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Her son’s screams pulled her through the hallway like she’d been lassoed around the neck. Although Elizabeth knew it was nothing, the terrified, almost pitiful wails of her child made her want to scream and cry herself.

She was pulled through the door without care, and she instinctively switched on the light. Her little son sat up in bed, with tears burning his red cheeks. She swooped in, draping her arms around him like a blanket, and she cooed to him.

“Easy,” she said. “Shh, easy now. It’s okay. It’s okay.”

Her son’s screams had sunken into low, garbled murmurs, but the tears didn’t stop. His nails dug into her sharply. His head started to shake viciously.

“No,” he said through spit and slime. “No, no, no. Mommy! Mommy! Not okay!”

She stroked his head as her son wailed once more.

“It’s okay,” she affirmed. “You’re safe. I’m here with you. It’s okay.”

It took almost a minute of soothing and petting before her son could breathe steadily again. In this time, Elizabeth looked about the room for anything that might have caused his outbreak.

His nightlight was plugged in beside the bed and glowing, and the curtains were shut tight, shielding from the night beyond. The fan remained motionless overhead as the lights bathed the room in white. His toys sat unmolested in the corner by his chest, still, with toy soldiers standing at attention.

Beyond that, next to the door she’d come in, the closet door hung open by just an inch. Shadows hid inside.

“What happened?” Elizabeth asked, looking down to her child. “Sweetie, what scared you?”

He didn’t look towards it, but his finger pointed true.

“Closet!” he screamed, cowering in her arms.

She nodded, and grinned a little bit. She’d figured as much.

“What about the closet scared you?” she asked.

“Socks,” he said, whimpering. “Socks went in.”

“Socks?” she asked, looking to see if she could see the white-footed cat anywhere around. “Did Socks scare you?”

The boy vigorously shook his head once more, and he pointed again.

“She went into the—the closet!” he said in a full breath. “She went in and—and—”

His words fell once more, surrendering to the violent tears and shrieks. In the midst of it all, she could only make out four words. Four words that repeated again and again.

“Monster! Closet! Ate! Socks! Monster! Closet! Ate! Socks!”

He threw his arms around her, and his tears ate through her cotton shirt. She lifted him up to hold him better, and she patted his back.

“It’s okay, baby. It’s okay. Socks is okay.”

“No!” he yelled in her ear. “No, she’s not! Can I sleep with you? Please! Can I? Monster closet!”

She sighed, and set her son back down onto his bed, much to his displeasure. She stood, and she shushed him politely as she strolled over towards the closet.

“I used to be afraid of monsters in my closet, too,” she said. “When I was your age, I was scared all the time.”

Her son was scarcely listening, he had scrambled to the edge of the bed and started reaching for his mother’s hand. He tried to grab it, to stop her, to hold her back, but she was too far. She was out of his reach.

“I was so sure there’d been something in my closet, too, but my mom showed me time and time again that there was nothing.”

As she approached the closet, hopelessly beyond his help, her son fell backwards, and retreated beneath the covers. They only barely muffled his screams, his pleading. He poked his head back out, anxious and horrified.

“Don’t!” he shouted. “Mommy, don’t go! Don’t open it! Monster! Don’t open it!”

There was a moment when she hesitated. A moment where Elizabeth wondered, as she looked at the shadows. A primal fear of the dark, and childish memories skimmed her thoughts, but they didn’t stop her. She was an adult, a mother. Fear was placed beneath her now, as it had to be. She had to teach her son not to be afraid.

She grabbed the knob, and opened the door.

Her son ducked under the covers, screaming, and resurfaced a few moments later. His head rose slowly over the blankets, and he gasped.

His mother had opened the closet, and she had found nothing. Clothes hung on the rail, and shoes and building blocks littered the floor. The light above had crept in, and pushed the shadows to the furthest edges. His mom looked back and smiled, but he didn’t smile back.

“See?” she asked. “No monsters in here.”

Then, he watched as she did the unthinkable.

“No, mom!” he screamed. “Don’t!”

She stepped inside. Her son quivered and shook as he watched. He couldn’t stop watching. Elizabeth stood in the small closet, and she turned to demonstrate its emptiness, clothes brushing against her shoulders. She smiled and didn’t stop smiling. Rifling through his clothes, she pointed out that nothing was there. Nothing was behind his clothes. Nothing was hiding in the closet.

“There’s barely enough room in here for me, much less a monster!” she said. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

For a moment, her son lowered the blankets, and a thought crept into his head. One single, brief thought.

Maybe it was all okay.

Then, Elizabeth looked down to her right, into the edge of the closet. The shadows had tried to conceal it, but they didn’t hide it well enough. Hidden in shades of darkness, was a small, fragile collection. Leaning in closer, Elizabeth could see just enough to realize what she was looking at.

She gasped, looked to her son, and the door flew shut.

Her son screamed louder than ever before, but inside the closet the screams grew muffled. Invisible protrusions surrounded Elizabeth, emerging from between the shirts and pants, and they covered her with slime. She felt the stinging as it started to liquefy her skin, and then she felt the awful sensation of teeth penetrating her flesh. She was forced to her knees, right next to the stripped, bleached skeleton of what used to be a house cat.

There had never been a monster in the closet. Her son had told her that from the very beginning.

She screamed, but her words were choked into submission.

She was devoured by the monster closet.

Written by Ryan Brennaman
Content is available under CC BY-SA