As I’ve mentioned here before (like this past Saturday), for many years now it’s been a tradition for me to compose a new short story every Christmas. I love doing it every year. I look forward to it. And I find it interesting to see what, exactly, inspires each one. Sometimes it’s a song, a conversation, a lingering “what if?”-type question. This year, I won’t lie to you, is inspired in part by my new little niece, but also in part by a desire to point out there’s still good, even in a world full of bad. Here’s my gift to you, friends. Please, enjoy…
The thing inside Lucas Melish’s closet had been there since Easter, at least. That was the first time he heard it, shuffling around in the night. The next morning, he told his father he’d heard something moving around when the lights were out, quivering as he said it but trying to appear brave. He was six years old, still young enough to be frightened of the Night Noises but just old enough not to want to let his dad know he was scared. He padded into the kitchen that morning, tugged on Daddy’s pants, and told him he heard something moving in his closet the night before.
It was Mommy who reacted, though. “Oh, Pierce, don’t tell me we have a mouse.”
“It’ll be fine, Lori. I’ll put some traps out, the whole thing will be over with by the weekend.” He squeezed Lucas’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, buddy, I’ll take care of everything.”
Lucas nodded, because Daddy said he would take care of it, and Daddy wouldn’t lie. But the next weekend, he was still hearing the noises. He knew Daddy’s traps hadn’t captured a mouse yet, because Mommy asked him every morning if he’d caught anything yet. So far, he hadn’t, and he was starting to get irritated. That actually made Lucas feel a little better. Daddy got irritated at little things – when he spilled his coffee, when Mommy took too long in the bathroom, when the phone rang and it played “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star,” because Lucas knew that meant Grandma was calling. But none of the things that made Daddy irritated were bad or scary, just little problems. So if Daddy wasn’t scared, even if he kept hearing the sounds, it was nothing to be worried about.
Around Mother’s Day, though, the noises started to get louder. It was really late, and a crashing sound inside the closet woke Lucas up. He shot straight up in his bed and shouted. A second later, Daddy and Mommy came into the room, both of them looking really tired, and Daddy looked irritated again. He turned on the light and opened the closet, where they found a blue shoebox on the floor. Lucas recognized it – it was usually up on the top shelf, too high for him to reach it, and he never even knew what was in it before. Now he could see, because the top had come off in the crash. The things that came out of it were the size of Mommy’s phone, but they were mostly white and they all had two holes in them, and writing.
“That’s where my cassettes went,” Mommy said. She stood on tiptoe to look onto the shelf. “It looks like it was nudged off the shelf. Didn’t you ever catch that mouse?”
“The box is kind of heavy,” Daddy said, as he picked up Mommy’s “cassettes” and put them back in place. “I don’t know if a mouse could have done it.”
“No, not a rat. Pierce–”
“I’ll get bigger traps. And some of those glue traps from Lowe’s. I’ll put them all in the garage and the shed. We’ll get it.”
The glue traps got lots of things – bugs, spiders, and even a mouse, but nothing that Lucas thought was big enough to have made the sounds inside his closet. But it was no big deal. Daddy wasn’t worried. Not about the thing in Lucas’s closet, at least. He was worried about WORK. Lucas wasn’t sure what WORK was, but he knew Daddy and Mommy both went there every day while he went to school, and Daddy always was flustered when he came back.
Sometimes Daddy brought WORK home with him. He’d sit at the kitchen table and draw pictures of different heroes and monsters and cars. Lucas didn’t understand why WORK was bothering Daddy so much – it seemed like fun – but Daddy kept complaining that his drawings weren’t “toyetic” enough.
“What’s ‘toyetic’ mean, Daddy?”
“It means that my job is to draw characters that would make good toys, buddy. You know, like the toys you play with? But I can’t seem to come up with toys that are good enough.”
Lucas was astonished. That was WORK? Drawing toys? It was a major realization for him. It had never occurred to him before that somebody actually had to make toys, they always just seemed to happen, but when he went to school the next day he told all of his friends what Daddy’s WORK was. They seemed impressed. Their Daddies went to WORK too, but they all did boring things, like PLUMBING or COMPUTERING or TAX ATTORNEY-ING. Lucas didn’t know what any of those things meant, but none of them sounded as cool as making toys.
