Saturday, December 11, 2004

Monsters in the closet

--So, I have an interest in writing and I don't have time (or anything remotely interesting to report on) to do anything very original yet. This story was written originally for a class assignment. I have only reworked it a little since then. Enjoy...

Monsters in the Closet

“There are monsters in my closet.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, little girls still have to go to bed—monsters or not,” said the mother. “Come on, give me a hug, and I'll tuck you in.”

To tell the truth, it was getting dark outside. It really was time for the little girl to go to bed. The family lived in a trailer park—“Mr. Hobson's Neighborhood”—that was just on the outskirts of town. The walk from the kitchen to the little girl's bedroom was only a few steps down the hall. Worn, brown shag-carpet stretched from the living room down a narrow hall, past the bathroom and a small bedroom, stopping at the door of the master bedroom. Fake wood paneling covered the walls. The front door, broken, was jammed tight with a sock between the door and the jamb. The smell of past meals oozed from the paneling: spaghetti, curry, microwaved hot dogs, and deep fried fish all mingled, becoming a sweetish smell that clung to everything. The little girl was also clinging to her mother.

“Do you want me to check the closet for monsters?”

“No, they'll still be there even if you check.”

The mother stood next to a large bed that was meant for growing into. She had nearly sprained her ankle on this particular trip to the bedroom. Next to a pair of plastic skates on the floor there lay two naked Barbie dolls in the midst of clothes and other toys in haphazard disarray. Supported in the mother's arms, the little girl's arms were wrapped tightly around her mother's neck. Her legs were clamped tight reaching almost all the way around the mother's waist. To be honest, thought the mother, her little girl was getting too big for this—for all of this really. She didn't know why her daughter still believed in monsters.

Just to be sure, she walked toward the closet, meaning to make a show of checking for monsters. It was hardly big enough for a six-year-old's wardrobe, let alone a monster of any consequence. As she held her daughter on her right side, the mother reached out with her left to slide open the closet door. The little girl stiffened, pressed her face into her mother's neck, and let out a small whimper. The door slid bumpily open on warped tracks; it took some effort to open it all the way.

“See? There's nothing in there.”

Unwilling to even look, the little girl's arms just squeezed tighter around her mother's neck; her eyes shut just as fiercely.

“They don't come out till later, after you leave.”

“But I've looked and there's nothing to be afraid of. It's about time you grow up and learn that there's no such thing as monsters!”

“Mommy, please shut the door. Maybe then they'll stay away.”

Reluctant to spend much more time on this, the mother gave up. With a small heave she pulled the door shut and noticed that the paint on the door was peeling. Not that it was the only thing that looked like it was coming apart around there. The stove only worked most of the time. The inside of the microwave was covered in grease and hard bits of food that never seemed to come off. Carpets had holes; doors shut only half-way; vinyl countertops were separating from the wood underneath. No, the closet was probably the least of her worries.

With the child almost in tucked in, the mother kissed her little girl.

“What about Daddy?” asked the little girl.

“He can't kiss you goodnight tonight, maybe tomorrow night. Now, be a good girl and go right to sleep. I don't want you coming out asking for drinks or to go to the bathroom.”

“Can you get my Barbie?” the little girl asked.

“Which one?”

“The blonde one. She's the prettiest.”

“There you go, sweetie. How tight do you want your sheets?”

“All the way,” said the girl.

The mother tucked and pulled on the sheets till her little girl said “when.” She shut off the light and reached to turn on the nightlight. It clicked on, and dim yellow light flooded the room next to the bed. The little girl lay perfectly still with her eyes closed. Her hands were clenched around the still-naked Barbie lying just on top of the comforter. On her way out, the mother kicked the roller skate and the remaining immodest Barbie out of the way. She peered into the dark corner of the room and noticed that the light from the night light didn't quite reach to the closet. Was that why her daughter was so afraid of something in there?

The mother stepped into the hallway, leaving the bedroom door open a few inches. She reached for the hallway light switch and lingered for a moment while she looked toward the closed door to the master bedroom. The man that the litte girl called Father was honestly her father. He wasn't exactly the woman's husband, but somehow he counted as more than a live-in boyfriend. He had bought the trailer and they moved in just a few months before their girl was born. The woman always knew that he hadn't wanted to move in, but he had insisted:

“It's not right to just leave you both out to dry. Besides, she's my little girl too.”

