When I think about my father I think about how safe he made me feel. And I think about locks, so many locks…
My father was the head of the main security company in town and a big safety buff. It was his passion not just a job, to the point where he had many public talks about safety and security – some of those in my school to my embarrassment.
Growing up I remember a lot of instructions. The front door had four locks, each with a different key of course. We lived in small house with no backdoor, so if I wanted to play in our small garden, I had to leave through the front door – after unlocking and locking all the four locks of course.
It wasn’t just the front door though, all the doors in our house had several locks, so bolts and padlocks next to the original lock. Some were not always locked with the room key like my bedroom (my choice), the bathroom and the kitchen. The living and dining room were one big area with no doors. Others were triple locked, like the guest bedroom and the basement.
You’re probably wondering about my father’s bedroom now, imagining a complicated system of several locks that only he knew how to open. But you’re wrong. My father’s bedroom door was strangely never locked- never even closed in fact. When I was little and had to go to the bathroom (unbolt, unlock the padlock, enter, lock the padlock, bolt the door, pee, flush, unlock the padlock, unbolt, exit, lock the padlock, bolt the door) at night, I would pass his room and see his dark shape sleeping through the open door. When I turned eleven I was tired of the tedious routine whenever I had to pee at night, so I bought a plastic bottle with a big cap to pee in, only at night. I’m not proud to admit that though I wish I had thought of it sooner.
Did I think all the locks and precautions were strange? Not until I went to kindergarten and made friends. When I went to their houses I noticed the lack of locks. Some had security systems and some of them had two locks on the front doors (those were my father’s customers), but no indoor locks. Imagine my surprise.
Naturally I asked my father about it and he explained that when he was little his family had been robbed. They had lost everything. He did not want this to happen again, under no circumstances.
“Bibi,” he said (he always called me that though my name was Viviane. Apparently I had called myself Bibi when I was learning to speak.) “I just want us to be safe. I know it seems a little much but please humor me.” And I did.
For years I carried this big key ring around at home at all times, locking and unlocking. Was it annoying? Sometimes. Most of the time it was just something I did automatically, a habit like brushing my teeth twice a day (I know it’s supposed to be three times, but nobody does that) or putting my car in first gear to start it.
I only started to question it again when a new friend I made visited us. My other friends were used to the locks and my dad’s security-mania, that’s what he got paid for after all, but Emilie had just moved to our town and when she came to my house after school all the locks made her very curious. She kept asking questions about them. I was getting a little fed up, already regretting I had invited her, when she asked me:
“How does your mom let him do that?” As I said she was new, so she didn’t know.
“My mother died when she gave birth to me.” I said bare any emotion. I know I was supposed to feel sad, and I guess sometimes I did miss having a mother, but I only knew her from my father’s stories and I didn’t really know what it was like to have a mother. My dad took very good care of me anyway.
Emilie apologized blushing, but I assured her that I was indeed fine.
“For a while my dad’s girlfriend lived with us. It was too much for her, after a year she said enough. She could never remember which key was for which lock. So I guess that would be quite annoying. They split up last year. She asked my dad to change, but he couldn’t. His family got robbed when he was a kid, so that’s why he’s so… focused on security.” I shrugged.
Emilie looked dubious. “We have been robbed, too, just last year. That’s why we moved here. But we don’t have locks everywhere. I don’t think that’s normal.”
I shrugged again and changed the subject.
But it had made me think, you know? If other people didn’t need locks, why did we? Were we not “normal”?
I had done some research before and had learned that people get “traumatized” and I believed that my dad was traumatized. That seemed normal enough. Still I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
When my dad came home that night, I asked him. That’s when he sighed and told me about the Bad Men.
He told me to sit down and got himself a glass of wine.
“I told you we were robbed, but I did not tell you the whole truth. We were inside the house, Bibi, and they did not just take our things. They took my sister.”
