22 Jun The Space Above the Closet
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"The Space Above the Closet"Written by Emerald Lee
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Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
My room is tiny. Of course, that’s because it was built for efficiency. I don’t know if you’ve ever stayed in a dorm room, or even seen one for that matter, but I can tell you after having lived in one for the past four years: they’re built like stackable sardine containers. My five star, luxury quality, thousands of dollars per semester, individual dorm room measures in at a whopping 9×12 feet! I mean it’s practically a suite in the Hilton!
You’re right, sarcasm doesn’t read easily in a diary.
I’m a 22-year-old grown ass woman writing in a notebook. It doesn’t matter what I call you – you’re still a goddamn diary.
Ha, ha! Goddamn Diary. That’s what I’ll call you – instead of “Dear Diary” I mean. It’ll be like my signature ‘thing’ when anthropologists of the future find this and examine my precious words for ‘cultural meaning.’
I’m sorry; I digress. Let’s start again, shall we?
As I was saying, my room is a tiny little shit box. But that isn’t the problem, not really anyway. Like I said, I’ve lived here for four years now and if I’m being honest, it’s not the size of my room that’s bothering me. It’s not really the room at all, actually. It’s the space above the closet.
The Space Above the Closet…. Jesus, how ominous. Wow, I feel crazy even writing this. I sound like some kind of nutcase. But I don’t know, I guess I feel like if I write it all down everything will make sense and I won’t have to worry about it anymore and I can just burn this stupid notebook and then I won’t have to concern myself with ruminations about the anthropologists of the future, or if I should call you a diary or a journal or a fucking papyrus leaf.
Honestly, I just need to write this down because maybe… maybe on paper it will be sane-sounding.
I guess I should start from the beginning. Okay, well… right. The space above the closet.
Remember how I said my room is roughly 9 feet by 12 feet? Well, it’s arranged so that one entire 12-foot long wall is used up by bookshelves and a small desk, and on the opposite wall there’s a single bed (it’s actually pretty comfy with a topper on it, honestly). Anyway, the closet is basically just a large wooden box that fills the space between the end of the bed and the wall where the door is. All of this is mostly irrelevant except I can’t explain the space above the closet without a clear image of how the room is set up.
Now, the closet was built in such a way that it’s not quite as tall as the room. As a result, there’s a narrow space between the top of the closet and the ceiling – it’s wide enough that you could store books there, I guess. Or extra blankets or something. But nothing much more than that.
I’ve never stored things there. It just never seemed right. I don’t know why exactly – well, now I have an idea – but when I first moved in I just felt sort of like it was an inappropriate spot to keep any junk. This, of course, is deeply, deeply bizarre, since I’m probably the least tidy person in the entire universe. No empty space is safe from the wrath of my book and DVD hoarding! Regardless, I never felt right putting anything above that closet.
My first three years in this room passed without incident. I would live in it for both school semesters, pack up my things in April after exams, go home for the summer, return inevitably to the same exact room because the Housing office at my university has zero interest in making things interesting. School would go on as school does. My room would get messier, I would accumulate more books and the stacks of written-the-night-before essays would get higher. Oh, by the way – I’m a history major. Philosophy minor. Engineering dropout. I know: go me! I’m training to be a well-read and clever intellectual. I’ll be happy to discuss Kantian ethics with you between Grande non-fat mocha-whatever-the-fuck orders. Point being, I own a lot of books, and I write a lot of essays.
Anyway, one day a few weeks ago I was in the middle of a very important Netflix binge when an annoyingly persistent knock on the door interrupted my nearly nine-hour marathon of the X-Files. I panicked of course because – being me – I had completely forgotten the Resident Assistant was supposed to be by for inspections and my room was a certified disaster. I mean full throttle, Sharknado 3D, empty wine bottles, stacks of crumby dishes, probably tiny dead mouse bodies in the heat register disaster. And I mean, cut me some slack because I had also just finished slogging through a backlog of something like 30 000 words worth of essays and all I wanted to do was eat Nutella toast and lust after Scully’s hair color. So sue me.
My immediate reaction was to just take the hit. Let the RA come in, give me a dirty look and then write me up for “uncleanliness,” but my deeply buried, ancient evolutionary, uterus-owning, home-maker sense must have kicked in and I have to say, I pulled off some kind of The Flash shit in that moment and when the RA came in she just said, “Cool. See you later,” and that was it. No uncleanliness sanction for me.
But to get back to the point: when I was in the middle of my miracle tidying frenzy, I didn’t have time to be worried about the space above the closet and my uneasiness about putting things there. All I knew was that I had a lot of dirty dishes that needed a hiding place and the closet space was it. So I stacked a couple of bowls and some plates on top of each other and I shoved them as far toward the wall on top of the closet as my arm would reach, so they weren’t visible. All the rest of the clutter, including the nearly empty wine bottles, got spirited away into the drawers under my bed (and that, kids, is how all my socks got purple stains on them).
Truth be told, I actually kind of forgot about those dishes on top of the closet for a while. When the RA left I went straight back to my X-Files binge and I didn’t remember the dishes until the following morning when I woke up. Okay… it was afternoon. Don’t judge me.
Well, luckily that same day an urge struck me to tidy my room. Actually tidy it. Maybe with exams approaching I felt like a clean room would make for a clean mind – ha, right. In any case, I wanted a clean room. While I was deciding where to begin, I suddenly remembered the dirty dishes above my closet and thought that washing them would put me off to a good start. So I climbed on top of my bed, reached all the way back to where I had pushed the stack of dirties, and felt… and felt… I was confused. I stood on my toes and looked into the crevice. I even got a flashlight and inspected the space (although that was unnecessary because I could see all the way to the wall as it was); I shook my head, perplexed, wondering if I had already cleaned the dishes. Perhaps I had picked up a new habit – sleep cleaning (as convenient as that would be it seemed an unlikely explanation).
Sleep cleaning or not, whatever the explanation, the dishes were undoubtedly no longer above the closet.
I plunked down on my bed, thoroughly weirded out. Then I looked around my room, wondering if maybe I had already retrieved the dishes and simply forgotten about it. I mean… maybe too much Netflix really does burn holes in the brain, who knows? But I didn’t see the dishes anywhere. I checked my drawers too, and besides my newly wine-stained socks, no dishes were to be found. I left my room and padded barefoot down the hallway to the little communal kitchen where I looked through every cupboard – thinking maybe I had imagined the dirty dishes entirely – but none of my personally-labeled plates and bowls were around.
(Oh and by the way, you’d be stupid not to label things at university. That shit isn’t just for summer camp; labeling is serious business.)
I meandered back to my room, all the way quite literally scratching my head at the Case of the Missing Dishes. If I were Mulder I would have been thrilled about the missing dishes! An X-File in the making! But instead, I was just confused.
So I did what every good university student does when a problem can’t be solved; I decided to take a nap.
Of course, as a fourth-year student I am required to occasionally appear responsible. As such, I set an alarm on my phone so that I wouldn’t sleep longer than half an hour, laid down on my bed, took one last, weirded-out look at that spot above the closet, and closed my eyes.
Only to be woken up by a HUGE crashing sound fifteen minutes later.
I jolted awake, smacking my head on the wall beside my bed, and frantically looking around for the source of the noise.
In that moment of panic, I swear I saw a quick, shadowy movement above the closet but that could have been my imagination. What really mattered, though, what really caught my attention, was the pile of broken dishes on the floor beside the foot of my bed.
A pile that for everything in the world looked just like it was in the right spot to have been shoved from the top of the closet.
What’s more, though, is that although the two bowls and few plates were in shards, they were all impeccably clean. Not a crumb or butter smear or layer of dried milk to be found.
