The Bugbear in the Darksome Chamber
By Charles C. Cole
All things have their place.
Transitions require mindful accommodation, at which I’m
notoriously poor. Ask anyone. When my mother died, the task of emptying and
selling her home fell to me. To be painfully honest, I hadn't visited home in a
couple of years, not since she’d moved into an assisted living facility where
she rather swiftly lost her memory of me, and then her mind. Poor dear!
loved my mother and saw that she was well taken care of
until the end, but I never had the stomach to see her decline, not up close in
person. I respected her too much to replace my near-perfect memory of her in
her prime: an elegant real estate “engine” in a floral sundress with perfect
hair, always smiling and composed.
father, a warehouse foreman and Maine guide, on the other hand, when his time
came, thanks to aggressive prostate cancer, assiduously and bravely cut short
the ugliness of ill-health and limited the demands on me and my mother by
blowing his brains out in our barn. The floorboards there were loosely
assembled, still are, and I always wondered if a little bit of his DNA managed
to drip out of sight, so that his presence would always remain on the farm,
even if future owners knocked down the old buildings.
before I began loading the rented dumpster, I was meeting an auctioneer to go
room by room, tagging items for an estate sale. I unlocked the front door and
opened it wide, letting the fresh air in, then sat in the porch swing and
waited, duteously. There was a slight wind, but I was still surprised when a
door slammed shut inside. I decided to investigate and, if needed, prop the
discovered the upstairs bathroom door shut and the screen-free window behind it
open, causing a mischievous draft. Mom had believed in leaving windows ajar
“for fresh air” all year around. Feeling a little guilty, I closed the window.
I turned to the mirror and saw my
father’s face. In my own house, it would have been my face, but in this
context, someone else obviously had the right of first refusal.
house was a saltbox, which led to the upstairs bedrooms, mine included, sharing
a knee wall, meaning the roof sloped down steeply and the front wall was only about
three feet tall. Hopefully, you can picture what I mean, or look it up on the
was a tiny door to a storage space that ran the entire length of the house. As
a teen, I resented not being able to stand up “everywhere” in my room, only
having one small window (facing the side of the house), and having my bed
squished under the low ceiling. Fortunately, I rarely entertained company.
tiny door was just two pieces of stained, hinged plywood, held closed by a
galvanized twenty-penny nail pushed through a simple steel hasp: simple, but
we’d first moved in, I’d been a small child, and thought the door was small
because it was proportional to the occupant living on the other side, the
bugbear. A little imagination in the wrong hands can be dangerous.
an oak tree out front and more than once found squirrels in the house. Mom
would chase them back out while I held the door open. So there could have been
squirrels living behind the door, sneaking in through a hole in the eaves, but
I was never interested in crawling around to find out.
father’s mother first told me about the bugbear. It was her term for the
bogeyman. Being a child, I took her literally. I envisioned something that
looked like a feral teddy bear, a miniature Sasquatch. Before we moved in, the
house had been empty for over a year. Nana said that’s when the bugbear
probably moved in. Bugbears were squatters, opportunists. They were also
stubborn, resisting moving on, even after humans took up residence.
father, clever man, once built me a dollhouse designed to look like our home. I
think he’d been feeling guilty about making me move away from my friends. In
truth, I was a bit old for a dollhouse, though it was cool when (for a while) I
used my toy “domesticated” dinosaurs as a corrupted version of our family.
got sick. While I was reading horror novels in bed (it could be worse, right?),
he’d stand at my door and stare, silently, at the dollhouse, like I’d hurt his
feelings by not playing with it enough. So I did something I rarely did: after
he left, I opened the little door. I tucked the dollhouse out of sight, into
the storage area, the darksome chamber. And that’s where it sat for years.
had come. I had one last chance to explore the past. I removed the familiar
twenty-penny nail and opened the door. The dollhouse was amazing, more
decorated than I remembered, fully furnished, with tiny clothes hanging in
miniature closets. I even thought I smelled food “cooking” in the tiny oven.
Everything looked perfect. When had Dad done all that? Or was a bugbear
actually living there?
The tiny clothes in one of the tiny closets
shook like someone had just ducked behind them. I gasped, quickly closed the
door, and replaced the nail in the hasp. I’d seen enough. Why should my
transition demand “their” transition? I slid my bed to hide the door and went
Before I sold the house, I sealed up the
little door and wallpapered the room. The bugbears, if they’re real, could
remain undisturbed for a while yet.
As for the darksome chamber, I realized (after
much therapy) that was something I carry inside me, from house to house,
relationship to relationship. I’m still afraid to look closely, but I’m no
longer keeping it locked up. Maybe one day, I’ll uncover something else
compelling, something else my father left behind. Maybe.
C. Cole, firstname.lastname@example.org,
wrote BP #80’s “The Bugbear…”(+ BP #75’s “The Boxlike Object”; BP #74’s “The
Kilkenny Man”; BP #73’s “Please Remember Me”; BP #71’s “Pioneer Justice…”; BP #70’s “Deep Time Salvage” and “The
Substitute Husbands”; BP #69’s featured
Bull’s-eye,” “Midas & Medusa,” “The Return of the King,” and “The Second
Mrs. Brindle”; BP #68’s “Ice Dreams,”
“Lady of the Lake,” “Methuselah,” & “The Tenant Inside Me”; BP #67’s
“The Telesthesians,” & “Transmigration”; BP #66’s featured “The Subtle
Hydropathist,” “The Cruel Season,” & “Wet Coriander”; BP #65’s “Performance
Art”; BP #64’s “Calendula and the Other Man,” “Holiday Greetings from the
Witness Protection Program,” “The Last Day of the Ugly Man,” and “The Monkey
Who Talked Too Much”; BP #63’s featured “Mirror Twins,” “Remembering Hyperopiac-Man!”, “Rules for
Civil Disengagement,” and “The Rug Man”; BP #60’s “Larva Speaks” and “Personal
Contact”). He loved his undergraduate
years at a small, rural Maine college where he could concentrate on “being a
writer” (and magazine editor). In the summer of 2011, he “awoke” much older
when he noticed the internet had made publishing so much more accessible.
He lives with his family in Maine on land once owned by his great-great
grandfather. He is previously
published in alongstoryshort, bewilderingstories, The Blue
Crow, The Sandy River Review, and The Café Review.