His eyes grew sad. “It happened at night. I don’t remember the time, but I know even my parents were sleeping so it must have been after midnight. I woke up because I had to use the bathroom. I would wake up two, three times at night back then. I went to the bathroom and on the way I saw the door to the basement open. I remember thinking how strange that was, and then I saw them come out. Five of them, black shadows, human form but they were not human.” I frowned at this point. I was 14 then and not a child anymore (in my mind) and I knew no such things as ghosts existed. My father saw it and smiled, but his smile was sad.
“I know how that sounds. Believe me I have seen that look on your face in every person’s face I told this story. The policemen that came to take our statements, my parents, children at school… I know it all too well. I will still tell you the story and you can choose to believe it or not. Even if you won’t believe me, you will at least understand me.
“They had no noses, no mouths, only big white eyes. They were shaped like humans but they were so thin, only bones. They seemed to suck away the sound. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. One of them looked at me and I could not move, could not make a sound. Tears were streaming down my face and I was hot from trying to scream. I tried so hard I burst some capillaries in my face and had red patches for the next two weeks.
“Two of them started grabbing our stuff that was lying around. It wasn’t even worth that much, they grabbed things randomly as if they did not care what was valuable and what not. One of them took all the magazines we had. What for?
“Two of them went into my sister’s room, making no noise at all. I could not hear anything, and I mean anything. A heavy silence hung above us and I was sure the one that stayed behind to watch me was causing it. His white eyes stared into mine and even though he had no mouth I could feel it smiling.”
He took a big sip of his wine.
“I saw them drag my sister out of her room. She was fighting, trying hard to get out of their grip but she had no chance. I made a step towards her and the one that was watching me walked over and grabbed me by the neck. I still saw though, I still saw… they stared at her and I don’t know what they did, but she stopped fighting and started crying. I only know because I saw the tears. Then they took her down to the basement, with them… I saw her eyes, wide with fear. It’s sad, but I don’t really remember what she looked like anymore, except for her eyes in that moment. That’s all they left me with…”
He sighed and took another big sip. He told the rest of the story quickly and mechanically. The Bad Men had disappeared and he had woken up his parents who had been sitting on the bed in trance. They saw the disarray and the missing things and when he told them about the Bad Men and his sister, they called the police. Nobody believed him. He was a child with a vivid imagination. Everything had changed that night.
I wasn’t sure what to believe. I wanted to believe my father. He was a rational man, a man of action. It was not like him to make up something like this. Maybe it had not been creatures, but just man in masks, I thought. It did not matter in the end. What mattered was that my father believed they were a threat still. And I could understand his fear and the need for locks. Or I thought I could. But he was not finished.
“I will tell you something now that I did not want to tell you until you were old enough. But I guess now is a good an opportunity as any.” He ran his hand over his face. That was a sign that he was distressed.
“As I got older even I believed that the Bad Men had been nothing but my imagination. A child not being able to cope with the brutality of getting robbed, so I saw monsters instead of people. I was still very passionate about being safe and robber-proofing my house, the one we moved to after we were robbed. Grandpa and Grandma were not living there with me anymore, but your mother was.”
I perked up when he mentioned my mother. He talked about her, but rarely these days. Even though I knew the story he would tell would not be a good one, I could not help but feel interested to hear about her.
“She was pregnant with you, a little bit more than a month left to go. We were both so excited. That’s when the Bad Men came back. They came through the basement door. This time I did not see it open, but it was open when they left. And I know, I just know it in my gut, that’s what they used. I woke up feeling odd. I looked at the clock on the nightstand, it showed 2.14am and then I realized that I could not hear it tick. And I knew, I just knew they were back. I turned around and two of them were in our bedroom. Their eyes on me and I saw… I saw your mother sliced open from the neck to the bellybutton. I wanted to scream and I tried to fight them, but they held me down and one of them choked me until I passed out.
When I woke up, the bed was wet and first I couldn’t remember what happened, so I thought maybe your mother’s water had broken. But it was blood, Bibi, her blood. That’s when I screamed, I screamed so loud I made the neighbors call the police. They arrived and an ambulance was with them. I don’t know if that was coincidence or if it was protocol back then. They had to restrain me and at first I could not tell them what happened. But then I heard it, I heard one of the paramedics say, still alive. Never have I been happier. I didn’t understand that he was referring to you and not your mother, but I should have known… all that blood…” There were tears in his eyes.
“It took some time to clear everything up, but I swore that I would never let them come near me again. They took my sister and they took your mother. I could not let them take you as well.”
He hugged me so tightly that it hurt to breathe. I was shaking. Was my father mad? Was the story he told me true? Did I believe it? I didn’t know. I didn’t know what to think.
I asked if I could have a sip of the wine and my father gave me some. I thought it helped to calm me down.
He stroked my hair softly. “I know this is hard for you. And I know it’s hard to believe.”
“So, what about the locks?”
“The locks are for our protection. Several layers of security for them to breach should make it harder.” The sadness in his eyes was substituted by anger. “Every door is an obstacle.”
“Is that why you don’t want to go to the basement?”
“They came from there both times. I don’t know what they are, but I know that and I want to keep them there. That is why I keep that door closed at all times.”
“But then why do you keep your door open?” I asked, scared of the answer, because I thought I knew.
“If they ever come back out again, I want them to come to my room and my room only.”
I know what you’re thinking now. My father was crazy. I was thinking that, too. I watched him closely after our talk about my mother and the Bad Men. I watched for signs of madness.
He did what he always did. He woke up at 6am to get ready for work and he left the house at 6.30am, leaving notes for me about lunch or about evening plans. When he came home we would have dinner together and he would ask me about school and make sure I did my homework. About a week after the talk he went to the retirement party of one of his employees. Is that madness?
Yes, the locks were still there, but then again they had always been there (at least as far as I could remember). Was that madness? Maybe, though I thought it was just peculiar, not mad. My father did not become unstable or unpredictable. He was just like before he told me about the Bad Men.
Did I believe him? I don’t know. I did and I didn’t. I did believe that he believed the Bad Men existed, but I did not believe in them. Some people believed in demons after all and that seemed to be accepted. My father was still a functioning member of society, even if he had some strange beliefs. I could live with that.
I did investigate a little bit of course. Grandpa had been dead for four years, but Grandma was still alive. She lived in an assisted-living home in the town where my father was born (he could not stay there, understandably after what happened) and denied any of our pleas to move in with us. She liked to be on her own. She didn’t visit us ever, she hated traveling. We used to visit her, but she would always usher us out after 30min with a “Thank you for coming, see you soon.”
My dad had told me she was just used to her independence now that Grandpa was gone and she enjoyed doing what she wanted with her time. But I knew it was because she was drinking heavily. I had overheard the nurse and my dad talking about it. It was getting worse and worse.
I didn’t visit her, but I called her. I hoped she had one of her better moments, as she had been slipping lately. The nurse that checked on her regularly told us this. She did not tell us if it was because of age or because of alcoholism though.
Grandma was too proud to admit anything like that, though when I called her I had noticed that she would seem more forgetful. One time she had called me by another name which I later found out was her daughter’s name, the one that the Bad Men took. And another time she was slurring her words, so I didn’t understand what she was talking about. But of course I didn’t tell my father about this, since I was not supposed to know she was an alcoholic.
She picked up the phone and recognized me, which was good. I made some small talk, which she didn’t seem to mind and then I told her I had something important to ask her. She sighed and I heard some rustling. She was sitting down.
“Is it about the locks?” She asked.
“Not really, it’s about what happened when you got robbed, what happened to your daughter.” I couldn’t bring myself to say her name or to say my aunt… She had died before she could be my aunt.
My grandma sighed again. “I thought he would tell you about it. He told you about the Bad Men.”
I confirmed he had. I was curious to hear what my grandma thought, but I was also worried that she would think that my dad was crazy.
