The Attic
By: Michael Foster

     Angry monsters may no longer hide beneath my bed, and goblins may not live in the shadows of my bedroom closet, but sometimes I still wonder. I try to think back to the point in time when my childhood fantasies had dissolved into the certainty of reality. I am sure this transformation must have been gradual because I cannot recall experiencing any significant revelation of truth on such matters. My thoughts, therefore, can only conclude with the sharp contrast of my relative consciousness, then and now.
     Despite the advantage of age, some of my childhood memories are still thick with precise detail and traces of irrational emotion. The passing of time has taught me to responsibly disregard these juvenile fancies as products of an over-active imagination. Still, these fearful images are indelibly imprinted on the fabric of my mind.
     One particular memory is so vivid that I could tell it just as if it had happened yesterday. The unusual incident took place in a sleepy, small-town, Iowa farmhouse.

     My dad, during this time of my impressionable youth, was the pastor of the only church in Elliot, our town. His congregation, like the town, was small in number but extremely faithful. These loyal few could be found every Sunday, at eleven o'clock, in the same pews of the same sections, and as expected, wearing the same Sunday-go-to-church clothes. Even I had one set of clothes reserved for God. It was the same starched shirt and polyester pants that my mom had laid out every Saturday night while I was taking my bath.
     The old farmhouse, serving as the church's parsonage, was our home. The parsonage sat adjacent to the church and shared in its quaint appearance. It was a typical looking house for the area. In fact, other parsonages we have lived in since have had similar construction. It was basically a box topped off with a pyramid roof of gray shingles. It was a chalky-white, two-story, clapboard house with a large wrap-around front porch. Like most farmhouses, the inside was roomier than the exterior might have indicated upon first glance. Like the local people, the architecture was simple and functional.
     I was just starting kindergarten. Dusty memories of my first day of school were chronicled there. Most of the year, my sister and I wore out the earthen path from our house to the schoolhouse. Most of the school children were bussed in from the rural areas, but Laura and I had to hike the distance daily. In the summer months, we spent our time exploring the limits of our small-town island. Life was simple. Our only concerns rested on three principles: we were not allowed to exceed the cornfield borders of our town, we had to be home by the six o'clock whistle, and we were always supposed to wear our shoes. As obedient children, Laura and I never ventured outside our town and we were never late for dinner, however, as soon as we were out of Mom's sight the shoes came off. For some reason going barefoot represented true independence for us. We were always careful, though, to put our shoes back on before we got close to home.
     Growing up, I always had the luxury of my own room. This was of course, until my little brother was born. I won't labor upon this point because I already receive enough grief from my family about the on-going sibling rivalry.
     My room in this house, like all the bedrooms, was on the second floor. It was one of four. My sister had her own bedroom; my parents had the large bedroom; and the guest room, which was usually used mainly for storage, sat unoccupied unless relatives came to visit. In addition to the bedrooms, the second floor also had two closets and the door to the attic.
     The door to the attic, in appearance, was no different from other doors in the house. The warm patina of the old wood matched the floor and baseboards throughout the house. The black tarnished doorknob and large keyhole was about eye level for a five-year-old. The heavy wooden door had large panels that stretched to the ceiling. But this was perhaps all that was normal about the door.
     For the most part the attic door was always closed. There was never any reason to go up into the attic except for annually retrieving boxes of Christmas decorations. On rare occasions, however, I would find the door left ajar; I would quickly shut it.
     My sister and I were afraid of the attic, or more specifically, what might be dwelling in the attic. I remember going into the attic just once with my dad. Between the light of day and my super-hero dad, I wasn't scared of anything. I was confident that my dad could best even the meanest monster.
     The attic was dusty. You couldn't take a step without tossing up plumes of gray smoke. The bare wooden beams that supported the roof angled upwards and met at one point. The cracked windows in the dormers let in the only light. The view from one of these windows was spectacular. It must have been the highest point in town next to the church. I could see clear across the rooftops to the brick schoolhouse and the cornfields beyond. To entertain ourselves, my sister and I would sometimes dare each other to climb the attic stairs. Not all the way, of course! Going up alone into the attic was never considered or even mentioned. The challenges were offered on s step-by-step basis. Laura would dare me to climb three of the steps. Upon completing the heart-pounding task, I would dare her to climb four. We gradually ascended all the steps but would never, under any circumstances, enter the attic.
     In contrast, the cellar was our refuge. It was cold, it was dark, and it was damp, but it was all ours. In the basement, we built forts, played hide and seek, and roller-skated in circles. The smooth cement floor was excellent for the metal strap-on skates we got for Christmas. Sometimes we would turn out the lights and intentionally try to create sparks while skating. We shared the basement with Mom's laundry room and Dad's photography darkroom. Even with the lights out we were never scared of what might have lurked in the basement. Our childhood perceptions had a clear understanding in that the basement was good and the attic was evil.

