Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
Reading a couple stories here, and something that happened to me came to mind.
You ever have moments that you blip out completely? As if your brain can bother to remember something only so often, so it’s shoved into the depths of your memory? But something always seems to unleash it.
I’d forgotten the house on 12 Dahlia Road, in the little town of Mary Esther, Florida.
Though, “forgotten” isn’t altogether the right word here, because the truth is, I’d never really forget.
The things I’m about to tell you are completely true, in which even my family can attest to. Not one to be fictitious or exaggerating, I will tell you this story in its entirety. Names and places, however, have been changed to protect those that have witnessed it.
My husband passed away when I’d been pregnant with my daughter. On his way home from work one evening, he’d been T-boned by a drunk driver and had slid peacefully into a coma while on site. He’d simply never woken up.
During my mourning, I’d stayed with my parents until our daughter, Callie, was born.
She was, I want to say, nine months old when I’d been feeding her breakfast in the small kitchen one morning.
Her high chair was wedged between the table and the wall as best I could manage while still allowing room for movement in the little dining area.
My father hadn’t been able to squeeze through the gap and, I guess, that had been the snapping point.
“Lori,” he sighed, setting his coffee mug on the table heavily. Coffee sloshed over the rim and stained the table’s scratched and marred surface. “Katherine,” my mom,” and I have been talking for a while now, and we’d like to give you the other house.”
A little backstory here; when I’d been eleven, we’d moved shortly after my grandfather had passed, and into my grandmother’s house two cities over. My father had felt she needed someone to look after her in her age, and we hadn’t bothered to sell the other house.
Instead, we’d rent it out and save the extra money for emergencies. Occasionally, we’d lent it to children of friends, or a college graduate transitioning from school to the real world.
It was slightly damaged from over the years, but it was my childhood home. I was more than happy to raise my daughter in the house that had shaped me as a child.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t enjoy my family or didn’t love them enough. The memories I had after Kevin’s death were full of warm comfort and patience.
My parents were wonderful, and had made a point to make sure I never felt as if I inconvenienced them in anyway.
Looking back on it, I think they were a little sad I was taking their only daughter and granddaughter from their home, but they also understood my need for independence again. I needed my own home, my own space. Something in which I could carve out “MINE!” in the world, in big, bold letters.
And the house in Mary Esther seemed like a perfect opportunity.
It had taken almost a week to ready the house just to move in. Luckily, friends, family, and neighbors seemed to crawl out of the woodwork to help.
They’d installed a new garage door, a working dishwasher, helped fix the leaky roof. They’d even repaired the damages a previous tenant’s dog had wrecked.
The dog must’ve been a massive thing because it had broken a sliding glass bathtub door, shredded through cabinets, and taken huge chunks out of the hallway’s carpet.
In the end, we couldn’t save the floor and ripped it out. We’d placed down linoleum tile that looked like faux wood flooring, but much cheaper.
The linen closet at the end of the hall had been left unscathed, so the carpet in there remained. It poked out a little along the bottom of the door, but it was tolerable.
I wasn’t about to complain, after all. Everybody had put in so much effort to make me right at home; a little fluff under a door was the last thing I was going to gripe about.
I was thankful.
It was a Monday evening when I’d finally gotten settled into my new home. I had taken putting everything where it belonged on pause, so that I could give Callie a bath in the new tub.
We hadn’t had a tub in my grandmother’s home. The house had been fashioned around someone handicapped, so we’d had the big, bulky shower stalls.
In the new house, though, we had a big tub in the hall bathroom and Callie was more than excited to check it out.
Covered in bubbles of lavender-scented baby shampoo, she giggled and played until she was all tuckered out.
I realized I’d accidentally put up all the towels instead of leaving a handful in the bathroom for drying, and let Callie sit in the little remaining water as I went to the linen closet at the end of the hall.
It was only a short ten paces away, at most.
It had been the linen closet when I’d been a child and my mother had taken to putting the excess sheets, towels, and linens along wooden shelves that lined the interior of the spacious room. Having recently acquired the house, I took up the same habit.
