Ema Marić: the thing in the attic is your lover

a ghost story

It’s been years since you visited this place. You remember the taste of it and the smell. It hasn’t changed. The wallpaper still sticks to the walls and the lightbulbs are screwed in tight. The dresser in the corner is covered in cobweb and dust, and locked shut.

The bed is made with fresh sheets. At least, they were fresh at the time. The plants on the windowsill are dry and wild and dead; the curtains are drawn over the glass. Every now and then the dresser in the corner rattles, but you pay it no mind.

This room is like a carcass that has been stuffed and beautifully preserved. You don’t know why it remains here, when the rest of the house does not. Or maybe you do, but you do not look at it. It is soft and yellow like the belly of a lizard. It’s slick and slimy like the body of a snake. It sleeps in the dresser and you won’t let it out.

It calls to you quietly, like a tired old thing. Weak but welcoming. If only you embraced it, like once upon a time. It would rise, bright and beautiful; and perhaps, if you tried again, you could stay together. Forever.

Its voice is like a lullaby; light and leery on a yarrow breeze. /Kyra, Kyra,/ it sings. /How I’ve missed you./ You don’t trust it, because you never did. Even when you loved it, even when you shared its bed. It belongs to a creature, a thing not human. /You’ve changed, my darling. How long has it been, how long, my love?/ Did it know you would remain here like two hands in formaldehyde, unable to reach out or touch?

The dresser rattles and moans; a symphony of agony, of shackles and bones. You move to the window, to listen. The curtains fall apart under your hand. The glass bursts into a spiderweb of cracks. Light barges into the room like violence; a baby’s first cry when she slips out of the darkness of the womb.

You look at your fingers, but what you see are the floorboards below. You breathe in, and the air flows through the gaps in the window. You stretch your spine and the house shudders, tired construction cracking. In the corner, the dresser shakes and wails, begging: /Won’t you let me out, Kyra? Hasn’t it been years? Aren’t you lonely, like I’m lonely…? Sweet Kyra, have pity on me./

No one is ever going to love you like she does.

The key around your neck is heavy with doubt. You swore never to let her out. But an eternity of this is beginning to seem rather dim. You turn around, reach for the lock, and put the key in. You let her out to spare yourself the emptiness within.

Like a wave, she consumes you. This thing that pulled itself from the cold depths of a lake, with black fingers and a head full of lakeweed. She sings to you, in a trilling, tremulous tone that makes you tremble. And her song fills your mind, violently, with memories of things that took place long ago.


You remember how you met her. She lingered in the corner shadows of this very house, but was always gone when you looked. The night before you first saw her, you’d had a strange dream. When you awoke the next morning, there was a weight missing from your chest. Instead there was a fluttering decoy, a bird.

You felt uneasy the entire day, while you went looking for your lost thing. It was not in the jars lining the shelves, or in the boxes under the bed. It was not in the kitchen basket or the bathtub, or wrapped inside your favorite scarf. You were at a loss; a lost heart, and you could not remember giving it away.  

You remember how you met her. In the middle of the living room, you sat under the white fairy lights, cross-legged on the floor, with your brow furrowed in concentration. The light illuminated the wards on the walls. You did not notice how the chalk was smudged around the edges. 

You lit a white candle and watched the flame dance. You patiently drew, with red chalk on the floor, circles and curved lines, a pair of ornate eyes. You mixed together herbs: a dusting of garlic, a pinch of rosemary, a few leaves of crushed mint; and spilled them into a ring around the drawn eyes. Finally, you placed your hands over your heart—where it should have been—and recited a spell. Three times you repeated the words, until you slipped into a meditative trance; and the dreamlike memory unveiled in your mind, so exquisitely clear. 

This is how you met her. It had not been a dream at all, that night with a princess-moon in the sky. The shining lady does not lie, so you knew it to be true. She had been bright and fat over the water, swaying and playing with the waves. Somewhere beneath the silver surface, she touched the water and made it pure.

She saw all and she showed you the way, when you pushed forward despite the biting wind. Her light reached far across the snow-covered grounds, the garden in front of your house, and delighted the shiny sugary weight atop the tree crowns. She led you softly, and kept the stalking gray clouds at bay.

Clear-eyed and full of her energy, you parted the tree branches to make a path towards the lake ahead. You had cold air in your lungs, a bitter taste on your tongue, and a head full of exciting enchantments. The silver lady stared at you, and perhaps laughed or wept, or did nothing at all. You could not understand her wiles, just as you could not understand the tree whispers or the wind’s roar. But you had come to collect snow and lakewater, what last remained of winter before the first breath of spring.

You might not have stepped from your path; but then across the lake, you had heard an echo. A soft tune that lingered, so faint that you could barely hear it. There was a sweetness about it that was both familiar and not. It grew suddenly thick and burned the back of your throat. It masked something delicately dangerous, clogging your nose. But it moved you, moon-blessed, the song over water. The song of a creature that hid somewhere secret and deep, but walked above ground when they so wished.

