The first time I saw her was a late spring afternoon. I was mowing the yard while my son, Ben, jumped on our trampoline. The grass catcher had filled up after mowing a third of the yard so I stopped to empty it onto our compost pile. I waved at Ben who remained blissfully unaware of the world as he jumped higher and higher into the sky. I began to walk back to the lawn mower across the yard when I happened to look up towards the house and the large window in our attic.
A pale face stared back at me. I found myself unable to look away. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as I continued staring at the pale skin, empty eyes, and long, dark hair. After some time the face slowly turned and disappeared into the darkness of the attic.
“What are you looking at Daddy?” Ben called from the trampoline.
“Oh, uh, nothing buddy,” I called back. “How’s the trampoline today?”
“It’s great, come jump with me!”
“What’s going on with you? You’ve hardly eaten anything” Rachel asked at dinner several hours later.
I shuffled vegetables around my plate. I looked at her, and nodded at our son, our indication that we would discuss things after Ben was asleep. After a mostly normal evening, aside from my occasional, horrified distraction, we finally had the chance to talk.
“I saw something today, while I was outside mowing the grass,” I began. “Something I can’t explain.”
“Well,” Rachel said patiently, “do your best.”
“When I stared up at the attic, I saw someone standing there, looking out the window. I saw a little girl.”
She stared at me, then let out a small laugh. I have a reputation of playing pranks so she was waiting for me to reveal the joke. When I didn’t, her amusement turned into anger. I watched her beautiful blue eyes turn bright red.
“Holy shit, you’re serious?” she shouted. “Did you go up to see if there’s actually someone in our attic?”
“Well, get up there right fucking now!”
I grabbed a flashlight. She grabbed a can of mace. With both our hearts racing we made it up the stairs, below the entrance to our attic. When we moved into the house, all of our extra storage had gone into the basement. We never actually used the attic for anything. It was too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter, and too musty year round. I had only entered the attic twice prior to this: the day we viewed the house, and once to check for wasp nests. Those visits were uneventful, aside from spraying some unhappy wasps. Rachel had never even seen the attic, and still had no interest. I pulled the ladder down and peered into the darkness above. We stood in silent, mutual fear of climbing the ladder.
“Do you hear anything?” Rachel whispered.
“Just the dehumidifier, do you?”
“No, so, are you going to go up there?”
“Can we play paper, rock, scissors?”
“No! Get up there!”
The ladder creaked as I slowly climbed it. When I reached the top I shone my flashlight into the darkness. Nothing appeared unusual in the empty attic. Exposed installation, small central walkway, and the big open window. I misplaced my foot and fell from the ladder, banging my head on the attic entrance and barely catching myself before landing on top of Rachel.
“What is it?!” she shouted.
A cool breeze blew against my face, and the sound of crickets singing in the night echoed throughout the attic.
“The window!,” I yelled, “It’s open!”
I shut the attic window and walked back down the stairs. Rachel stared at me wide-eyed while biting the nail on her index finger and nervously pacing..
“Now what?” she asked.
“Let’s try and get some sleep.”
We checked on Ben who had miraculously stayed asleep throughout the entire ordeal then went to bed ourselves. After some time we both fell into an uneasy sleep.
Until midnight, when our security system was set off. We awoke to a loud beeping and a voice from the central station calling through the security panel. I ran downstairs to turn the lights on. Everything appeared to be fine.
“Hello, this is Whitney with Absolute Security. Is everything okay?” the operator asked through the speaker. “Hello, do you need police dispatched to your home?”
“No, we’re fine. I’m not sure what set off the alarm.”
“It looks like there’s a door open somewhere in your home sir, are you sure you don’t want police dispatched?”
“No, I’ll go check it out first. Any idea where there could be a door open? I’m staring at my front and back door and they’re both closed.”
“Let’s see, it could be malfunction on the sensor, or . . .”
“It’s your basement door sir.”
That’s when I heard the loud banging. I ran to the basement. We had a side entry door leading from the outside into our basement. The side entry door was slamming violently against the side of our house.
“Is everything okay sir?”
“Yes, uh, we must have left the basement door unlocked and I guess the wind blew it open.”
“Okay, I’ll cancel the dispatch sir, can you please verify your passcode?
After the alarm was canceled and Rachel went back to bed I entered the basement to double check the door. The deadbolt was latched, I kept thinking. I took out the recycling, then I turned the deadbolt like I always do. A light squeaking broke my train of thought. Mice again? Great. But it wasn’t mice, it was the dumbwaiter. Someone was using the dumbwaiter. She must be doing laundry, probably can’t sleep. I walked back upstairs to our bedroom.
“Did you check on Ben?” Rachel asked as I entered the dark room.
“No,” I said, “Were you just using the dumbwaiter to bring up laundry?”
We stared at each other, both confused.
“Ben?” we called in unison, quickly making our way to his room. I opened his door to find him standing in the corner of the room, staring at us. His face was pale, his hair covered in sweat.
“Ben, honey, what are you doing?” Rachel asked, running to his side.
