ID 68836553 © Wannipa Nuangwongsa | Dreamstime.com
The closet door yawned open, a portal to the viscous dark of childhood nightmares. That gulf of monster-laden shadows thrust against the threshold clambering for an escape into Izzy’s room beyond, but try as it might that shadow took no viable form and remained bound in the casement of the unlit closet.
Izzy – born Elizabeth, but self-proclaimed Izzy – did not fear the open door. She never had really, not like her stupid brother Jake. He cowered beneath his covers if his closet door was left even slightly ajar, and when that proved too little protection for him, he would run whining to mom and dad for help. Izzy knew better. The closet posed no danger. Not in and of itself. “No Fear,” had been her motto for as long as she could remember.
She had realized years ago that closet monsters were not real, only some mass hysteria spread from child to child like the flu or the chicken pox, only lacking in reality similar to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and God.
Izzy had a strong, independent mind for a girl of a mere nine years of age. Her belief relied on the proof of sight, and with that burden unmet, myths both of childhood and adulthood fell away into her personal trash bin of her perceived falsehoods.
She could remember the moment that she had lost her faith. She had been seven when her father had set her down after her grandfather’s “passing.” She hated that phrase even then. It did nothing to soften the blow – merely tried to mask the pain of the ugly reality, one that she needed to face. Still, her father had set her down and had explained to her how when a good person dies, they ascend to heaven and there their soul finds eternal peace. Izzy had asked how he knew that they were at peace, and he had quoted from the family Bible as his evidence, like he had many times before that night. That not holding with her way of thinking, Izzy pushed, asking if her father had ever heard back from someone after they died to hear their version of events. He had explained that wasn’t how belief worked, and that it didn’t require confirmation via ghostly visitations, but Izzy didn’t buy it. Without a direct visitation the whole affair came up no dice for her.
Yet tonight, something new pulsed in the dark of the room. No, that wasn’t quite right. It pulsed in the dim light of her room. Like closet monsters, Izzy had never felt a fear of the dark either. She slept quite peacefully within that abyss. Jake’s late night visits to his parents’ room in efforts to escape his closet monster, however, had led to the recent purchase of brand new nightlights that were now spread throughout the house, shining like dim emergency beacons through the foyer and halls. They illuminated Jake’s room and cast aside his delusions of boogeymen, which perhaps was for the best, but her parents had taken it a step too far. They had installed a nightlight in the far corner of Izzy’s room as well, vanquishing the dark that she had once found so comforting. Now her room writhed with tangled webs of shadows, alive in a way that they had never been in the completeness of the previous dark.
Izzy jumped beneath her covers. That sound was new and dreadful, as if the very walls of her room were cracking open, spilling forth fresh shadows cast not by the pale illumination of the nightlight, but by some inner force of their own. They burst forth from some violent darkness existing in a place beyond her known truths – something creeping forth from her trash bin of falsehoods.
She opened her mouth to speak, to call out for her father, but no words came. For once she needed help, and yet now she could not ask for it.
That unfamiliar death grip took hold, squeezing tight and wrenching her insides. She tried again, but still could not find her voice. Only a small squeak escaped her lips.
How could she let herself be so paralyzed? “No fear,” she reminded herself. She had to take action. She lowered her blankets ever so slowly and peered out into the shadow-filled room.
Cra-Snap! The wall snapping sounded again. From the closet? Could it actually be coming from the closet?
Izzy focused, squinting her eyes for a better view. Did the door just move? It seemed to waver as if just slowing to a stop. She held her gaze into the dark within, beyond the open door. Despite the dim glow of the nightlight, the shadows beyond that threshold could not be pierced, but remained a solid impenetrable black, with no hint of grays.
“Boogeymen don’t exist,” she reminded herself. “No boogeymen, no closet monsters. It’s just in your imagination.”
Still she locked eyes with that darkness unable to turn away. And that was almost her undoing.
CRA-SNAP! Louder this time, and off to her right, in the furthest corner from the light.
