January 15th 2021
The owl perched on the tree outside my window usually keeps me awake, but that night he was quiet – he probably knew what was about to go down and was keeping a sensible distance. A light spilled from behind my closet door, even though there is no light in the closet. But I knew that story. Wintery wonderland and ice queen behind the coats, legendary adventure to all those who dare enter. And lions.
I closed my eyes and counted dragons, but then I started to hear little scraping sounds. I cautiously lifted an eyelid. Clock said 3.15. Not so much witching hour, more like sleeping time. But the light was, if anything, brighter, and the closet was where the scraping sound was coming from.
I cautiously opened it, just a crack, but that was enough. Something shoved the door right open and pushed me aside. I landed on my backside wondering what the hell had happened. Someone was in my closet? No, not someone. Some thing. It was hairy and ungainly, smelling of rotting fish and seaweed, but it rushed through the door and down the stairs before I could get a good look at it. It was wearing clothes, though, some tattered rags in garish colours so I guess it could have been human – more like a circus freak, though. I heard banging, then my dad shouting at it. Some whimpering, too, then more shouting.
I should have gone to help but the light was still shining in the closet so I took another look. Sure enough, the back wall was a portal to somewhere. If I wasn’t half asleep I would have shut that closet door but the light was calling me and sometimes you’ve just got to follow the light. Besides, whatever was happening downstairs sounded dangerous and whatever lay behind the portal felt warm and inviting.
Except that when I got there it was anything but inviting. It was a bedroom, like mine only with a giant cactus where my Star Wars models should be and a raspy taste of saltwater in the air. The carpet squelched. Was I in a horrible, festering version of my own bedroom? Was that thing a horrible, festering version of me? I cautiously made my way downstairs.
I reached the kitchen. It looked the same as ours, except there was a giant open fire in the middle where the table should have been and it was as hot as the inside of an oven. And there was a demon by the window. That’s the only word I could think of to describe it, because it sure wasn’t human It was bigger than whatever had scurried past me back in my own bedroom, and a whole lot meaner looking. Fur teeth, horns, fetid breath and cloven feet. I swear steam was coming from its nostrils. It screamed and lumbered towards me. It was fast, but there was a fire pit between us so I managed to scramble back up the stairs and back into the bedroom. I reached the closet door just in time. It lunged, but I was through – slamming into the circus freak coming the other way, terror in its eyes.
Close up I could see it was a mini version of the thing now banging on the closet door, but instead of growling at me it was whimpering. In that confined space the stench was indescribable. I tried not to gag. In return, I believe it tried not to tear me apart. I can’t be sure, because I don’t speak Demon and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t speak English, but I think we reached some sort of silent agreement to never, ever, open the closet door when the owl is silent and there’s a light that shouldn’t be there.
The demon scrambled back to its own fetid bedroom and I slithered gratefully back into mine.
Dad grounded me for a month and gave me a lecture about dressing up and scaring people. He was particularly unimpressed with the smell.
Some nights, when the owl is silent, I still see light peeking from below the closet door and I lie awake thinking of the demon kid and its monster parent. I creep over, curiosity and the pull of the light getting the better of sound judgement and common sense, but the stench of decaying seaweed makes me pause, and then the reassuring hoot of the owl brings me back to reality.
Eventually, I ripped the closet into firewood, just in case. Dad got really mad then, too, but I figured a life without demons was worth a little dad-mad.
Great plan – until one night, the wall started to glow…
Author Bio: Sam Winner was forged in the former industrial powerhouse of Sheffield, where grit and gumption are essential. Sam’s inspired by the natural beauty of the Peak District, best enjoyed listening to heavy rock, preferably far too loud. You probably wouldn’t believe Sam can hear an owl hoot while typing this, but it’s true.
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