Copyright © 2017 by Gwendolyn Druyor
All Rights Reserved
Don’t sleep with your closet door open.
When you were a child, you believed there were monsters in the closet. You watched your mom or dad or legal court appointed guardian leave your bedroom. They’d snake a hand back in through the doorway and flip off your light. With no consideration for the sliver of light they could leave you through the crack of that door, they shut it with a click. In the dark—no matter how many siblings share your room, in the dark you are always alone. You try breathing quietly, but he can hear the beating of your heart. You stare at the closet, thinking that if you don’t blink he can’t sneak up on you. But the dark is his ally. He can see your eyes glowing in the dark. And he can move invisibly through your room, under your bed. He’ll paralyze you with fear so that you cannot escape. So shut your eyes tight and pull the covers over your head if it makes you feel better. But it won’t help. If you leave the closet door open, the boogeyman can get you.
“Sorry, wrong room.” Junior turned to flee back into the bedroom closet.
He rebounded off a shimmering, intractable wall of air. The force sent him tripping backwards, avoiding the wailing infant that had drawn him into the room.
A few feet beyond the magical circle, under an outdated mobile of the solar system, a dusky boy of about ten sat crosslegged on a rag rug, his hands poised over the shuttle of a ouija board, his jaw hanging open.
The kid squeaked, coughed, and then exclaimed, “Holy crap, it worked! I caught the boogeyman!”
Junior fell against the side of the prison closest to the kid, who flinched. Junior used the magical wall to steady himself with one combat-booted foot on either side of the six-month-old’s flailing limbs. His pale hands glowed where they touched the magic. The gauze wrapped around each palm lit up. The bandages sizzled though he felt nothing on his burnt fingers. He pressed a hand flat and saw the bones through the bandages and skin as clearly as on an x-ray. Of course, skeletal as he was, he could see them almost that clearly without a magical prison wall for enhancement.
The wall rose from a chain of silverware encircling Junior in his peacoat and the wailing baby in her too-big Ewok onesie. It trapped them in the middle of a larger-than-average bedroom with books, clothes, and action figures strewn literally everywhere. Harley Quinn straddled the deep bowl of a torchiere floor lamp on the far side of a bed covered with a tangle of Star Wars sheets and a Batman comforter. A disturbingly muscular Spiderman dangled by red yarn from an air vent high on one wall. Just outside the circle of silverware, Junior saw Deadpool laying face-down in a pile of dirty socks, threatened by Wonder Woman wielding his own katana.
Junior couldn’t smell the socks. He could barely hear the hiss of the standing humidifier half-buried in a Slytherin cloak. The shimmering walls of his prison dulled everything outside. Inside the bright, nose-tickling powder of freshly-washed baby battled his own indefinable homeless musk. He brushed his teeth as often as he could and washed his face, socks, and underwear every few nights. His jeans and t-shirts got cleaned much less frequently.
Pretty much every square inch of the bedroom’s plush carpet was covered except for a swath of space just in front of the closet door and within the circle of Junior and the baby’s prison. The walls fared no better. Pale green paint peeked out from the rare spaces between overlapping posters of superheroes, scientific theories, astrology, and Ohio.
The kid leapt to his feet, whacking his head on Jupiter and sending the planets spinning. He gripped his curly black hair with both hands and then grabbed his Captain America pajama pants before they fell down. “I caught the boogeyman!”
Junior was too hungry and tired for this. He had somewhere to be. He reached up and ran a hand along the impenetrable, shimmering barrier of air stretching from ceiling to floor, searching for weaknesses. He found none.
“Let me go.”
His captor laughed. “Hell no.”
The wailing settled to silence as the towheaded baby sucked in a tiny lungful of air. Her mouth opened wide in an astonished O and she seemed to look right into Junior’s hazel eyes. Then she squeezed her own eyes, opened her mouth and renewed screaming. Junior crouched to comfort her. It was why he’d come through the door in the first place. “There, there. It’s okay. You’re okay.”
