Estimated reading time — 14 minutes
“Would you just do it already? Man, I didn’t know you were such a pansy,” Shayne said shaking his head, looking away. “What do you think is going to happen? It’s going to be fine.”
“But Shayne,” his little brother, Josh, protested, “I heard you tell your friend, Jimmy, what would happen. I don’t want to do it, Shayne. I think mom is going to get mad. I don’t want to get in trouble. She’ll ground me for sure. Why don’t you just do it? Come on, Shayne. What’s she going to do to you, you’re already grounded.”
“So what if you get grounded, you don’t ever go anywhere anyway.”
Josh looked down and studied the object in question, contemplating, weighing his brother’s approval against the possible aftermath. He opened his mouth to speak then thought better of it. After another moment he dragged his eyes back up to meet his brother’s then furrowed his brow. “No, I’m not going to do your stupid trick. Just do it yourself. I thought you were supposed to be braver after you turn twelve. Besides I don’t want to make mom mad.”
“Ok, Josh, whatever; just know that I can now say that you’re yellow. When I go next door to Mandy’s house and she asks about you I’ll just have to be honest.”
“Go ahead, see if I care,“ he said then gasped as the last syllable of the blunder spilled out. Wait a minute, did he care after all? The thought of Mandy seeing him in any negative light had him second guessing everything. He decided to stick to his guns. But his big blue eyes betrayed him as they began to sag with nervousness.
Shayne cracked a sly grin. “I thought you were gonna marry her some day.”
“Shayne, you just shut up about that.”
“She’s getting her license this summer. She’ll probably be going out with all those older guys now that she can drive. She thinks those guys are brave.”
Josh paused for a moment, scanning the floor from left to right then back again, feeling his heart throb in his throat with every swallow. He jetted his chin out and scowled at his older brother, as was his customary response when he began to feel cornered, defeated, as if his very will was involuntarily subjugated by his brother. His thoughts swam to the image of Mandy and her smile, her laugh, the way she rests her hand on his shoulder as she greets him most anytime they meet. “Okay, fine, I’ll do it. But you better tell Mandy I’m brave.”
“Oh, sure, sure, I’ll tell her, absolutely.”
Josh raised the item then placed his other hand on it, took a deep breath, then dragged his eyes once more to his brother before committing to the act.
Josh turned and tried to kick Shayne, but his older brother was quicker and hopped out of the way then slapped Josh on the back of the head.
“That was awesome, Josh, what are so upset about,” Shayne said, taking a breath between laughs.
A tear cupped in the bottom of Josh’s eye. “Stop laughing. I’m telling mom.” He blinked and the tear spilled out. “Mom’s going to be mad at me, now,” he said, wiping the tear with the back of his wrist.
“I don’t think so, sucker. Don’t you remember her saying she didn’t want to hear our tattle-tailing anymore?”
“I don’t know why I listen to you, Shayne. I thought you were supposed to care about people like me, your little brother. I don’t think you care about any one,” Josh said turning away. He shuffled his feet a few steps then after using his right shoulder to wipe his eye again, started to run.
Shayne’s smile flattened as he began to feel the sting of Josh’s last words. He bit his lip while one particular memory of his dad arose from the shadows of the recent past. His heart softened. Though it had been eleven months, he’d heard the words once again echo as if spoken only moments ago, “Shayne, you’re the man of the house when I’m gone. You need to take care of your mother and little brother, okay? I’m counting on you. I know you’ll do fine.” Shayne wondered if his dad could see him right now in that moment. Would he be disappointed in me, he thought. Still too soon to spend any time thinking about his dad and how much he was missed, Shayne inhaled hard then thought he should find his little brother.
Five minutes later Shayne found Josh in the attic, items sprawled to his left and right, rifling through a chest which belonged to their dad. Shayne walked somberly up to Josh, and from behind placed a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, I shouldn’t have made you do, you know, that. I’m sorry and I’m sorry for laughing at you.” He gave his little brother the once over, ran through a few of their best times together and then felt himself smile, if only half of one. “So, what do you got going up here?”
