When I was a kid, my parents and I moved to a large house in one of the “bad” parts of our city. In reality, the neighborhood wasn't that bad save for a few people. I was never particularly comfortable in that house, especially upstairs where the bedrooms were. For the first couple of years, it was just an uneasy feeling. I kept my dog with me and that kept me secure.
I didn't know it until after we’d moved from the house, but my mom would find the clean laundry that she hadn’t folded yet neatly folded up in the basket. Sometimes when I was trying to go to sleep, there’d be a noise like a clock ticking away, despite there being no clock like that in the upstairs of the house. Then the footsteps started when my dad started working out of town.
No matter what floor you were on, you would hear footsteps above you. There were light steps, like a child or small woman. There were also heavy steps, like a man wearing boots. My dog stayed with me all the time.
Bear liked to sleep where he could watch, so at night he would sleep at the top of the stairs in front of all three bedroom doors. That was always good enough for me, until the night I met her. I was going to sleep on the bottom bunk, and I noticed long brown hair dangling from the top bunk. It started coming down farther and farther until I saw a crescent of forehead. Then the eyes that tied my stomach in knots, the eyes that I still see when I close mine. I saw eyes bulging out of their sockets, white and veiny, but no pupils or retinas. Staring at me. I could feel that pressure like someone’s staring at you like you have three heads.
I screamed. I know I did, I think I might have actually rattled the windows with it. Bear didn’t budge. No one came to see what was happening. She looked about my age, seven or eight and her lips were cut or cracked right through the lip in multiple places right to the normal skin. Her mouth opened and all that came out was what I can only identify to this day as old cheese and rotting flesh.
I don’t know how long I screamed, but my voice gave up. It just quit. She was reaching for me with these busted up fingers, like all the bones and joints had been broken over and over. The cracked and dried out skin was like frozen sandpaper against my cheek.
“Wanna play with my dollies?”
I couldn’t and still cannot remember what happened after that. My parents swore they never heard me scream. After that, I tried to avoid being in my room by myself. When I did manage to be upstairs by myself I heard jumping or skipping in the attic and from between or from the other side of the walls. After a few months of hearing the thumping I got used to it, I hadn’t seen the girl in a while, though there were a few times I’d see lacey fabric flapping past doorways through the corner of my eye. One day, the boy next door was over and we were playing in the spare bedroom.
“There’s a bunch of old dolls up in the attic, ya know?”
I froze and remembered the little brown haired girl, “Really? How do you know?”
“The people who lived here before you guys told me about them.”
I held back the questions bubbling up inside of me. That night, not long after I was put into bed, a large lump popped up under my blanket. I kicked at it fruitlessly, it was like a freezing pocket of air. It advanced towards me. She was right there, between me and the blanket.
“I told you I had dollies.”
I tried to respond, scream, kick, anything. Nothing happened, all my body would do is shiver from the cold and heave from the smell.
“Can’t you hear all the fun we have in my room? Come play with me...”
She rolled off of my bed and through the wall that my room shared with the spare bedroom with attic access. I tossed and turned the rest of the night, eventually I snuck into my mom’s room for the night. I couldn’t escape the thumps and bumps from the attic, though.
After weeks of not being able to sleep and having to sneak into my mom’s room for even a little bit of sleep, I made my decision. I waited until after school, and went to get one of the kids a few houses down that I didn’t particularly like.
“I heard there are some really cool old toys up in the attic, do you want to go look at them with me?”
He seemed leary at first, but we were all poor and I guess his imagination got the best of him. I brought him into the house. I got the hole to the attic opened and pulled the steps down.
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
I was halfway down the steps when I heard the steps creak as he started to climb up. I crept up as quietly as I could. I heard him take a few steps, then laughter. Some was his, some belonged to what sounded like a few other kids. I climbed the steps into the attic. I only went high enough to poke my head in.
The kid from down the street was hanging from the rafters. Farther back, over my room by the chimney, there was a little girl in a lacy gown. She was also hanging from the rafters, with cobwebs hanging from her. Her skin was like leather pulled tight over the bone. She had a circle of dolls surrounding her.
I couldn’t see very well, but the dolls whose faces I could see had the same leathery look that she did. I felt a burning around my wrists and ankles, then no matter how hard I resisted, I couldn’t stop climbing the steps up further. It was like dozens of little hands were making me their puppet. I heard the faint sound of banging on the front door. The little girl came from behind me. Her brow was furrowed with a deep frown across her lips.
“I didn’t ask him to come play with us.”
I heard heavy footsteps coming up the stairs. The little girl wasn’t angry anymore. I felt the tiny hands release me, she wasn’t even looking at me, she was staring at the attic hole. Her bottom lip quivered, she backed up slowly and rubbed her broken hands together. She backed up through the chimney and disappeared.
I was in such a hurry to get out that I tumbled down the steps to the attic. I stumbled down the steps, through a thick pocket of cold air. The boy’s parents were knocking on the door. I told them we’d been playing upstairs and I hadn’t been able to find him after I came down to the kitchen for something. I helped them search the house. I let them check the attic, I pretend to look through my mom’s room for him while they were up there. I was sure I would be blamed. They found nothing.
We moved from that house not much after that boy disappeared, my mom and dad were convinced that the neighborhood had become too dangerous for us. They still don’t believe me about the little girl. I’m in my mid-twenties now, and I still drive through the old neighborhood sometimes. The house is still there, and it’s constantly on and off the market. I always look up in my window when I pass the house, and there she is, waiting for more dolls to play with.