Zack Bahur was surprised by how little he felt as he stood over the final resting place of his parents. Most people in his position would be experiencing grief, even anguish, at such a sudden and unusual loss, but all he felt was cold. It wasn’t even a metaphorical, emotional cold; it was simply the natural cold brought on by the November morning fog, which would likely be frost by the end of next week. He found himself feeling grateful to the frost for postponing its onset; soon the ground would be frozen, and too hard for any burials to take place. The last thing he wanted was to have his mother and father lying refrigerated in some morgue all winter like two packs of hamburger meat nobody really intended to eat.
He felt an obligation to say something, even though the only witnesses to his words were the ground and the buried bones. But an ‘obligation’ was exactly what it was. He did not feel moved to say anything. There was a great deal he could say; in fact, there was a great deal of closure he did not and now never could have, but a combination of regret and a desire not to speak ill of the dead kept his lips tightly pressed to each other. He wasn’t sure what would be prudent to say. The truth, that he preferred them gone, seemed unutterable.
Zack shifted his weight, and his shoes made a squelching sound and spattered flecks of mud on his trouser leg. The clumps of wet dirt that composed the roof of his parents’ new home reminded Zack of a freshly tilled garden. That seemed to be the best way to think of it; gardens grow, after all. They contribute some good to the world.
“Well, mama, baba…I guess you’re gone now,” he began. Just say what you have to and go. You don’t owe them anything. He wanted to just leave, in fact, he never wanted to come at all. But he couldn’t be that cold. He was better than that, even though they never had been. “I know we haven’t talked in...ten years? Twelve? Ten or twelve years. Umm…I went to college. Then grad school. I got a nice job, in psychology. You’d be…” What, proud? No they wouldn’t. “Well, I’m doing alright for myself. I’m helping people.”
A flutter of motion caught his attention. He looked up into a tall oak tree that seemed awkwardly placed in the tidy, chessboard-like cemetery, and he saw the small gray body of a peregrine falcon. It cocked its head at him grumpily, and he wondered if his presence in the bird’s private hunting grounds was scaring off all the game.
“Oh neat. There’s a falcon here, baba. I know you always liked hawks and things. I guess maybe I’m not the only one who came here to say goodbye.” Actually, Zack wasn’t sure his father had cared for hawks at all, come to think of it. He was always keen to point them out every time he saw them, but it hadn’t been out of fondness so much as an obsessive hyper-awareness. One of his father’s many little “idiosyncrasies.” The fact that this one was apparently harmless made it stand out as a warmer memory than it probably deserved to be.
A buzzing sensation in his right pocket interrupted the serenity of the moment. Zack pulled out his phone and checked the number. It wasn’t one he recognized or had stored in his contacts list, and normally he would let an unknown number go right to his voicemail, but right now, he was glad for an interruption. He pressed the green ‘talk’ button.
“Hello, is this…Yitzhak Bahur?”
It had been a very, very long time since anyone called him by his full name, and, like many before him, the man on the other end had brutally butchered its pronunciation. But that was no longer something Zack minded. He had reinvented himself, and preferred not to be reminded of his past. “Yes, that’s me. Just ‘Zack’ is fine, though. Who is this?”
“Hello Zack, my name is Jim Holden, with Holden, Leiben and Strock Law firm. You’re a surprisingly hard man to get a hold of. I’m glad we finally caught you.”
Zack sighed, watching his breath cloud up the chill air before him before dancing away on the faint morning breeze. “Yes, Mr. Holden. I like to maintain my privacy. It keeps life…simpler.”
“Certainly, certainly. I’ll try not to take too much of your time. If you have a minute, we’d like to set up an appointment for you to come down to our office and settle your parents’ affairs.”
Zack closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He didn’t want to talk about this, but now was as good a time as any. “Yeah, I guess so. “
The man on the other end of the phone seemed to pick up on Zack’s fatigue. “Not to worry, it’s not nearly as drawn-out a process as you’d think. We’ll just need to go over the will with you and have you sign some documents for us.”
