Copyright is held by the author.
“PLEASE DON’T leave Dad.”
Sitting in the shadowy room on the edge of my eight-year-old son’s bed seemed routine lately. I had never seen him so frightened. His face, warmed only by the hallway light, was a pageantry of dread: puppy dog eyes, quivering lips, and tears, all pulled at my heart strings. I sensed fear in his voice, and whatever he was afraid of in the closet seemed real to him.
I remember being a kid and the shadows that moved in my bedroom at night. I remember calling out for my parents — all too often. When no one came I froze. I felt paralyzed with fear, lying stiff in bed under my sheets. I would wish for the morning to come; wanting sunlight to warm between the slits of my window blind, driving the darkness and monsters away. I don’t recall if my terror of the dark was legitimate, but older now, my adult mind seemed stripped of any silly childhood fears. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up; you shed that part of you or repress it. But still, to this day, I wonder what had set my imagination so vividly in motion? What was behind those bumps in the night that sent me into sweats of panic?
Witnessing my son pulling the covers up over his head and writhing under his sheets reminded me of my own childhood monsters. That fear of creeping demons slithering in the shadows was what my son felt. What I felt was a much different fear — a primal worry — an instinct every parent feels for a child when danger is present. It is my job to protect him.
“Kieran, we’ve gone over this repeatedly for the last few nights, there’s nothing in your closet. Now it’s time to sleep. I have lots of work to do tonight.” I moved to stand, but didn’t get far.
“Dad, please don’t go.” He reached up and wrapped his tiny arms around me. His fleece pajamas felt soft, cozy and had a fresh baby powder scent that released memories of my baby boy growing up. I hugged him firmly — holding onto those sweet thoughts — ready to soothe his fears; that’s what dads do.
“It’ll be okay. You’re safe.”
“But Dad, I hate it when he taps on the closet door.”
The blood in my ears began pounding and a spiralling chill jerked at my own superstitious fears. It’s those small uttered statements, seemingly genuine, made by kids, that when casually thrown out as if it’s a truth, drive a stake of horror into the hearts of adults. Phrases like: what’s that man doing in the mirror, and nothing is there, or why is grandma visiting today, although she’s been dead for weeks. Those expressions mean something. Something adults can’t see or understand. Uneasiness fills me, and the child inside is scared — terrified like my son — but I mentally remind myself, I’m the parent, and so I deny my jitters.
“Kieran, quit being silly,” I say. “There’s no tapping, and there’s nothing in your closet.”
“Can I sleep with you tonight, please Dad?”
“No. You’re a big boy. You sleep in your own bed.” I rest him gently back on his pillow and his arms release me. I tuck the covers up to his chin and kiss him on the forehead. “Now go to sleep. You have school tomorrow.” I rise off his bed, taking away the image of my son’s shocked expression as if I’ve thrown him to the wolves. He doesn’t say anything, turns on his side and pulls the covers over his head.
To believe the sheets are an impenetrable shield from the things that lurk in the darkness was a common tactic we all employed as kids. I remember my sheets, and hiding beneath them. They were my only defence for keeping the Boogeyman at bay and stopping the monsters under my bed from snatching me — but would it be enough to keep away the boy in the closet? A creepy sensation crawled through me as I walked out of his bedroom; side-glancing at the closet. The single white door appeared grey in the dark. It was closed and I thought the knob turned slightly, but perhaps my imagination — generating kilowatts of trepidation — fueled the illusion. I reminded myself, nothing is happening here. There’s nothing in his room or that damn closet despite what the history of this house might suggest.
After my wife died I had a hard time stabilizing my finances, and the only way to make ends meet was to buy this house. A house with a disturbing past, priced to sell, because of the skeleton in the closet. We had been living here for a week, and there were only two rooms. I gave myself the master bedroom, and putting my son in this room fired flames of guilt in the hearth of my heart — now he keeps referring to a boy in the closet. It was uncanny. My son had no idea what had happened in this house. I tried to convince myself that boys — kids for that matter — made things up in their heads. They role-played, acted out games, told tales, but sometimes the more you tell a story, the more real it becomes. The truth was Danny used to live in this room. He was a boy almost my son’s age.
