Every time she opened the closet door in the downstairs hall, she heard the thud of cat paws on the stairs. Harold raced for that closet as if he were being offered fresh salmon or a turkey gizzard.
She couldn’t understand it. Sometimes, her fingers on the handle were enough to bring him plummeting down.
The closet was deep, utilizing space beneath the stairs. In the front was a chifforobe tucked under the pole. The pole was heavy with hangers holding Roderick’s jackets. Things she should have been rid of when he died. She’d purged his odd collections — old coins, newspapers from historical events, tiny metallic army men that he painted with brushes containing only a few soft hairs, boxes of odds and ends collected at yard sales. But the jackets still smelled of him, and she just couldn’t.
Cleaning the closet, crawling past the chifforobe and the coats to refresh her memory of what else was in there had been on her list for months. But it was so easy to keep the door shut and pay no attention.
Halloween was not the best day to go crawling into a narrow, dark space, but it would help her forget about him, forget the years of carving pumpkins and dressing up with Roderick, passing out candy.
Harold was sleeping, curled up tightly, opening the closet door was safe.
She pressed the handle gently and opened the door. She bent her knees and crept past the coats. The overhead light shone partway into the shadowy depths. She got down on all fours. Dust bunnies clung to her fingers and grit stuck to her palms as she moved deeper into the narrow space, her body now blocking the light.
She sensed something beside her that wasn’t a box. She turned. She screamed and lurched back, smashing her head against a metal shelf. Sitting on top of a box was a raven — feathers gleaming, beak hard and black as obsidian. She scrambled back toward the door.
The thing was stuffed. Obviously. Wasn’t it? Her heart pounded, the sound of blood thudding inside her ears.
Scurrying like a crab, knees bent, heels of her hands behind her, she made her way back to the front where she could kneel without banging her head on the ceiling.
Now that she knew it was there, the raven was still visible.
Gasping for breath, she continued her awkward progress out of the tomb-like enclosure.
The raven appeared to move forward on the box. Suddenly, the eyes opened, black and glistening, they stared at her without blinking.
She screamed, flipped to her stomach and crawled out on her elbows.
She slammed the door and leaned against it, crying and clutching her arms, trying to stop the shaking. She’d imagined it. Halloween. Thinking about Roderick. She closed her eyes and remembered him when the cancer had taken over — those horrible last days. That “suspiciously lingering smile upon the lip which is so terrible in death”.
Standing slowly, she smoothed her shirt. She would open the door. She couldn’t live knowing the thing was in there, and she was not going to succumb to irrational, imagined terror. It was stuffed. Something he’d collected at a yard sale. It had not opened its eyes. It was not alive.
Without taking time to second guess herself, she flung open the door.
Above, Harold thudded to the floor, skidded across hardwood, and thundered down the stairs and into the closet before she could enter.
He raced into the dark space, then let out a terrifying yowl. His fur stood on end as he bolted past her, the yowl transforming into a shriek like that of a raven.
She slammed the closet door for the final time and dragged a small bookcase in front of it.
As the sun descended, she drank three glasses of wine. She went to bed, locking her door, as if it mattered. At three a.m. she woke to a “tapping at the chamber door”.