Disclaimers: This story contains a woman, or two, or possibly even more of the female ilk – maths has never been, and will never be, my forte. And maybe this unclassified amount of women will do something to upset people who can’t see further than the end of their small minded little lives. I don’t know. These ladies are totally out of my hands and I take no responsibility for their actions. But, if you live in a place where you’re overrun with small minded people, or live near them (brrr …), or are even one of them (then why are you on the Academy?), then it may be an idea to close this file now. Or move to a place where ignorance about acceptance is the minority, where you have freedom to read what you like and the freedom to be who you want to be.


Maybe it is an age factor. Are you old enough to read stories of this kind? You know, scary stories? (wink)


Language: Would you believe me if I told you my characters behaved themselves? That there is not one eff word in the whole piece? To be honest, I wouldn’t believe me either, but it was a challenge …


If you like what you’ve read, and would like to check out my published works, check out Ylva’s website.  You could also come and visit me on Facebook, or, failing that, have a peek at my website.  My new story, Driving Me Mad (due out soon), started her life as a short story for the Academy’s Halloween Special. If you want a taster of the story, check out the story in the coffers of the Academy. The novel is about four times bigger but the story on the Academy can be read as a stand-alone.


If you liked what you have read, let me know at fingersmith@hotmail.co.uk . If you didn’t … erm. Boo?




Attic Space

© LT Smith 2015 aka Fingersmith


If I hadn’t heard the scratching from above me as I had tried to sleep, there would’ve been no way I would’ve deigned to climb up into the attic at nearly three in the morning. But, as everyone knows, leaving mice, or rats, to ‘get on with whatever ratty or mousy things they do’ could result in wires being chewed, thus forcing me to call out an electrician. An electrician who would give me a bill for ninety quid for just turning up on my doorstep. Probably the same electrician who would have great delight informing me that my attic was overrun with four legged rodents, who were peeing, crapping and chewing as if they were in training for the Rodent Olympics. Then, as if the embarrassment of finding out my attic was home to the genus rattus, or even rattus rattus, depending on the colour, the estimate would appear - an estimate that followed the simple magical formula of ‘think of a number, double it, add fifty and double it again’.


After buying the house, forking out for a complete rewiring was definitely off the cards. My bank account was still reeling from paying out the deposit and I didn’t want to send it into cardiac arrest two months before Christmas. I’d only lived in the place less than a fortnight and I still hadn’t unpacked everything. I’d been too overwhelmed at finally owning my own home to just rip open the boxes and turf all my belongings into any space available. I wanted to savour the experience, treat it like a fine wine to be consumed at a pace that allowed me to appreciate all of it. And even if that was a good, poetic reason for not being organised enough to know where my odds and sods were cramped up, working full time put paid to my sifting through trinkets at a pace no faster than a snail.


At least I’d had the foresight to unpack a torch on the first day although my smugness didn’t last very long. Why I’d decided to venture into the unwelcoming space above me in the middle of the night was a question I kept on asking myself, but, unfortunately, not insistently enough to actually stop myself from doing it. However, I wasn’t a complete idiot, as I’d thought of tucking my pyjama bottoms into my socks even before pulling on the hook that released the steps to the attic. It was bad enough going into the rats’ lair by torchlight, but I did not want the little bleeders running up my pj leg and nipping my fou because of they were afraid.


At this point, a shiver raced through me, my hand hesitating on the base of the ladders that were dangling from the hole above. The previous image was not an image I wanted to come to fruition. My fou was not a rodent’s playground and I’d heard of many diseases and pathogens originating from the vermin, Leptospirosis being one of them. Where there were rats, there had to be faeces and urine. Where there was evidence of their ablutions, there was also a high risk of Weil’s disease especially if the aforementioned toiletry habits were happening in my cold water tank. In other words, peeing in my drinking water.


I looked down at my Sesame Street slippers, the fluffiness indicating the lack of resilience against a life threatening condition, the googly eyes suggesting a less than serious tone and definitely something I needed to address before I ventured into the contagion.


Five minutes later, I stood in the same spot but this time sporting boots. Once again, I’d made sure my pyjamas were tucked into my socks, giving a little bend at the knee to slightly loosen the material. Feeling more confident that I may have some protection from imminent Black Death, or a nipped flower, I pulled the ladder to the ground.


Torch in hand, I began my ascent into the attic. I tried to move as quietly as I possibly could, and not so I could sneak up on the scratching, gnawing, disease spreading furry little bastards either. I just didn’t want one deciding he could take me on as I came up the stairs, the sudden urge to punch my interfering lights out overpowering his sense of reasoning.


To be honest, what greeted me in the attic was quite a surprise. I’d expected dirt, loft insulation, little dark nuggets of rodent poop and not much else. What I hadn’t expected was a spacious area completely boarded throughout so I could walk over the ceiling without falling through it. As I stepped onto the boards, my torch picked up the glint of a light bulb dangling from the rafters, and that set off my hunt for the light switch. Instinctively I knew the most likely place to find it would be either at the base of the ladders or somewhere near the top.


Shining my torch across the entrance to the attic, the beam of it glanced over a small flick switch attached to a slab of wood. With a click, light infiltrated the attic space, the bulb casting a stark yellow tinge making the room feel like it had been dragged out from a 1940s detective story. I fully expected the naked bulb to start swinging from the dangling socket as if an interrogator had just brushed past it, but, thankfully, it stayed still.


Although the attic wasn’t huge, it was compact. It was also an ideal place for me to consider putting an office in the future. The weird thing was why the overly eager estate agent hadn’t shown it to me when I’d come to view. Nothing had been mentioned about it. Not even on the glossy details supplied by the office advertising the three bedroom terraced house. I couldn't understand why the seller hadn’t insisted this area be mentioned in the brochure as it was definitely a selling point.


A scratching came from the left of me, my attention moving to the sound, the beam of my torch following my focus even though there was now a bigger light on. A stack of boxes filled the corner and I knew they were not mine as I hadn’t even known the space existed until about five minutes previously. Well, I knew there was an attic, as most places had one. What I hadn’t known was that anything could be stored in there.


More scratching. This time it was obvious the noise was coming from either inside one of the boxes or right near it.


Moving more into the attic, it seemed cooler than near the hatch. A quick scan of the area showed there was no radiator fitted, and if the boards actually had loft insulation underneath them, then the room would be cold as the heat from my house would not have been able to penetrate the space and warm the room. Ideas of setting up my office in the area began to fade as I couldn’t afford to have heating fitted until my bank balance looked healthier, something I couldn’t see happening for quite some time.


As I reached the boxes, the scratching stopped. An image of a little mouse with its ear pressed against the side of the cardboard sprang to mind, his little whiskers twitching sporadically as the lashes of them felt the air for my vibes. I smiled before mouthing an ‘aww’ whilst pulling the top box closer to me. Holding the torch was not the best course of action, so I slipped it between my thighs and placed both hands on the surface of the box, my fingers slipping underneath the flaps on the top. I stopped, retracted my fingers slightly and stared at the slight gap in the top. I knew that I shouldn’t open the boxes, knew the boxes did not belong to me, knew that if I rummaged through the boxes I would, later, have to lie to the person whose boxes they did belong to. The problem here was that I was a pretty poor liar. When I say pretty poor, I mean shite. I couldn’t lie for toffee.


I shrugged, then grinned. ‘Shouldn’t have left them up here anyway.’


As I pulled one of the flaps back, the image of the cute little mouse popped into my head, but before I’d had the chance to say ‘Stuart Little’, the image had changed into genetically mutated super rat with vampiric teeth and claws that made Freddie Krueger’s fingers seem like butter knives. The Ratzilla that lived in the box would be twice the size of normal vermin and would not have seemed out of place in the cellar in the horror flick Graveyard Shift.


