As a child, I was a voracious reader. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on, including some material that probably wasn’t 100% age appropriate.
Enter Stephen King.
My father worked with a woman who raved about King, and so he brought home King’s novel Firestarter.
I was 12.
I was also a faster reader than my father.
I don’t remember if I read Christine or The Shining next. But I do know after the second novel, I decided to read his short story collection Night Shift.
To date, Night Shift contains the single scariest thing I have ever read in my entire life. It’s a slight little story called “The Boogeyman”. To date, I have not re-read this story. Just reading the Wikipedia entry was enough to give me chills and remind me how scared I was after I finished the story.
How scared was I? I’ll tell you.
“The Boogeyman” takes place in a psychiatrist’s office. In it, a man is telling the psychiatrist his story, trying to determine if he’s crazy. The man has lost his three children, who died under terrifying and mysterious conditions. In each case, closet doors are repeatedly left open — just a crack — even when the man swears he makes sure they are closed each night.
As a mother, just thinking about this story strikes fresh fear into my heart.
The whole story is scary as hell, especially if you’re 12–13, and just getting over your fear of the dark in the first place. King, even in 1978, when Night Shift was originally published, was a master of vividly capturing in words common nightmares. And “The Boogeyman” is nothing less than nightmarish. (I recently read his latest collection, Full Dark, No Stars, and I assure you, King is still very much a master.)
The night after I finished that story, I went over M’s house for a sleepover. As we were getting settled in her room, I noticed her closet was open.
Just a crack.
I went over and tried to close it all the way.
“Oh,” M said, “that’s stuck. It won’t close all the way.”
On the surface, I kept my cool. But my heart rate jumped, and the rational side of my brain began what was to be an all-night argument with the non-rational side of my brain. “It was just a story.” “What if the boogeyman’s in there?”
M had a walk in closet/storage place. Anything could be lurking back there.
In my memory, I stayed up all night, long after my friends had fallen asleep, staring at the closet door that was open. Just a crack. Terrified that something was going to reach out with a scaly, taloned hand, throw it open, and drive me insane before tearing out my throat.
Yeah, I was an imaginative kid.
Fast forward to present day. Every night before I go to bed — Every.Single.Night — I go around my house and make sure each and every closet door is closed all the way. Kids’ bedrooms, pantry, coat closet, linen closet, our bedroom. Sometimes, when Dan feels like screwing around with me, he goes around opening closet doors.
No matter where we’re sleeping — my parents’ room, a hotel room, whatever — I close all the closet doors at night. I cannot stand open closet doors. Even just a crack. Rationally, I know the boogeyman doesn’t exist.
There’s something psychological to my rounds of closet closing, I know. A demonstration of the wish to have control. It’s what King’s story is about. It’s the story of a man who is trying to convince himself that he is mad, because the big bad monster — the one who seemingly killed his children — can’t exist in the rational world. That madness, the darkness in the closet of one’s mind, is far preferable to monsters behind masks.
So think about that today. And have a Happy Halloween!
What’s the scariest book or story you ever read? What do you do to feel safe at night & keep the boogeyman at bay?