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Monster on the Shelf (Pt. 1)

While attempting to produce his next great hit, a struggling horror author finds himself haunted by a child's toy and his own tormented mind.

By Caleb ShermanPublished 6 years ago 13 min read

“That's just it, I can write outlines all day, but I can't put down the words for a whole story.”

That was the conclusion I came to every night, after hours of working on little more than plot summaries and outlines for stories that I dreaded would never be written. Following this, or sometimes even prior to this, my wife would assure me that I could do it. The fact of the matter was, the closest I had ever come to completing anything like a finished novel had been when writing single segments of a story with people at work, and having them continue with the next segment. That had worked wondrously, so why couldn't I just do that alone?

The night before I had fantasized, as I always did, that another night of sleep would help. The blank screen that stared back at me the next morning for hours as I attempted to put words to any number of stories I had already outlined reminded me of the shortcomings of this process.

My desk was littered with scribbled on sheets of paper, abandoned scheduling notes, and self-help books, none of which seemed to provide any inspiration now. My most recent creative thought had been, “I have lived all my life afraid of the dark, surely I could write horror.” Well, here was my chance to prove it, and nothing was coming of it.

How could a man who saw demons and monsters in every corner not put words to them. A vast indescribable void of pure terror, that was the best phrase for it. Rather like Stephen King's IT in a way. The thing, or things, didn't have a singular form that could be given shape through speech or writing, they were infinite in potential. “That's what's so scary,” I at last admitted to myself, “The thought that there's something inconceivably horrible out there.”

I had dabbled in fantasy, and found no compelling way of portraying my characters or setting as fantastical enough for my own taste. I had taken brief glances at realistic fiction pieces, and turned my eyes away after hours of gibberish that amounted to nothing realistic enough to work. This had added to the thought that perhaps horror was the way to go. Horror novels seemed almost always set on an Earth where everything was normal except for the one or two monstrous incidents that set that Earth apart from ours. It's not as if realistic horror wasn't also perfectly possible, but just another serial killer novels didn't appeal to me in the slightest. There had to be some sort of supernatural driving force.

My phone buzzed, a message flashed on the screen for my attention. A brief glance revealed my wife's name and a blue hyperlink. I flicked the message alive:

“Here, look at this: Pro-tips to Write Horror.”

How had she managed to get that hyperlink to show up like that? Mine always came out as full URLs, I guess out of laziness. Oh well, I clicked the link and peered over the list. It was the same general horse dung that every blog about writing offered. Write about what you know, make your characters like real people, base them on people you know if necessary, blah-blah-blah.

A flicker at the corner of my vision, it was always there. That creeping sense of dread that kept my senses tuned to everything except the task at hand. Now the room was well-lit, the blinds were open, the fireplace was burning, there was nothing over there, I knew, but I looked anyway. As I turned my head over my shoulder, giving the non-existent shadows my attention, I spotted one of our three cats next to the fireplace, cleaning herself. Jynx, she had probably just hopped up there. Reassured that I was indeed alone, I turned back to the screen. I gave my phone one more glance and noticed one tip that stood out amongst the rest:

“Immerse yourself: Everyone has something they're afraid of, and while it may not be possible to exactly replicate your fears, you should try to simulate something close while writing, to give your style that little bit of extra edge.”

Well, that makes sense. I decided to give it a try, why not, what could it hurt? I closed the blinds, flipped the switches for the lights throughout the house and found myself relatively disappointed at the sheer amount of sunlight still coming through the windows. The solution was simple, we had never hung curtains, seemed like a waste of time and money, but we had curtain rods above the windows from previous tenants and our bed sheets, or at least the spare sheets, were black. I draped a set of sheets over the windows in the den and living room, and turned about to gaze at my handiwork.

It was there, in the darkness that now enveloped the rooms. There was still a dim light, but it only illuminated enough to give the mind something to play with. As usual here was the tenseness of my muscles, as my eyes darted back and forth across the room, confident there was something there that I couldn't see. It struck me that I wasn't comfortable anywhere when it was completely dark. I didn't like my childhood home in the country, I didn't like hotels in the city and I didn't care for this main highway off-shoot home in Mississippi.

I turned to walk from living room to den for my laptop, and despite knowing—beyond any shadow of doubt—that I was alone in the house with only my cats, some terrible dread crept over me that there was something behind me. I stopped cold, a dozen paces from the writing desk, as we called it. Slowly, with the utmost care, I turned my head to peer over my shoulder again, I saw nothing. But it was there, I could feel its eyes on my skin, making it crawl. Part of my mind always fought against this ridiculous fear, but my feet were already moving much faster than they needed to, in moments my hands were scrambling to unplug power cords and disconnect mice. In a blur I ripped my laptop from its place on the desk and darted down the hallway.

