I shivered as I peered into the shadows. The childhood impulse to burrow under the bed’s covers was strong, but I hadn’t been a child in forty years. Mom wasn’t here this time to chase the hooded figure away with the light, and I lived alone.
I remembered, as a young girl, shortly after the divorce we’d moved. New house. New school. New state. Mom had rented a two-story, two bedroom duplex with a spider-infested, shared basement. To get to it, a long open flight of wooden stairs led down from a door in the kitchen. No handrail and only one dim bulb turned on by a string on the way down.
Sometimes, I got sent to fetch something, from its cool depths. Sidling in and out, I’d watch for scary things and spiders all the while being as quiet as I could. The man next door was strange, and I didn’t want to encounter him down there. If I was lucky, I completed my task without further instruction and got out in one trip. It didn’t count if the stairs squeaked and shuddered on the way up.
The kitchen door was magic, keeping the scary things at bay with a turn of the key. Once upstairs I was safe. I’m not sure when that changed. Perhaps the fire in the kitchen scorching the door took its magic away, or perhaps the scary thing in my closet didn’t come from there at all.
While I had the privilege of my own room, Mom and my four-years-younger brother shared the bigger bedroom down the hall. There was just the two of us. A child between us had been miscarried, but I wouldn’t know that until I was much older.
At night, closing my door partway, she’d leave the hall light on and go back downstairs to pay bills or do chores that she couldn’t during the day because of her job. Many nights I’d go to sleep to the soft sounds of Johnny Mathis, or Barbra Streisand playing on our record player. I couldn’t hear the words from there, but I knew them well.
One night, something was different. I’d closed my eyes but they snapped open again. As I stared into the shadows, a tall hooded figure glided from the ell near my closet and moved to stand by my bed, looking down on me. The covers were tight to my chin and my heart raced. I couldn’t see a face, the hood was too deep, but I knew I was being watched.
At first I was frightened, but even though I never heard words, I soon felt that the shadow person meant me no harm. I could still hear the music from downstairs but no other sound, not even my own breathing. The figure turned slightly and melted back into the shadows. Surprising myself, I fell asleep soon after.
The second night I wasn’t scared. The third, I was watching for it, but never saw the figure until it was by my bed. That third night, it stayed the longest and that was when the feeling was strongest. I felt safe. Its presence was comforting. Then I thought, “it’s been sent to guard me”.
At that, the figure nodded, just once. Then, watching me a moment longer, I felt a wave of affection from it wash over me. I watched it go and never saw it again.
Sometimes over the years I wondered, when recalling my childhood, who that figure might have been and if I’d ever know. Now here, over forty years later and looking as tall and shadowy as I remembered, it was again.
I pulled the covers tight, just as I had as a child, but left my arms outside them. As I watched from this longer room the shadow took its familiar place beside the bed gazing down on me. I still couldn’t see into the hood.
I reached my hand toward one long, dark sleeve and a slender hand emerged to take mine. It was humanly, comfortingly warm as I clasped it. I kept a light grip and sat up, staring into the hood. A pressing need to know who this was, and if I’d recognize them was upon me. As that filled my thoughts, the figure raised its other hand and lifted the hood back, letting it fall.
There was no mistaking the family resemblance. Sister. I’d always desired a sister but never knew whether the miscarried baby was boy or girl. I started to speak and she put a finger to her lips, smiling at me with such love that it filled me, chasing away all the old, dark places.
For tonight, it was enough.