Joseph lived alone in a large house that he inherited from his Abuela and Abuelo. He had no roommates nor partner, and often found himself forgetting basic things like eating, cleaning, and leaving the house.
Joseph, stomach growling, got out of his desk chair with a groan. How long had he been sitting there? It couldn’t have been more than six hours. He looked at the clock on his computer and realized it had been almost ten. Getting up, he headed to the kitchen.
Joseph looked like a mess. His hair stood up as if he had been electrocuted, and he wore pajamas that had a large chocolate stain on one leg. When at work, he wore a suit and actually combed his hair. On his solitary days, he barely even registered his own appearance. Joseph wasn’t one to dress up for his own benefit.
An old feeling returned as Joseph entered the kitchen. It wasn’t quite a headache, and wasn’t quite dizziness. It was as if he had tears behind his eyes that couldn’t be shed. It always happened suddenly, and only when he was at home.
Pushing the feeling away, Joseph opened the fridge. There wasn’t much in it, but there was just enough food to make a recipe Abuela had taught him. She had learned it as a child and made sure to pass it on to him. She always said food was an important part of heritage.
“You can taste your history!” she would say, stirring a big pot full of the best food Joseph had ever eaten. He could still taste it, ten years later. Every time he made one of her recipes, he remembered her. Living in his abuelos’ home meant they were rarely far from his thoughts… unlike his parents, whose memory he kept in the back of his mind. Thinking about what little he knew of them was like putting his hands on a hot stove.
It was decided, then: he would make Sudado de Pollo. Joseph just hoped he had a pressure cooker. He knew that he had to have one. Joseph began looking around his disorganized kitchen. After a couple of minutes, he found an old pressure cooker sitting, hidden, at the top of a cabinet. Abuela had given it to him before she died. Joseph was ashamed to have forgotten about it.
It was old, dented metal. Larger than most pots in his cabinets, but relatively light for its size. It had a layer of dust that told him that he had forgotten it for longer than he wanted to believe.
Joseph began to take it down, but thought he saw movement in the shadows behind the pressure cooker. He hoped that he didn’t have mice. “Shoo!” he said absentmindedly. Something definitely moved, that time. Eyes peered out at him from the dark that were too large for a mouse.
He looked closer. There was something there. It was dark, like soot, or the shadows it clung to. Its eyes were bright silver. It stood on two legs and held out its long arms towards him, making chirping noises. No, it wasn’t reaching for him, but the pressure cooker. Joseph hid the heirloom behind himself protectively. Not knowing what else to do, he closed the cabinet door.
“What was that?” Joseph wasn’t sure who he was asking. There was no one there to hear him but the creature.
He began to pace, not knowing what else to do. Joseph realized that he was still holding the pressure cooker and put it down on the counter. A growing feeling of dread told him that he had to open the cabinet again. He steeled himself, and then threw the door open.
It still sat there, its arms reaching towards the pressure cooker’s new location. It had claws that brought to mind those of a velociraptor. They were large, curved, and seemed made for killing prey.
Joseph was filled with the need to run. He whipped around to make off with the pressure cooker, only to find an identical creature clutching it tightly. The soot-coloured creature attempted to pick up the heirloom and make off with it. The cooker was too heavy, and the creature stumbled under its weight. Joseph grabbed the pressure cooker and the two fought over it for a moment, before he wrenched it away. Joseph barked out a laugh as he ran from the kitchen.
He ran towards the front door, but he saw movement by his feet. He reluctantly looked down, seeing another one of the creatures there, blocking the way. Joseph used his momentum to go towards the staircase, running upstairs. He had no idea where he was going from there. Perhaps he could go to his bedroom, where he had a rope ladder in case of fires? He could use it to climb out of the house, but that would be difficult with the cooker in hand.
With no better plan, Joseph ran into his bedroom anyway. He put the pressure cooker down while he pulled his rope ladder out of a chest he kept at the foot of his bed. The chest had been there since the bedroom had belonged to his abuelos, and was full of emergency supplies. He had wanted to empty it and fill it with something more useful, like snacks, but hadn’t gotten around to it. Joseph was now thankful for his own laziness.
He ran to the window, ladder in hand. It was a good thing that the ladder had easy-to-attach hooks: Joseph would have been too frazzled to remember how to tie complex knots. He finished and turned to grab his precious cargo, only to realize that it was gone. With growing anger he ran back into the hall. Joseph saw one of the creatures retreating towards the attic. The house had been built with a sturdy, but rarely ascended, staircase. Abuelo, who had been a movie buff, hated it.
“Haven’t you ever seen a horror movie? What kind of self-respecting attic is at the top of stairs? We should have gotten a trapdoor with a wooden ladder, like God intended.”
“Shouldn’t we try to do the exact opposite of the people in a horror movie?” Abuela said. “They always die so quickly.”
Abuelo waved this away with a wrinkled hand. “We should still live in a traditional house.”
“Traditional houses don’t have a TV as large as ours.”
“Fine, then, we live traditionally within reason.”
“A staircase is reasonable.”
This argument would last for several minutes. It would occur frequently, usually after Abuelo had to go up there. Joseph was afraid of the attic and Abuela had bad knees, so it was usually up to Abuelo to get out the Christmas tree, photo albums, or whatever else was hidden inside of it.
As Joseph ran up the stairs, he realized that he hadn’t been in the attic for some time. His last visit had been mercifully brief. Even as an adult, Joseph was still afraid of that dusty graveyard of memories. In some ways, one never really outgrew their childhood fears.
