Hero

by Michelle Bobier

part 1 of 2


“What is it, son?” his father said. “Don’t you feel well?”

The boy shrugged, dragging his spoon through his bowl of oatmeal. “I’m tired.”

“What’s the matter?” his older sister said, mockingly. “Did the monsters in your closet keep you awake again?”

“Don’t tell me we’re going to start another day hearing about that nonsense. You’re almost ten years old.” His mother finished her coffee, then went to the sink to rinse her mug.

“It’s not nonsense,” he muttered.

His father patted his shoulder. “I used to think there were monsters in my bedroom closet when I was your age. Under the bed, too. Pretty scary stuff. But there’s nothing there, son, believe me. And even if there were, I would protect you. You know that, don’t you?”

He knew his father meant well. He also knew his father didn’t know what he was talking about. Whatever was in his closet wasn’t a monster. It was worse than a monster. But it would do no good to try to make his family understand, so he simply nodded.

“Good boy,” his father said.

At the bus stop with his sister, he yawned, then yawned again, hugely.

“I suppose you’re gonna fall asleep on the bus again, like you did last week,” she said. “What a baby.”

“Well, I’m tired, I told you.”

“Don’t complain to me, you little crybaby. It’s your fault we had to move and leave all my friends behind. Sleeping on the sofa bed in the den wasn’t good enough for you. You just had to have your own room. Well, now you’ve got it, so shut up about it.”

This was unfair. It was silly of his sister to think he had that much control over their family’s life. His desire to have his own room had been only one reason — one small reason — for their move from their old neighborhood to a quieter, nicer neighborhood. A neighborhood where they knew no one.

But his sister would think what she wanted to think. She wanted to think it was his fault they had left their old neighborhood, and she wanted to think he was lying, or crazy, or dreaming, or just being a stupid little kid when he talked about what went on in his bedroom closet at night.

His mother had no time for such things, and even his father, who at least was sympathetic, didn’t believe him. Once again, he realized that he was alone: alone in their new neighborhood, where he had yet to make any friends; alone in the new school; alone in his family.

Alone in his bedroom, at night.

* * *

The house had been all right, at first. In fact, he had liked it. It was an old house — farmhouse-style, the realtor called it — that had been remodeled. His mother had fallen in love with the huge, shiny kitchen, and the realtor had mentioned the closets several times, saying how rare it was for older houses to have such roomy closets.

He had never liked the realtor. The realtor was a nice-looking young man who shook hands a lot and told jokes and said things his parents liked, especially when he talked about the house’s “motivated sellers” who had moved suddenly due to “difficult family circumstances.” But he had flat, cold eyes; it was as if his eyes belonged to someone else. Being near the realtor gave him the same feeling that being near his classroom’s terrarium gave him. The one with the snakes in it.

He thought of the realtor the first time he noticed something odd about his bedroom closet. That was about a month after they moved in, when he opened his closet door one night and found strange, silvery marks on the floor, the inside of the door, even on some of his clothes.

The light fixture in the closet didn’t work, so he got the flashlight from his bureau and shone it inside and saw silvery gleams everywhere, dozens of them, maybe hundreds. Hesitantly, he touched one of the silvery marks, then jerked his hand back and hurried into the bathroom to wash his hands; the marks were slimy, like snail trails. But what would snails be doing in his closet?

Later, when he took his parents into his room to show them, the snail trails were gone, and his mother looked at him with lowered eyebrows. When his sister heard about it over breakfast the next morning, she laughed, burbling into her orange juice.

The next night the snail trails were back, along with patches of moisture on the floor. The inside of the closet looked different, too. It seemed darker in there than the night before, as if the darkness had somehow concentrated itself. The light from his bedroom stopped at the threshold of the closet. Even the flashlight didn’t help much; it gleamed feebly, flickering, although it worked fine elsewhere. It seemed to him that the closet was swallowing the light.

Again, when he tried to show his parents, everything was normal, or seemed normal. This time, his mother shook her head warningly before leaving his room, and even his father sighed impatiently. His sister laughed even harder than before. “There’s nothing wrong with my closet,” she said. “Maybe yours just doesn’t like you.”

After that, he didn’t bother to tell his family about any of the weird things his closet did. He didn’t tell them when the closet door started opening in the night, by itself, even when he knew he had closed it firmly. Not even when he propped a chair firmly under the doorknob and still woke up in the night with his closet door wide open did he say anything to the rest of his family.

He didn’t tell them when he woke before dawn shivering under the bedclothes as if he had a high fever, with cold air seeping around his bed, and he could feel it flowing out of the open closet door like a freezing river.

He didn’t tell them about the rank smells that often came from the closet at night, like a swamp, like dead things, smells that no one else ever seemed to detect, even though he was reduced to burrowing beneath the bedclothes, breathing through his blankets.