He asked Daddy if he’d made Lucas’s favorite toy, Captain Cosmos. Captain Cosmos was the best – he flew around the galaxy in his spaceship with his friends (there were toys of them too, Lucas knew, but Mommy said he may have to wait for his birthday or Christmas for those), and he destroyed all the bad monsters and kept the galaxy safe. Daddy didn’t have anything to do with Captain Cosmos, but “I wish to hell I did,” he said. “Those little suckers sell like Cabbage Patch Kids back in the day.”
Lucas didn’t know what “Cabbage Patch Kids” were either, but Daddy had the irritated voice back, so he decided not to ask.
The noises started to fade, but around the time school let out for summer the sound came back, louder than ever. This time there was no crashing sound, but there was a definite scraping, like the sound of Daddy shoveling snow during the winter. Lucas didn’t say anything, didn’t want to sound scared, but he grabbed the covers and pulled them up over his head until the sun came up. When the light was out, he climbed out of bed and walked up to the closet door. It was easier to be brave when the sun was shining, but it wasn’t impossible to be scared. He reminded himself that Daddy wasn’t scared, that he was only irritated, so he put on his own irritated face and opened the door.
There was a hole in the wall.
It wasn’t big – not yet, at least – but Lucas could easily slip his hand into if it he wanted to. It wasn’t down low, either, by the floor like mouse holes in the cartoons always were. It was higher up, almost at the level of Lucas’s waist. He went straight to Daddy again, telling him that the Thing in his closet had picked out a hole, and Mommy and Daddy ran right in to look at it.
“Pierce, did that thing get through the drywall?” Mommy asked.
“I don’t see how… Lucas, buddy, are you sure you didn’t do this? You didn’t maybe fall down or knock something over that punched the hole in the wall?”
“No, Daddy, it wasn’t me.”
Daddy frowned at Lucas, and he suddenly realized that Daddy thought he was lying. But he wasn’t. That wasn’t fair. “Daddy, I didn’t–”
“It’s all right, Lucas. I’ve got some spackle in the garage, I’ll fix this up.”
“Should I stay away from it?” Mommy asked, touching her tummy. For the first time, Lucas noticed that she was getting bigger there. Was she eating too much?
“No, don’t worry, Lori. It’s no big deal. Come on, Lucas, let’s get ready to go down to Grandma’s.”
With school out, Lucas was spending the day at Grandma’s house while Mommy and Daddy WORKED. Mommy picked him up every day after she came home, and Lucas was always excited to see her. When she walked in the door today, though, she was holding her back like she was in pain and stumbled into Grandma’s rocking chair.
“How are you sweetie?” Grandma asked.
“I’m fine. It’s just starting to show, you know?”
“Show what, Mommy?” Lucas asked.
Mommy and Grandma looked at each other, nervous. “Nothing, Lucas sweetie. It’s… nothing.”
But it wasn’t nothing. That night after dinner, Mommy and Daddy brought Lucas to the living room and sat him down on the couch.
“We’ve got something to tell you, buddy,” Daddy said. “It’s really good news.”
“Well… well, Mommy is going to have a baby. You’re going to have a little brother or sister.”
“Oh.” He thought about it for a moment. “I want a brother.”
Mommy and Daddy laughed at that, which Lucas thought was somewhat rude. Daddy explained, though, “I’m afraid you don’t get to choose, pal. You just… get whatever you get.”
“Oh. I guess that’s okay.”
“So there are going to be some changes around here. I’m going to be working a lot harder, because we need more money, and we’re going to rearrange things. We’re going to move your bedroom.”
“Move it where?”
Mommy laughed at that one. “No, sweetheart, we’re going to move you into a different room. Your bedroom is the closest one to ours, and we need to put the baby there, so we’re going to move you into the room next to it.”
“The guess room?”
“Guest room. But it won’t be a guest room anymore, it’ll be yours. And it’ll be bigger. Won’t that be fun?”
Lucas looked down at his shoes. “I guess so,” he said, but secretly, he was starting to think this new baby wasn’t going to be much fun at all. “When will we have the baby?”
