Lime Green Closet

By KV Taylor
Originally published in Candlelight, Vol. I, ed. Jonathan J. Schlosser

“Should I carry you over the… ah…?”

“Threshold?”

“Yeah, that.”

Alice rolled her eyes and shook out the umbrella. “You’ll hurt yourself.”

Jonathan just grinned, dangling the keys in front of her. “Then would you like to do the honors and let us into our very first house?”

She swiped them out of his hand. “Little House on the Wrong Side of the Tracks?”

He looked over his shoulder, toward the Rapid Transit tracks half a block away. “Could be worse.”

“Could be all the way in Loud Gunshot Land?” She slipped the key into the lock. In spite of all her talk, there was a fluttering low in her belly. Her first feeling of respectable middle class propriety.

She pushed the door open and their new living room, naked and beautiful, unfolded before her eyes. The old wooden floors had been perfectly restored, chipped underneath and lacquered on top; the leaden glass windows were pristine and shining with new rain; the walls were a delicious shade of eggshell white.

When they’d seen it last, there had been seventies shag carpet and dirty lime green paint.

“Oh god, look at this,” he sighed behind her.

She stepped inside, into her new house, and sighed too. Weeks of trying not to expect too much, hoping the job would get done while they were busy packing and moving from hundreds of miles away.

Well, no point in getting too excited yet. She handed off the umbrella and started toward the dining room, planning to make her way to the restored kitchen before allowing herself the squeal of joy rising in her throat.

A faint, “Oh!” from Jonathan halted her progress. She turned back to see him staring into the coat closet near the stairs, grinning like an idiot.

She moved to his side and saw why. The massive closet had obviously been forgotten in all the remodeling; its walls were still that putrid glowing green, its floors stripped of the awful carpet, but unlacquered. An old wooden cane–definitely not theirs–was the only object still inside.

“That’s just creepy,” she said.

“Oh, come on.  Probably belonged to the old doc.” Jonny waggled his eyebrows.

“You’d think they would’ve cleaned all his things out after we bought it. Or, you know, actually remodel the whole place.” Like they’d paid them to.

“Maybe there’s treasure in the floor boards too.”

“Don’t even think about tearing them up to find out.”

He dropped her umbrella inside and closed the door behind, then followed her on her tour.

***

A few hours later the appliances arrived. And so Alice found herself on her knees trying to figure out how the hell to hook up the dryer  while Jonathan was somewhere behind the washer.

“It’s not a bad neighborhood. I mean, the guy was a doctor at University. If it was bad, he definitely had the money to move out.”

Alice somehow refrained from rolling her eyes this time, but only because he wouldn’t have seen it anyhow.

The basement hadn’t been refurbished–they’d only had so much money to work with. It was dark and mildew-smelling, all chipped cement and crumbling brick and dodgy-looking cubby-holes. There was half a skinny metal table-thing that looked like it had escaped an operating room in the far corner, and the floor was covered in some kind of unclassifiable basement residue. Kneeling on it made her impatient.

“There was a shooting not ten blocks away a few months back, they busted a meth lab once, and some girl disappeared off this very street not long ago. That’s just the recent stuff.” Yes, she had gone a little wild on the researching of the neighborhood. But honestly, this was their home.

“You’re not going to be paranoid, are you?”

“No.” Well, maybe she was. But he’d known what he was getting when he’d married her. “The house is too amazing for me to care.”

And it was. It really was, after the refurbishing. It was everything she’d ever wanted. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t complain a little when she was dusty and sweaty and tired.

He just laughed and stood up. “Done with mine.  What’s taking you so long?”

This time she rolled her eyes. The tube didn’t fit in the… hole or something. She couldn’t quite figure it out, and he really could come over here and help instead of wandering around uselessly while she struggled in the wine-cellar/laundry room on her own–

“Hey! Check this out!”

She stood, too happy to have an excuse to be annoyed at the interruption. He waved at her from the little entryway, then led her into another small side room-the one he called the larder and claimed must’ve been filled with preserves once upon a time.