You stepped wary, stepped softly, following the call. The trees seemed to sigh as you abandoned their cover. But then your eyes met hers across the rippling water; sharp and dark and blue. She studied and dared you. Her voice carried over on the wind, reaching out to you. And you could not move, could not look away. Your heart drummed against your chest, pulled to this strange creature, as if it could not—

—could not stay. 


The bird in your chest flaps its wings wildly, fluttering this way and that. 

“Kyra,” she calls your name. You let her fingers glide over the shadows under your eyes. She pushes the strands of damp hair from your face. She brushes a thumb over your cheek. Her legs are thin and weak under her; instinctively, you reach out to support her. “Kyra, you forgot me.” Her tone is sad, but not accusing. 

You tell her, “No, I didn’t. I know you.” 

She looks at you with big blue eyes. 

“My love, you’ve been asleep for a long, long time. Do you notice when you stretch your limbs how the house yawns? Did you know you left me here, like a fleeting, flickering thought?”

She turns her gaze to the window. There, in the snow, the lake is frozen over and dark. You watch it silently and frown.

“Then where did I go?”

The creature shakes her head. “My darling, I don’t know.”


You’d fashioned a charm to protect yourself, from iron and rue leaf and salt. You sealed it all in a glass bottle, the spell to take back your heart. Then you put the bottle in your pocket and went back to the lake; to stand at its edge with dread in your head, and a marble breath. The lake-creature, not a vision or a dream, was there. Waiting. 

That time, she did not need to lure you with song. You’d come on your own, to right a wrong. But she watched you approach, watched you stand at the shore, and inclined her head when you spoke:

“You’ve got something of mine.”

She smiled slowly, like the drip of honey from the wooden grooves of a dipper. She sat on a rock in the middle of the lake, scales shining where they caught the moonlight. Her fin swayed lazily to create ripples, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. She spoke in a sweet and mellow voice, hiding sharp teeth inside a red mouth. 

“Did you come to take it back?”

“Something like that,” you said, clutching the glass bottle in your pocket.

She hummed. A low, amused noise.

“What if I traded you something for it instead?”

You frowned at her brazen suggestion; surely you needed your heart? What could the creature possibly offer to replace it? She looked at you with strange affection and slipped off of her rock. She dove deep and the lake was still, until she emerged near the shore. She folded an arm under herself and raised up one sleek black finger to call you closer. You approached her. You sank through the soft snow to your knees, unable to resist.

“My name,” the lake-creature whispered into your ear.

Your eyes widened. Blood rushed to your head; for names were powerful, and quite a thing to offer in trade. They were spells in themselves. They were war cries and quiet sighs and lullabies. It was a grand gesture, an offer so tempting—and yet. It was the thing you kept forgetting.

“You laugh at me,” you said. “I know your name.”


“Stop,” you beg her, standing in the unchanged room. “Please, no more.” 

You step back and her arms fall away from your form. You feel yourself flickering, lacking bone-heaviness and skin-warmth. The space around you fills you, textureless and faint. You are a transparent, ghost-like creature in the dull-gray dust. Her name is in your mouth, on the tip of your tongue, sour and sticky and strange. It is like quenching freshwater and tumultuous pressure.

“Athanasi,” you say her name like it physically pains you. You look toward the twilight, toward the lake. You remember.


“Athanasi,” you said on an exhale, lowering your head and softening your spine. “Give it back. Please.”

She hooked two fingers under a string that was tied around her neck and pulled it over her head. A pebble hung from it, wrapped in lakeweed, fashioned into a charm. It swayed as Athanasi held it out to you. “I can’t. I can’t return it. But now that you know my name, you can take this instead.”

“What am I going to do with that?” you asked. Your voice had dropped to the barest murmur. Athanasi smiled, all sharp teeth, and thrust the string towards you firmly. “Put it on and I will show you.”

You caved and you took it. You pulled the string over your head. No sooner than you did that and the pebble fell over your chest, light weight and damp, did Athanasi wrap both of her arms around you. She pulled you under; you felt the freezing water surround you. The lakewater splashed when you were gone, then rippled, then stilled.

It was cold.

It was cold and Athanasi had a tight hold on you, pulling you ever deeper as she swam into the heart of her lake. You might have panicked, but you couldn’t find the time for it; your eyes were wide against the burn that never came. Your sight was clear when it should have been murky and green.

“Breathe,” Athanasi told you. In the water, she was a thousand whispers around you, offering protection, asking for your trust. Against all common sense you listened and breathed in a lungfull through your nose; and didn’t drown.

You took another greedy breath. Air filled your lungs, travelled thick and slow through your throat. Athanasi loosened her grip around your upper body to hold your hand instead. She swam slower then, gently guiding you towards the bottom of the lake. You stepped on sand and stone and seaweed, walking over them as plainly as you might’ve through forests, forts and fields. You understood.

“It’s a spell,” you said, marvelling at the extent of it. You could see, breathe and speak underwater just as easily as any creature that belonged to it.

Athanasi gave a tiny nod. At once she seemed almost shy. “It is that and more. It is rebirth. It is my heart.” 

You stopped moving. Your fingers loosened their grip. Athanasi turned to face you, and you reached up to cradle her face with your palms. 

“Why did you bring me here?”

“To show you my home. Before you take me away from it.”

