PG-13 for horror/violence

It’s still there, you know. In the door to your bedroom, your closet, your car. It’s hiding, lurking, like nothing so much as a steel-toothed animal trap with a craving for blood. You will slid your key into the lock on your front door and jigger the tumblers into submission a thousand times without a thought or a mishap. And a thousand times you will hurry down your driveway in double time and fold yourself into the front seat of your Accord or Beamer, preoccupied with your making your meeting or picking up your dry cleaning. And yes, even a thousand times you will slide open your closet door and select sharp suit or snatch up a sweater to ward off the winter chill. Maybe you will, just for an instant, remember the monsters of your childhood that lived in your closet and laugh at your own puerile fantasies, then shut the door to both your closet and hidden mind room in which you lock the wisest thoughts of your young years. You will do all these things a thousand times and come to no harm.

It’s the thousandth and first time you will open your door that you find it staring at you with claws twitching and its single eye the most horrifying glimpse into hell you can imagine.

But I digress. I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about Peter, who had never been given to flights of imagination, or flights of any kind. He was what you would call a very grounded person. And now he’s what you would call a very dead person, which I suppose makes him even more grounded.

Two years ago last April he took a cab home from the airport, returning from a business trip to Chicago, and it was either very late or very early, depending on your point of view. The cab pulled up in front of the curb, and Peter clambered out with his suitcase. Fumbling in his pocket, he pulled out a wad of cash to pay the driver, the routine task made more difficult by the muzzy feeling in his head caused by too many consecutive late nights and too many time zone crossings. The cab pulled away and Peter turned to trudge up his driveway.

Peter paused as soon as he stepped onto his porch, uneasy. Something gnawed at the very edges of his mind, where he could just barely realize it was there. It was the sort of feeling you get when you pass by someone in the supermarket and realize three aisles later that it was the guy who used to live down the hall from you in your college dorm. Except with a companion trickle of horror, like if you then remembered that that guy had later served twelve years for molesting a kid. The only problem was that Peter couldn’t fathom why he felt this way. Inexplicably, he remembered that, as a kid, he had always held it as an unassailable truth that the boogey-man lived under his bed. His parents had always scoffed, but there was the one summer when his pet rabbit had disappeared. . .

Peter forced his mind back to the matter at hand and pushed all other thoughts away. He was, as I have said, a very grounded person. So despite the fact that his heart had started beating away double time, he jammed his key into the lock and stepped the house he had left vacant three days earlier. As he made his way through the house toward his bedroom, he found himself turning on every light he passed, not just the bare minimum needed to illuminate his way. He stripped down to his t-shirt and shorts and fell asleep on top of his bedspread. He dreamed terrible dreams.

When he woke, it was nearly noon. Peter sat up groggily, still exhausted. As he made his yawning way to his kitchen, he tried to forget the vividness of his dreams. Being a practical man, he placed stock in dreams as neither analyses nor forewarnings. He poured a bowl of granola and dripped just a drop of milk into it. He took one bite and then realized he had left the light from the night before. With a sigh of frustration, Peter lumbered up from his kitchen table and smacked the light switch. There was a light thump beneath the clicking of the light, and Peter turned to see the milk jug on its side, the white liquid inside dribbling onto the floor.

Cursing, Peter bounded forward and righted the jug, then snatched up a handful of paper towels to mop of the damage. Only after the floor and table were dry did it occur to him to wonder how the jug had gotten knocked over in the first place. But that was only the first hint, so Peter didn’t think much of it.

Some few hours later, he saw a vague impression of another face in the mirror beside his own that vanished as soon as he noticed it. He swallowed uncomfortably.

The next morning he woke to find his front door swinging open. Nothing was missing. When he came back from work that night, he couldn’t bring himself to enter his bedroom. He stood trembling in the doorway, arms folded tightly about himself, feeling very much like he had as a child when he was certain the boogey-man was going to eat him this time. With the clarity of horror that only comes after dark, Peter slept on the couch that night. When he woke, he felt like nothing so much as a fool, and went into his room for a fresh suit. His closet door was open, though he always closed it religiously, perhaps a compulsion left over from his childhood days. Through force of will—and perhaps the triumph of bravery over common sense—Peter reached into his open closet and withdrew a suit and shirt. Only after he had dressed himself did he look down and see the dried blood on his shirt.

Even for a man of Peter’s practical persuasion, at some point, things had to be too much. Backing away from the closet, Peter snatched up his cell from the kitchen table and pulled up his contact list.

I answered on the second ring. “Pete?”

Peter took a deep breath. “You’re going to say I’m crazy, Kit. I don’t know, maybe I am crazy.”

This is wholly unlike my very grounded Peter. I frowned. “Peter? What’s wrong? What do you mean?”

Peter took another deep breath, and told me everything that had happened since he’d stepped out of that cab. I listened to the whole thing through without interrupting once. My first impulse was to educate Peter in the intricate meaning of the phrase ‘making a mountain out of a mole hill’, but I pursed my lips instead and remained silent until he finished.

“Well?” he demanded as soon as he had described the blood. “Am I crazy or am I not?”

“I don’t know what to think, not now,” I said, shaking my head. “Look, how about I just come over, all right?”

“Sure, yes.”

“All right then.” I hung up and went out to my car. If Peter had been anyone else, I would have chalked the whole thing up to an overactive imagination, perhaps coupled with too many drinks the night before. Only, this is Peter we’re talking about. He never drank anything stronger than Kool-Aid, and as for an imagination, well, I hadn’t seen so much as a hint of one in all the years we spent growing up together under the same roof so I thought it unreasonable to assume he’d develop one as some bizarre form of a mid-life crisis. Not that I believed him exactly, though I was profoundly disturbed, but I did know that something was deeply wrong.

It was only a ten minute drive from my apartment to his house, so it wasn’t long before I was parked as close to his driveway as I could manage. I rang the bell once and waited for a response. When there wasn’t one, I grew even more uneasy. I dug my fingers into the potted plant on the porch and rooted around until I came up with a muddy spare key.

“Peter?” I called, stepping inside. “Pete?”

I moved cautiously through the house, suddenly wishing I’d brought a weapon. Then I opened his bedroom door.

I saw, first of all, Peter lying on the floor. Suffice it to say that, even had I not made it through a year of med school before deciding I was more interested in politics, I would have known he was dead. There was no possible way a person could be alive after being so injured. Blood was spattered across nearly every object in the room.

And second, I saw it. It crouched over my brother’s body like the shadow of a hideously deformed vulture, claws filthy with blood and flesh. And its eye. God help me, I saw its eye. It looked at me and I felt I had been stripped naked, denuded of even my skin. Then it turned its back to me, and vanished.

Thirdly, I saw that the closet door was open.

So that was two years ago now. Peter’s death was ruled as homicide, never solved. I am in the midst of campaigning now. I have never ‘gotten over’, as they say, my brother’s death. But that’s not why I’m writing this now. I’m writing this because I came home today and saw my bathroom door was open, even though I know I closed it before I left. And because I got an odd feeling when I stepped inside my apartment, the sort of feeling you get when you pass by a guy in the supermarket and realize three aisles later that you had lived in the same hall in your college dorm. And about the time you’re bagging your groceries, you remember that this guy had served twelve years for molesting a kid.

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