“Here, Mr. Kittens. You sit here. No. You have to sit up. You can’t fall in your tea cup or you’ll drown.” Zoe propped the stuffed animal up in one of her pink chairs. She wasn’t sure Mr. Kittens would actually drown but that was something her Mother told her when she tried to doze off at the dining room table. That usually only happened when her Mother had to go to work and woke Zoe up too early.
“Now you sit here, Giraffe. I have your favorite kind of cookie but you can only have one. If you eat them all you’ll get fat.” That was also something her Mother told her. Zoe didn’t want to be fat so she listened. But sometimes she stole a few cookies just so her Mother wouldn’t see her eat them. Then she could get fat without blaming it on her favorite lemon cookies. She nibbled a piece of the stolen cookie and placed the remnants on the Tinkerbell plate in front of Giraffe.
She nearly tripped over her princess dress but she managed to sit in the chair at the only empty spot at her pink table. It was late in the afternoon now. Zoe and her mother were waiting on Zoe’s father to pick her up for her visit. Zoe hoped he would come this time. But she also kind of hoped he didn’t. He never played with her or talked to her when she came to spend the night. He put her to bed way too early and spent the rest of the night playing video games with his friends. Zoe tried to tell him that she knew how to play video games too but he didn’t listen to her. Eventually she gave up asking and spent her time coloring in his books. One day when he opened them up he was going to be real mad. She was okay with that. At least he’d notice her then.
Thump, thump, thump.
Zoe looked behind her but didn’t see anyone in the hallway.
“Mommy?” she called but nobody answered. She heard her mother arguing with her father over the phone. It sounded as if he wasn’t coming again. And Mommy had to work the night shift at the big blue store.
She turned back to her party determined to have a good time. She waved her magic wand over the gathering hoping that the animals would finally come to life and share a joke or two with her. Zoe liked jokes, especially knock-knock jokes. Sometimes her babysitter, Ashley told her knock-knock jokes. She liked Ashley. Most of the time. She really wanted a little sister to play with but Mommy said that was never going to happen. She said if it did, she’d kill herself. That made Zoe sad because she really wanted a sister but she didn’t want her Mommy to die.
Thump, thump, thump.
Zoe smelled something bad. She covered her nose until the stench passed. “Poo-wee, Mr. Kittens. You stink.”
She thought maybe something was banging in her closet but that couldn’t be right. Toys and clothes didn’t bang on the closet door. What if Ashley was right? What if there was such thing as a Closet Monster? Carrying her magic wand with her for protection Zoe slowly walked to the half-open closet door.
A shadow passed over her and Zoe froze. The sound wasn’t coming from inside the closet door but from her window. A gray man was banging on the glass with his head. His banging left greasy marks on the glass, just as if he were made of mushy, moldy marshmallows. Zoe wanted to pee now but she didn’t dare pee in her princess dress. Mommy would be so mad if she wet in her clothes like a baby. She was five now and not a baby anymore.
“Mommy…” she whispered as she backed away from the window. The Gray Man banged on the window again, this time he pressed his horrible face against the glass. His eyes were green and snotty, like her nose was when she got sick a few weeks ago. She had to go to the doctor for a shot to feel better and make the snot go away. Zoe didn’t think a shot would help the man. She could smell his stinkiness through the glass. “Mommy,” she yelled now as she ran for the door. She scrambled down the hall sliding on the frilly hem of her too long pink princess gown. The fall made her bump her mouth and she was sure she’d knocked her loose tooth out. “Mommy!” she screamed again.
“Hold on, Shane. Don’t you dare hang up! Shane!” Mommy walked in the hallway with the phone in her hand. Clearly Zoe’s father hung up. “Zoe, what are you doing in that? You’re supposed to be getting dressed to go to Daddy’s house. Baby? What did you do to your lip? You’re bleeding! Come to the kitchen and let me look at it.”
“Mommy,” Zoe cried now. “There’s a gray man banging on my window. He’s got snotty eyes and he stinks really bad.”
“Zoe Michelle. Are you lying to me?”
“No, Mommy,” her lip quivered and she sobbed. “He’s horrible.” Mommy handed her a paper towel and the girl patted her mouth tentatively not wanting to see the blood that she knew was already there. She could taste it. It tasted like pennies and she knew those tasted like. She tried to swallow one when she was just a kid.
“Sit here, Zoe. Don’t move!” Mommy took the phone and grabbed something out of the silverware drawer and ran down the hallway. Zoe tossed the paper towel to the side, the sight of the blood made her cry harder. She picked up the kitchen towel off the table and pressed it on the gap in her mouth. She would have to go back and find the tooth if she expected the Tooth Fairy to leave her some change. She stared at the blue and white kitchen towel. Yep, there was blood on it. She held the towel in place and quietly sneaked down the hall, half-looking for the tooth and half following her mother.
She could hear Mommy swearing and she heard the glass breaking. “Oh God! No!”
Zoe stood in the hallway wondering what to do. She could hear the banging on the front door now.
Her mother was screaming and there were other sounds, horrible sounds, growling and more things breaking. They were tearing up her room and Mommy was in there! She had to help her Mother and Mr. Kittens! Zoe realized she still had her magic wand in her hands. Maybe if she used her magic she could make the Gray Man disappear. Maybe that would work.
Her mother’s screams suddenly stopped and Zoe peeked around the corner of the door. Mommy was lying on the floor face up and the gray man was on top of her doing something to her face. She couldn’t see exactly what but there was so much blood. That wasn’t Zoe’s blood. She’d fallen in the hallway not the bedroom. The Gray Man turned around and saw Zoe standing in the hallway. Blood poured down his chin and she could see Mommy now. She was dead. Very dead and some of her face was missing. Her magic wand hit the floor.
“Mommy?” she whimpered. The Gray Man was crawling to her now on his hands and knees and she ran. But where? Suddenly there was banging at the front door and more banging coming from somewhere else. She had to hide. She was good at hiding. She was the hide-and-seek champion at summer camp. She ran back to the kitchen and screamed at the sight of a Gray Lady now standing at the kitchen window. She stared at Zoe like she wanted to chew on her, just like the Gray Man chewed on Mommy. Zoe couldn’t help herself, she threw up on the floor. The only place she could go was downstairs into the dark basement. Maybe they wouldn’t find her there. She knew the perfect place to hide.
She jiggled the handle of the basement door. It was always hard to open. She wanted to throw up again but she had to get away. She had to hide from the Gray People! She heard the Gray Man’s footsteps coming down the hall heavy and slow. Finally the door sprung open and she stepped inside. She closed and it remembered to lock it behind her. She stood on the wooden steps with her ear close to the door. After a few seconds she heard the sound again.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Zoe went down the stairs descending into the darkness. Now she wasn’t afraid of the dark.
It comforted her.
It would hide her.
Zoe heard the thumping get louder. She knew the Gray Man wouldn’t stop smashing the door. He wouldn’t give up until he broke this door just like he broke Zoe’s window. Time to hide and count to a hundred. Zoe wasn’t sure how to count to a hundred but she would try. She ran to the far side of the basement and opened the dryer door. With the door cracking behind her she climbed inside and closed it. She had to close it all the way or the light would come on. Luckily for her, her blanket was inside. She could cuddle up in it and hid.
One, two, three…she counted. Once she got to twenty she got confused but she didn’t give up. She counted in her head and not with her mouth. She couldn’t talk or the monster would find her. She thought about the numbers and not the sounds of growling or the stinkiness that now filled the room.
Keep counting, she told herself trying not to pee.
She had gotten all the way up to thirty when he found her.