Nettie Hawkin no longer remembered that she had hung herself by the neck until she was dead.
This had happened in the attic of her parent’s home. It had happened a very long time ago.
These days Nettie Hawkin did not remember much of her life at all. Things were different now for one such as her. Nettie had no past and no future. All Nettie had was a present and all she knew of that present most nights was that she was cold. Nettie Hawkin was always cold up in the old, dark, windowless attic of her parent’s home.
As such, in the early days, Nettie spent almost all of her time wandering about the attic seeking warm places to sooth her numb existence. That is, when she wasn’t simply standing and staring up at one particular rough-hewn wood beam for reasons she could not fathom.
A death in the small village of Bascomb was always an event of renown. When it was a young woman…when it was a suicide…well, it would go down in history, Except of course it didn’t.
It was Mama who found Nettie. It was Mama who, after hours of frantically trying to get Nettie down from the rope simply sat and wept hugging Nettie’s cold feet to her face doing her best to warm them.
It was Papa, who discovered Mama in the attic with Nettie’s body after coming home later in the day. It was also Papa who stood for a moment and then went and got a bed sheet and a knife. With the knife he cut the rope connecting Nettie to the beam. With the sheet he wrapped Nettie and removed her body from the attic. When Mama finally came down in a daze hours later Papa was sitting in a chair in the living room and Nettie was nowhere to be found.
Life went on. No one ever asked what happened to the strange young woman who still lived with her parents in the small stone cottage. No one cared. Life went on. Nettie went on…somehow, at least part of her did…another part…the bigger part, was asleep, but this still, small, cold part remained.
“There it is again!” said Derek bolting upright in bed at 2 :12 a.m. The Derek in question was 34-year-old Derek Holgrave of 72 Antwerp Lane, Bascomb, Connecticut. Derek who was married to his wife of six years going on seven, Holly. Derek was a man whose features you would forget the moment you stopped looking at him.
“Wuhh??” Holly responded groggily after much elbowing and jostling by an overly alert Derek.
“That noise…listen, like a beam flexing or a bit of wall popping in the ceiling,” he said.
“Seriously Derek?!?” Holly said. “Stop waking me up for that shit…its just the house settling.”
“The house is 135 years old…it stopped settling about 120 years ago Holly, this is something else.”
“Go. To. Sleep.” said Holly turning over leaving Derek to his boogeymen.
Nettie did not spend a great deal of time thinking while wiling away the hours in the attic. There really wasn’t much of Nettie left to think about anything anyhow. Nettie knew she had come here, to the attic, to die. To “away herself” from papa and his darkness. Nettie knew she was cold…always cold…and Nettie knew where the warm places were…somehow Nettie just knew.
During the day it was not really a problem. It was usually warm in the day with the sun beating down on the old black painted tin roof. Even in winter it stayed reasonably warm in the attic. This kept Nettie still.
It was at night when the cold crept in that Nettie became restless and began to wander.
Actually, for a very long time Nettie didn’t move much at night either. This was because when the attic was cold it was cold everywhere. There were no warm spots to wander over to, at least not since the old brick chimney had been removed leaving a soot black streak on the south wall. So mostly Nettie would just stay in her spot beneath the beam, staring up at it, unmoving, warm or cold.
But recently something had changed (Nettie would not say “recently” because Nettie did not perceive of time anymore). Sometimes there would be a warm area to the south west corner of the attic, just above mama and papa’s room. Mostly it happened at night and, when it did, like a moth to flame, Nettie would slowly wander over and settle in for a bit and stare at her beam from a different angle neither sad nor happy, just Nettie.
“Look, for the last time,” said Derek to his wife while cramming the last of a muffin into his mouth at breakfast, “the house isn’t settling.”
“Well what is it then?” Holly asked.
“I don’t know but I think it started after we put in that new furnace and ductwork.”
“I’m not sure how that would cause all those sounds,” said Holly. “You know, those sounds that only wake YOU up at night.”
“I don’t know either but I think it’s connected somehow. Maybe the contractor screwed something up when he ran that duct bypass into the attic over the bedroom.”
“Is it metal in the ductwork expanding and contracting when the furnace turns on and off?” said Holly.
“Hmm…I hadn’t thought of that. Weird.”
Holly was annoyed by how Derek had said “weird”, as if somehow she had an idea that he had not had and this was unsettling to him.
Well, we know it’s not animals,” said Holly, choosing to ignore the tone of Derek’s last comment. “You spent $300 having Bob Wilkens crawl around up there for two hours hunting for critters only to have him come down and pronounce ‘Nuthin. Sealed up tighter thun mah ma’s bank account…yuck, yuck yuck!'”
Holly enjoyed mimicking people, she had a talent for it.
“What?” asked Holly being pulled from her brief, happy reverie.
“We. We spent $300…not me like somehow you’re not involved in decisions you don’t like.”
“Whatever. We spent it. I don’t care just stop waking me up at night all afraid of the dark and leave me out of it. There could be elephants stomping around up there for all I care as long as they stay up there away from me.”
The warm spot was as close as Nettie had come in a long time to feeling anything. In fact she almost seemed to enjoy it. One would think this if they could see that, after settling into the spot for a while, Nettie would move off to the far cold corners of the attic only to wander back to the spot and settle in again. She did this repeatedly. It was as if she enjoyed the opportunity to get warm and needed to wander away periodically so she could rekindle the feeling by coming back again and again.
“Son of a bitch! What the fuck was that?” Derek had literally leapt from the bed, naked in a cold sweat tearing half the sheets with him.
“OH MY GOD STOP IT! IT’S ALMOST 3 AM!!!”
“I swear it’s like somebody is walking around up there just over my head!”
“Are you serious? Do you ACTUALLY hear yourself? What? Do you think we have a ghost?”
“noooo…” Derek realized how he sounded and sheepishly crawled back into bed. “It just freaks me out.’
“You know what? Even if I believed in ghosts, and I don’t, I don’t give two shits. Hell this ghost is a whole lot less disruptive to my sleep than you. Heck, as long as your ghost stays in the attic who the hell cares if it creaks a board once and a while. GO TO SLEEP IDIOT!”
“Whatever…” Derek mumbled, climbed into bed and rolled over, his back to Holly.
In the attic Nettie smiled almost as if she had heard the argument. Nettie smiled almost as if she knew what was going on. Then Nettie rose and began to wander to the cold so she could come back to the warm again while below her Derek could be heard shouting –