Then she kissed you. You tilted your head to allow her lips to slot perfectly against yours. She licked inside your mouth and you tasted algae and clay.

It was cold. You shouldn’t have felt as warm or as serene as you did. But the water wrapped like silk around your body, soft and calming like a cradle, like a grave. And there was a new weight inside your chest, hungry and wet.

Up on the shore something remained. Quick-frozen in the snow, a glittering shield discarded in the weeping moonlight. The moon-princess checked her reflection in the glass shards of a broken bottle, cradled the lemon-scent and rue-perfume, and released them into the wind.


“Why did you do it?” you ask her, standing in the unchanged room.

Athanasi wraps her scaly arms around you. This time you return the embrace. You can feel her heart drumming inside your chest. She must feel yours inside her own as well.

“I had to. You were dead already. This way, I could keep you with me. I also know what you’re thinking. Kyra, I do not mind.” She smiles. “I have no regrets when it comes to you.”

You were a witch-child, summer-born and sun-shaped. One day you fell through a frozen lake. Then, something lingered in the corner of your vision, bright light dancing when you looked. In a strange way, Athanasi had saved you. So you made this house hers as well. You took her from the depths of that half-frozen grave; and you let her in, one late afternoon, when the wards on the walls were soft and pale.

You look through the cracked window, at the sunrays whispering against the last of snow, igniting the pale viscera reminiscent of a long winter. The spring-sun touches hungry wood, feeds the earth, and brushes lovingly over the pearly heads of snowdrops. 

Now you are immaterial and paper-thin, lingering like a shadow, fearful of the winds that might take you away. But your chest is full with a wet weight, a heart from the muddy depths of a lake; and that, you think, is one hell of a spell.

“I’m sorry, so sorry,” you whisper against Athanasi’s hair. “This death twisted around me like vines. It trapped and choked me. I forgot myself and I forgot you. Can you forgive me?”

Athanasi does so easily, with fluttering eyes and an exhausted sigh. She holds your hand and green light flickers in the corners of your vision. The house unfolds before you. The hallways stretch ahead, a hundred years wide, a thousand years long. Swirling shapes of salts and spells surround you as the house grows around you. The room smells suddenly like fresh sheets and thyme. The plants on the windowsill flower and rise. The crack on the glass heals.

Athanasi tugs on your hair, pulls you down to steal the breath from your mouth. The air inside your lungs is at once lakewater and moss; calming and so very light. And Athanasi kisses hungrily, to feed her heart after years of starvation. You can only imagine the loud, heavy noise inside her head, of a heartbeat that is not her own. You let her; you let her, like you did once before.

She settles above you, in silk-woven robes. Her damp hair tickles your nose. At this moment, nothing in the world clashes or threatens you. Fingers catch on skin, on silk, over your shoulders, around her back. While embracing, you kiss her again softly, softly. At this moment, the smallest force could shatter you.

But there is nothing to break you this time. No ill spellwork or vengeful water spirits, or jealous witch-children. Only Athanasi and you remain, caught up in one another, with borrowed hopes and borrowed hearts. Outside, the falling sun dances low in the sky, painting the room in enchanting colors. Inside, the dying room sings the last notes of a quiet lullaby. 

Now you are ethereal, lingering like raindrops on spring roses, fearful of cold nights that might take you away. But your chest is full with a wet weight, a heart from the muddy depths of a lake; and that, you think, is one hell of a spell.

the thing in the attic is your lover© 2022. Ema Marić

[EN] Ema Marić (Zagreb, 1994) was five when they first entered the neighbourhood library and immediately persuaded their mother to apply for a library card. That’s when Ema’s love towards the written word and the fantastic worlds hidden between the book pages began. At eleven they picked up their first novel written in English. And then, bit by bit, they began to write. In 2016, they completed a course on Novel writing, held by the writer and dramaturge Goran Ferčec, at the Creative Writing Centre in Zagreb. Today Ema lives in Rijeka with their fiancé Zrinko and an adopted old Labrador, Maro.

The story the thing in the attic is your lover was originally published in the fourth issues of Morina kutija magazine (December, 2022). You can download it for free from our site or Smashwords.

[HR] Ema Marić (Zagreb, 1994.) jednom s pet godina ulazi u kvartovsku knjižnicu i odmah majku nagovara na učlanjenje. Tada je krenula ljubav prema pisanoj riječi i fantastičnim svjetovima među stranicama knjiga. S jedanaest je uzima u ruke i prvi roman na engleskom jeziku. Pa malo-pomalo počinje pisati. Završava Radionicu romana u Centru za kreativno pisanje 2016. godine u Zagrebu, pod vodstvom Gorana Ferčeca, pisca i dramaturga. Danas živi u Rijeci sa zaručnikom Zrinkom i udomljenim starim labradorom Marom.

Priča the thing in the attic is your lover objavljena je u online časopisu Morina kutija, br. 4 (prosinac 2022). Časopis možete skinuti ovdje ili s platforme Smashwords.

Urednički komentar: Ovo je odlična priča poetičnog stila i gotičke atmosfere, koja nas je ulovila u svoj zagrljaj i odvukla na dno jezera.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: