Haunted Passages: James R. Gapinski
The Fourth Attic
We buy an old house in some up-and-coming Portland neighborhood (see: gentrification; also see: we are the problem, not the solution; also see: housing injustice). Somebody has left old boxes in the attic (see: 50% of all horror movies). The boxes are empty, but oddly enough they feel full. They weigh upwards of thirty or forty pounds. We haul this heavy emptiness out of the corner. Behind the boxes is a bed. It’s made of two-by-fours and the mattress is stuffed with hay. There is a straw doll with button eyes (see: 30% of all horror movies).
We call the real estate agent who assures us that the previous owners were normal people who left under normal circumstances (see: not murdered; also see: not in a cult). She tells us about their new house on the Cape and how they’re happy and content and basically living in a rom-com. We go on to explain about the boxes and the doll. The real estate agent says we cannot legally do anything with these items. She says it isn’t considered abandoned property for another thirty days. We can’t touch the boxes, and we can’t even look at the emptiness inside. The boxes do not belong to us. Not yet, anyway. She says this as if we want these boxes, as if we’re itching to rifle through them (see: almost any other mystery box, wrapped in paper, tied with a colorful bow).
We haul the boxes back where they came from, covering the bed. The attic door slams shut behind us (see: 90% of all horror movies). We both scream. Insulation falls from the ceiling and another door opens above us. We climb through the attic into another attic. Inside the attic of the attic, there are crushed boxes and two hay beds. There are children’s bones on these beds, picked clean as if excavated from some archeological site. The bones hold onto straw dolls with button eyes. We scream again, softer than the first time.
Another door opens. We climb into the third attic. In the attic of the attic of the attic, there are four beds, each containing a mushy, half-composed, maggot-ridden corpse and accompanying straw doll. We try to call the real estate agent again but get no cell signal (see: 100% of all horror movies). Insulation falls again. The rafters spark and burn. The smoke gets sucked into a new opening, and we follow it up.
In the attic of the attic of the attic of the attic, there is one gigantic pillow-top bed with bright white sheets. Paula (see: our daughter) is curled up on this oversized bed. We worry that she’s hurt like last time, like before we moved. But she looks okay, and she’s breathing, and there is no blood, and there are no straw dolls here, and her flesh and bones look the way flesh and bones ought to look—contained in something corporeal. Alive. Vibrant. The boxes in this room are filled with things, as boxes ought to be. The only emptiness is in the air. Smoke dissipates and disappears. We are in a vacuum. This must be what black holes look like. We accept that the first attic is no more, and the second, and the third, and any other attics. Vanished. Gone. This is the only attic that ever existed. We are home.
James R. Gapinski is the author of the novella Edge of the Known Bus Line (Etchings Press), named to Kirkus Reviews‘ Best Books of 2018 and a finalist for the Montaigne Medal. He is also the author of the flash collection Messiah Tortoise (Red Bird Chapbooks). His short fiction has appeared in Hobart, Juked, Monkeybicycle, Paper Darts, and other publications. He’s managing editor of The Conium Review, and he teaches for Southern New Hampshire University’s MFA program.