Nursery — 2012
Thomas and Heather stumbled into the nursery, tugging at each other’s clothes as they gasped for breath. Their lips found each other again as they moved farther into the room. Thomas was reaching for the buttons on Heather’s jeans when she grabbed his hands.
“Tom,” she gasped.
Heather suppressed a giggle. “Have you noticed where we are?” She tapped her hand on the side of the abandoned crib that he had pinned her against, sending dust flying through the air.
“Oh.” Thomas’s hands stilled, but not because he realized they were in the nursery. Heather’s jeans were nearly impossible to unbutton without her help. He cursed the inventor of skinny jeans.
“There’s no way I’m getting naked with you in a room where I am constantly reminded of what could happen if something goes wrong.”
Thomas’s shoulders slumped. He sighed, running his hands through his dark curls. He watched as Heather adjusted her clothes so she looked respectable again. She was attempting to make her hair look semi-normal when Thomas quirked an eyebrow at her.
“My room is just across the hall,” he said, his voice low. “That’s where I was trying to go. Obviously turned into the closest room. You’re kinda distracting, babe.”
Heather laughed at him, pushing him aside so she wasn’t pinned between Thomas and the crib. She walked over to an old rocking chair and picked up a stuffed duck. While the rest of the room was covered in a half inch of dust, the duck looked brand new.
“What’re you doing Heather? C’mon, let’s get out of here. This room gives me the creeps.” Thomas pulled the toy out of Heather’s hands and dropped it on the rocking chair. The chair rocked slightly, creaking loud enough to make both of them step back.
Heather took a deep breath and laughed again. “Definitely creepy,” she said.
Thomas stepped in front of Heather and wrapped his arms around her, running his hands up and down her sides. Whether he was trying to soothe or arouse her, Heather couldn’t tell. He leaned forward so his lips were on her ear.
“Can we get out of here now?” he said.
Heather pushed Thomas away from her. “That tickles.”
“Sorry. But really.” He cocked his head toward the door. “My room?”
Heather picked the duck up off of the floor as if it were a porcelain doll that had shattered. She couldn’t leave it on the floor, face down, discarded like the rest of the room. She held it at arms length to examine it, wary of how this inanimate object was making her feel. It was as if the duck had its own gravity and was pulling her towards it, making her notice it. It didn’t want to be forgotten like the rest of the room.
“What happened here?” she asked as she placed the animal back in the rocking chair, arranging it so that it was comfortable. Heather hadn’t played with dolls or stuffed animals in over a decade. She couldn’t explain why she had a sudden attachment to the duck.
Thomas stared at the floor. He resigned himself to the fact that he was not getting laid today. Suddenly his day got much worse.
“We inherited this house from my Aunt Katherine.” Thomas’s voice was quiet again, but not in a sexy way. It was as if he was afraid that even the vibrations from the sound would disturb something. He was leaning up against the wall, holding his arms close to his sides so that he wouldn’t touch anything. “Her son died five months after he was born. She got really depressed and ended up taking a bunch of sleeping pills, allegedly.
“My family says that my uncle tried to console her after her kid’s death. He told her that everything was going to be okay, they could always have more kids, and she just screamed at him. Mostly, everything she said was incomprehensible, but he did understand her when she said she wanted to be left alone. She never wanted him to come into this room again.”
Thomas shifted his feet. “And then she killed herself.”
Heather walked around the room, examining the furniture that had only been used for five months. She couldn’t imagine how heartbreaking it would be to lose a child. She had only lost her grandfather before and had hardly cried at the funeral. It was hard to miss a relative you only saw twice a year. Heather missed the money that came in a birthday card each year more than she missed him.
But a child. Losing a child who you had carried inside of you for nine months would be enough to make anyone go mad. Heather thought of every significant breakup she had had in her life, and she felt the blood drain from her face. While she had spent several weeks curled up on her couch, comforted by chick flicks and ice cream, she had moved on and found other guys to date.
Somehow, the analogy didn’t work very well. You can’t replace a child like you can replace a boyfriend. Losing your own flesh and blood would only leave a gaping hole in your heart that no amount of ice cream could fill.
“Why didn’t your uncle try to get her help?” she asked.
