They were cold beneath my feet. The sensation was a strange, unfamiliar combination. Those stairs were painted in a vain attempt to hide the gnarled, brown wood beneath. The color was similar to a midsummer sky, just shadowed and faded. The color persisted to either side of me in the paneled stairwell. Soft moonlight illuminated my goal.
I trudged up another steep step, then another, and then another. Something bit me as I neared the light. I leapt upon one foot, holding back a cry. I started to tumble backwards. Those cruel stairs buffeted me. My small fingers clawed into the handrail. They slid down until they caught on some old, but smooth, iron. I breathed out and lay there on the stairs, my arm twisted behind my head, listening for a sound.
All I heard was the throbbing of my own heart against my bruised chest. I winced as I rose. Undeterred by my recent fall, I continued the climb again. This time, however, I made it. The feeling of victory was pictured in my shadow’s upraised arms. Then, like the visage of a ghost, my shadow and I were gone. We had vanished into the attic.
Sweat began to crawl down my forehead. What would Grandpa do if he caught me up here? I placed my shoulder to the attic door and pushed. I creaked on its hinges and then stopped about halfway open. I pushed. I grunted. But the door would not budge.
In the dark I felt the opening and determined it was enough for me to slip through. This was the final moment for decision. If I persisted in my adventure there would be no turning back. If I turned back now I faced my own regret. I chose the first option.
In my desperation to get inside before I changed my mind, my shirt snagged on the door handle. It ripped and I tumbled into the attic, sending up a cloud of dust. When it cleared and my eyes stopped leaking water I found the door closed. Then I saw what had blocked it from opening. It was a massive chest. Iron bands bound the beams that formed it together. It was a curious thing, I say, but the iron on this chest was not rusted like everything else in the attic. Indeed, the chest seemed polished. I dismissed it as a trick of my eyes in the darkness.
There was no lock on this chest and curiosity reigned supreme over my mind. My fingers found the crack between the lid and the base and, with all my might, I opened the chest. My eyes were blessed by what I saw. There, sitting on the bottom, was a model ship. It had pure white sails, a mahogany deck, brass cannons, and even a little ivory mermaid on the front. I stared at that ship in all its perfection. I did not dare to touch it. I feared that, if I did, it would shatter and my heart with it.
I closed that chest, turned, and headed downstairs. I closed the stairwell door behind me; once again shutting the forbidden area of Grandfather’s house from the permitted. I crept back to my bedroom like the frightened child I was, fearing the sudden appearance of my grandfather.
I lay on my bed. But I did not want to be there. My grandfather’s ship called to me from its residence in the forbidden attic. I saw it in my head. Indeed, these many years later, I still see it. It is beautiful and it was forbidden. That forbidden beauty drew my every thought back to it. I could hear the waves of sea as I tossed and turned on my bed. I heard the groans of the hull as she plowed her way through a storm. I saw her white sails billowed out in all their glory on a perfect day. The seas she rode on were smooth and a gentle wind blew across them.
I opened my eyes. The white plaster ceiling of my room greeted and I shunned it in disgust. I turned over and sat up. Sweat stained my pajamas and the bed groaned beneath me. I stood and was disappointed. Instead of the rough, natural planks of a ship’s deck, I felt painted over flooring of my bedroom. It reminded me of those forbidden stairs I had traversed earlier that night. Those stairs reminded me of the ship that awaited me. I glanced over at the clock and, deciphering the ancient analog hands and roman numerals, found that it was 5:37AM.
It only took a few steps to reach those stairs. It only took a little more effort to ascend them. Guilt ate at my heart, but I put it aside. The ship called to me. I imagined I heard the captain’s voice calling, “all aboard!” I had to at least see the beauty before she shipped out to sea. I knew that Grandfather woke at six every morning, no earlier and no later. I knew that I was running the risk of staying too long in the forbidden attic. But I was desperate. I was hungry for the sight of her again.
Squeezing through the crack in the attic door and wincing at the noise the hinges made, I saw the final object to my goal. That chest hid her from me and I hated it for that. I heaved that lid open. I felt the edges of my mouth rise in a smile. Then they fell. She was gone. My grandfather’s ship had set sail before I could see it again. A single tear disrupted the dust on the floor. Many years later I realize how quickly addictions arise and how easily they disappoint; yet I still see my grandfather’s ship in my dreams.
A short story by Joshua A. Spotts