I know you must be wondering… Goddamn Diary… how does a person rationalize such an event? Well, let me tell you – as a proud Engineering dropout turned Arts student and certified horror/sci-fi lover – a vague knowledge of dark matter theory combined with a philosophical mindset and a propensity for concocting creepy tales does not always a rational person make! Luckily, that same combination of characteristics meant I could refrain from spiraling instantly into crippling fear. I thought to myself: okay, so I just experienced some seriously weird physics anomaly/generally creepy shit, but this is my zone. I totally got this. In fact, my first instinct was to ask myself WHAT HORROR MOVIE IS THIS FROM AND HOW DOES IT END? Because I was sure I must have managed to produce some paranormal activity using only the power of my imagination à la The Apparition (or à la the Philip Experiment if you want to go ‘real-life’ on that shit). I mean if anyone could do it, it would be me – I’ve seen enough bad Hollywood ghost movies.
But I can’t deny that I was a little bit freaked out. At some point, my rationality did kick back in and I decided (stupidly) that I must have just…. somehow not seen the dishes earlier and they were, like, on the very edge or something and they just… fell off the top of the closet? I ignored the fact that such an explanation made little to no sense, and that it still didn’t explain the fact that all the dish shards appeared to be spotless. But that tenuous explanation made just as much sense as me magically creating a creepy, dish-cleaning, top-of-closet dwelling ghost with the power of my mind.
Then my phone alarm went off and that, of course, startled me. A girl just can’t catch a break when dishes are involved.
Needless to say, I tracked down a neighbor who owned a broom, cleaned up the pathetic little pile of impeccably clean but irreparably shattered glass and went back to ignoring the space above the closet.
But I had trouble sleeping that night.
And the next.
And the next.
I had trouble sleeping for a week after that incident because I couldn’t stop thinking about the shadowy crevice and the incident with the dishes.
So a week and half after what I now call The Dish Day, on a sunny Saturday morning when most other 22-year-olds were probably nursing hangovers, I decided to run some experiments on the space above the closet.
The first test I did was with a piece of paper. Just a simple, blank piece of printer paper with nothing written on it and no marks. I placed it on top of the closet and pushed it as far back toward the wall as I could. Then I sat on my bed, started the stopwatch app on my phone, and waited.
At 14 minutes and 22 seconds, the piece of paper was shoved from the top of the closet by some unseen force. Before it even landed on the ground I had bolted to my feet atop the bed to catch the mysterious culprit in action – by this point I was thinking, maybe rats were to blame? Again, unlikely story.
But the crevice was empty.
Disappointed, I retrieved the piece of paper from the ground and examined it. Nothing had changed – no marks had appeared, it was not torn, in fact, it wasn’t even wrinkled or creased.
I resolved to continue experimenting. I decided the blank paper was kind of like a control and that I would use the same sheet at the end of my experimenting to try and make the whole stupid process a little bit more legit.
So I set aside the first sheet of paper and grabbed another. This time, I wrote something on it. Just my name, in large, black letters, all caps, across the middle of the page:
“R I P L E Y”
(Yes, I am named after Sigourney Weaver’s character in Alien. Complaints go to my mother).
Once again, I placed the paper on top of the closet as far back as I could reach, started the stopwatch app, and waited. This time I stayed standing.
I stayed standing for 23 minutes and 11 seconds watching that paper and it didn’t so much as flutter. Exasperated, I flopped down on my bed.
Two seconds later, the paper flew off the top of the closet.
I scrambled to retrieve it from the floor and when I did, I was disappointed to find that it had not been altered. Not to be discouraged so easily, however, I decided to add something to the writing and try again.
“Hello, my name is
R I P L E Y”
Once again I positioned the paper atop the closet and started the stopwatch.
At exactly 13 minutes the paper fluttered from the crevice to the ground. It was writing side down when I retrieved it.
I turned it over.
My writing was gone. And when I say gone, I mean gone without a trace. I had written my message in permanent marker and not a single spot was left on the page. Not so much as a faint shadow of lettering.
