There is a ghost in the attic. He dances around at midnight, sending shivers through the walls. He howls and sings—a joyful fury. He even whistles on the odd occasion. But, the family that shares the house with this ghost snores through the commotion. All except the father. He lays in bed, eyes open and alert. He huffs and grunts. He looks over at his wife, who is nuzzled into her pillow, serene and uninterrupted. The father pulls himself out of bed, walks to his study, and grabs the crystal bottle that holds his whiskey. Empty. The damn ghost drank it all.
He isn’t sure how, but he knows with certainty it was the ghost.
The father races upstairs, crystal bottle still in hand, and stares at the ceiling where the rectangular cutout indicates the attic entrance. A string dangles, taunting the father like a dare. He takes the bait.
The entrance is heavier than he expected but once it drops in release he races up the stairs—any fear he has replaced with rage.
He is greeted with hazy neon lights shifting in color. An echoey dance beat plays from invisible speakers. The father barely recognizes the attic as his own.
The ghost appears in front of him—tall and lanky. It looks familiar to the father, like maybe they had been friends in a previous life.
“There you are, ol’ pal!” the ghost says, as if it read the father’s mind. “I’ve been waiting for you to arrive.”
The father is caught off guard. Confused, he answers, “You have?”
“Why of course!” The ghost chuckles. “The party doesn’t start without you.”
The father takes a few steps forward into this alternate reality and starts to relax. What was he mad about mere seconds ago? He doesn’t remember. He lifts the crystal bottle in his hand, which is suddenly and mysteriously filled with his whiskey. The father looks at the bottle and then the ghost and bursts into a deep-bellied laugh—his stomach mimicking the ebb and flow of waves.
“Cheers!” the ghost says.
The father looks down at his hand, which now has a glass of whiskey in it, and holds it up to the ghost. “Cheers!” he replies. He guzzles his drink in one gulp.
Unsure of what to say next, the father pours himself another drink. Gulp. And another. Gulp. Just one more. Gulp. He looks at the ghost hovering above the floorboards, teetering from side to side. Before he knows what’s happening, he’s twirling to the music with the ghost, hand in ghostly hand. The lights fade in and out as they make their way around the attic, clunking into dusty boxes and dodging sticky spider webs. They laugh and sing and dance until the father’s limbs wobble. He collapses onto the floor in a fit of hysterics and says to the ghost, “Just one more drink.”
Ring. Ring. Ring. The mother rolls over in bed and hits the top of the alarm clock with her hand. Eyes closed, she takes a moment to stretch, reaching her arms above her head. She yawns then rolls back over to her side. Her hand slides around the bed; she’s expecting to feel her husband’s body next to her, but instead, there’s an indent in the mattress where he should be laying. She opens her eyes and sighs.
The mother gets up out of bed, steps over to her closet, pulls on her robe—wrapping it around her body tightly—and walks out into the hallway. The attic door is drawn down.
“Husband,” the wife calls out.
She yawns again. The morning light trickles through the hallway; it exposes the dust resting on the banister. The mother thinks about how she’s been meaning to clean the banister. She adds it to her mental list for the day.
But first, she climbs up the attic stairs. A mustiness harrasses the mother as she steps into the attic. She orients herself. There are boxes, tipped over, spilled knick-knacks fallen out onto the floor. Above the mess, on a ledge, sits a glass, chipped on the rim, half full of whiskey. The mother spots the father curled up in the corner, on the floor, asleep.
“Husband,” she calls out again.
When she reaches him she gives him a nudge. The father grumbles.
“Husband, wake up,” the mother says.
“Hmmm,” he replies.
“You passed out drunk in the attic,” the mother says. “Again.”
Shelby Newsome is a writer living in Maryland. She will begin work on her MFA in writing & publishing at Vermont College of Fine Arts this fall. You can read more of her work at shelbynewsome.com or catch up with her on Twitter at @shelbyanewsome