Ghosts in the Attic
By Reid Hoke
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Something new arrived at his home a few days after its unexpected entrance into this world. The boy watched silently but closely – and from a safe distance. He looked around and saw people, but everyone there occupied a part of this scene simply as faceless shadows. Only the boy’s mother and this new being had faces. And then there was the boy, two and a half years old, golden blond hair, clear blue eyes, unaware, glaring at them cautiously from the far side of the living room and listening to their oohs and ahs. “Isn’t he just the cutest thing?” he heard someone say. “Absolutely adorable,” came the response. Surely this was just some tiny visitor… but this visitor obviously felt quite at home in his mother’s lap, in his place, where no one else was allowed but him. Now this rival had appeared out of nowhere, from some other world, from another reality. His mother beckoned to him to come meet his new baby brother. And suddenly the inconceivable was replaced by something tangible, physical, concrete…and alive.
The boy and his mother had been the best of pals, inseparable. After they finally decided to allow the little intruder to stay, the boy found there was not very much difference in their daily lives. They simply resigned themselves to make the best of it. A nanny took care of the new baby all day, and things between the boy and his mother soon returned to normal. They were constantly together. If she had errands to do, he was never absent - unless of course it was naptime. Off on their merry way, they would sing everything he knew all the way there and back. “The Farmer in the Dell” and “Old MacDonald” never got too old, even after they repeated verses over and over for lack of new ones. They knew each other intimately and grew constantly closer as the days unfolded.
Gardening was a favorite pastime for both the boy and his mother. They spent endless hours planting exotic flowers, bushes, bulbs, and trees. The boy did the final landscaping with his army men digging and dump trucks moving huge amounts of earth from one plant to another and back again. He knew he was an integral part of the operation. One spring day they planted an apple tree, a simple, thin sapling, with three or four leaves and the beginnings of lean branches reaching for the sun. At three years old, the boy expected apples the next day – he even anticipated a whole tree full, although just one would have sufficed.
Early the next morning he descended the stairs from his bedroom, already excited.
“Are there any apples yet?”
“Not yet, sweetheart. The apple tree needs to grow some more first.”
Surely by the next day it would have grown enough. After all, Jack’s beanstalk had grown into the heavens overnight. Again the first thing the boy said was,
“Are there any apples yet?”
“Not yet, sweetheart.”
He was sure, though, that it would not be much longer. Every day, first thing as he descended the stairs, he asked again. And every day came the same disappointing answer. A few days later, the same ritual played itself out, but this time slightly differently.
“Mommie, are there any apples yet?”
“Well, I haven’t looked yet today, sweetheart. Let’s look out the window and see.”
She held the boy up, they peered out the window, and suddenly his eyes opened wide as saucers and his mouth fell open. There it was. Sitting right where a small branch jutted out from the main trunk there was the biggest, reddest apple that had ever been. Never mind that the tree did not have even the bud of an apple the day before, and had only been planted a week before that. Here was their first apple, and the boy grew it all by himself! Running outside and all the way to the tree, he reached up, picked it, and ran back inside to proudly display what he had grown. They ate it immediately, both of them marveling over its luscious taste, the juiciest, sweetest apple that had ever grown, before or since. And the boy never asked again if there were any apples yet.
That summer he met Ed, his new next-door neighbor, slightly chubby with the characteristic crew cut that most boys wore at the time. At four, Ed was much more experienced and worldly than he was at just three. On their first meeting, Ed proceeded to inform the boy of the meaning of the word “property” by telling him that he could “not come over this line” or he’d be on Ed’s property. There they stood, faced off at the frontier of their worlds. Luckily the career diplomats were at hand; their mothers interceded and quickly settled the border dispute. Soon the two boys were famous friends. Actually, there was no choice - they had to be friends. Otherwise Ed would have had to kill the ghosts in his attic all by himself. And these were not your common garden-variety ghosts, rather the most horrid, wicked, dreadful ghosts that had ever existed, the sole and soul remains of what had previously been normal, alive people. This soon became a daily ritual for the two boys. Before they ever got around to their everyday playing, they had to kill the ghosts, who had miraculously regenerated the night before. And every day their destruction required the use of a different, exceedingly complex Tinker Toy gun that took hours on end to make. The ghosts always developed complete immunity to the last one, so the same gun never worked twice. One shot red fire, another shot blue electricity, and another shot huge lead bullets accompanied by the mouthed sounds of machine gun fire. Spinning from right to left, in front and behind, the two boys bravely battled the endless numbers of hideous ghosts as they appeared in rapid succession, blowing them back into the mysterious world of the dead.
The boy and his mother still spent a large part of the day together, although he had a new friend who also required some of his valuable time, and he charitably donated it to Ed and humanity to keep the world free from the awful ghosts who used Ed’s attic as their secret gateway into this world.
Some months later, just after a long, hot summer and into the accelerating changes of autumn, the boy’s mother suddenly fell ill. She was soon absent, in the hospital for a short stay, which eventually turned into two and then three weeks. The boy felt absolutely alone. His grandmother came to take care of them while his mother was away. Finally, one day, she came home. He was so thrilled to see her that he jumped right up into the bed with her. His father chastised him, dutifully set him back on the floor and explained that mother was very tired. After a short visit with her the boy was scooted off with his granny to the market.
When they returned a short time later the house was strangely empty. The boy was in his room playing, plastic battalions poised and armies battling for control of their world, the immense battlefield floor of the boy’s room. His grandmother was in the kitchen putting away the groceries. The telephone rang. Soon he heard peculiar sounds making their way up the stairs. She was crying, he thought, faintly at first and then sobbing uncontrollably. This was curious; he had never heard his grandmother crying before. He appeared beside her, his clear blue eyes looking up, sympathetic to her sadness and questioning the source. She put the phone down and managed to compose herself, more for her grandson than anything. She sat down, placed the boy gently on her lap and hugged him tightly as if to protect him from the onslaught of what was coming. Between her tears she finally uttered the words she had silently feared ever experiencing. Mommie had gone to live with God, she said, and upon hearing the dreaded words exit her mouth she convulsed anew, covering her face with the already soaked handkerchief. What did this mean? The boy didn’t understand, couldn’t understand. Why would she abandon him like that, as soon as she had come home after so long away? Would she come back to visit? Would she be gone another three weeks this time? The boy’s grandmother could not find the words. The absolute and utter pain of trying to explain to an innocent four-year-old child the terrible permanence of her own daughter’s departure was too much to bear. Suddenly his tangible, solid world retreated and an inconceivable, unimaginable world charged forward, filling the void and replacing it forever.
The next day the boy stayed at Ed’s house. Staring silently through the window, he saw the once thriving apple tree in his yard, now leafless and bare. He was ultimately alone, abandoned, and deserted. The somber, expressionless faces came and left, came and left. It was a gray, bitter November day, and he didn’t want to kill any more ghosts in the attic.