written by: Priyanka Chaya
“Please, Mom, one more book. Please!” His innocent, wide-eyed gaze was near impossible to refuse. She relented with a sigh, patting the bed next to her and he eagerly snuggled into her side. She smelled of dryer sheets, peppermint tea, a slight, fresh sweat, and Estée Lauder’s Knowing. In Owen’s six-year-old mind, she simply smelled like ‘Mom’, and he deeply inhaled her sweet, familiar scent.
A wave of emotions overcame him. He felt so secure, so safe, and underneath it all, so afraid of the moment his protector would turn off the lights and leave him not-so alone in the dark. The feelings tumbled on top of one another—reminding him of when he and his mother would put his laundry in the dryer—in a swirling jumble of love, sadness, and fear. He didn’t want another bedtime story, he just didn’t want her to go. Amber eyes brimming with hot tears, he buried his head into his mother’s lap and sniffled, choking back the sobs that threatened to erupt.
“Owie, what’s wrong?”
“Mom, can I sleep in your room tonight?” he looked up at her and saw her face fall in exhaustion, but he persisted, “Please, Mom, PLEASE?”
“Owen. Listen to me, baby,” she cupped his small face between her hands, “You’re a big boy now; I need you to sleep in your own room. You’ve been in our bed every night this week and I’m not getting any sleep. Plus, look at how nice your room is!” Eyes still shimmering and wet, Owen followed her gaze. His room was great. All his friends thought so, too. His sights fell on the closet door, which was just slightly ajar. A shiver crept down his spine, racking his small frame.
Owen’s mother knew her son was going through the ‘monsters in the closet’ phase of his life, just as all children did. She glanced down to see Bear lying awkwardly on the floor. His fur was matted and his stuffing had gone nearly flat. But, he was loyal as ever, standing at this post and waiting to be called on, just as he had when she was a child. She picked up the ratty, old dog and handed him to Owen.
“You know, I used to be scared of the dark when I was little, too.”
Owen gazed up at her in wonder. As far as he knew, his mom wasn’t afraid of anything. Imagining that she had once been a small, scared child—as he was now—was more than his little mind could process. “So, what did you do?”
“Well, I had a little trick that grandma taught me when I was about your age. Whenever I felt afraid, I would hug Bear and shut my eyes tightly,” she demonstrated, squeezing the stuffed dog, “then, with my full concentration, I would imagine a beautiful, white light surrounding me. I’d really focus on making it as big and bright as I possibly could. And you know what? That would help me feel a lot better because I knew that as long as I was surrounded by my white light, I was safe.” She hugged him tightly to her chest. Tears began to form in the corners of his eyes again, but this time, he let them stream down his face in silence. He hugged her back, wishing desperately that she wouldn’t have to leave, but knowing that she would, just as she did every night.
The last few minutes Owen spent with his mother before bedtime were his favourite. Hugs, kisses, and snuggles were plentiful. She would tuck him into bed while singing—tonight, she sang Stairway to Heaven—in a soft, whisper-like voice.
His mother walked toward his bedroom door. “Mom,” Owen called out, panic rising in his voice, “Mom, close the closet door, please.” She sighed but did so without protest. He watched the black void disappear behind the door, which now served as a barrier between him and…whatever awful things lingered in there. It could be the Boogeyman, he thought suddenly. He pushed the thought out of his mind as quickly as it had forced its way in.
His mother paused in the doorway, hand on the light switch. “Just remember, Owie, you have your white light to protect you, okay?” He nodded slowly and she smiled, “Good boy. Goodnight, baby, I love you.”
“Love you, Mom,” he croaked out as fear began to constrict his passages. The lamps flicked off and the open doorway shrunk until even the last sliver of light reduced to nothing but pitch blackness. Owen lay stiff and afraid under his plaid covers, his mother’s scent still lingered in his bedding and in the air. His eyelids grew heavy with sleep and, before he knew it, he had floated into a light slumber.
He jolted awake. But why? His eyes scanned the room as he clutched Bear between his sweating, little hands. His gaze defied him and drifted to the closet door, which was still firmly shut. Realizing he had been holding his breath, he exhaled deeply with a slight tremble. He desperately wished to look away, but no amount of effort could will his sights away from that closet. The air felt cold, heavy and electric; Owen’s skin prickled in response.
