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 Mark had just moved into the four-storey house at the end of Mile Lane. It was an impressive property, a stubborn 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. 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. Spacious yet elderly enough to be considered ‘vintage’, 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 of the house during their viewing. She headed upstairs to take a closer look at the ornate ceiling rose in the spare bedroom. Looking upward 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.
She ran back downstairs and dragged the stepladders out from the backroom storage cupboard. Mark had decided to helpfully throw everything useful into. Organisation wasn’t his strong suit. Awkward as they were, she slowly managed to carry the metal steps up 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 pressed her hands up to the hatch and pulled back the rusting brass lock with a sharp groan of exertion. It screamed in resistance but gave way nonetheless. Laura shoved the hatch open and thrust herself up and into the darkness.
She heaved her body weight through the small rectangular space and rolled forward onto dust-encrusted floorboards. Stale air and dark shadows. Laura coughed as flecks of untouched life propelled themselves into her mouth. The hatch had been concealing an attic. Laura was confused; 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 thought was pretty stupid given that they’d said they wanted separate workspaces 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 anicent-looking rocking chair and an empty bookcase. A faded globe of the world stood in the corner of the room, as did a threadbare rocking horse and an ornate dolls house. Dark and unkempt 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 cardboard box at first, brown and decrepit. Its corners and edges jutted out obnoxiously against the soft light of the sun. Laura’s skin bristled, but against her body’s instincts, she knelt to the floor to look closer at it. For a second, the sunlight vanished and as shadows hit her arm Laura reached under the bed frame. Suddenly, a deafening boom shook the bed. She felt something cold and leathery at her touch, and she yanked her hand back in shock.
Heart racing, Laura lurched back from the bedframe, coating herself in dust as the floorboards clung hungrily to her clothes. She threw herself down through the hatch of the attic floor in panic. Legs crumpling beneath her as they missed the steps of the ladder, she felt a sickening thud as her body made contact with the ground, splaying itself mercilessly in a heap of limbs on the landing floor beneath. Groaning in pain, she rolled over to look upwards at the still-open hatch above her.
Horror encased her heart as her upward stare met another pair of eyes, glaring 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. Were they smiling at her?
Laura couldn’t move. She could barely breathe. A tear slide down Laura’s 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. She didn’t want to choke on the taste of her own fear but she couldn’t bear to look up at the hatch anymore.
As the fluids began to seep from Laura’s 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. Glancing at her twisted grip, 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. It hurt like hell, but the feeling of that thing being so close behind her, above her, drove Laura down through the agony. Legs trailing behind her in an excruciating heap of bone and muscle, she crawled her way into the bathroom and locked the door behind her.
Sobbing in silent hysterics, Laura looked down at the book. Despite being glued to her sweating palm for the last ten minutes, the cover still felt as cold as ice to the touch. It was decorated with a strange ornate pattern that looked almost runic in places. Although it revolted her, Laura could see that its time-worn leather jacket was just as beautiful as it was chilling.
The bathroom floor was wet. Had she done that? 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 sealed shut again, but Laura now knew she’d awoken something in their house by opening that hatch. She had no idea what it was, and she didn’t want to either. What she did know though, was that somehow, the answer had to be inside the book.
If she could bring herself to read it…