By Patricia Ann Guthrie
"Ma . . . mm . . .eee." The voice echoed throughout the house, sounding more like an angry hyena than a little girl of six.
Melissa sat in the middle of her bed, staring at favorite toys formally displayed on bookcases, rocking chairs, toy boxes and a corner hutch. She didn't feel like playing with any of them. Old Neddie, the rocking horse, once the pride and joy of the nursery, now had a shattered front leg. Pooh Bear, a well beloved antique, had one missing glass eye, and of course Sir Scottie, the stuffed black Scottie dog, had the stuffing torn out and sewn back more times than her mother could count. None of them would do today. They were boring. She bounced off the old‑fashioned sleigh bed defaced from temper-tantrums, and walked out of her room toward the stairs.
Now, her voice demanded, “Ma . . . mm . . . ee.”
"Melissa, what is it? I'm busy.” Her mother came to the foot of the stairs, carrying an infant in her arms and pushing a laundry basket with her foot. Strands of dark hair dangled over her face, while dark circles under her eyes emphasized strain. She looked frazzled.
"Mommy, I'm bored."
"Your toys, Melissa. Play with your toys."
"But, Mommy, I've played with them."
Melissa was getting impatient. She wanted to play with her Mommy, but her mother was always preoccupied with the baby. She hated her little brother.
"Mommy, why don’t you ever play with me anymore?"
"Oh, honey, I can't right now."
"Mommy,” Melissa screamed. She pitched herself forward onto the landing and threw one of the world's greatest temper tantrums.
"Melissa Anne Greenwood, if you don't stop that this instant, I will really give you something to scream about.” Stepping around the plastic basket and readjusting the baby, she took two steps up the stairsdx. Even through the thick carpet, her feet made an adequate stomp.
Melissa decided she'd probably better stop--knowing her mother meant it this time.
"Okay, Mommy.” She forced sobs that didn't quite work, and then manipulated her voice almost down to a whisper. "I'm finished now."
"Good. Now go find something to play with . . . and, don't go near the attic."
Melissa went back into her room and, flinging Pooh Bear on the floor, plunked herself down on Pooh's small rocking chair. The chair was too small and cracked under her weight. She slipped onto the floor.
She looked over her many games, books, toys and stuffed animals ‑‑ her friends until recently. After all, they had always talked to her. They shared secrets about what Mommy did when she came up to her room to clean ‑‑ the things she looked at, and the things she looked behind. Melissa had learned to write certain words like ‘I luv u mummy,' and put them where she thought her mommy would look. It worked perfectly. She got hugs and new toys.
And the old toys? She’d discarded her old friends when the new ones arrived and relegated them to the attic--yesterday's news. Lately however, even her new toys bored her -- ever since that baby arrived.
Before her brother was born, Old Ned had as strong a front leg as had ever been carved. Pooh Bear was brand new, straight from Toys ‘R’ Us and, Old Scottie; well, Old Scottie had been her mother’s favorite toy from childhood. All were victims of Melissa's displeasure. She delighted in every tear shed each time Mommy had to sew Old Scottie back together.
Melissa felt hateful.
"Now, it's your turn.” A vicious grin replaced the pout. "Next week, I'll have my daddy put you into the attic, too. I'll get new toys . . . toys batter’s you . . . way better. Maybe, I’ll even throw you in the garbage.” She looked at each toy with contempt, turned on her heels and started to leave her betrayed favorites.
Suddenly, something in the corner of her eye caught her attention and she turned around. She couldn't be sure. Did Old Ned actually seem to rock a little--back and forth-- back and forth? Was Old Scottie attempting to make a sound that said, "no?” And, did Pooh Bear's one good eye appear to widen, just a little?
As soon as she turned, all stuffed animal activity ceased. No, she decided, it was only her imagination.
The forbidden attic was the only room that still intrigued Melissa; the only room not explored. It was the place where they put things they no longer wanted. It was where Mommy's stuff was and where they put Nanny's things when she went away. Of course, she knew Nanny hadn't really gone anywhere. She’d just died.
A set of steep, wooden stairs led from the end of the hall to the attic. Melissa climbed cautiously, careful not to make any creaking noises her mother might hear. The door stood on a small landing at the head of the stairs. Small but determined fingers and arms tugged at a knob that wouldn’t give. Locked. She jerked again and succeeded in hurting her arm.
Frustrated, she was about ready to turn and go back downstairs, when she spotted a silver key on an antique gold ring, hanging to the right of the door. It was just beyond her reach. She stood on her tiptoes--no luck. She leaped into the air and landed on her rear, crinkling the back of her blue and white play dress.
"Ouch!” She nearly cried, but decided to get back up, instead. She brushed herself off and started all over again.
One, two, three leaps later, Melissa was finally able to jingle the key hard enough so that the object of her frustration flipped off the hook and landed onto the floor. She punished the recalcitrant key by viciously thrusting it into the keyhole. Then, smug with the self-satisfaction of a thief who’d broken into an uncrackable safe, she turned the key and finally the knob. She was in.
