Friday, October 29, 2010
The Closet (a Little Tale for Halloween)
He eased into his driveway in the wee-morning darkness. The business trip and tortured flight was ending. Finally. But something was strange. Lights blazed from the downstairs windows of the house while the rest of the neighborhood slept.
His key zipped into the lock and snapped back the bolt.
An over-stuffed briefcase slapped onto the floor.
His wife sat with cradled knees on the couch in front of the television. She looked at him, then looked away. Her face was ashen. His stomach sank.
The lights of the television danced on her face.
He dared a step into the room. Just one. Maybe she wasn't cool with the longer trip after all.
"Is everything alright?"
No lead in. No gagging.
He hurried over, and she was already crying too hard to breathe.
"Jesus, what's wrong?"
She curled tight, shielding herself under him. A wall to hide behind.
He asked again, but the most he got was a wobbly arm pointing up toward the master bedroom.
"Is someone in the house? Should I call the police?"
She shook her head. She started pulling and dragging him toward the door.
"You want to go?" he said.
Obviously she did. She pulled him back to the car and collapsed in the passenger seat. She held her face in her hands.
"Where are we going?" he said.
She slashed her hands toward the road. Just go! Just go!
He took a few random streets. She seemed to calm. He was afraid to ask her again what was wrong, but he was also afraid not to.
"I want to stay at a hotel," she managed to say.
"You want to--?"
"Do it!" she yelled.
Maybe he would vomit now.
His fears were storming. He was chewed up from the trip. He didn't understand what the hell was going on. None of it even felt real.
"Can you...I mean...tell me...what's going on?" he said.
He got the story, small as it was, on the way to the old Holiday Inn next to the highway. Plenty of rooms were available on a Thursday night.
After they checked in, she begged him not to go back. But they packed nothing. No change of clothes. No toiletries. No toothbrush. He left her pained face behind the door with the little peep hole and do-not-disturb sign and drove up his driveway once again. The house was draped with layers of silence. Room silence covered with house silence covered with not even a stir of air across the yard outside. He would call out sick tomorrow. No way he could return to the office on two hours sleep. If that.
He went to the bathroom first to collect what he needed.
That was a natural place to start.
He found underwear and socks in drawers. But the rest was in the closet. No way to avoid it.
As much as he tried to stomp down her words, they scratched back into head. He stood across the room from the big, folding door and tried to will himself to walk over. As if nothing was out of the ordinary. As if he didn't hear what she said.
But the intrusion of her words kept churning.
I went into the closet to pick out clothes, and toward the back, in the dark, the weirdest thing caught the corner of my eye. I thought I saw a little girl. I thought a little girl peeked out from between the hanging clothes.
Thick, thick silence. His palms were cold and slimy.
It didn't register at first, because it was out of the corner of my eye, and I was turning away. I stopped and turned back. Nothing was back there at first, just like I thought, but then the girl leaned out again. (Voice shaking.) Her face was wrong. Horrible. I jumped back and slammed the door. Then, she laughed. That thing laughed low, like snickering. It resonated through the whole house. It resonated inside my head.
Crazy stuff. Wacko.
But his wife didn't suffer the crazy and wacko.
And there it was. Right in front of him. Of course he would check it. Of course he would see that nothing was there. Right?
He wiped his palms. Began to shift his weight in that direction.
Then that thing echoed inside his head.
He really couldn't be blamed for falling his way down the stairs.