Walking through the arch-entryway gave her a weird feeling. Like there were cobwebs clinging to her hair and face. She waved her hand as if to brush them away, even though she knew they weren’t really there.

Jonathan pointed to the top shelf.

Her eyes followed his finger.  Dusty glasses looked back down at her, ancient mason jars with corroded lids. “Wow. Those might be worth something.”

He was already exploring the small room more thoroughly, poking at shelves and peering closely into the dark recesses in the walls.

Alice hoped he wouldn’t find anything else, though. The cane, the jars, and the table were eerie enough as relics of the past resident. Even if the realtor swore the doctor hadn’t died in the house, it was just odd. He was dead, and these had been part of his life. And…

Yep. Disturbing.

“Oh, wicked!”

She took a deep breath and turned. He held up a faded green-and-yellow box. “Shotgun shells.”

She looked around for where they might’ve come from.

“Found them in this little niche,” he explained, poking his arm into a formerly unseen cubbyhole behind a shelf.

Her spine suddenly tingled a little, the tiny grey room seemed a little too tiny. Not to mention underground. “They were stashed away? Like, hidden?”

“Bet he kept all his money under his mattress, too. Hey, the Depression was rough.” He grinned, completely oblivious as usual.

She suppressed a shiver and turned away. If she showed him she was creeped out, he’d have to try and make it better and talk it to death. And… she just wanted to go upstairs. “Just leave them be and come fix the dryer.”

***

When it stopped raining they rescued the futon and TV from the truck, then went for burritos. And now they had a feast in front of them. In spite of the fact that Alice was starving, she waited for Jonny to pour the pathetic chardonnay they’d snagged in the corner shop.

“To our house,” he said, holding his plastic cup aloft.

She smiled and knocked her own against it, then had a drink. If she didn’t know him (and oh, she did) she would’ve thought he was completely in earnest with this little toast. He had this look to him, this fresh little boy face that made him seem so genuine about everything. It was just the little flash in his eyes that said he was being a shit, the way the dimple in his left cheek betrayed him.

Good man. Lucky woman. New house. Our house. All these thoughts at once, all with that little sip of cheap wine. She swallowed them all and didn’t mind showing how happy she was, the flutter in her stomach, this time. It had been a long day. And tomorrow would be longer, when the moving truck caught up with them.

If she’d been annoyed by the little mementos left in the un-renovated spaces in her house, or by the unpainted front closet, she wasn’t anymore. They’d restored everything so beautifully, from the woodwork to the Tiffany shade on the chandelier in the dining room, she couldn’t care at all. She could see its warm soft glow in the next room now, picnicking on the floor against the futon, the TV buzzing away quietly, and these burritos were amazing-

A loud and sudden bang, like something falling from a great height, made her jump. Jonathan fumbled his burrito and it landed open-end-down (thankfully on the foil wrapper he’d spread) on the floor.

Her heart leapt into her throat. “What was that?”

It had been inside the house, whatever it was. So, not some bad neighborhood activity. Definitely not.

He gave his burrito a dirty look, but recovered far more gracefully than she. “Dunno. Not much that could fall in here yet.”

Heart still lodged firmly in throat, thrumming away most uncomfortably, she watched him stand and start toward the staircase-where she thought the sound had been coming from as well. But he slid to a premature stop on his stocking feet and opened the coat closet instead. “I’ll be damned,” he said. Then he leaned over and his top half disappeared inside.

She crawled sideways a little to get a better vantage, but he came out with his prize-another of the green-and-yellow boxes like he’d found downstairs-and waved it at her. It rattled ominously. “Crazy old bastard had them everywhere.”

Alice suddenly felt cold sitting on the floor. Looking at an old dusty box of shotgun shells. Her eyes darted into the closet-the cane still rested there, but… “Where’s my umbrella?”

Jonathan turned around, eyed the space for a minute, then announced, “No idea. You take it to the car?”