Just as the image was at its most vivid, a scratching came from the top of the box, the timing of which was not in the rat’s favour. The box, either unexpectedly or expectedly (depending on if you were the rat or me), left my hands and appeared to fly with agonising slowness through the air, apparently of its own volition, the thud of it hitting the floor reverberating through the boards to ripple through my boots and up my legs. Nothing came bounding out of it - no Stuart, no killer rat with blood red eyes. Nothing. The box appeared quite forlorn as it lay on its side, the top flaps bulging as if they were trying to contain a secret.


At least the scratching had stopped. Maybe the ascent, then rapid descent, had finished off the four legged creature of indiscriminate size and viciousness.




I jumped, but landed on the same spot, a small cry accompanying the action. Actually, ‘small cry’ was too tame, too recognisable as a sound that could’ve been emitted at that precise moment. This noise could not be so easily categorised as something I would have blurted out. It resembled an asthmatic gush of onomatopoeic phonemes that had congregated together to show fear, stupefaction and confusion. My eyes blurred slightly, either with terror or tears, and it took me a little while to realise the clunking had actually been the torch dropping from the sanctuary of my clasped thighs. Even though my vision was clearing, it wasn’t actually what I could see that alerted me of what had happened. It was the way the torch’s movement had stopped, started, stopped started, stopped and rocked in a way that only metal torches can do, the eek of it grating on my teeth that alerted me it wasn’t something a little more life threatening.


Then the torch stopped completely, the silence in the attic almost deafening, until I broke the quiet with my exhalation of breath.


Just as I was about to step forward, the box fell open, the contents spilling on the floor. It was as if the strength in my legs drained leaving me to slightly stagger closer only to try to pull myself backwards to the exit. My nerves were completely shredded by this point, and even though it was only what appeared to be bundles of paper that had fallen out, I decided that I wasn’t prepared to stick around for the onslaught of the rat nation to appear.


So, at three thirty seven I called it a night, but not before I slipped the ladders back into place. I didn’t want a four legged little bugger slipping between the sheets with me whilst I slept. I’d shared my bed with enough dirty rats in my life time and I was hoping that it was going to stay that way, even though the previous ‘rats’ had only two legs.


Considering my adventure, it didn't take me very long to get to sleep. No dreams. Out with the count.



Waking up at just turned seven nearly killed me. The knowledge of having to get up and go to work had not entered my head when I’d been prancing about in the attic in the early hours of the morning. My body had not quite gotten used to gaining an hour, as Daylight Saving Time had not long finished, but the room was still quite dark - although that may have been more to do with the curtains being drawn than the tardiness of the sun. It could also have been because I was having difficulty peeling my eyelids back for long enough to get up and out of bed.


I think the only saving grace was that it was Friday and I could finish earlier than my usual five thirty. Only the knowledge of being able to leave the office at lunchtime gave me the momentum to slip one foot from under my duvet to tentatively tap on the ground. Then, with a sigh, I brought out the second leg, my foot joining the first, my body lifting into a seated position as of its own volition. It was time to get a move on and my body kicked into autopilot.


Yawning, my face stretching and contorting like I was battling inner demons, I staggered to the bathroom, my brain not really paying attention to the route. It was only when I acknowledged I’d rounded something in my way, something smack bang in the middle of the landing, did I stop and look behind me. I shook my head; I rubbed my eyes again hoping to waken myself more fully, but it stayed the same.


There, as bold as brass, was a set of ladders. The same ladders, I hasten to add, as the ones I had pulled down from the attic a few hours previously. The same ladders, I hasten even more quickly to point out, that I’d pushed back inside the attic space before I’d gone to bed, the action subsequently closing the portal from my home to rat city. But not now. Now the hole in the ceiling was sporting a set of ladders like a wooden runged tongue. Wakefulness had never hit me as quickly as it did at that precise moment, although deep within I was secretly hoping that I was still asleep.


Tentatively, I stretched out my hand, my fingers touching the smooth wood, the reality of the solidness of the ladders burrowing inside my stomach like an insistent fist. The only reason I could come up with was the steps hadn’t clicked into place when I’d pushed them back before going to bed. This would mean that they could have unfurled themselves and silently glided to the floor as I slept on, completely oblivious. I wasn’t a light sleeper, granted, and in reality I had only heard the rats tap dancing above me because I’d already been awake.


That had to be it. There was no other reason, and at that precise moment in time I didn't want to think too deeply about why the steps were out. Grabbing the bottom rung, I lifted the ladders, bending them slightly before pushing them back through the loft, a satisfying clunk sounding as they landed inside the attic, the hatch cover slotting into place and announcing with a victorious click that this time they were secured in place.


With that done, I continued on my way to the bathroom. I had more pressing things to worry about than a dodgy catch on the ladders, my bladder being one of them.


Less than an hour later, I was ready to leave. Just as I pulled the door closed I had a distinct feeling I’d forgotten to do something, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what it was.


With a shrug, I went to work.



It was just turned three when I got back. I’d stopped to grab a sandwich and a coffee before heading home as I knew I wouldn’t have anything half decent in my fridge this late in the week. My intention was to grocery shop that evening as I wanted the weekend clear to do whatever I fancied doing. To be honest, there wasn’t really a lot I ‘fancied doing’ that fit with my budget, but at least it would give me the opportunity to unpack my boxes and maybe store some of them in the attic.


That thought was the trigger that reminded me of what I couldn’t recall earlier that day. I’d meant to call the estate agent and get them to tell the previous owner they’d left a few boxes up in the loft. I’d enough crap of my own without storing other people’s ‘don’t want to look at it ever again but can’t throw it away’ shite.


Lifting the phone, I dialled the number from memory, my top lip curling slightly. To be honest, I was hoping that it would be the matter of years not weeks before I ever had to speak to another estate agent. Buying my home had not been the easiest experience, or the least painful even by a long stretch of the imagination. If I’d had the choice, I think poking myself in the eyes with red hot needles would’ve vied for first place over talking to ‘Helen’ or ‘Tristan’ from Delta Property again. Personally, I wasn’t too sure whether it was their pompous, self-righteous, arrogant, lying little bastard voices that wound me up or their insistence with putting me on hold to be deluged with Elton John’s Can You Feel the Love Tonight being interminably played until I was very close to losing the will to live. What the song meant to the housing market I couldn't say - the link was tenuous at best. It would’ve been more appropriate to have Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word, especially for the people who worked at the office who’d cocked up every single thing they possibly could when I’d been trying to finalise my purchase. I could’ve joined in with their ‘Elton Appreciation Society’ with my own rendition of The Bitch is Back - definitely a persona I wanted to adopt as the phone was picked up.


‘Helen Peterson, Delta Property. We are the key to your new home.’


My jaw cracked with the pressure of me clamping my teeth together. I think out of the two, Helen was the one I disliked the most. It wasn’t just because she set herself a challenge every morning about how much make up she could slap on, or even if she could finally get her neck the same shade of orange as her face either. It was the self-satisfied smugness in her tone. I would say expression, too, but it was quite difficult to see past the layers of foundation, false eyelashes, and permanently surprised eyebrows to note if she was actually being smug or she was perfecting the expression of a blow up doll.


Yes. The Bitch is Back was very fitting.


‘Good morning, Helen.’ My tone announced that I didn’t care if she had a good morning or not, but I would follow protocol. ‘Sally Hardy here.’ I paused, stupidly thinking that maybe Helen would remember me. Alas, the silence that greeted me announced there was not a spark from Helen’s memory bank. ‘I bought 17 Rosewood Avenue?’ I knew I was getting a little more desperate when I started speaking in questions.


‘17 Rosewood?’ And I also knew it was not a good sign when Helen did the same back.


‘Avenue. Yes. 17 Rosewood Avenue.’


‘Just let me …’


I wanted to scream no, but it was too late. Elton was half way through his ballad and I was left wanting to throw my phone at something, preferably Helen’s head. However, by the time she clicked back into the call, I was drawing little lion cubs all over my phone pad.


