This story is by Ichabod Ebenezer and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Read me a story, dad,” Glen said. “Please?”
Even to his eight-year-old ears, the request sounded too… needy.
“What?” his father said through a smile. “You haven’t asked me to read in years. How about you read one yourself?”
“I miss the way you do it, dad. With all the voices and stuff.”
“I’m sorry, son. I do too. But you know how busy my job keeps me. I barely have time to say goodnight to you anymore. Now go to sleep.” He reached for the door handle and started to pull it closed.
“Wait!” said Glen, sitting up.
His father paused. “What is this really about?”
Glen licked his scabby lips and looked down at his bedspread. Dash from the Incredibles looked back at him with a fierce confidence that Glen wished he felt. He had two great handfuls of comforter bunched up in his fists and he was rubbing them together. Finally he spoke. “If you go now, the monster will come.”
“Monster?” His father’s hand, which had been hovering near the light switch, fell to his side. “Glen. son, there’s no such thing as monsters.”
Glen knew he would say that. Everyone says that. He even knew it was true. Except, he also knew better. “But it is real, dad! It comes into my room after you leave!”
His father let go of the door handle, and Glen felt some hope, then he spoke up and dashed it all. “Aren’t you a little old to be believing in monsters?”
“I knew you wouldn’t believe me.” Glen so desperately didn’t want to cry, but the tears came flooding out. “It never comes when you are around! It waits until I’m alone!”
His father sighed. “Alright, Glen. Do you want me to check under your bed?”
“No,” he said, sniffling.
“Do you want me to check your closet?”
Glen didn’t say anything. He just pulled his covers up over his chest and stared at the closet door, slightly ajar.
“Fine,” his father said and walked toward the closet in an exaggerated slouch. Glen winced as he reached for the handle. He pulled it slowly open and Glen closed his eyes. There was that terrible creaking sound. Why did all the doors in this house have to creak like that?
His wire hangers scraped along the wooden pole at the top of his closet. Glen opened his eyes back up, and his father had the door wide open, and was pushing things around to check all the corners. He even checked under the old shoe boxes lining the shelf at the top.
“See? Nothing there.” He banged on the back wall. “Solid. No door, nothing. There is no way anything could get into your closet, much less creep out of it at night.”
He turned and started back toward Glen’s bed. “You can’t leave it open like that!” Glen said, eyes wide.
His father sighed again, turned and closed the door. He pulled on the knob and the door stayed shut. He turned back toward Glen, then for good measure, he picked up Glen’s chair and placed it under the closet doorknob. “There. Satisfied?”
Glen didn’t know why, but he knew these precautions wouldn’t stop the monster. He didn’t really think anything would. All he knew is that the monster wouldn’t come while his father was still there.
His father must have seen how nervous he was. “Maybe if you tell me about it, it won’t seem so scary. What does it look like?”
“I don’t know. I’m too scared to look at it.”
His father smiled. “Then how do you know it’s there?”
“Because I can hear it! I hear the door open, then I hear it walk across the floor and it stands at my bed. I can hear it breathing.”
“Breathing,” his father echoed.
“Yeah. It breaths all heavy, like when you’ve been running. And it just stands there like it’s looking at me, like it’s waiting for me to peek out and then it will gobble me up.”
“Gobble you up?” He laughed again. “Oh, Glen…”
“And I can smell it too! Its breath stinks, like something rotten.”
“Glen,” his father said, more forcefully this time. “Stop it. You were dreaming.”
“And then, sometimes, it grabs me!”
His father’s face hardened. “Stop it, Glen! Not another word. You’re eight years old, for chrissake! You know how stressful my job is! You know what pays the bills around here, don’t you? Huh? If I don’t de-stress, I can’t sleep at night. And if I don’t sleep, I feel like garbage all the next day, and I don’t do my job well. If I don’t do my job, they’ll fire me. Who’s going to pay for your toys then, Glen? Or this house? You want to live on the street?”
Glen’s covers were all the way up to his nose now. “No.”
“Good! Now, go to sleep! There’s no such thing as monsters, and there’s nothing grabbing you in the middle of the night! It’s just a bad dream.” He stormed across to the door and turned off the light. He paused there, looking back at Glen. “It’s time to toughen up! You’re practically a man!”
Then he left, slamming the door behind him.
Glen heard his footsteps moving down the hall and into the kitchen. He heard the cabinet door slam, and a glass hitting the counter top. A couple minutes later, he heard the television come on faintly.
Glen turned on his side. Neither of his parents had been the slightest bit religious, so he knew nothing of God, but Glen prayed anyway. Please. Let the monster stay away tonight. Please let dad be right.
Despite everything, Glen eventually fell asleep.
Hours later, he woke up with the hair on the back of his neck standing up. He strained to hear to the sound that woke him. The creak of a floorboard, maybe? Then he heard it again. The rattle of a doorknob.
Glen quickly laid on his back and pulled the blankets over his face.
A door swung open, slowly, noisily.
He tried his best to control his breathing, worrying that the monster would hear him. Please don’t let it hear me! He pressed his shoulders down into the bed, trying to lay so flat that the bed would look empty. If he could fool the monster, maybe it would go away.
Glen listened to the monster’s ragged breathing for the longest time. It was just standing there, in his room. Why does it do that?
A floor board creaked. He shut his eyes tightly, and listened over the sound of his own breathing. Another one, and another. It was coming toward his bed despite how quiet he was, despite how flat the bed was.
The slow, unsteady steps stopped.
The smell of the monster’s breath—the foul, sharp odor that burned his nostrils, hot and vinegary, like rotting fruit—came to him, and he knew it was right there at the side of his bed.
Next would come the sound of the monster’s voice. Glen bit his lip to keep from screaming. There are rules about monsters, and every child knows them. You can’t look at them, because looking makes them real. Because they will eat you if you see them, or drag you away to torture forever. But even more importantly, you can’t scream. Because monsters aren’t afraid of screams, but dad would come, and the monster wouldn’t be there, but dad would. And dad would punish him.
“You’re not a man,” the monster said.
The monster was doing that thing again, where it sounded so much like his father, but deeper, excited and cruel. And with a slur to his words.
Glen was shivering with fear. He squeezed his eyes shut, forcing a tear out and down his cheek. Blood trickled from the edge of his lip where he bit too hard, and not for the first time. But he felt no pain, he only registered the salty copper taste of his own blood.
The covers lifted at the side of the bed. This isn’t real, he told himself. It’s only temporary. If I’m quiet, it will go away, and in the morning everything will be okay again. Dad will be there to take me to school and tell me that none of this ever happened.
Then the monster’s hand slipped under the elastic of his pajama pants, and Glen bit down even harder.