The Green Man — a short story

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ephemera 5 x 7 300dpiFor a variety of reasons I don’t write much short fiction. I wrote this over lunch a few days back. It’s inspired by something my two year old daughter said. Anyway, I hope you enjoy.

If you do, check out Ephemera, which contains more of my short fiction.

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THE GREEN MAN

A patient here, Eliza Crow, wrote this down in her journal. Her injuries prevent her from speaking understandably. I don’t know what to make of it – Dr. Riggers.

I was fourteen when I first met the Green Man. He came out of my closet in the small hours of night, while my parents and siblings slept and the house felt as hollow as an empty shell. He revealed himself gradually, of course, building up to things. That’s how he did everything, as I came to later realize.

He first intimated his presence through a bump in my closet, the abrupt, unexplained sound pulling me from sleep and causing my heart to bang the cage of my ribs. A rustle followed, an ominous susurration that reminded me somehow of slithering.

Three thirty three, the red numbers on my clock read. I fell back asleep and dreamed of teeth.

The next night at the same time I heard the bump again and woke with a start. I sat up, blinking, bleary eyed, and watched my closet door creak open a crack, a sliver of deeper darkness forming between the door and jamb.

The hairs on the back of my neck rose and my skin turned gooseflesh. I made myself small in the bed, curled in on myself, and watched that dark slit for an hour. I imagined an eye there, peeking out at me, considering. Eventually I pulled the covers over my head and fell back asleep.

The next day I checked the closet, holding my breath as I opened the door, an old baseball bat in my hand.

Nothing there but clothes, games, and a few of my dolls.

I convinced myself I’d dreamed it all. The door had probably creaked open when the furnace turned on. We lived in an old house, after all. I went to school and forgot about it.
Two nights later at 3:33 the loud bump woke me again. I swallowed and slowly turned onto my side to watch the closet door. I froze when it began to swing open, the movement slow and deliberate, until the doorway yawned.

I intended to cry out, wanted to, but from the darkness within the closet, a voice as coarse as sand whispered, “Shh,” and the admonition somehow worked as a command. I suddenly couldn’t make a sound, couldn’t move my arms or legs. I could only watch, barely able to breathe, as the Green Man emerged.

He was as gnarled and bent as tree roots and no bigger than my sister’s teddy bear. He wore ragged green pants, frayed at the ends, that didn’t reach his ankles. A dirty vest made of some animal’s mangy fur wrapped his torso. Warts and patches of hair covered skin that looked like bark. Dark eyes sat in deep sockets and his bulbous nose overhung a mouth filled with yellow teeth too large for his dried lips to cover.

I shook my head over and over and over – for this couldn’t be real – as he waddled across my room and climbed into the chair beside my bookcase. He held something in his closed fist. He looked at me, a question in his furrowed brow. He stuck out his arm and uncurled his fist to reveal a half-dollar. It was scratched and slightly bent, the way coins look when you leave them on the tracks and a train runs them over.

“Coin,” he whispered, and when he said the word a soft viridian glow formed in his hand, illuminating the half dollar. President’s Kennedy’s face was disfigured with gouges.

I nodded fast, eagerly, hoping my agreement would appease him somehow. And it did. That must have been the answer he wanted.

He grinned at me and waddled back into my closet.

I stayed awake all that night, terrified but also exhilarated. It was like I knew something no one else in the world knew, that I possessed secret knowledge that made me special. I told no one, at least at that point.

Each night thereafter was the same. I waited until the clock showed 3:33, heard the Green Man say, “Shh,” watched my closet creak open, and watched him with anticipation as he made his way to the chair to show me his spoils.

One night he had a chewed pen sitting in the glowing globe of green light, another night a gnawed spoon. Always it was some little thing he appeared to have taken from someone’s trash, just some item that must have taken his fancy. I don’t know where the items came from. They weren’t from our house. Maybe he wandered other houses in the still of night and collected small treasures to show me.

In time he came to trust me, for he no longer hushed me as he emerged from the closet. Our silence was our shared promise to keep each other’s secrets.

I began to guess at the items secreted in his small fist and it became a game we played. I never guessed right, but each time I guessed wrong he grinned, showing me his teeth.

“A lighter,” I guessed once.

“Toy,” he answered.

The soft green light haloed a Lego brick in the lined terrain of his palm. The piece was bent and deformed, like maybe a dog had gnawed it.

“See you tomorrow,” I whispered.

He smiled, climbed down the chair, and walked back to the closet. As he did, I noticed him open his mouth wide and put something inside. The Lego, I assumed. I remembered that I used to chew them too when I was younger.