The kid chanted, “I did it! I caught the boogeyman. I caught the boogeyman.” He kicked the ouija board aside and danced around the room, scattering toys. When he passed the full-length mirror on his bedroom door, he spun around to announce to himself, “I, Ethan Durnell, caught the boogeyman.”
Junior stood, bouncing the baby girl in his arms, careful at first of her weight on his ruined hands. “No. You didn’t.”
Ethan turned, his brown eyes glowing. He held his arms out to the sides, inviting his guest to come at him. “Really? You can get out of there?”
Junior considered kicking the silverware but he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to break the spell. He sighed and crooned at the crying baby. “Please let me go. I’ve got somewhere to be and I’m not the boogeyman.”
The kid smirked, “Yeah right. You came out of my closet, but you’re not the boogeyman?”
“You have to grant me three wishes now.”
Junior raised an eyebrow at the kid. “That’s a djinni.”
“Isn’t the boogeyman a genie?”
“No, he’s an as—” Junior censored himself. The kid was a jerk but he was still a kid. “The boogeyman is a type of goblin.”
“Ewwww,” Ethan plopped down on the edge of his bed. “You’re a goblin?”
Junior cooed at the baby. “Is this your sister?”
Junior noted the bile in Ethan’s tone. “What’s her name?”
“Dawn.” He spit the word. “She’s the dawn of their new life together.”
At that, Junior looked up. He stopped bouncing. “Really?”
Dawn’s cries increased.
“Okay.” Junior rocked the unfortunately named baby as he paced around the small circle. This wasn’t an easy life. Jane said he should think of it as a calling. And Jane was a god; he should trust her advice. But it wasn’t a calling. He could travel from closet to closet and paralyze people with fear. That didn’t sound like a calling. Or a life. It sounded like the genetic lottery had handed him a sack of lemons.
“You’re not so ugly, for being a goblin. Aren’t goblins hideous?” Ethan lay on the bed, examining Junior.
Junior let his pacing take him back around to face the kid before he responded. Ethan could see him. Most people were so racked with fear every moment of their lives, they couldn’t see Junior at all. But Ethan, in the dark of the middle of the night, could see him. What ten-year-old was so fearless? He looked at the boy. “A) Thanks. B) I’m half-goblin. I’m not the boogeyman, kid. I’m the boogeyman’s kid.”
“Sooooo, wouldn’t that make you a boogeyman, then?”
“People don’t talk about a boogeyman. They talk about the boogeyman. That’s my dad.”
“But you just came out of my closet.”
“Sure. I can also roll my tongue because my mother could. What’s that got to do with who I am?”
The ten-year-old scrunched his face like he was talking to an idiot. “Everything.”
“No!” Junior stomped one booted foot. “I don’t want to be the boogeyman.”
Dawn had almost calmed. He shouldn’t have scared her. He looked down at her wide-open eyes staring at nothing. She was so scared she couldn’t see him. He sighed.
“Please let me go, Ethan.”
“No. I called you and caught you fair and square.”
“What do you want, kid? Why did you call me here? You really thought the boogeyman could grant wishes?”
Ethan shrugged. “Whatever.” He bounced over to a book on the floor by the door and dropped down to flip through the pages. “The instructions were for summoning a demon but that seemed, like, really stupid to me.”
“Yeah.” Junior shivered. “Yeah, that would be stupid. You don’t want a demon in your bedroom.”
Ethan spun around. “You’ve seen a demon?”
“No. It wasn’t cool at all. It was terrifying.”
“You’re an adult. Adults don’t get scared.”
Junior snorted. Dawn giggled. “You have a lot to learn kid.”
“So tell me. Nobody ever tells kids anything. It’s like we’re invisible until we do something wrong.”
“Like use your baby sister as bait to catch a demon.”
“You’re not a demon.” The kid kicked at the ouija board.
“No, but I am a monster. You want to know things? Listen.”
