I think it’s time to admit something to myself. I have writing ADD. Maybe even writing ADHD. Yeah, there are those half-completed novels. And, now, there’s Northville Five & Dime, lurking at 18,000 words and calling out to me. Which explains why I’ve taken on something new. (Is there Ritalin for writers?)
A fellow blogger will be publishing a horror anthology in a few months. I decided to give it a try and see if I can write a horror story worthy of publication. Truth: I don’t know if I’ve ever written anything that can really be classified as horror. So, this is an experiment. The theme for the anthology is loosely “Monsters Under the Bed.” So, here is the first, roughly written, barely edited portion of the story I’m working on. Slightly more than 2,500 words. The blogger is looking for pieces that are a minimum of 10,000 words. I’m not sure I can get there, but I do keep coming up with ideas to stretch the story, so I might.
Here’s where you come in. Read it and there’s a poll at the end. Help me out a little here and let me know if it’s worth continuing.
In the blackest black of the night, the darkness is swallowed up by the blank of the closet door. The opening, whether an inch or a mile, between the sliding door and the frame sucks the dark into its maw and churns there, forming monsters and demons. Glowing eyes and hissing whispers.
The fears of a child were mine. If I closed my own eyes, the golden eyes of a monster would stare from the darkness of my closet’s open door. And wait. For sleep to come. The sleep my parents assured me was safe. Didn’t they know of the monsters the night called forth? As long as I stayed awake and watched that dark, black space, the monster would stay at bay.
In the tree branches that weave on windless nights and crash on stormy nights, witches cackle and lurk outside. The branches cross and scrape against the window pane. Ghosts flit about, beckoning and prodding.
In the still, hot nights of summer when my mother would crack my window open, didn’t she realize she was giving access to the goblins and ghouls that hid in the trees and bushes. Waiting. For her to leave and the opportunity to pry the screen open to slither their formless shapes into my room and steal my breath away.
In the space between the bed, where dust ogres prowl and evil slumbers, if a hand were to drape down, awake with a flash. Grabbing and pulling and bringing down. Death, no matter how pained, would be a blessing.
Didn’t my father know, when he, laughing uncomfortably, poked his head under my bed and said “no monsters here,” that the gathered dust and lint only appeared to be harmless, waiting for his departure to re-form into the shape of an ogre, with sharpened teeth and two-inch long claws.
Yes, the fears of the imagined were mine throughout my childhood. I led a life of unrealized fear. The darkness never swallowed, the monsters never intruded, the ogre never grabbed. By the time my own son was born, memories of my fears were all I had. Even if every once in a while I might wake with a start in the darkest hour of the night, convinced that there was something there. In the corner. Or at the top of the stairs. Or maybe. Just maybe standing out on the driveway watching the bedroom window. And waiting.
But those were the irrational thoughts of a mind foggy with sleep and unremembered dreams. Easily tossed aside with the return of sleep and forgotten in the light of a new morning.
Until I learned that they were all too real. There are monsters in the world. I learned this when they took my son.
* * *
Benjamin was a sweet boy. The apple of my eye. The glue that held a marriage together. A ray of light for his family. Quick with a smile. Quick with a hug. His warm arms around my neck. His soft lips feathering my cheek and his little boy voice whispering words he didn’t really yet understand. “I love you, Daddy. Forever and ever.”
I mean how could he have understood when he was three that there was no such thing as forever? That he would not be three forever. That the moment that was that year was only that. A moment and that we all eventually return to dust. That such things as love are no more permanent than the wind that passed over our house or the sun that dipped below the horizon each day. How he could even know what love really was? But, it felt good nonetheless. His affection. His fun. His spirit.
But he shared with me the dark side. He shared my fears. The one thing I wished he hadn’t inherited, he wrapped up, held on to, and made his own. When he was four, he revealed this fundamental truth. “There’s a monster under my bed,” he whispered to me one night. His eyes aglow from the light that leaked into his room from the hallway.
I leaned over and kissed his forehead. “Ssshh. There’s no monsters here.”
Benjamin wrapped his arms around my neck and clung to me. “There is, Daddy. There is.” His warm breath steamed my ear. “Under the bed.”