“Not for a while yet,” Daddy said. “Mommy is due around the end of November. We may not have the baby yet by Thanksgiving, but we’ll have her for Christmas.”
“Her?” Mommy said.
Daddy shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. Gut feeling.”
Daddy’s feeling, Lucas discovered a few months later, was right. Mommy’s doctor used a machine to take a picture inside of her, and the picture told them that the new baby would be a little girl. Lucas kind of wished it had been a brother instead, but Mommy and Daddy were clearly happy about the news, so he didn’t say anything. Still, it bothered him a little when they started to paint the baby’s room – his old room – in light pink and green colors. Daddy also patched up the hole in the closet, again blaming it on mice or rats, even though Lucas wasn’t really sure about that anymore.
His new room was the next one over, and his new closet was right on the other side of the wall from his old one, and for some time, it was all fine. Then, sometime near the Fourth of July, the scratching sounds returned, louder than ever.
Earlier that day, Lucas and Daddy had been in his new room. They’d painted the walls blue for him and put in a new carpet, and Daddy was working on something special – a life-size drawing of Captain Cosmos. Daddy was carefully painting in the picture of the spaceman, standing on an alien landscape with bizarre stars and planets in the background. Lucas loved it – none of his friends had anything this cool in their bedrooms.
“It looks great, Daddy!”
“Thanks, Lucas.” He sighed as he stepped back, having put the finishing touches on Captain Cosmos’s space helmet. “Man, what a great design. I wish I could make something as toyetic as this.”
“Why do you want that, Daddy?”
“It’s my job, son. I need to design good toys so I can make money.”
“Why do you need money?”
“So I can take care of you, and your mom, and your sister. We need money for food and clothes and all kinds of things. That’s why grown-ups need jobs, to get the money we need to take care of the people we love.”
“Should I get a job?”
Daddy laughed. “No, buddy, you’re a little too young for that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do your part. You’re going to be a big brother soon. That means you’re going to have to help take care of your sister. Look out for her, make sure she doesn’t get hurt… protect her from anything that could hurt her.”
“I have to do all that?”
“I know it sounds like work, but it’s really not. When you love somebody it’s just something you do, without even thinking about it.” Lucas told Daddy he didn’t understand, and Daddy said that was okay – he would someday. Daddy said things like that a lot.
That night, the scratching came back. Lucas almost got up to go get Daddy again, but he thought better of it. The “protecting” thing sounded like something grown-ups did, and Lucas didn’t want to be a baby. He got up and, trying to keep from shaking, opened the closet door. Inside was a very small hole, barely the size of a dime, but pieces of the wall were crumbling away from it from the inside. He saw a little black claw scraping at the sides, making it bigger, and his mouth was suddenly very dry, his throat full of a sour taste. Mice didn’t have claws like that, did they? He ran to his nightstand, where Daddy kept a flashlight for him in case of a power outage, and flicked the flashlight on. The batteries still worked, good. He took the flashlight to the closet and shined it into the hole.
There was a different sound this time, a sort of squealing, and through the small hole he saw a flurry of movement. The Thing behind the wall moved quickly, very quickly, but he could tell it was covered with fur, and bigger than a mouse. Probably bigger than a rat, too.
The next day, as Daddy stoked the coals in the barbecue pit, he thought about telling him. He decided not to.
The noises again started to grow progressively louder, and Lucas started to wonder if the Thing simply hadn’t been able to find him after he switched rooms. If that was the case, it wasn’t very smart. He had only moved a few feet. But smart or stupid, the Thing scared Lucas very much. That was why, on the night of his birthday in early August, he decided to do something about it. Lucas was really excited when he got his birthday presents from Mommy and Daddy – a box with several Captain Cosmos action figures. The Galaxy Gang included the Solar Sergeant, Lance Asteroid, Jenna Jupiter (“A girl?” Lucas had moaned when he opened the box) and the crew’s pilot, the Navigator, a mysterious hooded figure who never talked but always knew exactly where to go.
That night, before he went to bed, Lucas opened up his closet and looked at the hole. It had slowly grown over the last month, and was now again about the size of a baseball. The Thing made him nervous, the Thing was something bad, but maybe there was room back there for something good, too. He took Captain Cosmos and the entire Galaxy Gang, strapped their weapons into their hands (usually with the aid of tiny pegs in the plastic) and lined them up facing the hole. Maybe if the Thing came out in the night, he thought, they could protect him.