“For a year he kept talking about them, he was waking up screaming, because he dreamed about them too. It got better and we just never spoke about it.”
“So, was it just robbers?”
“Burglars of course, they must have found an open window in the basement, the children would play in there sometimes, so one of them must have left a window open. The police said that Dana must have surprised them as they were leaving and that’s why they…” She stopped, swallowing audibly and I wanted to say something, but she continued. “Your father was there, and that was the problem. There are no monsters, no Bad Men. Your father was a child and he could not cope with… what happened.”
“And what about my mother?” I whispered, because that was what I really wanted to know. I never met my mother’s parents, so grandma was all I had.
“He told you about your mother.” She stated and she sounded mildly surprised. “I guess you are old enough to know now. Did he tell you the Bad Men did it?” She scoffed and although her tone surprised me I confirmed again.
“Did he tell you that they investigated him? Did he tell you that?” She was angry now. I knew she was not angry at me, but it still stung.
“No he wouldn’t tell you, of course he wouldn’t. Piece of shit. ( I was shocked to hear her swear, even more so at my father, her son after all).”
I wondered if she was drunk and that was where this was coming from. My heart was beating really fast. I was scared, and angry but still curious at the same time. I wanted to hang up and I wanted to know more.
She started whispering. “I don’t think the men that robbed us killed Dana, I never did. I told your grandfather, I told him many times, but of course he thought it was bullshit. His precious son could never do such a thing… First Dana, then his wife, now you tell me that isn’t suspicious? You tell me I am crazy? You know, you make up your own mind. You can believe a fairy tale about monsters or you can recognize the monster you came from.” She yelled the last part and I almost dropped the phone.
She continued to yell and I wanted to hang up on her, but then I heard a strange noise and after what sounded like a scuffle, the nurse taking care of my grandma was speaking to me.
“I’m sorry, she is very upset right now.”
“I’m… I’m sorry, I just wanted to ask her something. I didn’t want…” I was choking on my tears. I hate when that happens, but it happens to me every time I’m upset.
“Ah, it’s you.” The nurse recognized me and her voice softened. “Don’t worry, dear, she’s been getting worse lately. Not as bad as today and she hasn’t had a go at your father for years like that.”
“Wait, you mean that has happened before?”
“Yes, yes. When she came to us four years ago she would not stop talking about how your father was a murderer and all that.”
“Wait, so you don’t think he is?”
The nurse actually laughed and I felt stupid for even thinking it, yet relieved.
“Sometimes people get obsessed with an idea when they get older. Your father is the most upstanding citizen I know. He even helped us update our security system, for free.
Your grandmother has a lot of grief she never dealt with and that can come out in strange forms, like hatred. It’s easier to blame someone, it gives her a focus. Don’t you worry about it, she is just letting off steam. You were just giving her an opening.”
“So, this happens a lot? Like with other people as well?”
“Yes. One of our residents was convinced one of the nurses was stealing her stuff. She almost got fired over it, but when we checked the security footage, we saw that it was the resident. She was hiding her stuff, so the nurse couldn’t steal it. But she would forget and then of course blame the nurse. That wasn’t a new nurse, she had been caring for the resident for three years by the time this started. That’s just one story, and there are many more. Tell your dad, I’m sure he can reassure you.”
I could still hear the smile in her voice. It helped calm me down as well.
That night I told my dad what grandma had said before I went to bed and he laughed. He told me the same thing the nurse had told me, that she had done it before and that I should not worry too much about it, that it could happen as people got older.
“Doesn’t it bother you?” I asked. “It bothers me.”
“It did in the beginning. It made me angry too. But I realized that I cannot change it. For some reason that’s the idea she has and nothing will convince her otherwise. I mean wouldn’t I be in jail if that was true?” He asked and there was a twinkle in his eye.
That made me feel better. My dad wasn’t a murderer. He was a little strange, yes, but he was not crazy or a killer.
