Warning: Do not read in the dark.
“Yes, I know it’s silly,” Janey said, holding her phone between her shoulder and her ear as she climbed into the attic, a cardboard box under one arm, “but how else will there be long-lost things in the attic if I don’t put things in the attic to be lost? No one else is going to have left anything up there, the house isn’t old enough.” The attic itself wasn’t much to look at: mostly exposed woodwork and insulation, but the previous owners had put in a bit of a floor in one corner, probably for their own storage, and she fully intended to make use of it. Janey set the box down triumphantly and pulled a flashlight out of her pocket, shining it around. “Yep, nothing else to see here except the inside of my ceiling and…” She trailed off as her light reflected off something metallic at the far end of the room. “Hold on, let me call you back.”
She hung up and slid the phone into her back pocket. The building inspector had been quite clear that there was nothing of interest in the attic, so perhaps it was just some exposed piping, but Janey had never let her curiosity go unanswered. Making her way gingerly along the framing, she crept towards the back of the house.
It quickly became apparent that whatever it was was not piping, but it was not until she was almost on top of it that it resolved itself into a door. Janey paused, shining her light around the edges. Yep, definitely a door, but this was an exterior wall, and there definitely were no inexplicable doors on the outside of the house. That, she would have noticed. But there’d been no mention in the inspection of a door, and she couldn’t think of any reason the attic of a house built in 1997 would need a door.
Shuffling closer, she reached out for the doorknob and gave it a turn. She’d expected the door to be nailed shut, but it opened when she pulled. Beyond, instead of the framing of the house, or the back of the siding, was a long, dark corridor. For a long moment, Janey stared at it. She shut the door, waited a moment, and opened it again to the same corridor. An unearthly silence came from within, seeming to dampen out even the normal, everyday sounds of life.
Just to make absolutely sure, Janey reached out, past the door frame. Her hand met no resistance, though the air within the corridor raised goosebumps on her arm. The silence became more complete, but then there was the sound of something coming, something brushing up the corridor, and the very air seemed heavy with waiting.
She could see nothing coming, but the sound grew louder. Her skin began to crawl, and she felt that something, whatever it was, was directly on top of her. She slammed the door with a squeak, retreated back to the ladder, and made her way down into the light and the safety of her second-floor hallway.
Janey spent the rest of the day in the living room with all the lights on. She didn’t go outside to double-check things. If the door was in an exterior wall – and she was pretty sure it was – then nothing made any sense. Doors did not just appear, especially not ones with hallways that should not be possible. So obviously, she was wrong, and checking wouldn’t help that. She had to be wrong.
Since impossible hallways didn’t exist, it had to be something else. Perhaps it was a door for access into some sort of housing system. Maybe it wasn’t really a corridor, but a heating duct. Yes, a heating duct, and some animal – a raccoon, probably – had gotten into it, and that was the noise, and it just echoed oddly because it was a heating duct.
Yes, that was it.
So, that night, as she lay in bed (with the lights on), and there came a scratching from the attic, that’s what she told herself. That she hadn’t closed the door securely, and now the raccoon was in the attic instead of the heating duct.
Never mind that it seemed much too heavy to be a raccoon. Never mind that, at times, it was more of a dragging than a scratching. And never mind that it seemed deliberate – not the sound she expected from a scared, trapped animal.
In the morning, the scratching was gone, but she overslept because her alarm clock was missing. It was eventually found across the room, smashed to bits. Janey wasn’t quite sure how that had happened. She’d had disturbing dreams, so perhaps she’d accidentally grabbed and thrown it overnight? She stuck to that interpretation until she found her toothpaste shredded and a long, deep scratch down the door of her bedroom.
Armed with her flashlight, she conducted a search of the house (minus the attic), looking and listening, but if the raccoon had gotten out of the attic into the house, it was gone now. Comforted, Janey left for work.
But when she returned home that night, one of her couch cushions was spread across the living room, and the next morning she found the contents of her silverware drawer stuck into the floor, sticking straight toward the ceiling. The scratching continued each night as well, moving slowly across the attic.
After three days, Janey called an animal control officer, but he was unable to find a raccoon, or any other animal. He laid some traps and left. Janey tried not to think about what that could mean. She had been tempted, when he went into the attic, to ask about the door, but he hadn’t said anything about it, and she was beginning to wonder if she’d imagined it.
The traps remained empty, but the scratching continued.
The next weekend, Janey and her three best girl friends went camping. They built a campfire and sat shoulder to shoulder, laughing and sharing gossip. It was a relief – each sound was clear and definite here: the chirping of a cricket, the howl of a coyote. There was no indistinct dragging here, no disembodied scratching. Janey felt herself relaxing.
“Ghost story time,” declared Maria after they’d eaten their s’mores and the sky had grown dark. She grabbed a nearby flashlight and shined it at her face. “Are you ready to risk your soooouuulllss?”
Janey laughed along with the others, but it was forced. Ghost story time was tradition, though, and was meant in good fun.