But early the next morning, he heard the scraping again. After a few minutes, it stopped, replaced by another sound… a slurping sound. Lucas grabbed the flashlight (which had moved to a permanent spot next to his pillow since the incident on the Fourth of July), threw open the closet, and hit the light.
The beam fell upon the Thing, and for the first time Lucas could see it clearly. It was big, about two feet tall, and covered in fur. Although it looked like an animal, it stood on two legs and had a short stub of a tail dragging behind it. Its head was wrapped in fur, except for a pair of horns that curved away from its forehead and came to fine points up above his ears. Its teeth were jagged, sharp, and there were entirely too many of them for his mouth. Currently, those teeth had Captain Cosmos’s head clenched between them. When Lucas hit it with the light, it looked up at him and its eyes flashed a horrible red color. It dropped the toy, a strand of drool coming from its mouth down to Captain Cosmos’s head, and hissed at Lucas, then turned and jumped backwards through the hole. It was bigger now, but not so big that it should have been able to leap through it so easily, but it twisted its body, slipping through one part at a time, while still moving terribly quickly, and then it was gone.
Lucas didn’t go back to sleep that night.
In the morning, in the protective light of the sun, he tried to tell Daddy about the Thing.
“It was big, Daddy! Way bigger than a rat!”
“Don’t tell me we have a raccoon in the house,” Mommy groaned.
“It’s okay, Lori, Lucas just had a bad dream.”
“It wasn’t a dream, Daddy! Look!” He held up Captain Cosmos so Daddy could see the tooth mark scratched into the toy’s head. Daddy took the figure, examined it for a minute, then handed it to Mommy. She shook her head.
“Lucas, have you been chewing your toys?”
“Is this about your new room?” Daddy asked. “Are you afraid to be so far away from us? We’re just a little bit further down the hall.”
“No, Daddy, it’s real.”
Daddy tousled Lucas’s hair. “I love your imagination, buddy, but you’ve got to be able to tell the truth between real and make-believe.”
They didn’t believe him. Lucas was stunned, he’d always told them the truth, but they thought he was making it up. Daddy went off to WORK that day, and Mommy dropped him off at Grandma’s, where he was spending his days until school began again. He thought about telling Grandma his story, but something told him that she would be on Mommy and Daddy’s side. Instead, he decided to try a different strategy.
“Grandma, can I draw some pictures today?”
“Of course, sweetheart!” They had their routines – he kept some toys at her house, some books and movies, but like his father, Lucas loved drawing pictures. Grandma loved watching him draw pictures. But the picture he drew today didn’t please her at all.
That night, he came to Daddy with his latest drawing. It was, of course, of a black fur-covered creature with a short tail, horns, jagged teeth, and red eyes. Daddy took the picture and smiled. “Lucas, you drew this?”
“This is wonderful.”
“I think it’s ugly,” Mommy said. “Why can’t you draw something cute, Lucas?”
“Oh, sure, it’s kind of a dark subject, but look at his craft, Lori. Look at the detail he put into the fur and the teeth. And he’s only seven. Lucas, you keep drawing and keep learning, you could be a great artist. Maybe when Christmas comes you should ask Santa Claus for an art set – some colored pencils and a few sketchbooks.”
Lucas would actually like that quite a bit, but it wasn’t exactly the point. “That’s the Thing in my closet, Daddy.”
“This is what your monster looks like?”
Imaginative? Lucas’s heart fell. Daddy didn’t believe him after all, he just liked the drawing. Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t listen, Captain Cosmos was no good… even Santa Claus would probably ignore him.
Lucas was on his own.
“Lucas, can I take this picture to WORK? It’s giving me some ideas.”
“Sure, Daddy,” he said, barely paying attention. If he was by himself, if he had to fight this Thing without any of the grown-ups, he needed to figure out a way to do it. And soon.
