Chris sits up in bed and rubs his eyes as I vacuum-dance across the bedroom floor. Somehow, he doesn’t seem to appreciate my killer moves, which I consistently remind him could earn me a spot in any dance band, if I only chose to apply. He mouths something that I fail to hear under the sheer musical magnitude of my 80s Rock playlist, forcing me to pause and remove an earphone.
“Dad, can’t you start cleaning a little later in the day? It’s like 8:00am.” He grumbles.
“Absolutely not!” I retort, “It’s spring cleaning! Now that we’ve moved all our stuff in, we need to give this place a makeover. If you don’t like it, you could always go help your mother load the dishwasher.”
“Well, what about grandma?”
“You know her. She could sleep through a hurricane. Besides, she’s old and out of power. You’re young, fresh, packed with energy. You should be marathoning or setting a new world record, rather than lying in bed all day like a lazy fish.”
With a sarcastic eye-roll, Chris turns over and pulls a pillow over his ears. I press play on my headphones and the music kicks back into life, drowning out the deep whirr of the vacuum cleaner. I scan the vacuum head across the floorboards once more, eliminating any little dust molecule I might’ve missed the first time around.
“There, all done. You should be thanking me. If it weren’t for my suction-cleaning skills, you’d be up to your eyeballs in fluff and spider eggs.”
I leave the room, the vacuum trailing behind me.
“You done with the vacuuming yet, honey?” My wife calls from downstairs, “Someone needs to take out the garbage!”
“Be there in a minute, sweetie!” I shout back.
I sigh and wipe the sweat from my brow. Just as I turn to head downstairs, I stop, suddenly intrigued by the presence of the attic entrance.
It sits right in the middle of the landing, no more than a squarish hole in the ceiling covered by a wooden panel. There are distinctive marks on the floorboards beneath it, most likely from where a ladder used to be. Since the last homeowner left, it’s been sealed off, but the real estate company told us that he/she had spent quite a lot of time cooped up in there. When I first heard, I had paid little attention, but now that I saw it up close…
Well, a little exploration wouldn’t hurt, would it?
I fetch a chair and begin to hammer away at the panel. The musty wood breaks away easily, and I pull myself through the hole, bringing the vacuum up behind me. The attic is dim, the only source of light being the sunshine that slips in through the cracks between the boards on the windows. Despite the aged feel of the room, it’s cleaner than I expected, and gives off the impression of a space once well-maintained but now victim to desertion and neglect. Paint has begun to peel off the walls and ceiling, and water droplets seep in through cracks in the roof. Still, there are no bugs or spiders to be seen. The last homeowner must’ve been one hell of an insectophobe.
I flick my phone flashlight on. A rusted workbench sits against the furthest wall, covered in scribbled notes and faded illustrations. Most, if not all, seem to be observations from a set of experiments. Much of the writing is illegible, but there are a few phrases like ‘Unique internal anatomy…’ and ‘Social structure??’ that stand out among the scribbles. I sift through the papers one by one, some of them so old, they crumble in my hands. Maybe the previous owner was some kind of scientist?
There are post-it notes strung up along the wall behind the workbench in a similarly bizarre fashion. They pinpoint ‘Discoveries’ of some kind, lined up next to a list of ‘Setbacks’ and ‘Challenges’, all interlinking with each other, connected by tape and string. The most notable jotting comes in the form of a sheet of paper hung up at the very centre of the display, reading:
“RELATIONS TARNISHED PERMANENTLY. NOW UNABLE TO CO-OPERATE. GOALS UNACHIEVABLE. WILL PACK UP AND START AGAIN ELSEWHERE AT FIRST OPPORTUNITY.”
I step back and scratch my head. Who knows, maybe this was all some big, elaborate prank.