Josh stopped for several seconds then lowered his face into both his palms and began to weep. “I just miss dad. He’s not here to play catch with me anymore. I can’t tell him the cool ideas I have. Shayne, he’ll never see me drive or date a girl or get to see me grow up. He won’t know who I am when I get older. He won’t be there to help me buy a car, or help me with my homework. I just wish I could hear him laugh with me one more time.”
Shayne felt the sudden knot in his throat begin to swell, but determined to put it down. He laid his hands on either of Josh’s shoulders and stood silently, purposing to say nothing.
Josh turned and through damp, glossy eyes looked up at his older brother. “Thanks, Shayne.” He returned to the chest and began removing items once more. In the bottom of the chest was a small wooden box, maybe a cigar box, placed just so. It was tucked between several filled manila envelopes and a small green crate nearly overflowing with old photos, most of which were slightly out of focus black and white portraits of people; some close ups and others depicting entire families with either a lake or house or picturesque landscape in the background. Josh sat up on his knees, reached down and lay hold of the small interesting looking box. He drew it out of the chest with wonder-glazed eyes swathing the ornate piece. The wood’s finish had a slick, sheen that reflected like glass. Spanish words, elegantly scripted, were etched into all four sides. A small key hole fastened across the front caught his attention. He tried to open the top but the lid lifted merely a centimeter then protested. He shook the box lightly up and down, realizing there was weight to the box itself, but also a shifting mass inside which piqued his interest.
Shayne placed a couple fingers across the top, caressing it gently. “Whoa, that is really nice. Can I see it?”
Josh handed it over carefully, then immediately began digging for the key. “I wonder if this is even dad’s. It looks so old. The key has got to be in here.”
“I bet you it’s hidden somewhere in the wall of the chest, you know, so someone could find it quickly. Have you tried looking there?”
“No, but I will. Wait a second, there’s a small jewelry box I put over there. Check in that.”
Shayne placed the box next to Josh’s leg then stretched around behind Josh, reaching for the smaller, less interesting box. He lifted the lid and gazed over several charms, aged, fancy rings, a few coins and a small tethered, felt sack. He stuck his finger in and widened the mouth of the little sack. He turned it up on its end and three things slid out into his palm; a diamond ring, a single, solitaire oval diamond and a small skeleton key. “Hey, I think I got it.”
He quickly grasped the locked box and prepared to insert the key. Hesitating, however, he shot a look over at Josh, then grinned excitingly. “No, you should be the one to do it, after all you found it.”
Josh, taken aback, mouth drawn open, looked at the key in Shayne’s hand then shot his eyes to the box. His heart leapt. He then met Shayne’s eyes and smiled brightly. “Let’s both do it. You turn the key and I’ll open the top. Okay?”
Shayne’s grin stretched into smile that bore his perfect teeth. “Okay, are you ready?” He waited for Josh’s nod then slid the key into the key hole. With a tender clockwise turn of his wrist the box made a small unhitching click. He gazed at Josh. Without raising his eyes once, Josh simply placed a thumb under the nearest slightly extended corner of the lid and lifted. The lid let out a small whine, which dissipated after it was half-way opened. What lay inside seemed to kill their sudden marvel for the look on their faces. Perplexed, Shayne reached for the small dark bag of cassette tapes and lifted it up from its alleged entombment. He glanced at Josh who shared his bewilderment. Inside the bag also lay four stacked sheets of paper, folded unneatly. Shayne reached in and drew them out. Unfolding them, they set their eyes on words scribbled in chaotic fashion, strewn throughout all four sheets; front and back. Some words were names, some were fragments of sentences, but nearly all were crossed out with a single strike of ink. What unsettled him the most was the obvious shaking or quivering formation in some of the penmanship. After reading some of those words and fragments he quickly folded the sheets together again. He shot Josh another glance and said, “I don’t think we should be messing with this, Josh.”
Josh, without breaking his fixed gaze on the cassette tapes stated matter-of-factly, “Why, Rose, these things are needful. My soul has bled into them. That’s final,” then ended the sentence with a growling, “have I made myself clear?” Josh immediately broke contact with the tapes and looked questioningly over at his brother.
