This story is by Lyn Blair and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A monster lived under the bed. Every child knew this and also knew the floor underneath it could not be trusted. If you looked under the bed during daylight, you might see dust balls, a stray sock or an errant toy that somehow got knocked out of place. If you looked during nighttime, there was a horrible pit where the monster clawed and clambered to the top, finally reaching the bed.
Twilight darkened, the shadows morphed into night, and little Julie lay in her canopy bed, quietly tucked under the covers. Mom closed the leather bound book of favorite tales. The bedtime story was over.
“Light on or off?“ Mom asked as she began to close the door.
“On.” Julie said, and the door clicked shut, but she knew the nightlight could not protect her because the monster would come anyway. He always did.
So, she waited, and in the quiet while night wrapped around her, she cringed. It would only be a few seconds now.
A deep guttural laugh floated upward, coming from under the bed. He was here. His hairy hand reached around the comforter’s edge and she quickly scooted toward the center of her bed. There were rules, and the rules said: if his hands couldn’t’ reach her, he couldn’t grab her. His boney fingers inched closer, and they were fingers speckled with ugly moles that sprouted long dark hairs. The fingers wiggled, clenched and tugged and then tugged some more on the comforter.
A knot of fear tightened in Julie’s stomach and shot its tendrils throughout her body, making chills race up her spine and raising tiny hairs on the back of her neck. Terror struck deepest when they wrapped around her heart and cinched it into a taut fist. After that, not even a finger could move.
His laughter grew louder and deeper. Why couldn’t Mom or Dad ever hear it? He fed off her emotion and a whimper escaped from her lips. She shuddered. They never believed her.
The first few times he visited, she lay in shock, awake all night too horrified to sleep. Later she realized that only sleep could save her. “Sweet dreams” her Grandma used to say and by now she had figured out what was sweet about them. Though she knew sleep could rescue her, each night when darkness cloaked her room, fear was its companion, and falling asleep seemed impossible. Yet, with enough practice, Julie finally mastered her fear and sleep came quickly.
Years passed by and monster memories faded because after all, she had adult worries to concern her now.
Each night she reviewed her day while lying in bed before going to sleep. She revisited her work accomplishments and patted herself on the back for the jobs well done. And so she began her bedtime ritual. I’m doing well on the Delta project. It’s on target and almost finished.
“No it isn’t,” a voice said. “You failed to consider all the things that could go wrong. You’re shortsighted, inexperienced and should’ve let Carlton lead the project. Compared with him, you’re a novice. He asked if you wanted his help. But you said ‘no’ and blew your chance.”
The voice sounded like hers, yet something was off about it. She was alone with her thoughts. Am I talking to myself?
She drifted off to sleep.
The next night, once again she replayed her workday. Great job! Christopher likes me. After work, they’d talked for hours over coffee and oh how he had made her laugh. A warm feeling ballooned in her heart.
The voice spoke to her again. “Sloppy work, you’re a loser. In fact, you’ll never amount to anything, so don’t even try.”
She frowned. Is that true?
“Oh…and Christopher? He’ll never love you. You’re not even pretty.”
Tears welled up in her eyes. She squeezed her eyelids together and the tears spilled down her cheeks. As if on cue, her chest swelled with one deep breath and then another, a trick she’d learned as a child. Her breathing steadied, her chest relaxed and she drifted into a restful sleep.
But the voice continued its relentless pattern, always piping up at night, always when she was lying in bed, the perfect time to be heard. No distractions. It held her captive.
Deep inside, Julie searched for insight. After a few weeks an idea surfaced. She abandoned the nightly ritual and quit reviewing her daily accomplishments. She popped a sleeping pill in her mouth, and by the time her head hit the pillow she fell fast asleep.
Julie and Christopher married, and a few years later she gave birth to a baby girl, and they named her Evelyn, Evie for short.
When Evie reached four, Julie began reading her bedtime stories, carrying on the family tradition, just like her mother had done with her.
Julie had finished their story, closed the leather bound book and reached for the lamp switch. “Light on or off?” she asked.
“On,” Evie said and her voice trembled ever so slightly.
Julie pulled the door shut.
Shrill screams and crying awakened Julie in the middle of the night. She rushed to Evie’s room, burst in the door and flipped on the ceiling light. Evie’s face was flushed and her forehead burned with fever.
“A hand…t-t-t-tried to grab me.” Her lower lip quivered. “A monster lives under the bed, Mommy.” A torrent of sobs shook her little body.
Julie cradled her against her chest and petted her hair until her crying stopped.
Memories flooded in. Evie’s panic became her own, but she couldn’t let that happen.
This is my baby, my little girl. What do I do? If I tell her I know, it makes it more real. If I say I don’t believe her, she’s lost and alone. Help me, please?
Evie looked up, and her innocent forlorn stare penetrated Julie’s eyes.
All hope hung on Julie. She took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “I know about the monster, sweetie…he only comes at night?”
“Yeah…but how did you know?” Evie bit her lower lip.
“Because he used to visit me too when I was a little girl. I was afraid like you are now, maybe even more afraid because your Grandma and Grandpa didn’t believe me when I told them there was a monster.”
“Why didn’t they believe you?” Evie’s eyes filled with worry.
“Oh, I don’t know honey. Maybe they thought if I believed he was real, I would feel even more scared.” Julie waited to see what Evie thought about that.
“Well…how could I see him if he wasn’t real?”
She has a point. Geez…How do I answer that?
Julie gathered her thoughts. “Um…do you remember when we planted the sunflower seed?” Julie asked.
“We had to put it in soil, water it and make sure it got enough sunlight didn’t we? If we just stuck it in a closet in the dark and never watered it, what would have happened?”
“The seed wouldn’t grow. The plant would die.“ Evie frowned.
Julie smiled. “That’s right. The same thing happens with monsters.”
Evie gave her a puzzled look and glanced at her closet. “We have to put them in the closet and not give them any food or water?”
Julie laughed. “Well, not exactly. But…just like the plant grows in soil, let’s say a monster grows in your mind. Your mind is the space where he grows, like soil is the space where a plant grows. Let’s say that watering a plant is like thinking about a monster. So when you think about a monster, it helps him grow.
“Let’s say that giving plants sunlight is like shining light on a monster and believing it is real. The more you believe the monster is real, the more real he seems.”
Evie scrunched up her face and looked down as though trying to make sense of this. Then her eyes lit up and she said, “You mean, if you don’t think about him, he’ll go away?”
“Yeah. That’s how it works.” Julie smiled.
“Okay…” Evie glanced over at her bed and puckered her lower lip. “But can I sleep with you and Daddy until I figure out how not to think about him?” Evie’s eyes pleaded with her.
“Of course, honey.” Julie put her hand on her shoulder and they walked down the hall.
“I can’t wait till I grow up. Then all the monsters will be gone.” Evie said. Her eyes sparkled and she grabbed Julie’s hand.
Julie took a deep breath.
A voice started to say, “And that day will never come…”
Shut up! Not another word. No more soil, no more water, no more sunlight for you! Get it?
With a slam that rattled all her thoughts, Julie shut the door to her mental closet and turned the lock.
And the monster sat there…pouting in the dark.