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The house in the attic - Alex Quinn


There was a door about four metres off the ground, planted on the ceiling, which is always strange. There was something darkly humorous about it, like it or whoever had placed it there was deliberately mocking those who walked on the ground beneath it. It was a nice ground though, there was that. Hardwood floors, reclaimed wood - though not in a way that would be tasteless, more in a way that made you feel good about owning this place, good about being responsible for brightening the world through a little bit of recycling. It was small, slightly discoloured, made from a different material to the rest of the ceiling, stood out pretty dramatically really. It made us think of a trapdoor, like the kind you get in an old monastery on a mountain somewhere. Behind it, there could be any one of a number of things, though the realtor said that it was likely just another door into the crawlspace that ran over all the apartments on this floor, which was disappointing to hear. While making the first tea, to christen the new kitchen, I said what do you think’s behind it? And waited.


He responded that it was tiring to have these kinds of conversations with me, given that my imagination was too overwhelming to respond to rationally, and that I must see that too.


I thought that was a little close-minded and so I said that, even so, it is fun to imagine what kinds of things it could be hiding. Because it was fun to do that.


I suppose so, he responded from behind a book. It was new, but second-hand and by a prestigious author who had become famous long after his death. It struck me as odd that the door should have been left out of the plans we received in June.


-----


We had wanted to go out for dinner that night, and then go to the supermarket tomorrow, but we were both quite tired from the drive down so we decided to order in a takeout curry from a shop down the road. Internet hadn’t been set up yet so we watched an old film on a portable DVD player, which was in black and white and began with a murder. I didn’t connect with the characters all that much but it seemed as though there was a deeper meaning floating just beyond my grasp so I enjoyed it all the same. At around eleven we went to sleep on the double-bed we had made in the time it took for the food to arrive. I stayed awake while he went to sleep, listening to his breathing as it changed from erratic and conscious to smooth and deep and unburdened. I sat up at the end of the bed and looked out the window into the dark street below. I watched as cars went past, their tail-lights glowing like cigarette butts, reflecting in the many pools of moonlit water. The cracks and bumps in the pavement made hollow noises as tyres ran across them. Thump-thump, thump-thump. Like knocking coming from underground. I shivered under the blanket, said quietly to the room that I didn’t think I would be going to sleep tonight either. The door creaked slightly as I shifted gently through it, quietly pressing it back into place behind me.


It was cold outside the bedroom. The living room was lit by the cool moonlight filtering in from outside the window. I stretched a bare foot out from underneath the blanket to switch on the floor lamp, throwing out a nice warm yellow. I checked maybe three times that I had shut the door while the pot grew louder, the water angrily bubbling away inside. The click brought relief. I sat on a stool at the kitchen counter and looked for a very long time at the door in the wall, beginning by thinking how odd it was that it should be so far up and then ending up lapsing into rhythms of untraceable daydreams. I raised the mug to drink, both hands wrapped around its now-cool exterior, and was surprised to find it empty. The door creaked, as though a wind was blowing on the other side.


-----


I dreamt of the space beyond that night. The door lay behind me. Rough-hewn wood covered with a veneer of smooth, thick paint. The room was large. Bigger than downstairs, at least. Maybe twenty metres across, both ways. Ahead of me, there was a large wall of interlocking wooden boards, green and brown with generations of mould. A door set into the middle mirrored the style of the door behind, though it looked sagged and rotten with age. Wrong somehow. I took a number of creaking steps forward, bare feet sinking into the layers of dank pink insulation that lay across the decaying boards. Questions of age and of my place in this space beyond the living room came and went in quick successions and as the door opened I felt my heart fly into wicked palpitations. Because there was something beyond there, something so awfully paternal, gnarled and twisted and filling this wonderfully infinite space with a terrible and constricting embrace. I cried out in fear and exultation as waves of painful shivers came over me, culminating in a final blow that sent me spinning from the dream.


-----


We were awkward together. Him, unconscious on the bed, content with immovability. I, pressed against him, one arm thrown desperately over his, the other uncomfortably pressed against his side as his shoulder burrowed into the mattress. Maybe I did not belong. When I went back into the room to create a box of my items the door in the ceiling was gone, and in its place was just another segment of plaster, smooth and pale as cream.


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