It’s In The Attic

A Halloween Story

by Phineas Redux




Summary:— Sara Templeton, new owner of Hallow Hall, goes on a journey of discovery in the abandoned attics of the great old house. She eventually finds what she is looking for; which is a pity.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright © 2014 to the author. All names and characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Sara climbed carefully through the small hatch which was, as far as she had yet discovered, the only entrance to the loft. Her left foot slipped slightly on the ladder-rung under her shoe and, in a reflex motion, she gripped the edge of the trapdoor tightly for a second. Then she regained her stance, pulling herself through the aperture and, after dirtying her jean-clad knees with inch-thick dust from the bare floorboards, cautiously stood upright in the attic proper.

She held a large battery torch in her left hand, the light from which immediately solved one of the major questions she had been ruminating over during the planning of this visit to the abandoned attic-level; on the left-hand side of what was obviously a large long room, under the eaves, stood a shut door; this certainly being the original entrance through which most of the junk now littering the large space opening out before her had been brought.

Her leading action on this, her first visit to these dusty climes, was a sharp, almost frightened, intake of breath. It isn’t every day that, exploring a dark filthy room where no-one has stepped before you in decades, you come face to face with two gleaming eyes staring intently at you from a shadowed corner. The explanation—a stuffed fox, on a wood plinth, but not under a glass case—made her feel like crying and laughing at the same time.

Standing still she breathed deeply, then took a calm slow reconnaissance of the surrounding debris of the Ages. Hallow Hall, a quiet restrained Georgian building pleasantly set in the socially acceptable corner of Callingshire, had overseen its spreading country estate for the last 240 years. During that time Generals, Admirals, Captains of both services, some Politicians, it has to be admitted; and several Lords of the Manor who did, supremely well, absolutely nothing all their privileged lives, constituted the past owners of the estate. Templeton was the family moniker, Sara now being the last known bearer of the formerly illustrious title.

Within the last six months she had received both a B.Sc. diploma in Business Studies from the University of Bedesley—that ancient rival and opponent of the other two classic Universities; and also the news that, at last, in the full course of Time, Great Aunt Marjorie Templeton had popped her clogs—or, as the solicitor’s letter informed Sara over her breakfast boiled egg, ‘passed on, across that fearful bourn, to a greater haven where all is clear, and pure, and perfect’,—the solicitor being one of the last relicts of a particularly stern, if not widespread, religious body. Sara, after reading the news, finished her egg without qualm or agitation—after all, she had never set eyes on the ancient Lady, nor had that survivor from a long past Age ever found it necessary to communicate with her, Sara. No love to be lost, as it were.

The outcome was, however, life-changing. The Lady had left the estate and Hall, with all its contents and appurtenances to her only living relative; who was, eventually, properly delighted with her luck. The fact was she, Sara, had never expected anything from this direction—it having been the generally held opinion that dear Aunt Marj was sitting on a dustheap with hardly a rag to cover herself with—never mind being the possessor of any kind of real wealth. The solicitor soon put this nonsense to rest, though. There was what could with perfect decorum be called a substantial fortune locked in the vaults of the local Bank; the estate was up and running, bringing in a nice yearly profit; and the Hall itself was a haven of as yet un-catalogued possibilities. Quite how Marj, and the estate in general, had managed to escape stultifying Death Duties, was a secret which only two people really understood—one was Great Aunt Marj, who was dead; and the other was Mr James MacNaught, the solicitor; and he, being a canny Scot, wasn’t saying.

Of course, a large house, almost a Palace, like Hallow Hall doesn’t run itself, or dust the hard to get to corners, without the help of a dedicated group of servants—even if nowadays they like to be referred to as house-assistants. Sara found herself the Mistress of no less than eleven serv—assistants; as well as being the unchallenged Chatelaine of the Hall and estate. It was, indeed, only a few days before she began to feel herself becoming extra-ordinarily Victorian in outlook. Mr MacNaught, on his part, was delighted to find the latest tenant had a Business degree; nothing could have made him happier.

