I thought I knew what fear was. I suppose everyone does. We’ve all had moments or times in our lives when we’ve felt the icy chill of terror clutching at our heart. But this – well, it isn’t even in the same league. I feel as though I’m being stretched like a rubber band, pulled tighter and tighter until there’s only the thinnest little scrap of me left. And pretty soon that’s going to give out.
Maybe events cast a shadow before them, a darkness that bleeds through the years and impinges on the past long before they occur: I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. I can’t seem to use my brain properly: I can’t seem to stop and think and get my bearings, so I just go through the motions, while underneath everything is close to breaking point. I keep my gun on me at all times, although I don’t really know why.
When I was a kid there was a monster that lived in my closet. I know that’s a cliche, but it’s one of the most abiding memories of my childhood. Lying there in my bed in the dead of night, covers pulled up to my chin, eyes wide with terror. Staring unseeing into the darkness at the malignant presence I knew was there just beyond my closet door.
I don’t remember when I first became aware of it. I didn’t have a very good time of things when I was growing up, and I think I’ve blotted a lot of it out. Mom drank a lot, and when dad wasn’t away, he was very handy with his fists. Had a temper on him like you wouldn’t believe. Still, the fear I felt for him was nothing compared to the thing in the closet. Night after night I remember it haunting me, radiating a nameless, shapeless threat from behind that flimsy wooden door.
Between my mom’s drinking and my father’s unquenchable rage, our house was never quiet. The walls seemed to echo with shouts, screams and sobs the whole day through. Until night came. After mom had passed out and dad had either crashed out or stormed out for the night again, I’d crawl under my covers and try to will myself to sleep as quickly as possible, before the deafening silence had a chance to sink in.
Of course, it never worked. Freed from the chaos of the day, the house seemed to creak and groan into a new, unsettling configuration that seemed full of menace and threat. My eyes would always inevitably be drawn to my closet with its cheap slatted door and the terrifying monstrosity that slumbered unseen within it.
Scared to look but too frightened to turn away, I’d lie like that for hours, barely daring to breathe. The formless shadows of my room seemed to shift uncomfortably under the weight of my gaze, suggesting dark presences to my already suggestible mind. But it was the thing in the closet that always filled me with dread.
Like some endlessly patient spider squatting at the center of a deadly web it watched and waited, never making its presence explicit, but I could always tell it was there, biding its time with unnatural guile.
When I did finally fall asleep I’d be haunted by wild, restless dreams that left me utterly exhausted, as if I hadn’t slept at all. Although I’d wake with my heart pounding and my bedsheets soaked in sweat, I would have only vague and uncertain recollections of these relentless nightmares, as if I had been pursued by a horror that was beyond even my own imaginings. I knew that the monster lay at the root of them.
Each day the coming of dawn would find me awake and unrested, but with the threat of that evil entity diminished by the coming of a new day. The sounds of my mother groaning under the weight of her morning hangover and my father crashing his way through his morning routine seemed to jar the house back into what passed for normality again, and I would be able to put the events of the night to the back of my mind as I braced myself for the trials another day would bring.
I don’t know how long this period lasted – time in childhood seems to work on a scale all of its own – but it had a deep and lasting effect on me far beyond my childhood years. It’s like it was always bubbling away beneath the surface even after I’d become an adult: more than once I’d be jolted awake in the middle of an unsettled night only to find myself staring with terror-stricken eyes at a closet door, perhaps open just a crack, and filled with a nameless dread that took me straight back to my vulnerable childhood.
I suppose when you have an upbringing as rough as mine it never really leaves you. Still, I was always determined to make a good life for myself, despite the poisonous influence of my parents in my formative years. I moved out as soon as I could, but some things are harder to run away from.
I’d inherited my father’s temper. Although I hated myself for it, and swore everyday that that was a road I would never go down, sometimes it just overwhelmed me and I felt utterly helpless in the face of a wrath that seemed to come from somewhere outside of myself. It would sweep me up like a whirlwind out of the blue, making rage against the world with a violence that I knew was quite unlike me. I could be like a man possessed when in the grip of one of these rages, but, although I did everything I could to resist them, I was utterly powerless against their fury.