‘Hello, Miss Harvey …’




‘Harvey, yes. We don’t seem to have a property on Rosewood Avenue up for sale at the moment. We did. But, alas, we sold it.’


‘I know. To me.’


‘To you? Really? And you want to sell it already?’


There were so many different responses that I wanted to say. So many little treasures of sarcasm that bubbled up and readied themselves to fly through the phone line. But, instead, I bit my lip, waited a moment until I could speak without a cutting tone, and then replied, ‘Unfortunately, no, Helen.’ Cue fake laugh to give me time to not respond with a cruel retort. ‘A little bit soon for me.’


‘Shame, shame. A lovely little bungalow.’




‘Bungalow, house, they’re both the same to me.’


That was probably why I would never be using Delta Property anymore. If the people who worked there couldn't differentiate between a bungalow or a house - the bread and butter of an estate agents - then it didn’t bode well for their less than obvious knowledge did it?


‘Whatever … Look.’ I heard Helen harrumph when I seemed to dismiss her all-encompassing acceptance about equality and house shapes and sizes, but I didn’t want to be spending any more time on the phone with Helen than I had to. ‘I need to contact the previous owner because …’


‘I’m sorry, Miss Harding, but that is impossible.’


It wasn’t the fact that she butted in as I was speaking, or even that she had called me yet another derivative of my surname, it was because I thought Helen was a dick that made me snap.


‘Manager. Now.’


‘I’m sure we can …’


‘Manager. Not a request.’


Why was I surprised that I was suddenly listening to Elton John once again? At least it wasn’t the disconnected tone, so that was a bonus. However, by the time I had heard the song restart four times, I was beginning to wish that Helen had slammed the phone down on me. At least I would’ve known I was either being ignored or slagged off. This way, I could be left listening to muzak for the unforeseeable future.


I was on the verge on hanging up, as I was definitely not ‘feeling the love’ mainly thanks to Elton, but he was cut off - just as he was reaching his crescendo too.


‘Melanie Anderson. Delta. How can I be of assistance?’


Momentarily, I was stunned. The voice on the other end of the phone seemed to seep straight into my ear and spread like summer throughout my body.


‘Hello? Is there anybody there?’


‘Erm. Yes. Hello. I’m Sally. Sally Hardy.’


‘Hello, Miss Hardy. Do you mind if I called you Sally?’


I nodded before realising that the woman with the voice of velvet couldn’t see my affirmation. ‘Of course you may, as long as I can call you Melanie.’ Where the hell had this smooth talker appeared from? I didn’t do suave, sophisticated or charming. I did blunt, to the point, maybe with a little bit of arsey thrown in. That was one of the many reasons why I was still single.


‘Sally it is then.’ Her voice was rich, warm, inviting, and I found myself smiling like a dipshit at the phone. ‘So, Sally. How may I help you?’


Like with Helen, a mixture of responses battled to the fore, but I shooed most of the dilly drip ones away, cleared my throat, and continued in what I considered to be a professional manner. ‘I’m so sorry for troubling you as I know how busy you must be being Manager …’ Maybe not as professional as I was used to, more like fawning - something I definitely did not want to come across as being, especially to someone who worked at Delta Property, but I couldn’t seem to help myself. I didn’t even know what the woman on the other end of the phone looked like, never mind her sexuality, and I was acting all doe eyed to her voice box.


‘I’m never too busy for you, Sally.’ Usually, this kind of schmooze wouldn’t have gotten past me, but I found myself making a little coquettish laugh. Me. Laughing like an eighteenth century milk maid. My sister would never believe me if I told her - although this admission of being a twat, or more of a twat, would not be coming from me.


Instead of answering straight away, I conjured up Helen’s orange face, thought about all the times she stuck me on hold, all the cock ups, the lying, the ‘I’ve just posted it just this second’ excuses that she had fed me over the last few months - then let the feelings wash over me. I actually felt my expression harden, my eyes half close, my lips tighten.


‘I need to contact the previous owner of this house.’ All the flirtatiousness had disappeared from my voice. It was as if the Femme Fatale Fairy had been kicked into touch by the Sexually Stunted Sprite and the result was achingly asexual. I heard a surprised ‘Oh’ sound from the other end of the phone but didn’t give Melanie a chance to take charge over the proceedings. ‘There are some boxes in the attic that I need collecting. I’ve enough of my own crrrr… shhhh … storage to … erm … store up there. I don’t need someone else’s rubbish too.’ Overall, what I had said was clear and to the point. Yes, I’d stumbled over what to call the ‘leftovers’, as ‘crap’ and ‘shit’ had been at the forefront of my mind, and ‘storage’ and ‘store’ had thrown me, but, as I said overall …


‘I can understand how you may feel as if …’


‘I just want to get rid. Not much to ask is it?’ What was wrong with me? I knew that Helen pissed me off, but I was being downright rude to someone who, as far as I was aware, was not bright orange. I tried to soften my voice but it came out sounding a tad high pitched and bordering on whiny.


‘I’ll see what I can do, Miss Hardy.’ If I had thought my voice was cold a moment ago, Melanie Anderson’s was positively frozen, and not in a fairy-tale ‘Do you wanna build a snowman’ kind of way. The chill of it could almost be seen in the air around the ear piece of the phone. ‘As soon as I know, I will get in contact. Is this number the most convenient to use?’


My lips were parted as if I was ready to respond, but I didn’t.


‘Miss Hardy? I asked if this number was the best one to use to get hold of you.’


‘Yeah. Sure. Fine.’ An overwhelming desire for me to tell her to watch her tone of voice flitted through me, but I didn’t. Thankfully.


‘If you don’t hear from me later today, I will definitely be in contact by tomorrow. Is that okay for you?’ Her tone was still crisp, but I thought I’d upstage her once again.


‘I’m counting on it. I don’t want to have to chase this up with you.’ I paused momentarily. ‘Like usual.’ Instead of waiting for a response, I hung up.


Weirdly, I didn’t get the sense of satisfaction I thought I would have gotten by being short with someone who worked at Delta Property. Actually, I had the urge to call back and apologise profusely for my bad behaviour and social ineptness. But, I didn’t. I just stared at the phone for a bit before dragging my sorry ass into the kitchen to gaze fixedly into the fridge for a while. Amazing how being an arsehole can give a girl an appetite. At this rate I would be piling on the pounds. Thank God I had nothing of note in the fridge to eat.



Usually, when I get home, I get changed into something a little more comfortable than the suit I had to wear to the office. My weekday routine consisted of me stepping into my house, my briefcase being tossed into the hallway, shoes following with a kapow kapow, and then me racing upstairs to rip off my clothes - not in a sexy seductive way, but more like I couldn’t wait to get rid of the corporate me. But, I hadn’t followed my usual routine as I’d been too preoccupied trying to get someone to get her arse into gear and sort out the boxes in my attic. Then after that, I’d had a hard time staring inside a fridge that had not really a lot to offer.


The reason why I felt the need to reiterate everything all over again is very simple. Time. By me banging on about what I would usually do to what I actually did, would give a sense of how much time I’d been in the house before I actually ventured upstairs to get changed with my focus on going out again to Tesco as soon as I had slipped into my jeans and sweater. I sensed something was not quite right even before I reached the top of the stairs, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. My step slowed and I tilted my head like a Cocker Spaniel. But it was silent.


With a shrug I reached the top of the stairs and turned onto the landing. That was the moment that the blood in my veins seemed to freeze.


There, as bold as brass and blocking my path, was a set of ladders. The same set of ladders that I had tucked with a ‘satisfying clunk’ back inside the attic this morning, the ‘victorious click’ of the hatch affirming that I hadn’t bollocked it up after all. However, seeing the ladders solidly situated right in front of me, I had to doubt either my ability to perform a simple task or the condition of the ladders. There had to be something wrong with the mechanics of them either in connection to the hatch cover or how they stayed folded and tucked away.


