04 Aug Promises
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Estimated reading time — 16 minutes
I was one of those frail, sickly children for the vast majority of my early years. I was constantly being shuffled from physician to physician with one ailment or another; asthma, perpetual tonsillitis, severe allergies to everything. You name it I dealt with it at one point or another growing up. This meant that I spent a great deal of my formative years at home, in bed, miserably sick and more than a bit morose. There was an upside to this however, my father would often take time out of work to sit in my bedroom and read to me.
Some of my fondest memories as a child involved my father sitting in a chair next to my bed with one science fiction novel or another spread across his lap. I can’t count how many days were spent in such a fashion. I look back on it now and can’t help but smile when I picture that large man with his bushy beard, reading those thick novels to take my mind away from whatever was ailing me at the time. I was fortunate to come from a very loving home. My mother and father were extremely doting and focused all of their collective time and energy on raising their only son. I was particularly close to my father. We’ve all heard the old adage about Daddy’s girls and Momma’s boys, but that simply wasn’t the case in my experience.
Of course, every boy views his father as some larger than life, lantern jawed superhero, and I was no exception. My father was an enormous man, maybe six foot two and well over 250 pounds. He was an intimidating figure, and my childhood friends would often remark on just how large he was. He had very intense grayish blue eyes, brown hair that was slowly receding, and a thick red beard. But as intimidating as he may have appeared his demeanor, especially towards me, was always so calm and relaxed. He never once raised his voice within earshot, nor did I ever witness him use that great bulk of his to bully or intimidate. He was a kind soul, and spent all of his time letting his only son know just how much he was loved. He’d spend hours of his evenings after work in my room, sitting on the floor playing with my toys. I can’t help but chuckle when I picture that large man sitting cross legged on the floor with whatever superhero or mutant turtle I was interested in at that point. He even kept a small journal of all the funny little things I’d say and do, with some of his own musings remarking on just how quickly I was growing. I recall years later, when I was a man myself, reading that journal and being moved to tears by how deeply this man loved me.
Now my father was not a particularly religious man, in fact, if I had to peg his beliefs I’d say he was atheistic now that I have a grasp of such things. This was in direct conflict with how he was raised. He’d grown up in a very small town in North Carolina and was brought up in a very strict southern Baptist family. He remarked in the journal, just days after my birth, about how he found the Bible to be even more preposterous now that he had a child of his own. In particular the story of Isaac and Abraham did not sit well with my father. He couldn’t imagine any scenario in which he’d be willing to sacrifice his only son to some voice in his head. He was a very straightforward “logic and reason” type of guy. In addition to religion he absolutely abhorred superstitions and myths he made several comments about being leery of anyone that claimed to believe in aliens or ghost stories. Now he never made these statements to me directly he wanted me to come to my own conclusions regarding religion, superstition and the paranormal. But he did jot down all of these thoughts in that journal of his with the intention of giving me this book when I became a man myself. Unfortunately he never did get that opportunity.
As you can imagine, his death had a devastating impact on the course of my life. I remember vividly my mother coming into my room with tears and makeup streaming down her face. She cradled me in her arms and for the longest time simply rocked back and forth while sobbing silently to herself. Eventually she pulled herself together enough to tell me that my father’s small pickup truck had been struck on his drive home from work. The other vehicle involved was a semi, being driven by a man with too little sleep and too much alcohol in his system. He didn’t even know that he’d been involved in an accident until the officer responding to the crash pulled him from the wreckage of his own vehicle.
I was in shock, I was beyond consoling and honestly, I was furious. I was only five or six when my father passed, and in my mind all I could focus on was the fact that my dad had broken his promise. He would say to me, as he tucked me in at night, that I was his favorite thing in the world and he would always be there to make certain I was safe. It was repeated so often, night after night, that it almost became a mantra of his. But he made that promise and now he wouldn’t be around to keep it.
After my father’s death my mother was unable to afford the small three bedroom home nestled in the foothills of the mountains that I’d grown up in. We were forced to move to an older, run down part of town and needless to say it was just another factor contributing to the overwhelming sense of loss I was dealing with at the time. I hated the town, I hated the new school that I was required to attend when my health permitted, but most of all I hated our new home and the empty feeling it seemed to exude without my father’s presence. He’d never lived in that house, those walls had never heard that big guttural laugh of his, or sat idly by as he read to me during one of my many tilts with sickness. The house was a source of anxiety for me in those days. It was old, built sometime in the 1920’s my mother had told me. It was ancient, it was cold and everything about it seemed to be in a constant state of disrepair. The white paint was chipping in numerous spots on the exterior; the hardwood floors were warped and pockmarked throughout, even the grass outside remained a dismal brown year round.
