I unfold the staircase that leads to the attic. My mum has forbidden me from climbing these stairs, but she’s never stopped me. I take my first step, and the stair creaks under me like an off-beat violin. I cringe but continue upward.
The dark, musty air envelops me, and I’m sucked into our black hole in the roof. I fumble around the floor on all fours like I’ve lost my glasses. I find a wooden chair to my left and stroke its legs as my hands move upwards. I feel the velvet cushion beneath my palms, and I push myself up. Not too much, mind you, I don’t want to hit my head on the low hanging light above.
I sit in the chair and smile to myself. I feel to my right, my hands shake, and latch on to an old lantern from our grandpa. He used to use it when he camped near the swamps, fifty miles from here.
The lantern is heavy in my hands; it’s made of brass and glass. I find the latch in the glass and open it. Now, where are those matches? I lie the lantern across my knees, and it’s cold metal seeps through my pants. I shiver.
I lean across to my right again and scratch at the table. Where are those matches? My left-hand catches at a small box, and I snatch it up before I push it away. I draw the box of matches and both my arms to my chest.
I stand the lantern up, careful where the door to the inside is. I open the box of matches, and I’m careful only to take one out. My heart pounds. I close the box and swipe my finger against the sides of the box to find the striker. I feel its rough surface, like sandpaper.
I place the head of the match against the striker and push forward. Flame leaps out of the match and I move my hand towards the door of the lantern. I switch on the gas and press the match into the glass door.
The room lights up. Shadows dance around me. I grip the handle of the lantern with my left hand, and I stand up. I knock my head on the light bulb above me. It swings back and forth, and I curse. I walk over to a small box labelled ‘Grandpa’s things’. I open the box and poke in my head.
The first thing I see is a thick, red photo album. I blow the dust off and pick it up with my free hand. I carry the album back to the polished wooden chair with the red velvet cushion. That was grandpa’s chair.
I open the photo album at random page and smile. My grandpa smiles back. I feel his hand on my shoulder and glance behind me. No one is there. I flick through the pages and laugh when I see him younger in a bikini. He’s at the swamp, and he holds the same matches and lantern.
“Jimmy, come get your dinner,” my mum yells.
“Coming,” I yell back.
I pocket the matches and blow out the lantern. I climb down the stairs, out of the darkness. I fold the staircase back up, careful not to make a noise. I look up as the door closes and find a pair of blue eyes smiling back at me. Grandpa.
Originally published on The Weekly Knob.