MONDAY: Ladder-back Chair


Copyright is held by the author.

WHEN I was a small boy, maybe four or five years old, maybe younger, I would open my eyes in the darkness and he would be sitting in the ladder-back chair next to my bed. I wasn’t afraid. I don’t know why I wasn’t afraid. A strange pale man in a long grey coat sitting silently in a chair next to a person’s bed would generally be terrifying, but as a child, I somehow knew he was watching over me. I didn’t always wake up in the night, but when I did, he was there, always. In the morning he was always gone.

I never told my mother or father about the man. I can’t really explain why. It is as if I knew the man wouldn’t want me to.

His visits continued. I rarely awoke in the night, and so I rarely saw the man, but if I had bad dreams and awoke, he was there, just enough illumination from my night-light to evince his face, but not enough to make out specific features. I couldn’t discern the colour of his eyes but I could tell he was looking at me. I would feel safe and  fall back asleep. The bad dreams would trouble me no more that night.

This pattern continued for several years.

Then, when I was 11, I awoke from a particularly bad dream. My father was sitting on the bed next to me, his right hand was inside my pajama bottoms, and his left hand was across my mouth. I tried to scream but couldn’t.

Then I saw the pale man in the grey coat. He wasn’t sitting in his chair. He was standing behind my father. He was very tall. He reached forward with one huge hand, and grabbed my father by the top of the skull. I could see his long fingers, all eight of them, digging into my father’s scalp as he pulled him away from me and suspended him in the air, his feet well clear of the floor.  My father kicked two or three times, coughed two or three times and then went limp.  The pale figure carried my father to my door and dropped him in the hall and vanished.

I didn’t cry at my father’s funeral and I never saw the pale man again, but I still set the same ladder-back chair next to my bed just in case he ever needs to come back.


Image of Alan Caldwell sitting on a white porch bench playing a guitar.

Alan Caldwell has been teaching in Georgia, U.S., since 1994 but only began submitting writing in May 2022. He has since been published in over two dozen journals and magazines, including Heartwood Literary Journal, Southern Gothic Creations, The Backwoodsman, You Might Need To Hear This, The Chamber, Rural Fiction Magazine, Long-ridge Review, Deep Wild Journal and many others, and is being nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

  1. Powerful! So much emotion from so few words. Nice work.

  2. I wish I’d had that man in a ladder back chair when I was 11 years old.

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