“I don’t suppose I can skip through all that and just put it all up for auction? I don’t want any of it.”
“I completely understand how you feel.” No he doesn’t. “But I’m afraid it doesn’t quite work that way. There will still have to be papers signed, and we’ll need to discuss the details. Can you possibly come into my office tomorrow at, say, 9:30?”
“I can do that. I’m only in town until Wednesday, so I’d like to iron everything out before I leave.”
“Of course. You’ll want to put this behind you as soon as possible. So, I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
“Yup. Bye.” Zack ended the call. As he did so, he realized “Yup. Bye” would have been an adequate eulogy for his parents too. And he definitely did want to put this behind him as quickly as possible. He looked down once more at the heap of topsoil, and dirt was still all he could see. “So long mama. Baba.”
He turned around and returned to his car. Not once did he look back. Not once did he care to.
Halfway into the drive back to his hotel, Zack began to think he needed more closure. Not at his parents’ grave, that was just a patch of dirt. He realized that, though his parents were gone, there was still one surviving monster he had to face. So he pulled into a gas station parking lot, turned around, and started driving to the house.
His parents had done horrible things in that house; the monstrous contraptions they had rigged, the frightening images they painted on the basement walls, it all screamed of the worst kinds of insanity. They had brought strangers into the house; weird, wild-eyed old men and young women. They’d brought animals into the house; sometimes livestock, sometimes less savory thing like snakes and bats. Zack was never sure where the animals or people came from or what became of them; he always hid when they came.
He could always tell when his parents were about to fall into one of their crazy moods. His father would shout everything, often unintelligibly, and his mother would burst into nervous giggling fits. When one of those moods would set in, Zack would hide, and hope with every hope his heart could spare that they wouldn’t do anything to him, especially if it involved The Closet.
He could never say exactly when his own sanity set in; by all rights a child raised by parents as psychotic as his should have wound up just as monstrous. He supposed he had American truancy laws to thank for that; mama and baba may have been stronger than him, but the American government was stronger still. If they didn’t want him taken away by the state (and possibly face deportation themselves) they had to keep him in the school system. He stayed in the school until he was sixteen, when one of his friends helped him buy a car. His parents objected strongly to that, as they objected to anything that threatened their clawing grip on his life. Eventually they seemed to relent and accept his ownership of the vehicle. Then one day Zack discovered the rotting corpse of a decapitated goat lying in the trunk, with hideous hieroglyphics engraved in its flesh. That was enough. That very night he piled all of his belongings into the backseat and drove west in a straight line until he had all but emptied a full tank of gas. It was hard for a sixteen year-old to make a living on his own, and for the first year he was forced to live out of his car. But he was a hard worker, and soon he earned his GED, enrolled in classes, and graduated with honors. He had become something, despite his parents’ best efforts.
Finally, he reached the place of his desolate origin. It was a simple enough house on the outside; small and unassuming. Unless much had changed, the inside was largely normal as well. But the things that had happened in there…
He parked at the end of the driveway and stepped out onto the cracked concrete drive. As he did so, he noticed a peculiar sight: another falcon, perched lightly on a telephone wire. It turned its lofty gaze upon him briefly, before casting its eye elsewhere as it surveyed its domain from its stately perch. Zack hadn’t remembered seeing so many falcons in this area in his youth, but then, he hadn’t been permitted to spend much time outside. Amused by the sight, he pulled out his phone and snapped a quick picture, reminding himself to upload it to Facebook later to share with his college friends and coworkers how odd it was to see two in the same day. He tucked the phone away and walked up to the creaky wooden porch. He tried the door: locked. He was tempted to turn back right then, but upon further introspection he decided it was at least worth the effort to try the back door. He circled around the house….and was surprised to see the door was already hanging open.
