Chilling Tales #14: “The Boy in the Wardrobe”

John Marcus lived with his grandmother.

She was an elderly woman, a protective old widow who believed that the world was an evil, perverted place and that her grandson must be shielded from it.  That world had taken her son and daughter-in-law and she was determined it would not take her last living relative.

Grandmother never allowed John to have any friends over and never let him play after school.  She maintained him on a diet of old fashioned family values and the Bible and was incredibly strict on him, hoping to make him into a respectable man when he grew up.

As it was, though, he was growing up miserable.  His skin was pale as he was hardly ever allowed outside and he seemed to bear a weight on his shoulders that most children never carry.  His clothing consisted of hand-me-downs that were far older than he was and the other children would make fun of him for wearing them.

John had lived a life of such misery that he didn’t even know how miserable he was because he couldn’t remember a moment of actual happiness to compare it to.

That ended the day that Samuel showed up.

One night, while he was trying to sleep (his grandmother insisted that he go to bed at eight o’clock), a rapping sound caught his attention.  He rose to investigate and was quite shocked when he realized it was coming from the antique wooden wardrobe on the far side of his darkened room.  John opened it and found nothing but the ancient clothing he was forced to wear hanging in silence.  He lay back down in his bed and closed his eyes, attributing the sound to mice.

The next night, the knocking returned at around the same time.  Again, John got out of bed and went to the wardrobe.  Before he could open the hand-carved door, a loud knock resounded and caused him to jump backwards in fright.  When he heard laughter coming from inside the wardrobe, he pulled the doors open again and, again, found nothing but hanging clothes.

The knocking continued night after night, eventually, John grew tired of the game and stopped playing.  He would lie in bed as the knocks sounded from his wardrobe and ignored them, thinking they would go away.  He eventually started reading passages from his Bible aloud trying to get them to stop.  He thought about telling his grandmother about them, but he knew that she would think that he was lying and he didn’t want to be punished.

A few weeks after the knocking started, John awoke in the middle of the night to see two white shining eyes staring at him from the open wardrobe.  John shot out of bed and, as he did, the wardrobe door slammed shut.  He ran to it and knocked on the door before he realized what he was doing.

Someone giggled inside the wardrobe and knocked back.

John knocked out the tune to “Shave and a Haircut” and the person inside responded with “Two Bits.”

“Hello?” John called out.  “It’s okay.  I’m not going to tell anyone that you’re in there.  Come out.”

The door slowly opened and a dark skinned young boy with bright white eyes that seemed to unnaturally reflect the moonlight peered out.  He smiled with his bright white teeth.

The little boy told John that his name was named Samuel and, for a while, he refused to leave the wardrobe as if he were scared of being caught.  When John finally coaxed the boy from his hiding place, John saw that Samuel was wearing old tattered white clothing and no shoes.

John learned from Samuel that he was hiding from what he called “bad people” and also because he had nowhere else to go. John, because he felt sorry for Samuel and because he desperately wanted a friend, told him that he could stay and promised not to tell his grandmother that he was in the house as long as he promised not to steal anything.

Samuel and John became fast friends.  Every night when John’s grandmother ordered him to his early bed, Samuel would emerge from the wardrobe and the two would talk for hours.  John would bring food for Samuel which the boy always thanked him for, but he never ate it.  Samuel never really spoke about himself, but would listen attentively to John and everything that John had to say.  John welcomed the opportunity.  He voiced his frustrations, his anger at the world and occasionally, when he was really upset, would talk about how he wished he didn’t live with his grandmother.

Samuel nodded, “Wouldn’t it be great if she died?”

“No!” John quickly said, “That would be horrible!”  Even though his grandmother was strict, he still loved her.

The next morning, John was eating breakfast with his grandmother.

“Grandma,” he began, “Where did the wardrobe in my room come from?”

His grandmother peered at him through her horn-rimmed glasses.  “The wardrobe in your room?” she repeated, “Let’s see… Where did I get that?”  She thought about it for a moment, “Ah!  I got that at an estate sale twenty or thirty years ago.”

“What’s an estate sale?” he asked.

“It’s like a garage sale,” she explained, “It’s when they sell the belongings of someone who’s died.”

John was quiet.

“Why do you ask, dear?” she asked.

“No reason,” he said.

That night, Samuel returned.  He told John he was sorry about what he said about John’s grandmother, but he had seen how mean and strict she was with him and it made him angry.  John told him that, if he said anything else bad about his grandmother, they couldn’t be friends anymore.

John and Samuel continued to meet every night for months.  For months, John continued to bring him food, but Samuel never took a bite.