The house only had two small bedrooms, a bathroom, a tiny dated kitchen and a musty little living room that seemed to be an afterthought in the builder’s original designs. I loathed that house; the floors creaked as everything settled at night, the windows were so old and grimy that they permitted very little light. My room was situated in the very back of the home and was so small that I had just enough room for my twin bed and a little dresser.
We’d been in the house for about six weeks when I started noticing some odd things happening, especially at night. I would come home from school to find that my bed, which had been made that morning, was in complete disarray. The clothes in my closet would sometimes be strewn across my room, much to my mother’s disapproval, and other small things like doors and windows seemingly opening and closing of their own volition. But the first truly unnerving occurrence that I can recall was just after my mom had tucked me in one night. I was staring at the ceiling, trying to decide if the water stain above my bed resembled a dog or something a bit more equestrian. I was beginning to nod off, catching myself closing my eye lids for a bit longer than was required to blink. My thoughts were slowly spiraling towards something that were closer to dreams when I heard a small scratching sound coming from the foot of my bed. At that time my bed was nestled in the corner of the room parallel to the doorway on one side and opposite my small closet that was a few feet from the foot board of the bed. I dismissed the sound as one of the many unexplained noises the house emitted at night and began drifting once more when I heard the noise again. This time it was louder and unmistakable as scratching, it was with a bit more purpose it seemed. I held my breath, closed my eyes, and focused all of my attention on deciphering that sound.
This time when it happened it was definitely louder and seemed to have a rhythm to it that just couldn’t be naturally occurring. It was almost like Morse code, like the scratching was meant to convey some kind of message. I got the feeling that it wasn’t trying to say “Ship in distress” or anything as mundane or typical as that. I can’t explain why, but the sound began to make me very uneasy as though it were malevolent in nature. The hair on the back of my neck began to rise without prompting and I found myself pulling the cover closer and closer to my chin. It would stop sporadically and then begin again with more fervor each time and always that same rhythm, scratch, scratch, scratch followed by a short pause and then scratch, scratch. I was frozen, completely fixated on this noise, but unable to call out to my mother whose bedroom was on the other side of the wall.
My mouth was dry and I was constantly moving my tongue around, swallowing to force something resembling moisture back into my mouth. Suddenly the scratching stopped, mid-sequence this time, and was replaced by the rattling of the closet doors. The closet was that old accordion style sliding type, with the wooden slats. I was amazed that the sound hadn’t prompted my mother to come in and see why I was out of bed. The rattling became more insistent, violent even, and that’s when I rediscovered the ability to scream. I yelled at the capacity my little lungs would permit until my room was flooded with light and I could make out my mother’s silhouette in the doorway.
“What’s wrong honey, what is it?” concern evident in my mother’s sleepy voice. I sat up in bed never taking my eyes off of the closet doors. “There’s someone in there mommy, in…in the closet”. She blinked a few times to clear the remaining fuzziness that sleep offers from her eyes and walked over to the closet. She flung the doors apart with a horrid screeching sound, and when it was clear that no boogeyman was immediately apparent, began shuffling the clothes hanging from the rod to show me there was no occupant. “See sweetheart, there’s no one in here it was just a bad dream”.
She closed the doors again crossed the hardwood floor and arranged herself at the foot of my bed. “It’s no surprise that you’re having nightmares son, considering…considering all that’s happened recently.” She patted my leg, and then reached up to smooth my disheveled hair. “I promise you, there’s no one in there”, she said. I was finally able to peel my attention away from the closet and meet her eyes, “I know there was” I said “there were some weird scratching noises and then the doors started to shake.” She stifled a yawn behind her fist and then patted my cheek as she rose from the edge of my bed. “Just a dream son, there’s no one in there, and there’s no one in the house but us.” “Now please, try to get some sleep, you have to go to school tomorrow and you don’t want to be nodding off in class.” She crossed the room and told me she loved me before she turned my bedroom light back off. I heard her mattress springs sigh as she got back into her bed and I laid down again myself.
I maneuvered myself as close to the wall and headboard as I could manage, pulled the cover up to my nose, and shut my eyes with such force that they squeezed tears down my cheeks. I tried to control my breathing and focus everything my sense of hearing had to offer for that sound. My heart was pounding so loudly in my ears that I barely heard the first scratch when the noise came again. I stopped breathing all together and waited for the next series of scratches to begin again. The minutes dragged by but the sound did not come again and at some point I fell into a rather fitful stage of sleep that was accompanied by nightmares.
Over the coming weeks the sound would come and go. There didn’t seem to be any pattern to it at all. There would be several nights in a row with absolutely nothing unusual occurring and then there would come a night when the scratching would start up as soon as I began to drift off and last until I screamed for my mother. This became something of a pattern, I wouldn’t say I became accustomed to it, but I knew that on those nights when the scratching started that all I had to do was yell for my mom and after she came in to take a look around I’d finally be able to sleep.
