“The Problem Child”

Alexandrea Bouchard

Once upon a time, I lived in a closet.

I wasn’t new to the job. I had been assigned to Rory when he was five years old. I was three months away from retirement before a file was slapped on my desk with four words scrawled across the front: “RORY WINTERS: PROBLEM CHILD.”

I had heard rumors of Rory. My coworkers whispering about a child showing no fear. Undaunted by anyone management sent his way. I had heard that the last guy assigned to Rory had quit two days later. But I had been in the business for almost forty years. There was nothing I hadn’t seen. That’s why management came to me: I was their last hope.

I had read Rory’s file over carefully, making sure to consider the things my coworkers had tried – and failed – in Rory’s case. As I continued to read, I had thought I was being put up to an early retirement joke. But when my coworkers began to whisper as I passed by, I realized I had been assigned the worst child the Company had ever seen.

The more whispers I heard, the more determined I became. I was going to break the chain and handle this child. I mean, he was five years old, how hard could he be to handle? Once I finished reviewing the folder, I came up with a solid plan: one of the best plans I had ever devised in forty years.

The first day I met Rory, it was a dark and stormy night. Cliché, right? But that was the point. Rain pattering against the ground covered any noises I couldn’t avoid. Wind blowing tree branches against Rory’s bedroom window helped spark his imagination of terrors in the night. The darkness created a blanket of blind fear.

I had slunk into Rory’s room through an open window. Rory’s routine had been in his file: dinner at 6:30 pm followed by a shower and bedtime, so I knew precisely when his room would be vacant. My plan called for me to stay under Rory’s bed until he fell asleep, but once I saw his closet, positioned directly across from his bed, I knew I had to adjust my plan. The closet was too perfect of a placement to pass up. So, as I heard the running of bathwater, I slithered into Rory’s closet and settled amongst the dirty clothes and mothballs.

In the closet I stayed for almost six hours. Rory had come into his room and the squeaking bed springs told me he had immediately gone to bed. I could only see a sliver of

Rory’s room out of the crack of the closet door, but I didn’t need to see much to know what to do.

A few minutes past midnight, I initiated my plan. Using my shoulder, I pushed against the closet door, purposely allowing it to squeal open. I heard shuffling, and, in the darkness, I saw a small figure prop up in Rory’s bed. I knew he couldn’t see me, but it wouldn’t take long until I could smell his fear. I opened my mouth and let out a gargling, “Rory,” drawing his name out across my tongue.

“H-hello?” A quiet voice whispered in the dark.

Before I rose out from the laundry, a loud crash and hard footsteps came from outside Rory’s room. Rory’s figure froze and then did the unthinkable: he pounced out of bed and ran straight for the closet, where he had heard my unknown voice not moments before.

The closet door flung open, and I met Rory for the first time. Against my nine-foot stature, Rory stood at three feet, with unkempt hair and mismatching pajamas. Upon seeing me, Rory had to crane his neck to see my face. He looked me up and down quickly – ignoring my long row of jagged shark teeth, deep red glowing eyes, and four slithering tentacles – and did something even more unthinkable.

“Move over,” he whispered, pushing past me, and settling in the corner of the closet, shutting the door tightly behind him.

I let out a surprised noise as Rory put a finger over his mouth, shushing me. Me! “You must be new,” he whispered. Through my astonishment, I smelled something on Rory I had not before – fear. But not from me. Not from the monster in his closet. But from whatever laid outside his room.

As the footsteps grew louder, the stench of Rory’s fear filtered through my slitted nostrils. Then, a loud bang vibrated through the room as Rory’s bedroom door flung open.

“Rory?” A slurred voice uttered from the bedroom. After no response, the voice came back, harsher, and deeper than any of my coworkers’ voices. “RORY?!”

I looked down at the little boy, who now sat trembling next to me, and it all made sense. Why Rory had been assigned as a problem child. Why none of my coworkers had ever successfully scared him: nothing we could do could scare him more than what was already in his house.

A wave of rage passed over me, and I burst through the closet door, extending my tentacles, and rising to my full height. I towered over the voice in the bedroom – a man with a startling resemblance to Rory and a beer bottle in his hand – and smiled, exposing every single one of my 252 teeth to the stranger.

“Get. Out.” I snarled, basking in the new scent of fear emitting from the man in front of me. With a terrified whimper, he collapsed, and Rory peered out from the closet to see his biggest fear crumpled to the ground.

Tenderly, he grabbed my nearest tentacle, ignoring the sliminess, and held it. “Thank you,” he sighed, a new scent of relief on him.

Once upon a time, I lived in a closet. No longer to scare Rory, as I had been assigned, but to protect him from the monster that already lived in his house. 

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