The Attic
By: Jim Bates

Billy pulled a blanket over his head and tried not to suck his thumb. He was nine years old and hadn't done it since he was a baby, but he couldn't help the fact he was pretty scared.

"You doing all right, boy?" Grandpa asked, giving him a look, Like grow up you little pansy.

"Yeah," Billy mumbled into the blanket, his thumb nearly in his mouth.

His granddad laughed, derisively, "Yeah, I'll bet."

His grandma joined in, giving him a hard time, "See, I told you this show would scare you. Next time maybe you'll listen to your elders."

Billy closed his eyes, pretending he was back home with his mom and dad. Even if it wasn't the most pleasant place to live because of the daily escalating arguments and his parents fighting, at least it wasn't scary. Not like his grandparents creaky, smelly old house at the end of the block in a small town in southern Minnesota with his grandmother watching everything he did and giving him no breathing space. Or his grandfather berated him for "Not being more of a man." And all that had just been today, the first day of his weeklong stay.

This first night wasn't going any better, either. His grandparents insisted on watching Horror Theater on the television and Billy had joined them just to be social. But the show, about a guy who spends the night in a haunted room in an attic, really was kind of scary. Now all he wanted to do was to be left alone.

Finally, he said, "Could I please go to bed? I'm kind of tired."

His grandma glanced at the clock on the wall. "Okay. It's nearly nine. I guess you've had a long day."

Billy glanced at his grandfather who just smirked and said, "Tomorrow I'm putting you to work painting the garage. That'll put some muscle on you."

Billy sighed inwardly. What was the big deal all of a sudden about being a grown up? What was wrong with just being a kid for Pete's sake? Geez, give me a break. But he kept his thoughts to himself, looked his grandpa and said, "Sounds good."

His grandpa peeled the cellophane off a crooked cigar and lit it with a zippo lighter, all the while shaking his head, obviously disgusted with his daughter's only son.

Billy started for the bedroom at the back of the house on the first floor next to his grandparents. It had been his mom's old room when she was growing up and he was looking forward to sleeping there and having the security of being surrounded by photographs of her as a young girl.

"Hold it right there, young man" his grandma commanded. "Where do you think you're going?"

He pointed, "To Mom's room. To sleep."

His grandma looked at him with the expression of a hawk eyeing its prey, "I don't think so. We've got other plans for you. I think you'll liked it," she grinned showing pointed, yellow teeth. "While you're here you'll have your own room."

Wow. Good news at last. "That's cool," he said, risking a smile.

The one-hundred year old farmhouse style home had one main floor, a finished basement, and an attic. Maybe I'll have my own room in the basement, Billy thought to himself. That would be great. Lots of privacy. He started toward the back of the house to the basement stairs.

"Just a minute," his grandma snapped, "where do you think you're going? Your room's that way." She pointed to the door off to the side of the kitchen.

"You mean, the attic?" Billy asked, his voice squeaked as his smile faded. Years earlier, his grandparents had converted the attic space into a bedroom for his mom's younger brother, Tommy. After he met with an unfortunate accident and died at a young age, it had cleared any trace of Tommy and only was used for storage. Billy had only been in the attic a few times and that had been in the daylight. It was creepy then, so who knew what it’s like at night. Unfortunately, he was about to find out.

"Yes, the attic, you big baby," his granddad spoke up, blowing out a cloud of obnoxious smoke. "Get used to it. That's where you're sleeping while you're staying with us."

His grandfather got up, cigar jammed in the corner of his mouth and gave Billy a one-handed shove, "Have a good night." Then he laughed as the grandmother opened the attic door.

"Sleep tight," she said."I already put your suitcase up there on the bed." She reached into the stairwell and pulled the string on a naked light bulb. It illuminated the first few steps and that was all.

Billy was terrified but tried not to show it. "Okay, thanks," he said as he squeezed past her, his mind racing, his heart starting to pound. He was going to have to figure out how to deal with this. Then the door clicked shut and he was all alone. He closed his hand into a fist to keep from sucking his thumb. He had something to prove not just to his grandparents but to himself. He just didn't know what it was. Not yet anyway.

In the kitchen, the granddad and grandmother looked at each other and grinned. The grandmother spoke first, "He'll never make it."

"Yeah," Granddad spoke. "He's nothing but a baby."

"Just like Tommy was."

"What a poor excuse for a son."

"I'm glad we got rid of him."

"Me too. He was just a pain in the ass. I'm glad we're going to do the same with that little creep," the grandfather said, jerking his thumb in the direction of the attic door.

"No kidding."

They went back to living room and got ready for their next show. Horror Theater was over, and Scream Time was just beginning. They settled in for a nice relaxing hour of viewing. While the opening credits were running they looked at each other and smiled. Life was good. It'd be even better when their grandson was out of the way.

Billy steeled his courage and climbed each step carefully. It was hard to see so he used his hands against the narrow walls to find his way. The steps turned to the left halfway up and by the time he reached the top he was drenched in sweat. The room was long and narrow with a slant roof, giving it a claustrophobic feel. A full moon shone in through a window at the far end where his bed was located. He used its dim light to make his way carefully across the floor, sinking gratefully onto the bed's broken spring mattress. He looked around the room, but it was too dark to see much of anything, only the shadowy shapes of what looked like a desk and a dresser against the wall, along with stacks of boxes for storage. Trying not to let his fear overwhelm him, he pulled the covers over his head and attempted to hide. From what he didn't know.