But the stuffed, motionless, and faintly sad fox wasn’t the only surprise awaiting Sara. She had taken only a few paces into the centre of the long room, with thick ancient angled rafters acting as both wall partitions and ceiling-roof supports, when she encountered the second revelation of her expedition. A table, possibly oak, about waist-height and some eight feet long and three in width, sat on the floorboards some way out from the far wall—or, at least, the place where the rafters came down to apparently sink into the floor. Standing with its butt on the floor behind the table, and leaning its vast barrel against the dusty edge of one of these rafters, was a great gun. Its well-worn wooden butt was nearly three feet long; the trigger-guard almost six inches in length itself; and the barrel a stupendous ten feet if not more; its rifled interior being nearly two inches wide. It could quite easily, Sara thought, have done sterling duty as a small cannon. Why it now resided in the dark loft; and, in fact, what on earth it really was, were questions she decided to leave to a more appropriate time.

It was at this point that, as she had earlier expected would happen, thoughts of ghosts and werewolves and creatures of the night, began to flicker in the shadows of her mind—fuelled, no doubt, by memories of horror tales told to her in childhood. As a result, and she fully expected this outcome as well, she began to see, or imagine, faint movements; strange shadows; peculiar dim darknesses, in all the available dark corners of the big loft. She was too logical to be scared; but not quite scientifically assured enough not to begin to feel a cold shiver run down her spine; while the hairs on the back of her neck fully lived up to traditional expectations in such situations.

Damn! This ain’t the Castle of Otranto. Not yet Vathek.” Sara had contemplated Literature, before settling for Business Studies, and the memories lingered. “Get a grip. Now, where’s a light switch? Bet there ain’t one. That’d be par for the course, too.”

She strode firmly over to the door on the far side of the loft, using the wavering beam of her torch to avoid the worst of the piles of anonymous junk littered everywhere. Lo and behold, there was an old-fashioned switch on the nearest rafter-beam to the door but, on trying it, Sara found it would happily click up and down—but with no evidence whatever of being connected to the electricity supply, or any bulb.


Filing away the necessity for modernisation in her mental index of Things To Be Done in this Rundown Old Shack she turned back to take a good look at her surroundings. What she had expected to find was old furniture; a couple of battered wardrobes; perhaps a tattered oil-painting or two leaning forlornly against the wall; along with a few abandoned broken chairs to complete the catalogue. But even a quick glance around was sufficient to show that something altogether more complicated was the order of the day. There were certainly examples of each of her listed items; but far more besides. There were tables of every type and size imaginable; desks small medium and large; chairs in serried ranks, covered in dust so thick the colour of their original padding was invisible; trunks, chests, tin boxes, and also an inordinate number of what, if the still legible though faded ink-stamped marks on their sides could be taken at face value, were your actual tea-chests; accompanied by suitcases galore. Several curious wooden or fabric covered objects, something like vast cases, which intrigued her proved on closer examination to be ancient clothes and travelling trunks—the kind rich people took on sea voyages, with coloured labels stuck all over them. There didn’t seem to be any traces of the latter decoration left on any of the present specimens, but there they stood, lay, or sat piled two high, in the most unnecessary places in the vast loft. What might be the contents of this trove of receptacles,—if, indeed, there was anything of worth in any one of them,—would, Sara realised with sinking heart, take up days, if not weeks, of dedicated opening and searching.

“God, why’d I ever come up here? Should’a left the old catacomb alone.”

But she knew perfectly well what the impulse to exploration consisted of; the Will of dear departed Great Aunt Marjorie—or, at least, the private letter written by this lady, just before her departure to fairer, less physically dependent, regions, to be delivered to the next tenant of the Hall. A missive, as Sara soon found when she opened and read it, containing both warning against and,—wholly unnecessarily, you’d have thought,—instructions on what the object of concern and prohibition looked like and where to find it. Sara could see the words of this letter in front of her eyes even now—not really, of course, but as a mental image; having managed, in reading it over and over, to memorise the damned thing.


To Whom It May Concern,

I have left particular instructions with my solicitor, the most satisfactory Mr MacNaught, to have this letter remain sealed and private until delivered to whomever, after me, becomes the next tenant of Hallow Hall and estate.