Comforted by the familiarity of my childhood home, its familiar smell, I listened to Callie splash and play in the last few drops of water as I stopped short in the hallway.
It was the first time I actually noticed the doorknob. It wasn’t just a smooth, gold knob like the other closets in the hall, or even the bedroom doors, for that matter.
A turn-style lock on the doorknob, on the outside. It didn’t sit well with me.
Had someone been locking someone/something in the linen closet?
Maybe it was the dog that destroyed the house, I thought to myself. Maybe it got out of hand occasionally and they’d locked it in the spacious closet?
It was odd that the door would have a lock on the outside, and I made a mental note to change it.
What had the previous renters been doing here?
What if Callie locked herself in the closet by accident? She was autistic and would panic horribly. It would take hours for her to calm down if that happened.
I swaddled her in the oversized towel, which hung over her feet and pooled on the floor in heavy, maroon shades. Her blonde hair spiked all over her head in all directions and she giggled as I dried and tickled her mercilessly.
Afterwards, I slid her into her Hello Kitty footed pajamas and tucked her into her crib.
I hated that crib, to tell you the truth. It was massive, and being a small woman of only five feet in height, it was a real pain to get her in and out of the thing. It felt as if my abdomen was bruising every time I leaned over the wooden rails to pick her up.
I sat in the large rocking chair my grandmother had given to me as a housewarming present and read her the tale of The Last Basselope.
It was a book my father had read to me almost every night, in that very room, in that very chair.
Truthfully, I was a little homesick. I missed my folks, but more so, I missed Kevin horribly, wishing that he could see us more then than anything else.
I missed his smell, the texture of his clothes, the feel of his breath. It shattered my heart just to think of him.
He’d never even gotten a chance to see Callie, or read to her, or touch her face. He’d never gotten a chance to watch her first steps, hear her first words, or help her on the bus on the first day of school. All because some stupid kid had decided he’d been okay to drink and drive.
I was crying quietly by the time she’d fallen asleep.
Sniffling softly, I placed the book on the chair and headed to the bathroom, leaving her door opened a crack so I could hear her better. Her soft snores floated after me.
Leaving her room, the linen closet was directly on the left; the dead center of the end of the hallway.
That damn lock, I kept thinking. It just does not make sense. Who would put it there? Was it a temp fix for a broken knob, maybe? Why not just switch it out with one of the plain bedroom knobs then?
I dampened the corner of Callie’s bath towel and dabbed my eyes. I hung it over the shower rail and blew my nose in a handful of tissue paper.
No more tears, I told myself. It’s a new start, a new beginning.
The lights in the bathroom flickered briefly, which wasn’t exactly abnormal.
We lived rather close to the Air Force base, so the practiced bombings occasionally caused electrical interference.
Off in the distance, I remember, I could even faintly hear it. The heavy OOMPH noise that sounded like heavy fireworks in the distance.
I settled into the living room, keeping an ear open for the baby as I began to read in the quiet of the new house.
At first, I didn’t notice the sound. A new house, it’s bound to have some random ticks.
The steadily cracking along the top of the walls, a small scraping sound.
I muttered in disgust, “Great,” as I slid the bookmark into a page and set the novel down.
My first thought was, “There’s some kind of animal in the crawl space.”
From the way the scratching, scraping bounced up and down the wall suddenly, I assumed it was a squirrel.
It ran from floor to ceiling, a sound like scurrying and bobbing. Small claws rattled against the wooden posts of the inner wall and sheetrock lining.
I followed the noise, trying to track where it could possibly be.
It went along the top of the living room wall, down the corner, back up the cold air return in the mouth of the hall, and around the top of the door frame of the bathroom.
“Oh, it’s going to wake up Callie,” I grumbled, getting royally pissed off suddenly.
She’d already had a traumatic day with moving and all the people. The last thing she needed was to wake up and have a meltdown.
Like I said, she’s autistic and absolutely hated anything that wrecked with her routine.
Messing with sleep time definitely wrecked her routine.