“He did. But there’s only so much you can do when someone doesn’t want to help themselves. He skipped town two days after my aunt’s death. We got a letter from him saying he didn’t want any of their stuff, but that’s it. Haven’t heard from him since.”
Death has a way of attracting the worst qualities in people, Heather thought. She dragged her finger through the dust atop the dresser, making swirly patterns to distract herself from thoughts of death. A breeze rustled her hair and Heather felt a chill run down her back.
“Is there a window open in here?” she asked.
“No. That’s why none of the dust has moved, except for what you’ve touched.”
Heather shivered. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Babe,” Thomas said, grinning. “I thought you’d never ask,”
Heather walked over to the door but it wouldn’t open. It was stuck.
She turned to face Thomas. “I don’t know what weird fetishes you have about this room, but I wasn’t kidding when I said I’m not fooling around in here. Especially not after hearing that story.”
Thomas walked over and tried to open the door, pulling on the doorknob so hard it popped off into his hand. He stepped back a few feet, ran at the door, and threw his shoulder into it. Rubbing his now sore shoulder, he faced Heather.
“Sorry, babe. I swear I didn’t do this on purpose. This room has always creeped me out. It’s like my aunt still doesn’t want anyone in here, even after her death.”
Heather pounded on the door, hoping that one of Thomas’s parents had come home early and they would let them out. After a minute, she sat down with her back against the door and sighed.
The floor creaked.
“What was that?”
Thomas looked around the room, expecting to see a third person. “Must be the floor settling. No one’s been in here in ages.” He stood in front of the window and stared at the street. He had never wanted his parents to come home early before, especially when he had a girl over, but there’s a first time for everything. Thomas wanted out of the nursery as soon as possible. He already had goosebumps from being in here so long.
Heather nodded and closed her eyes. She leaned her head back against the door and tried to take a nap. It could be hours before Thomas’s parents came home from work. She might as well do something productive.
“Thomas, could you please stop rocking in that chair? It’s annoying.”
“I haven’t touched the chair,” Thomas said, turning away from the window to look at her. Heather was staring at the chair, her eyes wide.
The rocking chair was slowly moving back and forth, as if someone was rocking a baby in it. The stuffed duck was staring at him.
“Jesus,” Thomas said. He backed away from the chair so fast that he almost knocked the changing table over. The toys that had been sitting on top of it fell off, sending dust flying through the air. Thomas coughed so hard he couldn’t stand up straight.
When he caught his breath and looked up, the duck was at his feet. Tiny webbed-footprints marked the floor.
Thomas never took his eyes off of it. “Please tell me you moved it. Please tell me that thing didn’t just walk across the floor.”
Heather didn’t answer him. She was staring at the mobile hanging over the crib. The circus animals that had dangled peacefully for several weeks were now turning. She wouldn’t have noticed it if “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” hadn’t played along with it. The rocking chair rocked faster.
“Thomas,” Heather said. Her voice was strained and barely over a whisper. Her hands were clenched into fists and her knuckles were white.
The room shook, making the wall decorations shatter on the floor. Heather squeezed her eyes shut to keep glass from flying into her eyes. She only resisted covering her ears so that she could keep her hands plastered to the floor to keep her from moving.
She could hear the furniture scraping the floor as it moved. The remaining toys fell to the floor, some of them hitting Heather in the head. She heard Thomas cry out in pain but she refused to open her eyes.
Instead, she opened her mouth and screamed.
* * *
Thomas’s parents found them several hours later. The room looked exactly the same as when they left. Not even the dust had moved except for the swirls Heather had drawn on the dresser.
It took Thomas’s parents nearly five minutes to convince Heather to open her eyes. Once she did, she dashed for the door and never spoke to Thomas again.
Thomas had a three-inch gash in his forehead but he didn’t acknowledge it if it hurt. He stared at the floor, wide-eyed and pale as the white-washed walls. When they lifted him off of the floor, he walked as close to the walls as possible without touching the furniture. Thomas took one last glance at the duck before leaving the room and immediately regretted it. He could feel the stuffed animal’s eyes on him all the way down the hall.
Two days later, Thomas’s parents boarded up the room while Thomas moved his bedroom downstairs.