The doors were sealed. Glued, nailed and locked so that the devil inside could never escape again. It clawed. It banged on the wood so loud that it kept him up at night. But to him, it was comforting. It was the reassurance that the creature locked away in the bedroom closet had not escaped and killed him in his sleep. Not yet.
Philip Gregory Thomas - a man with three first names - spent most of his time sitting. He sat on the couch in the living room, on the wooden chairs in the dining room and on the metal stool that he kept in the hallway. It was the stool that he used most often. Sitting there. Shotgun in hand. Waiting.
Philip still brought it food. Without food, it got too disruptive, yanking on the doorknob and banging on the closest wall to the outside so the neighbors could hear. An occasional piece of bread kept it quiet. Sometimes, he heard it snoring, a light whistling breath meant to confuse him and trick him with its devilry.
Philip went for nearly 3 years without entering that bedroom. He pushed the food in through a manufactured hole in the bathtub’s wall. He’d slammed the ceramic in with a sledgehammer because the bathroom was slightly raised above the master bedroom, allowing him to slip in the food from an angle too high for its claws to reach. It walked back and forth, day in and day out, dragging its feet along the length of the closet as Philip sat on his stool on the hallway.
On day 1055 of holding back the demon in the closet, Philip stepped into the bedroom.
He hadn’t heard it move in days, maybe weeks. He’d dropped food inside that had clanged against nothing, no sound of chewing or snarling. At night, the snoring had stopped. Flicking on the light switch and stepping forward, Philip’s house slippers kicked an empty orange pill bottle across the room. He froze. The closet was still. Philip speculated that it had given up. It had resigned itself to its fate of captivity and therefore accepted its death as an abomination of God. Crosses were stacked up at the bottom of the closet doors, nailed to the wood like the doors were wearing a skirt with a ruffled hem.
With the sledgehammer dragging behind him, Philip inched towards the closet, reaching out his hand towards the doorknob. He would have to pry each board off, unlock every chain and peel the wood-glued doors apart.
Two more empty pill bottles kicked up around his socked feet as he inched closer. There was still no sound. Nothing but stillness coming from the door. The keyring jangled against Philip’s thigh, strapped through the belt loop of his cargo shorts, pulling them down with every step he took. He hadn’t been eating, and he wouldn’t have noticed the weight loss if it hadn’t been for the persistent reminders from his pants.
He leaned the sledgehammer by the door and then grabbed the crowbar that he’d left on the floor when he’d considered doing this a week after the initial lock-up, just under 3 years ago. But that was when he was unclear. That was when he had still been seeing her.
One board at a time, Philip pried them off the doors, listening carefully for any sign of movement in the closet but there was nothing. Then he took his keys, trembling in between his fingers, and began to undo each lock.
Before the last steel master lock, Philip hesitated. If it were dead, would he consider it a success? Perhaps, if he found her dead a second time, it would help him process the first. Maybe, it would even turn to its initial form so he could look her in those beautiful brown eyes one last time.
He jammed the key in the lock and opened it.
With both hands, Philip peeled the doors apart, the wood cracking under his force and dried glue flaking off with each tug. Before even looking inside, he bounded to his sledgehammer, picking it up with both hands and waiting again. The closet was dark and quiet. It was even darker than Philip remembered. There were no windows, nothing to light up the hovel where Philip kept his demons.
In one lurch, Philip bounded forward to the edge of the closet so he could see inside. There was a stack of paper plates and napkins in one corner - piled so high that they had filled up the entirety of the wall. The smell was terrible, its death reeking out and in every corner.
And then, there was the hole. It was across from the tower of plates and Philip couldn’t tell what it had been dug with because it had taken it down there with it.
“You wretched creature,” Philip muttered, bending down to scrutinize the hole, the edges of the house’s flooring splintered and cracked like jagged pieces of ice hanging from an eavestrough. “No. No. No. No.”
Philip repeated it, cursing himself. What had he done? He had brought the devil up and out and released it on the world. It wouldn’t be long before the rains of fire fell and the earth quaked under the new reign of Revelations.
First, he dropped the sledgehammer, then Philip dropped himself onto his knees in the middle of the room he had avoided for so long. It had once been his room. His and Julie’s and Anna’s. All together. Now, it was a graveyard of memories, a fresh patch of dirt in his madness, a closet full of mistakes.
He prayed. Clutching his hands together and closing his eyes firmly, he asked for forgiveness and retribution. He asked for Anna to return to him in the form that she was meant to be and for the demon to reconsider its insidious nature.
She had tried to kill him. Before he’d locked her in there, she was the one that had come at him with the keys from his keyring. The cold uneven steel held to his throat, ready to slice down on him at any moment.
Something in the distance wailed. Philip continued to pray. As the room became washed in red and blue light, Philip kept his arms clutched. They placed his hands behind his back and put him in chains, advising him of his insanity.
And then he saw her. Through the haziness of the dirty window, Anna stood by the police car, pointing towards her home. Her hair was matted and black and much too long. Her skin was ghostly pale with dark purple almost black circles under her wide eyes. And as they dragged Philip past her and shoved him into the back of the police car, he watched as the corners of its lips turned up into a smile.