It sits on an old steamer trunk, lit from above by the diffused glow of the attic’s grimy skylight.
You step hesitantly towards the trunk, feeling the attic floorboards yield beneath your feet, creaking with each step. Your mouth is so dry that your tongue rasps when you swallow. You step into the square of light and find yourself shivering, for the late afternoon sunlight is unnaturally wan and cold, as if it belongs to the moon instead.
It makes the shadows darker.
Motes of dust swirl around you, silvery in the moonpale light, but you only have eyes for the skull.
It is yellowed and old, rough but for the smooth places at brow and chin where hundreds of hands have touched, hard bone worn smooth by time as much as friction.
It grins at you as you hesitate.
It grins at you as you slowly begin to lift your hand, and the shadows in its eye sockets seem to darken.
Your tentative fingers brush against the skull’s forehead, feeling the smoothness there of yellowed bone.
It grins at you as you trail your fingertips down over the ridge of its nasal bone, over the enamel of its teeth, feeling a shiver of apprehension as you imagine the skull opening its jaw and biting down on your vulnerable fingers.
But all it does is grin.
You turn and run, heart pounding fit to burst, and nearly bowl your gathered friends over as you emerge into the sunlight. They laugh at your pale skin and sweaty hair and soon you’re laughing, too. You did it, you really did it!
Upstairs, in the gathering darkness, the skull continues to grin.