CHAPTER 2: WHAT LIES ABOVE (part 2)
The Hopewell house had a spacious attic, where an abundance of personal belongings were stored and, eventually, lost or discarded from within the large, unpainted empty room. Jacob’s parents loved the attic. To them, attics represented storage–a place to house the unhouseable, to squirrel away the unsquirrel-awayable. But to Jacob, Mike, and their friends, attics were dim, lifeless places from which few toys, baseball cards, or comic books ever reemerged.
Even before his brother James’s warning that attics served as boarding homes for ghosts, Jacob disliked entering the attic at night. It was a dark and unwelcoming place. Even on the brightest of summer days the attic was a subtle reminder that some places were best left unexplored. During the summer months, the room was a hot, desert-like place where wasps and hornets could be found buzzing about and trying to construct nests in the wooden floorboards. During the cooler seasons, the attic floor was a last resting place for these and other unlucky insects. Between the months of October and December, dozens of dead flies seemed to magically appear on the attic floor. Mike once counted nearly 100 deceased flies.
Unfortunately, the attic was the designated storage room for toys. So, like it or not, attic runs were a requirement of kids, regardless of whatever hidden evils the room might hold.
The boys started up the round staircase leading to the attic and Ker-plunk. The light switch was at the top of the stairs. They climbed in darkness but for the soft glow from a hand-held Bat-Man flashlight that was largely useless.
“At this point,” Mike said, carefully sidestepping a pair of Depression-era sneakers, “I’m less concerned with the supernatural than I am with breaking my neck trying to avoid all the crazy shoes. What gives?”
On each step were old shoes. Dozens in total. Some in boxes. Some loose. There were slippers, galoshes, pumps, sneakers, sandals, high-heels, and two pair of military-issue lace-up boots. The staircase looked less like a footpath than a rest home for retired footwear.
“I don’t know. I get the feeling my mom thinks they’ll be valuable one day or come back into style.”
“A penny each. Tops. Well, if a ghost doesn’t kill us, these will,” Mike complained, half stumbling over a pair of thirty-year-old dingy yellow rain boots.
“I’m starting to have second thoughts about this,” Jacob said, as they reached the tenth and final step into his parents’ attic. He pressed a hand against the wall and flicked on the light.
“Hot up here,” Mike said, wiping a forearm against his head. “Where’s the game?”
Jacob pointed to the far corner wall, next to which several long clothing bags hung on a rusted metal pole.
“Man, those are creepy. I’ve never actually seen one, but those sure look like body bags.”
“It’s just more old clothing and other junk. What’s a body bag?”
“My dad says when you die they put your body in a bag.”
“Gross. I’m not going in one of them.”
“Well, you’ll be dead, so I doubt you’ll have much say.”
Outside, a breeze kicked up, and the tiny attic window screen shook in its wooden frame.
Ker-Plunk was wedged between Concentration, Monopoly, Life, and several other games. Mike pulled the box free but stumbled backward, colliding with Jacob. As they tumbled to the floor, the game box opened, and 100 glass marbles raced across the surface in all directions.
“Nice one, birdbrain!” Jacob yelled.
“I’m okay, I’m okay,” Mike said.
“I wasn’t asking.”
“Oh,” Mike said.
“Just help me pick up this mess and let’s get outta here. Storm’s coming.”
As if to confirm Jacob’s warning, a lightning bolt shot across the sky, followed by a booming of thunder. The boys crawled quickly along the floor, snatching the marbles two and three at a time.
“I think a couple must have rolled behind here,” Mike said, pointing to a wooden door just shy of four feet in height.
“It’s okay. We’ve found enough. No need to go in there.”
“Don’t be a sissy.”
“I’m serious. Do not open that door.”
“Who or what is Mrs. McGarrity?” Mike asked.
“It’s a long story.”
“Well, start yakking. The night’s not getting any younger.”
“Okay. Okay. I’ll tell you what James told me.”
“Your brother? This ought to be good.”
“No, seriously. He told me this a few months ago. I don’t like to think about it, much less discuss it.”
“Don’t be a baby,” Mike said, impatiently, as the shadow of the nearing storm fell upon their faces.
“Years ago, our house was owned by a couple named McGarrity. Mrs. McGarrity and her husband lived in our house. They slept in the same room where I sleep, and they ate in the same kitchen where we all eat. Mrs. McGarrity was a lot older than Mr. McGarrity.”
“How much older?”
“About twenty years, I think. Maybe thirty.”
“You don’t marry someone that much older. See. Already this story makes no sense.”
“It guess it happens. Anyway, she hated being so much older than her husband. More than anything she wanted to stop her aging body from growing any older. She used to drink a lot. Whiskey. Rum. One night when she was drunk she made a deal.”
“What kind of deal?” Mike asked.
“A dark deal, with a dark demon.”
Mike’s eyes widened. “Now you got my attention. What kind of demon? You mean like the Silver Surfer’s enemy, Mephisto?”
“Much worse. It was called Demonicus.”
“She traded her soul for eternal youth. Mrs. McGarrity was very happy, but Demonicus tricked her. It took out some paint and a canvas and painted the woman’s picture. Then it pointed at the painting and said, ‘Your likeness will never change.’”
“How’d Demonicus learn to paint? Where’d Demonicus get artist paints? Where’d Demonicus get a canvas? Also, that was the single-worst demon impression I’ve ever heard in my entire life!”
“I don’t have answers to those questions. And stop saying Demonicus! A moment later the demon snatched Mrs. McGarrity away, leaving behind the painting. Mr. McGarrity found the painting the next day, and even though he wasn’t around when his wife made her deal with Demonicus, he somehow knew what had happened. He knew then the painting was all he had left. But at the same time, he was afraid of it; he was afraid of its evil. So, he stored it here, in the behind that little door, where it couldn’t harm anyone. He used to visit it late at night. When Mr. Garrity died, and the house was sold to my mom and dad, they were told the painting had to remain locked away.”
“How come you never told me that story before? Also, Demonicus is a stupid name for a demon. Your brother is so full of it.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Are you kidding? James was trying to scare you, and you fell for it. Besides which, demons are just the stuff of comic books and scary movies.”
Outside, the storm edged closer.
“You’re so tough, go on and open the door,” Jacob insisted.
“What are you, chicken?”
“No. It’s just stupid.”
“Fine,” Mike said, “I’ll show you there’s nothing to fear.”
Jacob stood up, shoved the marbles into his pockets, and took several steps back as Mike scooted toward the door. He slowly turned the latch and began pulling at it.
“It’s stuck,” Mike shrugged.
Mike grasped the latch with both hands and pulled hard. With a high shriek the door suddenly swung violently open. The interior of the small closet was as black as a starless sky.
NEXT: BANANA SEAT SUMMER: WHAT LIES ABOVE CONCLUDES