The easiest way to move the boxes into the attic seemed to be through the door at the back of her closet. It seemed reasonable enough. But the door wouldn’t budge—something was holding it shut at the edges, all the way round. She went in through the primary door to the attic and climbed around the newly-moved junk to the back, and there it was: thick lines of of duct tape, top, left, and right. So she tugged at it, peeled it off—paint came off in jagged chips, to her annoyance—until the door was free.
When she closed her hand around the brass knob, the first thing she noticed was that it was hot, like a fever. The second thing she noticed was that a dull orange light was leaking out between the door and the frame.
She opened the door and found a long, steep staircase going down for about thirty feet, then hooking around to the left, around a corner into a place she couldn’t see. The walls and steps glowed orange, as if cut into the pale interior of a jack o’lantern. A stale heat wafted up, bitter and strong.
She closed the door and stood there for a moment. She wiped her eyes, rubbed a little grit out of the corners. She opened the door again. The stairs were still there.
She closed the door. She circled back into the bedroom as calmly as she could and opened the unstuck closet door. She stepped straight into the cool, dark attic. Its one window was bright with squares of afternoon sun.
She turned, closed the door, and opened it from the attic side, and the stairs were still there.
She had to go down and see what the hell this was all about, there was no question about that. It wasn’t something you could just ignore; she wasn’t even sure it was something you could put off long enough to even go get someone else to come see. She’d just go down to that first landing, see what it was all about, and then she’d go get someone. A neighbor, maybe, even though she hadn’t really gotten acquainted with any yet. Maybe she’d call her brother; maybe she’d call the police. But, she thought, she should find out what she was going to have to tell them first.
So she put one foot out and stepped down, so gingerly. Her hand reached for the wall; it had the heat of embers that refused to die. And then there were the stairs themselves: thirty feet down—just for starters—in a two-story house, and putting off heat like a radiator. By the time she had inched down five steps, she became aware of voices—a dull, roistering chatter very far away, very far down, like the parties she used to hear below her old apartment. It grew louder, ever so slightly louder, as she crept down the stairs—the heat was almost unbearable now—but the words were not much clearer. And then, as she approached that landing, that unknowable corner, the stifling heat, they began to get clearer very quickly, although she still couldn’t understand—they began to get a lot closer very fast, and a multitude of hard footsteps came towards her from some unseen depth, and she raced back for the door so hard she nearly flew.
She pressed the duct tape back into place with feverish fingertips and leaned back hard against the door, listening. The painted wood was silent. But still warm.
She felt like an idiot. But she still went out that afternoon and bought a new roll and retaped the door compulsively, over and over again. No matter how stupid she felt, she wouldn’t have been able to stay in the house another minute without that fresh barrier, even if it made her feel insane—but then—
There had been tape there already: the original seal. Someone already knew about the door; someone out there already knew, and was afraid of it—or at least disturbed enough to tape that door shut. Someone out there knew about it, and had sold the house without a word to anyone. She doubted she’d ever say anything about it herself, either. She started using a room downstairs as her bedroom instead, and used the attic as little as she could help.
But some nights the itch at the back of her mind was almost unbearable.
Note: This door, as described--in the back of a closet, leading to an attic, sealed over with duct tape--is actually in my house. It's in my sister's room. I've never pulled the tape off, though.