“No.” Definitely chilly. Of course, the house was drafty. She’d get used to it eventually, and learn to wear sweaters like normal people did in October in Cleveland, no doubt.

“Hm. Must have closet gremlins.” He went up on his toes to deposit the box on the shelf above their coats, and closed the door behind him. “That’s good.  It’ll make the place seem less lonely when you’re at work.”

But she hadn’t taken it. Really. He must’ve and just forgotten, then. That would be like him-her mother said Jonny wouldn’t know his ass from his head without her, and that was fairly accurate. (Even if she didn’t like her mother to say it. That was her job.)

“Come here and sit with me,” she said. He felt far away, over there on the other side of the mostly-bare room.

He smiled, obviously pleased that his company was so sought-after, and returned to his burrito.

***

Something like thumping on the stairs woke Alice in the night. It was raining again, heavy drops against the window above the futon. The first floor was pitch black.

She couldn’t move.  Her blood was rushing in her ears. Ever since she was a kid, if she woke in the middle of the night scared, she was frozen. Perhaps some unnamed thing would get her if she tried. She’d never thought it through. She didn’t want to.

She tried for a deep breath. It might’ve been a dream, just the sound of thunder converted by her half-asleep brain into something menacing. New house. Weird neighborhood.

“Jonny?” she managed. It sounded jarringly loud in the silent house, bouncing off the floors and walls.

“Mmm?” The sound was muffled, coming from under his arm. It might’ve been a word, but maybe not.

Either way, it made her feel like she could move again-broke the weird dream spell. She felt slightly sick to her stomach in the aftermath. “Did you hear anything?”

He pushed himself upward and looked at her, bleary-eyed in the dark. “No. You okay, honey?”

“Just a dream,” she said, more to herself than him.

He rolled out of bed immediately; shoved his hand down the back of his shorts and scratched manfully at his ass while he wandered in the direction of the dining room. “Over here?”

She felt so stupid. He’d been sound asleep, and now he was up wandering around a cold living room in his underwear because she’d had a dream. God. “It’s fine. Come back to bed.”

He made a round, though, into the kitchen, then through the other side and back into the living room, where he stopped to look up the stairs. “Up there?”

“If I really thought there was something, I’d be up looking with you.”

He waved her off. And opened the closet.

She held her breath.

He shrugged and closed it, then padded back to the futon and slipped into the covers again. He was cold-she could feel it already. “Wake me up if you hear it again. Might be the gremlins”

She slipped closer and he put an arm around her. She tried to make up for her stupidity by supplying extra body warmth for him, and slipped a leg between his to help. He made a “mmm” sound that let her know he was grateful, squeezed her a little tighter.

It made her feel slightly better. “Just the strange house. And camping in the living room.”

“We’ll have a real bed tomorrow,” he mumbled and kissed her forehead.

He was asleep again in seconds. It took her a little longer.

***

Alice hadn’t been back to the basement since they’d hooked up the washer and dryer three days ago. She thought she might’ve been blowing the creepiness of it out of proportion in her mind. But as she descended the stairs with her laundry basket, reached up and pulled the little string to light the naked bulb on the ceiling…

Nope. Grey, oppressive, wet, dark-the light barely made a dirty yellow puddle, and it didn’t extend far past the foot of the stairs.

She sighed and trudged onward, past the abandoned half-table in the corner, past the larder-with-the-mason-jars, refusing to look at them. That cobwebby feeling was there again, too. Maybe she should consider asking Jonathan to switch chores with her. She could do double dish duty and he could do the laundry-

Bang!

Alice dropped the basket on the washer, something unpleasant rising in the back of her throat, and sprinted for the stairs. That sound had been right over her head, and the last time she’d checked Jonathan had been moving the TV across the living room. That could not be good-not for the appliance or the husband.

She passed through the kitchen in a blur, expecting to Jonny buried under furniture or something awful. But when she swung around the corner into the living room, he was just coming down the stairs.

