Story Time: The Ballerina

All I could breathe was dust. The attic was filthy, and when the access hatch came up on its own it sent a cloud of it everywhere. I jumped when I heard it slide up, then slam into place.  It was spring loaded but it was supposed to stay still.  I coughed. I breathed in again and it was worse the second time. So I started to cough some more. I doubled over, and put my shirt over my mouth. “This was stupid.” I thought to myself.

I was already scared, but I was sure if I came down right after the hatch closed everyone would laugh at me. My lungs started to clear up and my throat wasn’t as itchy with my shirt over my mouth. My coughing was under control, but I fumbled for my inhaler anyway. It’s smooth plastic case was reassuring.  I concentrated on breathing smoothly and brought it to my lips.  The gross taste of medicine comforted me as I breathed it in. My fear started to subside as my lungs started to work properly once again.

Now that the panic was over, I could hear them in the hallway below me, laughing. “Real funny guys!” I yelled.  It was probably Billy, the little jerk. “That doesn’t scare me!” I said while the rest of them continued to laugh.  They had all been brave and daring when we were downstairs talking about Tim’s “Haunted” attic. But no one, including Tim, was brave enough to come up here with me. I’d find the stupid Ballerina and be back down there before they knew it.

I turned around to get a good look at the attic.  It was cluttered, messy, and everything was covered in a thin layer of dust.  I kept my shirt up above my mouth as I started to walk around, looking for the famous “Haunted Ballerina” Tim had told us about.  There were boxes everywhere, some were here when Tim moved in.  I think he said they were his grandma’s stuff. Some of it could have been older, but he doesn’t know for sure. I had a flashlight with me, so it wasn’t completely dark, but the dusty environment didn’t let the beam penetrate far, and this was a large house.

Tim said it was just above his bedroom, he was sure.  He said that sometimes he could hear it at night, playing its little metal music box song, when he was supposed to be asleep.  Billy told him he was full of shit.  I said that was dumb and generally agreed with Billy.  “Screw you guys.” Tim told us.  “Go up there and find it then.  I’ll put it in my room if any of you are brave enough to go get it.”  Billy was game, and dared us all to go.  It wasn’t until the last moment that he’d dared me to go alone.  I should have seen that coming.

I made my way towards the part of the attic that should be above Tim’s room.  When I thought I was in the right spot I stomped my foot.  “Hey am I in the right spot?”  I called down.  Then I heard a “Thump thump thump.” in reply.  They were to the left of where I was standing.  There was a box pile where the noise from the floor had come from. They must be there with the broom to help me find Tim’s room. I walked over there, and when I came to the box pile, I stomped my foot again.  “How about now?” I yelled.  “Thump.”  That meant I was in the right spot.

I looked at the pile of box’s.  They came up to my waist.  There was a name written on most of them. “M A T I ….”  I couldn’t make out the end of the name so I swiped my hand across the box.  “M A T I L D A” I read aloud.  “Pling.”

I jumped back.  “Thump!” I looked at the floor, the dust rose from it where the broom hit it again. “Thump.”  I stomped my foot in response. “Hey cut it out!” I yelled. Then they stopped and all I could hear was silence. My heart was beating fast, but my arms were freezing. I hugged myself with my one free hand while my other held the flashlight steady on the pile of boxes.

Thump thump.  Thump thump.

My chest was so loud, I could barely hear the giggling coming from downstairs. I don’t know why, but I took a step forward and reached out my hand to open the top box.

Thump thump. Thump thump.

The top box sat there, with its top only folded closed.  All I had to do was reach out, and pull the flaps back to see what was inside.

Thump thump.  Thump thump.

My skin was covered in goosebumps, and I could see my breath as I exhaled, trying to control my asthma.

Thump thump.  Thump thump.

“HEY why you taking forever?!” Billy called as he pulled down the attic hatch ladder.

I screamed, turned and stumbled over something.  I fell into the boxes with a crash.  The ladder was so loud, and I was so fixated on whatever was in the box.  I was covered in dust and the flashlight fell out of my hand.  The only light was from the opening in the floor.  All I could focus on was the descending cloud of dust.  I could feel the panic of an asthma attack start to pinch at my sides.  I scrambled to my feet, ran for the opening, and climbed down the ladder.  Blackness seeped into the edge of my vision and I realized I had forgotten to breathe.  I tried and nothing happened.  I tried to suck in air again, but could only manage a small wheeze.  Billy looked at me in terror, and called for Tim’s mother right away.

Next thing I knew I was laying down with Martha, Tim’s mom, hunched over me in the hallway.  I was full on panicking, but Martha was an ER nurse and knew exactly what to do.  “Calm down Jacob.”  She said.  “Breathe with me.”  She put her palm on my chest kept eye contact.  I looked up at her, and did my best to slow myself down.  All I could see was her face.  “That’s right.” She smiled calmly.  “You’re fine.”  I focused, and felt my chest rise against her palm.  Inhale, and exhale. “Slowly, there you go.”  Martha said.  I started to relax and the rest of the world, started to come into focus.

Martha yelled at Tim and Billy both for putting me up to such a dangerous stunt.  She didn’t care about any sort of haunted doll.  Martha said I could have died with all that dust up in the attic.  She called my mom and apologized.  My mom made me come home instead of staying the night.  I felt fine now, the only injury I had came from a sore stitch in my side where I must have landed on something up in the attic.  Martha said not to worry about it, nothing up their was theirs anyway.  I went home.  After a thorough scolding by my mom about dares and stupidity, I went to bed.   What a horrible night.

…….

Tim was grounded for two weeks.  Two weeks of no video games, no sleepovers, no allowance.  He was sent to bed early, and lay in his bed, pissed off, and completely awake.  If Jake would have just been cool, they’d be playing call of duty all night tonight.  Now they were all in trouble, and he was grounded.  He lay there thinking about all the curse words he was going to yell at Jake when he saw him at school on Monday, when he heard it, again.

“Pling.”

He’d gotten used to it to some extent. The song would start, and he’d wonder where the hell the noise was coming from.  He’d hoped at the very least, Jake had fell on whatever stupid toy it was and crushed it.

“Pling, ding ding pling, ding pling”

Tim frowned, there was something different this time.  The song was louder, clearer than before.  It was unsettling and he pulled the blankets up to his neck while it continued to play.  He started to breathe hard, and still the song played over his breathing.  Fear crept into bed with him, and his eyes focused on the ceiling.  He bit his lip as the song continued to play, loud and clear.  “It’s just a stupid song.”  He whispered to himself.  “It’s just a stupid song.”  Tim repeated.  Then he mustered his bravery and sat up.  “Shut up!  It’s a stupid song.”  He yelled. Now that he was sitting up, he could hear the last three notes of the song clearer than ever.  He could also tell the song wasn’t coming from the ceiling.  At the base of his bed, a pink ballerina rotated on her toe, and stopped to face him. Her paint was chipped, and she wasn’t much larger than 3 inches, but her eyes were alive. Tim screamed.