By Lily Pratt
Natalie pulls at the closest bag; I hold the flashlight. She punctures the black, plastic surface, a putrid aroma of rotting flesh greets us.
The front door slams with Daddy’s departure to work. Natalie rushes past the living room, waving at me to follow her, an ecstatic grin stretched across her freckled face. I spring from the couch, my coloring book dropping to the floor. I race behind my sister’s determined steps, following her descent into the basement. A small wooden chest sat cracked open in the middle of the unfinished room. "I found it," she whispers with a whimsical pride.
Natalie lifts a beautiful pink dress from the box. My eyes sparkle, mesmerized by the sleek shine of satin. I dig through the contents, selecting a long blue sundress for myself. It is much too big, the loose sleeves slipping off my skinny shoulders, but its fabric flows like water, so I keep it. I twirl, Natalie joining in with her own dress. Hers fits her petite frame but is much too long, a bundle of fabric draping over her feet as she skips. We dedicate hours to trying on our newfound treasures before making our way upstairs.
“Up for a treasure hunt?”, Natalie asks, nudging my arm. My stomach chirps with excitement at the thought of finding more dresses. We bolt down the halls, checking under tables, in closets, between shelves. Not finding anything, she lets out an annoyed grunt as we collapse onto the hall floor. “Where else is there?” I whine and kick my legs in frustration.
A molded chunk of meat hangs, fused to the dress by a thick, tangled lock of hair.
Natalie smacks my thigh, pointing excitedly at the ceiling. I had never noticed the little wooden square before, jutting out directly above us. She stands, grabbing my arm and pulling me up with her. After several minutes of strategic furniture stacking, she's high enough to reach the hatch and push the wooden panel out of the way. She boosts herself off the little plastic table at the top of the pile and tightly grips the rim of the ceiling.
Her body rises, disappearing into the darkness of the attic. I climb the tower and toss her the flashlight. Standing on my tip-toes, she reaches down for my outstretched arms and scoops me up by my armpits. A stale smell lingers in the dusty air, forcing me to pinch my thumb and pointer finger around my nose. She surveys the room with the light of the flashlight. “There!"
We scurry a few feet forward toward an overflowing pile of fabric. My shoulders rise to meet my ears, disgusted by a layer of fruit flies swarming over the dresses. "Shoo," Natalie swats and stomps at the bugs, tosses me the closest dress and grabs one for herself before we make our way back toward the hole in the floor.
Sitting on the dusty wooden boards, our legs swinging over the hallway, we examine our new finds. Mine is a faded red; its previously smooth texture weathered over time. I run my fingers over the seams until there’s a snag. My pointer finger makes its way through a hole and traces the edges of the lacerated fabric. A dark stain crusts along the outline of the tear and I discover an array of similar discolorations and slits across the surface. I stick my lip out in disappointment while looking over at Natalie’s off-white dress; the front drenched in a deep scarlet. I reach over, exchanging treasures with my sister.
I angle the light down and see a skull with a patch of hair wobbling across the floorboards.
I spread hers out over my lap and something warm touches my leg. Its a complex laced design with patches of red weaving in and out. I trace the irregular shape, picking at a layer of crust. Red chips flake to the ground below. I lift it up; the glob unsticks from my thigh, leaving a sour residue behind. A molded chunk of meat hangs, fused to the dress by a thick, tangled lock of hair.
“Ooh, over there!” Natalie races to the other side of the attic, her flashlight bumping up and down, catching glimpses of a pile of large garbage bags. I drop the dress and run to catch up with her. We exchange a look of awe, curious about our newest find. Natalie pulls at the closest bag; I hold the flashlight. She punctures the black, plastic surface, a putrid aroma of rotting flesh greets us.
I bury my face in my arm; the flashlight shaking in my other hand. Natalie does the same, covering her nose as her free hand tears at the hole of the bag. She flips its content onto the floor. The severed appendages repose in a jumbled mess of putrescent flesh and browned bones. There’s a sudden brush along my ankle. I angle the light and see a skull with a patch of hair wobbling across the floorboards. I bend down to stroke it.
Pebbles creak and pop under the tires of Daddy’s truck as he pulls back up the driveway. Cradling her in my arms, I stroke her grey, hardened cheek. I look up at my sister and smile. “We should give her one of our dresses."