She turned in a panic, saw for the first time her own version of the boogeymen, and froze. Shadows danced and undulated along the walls of that darkest corner – fan blades, pillows, and silhouetted animals stretching in hideous contortions in a monstrous shadow puppet show.
And at the center of that grotesque dancing menagerie, a crack spread along the wall, unlit, a living shadow, seeping out mist-like and crawling into existence like smoke billowing in from under a door, but where that door led Izzy could not fathom. Now in the light at last monsters had been born, called forth from fears that she had long suppressed and had pretended did not exist.
At last she found her voice and she screamed.
She didn’t know what words spilled forth. An amalgamation of every cry of terror, a slurring of words and screams and guttural fear all sloshed together. She screamed and it had no form beyond terror, true terror birthed from a place beyond her beliefs.
Moments passed, fast and yet impossibly slow, and the shadow thing crept further in from the crack in the wall, its dark mist solidifying into form, gaining an impossible dimensionality. Teddy bear shadows snapped shark-like jaws, and fan-blades dropped like guillotines, and the horror show played out, burning itself into her psyche.
Izzy screamed again, only to realize with a croak and a painful wrenching at her throat that the she had never stopped screaming.
The shadow form took shape – monstrous and massive and beyond comprehension. It reached out towards her, not with an arm, but some macabre deformity, a hideous imitation of form.
Izzy shrank back into her covers, the mist-shadow catching on her hair, which sizzled and burnt at its touch. She patted out the embers of the burnt ends and fell back against her headboard.
At last her door slammed open, and her father rushed in, silhouetted against the light of the hall.
“Izzy…” he started, then stopped, frozen in place as he too saw the shadow thing, a childhood boogeyman, a thing beyond reality.
Izzy could see the disbelief play out among the mixed emotions struggling for dominance within him. His face contorted with confusion, but then before he could settle into some understanding of what he now saw, he rushed forth.
The shadow thing ignored him and grasped once more for Izzy. Its dark digits brushed her skin searing her cheek, and she felt true pain for the first time. It pressed upon her, and she knew that the shadow would soon consume her and take her to that place beyond the wall, that other outside, in the realm of falsehoods. As all sense of hope fled, as her bladder released and Izzy accepted that she would never know what it was to grow old, to be a teenager, or to fall in love – that she we would miss out on all the wonders of the years ahead – soft comforting arms lifted her from the bed and rushed her out from the shadow-filled room into the brightly lit-hall. She glanced up and found comfort as she locked eyes with her mother.
As they fled, she looked back into her room. She saw her father with the shadow, having caught it in a bear hug, a hug that had wrestled it back just enough to allow her mother to carry her from the room and away from its grasp. She could hear Jake crying and knew he was there in the hall with her and her mother, but she did not see him. She could not look away from her father.
As he held to the shadow beast, his arms slid into that darkness, his hug piercing its ephemeral form. Only her father did not so much pierce the shadow as it consumed him. Its misty tendrils wrapped about him, slid into his nostrils, his ears, his mouth, and its smoky form gave way as he slid inside of it. He burned, and he sizzled, and he screamed, and Izzy closed her eyes tight against that image. She had not gained a fear for the dark, but she had now learned a fear of light and its constant companion, its opposite, its shadow.
Seeing was believing, and after what she had seen, her world of belief expanded and would haunt her in all the years that lay ahead. Every shadow would plague her, every snap in the night rip at her sanity. She would live, but she would always have that final image almost within reach, that vision of her father burning and merging and disappearing hauled into the shadow and seeping back into the crack beyond the reach of her nightlight.
Her mother held her tight and she wept as she and her brother were hauled out into to the night, out from the horrors of that house, and into what… the safety of the street?
She lifted her head from her mother’s shoulder and turned her tear-streaked face upwards. A bright moon shone down and bathed the street in its pale light. From every street lamp, every mailbox, every car, and even from herself the shadows stretched into the night, and Izzy screamed once more.