It had been three or four nights since the last time I’d heard the rhythmic scratching. I’d managed to fall asleep that night without event, maybe I’d been lulled into some false sense of security as it’d been several nights since the last “closet incident”. It was about 1 or so in the morning when I awoke with a start. I had fallen asleep on top of my covers and as soon as I became aware of being conscious I wrestled with trying to crawl underneath them. After much effort, I was finally able to get underneath the comfort and security of my sheets when I began to wonder what exactly had stirred me from the throngs of sleep. It was a cloudy night, so the limited amount of light permitted through my bedroom window was at an absolute minimum that night. I controlled my breathing, listening for that ominous sound and forced my eyes to scan the bedroom. And that’s when I saw it. Standing at the foot of my bed, in front of my slowly deteriorating closet doors was a very large form. It was so dark that I couldn’t make out whether this thing, this being, was facing my direction or not.
I couldn’t move, I couldn’t scream, I could barely even draw breath. All of my attention was on that form at the foot of my bed, I couldn’t look away, it’s as if my eye lids were taped open and I was forced that look in that direction. The form never moved, never even shifted from foot to foot. It simply stood there, massive and dark and seeming to fill the whole room. There was no scratching sound, no rattling of the closet doors, just this form standing stoically in the middle of my room. Amazingly I fell asleep. I can’t begin to imagine how that came to be. I just know that one minute I’m fixated with every fiber of my being on this figure in my room, and the next minute I’m opening my eyes to sunlight trickling in through my window and birds chirping outside as they went about their daily activities. What’s even more amazing is that I didn’t awake with that sense of terror that I’d grown accustomed to after a run in with the scratching sound, I even felt rested for the first time in months. This same thing happened again several times over the next couple of nights. I found myself waking in the middle of the night only to be confronted by the image of that large silent form at the foot of my bed. Again there was no scratching sound or rattling closet doors, just this figure standing there a few feet away. I never worked up the courage to yell for my mother or try to get a closer look at this shadow like form. I still wasn’t even certain if it was facing in my direction on the nights this occurred. I even began to wonder if perhaps this thing standing in my room at night had simply tired of causing a ruckus in my closet and accepted my presence in the house.
The next few weeks went by without anything of note occurring. I ate breakfast, went to school, came home and then went to bed. My health had hit a relative high point during that period of time and I was attending school on a regular basis for the first time in memory. At some point I even befriended one of the boys a few houses down and spent my evenings playing video games and the like at his house. I went to bed absolutely exhausted each night and woke the next morning well rested and looking forward to what the day might hold. I began to discount those terrifying events that had occurred in my room in the weeks prior as nothing more than my imagination.
My mother had taken on more hours at the furniture factory where she worked to help pay off some of the debt that accrued after my father’s death. On the nights she worked late I was to spend my evenings over at my new friend Ryan’s house until she returned home. I didn’t like to see my mother so tired from all of the extra work she was putting in, but I did enjoy getting to hang out with my friend and his rather expansive collection of video games (a luxury my mother simply couldn’t provide for me at the time). This routine of staying with Ryan’s family until my mother got off of work lasted for several weeks until my mother had an accident at work. She broke several bones in her right hand and wrist and was unable to work at all for the next few months, let alone pick up extra hours. She was obviously dismayed because just as it seemed our lives had begun to take on the normalcy that everyone expects, some unforeseen event once again caused that pattern to veer off course. She received some pretty heavy duty pain medication along with the cast on her arm and retired to bed early the night of her accident. I was permitted to watch television after I’d completed my homework, and then I went to bed myself after my favorite cartoons went off,
I’d been in bed for about half an hour, listening to the unusual sounds of my mother’s snoring from the next room when I thought I heard that all too familiar scratching sound from my closet. Initially I tried to ignore it, going so far as to covering my head with my pillow and forcing myself to sleep. After a few minutes I realized that this wasn’t working, the scratching sound never abated and only seemed to increase in tempo as the minutes passed. I was more angry than frightened at this point. It had been many weeks since the last time I’d had to deal with this and I’d begun to hope that it had stopped altogether.
After a few more minutes I finally came to the decision that I would open the closet door myself and finally put my mind at ease. It had to be a rat or something, there had to be some explanation and I was determined to find out. I pushed the cover towards the foot of my bed and began moving my feet towards the floor. As soon as my bare feet made contact with the cold hardwood the scratching sound ceased all together and was replaced with the violent shaking of the closet door. I let out an involuntary yelp as it had been a long time since I’d heard that sound, and I’d never seen it be so violent. The closet doors were rattling around with such force that I was afraid they would tear loose from their hinges. I lifted my feet back into bed and worked up the courage to begin yelling for my mother. “Mom…Mom please come here” I yelled with as much volume as I could muster. No response, not even the slightest break in her snoring, she was out cold. I yelled again and again, but to no avail. The moment I began yelling the shaking of the closet doors had ceased, as they usually do in this situation.