“I do. I’m always listening to the blah, blah, blah—”
“Now, Ethan! I mean shut up and listen now. You want to know about feeling invisible?” Junior let the words tumble out. “I have been invisible for eight years. Eight years ago when you were still as cute as Dawn, I discovered that I could travel through time and space using bedroom closets. I traveled back in time and did something stupid. Now I can’t get back to my life. I’m stuck in this world, this . . .” He struggled to find the word.
“Alternate timeline.” Ethan scrambled over to his pale blue bookshelf and dug through the pile of books on the floor around it. He waved A Wrinkle in Time in the air, hitting the solar system mobile again.
“Never read it.”
The kid gave Junior a pitying look.
“I’m stuck in this alternate timeline where I’m older than my mother who has no son.”
Dawn gurgled around the two fingers she’d stuck in her mouth. Junior looked down. Her pale blue eyes were still wide but he couldn’t tell if she could see him or not. She stared at the wobbling planets. He cooed at her to calm himself. Ethan waited.
“I’m invisible to anyone who’s afraid, which is, sorry to tell you kid, everyone. I can make people see me but that paralyzes them. I can travel anywhere in the world through closets, but only through bedroom closets for some reason.”
“And you can time travel.” Ethan tossed a Dr. Who action figure in the air. “Just go back if you want to.”
“I don’t know how I did it. I don’t know how I do any of it. I don’t want to scare people.” He mumbled down at Dawn, “I don’t want to be the boogeyman.”
“Sorry, dude. Sometimes you’re given a sister and you just have to deal with it. That’s the way it is.”
Junior looked up from the baby. He raised his eyebrows at Ethan. “A) You don’t strike me as one of those kids who just repeats what others say.”
Ethan hung his head at that. He pretended to pick at a smudge on his pajama pants.
“B) I am a monster who tortures kids. I accept that. Fine. Maybe kids like you deserve to be tortured. But I met a demon today who tortured a grown woman who definitely didn’t deserve to die. I am the only one who can get to her grandson, a kid named Louis. That’s where I was going when you trapped me here. Do you know what it’s like to lose someone you love?”
Ethan sat, leaning against the shelves crammed with books. He shrugged.
Junior turned away to face the open closet on the far side of the silver ring. He sucked in deep, slow breaths. He didn’t have a lot of time. If he wanted to help Louis, he had to get there now. One of Ethan’s many posters featured a listing of age appropriate books with checkmarks drawn in beside most of them. His doorway was blocked with a Bartlett’s, a dictionary, and the Bevington edition of the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Ethan himself was surrounded by books on the shelves and on the floor around him.
He faced the kid. “You like a good story?”
Junior ran a hand through his unruly mop of dirty blond curls. “How about I tell you a story. If you like it, you let me go.”
“It’s gotta be a good story.”
Junior grinned down at Dawn then raised his eyes to Ethan’s. “Duh.”
The kid rolled over to his bed. He settled into the corner created by his bed and the bookshelf and hugged his knees to his chest. “Go.”
Junior shook his head. “Do we have a deal?”
“You’ll let me go?”
“Yeah. I already said I would. I’m not my dad either. I don’t say things if I don’t mean them. I’m not gonna tell you I’ll let you go and then poof, ha ha, sorry, I have to work and you’re stuck here with Dawn and—”
“Ethan.” Junior waited while the kid wound down again. “You called me here and trapped me. I may not be a demon or the real boogeyman, but still, you have to know a little something about magic to have gotten this far. Yes?”
“So you have to promise to let me go, three times.”
“Oh. Then it’s binding and I can’t welsh.”
“Fine. I’ll let you go. I’ll let you go. I’ll let you go.” He said. “After your story.”
Junior nodded. “Where are we?”
Ethan glanced up at a map on the wall like Junior should have already seen it and known. “Ohio.”
“Well this story takes place in Illinois. In Chicago. It’s the story of how meeting a few real monsters made me realize I’m not so bad.” Junior frowned down at Dawn’s infectious grin as he thought about where to begin. A lot had happened in the past twelve hours.