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I am dying.
I am dying because I did not understand and now that I do, I have realized too late that I have sealed my own fate.
When I was a little girl, I had a monster in my closet, and to those young eyes he was terrifying. Every time that I would see him, or hear that deep raspy voice, it would fill me with a feeling of dread, deep to the core of my being. He first came to me after I overheard a fight between my father and my mother. I was in bed and I could hear the shouts and harsh words going back and forth downstairs. This was not uncommon, but this time, there was a sharpness to the words of both of them and it terrified me. Usually, when my parents would fight, it was very overemotional and dramatic with statements and personal attacks about everything from looks to work habits. But this time, there was something different. They were using words that would have gotten my mouth washed out with soap and screams and shouts that chilled me to my young soul. There was real anger behind this argument instead of sniping and cat-calling. This was not the first time that this had happened, but it was the last. My father’s booming voice, like a violent thunderstorm on a lonely night moved like a crescendo in the darkness as I pulled my covers over my head. A loud crash and then resounding slam, like a sledgehammer splinting through wood. Then came silence. I waited one minute, then two. With resolve, I tossed aside the covers and planted my feet on the cold wooden floor. My five-year-old inner voice told me that I could put an end to this. Here and now. I would confront them and demand that they “grow up.”
I bolstered my resolve and clenched my tiny fists, heading for the door. My blood froze in my veins as I watched the closet door slowly open with a creak. Two eyes, deep and fiery red stared outward towards me. The moonlight, piercing the darkness through my window, shone on an onyx beak and the movement of distorted, leathery wings rising behind the creature. My heart stiffened in my chest as I heard two words, tearing through the night in a low guttural vocalization. “Hello Pretty!” I was frozen in time and, for a moment, unable to move. The voice was deep, but sultry and bore no threat. Yet something deep inside me filled with fear. I would come to learn much later, that the human animal will often act out of instinct of danger, even when that danger is not obvious. That is what happened here and it was the beginning of a young life of nightly terror.
As I watched those blazing eyes, I regained my senses and plunged back to the safety of my bed, pulling the covers tightly over my head, eyes clenched in terror, and stayed that way until the heat of the sun could be felt through my covers. That morning when I went downstairs, my mother was already in the kitchen. I remember her eyes, empty and red from crying all night, and my father was nowhere to be found. I never saw him again.
Even at five years old, I was able to convince myself that I had a nightmare because of all the screaming and fighting, but that was only on the first night. The next night, the monster visited me again, and then the following night as well. This was something that would become commonplace as each night, as the sun would set, the closet door would crack open and I would hear those ominous words. “Hello Pretty.” In the years that followed, this happened every night, and each night, I would hold tight to my covers pulled over my head until I slipped into a broken sleep from nothing less than exhaustion. No child should have to face this kind of terror. But over the years, having this creature so close every night gave me the strength and resolve that allowed me to excel in most things. The constant fear became an anchor for me as my mother descended into madness.
Don’t get me wrong. I did tell my mother about this monster, but as with most of the invisible friends and monsters of youth, it would not show itself unless I was alone. For the next 13 years, I was taken to a parade of counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and even priests. I droned through one-on-on counseling, peer counseling with others that had experienced traumatic events, and group therapy. Luckily, I was never condemned to admission to an asylum or another such institution, but that was only because after that first night, my mother had become reclusive and withdrawn so far into herself that I came to understand, while I battled the monster in my closet, she fought wars with her own personal demons. She would only do what she was forced to do by the schools and other such parties that were interested in my well-being. Through the years, I was subjected to different drug treatments such as Ritalin and Methylin when I was younger, and Zoloft, Prozac, and other anti-psychotics as I got older. This did not help with the real problem, but they did make it so I really did not care.
The counselors were convinced that the monster was nothing more than a reflection of my own fears and the psychologists felt that this terror represented my father. Since my mother would never talk about him, and I never saw him again, this made sense to them. The psychiatrists diagnosed me with attention deficit syndrome, anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder. All stemming from the night of the argument and my inability to gain closure on the situation because my father was absent. The monster was representative of the loss of my father and the pseudo-loss of my mother due to her becoming so withdrawn. The priests, of course, felt that I just needed God in my life and would pray with me. Which was no help at all, just like all the other treatments.
I never blamed my mother, or my father. In fact, I never really blamed anyone for the nights of terror. They just simply became a part of my life without explanation. I would go through the motions with those that would try to help me, but I think that I understood, deep down, that there was nothing that anyone could do. I became comfortable with the fact that this horror would remain in the closet and, even as a child, became accustom to hearing “hello pretty” as soon as the sun would disappear below the horizon. It is amazing what you can normalize over time.
The day I turned 18 years old, I left home. There were no tears or bickering. My mother simply accepted my exodus as a fact and I think that she long understood that it was going to happen. After I left, we had very little in the way of communication. She did not try to contact me, and I repaid that favor in kind. She no longer mattered to me, as I had never mattered to her all those years, and we had both become comfortable with this. She went into full reclusion and I became a strong and self-confident woman. I made the choice to grow strength out of 13 years of fear and loneliness, and resolved to become powerful instead of meek. When I left the house for that final time, the monster did not follow me.