Shayne licked his lips slowly then felt himself swallow hard. He centered his focus on Josh’s eyes. He didn’t realize it, but he had just inched himself a good foot’s length away from his little brother. “Josh?”
Josh answered, “I think I just had a dream. Did I fall asleep, Shayne? What just happened? Shayne, why are you looking at me like that?”
“Oh my god, that is the freakiest thing that I have ever seen or even heard of. Josh,” he said quietly but emphatically, “I’m pretty sure we weren’t supposed to find this. I’m going to lock it back up and we’re never going to open it again, okay?”
Just then Mandy stepped up into the attic. “Hey you guys, what are you doing up here? I was waiting downstairs for the last couple of minutes. You’re mom said she didn’t know where you’d run off to and thought I should check up here. Oh, and by the way, she sounds a little pissed. What did you guys do in the kitchen, man it’s a mess.” She spotted the chest after scanning the entirety of the attic. “Oh, cool, what’s this?”
“Nothing, we were just putting all this away,” Shayne said with a hint of urgency.
She spotted the small ornate box. “Oh, wow, this is incredible looking. What was in it?” Her eyes fell on the dark bag. She curled her lip into a bit of a snarl then with one reach swiped the bag. “These?” She shot a puzzled look at Shayne. “These were inside that?”
Shayne looked away, pursing his lips. He then snatched the bag back with a curt, “Yes.”
“Man, Shayne, what’s eating you?” She spotted the folded sheets of paper and the chaotic writing. It hit her almost instantly. She gasped with excitement. “Do you know what these are?”
“We’re putting them away, okay? They’re not important,” Shayne said, quickly growing impatient.
“Take a chill pill, geez,” she contended. “Let me just take a look before you put it all away, alright?” She fished out four or five tapes and read the titles on each. A thrill enveloped her. “Let’s listen to one. Look, this one says session five case one forty-four. This one says session one case two seventy-eight. Hmm, this one is hard to read, it looks like case three nineteen. Wow, no session, maybe because it’s the last one they ever did,” she said with an eerie howl following. She tossed the others back into the bag. “Let’s listen to this one.”
Josh looked up at her and said, “I want to listen to it, too.” He stood and took it from her hand to which Shayne swiped out of Josh’s hand. “We’re putting it away, okay. This stuff shouldn’t be played with. It’s dangerous.”
Mandy gasped again. “Something happened didn’t it?” She jumped with exhilaration and started clapping. “Tell me, what happened? What did you hear? Was it scary? Oh I can’t wait to hear it, Jasmine is going to be so jealous. She’s totally into this kind of thing. Ok, where do we play it?”
Shayne shook his head slightly. “Geez, why don’t you take a chill pill, Mandy? We haven’t heard anything yet, okay, and nothing happened.”
“Yes it did,” Josh chimed in, “I fell asleep or something and had a dream. Shayne said it was the freakiest thing he’d ever seen.”
Mandy’s jaw dropped. Her eyes darted from Josh to Shayne repeatedly. She leaned in toward Shayne. In a whisper she asked, “Seriously? Something happened?”
Shayne’s reluctance to answer told her everything. “Oh my god, I’ve got to call Jasmine.” She slid her thumb across the screen of her phone then said plainly, Call Jaz.”
The other end answered on speakerphone, “Dee, I already told you tonight is out, I’ve got homework. My parents will kill me if I leave the house. You’re going to have to wait til Saturday. Now stop calling me, Dee.”
“I’ve got recordings on cassette, and baby they’re hot, bring a tape player,” she said then hung up. She grinned at the other two. Within seconds her phone exploded into a hip-hop song neither of the other two recognized. Mandy clinched her fist and drew it down to her side with a victorious, “Yes.” She slid her thumb across the screen again and answered, “Get over here now, I’m at the Edwards’ in the attic.” Before hanging up on Jasmine, two syllables escaped the speaker; the words ‘but’ and ‘I’. Nearly fifteen seconds went by when Mandy’s phone erupted again to the same tune. Mandy said not a word upon answering this time. She simply slid her thumb a third time across the screen. Four fantastically fast words fled out, “I’ll be right there.” That was it; phone call over. Mandy strutted toward Shayne and slid a finger from his adam’s apple upward to his chin. “That’s how it’s done,” she said nonchalantly.