He debated with himself about whether he should call the police or not, remembering all the many strange characters his parents had associated with. Any of them could have conceivably broken into the home. But on second thought, he realized his parents probably left it this way; the police report of their accident had said they were driving nearly 90 miles an hour in a neighbor’s stolen car when they ran a red-light and crashed into crossing traffic, so obviously they were less lucid than they typically were even at their worst, and had been in quite a hurry to wreak whatever havoc they planned on wreaking. They probably just forgot to slam the door behind them.
He stepped into the house and saw the kitchen almost exactly how it had been when he left it. His eye immediately went where he had trained it to always go, and he noticed that all the knives were missing from the knife block. He also noticed an odd smell; sort of a mixture of old fish and rotting meat. He opened the refrigerator and was hit with a blast of every horrid smell imaginable; it must have been unplugged at some point, because everything, eggs, milk, fruit, meat, was spoiled. He slammed the door shut in disgust.
He left the kitchen and meandered the hall. The bathroom was unchanged, though it was much grungier than it used to be. In fact, everything was. Obviously his parents hadn’t picked up the slack when they could no longer force him to do all the cleaning.
He passed their bedroom, the place where he was spawned and likely the place he had been born. He tried the door. It, strangely, was locked. He did not persist. He didn’t care to see it.
At the end of the hall, he finally reached his own room. It no longer had a door at all; it had been wrenched free and taken away, probably to the basement. They hadn’t done a good job of it; the wood was cracked and splintered where the hinges and latch had been. It was as if they had decided to take a chisel to it instead of the logical screwdriver. They probably had.
The room itself, however, had undergone a truly nightmarish transformation. His bed was still there, but it had been moved to the exact center of the room. His old desk stood upside-down on top of his bed, and the few belongings he had left behind: an old pair of shoes, a blank notepad, a G.I. Joe he had found just inside a storm drain, and a few other knickknacks, were arranged around the upturned desk in a perfect circle. The carpet had been crudely removed as well. The most striking change of all, however, were the enormous letters painted on the ceiling, floor and walls in what he seriously doubted was red paint. Every surface of his room boldly declared a simple, three letter word: “SET.”
Set of what? He wondered. Yes, this was a set of all his childhood things, but why denote it simply as “SET?” if you were going to write something crazy on the walls, why not write his name? There you go again, Zack. Trying to attribute sense to these people. You know—
Zack froze. His gaze had finally settled on the dreaded thing: The Closet. So many things had happened in that oversized, walk-in closet, yet he understood so few of them. By malevolent intent or benign stupidity on behalf of the poor cursed souls who built this house, that closet had no lighting fixture in it, and light from the windows and the ceiling light never illuminated more than two feet into it. So many times as a child he had shown a light in there only to reveal a simply, empty closet, but there was something evil about it. Many children were convinced there were monsters in their closets, but not many children were locked in their closets for days at a time. Not many children had their hands and feet locked into unfathomable mechanisms while strangers they had never seen before and never would again poked and prodded them with fingers, metal things, and possibly tongues. Not many children, while pressed against the door for the meager comfort of the nearly illuminating crack, heard whispering voices speaking strange alien tongues, and saw indeterminate shapes moving in the empty room. As bad as the anomalous languages were, it was worse when they spoke English. They said things about him, whispers of a dark destiny, of plague and famine, of vast, global deserts, of vengeance and unrelenting madness. The Closet was a place of great evil, of unending darkness. Except for now, as the empty closet that didn’t even have wiring for a light, was casting a deep, throbbing, sickly purple glow from under the door. A glow that was whispering.
Zack wanted to scream. He wanted to run. He tried, in fact. He turned to step out the door , but the instant he reached the threshold an invisible fist slammed him back onto the bed, knocking the desk to the floor. Now fully inside the room, he could see that the doorframe was etched with hundreds of tiny hieroglyphs, each glowing with the same purple glow as the crack under The Closet’s door.