My grandfather, General Osias Gordon Hamblethwaite Templeton, was a rake of the worst Late-Georgian kind. He, to his undying disgrace, was present at the Siege and Battle of Seringapatam, India, in 1799. You will be aware that afterwards the British East India Company’s forces indulged in a great deal of looting. General Templeton, I am sorry to report, availed himself of this opportunity enthusiastically; managing to assemble an amount of looted goods which would have done honour to the salerooms of a large auction house.

Amongst the General’s plunder was a fair amount of silver—by this I mean trays, salvers, candlesticks, wine-decanters, goblets, and such-like. There was also a curious chased-silver box, of around the same size as our present-day cigarette boxes. This item is not kept with its companion silver, and it is this object which I must tell you about—and warn you against.

General Templeton, unfortunately, never reached English shores to enjoy his ill-gotten gains; the ship on which he was returning, the East Indiaman ‘Ayala’, sinking in a storm in the Bay of Biscay in late 1799. However his acquisitions had been sent earlier, on a different ship, and arrived safely. Now, this silver box—in dimensions it is around nine inches wide; three inches high; and about twelve inches in depth, with a single lid opening on hinges at the rear. It is lined with green silk, and is the repository of what I may safely claim to be the most dangerous artefact in Britain today.

It has, to my knowledge, only been opened on two occasions—once in 1799, when General Templeton’s wife, Ethelreda, did so in the privacy of her withdrawing-room in the Hall. I may here say it has a small front lock with a single delicate silver key. My Lady’s maid heard a piercing scream from the withdrawing-room around seven o’ clock in the evening; finding the door locked, a male servant was brought to wrench the door open; inside Ethelreda lay sprawled on the floor beside a small table on which sat the now closed box—she was dead, with an awful expression on her face which curdled the blood of the servants present.

The second occasion was in July, 1893. Lady Margaret Templeton, who was a vivacious thirty-three year old beauty at the time, had brought the box from its long-term place of secure custody on a whim, to show some guests. While four of five witnesses stood watching she placed the box on a table, inserted the key, and opened the box, facing towards her; the guests being behind the box, so not able to view its contents. Lady Margaret seemed astonished at what now lay open to her sight alone. She reached a hand inside the box, as if to take out its contents; then gave a sharp scream of fear and instantly fell on the floor—the lid of the box snapping shut as she did so. No amount of resuscitation or medical help—a Doctor was one of the house guests—could bring her back: she was dead.

Now, to the contents of the deadly box. What could it possibly be, you may well enquire. There is no surviving evidence from the first tragedy, of 1799; but of the 1893 event several written accounts are still in existence. On it being decided, by the local Inspector of Police, that it was necessary to do so, several precautions were taken. Eventually, the Inspector used a long-bladed sword, part of the Hall’s extensive collection of such, to lever the lid open, after the key had been turned in the lock once more. Everyone present had been told to avert their eyes and cover their noses and mouths, in case of some kind of dangerous optical or gaseous effusion. The lid, however, raised and locked into position just over half-open; long sliding hinges at each side supporting the lid. There was no noise, or sign of obnoxious gas, so the spectators recalled. After two or three minutes the Inspector alone, he having forbidden anyone else from approaching close enough to view its contents, stepped forward and craned his neck from a distance of some four feet or so. He gave a running commentary on what he saw as he did so. To cut a long story short the contents proved to be a stone tablet, almost certainly marble, apparently just smaller than the dimensions of the box in which it lay. It was not possible to say with certainty, but it seemed to be around an inch or two inches thick. On its plain surface were inscribed—in what three of the spectators were certain was Ancient Greek—numerous lines of text in capital letters; apparently consisting of a number of separate instructions, or directives. At least three of those present could read the language with no difficulty; and after the Inspector had invited each to view the uncovered object, from what was decided to be a safe distance, some idea of what it was could be verified.

