The story I will now tell may seem at times to be the ravings of a madman. Indeed, I may be such a creature. The events described here, however, are no less valid in light of my condition--a condition owed, no doubt, to the situation I now place before you.
That said, let me begin my tale.
It was cold that winter morning, black outside my window but for the flurry of snowflakes that gently made way to the ground. I was sitting in my small study. The room was lit by a single desk lamp--one that provided just enough light with which to work.
I am a writer by way of career, generally destitute, and I spend many late nights with my fingers humming gracefully about the keys of the old, battered Remington I use to create my masterpieces.
The guest house I was renting at the time of this incident was set back quite some distance from the main house, giving me the impression of isolation. I quite preferred it that way, though at times I felt a loneliness that burned at my very core.
I’ve always been an overzealous worker, content to shun the rest of the world in favor of my typewriter, and had it not been for the occasional generosity of my landlord, I dare say I would have been dead some time ago.
Enough chatter, though.
It was the third month of my stay in this guest house that a rather unusual situation began to make itself known. After having completed yet another twenty manuscript pages, I decided to treat myself to a good cigar. I augmented the smoke with a snifter of brandy, silently toasting my progress.
The sound seemed distant at first. It was a noise much like the scraping of a lonely tree branch upon the roof in the middle of the night, and indeed I would have taken it for such had not the sound been coming from behind the north wall of my study.
I was far from concerned at first, taking the sound to be a rodent of some sort, though, I might add, a beast of considerable magnitude. I returned at once to my work, blocking the sound from my mind. It was not an easy task, for the noise grew more insistent with each passing minute. I struggled still to ignore it, focusing ever harder on my work, typing madly. The words came quickly--hot impressions on paper--quite possibly the words of a genius.
The scraping now began to move against the wall. It was the sound of fingernails across a chalkboard, slow and tortured, and as I could no longer overlook it, I began to follow it, cocking my ear to the wall. The noise would periodically come to a halt. It was as if my scrutiny had been detected. It would then, after a period of perhaps thirty seconds, resume its standard pattern, moving slowly along the inner workings of the wall.
My curiosity soon gained the better of me. I began to search for something with which I might knock a hole in the wall. The end of the wall, at last, was upon us, but the scraping sound changed its course. There was the addition of another sound--a knock of sorts--which alternated with the more familiar scraping.
I dashed madly from the house, down the steps, and to the small yard that fronted my living quarters. Facing my guest house and peering upward, I saw that indeed there was an attic of sorts to be accessed, and whatever the thing was lurking behind my wall, surely that was its destination.
I rushed back into the house, overcome with high hopes. There had to be a way for me to access the attic room as well. I found it. A trapdoor did indeed exist. There it was, a thing of beauty, dead-center above my work desk. How had I not noticed it before? The only obstacle now was to reach the thing.
And here, dear readers, is where the insanity begins. I tried the desk chair, then I climbed upon the desk itself. Neither of them was of sufficient height to allow me to reach my goal.
Then an idea struck. I went immediately to my bookshelves and dragged books to my desk, piling them high, a precarious arrangement at best, but one I would be obliged to make do with.
The thing had already gained entry to the attic. I could hear it walking above me, and at that moment I became quite convinced that it was not at all something from the rodent family. It walked on two feet, and, I might add here and now, with quite a heavy step. Each foot that fell upon the floor of the attic was solid enough to shake plaster dust onto my upturned face, forcing me to shut my eyes as I struggled with trapdoor.
Eager as I was to put the mystery to rest, my heart pounded with the excitement of what I might discover. My throat was swollen and dry. I prayed silently that I would not be required to scream for help. I thought several times to turn away from the foolish business at hand, and had it not been for the sudden displacement of the door, I would surely have abandoned my insane pursuit.
I stared for a long time into the black mouth of the attic, plotting what my next move might be. I retrieved a lantern, for only the truly disturbed would have ventured into the attic as it was. By the time I returned, I could no longer hear the footsteps, but I heard the heavy breathing of the thing above me.
I rose upon my toes for a closer look, setting the lantern inside the lip of the opening. The books began to wobble rather dangerously, forcing me to grope for the sides of the open door. I began to haul myself up into the attic. The darkness swallowed my lantern. I stood fully erect and proceeded into the attic. It was not the move I intended, but my curiosity gained the better of me, and so it was that I found myself sharing the same space with something that, had I known the full extent of, I would not have wanted to be close to under any condition.
The attic was silent now. The lantern cast a pale yellow light about the room. As my eyes adjusted, I took note of shadowy forms around me: an old trunk, a high-backed chair, dusty boxes piled one upon the other...but nothing alive.
I was at a loss for explanation. Certainly I had heard those footsteps. Was it possible that it had all been a great hoax? Had my mind played a trick? I thought not, but the proof of it seemed before me, illustrated by the vast emptiness of the dark, dank room around me. A man was never more eager than I to leave that unholy room. I turned on my heels, desperate for flight, and here I came face to face with the thing in the attic--a rotting corpse.
I stood there, my mouth open in horror, staring at the cadaverous thing before me, its eyes black and degenerated, its skin was thin and gray, like wet flower pasted over brittle bone. The jaw hung down, exposing rotted teeth and a black tongue like a bloated leech.
I stepped back under the sheer horror of the sight, endeavoring to get as far away from the anomaly as possible. It came toward me, a leering grin upon its thin, twisted lips. My heart thumped madly. My blood ran like a flood-stricken river. There was no place for retreat. Had there been a window, I surely would have flung myself through it, even at the risk of broken bones or death.
I pleaded with the thing, but it was of no use. It cocked its head to one side and advanced upon me, reaching out with gnarled fingers. I screamed without shame. The creature followed suit, matching my own wail with the same full intensity, though perhaps an octave lower. Our screams melded, creating a verbal obscenity that most certainly pierced the depths of Hell.
My foot slipped at the opening of the trapdoor. I caught myself as I plunged through it, dangling above my desk, my feet searching madly for something solid upon which to rest. Just as the ghastly thing peered down at me with the curiosity of a child, I let myself fall to the desk top, sending books every which direction.
As I lay flat on the polished mahogany of my desk, the thing in the attic dropped down and bent over me. I could smell its rancid breath. I tried to get away, but my arms and legs were twisted at uncanny angles. My head swam and my sight grew dim, and then I slipped into a black void that was a welcome relief from reality.
When next I was aware of my surroundings, I was pacing the attic as if it were my sacred domain, though I knew not for the life of me how I had managed to get there. Passing an old mirror with beautiful gold trim, I gazed upon the reflection it held. Complete horror gripped me, for the pale skin and bleak eyes of the thing in the attic stared back at me...
Originally published in The Midnight Gallery #3, 1997, as "Dark Side of Reality."
Carl's work has appeared in the zombie anthology Cold Storage, which he coedited. His work has also appeared in Champagne Shivers 2007, DeathGrip: It Came from the Cinema, DeathGrip: Exit Laughing, the horror-romance anthology Loving the Undead, the erotic paranormal ghost anthology Beyond Desire, and several issues of Lighthouse Digest.
His adult credits include fiction in Ruthie's Club, Oysters and Chocolate, Good Vibrations, and the erotic anthology Frenzy.
Carl's nonfiction has appeared in The Blue Review and Writer's Journal.
Carl lives in Georgia with his beautiful wife Marcella and their three boys.
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