I want to tell you a story.
It's the story of a man.
You see, my great grandma was a real nice old lady. She had a nice little old lady house. We used to go there a lot before she passed away several years ago and my grandparents tore it down to build a new house for themselves on top.
One thing I distinctly remember was her attic - boy was it fucking scary.
It was dark - only one light bulb would work - and you had to be real careful because there was a lot of exposed insulation so if you stepped off the boards to get around you'd probably fall straight through the ceiling into the room below.
But it wasn't so much the atmosphere of the attic - the fact that it was dark, dusty, and smelled a little weird.
It was the story my uncle and my dad used to tell me about the attic.
A very long time ago, when my grandpa was just a little boy, they moved into this house. It was nice: two bedrooms, a nice bathroom, dining room, and kitchen. My great grandparents made a very decent living; my great grandfather owned a very successful body shop and my great grandmother sold Avon. One day, my grandpa was playing in the living room when there was a knock at the door. He answered and there stood a man. He was wearing a nice suit and holding a nice hat against his chest with a polite smile on his face.
"Hello there, Junior!" he said. "Is your father home?"
My great grandfather approached the door, suspicious.
"If you're selling anything, I'm not interested. Thanks," he said, before trying to close the door. But no, this stranger interrupted with a start.
"No, no sir, I'm no salesman. I'd just like to talk if you wouldn't mind."
"About what?" my great grandfather asked.
"I was wondering if I could take a look in your attic. You see, I used to live here and it... it would really bring back some memories." The man was nervous, but my great grandfather wasn't about to fall for any con man!
"Sorry, sir. My wife's about to finish dinner. Not interested."
So he shut the door and ushered my young grandfather away. A day passed and it was another hot summer day. My great grandmother was fixing my grandpa lunch when she heard a knock.
"Wallace, could you get the door?" she called to great grandpa, who sighed and obeyed his wife.
It was the man again.
"Now see here, mister. I already told you. I don't want some stranger in my house. You leave me and my family alone before you upset my son and wife. And if you upset them I think there's going to be some trouble!"
"Please, sir!" the man pleaded, wringing his hands. "It'll only take a moment. I absolutely must get up there if even for ten minutes!"
This time, my grandfather didn't give him the liberty of goodbye, only a slammed door. A few days past, peaceful playing, working, the life of your average Canadian upper-middle-class family took place as usual.
My great grandfather, great grandmother, and grandfather sat eating dinner one evening. I like to imagine they were having my grandma's grandma's (this is what I called her) roasted chicken and potatoes - so delicious. But I digress. Again, a knock at the door; it sounded important.
"I swear, if it's that son of a bitch asking to get in our attic again I'll be tuning his clock but good!" my great grandpa muttered, getting up.
"Wallace, please, nothing in front of little Jim!" my great grandmother cried.
It was the man, again. He was not, however, alone. He was with another man who looked similar.
"Now, sir, before you chase us away, please understand we're brothers and we absolutely must speak with you!" he said before my great grandfather could curse him out up and down.
"Well, spit it out then, man. Now you've gone and interrupted my supper after a long day's work and this had better be good!" my great grandfather threatened.
"Tell me, sir, have you ever heard strange noises in your house? Scratching, shuffling, maybe even light moaning from your attic?" the new man asked calmly.
My great grandfather turned stone cold. His son, my grandpa, had often whined of scratching and other sounds, to which both his parents attributed to maybe mice.
"Maybe we have, maybe we haven't. Why do you ask?" he answered coolly, crossing his arms.
The men at the door exchanged worried glances.
"If only you'd let us come up to your attic. You could come up if you like, but it would be better if you told your son to go to his room, your wife to the kitchen, and us men to go upstairs."
So my great grandfather told my grandpa to go play, asked his wife to clear the table, and led the men up into the dank attic. They used it for only storage; there were no real reasons to come up here, ever.
The two men looked around and knocked on the wood of the walls in the attic in various different spots.
Not hollow. My great grandfather froze as they nodded at one another before turning to him.
"Now, sir, please believe us when we say we'll pay for any damages that need to be fixed, and that what we're about to do may be very shocking, maybe even frightening to you, so you may very well not want to see what's about to happen."
My great grandfather pondered right then and there about turning his heel and waiting downstairs, but no, he had to be the man and stay for his family's sake.
"Go ahead then, what's in there?" he asked.
He wished he hadn't.
The two men pulled at the boards, peeling away the old wood fairly easily. My great grandfather felt viscous bile build in his stomach and throat.
The smell. Oh god, the smell.
His body was frail and gnarled, his skin was a ghostly white, and his bared teeth were yellow as freshly boiled sweet corn. His eyes were open, glazed over and staring. The pupils were milky; he was blind. The whites were barely that; instead they were bloodshot to a point that was almost unbelievable. His fingernails resembled long, brown talons.
Horror filled my great grandfather as the two men bowed their heads.
"It's him," said one. The other only sighed and covered his nose with his sleeve. This thing, this remnant of a once living man was dead, but freshly. That was when my great grandfather had reached his boiling point.
"Now you had both better explain to me right now just what in God's name is going on here! Is this some sort of sick joke? I ought to blow the brains out of both of you where you stand!" he bellowed.
"Sam, go get the blankets from the car. I'll explain." one man said as 'Sam' nodded and left.
"Sir, please understand, we're no monsters. You see, this is our brother." he began fretfully, looking at the mangled creature in the wall.
"YOUR BROTHER?! You sick sons of bitches locked up your own brother in the wall?" My great grandfather cried out, placing a hand on his queasy stomach.
"Never, sir, never," said the man. "My father just passed. We never even knew this poor boy existed our whole entire lives, my other brother and I. Now it would seem our 'brother' here was born with some sort of mental retardation, something that my mother and father couldn't handle as parents, so they chose to do the unthinkable rather than face the public with their shame!" he explained, motioning for the shell of a man (mind you, this story takes place in a time when something like a mental defect was seen as a terribly embarrassing thing).
My great grandfather held his head; he looked at the dead man, then back to the stranger.
"Get this... this... thing out of my house, send someone over to patch up your mess and then never, EVER come near my family again. You hear me?" He ordered.
"You can rely on that, sir. We had not wanted to bother you in the first place, but we couldn't sleep at night knowing some poor family was stuck with him living up in your walls, you see. He probably was sucking the moisture from the ceiling and eatin' bugs and mold, I would think. It's amazing he could have survived!"
My great grandfather solemnly said nothing. He only watched as Sam returned and the two men bundled their strange, demented, and dead brother, leaving with a courteous thank you followed by a repairman and a generous fruit basket a day later.
When my great grandmother asked what had happened, my great grandfather couldn't bear telling her.
"Rats," he said.