Shaking her head, she switched off the light and moved into the kitchen. At the sink she scrubbed uselessly at the dried-on remains of what looked to have been spaghetti—at least she thought she could remember making spaghetti that week, or was it last week? No matter what she did, it just wouldn't come off. She threw the plate into the cold, soapy water that had been there since much earlier in the evening, and selected a fresher plate to clean. It just seemed so pointless. For a while now her husband had seemed to be growing more and more distant. No matter what she did, he just seemed to be locked away from her. Tonight she just couldn't deal with him.

After realizing that she had been scrubbing the same already-clean plate for several minutes, she dried her hands. With the first dry hand, she reached into the cupboard on her right, and pulled out a plastic cup. With the second, she opened the cupboard door above the sink and pulled down an unopened bottle of vodka. She decided that it was an “on the rocks” kind of night, and went to the freezer.

“Damn. No ice.”

She gave up and settled into the recliner that he had given her two years before, when they weren't so far apart. It was the only thing in the trailer that had held up at all. She poured herself nearly a full cup of the warm clear liquid, and watched a re-run of “I Love Lucy.” Two episodes and more than one cup later she had almost forgotten her problems, completely absorbed by the television.

In her room, the little girl was having nightmares again.

Hadn't mommy closed the closet door? How did the monster get in? She was running, hiding, trying to get away. No matter where she turned the monster was only steps away. It was big, and dark. It didn't want her to run, only to stop, and let it hold her. But it scared her, and she couldn't let herself stay near it. Suddenly she noticed that her Barbie was gone. When she went back to find her, the monster was holding it. The monster was telling the Barbie how she was a good girl, how it didn't want to hurt anyone, how pretty she . . .

The child's screams were muffled by the blanket that she had pulled up over her head.

The girl started awake from the sound of her own nightmare screams. She clawed at the blanket that suffocated her, pulling it down below her chin. Cold sweat dotted her forehead. The little girl took deep, gasping breaths. She was afraid to move, but her eyes darted to each corner of the room before settling on the closet. It was still closed, but the monster might have shut it before she could see. She stared at the closed closet door for several long moments before light from the hallway spilled onto the floor revealing toys and kid blankets scattered everywhere. A massive black figure stood in the doorway looking at her. The monster hadn't gone back into the closet, she thought. Then the figure entered the room and shut the door tightly behind itself.

The little girl shut her eyes, hoping that the monster might go away thinking she was asleep. The bed moved, and she felt someone shaking her. She began crying again, gasping for breath between sobs. Finally, she opened her eyes and recognized her father.

“Shhhhh. It’s only a nightmare, it can't hurt you.”

Tears of relief streamed down her cheeks. The little girl reached up with her empty hand, still holding the Barbie close.

“Daddy, there was a monster. It was here,” she said in between successively calmer sobs and long gulps of air, still only half awake.

He quieted her again and reached for the Barbie doll that she held clenched in her small fist. He took the Barbie and tossed her next to the other one on the floor as he picked the little girl up from under the covers. She held his hand and he stroked her cheek, trying to comfort her. She heard him tell her that she was a good girl and that no one wanted to hurt her. He told her how pretty she was and that there weren't any monsters for her to be afraid of. Quiet, and this time, scared, tears rolled down her face as he held her tight to his chest. She let her body go limp as she gave in to his soft voice. Only a small whimper escaped her mouth, as he laid her back down on the bed.

. . . how it didn't want to hurt her and how she was a good Barbie. The little girl was hiding from the monster but couldn't wait any longer. She had to help her Barbie. The monster sat down and was caressing and talking gently to the Barbie. When it set her down for a moment, the little girl bolted for her doll. She ran as fast as she could to grab the Barbie, intending to run away with her. But it heard her, and it was waiting. When she was close enough it grabbed her and held her so tight she couldn't even move. She felt like she couldn't breathe and could hardly make any noise at all. It told her not to be scared, that it didn't want to hurt her. It asked why she always ran. It touched her hair and then her cheek. She was so very scared, and it could tell in her eyes.

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