Our lives went on and we still used the locks, which became a problem once I had my first boyfriend. His parents did not want him to have a girlfriend, and his parents were at his house all the time. I tried to sneak in once, and they caught us, which was definitely not nice. My father was not thrilled about my relationship either, but he was fine with Daniel hanging out – not so fine with Daniel staying over though.
But we were in love and we just had to find a way. The front door was out of question, four locks would take forever and my father would wake up. My room was upstairs and there was no garage or anything next to it to climb up. So Daniel came up with a brilliant plan, the basement.
I know, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that something went wrong and my father thought Daniel was one of the Bad Men and then killed him. I wish, I really wish that was what happened.
We thought we were being smart. I would go to the basement and open a window for Daniel. He would enter and I would open the basement door, pretending I was going to the bathroom in case my dad woke up. It was a simple plan and I had all the keys to the basement anyway. I would unlock the door, not the bolt or the padlock, because my father would notice that. And then at precisely 1am, when my father was sleeping, Daniel would wait for me to open the basement door. If my father was just dozing he would hear me unbolt a door then unlock the padlock, then bolt and lock again, so he would assume I was going to the bathroom. Brilliant, as I said.
When I came back from school I got the basement keys. When I was standing in front of the door my hand was shaking. My father’s story was on my mind. Even though I didn’t believe it, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that something was down there.
I told myself I was being stupid and proceeded to unlock the door, unbolt it and then unlock the padlock. I opened the door and was greeted by complete and utter darkness. Somehow that did not help with the knot in my stomach. I looked for the light switch but there was none. Why would there be? We never used the basement. I had never before been in the basement I realized then.
I wanted to abort and message Daniel (cell phones had become a thing, the good old Nokia bricks), when I heard something. The hairs on my neck stood up. I could not see anything still, but there had definitely been a sound. And I heard it again, like shuffling.
“The Bad Men! The Bad Men! The Bad Men!” my mind was caught in a loop. Even though I did not believe in them I was convinced they were down there. They were coming for me.
I wanted to shut the door- and I wish I had- but I didn’t. I was scared, but I also wanted to see. I wanted to see if it was true, if the Bed Man existed. Then I would know, truly know that my father was not crazy and had not killed anyone.
The light on my phone was too weak to see anything, but fortunately for me there was a flashlight right next to the basement door. We had our stuff drawer there. Everyone has one of those, where you keep all kinds of stuff. And in the second drawer was a flashlight. I knew that because I had put it there when we got it.
I opened the drawer and took the flashlight. Before I entered the basement I moved the drawer, so the door was blocked and couldn’t close on me. Yes, I was stupid but not that stupid.
I took the first step and I could hear the shuffling sound again, clearer than before. I took another step and the darkness seemed to engulf me. The only light was coming from my torch, and it was shaking because I was so scared.
The smell was bad, it was hard to breathe. It smelled moldy and… and something I couldn’t quite place.
I arrived at the bottom of the stairs the light now shakier than ever and I shone it into the basement. They were there, the Bad Men.
I almost dropped the flashlight, but I grabbed it as strong as I could. They were not dark as my father had said, but they were white, so white, almost transparent, and thin like skeletons. I could count their ribs. Their eyes were milky, almost white. They had no noses, just slits and they had no mouths, because they were sewn shut.
I screamed when I saw what they were and they all turned to me. I could not see all of them, I only saw two, but my guess is there were five.
Now I did drop the flashlight and I ran upstairs as fast as I could. I moved the drawer aside, afraid they would follow me, they would touch me with those spidery fingers.
I slammed the door shut and I locked it, I bolted it and I put the padlock on it. I was shaking. I had seen what they were, the Bad Men.
My guess is that my father caught them, I don’t know when or how. They must have been down there for a long time, long enough to be a little more than a skeleton but still alive. They were human shaped, yes, because they were human. I had known when I saw their mouths, I had known what my father had done.
And I knew, I understood finally what my father had meant. The locks were not for keeping them out, but for keeping them in.