Authentic, Enlist, Phobia
When Jeff turned 3, his mother decided he was too big for a nightlight. Even the fact that he whimpered every night for a week, only dozing occasionally and clutching his security blanket, didn’t move her.
He tried to enlist his father’s help, but his father traveled as a salesman and he came home tired, only wanting peace and quiet. Jeff staggered back in shock when his father slapped him. “You’re too big to be such a baby! Do what your mother says!” This was followed by the clink of ice in his father’s bourbon glass and the roar of the crowd at some sporting event or other.
The little boy went to bed with a red mark on his face and a teddy bear with a very soggy head. Again, he huddled under his blanket, muttering can’tseehimcan’tseemei’msafeifican’tseehim over and over about the Thing in his closet and jumping at every unexplained sound.
He never outgrew his fear of the dark — by the time he was a teen it was an authentic, full-blown phobia. He went from room to room, turning off lights only after another light was on. No one complained; these days, his mother was more interested in examining the inside of a bottle than in what her son was doing. His father had met some woman (“some floozy!” as his mother said) on a sales trip five years back and never returned.
One night, his mother having gone to Bingo, he was in the kitchen, making himself a little supper. He started into the hall and flicked the light on. Behind him, he heard a “click” and turned to see that the kitchen light, which he had unintentionally left on, was now off.
He reached back into the kitchen, unnerved, and turned it back on. He was halfway down the hall when he heard the click again. This time, there was also a stealthy scuffling sound.
Jeff didn’t go back to the kitchen. Instead, he walked more rapidly to reach the dining room. Just as he turned on that light, there was another click and the hallway went dark around him. The fork on the plate he was carrying rattled.
He flipped the hall light back on. It went off. He turned it on again. Another click, and darkness.
The plate smashed on the floor as Jeff dropped it. He ran for the living room and lit it in short-lived relief.
*Click* Darkness in the dining room. Jeff sprinted for the stairs, fumbling for the switch that led upstairs. He took the stairs two at a time. Under the sound of his rasping, rattling breath, he heard an eerie little giggle. He didn’t look back to see what was laughing.Can’tseehimcan’tseeme-i’msafeifican’tseehim – Jeff gasped his childhood mantra as he staggered to the top of the stairs.
*Click* Light on in the hallway.
*Click* Light off on the stairs.
*Click* Light on in the bedroom.
Jeff slammed the door behind him, hurdled the footboard on his bed and tunneled under the covers. Can’tseehimcan’tseeme-i’msafeifican’tseehim. Can’tseehimcan’tseeme-i’msafeifican’tseehim.
*Click* The light from the hallway, showing under the bedroom door, disappeared.
Can’tseehimcan’tseeme-i’msafeifican’tseehim. Can’tseehimcan’tseeme-i’msafeifican’tseehim. He was silenced by the sound of the latch, loud in the sudden stillness, and the squeal of the door opening.
For just a moment, Jeff peered out from under the blanket. The light in his room glistened off the polished pointed nails on the misshapen hand that slid into the open door, seeking the light switch.