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The boy smiled as he skipped through the endless hardwood hallway on the house's third floor. I remember thinking of how he resembled a young girl in his baby blue shorts and suspenders over a white shirt, but the whole family had that androgynous flavor typical to wealthy Victorian families. The house itself must have been from the late 1800's, but it was so well kept that not a single year of wear could be seen in its over a hundred year old walls. His mother patted me on the back, signaling me to continue into through the nearby wooden door frame.
"I'm sure you have seen James," the woman began in a high, prissy tone, "he is always in some kind of mischief."
"May I ask how old your son is, Mrs. Robinson?" I asked innocently.
"Miss is fine, Erin. I am a widow." She pursed her lips, revealing wrinkles hidden under layers of makeup. "My son is six years old, a bit of a late bloomer, as you can see."
"Shouldn't he be in school around this time, Miss Robinson?" I implored. The child grabbed a stick horse toy from a chest and began trotting from room to room.
"He was too good for them... they mocked him for his empathic nature. He used to come home as a wreck, until one day I decided that it had to stop. He normally goes to a private tutor but he is on vacation. That is why we hired you: watch him until the tutor is able to return. You see, I can't stay in town for long."
"Yes," I nodded, "of course, you must be very busy with the company."
"I come when I can." She smiled and pointed into a nearby room, the same shade of blue as the child's shorts. On the walls were painted cotton clouds, and the floor was a yellow hued hardwood. Near the child's bed was a wall of pictures, scribbled in crayon. "This is James's room, yours is across the hall. I left the refrigerator stocked and there are menus from which you can order food. James's favourite is the Mushroom Lobster from Forbes'." I nodded slowly, taking in what she was telling me. "His bedtime is ten, but he normally likes to have a bedtime story told to him first."
After a few more hours of this, she got into her car and drove down the long, windy road leading to the house. I went into James's room, where I found him sitting in the floor with a group of toys. I joined him, sitting cross-legged on the floor and taking a miniature truck in my hands.
"So... what are you playing?" I asked the boy. He looked up at me with a frown.
"I was trying to play cars, but then I was interrupted." I frowned, thinking that the child was a disrespectful little shit.
"Sorry," I said, "I'm going to go make some food." The boy put down his toys and looked up at me.
"No! Sorry," he exclaimed, "I didn't mean you... I meant Alan. He always steals my toys." Something about that name sent shivers down my spine.
"Who is Alan?" I asked the child, concerned.
"The man in my closet," the child responded. I slowly turned to look at the white door to the closet. The bottom of the door was splintered, as if a small animal had tried to claw its way out. I extended my hand to the door knob, clasping the metal ball in my hand and turning. The door was locked.
"How could he have gotten into your closet, James?" I exhaled, relieved. "It locks from the outside."
"Alan doesn't need doors," James replied. A few hours passed, and after dinner I prepared to tuck James into his bed.
"Can you tell me a story, Ms. Erin?" James asked innocently.
"Oh, that's right. Your mother told me you liked stories... let me think of one. Oh, do you like scary stories?" I asked, putting on a mischievous face.
"Yeah! My mom never tells me scary stories," James exclaimed, eyes bright and mouth extended in a smile.
"Okay, but you have to promise that you will go to sleep without any nightmares." James nodded. "Okay, this story is especially scary because it is true... it happened to me! One day, I was housesitting for one of my friends because he was going out of town for a few days. So I fed his dogs, put them in the kennel, had dinner, and was ready to go to sleep. I went to sleep fine, but the next morning when I woke up I was face to face with an old woman. Her face was twisted into a smile, and a long row of yellow teeth nearly touched my skin." James gasped. "The scariest part was her eyes; they were dead and very cold, as though staring into your soul. So I pulled the covers over my head, shut my eyes, and sat there, paralyzed with fear for hours and hours. My friend ended up coming into the room after he got back, and I was still under there. That was twelve hours later!"
"Then what happened?" James asked, terrified.
"He told me that I had met the Lady of the House. She was a ghost who came to his house every night. She used to own the house, but died there of old age. He told me that she never meant anybody any harm, and was just making sure I wasn't an intruder," I replied.
"So, ghosts aren't bad?" James asked.
"Nope, ghosts aren't bad one bit," I replied, kissing James on the forehead and tucking him in.
Later that night, I awoke from a deep sleep to the sound of a bloodcurdling scream piercing the night. I leapt out of bed and into James's room, bursting through the doorway. James sat, petrified, with his eyes glued to the empty corner of the room.
