Rufus was very tired. In fact this was the tiredest he had ever ever been in his whole life! Given that Rufus was only three and a half, and so had recently been an infant (a particularly sweet and sleepy one) this was an impressive amount of tired. Why, you might ask, was this poor exhausted child not home in his bed? Ah, but he was. Then what was it that so cruelly kept him from sweet slumber? The answer, of course, is that which treats so many young children as harshly as it does little Rufus: fear. Specifically, fear of the closet, and especially of whatever might lurk in the closet.
Not three minutes after Rufus’ mother kissed him goodnight and left his room that fell door opened on its own, silent as spiders. It had been at least three hours of wakeful watching since then.
You see, this was not just any simple closet. This was that closet, the one that sometimes Rufus’ best toys were put away in but they weren’t there when he looked and mama said he must have lost them but he knew that really the closet, or something in it, ate them.
He didn’t dare take his eyes off that awful half open door for a moment. He hoped with all his little heart that he might just fall asleep suddenly without closing his eyes and then it would be tomorrow and he could ask his parents to nail the door closed forever.
He couldn’t call out to his parents to come rescue him. The closet door stood at right angles to his room’s only entrance, so anyone entering or leaving had no choice but to pass within a step of that yawning shadowy mouth. If his parents came in, the thing in the closet would get them, eat them, crunch their bones - and it would be Rufus’ fault. So he kept his vigil, eyes held open with the force of fear and the three-year-old logic that says monsters never attack unless they can attack unseen.
But now, oh now, the horror multiplied! Poor Rufus had to pee, and the bathroom waited down the hall, past the open closet and whatever lurked inside it. He held it as long as he could, then longer still. Rufus had stopped wearing a diaper to bed three months ago and was not prepared to lose that hard earned pride by wetting his bed, not even for a closet monster. So the pressure grew and grew and grew until finally, with a hopeless sob, little Rufus leapt from his bed and charged unmolested past that eerie door to the bathroom and sweet release. The four 23-watt full spectrum compact fluorescent lightbulbs in the ceiling fixture gave the bathroom scene a quality of stark, uncompromising realness. Rufus looked at the gleaming sink fixtures and the clean off-white tiles. He smelled his father’s towel, which held the scent of the shampoo he used, an odor that always lingered in his hair. Rufus bathed himself in the accoutrements of his family’s normal daytime life and grew brave.
Meanwhile Anne, Rufus’ mother, quietly climbed out of her bed, careful not to wake her husband. Rufus’ sob had awoken her, so she went to check on her sweet little boy. Seeing the bathroom door closed and light spilling under it, she chose not to disturb him lest he get the idea that he should spend the balance of the night sharing his parents’ bed. Rufus, sweet as he was when awake, slept in a series of briefly held dynamic poses which always seemed to involve elbows and knees sticking out in all directions and blankets being gathered into balls and flung away.
She peeked into his room, thinking to find blanket balls where he’d thrown them and to place them neatly on his bed, ready for his return. Stepping through his bedroom door, she noticed the closet open. She thought this odd, knowing Rufus’ nightly demand that his parents make really sure the door was closed all the way. So she looked into the dark space beyond the closet door.
“Mice?” she whispered, seeing a faint impression of possible movement. Then a hand, dark grey and clawed and long-fingered, extending on an arm, impossibly long, reached out of the gloom to gently grasp the mint green tank top she had worn to bed, and firmly pulled her into the dark. As the closet door swung shut behind her, she uttered her last words in a whisper, “So many teeth.”
Rufus, quite sleepy and feeling very brave indeed, shut the bathroom light and strode boldly to his room. He was ready to look into the closet, to see shelves and toys and books and clothes and nothing scary at all, and then to climb into bed for untroubled sleep. As he turned the knob and began to pull the door open, he had a thought.
Hadn’t the door been open?