Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Scary Story" - a semi-introspective Halloween Story

Since becoming a stepfather this summer when I married my amazing wife Hillary, I've learned a lot. Paramount among my lessons has been what it takes to set myself aside for those I love.

I never had children until my marriage, and then suddenly I had a four-year-old (three, at the time) and a five-year-old. I have realized that there's something about the way a small child views a parent. They view us almost as gods: able to wrestle monsters, calm every fear, and the power to grant (or deny) any request brought to them.

This is story about that sense of awe. And also about things that go bump in the night.

"Scary Story"

Karen shivered and clutched her teddy bear tighter. The only part of her not beneath the covers was her cherry-tomato nose and every thing above it, but still she felt so exposed. A hundred eyes watched her from the darkness: horrible, glowing things that belonged to creatures with sharp teeth and hooked claws and that loved the taste of little children.

She tried closing her eyes, but when she did it felt like the eyes in the darkness opened wider, drinking in her vulnerability.

Her nightlight blinked once, twice, and Karen’s heart fluttered in panic. The jumping shadows turned the pile of clean clothes on her dresser into a monster with a flat, distorted face and a wide mouth. It grinned at her for a fraction of a second until the nightlight blinked back on. Even though it once again looked like a pile of clothes, Karen knew the monster was there, and it always would be.

Something in the house groaned, and Karen jumped, startled. For a moment her foot slipped from beneath her blankets, exposed to the cool air of her bedroom. As her toes approached the edge of the bed, the horrors beneath it squealed in delight and rushed to the precipice, desperate for something to grasp her by and pull her into the floor.

A squeak of fright, the only voice Karen had, slipped form between her lips as she whipped her foot beneath the blanket. The creatures hadn’t gotten it, but they were excited, now. She wouldn’t be as lucky a second time.

She dared not go to sleep. If she went to sleep, how would she be safe from the creatures beneath her bed, in the shadows by her dresser, and deep in the confines of her closet?

Her closet. She hadn’t let herself look at it since her parents had turned off her lights some ten minutes earlier. She remembered asking her father to shut the closet door; she had even watched him do it, to make sure that it wasn’t open, so things couldn’t escape and come for her. But sometimes, even though she watched the knob click into place with her own eyes, the creatures inside would find a way to open it.

They were getting bolder. It wouldn’t be many more nights before the closet door was no longer strong enough to hold them at bay. Then her only protection would be her blankets. And how long would those last?

Her chin trembling, Karen pulled her pillow over her head and tried to pretend that she had looked at the closet door. She tried to convince herself it was still closed, that the place in her room where the most terrible monsters resided was still shut tight. She desperately tried to convince herself to go to sleep on the flimsy hope that she was safe.

But she knew better. She hadn’t looked at the closet door since her light had been turned off. For all she knew, it was wide open, ready to spew forth creatures from her worst nightmares.

Karen felt the fluttering in her chest that meant she was about to cry. Already, tears were wetting the corners of her eyes. Nothing in her wanted to check the closet door. But if she was to ever have peace of mind, if she was ever going to fall asleep, she had to know.

Still with her pillow over her face, Karen rolled onto her back. The closet door was just past the foot of her bed. All she had to do was removed the pillow and look. Just one look, and then she could sleep. At least, she could try.

Karen slowly slid the pillow from her face. When her eyes were exposed, still mashed shut, she slowly opened them. Maybe if she looked slowly, it would make it less scary.

A second passed. Karen’s eyes readjusted to the shine from her nightlight.

And she found the closet cracked door open, no more than an inch or two.

It was impossible, she told herself as fear climbed her throat. She watcher her father close it tight. There was no way it could be open. None.

Horror-stricken Karen couldn’t pull her eyes from the sight. Not even when, she would have sworn, a hand, tipped with grizzly-looking claws, emerged from the darkness and wrapped around the doorframe.

“DADDY!” Karen shrieked. Her voice has risen so high and was so choked with tears that the word was nearly illegible.

She knew it was no more than thirty seconds between when she cried for him and when her father entered the room. But it felt like an eternity, during which the creatures in the darkness took their last opportunities to creep ever closer.

The door to her room opened, flooding the shadows with light from the hall. The mosnters fled like rats from a sinking ship. The silhouette of her father in the light, a paragon, a pillar of power, sent them back to wherever they had come from. None of them could stand against him. He was not afraid of them.

“Karrie? What’s the matter, baby?” Her father said, stepping to her bed and kneeling in front of it. Karen threw herself from her covers, no longer needing their protection, and wrapper her arms around her father’s neck. She sobbed into his shoulder for a second, simply thankful to be safe.

“The closet opened by itself!” She cried when she could find her voice. “Something inside tried to get out!”

Two strong hands, which seemed nearly as big as her, held Karen’s back. “Oh, did it now?” Her father replied. Karen felt her father turn, and for a brief second she was afraid the creatures had shut the door behind them. If it wasn’t open, there was no way her father would believe her. “Well, look a that,” he replied. “It is open. I guess the heat pump kicking on must have jarred the door loose. This is a pretty old house, after all.”

“I want it to stay closed, daddy,” Karen said into her father’s shoulder.

Her father patted her back gently, and then started to stand. For a second Karen clung to him like a lifeline, but reluctantly released him when he stepped away from the bed. Without an ounce of fear he closed the door, then dragged Karen’s toy chest from against the wall and blocked the door with it. “There we go,” he said, returning to the bed.

“What if they try to move the toy box?” Karen asked.

“That’s a heavy toy box, honey,” Karen’s father replied. “I had a hard time moving it. And none of those monsters are as strong as me. So none of them are going to be able to move it. That closet door isn’t coming open again tonight.”

Karen sniffed deeply. “Promise?”

Her father gave her a warm, strong hug. “I promise.”

With one more kiss, Karen’s father bid her goodnight one last time, and then left her bedroom, closing the door behind him. For a second Karen watched the closet door, expecting it to pop open, the toy chest tossed asunder. But nothing happened. No monsters rapped on the other side, begging to be let out. No claws scraped the wood, looking for soft flesh.

And then Karen realized she wasn’t yet under the protection of her covers. And she wasn’t afraid.

The shadows in her room didn’t seem to reach quite as close to her bed. The dark voices beneath her bed were silent. Even the clothes-pile creature was gone.

Like her father, she wasn’t scared of the dark. At least, not tonight.

Finally content that the things that went bump in the night were placated, at least for now, Karen rolled over and clasped her teddy bear to her chest. Though it was the same routine every night, because the monsters always returned, she was safe.

Her guardian had made sure of that. Yet again. 

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