Things continued to be hectic in the weeks before Halloween. The thing in Lucas’s dream was bad enough, but one day there were a lot of stories on the news about people reporting monsters – real monsters – showing up all over the place. Daddy called it “foolishness,” but as Lucas thought about the thing scratching the hole in his closet, he didn’t know if he agreed. The stories tapered off a little over the next few weeks, but they continued. Daddy ignored the stories, just like he ignored the hole in Lucas’s closet. Lucas could ignore neither.
On Halloween, Mommy wore a shirt with a big, smiling pumpkin on her ever-growing belly, and stayed home to hand out the candy with Grandma while Lucas and Daddy, dressed like Frankenstein and a vampire respectively, went trick-or-treating. Two blocks from home, they approached a garage with a curtain of black plastic sheets over the front. Daddy smiled. “A Haunted House. What do you say, pal?”
Lucas nodded, but felt his heart racing. He hadn’t been sleeping lately. The hole in his closet was getting bigger and bigger. He tried to get Daddy to look at it, but he was at WORK later and later each day now, and often seemed excited when he came home, wanting nothing more than to talk about some big project that didn’t really make sense to Lucas. He could tell Daddy was excited, that maybe he had finally made something “toyetic,” but it was small comfort to Lucas as he listened to the sound of the hole getting bigger each night. He’d tried looking again, wondering why the creature needed to keep making the hole bigger if it could already get through, and when he shined the light in he saw that it had grown. It was getting bigger, it was too big now to fit through the hole, and as Halloween approached its growth spiked up enormously. It always looked hungry, too, like it wanted to eat. Lucas didn’t think it was eating normal food, though. As he looked at the thing, as the fear inside of him became intense, the Thing shot up another three inches before his eyes. His fear was making it bigger. And that just made him more afraid. With the stories on the news now, it seemed to Lucas that everybody was afraid of something these days. He wondered, growing more scared as he went, just how big the Thing could get.
As they stepped into the Haunted House, Lucas heard creepy sounds, screams, creaking doors, rattling chains… and somewhere in the background, a scraping. As they stepped through, past dancing skeletons and a creepy old witch stirring a pot full of smoke, the scraping was what stayed in Lucas’s mind. Scrape… scrape… scrape… Louder… Louder…
Then he felt a hand on his shoulder.
He turned to see the Thing from his closet, as tall as Daddy, teeth just as long, snarling and growling at him. Lucas began to scream, unable to control himself, and grabbed onto Daddy’s leg in a panic. Daddy laughed, but only for a moment. As Lucas’s screams continued, Daddy picked him up and started to talk to him.
“Lucas, it’s okay. Calm down, buddy, it’s just a guy in a mask. It’s okay!”
“Yeah, little guy.” Lucas looked up to see that the Thing wasn’t the Thing at all – it was Mr. Ellisar from down the street. He was holding the furry mask in his hand, and he looked like he felt terrible. “Pierce, I’m so sorry–”
“Don’t worry about it, Ray, you didn’t do anything wrong. I think I need to get this guy home. We’ve had enough Halloween for this year.”
Privately, Lucas thought he’d been going through Halloween ever since Easter, and it was just getting worse. By the time his sister, Dana, was born on the day before Thanksgiving, he was on the verge of going crazy. The noises were getting louder, the hole was getting bigger, and Captain Cosmos was worthless for protection. Mommy and Daddy were happier than he’d ever seen them when they brought Dana home, and he tried to be happy with them. He looked at her – so small and soft, with just a wisp of blond hair on the top of her head over her big, wide eyes that rolled everywhere after she was a few weeks old, as if everything she saw was brand new (which, now that he thought about it, was true for her) and she had to take it all in before it went away. But he couldn’t feel happy they way that they did.
After the first few weeks were over and the endless parade of friends and relatives cycling through the house finally began to subside, it was just him and Mommy home with Dana whenever he wasn’t at school. Daddy seemed to be spending even more time at WORK, getting more excited, and promising Lucas that all of it was going to “pay off big-time.” Two weeks before Christmas, as he sat at the kitchen table reading one of his books, Mommy came in holding the baby. She sat down next to him, turning the baby so she could see him, and held up her hand, making her “wave.”
“Say hello to your big brother, baby,” she said. Lucas sort of halfheartedly waved back, and Mommy sighed. She kissed Dana on the head and then pulled her chair closer to his. “This has been hard on you, hasn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“Having a little sister. Being a big brother. Having everybody paying attention to her and not really paying much attention to you.”
