I wasn't going to get any sympathy - or alarm - from sweet little Termite.
Now, had human reason or common sense played a role in my thought process, I would have recognized a number of legitimate explanations for the open door:
- Our curious cat, the one and only Princess Tuptim of Siam, adept at nosing and pawing her way into just about any space, might have sought a warm pile of linens for a long night's snuggle.
- The house, still settling on its foundation, could have nudged the door open on its loose and silent rollers.
- Or, God forbid, in an egregious violation of the Monster Rules, I might have left the damn door open myself, inviting in the unseen hell-beast as surely as a vampire might stroll across your threshold at the utterance of a foolish welcome.
From that day forward, my nightly ritual was to reach one hand inside the bedroom door from the relative safety of the hallway, flick on the overhead light, and then head across the room to turn on the reading lamp by the bed. With my heart racing, I would I hold my breath - no dead people dust for this girl - and check (and double-check) the closet door. Only then could I turn off the overhead light and race for the bed.
Now, here's where things get a bit too close to "certifiably insane."
All sheets had to be tucked in completely around me - and I'm not talking just on the sides and the foot of the bed. I was convinced that, if I didn't have the sheets covering my head, tucked down behind my shoulders, IT could get me.
I know it's ridiculous. I spent years nearly suffocating myself at night to assure that some vicious creature couldn't attack me. It's amazing I didn't kill myself.
Still, there were many nights when I was absolutely convinced I heard the closet door roll back and heavy, dragging footsteps came to my bedside, stopping just inches from my hidden (and sweaty) face. I could swear I felt hot, moist breath pressing against my cheek and the sound of ragged gasps. What I probably felt and heard was my own hot breath as I hyperventilated in my near oxygen-free 200-thread count prison.
I will not deny that I was not always the brightest bulb on the tree.
But you have to understand that my personal mythos of the Closet Monster was backed up by the existence of a Basement Monster in our house. The Basement Monster snatched at your ankles as you tried to run up the stairs from our damp, spiderwebby cellar. My late brother E. used to live in an awful room down there, cloaked in cigarette smoke and backed up with a soundtrack of Moog-synthesized Bach. His dungeon was stacked high with science fiction paperbacks and decorated with cheesy paintings of dragons and busty redheaded fantasy novel vixens. It was a total pit, but now that he's gone, I miss it a little bit.
E. had a macabre streak that ran straight through the center of his soul. He took pride in scaring the crap out of his sisters, and his attempts to freak the bejeezus out of me were well-honed from years of practice on the other siblings. E. introduced me to Stephen King with a dog-eared copy of Salem's Lot which I read late at night with the light that filtered through my protective bed sheet cocoon. One night - in an epic effort - E. wove together a giant hand from willow branches off the tree in our back yard. As I breathlessly read about vampires in New England (since I could do it no other way, as I cut off my own air supply in a wall of cotton), E. maneuvered the willow hand up to my bedroom window from the patio below . With no warning, he started smacking the hand against my window while bellowing "BWAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH!" and (in a classic move) illuminated his face into a demonic red grin with a flashlight tucked under his chin.
Much later, I would have to admit to being impressed by the effort E. put into weaving willow fronds together just to momentarily scare the living shit out of me. However, my parents - veterans of decades of kid pranks - were less impressed and didn't appreciate my screaming from my room, which shared a wall with the master bedroom. Thinking back, though, that was one of the few nights the Closet Monster wasn't foremost in my mind.
The Basement Monster, though? It didn't have to wait for nighttime to come after you...