“Do you want me to check?”
“You won’t see him.”
“Let me look.”
He released me with a sigh that bespoke more years than he had lived. I slithered off of him and off the side of the bed, falling with a plop to the floor, hoping to elicit a laugh or a chuckle at least. “Do you see anything?” spoken seriously and quietly was all that I got.
I turned my head to the side and peered under this bed. “Let’s see. Three Nerf darts.” I held them up for him to see before tossing them to the side. “A book. What is it?” I pulled it out. “Ah-ha. Now we know where Goodnight Moon went.” I blindly reached up and placed it on his night stand. “And … what else …” I hummed for a few seconds and then popped up. “No monsters.”
Benjamin shrunk back into his pillow a bit, his brow furrowed, his eyes dark now. “He’s hiding from you.”
The little guy had me stumped and his sudden fear brought back to me the memories of my own childhood. My certainty of monsters under the bed, hiding in every nook and cranny, and lurking around each corner. To allay his fears became my mission. “How about if we say a magic verse that will protect you?”
The darkness fled his eyes and he lifted his head from his pillow. “Do you know one?”
“I most certainly do.”
Benjamin didn’t say anything else. He just rested his head back again and closed his eyes.
Monster, monster under the bed.
Return to the hole from where you came.
Hide your rotten little head.
Go elsewhere with your scary little game
Do no harm to Benjamin here.
Open your eyes and see
He has nothing to fear.
Take flight and flee
Okay. So I made it up on the spot. I could have done better. I could have done worse. I could have done a lot of things, but what I did was take the darkness away from Benjamin. He feared no more and settled into a quiet sleep. Each night then, we recited our magic verse and kept the monster at bay.
Until we didn’t. Many months later – when Benjamin was a week shy of his seventh birthday, an age when in my adult mind I thought he should have outgrown his talk of monsters under the bed — It was one of those nights when I was pissy, Benjamin was cranky, and my wife, Avery, was somewhere in between. Before I thought, the words were out. “Go to bed,” I ordered. “Now.”
“But Daddy,” he whined.
“Stop whining and go to bed!”
“Honey,” Avery attempted to intervene. “Go easy on him.”
“No,” I snapped at her before turning back to my little angel. “Get to bed.”
And he wouldn’t go, so I picked him up, tucked him under my arm and carried him to his bed. I didn’t tuck him in. I didn’t give him a goodnight kiss. And I didn’t …
“What about the magic verse?” he asked, so quiet that I almost didn’t hear him over the stomping of my feet as I turned to flee his room.
“No. It’s time you grew up. There’s no monster under your bed. And if there was, some silly words I made up wouldn’t stop it.”
He sniffled. “But . . .,” I walked out of his room, leaving the door open an inch or two, as I always did.
In the night, at the quietest hour, I woke with a start. Skipper lay on the floor on my side of the bed whining in his sleep. I listened for other sounds. Hearing nothing, I patted the dog on the side and lay my head back down. What I noticed when my pillow stopped rustling was that it was too quiet. There were none of the random ticks and creaks that quietly echoed in the night. It was as if the house was holding its breath. And then I heard one. Just a creak. I closed my eyes and let sleep take me.
I woke to hear Avery screaming and Skipper barking. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I stumbled into Benjamin’s room. I saw four things. There was a smudge of red streaked on the window sill right where the window had been left open a crack, just like my mother used to do when I was a child. Four drops of blood were spilled on the carpet by the side of his bed. Skipper was facing the closet, barking, his hackles up. And Avery stood in the middle of the room. Her body stiff. Her arms, elbows locked, at her side. Her face stretched to its limit, eyes bulging, her mouth wide. Screaming. Forming no words. Just screaming.
I ran to Avery and wrapped my arms around her, trying to quiet her. “Sssshhh. Everything will be fine.” I looked around the room. “I’m sure there’s an explanation for this.” I didn’t believe a word of it. How could I? I had failed to recite the verse the night before. Blood was there. And there. There was an explanation for it. Unknown, but most definitely everything was not fine. Avery knew that and continued to scream. Skipper continued to bark at the closet door.
