Two months ago we moved into our new place. It’s honestly amazing, huge property, beautiful forests, and an old barn out back that my wife Lydia hoped to remodel into a workshop. She loves wood carving.
We have two sons and a daughter. Elliot is ten, Joey is eight, and Samantha is five. The old house is big enough for the kids to have their own rooms, but Joey gets night terrors still so he bunks up with Elliot. Elliot doesn’t complain, he’s a solid big brother.
Course, no move is without its difficulties. The kids miss all their old friends, they’re still adjusting to a new school, a new schedule. The job I had lined up told me I was no longer needed so things went belly up there. Bills got a little tight.
So that’s why I didn’t bat an eyelash when Samantha started talking about Walter.
Samantha has always had a hell of an imagination. She tended to make up a new ‘friend’ every week. A few weeks before it was Paula, a girl about her age wearing a bright red dress. Before that it was Ruby, Mary, Nick… you get the point. Typical attention span of a little one.
But Walter stuck around. Walter was an ‘old man’, which by Samantha’s standards meant probably around forty or fifty. He lived in the closet and Samantha would leave him strawberry Kool-Aid in plastic cups and saltine crackers. Thankfully I never had to clean it up, Samantha was good about keeping after that. For being five she’s quite tidy.
I blew it off at first. Every kid has imaginary friends. I had them, my wife had them. The stress of the move probably just had her cling onto this one a little longer.
Then Joey started bringing Doritos into the closet.
Doritos were his favorite snack. Cheesy fingerprints typically stain his shorts, it makes laundry a pain but that’s life when you have kids. Joey was never the imaginary friends type though. He maybe had one when he was Samantha’s age, and that phase lasted no more than a week. So this was a little weird.
I decided to ask more about Walter.
I walked into Samantha’s bedroom to see Samantha and Joey kneeling next to the closet, quiet as mice. I cleared my throat and both jumped like they heard a gunshot. Joey instinctively kicked the door shut. “Hi dad!” He said.
I walked in and opened the closet door. Nothing in there except an empty plate with Dorito crumbs and a cup that had spilled a single drop of red juice on the carpet. “So, Walter likes your Doritos, bud?” I said.
Joey nodded. “He likes snacks,” He mumbled.
“What is Walter like?” Satisfied the closet was empty, I closed the door and turned to my kids.
Samantha and Joey brightened up before they both began sharing bits of info with me.
“He’s starting to go bald, just like Uncle Craig!”
“He wears suspenders!”
“He’s very quiet!”
“He’s got a big ole hole in the side of his head!”
“He’s here to protect us!”
“He really likes Doritos!”
I raised my hand. “Hold on, back the train up. What do you mean protect us?” I wasn’t even going to touch the hole thing.
It was like they knew they said too much. Samantha’s hands flew up to cover her mouth while Joey looked at the ground. Samantha spoke up first.
“… He says there’s something in the forest. Something in the barn… something really, really bad,” She said, barely above a whisper.
The bedroom door slammed shut and I nearly screamed. I walked backwards to the door and slowly opened it back up.
No one in the hall. And today had been too cold to leave the windows open.
I’m probably different than most people in this situation. I actually believe in ghosts. I had some experiences as a teen that turned me into a believer. Lydia laughed out loud when I told her I think our daughter had a ghost in her closet, but I didn’t expect anything different. She’s the skeptic of the two of us.
So I decided to dig into the history of the house.
This place had been tossed around quite a bit, most owners didn’t keep it for over a year. Heck, one couple and their daughter actually moved out after two weeks. I kept digging. And before the house was built I found something.
I found Walter.
His full name was Walter Griggs, he had three kids. He was a widower. He hadn’t remarried. But one day the house was burned down with Walter inside. The kids were never found. The common theory was that Walter killed his kids and then himself when he couldn’t live with the guilt. God knows what he did with the bodies.
I was chilled to the damn bone when I realized my kids were talking to a murderous ghost. I called a family meeting, Lydia was less than impressed but she went with it.
“Guys, we need to stop talking to Walter and giving him snacks.”
Lydia rolled her eyes. “Kurt…”
“It’s just to be safe. Walter might’ve done some bad things.”
Elliot blurted out, “But he’s nice! He tells stories and talks about the good ole days!” He immediately regretted speaking as he saw my face go pale. Even Lydia looked unsettled.
Elliot was too old for imaginary friends and far too practical. Even as a tiny tot he wrinkled his nose at the idea of having a friend he made up. This only confirmed my theory- Walter was a ghost and the original owner of the property.
