October 27, 2010

The Thing in the Closet

Amy and David couldn’t sleep. The old house their parents had recently bought was drafty, musty, and cold, but that wasn’t what kept the siblings awake almost every night. It was the sound – distant and soft – of someone walking around inside their closet.

David writes to tell me that when he was 12 and his sister, Amy, was 9, their parents moved them from Maryland to western Pennsylvania. The new house, which was really a very old house, was once a farmhouse. David had always imagined a farmhouse would be as big and as spacious as the farm itself. David was wrong.

On the day they arrived at their new home, the sky was bright and the air was just beginning to take on an autumn chill. “The house looked huge. I wanted to start exploring all the rooms,” David recalls. But once inside, the old house proved to be small and stifling. “I guess it just looked that way from the outside, because once I went inside, I wanted to leave right away.”

David’s family always seemed to be running out of space in the new house. No matter where they put their belongings as they unpacked, they always ran out of room before hey were finished. “It’s like the house was running out of space...like it was shrinking,” David tells me.

Because the house was so small, David and Amy shared a large bedroom on the second floor. What David remembers most about the spacious room was the tiny closet placed right in the center of the long wall. “It was weird because the room was pretty big, but it had this really tiny closet, like so small that we had to have a dresser in the room to fit our clothes.”

After long days of unpacking and getting used to their new school, David and Amy were too tired to do much exploring in the house. They usually fell asleep without a problem. As summer faded and the trees exploded in fall colors, David and Amy lay awake at night talking about their new school and new friends. That’s when they started to hear the footsteps.

“At first, we thought it was our parents and we didn’t really give it much thought,” said David. But then one morning, Amy asked her mother what she was doing walking around at night. Amy’s mother gave her a blank look, “What do you mean? Your dad and I were out by 10 last night. You must have been dreaming.” David and Amy exchanged a look across the kitchen table that seemed to confirm what they were both too afraid to admit.

That night they anxiously got themselves ready for bed. There would be no talking and probably no sleeping that night. “We didn’t do a lot of late-night talking that first night,” recalls David, “and for a week, we barely slept.”

The siblings found sleep impossible as they lay in bed and listened to the sound of the faraway footsteps, footsteps that now sounded so clear and distinct that there was no doubt as to their source. “They were coming from the closet,” says David. “There was something walking around in our closet.”

David and Amy were losing too much sleep and their parents were starting to become concerned. “I was making friends at school and, because of the way the house made me feel, I wanted to be away as much as possible,” says David. David’s mother laid down the law: go to sleep at bedtime or no more hanging out with his new friends. David was too tired to do anything but prepare to confront his fear.

David didn’t tell his sister what he had planned to do that night. “I should have told her. I didn’t think she could handle it, and I guess I was right.” David and Amy got ready for bed. They waited silently as the room grew dark and quiet. Then the footsteps began. They were hard and clear like someone with heavy shoes was walking through an empty warehouse. But instead it was a tiny closet only a few feet away from their beds. After listening to the noise for a few minutes, David slowly rose from his bed. Amy saw her brother in the half-light. “David, what are you doing?” she whispered. David didn’t answer, but carefully made his way between the piles of clothes and toys on the floor toward the closet door.

Amy sat up in bed and her eyes went wide. She was about to implore her brother to stop but before she could get the words out, David froze in his tracks. Amy listened and heard what her brother had already heard. The footsteps had stopped. David turned to look at Amy and she could see the concern on his face. Amy started to pull the covers away and ease herself out of the bed. Just as her feet touched the floor, the footsteps started again this time louder and faster than ever before. Amy ran toward her brother and tripped on the mess on the floor, falling into her brother’s arms. The footsteps were getting louder and louder now. Amy looked up at her brother and saw the shock on his face as they both realized that the footsteps were coming towards the door. Whatever was walking around inside the closet was now just on the other side of the door.

For a moment David considered running as fast as he could for the safety of his parents’ bedroom. But as he struggled to help his sister to her feet in the dark, he knew he had to help her first. Before David could react, the footsteps suddenly stopped, the closet door made a clicking noise and slowly started to open.

“It happened really fast,” says David. “It seems like slow motion – the door opening and me pushing my sister behind me. I saw it walk towards me, a shadow. There weren’t any footsteps now, just this figure, black on black, kinda peacefully floating through the air toward me.”

The next morning David woke up next to his sister on the floor. The footsteps were never heard again, and for ten years they went about their lives, never talking about that night. David spent more time with his new friends but Amy was a different person. The formerly happy, outgoing child became a withdrawn, frightened teenager. After interventions and counseling had failed, Amy confessed to her brother that she was leaving for good. “I told her I would help her any way I could,” recalls David. “I don’t know why I said it, but I told her I was always going to be her big brother and I would always help her, just like I did that night when the shadow came out of the closet.” Amy stared at David in disbelief. David assumed that the young girl she had been had blocked the memory all these years so he recounted as delicately as he could what had happened that night. Amy began to cry as her brother spoke. “No, David,” she said, “I remember it, I remember it all.” Then Amy told David that when he pushed her behind him to protect her from the thing in the closet, she came face to face with the wall opposite the closet door, the wall of their bedroom with the full-length mirror.

Some stories say that monsters cast no reflection, that evil is revealed only by its absence. But some stories get it wrong. What Amy saw in the mirror was no shadow, no floating blur, but a figure cut in the regalia of Hell’s own finery, a vaguely human image of inspired despair, loss, and death. While David had always believed that some poor soul had found release that night, Amy had wondered why she and her brother had been unfortunate enough to share a closet with the King of Death himself.

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