John wasn’t stupid, he knew that Samuel wasn’t a normal boy or if he was even a boy at all, but he was so grateful for a friend that he decided not to make it an issue.

One day, John came home after a particularly hard day.  The kids in his class had been making fun of his old clothing again and no one would play with him on the playground.  Samuel listened to John recount his story.

“You should hit them,” Samuel offered.  “Make them sorry they ever messed with you.”

“I’ll get in trouble!” John said.

“You have to make ‘em scared of you,” Samuel told him, “That way they won’t hurt you no more.”

The next day, John punched a little boy who was making fun of him in the face and gave him a nosebleed.  The little boy cried and John was taken to the office where his grandmother was called.  He spent the entire day after school writing an apology letter to the boy and doing triple chores, but he was still glad he did it.

It was around Christmas that John started to get sick with fever.   At first, the illness would only last a day, but as the New Year began, the illnesses started to last days and then weeks.  He was missing more and more school.

His grandmother would take care of him during the day and, once she put him to bed, Samuel would emerge from the wardrobe and keep him company.

John’s grandmother took him to doctor after doctor, but not a one of them had the slightest clue what was wrong with the boy.  His grandmother was distraught as John seemed to be slipping away more and more every day.

One night, as John awoke from a feverish sleep.  The wardrobe door was open and Samuel sat in the corner, his bright eyes shining in the moonlight.  He never said a word and his face was upturned into a sinister grin.  John weakly called his friend’s name, but Samuel said nothing.  The room stank of a dead animal.

John was frightened.  He weakly got out of bed and stumbled to the door.  Samuel laughed as John fell to the ground.  His laugh was deep and demonic.

Through fear or determination, John crawled out of the room and into the hallway.  Once he was through the door, the rotting smell cleared and he felt his strength returning.  Although he still felt sick, he managed to get to the living room and fall asleep on the couch.  Samuel never followed him.

Although she was annoyed when she found John sleeping on the couch the next morning, his grandmother was very happy that his condition was improving.  She insisted that he sleep in his bed but, for the first time in his young life, John refused her wishes.  He finally told her about the boy who lived in the wardrobe and, although his grandmother didn’t seem as if she fully believed him, when she heard about the chilling encounter the night before, she allowed him to move into the spare bedroom away from the old wardrobe.

That night before bedtime, John went to his old bedroom to get his favorite pillow.  As he picked it up off of his bed, he looked up just in time to see the wardrobe door slam shut.  With the pillow in his arms, he ran out of the room and rarely entered it again.   It was the last time he saw Samuel for a long time.

John fully recovered from his illness, much to the doctor’s amazement, and grew up over the years.  His brush with death convinced his grandmother that she should loosen the reins and give him a little more freedom in life and, for the next few years, John grew up healthy and content, eventually believing that Samuel had been a figment of his imagination and his boyhood sickness.

Years passed.  School came and went and John grew into a man.  He married a wonderful woman and the two had a son they named Marcus.

When Marcus was six years old, John’s grandmother died and, being his grandmother’s only living relative, it fell on John to take care of her estate and unfinished business.

The house was the same as he remembered it.  Despite her advanced age, his grandmother had been in excellent health and had kept active, even running a marathon last month, so her death was a shock and John took it hard as he and his grandmother were close in her final years.

He and his family didn’t have a lot of money and, so, they decided to stay at his grandmother’s home for the night.

Marcus was to sleep in John’s old room.  It had been so many years, John didn’t think twice about the old wardrobe that still stood on the far end of the room.

He came in to kiss his son goodnight.

“Daddy, who’s that boy?”

“What boy?” John asked.

“The little boy inside the box,” Marcus said.

John stopped.  “You saw a little boy inside the box?”

“No,” Marcus said with a laugh, “He’s looking at me right now.”

John spun and looked.  The wardrobe door snapped shut.

John told his wife to get their son out of the house as quickly as possible and, though she didn’t understand what was going on, she recognized his panic and did what he said.

After they were gone, John dragged the heavy wardrobe out of his old bedroom and into the darkened backyard.  He found a can of gasoline in the shed and doused the wardrobe with it before setting it on fire.

As he watched the old wardrobe burn, something caught his eye.  In the distance… behind the flames, in the old woods behind the house, he saw Samuel just as he remembered him as a child.

Samuel’s face, barely lit by the fire, glowered and his eyes burned with rage.  Despite the fact that he still looked like a little boy, he looked like the most evil, dangerous thing that John had seen in his whole life.

A deep frown grew on Samuel’s hateful face as he turned and walked into the dark woods and disappeared into the shadows.

John and his family never saw the boy again.

About the author

Jason Donner

Jason Donner devoured the universe and you are all living inside him.