Most children are scared of the attic with its dark corners and lazy spider webs, but for me it was a playground where my imagination could run riot and no one would tell me to hush up and eat my tea. The boxes of dusty books held more tales then I'd ever dreamed possible and moth-eaten clothes turned back the clock to decades I could only ache for. The night before my eighth birthday, among the torn cardboard, I found the photo album: flipping through I came to pictures from the day my parents had first moved to the house. Standing next to them in the then overgrown garden was a man I didn't recognise, his dark brown hair had a peculiar style and the smart black suit fitted an era long since gone, he was grinning and gesturing towards the back door. Grabbing the picture I climbed down the rusting ladder and went to find mum, I wanted to know who the mystery man with the creepy smile really was.
"Mum, who's this?" I dropped the photo onto the kitchen worktop where she was hurriedly peeling potatoes, looking down she rolled her eyes "it was the estate agent Sam, that's all. Now put it back and come down to eat." Mumbling to myself I dejectedly shuffled out of the kitchen, so much for my marvellous mystery. slowly I made my way back up the ladder and to the album, with one last glance I prepared to slip it back into its plastic coated confines; but as I looked again in the dim light of the single 40 watt bulb I could swear that his grin had gotten wider. Picking up the grimy book I hid it under my jumper, I'd stash it in my room and after I went to bed I would take another longer look through the pictures, but when I woke the album had vanished.
A year later I found it again under my pillow, once I could hear the sound of my father's snores floating across the landing, I tiptoed to my door and gently pushed it to; hoping that the ominous creak wouldn't be enough to wake my lightly sleeping mother. It wasn't, but sometimes now I wish that it had been. With a deep breath I opened the cover and my heart stopped, the picture of the garden had vanished from the collection and in its old place was one of the kitchen. It was Christmas, and mum stood laughing as she covered herself in flour that was escaping the mixing bowl cradled in her arms, the man with the brown hair was sat perched on a chair looking straight at the camera. Same suit, same eyes, same smile. I slammed it shut again as I felt hot tears of fear prickle at the back of my eyes, I knew what I had to do but the thought alone terrified me. I wrapped myself up in my dressing gown and grabbed my torch from under my bed, I took a step forward then turned back to get my teddy, I clutched at him so hard that I'm sure my knuckles must have been white. All the way down the stairs I willed my mother to wake and order me back to bed, back to the warmth and safety of my duvet. I wanted her to appear from the bathroom, to take the album away and tell me that it was just my overactive imagination playing tricks on my tired mind; but I made it to the bottom of the stairs unhindered. To get to the back door I had to walk past the living room, then the dining room and finally through the kitchen; it was the kitchen that I was dreading the most. We still had the same chairs that I had seen in the photo and I half expected him to be sat there waiting for me, yet ultimately it was the back door that was my destination.
Stood outside in the warm summer night my body still shivered, it felt as if a thousand tiny red ants were crawling up my spine, their little pincers digging into me in a vague attempt to snap me back to my senses. I turned on the torch and dared myself to open my eyes. It was odd that the back door hadn't been locked; I'd expected to have to fumble to find the key, the noise would've caused my mother to investigate and I would have had to invent some story of midnight snacks. The reality of where I was was all too wide-awake; the reality of what I was looking for was all too significant. It wasn't there; relief and disappointment surged through me simultaneously as I turned and took a step back towards the open door. Then the light caught on something white sticking out from under the corner of a bush; once again I felt my heart leap into my mouth, with shaking fingers I reached forward and gently grabbed it. It was the missing picture.
I didn't dare look for the album over the next twelve months, when I finally did I wasn't shocked the photos had rearranged themselves, now in place of the kitchen was the dining room. It looked to be someone's birthday, there were helium balloons tied to each corner of the table and empty bottles of wine sat by occupied chair legs; the strange man was sat to the left of my father, but most scary of all was the fact that he was wearing a Stetson and pointing a gun at the camera. At me. Nervously I repeated my previous journey, but this time I only tiptoed as far as the kitchen, underneath the knife rack I found the second photo. On the way back to my room I met my mother on the landing "What on Earth are you doing up Sam?"
"Mum, mum, who is the man?" For a minute she looked concerned
"It's a second cousin of mine, used to come over every Christmas"
"But before you said it was the estate age…"
"Sam please cease that imagination and go to bed". Obediently I dawdled to my bedroom, it was the same man in all of them, I was sure of it. So why couldn't mum see it? Why did she look so guilty? I'd have to investigate it without her.
The next photo to work its way to the front was from the living room, this time there was no great event being celebrated, just the strange man sat in the armchair with a puppy on his lap. Mum had told me how not too long before I'd been born they had brought a dog that had vanished just a few days later, so this was the dog. It made sense to me now why it had disappeared. That night I found the third one in the alcohol cabinet, underneath a bottle of red wine but it didn't bother me this time, I was eleven and had just lost my father. The fifth photo was of the smartly suited man doing the plastering in the bathroom, mum and dad had decided to get it done the month before I was born, apparently it hadn't been baby friendly. The photo of the man and the dog appeared next to the fireplace that same evening, wedged between two of the flagstone tiles it taunted me until I pulled it from its resting place. The man seemed to be working his way through my house from the back door into each of the rooms in turn, working his way into my life. I knew which was next on his agenda.
That night I could barely bring myself to go to bed, the duvet was no longer warm and safe, instead it was an oppressive heat binding me, forcing me to stay in one place and wait it out. As I forced myself to open the album my worst fears were confirmed. It was the day of my christening and there he was, leaning over my cot in the room I now lay shaking in, but this time he wasn't looking at the camera, he was looking at baby me. Now I recognised him, he'd certainly changed but realisation hit me. I nearly wasn't bothered to make my way to the bathroom and see if the previous photo had materialised, of course it was there, this time it was lovingly pinned to the shower curtain.
The next time I resigned myself to my fate, I went to bed early and lay there with unblinking eyes fixed on my lampshade, I didn't even open the album, I knew I didn't need to. He'd be in my mum's room now; just like he was every night now, and soon he'd be coming for me too. It was time little Sam grew up. It was time to come of age. Every year he'd been a different man but in each photo he was the same thing, a man with a reluctant mistress, my mother's downfall. And now he was gong to be mine. "Happy thirteenth birthday Samantha."