The other side of the room is dominated by a mountainous wall of boxes, stretching all the way up to the ceiling. I grab a few and set them onto the ground, shaking them like a child trying to guess what’s in their Christmas presents. Some are full of canned food and water bottles, others, strange ornaments and symbols from no culture I recognise. A few almost look like tools, or even religious figurines. Some of the boxes contain other pieces of paper, scrawled upon with tiny writing, set alongside a set of other notes written in English. The non-English notes are unlike any language I know of, and the English notes barely make sense on their own, like they’re from only one side of a conversation. Perhaps the last homeowner had a penpal?
The ever-growing mystery of the attic begins to bear down upon me, and I decide to distract myself from the existentiality of it all with a little more vacuuming. I plug the machine back into life and work my way around the room, starting with the area around the workbench, all while blasting my tunes to myself through my earphones. Eventually, I make my way over to the boxes, and start the back-breaking exercise of moving the rest of them into an empty corner of the room.
Around halfway through the process, I discover a makeshift tunnel carved through the wall, where the boxes split and allow a narrow path to wind through. My intrigue piques yet again, and I stick the vacuum nozzle deep into the hole to clear the way before I embark on my journey through. Eventually, I hit some sort of debris, and rustle the vacuum head around for a few minutes to make sure I don’t encounter any creepy-crawlies for my troubles.
Setting the vacuum aside, I shimmy my way through the rabbit hole. The box wall ends at a moderately-sized opening, where an entire mini-city lies in ruins, victim to my careless cleaning. I glance around the destruction, a little saddened at what I imagine to have been the prior owner’s favourite hobby. The rubble is startingly realistic, there is a mini-hospital, mini-restaurants, mini-homes, all of which seem to be incredibly distinct. It must’ve taken years for them to build a project so realistic. Of course, now that I’ve ruined it, all that effort was for nothing.
I sigh and exit backwards through the box wall once more. What an enigma. I take one last look at the attic, still trying to piece it all together in my mind, before lowering myself back down the hole and into the landing again.
Grandma is standing against her bedroom door, mouth agape, her hand on her heart.
“Good god, what on Earth was that noise?” She gasps, “It woke me from my nap.”
“What noise, Grandma?” Chris yawns from around the corner as he shambles drearily out of bed.
“It was…it was like a million little voices…all screaming…these wretched, awful screams, I…dear me, I think I need a sit-down…”
“Aw, you had another bad dream?” My wife inquires as she runs up the staircase. “Don’t worry, you’re safe now.”
“No, no, it was real, I swear it…”
My wife goes to comfort her in the bedroom. Me and Chris exchange a shrugging of shoulders, and I make my way downstairs to the waste bin to empty out the vacuum.
Almost automatically, I take the bag out of the vacuum storage and unseal the top. I only begin to notice that the contents of the bag consist of minuscule-ripped-up human corpses when it is already halfway empty.
I drop the bag and lunge backwards, covering my mouth to stifle a scream. The bag leaks onto the floor, and hundreds upon hundreds of tiny human bodies spill out, some missing arms, legs, and heads, others not more than a reddish stain upon the bag’s plastic interior. A few are still alive, dazed and suffocating in the crush of flesh. I see children, the elderly, mothers and sons and daughters, all heaped together, just as lifelike as any normal-sized person could be. I even see infants and toddlers, and that’s when the horror becomes too much. I turn and vomit into the kitchen sink. In a blind panic, I turn and sprint back upstairs, all the way up to the attic.
I pull myself up through the entrance once more. I squeeze my way through the box-hole, so quickly, I almost knock the rest of the boxes down upon myself. Finally, I get to the ruined city. I claw through the wreckage, finding even more flattened bodies. Not a single building is left standing, from the food storages and religious buildings, to the schools and playhouses.
I cry out in guilt and anguish, and as I weep, I hear a tiny voice weeping along with me, as delicately as a fly flapping its wings. I scour the debris inch by inch, being as careful as I can muster, until I come across the source of the noise.
A little girl sits by the corpses of her dead parents, her head buried into her hands. She peeks between her fingers at the monster before her, and cries out into the open once more.