I never did forget the monster though, and I was happy to see that it did not follow me to my apartment once I had moved out. There was always a fear of this, but thankfully, that was not the case. For two years, I was able to grow and learn, and slowly allow that horrible memory of tortured nights fade to a distant memory. I was even able to embrace some of the theories that the creature was a figment or phantom of a disturbed young mind that was never able to resolve the loss of her father. One of my friends, a self-proclaimed witch, even made me a talisman to wear around my neck. It was a small bottle with a cool blue liquid. She told me that if I ever saw my monster again, all I had to do was open the vial to toss the liquid, and the monster would be banished. I knew that this was just to make me feel better, but I have carried that vial ever since she gave it to me. I don’t believe in that kind of thing, but it has continued to give me a measure of comfort.
Of all those that tried to help me over the years, Lily, the witch, was the most helpful. Not only did she offer the talisman and encouragement, but she helped me regain a sense of self. When we became lovers for a short time, we would stay up into the early hours of the morning talking about my traumatic youth and her charmed life. She was raised by free-spirited hippies and believed in dragons and fairies and all kinds of wee-folk. I am not sure if she believed in my monster or not. But I like to think that she did. But we were not meant to be. After a short time, we drifted apart, but I always kept the talisman on a chain around my neck, not so much for protection, but as a reminder of what Lily meant to me for such a short time.
Two weeks ago, all the pieces of the puzzle came together. My mother passed away in her sleep, and her will told me everything that I had not known, but should have been told. The night my mother and father fought so many years ago, he left in a rage. They were fighting about something trivial, but the argument escalated until my father raised his hands to my mother. This is something that he had promised that he would never do. In his anger with her, and disappointment with himself, he burst out of the house in a blind fury. That was the banging sound that I had heard, his body in full force, bursting through the door. He did not make it more than five miles from home before he careened through a red light right into cross traffic. He was killed instantly by the impact with another car. My mother, of course, blamed herself. I cannot judge if she was right to do this or not. But she never even told me that he was gone. She did not even attend the funeral, and I would not know about this to this day if she had not included a letter with her will. Without my father, she was lost. The insurance left us well-off and we never had to worry for money, but after that night, she was broken inside. In the letter, she apologized, but my soul had frozen to her and this letter meant very little to me. I regret that.
The will gave me the house and everything in it, as well as a sizable financial boon. There was no question in my mind that I was going to sell the house. There were too many bad memories, even without taking the monster into account. This evening, I arrived in the late afternoon to start getting things ready for auction. I was in the living room cataloging the old Victrola that never worked properly and the records to go with it. My mother had loved the old Victrola and many times, even though it barely operated, she would sit turning the handle and playing scratchy records late into the night. I was so engrossed in my actions and the fond memories that I did not notice that the sun was dipping low on the horizon. First, I had a small pang of panic, and then my logical adult mind kicked in and I had to know. Could that phantasm of my childhood still control my emotions? I climbed the steps two at a time and burst into my old room. It was exactly as I had left it years ago. Even the smells were the same—the scent of old books mixed with just a touch of “Happy” by Clinique which I had gotten as my first perfume. My mother had left everything exactly the way it was the day that I moved out. The memories flooded back in and I took a seat on the bed, thumbing through the old journal, still hidden under the mattress and forgotten when I made my escape. I was so engrossed in the journal, that I barely noticed as the night passed over the house. The strong bulb of the ceiling fixture obscured the coming of the night. It was not until a chill ran from the back of my neck to the bottom of my spine, when I heard those words that I was so familiar with, “Hello Pretty,” that I realized that my childhood nightmares were, in fact, real and I had come home to them.
However, I had prepared for this possibility. Lily had given me the talisman and I had studied quite a bit on childhood trauma, nightmares, psychology, and even the occult. When Lily gave me the bottle, after a long conversation over Jack Daniels and pizza, she seemed fascinated. As I matured, I had convinced myself that the monster was a simple psychological reflection of a very troubled youth. But here it was, peeking out of the darkness with blood red eyes that seemed to burn with a terrible inner fire.
I stood, defiantly, and stepped toward the closet. I hesitated for only a moment when the encounters from youth replayed in my mind’s eye. Had it ever threatened me? Why didn’t I feel trepidation as I approached? Did it really mean me harm? These questions flashed through my mind as I watched his hand, more like a talon than anything else, raise toward me. I plucked the vial from around my neck and popped the cork. The look on his face was one, not of fear or shock, but of remorse. It showed sadness at my attack as the cool liquid splashed onto the scales. The talon raised higher, not to reach out for me in attack, but pointing behind me.
I am not sure what I expected. Perhaps something out of a media-driven vampire fantasy with the monster bursting into flames. Or visions of the Wicked Witch of the West melting when dowsed in water. Or even a loud scream as it reached for the liquid, trying in vain to reach for the prey: Me. But none of this happened. It just pointed past me with one sharp, imposing claw. It made no sound as it dissolved into nothing, with the last vision a mirror of endless sadness on the fading embers of the eyes.
“Hello Pretty,” the voice behind me sounded and I turned to look at where my personal monster had been pointing. The onyx limbs unfolded from under the bed and eight hollow yellow eyes stared at me. Beside the gaping maw, two long powerful looking mandibles protruded. “Thank you for getting rid of your guardian, Pretty, I have waited so long to taste you.”
The spider-like monster from under the bed moved like lightning cracking across an ebony sky on dark night. Fangs dug deep into my thigh and I could feel the venom fill my bloodstream. I did not even have time to scream before I was incapacitated. Now I can only wait because I know that spiders eat their prey alive and the monster in my closet was a guardian protecting me from the evil that was under my bed.