“Oh, oh, me first,” said Abby. She stole the flashlight from Maria. “I’ve got a great one.” The other girls leaned close as Abby stood, turning on the light. “A young woman went into the basement of her parents’ house. She’d been down there dozens of times before, but this time she noticed something strange – a door, where there’d never been a door before, and where there shouldn’t have been a door at all, because there was a window directly next to it, and she could see her mother’s roses beyond.
“Well, this woman was curious about the door. So she went and she opened it, and on the other side there was a tunnel, dark and foreboding, and from deep inside there came a strange noise, like something was being dragged towards her.”
“This girl hasn’t seen enough horror movies,” said Maria.
“Yeah, I would have sealed it up and left it alone,” said Zoe.
“I’m getting there,” said Abby, “stop interrupting. Well, she was frightened, and so she closed the door and dragged an old table over in front of it, then piled some boxes on the table, until the door was completely blocked from view. But little did she know that it was too late, and that the door, once open, could never be closed again.”
“Why?” Janey demanded. Her friends turned to stare at her, but she pressed on. “Where did it go? What came through?”
Abby, apparently convinced she was getting through to her audience, continued. “Strange things began to happen around the house – things went missing, and strange noises echoed through the night. She tried to ignore it, but things only got worse over time.”
“I can’t hear the rest of this,” Janey said. “Tell me she figured out how to fix everything, and everything was okay.”
“Story getting to you?” Abby laughed, adding a cackle on the end.
“Seriously, Abby, how do you—does she get rid of the door? How does she drive whatever it is out?”
Maria and Zoe looked at her. “It’s just a story, Janey. Calm down.”
“How did she get rid of the door?” Janey could hear her voice rising, knew she sounded hysterical.
“Maybe we’d better stop,” Abby said.
Janey forced herself to take a deep breath. It was an access door, remember? To a heating duct. But if it wasn’t… “Where does the door go?”
Abby sighed and lifted the light back to her face. “What the girl didn’t know was that the door didn’t go to any place in this world, but instead opened a portal to the other side, and it allowed all that was dark and evil to enter our world.”
Suddenly the woods didn’t seem so safe. What was that crack? Was the thing from the house following her? Janey spun around, peering into the dark.
“All right, seriously, no more ghost story time,” Maria said. She laid a hand on Janey’s shoulder, who jumped. “Wow, girl, you are wound tighter than a spool.”
“Tell me how the story ends,” Janey begged Abby. “Tell me everything is okay in the end.”
Abby shook her head. “I’ve never seen you so spooked. I think Maria’s right – we’re done for now.”
They retired to their tent, but Janey spent the entire night awake, listening to the creaks and whispers of the forest outside.
Janey apologized in the morning, told the other girls that she didn’t know what had gotten into her, but they still looked at her like she was an injured animal and they weren’t quite sure what to do with her.
After lunch they drove home. As they reached Janey’s house, Abby leaned over and took her hand. “The story ended okay,” she said. “The girl went to the door, opened it, and told the other side that it wasn’t welcome, and that it couldn’t enter through that door anymore. And then, she shut it, hung a dreamcatcher on it, and the sounds went away, and after awhile, the door faded away too.”
Janey felt some of the tension leave her. “Thanks, Abby.” She climbed out of the car, retrieved her stuff, and went inside. Dropping everything just inside the front door, she made her way upstairs, staring at the entrance to the attic. There was no sound coming from it, but for a long time she just waited, listening.
Finally, she forced herself to go to her room, retrieve a crucifix her mother had given her, and pull down the entrance to the attic. She paused, but when there was no movement above, she slowly started up the ladder, peering around the darkened area. The door was still there, tightly closed as she had left it.
Janey’s heart beat furiously in her chest, but she managed to talk herself into the attic and across to the door. The handle shone darkly, but there was still no noise. Janey threw the door open, shouted, “Go away, you’re not welcome here! You can’t come in through here!”
She slammed the door, left the crucifix hanging on the doorknob, and all but fled the attic. Once down in the light, she paused. Everything felt…lighter. Like something heavy had lifted from the house and her life.
Cheered, she put away her camping gear and spent the afternoon relaxing on the couch. Everything stayed where she put it and, as she prepared for bed, the attic was blissfully silent. As she pulled the covers over her, she wondered how she’d gotten so worked up over something that was solved so easily.
Every day or so, she would go up and peek at the door to see if it was dissolving, but she never ventured too close, so it was hard to tell.
Then, one night, she had a nightmare, where something dark was chasing her. Though she couldn’t see what pursued her, she could feel its breath on her neck and something grabbing at the back of her shirt. Then the very air turned on her, crushing her. She gasped for breath, jerking awake. But escaping the dream did her no good. The heaviness remained, and a black shadow, deeper than the night surrounding her, lurked just at the edge of her bed.
A low rumble came from the shadow. “Foolish child,” it said in a voice that grated and whispered of untold horrors. “The door, once opened, cannot be closed.”
Janey tried to move her body, but it wouldn’t respond. “But…” she whispered.
The shadow laughed again, leaning over the bed. The darkness descended on Janey, and that was the last thing she knew.