“Alright, you two,” Sam said, turning off the television. “Time for bed.”
“But Dad!” Josh protested, sliding off the couch to the floor. “It’s too early!”
“Yeah, it’s too early!” Alex repeated, known for agreeing with everything his older brother said.
Sam smirked and looked down at his sons. “I’ve already told you your mom is going to be here in the morning to pick you up, and you know how she doesn’t like it when you drag your feet.”
Josh groaned and slowly got off the floor. At only eight years old he was already acting like a rebellious teenager. His five-year-old brother was not quite as stubborn on his own but when Josh was around, Alex was a little copycat. He groaned as well and slid off the couch to follow Josh to the bathroom.
Sam stood in the doorway to supervise as they brushed their teeth then ushered them upstairs to their room. “Goodnight,” he said, tucking in Alex first and kissing him on the forehead.
“But, Dad, we need a story!” Josh was sitting up in his bed with his arms crossed over his chest.
“Mom always reads us stories.”
Sam sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Did you bring any books with you?” he asked, knowing the answer was no. Whenever he had the boys they either watched television together or hung out at the park.
“No…” Josh said softly, “but you could always make one up!”
“Yeah!” Alex chimed in.
“I’m not good at—”
“You write stories all the time!” Josh was wearing his “I’m not backing down” look and Sam knew he had been defeated.
“I’m only good at scary stories.”
“Then tell us a scary story!”
Alex pulled his sheets up to the bottom of his chin but nodded in agreement.
“Your mother is going to kill me,” Sam muttered, sitting on his youngest son’s bed with a sigh. He wracked his brain for a story he could recycle and grinned when he came up with the perfect one.
“Many, many years ago this house belonged to a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Jones. They were very happy together, but one day they said they would be even happier with a child in their life. Unfortunately, Mrs. Jones couldn’t get pregnant so she and her husband decided to adopt. It took them a couple months, but after all the paperwork was filled out and processed they were finally able to bring Emily home.
“Now Emily was a sweet little girl. I’d say she was about your age, Josh. She was smart and polite and funny, everything the Joneses wanted in a child. They were the perfect family.
“Emily’s first few months with Mr. and Mrs. Jones were great. However, after a while Mr. and Mrs. Jones started noticing a change in Emily. She stopped playing outside and spent more and more time upstairs in her room. Mrs. Jones would sometimes walk past Emily’s room and hear her talking to herself. Mrs. Jones asked Emily about it at dinner one night but the little girl said she wasn’t talking to herself.
“‘I made a new friend,’ she told Mrs. Jones. ‘He lives in my closet.’
“Mrs. Jones was concerned but her husband assured her all kids have imaginary friends as some point. However, he too was worried about Emily.
“A few weeks went by with Emily still hiding in her room and talking to her ‘friend.’ Mr. Jones went up to her room to tell her dinner was ready when he heard her crying. He opened the door to find Emily sitting in the corner with her hands over her face.
“‘Emily, what’s wrong?’ he asked, rushing to the little girl’s side.
“‘Charlie… and I… got… into a fight,’ Emily said between sobs.
“‘Charlie? Your friend?’ Emily nodded and continued to cry. ‘It’s okay, sweetheart. All friends fight. You’ll make up soon enough and be the best of friends again.’
“Her crying soon died away and she finally lowered her hands to wipe away her tears. ‘Okay…’ she said.
“However, when Mr. Jones saw Emily’s face he did not think things were okay. On her left cheek was a bright red handprint that looked as though it was starting to bruise. ‘What happened?’ he asked, looking around the room to see if someone was hiding.
“‘Charlie hit me… I told him he was wrong and he didn’t like that…’
“‘Sweetheart…’ Mr. Jones began, growing more and more concerned. ‘Charlie isn’t real.’
“‘Yes, he is!’ Emily insisted.
“‘Then where is he?’
“The little girl pointed to her closet door but grabbed Mr. Jones’ arm when he moved to stand. ‘You can’t! Charlie doesn’t like grownups!’
“Mr. Jones pulled his arm from Emily’s grasp and got to his feet. He marched over to the closet and wrenched open the door, Emily screamed, and… nothing happened. Mr. Jones frowned and closed the door. ‘It’s time for dinner, Emily. Please wash your hands and come downstairs.’ He walked out of the room and down to the kitchen where he told his wife what had happened.
“‘But why would Emily hit herself?’ Mrs. Jones asked. ‘That just doesn’t seem like something she would do.’
“‘How can we be so sure, Betsy?’ Mr. Jones responded. ‘Do we really even know her?’
“The next day they took Emily to see a doctor but he couldn’t find anything wrong with her.
“‘Perhaps she feels neglected and is seeking attention,’ he suggested. ‘Maybe try establishing a family game night or take her for a picnic. Make her feel included.’
“But no matter what they tried Emily still preferred to stay in her room. Mrs. Jones was at the end of her rope and believed the only thing left to do was force the little girl to leave her room.
“One afternoon she opened Emily’s door to find her having a tea party by herself. ‘Honey, I want you to come downstairs.’
“‘But why?’ Emily asked, setting down her teacup.
“‘You’ve been hiding in your room for far too long. You need to play outside.’
“‘But Charlie and I are having a tea party.’
“‘Honey, Charlie isn’t real.’
“‘Yes, he is! Why won’t anyone believe me?’
“‘Because, darling, he—’ At that moment Mrs. Jones flew backwards and hit the wall as though something had thrown her. She slid to the floor, dazed, and frantically looked around for her attacker.
“‘No, Charlie, stop!’ Emily cried, looking at the space where Mrs. Jones had been standing.
“Mrs. Jones scrambled to her feet and took hold of Emily’s arm. ‘Come on, sweetheart, we need to go!’ The little girl moved to follow but Mrs. Jones was thrown against the wall again. She screamed in pain and struggled to crawl toward the door but something grabbed her ankle and began dragging her across the floor. Mrs. Jones clawed into the hardwood, trying to find a groove to hold on to.
“Emily took Mrs. Jones’ hands to help but the force pulling her was too strong. The closet door opened and Mrs. Jones was dragged inside. The door slammed shut and her cries for help disappeared. Emily ran to the closet and yanked open the door, but there was no one inside.
“Mrs. Jones was neither seen nor heard from again. Mr. Jones sold the house and he and Emily moved out of town. Emily stopped mentioning Charlie and returned to the same little girl she had been when she was first adopted. Many people have lived in this house since then but they never stayed long, claiming they could hear a woman’s cries in the middle of the night. Some believe it’s the ghost of Mrs. Jones being tortured by Emily’s ‘friend’ Charlie.”
Pausing for dramatic effect, Sam looked at his two boys and smiled to see their wide eyes staring up at him in fear. He opened his mouth to continue but at that moment the closet door creaked open. Josh and Alex both jumped and screamed and Sam’s stomach sank.
“And this is the room where it happened.”