I knocked on the ceiling twice.
Whatever was there knocked back twice.
Like a ghost would.
We both looked at each other as dust fell from behind a light fixture.
“I’m sure that’s just a coincidence. It’s probably just a bird or something...” I lie to myself as much as to her sometimes.
We’ve been renting this house for over 2 years now without sign of a pest bigger than large(-ish) spiders and some really annoying wood pigeons; definitely no ghosts but I still couldn’t confidently say that if I went up to the attic I wouldn’t look over at the area above our bed for a burnt photo of one of us as a child.
I didn't want to alarm Michelle with ghost talk though, so I tried to steer conversation towards something more manageable being in the attic, like a bird or a mouse. These I could handle - or pay someone else to handle.
Our lease says we can’t keep any pets but if ever there was a time for us to get a cat this was definitely it. I floated the idea of a smaller pet, something contained like a tarantula, past my girlfriend, she floated the idea that she'd leave immediately if she ever thought I'd get one.
“But it’s an alpha spider!" I tried to convince her, "It’ll make short work of other lesser spiders AND any small animals in the attic; plus it’s too big to hide behind one of the mirrors so it'll never creep up on us!”
She left the room.
Left alone I made a short-list of things that could be in the attic:
1. The immersion heater has become self-aware and is figuring out how it feels about things, while being powerless to do anything about them it can still make a lot of noise.
Oh, sentient immersion heater, you are now the most relatable object in the house.
2. Mice are moving in.
3. A bird has somehow gotten in and is doing a Kevin-Bacon-in-Footloose-type 'angry dance'.
'He's working through some stuff. Just leave him be.'
4. Bats are roosting there during the day.
[Fact: It's illegal to move bats from their roosts, but why would you even want to? Bats are a pretty sweet house guests to have: They keep to themselves, they eat bugs, and they have sensitive hearing so they'll never have their TVs on too loud.]
'Sit further back from the screen, bat. You'll go blind.'
5. A ghost child is hiding up there, shy and silent and still and unseen.
I was quickly asked to please stop mentioning the ghost thing, in spite of the fact that we needed to keep all of our options open: "We can sit around all day and say that it's not ghosts or we can get an exorcist in to make sure."
"You don't think 'looking up there' would be a lot more cost and time effective than hiring an exorcist?" she said without either of us so much as even looking up the cost and availability of an exorcist.
The door to the attic is in the middle of the ceiling at the top of the stairs; we've no ladder to access it so in the two+ years we've been in the house we've never actually bothered to try get up there. Actually looking up there required more effort than making peace with whatever was up there and hoping that it didn't eventually spread out to take over the house, so I guess I had to find some way up there.
"I could try stand on a chair and hold my phone up through the door and record it? Then we'll watch it after."
"So, we basically start our own 'found footage' movie? That's your solution to finding out what the mystery noise is in our attic?"
"Look, it could be anything up there -"
"That's not as reassuring as you think..."
"Let me finish: AND it's the only way to get peace of mind that there's not a poorly dressed skeleton clutching a diary."
She stared at me blankly. By this stage my girlfriend had asked me to stop mentioning 'ghosts' so much that the words had started to lose all meaning, still as a gesture I agreed to replace them on my list.
(List Revision #1)
5. [Amended] One really big spider.
[Not pictured - Apparently showing a close-up picture of small spider OR an actual size picture of a large spider is 'worse than the ghost thing'.]
Instead, enjoy the spider stand-in: ArachNed
"Look, worst case scenario it's just any one of those things up there. Best case scenario: it's all of them."
She stared at me in abject horror.
It's simple, a large spider (large enough to make the noise we heard) could probably take care of any mice up there, while a bat would definitely eat any spiders. And depending on the type of bird it was probably just a random visitor, so will probably just wander off.
Yes, in this scenario the bat survives and stays, but we were actually ok with that. To be honest we were even planning names for it - including Bruce or Die Fledermaus! - so I was willing this situation into existence with all of my might.
Eventually we were able to borrow a stepladder and I managed to get my head in just enough to have a good scan around the attic but I saw nothing. No bats, no droppings, no signs of scratching or nesting, not even a breeze that felt like a whisper softly telling me to 'get out'.
We agreed to give it some more time, and waited. In the meantime I put mousetraps just inside the attic door, so I could easily check them without having to go in to the attic.
While in the DIY shop I also grabbed a rat trap just in case...
(List Revision #2)
6. It's a rat.
Days went by and the sound didn't return.
I was pretty sure that whatever we heard was probably a bird (more likely than a ghost I guess) that somehow got in and eventually got out. If it did come back I told myself I'd be ready.
I hoped I'd never have to test if that was true.
"Did you ever hear that story about the housekeeper in an old house who found boot-prints in the snow going towards the house and up up to a window, and the family was all, like, it was probably just a hobo who wandered away? But she was sure she didn't see tracks leading away. Then they started hearing weird creaks and thuds in the attic during the day, but the family kept saying stuff like 'you must be imagining that' or 'that's the house settling', but the housekeeper got scared and quit? Then a week later the whole family was found murdered? Anyway, dunno why that popped in to my head..."