This story is by Julie Stroem and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
When I first laid eyes on the inside of Gwen’s closet door, I rejoiced; a child’s door. Perfect. My body sang with need.
The door was a faded pink colour adorned with drawings; people in colourful outfits. While I listened, patiently waiting, to the sound of quiet footsteps inside the bedroom, I studied them. Some wore capes, others masks. Some looked brawny, others lithe. Superheroes, I guessed. All of them. And common to all was the way they all held hands with a little girl with yellow hair and a purple dress. Gwen.
Scoffing, I studied each drawing in turn; the colourful dreams and designs of a young girl with a mind for fantasy and a heart for heroes.
My lips curled back in a grin. Hopefully, that imaginary mind was susceptible to horror too. I rubbed my hands together, gleefully. Time to unleash my grotesque heritage on yet another human child, fulfilling my mythical purpose by terrorising her existence.
I could not have been more wrong.
Thinking back, I did everything as ordained; I slithered through her closet door towards her sleeping figure, I loomed over her flanked by the ghostly shade of moonlight seeping through her curtains. My shadow had her completely covered in darkness before I let out a slow-building snarl.
Gwen woke. Blinked. My spine tingled in anticipation of her outcry. But none came.
I paused. Waiting. Any minute now the shock would wear off and her terrified scream would pierce the air like the crack of lightning, feeding me the sweet nectar of fear that sustained my being.
But Gwen just stared.
I took a deep breath, letting the air hum a deep, threatening note through my nostrils until my chest was broader than the window frame behind me, blocking out every sliver of moonlight. The thundering roar that proceeded shook Gwen’s bed frame.
“Wow.” Gwen just uttered in wonder, eyes wide as she regarded me with an admiration that in no way resembled the horrific, fear-stricken mask of pure dread I had been aiming for.
In a panic unfit for a pre-historic monster, I retreated to the shadow of the closet.
The next night, I waited in the dark, grumbling over my apparent shortcomings when it came to Gwen’s terrors and so I decided to watch her through the tiny keyhole, hoping to observe anything that could be useful. Instead, what I saw confused me. No other child in my time had ever done anything like this.
As I watched, Gwen scooted out of bed and started rummaging in her bedside drawer, pulling out a handful of tiny glass figurines. They looked fragile and elegant, like the kind of figurine collection your grandmother would keep on the top shelf. A collection much too precious and costly to be scattered on the wooden floor of a child’s bedroom. Nevertheless, that’s where Gwen decided to leave them for the night before she went to her shelf to pick out a teddy, a four-legged, fluffy thing that had barely any features in common with an actual bear, yet, imaginatively, Gwen placed the teddy by the foot of her bed, facing the bedroom door.
“Keep watch while I sleep,” she instructed. “The monster will be back.”
Gwen had seen me disappear back into her closet after my abominable failure the previous night. I was never near her bedroom door.
I decided to shake Gwen’s odd behaviour from my mind. Darkness fell. It was time.
I gave her monstrosity.
The following night, I was startled mid-roar as I noticed a splash of fresh bruising on Gwen’s cheek. Her applauding smile was lopsided, but she beamed as brightly as before. Clearly, this girl had more spunk than I gave her credit for. A bruise like that would have hurt, but Gwen didn’t even wince.
Who had done this to her? A monster like me would frighten, terrify and terrorise to strike the fear they fed off, but this… this was something else.
While I was busy questioning why a bruise on my sealed brand of nectar trapped in an insignificant human body sent a twist of hatred through my core, Gwen took my hand to steady her descent from the bed before she began her nighttime routine of placing figurines and choosing a guard teddy.
Her hand had felt warm in mine. Not icy with dread. My fingers tingled where she’d touched.
There was a tug on my arm and I looked down into a furry face with plastic blue eyes.
“This is Theodore,” Gwen introduced the ball of fluff in her outstretched arms before putting it down to face the door. “Guard,” she ordered, before crawling back into bed.
Lights out, she reached out and took my hand. Dazedly, I touched a finger to her bruised cheek.
“Stay,” she begged.
I fled the room.
I couldn’t face her again after that. Instead, I spent long nights brooding in her closet, having a staredown with her imagined heroes, but in the end, I was the one whose legs turned to jelly when one night, I noticed a new addition to her collection: a drawing of me.
Even by her childish hand, I struck a horrific picture; a picture that had already terrorised thousands of kids her age. Just not her.
I scowled at my portrait, searching for ‘pleasant’ features in my appearance not in accordance with the divine displeasure I was created for, but came up short.
But what I did notice was the caption. At the bottom left corner, Gwen had scribbled ‘my protector’ in her wobbly hand.
My cultural heritage was under severe onslaught.
The next night, I prepared to unleash all hell on earth. But all my malicious intentions grounded to a halt once I heard Gwen’s scream.
Finally, a scream! But it hadn’t been directed at me. The sound had elicited anger more than the expected rush of euphoria, and my malice had all but melted away. Equal parts anxious and curious, I peeked through the keyhole in the door. Gwen had flung her duvet aside and was racing towards her closet, fear painted like a white ghost on her face.
“Let me in, let me in.”
The door knob rattled on my side, turning slowly, but I gripped it hard in my hand and prevented Gwen from crossing the line between our worlds, the last line of my crumbling defence.
“Please,” she whispered frantically, using her entire body against the door knob. “He’s coming.”
And that’s when I heard it:
*Thud*, *burp*, *thud*. Heavy footsteps wobbling up the stairs.
*Smack*, *oof*, *clank*. A heavy weight that fell against the wall, followed by the sound of empty bottles clinking.
Gwen had fallen silent too. Spurred by something I couldn’t possibly term ‘worry’, I dared to open the door a sliver to peek. She stood, unmoving, eyes fixed on the door.
The stench of alcohol and sweat preceded whoever was drunkenly making their way up the stairs and Gwen’s scream pierced the air, making my chest cavity resound with the echo of it. She went dead-silent the second a boot-clad foot stepped inside and shattered one of the little glass figurines on the floor – a warning sign, I realised. Clever girl. Theodore was roughly kicked aside as a man stepped fully into the room with an evil, expectant grin and a fisted hand.
“There you are, poppet.”
There was a scream, a laugh, a plea and a slap hard enough to send Gwen slamming into the closet door, shutting it. In the darkness, my fingers came up to feel the prickle of a phantom hand on my cheek where I imagined a bruise was already blooming on Gwen’s skin. My fingers came back wet.
It hurt. Not on my cheek but in my heart.
My nectar in human form.
I touched a wet finger to my portrait on the door. The moisture blurred my monstrous features.
“Please.” Gwen’s feeble voice sounded beyond the door, forcibly destroying every crumbling wall to my world. “Daddy’s coming back.”
In one smooth motion I opened the closet door and yanked her inside, pulling her into my arms. Darkness closed in around us, but she was safe. Safe with me.
Her tears tore a hole in my heart, but the quiet gratitude sobbed into my neck stitched it back up with the image of a beaming girl in a purple dress tucked safely inside.
Gwen flinched as the sound of footsteps returned to her bedroom, but I reassured her with a kiss to her forehead before standing up and manoeuvring her behind me.
She refused to let go of my hand. It made me smile.
I took one last look at the drawings on Gwen’s closet door, I even bowed my head slightly in reverence -I was truly amongst her heroes now – before I opened the door to unleash my horror on Gwen’s real monster.