“Oh god, I thought you’d fallen or something.” He sighed in relief.

“I thought you broke the TV.”

“God forbid.” Then he paused and looked around. “What was it?”

She shook her head and went into the kitchen to investigate. He went the other way. Her shiny new granite countertops were untouched, the chandelier in the other room was fine-

“Oh shit.”

Not good. Normally when Jonathan said something like that, he was laughing. This sounded… strained.

The need-to-puke feeling came back, but Alice made herself go into the living room, step up behind her slack-jawed husband staring into the lime green coat closet-and her jaw dropped too.

There was the cane, of course. They’d decided not to move it since it was just a little too creepy. But now there was also a freakishly familiar half of a slim table-like a metal gurney or something. In the closet.

“I just walked past that downstairs.” It really had been there. She was sure of it.

He looked at her, awfully wide-eyed. “You didn’t put this here?”

She blinked. “No.”

I didn’t put it there.”

More blinking. “I…”

He left the door hanging open and headed for the basement. She followed him halfway down-far enough to see that the metal table half she’d been sure was still there was, in fact, still there.

He scratched his head, staring at it. “What the hell?”

She shivered. “It,” she fumbled around in her brain for an explanation, “must’ve been behind your coat.”

He turned his back on the table to look up at her. “What about before the coat was there? That thing was empty except the cane.”

“Maybe one of the movers?” she suggested. But it sounded pretty hollow. And not just because it bounced off the basement walls in that unnerving way, either.

“Must be the other half of this one.” He looked over his shoulder one last time, then back at her. “Guess we should bring that down here, huh? Could use it for laundry.”

“I don’t think so,” she snapped. She hadn’t meant to, but god, she felt like she could crawl out of her skin.

He refrained from anymore gremlin jokes and just smiled at her in that unbearably sweet way he always did when she was being crazy. Bless him. “Oh well, it’s a good out of the way place for stuff. Makes sense if it was a mover.”

She tried to smile back, but knew it was weak. Silly of her, he was absolutely right. No reason to freak out. Geez, drama queen.

“Let’s take a break and crack open that Malbec,” he suggested suddenly.

That made her smile a little more real, at least. “You’re wonderful.”

He looked very proud of himself as he escorted her upstairs to the kitchen. “I knew that’d do it.”

***

Alice planned to be calm and sensible when she opened the closet door the next morning. She just needed to get her coat and then she could be off to her first day at her first firm.

The problem was that her umbrella was leaning next to the cane. And her coat was gone.

Jonathan popped around the corner at the sound of her strangled cry, his hair sticking up in every direction and part of the Plain Dealer still in hand. “Honey?”

It was too early for rationality, and her stomach was already a mess from the new job jitters. She just pointed into the closet in silence until he came and saw for himself.

“Where’d you find it?” he asked.

“I didn’t. It’s just there.”

“Well you must have because…” but he trailed off and caught her eye there.

“And my coat is gone.” Her throat felt extremely tight, but she managed to squeeze it out anyhow.

He chewed at the inside of his cheek and peered into the closet suspiciously.

“What the hell is going on?” she asked. Even though she knew it was useless.

It wasn’t a prank, and there was nobody to pull one anyhow. So what the hell was going on?

He squared his shoulders, stepped into the closet, and pulled his own coat off the hanger. “Take mine for now. And… maybe leave the umbrella in the car?”

She did, because she was already running late. And she left Jonathan right there, staring at the open closet, scratching his head with the business section.

***

By the time she pulled the truck into the driveway and hopped out, she’d almost forgotten about it all. First days were unnerving like that.

She slipped through the back door and called, “Jonny?”

“In here.”

His voice wasn’t right. He wasn’t smiling-she knew it before she saw him. And there he was, sitting on the futon in his Penn State pajama pants and wife beater, like he had been when she’d left. Staring at the closet.

“Are you sick?” she asked, even though she knew he wasn’t. But he was a little bit pale, or a little bit drawn, or a little bit something that wasn’t very Jonathan. And that feeling in her stomach started up again, the loud sound in her ears that meant her blood was rushing.

