A couple weeks ago my wife made our two young boys a play house out of a cardboard box leftover from some Ikea furniture. It stands about 6' tall and is in the corner of our living room.
There’s a small door, and then a small window next to the door. It’s a pretty amazing little place that I wish I had when I was my boys’ age. It’s just one of the many reasons I love my wife is her ability to just throw things like this together for our boys.
The kids are seven and two years old. Even with the age gap, they get along and love to play together almost all the time. When the cardboard house was first built, it was their favorite thing to play in together.
For about a week after we built it, we had a hard time even getting them out of it. They’d take in a bunch of blankets and toys and just play. At bedtime, we’d have to literally drag them out to take baths and go to bed.
Sometimes they’d play peek a boo with my wife and me on the outside, pretending to be scared or surprised every time my toddler jumped up and made an “AHHH!” sound. Typical cute “kid stuff” that makes parents happy to no end, and it did. We loved sitting outside while the kids sat inside and jumped out to scare us. Over and over we’d do this. Just laughing and loving every minute of it.
On Sunday, everything changed.
We noticed over the weekend that our oldest wasn’t inside the cardboard house as much anymore and just assumed he was losing interest. He is a bit older and were kind of surprised when he had as much interest as he did when we first put it together, so it wasn’t too big of a deal when he gradually stopped playing inside it. Our toddler, on the other hand, went in the other direction. We couldn’t keep him out of it. He’d wake up, get his bottle, and first thing go in his house. He’d even close the door and get upset if anyone came too close or looked in over the top to see that he was still alright.
On Sunday morning, he woke up at 3 am, which was strange in the first place because he’d slept through the night for almost a full year now and was screaming at the top of his lungs. It was a scream I hadn’t heard from him since he was an infant. When I woke up to this screaming, I had the strongest sense of being out of place; like I’d woken up in someone else’s house. I had to convince myself I wasn’t dreaming. I’d dreamt recently of when he was younger, of when he sounded exactly like that. When I rolled over and saw that my wife was looking right back at me with the same kind of confused face, I must have had I asked her if she’d heard it too. She nodded, but didn’t say anything.
“DAD! DAD! MOM! MOM!” came from his room then. This was more like him. When he refuses to nap he does this routine where all he does is yell dad or mom at the top of his lungs until one of us gives in to get him out.
I rolled back over and put my feet down on the floor and felt the creaking of our old wood floors and knew I wasn’t dreaming. I got up and went through the door to our bedroom, crossed the hallway, and into his bedroom. His crib is directly in front of the door with an old rocking chair my mom got us in the corner, opposite his bed. I was still halfway asleep, but I noticed that the old rocking chair that looks like the one to the right, just slightly and stopped cold in my tracks. It was rocking just enough that it stopped just moments after I noticed it was rocking at all. Then I noticed that Mason had thrown his bottle, blanket, and everything out of his crib.
“No big deal, he hit the chair with his blanket or something,” I thought and grabbed him out of his crib to make him another bottle, something I’d done a hundred times and headed for the kitchen to get some milk. After I made his bottle and warmed the milk up, I went to take him back to his room down the hall.
Our house is all on one floor; the bedrooms are all on one hallway at the back of the house. As you walk down the hallway, you’re looking directly through the entry and into the family room where our TV, the cardboard house, and the boys' toys are. So as I come out of the kitchen to take him back to his room at the end of the hall, he’s looking over my shoulder to the living room.
“DAD!” He yells at the top of his lungs, pointing over my shoulder. He does this regularly too, because he wants to go watch cartoons and play with his toys. I tell him, “No, it’s time for bed, Masey,” and glance over my shoulder. This is when I notice that as soon as I turn, there are two little red lights in the playhouse window that go out as soon I turn around.
I freeze and wait to see if it comes back. Maybe it’s just a car’s headlights or something coming in from the window. Maybe it’s one of the dogs. I wait for what seems like an eternity. Nothing happens and head back down the hallway. Mason is screaming, “DAD! DAD! DAD!” at the top of his lungs now. I get to his room, give him his bottle, and put him back down in his crib. He almost instantly goes back to sleep like it never happened. I turned to grab the blanket and pillow he threw.
Oh God, the rocking chair. It's moving again.
This time, it couldn’t have been Mason. It couldn’t have been him.
I panicked and turned back to get him out of his crib. He was already standing up, looking directly at me with a smile across his face. I grabbed him and slammed his door as I almost jumped back to our bedroom where my wife was still sleeping. She mumbled and rolled over. Mason was still looking right at me. I put him down in the bed between my wife and I, and lay down next to him. He never breaks eye contact with me. As we were laying there, I noticed that he was curled up with Mom and drifted off to sleep.
Of course, I couldn’t sleep at all. It was the first time I’d ever been this scared in my own home. Something, or even worse, someone had looked out at me from that cardboard house. Something had moved that rocking chair, and whatever it was had been in that room before Mason screamed. It made my skin crawl just considering it to even be a possibility.
The next day, everything was fine. My wife swore she hadn’t heard Mason screaming. She hadn’t woken up and looked me right in the face and nodded when I asked if she heard it too. My seven-year-old, Presley, said he hadn’t heard anything either. I felt like I was losing my mind. I thought maybe I had been dreaming after all; but then how did Mason get in bed with us? The whole day I just felt off, like there was a film over my vision. Everything was darker. Everything was somehow… tainted.
Even though I’d been at work all day, my mind kept getting dragged back to that set of eyes or lights looking out from the cardboard house and the rocking chair moving on its own. Even though I hadn’t taken notice then, I’d realized they were watching me. The lights were watching me. Waiting and watching. I’m sure of it. They were sizing me up, seeing what I was capable of.
Monday night came, and the entire family was at each others' throats. My wife and I had an argument about a bill or something stupid. The boys were arguing and screaming at each other over toys, and Mason wouldn’t let Presley into the cardboard house no matter what.
I knew something was wrong as soon as I heard him scream. My wife and I were in the kitchen, still arguing.
It was the same infant-like scream from the night before, but worse, like it was full of pain. We both stopped immediately and I could tell from the way she was looking at me that she had heard him screaming last night and knew something was horribly wrong.
I dropped the beer I’d been drinking to the floor as I turned and ran around the corner to look into the living room. Presley was curled up in the fetal position in the corner covering his ears. Mason is in the cardboard house, looking out the window at me with a thousand yard stare.
His face is too white. It's too blank. His eyes were bright red and seemed to be getting… brighter. I’m stuck. I can’t move.
His eyes were getting brighter and brighter and I’m sure I was about to be blinded. My wife was stuck behind me. She fell to the floor and was writhing back and forth on the floor; clutching her ears. I didn't hear anything. I heard my wife and son moaning, and glass breaking as a vase fell off a table that my wife had rolled into.
“Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. DAD! DAD! DAD!”
Each time he said it, he yelled louder and lower until I couldn't take it anymore and try to cover my ears. That’s when I heard the screaming. When I covered my ears, my every thought was pierced with a newborn’s cry. I fell to my knees and tried to look back up at my son. There were two sets of eyes staring back at me. Two sets of bright red eyes looking directly at me.
The door to the cardboard house starts to open.
Darkness. Complete and total darkness envelops everything.
I woke up in the emergency room. Our house had caught fire and luckily one of our neighbors saw the smoke and called 911.
I was the only one pulled from the flames. Right after they pulled me out, there was an explosion that prevented them from going deeper into the fire to get my boys. They say they haven’t found any remains. They haven’t found anything yet and say they’ve checked everything twice.
Oh God. My sons. My boys. My wife.