I turned on all the lights downstairs, just so I could be prepared. You never know what will happen on missions such as this, and it's best to have your home base well-lit.
The door, of course, was locked. I moved the purple yoga mat and the bag of books going to Goodwill from in front of it, then hesitated as I moved my hand towards the knob. It had been over a month since I ventured forth into this land of The Upstairs, and the time was nearing the Witching Hour.
I slowly unlocked the door and turned the knob. Propping the door open carefully with the bag of books, I reached for the light switch on my right and leaned into the stairwell. The dark, musty scent of a place seldom visited greeted me. Upstairs still smells like all of the people who lived here before. The ones who left crayon drawings in the closet, and stains and scratches on the wooden floors, and nail holes where nothing of mine has ever hung. This place is their house: it has never been mine, in spite of the two years I have lived here. Their scent still pervades the corners where I don't reside: the cabinet over the microwave. The bathroom in the basement. The small upstairs with the one purple wall and the slanted ceiling. At night, this smell becomes not just "not mine;" it becomes the Boogey Man's body odor.
As I turn on the light switch, the orange-brown carpet on the stairs strikes me once again with its ugliness, and the steepness of the stairs seems daunting. These are not steps made for running down. I did once, last year, and ended up skinning my back on the last 4 or 5 as I skidded down too quickly. The actual steps are narrow, as well as steep, and there is dark wood paneling on either side, which makes it feel even smaller. The only light is a single light bulb at the top of the stairs, facing the opposite direction.
I take a breath and push through the feeling of claustrophobia on the steps. This is the worst part: the closing in of the walls as I leave that-which-is-familiar and move into Boogey Man's Body Odor land. I take the steps on my tip-toes, wanting to leave as little trace as possible, but also hang on to the railing. My back doesn't want to be skinned again.
I turn left at the top of the stairs and walk into the small room with the purple wall and the slanted ceiling. On my immediate left is the closet housing my blanket and other miscellaneous items. I imagine things living in the closet: raccoons. Squirrels. Real scary men. Imaginary boogey men. Aren't I too old for this crap?
Hand on the door-knob, I imagine a rabid raccoon flying out of the closet and grabbing onto my chest and face. Why this is an image I always have, I'm not entirely sure. I picture squirrels running out around me and biting my ankles. I picture that homeless people have taken up residence in my upstairs, given that I never use it. They could have been there for a month and I never would have known. They are, perhaps, hiding in the closet this very second... Or perhaps it is just the imaginary, elusive, unpredictable unknown we call the boogey man. That would be scary enough.
I open the door, which creaks noisily, like the floor under my feet. There is the container with my blanket and a couple sweaters on the floor. I open it, take the blanket out, close it up, close the door, and start towards the steps before I have the opportunity to exhale. There is nothing here, and I know this. There is nothing to be afraid of, and I am aware of that. I stop at the top of the steps and see the dog at the bottom. His ears are back, his tail between his legs. He refuses to come to the stairs, but peers around the corner, as if to check that I am coming back. I take another deep breath and exhale, just to reinforce to myself that there is nothing frightening here. I know there isn't.
I take the stairs down, slowly, in spite of the closing in of the wood paneling and the orange-brown carpet. Once at the bottom, I turn off the lights. I lock the door. I place the yoga mat back on the handle. The books in front of the door. The dog and I return to the bedroom, as though nothing has transpired.