“My friend, she . . . she keeps calling for me,” Ben whispered.
A blank expression was frozen on his face, as if he was staring into the far distance. I touched his face which felt ice cold.
“What are you talking about Ben?” I asked.
“She keeps asking me to come play with her in the attic. Can I go, please? Please? Can I go?”
I walked back into the hallway as Rachel began to sob. Ben kept talking in a whisper that sounded nothing like our happy son. I went to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face and collect my thoughts. The crickets sang outside, louder than ever. Too loud actually. I left the bathroom to locate the source of the sound when I heard the footsteps right above my head. The attic hatch crashed into my back. I landed face first on the floor, blood pouring from my mouth. I saw Ben’s footsteps run past my face and up the stairs. Rachel’s footsteps followed soon after.
“Ben! No! Get away from the window!” she screamed.
“She just wants a friend!” Ben screamed.
I rose to my feet and climbed the ladder into the attic. Ben stood in front of the open window. Rachel stood in front of him trying to grab his hand.
“Ben, stop, come to us,” I said, standing next to Rachel.
“She so alone,” Ben said. He took one step outside the window and I jumped to grab his leg. Ben tripped and fell back into the attic on top of me. Rachel took his hand and ran back downstairs. The wind blew fiercely into the attic window.
After closing the window and the attic I walked around the house one last time checking for anything unusual. Rachel took Ben into our bedroom to try and get him back to sleep. I grabbed a ladder from the basement and propped it against the attic, ensuring nothing could come in or out again. I also clamped the dumbwaiter, which was positioned in the attic, so nothing could come down again. Then I cleaned up my bloody face and went back to our bedroom.
Ben was asleep in the middle of the bed. Rachel was lying next to him, wide awake. I climbed into bed and I heard her whisper.
“I saw her.”
“You saw who dear?”
“The girl. She’s so pale, her hair is so dark, and her eyes . . .” A sob broke her voice. “My god, her eyes.”
“I know,” is all I can say. “Let’s try and get some sleep, the attic is locked up, we can figure out what to do in the morning.”
Neither of us slept the rest of the night.
In the morning Rachel took Ben to her mother’s house and I called in sick for work. While they were both gone I did some research on ghosts, exorcisms for the home, and other paranormal remedies. I took a break to install a lock on the hatch to our attic that could only be opened from below. Then I did some research on our house, which was very old. Built in the late 1800s shortly after the Civil War in fact. That’s when I found the answer.
Our car pulled into the driveway and I walked outside, meeting Rachel on the porch.
“I think I know what to do, but you’re not going to like it,” I said, handing her a piece of paper. “I felt like I’d seen that girl before but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Here it is.”
She took the paper and began to read aloud, “November 20th, 1925, the body of seven year old Katherine Hager was found mutilated in the attic of a local . . . . oh dear god.”
“Whoever used to live here did something terrible, and now, I think, her spirit is trying to make its way back, using our son as a vessel.”
“Oh, no. No, no. Stop. I don’t want to hear this. What are you even saying? That some girl who was murdered in our attic is somehow still living there? Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?”
“Yes. I do. She wants someone to play with, or maybe someone to control. What if we give her someone else? Someone who isn’t our son?”
After an hour of debate, and several threats of divorce, Rachel finally relented. There was no other way. We sat in silence. Silence interrupted only by a steady knock coming from the attic.
We found her at a park.
“Where are your parents?” Rachel asked.
“They’re over there,” the little girl said, pointing to two adults passed out on a bench. “They gave a man some money and now they’ve been sitting there. I guess they needed a nap.”
“We have a boy your age, would you like to come play with him while they nap?” Rachel asked.
“We have a lot of toys,” I added, smiling at the child.
She agrees and we helped her into our car, buckling her into Ben’s child safety seat.
At the house we lead her up the stairs.
“Is this where all the toys are?” she asked.
“Oh yes,” I said, “We keep all the best toys upstairs.”
Rachel stayed in the kitchen. I unlocked the attic. A cold wind seeped through the small cracks. I brought the ladder down.
“Do you think you can climb that ladder all by yourself?”
“Oh sure, I’m a good climber.”
She climbed into the attic.
“I don’t see any toys up here.”
“They’re in the back, just walk a little further.”
She walked further into the attic. I lifted the ladder and lock the hatch.
“Hey, it’s really dirty up here. And I still don’t see any- Hey! Who are you?”
I ran down stairs, but not in time to avoid hearing the screams.
“No! Let me out!”
Screams of panic and screams of joy, both combined into a cacophonous symphony. I found Rachel crying on the kitchen floor. We both sat on the kitchen floor, trying to ignore the screams from the attic.
When the screams subsided, we left to pick up Ben from my mother-in-law. We slept well that night, the three of us together in one bed, Ben sleeping between us like he used to when he was younger and had nightmares. To this day, I haven’t opened the lock to the attic. There have been no more strange gusts of wind, no more sounds in the night. Still, when I’m out in the backyard, I find myself averting my gaze from the big attic window. I’m afraid I won’t see just one dead girl there, but two.