He didn’t tell them about the sounds he sometimes heard from his closet: like slow, phlegmy breathing, or a dry rustling of leaves, or the buzzing of flies, or the dripping of water, or soft, creaking moans.

He didn’t even tell them when the closet began to wreck his things. When green-gray, fuzzy mold (he had never seen anything quite like it before) spotted his pee-wee softball uniform, he used a nail brush to scrub the mold off in the bathroom sink, then hung the uniform on the back of his bedroom chair to air-dry before burying it in the laundry hamper.

When his new shoes turned up covered with slimy, algae-like goo, he told his mother he had cut through a drainage ditch on the way home from school the day before. Having his television privileges revoked for a week was better than telling her he’d found the shoes that way that very morning, though they’d been fine the night before. After that, he started keeping most of his things in his dresser, and in cardboard boxes under his bed.

* * *

As the weeks went on, he spent less and less time in his room (his “precious room,” as his sister called it). That was too bad, because the rest of his room was all right — better than all right — but he didn’t like being in there, constantly glancing over at the closed door of the closet, wondering what would happen that night. Instead, he took to spending a lot of time in the basement, especially after school.

Nobody else went down there much, except to do laundry, because the basement was the most old-fashioned, primitive part of the house. The walls and floor were concrete; small, dim windows near the low ceiling cast a dusty light. Furniture that had come with the house, and which his parents had never thrown out, stood in the corners, along with boxes of Christmas ornaments.

The furnace room was kind of interesting; he liked to watch the yellow-blue pilot light through the openings in the side of the furnace, and enjoyed listening to the whoosh of the system cycling on and off. Mostly, he killed centipedes and explored the storage room, which was loaded with old boxes and books and camping equipment that his parents thought they might use some day. Aside from dumping a few more things there shortly after moving in, nobody else in his family ever visited the storeroom.

There was a whole library of books in there, and he laughed aloud when he discovered a box of old comic books starring superheroes like Superman, Batman, and the Fantastic Four. He started reading them by the overhead light, sitting in the storeroom in a folding lawn chair he found under the stairs.

He found a small desk lamp in one of the boxes, fitted it with a light bulb from the supplies in the furnace room, and set it on top of a pile of boxes by his lawn chair. He put another box on the other side of his chair and used it as a table when he brought soda or hot chocolate or cookies to the basement with him, so he could snack while he read.

Eventually he began to run low on comic books, and started looking through the actual books in the storeroom. Most of them were for grownups (there were lots of histories and biographies), but one box contained books that seemed to be mostly for kids.

He had already read The Fellowship of the Ring (unlike his sister, he had always read several years beyond his grade level), but there also was a copy of The Sword in the Stone, and some books by Albert Payson Terhune — those looked interesting; he liked dogs — and a couple by Jack London, and some volumes about dinosaurs.

Gradually, he read his way through the books in the box, and thoroughly enjoyed them, especially the ones involving heroism. It would be excellent to be a hero, bravely forging ahead no matter what, battling evil, rescuing people, making things better, safer. You didn’t need a sword, either; in the books he had read, even dogs could be heroes. He wondered if he could ever be a hero, if he needed to be. Probably not, he decided, unless the danger was really great.

In the bottom of the box, he discovered something even more interesting than the books. It was only a spiral notebook, but when he opened it, there was writing in it, lots of writing, with a date at the top of the first page from almost a year before. Maybe this, whatever it was, had been written by one of the house’s previous owners. It seemed like a kid’s handwriting, though maybe a kid a little older than he was. He settled back in his chair, took a sip of hot chocolate, and started to read.

“Okay,” the first page began, in blue ballpoint ink. “I guess this is some kind of journal. Both my stupid sisters keep diaries that they write all kinds of stupid crap in, mostly about guys. I know, because I read those diaries, and they don’t even know it. How hard is it to find something they ‘hid’ in their sock drawer?

“Well, this isn’t some dumb diary some dumb girl would keep. It’s a journal. There’s a difference. And I’m sure as hell not going to hide it in my sock drawer. Because if anybody found this, they would think I was crazy. My sisters already do, and my parents are starting to wonder.

“That makes me mad as hell. Because I know I’m not crazy. Just because you have something crazy going on in your life, that doesn’t make you crazy. And if what goes on in my room at night isn’t crazy, I don’t know what is.”

“Hey, retard!” His sister’s voice, carrying clearly down the basement stairs, made him jump in his chair. “Dinner!”

He stepped out of the storeroom, heart hammering. “All right!” he yelled. “In a minute!”

“Now!”

“All right!

He stepped back into the storeroom. “Crap,” he muttered. He would much rather keep reading the journal than eat dinner. Maybe whoever wrote it had discovered what was in the closet. He had to find out, but that would just have to wait.

Before going upstairs, he hid the journal in the box, putting it under a pile of books so it couldn’t be seen.

* * *


Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2007 by Michelle Bobier

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