“It’s just the house settling,” the man says, barely looking up as the woman glances toward the creaking coming from the ceiling.
“It’s a new building, how much settling does it need to do?”
He doesn’t respond, engrossed in what he’s working on. With one last glance at the now quiet ceiling, she rolls over, pulls the covers up to her neck and closes her eyes.
“That’s definitely something scratching,” the woman says the next night, pulling back the covers of the bed.
“But there’s nothing up there,” argues the man, “No attic space.”
“There doesn’t need to be a lot of room for something to burrow in.”
The man shrugs and rolls over, “I think it’s just the house settling.”
The next night, books held aloft, the quiet falling around them, their eyes dart up at the sudden scratching. They look at each other. The woman raises her eyebrows and they both wait in silence, listening. The scratching takes on a more fully-formed sound and moves from one side of the house to the other.
“It’s running around up there,” she whispers.
“I don’t know, a raccoon or something? I’ve had squirrels get into attic spaces in old farmhouses before.”
It scratches again before once again scurrying across the floor and their eyes follow its progress.
“I think you’re probably right,” he says.
“I know I am.”
“Guess we better call someone?”
“I’ll call tomorrow.”
The next night he sighs as he pulls the covers back, the woman already dozing off, her book resting on her chest.
“You’re sleeping,” he says.
“No, I’m not.” She lifts the book and sets it next to the bed, reaching for the light.
Then, it comes again.
“Our friend is back,” he says, pausing by the edge of the bed and looking up. She nods sleepily, trying to ignore the scratches and not lose the sleep she’s already found.
“I called and left a message today,” she mumbles. Then her head shoots off the pillow and her eyes throw the last of sleep from them as the scurrying creature attempts to make itself known.
“What was that?” he asks.
She shakes her head. She doesn’t know. The large bang was different than the sounds they were used to.
She jumps again as the thumps move along above them.
“Well, yea…” he’s looking to the ceiling too, “but, all critters walk.”
“No, critters scurry. This doesn’t sound like scurrying.”
“Well, it’s not like it grew overnight.” He crawls into bed and kisses her cheek. “We’ll just follow up with them tomorrow and get someone out here to get rid of it.”
“I left a message and filed a work report. They’re new buildings, they’ve probably never had this happen before.”
“It’s going to tear up any insulation that’s up there.”
“Well, it’s up to them to get it taken care of. But maybe you shouldn’t put a hole in the ceiling while we wait.”
He’s standing at the end of the bed holding a broom, watching the ceiling with interest.
“Maybe we’ll scare it off. These animals are always more scared of us than we are of them.” He bangs the end of the broom against the ceiling, twice.
She feels her heartbeat in her throat as she stifles a gasp. From above, a response. Two identical bangs seem to shake the foundation around them.
Neither of them says anything as they wait, almost pray, for the scratching and scurrying of the nights before. It doesn’t come. Instead, there is a moan from the wood above them, the house like the man originally thought, but its protesting under a heavy load, something that seems to be shifting its weight from a settled position to…standing?
“Put the broom away,” she whispers. “Come to bed.”
He does. For some reason, he doesn’t want to be standing out in the open but would rather be protected by the covers, somewhere warm…he’s suddenly very cold.
He moves slowly and quietly though he doesn’t know why and once he’s in bed, he puts his arm around the woman’s shoulder. She has goosebumps. She shifts closer to him, both watching the ceiling.
Then, he whispers, “It’s moving.”
But he’s right. No longer the quick, scratching movements of a small creature, these movements are deliberate, methodical…
His arm tightens around her shoulder as the noises, (they’re footsteps, there’s no denying that now) move from directly above them, to their left, toward their closet.
“Isn’t there a crawl space door over there?” she asks, her whisper almost choked.
“It’s fine, it can’t open it.”
She nods. “I’ll go to the office tomorrow. I’ll make them come take a look.”
He nods and they lean back in bed together, their eyes never falling from the space above them.
“Not sure what happened,” he says as he unlocks the door for the carpet guy.
“They’d only just moved in. But they just up and left one day, left all their stuff, too.”
The second man lifts an eyebrow and the landlord shakes his head. “Police ruled no foul play, buddy. No signs of forced entry, no struggle, no blood, nothing. Just gone.” He shrugs. “It happens, I guess.” He looks down at his hand, still resting on the door handle. “It’s a little strange that all the doors were still locked from the inside, though…” he doesn’t notice the man’s eyes widen behind him and he again shrugs off any prickliness. “Come on, let’s get started in the bedroom.”
As the carpet cleaner plugs in his machine and the property manager inspects the area for any damage, a noise from above draws the gaze of both men. It’s just scratching, a little bit of a scurry, but it’s enough to make the manager swear under his breath.
The carpet cleaner shakes his head, “Sounds like you’ve got a pest problem.”