Garrett Calcaterra, Umbral Visions
Gypsy Shadow Publishing, 2010
Again, the first key I tried worked and the door opened without protest. Before us rose a steep staircase, amazingly free of dust and cobwebs. The few times I had dared peak into the attic as a kid, there had always been dust and cobwebs. I stepped through the threshold of the doorway and looked up the stairs; it was dim, but not utterly dark.
“Up we go,” I said and went first.
Before we even reached the top of the staircase we started hearing noises: weird skitterings across the floorboards, muffled squeaks, and distant bells. I motioned for Penny to stop and peered up out of the stairwell; everything went silent. I walked the rest of the way up the stairs and looked about. The attic space was expansive, stretching out in all directions so much that the walls were lost in darkness. The only indication of a boundary at all was a series of countless windows, so far away they looked the size of matchbooks.
Immense as it was, the attic was packed with junk. Old furniture, chests, crates, cardboard boxes tied together with twine, and so many toys it was mind-boggling. Dolls, doll-houses, stuffed animals, wagons, tea-sets, blocks, rocking horses — you name it, it was there.
“It’s alright,” I said to Penny, in a whisper. She stepped up to my side and her eyes widened as she scanned the attic. “Let’s start looking through the boxes first,” I told her. “Let me know if you find any with photographs inside.” She nodded, but said nothing as I started tearing open the closest box.
The twine broke away easily, but when I flipped open the flaps I found nothing inside but white, cotton stuffing. I grabbed another box; it was filled with the same. I moved to a different stack of boxes, and found more stuffing. Props, I realized, just like downstairs. Was nothing in this house real?
“C’mon,” I said to Penny, heading for the stairwell.
I stopped and saw that she was holding a doll.
“We don’t have time to play,” I told her.
“I’m not playing, Dedrick. Just look, please.”
I sighed, thinking her just being silly, but went to look at the doll to appease her so we could get the hell out of there. When she held the porcelain-faced doll out to me, though, I recoiled back in horror. Like the dolls and stuffed animals in Penny’s room, this doll’s face was hideously deformed, but more shocking was that it was bleeding. Bleeding from between its legs onto its white dress and down its white cloth legs.
“Look under her dress,” Penny said. She had tears in her eyes.
“Penny, no damnit!” I yelled, snatching the doll away from her and feeling blood squish out from the soft body onto my hand. In revulsion, I tossed the doll aside and its porcelain head shattered on the floor. On impact, the whole attic seemed to suck inward and I was overcome with vertigo. Penny staggered sideways into me and I almost lost my footing, but then everything reoriented and it was deathly still.
Something skittered across the floor in the distance. A second later something squeaked closer by.
“Let’s go,” Penny whispered.
I was of like mind and grabbed her hand to lead her down the stairs, but when we turned a huge wooden soldier stood blocking our way. It was nearly three feet tall, with a red-painted uniform, and a wooden rifle in its right hand. It hadn’t been there before. I moved to step around it, but it thrust its rifle outward to bar our way and I froze. Its eyes were following me.
“Penny,” I whispered, letting go her hand. “You go around it to the right and down the stairs. I’ll keep its attention on me.”
“I don’t wanna leave you, Dedrick.”
“Just go, Penny.” I left nothing in my voice for her to protest to. She nodded and slowly moved to the right. I went to the left. The soldier’s eyes stayed on the both of us — one watching her, one watching me — and it took a step backward to better guard the stairwell. I snapped my fingers to attract its attention, but the soldier’s only response was to level its rifle towards me. At the same time, something moved behind me. I dared not take my eyes off the soldier or Penny, though. I stepped forward and the hammer clicked back on the soldier’s rifle.
I stopped. Something squeaked off to my right. Something else rattled in the distance behind Penny. More noises closed in around us. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but I knew our opportunity was slipping away. Without another thought, I lunged at the soldier, intent on kicking it back away from the stairwell. The rifle shot cracked-out before I even got close. I toppled backward, whiteness filling my vision and my left ear ringing and burning. I heard Penny scream, as if off in the distance, and I struggled back to my feet, squeezing my eyes open and shut to try and regain my sight. I was overcome with a spell of dizziness and nausea. Something hit my leg — a metal wagon, I think — and I lost my balance to stagger sideways into a heap of boxes.
I laid there on the crumpled boxes in a daze for a moment, then something bit my arm. The new pain brought me back to my senses and I flung whatever it was on my arm away with a shout and jumped to my feet. Toys were everywhere. They were alive, and all mad as hell, swarming across the floor. Penny had a half dozen dolls clinging to her arms and hair. I was at her side in two strides and started yanking them off her. One of them bit at my finger as I pulled it away and with a curse I raised it above my head to dash it into the ground.
“No!” Penny screamed, but I was in a rage. I threw the doll to the floor and its head shattered.
Like when I’d thrown the bloody doll, the attic sucked inward. This time, all the toys around us screeched and went berserk. Still not realizing what I was doing, I tore the rest of the dolls from Penny and kicked away the stuffed animals at my feet. A rubber band helicopter buzzed by my ear and I swatted it away like a fly.
I grabbed the little red wagon by the handle and flung it off into the distance. The toy soldier thrust its bayoneted rifle at me, but this time I was quicker. I grabbed the rifle and kicked the soldier in the head, like you’d kick open a door. It’s head cracked and bent backward. I kicked it again, this time knocking the head clean off, and the floor buckled beneath our feet.
Penny screamed and we both fell to our hands and knees. I lunged sideways to grab her by the wrist and pulled her towards the stair rails, which I could see rising and falling in the distance like the forecastle of a ship on a stormy sea. I tried to stand and walk, but it was like trying to walk on a water mattress, so we crawled. Toys got in our way, but they were having more trouble than we were and their faces were contorted in pain. The headless, bloody doll staggered in front of us to bar our way, but when I brushed it aside, it fell over and began writhing as if it were having a seizure.
It seemed impossibly far to the stairs, but we trudged forward, and suddenly we were swept up with a swell of the floor and slid straight down into the stairwell, only to tumble down the entire staircase and burst through the door at the bottom.
Copyright © 2010 by Garrett Calcaterra