A heavy thump and something that sounded like a slide, and I’d decided I’ve just about had enough!
I darted in my room, across the hall from Callie’s room, and next to that damn closet, and snatched the phone receiver off its charging base.
I punched in my father’s cellphone number instantly and listened to the ringing.
In the spanse of time it took him to answer, the thing in the crawl space had maneuvered to the ceiling right outside my bedroom door.
“Lori, are you okay?” was the first thing he asked, bless his heart.
“Yeah,” I reassured him instantly, feeling more than a little guilty and foolish for calling so abruptly. “It’s just that there’s something moving around in the crawlspace beneath the attic in the house.”
After a short pause, he laughed in his usual warm, grumbly way and said, “It’s probably a ‘possum or squirrel.”
I agreed with him. “True, but I don’t know who to call about it and I’m afraid it’ll wake up the baby.”
A few grumbling noises and the slam of a pickup truck’s tailgate later, he began, “I can head out in the morning-”
But my mother interrupted him. “Is that Lori? Does she need something?” her voice had begun to go a bit nervous around the edges and raising. “We can be over there in fifteen minutes, honey!”
“It’s just a rodent problem,” he tried to tell her, but being my mom, that was the worst thing he could’ve told her.
“A rodent problem? Dammit, Allen,” she’d gone into full raging by then. “Get the truck loaded up. Our grandbaby doesn’t need that crap!”
The scraping had intensified by then, and slithered around the wall in the corner of my room.
“Is that it?” Dad asked, hearing the sound over the phone.
“Yeah,” I answered, smacking the wall in an attempt to frighten and quiet the wretched thing.
It didn’t work.
Instead, it became more agitated and scraped with frantic claws that sounded as if they were the size of butcher knives.
“Jesus,” he muttered. “Katherine,” to my mother, he shouted, “get the shovel from beside the garage while I get the keys.” To me, “Don’t aggravate it. It might have rabies.”
Hell, I hadn’t even thought about that until then.
“Can it get in the actual house?” I asked, worry for my child seeping into my heart.
I darted across the hall and peeked into her room, but she was still fast asleep in the big crib, with her princess nightlight shining over her.
“Block off the cold air return and the closet,” he informed me. “If it’s in the crawl space, it might be able to get to the ventilation fan in the utility closet.”
A new set of worries plagued me as he promised to be there in no less than fifteen minutes, and if anything else happened, to call his cellphone right away.
I closed the door to Callie’s room as a precaution and kicked into gear as I slid the phone into my back pocket.
While the creature scraped and bounced down the walls, I somehow moved the small recliner in the living room down the linoleum floor of the hall, and positioned it in front of the cold air return below the utility closet. I’d successfully blocked both with one piece of furniture.
Feeling rather proud of myself, I sat in the chair for a moment and waited on Mom and Dad.
Silence abruptly filled the hall. The scuttling drained away as if it had never been.
It was so unnerving, the hairs on the back of my neck raised as gooseflesh marched up and down my arms, climbed my cheeks.
It hadn’t been silent for almost an hour. Nothing but constant scraping, slithering, bouncing, and scratching.
I’d have preferred the movement to the unsettling, deafening quiet. With her bedroom closed, I didn’t even have Callie’s light snore to drown it out.
I sat in that hall, in that chair, and listened to the sound of my own pulse rushing through my ears for I don’t know how long.
Each rhythmic rush of blood seemed louder than the last.
I tried to lick my suddenly dry lips but found my tongue had been equally devoid of moisture. I tried to swallow the lump in my throat.
My thoughts raced. Had it gotten hurt or maybe stuck? Maybe it had found an escape and I was wasting my parents’ time?
I felt like a fool sitting there, with my chair wedged against the wall, waiting for my heartbeat to slow.
But then something shoved the chair from behind and I was moved a good half-foot. Too scared to even scream, I shoved the chair back just as hard.
The only thought, I can honestly say, that filled my head at that precise moment, was of my baby.
Callie was in that house, with that creature that was shoving against my chair, shoving against my back. My baby was in possible mortal danger.
My heart soared as I went into some kind of protective overdrive.
I jumped up and whirled, shoving with all my might to slam that chair right back into that damn wall.
No creature on Earth was going to burst into my home and threaten me and my child!
The utility door tried to open once more, rocking the chair forward before I kicked it shut again.
Scraping, scratching, a kind of odd hiss, and it was back into the ceiling. It scrambled faster now, and I scrambled just as fast after it.
It darted down the hall, bouncing between the door frames of the guest room, the bathroom, my bedroom, Callie’s, before starting all over again.
I was going to kill the thing with my own hands at this point! Let it come down the utility closet. I was going to strangle it to death for doing this crap to me!
Squirrel, ‘possum, rat, whatever. It was dead, I tell you.
My pulse was pounding on the back of my tongue so hard, I could almost taste it.
I’d grabbed the broom from the bathroom and wielded it like a sword as I waited for the creature to seek purchase somewhere.
Hell, at that point, I’d probably slam the broom handle through the ceiling to kill that little devil.
I was snarling, stark-raving mad, trying to keep as quiet as possible. I felt as if I had become an overprotective mama bear and I needed blood to calm down.
Something shifted and the scrapings changed. It went into the ceiling space in the linen closet.
I was so enraged, I nearly ripped the doorknob off the door to open it, but before I could, what sounded as if boards, wooden boards, were being rendered and ripped from inside.
I stopped, the onslaught of fury in me feeding to near panic. It felt as if the fight had gone right out of me, replaced solely with horrifying, chilling terror.
It hadn’t sounded big enough to do that much damage. It hadn’t sounded like it had fingers or teeth that could yank the ceiling right out of the little room.
A heavy thump and a slithery shift before what I could only imagine sounded of heavy towels and sheets falling to the ground within the linen closet.
The growl that crawled from under the door sent shivers up my spine and arms.
Broom in hand, I was preparing to slaughter it while my heart was wedged in my throat and I wondered, for the first time, if I’d actually survive it.
It sounded like a dog. I know that sounds crazy, but it sounded like a dog pacing in the confines of the linen closet and fear, cold and real, iced my body from the inside out.
The doorknob grabbed my attention, and I swear to you, it started to turn.
That lock, that damn lock, and I clicked it home.
The creature howled, livid beyond all belief, and slammed into the door bodily, heavily.
The thick wood physically shook in the frame.
Phone retrieved from my back pocket, I frantically called my father as tears filled my eyes. I honestly did not expect to survive the otherworldly creature I’d locked in my linen closet.
How could I protect my baby if I was dead? I was almost crying.
He answered on the third ring, the sound of my mother laughing in the background.
“Where are you?” I demanded before he had a chance to say hello, my voice watery with unshed tears of horror and fear. I was full-out panicking on how to survive this thing long enough to see to the safety of my child.
“A couple blocks, what’s wrong?” his voice full of worry and concern. I could hear
the traffic moving around them, the flow of shifting tires, honking horns. The sounds of the city, my city.
“It’s some kind of dog,” I told him, all but actually crying now.
The doorknob shifted restlessly before it finally gave up, as if it had hoped to somehow break the lock.
“That’s impossible,” my father informed me, scoffing. “It might sound big in the little space-”
“I’m not making this up!” I hollered, and the door shivered under another onslaught again.
“Holy hell,” he whispered in my phone as the noise carried. To my mother, “Get the shotgun from behind the seat and load it.” To me, “Get Callie and get out of the house, we’ll take care of it. We’re almost there. At a red light right now, but we’re almost there.”
I don’t know if he was comforting me or him at that point.
I watched in horror as the carpet beneath the door moved as if something was yanking heavily on it. As if they were taking big handfuls and pulling.
Not wasting anymore time with that, I flung open the door to the baby’s room, threw the phone to the floor, and slapped the wall switch until brilliant light flooded the room.
She was still resting on her back, one tiny little fist clutched to her pale cheek as her fluffy blonde tufts angled out in every direction.
I wrapped her delicately, calmly in the pink little blanket and draped myself over the crib so that I had enough leverage to pull her out. My abdomen screamed in protest as the bars of the crib pushed into my middle.
The entire time, the creature in the closet was digging, digging at the carpet under the door. It pulled the fabric back far enough, I could see the glue to the floor.
Holding her to my chest, and bouncing her ever so gently, comfortingly, as she nuzzled into me, moodily waking up, I stepped as softly as possible out of her room as to not wake her further.
As I neared the end of the hall it howled, and I was too afraid to look back, too scared to look over my shoulder and double check that the linen closet’s door was still holding.
Instead, I all but crashed into the front door and ran into the driveway in time to see the spill of headlights illuminate my street.
My dad pulled up in his red Ford F150, shotgun clamped tightly in his hand as I rushed to the flinging open door of the cab.
“Are you okay?” my mother was already demanding as she jumped out of her side of the truck to run to me.
Dad was pulling the shovel from the back of the truck and moving it to the front porch as he glanced inside the screen door.
I assumed he meant to kill and bury the thing with the tools, and never once questioned it.
“It’s in the linen closet,” I told him, tears of relief streaming down my face as I clutched to my mom all but sobbing.
“Oh, baby,” she said, and held me close as she shifted Callie from my shoulder to hers. “Go help your father, I’ve got her.”
I kissed both their cheeks, tucked Callie’s little pajama-covered foot back in the pink blanket, and got to the porch.
I took the shovel from its resting place against the brick and stood with Dad beside the door.
He cocked his head, ear pressed to the door and listened. After a moment, he asked, “Is that it?”
After a pause, I could hear it, too.
It was a guttural, low growl, almost too quiet to have heard.
I couldn’t manage an answer. My voice felt dried and hollow in my throat, unable to force its way through my cold lips. I managed a weak nod, eyes wide and scared.
Switching off the safety, he opened the screen door and stepped inside. I mustered courage and followed him, shovel in hand.
The house went quiet and still as we moved through the living room.
He peeked into the den and kitchen for a moment before asking me to move the chair in the hall.
I propped the shovel and managed to shove the recliner to the side, giving him enough room.
He flung open the utility closet first, and studied the little room in the hall lighting.
A muttered obscenity and I realized what he’s swearing at as I grappled the shovel with numb fingers.
Claw marks, deep and wide, riddled the thick, wooden door and the sheetrock lining the room.
There was at least hundreds of them, gashing wide into the wall, around the backing of the AC unit, and down the door.
Chills ran rampant up and down my arms and face as he slowly closed the door and turned to the linen closet.
The lock, that damned lock, was twisted and free.
Had it gotten out?
We agreed he’d aim the gun and I’d open the door in the end.
With me to his right, my breath came in labored puffs, my pulse raced through my veins and pounded into my ears until I thought I might faint.
I grasped the cold, gold doorknob and twisted, resisting the urge to squeeze my eyes shut against the nightmare.
Yanking the door with all my might sent me crashing into Callie’s bedroom door frame.
My dad was as still as a tomb as he stood there. His eyes shifted from all over the linen closet, to me, back to the closet.
I peeked around the edge of the door and stared at the chaos as the shovel dropped from my loose, cold fingers.
Towels, sheets, pillow covers were littering the floor, covered in thick tufts of loose carpet.
Claw marks, matching the utility closet, riddled the walls and doors. The doorknob appeared to display a set of teeth marks.
The ceiling, however, was perfectly intact.
We spent the better part of half an hour tearing through shredded towels, hefting shelves, throwing sheets, but could not find a single hole into the room.
We searched the whole house, gun and shovel in hand, prepared to mutilate any living thing we found, but came up empty.
My mother helped me pack Callie’s things, some clothes, necessities, and we took their truck back to their home, forgoing my little mini-van in the driveway, as my fingers were still too number to drive.
The next day, I packed up as fast as I’d settled in, and, with Callie on my hip, we shoved the For Sale sign home into the dirt of the front yard.
I never spent another night in the home of my childhood.
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