Samantha sniffled, her eyes filling with tears. “But… but what if he gets hungry?” She asked.
“And what if the… the folk come around? The ones he warned us about?” Joey shivered.
I sighed. “Guys. I don’t know what Walter really is, but I do believe he’s not something Samantha made up, and I believe he’s not safe. Samantha, we’re going to move you into the other room for now. We’ll start hunting for a new house as soon as we can, but until then, leave Walter alone. Do not talk to him. Do not give him snacks. All right guys?”
Samantha bolted from the room crying. Joey turned into the couch to hide his tears. Elliot was the only one who nodded and said yes, but I knew he was upset too.
I surrounded the closet with a ring of salt, I would’ve burnt sage or whatever you do but I had no idea how to get my hands on some. So salt was the best I could do. Plus, I’d be able to tell if the kids tried to approach the closet this way. I looked up tips on how to make ghosts fuck off, Lydia for once not laughing at my ‘crazed paranoia’.
Samantha was the most resentful of the kids. I caught her at least twice trying to sneak into her old bedroom with a plate of Saltines. Each time she was scolded and I reminded her it wasn’t safe, but I knew she didn’t believe me.
Perhaps she knew more than I did.
Things were finally settling, I got a new job and we were house hunting once again. Samantha still sulked but Joey was over it, running about in the big backyard we had and playing games with a few of the neighbor kids.
Then one night I woke up and there was Walter, sitting in a chair in the corner of the room.
He was as solid as you or me and exactly as the kids described him- middle aged, blonde, balding. Suspenders over his blood spattered shirt. And the ‘hole’ in his head? It looked like half his skull had been blown clean off. One eye had gone with it while the other, a deep blue, stared me down.
I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t even wake up Lydia.
Walter sighed before he got up and motioned for me to stand and follow him. Like pulled on strings, I got up.
Walter’s voice was quiet and hoarse, like he’d had strep and still couldn’t speak. “It’s not too late,” He whispered. “Go, hurry. I lost my children to the Folk, but you can still save yours.”
I ran to the kid’s bedrooms, feeling Walter’s cold breath on the back of my neck. Each bed was empty, the sheets pulled away and their windows open. I almost collapsed but Walter’s ice cold grip dragged me back to my feet. “No time for panic, son. Go,” He said between gasps.
I didn’t even put on my shoes. I ran out into the backyard. The forest was now glowing with bright lights, I could hear the piping of flutes and the pound of drums. I took off running, Walter on my heels.
I pushed through the bushes and nearly tripped on piles of old leaves, following the source of the sound. I stumbled into the clearing which was now bright as day.
My three children were standing around a woman wearing a white gown. She was in every way perfect, beautiful with dark curls cascading down her back. She was tall, taller than me even and I’m no short guy. Her hands were spread out and Samantha was reaching for her.
I heard the scream of a man in agony.
Walter rushed in, growing bigger, bigger, bigger… his essence swallowed the light. The clearing was now ice cold, I could see my breath coming out in puffs in front of me. The woman stumbled backwards, eyes growing in shock as Walter now towered over her.
“These children are not going with you, Fair Folk!” He howled. “Not this time!”
The woman turned and fled, before my very eyes she stepped into a ring of mushrooms and vanished into thin air. Walter shrunk back to the size of a man before he turned to look at me.
I couldn’t say anything. I wanted to apologize. I’d horribly misjudged the ghost of a grieving father who’d lost his children to something otherworldly. And he’d saved my children from the same fate.
Walter smiled crookedly before he vanished. I ran up to my kids. They were still entranced, pupils blown out and they didn’t recognize my voice. I got them back home and rushed them to the emergency room.
The doctor had no explanation. About an hour after they’d been checked in they came to with no ill side effects and no reason why they’d been out of it. Elliot said he’d heard a woman’s voice outside the window and that she was offering treats, but that was the last thing he could remember.
They were in observation for a day before they were released, but by then I’d changed my protection plan. I didn’t put scissors or knives in their beds but my wife did get ahold of some pieces of iron from a friend’s garage and she created small statuettes of our kid’s favorite animals with the iron set inside of it- a tiger for Elliot, a monkey for Joey, and a bunny for Samantha.
I’ve now taken to going up to that old closet with a glass of whiskey and a portion of whatever was for dinner.
I haven’t seen Walter again, but I have caught glimpses of his smile as I’m closing the closet door. I think he was getting a little tired of strawberry Kool-Aid.