He looked up at her, shook his head. His laptop was on the futon next to him, but it was closed and the Plain Dealer was on top of it. He clearly hadn’t gotten much work done today.

She dropped his coat on the arm and sat, followed his gaze as it returned to the closet door. And something on the floor next to it-a jar? With something brown in it?

“What…?”

He licked his lips, glanced at her, then back toward the door. “There was this shattering sound around one o’clock. And I opened the door, and that was inside. And another one that was broken.”

One of the old mason jars, obviously. She was positive, absolutely certain there hadn’t been any of those in there. She opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out. She just felt queasy.

“And it was broken, like… the edges had this brown stuff on it. And it’s flaky. Old, you know? Not like paint.”

Blood. Looking at it now, even at this distance, she recognized it. She closed her eyes against the growing dizziness. “What the fuck?”

“I don’t know. So I put the colander in there after I took the glass out-“

Her eyes snapped open. “Why the colander?”

“I just made mac and cheese. It was the first thing I thought of.”

She would’ve laughed if she could’ve. But when Jonathan wasn’t laughing it was perfectly clear that nothing was funny. He just looked lost, bewildered. Not right.

“And it was gone the next time I heard that thumping sound.”

“Oh.”

“So… I hope you didn’t want pasta for dinner.”

She laughed that time, but it sounded a little bit hysterical.

“Things disappear and re-appear, but they’re always things that belong here, in this house,” he said, then chewed on the inside of his cheek. The dimple appeared, but it seemed more of an ominous thing this time.

She shook her head. “Should we call the police?”

“And tell them our closet eats things and spits other things back out?”

“Sometimes the same things,” she said.

He furrowed his brow. “Maybe always the same things.”

“I did not put that table in there, and I definitely didn’t stash those nasty jars.”

“No. Neither of us did. But someone put them in there. Maybe before.”

She blinked again. She felt like she was doing an extraordinary amount of blinking tonight. It was the most articulate she could get, at this point.

***

He pushed his potatoes around his plate some more. She wanted to tell him to stop it-to eat, to stop worrying-but in a selfish way. It was very hard for her to be cheerful when Jonny wasn’t. Always had been.

The sound of voices from next door drifted through the window. Music playing on the porch. Maybe they were celebrating the fact that it wasn’t raining, for once.

Jonathan stood up. “I’m going to go ask them about the old guy.”

She froze. “Why?”

“I don’t know.”

But he did. And so did she. Because if they hadn’t put those things in the closet…

No. They were just being stupid. They’d missed the jars-they were probably up there when they’d moved in, on the back of the shelf with the shells, and it was all rickety and dropped things sometimes. Jonathan had clearly been mistaken about the pasta strainer, and the table had definitely been put there by the movers.

But Jonny was out the door already. So she followed him onto the front porch in her bare feet and waved to the neighbors-two teenage kids-when they looked her way.

“-Alice and Jonathan Sinclair,” he was telling them. Somehow he was managing his usual smile and nod. But it still sounded forced to her.

Poor Jonny. He wasn’t meant to be scared. Didn’t know what to do with it. It almost broke her heart to see him having to force a smile.

The kids introduced themselves as the Murphys.

“You know the guy who lived here before?”

The boy shook his head. “Nah, he was real quiet. Ah, our sister used to,” a brief pause there before he finished with, “talk to him sometimes.”

Jonathan just nodded. “Was he weird or anything? We keep finding the strangest stuff.”

To say the least.

The girl shook her head, cracked her gum. “Always seemed real normal. Lisa said he was nice.”

The boy chewed his lip a little.

Jonathan made small talk until they were both smiling at him, and Alice pretended to watch the street, listening to the rumble of the Rapid train down the block.

When he came back to their porch he immediately nodded her inside. He went straight to the futon and flipped through the paper for a moment, then handed it to her. “I didn’t even realize.”

