Timmy lifted his head off the pillow and listened. The house was quiet. He was sure he heard something. Something in his room. Raising up on one elbow, he looked at the closet door. His bedroom was dark, the night light that his Mom always left on when she said goodnight was off. The room was filled with bulky shapes &

the dresser by the door, a big chair in the corner by the closet. The tree just outside his window, all but bare of fall leaves, had a long branch, like a crooked arm with gnarly fingers, and when the wind blew it made a sharp noise against the pane, as if someone were tap tapping to be let in. Maybe that's what he heard, the branch hitting the window. Of course.




But Timmy was sure that the noise that woke him had come from the closet. He slowly lay back down, his head propped on the pillow, wide awake, now, his eyes stinging as he tried not to blink, staring hard at the partially open door. He pulled the covers up close to his chin, trying to remember: hadn't he closed the door before going to bed? He always closed it. Nice and tight. Once or twice, well, maybe more, he'd pushed the big chair in front of it.




He hated his closet, so deep and dark, and no light to turn on. His parents' closet had a light inside, with a long string. Even the hallway closet had a light that came on when you opened the door. Getting stuff out of his closet was tricky &

had to be done quickly, reaching in, his eyes all but shut, yanking his clothes off the hangers, his hair sometimes crawling on his neck, goosebumps raised on his arms. Most of his stuff that could've gone in the closet &

games, roller blades, his hockey stick, an old basketball &

was left out, scattered around his room. More than once he'd asked his Mom not to put his stuff away.




He listened to the silence. What had he heard? he wondered. Was it a thud? A scrape on the hardwood floor? Like the sound his baseball glove made when he dropped it on the throw rug? Was there someone sitting in his chair, watching him? Nah, that wasn't it; but, still, the chair did look creepy.




But wait.




Tomorrow night was Halloween and he was going to be Captain Jack Sparrow, a pirate from the Caribbean. He remembered that his costume was on the chair, along with his three pointed hat and cutlass sword. His sword. Wood, but the blade painted silver. It was on the chair. He was armed. He wasn't defenseless, just lying beneath the covers. All he had to do was crawl out of bed and get his sword, then race back and get under the covers.




He tried to remain still, listening. He could feel his heart beating. His mouth felt dry. He couldn't take his eyes off of the closet door. He'd gone in there once, during the day, carrying a hammer and his flashlight. His forehead was damp, his breath coming short and quick, feeling twitchy and scared. Forcing himself not to run, he'd pushed his clothes aside and swung the beam from the flashlight back and forth. All he saw were blank walls and a game of Chutes and Ladders that he had forgotten he had. Nothing else. No trap door. No strange scratch marks on the walls from big claws. No blood stains on the floor, or a creepy little gnome like in Lord of the Rings. He really didn't like that guy, eyes all protruding, wispy hair, long, gray fingernails. If there was anyone who could live deep in your closet, that's the guy. Probably smelled like that pair of old socks he found partially buried in the backyard, damp and moldy. The way graveyards smell at night, he imagined.




OK, quick. The cutlass. You can do this, Tim. No guts no glory the coach of 3rd grade soccer was always saying. Come on, now. One leg out, down on the floor, then the next. Throw back the covers. Race to the chair, grab the sword, then hurry, really hurry, back into bed, back under the covers. You can do this. How hard can it be. If it's the gnome, that goblin, the hairless guy, he won't be ready for this. You'll catch him by surprise. No way he can lay a hand on you. And once you have the sword ... let him try something.




Tim began pushing one leg out from beneath the covers...trying to raise up from the pillow. But he couldn't. Something had him by the shoulder. A hand gripping him, pushing him back down. A gnarled, long fingered, grimy nailed hand. He felt it. He could smell it. Mold and wet earth and rotting leaves. It had him. Tim started to scream.




"Timmy...Timmy...wake up," said his mother. "You're dreaming."




His Mom was sitting on the edge of his bed, one hand resting on his shoulder. "Wake up, sport. I'm here. What were you dreaming?"




Tim looked around. His night light was on. The tree outside the window was still. He glanced at the closet door.




"Everything's fine, now. Go back to sleep. Here, let's get these covers back over you. For a minute there, I thought you were trying to get out of bed."




His mother leaned down and kissed him gently on the forehead. As she was getting up to go, she glanced over at the closet. "Hmmm. That's strange. I don't think I've ever seen you leave your closet door open. I'll close it."




Timmy watched his mother walk toward the closet door.