I wish I could say this was all I was feeling. If it had have been it would’ve been a case of accepting I was useless, or that I would have to get a handyman out over the weekend to sort out the problem and tighten some screws - and not the ones in my head. But I’d be lying if I put across that these two factors were the only things I had to worry about. My gut was telling me that the ladders were perfectly fine and no handyman would be needed. It was also telling me that I hadn’t been a divvy either last night or this morning and I’d put the ladders away securely both times.


So. What did that leave? Intruders? Very intelligent rats? The previous owner coming back for the boxes? Any of my ideas would explain the ladders being down at least one time. What about the neighbours? Did my house’s attic link with the one next door? Could the person or persons who lived at 19 Rosewood be sneaking in to my house and trying to frighten the crap out of me? I hadn’t met them yet so that scenario wasn’t off the table.


Being frightened didn’t even come on my radar as I grabbed the sides of the ladder and stomped my way into the attic. Upon reaching the top, I stretched forward, clicking on the light. My attention turned and focused on the chimney breast that separated my house from number 19, a sense of disappointment flashing through me when I didn’t see the perp’s foot disappearing through a hole in the wall. I stepped onto the boards of the loft and moved over to the joining wall, my hand stroking over the bare brick. To anyone watching, it would appear as if I was looking for a sensitive spot that would open up to expose a secret passage or even just access to the adjoining house. But. Nothing. Not even a hole big enough to push a hand through.


Stepping back, I eyed up the wall as if I didn’t already know it was sound. It was only then that I realised that if there had have been a hole, and if my neighbours had wanted to have a gander at my home, wouldn’t they have pulled the ladders back inside the attic so I didn’t become suspicious? Come to think of it, why would they have come into my home when I’d been asleep - why not wait until I was out of the house like today - although today I’d come home early.


‘For God’s sake, enough!’ I was driving myself mad with all the would be, could be and what if scenarios I was creating. I’d already discovered that my neighbours couldn’t have come through from their home, so why was I having an inner debate about shite?


Turning, I decided it was time I stopped farting about, got changed, and then went to Tesco. I’d wasted enough time on this. Tomorrow I would call someone to fix the hinges, the ladders, the whatever the bugger it was that was not staying put.


However, thoughts about Tesco and handymen slipped from my mind as soon as my attention landed in the corner of the attic. The boxes were stacked neatly as one pile, which is not a bad place for them to be except for one small detail. The previous evening I had dropped - more like thrown - one of the boxes when I’d just lifted the flap and a scratching had sounded. The box had fallen open, the contents spilling on the floor, and I had nearly shit a brick. I’d not scooped up its innards and rammed them back inside. I’d, not surprisingly, done a runner on very wobbly legs and called it a night.


I stepped forward and toward the pile, then stopped, took stock of the situation, then backed away rapidly and descended the steps, only to climb back up and click off the light, the stack of boxes seeming to gloat as I once again left the attic. At the base I hesitated. Should I shove the ladders back inside the loft? Should I leave them where they were? Should I call a handyman, a pest control officer, a medium? Or should I get changed and go to Tesco?


Five minutes later I was seated in my car, the keys slipping into my ignition, my mind valiantly trying to block out images from The Amityville Horror. Didn’t the people in that film, and like most of the horror films I’d ever seen, all believe it was rats at first?


‘No.’ Just that single syllable was the only thing I could drum up to save me from psyching myself out with scenarios of the devil incarnate dancing about my attic. Why couldn’t I just have mice, or rats, or burglars like normal people?


With a sigh, I pressed gently on the accelerator and pulled away. It was times like this that I really wished I lived with someone instead of being the sad little lesbian I was. But, alas, in all truth, with my track record with women, I actually would prefer the mice or rats or burglars. At least I would know for definite their intention would be to eat away at everything around me whilst I was oblivious to it, and then take me for all I had. Come to think of it, that sounded an awful lot like my previous relationship with Hannah who had walked away with over half my CD collection, too many of the clothes I liked, the lion’s share of friends, and nearly all of my self-respect.


Instead of feeling disturbed or scared about what was happening at home, I just felt lonely. Again.





I spent three hours farting about in Tesco. Some people might think the reason I spent so long poking veggies and reading all the ingredients to everything I bought was because I was unnerved about going home. This is not the case. I was not unnerved - I was totally shitted up, especially after reading the backs to the horror DVDs and finding too many similarities to my life amongst the titles - and I don’t mean about shopping either. Why do horror films always start with ‘A family move into a new home hoping for a new start …’? Or ‘Strange noises are heard in the night coming from the attic but all that was there was a pile of boxes …’ Actually, the last one was my own but I didn’t want to spoil the flow by mentioning possessed ladders and twatty estate agents.


Upon arriving home I saw the lights were on at number 19. This had been the first time I’d noticed there was someone home at the house next to mine since I’d moved in. But then again, I’d not really paid attention to the comings and goings of others until I’d become the fated protagonist of a B movie. An urge to introduce myself flooded through me. It wasn’t late, and it wasn’t as if I was trying to sell them tea towels or ironing board covers at their front door. I was their new neighbour - someone who’d recently joined the ‘hood and wanted to ‘touch base’ with everyone - albeit a tad later than the expected and the ‘everyone’ just being my immediate neighbours.


Decision made, I left my shopping in the boot of my car and sauntered over to 19’s gate. But as soon as I placed my hand on the top of aforementioned gate, the lights in my neighbour’s house turned off almost as if someone inside had seen me make my way over and thought, a little belatedly, to pretend there was no one home. Or, maybe, they actually were going to bed. It was nearly 8 o’clock after all. Yes. I was being sarcastic.


Turning, I made my way back to my car but I had a definite sense that there was someone watching me from behind a curtain. However, when I looked I couldn’t discern anyone lurking behind the dark material in the recesses of the even darker rooms. With a shrug, I moved my attention back to the boot of my car. From the corner of my eye I saw a twitch, saw a movement, saw something try to hide away. Instead of feeling a sense of victory at having proof that someone was watching me, I felt a sense of dread. The movement, as it happened, came from my front window and not my neighbours.


For a moment I felt in limbo. I didn’t know whether to run, drive away, call the police, bang on my neighbours’ door and demand they let me in, charge into my own house and confront the … the … whatever was hiding in the shadows making rat noises and buggering around with my ladders. I think the whole gamut of emotions I experienced in less than a minute created the overall sensation of not really knowing what the hell to do. I couldn’t call the police with a ‘theory’ that something, alive or dead, human or animal, was peeking at me from my front room window. It was times like this I really wished Hannah hadn’t cheated with ‘the slut’ from the gym, then maybe our relationship wouldn’t have failed. Maybe then we might have been living together and I would be shivering supportively behind her as we both went inside and tackled whatever the hell was in there.


Just the thought of living with Hannah made my spine straighten, the knowledge that I did not need a lying, cheating bastard sorting out whatever was in my house being all the incentive I needed.


‘Right. Come on, Hardy. Live up to your name.’ I felt more mardy than hardy at this precise moment, but the image of Hannah’s smug face hovering in front of me seemed to spur me on.


Moments later, I was standing in my front room, the central light indicating the absence of anyone waiting behind the curtain. Instead of feeling relieved that it wasn’t a re-enactment of The Wizard of Oz, I felt a bit of a dick. I’d allowed my imagination to run away with my sense of reason, something I rarely allowed myself to do. Not forgetting that my frozen goods were defrosting in the boot of my car whilst I was a having a ‘crisis’ over what I thought I may have seen from the corner of my eye.


With a sigh, I went outside and retrieved my shopping. I think I’d had enough excitement for one night. I didn’t need melting Ben and Jerry’s to add to my list of catastrophes either.




