A young woman wakes up to find herself locked in the attic. She begins to hear voices...
| She felt for the lock in the dark, her hand passing over flakes of peeling paint and the occasional cobweb. What she found was a light switch somewhere between the door frame and spider infested corner. The first thing Cecelia saw when she flipped the dusty switch was a pair of scuffed Keds that had once been white. She was staring down at her own feet and trembling legs, terrified that just looking up into the dim room would doom her.
Eventually she lifted her head, peeking with one eye first. Nothing jumped out and assaulted her, so she dared to crack her other eyelid just a bit. Crowding the room were slumped cardboard boxes, stacks of trunks, and a dilapidated dressmaker's dummy that nearly sent her into a panic all over again. The bare rafters came to a high peak at the center of the room, and were draped with long thin webs laden heavily with wads of dust.
"Why am I in the attic?" she whispered.
A loud thunk from below sent Cecelia's bare knees out from under her and she stumbled backwards over a wooden crate. The commotion downstairs of doors slamming shut was what alerted her to begin with. Now, the bangs had been joined by the faint din of voices. There was no mistaking the sound, someone was in the house.
With the lights on, Cecelia was finally able to locate the brass knob of the attic door. A few quick jerks and then a violent yank all failed to open it.
"Of course, it's locked from the outside," she moaned.
She turned and stepped gingerly over the boxes littering the attic, sifting through a few that appeared promising. Her search led her towards the rear wall of the cluttered room, and she found exactly what she needed. Lying by itself under a tattered sheet was a rusted hammer, just the right size for bashing apart door knobs.
Cecelia brought the hammer back to the door, raised it above her head, and swung it downwards. The busted knob clattered to the floor loudly, rolling past her feet, somewhere towards the corner. The bang of the metal doorknob hitting the floor was followed by a startled shout somewhere below her, along with the frantic stomp of feet.
She cringed before touching the door with just one finger to push it open. Without the knob in place, the door moved easily, though it creaked against its hinges. The voices from below could be heard more distinctly with the attic door open. Cecelia was able to pick out at least three, perhaps more. She couldn't determine what they were saying, but tone of the voices hinted that they were all male. Cecelia began descending the stairs, and took the hammer along for good measure.
The entire staircase was littered with dust bunnies and other debris, undisturbed by footprints. Nobody had been up or down these steps in months. Cecelia found the hall at the bottom of the stairs as dark and suffocating as the attic had been before she discovered the light switch. She crept along the wall to maintain her balance, reaching out with the toe of her sneaker for obstructive furniture. Somewhere, there had to be a lamp, but the first end table she came across was woefully barren.
She took a chance and moved away from the safety of the wall. Completely blind and stumbling freely, she waved her hands in the air hoping to find either a light or a way out of the hall. Suddenly, a bolt of fur shot past her calves, and she gasped so violently, she nearly choked on dust. The furry entity rushed past again, but this time circled back and nudged her shin more gently.
"Mrow~" came a soft chirp from somewhere near the floor.
"Oh, Felix..." Cecelia sighed. She dropped down to her knees and felt for the chubby cat that was twirling around her ankles. "It's just you."
Her trek wasn't nearly as daunting with a feline companion there to provide support. Soon, Cecelia rounded a corner and found the hall in which she'd been was much shorter than she anticipated. She was on an open landing now, and could just barely make out thin spindles and a polished wooden railing glinting in the moonlight. At the corner of the landing, the railing attached to a thick banister that led further downstairs, but she avoided the area completely. She knew the grand, carpeted staircase would only bring her closer to the unidentified voices still emanating from the ground floor.
With the moon filtering in through lace curtains nearby, her eyes were able to adjust to the lack of light. She glimpsed a sad looking piano sitting alone behind her, along with framed photographs of people she didn't recognize. At the other end of the landing was a half opened door from which flickering shadows were cast. A candle appeared to be burning inside the room, creating a glow that jumped erratically against every surface it touched.
She clutched the hammer in her hand firmly, debating whether or not she should approach the door. Felix seemed unperturbed, however, and trotted right across the landing to squeeze through the crack between the door and frame. The mass of the fat, tiger striped cat pushed the door open a bit further and allowed more of the candlelight to escape. Once she was able to peek inside, the room seemed far more welcoming. Slowly, she crept ahead, and entered the room, hammer first.
"Took you long enough."
"Maya!" Cecelia exclaimed.
Seated in a tall armchair near the corner was a young woman, dressed in acid washed jeans and a crudely cropped sweatshirt. Her short, platinum blond hair and mischievous smirk were just as Cecelia remembered, and she went rushing over to greet her.
"I'm so relieved to find you," she breathed. "I woke up in the attic by myself and I couldn't see anything. I had no idea what was going on."
Maya rose from the chair and patted the shorter girl's cheek affectionately.
"Did you forget again?" Maya asked. The laugh in her voice told Cecelia she wasn't being accused of anything serious. "Tonight's Halloween."
Cecelia combed her fingers nervously through her long curls and scrunched her brows together in confusion.
"Already?" she asked. "It seems like Halloween just came not long ago."