It is at this point that my distant reader, whoever you may be, will need to suspend all disbelief in the supernatural; if you attain to such a scientific, essentially Darwinian, attitude. You, of course, know perfectly well of the famous words or commands of constraint placed upon those who profess compliance in the generally held religion within the boundaries of this, our great land? There are a set number of these; all being requests that followers direct their moral outlook in certain directions, in order to live the most fulfilling life? What, however, has this to do with the tablet in the silver box, you ask?

In the most widely acclaimed religion within our land, and other parts of the globe, faith in a Supreme Being is acknowledged as the primary act of the devotee. Another aspect being that this Person is shadowed by another, almost as powerful, a Being—a Being, though, who believes in and is professed to act with exactly the opposite set of moral dictates. Pure Evil, in fact; as opposed to Pure Good.

It is this second supernatural entity; the Devil, to use the most generally accepted sobriquet, with whom we are now concerned. For, if a Good Being may ask that followers recognise a particular set of moral prerogatives; why shouldn’t the Devil have his own set of Rules? It is these which are, in fact, inscribed on the stone tablet within the silver box. A set of rules comprising, so the persons present verified, some seven requirements for the dedicated follower of the Devil’s desires.

The spectators, several of the surviving written accounts lead us to believe, were able to decipher a rudimentary understanding of what these rules represented. No-one, however, actually wrote down a translation; taking the attitude that such knowledge should be left in the darkness of ignorance in which it had lain for so long. It would appear that danger consisted in the viewer being too close to the object, within touching distance; and that actually touching it physically brought on the instant demise of the innocent victim. After a certain amount of impassioned discussion the Inspector was prevailed upon to leave the relic in the hands of the owner of the Hall, Mr Andrew Templeton, who gave his word that the silver box would be locked; sent to the attics in a strongbox; and never allowed to see the light of day again. This, in conclusion, was how the matter ended, in July, 1893.

Lady Margaret was my mother.

My father wrapped the box in a wide blue silk scarf; placed it in a metal deed-box, which was firmly padlocked; and this was sent into the attics in the West Wing, the particular room within that attic being permanently locked. So things have continued up until the present day, when I write this letter of warning; being near my own dissolution; yet thereby closer to a so much, and for so long, desired reunion with my mother.

You who read this letter, be warned. Never go into the room in the West Wing attic; never search for the deed-box; and never, never, if by some evil chance it is placed in your hands—never open the silver box.

Signed, Lady Marjorie Templeton.


Sara, employing her modern sceptical outlook—a firm agnosticism bordering on definitive atheism—to its fullest extent, had immediately been imbued with the proto-archaeologist’s desire to discover and bring to the world’s attention this astounding relic of former ages, and former religious beliefs. She saw the tablet as an important social artefact; putting down the two reported deaths associated with the object to unknown circumstances which would, if identified, be easily ascribed to wholly ordinary circumstances. She had developed a determination to find this thing, and bring it howling into the light of modern times, notwithstanding all barriers in her way—She was that kind of a gal.

“Right, here we are. So, where t’look?”

There were no windows in this long-abandoned room of the attic complex; which may have influenced its choosing by the late owner, back in the 1890’s. Going by the reflected light of her powerful battery-torch Sara could see the shadowy extent of the chamber. It stretched the full width of the Hall’s wing—some thirty-five feet approximately; with a line of wooden pillars running down the centre of the dusty floorboards. In length it ran around forty feet, before ending in a harsh unrendered brick wall separating this room from the rest of the attic chambers. Darkness, flickering shadows, and rising clouds of dust were everywhere. It couldn’t be said that every available inch of floor was occupied by the detritus of the Ages; but what was contained in the room made a fair effort towards this laudable achievement.


Sara swore loudly and freely, as she stumped her left foot against some unseen obstruction in her way. Levelling the torch’s beam on the floor in front of her she moved forward more circumspectly. To her left, in the spaces between the curving beams of the rafters which descended to form partitions along the walls on either hand, lay some abandoned furniture. A cursory glance seemed to place most of it as early Victorian—heavily built; lacking all presumption to style; and covered in dusty cobwebs, none of it inspiring Sara with the wish to investigate further. On her right hand lay various mounds, at first unidentifiable, but under further examination proving to be piles of carpets dumped unceremoniously higgledy-piggledy. Across the further side of these stood more broken, useless, or simply unloved, items of furniture. Because of the number of shelves and flat surfaces these objects exhibited the amount of available dust appeared to be inches thick.