Thirty minutes later everything was packed away and I was cupping a hot mug of tea in my hands. Although it wasn’t quite nine, I’d decided that I would have a long soak in the bath and then have an early night. I was tired from all the running around in circles, chasing the unexplained and organising my frozen packets into relevant sections in my freezer to do anything else. Add to the mix the lack of sleep I’d had the previous night, and that left someone who was not surprised that she may be imagining stuff.


However, even though I was tired, I still doubted I would imagine up what greeted me as I got to the top of the stairs. Although I knew the ladders would be down, as I’d left them like that earlier, I hadn’t expected the light in the attic to be on. I distinctly remember scrambling back up the steps and clicking the switch to off. I may have been completely unnerved at the time but, shitting my pants aside, I was still conscious of me having to pay the electricity bill. Even when scared half to death I try to be economical and, at push, environmentally friendly.


Placing my cup on the floor, I made a slow ascent into the attic space. As well as calling someone to fix the ladder, I would need to call out an electrician too. Very rational thinking. Very calm and controlled. And even though my thoughts were attempting to focus on the mundane maintenance of my new home, an extremely agitated part of my brain was screaming ‘Get out! Get out now whilst you still can!’


But like all those divvies that go into the belly of the beast in all the horror films I have ever watched, I continued my ascent into the place where I’d be totally cornered and unable to escape.


I felt totally vulnerable as I poked my head through the hatch and into the attic space. Anyone could’ve been up there and taken advantage of the fact they could see me but I couldn’t see them. I didn’t pause, though. Just kept climbing until my body and head were through the hole. My eyes flicked around, but I couldn’t see anyone. It was at this point that I thought of something so obvious that I couldn’t believe I’d not thought of it earlier. I was just thankful that I hadn’t climbed through the hole in the floor and was standing on the bare boards as it came to me.


What if the person who had clicked the light on was actually below me and was waiting for me to investigate so he or she, or even them, could lock me in? I had no idea why they would want to do that, apart from robbing me, but the thought of being stuck in the attic for God knows how long did not fill me with joy.


Leaning forward, my fingers rested on the switch. But before I turned the light off, my attention was taken to the far corner of the room. The boxes were still stacked there but they looked different, looked as if they were not as high as before.




I was not going to waste my time buggering about counting bloody boxes or whipping out my tape measure to check the height of them if there was a mad man waiting to do unmentionables to me either in a locked attic or some other place that was just as frightening. I was not Rain Man, and I also didn’t want to be Victim Number 1 in my own horror story.


Lifting the ladders, I slotted them back into place, watching with cynicism as they disappeared behind the hatch’s cover. Now it was time to check out the upstairs of my house as I already knew there was no one downstairs as I’d checked when I’d first come home.


Bathroom - check. Spare room - check. Second spare room - check. My bedroom - stop. Stare. Wonder to self what the hell a box would be doing in the middle of my bed. I hadn’t left any of my stuff knocking about. All my parcelled belongings were in the downstairs dining room, the same downstairs dining room I had just remembered I hadn’t checked when I’d so cockily dismissed the ground floor.


Tentatively, I made my way over, the flaps of the box were lifted slightly and I had a sneaking feeling I recognised it from the previous evening’s sojourn into the attic. Furthermore, there was an expectation building within me that this box could have the capability of flying open and something jumping out of it - a little like a possessed version of a Jack in the Box. Difference being, I kind of knew what would fly out of a Jack in the Box. I had no clue what was going to be entering the atmosphere at speed from the card board one seated ominously on my duvet.


All the time I spent making my way over to the bed I expected something to happen, but it didn’t. Carefully, I reached out, my fingers tingling with anticipation. As they made contact, it was as if a small buzz raced through my fingertips and through my arms. There was no pain, nothing uncomfortable in the small jolt. If I were to be honest, I would have to admit that it felt quite nice in a very screwed up way.


Pulling the flaps back, I peered inside the box. Bundles of paper greeted me, and if my memory served me right, they appeared to be the same bundles of paper that I’d witnessed falling from a box in the early hours of this morning, the same bundles of paper that I had not put back inside the box. And, as a final note, the same bundles of paper that had been slipped back inside the box and then moved to sit majestically on the apex of a stack of boxes in my attic.


Gingerly, I lifted a hand full of the papers and sifted through them. They were just fliers that would’ve been posted through everyone’s letterbox at one time or another. But instead of promoting ‘2 for 1 pizzas’ or ‘50p off Persil with this coupon’, they seemed to be very outdated. ‘New in’ video cassette recorders for sale took up most of the first leaflet I looked at. Then on the next one ‘VHS tapes on special’. Bloody video tapes? By the look of the pictures I would guess that the fliers must’ve been knocking on thirty years old at the very least. Why would anyone keep adverts from over thirty years ago?


After a quick flick through the rest of the papers, I placed them on the bed, my other hand dipping inside the box without preamble. More of the same stuff. Just piles of shit and outdated crap. Whoever had lived in this place before me must’ve been a hoarder of all things insipid. Why would anyone collect leaflets promoting electronic goods, suntan lotion and myriads of other every day stuff? These were the types of fliers that anyone would, at a push, give the once over and then bin.


Scooping all the bits of paper into my hands, I was just about to dump everything back into the box when something caught my eye. Leaning more fully over the opening, I saw the corner of what could be classed as a nice picture frame. Placing the wad of papers on my bed, I dipped my hand into the box and gently grabbed the corner of the frame and lifted it free, the receipts and other bits of paper falling to the side in the process.


I could describe how beautiful the frame was, the twirled metal, the pewter colouring that hid what I believed to be silver. I could also mention the curved corners, the way the edges were softened. But that was not the thing that grabbed my attention. Not at all.


It was the photograph inside the frame that was more exquisite than the frame itself; a black and white photograph showing a single subject. A woman, to be more precise. It appeared as if the snap had been taken whilst she was in mid laugh, her face toward the camera, her dark eyes half closed but, nevertheless, capturing the attention of anyone looking at her. Her beautifully shaped mouth was partly open, full lips framing perfectly straight teeth. I smiled back at her - I couldn’t help it. Without thought, I placed my finger onto her mouth and traced the curve of her smile almost believing I could feel the softness of her lips as I did so. Her long hair was loose around her shoulders, but her fringe was pulled back and probably clipped in place. If I had to guess I would have said she was in her mid-thirties just like me.


Even though the woman in the picture was smiling, and I’d smiled in return, I didn’t feel joy whilst looking at the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my sad little life. I’m not saying that waves of sadness emanated from the picture and made me feel suicidal. That wasn’t it at all. It was more my reaction to the photograph. More that I noted her smile frozen in time, her eyes radiating the love she felt for the photographer. The photograph was obviously taken quite some time back, probably at the same time as the leaflets if not before. Even though she wore jeans and a shirt, they just didn’t seem to fit with the fashion of 2015. They seemed dated somehow. She seemed dated somehow. Maybe it was because the picture was taken in black and white, I wasn’t sure. Maybe the reason why I felt such sorrow was because I knew this woman no longer looked like this, probably no longer smiled with such openness and love. Or maybe it was because I knew that she would never smile at me that way.


With the last thought, I dragged my eyes away from the picture and stared at the mirror hanging on my bedroom wall, the frame of it very similar to the frame I was holding in my hand. Looking back at me was my reflection. Obviously. My facial expression was thoughtfully serious although there was a deep rooted sadness around my eyes that, if I had to speak truthfully, I believe had been there for years and not since finding the framed photo. I tried to smile but it appeared false - probably because it was.


Stepping forward, I looked at myself more closely, noted the way my pupils were dilated, probably because of the limited light in the room; the green of my irises appeared darker, my lashes blacker. It was so clear that I was unhappy, so bloody clear that even though I’d kidded myself that my life was fantastic, I could tell by just really looking into my eyes that this was not the case. I’d spent God knows how long subconsciously convincing myself that being single was exactly what I wanted, and that being free to do whatever I wished to do, whenever I wished to do it, was the path I wanted to be on. My job, my home, my place in the world, everything followed my life plan. My solitary life plan.


