The People Upstairs

The house was old; the house was big – bigger in fact than it had ever been. Not much happened upstairs, in the attic, because the attic was full of dust and discarded building supplies, crumbling plaster and lath, and so many spiders. It wasn’t that the upstairs had never been used, but rather it hadn’t been used in decades. From time to time you’d pop your head up there to make sure the noises weren’t raccoons or squirrels or the restless dead, but the rooms up there remained undone, unfinished, and showed their age.

Photo by Maksim Istomin:

The time came to start working up there, when the crest of spring was nigh and I wanted to reclaim one of the rooms as a studio, and perhaps a second as another bedroom. There’s enough space upstairs, enough rooms that used to be used as much as a century ago, for nearly a full suite. Don’t think the idea of another half bath didn’t occur to me. But, “start slow and get done what you start”, and all that.

The first order of business was to clear out the detritus of the family before the family before the family from whom we’d bought the place. When I say the attic hadn’t been used in quite some time, I meant generations. I began pulling away cobwebs from shelves of old books, removing stacks of bricks and lumber from forgotten doorways, and wondering how I would get some of the furniture out through the small attic hatch – years before, there must have been stairs that led to an attic door; possibly stairs hidden inside a wall like my great aunt had in her small town southern prairie home.

It was a little strange, I thought, when one of my former lovers showed up out of the blue. It was even stranger when they offered to help with the upstairs, but it was a big enough job I didn’t want to say no, so I didn’t. Together we peeled away layers of dust and grime, finding lost treasures and rooms where long-ago dreams were dreamt. It didn’t occur to me that the upstairs was much, much bigger than it ought to have been until we found the nearly intact bedroom full of magazines and records from the 50s and a closet of moth-eaten clothes.

The discovery would have slowed us more if we hadn’t seen something move behind the shelves. It wasn’t a small something or even a medium something, but a full-grown big something, and it hadn’t moved silently. We’d heard its footsteps, and I could’ve sworn it spoke. So we moved the bookcase as quietly as we could, which wasn’t especially quiet owing to all the dust on the wooden floor, and squeezed through the narrow doorway beyond.

Photo by anait film:

“This has to be a different building’s attic,” I said in a low whisper. “There’s no way the geometry of this architecture makes sense.”

“Think about all those houses in England though,” my former lover said. “They’re all connected up above.”

This is true, but I don’t live in England, and the nearest house to mine is well over 50 yards away. Still and all, we found what we found, and there’s no arguing with what you see, touch, hear, smell, and, if I’m being honest, taste. The dust was everywhere.

The other side of the door was a wide open space, with sunlight filtering down through holes in the roof here and there. Cooking pots had been placed beneath to catch the rain. There were windows covered with yellowing newsprint, and the floor was finished in aquamarine linoleum. A kitchen sink against the west wall had dishes in it, and a small Formica table with rust spots and chipped chrome on its uneven legs sat in the middle of the room. There was no dust here.

You could feel the place watching you though, and it was holding its breath, waiting to see what you were going to do. To the north was a handmade beaded curtain hanging from the vaulted ceiling, the “beads” made from wooden spools, shells, small rocks, and bits of polished glass. The curtain tinkled softly as if someone had just gone through. Beyond was visible a threadbare armchair we used to have out at the farm, a floor lamp from my grandparents’ basement, and more papered-over windows.

The angular valley of a dormer blocked our view of the room to the south. My former lover inhaled as if to call out, but I waved for them to stay silent. Whatever was here was frightened, and frightened creatures who are cornered are often unpleasant.

After some time standing in the yellow light, someone said, in a terrible stage whisper “can we come out now?”, and once the silence was broken the entire room came to life. Eyes opened from against the walls where perfectly camouflaged people had stood motionless, their clothes and faces painted to match the plaster and wood. Someone crawled out of a cupboard under the sink. The room was suddenly …peopled.

Photo by imustbedead :

These folk were oddly built and strange appointed; cast-outs from different times. One had too many limbs, which she pushed about in a doll’s carriage; another had half a head, the skin stretched taut with thick hair over the space where the rest ought to have been. Another pulled himself across the floor on his hands, trailing wizened legs behind him. A small person of indistinct gender lowered themself from a sling somehow tethered to the back side of the dormer, like half a spider dangling from a dusty web.

“We don’t want to leave,” the person in the sling said, dangling at roughly eye level with us. “It’s too hard to leave.”

“Are they going to make us leave?” asked a girl who peeked out through the beaded curtain. She wore a tattered prairie dress, her hair in long plaits hanging nearly to her waist. Her round face and wide-set eyes spoke of a genetic mutation that, years ago, would have put her in a nursing home or asylum.

Photo by Luca Luperto:

“We don’t even know what’s going on,” I said. “Who are you people?”

The person in the sling lowered themself to floor level and looked up at us. “The better question is, who are you?”



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2 responses to “The People Upstairs”

  1. DerKaptin Avatar

    What ? That’s it? C’mon, don’t leave us…hangin!

    Have you by any chance read Little, Big by John Crowley? It’s, partially, about a house. An extraordinary house.

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      I have! But it’s been long enough I’ve forgotten much of it. I do remember loving it though. Time for a reread!!

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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