“I guess,” he said.
“I thought so. You’ve been so quiet lately, and Daddy and I have been afraid that you don’t even feel like you’re part of the family. I’m sorry, sweetheart. I need you to understand something, though – just because we’re giving Dana so much attention doesn’t mean we don’t love you. She’s little, she needs more attention. But you’re a big boy, you can do more things for yourself. You don’t need us as much as she does. We love you just as much. Do you understand that?”
He nodded and she smiled. “I hope you do. And you know what? Once you get just a little bigger, and once she gets a little bigger, you’ll be able to help out. You’ll be able to give her some of that attention she needs, and you know what? When you do that, guess where all of her attention will be?”
“Right on you.” She put her free arm – the one that wasn’t cradling Dana – around him and pulled him in for a hug. “I promise you, sweetheart, you two are going to love each other more than you can even imagine right now.”
“Okay mommy,” he said, but he said it because he knew that’s what she wanted to hear. Maybe she was right, maybe she wasn’t. She didn’t understand his problem, that was the big thing. She thought he was jealous of the baby. The truth was, he was scared for her. The Thing in the closet was getting closer, the hole in his closet was almost big enough for a grown man to crawl through now. And once it took care of Lucas, he knew that Dana was going to be next. And if it wasn’t that, there were the other monsters, the ones on the news that still kept showing up and that most of the grownups still said were fakes. The kids at school believed in them, though. Lucas believed in them too.
On Christmas Eve, everyone else in the house was joyful. The tree was up, the countertop had been taken over by Mommy’s Christmas Village, a nativity scene enjoyed a place on honor on the front table, and pinned to the bookshelves (they had no fireplace, but Mommy swore to him a few years ago that made no difference to Santa Claus) were their stockings – Pierce, Lori, Lucas, and brand new this year, Dana. Lucas couldn’t feel himself getting excited at all.
Daddy came home from WORK that day with a huge smile on his face and a box in his hands. “I know that Christmas is tomorrow, Lori, but I just can’t wait. Lucas! Come over here, buddy, I’ve got something to show you!”
Lucas put down his book – a nature book, he’d given up on stories about Captain Cosmos – and padded over to Daddy in his socks. Daddy smiled at him, beaming almost like he’d done on the day Dana was born, and patted the box. “You know how I’ve been working for months to come up with a new toy?”
“Well, buddy, you helped me out. I’ve been trying and trying to come up with characters and designs and ideas and… well… anything that was toyetic enough to present, but you’re the one who helped me find something. You and that fantastic imagination of yours. Feast your eyes!”
He opened the box and pulled out Lucas’s nightmare. It was a stuffed animal, about as tall as Dana was long, and covered in fur. His fur was white, though, not black, and the too-many teeth had been rounded and turned into a broad smile rather than a hideous snarl. His horns were still there, but they too were rounded and smooth. His eyes, in Lucas’s drawing a pair of simmering red coals, here crystal blue and smiling, even cast in plastic.
“I know this isn’t exactly the drawing you made for me, Lucas, but this is much better for the kind of toy my boss was looking for. Meet Yardley the Yeti. He’s the playful polar pal that every kid in America is going to want under his tree next Christmas, but now that we’ve got the prototype perfected, I wanted you to have the first one.”
“Yardley?” Lucas said.
“Yeah… I know, it’s not great, but do you know how hard it is to find a name that starts with ‘Y’? It was that or ‘Yancy’.”
“I don’t get it.”
Daddy’s voice changed and got deeper, like he was talking in a commercial. “Yardley the Yeti is the friendly beast from the north. He’ll play with you all day and protect you from the bad things at night!” He chuckled and looked at mommy. “That last bit was my idea – if Yardley does well I’m thinking we may be able to take Lucas’s original drawing and use it as the basis for a bad guy in the toy line. And with the way things have been going in the news lately, my boss thinks there’s going to be a real demand for kids to have a sort of guardian in their bedrooms.”
“It’s adorable,” Mommy said.
“It’s stupid,” Lucas declared.
“Lucas! Your father has worked really hard on this! Be polite!”
“It doesn’t make sense. A toy can’t protect you from the Bad Things.”
