like there are no more things to worry about; no more bad dreams."
"Bad dreams are what make you who you are."
And she was right.
At night, the fireflies dance around and around in the summer heat. The tree next to her room, scratching her window with skeletal claws. She feels melodramatic in her cotton dress, frills trailing behind her as she walks down the stairs. There are pictures on the walls that remind her of her past. Little fragments of glass that get more painful with every single step she takes.
The moon is a red eye, and it tints the grass an ugly purple. Her dress is blown around by the lazy hiss of wind, strewn petals from the trellis circling around and around like ripped off wings.
To get to the house, you follow a dirt path through a small cluster of dead trees. She doesn't like the sounds around her, the howls of the coyotes, further out in the forest behind her neighborhood, the cricket's song so repetitive in the relatively quiet night. She wants it to be just the wind and the trees.
The house has a wrap-around porch, broken pieces of wood, circling around peeling gray paint. It was beautiful a long time ago, she once looked at its pictures in an old book at the library. It was an orphanage, but a fire had damaged the first and second story, only leaving the attic untouched. From what she heard, everyone died. Every child, every baby, everyone.
She can hear their cries in the wind once she comes up to the door. The sadness in the air, the almost livid melancholy feeling is almost too much for her to bare.
She knows how to get in the house, but tries the old brass handle anyway. When the handle doesn't turn, the door groans as if in pain and covers the cries in the air. This is her night.
She rips away the trash bags on one of the windows and climbs over the jagged remainder of the windowpane, falling into the dark living room. It's enchanting, this shadowed place, the only reminders of the fire, the charred furniture around her. Some people say the ghosts of the little kids wander the woods, crying for their lost parents, but she knows better.
They're all in the attic, like in her dreams. It's unbearably hot in the house, but she feels comfortable; more at ease here than in her own bedroom. She trusts the stairs, even though the wood is charred black and it creaks with her every step.
The attic door is closed, but she can hear music coming from the inside. A soft-rock ballad from the 80's, something that completely unsettles the enchantment of the house. She tiptoes to the door, and pushes it open ever so slowly. There aren't any chests or clothes in this large, musty room. A portable fan blows dust around the room; the air smells like alcohol and dirt. There are piles of blankets, empty bottles, a radio, and the figure of a man, sleeping right under the window. She glares at his still form, quietly entering the room. He breathes heavily, obviously completely drunk on the half-empty bottle of cheap whiskey that sits next to his hand.
The moonlight shows that he is middle-aged, unshaven for weeks, probably somewhat handsome under the stubble and filth. She frowns. She remembers seeing this man a few days ago, pilfering through the garbage at the end of her driveway. "Just let him," her mother had said to her father, when he was preparing to go outside and yell at him. "He probably has nowhere to live, nothing to eat."
"You fucked up my fairy-tale," she says to his still form. "You threw out their clothes, their toys, their memories. You probably pawned them off for some of your fucking booze, didn't you?"
There's a broken piece of glass next to the door that gleams in the eerie red light. She picks it up and looks at it, a smile suddenly coming to her face. He doesn't wake up until she shoves it into his stomach, a geyser of blood squirting from the wound. He cries out in pain and she laughs, twisting it further, wrapping his guts around and around it until they burst from the opening. A sudden sharp stench fills the room, and she pulls the jagged object out. And after she laughs, she cries because he ruined it all. And nothing could ever bring those fragile things back. They were all broken.
There's a sudden loud shriek and it's Alicia. Good, old Alicia had followed her to the house to see what she was going to do. She stops crying, looking at the weapon that had lead to the wicked man's demise, covered in bloody pulp that drips to the floor. Drip Drip Drip.
"You're insane," Alicia says. "You just killed somebody."
"No," she says. "He killed all those children's memories. He killed this place. This wasn't supposed to happen."
Alicia turns around and begins to run, her own nightgown trailing behind her like a ghost. She stumbles, over the first step, rolling down the stairs and at the very last step she cries out in pain.
She follows Alicia, down the steps to the very bottom, the shard of glass held so tightly in her hands, she feels her skin opening under the pressure. One of Alicia's legs is broken, twisted to where the bone is protruding through the skin and she cries for her. Cries for herself. And when she slices open Alicia's neck, she slices open her own and when her arteries spew blood all over the charred black floor, the ghosts of the children cry in the attic.