I exhaled deeply, my lips puckering slightly with the effort of it, then returned my attention back onto the photograph. An ache rippled inside my chest as I reconnected with the image in front of me. This was the first time in my life where I wanted the ‘Happily Ever After’ with someone, wanted someone to look at me the way the woman in the photograph looked at the person taking the picture. Actually, I wanted to be the one looking at someone with such love and devotion instead of being in a ‘this’ll do’ relationship, the same kind of relationships I’d been in the whole of my dating life. This is probably why I’d accepted Hannah’s infidelity so easily, and, more to the point, it could’ve been the main contributor to why Hannah had felt the need to go elsewhere in the first place.


All thoughts of burglars, vermin and supernatural events were pushed from my mind. I didn’t really care about ladders and scratching noises anymore. I felt completely deflated, tiredness washing over me in a single whoosh.


Turning, I moved back to the bed and slipped the photograph back inside the box, the picture facing downward. Gathering the papers from the duvet, I shoved them back inside the container, ultimately, and frantically, burying the unnamed woman who had created a spark within my breast. As I closed the flaps, the sensation of finding such a love momentarily consumed me, the feeling of completeness lasting mere moments but feeling like an eternity.


Then, after the rush of perfection, I was left with the agony of losing something I’d never had. Just my luck to experience the pain of loss without the joy of having.


Frustration engulfed me, my hands reaching outward and grabbing the box, only to lift it and carry it outside my room. With a small slam of annoyance, I put the box at the side of the landing, its position just under the entrance to the attic. Tomorrow I’d go into the attic and collect the rest of the boxes. If Delta didn’t contact the owner, I would put them in the trash.


As I have already stipulated, I’d enough shit in my life - I didn’t need the leftovers of someone else’s sad little life, too, and I sure as hell didn’t want to be made to feel bad about being single.


And I sure as hell didn’t want to be made to feel.




After a soak in the tub, I went to bed. I was exhausted from everything I’d gone through in the last few hours. I’d convinced myself that what I’d seen, heard and felt all stemmed from being over tired. I had mice, or rats, one of the bloody two, in my attic. I had ladders that needed a service; maybe a screw needed tightening or something just as banal. And I had boxes that seemed to move on their own volition, something I wasn’t even going to try and work out. There had to be a rational explanation for it, but I’d think about that another time because at that moment my brain felt as if it was packed with rice pudding.


As soon as my head hit the pillow, I was away. Sleep came swiftly as if someone had draped a blanket over me and I was out with the light. Dreams were rife. So many images, so many scenarios, so many things I didn’t understand, but then there were so many that I did. At times I was in my house, surrounded by boxes, and each time I touched one it sprang apart and duplicated itself, multiplying like the broomsticks in Fantasia or Bellatrix Lestrange’s treasure in her vault at Gringotts. Panic seemed to surge within me and I tried to stop the boxes mushrooming and exploding like a cardboard volcano but I couldn’t, thus making me panic even more.


Then - poof - they disappeared and I was alone in the living room. No furniture around me, the decor in need of updating. A delicate scent drifted in through the doorway, intoxicatingly light, intoxicatingly consuming, pulling me under the influence of its tender and light aroma. I moved to where I believed the smell was emanating from, but before I reached it, the scene changed once again.


Dark. So bloody dark. Nothing held its uniqueness, all became a shadow, a shape, a thing that I couldn’t identify but seemed to transfigure the longer my eyes battled with the lack of light.


Then a scratching. A gnawing. A patter of small feet close by. My heart raced, the tempo of it irregular and almost painful, a surge of adrenalin making everything magnify and appear even worse. My breathing was rasping, my eyes watering from the strain of trying to make out the shapes, from trying to catch a glimpse of the creatures in here with me. Something touched my face, either a cobweb or a fingertip, I couldn’t say. The scream I wanted to bellow jammed, fear holding the screech of it inside either for my own protection or destruction.


A breath, cool, warm, hot, whispered against my cheek, my hand batting away the unseen entity but meeting nothing but air.


I scrambled sideways, stopping abruptly when I came into contact with something I still couldn’t see, my hands grasping the shape of it, the solidness of what was blocking my path, my panic surging, burgeoning, blossoming in its own fear.


And then someone took my hand.


I awoke screaming into the air, sweat coating me, my pyjamas sticking to me like a second skin. My hands were fighting off nothing, flaying the air like I was battling invisible demons. I lunged, my body catapulting forward, the momentum of the action throwing me off the bed. The hardness of the floor momentarily stunned me, the wind seeming to be knocked from my sails.


Lifting my head up, I searched the room fully expecting someone to be there, but nothing. I scrambled up the side of the bed, almost throwing myself back onto the mattress, but facing outward so I could scan the room. Morning was slipping through the curtains and casting some light into the room, allowing me to be able to discern if there was in fact someone in here with me.


But no. As far as I could tell, I was alone in my room, alone on my bed, alone. All alone.


It was that revelation that scared me the most.



By nine thirty, I was showered, dressed, had eaten breakfast and downed two coffees. Today was the day I was going to be proactive. Today was the day I was going to sort out Delta Property and make them either give out the address of the previous owner or they would have to come and collect the boxes from my attic once and for all. That way I could cut all ties from them and my life would be better off without them in it.


With the thought of the boxes being taken, the image of the woman from the photograph filled my mind, the smile she sported making me momentarily close my eyes to absorb it more fully. Warmth spread through my body as I thought of the black and white photograph holding in time the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. That mouth, those parted lips, the way her eyes were half hidden but seemed fuller than any other person’s eyes even if they had their eyes wide open. For a fleeting moment I believed the image moved, came to life, the black and white replaced by vivid colour, her hair a chestnut brown, her eyes the colour of autumn. The lightness of her laugh drifted musically into the air, her hand reaching out to take mine.


Then it stopped. The image disappeared and I was left with an ache in my chest that was either due to the breath I was holding or the longing for something that was out of my reach.


Gritting my teeth together, I grabbed the phone from the cradle. Before I had the chance to tap in the number of the estate agents, I heard the interrupted dial tone indicating I had a message. Cocking my head, I cast my mind back to the previous evening. When I’d called Delta, the dial tone was clear, but I hadn’t checked my phone since my return from Tesco at just before 8. It didn’t take Miss Marple to work out that I had missed a call when I’d been out poking my plums.


Dialling 1571, I was informed that I had one new message and believed it would be from either my mum or my sister, probably to announce their imminent visit. But, it was neither of them, even though that didn’t mean I didn’t have an imminent visit hanging over me and not by my relatives either.


‘Hello, Miss Hardy. Melanie Anderson, Delta.’ I wanted to grit my teeth together again, or just say bad words, as soon as I realised who had called me. ‘I’ve tried to get hold of the previous owner, but it appears that everything was handled through a solicitor.’ Like all bloody sales of houses. Honestly!


‘The sale was through probate, the solicitor being the executor of the will.’ I wanted to rewind the message just to make sure I’d heard correctly. Dead? I’d bought a house from a dead person? Dead, as in deceased, as in could’ve died on the bloody premises dead?


‘So. I will collect the boxes and get them out of your hair. I’ll be with you about 9:30 to 10 tomorrow morning. Good evening.’


Dead? As in a corpse? I’d been routing through the property of a … Just a minute. The woman in the picture? Or the photographer? Dead?


A gasp left my mouth. ‘Oh God no!’


Considering I hadn’t met either the beautifully encapsulating female, or the person snapping the snap, the sadness that engulfed me was acute and penetrating. Either way, they were no longer together and that love had been torn apart. Yes. Maybe they had died together and that is why the house was sold through probate. Maybe one had died first, and the other had died later on. Or maybe they had split up years ago and that is why the photograph had been hidden in a box of fliers dating back to the eighties. Whatever had happened, they were no longer here.


