When I was very young we often drove into the countryside to visit what to me seemed like very old people. Now, keep in mind, I was very young, so very old was probably not all that old. The house had a narrow, mean-looking circular drive with all sorts of dark shrubs growing along the edge, snapping against the windows of the car as my dad drove up. The house had a veranda with windows on either side of the door that looked like deep, sunken eyes peering at me as the car crunched to a stop on the graveled driveway.
Many Halloweens ago my sister and I were forced to stay in this horror house while our dad went to the cow barn to talk to his brother. Our aunt always sent us to play in the attic. Just thinking about it use to make my stomach pitch. Please God, don’t let them offer me those horrible cookies again.
“I’m not going in there,”I whisper to myself. I spot something white flickering behind the curtain at one of the windows. I duck down in the seat.
“Don’t be such a weakling,” my older sister Pamela says. I want to tell her not to use her big words on me, but I can’t keep my teeth from chattering long enough to say anything.
“Everybody out,” Dad calls from the front seat.
“I can’t wait to see Aunt Mathilda. She makes the best sugar cookies,” Pamela says, giving me a poke in the arm.
“Cookies! Who cares about cookies? You know this house is haunted,” I hiss at my sister.
The car door squeaks open. I hang back, hoping my father has forgotten that I am in the car. “Come one, Doris,” Dad says, reaching into the backseat and taking my hand. “We’ll only be here a few minutes while I talk to Uncle Vernon about the piglets over at McGowans.”
Who cares about pigs? Pigs. Figs. Fiddle sticks!
But he-who-must-be-obeyed gives me a look that settles it all. I step out of the car and hurry up steps. “You promise me, Dad. You promise me we won’t stay long,” I say, my knees shaking.
“You’ll be fine,” he says, his smile focused on the tall, dark-haired man just inside the screen door.
“Well, it’s so good to see you. And you brought along your girls. This is wonderful.” Aunt Mathilda darts out around her husband who holds the door open. Oh! No! She’s not going to hug me. Bury my face in her ample bosom. The last time I couldn’t breathe.
“Come in.” She smiles at me, her teeth as big as beaver teeth. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she says, pointing her finger at me.
I wait for everyone to get inside before I step over the doorsill.
“Come along now, Doris,” she smiles again, and I swear there is something dark and curly on her big front tooth.
Aunt Mathilda picks up a plate of cookies from the kitchen counter, passing them to my sister. “You girls take these upstairs to the attic while your dad and I talk. After that, he’ll only be a few minutes with your uncle.”
“Sure, Aunt Mathilda,” my sister says. “We love these cookies.” She smirks at me as she starts toward the stairs, a wide expanse of narrow steps that disappear into the darkness above.
“I’m staying here,” I blurt out.
“Little pitchers have big ears,” Dad says. “Run along, now. I need to talk to your uncle.”
I walk as slowly as I can up the first flight of stairs. At the first landing I spend time looking at the family pictures hanging on the walls. Big chested, bearded men, with the occasional big busted woman sitting beside them. All with dark expressions and hair slathered to their heads.
I can hear my sister clambering ahead of me on the next flight of stairs. She leans over the railing. “Hurry up! I’m not going to the attic without you. So get a move on.”
The second set of stairs feel like the final walk to the gallows. There is a small window near the top. No light breaks through the mottled glass. Dust clings in clumps to the balustrade at the top of the stairs. The air smells like old clothes in Mom’s trunk in the basement.
“Hold the cookies while I open the door,” demands my sister.
“Hold them yourself,” I say, hoping she can’t do it and we can go back downstairs.
“You wait ’til we get through this door. You just wait,” she threatens as she puts the plate on the floor. She turns the door knob. A nerve-shredding squeal erupts. The door opens with such a rush that my sister falls in.
“Serves you right,” I say, not caring if she hears.
There is a lot of bumping and grunting as my sister rights herself. But I’m not going near that door.
“You get in here!” she yells.
I can either follow her or go down stairs to spend time with big teeth, and explain to my dad why I didn’t play in the attic…
Gathering my scattered courage around me, I step into the room. The windows are covered. The space is so dark I can’t make out even a chair or a bed. I stop; turn back. “I’m not going in there. The last time we were up here a ghost fell off the rafters.”
“That wasn’t a ghost. It was a costume,” a high-pitched voice, emanating from the darkness growls.
“What!!” I leap back, bumping into the wall, smacking my head so hard tears pop from my eyes.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake. Get her in here and close the door,” the voice said. “We can’t get ready for Halloween with her making a big fuss.”