Good morning and long time no see, my lovely WordPress peeps! How is this disgustingly hot summer treating everyone so far? I’m just dropping by amid working on my dissertation to share a short story that I wrote. Every Wednesday, a good friend of mine hosts a Twitter challenge called Museum Musings (search #MuseumMusings on Twitter to check it out and participate!). Each week, an object is selected and participants make a creative response. Stories, songs, poems, gifs, puns…your creativity has no boundaries! This week’s object was this awesome skull ring that most definitely has a curse upon it and that’s exactly what my story is…well, no spoilers. Just read it 😉
“Age before beauty,” Diana grimaced, sweeping her arm out towards the ladder, “If you wanna go up there so badly, you can go first.”
Ryan rolled his eyes and grabbed a rusted rung just above shoulder height, “Aren’t you even a little bit curious? Grandma lived her for the best part of seventy years. Even Dad hasn’t been in the attic and he grew up here.”
He placed a foot on the first rung and the entire ladder lurched, dislodging the thick, decades-old dust that had accumulated around the edge of the open hatch. The hatch, blackened with grime and the cobwebs of hundreds of spiders long since passed, hung down into the hallway like a dead, lolling tongue mocking Ryan for his squeal.
You think I’d give up my secrets so easily?
Diana coughed amid the dispersed dust and swiped at the grey sprinkling upon her bare arms. Was it dust or was it actually shrivelled spider corpses? She shuddered and swiped at her hair and face as well.
“Judging by the state of the ladder, I’m guessing Grandma never went in there either,” she said, “Maybe because, I dunno, there’s nothing in there.”
Ryan was already halfway up the ladder, each step higher slow and careful. He ignored her, the only sound a marriage between the laboured creaking of the ladder and the chafe of metal against the wooden rim of the hatch.
He flicked the switch of the torch in his hand, casting its beam into the dark expanse of the roof space.
“See anything?” Diana asked, injecting as much sarcasm as she could muster into her voice.
Ryan’s head, partially swallowed by the darkness of the attic, swung from side to side. Suddenly, he paused, his gaze and the light of the torch apparently rooted to one spot.
“It’s empty -”
“– told you so -”
“– aside from some trunk.”
“Yeah, I think. At the very back.”
Diana wouldn’t admit to it aloud, of course, but a spark of curiousity had been ignited within her. She sighed and glanced up at the empty space where her brother had been but moments before. His footsteps retreated across the ceiling.
“Fine. I’m coming up.”
A tense minute or so later, Diana had her hands on the dust carpeted floor of the attic as she gingerly hoisted herself off the ladder. She squinted, following the fresh set of footprints with her eyes until she found Ryan’s hunched form. His body blocked most of the torch’s light, but she could see the trunk. It was, to put it mildly, gargantuan, the lid nearly parallel with his waist.
She padded over, wishing she’d donned her Converse and not just a flimsy pair of slippers. He was right, though. The attic was empty save for the trunk.
As she drew level, she saw Ryan was examining a brass plaque nailed to the front of it.
“What does it say?”
Ryan hesitated before replying.
“It’s…it’s our grandfather’s name.”
It was Diana’s turn to hesitate.
“I don’t understand, Grandma said he’d left her before Dad was even born? Said he’d cheated. Why would she keep his stuff?”
“I dunno, but the padlock is pretty much hanging off. Should we open it?”
Diana glanced at the massive padlock. A patch of rust seemed to be the only thing holding it closed. She shrugged.
“Why not? Not like Grandma’s gonna find us up here.”
Ryan took the lock in his hand, still gripping the torch in the other, and wrenched it towards him. It gave so easily that he almost fell on his ass, prompting Diana to grab his shoulders to steady him.
“Shall we?” she said, stepping away to the right of the trunk and placing a hand under the rim of its lid. Ryan rose from his crouch and grabbed the lid on its left side. He pointed the torch downwards, ready to illuminate whatever treasures lurked within.
“1…2…3…and lift,” he huffed, straining with his one hand.
Diana gritted her teeth and curled the fingers of both hands under the opening lid. With a final grunt, they heaved it upwards and back. It hit the back wall with a hollow thunk and an explosion of grey. They looked to one another, panting slightly.
“Think I’ll skip the gym for the rest of this week,” Ryan grinned.
They gazed down at the trunk’s contents, ready to revel in the old photographs and family trinkets that hadn’t seen the light of day – or, at least, of a torch – in thirty years shy of a century.
They both screamed.
“Fuck!” Ryan yelled, the light of the torch strobing across the walls and roof beams as it tumbled into the trunk.
“Oh. My. God.” Diana whimpered, locking eyes with her grandfather’s hollowed sockets. Ryan’s torch lay nestled between the corpse’s ribs, the lack of tissue or muscle rendering them a bony cradle. Its light caught beneath Grandpa’s chin and cast his sunken cheeks into shadow. Clawed, sand-coloured hands framed his face, the fingers bent out of shape as though he had desperately tried to scratch his way out of the trunk, snapping the bones in the process.
“Whatthefuckwhatthefuck,” Ryan chanted, staggering backwards.
“Grab the torch!” screeched Diana, “Grab the torch and call the fucking police!”
Ryan tripped towards the trunk and fumbled for the torch, his breath coming out in ragged gasps.
Diana saw it happen before Ryan’s screams began.
One of Grandpa’s claws surged forward and clasped Ryan’s wrist in mid-air.
“He’s got me! He’s got me!” Ryan bellowed, each panicked yank of his arm pulling Grandpa further out of his trunk…until he was finally sat upright like a macabre caricature of someone taking a bath. His head, yellowed and pinched with but a scrap of hair clinging to the front, turned towards Ryan oh-so-slowly, his empty eyes somehow seeing his first born grandchild for the very first time. His grip on Ryan was unrelenting and Diana could do nothing more than sob as Grandpa’s mouth began to open, punctuating Ryan’s screams with a sound akin to tearing paper as a mouth that hadn’t uttered a single word for seventy years tried to speak.
“Riiiiiing,” Grandpa rasped, two beetles dribbling out of the side of his puckered mouth, “Riiiiiiiiiiing.”
The torch, now in Grandpa’s lap, shifted as Ryan continued his desperate attempt to evade his grandpa’s embrace and its beam caught his claw.
Diana saw the tell-tale glitter.
Grandpa was wearing a ring.
“Riiiiiiiing,” came the rasp.
Ryan, crazed with blind panic, was deaf to Grandpa’s pleading tone, but Diana suddenly realised that there was only one way to end the horror.
With a cry, she lunged forward and began to grapple with with the claw. She grasped his wedding ring finger and tugged.
His dead finger, nothing but a brittle bone encased in dried, papery skin, detached with a quiet snap. There was no blinding white light, no whoosh as his soul soured free like in the horror movies. Grandpa’s body simply slackened and he fell back, his thin neck catching on the edge of the trunk. There was a sickening crunch as his head fell away, hitting the floor with a soft thump and rolling out of sight, a shadowy recess of the attic claiming it as its own.
Ryan lay on the floor, curled in on himself, his body wracked by silent sobs as he cradled his wrist. Diana, with shaking hands, inspected the finger, turning it over and over. It wavered through the film of tears, but she could see the burnished bronzed ring adorning it had been shaped into a skull, the band made to resemble bones. Despite her care, the finger disintegrated as she slid the ring off. Too numb to care, she sidled over to the trunk and reached down for the torch, flinching as the soft, warm skin of her hand brushed against the rough, parchment-like skin of her grandpa’s leg.
Shining the torch on the ring, she could see there was a tiny inscription on the flattened back of the skull:
There is no til
death do us part
when you have
broken my heart.