In tiny, neat, penciled freehand, however, on the very bottom of the page, were two words:
Well, I nearly completely lost my shit. I had no idea what to do. Prior to conducting my little experiment, I had every intention of continuing until I could figure out what was going on with my closet crevice. But those two little words freaked me out so much that I simply grabbed my coat and my purse, threw on some shoes and went for a walk to clear my head.
Halfway around the block, I realized I had to go back. I had to dig deeper. I asked myself, “What would Dana Scully do?” Well, she would investigate the occurrence as if it were a rationally explainable phenomenon until something undeniable led her to believe otherwise.
But Fox Mulder… Well… what would Mulder do? I bet if the X-Files were set in 2015 the first thing Mulder would do would be to Google paranormal phenomenon relating to closets.
So that’s what I did. I went immediately home, and all the while deliberately avoiding any glances toward the mysterious closet space, I typed into Chrome “paranormal closet”.
Some results came up. The first result was a site dedicated to helping people come out of the closet by comparing the experience of realizing homosexuality to that of experiencing the paranormal. I mean…. I’ve never had to come out of the closet but the article was pretty convincing. There was also a Reddit thread entitled “Old Man in my Closet”… I didn’t click on it. And a few youtube videos, presumably shoddy attempts at special effects, showing “paranormal closet occurrences” but none of them resembled my invisible closet-top-dwelling companion – er, whatever. After a few more attempts at various internet searches, I just gave up; resolving that I was on my own with this one and leaning heavily toward the Dana Scully approach – I would explore every option before writing it all off as a personally experienced X-File phenomenon. I would continue to experiment with the closet space, exchanging letters with the mysterious void.
Retrospectively, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.
Maybe the Mulder approach would have allowed me to forget about The Dish Day and those two words, “I know.” Maybe Mulder would have just been able to chalk it all up to a bizarre, fascinating experience and then let it go. Move on.
But no. I decided to be Scully. I decided to push it.
I grabbed the piece of paper with “I know” written on it and decided to keep it as proof. For everyone else, it would just look like two words on a piece of paper, but to me, it was solid evidence of my experience. I didn’t want to risk losing it.
I picked a third piece of paper from my shelf and wrote on it:
“WHAT’S YOUR NAME?”
I delivered the paper to the top of the closet, sat on my bed, and started the stopwatch.
At 10 minutes and 35 seconds, the paper floated from the top of the closet – this time directly onto the bed instead of the floor.
“Not important,” it read. My writing was gone. I decided to use the same piece of paper for the next question. Directly under the closet-being’s writing I scribbled:
“ARE YOU REAL?”
At 6 minutes and 15 seconds, the paper landed on my bed, blank once again except for the answer:
I thought to myself, “Ahh so the closet is a smartass, then,” and scribbled my next question:
“IF YOU’RE REAL, WHY CAN’T I SEE YOU?”
At the 4 minute and 21-second mark, the paper landed with the response:
“Ever seen gravity?”
I wrote: “TOUCHE” and nothing else, wondering what the response would be. After only 3 minutes and 51 seconds, the paper fluttered back to me:
“Do ask something interesting, please.” A smartass indeed.
“HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS?”
The response came at the 2-minute mark.
“Ours is a special ability.”
“OURS? THERE’S MORE THAN ONE OF YOU?”
After only 1 minute and 3 seconds, the answer was, “Unnecessary question. Ask another.”
I suddenly felt anxious. I had been at ease for most of the process, odd as that may sound, but the clear eagerness of the demand “ask another” gave me pause. Should I continue? Was I getting into something dangerous? I began the process unconvinced that even one of the strange closet entities existed and now I was being told by some invisible force that there may be multiple unseen beings living on top of my closet, communicating with me through a piece of paper, from which my own writing kept magically disappearing.
I actually felt afraid. But I sent another message. I stupidly sent another message.
“WHO ARE YOU?”
