“I promise I won’t be bad, daddy. Please don’t leave me up here. I’ll be Good Charlotte again.”
William would clutch a hand over his heart as she pleaded with him. She would always promise to be a good girl if he would only let her out of the attic. She hated being locked up in there. She was afraid of it. She remembered what had happened to her up there. Being there only reminded her. And when she remembered it, Bad Charlotte would come back.
The madness was upon her again, but locking her in the dark and dusty attic where things lurked within the shadows did nothing to ease her malady.
“It’s for your own good, Charlotte, dear.”
She would hear her father’s whispers through the keyhole, his words quivering into the dust in the air around her.
He would almost throw himself down the narrow, creaking staircase in his haste to get away from Charlotte’s pleading. The sounds she made, her bitter sobs, broke his heart into pieces.
He hated himself for doing it to her but he didn’t know what else to do. His wife had no love for her, nor any patience for her affliction. For Charlotte, it was better that he lock her away in the attic and endure her faint cries than to listen to the scorn her own mother poured on her each time.
He cried, silently, his back turned to his wife. He knew what she would say if she caught him weeping for Charlotte. She would call his manhood into question, ask him what sort of a man he was. She would tell him he was useless and pathetic and of no use to her. He didn’t wish to feel the sharp edge of her tongue again either. He’d felt the lash of it too many times before.
Charlotte pulled her dress down over her knees and hugged them; she rocked herself back and forth and hummed some half-remembered song from her early childhood, punctuated the tune with the few words she remembered.
She stared, unblinking, into the dark corners of the attic, keeping vigil over every inch for movement in the shadows until her eyes watered from the glittering dust in the air.
She had to stay awake up there. That was the reason for the rocking back and forth and singing to herself – these things helped her to fend off sleep, helped keep away those dark shapes that had taken her, hurt her, once before. And she tried not to look up into the rafters; if she did, she would feel again the ropes that had bound her hand and foot and made her look like Jesus. She shuddered as she remembered it, remembered how they had hurt her, told her she was bad, evil, told her there were demons inside her that they must cast out or else she would burn in hell.
Charlotte rose, then lay face down on the floor amongst the thick dust and desiccated carcasses of spiders and flies and the dried out cocoons of insects that were never born.
“Don’t cry, daddy.”
Charlotte whispered through the floorboards into her mother and father’s room below her. She had no fear of waking her mother – she slept soundly and Charlotte would often wish that she would fail to wake up some day. Things would be so much better if it were just her and her father.
She could see him clearly, lying there in his cold bed, weeping for her. The moonlight filtering through the slightly-open curtains made the tears on his cheeks glisten like liquid silver as they slid down his face.
The fact that she worried about him only served to make him feel more guilty; his guilt made his tears flow more freely and darkened the heat of shame on his cheeks.
But when Good Charlotte, was at her best, he knew that Bad Charlotte was not far behind her.
A chill ran up and down the length of his spine as he heard Charlotte begin cackling in the attic.
Please don’t say it. Please don’t say it again.
“Daddy! Why don’t you come up here and fuck me, you old cunt?”
Charlotte’s voice was cold and hard, and her words made his guts twist and turn inside him. The very thought of what she said every time made him feel ill.
William couldn’t bear to hear her talk that way, hear her say those foul, nauseating words. Each time she said them was like a fist in his belly. The words never lost their impact and each time she uttered them was just as horrifying as the first. And what made it worse was the fact that he instinctively visualized those words. The vision in his head made him want to die, made him want to pluck his own eyes out and grind them into the dust on the attic floor.
He thought back to Charlotte’s first outburst. He had been watching her play by the fire with a new doll, her blonde curls dancing around her cherubic face. Suddenly, she stopped chattering to the doll and the expression on her face changed.
The smile that spread across her tiny mouth was not a little girl smile.
“Fuck you, you old cocksucker,” Charlotte said to her father.
William almost fell out of his chair. His face paled at the dirt which had come from her mouth. He had no idea where she could have learned such words.
William did not mention this first episode to his wife. Instead, he chose to try to forget it, made himself believe that Charlotte was just repeating something she had overheard somewhere.
He lived in constant dread of hearing Charlotte saying anything of the like ever again. And he lived in greater fear of her ever uttering such words in front of her mother.
William knew exactly how Ruth would react, knew what she would think. She despised her own child and Charlotte was a burden to her, a cross to bear. To Ruth, Charlotte was nothing more than a punishment for her and her husband’s Original Sin. Ruth would chastise the child, punish her for the slightest misdeed any time an opportunity arose.
And he also knew that Ruth would interpret Charlotte’s affliction as the child being possessed of the Devil. She would say that Charlotte was an evil child, that she had demons and devils running through her veins. She would say their daughter was a profane, blasphemous creature.
And he was right – Ruth said all of those things, all of those things about her own flesh and blood, said all of those things about the child she gave birth to, when she learned of Charlotte’s affliction.
William lay in the fading darkness, willing the sun to rise so he could get out of bed and away from the loathsome form of his wife and leave only his thoughts there beside her.
When he lay awake like that, alone in his lucidity, listening to his wife snore and mumble in her sleep, and to Charlotte whispering obscenities to him through the floorboards in the attic, a certain day would always, without fail, come back to haunt him.
The curtains were drawn and William knew instinctively that something wasn’t right. The curtains were never drawn at that time of day. Even in the dead of winter when the days were short and the premature darkness invaded their home, Ruth would tell him that it was not proper to have the curtains closed at such an hour.
But that day, they were closed and the hair on the back of William’s neck stood on end as he watched his silent house from the street. He dreaded stepping over the threshold.
Charlotte’s muffled screams brought him back to his senses immediately, broke him free from the speculations that had stopped him in his tracks.