I let go of Avery and moved her over to the chair we sometimes sat in when we read to our son and then turned to the closet door. It was open about eight inches. I made out the shape of some shirts on hangers in the closet’s darkness. On the floor, there was a pair of shoes in the opening. They were the kind with lights that blinked whenever he took a step. Benjamin had outgrown them long ago, but Avery hadn’t been able to throw them out.
I walked to the closet and nudged Skipper to the side. He barked twice more and fell silent, but his hackles stayed hackled. I reached out, my hand shaking, to open the closet door a few more inches. Behind me Avery had stopped screaming, but she was sobbing uncontrollably. Her breath coming in and out in huge, ragged gasps. “Cole. We should call 911.”
“Uh-huh,” I mumbled, no realizing what she had said, but responding nonetheless. I pushed the closet door yet a couple more inches and stepped closer. My foot hit one of the shoes and I kicked it to the side. The closet smelled of dirt and sweat and mold. There was a dank quality to the air. I almost expected to see fog roll out from between the shirts that hung in front of me.
I took a step into the closet, into the little boy-sized shirts. The white dress shirt he had worn to his Auntie’s wedding just weeks before. The flannel shirts he loved to wear when it was cold. And the t-shirts Avery insisted on hanging up instead of folding and putting away in his dresser.
“Cole, what are you doing?”
I turned to look back at my wife. My entire body was within the closet space now. There was a shimmering quality to her. I almost jumped back out of the closet then, but I wiped at my eyes realizing that I had been crying. The shimmer disappeared. “Call 911, Avery. I’m going to find Benjamin.”
“Cole?!” She stood up and reached towards me, but I turned my back to her and took another step further into the closet. The shirts began to feel rougher on my face. One more step and they scratched my skin. A final step and I was through. Branches moved slightly in a breeze, rubbing against me.
The ground was a carpet of needles and leaves mixing in with grasses that formed the boundary between the tree line and the clearing that lay before me. Although the sun splashed its light and heat on my face, goose bumps sprouted on my arms and I shivered in my t-shirt – the one from the last Father’s Day with Benjamin’s handprints all over the front and back and the words “World’s Best Dad.”
In the center of the clearing, no more than thirty yards away, a beast held a deer to the ground. The beast, although crouched over the deer, appeared to be more than seven feet tall. Maybe more than eight. His legs were as thick as tree trunks, and muscles rippled up and down his arms and torso. His skin had an almost bluish tint to it and although his head was bald, hair that matched his skin color grew from his ears in wild tufts.
The beast – who was I kidding – the ogre turned to me and smiled, blood dripping down the sides of its mouth. The smile suggested I was next. After he finished with the deer, maybe I was his dessert. The ogre lifted up the deer, which was still alive enough to thrash and squeal, and ripped a chunk of its flesh out and chewed while continuing to grin in my direction. As the deer lost its life, the ogre tossed it to the side and grunted at me.
The ogre stood to its fullest height. I was wrong. Nine feet, at least. He took a step towards me and growled. I matched him, except for the growl, and took a step back. I looked over my shoulder, hoping I would see Benjamin’s bedroom and Avery sitting on the chair. I reached toward it and touched the branch of a tree.
I turned my back on the ogre, hearing his growl grow in proximity and volume, and took a step towards the safety of home. I got no closer. Another step and it got further away, while the growl grew. I began feel the overheated air coming from the monster with each out flow of his breath. Right on the back of my neck. I smelled the smell of death coming from the monster as well. My death.
And I did all I could think of to do. I stopped walking and closed my eyes. As the ogre’s hand – the one that was big enough and powerful enough to squeeze my head like a grape – began to close around my neck, I whispered, “Monster, monster under the bed. Return to the hole from where you came.”
The growling turned to a squeal as the powerful hand whipped away from me as though it had been burnt by the touch of my skin. I opened my eyes and turned to watch the ogre tremble before me. And then it was gone, loping through the clearing, holding its hand to its chest and continuing to squeal with fright.
Newly confident, I strode back to the edge of the clearing and inspected it. Green grass and meadow flowers