They looked at each other, neither really sure what to say or how to say it. It had been a long time. The whole house felt strange, certainly stranger than it should. It had been maybe five years since he’d set foot inside. Not the longest time but considering it was his family home, longer than would be considered… normal.
Normal? Robert let the word float through his head… normal… normal. Even the word seemed strange. Was any of this normal? Five years since he’d visited the family home, even then it was only to stop the car outside, hoping his parents would have thought to be waiting on the pavement for him to pick them up, but no. He’d sat in the car for maybe ten minutes before he’d summoned the courage to walk up the path, stand on the porch and knock at the door. His mother had invited him in, eager to make at least a minimal attempt towards normalcy… normalcy… that was even crazier than just plain old normal.
“I’m sorry… I…” This wasn’t normal… he was talking to… to a what? Phantom? Phantasm? Ghost? Ghoul? Demon? Pixie? Poltergeist? What the fuck?
“What exactly are you?” Robert surprised himself – that was hardly the politest way to commence a conversation with… with what exactly? “I didn’t mean it to come out like that… I meant…” Robert floundered… as impolite as it may be, that was exactly what he’d meant, exactly what he’d wanted to know.
“You know what I am… who I am. I’m the monster from your closet.” It was what Robert had expected to hear… but it still made as little sense when spoken out loud as it had the many times he’d said it in his own head.
“I thought you were just a…”
“…figment of your imagination?”
The closet monster’s lips curled at the corners… just enough to be acceptable as something like a smile.
“No you didn’t.”
“I’m sorry?” Robert was taken aback by the sharpness of the tone.
“You never thought I was a figment of your imagination. Where’s the fear in something that isn’t real. You were convinced I was real… or has it been so long you’ve forgotten? Or have you just convinced yourself over the years?”
“I…” Robert stammered unintentionally.
“You remember that night you wet the bed… you were so scared you couldn’t even find your voice to call out for help… slept in a puddle of your own piss…”
“Okay… I remember.” Robert interrupted… the memory of that night was embarrassing enough… no need to relive it out loud.
“You always thought I was real… still do. Why is this only the second time you’ve come back here in almost a decade if I were just a figment of your imagination? Don’t insult me… don’t insult yourself.”
Robert felt the muscles in his legs weakening… his legs losing the ability to support his weight. Conversely the muscles in his stomach were tightening, twisting into painful nausea-causing knots. He’d been back in the house less than an hour and he was on the verge of passing out. That was almost as incredible as everything else… fainting? No one faints any more. That was the province of 1950’s movies and melodramatic potboilers… no one actually fainted these days… except for Robert… his head was swimming, filled with a cloying fog that clouded his thoughts and threatened to do the same with his vision. His chest tightened, breath came in increasingly short bursts. His palms were wet; he could feel the pores across the surface of his balding head releasing beads of sweat.
“Please don’t…” the fact that the words escaped his mouth was actually a blessing in disguise as it shook him out of his miasma… forced him back into the moment.
“Ok, okay.” Robert squeezed his eyes tightly shut. He opened them again. The closet monster was still there in front of him, suspended from the lintel of the door frame by its scabby clawed feet.
“Am I insane?” It wasn’t a question that has a good answer. Either yes, he was insane and would have to deal with the complete disintegration of his mind. Or no, he wasn’t insane and really was standing face to ugly face with the inhabitant of his many childhood nightmares.
The closet monster’s tongue slipped between its lips, moistening the dry, warty skin.
“No, you’re not crazy… well… maybe you are… but not in the way you mean.”
Robert’s legs finally gave way and he slid slowly down the wall until he was slumped ungainly on the floor. Oh Jesus… don’t let me shit my pants. Not now, not today.
“I was wondering if I’d ever see you again.”
Robert dragged his mind away from thoughts of soiled underwear and stared incomprehensively into the face of the… whatever the fuck it was… is.
“You… you’ve been here all this time?”
“Of course… where else would I be?”
“I don’t understand.”
“You never were the sharpest tool.” The closet monster allowed itself a smile, dragging its evil lips back to reveal row upon row of yellowed, weathered teeth. A cloud of fetid breath wafted towards Robert’s nostrils.
“Oh God…” His skin crawled… his stomach turned; the flesh of his scrotum wrinkled and receded into his body. That was the smell… a little older, a little more putrid… but that was the smell that had haunted his childhood. A smell he’d last noticed some five years ago when he’d forced himself to stand on the porch, ring the doorbell and then make weak sounding excuses to his aged mother why he couldn’t enter the house and would wait for her and his father in the car at the end of the driveway.
