I reached out into the darkness and checked my phone with a trembling hand. It was four o’clock in the very heart of the night, and the creature was still trying to scratch its way out of my closet.
I turned on the dim light at my bedside table and flinched as the shadows suddenly threw themselves against the walls of my room. The black shapes rustled like leaves surrounding a clear space in the center of a forest where my bed sat cold and vulnerable. For a moment the scraping sound stopped, the last grinding remnant of noise echoed off the walls and was slowly suffocated into silence.
My wife stirred beside me, restless in her sleep. I just laid on my side, staring at the closed closet door, the thin black line between the base of the door and the carpet, black upon black I saw something moving back and forth inside. There was the sound of wet ropes thrashing against the closet wall as the creature moved. Then the scratching returned. Scratch-scratch-scratch-scratch. A clawing. A biting. A hideous scraping.
What was out there in the night beyond that two-inch closet door? That flimsy white shield of hollow wood that divided the comfort of my bed with whatever Hell had vomited up into my closet. What if I hadn’t closed the door this evening? I shuddered at the thought and sat up in bed.
I held my breath, closed my eyes, and prayed. Thank God the children were at their grandparents’ house. They would not have to see their father devoured in two gruesome bites in his own bedroom. When I opened my eyes, they fell upon my wife who was now staring up at me with a confused expression.
“Why is the light on?” she yawned.
I opened my dry mouth and then closed it without speaking. Instead, I raised my finger to my lips and made a shushing gesture and then pointed across the room.
“Oh,” she rolled over, yawning again. “Did you trap a mouse in our closet?”
“No!” I wanted to yell. “Do not call the demon by name! Do not give it substance in our realm! It does not belong here!” But I said nothing. I just sat there on my bed, legs crossed beneath me, staring at the door, wondering how long it would be until he finally broke free from his closet prison and lunged at my throat. Scratch-scratch-scratch-scratch.
“You should open the door and let him out,” my wife suggested, half asleep.
“What?! Are you out of your mind? That door is the only thing keeping us alive right now! I’m not going to just open it.”
“Don’t be weird. Just put out some traps or something and open the door so he will stop scratching.”
Traps. We had traps already laid down throughout the house. We had been suspicious for several days of the fact that some intruder had possibly dug his way up from the underworld into our home. So, I had stocked our arsenal with all the choicest armaments. Snap traps, live traps, sticky traps, poison. I had used half a jar of peanut butter baiting traps on every floor of our house. Under couches, behind desks. We had even watched videos online and had constructed our own makeshift pits and trapdoors. Our home had been converted into a war zone. We were sleeping in some sort of macabre Edgar Allen Poe story. Lovecraft’s ghost was no doubt peaking anxiously through my bedroom window. I glanced down at the moat of sticky tape I had placed surrounding my bed. The arcane symbols and rites of ancient defense against such dark arts. The empty superstition of mouse traps and cages. It would never protect us.
“Okay,” I said finally with a wavering sigh. “You are right. We are playing defense to the beast. I think it’s time to be more aggressive.” I gingerly swung my legs off the side of my bed and tiptoed through the ocean of sticky tape. Sweat beaded on my forehead as I actively pushed the scraping sound out of my mind as I reached down and rearranged our arsenal. I constructed an arrowhead of sticky tape pointing at where the closet door would eventually be opened. Behind this was a line of snap traps. A cliff face of plastic totes was positioned in such a way to block access into the main part of our bedroom. If the creature did overcome my obstacles they would at least end up in the hallway.
With the traps laid, I slowly turned the handle on the closet door. The scratching stopped as if listening. I could feel the doorknob burning under the gaze of the glowing eyes waiting within. I felt my heart pounding like a skin drum deep in my throat. I felt dizzy knowing what I was about to do, and what I was about to face. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I pulled the door towards me until a small black line appeared around the frame. This was it. I was letting loose the hounds. It would all be over a few seconds. I held my breath, pinched one eye closed, and opened the door about three inches and then instantly jump backward and stood on the bed.
My wife rolled over and propped herself up on an elbow. “You opened the door? Did he come out?”
I shushed her and danced nervously. “I can’t tell what is happening!”
