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Upstairs and Downstairs (flash fiction)

October 24, 2012

They ran upstairs and downstairs in the huge old house, Paddy with a stuffed rhino chasing Elise with a horse and June with a lamb and Milo with a tiger. Then, for reasons unexplained and, frankly, inexplicable, June became the chaser, and the other three squealed as they ran from her shaking the lamb at them. Up and down they went, the chasers rotating in turns as they rushed down to the basement with plush carpeting and small windows near the ceiling letting in a little light, up to the ground floor, around the living and dining rooms and kitchen where their moms were laughing, then up to the bedroom level for just a moment, then up to the attic—which had been converted to a play area—with extra-creaky floor boards.

After several rounds of this chasing circuit, Milo plunked down on a bean bag chair in the attic. The others followed suit. They breathed hard from all the running.

“This house is haunted, you know,” Elise said.

“No, I didn’t know,” Paddy said. “How do you know it’s haunted?”

“Weird sounds. Creaks. Stuff happening.”

“Like what?” June asked.

“Like toys that start going without anybody up here. That fire engine’s siren goes off when nobody’s here.”

“Doesn’t mean a ghost’s playing with it,” Milo said. “Could be something wrong with it.”

“Faulty wiring,” Paddy said matter-of-factly.

“Maybe,” Elise said. “But what about the creaks? There are lots of creaks here. Especially at night.”

“It’s an old house.” Milo shugged. “They creak a lot.”

Elise tried again: “There was one time we found a lamp on the floor in the living room. It wasn’t broken, and we didn’t hear a crash in the night.”

“So?” Milo asked.

“So, how did the lamp get on the floor? Mom and Dad and Bobby and Jill didn’t push it over.”

“It fell!” Milo said.

“I believe in ghosts,” June said defiantly.

“Me too,” Elise said.

“Have you ever seen one?” Paddy asked.

“No, but that doesn’t mean they’re not here.”

“Ghosts are really good at hiding,” June added.

“Like me,” Paddy said. “I’m really good at hide and seek. One time, my brother gave up because he couldn’t find me. That was, like, after two hours.”

“Nobody’s ever played hide and seek for two hours,” Milo stated flatly.

“We did.”

“You wanna play hide and seek now?” Elise asked.

Everyone agreed. Now that they had caught their breath, they had the energy for another game.

“But I don’t want to be the seeker,” Paddy stated.

The four kids looked at each other.

“Okay,” Elise said finally. “I’ll do it. Mom says I need to be a good hostess.”

“Count to fifty!” Paddy yelled as he, June, and Milo rushed off, out of the attic and down the stairs, with a song of creaks announcing their departure.

Elise dutifully counted to fifty, then called out “Ready or not, here I come!” to the empty room. None of the three kids had picked under the three beds and crib as a hiding place. Nor any of the closets in the bedrooms. Milo was the first to be found, huddled in a corner of the pantry behind an enormous plastic container in the shape of a barrel that was half full of pretzels. June was next to be found. Elise was impressed by how she had managed to push the couch a little away from the wall to create just enough space to lay down behind it. Elise had gone down to the basement and back up before realizing there was something different about the couch. Her hunt for Paddy took so long that Milo and June grew bored and hungry while waiting on the couch, so they were served pretzels and were encouraged to admire the coffee table book filled with huge, colorful photographs of African mammals. They looked up as Elise emerged from the basement stairs with a frustrated face.

“Give up?” Milo asked.

“No,” Elise said as she thumped down on the couch and folded her arms. “I just need a break. Rest for a minute. I’ll find him, don’t you worry.”

They didn’t have to worry. Paddy emerged from the basement stairs, his face pale. Even his freckles were paler than normal.

“What’s a matter with you?” Milo asked, sounding annoyed.

“S-something tapped me on the shoulder. Down in the basement. Something tapped me. But nothing was there.”

Elise, June, and Milo on the couch stared at him. Something had changed. Nothing visual, but the atmosphere had shifted, something in the quality of the air being sucked into their noses and swirling around their skin like eddies in a river. The four kids looked at one another, their eyes as large as the plates on which the pretzels rested.

copyright Dave Williams

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 24, 2012 11:48 am

    Oh what a wonderful story…could become an illustrated children’s book for sure…really enjoyed reading this one also.

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