The answer this time was almost instantaneous. I barely had time to start the stopwatch app before the paper floated off the closet and landed before me. What I read there made no sense; it seemed such a bizarre answer to the question, and while I was staring at the page trying to get my brain to work I felt a building sense of anxiety creeping from my toes to my ears – a tingling sense of danger building in my spine.
“Too late. First letter of each sentence. Read the solution aloud, please. I’ll tell you who I am if you complete this task.”
It was the longest sentence the closet had returned. It was also the weirdest. Stupidly I ignored my sense of mounting panic, desperate to complete the task and solve the mystery. “I am Dana Scully I am Dana Scully,” I kept chanting in my head.
First letter of each sentence? I used to love these silly puzzle games. I wracked my brain to remember the entire conversation but after some scribbling, I recalled all of it:
HELLO, MY NAME IS RIPLEY.
WHAT’S YOUR NAME?
ARE YOU REAL?
IF YOU’RE REAL, WHY CAN’T I SEE YOU?
Ever seen gravity?
Do ask something interesting, please.
HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS?
Ours is a special ability.
OURS? THERE’S MORE THAN ONE OF YOU?
Unnecessary question. Ask another.
WHO ARE YOU?
But when I was finished, I isolated all the first letters and the message didn’t make any sense: “HIWNAEIETDHOOUWT.” Total nonsense.
Then it dawned on me – maybe just use every first letter of the responses; after all, if there’s a hidden message, how could I have had any part in it if I didn’t know it in the first place?
I arranged all of the letters from the closet’s response into a line.
My heart sank. A lump rose in my throat. My palms started to sweat.
I. Need. Out.
For some insane reason, even though the message was already creepy enough that I should have stopped, that I should have torn up the page and gone straight to the Housing office to switch rooms, some insane, visceral urge to complete the task and a sweeping desire to solve the mystery overwhelmed me and I read out loud:
“I need out.”
The room instantly fell eerily silent. It seemed a vacuum had formed in my little dorm room. Simultaneously all the air seemed to be sucked from my lungs and a freezing cold seized me by the shoulders as I watched a swirling shadow gather in the space above the closet and spill over the edge into the room; spiraling and creeping toward me like an inky fog.
I couldn’t breathe.
I couldn’t move.
I couldn’t think.
I could only sit there, watching the fog approach me and engulf first my legs, then my torso, then my neck and soon everything was blackness and burning cold and indecipherable, painful silence.
And then I woke up here, in this… void. Only this little notebook was here when I opened my eyes. I can’t see my body and I don’t appear to have any corporeal form but I still feel like myself. And I can somehow write this, and I can somehow see.
When I woke up I saw out into my bedroom. From above. From on top of the closet.
I saw a thing that looks like me, that looks just like Ripley.
When it sensed that I was awake, the thing that looks like me climbed onto my bed and peered into the space above the closet where I am trapped and said in a voice that sounds just like mine but with different, stiffer inflections, “Hello, my name is Ripley. That’s who I am. Now you have your answer. You’re welcome for the notebook.”
I wanted to respond, wanted to yell that NO! I AM RIPLEY! You’re not Ripley! You aren’t me! I don’t want this stupid notebook, I want you to let me go!
But I couldn’t.
I can only write. And presumably push things off the top of the closet. Or make them disappear temporarily. Or erase things.
And now that thing from the top of the closet is walking around as me; and it’s going to keep up the pretense. So I’m writing this tale down and maybe someday, when the fake Ripley leaves and someone else moves into this room, I will push this book off the top of the closet.
And maybe that someone will start reading, thinking it’s all a bizarre mishap. And maybe they’ll become interested in my story.
Maybe they’ll be a thrill seeker willing to test the boundaries. Maybe they’ll be a curious fan of the X-Files. Maybe they’ll want to talk to me. Maybe they’ll tell me their name.
But I’ll already know it.
And my task will be to lure them…. To trick them into saying aloud that I….
I Need Out.
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