Those five near-leaping steps down the hallway at least were the most natural steps I ever took. I had never once in my life taken a hallway slowly. There was always something in the hallway, either behind me or in one of the connecting rooms. All the doors were closed save the bathroom door, in the time it took my feet to land in front of that door and bound forward again my mind had already made a dozen connections that it didn't need to. Hadn't I closed the bathroom door? Didn't we always leave the shower curtain open when not in use? Why was it so dark in there when that window had no curtains?

Finally, I tossed my laptop on the bed and slammed my bedroom door behind me, from there it was a simple leap to get my feet off the floor, away from the edges of the bed where I was certain a thousand creatures' hands were waiting to tear me away from this mortal plane to whatever lurked underneath the box springs. I situated myself against the headboard of the bed, so that I could see the entirety of the rest of the room, either directly ahead or in my peripherals. The only area I was blind to was directly behind me, the most horrifying thoughts lied there. A small gap existed between the headboard and the wall, not big enough for an entire person, but the emaciated ghostly arm of any number of humanoid nightmares could reach around the headboard, or through the numerous decorative holes throughout. There was a window above my head, all but blacked out with curtains, and I knew beyond any doubt that it was not as well sealed as I'd have liked, I could feel a gentle late winter breeze's remnants drifting through the cracks up there.

I shook this out of my head, pulled open my laptop, and at perhaps the last second before I blinded myself with the screen's brightness in this dark environment, I noticed that my closet door, a sliding door, stood slightly ajar. I stared at the darkness beyond that small crack for a long time, my eyes adjusting to the light from my still blank screen. The darkness, or whatever was inside it, stared back for just as long. I believe, for the time being, we came to an agreement, and I pulled my eyes away from the closet. If it could fit through that crack without drawing my attention, then I would be its play thing. However, if I noticed the door moving even slightly, I'd slam it shut with all my might, and hope that didn't splinter the cheap plastic that held the two sliding chunks of wood in place.

Why couldn't I see beyond the closet door though? Certainly anything on the other side would have glowing red or yellow eyes. Surely the small opening in the blinds, that I just took notice of for whatever reason, would illuminate that opening just right for me to see beyond the darkness enveloping that hole. But the light did not in fact hit that crack just right, instead all that I could make out was the slight shuffling beyond the doorway. There were no glowing eyes, but I was certain something was looking at me beyond that door.

I resolved to reverse my promise, I had detected it, indefinitely, it was there. So I slid to the edge of the bed, never removing my eyes from the crack, reached over and found my reach just short of the door. I threw my feet over the edge and felt my breath suddenly catch in my throat. What had my foot touched. Claws dug into my ankles, terror constricted my vocal cords, I would see my assailant before I died, I tore my eyes from the crack in the door.

“Damn it, Cassius.” A cat was latched onto my ankle, intent on bringing down this new prey. I reached down and stroked his back, then turned my eyes back to the closet. All was still beyond that crack. I slowly slid the closet door open, whatever had been there was now replaced by a week's worth of slacks and button-up shirts that I hadn't worn in months.

“You scared it off,” I picked the small red-haired thing up, much to its dismay, and stroked his back gently, “Good boy, I guess.”

No one would believe it, I reassured myself. In fact, as I flicked on the bedroom light and sank back into the bed, still clutching the squirming feline, I realized I didn't even believe it. He was like a snake, writhing in my grasp, his legs stretched straight out but limp, in a desperate attempt to free himself. I finally released him and watched him pad down to the edge of the bed, testing his weight on the memory foam under the sheets, as if this was the first time he had been on the bed.

“Were you replaced?” I whispered to him, “Are you really one of the creatures from the shadows taking on the form of Cassius?”

That would explain why the cats always acted like everything was a new experience. They were constantly a new nightmare taking on a cat-like appearance, to get close to us, to learn our fears and weaknesses. I pulled the laptop back to me and stared at the blank word processor again. I had been reading a few small horror stories, various things from various periods, in an attempt to get some sense of the style that best accommodated the genre. This hadn't actually helped me, but it had given me a monster design that I fancied and rather thought about stealing. Adapting at least, plagiarizing seemed like a bad idea.

So, I resolved to question my psyche, my mental state was in hand enough to get away with it I fancied, The thing in the closet, what does it look like, when it does eventually come out?

