But I thought my mishearing of "stair cases" would still make a great title for a YA horror series, a la R.L. Stine. Here, the sample chapter:
© Paul Kupperberg
As the footsteps came nearer, Hannah Weaver slowly, silently drew in a deep breath and held it. She knew she was well hidden, behind the dusty old maroon velvet drapes hung over the attic window, shielded by piles of boxes, trunks, and a century’s worth of accumulated possessions. All she had to do was stand absolutely still, totally quiet, and she would be okay.
No one would find her. Not this time.
She heard boxes being moved on the other side of the attic, followed by voices in low whispers directing the search.
Behind Hannah, a heavy rain beat against the glass of the floor to ceiling attic window. Though it was mid-morning, the sky outside was as dark as dusk with heavy storm clouds that flashed occasional bursts of lightning and blasts of thunder. The wind slapped thick, heavy rain drops against the window and the roof, but didn’t cover the sound of her pursuers’ footsteps on the attic’s wide, creaking floorboards.
They were getting closer!
Hannah squeezed shut her eyes. Don’t move!, she thought frantically, willing herself to stay rock steady. She would be fine, as long as she stayed calm...
...And didn’t sneeze.
But without warning or build up, that’s exactly what she did, as if the dust from her grandmother’s discarded velvet drapes had jumped up her nose. She let out an explosive sneeze. Which was followed by the sound of explosive laughter from the other side of the drapes.
“Not funny,” fourteen year old Hannah Weaver called out, sniffling.
“Hey, I’m the one with a sense of humor,” responded her brother, Max, in between laughs. “That was funny.”
“Funny,” said Deena Drake, laughing and nodding in agreement.
“Funny,” agreed her giggling twin sister, Dana Drake.
“I must concur,” said Knox Dorfman with a smile that was as close as the thirteen year old ever came to laughter.
Hannah whipped aside the drape, releasing a cloud of dust to swirl around her head. “I think I’ve just decided we’re too old to play hide-and-seek,” she sniffled with as much dignity as possible. Which was precisely none when the newly released dust started tickling her nose and set her off on a fresh fit of sneezing.
“By the way, bless you,” said Max. “And what else are we going to do on a day like today?” The brown haired, blue eyed thirteen year old flopped down in a rattan rocking chair with just enough seat left to hold him. Like everything in the dim and dusty attic, the rocker had been discarded by some previous generation of Weavers, stretching back over a hundred years to Hannah and Max’s great-great-grandfather, Josiah Weaver, who had built the roomy old Victorian house in the upstate New York town of Old Witchaven. Weavers had lived in the house at 1326 Smathers Lane ever since, parents passing it on to their children across three centuries and five generations.
Hannah searched the pockets of her jeans for a tissue. “You never would’ve found me if I hadn’t sneezed,” she said.
The tall, thin, blonde, freckled face Deena rolled her eyes. “Oh, I’m so sure.”
“As if you haven’t been hiding in the same place since we were, like, six,” said Dana, finishing her twin’s sentence.
“No I don’t,” Hannah insisted, but Deena and Dana were right. Only this time, she had picked her same old hiding place because she was sure they would never think she would be lame enough to pick it again. Hannah and Max and their friends had grown up playing in and around this house, spending much of their time up here in the attic. It was, even after all these years, a fascinating place to explore, piled high with trunks and boxes holding every sort of treasure and junk from days gone by. Clothing from the 1880s could be found folded neatly in ancient steamer trunks bearing stickers from long defunct steamship lines and railroads, stacked next to cartons holding her father’s record collection from college, or the mildewing old comic books read by her grandfather when he had been a boy, or board games and children’s toys, from dented and chipped tin wind-up toys to plastic fast food restaurant premiums, that spanned the century.
A cluster of dressmaker’s dummies stood gathered in a corner, next to an old manually powered sewing machine and across from a collection of bicycles that looked as though they belonged in a museum. Old furniture, some plush and overstuffed, some wicker, others plain, unadorned wood or of varying styles that Hannah had glimpsed in old movies on television, was piled here and there, sometimes covered by sheets and old blankets, sometimes by nothing more than several decades of dust and cobwebs. A history of home electronics—from stately, hand-cranked Victrolas that looked like fancy furniture to early, bulky cabinet-style radios and televisions, through such “modern” devices as portable hi-fis and 8-track cassette players—could be assembled from the wide variety of models discarded here.
Bats and balls and fishing rods, golf clubs and croquet sets and rotting sleds and other sporting equipment—some for games none of them could figure out—was scattered everywhere. Dusty old paintings, portraits of severe looking men and delicate looking women, mingled with more modern abstract creations and framed family portraits of relatives long forgotten were stacked together against the walls. Three dried out and cracked leather saddles creaked from hooks driven into the roof beam, along with empty bird cages and flower hangers, watering cans, and old-time hand tools.
A ratty, moth-eaten moose head hung at an angle from a rusty nail. A collection of stuffed critters—raccoons and squirrels and annoyed looking owls and a single, sorry looking jack rabbit—that had belonged to a great-uncle and that always gave Hannah the creeps, was displayed in an old breakfront. Books were everywhere, turn of the century school books and modern-day bestsellers alike, shoved haphazardly in bookcases or in neatly tied bundles on the floor or atop furniture. There was something everywhere in the enormous attic, and always something else piled on top of it.