"What is it?" I yelled.
"It's Alan," James screamed through tears, "he was on the ceiling again." I froze. That name again... goosebumps ran down my back.
"You said you wouldn't have a nightmare," I replied, calming down.
"It wasn't a nightmare, I was wide awake," James said with tears still in his eyes.
A few days passed, and the incident was almost out of my mind. That is, until the fourth day. I was in the shower at seven as usual when, through the curtains, I saw the bathroom door creak open. I couldn't make out the figure through the fog, but I was sure that I could see someone's eyes staring at me from a few feet up. I screamed and grabbed the towel, slinging it over my wet body and cranking off the water. I pulled back the curtains, revealing James standing in the doorway.
"God damn it James!" I screamed. "Don't you know you aren't supposed to walk in on people naked!"
"But Alan is always naked. He tries to take off my clothes too... but I tell him not to," James said quietly. My face twisted with disgust.
"Go to your room, James. This Alan thing has gone too far." I told him, ready to call CPS for an investigation. This child wouldn't just come up with that, someone must have tried to molest him.
"I don't want to... Alan is waiting for me." James cried out. I picked him up and carried him into my room, locking the door behind me. I sat James down and looked him in the eye.
"Who is Alan?" I asked him sternly, pulling out a phone and opening my laptop.
"I told you," he replied, still crying, "he is the man in my closet." I shook my head, typing into the Google search bar, "Child Protective Services". The number appeared, and I typed it into my phone. My finger hovered over the glowing call button.
"Is he a real person?" I asked sternly, "Or is he just part of your imagination?" James looked at my doorway, his eyes widening. I quickly turned around, but the rest of the room was empty.
"He's just," James stuttered, "just my imagination."
I sighed, hitting the red cancel button and calling his mother. She answered the phone after a few rings, and spoke irritatedly.
"What?" she asked, audibly annoyed.
"Your son... he claims that someone is in his room, trying to molest him. Is there something I should know?" I asked, knowing she would think I was incompetent.
"Oh God," she began, "I thought this was all over. I will be there immediately."
James and I sat by the window for hours, waiting for his mother to return. My heart skipped a beat when her car finally became visible at the end of the long driveway. When it finally arrived at the house, I sprinted to her car, knowing that the nightmare was over. After I gave her the details of the incident, she made me swear to secrecy. I promised, and she took me upstairs to James's room. Making sure that James stayed outside, she locked the door behind us. Sliding the same iron key into his closet's metal lock, the door opened. Dust flooded the room, and I did all I could to hold back a scream at what lay inside.
A full human skeleton lay within, the walls coated with dry, black blood. As I turned and prepared to run, she took me by the shoulder and stopped me.
"This is Alan." His mother said solemnly. "After his father died, the first babysitter we hired was named Alan. He always seemed nice to me, until one day I say some pictures that James had drawn of... unspeakable things." She glanced at the board of pictures, the ones she described no longer present. "I confronted Alan, but he assured me that it was a lie. I fired him anyway, just to be safe, and purchased a gun. One day, I heard noises from James's room and saw that his closet was shut and James was trapped within. James was clawing at the bottom of the door, trying to break free." I looked at the claw marks visible even from the outside and shuddered. "I opened the door and saw that... sick fuck standing over my son. He had taken off his clothes, and was trying to do the same to James. I fired my gun into him a few times and he fell over, dead. James was catatonic, and I sent him to a hospital until he adjusted some."
"You let James sleep in this room, with that body in the closet?" I asked, horrified. She shook her head.
"Don't you think I tried to make him leave the room? I begged him, pleaded for hours but he refuses. He says that he can't sleep anywhere else, so I had to give in... for his well-being."
I promised her that I would never tell a soul about the skeleton in the closet or the man on the ceiling, as long as I got my payment and never had to see that horrible house again. It has been several months since I agreed to babysit James, and I have had trouble sleeping ever since.
Tonight I thought I heard a noise in my living room. I shrugged it off, closing my eyes tightly and ignoring it. I became petrified when I heard a loud thump, as though something heavy dropped from my bedroom's ceiling. I lay here, frozen in terror, as a cold hand caresses my goosebumped arm. I hear a whisper in my ear as I try to imagine it all away, like the Lady of the House all those years ago.
"Your skin is so soft," Alan whispers, "like a child's."