‘There’s a lady who’s sure, all that glitters is gold,’ not his mother’s clear and soft whisper-singing, but a hoarse, glottal voice—that sounded neither male nor female, and maybe not human at all—wafted out from behind the closed closet door. Owen bolted upright in his bed, his skin ached as every hair on his small body suddenly stood on end. The voice continued, ‘And she’s buying a stairway to…’ The mockery stopped abruptly and the voice began to giggle; a horrible, unsettling laugh.
Owen’s fear suddenly turned to anger at the sound of the mocking cackle. The voice was imitating his mother, and he hated it. Though only six years old, there was a man forming inside of him, one who had a fierce desire to defend the one who loved him most. He squeezed his eyes shut and saw himself enveloped in a glowing, white light in his mind’s eye. The ugly tittering grew louder and more delirious. Whatever was inside his closet began to bang on the door.
The closet door groaned and protested against the force, quivering in its frame, threatening to collapse. Owen persevered, gripping Bear and focusing all his energy on reinforcing his brilliant, protective cocoon. With his full mental force, he pushed the boundaries of his divine shield until its blaze poured into even the darkest corners of the room.
All at once, the laughter stopped.
He sat frozen in his bed for what felt like hours, his heart pounding in his ears, his breath rapid. A heavy silence hung in the air. He had done it, he had banished that faceless voice from his closet for once and for all! So, why was he still so afraid to open his eyes?
With Bear still clutched to his chest, he slowly opened one eye and peered around the dark room. The closet door…it was wide open.
Two bare, dirty feet were visible below the array of small, colourful clothes, which were now just varying shades of black in the darkness. Toenails dark and skin a cold, dead grey, Owen couldn’t take his eyes off what he was seeing. He couldn’t bring himself to move, to scream, or to do anything except release a wet, warm stream of urine into his Lion King pyjamas.
A slight shift in one of the feet broke the spell of his stillness and he flung himself towards the bedroom door. He grabbed the knob, trying in vain to twist it, but his clammy hand slid across its smooth, mocking surface.
He saw a hand, the hand of what he believed was the Boogeyman himself, its fingers stretching and reaching its way from between his hanging clothes. He watched, his eyes wide with a primal panic as the too-long fingers, with dirt under the splintering nails, inched toward him. With one final tug—one so forceful that he nearly threw himself backward—the door flung open, screaming on its hinges. He fled down the winding hall to the master bedroom, not once daring to look back at the evil that resided in that room.
Despite his hysteria, his fear of his father remained intact. His father was up there, next to the Boogeyman and spiders, on the list of things that scared Owen most. He was a man of little patience and mutated into nothing short of a monster if awakened, especially if he had been drinking his “medicine” before going to bed. Owen always wondered which medicine his father needed to take in such great quantities, but knew better than to ask. With a practiced precision, he silently opened the door and crept to his mother’s side of the bed, where she lay in a deep slumber.
He poked her shoulder gently with one, chubby digit, “Mom,” his voice barely able to escape his throat, which was tight with fear, “Mom,” he tried again. Her eyes fluttered open and she groped around in the darkness to find him.
“Owie, baby, you’re shaking!” she sounded alarmed, but she too knew better than to raise her voice above a whisper, “Come here, get in.” She lifted the covers, offering him a warm sanctuary. Owen curled up against her, exhausted and emotionally drained. Almost instantly, despite his still-wet pyjamas and the bear-like snores of his father, he fell soundly asleep.
She felt something pressing uncomfortably into her stomach and dug it out; it was Bear. Vague memories of her own childhood rushed back to her. A young Marie, clasping the old toy against her, terrified of a voice that drifted from the depths of her closet. Sometimes, when she was feeling particularly lonely or vulnerable, she almost felt as if she could still hear it. Those inhuman, guttural sounds were hard to forget… But, as a grown woman with a child of her own, she shook her head, as if shaking away the old memories. The old imagined memories, she reminded herself. A creature in the closet? How silly she was! She kissed her son lightly on the head, “Looks like the curse of a great imagination carries on, Owie.”
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