I couldn't have been older than eight when it happened.
Weekends in summer my parents and I stayed at my maternal grandmother's house in the country. It was a huge century-old Queen Anne farmhouse. The halls were wider than my bedroom at home. The room I stayed in a had a genuine canopy bed in it with curtains and everything. The room seemed bigger than our whole downstairs in town. I loved it.
Daytime I would sometimes play outside under the huge oaks and elms or go to the creek in back and pretend I was fishing.
Mostly, though, I would play in the house, solving mysteries a-la Scooby Doo, or hunting ghosts or vampires.
The attic was my favorite place. It had several oddly shaped rooms formed of the roofs of the various sections of the house. Worn hardwood floors with steps up or down led between them. There were boxes and chests full of treasure (clothes and silverware; boxes of photos and old books and, yes, a bit of jewelry).
I'd spend full days tracking down lost pirate treasure.
I never told anyone, but in the wee hours, I'd sneak back up there to play. I'd pretend to be wakened by a strange sound from up there. Immediately, I'd say to myself, "Ghosts! Better check it out.'
That night, I actually did hear a noise. It wasn't the first time, either. When I'd asked about it before, Grandma said squirrels ran along the roofs and sometimes snuck into the attic. They never stayed, though.
The noise was different, that night. Louder; lower.
Putting on my slippers and tying my house coat over my Buck Rogers PJs, I headed out into the hall.
A permanent set of stairs lead to the attic from a small room in the corner of the upper floor. I could only there by going along a narrow outside walkway from the end of the upstairs hall. This meant sneaking past my grandmother's room and my parents room. But I as good at sneaking.
The door leading to the tiny balcony was smaller than any other door in the house; almost kid-sized. It had no lock, but it did stick. Getting it open quietly was a challenge, but one I'd accepted and won before. Patience, that was the key.
I turned the worn brass knob, being careful not to let it rattle. Leaning against the door, I changed my weight from foot to foot, back and forth, applying pressure on the jam with my shoulder; each time a little more.
The door gave a little, making a small noise.
I stopped and listened.
No sounds of wakefulness from the bedrooms.
I repeated. Again, success and a small noise. Again, no bedroom queries or shuffling of slippered feet.
Twice more and I had the small door open.
I was cool outside, with a bit of wind. I quickly closed the door (not all the way, of course) so the breeze wouldn't get in. That would be a dead giveaway.
The railing consisted of fat, fancy-lathed wooden posts and a rail painted maroon long ago. It was about chest high on me.
I always felt like I was in a horror movie when I was up here at night. That night was especially good for it. Wind made the oak leaves roar. A fat, white moon high up trailed shreds of cloud. I even heard an owl.
I took the dozen steps, heart racing, a tiny smile making my face feel tight.
The other door stuck as well, but it was two walls away from the hall so I just yanked it open. Inside was a disused room, about six by six, with dirty windows and steep ladder-like stairs along an inside wall. Up I went.
A narrow trap door blocked my way. It had no lock and the latch had long ago been bent to uselessness. It was a bit heavy, though. Still, in a moment I was in the darkened attic.
Except it wasn't as dark as it should have been. At first, I thought it was the moon shining through the small, round windows scattered around the roofs. I turned to face the source.
A window just on the left wall near me faced the direction of the moon. It didn't let in enough to let me see my hands. Ahead, on the same side of the building, a soft white light was shining. Almost, it seemed like that end of the attic was foggy.
I admit it; fear grabbed me. Somewhere inside me, though, exhilaration howled. I can admit now, that I've always wanted contact with something extraordinary. That night I got it.
I advanced toward the light. My mouth tasted of the old pennies I sometimes licked (I was a weird kid, okay?). I felt a pressure in my gut, like I would soon have to poop. Moving silently, I was sure I'd have heard the smallest sound. None was made.