     Every night, as I lay awake in bed, strange noises came from above. Staring nightly at the cracked plaster ceiling, I listened to distinct sounds coming from the attic. I heard the echo of doors, opening and closing. Even sounds of objects sliding across the floor penetrated the silence of my room.
     Like any child, these unexplained noises lingered in my fertile imagination. I feared that hideous evil creatures lived in our attic, and that they were conspiring to get me. Even asleep, I couldn't escape the fear. My dreams were mostly nightmares.
     My dad, as he tucked me in for the night, attempted to calm my fears by telling me that the noises were natural for an old house. My dad tried to explain that old houses shift with changing temperatures, but even the laws of science couldn't comfort me when he turned off the light.
     I remember my sister once told me that she had heard these noises form her room, but if she was equally frightened, she didn't show it.
     During the day, I seemed to forget about the presence in the attic. Daytime was quiet and the sunlight that filled the house had reassuring warmth. I played rambunctiously in and around the house each day, but was still somewhat aware of the attic as I carefully avoided walking past its doorway.
     All of these unusual happenings didn't prepare me for what happened one night. As I was lying in bed, almost asleep, I saw a figure at the foot of my bed. Thinking it was shadows created from tree branches outside the window, I strained to discern what it was. To my horror, it was the figure of a human, clearly standing at the foot of my bed looking out the window. The head turned slowly in my direction. It was the twisted face of a witch. She had wrinkly greenish-gray skin, a misshapen nose, and deep-set eyes as black as coal. I was petrified when she made eye contact with me. I was face to face with the image of a nightmarish witch, ten times scarier than the witch from The Wizard of Oz. The hideous being cracked an evil grin as if to say something. Tears were streaming down my face, but without the sounds of crying. I was frozen in a trance of terror. I regained my senses and quickly submerged under my covers and hid. I squeezed the life out of my ragged teddy bear. It must have been hours before I stopped shaking and fell asleep. I woke up the next morning to golden shafts of sunlight illuminating my room. The witch was gone, but the feeling of that memory has always been with me.

     We eventually moved. In time, my developing intellect had dismissed the event as a child's over-active imagination, however, one day I overheard my mom talking with a friend from the church. She was explaining to this friend about the reality of the spirit world and the applications of spiritual warfare. She illustrated that the house we lived in back then had evil spirits. She went on to explain what events had happened in the house.
Later I asked my mom about these occurrences, and she confirmed the truth. She and Dad had known about the unusual incidents in the house, but didn't tell my sister and I. They didn't want to alarm us, and rightly so. She explained that our normally passive family dog would frequently bark at the attic door in the middle of the night. She and Dad also had heard the unexplained noises coming from the attic. On several occasions, following Bible studies at our house, individuals would take my mom or dad aside and tell them about the spiritual uneasiness they felt in our home.

     Much debate arises over the existence and nature of ghosts, specters, and evil spirits. Some experts believe that they are the spirits of dead people caught between heaven and hell. Others, in more religious circles, feel that all dark supernatural activity is the result of demon interaction. I must admit that I am intrigued by the unexplained, and I love a good ghost story, but I don't know what to make of my personal experience.
     I don't know when I first dismissed this childhood episode as merely imagination run amuck. I remember the intense reality of the fear and anxiety that surfaced with the unpleasant experience, but I also have an adult's need to rationalize the unexplained.
     The attic, the house, and those memories are now locked in the past. I am sure other families have lived there. I wonder if they have been haunted as well.
     Twenty-five years later, my wife and I had the opportunity to revisit some of my childhood homes. We parked our car and walked the timeless streets of Elliot. As expected, not much has changed there. With the exception of a few satellite dishes attached to roofs and modern cars parked in driveways, the town was virtually unchanged.
     As we turned the corner and passed my dad's old church and my childhood home, I stopped briefly and looked up towards one of the dormer windows. As I stared through the glass into the darkness of the attic, I wondered if anything was looking back, and if so, did it know me as it did twenty-five years ago.

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