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The closet by Gordon Ross Lanser



Nathan Angshuss stood hesitantly before the closet of the anterior hallway, his pale hand raised but motionless above the brass door handle. Only three months ago he would have thought nothing of opening the closet door, but that was before the changes had begun. When the changes had begun, earlier that spring, he had thought someone was playing a joke on him. He soon took precautions to ensure that such a joke could not be perpetrated, and shortly thereafter realized that what was happening was impossible in every way except in actuality.

The first event had been subtle, so subtle in fact that it had nearly escaped perception. One morning, after grabbing his beige coat, he had noticed that the coarse fabric was a shade darker than the previous day. That first day, he remembered, he was bothered by the incident to the extent that it actually distracted him from his work. The next morning he took particular care to examine his coat immediately upon removing it from the hanger in the closet. He thought he noticed some patches where the fabric was lightening and others where the fabric was darkening. He considered getting his eyes tested. He contemplated going so far as to photograph the coat, to launch a record of the progression that had begun, but at last declined that option, because of the intensity of an ill-defined fear. Over the course of the next week he noticed that the patches were becoming colors--a strange mosaic, like an ephemeral painting by an abstract expressionist known for his color schemes, except the colors seemed more vivid and personal than anything he'd ever seen before. By the end of the week the changes were so obvious that he had become entirely self-conscious. His previously ill-defined fears were now blatant and realized. He stopped wearing the coat in public; but that did not stop him from looking at it in private.

Every morning before he left for work, he pulled out the garment and examined it, front and back. And every morning he was struck deeply by the visions he beheld. The effect was overpowering. The result was that by the end of the second week he began a cycle of depression and mania. He would excitedly open the closet door and examine the coat, then, awestruck, would stare in a state of rapture at the expression of soul that had shifted and enlarged on, that dominated, the otherwise common fabric. Then he would become frightened and would withdraw. A sense of depression, of personal desolation, would creep over him, and he would sink into despair. The rest of the day would be spent defending himself from the terrible little nibbling anxieties that crept forth, a horde of little nervous beasts haunting the normal thought processes of his otherwise normal mind.

About that time Nathan Angshuss began exhibiting obsessive behavior. He would wait outside the closet, apprehensive about what he might find should he expose himself to the strangely altering piece of his wardrobe. He would wait, but impatiently; he felt a desperate need to discover a new and revelatory part of himself in the colors of the coat.

"Some day, perhaps," he told himself, "I may even dare to wear the coat again in public."

But each day, when his manic euphoria passed, he would end up more fearful and anxiety-ridden than he'd been the previous day.

If that wasn't bad enough, the closet began to make noises; that is, "Either the closet is making noises, or I am going mad," he'd thought.

At first the noises were just a rumbling, like that of far-away drums and the faint sounds of far-away singing. The next night the noises were a little louder. Nathan thought he distinctly heard laughter, but when he woke in the morning he couldn't believe that what he had heard was not actually the content of some bizarre and troubling dream. But the dream recurred, and it wasn't a dream at all, and this time the laughter was followed by the howls of apes and the high-pitched screams of women. The next night he overheard an argument coming from the closet between a man and a woman who sounded awfully much like his own mother and father. Then he suffered through a string of nightmarish awakenings, after each of which he found himself perspiring heavily and panting in a weak, sickly manner. Each night he dragged himself out of bed; each night he sat by the closet; each night he heard the mechanical bells of his favorite childhood music-box playing "Clare de Lune"; each night he heard the thunder of the beating drums drawing nearer, like some invincible host advancing on the sentryless gates of Rome. The restless music emanating from the closet had a strange magnetic effect, and drove Nathan to a habit of rising from bed and advancing to the couch, where he would curl and attempt to sleep, oddly comforted by his nearness to the sounds of his advancing madness.

Soon Nathan's eyes sagged with the purple weights of sleeplessness, and his skin grew wan. He became thinner and more nervous around others, and felt a growing compulsion to open his closet door and view his colorful coat. And all this time he did not dare to tell others about the strange closet and the psyche-penetrating color arrangement on the garment within. If he told someone, that person might insist on seeing the coat or listening to the closet. Telling them was the equivalent of asking them to see for themselves, which was the opposite of what he really wanted. Through periods of forced calm and attempted reason, he realized that somehow a madness had invaded him, and he divined that his obsession with the coat was the source of that madness.

So he made the decision to keep the closet shut; he would look inside it no more; he would resist temptation; he would deny himself any and all odd primitive pleasures that such an act might provide. And so he kept the closet locked for the next five weeks.

But each day that he refused to look inside it, the closet became louder. The sounds emanating from within the closet continued to mutate until they became base; they urged and coerced like the most elemental sounds of life--heartbeats and breathing, the whispers of a conscience unwinding. Soon the heartbeats pounded like a bass drum, the breathing roared like the wind of a passing subway, and the whispers became long enigmatic cries, sultry songs, shrieks of terror and of laughter, and shouted confessions of the most repugnant acts. The sounds bellowed outward in a storm of noises that made him cringe and wince, made his hair raise, and his heart melt. He commonly wept before he left for work, and felt a strange and nearly unfathomable distance between himself and the others with whom he worked. And the five weeks spent isolated from the contents of his peculiar closet dragged slowly, a small eternity tearing the fabric of his world open, exposing itself.

Now Nathan stood anxiously listening to the war within the closet walls, his hand halfway raised and his arm partly extended toward the door handle. The noise of the violence from within the closet was nearly deafening. After a moment of hesitation, Nathan lifted his hands to his ears, cupping his palms powerfully against his head, squeezing; but the sounds did not diminish. He watched then, mouth agape and eyes wide in horror, as the closet door expanded outward, billowing like a spinnaker in a gale. The door expanded and creaked until it was swollen to the point of eruption.

"No!" he screamed, "No!"

In a sudden impetuous fit, he rushed to the door, twisted the handle and pulled. A violent blast of hot air blew him backward, and an accompanying endless scream ripped into his consciousness. Fallen, he kept his hands against his head and his eyes closed. But the rush of wind outward had the effect of a crashing wave, which by necessity began to recede back to the ocean from whence it had come. Nathan felt his body pulled toward the closet. Lamps, rugs, loose personal objects of all kinds, even furniture, flew and tumbled past him, cluttered and crashed, gathered in the darkness of the closet in unmanageable heaps. He slid across the floor, clawing and scratching at whatever fell within his reach, trying to withstand the winds that sent his world hurtling past. Within moments his feet and legs were pulled into the darkness beyond the closet opening, where he felt the hot breath of a panting beast waiting to devour him. He slid slowly across the floor, crying as he went, until he was pulled wholly into the closet, and the door slammed shut behind him. His entire world was lumped around him, and he lay, infinitely contorted, in the midst of the dark box. Yet, as his pounding heart calmed, the sense of darkness seemed to comfort him like a warm blanket. A revelation struck him and a strange sense of satisfaction left him resigned to his fate, because he knew, in however painful a position he had been left, that all of this--the clutter, confusion and contortion--were somehow of his own deliberate choosing.



Gordon Ross Lanser has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy, and a Master's in Business Administration. An award winning essayist and published poet, he works as a software project manager. He has lived in Seattle since 1994.


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