A loud clatter rang out beneath them, followed by panicked yells and a banging door. The voices were more prominent than ever, probably in the room directly below them. Maya shook her head and rolled her eyes, though she was still smiling. She grabbed the hammer out of Cecelia's hand and dropped it onto the thick Oriental rug decorating the floor.
"You won't need that," she said, then took Cecelia by the hand and led her back towards the landing. "Come on, let's check it out."
"But, there are intruders downstairs!" Cecelia gasped. "What if they're dangerous?"
"Don't worry about them," Maya said.
Before they left, Maya picked up the candle that had been flickering merrily on the coffee table not far away. She carried it ahead of them as the girls made their way to the landing, then set it on a shelf near the old piano. Felix followed, winding around their feet and purring aggressively, as though he couldn't be happier about the mysterious group of strangers downstairs.
Maya motioned for Cecelia to join her at the railing, and they peeked down just in time to spot a group of four young men enter the wide parlour that took up much of the first floor. Flashlights illuminated their faces in bursts when they waved them around. Cecelia didn't recognize any of them.
"Who are they?" she whispered so lowly she could barely hear herself. The urge to run before they were spotted was nearly overwhelming. Somehow, with Maya beside her, she was able to stay put.
"Probably college kids," Maya said. Her voice was calm and even. She didn't seem the least bit concerned that the men would hear her. "They look even dumber than last year's group."
One of the men downstairs started heading away again, but tripped over a leather ottoman and tumbled to his knees. His friends gathered around him, practically falling over themselves as they ran through the room, and hoisted him to his feet. They began conversing more loudly, still whipping their flashlights from side to side.
"I heard something again!"
"Dude, it's just that stray cat running around."
"Yeah, because cats talk and throw stuff against the floor."
"My cat knocks things on the floor all the time."
"Let's just leave."
"What, no way! We didn't even take any videos yet!"
Three out of the four started moving towards the front door, weaving their way cautiously around the scattered furniture. Before they could move too far away, Maya glanced down at Cecelia and smirked wryly.
"Wanna have some fun?"
Cecelia watched as Maya leaned back a bit and stretched her arm behind her. Using just her middle and index fingers, she tapped on the last two keys of the piano. A pair of high pitched pings alternated and echoed against the aging walls of the house. Downstairs, the men spun to meet the sound, heads snapping all around like startled birds.
"Shit, what was that!?"
Then Maya reached for the shelf where their candle was sitting. She nabbed the first book she could get her hands on, a canvas bound volume that was ready to fall apart. After grinning at Cecelia again, she hurled the book fluidly over the railing and watched as it landed a few feet from the terrified visitors.
"What is it!?" someone screeched.
"Oh my God, oh my God."
All four flashlights converged on the two girls. Four jaws fell slack. Maya grabbed the polished railing with both hands, bent over the barricade, and with a wicked smile, she opened her eyes wide and yelled,
Clawing past each other, squealing like infants, the quartet of young men bolted from the house, quicker than a coalition of angry cheetahs. One flashlight went flying across the room as they departed. The front door was left hanging open helplessly. Cecelia and Maya watched as they sprinted all the way down the front drive, into the silver moonlight, until they were eventually lost somewhere in the darkness. Their screams could still be heard long after they vanished from sight.
"What a bunch of babies," Maya groaned. "The guys who came last Halloween lasted a lot longer."
"Do you think they'll come back?" Cecelia asked. She squatted down to pet Felix, who was clearly used to such outbursts at that point. He continued to purr and bunt his head affectionately against Cecelia's bare legs.
"Nah," Maya said. "They'll be crapping their pants for the rest of the night if the piano trick was enough to get them."
She headed down the stairs, bypassed by Felix who scampered ahead of her and hopped up onto a shabby sofa. Once Cecelia had joined her in the parlour, Maya picked up the flashlight that had been tossed aside. She shook it gently and heard the rattle of broken plastic. A few clicks on and off proved her suspicions.
"Busted," she said. "Oh well."
"So what now?" Cecelia asked with a small sigh.
"I'd guess we only have a few hours left until midnight," Maya said. She held her hand out for Cecelia. "Want to go for a walk?"
Cecelia perked up at the suggestion, grabbing onto Maya's smooth hand to give it a gentle squeeze.
"Come on, Felix," she said.
The cat followed them as they strolled out the door, arm in arm, onto the winding gravel walkway. It was unseasonably warm night, the perfect evening to prowl the earth before the day came to its inevitable end.
"Maybe we'll see the car accident guy," Maya said. "Or maybe the bride who jumped off the bridge."
"Ooh... I just hope we don't run into that shrieking old woman," Cecelia moaned. "She's always in such a terrible mood."
"You would be too, if your husband chopped you up into little pieces," Maya said with a dry laugh.
When the girls reached the bottom of the hill, they paused to look out over the valley. The radiant, low hanging moon lit up the other houses on the lane and the town beyond. Neither of them bothered to glance back at the house looming above them. It would look just the same next year.
"Hey Maya," Cecelia said. She clutched all ten of Maya's fingers and tugged her close. "Happy Halloween."
"Happy Halloween, beautiful."