portion of the artwork for Thaddeus Rutkowski's stories

Fear of the Dark
Thaddeus Rutkowski

My daughter asks me to check her closet, to see if anyone is hiding there.

“Where would someone be hiding?” I ask. “There’s no space in your closet.”

“Behind the clothes,” she says.

“How would someone get in there?” I ask.

“From the fire escape, through the gate.”

“Do I have to check?”

“You have to,” she says. “Otherwise, I can’t sleep in my bed. I’m too afraid.”

I go into her room and open the closet door. I see many clothes hanging from a bar, boxes on the floor, more boxes on a shelf above the clothes. “There’s no one here,” I say.

“Look behind the clothes,” she says.

I put my hand in between the hanging dresses. I’m starting to get a little frightened myself. I push the fabric aside and see only darkness. “No one,” I say, but I’m not 100 percent sure. I walk over to the window and look at the gate to the fire escape. I turn the knob to see if it’s latched. I pull on the bars. The gate doesn’t budge. I look through the window, but it’s too dark to make out anything. I can’t see the plants growing out there. A prowler might be staring me in the face, and I wouldn’t be able to tell.

I remember seeing a horror movie when I was in high school. In it, a woman is thought to have died, but she hasn’t really died. She just looks like she has died, and so she is entombed in the basement of a mansion. Later, she shows up alive, but she looks much the worse for being entombed. At that point, the whole mansion collapses into a pit.

As a teenager, trying to sleep, I was afraid that dead/alive woman, or a woman like her, would show up outside my bedroom door.

“Well, you can sleep with us tonight,” I say.

I don’t mean in bed with me and her mother. I mean she can sleep on cushions on the floor. It’s the most I’m willing to offer.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 55 | Spring/Summer 2020