Still, I’d managed to keep things reasonably under control, and I’d made a good life for myself. Decent job, a wife who loved and trusted me, a nice home in the suburbs, and – my pride and joy – little Harry, my six year old son.
Harry meant the world to me. I’d resolved to protect him and make sure he got a better start in life than I did. It wasn’t always easy, but I was proud of the fact that I’d provided him with a stable home and parents who obviously loved him and cared for him. I tried to take every opportunity I could to reassure him, boost his confidence and show him how much he meant to me and how much I appreciated him. I hated to think of him lying in his bed at night like I used to, afraid to move or even breathe for fear of some abstract, nameless terror that lurked unseen but posed a constant, terrifying threat.
And I’d been making it work. He tried my patience at times, of course he did – that’s just what little boys do – but I’d been holding it together. Taking deep breaths, stepping out of the room for a few moments; even humming to myself under my breath seemed to help when things started to get on top of me and I felt myself starting to lose control. I don’t even think Harry even realized anything was wrong most of the time. I’d been doing so well. Almost like a normal dad. Almost as if the thing in the closet had been nothing more than a figment of my imagination all along.
Maybe it was inevitable. Maybe I’d been cursed from the very start and this was how everything was always going to pan out. At least then there would be a kind of symmetry to things, no matter how little sense it all actually made.
Harry had been getting on my nerves all morning. With his mother away for the day, babysitting duties had fallen to me, and I was having a hard time keeping him occupied while I took care of the household chores and tried to make a dent in the mountain of paperwork I’d had to take home with me from the office. I’d hoped his favorite video game would keep him out of my hair for an hour or two, but he’d grown tired of that after five minutes and now just wouldn’t leave me alone.
I don’t really know what happened. He kept on and on at me, wanting me to take him to the park, saying that mommy would have taken him, that he always goes to the park on a Saturday, and that I never take him anywhere. It was nothing, really. Nothing for me to lose my temper over. I’ve laughed off far worse, but for some reason today it just brought everything to a head.
I only hit him once. The first and last time. All my rage, frustration anger and fear exploded out of me in that one instant, and little Harry took the full brunt of it.
It was all over in a flash. The house was deathly quiet again and his tiny body just lay there in a crumpled heap. A single bead of blood formed in his ear and slowly crept down the side of his face, shockingly red against his pallid white cheek.
It felt as though the ground had suddenly fallen away from beneath my feet. A dizzying feeling of unreality swept over me as I stared down at his lifeless body. I was numb to the full horror of the situation, as if the enormity of it was simply too much for me to take in. I picked up his tiny body in my arms as if I was taking him to bed as I had done so many times before, and put him out of sight in the first place I could think of.
When my wife returned I told her that Harry’s friend Tommy had invited him to sleep over. The words were out of my mouth before I even realized it. It wasn’t as if I’d planned it – I hadn’t been in a fit state to plan anything before she arrived. I’d just carried on with my chores, not knowing what else to do, going through the motions trying not to let the full implications of what had happened sink in.
Once the lie was out there it was even worse. Everything felt so normal: how could I give that up when acknowledging what had happened was certain to tear our lives apart? I think I even managed to convince a part of myself that it was true out of sheer desperation – how else could I have maintained that facade when inside every atom of my being was slowly disintegrating?
But there’s no denying it now, now that the house is quiet again and darkness has fallen. My wife is asleep, and still none the wiser. And I’m sitting here, writing this, in the forlorn hope that: well, I don’t know what I’m hoping for. I don’t think I have any hope left. My gun is close to hand, but why I don’t know. Soon, I’ll finish this and creep back to bed, waiting for the dawn, with that thing in the closet slowly sucking the life out of me with every breath I take. Some things you just can’t escape. They always catch up with you in the end.