"Oh, you don't want that," Grandma said, snatching the shiny plastic ribbon from my hand. It was blue with a shiny gold trim on the outter edges. "I've got something much better in my attic."
The old woman had been telling me for years that there was something better in her attic for everything that didn't spoil. She'd let me have the odd chocolate bar, but when it came to dresses, ribbons, necklaces and the like, there was absolutely no way to stop her from taking it away and telling me she had something better. The worst part was that she never even brought me to the attic. She kept it locked up all the time.
My mom died of child-birth and my dad died Romeo and Juliet style, sinking into depression and finally hanging himself when I was a month old. I lived with Grandma, and never saw any other relatives of mine. Apparently, I didn't have any. When I went to school, all the others kids talked about how my grandma was beautiful and young, unlike their wrinkly, smelly old farts that gave them money and knitted them ugly sweaters. Truth was, I found old people fascinating, especially because growing up and looking at the pictures, it seemed as if grandma hadn't aged a day.
I hit my head when I entered the low car, a stylish and insanely fast Lambergini. "For goodness' sakes, child! You're sixteen and you still can't get into the car without injuring yourself? Holy bible!" Grandma also had a strict rule about swearing. I used words like "son of a biscuit," "mother father, daughter and son," and "holy bible" regularily. It was a habit, one which got me laughed at by the other high school students. Thinking about this, I sunk lower into the seat as I buckled up.
Grandma was a speed demon. She went at least thirty kilometres over the speed limit at any given time, except when the authorities came calling. When we arrived at the house I had dug my nails so far into the seat that the leather bore tiny crescent moon gashes. They'd be gone within the hour, but all the same, I felt immediately bad for marking the seat.
The house I lived in was an old Victorian style mansion, passed down through my family since the eighteenth century. We'd settled in New Orleans, (or so I was told,) and stayed there. We hadn't moved out once. I was told that when I grew up, I'd be cursed if I moved in with my husband somewhere else. Here was where I was, and here I would stay.
I picked a magazine clipping from my pocket, the picture showing a tall blonde woman with a lengthy dress. Grandma grabbed it and said her usual line, which I'd planned for and interrupted perfectly. "You keep saying that, and et I've never even been up to your attic!" I'd gone over the conversation a thousand times in my head, in which grandma always got mad or sad.
So of course, I was flabbergasted when she said, "well why didn't you just say so?" Grabbing my hand and dragging me to the door, she hurriedly unlocked it and started running towards the pull-down stairs for the attic.
She unlocked the door and pushed me away, catching the heavy stairs as they thundered down. The attic was the newest part, originally a loft but converted into storage space. Grandma all but threw my up the stairs, clapping her heads happily. I scrambled up, both from slight fear of my crazed guardian and from the excitement of finally reaching the mysterious attic.
It was dark up there, with only one window, and that was boarded up. Grandma pushed the stairs up and jumped down, cackling wickedly. I turned just in time to see the door close and lock from the outside. I screamed.
"Gran, what are you doing?" I cried, pounding on the door. "Grandma!" But all was still on the other side, and the door wouldn't budge. By the feeble light that entered through the spaces between the boards, I could just see a hulking figure. I got behind it and cowered, not sure what I was going to do. Breathing deeply, I took out my little pen light and switched it on.
I couldn't see the far wall or the close one. In fact, I couldn't see any sort of wall or ceiling. I shone my light all around, catching figures covered in white sheets. I started pulling off the sheets, finding manequins dressed in big dresses with fans and masks, and others with ties and dress shoes and coat tails. Bundling up the sheets in my arms, I shone my little light to figure after figure, each one dressed in fancy, expensive ballroom attire, each outfit older than anything I'd ever seen. The clothes looked like they'd been up here since the day we'd moved in, sometime in the seventeen hundreds.
When I finally finished, there were thousands of manequins. The loft had to have been as big as the gym at school, and I wasn't entirely sure how that was possible. I climbed some stairs that weren't supposed to exist, and found myself on a balcony. I shone my pen light at the ceiling, the light glancing off of crystals in an old chandelier, and I continued to look around until I looked down in front of me, and caught sight of an old match box. I struck a match and looked up again, seeing a string leading to the chanelier. I lit it and the small flame travelled upwards, until it branched off onto other strings that lit the candles and finally, the light hit the crystals and I could see the whole room.
I hadn't noticed before, but each manequin was in a position like they'd been dancing and then had frozen in their places. Many of the girls were being twirled, and a good half of the men were dipping their partners at the waist. This place, (and by now I was positive that it wasn't a attic,) would have been beautiful in its day, and held many a party. There was the odd musician and jester in the bunch, and now that I could see everything and had nearly forgotten about my grandma's odd behaviour, I decided to join the still figures on the floor.
I came up short as a manequin appeared in front of me. I'd probably dodged around him without realizing it, and had just passed him off as one of the rest when I noticed that he seemed to be holding out something to me. I looked at what covered his arms, and saw a dress, a fan, shoes and a mask. I wanted to try them on for some reason, so I grabbed them and headed for the heavy red velvet curtain by the side.
"Wait, what am I doing? I'm alone up here." I stripped down and climbed into the dress, just managing to pull the cords of the corset into place myself. I fit the mask over my eyes and slipped on the shoes, and fanned myself after the effort of getting dressed into this lacy tent of a gown. I turned back the the manequin and raised my eyebrows. I must have just not noticed that this man was blushing a bright pink. It couldn't have changed. Manequins don't change, right?