“God, talk about bein’ abandoned! Is this what the basements of the British Museum look like?”

She passed on, heading towards the far brick wall, trying to breathe shallowly as the hovering dust began to drily tickle the back of her throat. The fact she had not brought a bottle of water with her making her sneer in disgust at such bad preliminary planning. Finally she found herself in a part of the room whose floor was relatively uncluttered, but only on purpose to accommodate a group of crates, boxes, and trunks of numerous sizes and types. What transpired to be wooden tea-chests formed a barrier against the right-hand side of the attic; on the floor in front of which lay several trunks, and a couple of large square tin-cases. These, under Sara’s precise examination, did indeed prove to be examples of old solicitors’ deed-boxes. The latter straightaway captured Sara’s attention, remembering the wording of Great-Aunt Marjorie’s letter. The metal trunks lay side by side, each secured by a large padlock on a hasp in front.

There had been, in Lady Marjorie’s letter, no indication of the existence or whereabouts of any key to unlock the appropriate deed-box; so Sara had supplied herself with a long metal bar with a notched end, found in an outhouse outside in the kitchen yard. It held all the hallmarks of being a thief’s crowbar, which had amused Sara immensely—just what she required. Now, she held it firmly in her left hand as she bent over the first of the metal containers.

She carefully placed the torch on a nearby piece of furniture, of dubious parentage and unknown use, where its light shone fully on the necessary spot. Fitting the slightly hooked end of the bar into the curved hinge of the padlock Sara gave a couple of preliminary jerks, then firmly leant backward putting all her pressure on the lock. There was a groan of resisting complaining metal; then a sudden unexpected, and remarkably loud, snap as the lock gave up the ghost and departed to those pastures where old padlocks gain their righteous rewards. Laying the bar aside, Sara jiggled the padlock from the hasp and threw it aside, where it thumped against another box before lying silently on the dirty floor. Undoing the clasp, she took both hands to grip the lid and haul it up. It raised to the vertical, then over to fall back a few inches where it stayed, immobile.

Inside, on Sara shifting to her knees for a closer look, were only a few ledgers—apparently detailing the sizes of the bags made by long-gone shooting parties on the estate in the pheasant seasons of Victorian times. Alongside these were a roughly folded uniform of some ancient British military unit; a scratched leather holster with the butt of a large revolver showing; and a small longish wooden box, only an inch or so thick. It was not locked and, on Sara’s opening it, proved to contain the now dulled medals of some distant ancestor who, apparently, had managed to make something of a name for himself on what must have been several battlefields. Closing the box she replaced it amongst the other debris of a forgotten life, and pulled down the lid of the deed-box—what she was searching for did not lie there.

Next to it sat the second and, as far as Sara could see, the only other metal so-called deed-box in the attic room. Was this the one?—she wasted no time in pondering, but struggled somewhat painfully to her feet, rubbed her sore knees, and once more attacked the padlock with her crowbar. The result was essentially the same as the first time; a loud snap heralded the demise of the lock and, in seconds, Sara was once more on her tender knees in front of the potential treasure chest.

The lid submitted to the same opening as its sister and Sara gazed, with some concern, into its depths. It was, in fact, almost wholly empty; but deep inside, on what seemed to be a folded brown greatcoat, lay something wrapped in a blue silk scarf. Sara’s heart stopped for an instant, then gave a triple-beat that made her gasp. This must be it!

It took seconds only for her to grasp the object and haul it out of the trunk, to be laid gently on her lap. With wild abandon she tore the scarf away and threw it aside revealing—as had been described—a low flat curiously decorated silver box. To her great delight she saw the key sitting, waiting, in the lock. Grinning broadly, at a sudden remembrance of the fear and apprehension shown by former persons in her position, Sara made a derisive noise through compressed lips—and opened the box.

The End.