Local Woman Still Missing: Lisa Murphy of 111th Street has been gone for a month now, but her family won’t give up…

A picture of a pretty young woman with a brilliant smile. Long dark hair over her shoulder, a cross necklace flashing brightly at her collar bone.

Oh god. Those poor, poor kids. Their sister. Jesus, she could’ve at least told them she was running off.

Assuming she really had.

Jesus. Could nothing in this place be comfortable? First a closet that coughed up random artifacts to freak them out, and now their neighbors were the missing woman family. Which was such a bitchy thing to think, and she definitely didn’t mean it that way, but…

A cushioned thunk in the closet, followed by a metallic rattle.

She felt a sudden and violent urge to puke up what little dinner she’d managed to swallow. She couldn’t go look. But Jonathan screwed up his face, squared his shoulders, and went straight for the door. She heard it creak open before she turned…

His face was pale, staring into the ghastly green darkness.

She forced herself to follow him.

“No,” he snapped.

She wasn’t sure she’d ever heard him snap before. It stopped her in her tracks.

Jonathan looked at her, shook his head, a tight, unnatural movement. “Don’t look.”

The room almost started to spin, but she made herself calm down. Deep breath. It couldn’t be that bad. Especially not if it had to come from the house. The house was okay-a few little creepy things, but nothing too bad. Even the blood on the jars might not have been blood. “What is it?”

He hesitated. “Your coat. And… some other stuff.”

A flash of anger tore a hole in the fear that had descended over her, made her stand there frozen. This was ridiculous goddammit! She moved to his side, looked around him. The cane. Her coat on the floor. And some shiny things next to it and on top of it, scattered around. Metal things.

Medical things. A scalpel and some weird scissors. A few other things she didn’t know names for, all small and sharp. Blades liberally slathered with flaking brown crust.

Jesus. “What is it…?”

He closed the door without another word, his lips pressed together hard, the muscle in his jaw working. “It doesn’t mean anything. He was a doctor. Probably had lots of that stuff around.” He didn’t even try to force cheerfulness. Or explain why they’d be dirty.

He was certainly right, though, a voice in her head said. She was being dramatic. So it was a little blood. So weird things appeared in the closet. So what? There was an easy explanation-a hidden room, something.

He put his arms around her and pulled her close. Which helped more than a little. “Let’s just clean up the table and camp on the couch?”

She nodded against his chest. “Yeah. I’ll get the alarm clock.”

He didn’t need to tell her he was going to pull an all night vigil. And she didn’t need to tell him she was staying with him.

***

The thump woke her up-this time she was sure she’d heard it. It had been a multi-faceted thump. Like the sound of someone falling down a few stairs.

She opened her eyes, saw the TV and the late, late show. Jonny’s hand on her hair, her head in his lap. Her eyelashes fluttered a few times, rid themselves of sticky sleep, but her blood stayed cold and sluggish. “That sounded loud,” she said.

“It sounded bad,” he replied. He shifted, and she sat up to let him go.

But this time she followed him. She didn’t know how, but she did. She couldn’t even reach out for him, touch him, try to reassure herself.

The smell was awful. A smell like a garbage dump on a hot day, like a deer on the side of the road that had been there too long. She felt the acid rising in the back of her throat, knew that it was worse than ever this time, but followed just the same. Lurching by the end, when the smell was so strong she thought it would knock her over, made her breathe through her shirt.

Jonathan made a horrible sound when he opened the door, something between a sick groan and a choking gasp, staggered backward a little.

The cane was there, of course. It always was.

And a form huddled in the back, distinctly human. Knees drawn up to the chest, arms down and out. Pale and wasted, long dark slashes up the inside of the forearms.

The door swung open wider, let in more light. Alice reeled when she saw the face-her knees collapsed under her and she hit the floor.

Mouth open, lips gone, teeth perfect and white. Hollow eye sockets, wisps of hair clinging to nothing here and there. Bone poking through rot.

Matted hair, long and dark.

The flash of a cross necklace.

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