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Back when we were six, my brother developed a notorious sleepwalking habit among his various other disorders. So much so that dad child proofed the doors to our room and closet (after an unfortunate pissing incident involving a soiled pile of clothes) so that when we were awake, we could leave, but asleep, no dice. It was one of those plastic coverings that you had to squeeze and turn simultaneously, y’know, the ones that are impossible for anybody under the age of 18 to possibly hope to open due to the sheer amount of pressure it took to turn the damn knob. I’m being facetious now, but I really hated that damn child proof bullshit.
But, due to his sleepwalking, he was kept on the bottom bunk.
Some nights, he’d wake up and try to leave the room, tugging on the door and only succeeding in making an unnecessary amount of racket, only to fall back asleep at the foot of the door after his failure. Before the child proof door, there were only a select few places he’d go, but it became a game of hide and seek with him. I found him inside the toy box once, and I just remember thinking… “how did he even fit himself in there?”
When these incidents happened – and that was at least three times a week – I took it upon myself to get him safely back in his bed when I actually caught him, so long as he didn’t wander past the stairs, which thankfully now wasn’t very possible.
I hated the stairs. Well, not so much the stairs as the hallway that my room was at the end of leading to the stairs around the corner. That place was hellish at night.
Yes, I was terrified of the dark. More so of my own wild imagination spurring the darkness to life with monstrous intents. I was sure we were plagued with a closet residing boogie man or a homicidal shadow dweller, maybe even the neighborhood serial killer. My father, God bless the man, every night before bed, he’d open the closet door, reach up and pull the dangling string to turn the light bulb on, – the switch had shorted on our sixth birthday- and search the closet for my own reassurance. Sometimes, he’d even make a show of it and enter with a baseball bat or a plastic gun, threatening the monster hiding in there. Every time he did it, there was nothing in that closet.
There never was.
My brother wasn’t afraid of the closet like I was. On the lower bunk, sometimes he’d climb the ladder and sleep with me after I’d been sitting up and staring at the closet for what seemed like hours. It was like my fear woke him up.
They say twins have inexplicable bonds.
I always had this strange sensation like I was being watched, or perhaps the feeling of knowing someone’s talking about you… I knew I held something’s attention. And that thought kept me up in such discomfort for what seemed like hours. In reality I probably had the attention span to stay up thinking for half an hour before succumbing to sleep. And stranger still, it wasn’t every night.
In hindsight, that made me feel uneasy. If a child is afraid of the dark, weren’t they afraid of it every night? Don’t get me wrong, I feared the dark, but obviously I was safe under the covers. Most nights, it was merely a childish fear. And some nights, that fear evolved into uneasiness I can’t explain… like violation of my privacy. And no amount of blankets made me feel better.
Something was there. And it was watching. I knew it was. I always expected to see a pair of glowing eyes behind the blinds of the closet door. But I never did.
One night in particular stayed in my memory all the way into adulthood.
The first detail that’s strange in hindsight is that I was already asleep. Something woke me up, not violently, but suddenly. And I still have no idea what.
There was this cold that had settled on the room. And not like a winter cold that could freeze water, but this stale, stiff cold – like an abandoned house.
The same stillness and cold I would feel several years later when grandmother died in her hospital bed and how her skin felt just minutes afterward.
And a smell wafted through the air like really burnt steaks and rotten trash cans.
I grimaced and said groggily “Geeze, did you fart?” Waving my hand in front of my face.
There was no reply, so I dangled my head over the edge to peer at the lower bunk. Not surprisingly, he wasn’t in his bed.
Illuminated dinosaurs chasing each other endlessly around our room projected from our spinning night lamp was the only source of light – a disco ball of dinosaurs if you will. I traced them around the room to find it empty with the exception of me.
I knew that wasn’t true.
Climbing down the ladder, my feet slapped against the wood floor sending an uncomfortable shock of cold up my legs.
As I turned, the room seemed to widen. It was the moment that makes children gulp in uncertainty. The sudden loss of familiarity. I was in my room, but I felt uncomfortable, the same discomfort when you stare off of a cliff, knowing that one false step and you will die. Completely exposed.
But I trudged on, searching for my misplaced sibling.
He wasn’t on the floor in front of the door, he wasn’t on top or inside of our toy box… I dropped to my knees to find the space under the bed empty. Was it possible he somehow got out of the room?
When he used to leave the room, there were three places he typically was. The hallway bathroom – notably curled up in the corner between the vanity and toilet, in dad’s old red chair in the upstairs living room right down the hall and to the left, or somewhere downstairs, a place I dare not tread in the darkness alone.