This couldn’t be happening.
“It is happening. You’re not dreaming.”
Robert stared, willing his bladder to hold onto its contents rather than release them into his pants. He was twenty eight years old, he couldn’t piss himself.
“Don’t worry… I’m not reading your mind… you’re just being ridiculously obvious. It’s good… it’s how I was hoping you’d be.”
“So all those times when I was a kid… all those times my mom told me not to worry. All those times my dad would laugh at me or hit me or just walk away and tell me to grow up. All those times you were… real?”
“C’mon… you’re getting boring now. Yes. I’m real. Yes… I was real… Yes, yes… yes… ye…” the closet monster’s voice trailed away. Its chest… or at least the parts of the body that would most likely be its chest heaved… slowed. The sickly yellow eyes seemed to look elsewhere.
Ssskkkkrreeeeee. Claws scratched against the wood of the door frame as the creature momentarily lost its grip but managed to adjust and hold on.
“You’ve been here all this time?
“Like I said, where would I go?” Trying to maintain a sense of deliberation in its movements, the closet monster scuttled down from the lintel and dropped to the floor, sitting on the threshold of the bedroom.
“I should never have come back.”
“Never? Really? You’d do that, stay away forever?”
“I… I don’t know… I mean… if they hadn’t…” Even in the midst of this crazy nightmare some things were too painful to talk about.
“Donald and Joy?”
“Yes.” No matter how old he got, calling them anything other than mom and dad just seemed weird.
“Tough break… but it brought you home… nothing else did.” Robert leant back against the wall, closed his eyes and saw the two identical caskets as they disappeared into the crematorium. The turnout had been respectable but not outstanding. His parents kept themselves to themselves rarely travelling far from home for any length of time. That had been one of the reasons he’d seen them so infrequently in the years since he’d left. They wouldn’t travel. He wouldn’t come home. Perfectly incompatible. But this creature was right… if they hadn’t died he’d probably never have come home.
If only they’d sold the house… moved somewhere… even into a home… sheltered housing… anywhere, anything would have been preferable. They could have moved to the far side of the world and he’d have found a way to visit them, certainly more often than he had.
But they were stubborn, refused to leave the home they’d worked so hard to afford, worked so hard to turn into the home where they could raise a family; raise him.
A tear squeezed out from between his eyelids and trickled down the side of his nose, the salt water seeping between his lips.
Robert’s childhood came sweeping back over him… years of experiences, myriad emotions. Why this house? Why him? There’d been something in his closet from as long ago as he could remember. No one had believed him. Not his father – who’d tried to beat the fear out of him with either his belt or the back of his hand. Not his mother – who’d tried to banish his nightmares with gentle crooning and soothing but empty words. Nor had he found any solace from his classmates at school; attempting to confide in one of his closest friends had resulted in weeks of taunting and a schoolyard beat down that had kept him out of school for three days.
No one believed him… not one person… to the point he’d stopped believing himself. There was more than one day that he’d broken down in tears, locked in the restroom stall, terrified he was losing his mind. He’d run away from home four times… once picked up from a neighbor’s house by his father, three times by the local deputies. Eventually when he’d turned eighteen and no one could tell him to stay; he’d left for good, returning only twice; once after convincing his parents to meet him for a luncheon to celebrate his graduation and then once more this very day following the cremation of his parents.
Robert opened his eyes. The closet monster huddled on the floor in front of him its eyes half closed, a slow, soft wheezing escaping its desiccated lips.
This time it was Robert’s turn to smile. The closet monster laboriously raised its eyes to meet his. “What’s so funny?”
“You… you don’t look so frightening after all this time. Are you okay?”
“It’s been a long time… waiting.”
“You waited all this time for me? What happens now? I mean… what was ever supposed to happen?”
The closet monster swallowed, burped a cloud of foul smelling air.
“i…” The grizzled brow furrowed, he looked puzzled. “It’s been a long time…” They sat there… watching, waiting.
“But you must have a plan… I mean… why me? Why’re you still here…” Robert felt the tremendous fear slowly leave his body.
“I was waiting for you to come home.”
No sound, no warning… then one of the taloned appendages shot forward, grasping for Robert’s foot. He pulled it away out of reach moments before the calloused paw reached him. The closet monster’s eyes gleamed momentarily as Robert sucked air into his lungs and a faint gasp escaped his lips.
“See… that’s why.”
“You scared me.”
