“Lizzy, come and check this out,” Jake shouted and his voice echoed from the attic.
“Be right there, I just need to pack the rest of the food,” replied Lizzy from the kitchen. “Did you find something interesting?”
“You bet!” he replied with an excited voice. “A wooden chest full of old family albums, you need to see this.”
Jake pulled out the photo book that was on the top, with a gentle blow removed the thin layer of the dust, revealing the caption ‘Summer, 95’. He carefully opened it, taking a peek at the first page.
It was a colorful picture of a family in the middle of a forest. Tall, sharp mountains dominate in the background, with their peaks covered by snow. In front was a family, standing on a rocky path, while tall, pine forest was hiding behind them. The man in a trekking outfit was holding a child dressed in a pink onesie in his arms. A smiling, brown-haired woman positioned next to him had her arms resting on the shoulders of two young boys, which were standing in front of her. They looked carefree and their faces shined with excitement and happiness.
He listed the album, browsing through dozens of old photos. Captures of untouched nature and gorgeous mountains, sharing simple meals and hot drinks in alpine huts, or dark pictures of a small bonfire surrounded by tents, obviously taken in the middle of the night.
“I’m coming,” said Lizzy casually on her way up the stairs towards the upper floor. “Where are you?”
“In the attic, turn to the left and you’ll see a folding ladder leading up,” replied Jake. “Pull the ladder up, just to be sure.”
She came to the upper floor, brazed the dusty railing with her hands, and peeked into the rooms before she came to the entrance leading under the roof. She sighed at the sight of the old, termite-gnawed ladder and carefully climbed up.
The attic was dusty, smelled of mold and the only source of light was a small, round window on the frontage of the house. With a few scoffs, she pulled up the ladder and secured it so it wouldn't accidentally open.
“Check this out,” said Jake, sitting next to a wooden chest, after she came closer and hugged him from behind. “Look at their faces. So happy with their lives. Not thinking about the future, only living for the moment. Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Yeah… beautiful…” she said as she put down her heavy, fully loaded backpack and sat next to him. She leaned towards the soiled window and gazed out. “What year is it?”
“This one?” asked Jake and waved a thin, A5-sized plastic book without hardcovers in front of her face. He didn’t try to hide his disappointment. “The Year 2001. In the ‘90s, the albums started with a lot of big, heavy photobooks, full of even the most unimportant events or random daily life situations. And it slowly turned into this. Only a few, usually ‘important’ events.”
“Well, the ‘00s was the entrance of mobile phones, so what do you expect?” she shrugged and looked around. “Did you find something interesting up here?”
He looked at her while holding the plastic album and pointed with one hand towards the chest.
“I mean, something useful. Not a pile of faded pictures in a rotten chest.”
“Not yet, I will get to it, eventually.”
“Of course you will,” she retorted with a sarcastic tone, stood up and came to several boxes, piled up one on another.
She opened the first one and found only a pile of old fashion magazines. After casually listing through the first three of them, she put the box to the side and opened the second one. It was full of old toys. Barbie dolls, Hot-wheel cars, different Lego sets, all mixed. She dug through with her hands, confirming that there is nothing hidden under the toys.
“This is a waste of time,” she noted after she opened another box and found more toys. “We should go, Jake. The sun will set soon.”
“We still have a lot of time. Let me for at least a while enjoy these long-forgotten moments.”
“Fine. You have 30 minutes. I will try to find something useful here,” she said with a pinch of disappointment and left towards the other side of the attic.
Jake continued to browse through the photo books, not paying attention to Lizzy or his surroundings. The further the years went by since 2001, the fewer albums there were. It took him less time to get through all the albums from the following ten years than it took him to see one year in the ‘90s. Finally, at the bottom of the chest, rested the last with the title ‘Collection, 2021-2026’. He pulled it out, gazing onto the numbers.
“That year....” he mumbled. “Everything changed.”
“To utter shit,” whispered Liz suddenly into his ear.
Jake almost pissed himself and angrily shouted: “Are you fucking crazy?!”
“Stop shouting, you scaredy-cat,” she giggled for a few seconds. “Also, I got some new clothes for us.”
She looked out of the soiled round window, her laughter stopped, voice switched and she sounded deadly serious, borderline scared. “Please, take what you want and let’s go, the sun is already setting!”
“Fine, I will take one and-”
He didn’t finish the sentence when something in his backpack beeped once. They both immediately stiffened, looked onto each other with a horrified expression on their pale white faces, and remained silent. Motionless, they patiently waited. Seconds went by, without the beep occurring again.
After a minute, Jake relieved exhaled. “Probably just an error.”
“And if not?” Lizzy asked anxiously. “What then?”
He didn’t reply to her questions, because not only was it a rhetorical question, but they both knew the answer. As silently as possible, he handed her his light backpack and donned her fully loaded heavy one. Slowly, watching where they step, they together came to the ladder. He looked at her and she nodded.
He opened the latch and carefully lowered the folding ladder. It didn’t go as quietly as he expected. It creaked loudly and touched the ground with a muffled bang. Jake kneeled down and before stepping on the ladder, he looked around the upper floor.
The wind wheezed through the cracked windows and the setting sun made the dancing curtains cast sinister shadows on the peeling wallpapers and uneven parquet floors. He noticed no other movements or suspicious shadow, nor heard any abnormal sounds. He looked at Lizzy, showed her a thumbs up and, stepped on the ladder.
They both successfully managed to get down from the attic, down the stairs from the upper to the ground floor and, to the backdoor from the kitchen to the garden, when the beeping sound appeared from the backpack again.
They froze in place, with shivers and cold sweat running down their spines.
When the beeping occurred again after another fifteen seconds, their faces reflected the feelings of incoming horror.
“Quickly!” whispered Jake, grabbed Lizzy by the hand, turned around, and quickly returned to the folding ladder on the upper floor.
She climbed back to the attic first, while he urged her and impatiently pushed her butt. He handed her both bags and crept after her. The signal occurrence was increasing and now it was beeping every five seconds.
“Cover the window, while I barricade the ladder hatch,” ordered her Jake, who was stressed and breathing fast.
“I know!” snappily retorted Lizzy, while piling up the boxes in front of the small round window. “It’s your fault, I told you that we should go.”
“We can talk about that later,” he huffed while dragging a huge chest over the hatch.
She grabbed an old blanket and attached it to the boxes, between them and the window, essentially barring any light from entering the roof space. She pulled out a flashlight, put it on a nearby table so they could see at least a bit, while Jake continued to fill the chest with books and other heavy items he could find. The beeping intensified.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Hastily, Lizzy covered the floor clothes, trying to create as thick a layer as possible, while he added some more weight onto the attic entrance. Still unsatisfied with the result, she took the flashlight, sat down, and tapped him on the back.
Jake turned, with utter fear in his eyes and crawled to her side. He pulled out a small device from his backpack. They both lied down, he grabbed her hand and squeezed it tightly. Before she turned off the light, they turned towards each other and looked deep into each other’s eyes, as if it was the last thing they will see.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
In less than a minute, the beeping changed to a long, continuous beeping sound. Jake pressed a button on the device to turn it off and whispered: “They are here.”