He must have fallen asleep because he was startled awake by an odd sound. Was someone calling to him? He listened again but heard nothing. What was going on? He pushed the covers aside and sat up, looking into the dim light of the room. He was more stunned than afraid by what he saw. There in the middle of the floor floated an apparition. A ghost like figure.

"What...what do you want?" Billy asked, pulling the covers to him, and holding them tight to his throat. Strange as it may seem, the figure didn't seem threatening, and he found himself more curious about its presence than frightened.

The apparition floated toward him, and Billy scooted back against the wall and pulled his knees up to his chest, just to be on the safe side.

"Do you know who I am?" The figure asked. It's voice was soft and surprisingly gentle.

"No, I don't know who you are," Billy said, speaking up to hide his fear, "Why would I?"

"Because you're staying in my room and sleeping in my bed."

If Billy had been a bed wetting person right at that instant would have been the time to let loose. But he wasn't, although beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. He was suddenly nervous. Was this thing going to hurt him?

"Please don't hurt me. What do you want?"

"I'm not going to hurt you. I'm here to warn you."

"About what?"

"Your grandparents. They're dangerous."

So, the apparition wasn't so much dangerous as...what? Maybe friendly? Was that possible? Billy felt his fear lessen and he sat forward, "I know they're not very nice, but dangerous? How do you mean?"

The figure floated to the side of the bed and sat down. It was close enough so Billy could see the ghostly shape more clearly. It looked to be a young boy about the same age as Billy. Suddenly he had a thought. Oh, no! It couldn't be. "Are you telling me that you're..."

"Yes," the figure said, shaking it's head sadly, "I'm their son. I was there their son, I mean. I'm Tommy." He pointed a formless finger down toward the first floor. "They killed me, and I believe they are going to kill you."

Billy felt he had suddenly become trapped in a nightmare and had no way to escape. It was all he could do to keep from screaming.

Downstairs, Grandma and Grandpa went to bed after Scream was over. Grandma looked at her husband, "What do you think?"

"About what?"

"About Billy. You think he'll make it?"

"Not a chance. The kid's a weakling. He's as good as dead. But, if he doesn't die tonight, I'll take care of him in the morning." He reached into his nightstand draw and took out a 12" long hunting knife and held it up. "This should do the trick."

Grandma laughed. She liked a take charge guy, and her husband certainly was one of those. "Should I turn on the gas?"

"Yeah, go ahead."

She reached for a valve behind her nightstand next to the wall and twisted it open. The two of them had rigged it up years ago to get rid of their son Tommy. It fed gas up to the upstairs attic through a hose hidden in the duct work. By morning Tommy was dead from asphyxiation. The same thing would happen to Billy tonight. It was fun for them to think about killing someone again and the grandparents fell asleep with smiles on their faces. Morning couldn't come soon enough.

The apparition Tommy told Billy what had happened so many years ago. When he was finished with his story he said, "Billy, you've got to watch out for yourself. Those are bad people."

Billy thought about it for a minute. He'd never liked his grandparents: they were mean to him, and they were mean to his mom. Finding out they'd killed their only son was the final straw. "What should I do?"

Johnny floated over to a heat register in the floor and pointed, "Here's where the gas is coming in." He bent down. "It's on right now. I can hear it."

Billy leaped out of bed and joined his new friend at the register. "What should we do?"

Tommy smiled. "I have an idea."

Early that morning, just as dawn was breaking, Billy stood outside in the street watching the scene unfold. There were three fire trucks, an ambulance and five squad cars. He watched with interest as two body bags were removed and put in the ambulance. There wasn't much left of his grandparents.

"Are you doing okay, son," a kindly police officer asked and pointed. "At least they found your grandparents."

Billy nodded, and tried to appear properly solemn, "Yes, officer, I've fine. Did someone get a hold of my mom?"

"Yes, she's been called and is on her way."

"Good."

"In the meantime, we'll take you to the hospital to get you checked out." He gave Billy the once over, "You look pretty good, though."

"Yeah, I was lucky," he said. "I was outside looking for the cat when the house exploded."

"I didn't know a cat lived here."

Billy smiled, the lies coming easier. "Not many people did. He was kind of quiet."

The office gave Billy a look and then patted him on the shoulder. "I find someone to take you to the hospital."

"That's great. Thanks."

Billy moved off to the side to wait. His mom would be there in a few hours to take him home and he was looking forward to it. He hadn't seen Tommy since the explosion and that was too bad because he wanted to thank him. His plan had been a good one. Tommy told Billy that his grandfather always smoked the remainder of his cigar at some point during the night. One flick of his lighter was all it took. His grandparents were mean people, not to mention murderers, and deserved what they got.

Billy smiled. It was a good feeling knowing he'd never have to come back again. He smiled. "Thanks, Tommy," he said under his breath. "Thanks a lot." It was good to know someone like Tommy. And it didn't matter one bit if his new friend was real or not.

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