Josh gawked with an infatuated gaze if ever he had one. He slowly followed her thin figure from her face down to her sandaled feet and back up ending on her long, straight, light-brown hair. He felt his pulse quicken throughout the ogling.
“You really don’t know what you’re getting into,” Shayne said, cautioning her.
“Oh, you haven’t seen anything yet. Jasmine is, like a channeler or something. Her mom and dad studied this stuff for years before she was born. She’s a natural born medium.” She offered Shayne her sad puppy dog look, complete with rolled out bottom lip. “Ok, you’re the boss, Shayne. We’ll do what you say. But Jasmine, um, you know, high school poms and cheer, is on her way to your house, right now. And oh my god, she is so into this, there’s no telling how long she’ll want to stay,” she caressed his arm and added, “or how many times she’ll come back.”
Shayne closed his eyes and felt his teeth gritting. He glanced down at his watch. “Well, it’s still early. Alright, but we can’t have my mom coming up here. I’m going to go down, clean up that mess, then tell her where doing a project together for Josh and that you and Jasmine are helping us with it. Then when I come back up here, that door gets locked and stays locked. My mom would seriously freak if she knew what we were doing.”
After Shayne ran downstairs, Mandy pulled out the crate of photos. She sat down Indian style next to Josh and began going through each one starting from the front. About half way through she came across several backgrounds she immediately recognized. “Whoa, this is my house in this one. Oh my god, a bunch of these are from this neighborhood. I had no idea our homes were that old. I mean, you know, the photos are black and white and everything. Oh, look at this one, there’s a dark spot on the ceiling in the corner of the kitchen. That’s your house, Josh. Oh, shhhhizz burger, sorry, Josh, almost let that one slip. Look, the same picture, same pose, same person but no dark spot. Oh, that’s like, kind of eerie. Have you ever seen a dark spot in your kitchen?
Mandy looked twice at him. “Whaaat? Come on be serious.”
Josh nodded again. “Before my dad died; I think I was maybe eight.”
“And what you’re ten now? And a cute ten at that,” she said elbowing him. “You’re going to be a heart breaker, oh my.”
Josh blushed, grinned, and then found himself studying every freckle on her face as she poured over the remaining photos.
A simple, small knock echoed out from the rear of the attic. Both sets of eyes leapt to the shadowy corner. They returned their gazes to that which previously held their attention. Suddenly a knock and a creak followed by the sound of possibly a stack of light linen falling over or the whooshing sound a bed sheet makes as it’s snapped in the air then allowed to settle all ghostly-like. Mandy stared at the corner for a long minute, studying the darkness and the way it swallowed the dim light from the single bulb resting above them. Her eyes fell on the outline of a figure against the wall. She felt her heart jump upon the recognition. She reached up and grasped the bulb at its cord and socket and held it in that direction. The outline shifted with the room’s readjusting shadows. She thought it must have been the contour of a dresser with a box and blankets on it. She released the bulb. It swayed back and forth, producing the effect of shadows moving closer to them and then farther away, in perfect sequence with each pendulating sway. Somehow in her mind, the shadows tended to move a bit closer with each swing of the bulb instead of steadying into a slower rhythm. She took Josh by the hand and said,” I don’t think were alone right now. I think we need to go back down stairs.” The feeling that they we’re being watched, studied, perhaps collected, arose from seemingly behind her. From the left of the attic, not the rear this time, fluttered the sound of airy linens not necessarily falling, but being dragged or moved. In the stillness of her fear, from inches behind her ears, a whisper broke the silence, “Oh, Rose.” Chills ran down her backside as she dared not move while they voice remained a mere finger’s reach in her mind’s eye. Another knock from the corner echoed. The attic door slowly crept shut without either of the two noticing. She peered down at Josh who had a blank gaze toward her feet. She shook his hand. His eyes crept up her clothing then stopped at her shoulders.