The room was silent. The light on my side table touched the room with an ominous orange glow. Nothing moved. Nothing breathed.
“You might need to turn your light off,” my wife suggested. “I doubt it will come out when it’s not dark in the room.
I turned angry eyes on the woman lying beneath me. I knew she was right, but I was mad at her for it. “I’m not turning off the light.”
“Well, it’s just going to stay in there until you do.”
“I’m not turning off the light!” I hissed. When I had opened the door, I had smelled a sinister musky scent and it had turned my brain into the mind of an animal. I couldn’t think. I could only react. I ran my hand through my hair, and then ran my other hand through my hair, and then ran both hands through my hair so they ran into each other halfway and got tangled up there. I shook them in a rage. “Oh, Alright! Turn off the light.”
She leaned across the bed and turned the light off with a soft click.
Almost immediately it happened. There was a tumbling sound in the dark, like a spool of rope being pushed down a long wooden staircase. Then there was a scraping noise. A knock. And then all of this was drowned out by a hideous high pitch screeching. Like the scraping of a million out of tune violins. Screeching and screeching. A terrible alarm ricocheting off the walls.
I covered my ears in terror and yelled. “Turn the light back on! Turn the light back on!” I lunged impatiently to do it myself, falling on top of my wife who was already fumbling for the switch. The light came on and I danced from the bed to the top of my wall of totes and back again. “It’s there! I see it!”
“Is it on a sticky trap?”
“I don’t know!” my hands tore at my face in fear. “I don’t know!” I danced back to the tote and looked down into the gap in the closet door.
The mouse was there. On the sticky trap was an imprint of his overlarge body. His tail, but already the shrieking creature had nearly escaped. It was pulling away from the black sap limb by limb. His tail was free, three of his legs were free. His last leg was free except for a single gooey finger that kept him from darting off into the abyss where he would never again be found. I had to act quick. I had to do something. I tossed the totes aside and threw open the closet door. Then I quickly picked up a second sticky trap and slammed it down onto the beast’s body at the exact moment he snapped away from the first. His shrieking raised an octave as he realized he had been further bound, but he quickly started to pull himself free from this trap as well. I could see his head, with his frantic beady eyes crawling out from under the overturned trap, his mouth working to bite at the air.
“Oh! He’s on a sticky trap!” my wife cheered. “I’ll go get a bag!”
‘A bag,’ I thought. ‘how are we supposed to put him in a bag? And then what? What do I do with a bag with an angry mouse inside of it? He was trying to claw through my closet door. He does not care about a bag. what if somehow, by some miracle we were able to release him into our yard, what would keep him from coming right back inside? Nothing. Nothing would stop this monster. He will keep coming back and keep coming back and keep coming back. It was only by chance that he was here the night that my children were not at home. What if next time he comes back for revenge and finds my children asleep in their beds. My son, lying on the floor under a blanket? No. There is only one solution. There is only one thing that must be done, and I am the one that has to do it.’
The traps had done their job. Now it was my turn. I reached behind the door and pulled out a broom that had been leaning against our bedroom wall. I slowly stepped forward and looked down at the thing writhing on the floor, clawing at one of my socks. It was now most of the way free from the second sticky trap. Screaming its endless song. Over and over and over, the theme from Psycho echoing off my closet walls. I clenched my teeth and raised the broom above my head.
A few moments later Andrea stepped into the room and found me, sweaty, panting, standing just inside the closet doorway looking down at the floor in silence.
“I have a bag,” she said softly holding up a large Ziploc baggy.
I glance up at her and then back down at the floor. “I’m afraid we are going to need something that… isn’t clear.”
She scrunched up her nose and left the room.
For the next week, we diligently continued to place our traps around the house. We laid down our moats of tape, armed the trap doors, placed our pits and pendulums, but we never again saw evidence of another mouse in our home. If any had been there they had all fled that night and never returned. This did not surprise me. I had learned who the real monster was and I had seen him that night in the dark as his mind turned animal and he raised a broom over his head like an ax.
What is worse than having to face a monster? Is it not having to face the fact that you yourself are an even greater monster?