And there wasn’t an inch that Hannah, her brother and their friends hadn’t explored in their lifetime of rainy afternoons and snow days. The attic was a kid’s paradise, a combination playground and treasure trove of dress-up costumes, mysterious artifacts and entertainment. A dusty, decaying history of the Weavers in Old Witchaven that continued to be a safe, warm, comfortable refuge for the fifth generation of Weavers to occupy the great old house.
Max rocked slowly back and forth and yawned. “Well, there’s nothing as exciting as a rainy Sunday afternoon in Old Witchaven, is there?”
“Very little,” agreed Knox. “Although I’m told watching grass grow can also be quite stimulating.”
Hannah finished blowing her nose. “So, let’s do something. Anybody want to watch a video or something?”
“You get some new videos?” Dana asked.
Hannah shook her head.
“Then we’ve seen everything you’ve got, like, twice,” Deena sighed.
“Watch TV? Play a game? Listen to music?” Hannah suggested.
“Hit ourselves on the head with sticks?” Hannah said in exasperation, dropping to sit on the floor with her back against a warped oak wardrobe.
“Now there’s an idea,” Max said. “At least being unconscious would make the time pass faster.”
Max Weaver poked his toe under the latch of the oversized leather trunk he had been using as a footrest and it popped open.
“So you think of something,” Hannah huffed.
Max eased open the trunk with his sneaker. “I’m thinking,” he muttered.
“That would explain your look of pain,” Knox said. He glanced over at the trunk Max was fiddling with. “Find something?” he asked.
Max tilted his head, trying to get a better look at the contents of the trunk without having to move. “Doubt it,” he said. “Think this is all great-great-grandpa Josiah’s stuff. He had some cool vests in here, but.…” Max stopped suddenly. He narrowed his eyes and sat up, quickly yanking the trunk lid all the way open.
“What is it?” Hannah asked.
“Don’t know,” Max said slowly. “Looks like a book of some kind.”
“That’s funny,” Hannah said, as she stood up to join Max by the trunk. “I don’t remember any books in there.”
“Well, there’s one here now,” Max said. And there was, laying atop the collection of century old clothing. It was large, easily twice the size of regular novel, covered in a rich, soft looking textured black leather, its spine finished in a thick, blood-red leather decorated with strange, abstract symbols engraved into the material and gilded in gold. It looked like no book they had ever seen and, despite the fact that it had been packed away with one hundred year old clothing, it looked brand new.
Knox peered over Max’s shoulder at the book. “It’s beautiful,” the skinny thirteen year old breathed as he stared at the volume through his thick glasses.
“Where’d it, like, come from?” Deena wondered out loud.
Hannah shook her head. “Beats me. I’ve never seen it before, have you, Max?”
“Nuh-uh,” he said. “I’d remember this.”
“Why?” Dana asked. “I mean, it’s just one of, like, a million books up here.”
“No it’s not,” Knox said. “This one’s...different.”
Dana made a clucking sound. “You are all so brain damaged,” she said in exasperation. She reached past her sister and friends and took hold of the book, lifting it from the trunk. “It is so just a book! I...,” the twin started to say, but then gasped and let it fall from her fingers to back atop great-grandpa Josiah’s clothes.
“What?” Dana demanded.
“I don’t know,” Deena said and shuddered, rubbing the hand that had touched the black book back and forth over her jeans as if trying to wipe away something disgusting. “It’s all cold and clammy.”
Hannah reached out a hesitant finger. She wasn’t usually freaked out by the things that bothered her girl friends. She wasn’t afraid of bugs or spiders and, while they weren’t her favorite things, she had never been grossed out by frogs and snakes either. She was the one who could always be counted on to climb the highest tree to free a trapped kite, or crawl into the darkest, mustiest smelling crawl space to retrieve a lost ball. As far as those things went, Hannah Weaver did not scare easily.
So why did this old book make her so uneasy?
Trying to ignore her fear, Hannah touched her finger to the leather cover. Deena was right. It felt cold and...something. It wasn’t wet, but it wasn’t dry, either. It felt almost...
“No,” Hannah said quickly and jerked her hand away. She swung the lid of the trunk closed with a loud thud that made the others jump.
“What?” Max asked. He wasn’t used to seeing his sister rattled.
“Nothing,” Hannah said, her voice tight. “Nothing. I’m bored, that’s all. Come one, let’s do something, okay?”
“Sure,” Max said and the others agreed with him.
“Downstairs!” Hannah added.
“Yeah,” said Deena. She glanced nervously at the trunk and shuddered again.
“Whatever,” Dana said, acting as though nothing was wrong, but hurrying to the stairs that lead down from the attic, followed by Deena and Knox. Hannah and Max were right behind them.
“What the heck was that all about?” Max whispered to his sister as they started down the stairs.
“I told you. Nothing,” she said. She slapped at the light switch on the stairway wall and behind them, the attic went dark. She didn’t know how to tell her brother that the book hadn’t felt like dried out old leather.
It had felt like a living thing!
But that was ridiculous. It was just a book. A creepy, nasty old book, but just a book. She wanted to forget she had even had the thought.
But for the rest of the day, every time the house shook under a peal of thunder, Hannah remembered how the book had made her feel.
And in the attic, in the shadows under the eaves, behind an old rattan trunk full of great-aunt Betsy’s clothes, the darkness chuckled.