Has anyone ever envied their children, or at least envied their children’s fears? I’ve had plenty to fear over the years, especially with the death of my wife. Fear of not being able to provide for little Clara. Fear that my beloved Margaret is watching me from the afterlife and I am displeasing her. Fear that one day I won’t be able to pay my bills leaving Clara without a future.
Even after her mother died, Clara herself had no real fears. I asked her what she was afraid of, and she said she was afraid of ghosts. She was afraid of monsters. Every night I looked under her bed and in her cupboard for monsters, reassured her that there was nothing there, and the fact that she was safe made me rest a little easier, even without Margaret beside me on our bed.
Strangely, when this whole thing began, I had fallen asleep, but not in my bed. It was Friday night, so I thought that while Clara was in bed, I’d treat myself a little bit to celebrate another week complete. Nothing too fancy, just a cold one while watching The Man Who Knew Too Much on the telly. I had fallen asleep during the middle of the flick, only to be awoken by the screams of my daughter. As if by instinct, I raced to her room.
‘Monster!’ she screamed, pointing to the bed, ‘Monster!’
I didn’t argue, I didn’t protest, I just looked under there.
I saw something.
If my daughter’s screams didn’t wake me up completely, what I saw certainly did. A little sliver of green, which then slipped into nothingness. Of course, my mind attempted rationalisation. It’s a sock, I told myself, it’s an old toy. It just looked like it crawled away because I put a shadow over it. No, I then rebutted, I saw it move, and it moved like a slug.
Well, maybe it was a slug.
Slugs aren’t bright green.
‘Daddy? Is it gone?’
I pulled my head out from under her bed, staring at Clara silently for a minute before replying, ‘It’s gone.’
After I went downstairs and turned off the TV, I decided to just go to bed, not even changing my clothes. I didn’t sleep, I only lay. I didn’t move a muscle, I couldn’t move a muscle, even if a voice from within was begging me to leap off of the bed and return to Clara’s room. I did keep an ear open though, I expected her to scream again any moment.
She didn’t. In fact, the whole night passed with complete silence.
I finally got up onto my feet when the sun rose, and although I had barely slept at all, I still had some energy in me. The very first thing I did upon fully awakening was to rush to Clara’s room. Still in her bed, sound asleep. Thank God.
I took another look under the bed.
As I did, she woke up. ‘Daddy?’
I lifted myself up. ‘Just checking to see if the monster’s gone, Clara.’
‘Hey,’ I said, ‘why don’t we go out today? You know, to the park or something?’
‘Yeah!’ She smiled. ‘And can we see the ducks?’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘we can see the ducks.’
So after we had our breakfast and we got dressed, we went down to the park on that nice, sunny day, we looked at the ducks swimming in their pond, and I bought us both some ice cream cones from the van. We sat on a bench together, looking at the trees swaying in the breeze, and that made me feel sleepy. Well, sleepy wasn’t really the right word. It was something like sleep, yet somehow more relaxing, more revitalising.
We went back home in the early afternoon, and yet it seemed to take no time between then and when night fell. I didn’t even remember making dinner, but I’m certain I did, but next thing I knew I found myself standing outside Clara’s room. I shouldn’t be doing this, I told myself, I look an absolute creep. That thing, however, that little green slug, that meant something.
I couldn’t take any chances when it came to my Clara. I couldn’t.
I knew I made her dinner. I knew I performed the old ritual of looking under the bed and in the wardrobe before sitting out here.
Hours passed in silence. Clara didn’t even snore, yet I sat outside her door, clutching my phone in my hand. If there was something – someone – there, I’d call the police in a heartbeat. Plus it even had a torch app. I played with it for a while, just to keep me awake. On, off. On, off. Illuminate the walls. Illuminate the floor. Clara’s sometimes asked for a cat, and I’ve said no, but at that moment, I reconsidered her request.
You’re acting like a child, came a voice from within. Go to bed.
Just as I was about to heed that advice, I heard a noise. Not a scream, not footsteps, a noise I couldn’t quite identify and that was followed with what I swear was a woman’s sigh.
I flung open the door.
There was a monster in her room.
Over my daughter’s bed hung a fat blob of green slime, with two thick tentacles wriggling from its form. It reeked of spoiled milk and just its presence made the room more humid. It turned to me, revealing that its three eyes arranged horizontally on its face, and the fangs jutting out of its mouth. I backed away, sweat drippling down my back.
It then said to me, in a woman’s voice, ‘Well, crap.’
In seconds, I struck it, or her, across the face, and despite her goopy body, the punch connected, and she flinched. Clara jumped up and down on her bed, cheering for me.
‘You see?’ snarled the monster, ‘This is why I’m here.’ She pointed at Clara with a tentacle, making her shrink back into her covers. ‘She expects you to fight her battles for her!’
‘S-she…’ I swallowed. ‘She’s just…she’s a kid!’
‘Oh come on!’ barked the monster, throwing her tentacles up in the air, ‘Don’t you humans have movies where monsters were defeated by kids? My plan was to only scare her – just scare her, mind you – when you weren’t around. That way, she’d have to defeat me on her own. As soon as she hit me with a cricket bat, punched me, anything that didn’t involve shaking under the covers, and then I’d have left forever. But you’ve buggered it up.’
I would have attacked again, but her snarling face seemed to make her teeth larger and sharper and her eyes blaze more. All I could say was, ‘Get out now!’
‘No,’ she replied, folding her arms like she was refusing to eat her vegetables, ‘if I do, that means your daughter will have to keep relying on you instead of her own initiative. Just think of when she goes to university, she’ll be begging you for money all the time.’
‘She’s just a little girl,’ I replied.
‘You humans just don’t understand,’ sighed the monster, ‘We’ve been hiding under children’s beds for centuries, trying to scare them to prepare them for the scarier real world, and when the adults find out, they try to stop us. They try to cover it up. They try to kill us.’ That last sentence was said with a hiss, making saliva spring from her fanged mouth. I wanted to say something, but my mouth was dry.
‘Yes, the adult humans have found out about us, and no matter how hard we explained, no matter how hard we thought, they’d send their armies and try everything in their power to do away with us, and then try to pretend we never even existed. Many of my kind have been murdered, and many of those who survived the humans quit this business. I’m one of the few still doing this. Others say I’m insane, but children these days are far too comfortable. They need to learn fear if they are to develop.’
I finally managed to say something, ‘But…’
‘Don’t but me!’ Her form stretched and she slapped me with her tentacle. The force of this action sent me slamming right against the door. ‘I’m trying to help your child and this is how you –‘
All of a sudden, a book clonked her right in the head and she shrunk back down. ‘Don’t hurt Daddy!’ cried Clara, threatening the monster with her copy of Green Eggs and Ham.
‘Hmm,’ said the monster, ‘seems coming here wasn’t a complete waste of time after all. See, this is what I was trying to do…’
Clara hung her head and put down the book. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘I’m sorry I made you sad.’
The monster sighed. ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. Well, anyway, you’ll be glad to hear that you won’t be seeing me again.’
‘No!’ Clara immediately grabbed onto the monster’s tentacle. ‘No! Come back!’ Right there and then, Clara hugged the monster, and the monster actually smiled.
‘Very well then,’ she said, ‘I’ll be back.’ She turned to me. ‘If only just to make him understand.’ She followed this up by slithering under the bed, and when I looked again, I once again saw the sliver of her disappear.