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The [skeletons] Closet

The first time a skeleton showed up, her fingers slid under the gap between the closet door and the floor, the bone scratch-scratch-scratching and tap-tap-tapping against the wood.

“Let me in,” she said.

“No,” said the girl. She hid beneath her blankets, because she was small, and skeletons were frightening, and her mother had told her not to talk to strangers. This was a stranger, even if the skeleton said she was the girl’s cousin.

But every other weekend, the skeleton tap-tap-tapped and scratch-scratch-scratched, the rasp of her bones cutting through the empty night air and penetrating the girl’s dreams. She had nightmares as the skeleton tried to escape the closet, whispering and shouting in turns.

“Let me in! Let me in or I won’t be your cousin anymore!” the skeleton shouted. “I won’t be your friend!”

The girl didn’t think this skeleton was her friend in the first place, the way she clawed at the door and scared her.

“I just want to play!” the skeleton finally said one night, and because she sounded so sad, so lost and alone (just like the girl felt when she was sent to her room on the skeleton nights), she slipped her feet out from under the covers and set them on the chilly hardwood floor.

The girl stepped cautiously, creeping closer and closer, and started to reach for the door. She flexed her fingers, tightened them into a fist for one hummingbird beat of her heart, and then touched them to the doorknob. She stood for a while, just breathing, looking at the distorted reflection of her face on the curved metal surface, the nightlights and shadows transforming her face into something unknown. Slowly, she turned the knob.

And slowly, she pulled o—

The skeleton pushed out, knocking the girl down.

“Why did you do that?” the girl shouted, tears welling up.

“See if you wouldn’t, if you were trapped in a closet!” The skeleton snapped and clacked her teeth.

The skeleton helped herself to the girl’s toys, building with blocks and galloping horses through the kingdoms she created.

After a while, the girl wanted to play, too; she was awake, after all, and the nightlights cultivated an excellent atmosphere where dragons and wizards could come and attack the magical pony kingdom. “What’s your name?” the girl asked.

“Krysten,” said the skeleton.

“That’s my cousin’s name,” the girl said.

Krysten the skeleton looked at the girl, empty eye sockets pointed right at the girl’s full ones, and kept looking until the girl turned away. “Anyway, you had all day to play. It’s my turn now.”

So the girl crawled back into her bed, bundled under the covers, and cried, because the skeleton wasn’t her friend; she was actually bossy and mean and had pushed her down, and now she was making too much noise as she played with the girl’s toys.

In the morning, Krysten was back in the closet, but she kept the door open. She sat and stared with her empty eye sockets.

Another skeleton had joined her. This one was tall, like an adult, while Krysten was short, only a little taller than the girl herself. “What’s your name?” the girl asked.

“You know my name,” the skeleton said.

The girl didn’t, but her voice was familiar.

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