“Josh,” she managed to utter through her trembling, “we need …to go downstairs… okay?”
Josh instantly shot a glare at Mandy and said with a deep growl in a voice not his own, “Do I make myself clear.” He glanced at the light bulb and it exploded into shards, pieces shattering against the ceiling and walls, landing into the far corners of the attic. Heat immediately swelled upon her face as she felt violently pulled, or to be more precise, extracted, completely out of her sandals. The immense tug threw her out of consciousness.
A moment later a dim light pierced the darkness and Mandy began to step out from behind a box, limping, wiping at her face from the sting of the glass, feeling as if she’d just been rudely awakened by her mother to get up for school after a late night. Shayne said, “Ok, gotta new light bulb in, we’re about to run out; oh, and that spot is back on the kitchen ceiling, mom’s kind of pissed.”
Jasmine stood at his side. “Alright, let’s try this again. We got really close. Everyone sit down. Come on, Dee, you need to join us, are you up to it?. We’ve only ever gotten anything on this tape. Josh, it’s your turn, are you ready? You probably get the best responses because you’re the one who found it, or it found you.”
Confused, and picking at her face still, Mandy scowled at the three of them for beginning the first session without her. She shuffled and limped her way to the other three and sat down Indian style.
Jasmine tapped her fingers down next to her on the attic floor and whispered to Mandy, “Come sit next to me, Dee.”
Mandy slid over to Jasmine, “Your faces are all blurry. I can’t see very well. My face is killing me, can we do this later?”
Josh looked up at Mandy, but almost right through her to the shadowy corner of the attic. “We’re hot. Do you want me to ask anything or do anything different?”
“Would you guys just stop for a minute?” Mandy demanded. “Something really creepy just happened. Josh and I were sitting here looking at the photos and I don’t remember what exactly happened but someone was in here with us. We need to get out of here. There’s a strange presence in here. Can’t you feel it?”
Jasmine responded, “Just do as you’ve been doing. But first, play that last part again. Dee, everything’s going to be okay.”
Shayne pressed play and an echoed screechy voice in a male tone said, “Ro-se,” then followed by angry snarls, “make… my-self… clear.”
Mandy sat up, “That’s him, oh my god shut it off, shut it off.”
A second segment played immediately after. It sounded like it were broken into segments and distant. It was a female voice which might have been put together to say any number of things, but to the best of their ability, they decided it sounded like, “strange” and “presence.”
Mandy started pointing at the tape, “See, I’m not the only one who feels it, oh crap you guys shut the freaking thing off. We’re meddling, you guys.” A sudden knock and creak reverberated from the dark shadowy corner. Now beginning to cry, Mandy stood up then started backing away, shaking her head, arms held out in front. “Did you hear me? We’re meddling with doors and things that shouldn’t be opened.” Half of a male’s figure very slowly slid out from the shadowed corner. “Oh, my god, oh my god, he’s right there.”
Shayne stopped the tape, looked over his shoulder in Mandy’s direction then glanced at Jasmine. She nodded. He pressed the record button on the cassette recorder then forwarded a nod to Josh.
Josh drew in a deep breath then in news anchor fashion stated, “This is EVP case three-nineteen, and this is our one-hundred and thirty-second session.”
Caught completely off guard, Mandy stopped everything and froze, shooting an empty glare at Josh.
Josh continued, “I know you’re here, I can feel you, but there’s someone else, a strange presence, in the attic with you.“
Mandy took a closer look at their faces. They seemed to morph strangely, perhaps aging.
Josh continued further, “Mandy, if you’re in here send us another sign. You disappeared in this attic eight years ago, if you can hear us, please say something else.
Mandy felt herself begin to fade out of time, wither out of space.
Josh’s voice continued in the background. “Mandy… feel you… strange presence…session one hundred fifty-five…stranger…another sign…”
Credit To: Pradicus
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