“If it wasn't for the sheer horror that gripped him when he looked upon it, he would have sworn it was human. Tall and lanky, its ribs exposed through pale, hairless skin stretched thin across a too large body. It didn't appear as if it had ever seen the light of day, and why would it have needed to. It's ears weren't at all human, they seemed almost stitched on, as if they had been torn off some mutant bat and attached on an operating table,” a pause in description the creature has done something to draw attention away from its face.

“It finally stepped out of the closet, rising to it's full height. Tall was not exactly the right word, it still crouched slightly, the roof not allowing it to fully extend, but nearly. Now its hands, immense things with knife-like fingers sat at eye level. He might have crawled backwards away from the thing, if that had seemed like it would save him from its grasp. Of course, it couldn't. As he stood there, staring at the creature, he knew what would come next-”

A sound brought me out of my trance, the writing stopped and the creature retreated back into the closet. Something had moved beyond my bedroom door. A scraping noise, somewhere down the hallway, perhaps in the kitchen. I heard the not-so-discreet sound of the screen door slamming shut on it's own, followed by the front door being shut with just as much force. Something had come in from outside. Or someone.

But there was no one who could open that door. I had locked it, as I always did. I locked all doors behind me, in fact the bedroom door had somehow found itself locked in the half-second I took to slam it shut behind me. Jessica wouldn't be home from classes until this evening, after the sun was down-of course-the mother-in-law would be at home asleep, no reason for her to visit, and everyone else with a key to the house was working. I crept up to the bedroom door and slowly twisted the handle, attempting to muffle the click of the lock with both hands over the knob. The door slowly opened, revealing an empty hallway. I could only see down to the refrigerator in the kitchen, but there seemed to be nothing between me and the side door, the only one anyone ever accessed, and the only one whose screen door I had tampered with enough to ruin its previously smooth shut.

There it was, I nearly jumped out of my skin as I saw an enormous shadow move across the crack between the refrigerator and side-door that I could just barely glimpse. It moved quickly, from the den into the living room, and now I saw that same shadow dance across the refrigerator through the window in the wall between the kitchen and the living room. Something was moving closer, I pushed the door to as I saw the shadowy shape pass through the door between the living room and the kitchen.

My breath caught in my throat for the umpteenth time that day as I heard its pounding footsteps make their way down the hallway. It ignored the bathroom and came straight to my door. It stopped, there, and opened the door to the side of mine. One of the two bedrooms attached to the hall that weren't mine. I heard it drag its long, terrible feet over the threshold of the door. Shuffling and rummaging noises pervaded the air as it sought something within the room, no doubt hoping for something to take with it back to its lair. I slowly pulled the door back open, curiosity dominating my sense of self-preservation.

I crept around to the other doorway, peered through it, and found the figure shifting about in the darkness seemingly uninhibited. It wasn't as large as the thing from the closet, and was also definitely human in shape. I stood there staring at it for a moment, hoping my eyes would adjust to the darkness so I could make it out. Suddenly, though I wasn't certain how I knew, it whipped around and its eyes settled on my own.

“Hey, why the hell are those blankets hung up in the living room? And can you replace my lightbulb?”

Oh, just the housemate then. I reached behind me and flicked on the hallway light.

“Are you alright? You look like you saw a ghost,” she continued, unimpeded by my lack of response.

“Yeah, I'm fine, just didn't expect you home today.”

She climbed onto her bed, apparently intent to change the light bulb she had no replacement for, “Well, I said I'd be coming by to clean some stuff up.”

“I'll run get a replacement from the laundry room.”

My wife's cousin had moved into this house with us, originally it had been a matter of us needing a place to play the newly-wed game at, and her wanting to free herself from her parents' dominion. As it sat now it was more like she paid us for storage and to keep quiet about the amount of time she spent at her boyfriend's house. Or was he her fiancee? Technically he had a ring, and they were planning a wedding, he just hadn't actually popped the question. My old boss would have sighed and shook his head saying, “Millenials,” not having much idea of what he was talking about, being a part of the millenial generation himself.

I sighed as I dug around in the numerous cabinets of the laundry room for a spare bulb, so much for getting any writing done today.

“Doesn't look like we have any more bulbs, I'll run out to Wal-Mart and grab a new box.”

She may have said thanks, she probably did, but I didn't hear it, I was already tugging my hat and shoes on as I headed out the door.

fiction

About the Creator

Caleb Sherman

Twitch.tv streamer (Amnesia Duck), retro game enthusiast (don't ask me about Ataris though), lucky husband, and author.

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    Caleb ShermanWritten by Caleb Sherman

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