But my yelling wasn’t followed by the sound of my mother’s footsteps this time, and the doors began shaking once again. I didn’t know what to do, I was far too scared to get up and make a mad dash for my mother’s room, but my fearful screams seemed to have no effect. I began to sob, I’d reached a breaking point and I couldn’t help but pull my knees up to my chest and whimper. Suddenly the doors quit their frantic dance, they just stopped shaking altogether. I managed to lift my face from the protection of my knees and to my horror I saw the closet doors begin to slide apart. No more scratching, no more rattling, I was finally going to come face to face with my tormentor.
The doors finally opened all the way and I could see now that my clothes and the darkness within were shifting. I could just make out a hand part the clothes on the rack and felt bile rise in my stomach as I realized the skin on that hand was absolutely putrid. Gray and mottled and I now became aware of the most horrific stench I’d ever encountered. I wanted to spring from my bed and through my window, or pull the cover over my head and will this nightmare away. But I was completely transfixed, rooted in place, I couldn’t budge a muscle. I could now make out a torso in the space that my clothes once occupied it was covered in that same rotting flesh as the hand of course. Next, and most terrifying, I could make out two pools of absolute darkness that constituted the eyes on this nightmare. They were sunk down deep into the sockets of its face and were completely void of any emotion that I could discern. Just two black pits of emptiness. The creature had finally emerged from behind my shirts and jackets hanging from my closet rack.
It paused for a moment at the entrance to the closet, and seemed to size up the room. It was tall and impossibly skinny, almost to the point of being emaciated. The fingers and toes ended in long black ragged nails, nails that were almost talon like. Bits and pieces of flesh were missing over various parts of the creature’s body. I could clearly make out what appeared to be ribs in its torso, and the yellowing bone of one elbow. It had a few tufts of jet black hair protruding from its grotesque and bulbous head. Its mouth was wide and filled with small rows of teeth that came to points so sharp they looked like they’d been filed. Its nose was two little slits with absolutely no protrusion that I could discern.
It just stood in the doorway of my closet, smiling at me with those little sharp teeth and that unnaturally wide mouth. It stared at me as if it was trying to convey that it had all the time in the world and intended to drag out whatever horror was about to visit me. Suddenly the creature jerked its head to the side and seemed to sniff the air with that horrible little nose. The sniffing became more frantic and the creature kept jerking its head from side to side as if it’d caught a scent it wasn’t fond of and was trying to ascertain exactly where this odor was originating. That’s when I noticed movement from my peripheral, I was able to tear my eyes away from this monstrosity long enough to look to the corner of my room where I’d seen the sudden movement. And there, standing just feet away from me was that large dark ominous form.
It seemed even more massive than it had in previous encounters, and it also seemed to be radiating an intense anger. To my amazement this anger did not seem to be directed towards me, but at the creature now standing in front of my closet. The creature let out a hiss and then a sound akin to a whimper and took a step back when it noticed the large form standing in the corner of the room. I looked back at this dark figure standing so very close now, and for the first time I could make out distinguishing features. I realized that before this form had stood with its back to me on those nights it had appeared in my room, because now I could clearly make out a face, a face that was covered in course red hair. I could now see that this figure was a very large man with pale white skin and a receding hair line. But the most noticeable feature were the intense grayish blue eyes that I could make out even in the darkness of my room. Those eyes left the monster in my closet for just a moment and made contact with my own. This great big man standing in the center of my room, this great big man that I thought I would never see again, he smiled and then winked at me.
And with a burst of movement that my eyes could barely track he dove into the beast, driving it back into the depths of my closet, while the doors closed on them both. I sat on the edge of my bed, with tears in my eyes, and my mind racing to process what it had just witnessed. I finally broke my stupor long enough to race to my mother’s room and wake her. After a few moments of frantic shaking on my part, she finally swam to the surface of consciousness. When my face came into focus she immediately sat up out of bed and took me in her arms. “What is it sweetheart, what’s going on?” At this point I had begun to sob uncontrollably as she rocked me back and forth in her arms. I pulled myself together long enough to say “He kept his promise…he said he would always be there for me and he meant it”. My mother tried to get me to explain, but I just continued to cry into her shoulder as she rocked me back and forth. At some point I managed to fall asleep with my mother whispering words of comfort until I drifted off.
I never did hear another odd sound from my closet after that night, or any other part of the house for that matter. From that point forward things returned to normal and I felt as though a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders, I’d received some form of closure from the events that took place that night. I also knew that no matter what obstacles I might face in the years ahead, I would always have someone looking over my shoulder, ever ready to fulfill a promise made to a small sickly child.
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