Daddy put the toy down. “Is this about all that stuff you’ve been seeing on the news, pal? I told you, it’s not anything you need to be worried about.” He picked up Yardley and handed it to Lucas. “This one is yours. It’s a thank-you for giving me the idea. I hope you’ll be able to appreciate it for that, even if the story doesn’t work for you.”
“What do you we say, Lucas?” Mommy asked.
“Thank you.” Then, without prompting, Lucas got up and hugged his father. “I’m sorry I said your toy was stupid.”
“That’s okay. Love you, buddy.”
“I love you too, daddy.”
That night, the scratching stopped. Somehow, the absence of the sound was far worse than hearing it ever was. He lay awake, staring at the Yardley doll that he’d placed on his nightstand, not far from the baseball bat he’d taken to sleeping next to. Yardley smiled down at him, wearing a big, doofy grin that Lucas knew wasn’t worth anything in the face of the Bad Thing in his closet. Mommy and Daddy had told him to get to bed early, because Santa Claus was supposed to come, but that didn’t really matter to him either. Would Santa get rid of the Bad Thing? Could he get rid of the Bad Thing? If he couldn’t, what good was he?
He was still looking at the doll when he heard his closet door open.
Lucas turned his head, slowly, in the direction of his closet. It was only cracked, but it was gliding open as he looked, that black crack turning into a gap, and then into an opening. And then the Thing stepped out. It looked just like the Thing in his drawing, with its hideous mouth full of teeth pulled back into a grotesque smile. Its red eyes burned in their sockets, illuminating the mane of fur that dangled from his head, and accentuating the needle-tipped points of his horns. It was looking at Lucas.
And it was smiling.
“Get away from me,” Lucas said. He reached off to the side of his bed and grabbed the baseball bat, lifting it as though he was ready to swing. “Get away!”
The Thing made a terrible, guttural sound, like something in his throat was being churned through a meat grinder. With revulsion, Lucas realized that was the sound of the Thing laughing at him. It began to walk towards Lucas slowly, purposefully, drool beginning to dribble from the huge gaps between his pointed teeth. A trail formed from the closet door and started to dribble towards Lucas’s bed. He grabbed the flashlight and turned it on the thing, and it blanched for a moment when the light hit it in the face. Then, it started to laugh again, pushing forward. Behind it, Lucas saw the hole, enormous now, big enough that even Daddy could have slipped through it into the darkness on the other side. There was a smaller hole behind the big one, Lucas noticed, and realized he was looking through the hole the creature had carved into his old closet, in his old room, where Dana now lay asleep.
“Get away!” Lucas shouted this time, swinging the bat at hard as he could and colliding with the monster’s face. The beast didn’t appear to be hurt at all. Instead, he reached up and yanked the bat from Lucas’s hands, tossing it back behind him through the hole. It struck the wall on the other side with a loud thud, and a few more chunks of wall fell away from the tiny hole. It turned back to Lucas, approaching slowly, smiling broadly.
Then, from the hole, they heard the sound. It was a loud, unhappy sound, one that Lucas had learned to recognize as an alarm of the most basic sort. It was Dana, crying, probably woken up by the sound of the bat hitting the inside of the closet. As she started to cry, the Dark Thing turned back towards the hole. Its eyes were wider, amazed, looking like a child who had been reaching for a vanilla ice cream cone, only to discover that there was chocolate available from the next soft-serve spigot. It didn’t even look back at Lucas this time, but instead opened the door to his bedroom and rushed into the hall. Lucas ran after it, but it was so much faster. He got to Dana’s room and saw the thing standing over her bed. She was screaming, but it didn’t sound like fear so much as discomfort. At her age, she hadn’t yet learned to be afraid of anything. Lucas was jealous.
He ran in and hit the Thing with his fists, shouting at it, telling it to get away from his sister. It ignored him until Lucas grabbed hold of its fur and started to yank out tufts of it in big, bloody clumps. The whole time, he was screaming. “Daddy! Daddy, Mommy, help! It’s in Dana’s room! It’s trying to get her!”
