The flecks of dust began to gleam in the morning light. Laura glanced across at the moth-eaten sheets that draped across the old wooden bed frame. No one could have been up the stairs of the attic in at least ten years, she thought to herself.
Laura and her boyfriend Mark had just moved into the four-storey house at the end of Mile Lane. It was an impressive property, a period landmark of the Victorian lifestyle that needed more than a little fixing up, but Laura lived for interior design. She and Mark had met at an architectural conference five years ago, and after the last year of living out of a room in his parents’ house, they’d been ecstatic to find out their very first offer on the Mile Lane townhouse had been accepted without any efforts to increase it.
The keys to their first home had held a heavier weight than she’d been used to, but Laura hadn’t cared at all. She’d taken a year’s sabbatical from the university she taught at and planned to spend at least the first three months of it renovating and redecorating their new house.
Moving in was the usual combination of excitement, exhaustion and sleeping on floors. When Mark returned to work after that first frantic weekend of unpacking, Laura was happy to be left to fully explore their new home by herself.
She’d remembered the size of the living rooms from their first house viewing, but to see them again as her own was thrilling. The kitchen was huge, complete with the original fireplace and floorboards, which although currently coated with years of neglect would polish up to a modern beauty in no time.
Laura had fallen in love with the period features of the hallways and ceilings during the viewing. She headed upstairs to take a closer look at the ornate ceiling rose in the spare bedroom. Looking up as she ascended the wooden steps, she noticed a small hatch door in the roof space above the staircase. She hadn’t noticed it before, and wondered how something like that could’ve escaped her keen eye.
She ran back downstairs and dragged the stepladders out from the back room storage cupboard Mark had decided to helpfully throw everything useful into. Awkward as they were, she slowly managed to carry them to the top floor staircase and position them carefully on the landing.
Acutely aware of the sheer drop below her, Laura carefully climbed each step of the ladder, trying her best to not look down. She reached the hatch and pulled back the rusting brass lock with a sharp groan of exertion. It screamed in resistance but gave way nonetheless. Laura pushed the hatch open, and thrust herself up and into the darkness.
Pulling her body weight through the small rectangular space, she rolled forward onto dust-encrusted floorboards. The hatch had been concealing an attic. Laura was puzzled; no-one had mentioned the house having an attic space in any of the property descriptions. The estate agent hadn’t alerted her or Mark to it either, which she considered to be pretty stupid given that they were each looking for separate work spaces within their new home.
Having adjusted to the dim lighting, Laura looked around the attic room. Thick with dirt and dust, the room contained a covered bed frame, an antique-looking rocking chair and a bookcase. A globe of the world stood in the corner of the room, as did a threadbare rocking horse and an ornate dolls house. Dark and untouched as the attic was, Laura had the distinct impression that this room must have belonged to a young girl.
Carefully, she approached the bed. To her right, above her head she noticed the light creeping in through a small window hatch in the roof. The light’s beam was soft and glowing, illuminating every speck of dust and decay as they danced through what little air the room had. Laura’s gaze met the beam’s end; on the floor right by the middle of the bed.
That’s when she noticed it, poking out from underneath. It looked like a box at first, brown and decrepit. Laura began to feel a chill, but against her body’s instincts she knelt to the floor and reached under the bed frame. Suddenly, a deafening boom shook the bed. She felt something cold and leathery, and she yanked her hand back in shock.
Heart racing, Laura frantically jumped through the hatch of the attic floor in panic. Legs crumpling as they missed the steps of the ladder, she landed mercifully in a heap of limbs on the landing floor beneath. Groaning in pain, she rolled over to look upwards at the still open attic hatch.
Fear encased her heart as her upward stare met another pair of eyes, looking down at her through the hatch. Laura saw nothing but those eyes, white and terrible, almost peering through her soul as she writhed on the floor below them, widening maniacally as they slammed the hatch shut.
Laura couldn’t move. She felt a tear slide down her ice-cold face as vomit began to bubble in the back of her throat. In agony, she forced her body to roll onto its side, mainly so that she wouldn’t choke on the taste of her own fear but also so she didn’t have to look up at the hatch anymore.
As the fluids began to seep from her mouth in an involuntary heave, she began to regain the feeling in her right arm. It was then that Laura realised she was still clutching onto something. Looking down at her hand she saw what she had in her grasp; the cold leather jacket of a book. The book from underneath the bed frame. The book that she still held onto, and that she now knew she should never have touched.
Vomit pooling on the carpet, Laura gathered what little strength she had in her upper body and dragged herself down the top flight of stairs. Legs trailing behind her in an agonising heap of bone and muscle, she crawled her way into the bathroom and locked the door behind her.
Sobbing in silent hysterics, she looked down at the book. Despite being gripped in her sweating palm for the last ten minutes, the cover still felt as cold as ice to the touch. Decorated with an ornate pattern that looked almost runic in places, its time-worn leather jacket was as beautiful as it was chilling.
Laura had no idea what had just happened. She could still feel the glare of those eyes searing through her heart. Her legs weren’t responding, but she knew they weren’t broken. The attic was shut again, but Laura knew that she’d inadvertently awoken something in their house by opening that hatch. She had no idea what it was, but somehow, that the answer had to be inside the book.
If she could bring herself to read it…