I padded to the door and squeezed the plastic covered door knob with both hands, struggled with the damn thing for a moment and pulled it open. I was greeted with pitch blackness. The dark hallway now looming ominously in front of me. There were no windows, the only source of moonlight would be around the corner where a window was beside the staircase.
The hallway wasn’t just dark, of course not. It was never that easy. No, it had to be pitch black.
It made me even more uncomfortable, staring out into that blackness with my pulse steadily rising, I could hear my heart beating in my ears. Anything could be out in that darkness.
I felt like I’d see a pair of eyes staring back at me.
Whatever was in that darkness had no eyes, or at least, they didn’t glow like in the movies.
But I jumped at the sight of a long, black shadow cast from behind me, freezing in terror as it disappeared.
It happened again, casting my shadow across the hallway’s floor.
The nightlight on our dresser that cast dinosaurs the walls of our room, and now out in the hallway.
On the bright side, I had a source of light now.
I was transfixed, staring out into the dark hallway as it lit up with the distorted dinosaur.
I looked down, my toes were barely behind the baseboard that separated the wood flooring from the carpeted hallway. Before I crossed that line, I needed to make sure there was nothing hiding in that darkness.
Anything could hide in shadows that black.
The dim light flashed from behind me
My eyes caught something unnatural… I could’ve sworn someone was pressed against the wall at the end of the hallway to the right, like they wanted to plaster their back to the wall. It didn’t really register until the light had already passed.
I gulped, my body tensed uncomfortably, eyes locked on the darkness where that person had been standing. In this darkness, they could’ve moved wherever it saw fit to move. It could be five feet in front of me for all I knew.
With that thought I was dreading the next pass of light. Did I really want to see this thing?
Before I could even answer myself, the light passed over again, and the shadowy figure remained, unmoved.
Because it was the shadow of the open bathroom door resting door knob length away from the wall.
Just my imagination.
I released a shaky breath, satisfied that the hallway was empty, and lifted my foot, slowly, unsteadily crossing my perceived line of safety out into the unprotected blackness of my house made foreign by the nighttime.
My toes curled into the carpet, tensed like the rest of my body like I was holding onto the railing on a roller coaster.
The light passed by again, and I kept my eyes peeled, stopping my movement completely as it did, just for safety. If I could just get to the bathroom, I could turn on the light.
The hallway light was beyond the bathroom, so that was out of the question.
I had to be brave. I traversed the darkness, taking long steps on my tippy toes just to stay quiet in case something were actually in that darkness. My whole body would stiffen when the light passed behind my back only to continue and try and cover as much distance as possible while I was still hidden by the shadows.
The whole time I had that feeling of being completely exposed in this hallway, as if I were actually being hunted. I kept thinking; what if I’d missed something and now whatever it was was in the hallway moved behind me.
I dare not turn. I pictured a vile creature staring right into the back of my head, breathing down the back of my neck. If I turned, I’d only be greeted by sickly, glowing eyes and a wicked smile.
So I didn’t.
But finally, I made it to the bathroom without incident, but my joy was short lived as I peered into the pitch blackness that was the bathroom. And this time, there was no dim light to chase away the shadows. If only for the brief moment.
The light switch was on the left inside, right above the counter and under the medicine cabinet. I had to tippie toe to reach it.
I gulped down my fear. Now or never. I strode inside with purpose and ignored the chill of having my back exposed yet again but to a completely unknown abyss.
Even then, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched.
The light flicked on.
And my worst fear was realized in full. Just like I had pictured, it was behind me. A black mass I barely caught a glimpse of in the mirror because I jumped and spun almost immediately.
I was being watched by a dark colored towel hanging on the rack behind me.
My breath slowed as my near heart attack was avoided. Just my stupid imagination.
There was nothing in here. I had peeked my head behind the shower curtain just to be safe.
Disappointingly, the bathroom was empty, which meant I was still alone in the night.
One place left to look outside of my room.
Dad’s chair. Which meant a trek further into the unknown worse than that, this journey involved a corner.
That might not seem significant, but something could easily hide around a corner and jump out without warning. Corners at night time were terrifying.
I peeked out into the hallway, looking both ways and seeing only what I saw during the day thanks to the bathroom light.
My fears were unwarranted, the hallway was empty. Thankfully, I didn’t even feel like I was being watched anymore.
Just my imagination. Just like always.
But my heart stopped in the next moment.
There was a sound, like a light thump coming from my room, as if somebody was knocking on the walls.
My face warmed uncomfortably as my head turned slowly back toward my room.
All those other times I only felt watched or was afraid of seemingly nothing.
This was a sound! This was a tangible sense!
