Move-in day came and he scrambled up the stairs. He stopped so suddenly he nearly tripped. It was the only thing he saw as he approached the room, the thing that demanded his attention. Ian wanted to turn and race away. Yes, to run away to anywhere else, but he couldn’t. He was a big boy, nearly six, that was practically grown.
His maritime bedroom was complete with a mariner’s compass, a ship shaped bed and now a portal to something that filled him with dread. Ian told himself it was silly. He hadn’t even seen the room beyond. The hairs on his neck told him all he needed to know about whatever laid past that door. It terrified Ian and certainly meant him harm.
After everything was stowed away, the family settled down for the night. His first night in should’ve been fun, but it wasn’t. The boy feared being alone in the room with that door. His parents told him to get ready for bed. His mother tucked him in the covers. His father looked in to say good night and then the lights went out.
The ship-bed’s running lights glowed softly. It was just enough to shine the way to the bathroom and illuminate the door to the crawl space. He couldn’t stand it. Ian leapt from the bed and took a child’s chair and wedged it under the door knob. For a bit he felt safe and drifted off to sleep.
Ian woke to a soft rattling. He glanced over and the door slightly shuttered. He pulled the covers high and hoped it would quit. The noise stopped. The boy peered over the covers just as the knob turned. The chair kept the door closed and the knob reset. A slow scratching at the door began. It sped up like a trapped animal digging to get out of a trap, then it just stopped.
His mother shook his shoulder in the morning to wake him. She asked how he slept. He said the house made funny noises. She said the house was settling, he’d get used to it. Each night, he propped the chair against the door and each night something scratched. Ian was terrified that whatever was in there would get through that small door.
That Saturday his father called him into his room. Ian saw the door open and his father in the space beyond. The man called for him to fetch some tools sitting by the bed. He picked them up and forced himself to walk to the door. For the first time he looked in and saw a place for a girl’s tea party. There was a small table with several chairs. The room was lined with cubbies that held dolls and stuffed animals.
He told himself it was just some girls playroom and nothing more. Ian knew he was lying. It was much more than that. It was something dark waiting for him to slip up. When he did that, it would pull Ian into that place and he’d never be seen again.
Being clever, Ian made a plan to better his odds. There had been a tea set on the table. That evening he smuggled some animal crackers and juice into the room. He place the crackers neatly on the tray and the juice in the tea pot. Ian took the dolls and animals from the cubbies and sat them in the chairs around the table. He left the room and secured the door.
His mother woke him in the morning. He’d made it through another night. Nothing had tried to open the door. There had been no scratching. When Ian entered the room later that morning, there wasn’t so much as a crumb on the tray or a drop in pot. His offering had been accepted. The boy knew what he had to do. Everyday he snuck treats in for the nocturnal tea party and each morning they were gone. Everything else would be the same, but the tray and pot would be spotless. Offering up some treats was a fair toll to pay to appease whatever lurked in that space.
The arrangement worked well until Richie came to spend the night. Ian disliked Richie almost as much as he feared that small door. The boy was his father’s youngest brother. Richie was ten and unpleasant. To Ian, he looked like a starving toad, all eyes and far too skinny. Since the guest room wasn’t unpacked, Richie would have to sleep in his room.
His mother had already set a cot for Richie, before Ian could go through his nightly ritual. The cot sat against the door. There was no way Ian could do what needed to be done. He was reasonably sure he was going to die that night. Richie said he looked in the room. The older boy teased Ian for the tea setup. Ian ignored his uncle and focused on the door. Richie was leaning against it. He did his best to block it out.
Ian woke that morning to his mother calling for him to get a move on, so he rushed to get ready. He hadn’t heard scratching that night. He was fine. Maybe this had all just been the house settling. Then what was eating the treats? Mice?
When he got downstairs, his mother asked where Richie was. He told her that RIchie was already gone when he got up. Ian complained that Richie teased him and didn’t make the cot. His father said Richie must’ve already headed back down the road to the Ian’s grandparent’s home.
Their day was filled with errands and shopping for household things that had been overlooked. When they got home, his grandparents were waiting in the drive. The pleasant afternoon turned dark. Richie had not gone home and no one knew where he was. They sent Ian to his room to put away his things. He grabbed his nightly offering. Once inside the room, he was startled to see it had changed. The animals and dolls were no longer seated around the table waiting for their tea. They were resting neatly in the cubbies. Unsure what this meant, he sat the cookies on the table and quickly left the room.
That night Ian secured the door, but heard no scratching. The boy woke early to voices downstairs. He quickly moved the chair. When Ian looked in, there sat the cookies, untouched. He heard a loud squawk and looked out the window. Below he saw his grandparents talking to policemen. Richie was still missing. He turned to face the small door and shuttered.
Ian soon learned sometimes misfortune is actually luck in disguise. The following week, his father’s company shut down and they had to move. The house sold quickly to a woman that had bid on it before. For the short time they remained after Richie’s disappearance, the door knob was still and there were no scratches.
Shortly they were in a new home with what Ian now considered more properly shaped rooms and no tiny doors. He loved his new square room and its typicalness. There were no more nightly offerings to make, no nocturnal noises to fear. He was free, safe. He survived.
His parents received their hometown paper and one day while reading it, his mother’s face went pale. She sent Ian from the room. He made a production of leaving but hung out just around the corner. His mother told his father the woman who had bought their home had been arrested. Her daughter had gone missing and she was the only suspect. The police were also interested in her for Richie’s disappearance.
Ian wanted to tell them about the room. He wanted to tell them about the offerings, but he didn’t. They wouldn’t believe him and he feared the thing might come after him. The boy tried to quiet himself and let it all go, but all he could do was laugh. The laughter was soft at first and then it grew louder. Soon he was laughing hysterically. He wondered if he’d ever stop.