I leave his bedroom, saunter into the hallway and reach to turn off the light. I held my finger on the switch.
“Dad,” his soft voice grabbed my ears. “I love you.”
My heart floated in my chest. “I love you too. Now go to sleep please.” I flicked the hallway light off.
I moved to the living room. I had work to do and deadlines to meet. I sat down at my desk to write. I was finishing a new novel — one that my publisher said would catapult my career — and with the mild success of my last horror book, I felt he was right. I had typed 500 words onto the computer screen when it happened again, just like last night. My desk lamp flickered. An instinctive feeling of being watched exploded in my mind. I whipped around in my chair — my son stood in the hall.
“He’s tapping again, Dad.”
My son held a bleak and vacant expression. The darkness of the hallway, behind my son, appeared to move, bubbling and swirling, a black void ready to swallow him. My eyes had to be playing a trick on my mind. A few horror movies crept into my head as my imagination ran wild. Images of children creeping in the night had always scared the hell out of me, I cursed Stephen King, and enough was enough.
“What are you talking about?” I said in a flat, irate tone, attempting denial.
“You know, the boy in my closet.”
I stared blankly at my son. His pajamas hung off his small bony frame. I wanted this nightmare to end. “Son — please, there’s no boy.”
“But Dad, I can hear him asking me to open the closet door and let him out.”
Jesus — there it is again, a genuine expression. The authenticity was like a sprung trap, inescapable, a snare all parents eventually find themselves caught in — believing their kid out of pure faith and trusting they’re telling the truth. But I couldn’t allow myself to believe my son’s claims were true.
“Get to bed.” It came out bluntly.
“But Dad,” his eyes begged me to help him.
“Kieran, go to bed. We’ll talk about this in the morning.” My son stood quiet, unmoved. My voice roared, “I said go to bed now!”
His face sank. All the love between us had been drained. Had I been too harsh? My fears seemed to be surfacing as anger, but it was the only reaction I had left. How else — at this point — to make him go to bed other than yell?
My son turned and ran back to his room. I swung around in my chair facing the computer screen. I rested my elbows on the desk and buried my face in my hands. I felt awful. This boy in the closet business was driving me crazy, and I had a whole night of work ahead of me. I lifted my head out of my hands, reached for my mouse and clicked on the Google icon in my Internet browser. I typed in “Preston house murder” and the abhorrent article appeared.
“Creemore, Ontario — June 6, 2012 — Ontario Provincial Police discover gruesome scene at 16 Brody Drive. The body of six-year-old Danny Preston was removed from the house after neighbours expressed concern over the well being of Elizabeth Preston, mother to Danny. The single mother had been seen alone and rocking vigorously, on numerous occasions, on the front porch talking nonsense. The odd behaviour alerted neighbour Bill Henderson to call police. ‘She’d been out on that porch rock’n and cradling air. She kept singing “hush little baby, don’t you cry” over and over again. I hadn’t seen Danny for weeks and felt something was wrong.’ Elizabeth Preston was taken into custody for not providing the necessities of life for her son. The boy’s body was found in his room locked in the closet. The Coroner’s report suggested, by the state of decomposition, the boy had died a week ago. Toxicology tests showed rat poison in small doses had been placed in food delivered under the closet door on paper plates, which the boy had stacked together to make a pillow.”
“Dad, Danny’s scaring me!” My son’s voice bellowed from his bedroom.
My eyes shut. I slid my hands onto my head and gripped tufts of my hair between my fingers — this is not happening. My bottom lip trembled. It was all hauntingly real now, and my heart raced. An intense heat rose within me as I gathered the courage to get up and protect my son. I shoved off from my desk and jumped up from my chair. My slippers squeaked on the hardwood floor as I raced down the hall. I was determined to prove that nothing was happening. I planned to fling the closet door open myself and confirm to my son — to me — that nothing was inside. This was all childhood imagination gone wild.
I flew into my son’s room. I flicked on the light — light always makes bad things go away — my son was crying. My eyes shot to the closet door. The air felt thick and energized. The door was rattling. I became light-headed, terror stricken, and beneath the door a small hand, fingers stretched, clawing at the carpet, a child’s raspy whisper in my head: “help me.”