Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Beast Upstairs

by Zinta Aistars

He drags carcasses across my ceiling much of the night, waking me from dreams and giving me nightmares. Surely that is how it seems, from the whimperings and tiny squeakings and frail and fading protests, while the unspeakable weight shifts from one end of the house to the other. Final cries for help? Unheeded. For I can do nothing. Nothing more, that is. If they aren’t quite carcasses yet, from all indications—they will be.

Too late now, but my son and I realized already last summer that we’d made a mistake. Soft-hearted idiots. After the leaky roof had been patched, a temporary stop-gap until the entire roof would have to be replaced within the coming year, we figured the invisible beast would be gone. No doubt frightened away by the hammering of the roofing crew. Shingles peeled back and tossed away, they caused enough racket up there to scare away anything sensible.

But no. The beast remained.

The next few evenings, my son and I sat below, in our living room, heads cocked to one side and listening, staring up at the unrevealing ceiling, and we distinctly heard—life. A light pattering of tiny feet.

“Oh, dear God,” I sighed. “You don’t think there’s a nest up there, do you? That we’ve trapped some hungry babies inside that attic space?”

I could feel my son’s eyes switch from ceiling to my face with a look of resignation. “You want me to open up that hole under the eave again, don’t you?”

So carefully sealed, the roofer balancing on the fifty foot ladder, hammering plywood across the gaping hole on the side of the house—we thought that would do it. Peace. At last.

I went outside to watch my son pry the plywood away again. Starving little babies, who knows what kind, breed, species, but I couldn’t bear the thought of their mother locked outside, frantically clawing at the ungiving wood where the opening to home used to be, and inside, the squealing little critters waiting for a meal that would never come.

Now, in the dark of night, I imagined no frantic mother and babes. I heard a male beast, prone to blood lust and violence, grown fat and heavy over the warm seasons, his steps clodding across my ceiling. His body was surely heavy with the accumulated layers of fat, yet no need to hibernate, for the heat of my home, below, would keep him comfortable and awake throughout even this brutally chill winter. Was he a possum, twitching the bare, pink rope of his tail? A raccoon with masked eyes? A tree-climbing rat? A monstrous squirrel? Woodchuck? Vampire?

Night after night, I would hear him drag something, some living thing, across the ceiling and it protesting all the way. My dog, Guinnez, would follow the sound from one end of the room to the other, yet not once bark. Even he seemed to fear this invisible beast. Why else such silence when every mailman and Girl Scout selling cookies were lambasted with such howls that surely they would be ripped to shreds were he released for the kill? Now, his red ruff prickled a bit as his dark eyes scanned the ceiling, but he made no move, no sound.

Some nights, the dragging, the plodding, the scittering, the squeaking, would wake me so often that I would take my son’s baseball bat and bonk its tip against the ceiling. You. Shuttup already.

And he would stall in his step, leering into the dark of the attic, eyes glinting, beastly head cocked in turn to listen to the noises of the hell fires below. Far below, the two-legged creatures in their endless scurrying, the frequent rising smells of cooked and frying flesh, the blaring of noise and voices from throats that had no language he could discern, giving him no peace. If only they would leave, and he could, at last, know peace in his home.

In the morning, blinking over his first mug of coffee, my son says, “Think we’ve let this live and let live concept go a little too far, Mom? Maybe?”

I nod. We will wait for him, her, to emerge in the spring, belly swollen with new life, for maybe there are two of them up there, then slam the gaping hole shut. Or, when it is time to replace the roof, and the roofer will peel back the skin of my house, we will all stand there, balancing ourselves against the sky, peering inside, at the detritus of alien life scattered across and over my life below—its carcasses and time-bleached skeletons, patches of torn fur, chewed up apple cores and the empty shells of nuts, nests built of gathered souvenirs of a lifetime of travels, and that gold heart pendant I lost two summers ago.

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