I didn’t realize I was making the decision when I did. In a way, I’d blocked the whole thing out — a sort of denial. This all began months ago at the height of summer.
There was a soft noise, but the sizzle of the bacon that July morning nearly drowned the sound of it out. I was honestly unsure whether I’d heard anything at all. I’m sure that you know the feeling I mean. We’ve all done it in response to strange noises:
What was that? and the hush that follows as you wait to see if you hear it again.
Standing at the stove, I began listening with more intent, and there it was! A quiet caw just above my head but far too close to have come from the sky or a tree beyond the wall. There was, without a doubt, something tweeting in my new apartment’s attic.
I had no idea how it might’ve gotten there, and groaned at the realization that I had to climb up and catch it. The last thing I needed was the smell of it sinking down through the insulation once it died. It was the middle of summer and in the heat it would certainly rot quickly. This was my first place on my own and I hadn’t lived in it for long. The thought of curing the problem was met by the cringe of chagrin. Still, I resolved to wait.
It was creepy up there.
I shared a quiet wish to no one in particular, a hope it might find its own way out as it had come. But as morning fell to afternoon, the incessant cawing continued and I realized this was not destined to play out on its own. With every passing hour I imagined the dread smell if it cooking above me as it melted into a puddle of putrid, stinking bones. More than once, I even imagined I caught a premature whiff of it, though I knew that couldn’t be possible. Another caw from above would reassure me that it was still alive and trapped as it had been for hours. When the fluttering and shuffling against the drywall began, I had enough motivation. I didn’t want to become an idle party to the grotesque scenario nor its smell. Regrettably, I realized that I’d have to go up and catch it.
The entrance to the crawlspace was in the bedroom closet. A whitewashed plywood door hinged into the ceiling and held closed by a simple latch like you might find to lock the door of a bathroom cubicle. I knew what the space looked like already. The apartment was small and this was the only storage area. This was a top-floor unit and when I’d moved here the month prior, as I loaded some totes of holiday decorations up, I wondered where the tenants below, who didn’t have the luxury of this extra space, must keep theirs. The space held a dark and musty foreboding. Cracks of light peeked inexplicably from the solid construction of the roof above and creaking plywood made-up a partial floor, ending in exposed insulation. A brick wall that extended solidly up to the gables, bearing no doorway or hole, separated me from the neighboring units.
I couldn’t see it at first, but I found as I climbed through the ceiling to the makeshift floor above that I could hear it much louder now. My intuition was correct: a bird had most assuredly decided to take up residence above my kitchen amongst the haphazard sprays of pink insulation clouds. The stupidity of this creature was absurd. I knew the appearance of the soft fiberglass was deceptive in its resemblance to cotton candy and my skin began to itch at the mere sight of it. A psychosomatic response tickled me in several places as I imagined the fibers nicking me with microscopic cuts. I scratched these imagined injuries and continued.
Hunched over to avoid the exposed nails of the low roof, I walked to the edge of the plywood. It did not extend the entire attic floor, only a simple and small area. The few boards that existed were only in place for the access of maintenance workers and tenant storage, but I knew that I could venture further in by walking on the struts. I didn’t want to do that though; a misplaced step would drive my foot through the ceiling.
Caw, caw, caw came again, somewhere to my left, from the dark.
“Hey, bird!” I said quietly, “kindly get the fuck out of here please?”
Stupidly, I realized I’d come up empty-handed. What was I going to do? Mister Miyagi it and snatch it from the air? Coax it to kindly land on my shoulder and ride outside?
Caw, caw, caw I heard again.
The other noise I heard came from the opposite direction. A soft excited chittering that I couldn’t place was paired with a stifled breathy heaving. When the dainty footfalls began, a rapid lightfooted rushing across the clouds of insulation, fear spurned my hasty departure back down into the safety of my room.
I only chanced to look back as I closed the door behind me. What I saw in the dark made me pause and quietly yelp. In shock, I stayed there, my head peering up through the hole, staring into the bleary gray for far too long, but eventually I gathered my wits and finished my dissent of the ladder. I slammed the trap door, firmly locking it behind me.
I haven’t heard anything up there since that day. I haven’t told anyone either for fear they’d think I’d lost my mind and the latch remained locked and in place for months. I even added a few more. Mere precautions. I told myself they weren’t really necessary because I’d imagined it, but I added the additional locks anyway. It wasn’t until this morning that I realized I’d pushed it from my mind entirely, choosing the safety of denial over the truth.
At the beginning of December, I’d decided to simply leave the decorations tucked away up there. I wouldn’t have the tree, nor lights. Not a single bauble. I didn’t believe what I’d seen, I didn’t want to be cowed by my imagination, but the thought of going up to get the totes caused me to shudder. I felt enough anxiety to skip bringing the stuff down all together, but I can’t deny it anymore. Not after this morning.
I’d left every bit of holiday cheer I owned up in the dark with whatever ate that bird; snatched it from the air like karate with a pale translucent hand. Reduced a crow to a cloud of black feathers that slowly sank with the dust to settle on the cloudy pink floor. Even obscured by darkness, I could see its wild eyes and the glee that shined from them like a light through the shadows as it crunched the bones in it’s jagged teeth. I told myself it wasn’t real. There was no man in the attic crawlspace. A man, but not a man. It was too small to be and the eyes were too large. Far too large and burning with a wild fire as blood poured down it’s chin and neck. The skin was too pale and thin to be a man. Too strange to be real. I could see the tangle of veins that spread like a roadmap across its chest. Right through its skin as it heaved labored breaths. I could see the lungs and beating heart as faint luminescent outlines between the spokes of its ribs. It smiled at me. It smiled and waved with the hand that held the broken body of that bird. I slammed the door behind me. I added the locks.
I’ve lived here for six or seven months but now I have to leave. This morning when I woke up, every inch of the apartment was covered in lights. The Christmas tree stood in the kitchen and garlands of shimmering tinsel were wrapped around doors and wreaths and ribbons were sloppily hung from the walls and the hatch to the attic crawlspace laid broken on the floor near my bed, torn from its hinges.