Through the Keyhole
Jacob always wanted his own room. In his new house, he got his own floor. And so much more.
The third floor of the old Victorian house was only half finished. Drafty and cold, Jacob’s room had peeling wallpaper and cracked plaster walls. The attic was through a dark oak door, scuffed and ominous, and forever locked. The key, it was told, had long since disappeared.
Jacob didn’t care about the key. He only cared that he no longer shared a room with five-year-old twins. He didn’t care about the dormers overlooking the cemetery, half a block away. He didn’t worry about the leafless branches scraping against frosted over windows. He thought nothing of that old oak door, heavy with varnish and a wrought iron doorknob. That was, until the first night fell.
Gas lamps flickered along the street. Shadows danced on Jacob’s walls and he crawled into bed, pulling the covers up to his chin. An eerie mist hovered over the bed each time Jacob exhaled. He heard the tick of a grandfather clock coming from the first floor parlor.
The antique clock had always soothed him as he’d tried to ignore the twin’s nightly whimpers. He’d helped his father restore it and knew every gear; felt every pulley and chain as the seconds ticked away. Finally alone, Jacob heard the clock as if it were in the next room. But it was two floors below. He shouldn’t have heard it at all.
There was a whisper.
“You have until the clock runs down.”
Jacob stiffened where he lay. Even his eyes remained still. He held his breath, listening for more. With great caution, Jacob glanced at the old wooden door, looming in the dark. Cold air slid underneath, rising up to swirl the mist above his head. Jacob inched toward the edge of the bed, while tightening his grip on the covers. There was a vent in the floor just above his parent’s room.
Then, he heard a whimper. Of course. It was the twins’ first night without him. Easing out of bed, Jacob’s feet slid across the cold floor. The staircase creaked with each step. The doorway to the second floor whined when he opened it. He held his breath a moment to listen.
In silence, he noticed the quiet.
The twins were sound asleep. As were Jacob’s parents. He was the lone soul awake in the house. Turning to go back upstairs, he realized just how quiet the quiet was. He no longer heard the tick of the grandfather clock. It should have been louder, only one floor below.
Jacob eased down to the first floor parlor. The grandfather clock was in the corner. The pendulum, pulleys and weights were laid out on the floor where the movers had left them.
Outside, branches beat against the windows in the whipping wind. The street lamps flickered out and Jacob stood alone in the dark. But only for a second. He raced back upstairs, whirled around the corner and jumped the third floor steps two at a time, leaping into bed and the safety of his covers.
No part of Jacob was exposed. He hugged his pillow until his fingers numbed. A baby cried. There was a muffled scream. Scratches at the door.
Jacob was about to bolt for his parent’s room, when he froze once more.
“Time runs out.”
“The child—God no!.”
Jacob’s heart leapt. The cold held him down. He wanted to run; wanted to cry out, but couldn’t overcome the weight of fear.
Jacob heard a thud. The clink of metal echoed from the attic. Then, silence.
He lay there a while. His heart calmed. His breathing slowed. He eased the covers from his head. That’s when the attic doorknob started to turn.
A faint light dashed across the floor and settled on the open keyhole. Jacob was drawn to it. He slipped out of bed and, with ginger steps, found himself peering through the keyhole.
There was a woman, bathed in a pale yellow glow, with a baby emanating soft pink, pressed to her chest. A man dragged her across the attic by the hair.
“I will never abide this child.”
The old man shoved the woman. The baby fell to the floor, its wail echoed through the empty attic.
“Did you think you could hide? Then you will never leave this place.”
The man was a rage of fiery orange. The old man picked up the light that was the baby, and snuffed it out. The woman, sobbing, fell to the floor, an arm draped across her forehead in sorrow. Her light began to dim. She pulled on the locked door, but Jacob didn’t move.
Her eyes were blank. Behind her, the man glowed hot as the sun. His fingers reached around her throat. Pawing at the door, she peered through the keyhole and found Jacob’s eyes. She put a hand to her mouth in stunned recognition. Then, her light returned. A smile crept across her face. She reached up, and the light of her finger passed through the keyhole, into Jacob’s eyes.
She pulled the hands from her throat and stood to face the man, who shook his head in shock as she passed by him.
“No more,” she said, picking up the dead infant, who began to glow once more. “Never again. This is the last time. There is a new force here. One you cannot touch.”
With the child in her arms, the woman passed through the man. All three lights extinguished.
Outside, the wind calmed. The light of the street lamps returned. And the cold passed from Jacob’s room.
The next morning, Jacob tried the attic door. A skeleton in a pale yellow dress fell into his room when the door opened. Across the attic, wrapped in a soft pink blanket, lay the skeleton of an infant, its skull shattered against a broken clock. And, from the rafters, and wearing an orange flannel shirt, hung a skeleton with one bony hand tugging at the noose. On the floor beneath it, covered in dust, was the key to the attic door.
The twins were happy to have Jacob back the next night. And every night after that.