Not wishing to linger on that thought, I lifted my skirts and shot down the stairs. Reaching the floor, I found a man, alone, his hand outstretched in my direction. He look precisely like the manequin in the balcony, but I didn't want to scare myself, so I stepped forward and took his hand anyways. I spun in a circle, lifting the cool hand over my head. I laughed at how silly I must have looked, then turned to inspect my dancing partner.
He had realistic looking features, with eyes so rich a brown they were almost red. He had a cocky grin and long-ish black hair, and pale skin. He seemed to be leaning towards me. I danced away.
I felt oddly bad, so I went back. But the manequin wasn't there anymore; a living man, flesh and blood, looked me up and down, and held out a hand. Somehow, I didn't find it odd, so I took his hand, and we began to dance.
He was a very good leader, and I was suddenly glad that grandma had forced me to take dance lessons. I was spun and dipped and held and the other statues on the floor almost looked like they were moving with me. But that was impossible. Manequins don't suddenly wake up and move!
I stopped, chilled by the thought, and saw that I was dead wrong. Each manequin in his or her ballroom attire, were dancing and laughing and having a good time. I giggled hysterically, clinging to my own partner fearfully.
"Is something wrong, miss?" he asked in a deep and darkly smooth voice. I glanced back at him, just barely catching the songs of the musicians. But the songs got louder and clearer, and I got braver and decided to have fun. This was the strangest thing had ever happened to me, but it was intoxicatingly thrilling.
"Nothing, mister...?" I trailed off, grinning.
"Aurele, miss?" he said, tilting his head.
"Natasha," I replied, spinning just within reach. We danced for a time, and I ate the pastries and drank the punch that sat waiting at a table. I laughed and talked to other people, and forgot totally about where I was, who I was, and how scared I should have been.
After what could have been hours or only a few minutes, I looked at Aurele, smiling happily. A tear ran down his cheek, and he turned away. "I'm sorry, Natasha," he murmured. I paused and stood in front of him, looking up worriedly.
"For what?" I asked.
"For not telling you sooner." He grit his teeth and clenched his fists.
"Telling me what?" I asked suspiciously, stepping away. He reached out for me and I backed up, bumping into a tall, beautiful girl, who sneered at me and slipped away. Momentarily distracted, I'd given Aurele time to catch my hand and lead me to a tall window.
"Listen to me," he said somberly. "Your parents didn't die, they were murdered. By your grandmother."
"That's a lie!" I cried, slapping him. He flinched away, but cuahgt my hand and held it to my side.
"Listen, I told you!" he growled, which shut me up immediately. "She is not your grandmother. She is a witch that has been living for centuries, who kills people and steals their children. When they're old enough, she locks them up here. She gains their youth and beauty and lives another lifetime, while the child is still stuck here, frozen."
"You're crazy!" I hissed, trying to pull my hand away.
"Am I? I was the first, and I've seen every person get caught here, unable to escape."
"There are other men here, too," I told him matter-of-factly.
"The next was a girl. After that, it was one after another after another. I'm just glad I could catch you before one of the other men, who are angry and want to make others as miserable as them. You have to leave. Right out this window," he said, pointing hurriedly.
I stepped closer, having remembered my fear. I opened the latch and watched the panes of glass swing out, and looked down into perfect blackness. I prepared to jump.
"Wait! Take off the mask!" Aurele called. I undid the ribbons obediently, then pulled on the mask.
It was stuck.
"What's happening?" I screamed, drawing the attention of the others. They glared at me, smiling wickedly, reaaching out to try and pull me back to them. Aurele stood in front of me protetively, just managing to turn around and hook his fingers around the edges of the mask. He gave a mighty tug, and it came off. I stared at the inside.
Inside the mask, my face looked out at me. I screamed again.
I touched my own face gingerly, fearing the worst. I didn't have a nose or eyebrows or hardly anything, just a slit where my mouth was and one lidless eye. The face on the mask seemed to be winking at me and smiling, and I saw a body unfold beneath her slowly. I touched my waist and felt it gone. My hands were gone, as were my hips and my foot. I kicked off a shoe and the grinning face in the mask that Aurele was holding snarled.
I ripped off the dress, unabashed. Aurele threw a white sheet over my head and I wrapped myself in it, feeling each part of my return to the sound of the anguished shrieks of the mask girl. I peeked out of the sheet just in time to see a disembodied hand lift a dagger from someone's pocket and stab Aurele in the heart.
He stumbled back, his mouth open in a surprised "O", being drawn back towards the crowd. I grabbed his hand and leaped out the window, falling forever. I landed on a sidewalk by the Lafeyette cemetary, and tried to hold the bloodied body up as he coughed blood.
"You know, Aurele technically means 'golden one'," I joked weakly.
He chuckled a little. "Let's just get to the hospital, please?" he said.
We really freaked out the nurse, me with my mess of chocolate brown hair and naked body beneath a white sheet, and Aurele in his old-style gentleman costume and bleeding chest. All I could do was laugh nervously.
16 Years Later
"You keep saying that, and yet you never brought me up to the attic!" the young girl cried, glaring at her grandmother.
The wrinkled hag laughed and asked "why didn't you just say so, Natasha?"
"Oh, no one. Just the one who got away. Now come on."
Somewhere far away, a woman with brown hair sneezed. "Someone must be talking about me," she told her pale skinned black haired husband, who nodded and smiled.
Sorry, I guess that wasn't so scary. Nonetheless, hope you enjoyed!