I can’t really say when the noises began since we only moved into our house a couple of days ago. It could have been a problem with this house for a while, what I could only think of as rats. It could have been mice or a pigeon that had squeezed through a hole between the roof tiles, but my imagination as it is would suggest it was definitely rats. Probably no less than five but no more than twenty. They scurried and scratched just in the corner of the roof. I would investigate but the hatch was to small to fit my torso through. I offered the children a ten for whoever went up, and they were all for it until they heard the tapping.
So, it was over to Dad. I collected the step ladders from the out house and slowly started to climb. I pushed the hatch ajar to feel a subtle breeze strike my face, and carried in the air was a strange smell of decay. I dropped the hatch and nearly fell down the steps. I spluttered and swallowed back a mouthful of sick.
Rat, it must be. Dead ones too. I looked up at the hatch, dust falling through the air like a cloud. And I think about the shallow breathing I heard too. It could have been the wind, but I’m not so sure.
I should check it out again. I had a responsibility to investigate. But every instinct in my body was warning me away. And I couldn’t fit through the hatch, so what could I do? I certainly didn’t want a dose of decay tearing through my nostrils. The bitterness lingered on my tongue and I didn’t want to be sick again.
That night, while Maggie slept at my side, I lie awake listening to a laboured breathing from the corner of the loft. I wanted to wake Maggie. I wanted her to hear it too. I needed to know it wasn’t in my head, a memory of what I heard before. I tried to persuade myself that it was the wind blowing a lonely monotonous tune through a hole in the roof. But it was rats up there, it had to be. Perhaps a mouse or bird.
Hours passed and I eventually fell asleep, but I slept feeling that something was about to happen. At 2am, that something did happen. But Maggie heard it too. At first it was just light tapping, but there seemed to be method behind it as though it was rattling out a tune. But that stopped and for a few moment there was silence. And that was when Maggie woke up. She heard it too.
Horrendous banging came from the corner of the loft, there area right above my head. We both bolted out of bed staring at the ceiling as we could see the cobwebs shake. We move clear of the bed and away from the hatch. Then that stopped.
We waited in the doorway for a while. The children still slept. We closed the door and stayed the rest of the night in the living room. I could still hear the restless tapping on the ceiling. I was starting to feel that this was something more than rats. I would have to check it out in the morning, but I had a ridiculous thought ploughing through my mind. And, although there were no words between us, I could sense Maggie thought the same. I wondered if in the past there had been a death in the house and this was a ghost or spirit. I don’t know what I feared more, opening the hatch and finding rats (big, giant rats from the banging), or finding nothing.
Morning came, and without much sleep. The children were surprised to see us both up as they nagged to watch the television.
I returned to the loft, replacing the ladders under the hatch. I turned on the torch and held it between my teeth. I stared at the hatch waiting for a noise that didn’t come. I climbed the ladder and pushed open the hatch, sliding it into the loft space. Maggots riggled from the opening, falling into my hair. The darkness breathed down on me with a heaviness I couldn’t describe. I watched the dust float in the air with fascination. There was that stench of decay again. It was so overwhelming I was momentarily caught off balance.
I climbed up, popping my head through the hatch. I was afraid that a rat would launch itself at my head and take a nasty bite out of my face. But it was the smell that eventually distracted me from the fear, and I regurgitated last night supper into my mouth. I spat it out onto the carpet covering the maggots with vomit. Dabbing my mouth with the back of my hand I raised my chin to get a good look. I shine the light into the corner of the loft where all the noise had come from. I ran the light over the roof and saw no hole. But in the corner was a person. She was laid on her side, tied and gagged. She watched the hatch as if she had been waiting for me to come. But she had waited too long. There was no life left in these eyes. Her body was already decomposing.
The police came and removed the body. It had been the wife of the previous owner. I was told that he had two young children.
I remember meeting the owner. He told me he lived alone. He said he had no family.