Every morning, the closet door was open. Sharon made sure to shut it just before she tucked Hazel into bed, and always pushed against it until she heard the click of the latch. It was almost a ritual, and she wouldn’t begin Hazel’s bedtime story until the door was secure. She even thought about putting a slide lock on the outside of the door, but didn’t want to provoke any questions from the already nervous six year old.
This time, she not only closed the door, but pushed a wooden chair up against the closet.
Hazel seemed especially agitated tonight. Sharon sat on the end of the bed and patted the girl’s leg as she began.
The story was always the same, either an abbreviated outline of the entire tale, or a detailed portion that left nothing to speculation. No matter the version, Hazel listened with her eyes squeezed shut, clutching her stuffed rabbit tightly.
“Three little sisters lived in a house in the middle of the forest. The oldest was the bravest. She was the one who went searching for the darkest corner in the deepest part of the woods, the one who left the window open at night to show she wasn’t afraid. She was the one who knew when ghosts had been in the room, pointing out evidence of things having been moved.
“The middle sister was the scaredy cat. She would stand and call at the forest’s edge, afraid her elder sister would get lost or hurt. She was the one who wanted the window closed against the night outside. She was the one whose head never came above the covers once the lights were out.
“The youngest was the naysayer. She would accuse the eldest sister of trying to scare the two of them, and she would tie lengths of thread across the room to try and prove that the eldest sister got up silently in the night to move things around. She kept telling the middle sister that there was nothing to be afraid of and to not let fear rule her life, but the middle sister clung to the elder for protection.
“The three sisters grew up. The eldest inherited the house in the woods. The youngest went out into the world to seek wealth and fame. She failed, became a gypsy, and abandoned all contact. The middle one stayed with the eldest, found a job in a nearby village, and met a man the eldest didn’t like. The man left her — as all men do — but not before putting a baby inside her. The middle sister was terrified and didn’t know what to do.
“One night, in her eighth month, she took the eldest sister’s car and drove it into a tree, trying to kill herself. She succeeded, but the baby lived and was cut out of her. The eldest sister tried to make a strong girl out of her, but she wouldn’t go into the forest, cried when the window was left open at night, and is turning out to be a scaredy cat like her mother. Until she finds her bravery, she will be weak and worthless and good for nothing. Just like her mother. The End.”
Sharon patted Hazel on the leg again, went to the bedroom window to open it, and left the room, turning the bedside lamp out and leaving the room in darkness. Under the sheets and blankets, Hazel shook and cried herself to sleep.
Sometime after midnight, the latch clicked and the closet door swung open, knocking against the chair. It only opened a crack, but that was enough for a pale figure to slip out and glide toward the bed. It hovered, but could not make contact with the little girl. Inanimate objects, yes. Human beings, no.
With a sigh, the figure drifted down the hall to the room where her older sister slept. It crept into her dreams, making the eldest sister sit up in bed and reach over to the phone on the nightstand. She dialed, heard an answer on the other end, and said, “Jenny, I know you wanted Hazel but I felt she’d be better off raised by me in a stable home. I’ve changed my mind. Come by tomorrow morning and we’ll make all the necessary arrangements.”
With eyes closed, the eldest sister got out of bed and walked down the hall into Hazel’s room. She bent over the little girl and kissed her on the forehead. She whispered, “I love you honey. I always have and always will. I didn’t kill myself. It was an accident. I was on your way to your father to tell him about you. I know we would have had a happy life together, but this is the best I can do for now.” She pulled the covers up around Hazel and left the room.
The eldest sister walked to the top of the stairs and paused. Eyes still closed, she said aloud, “You were right. I was always scared. I let fear rule my life. Death ended that. In death, I found courage, for myself and for my daughter. Jenny was right too. There is nothing to be afraid of, at least in this world. I’ve watched how you’ve raised Hazel, and you’re not going to do to her what you did to me.
“You always liked the darkness so much. Embrace it, and see what there really is to be afraid of — in hell.”
The eldest sister threw herself down the stairs. Just before she hit bottom, the pale figure slipped out of her sister’s body and drifted back upstairs to the little girl’s bedroom. There she lingered until Jenny’s arrival, singing a sweet lullaby until dawn.
The sunniest people often cast the blackest shadows. Esmi Rowan is a freelance non-fiction writer, writing instructor, and radio producer who by all accounts seems normal, upbeat and optimistic — that is, until you get to know her very, very well. The few who do say, “Boy, you go to the dark side, don’t you?” She’s been published in Quantum Muse and is working on a full length young adult novel.