A growling, hissing, babbling whisper seeped into his ears, speaking an ancient language no man had ever heard. But he understood every vicious word it said. It wanted him. It wanted to claim him. It deserved him, it said, he was promised to it. It wanted to join with him, wanted to embrace him and use him to make changes to the very nature of the universe itself. It was a thing of ravening desire; not a desire to consume, but to corrupt, to destroy and disorganize. It wanted to shatter reality itself and reassemble the mangled debris according to a perverse mockery of natural law. It wanted to rend the universe into a distorted primordial Hell.
And Zack wanted to help it.
He rose from the bed, looking dreamily down at it. He saw one shoe on the bed, the other on the floor. He saw the cover had ripped off the notepad. One leg had fallen off the desk, and a drawer had slid out. He saw the G.I. Joe….wasn’t right. He picked it up, scowled at it, and wrenched its head off. Better. He saw the door to the closet was etched with four repeating hieroglyphs over and over its entire surface. Strange, he thought. A three letter word needs four hieroglyphs. This is good.
He reached for the handle, pulled it open, and was washed away by a brilliant purple light, somehow a color much darker than black, and so loud sounding. A razor-edged wind struck him bitterly in the face, making him cry joyful tears of blood. Deep within the void inside the closet, so much larger than the house, was a massive, roiling thing. It had…a shape. Or did it? To describe such a thing in natural terms was worse than impossible, it was blasphemous.
It was so violently beautiful, Zach could not bear to be so far from it. Did it have eyes? At least one, possibly more. Maybe even less. It had a vast toothy maw downturned in a grin, babbling endless promises, curses, blessings, and lies in a non-language too incomprehensible to ignore. Its body undulated from one abominable, blasphemous form to another, taking every shape no wholesome thing should have at once, even as it remained without form of any kind. It seethed with impotent power as it writhed through and between and beyond time and space and sanity. Truly, this was the Great God SET, come to bring such marvels as the universe could never endure.
Zack wanted it so, he wanted to join with it, to help it bring about its abominable kingdom. He would be its prophet, he would tell the world of the dead god who lived in his closet, he would serve it. He would give his life for this beautiful being, and he would do it over and over again. What world had Zack been born into, so dull and plausible? Oh but his parents! Such loving parents were they to groom him from birth for such a rich inheritance! Such good, thoughtful parents, to give their lives so selflessly so their only begotten son could become the Harbinger of SET. He would have to thank them when he and his new master ripped open Anubis’s Gates and poured the dead back into the land of the living. Such things they would do!
Zack stepped forward into the whirling void beyond The Closet, ready and eager to join with SET…
But suddenly two iron-strong taloned hands clutched his addled skull and yanked him back into his room.
He clawed and screamed as his assailant clawed and screamed as well. Something beat him over and over again all over his face. He tried desperately to get free. He only wanted to get free, so he could…
What had he been doing?
Zack was overwhelmed with the horror of what he had almost done. He reached behind him and ripped the blanket off his bed, covering himself with it and cowering in shame. In doing so, he saw the piercing eye of a falcon standing over him. Watching over him, he now realized. It stayed only for a moment before lifting off and shooting into the tempestuous darkness beyond The Closet, to resume an eternal battle that had carried on since long before the time of man.
Zack lay there, huddled under his too-small childhood blanket, clinging to the leg of his bed, for nearly an hour. Finally, he worked up the courage to stand. He dared a look into the closet. Somehow, for the first time ever without a flashlight, he could see all the way to the back wall. It was a closet again, nothing more. He turned to the bare bed, and picked up G.I. Joe, and his head, and reunited them, placing the fine soldier in his pocket. He took both shoes and held them under his arm. Then, he took the pad of paper, brought it to the kitchen, and lit it on fire. He held the torch up to the curtains in the living room and the kitchen, and brought a tank of gasoline in from the garage, dousing the carpet in the hall. He then left, still wearing his childhood blanket over his shoulders, sat in his car, and left. He didn’t know if the house would burn down, if the fire from the curtains would reach the gasoline in the hall, but it didn’t really matter. Either way, this house of Chaos was done with him forever.