It was waiting in my room! It must’ve snuck passed me while I was in the bathroom.
But… could I have possibly imagined that? Maybe just a pipe or something?
Another thump that caused my legs to stop working.
I definitely hadn’t imagined it.
I stared down the hallway into my open room intently, my eyes must’ve been the size of the bathroom doorknob that my hand squeezed so tightly.
I was unable to move. Even a little bit.
I knew it was waiting. I just didn’t know what was waiting…
The silence was defending, I could only hear my own heart beat faster and faster, and a buzzing in my head that got louder and louder the longer I stared.
There it was again.
I jumped into action, quickly spinning around searching frantically for some sort of weapon. I took the head off of my electric toothbrush leaving only a small metal tip that I could jab into the monster.
Now that I knew where it was, I didn’t mind shutting the bathroom light off and walking back toward the room. In fact, I thought I’d be able to surprise the fiend.
I made it to the baseboard once more, reluctant to pass back into my room. I stared inside, waiting with bated breath for any signs of movement. Surely it would try and take me, right?
The cartoon illuminated dinosaurs dancing on the walls suddenly seemed to more feral with jagged teeth that threatened to eat me. They were no longer comforting as they were meant to be. And the shadows they left took shapes of horrifying creatures of the night just waiting for me to step inside so they could pounce on me. Inanimate objects now seemed to move ever so slightly on their own accord.
The heater sounded like a monster in the vents, the breeze pushing tree branches against the windows looked like clawed monsters scraping to get inside.
And then there was a sound that took all of my attention away from everything else.
A long scratching, as if this monster dragged the tip of its claw along the walls. It came from the closet. The one door that freezes every child in fear. Fear of the unknown, of what could be behind that door. Of what your imagination puts behind that door. The boogie man, and I knew he was in there. I knew it. I stepped inside of the room and stood in front of the closet, both hands gripping my toothbrush so tight that my knuckles were white.
That shuddered, white door seemed to stare back at me. It has to be standing behind that door, which meant that it was only a few short feet away from me. This thin piece of wood was all that separated me from my nightmare.
“I promise there’s nothing in the closet.”
My dad’s voice rang in my head. There never was. Every time he checked the closet, nothing was in there.
But this was different. I was alone now.
I felt as though the boogie man was daring me to open the door. To see what would happen if I did.
Heart pounding like a machine gun, face hot like the stove, throat scratchy and dry like dirt… I found it hard to move my limbs like they had all fallen asleep.
And then my heart froze over as dread descended down on me like a bucket of water. There was a soft click and light flooded from the shudders of the door.
Something was in there, and it turned on the light!
I needed to get dad! That was the only thought in my mind.
I wanted to scream for him but my voice didn’t work. I wanted to run as fast as I could away from that closet, but my feet were glued to the floor. .
I heard a light shuffling on the other side of that door, and my body stiffened even more if at all possible. My eyes must’ve been popping out of their sockets. This was it! It was gonna take me!
Suddenly my legs were working again, stepping backward, feet clumsily stumbling over themselves. I landed on my rear, my toothbrush clattering along the floor. Was that… self preservation kicking in?
Was this what fearing for you life felt like?
“Luke?” I heard my name spoken in a small, muffled whimper that accompanied the shuffling.
“Luca, i-is that you?”
It was my brother!
Oh God it was only him!
Just Tyler! I thought I was gonna cry from the relief. I pushed myself up very quickly and struggled with the child lock, pulling the door open. He was sitting in the back of the closet hugging his knees beside some clothes that had fallen. Queue the hangars scraping the wall, and my brother thumping around.
Oh thank god! He looked just as terrified as I had. I ran in the closet and hauled him to his feet as he asked me how he got in there.
“Sleepwalking you doofus. I thought you were a monster!” My hand stayed clamped on his as if I’d lose him if I let go, still shaking from residual adrenaline.
He had a look of uneasiness, trepidation and pure confusion. “I… opened the door?”
I had to pause.
How did he get in the closet? I had to squeeze the plastic with both hands and actively try to turn the knob. No way he did it in his sleep.
Well, he had to have. How else would he have gotten in…
Though at that moment, I didn’t really care.
I just shrugged.
This little night of horrors was done and I just wanted to sleep.
I helped him back to his bed before turning back to the closet. I stood on my toes to flick the switch down.
Only… it was already down.
I gazed up to see the cord dad always pulled to turn the light on dangling, swinging lightly back and forth.
The tingle at the crown of my head shot through my entire body as cold realization struck me.
“How did you turn on the light?” I shakily asked.
Credit: In Me Lies Divinity