An urge to look at the photograph again raced through me. I had to just see the woman one more time before Melanie Anderson came, took away the boxes and left them God knows where. Who would claim the boxes from the solicitor? Who would be getting the money from the sale of the house? Considering a solicitor had been the executor, didn’t that mean there was actually no one else? And wouldn’t that mean that it would be more than likely that the photograph would be stuck in a box and then probably destroyed with all the other stuff?


I was half way up the stairs by this stage, my intention growing with each step. Who would miss the picture if it wasn’t there? It wouldn’t hurt if I took that out would it? No one would know. I certainly wouldn’t mention it to Melanie Anderson when she turfed up.


I’d just reached the top of the stairs when the doorbell sounded. I knew who it was but I had better things to do than answer the door to a smarmy estate agent. I had to get the photograph from the box before I handed it over. There was no way I was going to allow the picture to be destroyed. It was just too perfect, just too beautiful, just … not … there, or more specifically, the box that held the picture wasn’t there.


Kneeling down on the spot where I had left the box the previous evening, I patted the carpet as if it would tell me where to look next.


‘Ding dong!’


Knowing that Melanie Anderson was just outside didn’t help my sense of panic either. Had I put the box back in the attic? I hadn't seen it this morning, but that was probably because I hadn’t been looking out for it. What was I saying? I would have remembered putting the box back in the attic, would’ve remembered moving it to a different spot.


‘Ding dong! Ding dong!’


I had the urge to shout profanities down the stairs, but instead I growled and pulled the lever to release the steps to the attic. I didn’t care if Melanie Anderson buggered off. I was more concerned about finding the box I’d been looking through last night to worry about the manager from Delta Property getting arsey with me for not answering my own front door. Let them have a taste of their own medicine. Many a time I’d tried to contact someone there and had been ignored.


The ladders slipped to the ground with ease.  Maybe they were a little over oiled and that is the reason why they had kept on unfolding themselves. And who cared? At this moment, I had bigger fish to fry.


‘Hello! Miss Hardy?’


What the hell? Was she shouting through my letterbox?


‘Melanie Anderson?’ Why was she questioning her own name?


I did have a slight urge to shout down that I wouldn’t be a minute, but the feeling passed. Let her wait. Turning back to the ladders, I began my ascent.


When the light illuminated the attic space I thought I was seeing things, or, in reality, not seeing things. In the corner of the loft space where I’d seen the boxes the previous night, there was nothing. Zip. Nada. The corner was devoid of any clutter whatsoever, whether it was stacked, piled, scattered or thrown about. In four strides I was in the corner, my hands feeling about the floor as if I believed the boxes were actually there but hidden under a cloak of invisibility.


A creaking noise came from behind me and the hairs on my arms stood to attention as if they were charged with electricity. This was the scenario I’d thought may have happened the previous evening when I’d thought that maybe someone had wanted to get me alone inside the attic so they could lock me away, maybe do unmentionables to me. I’d become one of those divvies that had climbed, of my own volition, into the belly of the beast, ascended into the place where I could be totally cornered. I had, in fact, allowed myself to be Victim Number 1 in my own horror story.


Another creak, I felt my hands go into fists and wished for a fleeting moment that I had my metal torch with me. I could’ve smashed whoever was there a good one with that in my hand. Well, if I could’ve stopped my hands shaking for long enough that is.


A small cough came from behind, something that surprised me. Would a killer cough? Alert the victim of his or her arrival in a very polite way? Maybe if it was Professor Moriarty.


I had to play this right. If I turned and charged and misjudged the space or whoever was behind me, it was as good as over. I only had one go at this.


Standing straight, I spoke before turning, my voice seeming controlled, more so than the giddy feeling inside my chest that threatened to stop my blood flow and make me pass out with sheer fear. ‘You’ll never get away with it you know.’ However, when I did turn and did see who was behind me, her hand outstretched, her mouth half open, but this time not in a smile, I thought I’d gone mad. ‘But … it can’t … you can’t … I …’


I stepped forward but then instantly moved even more back and closer to the corner. ‘You shouldn’t be here. This is … you …’


The woman copied my action. She moved forward a step, then moved backwards, her hand still outstretched. Even though she was no longer in black and white, I knew it was her. Her hair was a dark brown, her eyes were just as I imagined but even more captivating. ‘Please. Don’t be alarmed.’


I was way past being just alarmed. I was standing in the corner of my attic, my only exit behind a woman I’d presumed dead, a woman I’d only seen once in a photograph. Alarmed was at the bottom of my fear scale. My reading was more at ‘Shitted the Hell Up’ smack bang in the middle of the bright red section.


‘Sally, I …’


My hands jerked as if they wanted to defend me by lashing out at her, but something within me stopped the action running its course.


‘How do you know my name?’ My voice wavered slightly. ‘Why are you here?’


The woman scrunched her face as if she was giving my questions thought. ‘I’m here for the boxes. And I know your name because you told me.’


Initially I believed the feeling I had race through me was because I was standing in front of a ghost, a spectre, a phantom … even the knowledge that I was communicating with the dead, a thing that thousands of people all over the world wanted to do. But, in retrospect, the feeling overtaking the whole of my body was not of fear or awe. It was a wave of sadness. Sadness because I would never get to know this woman, never be with her, never see her smile that beautiful smile that made my heart beat just a little bit faster, beat with just a little bit more force. And even though I also knew that the smile she had smiled in the photograph hadn’t been aimed at me, it didn’t stop me from wanting it to have been. Trust me to fall for someone I could never have, had never mean to have. Our lives were miles apart in both time and place. She was out of my reach, out of my realm, and I knew I had to carry on my life without her.


When she moved forward again, I didn’t flinch. Didn’t try to make a break for it. The woman’s expression was of concern, her eyes even more stunning the closer she came.


‘I’m sorry I startled you, Sally.’ Even the way she said my name seemed perfect. ‘But the front door was open, and when you shouted for me to come up ...’


‘But why were you at the front door?’


Ghosts didn’t wait at front doors did they? As for invitations, wasn’t that vampires?


A small laugh left her mouth, a laugh that was musical and light, a laugh that I knew I would never tire of hearing. ‘Sorry.’ She pressed her fingers against her lips as if she was stopping another laugh and I wanted to pull her hand away and let the beauty of it free. ‘I called you last night. Left a message.’


‘Left a message?’


From beyond the grave? All I’d received message wise was someone fiddling with my curtains, buggering about with my boxes, faffing about with my ladders, not to mention rats dancing about in the early hours. No message. Unless within all of that I‘d missed it. Maybe it had been written on the back of the photograph. The snap had been of her after all.


‘Didn’t you get it? I left it on your answer phone.’


‘No, I …’ The only message I’d had on my answer phone had been from Melanie Anderson who was probably still banging on my front door … Then it hit me, a dawning realisation of who was actually standing in front of me. ‘Melanie?’


Melanie Anderson smiled widely, her eyes half closing but still having the ability to captivate, her beautifully shaped mouth opened to display perfectly straight teeth, her lips full and red and totally kissable. She stuck her hand out in invitation, giving it a slight wiggle when I stared at it before accepting her request of introduction. As my fingers slipped over her palm, I felt a jolt of something race from her to me, me to her. Instead of pulling away, I gripped her hand more tightly, her fingers seeming to do the same. Lifting my eyes, I looked straight into a whirling mass of brown, and I felt myself falling into them, knowing as I did so I would be forever lost.


I don’t know how long we stood there, her hand in mine, my hand in hers, but it felt right, felt as if this was where I should be. I’d no idea why I’d seen the exact image of this woman captured in a photograph I no longer had. Had no clue why I had been so attracted to someone I believed I would never have the opportunity to meet, but at this moment I didn’t really care.


‘I have to ask, Sally.’ Her voice was low, still velvety, still rich, warm and inviting. ‘Have we met before?’