As soon as she entered, Melissa noticed the darkness. At the far end of the room, a lone triangular stained glass window had become so dirty throughout the years only a glimmer of outside light could pass through its windowpane. A light bulb hung from the ceiling, but the string was too short for her to reach, and the only other available light poured in from the open door behind her.
Picture frames, suitcases, furniture pieces and a bunch of boxes containing many old musty books filled the room. A wooden rocking chair held all varieties of stuffed animals, some of which Melissa recognized as playmates from her baby days. She set out to investigate every nook and cranny, touching first this and then that--old clothes, figurines, baby dolls, a stuffed gorilla, an old play cash register, and toy soldiers from her father's day.
Melissa was so absorbed in the objects that she backed into a figure dressed in a long black dress with a mink stole. It wore a wide brim hat and had a triple strand of pearls irregularly wound around its neck. The face was a pasty sort of chalk color with cheeks that might have come from a Crayola box and lips that were a deep cherry red. A cavernous hole for a mouth showed marked protruding teeth locked in a welcoming, yet ghastly, smile. She gaped in horror at the apparition of‑‑what appeared to be--Granny.
Suddenly, the light was gone.
The attic door had swung shut with such force it knocked something over which crashed against her. She screamed. She tried to adjust her eyes, but it was pitch black except for small pinpricks of red and green lights emanating from the stained glass. A macabre sense of movement coming from all directions seemed to twirl around her, moving faster and faster until she felt dizzy and disoriented. She felt a cold stream of air blast through her, and something wound around her arm, holding her fast.
She screamed with all her might. "Mommy!” Her voice seemed to resound throughout the room. "Mommy," she cried out again. Then, the other voices started to join in, one right after the other.
They started as a whisper, "Melissa . . . . Oh, Melissa. We know you're here, Melissa."
"We know . . . we know . . . ."
"You don't love us anymore, Melissa."
"Who are you?” She choked out the words--just barely.
Then another voice called – cajoling, beckoning. "Melissa, dear Melissa."
"Nanny?” Melissa murmured, taking in shallow gasps of air.
"Did you come to play with Nanny?"
"Nanny . . . . Na . . .na . . . na . . . Nanny . . . ," the voices chimed in as a chorus.
"Did you come to play with Nanny?" the first voice bellowed.
Struggling to break free, she felt her restraint shatter into a thousand tiny fragments, which attacked her from all sides. Terrified, she tried to escape, but tripped over something and fell to her knees. It’s all my toys, she thought, coming to get me.
Getting up in blind panic, she tried to run again, but fingers grabbed her from behind catching her like a rabbit in a snare.
Now, voices came from every side. They seemed to originate from forgotten toys and forgotten relatives, their memories trapped in the attic--no differently than her.
Melissa screamed in terror, and they laughed in response.
"You'll never get out of here," one said.
"This is where they dump you when they don't want you anymore," another said.
"Like us. Like us. Like us.” Voices echoed.
"You don't want us anymore, Melissa, but we want you."
Melissa let out another shriek. "Mommy!” She suddenly felt sorry for every bad thing she'd ever done.
"They don't want you anymore; they don't want bad little girls,” another voice said.
"Melissa . . . Melissa.” The voices started chanting--fingers reaching to stroke her face and her arms. "Melissa, Melissa . . . ."
She struggled to break free, screaming and struggling, as they also struggled to reach her -- laughing, mimicking and taunting. "Mommy. . . . Mommy. . . . Mommy."
The whirlwind of apparitional activity escalated. The penetrating cold in the room created frigid chills of pain, as a rush of air blinded her to such an extent she had to keep her eyes closed tight. She thought she felt the clammy fingers of old dolls and the furry paws of stuffed animals choking her, while Nanny's ever present voice uttered, "Let's play . . . Let's play," followed by an eerie cackle.
"We want to play," the voice who sounded like Nanny, uttered. "We want to play with the baby, Melissa. Bring us the baby."
"Nanny?” She shook all over--shook from the cold and from her fear.
Just when Melissa became convinced that life as she knew it was over, the attic door sprung open and all activity ceased. She turned in terror and apprehension.
"My God, Melissa . . . baby. Didn't I tell you never to go into the attic?"
As the light poured in, Melissa saw only the old treasures locked in the attic. Grandmother returned to a dressmaker's mannequin, clad in the mink stole, and old-fashioned black silk dress, its high-collared neckline propping up a Styrofoam head adorned with wig and hat. The pearls, however, were no longer around its neck, but scattered over the floor.
There were no apparitions; not one thing appeared sinister.
Melissa felt a tug at her skirt. She jerked her head around and found nothing -- nothing but a faint echo repeating over and over, "The baby, Melissa. Don't forget the baby. Bring me the baby. . . ."
“Mommy, did you hear that?” Melissa whispered.
“Hear what, baby?” her mother replied, scooping her into her arms. “Shh. There’s nothing here.”
Melissa wasn’t convinced. As her mother carried her downstairs, Melissa thought she could hear the choral voices of the past, faintly laughing and mimicking.
"Didn't I tell you never to go into the attic? Didn't I tell you never to go into the attic? Didn't I tell . . . ?"
Later that evening, little Melissa Ann Greenwood wondered how she could drag that stupid baby all the way up those stairs.