He reached the top step and was shrouded in darkness. He remembered that there was a light bulb hanging from the ceiling in the center of the room. The only other light was that of the moon coming in through the window. The shadows cast by the light made it look like the room was filled with more of those creatures. How many had he seen so far? Three? That was surely all of them.
He found the cord, pulling it sharply. The light bulb flashed once, and then shone at full power. Joseph smiled, glad that something had gone right. As soon as he saw what the light revealed, his smile vanished.
His eyes hadn’t been playing tricks on him. The room was full of creatures. They moved quickly, hiding in the shadows and going through boxes. One reached into a box marked ‘Mom and Dad’.
“Get off them!” Joseph shoved the creature away from it, shielding the box with his body. He found his eyes lowering to look inside of the box, for the first time since Abuelo had shown it to him when he was a teenager. He looked away quickly. The box, containing the only objects rescued from the fire that had killed both of his parents, was too sacred to be opened.
He remembered what was in the box perfectly: his father’s wallet, poetry collection, and journal; his mother’s jewelry box and VHS of The General. The last was what he most felt was his parents’ legacy. They had met at a showing of it as part of a classic film appreciation club. They named him Joseph after the birth name of the film’s creator and star. Yet, Joseph had never seen it. He dearly wanted to, but wouldn’t dare.
Joseph was drawn back into reality by a soft chirping by his side. He looked down to see the creature that he had wrested away from the box, reaching for it again. “Get away!” The creature looked at him, its large eyes unblinking. It bared its teeth, the chirping rising in volume. Joseph got to his feet and began to run towards the stairs. He tripped over another box, making its contents go spiraling over the floor.
The box was full of the art Joseph had drawn when he was young. The picture on top was of a goat, its coat silver and sparkling. He only had one crayon that sparkled, which had been given to him by his friend Anne. She had a whole box of them. He had admired them, barely containing his jealousy. Joseph loved to draw, back them, although by this point he hadn’t picked up any art supplies in years. When Anne noticed him staring at her crayons, she gave him the one that she liked the least. Joseph was so excited that he didn’t care.
As soon as he got home, he pulled out his art paper. He stared at it, not knowing what to draw first. Joseph couldn’t remember why he had settled on a goat. Wait… what was the story behind the crayon again? He had a friend, her name was… Alex? No, that wasn’t it. Ashley. It must have been Ashley.
Who was Ashley? Wait, what was he trying to remember…
Joseph looked at the picture he had drawn again. A creature, smaller than most, held it.. The picture was becoming hazy. It was still physically there, but something about it was lacking. It looked familiar, now, but he couldn’t remember what the story was behind it. All trace of the crayon and who had given it to him was gone.
Something was wrong. Very wrong. The sudden appearance of both memory problems and these creatures could be no coincidence. Whatever these things were, they were taking his memories. The realization hit Joseph square in the stomach. That’s why he forgot Abuela’s pressure cooker until he saw it.
The box. His parents’ box. He couldn’t let them have it. More than anything else in that house, he had to protect that box. Joseph got up as quickly as he could and began to run. The creatures watched him, curiously. They did not chase after him. Maybe they would let him leave, with just this one thing.
He ran like he never had before. Joseph didn’t look behind himself to see if they were chasing him. He doubted they were. There were plenty of things for them to feed on in the attic. They didn’t need this box, too. He reached the front door, but the creature who had been guarding before was still there.
Joseph tried to kick it out of the way, unable to see over the box to know if he had made contact. He heard a loud screech and knew that he had hit it. A triumphant grin spread over his face, but was quickly replaced by one of shock.
He felt it climbing up his leg, towards his face. No, towards the box. Why were they so determined to take his memories from him? Joseph fell to the ground, losing his grip on the box. It flew from his hands, contents landing sprawled on the ground. He expected the creature to run towards the box, but it continued up his body. Joseph’s eyes widened in fear. Its body was so small. How could it look so menacing?
Soon, it was in his face. They stared at each other. Its eyes were so large, so all encompassing. Joseph blinked, and a smile spread over its face. Joseph had never been that afraid in his life… unless he had simply forgotten when he was. “What do you want from me?” The words whispered from Joseph’s mouth before he could catch them. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt as if speaking had been a mistake. The creature’s smile grew wider.
It moved towards his face and Joseph closed his eyes. He waited for whatever was coming. Nothing came. Joseph slowly opened his eyes.
The creature was cuddled into him, content. Joseph saw that several more creatures had appeared around him. They inspected him and his new companion, before joining in the odd embrace. “What the hell?”
Suddenly, images formed in his mind. His mother, his father, his abuela, his abuelo. They were there with him. Tears welled up in Joseph’s eyes. The creatures stared at him, holding on still. He wondered how their eyes had seemed eerie, when they now seemed so kind.
“How are you doing this?” He was met by silence, but realized that he didn’t need to know. Joseph saw movement out of the corner of his eye. One creature was going through his parents’ box. “Wait!” The creature took out his mother’s VHS. It brought it towards him, placing it in his hand. He stared at it, uncomprehending.
When he met the creature’s eyes, it nodded. The other creatures suddenly got off him. They pulled him into a standing position, and led Joseph towards his television. It still had a VHS player. He hadn’t been sure why he kept it. Now he knew.
Joseph’s hands trembled as he put The General into the VHS player. He sank onto the couch, the creatures gathering around him again. Together, they watched.