“I know.” The closet monster said proudly. ‘That’s what I do.”
“And you’ve been waiting here all this time… just for me?”
“I almost feel honored.” Robert’s eyes were fixed on the claw that had reached out to grab him – the same claws he’d been expecting, dreading every time he’d crawled into bed and pulled his feet and hands deep bed. “But I still don’t understand… my parents didn’t know you were real, they never saw you. Where did you come from? Why my closet? Why me?”
“Do you remember where you came from? Or why you’re here?” Robert looked blankly at the closet monster. “Exactly… what makes you think things would be any different for me?”
“I guess… I mean… if you’re real… it kinda changes… you know… everything.”
“Maybe… for you. I never really thought about it like that… it just… guess it’s just the way it’s always been for me.”
Robert wiped away the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand. The knots in his stomach were twisting themselves into different, less nauseating configurations. He stared at the manifestation of all of his childhood fears… the stuff of nightmares squatting in front of him. It had teeth… claws… but so did a dog. A dog didn’t frighten him… but then the right kind of dog could rip his face off if it chose. So many bizarre and conflicting thoughts raced through his head… so many questions… so much unanswered.
“How old are you?” The closet monster didn’t move… didn’t seem to hear him, just breathed heavily.
“I heard… I was thinking. I don’t know… I don’t really know what ‘old’ is. I heard your parents talking about ‘getting old’ about how much they missed you… wanted you to come home.”
“That was your fault. If you hadn’t been here I’d never have left… at least not when I did.”
“Scared you, didn’t I?”
“You know you did.”
“Good.” The closet monster wheezed as he tried to chuckle.
“Good?” anger crept into Robert’s voice for the first time. “How is it good that you made me run away? I hadn’t seen them in five years because I was scared to come back here.”
“But you’re here now.”
“Of course I…” Robert’s voice trailed off. Yes, he was here. Home after all that time… but not until his parents were dead. It was almost as if they had been the reason he hadn’t come home… but that couldn’t be true… could it?
The closet monster sat there in the doorway, blocking the entrance to his old bedroom.
Beyond the misshapen mass of matted hair, Robert could see his old bed, the desk where he used to sit and stare out the window while pretending to complete his homework assignments. Then a thought sparked through his head.
“Did you kill my parents?”
The closet monster didn’t respond, just continued to breathe its wheezing breaths…
“Hey!” Robert extended his foot… nudged the closet monster who instinctively lashed out with a claw, the weathered talons cutting through the fabric of Robert’s sock, drawing a thin line lf blood on the skin beneath. Robert winced and drew his foot back quickly. The closet monster regarded him… something of a sparkle somewhere deep within its eyes.
“You said you thought I’d come back here if they died. I just thought… maybe…” Drool dribbled from the monster’s mouth, pooled on the hardwood floor but it said nothing.
“You don’t look so good. I think you’re old even if you don’t know what it means.”
“Maybe.” The word came out slowly accompanied by a long, low breath.
“You know dog’s age seven years for every one human year. Maybe it’s the same thing for you. Maybe that’s how come you’re old.”
The closet monster stared at him. “You think I couldn’t get you if I wanted?” It raised its clawed appendage, looked at the red smear of Robert’s blood on its nail. “I can kill you just… just as easily as I could when you… you were…” the voice trailed away.
“I don’t know if I should be scared of you anymore.” Robert tried to move… but the closet monster shot out its limb and grabbed tightly around his ankle, holding him fast.
“You don’t think?”
“I don’t know.” Robert could feel the grip on his ankle loosening but didn’t feel quite confident enough to try to extricate his leg.
“What now?” Robert waited… wondering if the labored breathing would slow even further.
“It’s getting late. You going to stay… or… or you going to… r… run away like before?”
“Look at you… what could you do to me?” Robert sensed a weakening in the grip on his ankle. Without taking his eyes from the closet monster’s face he slowly pulled his leg back towards him. The closet monster kept its claw around Robert’s leg, but the grip was weak and the claws began to slip away as the leg moved.
“You… you should stay the night.”
“Where else?” The closet monster had completely released its hold on Robert’s leg. It stretched itself like a cat rising from an afternoon nap. Bones cracked. “Just see… see if you can do it.”
The closet monster began to retreat into the bedroom, the lengthening shadows swallowing it up as the sunlight faded.
“Go on… try and be brave.” Said the closet monster, now just a pair of faint tallow eyes piercing the gloom. “For old times’ sake.”
Credit: Paul Hart-Wilden
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