But Daddy and Mommy didn’t come, and as he pulled out the fur one chunk at a time and the monster grabbed his baby sister by the feet, Lucas had never felt more alone. This was what the Dark Things were for, the Bad Things, the Things he couldn’t stop because he was too small and too scared, and…
But Dana was smaller than he was, wasn’t she? And because of that, she needed him.
Lucas tugged on the thing’s fur again, but this time he used it to pull himself up. He climbed the beast, holding on as it started to buck against him, reaching around and trying to get hold. Lucas rolled in front of its face and onto the baby’s crib. She was still crying, her eyes wide and glaring up at him, when he landed over her. He was careful to put his arms and legs out, stopping himself so that he was shielding her instead of crushing her. He could feel the beast’s hands on his back, its breath blasting his neck like a stream of air from a furnace, and he began to shout again.
“Daddy! Mommy! Santa, Jesus, anybody, HELP!”
The Thing’s hands wrapped around his arms.
“Please! There has to be somebody!”
Dana looked up at him, and it occurred to him in that moment. She had been screaming, too, screaming for somebody. And her somebody was him.
He looked up at the thing. “You don’t get to hurt her,” he said. “I’ll stop you. I swear, I’ll stop you.”
He didn’t know how, though, and when the thing’s long, pink tongue snaked out of its mouth and towards Lucas’s face, it seemed like his proclamation would be in vain.
Then another hand grabbed the monster’s tongue and pulled it away. Pulled the entire beast aside, to be honest, away from Lucas and the baby and off to the other end of the room. Lucas looked down at Dana to be sure she wasn’t hurt, then looked back up at where the Thing was locked in a deathgrip with something else – something even bigger than it was. Something covered in white.
It was Yardley. The doll was huge now, bigger than Daddy, so big Lucas didn’t even know how it could have gotten into the room, and it was holding the Thing around the neck. Yardley’s big, happy smile was gone, replaced by a raging snarl that didn’t make Lucas feel any fear at all. It was all reserved for the Thing.
“You don’t get to hurt them,” Yardley said. His voice was deep and resonant, echoing through Dana’s room like he was using a megaphone. His blue eyes were glowing now, and the crystal light overwhelmed the red of the Dark Thing. “You go and you tell all of them, this house is protected. You don’t get to hurt them.”
He squeezed his hand and the Thing squealed, clutching its neck like it was being choked. Yardley threw it aside and it scampered out of the door. He opened the closet and Lucas could see in through the tiny hole that was there on this side – light was spilling in from his own room, and for a second he could see the Thing clambering back into the hole it had carved. Its red eyes flashed, and it was gone.
“Is she okay?” Yardley said. Lucas nodded.
“How did you do that? How are you real?”
“I’m real because you called me. Because you needed me. Because you needed a someone.”
Lucas smiled and rushed to Yardley, grabbing its fur in an embrace. The Yeti’s face changed again, turning back into a smile, and it lifted Lucas with one arm so he could wrap his arms around the thick, white fur of Yardley’s neck. Yardley walked over to where Dana was crying and looked down at the girl, smiling. She stopped immediately, and he picked her up in his other arm, bringing Lucas and Dana together and sitting down on the floor next to her crib.
“There are so many Bad Things,” Lucas said. “I didn’t think anybody would come.”
“Yes, there are a lot of Bad Things,” Yardley agreed. “But if you can believe in them, can’t you believe in the Good Things too?”
Lucas smiled, understanding for the first time.
In the morning, Mommy and Daddy were surprised that they woke up on their own, and not thanks to the efforts of an exuberant Lucas bouncing on their bed at five a.m. Once seven rolled around, Mommy went to get the baby – it was time to feed her anyway — while Daddy decided to wake up Lucas. When he opened the door to his son’s room, though, he wasn’t there.
“Lucas? Lucas, where’d you go?”
“It’s okay, Pierce, he’s in the baby’s room. Come here, you’ve got to see this.”
Daddy walked to the door to Dana’s room, and hugged Mommy when he saw what was there. Lucas was on the floor next to the crib, fast asleep. Dana was lying on her big brother’s chest, dozing peacefully, and next to her Lucas was clutching the Yardley doll. The three of them together like that was the most peaceful scene Daddy could ever remember seeing.
“Beautiful,” Mommy said.
“See?” Daddy replied. “I told you it was toyetic.”