I’d never imagined living in an attic.
Frank was the only one to come up here – twice a year to fetch and return the Christmas lights. Like everything else, he stopped doing that the year I died. Frank simply sunk deeper into his couch, unable to hear or see me, irrespective of how many chairs I upended or windows I rattled. He’d filtered my voice out long ago – why on earth had I expected him to hear me when I was dead? I spent the following months watching him and my houseplants gradually die. My Monstera outlasted him by a month. When the paramedics wheeled his body away, I was trapped alone in the house.
A young family eventually bought it. They seemed nice enough, but every time I attempted to befriend them, the house shook with their children’s screams. Their fear, mixed with my sadness of seeing my home erased beneath the wife’s ghoulish wallpaper, forced me into the only place I didn’t feel haunted. So for decades, I’ve dwelled here in the attic, where my only friends have been the spiders, whose knitted webs have slowly filled with blundering moths.
And then, one day, the house fell quiet.
Initially, I assumed it was just another of their family holidays. But when the weeks seeped into months, I ventured downstairs. A woman stood over a stove in the kitchen. A young girl next to her passed ingredients to her. I watched the two strangers sit at the table; they ate their dinner with chopsticks. Afterwards, the girl stood on two stacked telephone books and washed the dishes in the sink. Her mother reappeared from the hallway, now dressed in a waitress’ uniform.
‘In bed by 8 o’clock.’
The front door closed behind her. I followed the little girl, no older than ten, around my disfigured home. She brushed her teeth and lay in bed, reading a book about dinosaurs. Her eyelids had begun growing heavy when I clumsily knocked a snow-globe from her bedside table onto the floorboards. The girl sat up rigid; her dark eyes pierced me. I retreated to the hallway, noticing the name on her bedroom door.
I lingered in the attic for several days, pondering the new tenants. When I crept downstairs again, the girl was alone in the kitchen. She climbed down her telephone books from a sizzling pan of vegetables on the stove over to the pantry’s spice rack. I watched her little fingers wind their way past jars of herbs. The stove growled. I turned toward a plume of flame leaping from the pan into the air. The little girl panicked and snatched a nearby jug of water.
I slammed the nearby glass lid down onto the pan – the fire hissed as it died – and turned to ensure the girl was safe. The jug trembled in her hand.
‘It’s you again,’ she said.
© Matthew S. Wilson, September 2021