I shook my head, although I wanted to say we had. However, her thinking I’d lost my marbles stopped me.


‘I’m new to the area and I’ve not really been anywhere.’ She leaned closer, her eyes scanning the features of my face as if she was trying to process something, her hand still holding mine. Instead of drowning in my own self-consciousness, I smiled at her and received one of her glorious smiles in response. ‘But, as I said, I feel as if I’ve met you before. Where, I have no clue.’


The air in the attic was thickening with expectation and I’d an urge to do something completely irrational and out of character for me - like lean forward, cup Melanie’s cheek, pull her to me, and then brush my lips over hers. But, I didn’t go around kissing women I’d just met even if I believed I had some kind of connection with them - even if the connection was through a small, framed black and white photograph that had evaporated into thin air. So, I tried to break the tension, even if this tension could be classed as expectation. I released her hand, feeling the loss of contact immediately.


‘Maybe Helen has a picture of me on her dart board.’ It was supposed to come out as a joke, but the tone of my voice depicted something deeper, something bordering on an invitation.


Melanie tilted her head, her eyes half closing as she tended to do, and then she gave the impression she was reading my face again, those bewitching brown eyes flicking from my eyes to my mouth, and back again.


The feel of her lips on mine was both a surprise and expected, the softness of them inviting my own to engage in this bliss, this wonder. My hands lifted and cupped her cheeks pulling her closer, my mouth becoming hungrier for her the longer the kiss continued. A moan came from one of us, then another, the kiss deepening with the sounds. Melanie pushed against me, her body guiding me backward until I met the wall. She pressed herself against me, her breasts against my breasts, her pelvis pushing forward to meet mine. Her hand slipped behind me and cupped my butt, her fingers digging into the flesh before pulling me forward to press into her. The sensation in my gut mimicked an orgasmic firework exploding within and I knew if she continued kissing me the way she was kissing me, I would let her take me on the bare floor of my attic.


Before I had a chance to slow things down, Melanie did it, her lips lightening, caressing, gently brushing before lifting away. Even though it was what I wanted, I felt the loss of her as she pulled away. Melanie leaned her forehead against mine, a loud exhalation leaving her mouth. I moved my fingers to brush against a lock of her hair that had escaped the clip, my eyes watching in fascination as the silken strands separated and slipped effortlessly over my skin. Her hand cupped my face, her thumb moving gently over my cheek, her eyes peering upwards and into mine.


‘I don’t usually do this, Sally. I’ve never …’


I placed my finger over her lips and shook my head. ‘I think this has come as a first for both of us, yes?’


Melanie nodded, her lips moving against my finger as she smiled. Her eyes dipped, but when she looked back at me I could almost see my own stunned reflection in her perfect eyes.


‘But, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to do it again.’ Her eyebrows lifted, her face open and hopeful.


‘Same here.’ Those two words were almost swallowed by her kiss. Nothing else mattered. Nothing. I was completely lost in her, completely found in her, completely immersed in more than two mouths kissing. This was real, this was it, this was the thing I had longed for my whole life but had buried so deeply that I had tricked myself into believing I was fine on my own. Well I wasn’t. I had never been fine. This is what my life had been leading to. This moment. This kiss. This woman. I didn’t care about anything else. Didn’t care about mice, rats, boxes or attics. Didn’t care about Helen’s orange face and her obsession with Elton John. Didn’t care that I had given myself over so easily to another after years of running away from it.


All I cared about was the here and now - this moment, this beginning, this first step to forever. All barriers were down for the both of us. There was no anticipating, no wondering if we were attracted to each other. We were well past that.


This time I pulled my mouth away from hers. I wanted to get to know her, speak to her, sit and drink tea with her and find out how she took it. All the little things that make up a budding relationship, those little things that build into a life together. Yes. I may have been racing ahead after just one kiss, but I didn’t care. I was going for this with everything I had - no holds barred.


Dropping my hand, I grasped hers. ‘Shall we go downstairs?’ It sounded weird as usually the question would’ve been ‘Shall we go upstairs?’ But not today, and not just because we were in the attic either. ‘Do you want a cuppa?’


She nodded, that smile I was falling for blossoming like summer throughout me once again.


I led her to the attic opening and guided her through the hole, watching like an attentive mother hen as she made her way down the ladder. As soon as she reached the ground, I turned to follow, my hand reaching out and turning off the light.


One step down and I heard Melanie ask, ‘So, where are the boxes then?’


I stiffened, the answer to that something I knew would be a stretch to anyone’s imagination.


‘Erm. Well. Erm. We’ll talk about those over a drink yes?’




Biting my lip, I began my descent once more. But, just as I passed the level between the floor of the attic and the ceiling of my landing, I heard a short laugh making me pause once again.


‘Good luck with that one.’ The voice was female. And it wasn’t mine.


I ducked my head down and looked at Melanie, who was examining a print hanging on my wall. ‘Did you say something?’


Melanie peered up at me, her brows furrowing. ‘I said “Sure”. Why?’


Pursing my lips, I gazed up through the dark hole of the attic once again, another soft laugh coming from above. ‘No reason. Just my ears playing silly buggers.’


Moments later, I was on the ground, my hand pulling the base of the ladder upwards to ultimately close the attic off. I knew there was something I couldn't explain going on, knew there was a voice I didn’t recognise coming from my attic, but I also knew that the voice was not out to hurt me. If anything, I believed whatever, or whomever, was behind that voice had ultimately brought Melanie and I together, something I should be thanking her for rather than fearing.


Now, as I led Melanie down the stairs, all I had to do was think of a way of explaining it all to her without her thinking I was one sandwich short of a picnic.


‘Great picture by the way. Any relation?’


Turning, I fixed my attention to where Melanie was looking. There on the wall, about half way up the stairs, was a framed picture that I’d not put there. The frame, however, was very similar to one I’d held in my hands the previous evening, and if I didn’t know any better I would’ve sworn it was the same one.


A black and white photograph filled the frame. Two women were central, their focus on each other rather than the photographer, the look of absolute love and devotion clear in the smiles they shared, in the way their eyes met and held, their love forever captured with the click of a camera lens. The darker haired woman of the two had a similar look to Melanie, but it wasn’t her. The blonde could’ve been passed as a relative of mine, but I wouldn’t know who she was, although I was beginning to have a sneaking suspicion that the voice in the attic was connected to these women in some way, shape or form.


‘Come.’ I tugged Melanie’s hand. ‘Let’s grab that drink, yes?’ I lifted our hands to my lips and kissed her knuckles, something I don’t think I’ve ever done with another human being before in my life. ‘I need to explain something to you.’ And not why my face was bright red.


‘Okay.’ Melanie’s voice sounded unsure, but her smile made up for it.


‘Just be open minded, yes?’


She nodded again, the smile turning into a grin.


And as I led her to the kitchen, I just hoped that she was as ‘open minded’ as I needed her to be, not just because the tale I’d be telling her could be considered completely implausible but because I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that what I was saying was real. Maybe narrators do hope to suspend disbelief with their readers or listeners, but not me. I knew this story was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I just wanted one person to believe it, to believe me as I spouted a fantastical tale.


Then, and only then, would Melanie and I have a chance. I wanted a woman who would believe in the unbelievable, take a chance on something unfamiliar, something that couldn’t be explained or examined, but happened anyway.


This, as it happens, is a little like love. When two souls should be together, weird things occur to make that happen.  Love is something we cannot physically hold but can see if we open our eyes to it. That is what I wanted Melanie to do. Open her eyes, open her mind, open her heart.


One last thing before I go. I want to recant something I said earlier. I sure as hell DID want to be made to feel as long as that feeling was with Melanie Anderson.


How perfect is that?


The End



If you liked this story, you can mail me at fingersmith@hotmail.co.uk


Thank you to all of you. And happy Halloween!