The next night he came again and I guessed a bottle cap.

“Doll,” he said, opening his palm to reveal the head of a Barbie. The blonde hair looked wet and the face was mauled. He’d been chewing it, too.

As he returned to the closet, he jammed the head into his mouth, making gobbling as the door closed. The sound reminded me of the way Heidi, our poodle, sounded when she chewed one of those rawhide bones.

I feel asleep and dreamed of sharks.

The next time he appeared he looked different, sly, prideful, like he had a special secret he couldn’t wait to share. He sat in the chair and held out his fist, wrapped tight around something.

I made my usual show of thinking about it, then said, “Crayon.”

He smiled, more a leer than a grin, and opened his fist. At first I couldn’t tell what I was looking at – a piece of meat? – but then it registered.

“Is that?” I whispered sharply, too loud. “What did—“

“Shh,” he said quickly, his smile fading to a frown, and I couldn’t speak. I had not given him the answer he wanted.

“Ear,” he said.

He closed his hand, stared at me a long moment, his expression long with disappointment. As he walked back into the closet, he ate the ear.

I gagged and dry heaved. I drew up my knees tried to make sense of what I’d just seen. Whose ear? It had looked small. A child’s? The thought of it ruined me. I started to cry and soon couldn’t stop. Exhaustion eventually brought sleep but I still woke before dawn. When I did l looked at the closet and saw that it wasn’t all the way closed. The Green Man usually closed it behind him, but this time the slit was there between door and jamb was still there.

He’d been watching me. Maybe he still was.

I hoped and prayed that he was so disappointed with me that he would never come again. But he did the very next night.

This time he had the bloody remains of a nose. The next night he brought a small toe. He must have seen the horror in my eyes. He left each night more disappointed than the night before, as though I’d failed him somehow by not smiling at his crimes.

During the days that followed I thought I would go mad. I didn’t eat. I fell asleep at school. I spoke to almost no one. My parents finally sat me down and made me talk to them and when the dam broke the words poured out. I confessed everything. The Green Man. The body parts.

I’m sure they thought I was on drugs. I know they didn’t believe me. Instead they shared alarmed looks and arranged for counseling. In the meantime I slept in other rooms, often in front of the TV, sometimes on the floor near my parents’ bed. I stayed away from the closet.

Time passed and even I began to wonder if I hadn’t dreamed it all.

So I slept in my room again. It was the last time.

The bump at 3:33 jerked me awake. It was louder than usual, angrier. I sat up quickly, readied a shout, but even before the door opened the Green Man’s voice sounded from behind the slab of the door.

“Shh.”

I watched the door open, my heart thudding in my chest, and he stepped out. He looked the same as ever, except that his expression seemed fixed, harder, his accusing eyes anchored to mine as he made his usual way into his chair.

I knew what he was thinking. He was angry that I’d not kept his secret. He was angry that I did not share his affection for the horrors he brought to my room to show me in the dead of night.

Tears leaked from the corners of my eyes. I shook my head. He glared at me and stuck out his fist. I waited for him to open his hand, to show me the bloody strip of flesh he’d ripped or bitten from some poor soul. I thought I would try to fake it, to pretend to be honored or pleased or whatever, but his knobby fingers slowly unfurled to reveal…nothing.

There was nothing in his palm.

I realized I’d been holding my breath. I exhaled in relief, blinked, and smiled at him. He smiled back, his oversized yellow teeth arranged in the soil of his gums like a row of tombstones. And then he spoke.

“Lips,” he said, and looked up at me from under his shaggy brows, his eyes black holes in the hollows of their sockets.

I didn’t understand. I looked at his palm again. There was nothing in it. But—

A green glow formed in the room, but not in his palm. It was on my face, my mouth. He was staring at me, at my lips, lit in green, and I realized what he intended. I tried to scream but he’d hushed me and I could not make a sound.

“Be still,” he said, and waddled toward me.

He started climbing onto my bed, little hands reaching for my face, teeth bared and chomping.

He works gradually, you see? Building up to things.

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5 thoughts on “The Green Man — a short story

  1. That was an awesome short. Great read and definitely in the same vein as Ephemera, which was an outstanding collection, btw. I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more of these pop up every now and again.

  2. Woah. Hope you daughter was not dreaming of having her face chewed off. Glad I read that in daylight. Thanks for sharing your creepy lunch thoughts. It was most satisfying :->

  3. Pingback: Eyes On Her – Rambling Kori

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