Working short story- ending is still undecided.
| “What is this? A fuckin’ idiot convention? Damn it all to hell. I swear the stupidest people come out whenever I have to work,” Kat said. Petite and blessed (or cursed depending on whoever’s talking) with a head full of thick red hair, she was a handful. As the saying goes, dynamite comes in small packages. And you wouldn’t want to be nearby when she exploded.
“Geez Kat, take a chill pill. It’s the same people we see everyday. The drunks, the druggies, the hookers and the trash of the neighborhood. It’s a bitch working on this side of town, but what else are you gonna do?” Her coworker, a tall and lanky man named Steve, had more patience with the riff-raff that came into their convenience store on a daily basis. Kat usually worked nights and was uncomfortable working a daytime shift. There were four times as many customers, and almost all of them had an attitude. Steve was always telling her stories about the good old days when customers remembered the golden rule- treat others as you want to be treated- and were just as courteous to the clerk as the clerk was to them.
But those days were long since past.
People today had every modern convenience. Cell phones, microwaves, television. All it did was make them want everything else just as fast and faster. Bluntly speaking, people were impatient and there’s no getting around it.
Smiling and trying to help a rather big-boned woman talking on a cell phone, Kat knew she wouldn’t last much longer. Quitting time was only twenty minutes away and it seemed the clock added an extra two minutes for every one that passed by.
Kat recited a simple mantra in her head over and over again. Just grin and bear it. Just grin and bear it. Grin and bear it. Just bear and grin it. A bear grinning. A bear laughing maniacally as he ate this blonde surfer dude in front of her.
Kat chuckled to herself as she finally closed her register and left for the day, ignoring Steve’s questions.
A ten minute drive through heavy traffic did nothing to improve her mood. Thankfully, the house was dark and cool after the hot afternoon sun. Mark, her husband, had taken the kids to visit his family. She’d already used up her vacation time several months ago during an illness, so she decided to stay at home and enjoy the peace and quiet.
They had left yesterday morning and today was her first full day alone. She was planning on relaxing on the couch, pigging out on all the junk food that normally she didn’t even get a taste of. Damn kids. Good thing she loved them with all her heart, as only the parents of little demons can love them.
After changing out of her sticky work clothes into some comfy sweat pants and a tank top, she strolled into the kitchen. Raiding the freezer and making a big bowl of ice cream, Kat sat down in front of the television set.
“So,” she said, talking to the empty room and herself, “what first? Nightmare on Elm Street? New Nightmare? The Exorcist? Let’s go with New Nightmare. Definitely scary and it’ll give me a few good chills.”
Kat enjoyed watching scary movies, just as she enjoyed reading scary stories. She’d picked up a new scary movie yesterday that was supposed to be fantastically scary. The stuff that gives forty year olds nightmares. But to set the mood she thought she would watch an old favorite first.
Two hours later she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The movie, which had been firmly planted into her head as horrifying had been more funny than scary.
Perhaps it was just too early for scary movies. The sun had not yet dropped out of the sky in this region of the country, despite the clock having already announced that it was officially evening.
Oh well, she thought. She decided to make something to eat and when it was darker she would try again.
Back in the kitchen, she pulled a frozen pizza out and set it in the oven to bake. She got a Coke out of the fridge and then sat down at the desk in the adjacent room.
The computer, which was almost never turned off when her husband was home, was sitting idly by, waiting for someone to touch its keys.
Kat surfed the internet for a while, checking her email (which had a quick note from Mark- “We got here safe. We miss you a lot. Love, Me”), and played a game of solitaire. When the pizza was ready, she abandoned the computer, grabbed a book, and sat down to enjoy the good food and good book, simple pleasures.
Several hours later, the pizza is gone, another bowl of ice cream is devoured, and Kat’s finished her book. It’s actually pretty late now. The sun went down around eight o’clock, and that was a few hours ago.
Kat stretched and yawned, her body lethargic and cramped after sitting still reading for so long. It’s drawing close to midnight and she had had a long day. But she is nothing if not stubborn. Refusing to give up on watching the new movie, called The Monster Under The Bed- a simple and funny title that disguises the movie’s true nature, she pops that in and settles down on the couch with a blanket and a pillow.
The story seems pretty simple. A woman in her late thirties doesn’t believe her two sons when they tell her a creature under the bed is tormenting them every night. She submits the brothers to testing and rigorous nights in a hospital, watched by doctors and psychologists. Finally, one night they drugged one of the boys to keep him asleep all night since neither boy has really slept in weeks. None of the doctors stay to watch him, but she does, feeling a little guilty for putting him through this.
Halfway through the night she’s on the edge of falling asleep in her chair. Her son hasn’t moved all night. She’s lulled into a sense of security. But on the monitor she sees something move in the shadows by the floor. Sure it’s her eyes, she leans closer to the monitor, waiting for a few seconds. Nothing. As she relaxes back into her chair she sees an arm come sliding out from beneath her son’s bed. She screams, but in the small room her scream just echoes around her. As she watches, the arm reaches up, feeling its way along the railing on the bed, touching the sheets, working its way towards his leg. She lets out a little yelp when it grabs his leg. She jumps up, sure she must be asleep and dreaming. The arm now is pulling her son off the bed. One leg thumps as it hits the floor. He is dead asleep.
She can take no more and races out of the room to her son’s room next door. She opens the door to see his face as it is yanked under the bed. She races forward and dives to the floor, trying to grab him, but he is gone. The shadows under the bed are empty now.
The room fills with doctors who came running at all the commotion she’d made. Before she can explain what happened, the doctors see the empty bed and assume that he’s left his room. They clear out as quickly as they came, yelling at nurses and orderlies to start searching the hospital.
She stays in the room, sitting on the floor. A well meaning doctor had turned on the lights, and the room is bright with florescent lighting. She starts crying, knowing now that she should have believed. Thinking about her other boy in a room just down the hall, she looks to the doorway as she stands. He is standing there, staring at the empty bed and her tear-streaked face. He reaches out for her. She takes one step towards him, intending to grab him and hold him close in her arms and apologize for her stupidity, when she feels a clawed hand, the skin leathery and rough scraping her skin, wrap around her ankle. She notices the way her son’s eyes widen as her foot is yanked out from underneath her and then. . .
Kat fell asleep. She wakes a little while later, the television glaring the bright menu page, the new technological version of that loud noise when the video cassette tape runs out. A set of yellow and red eyes glare at her in the picture. Just as her hand reaches down and find the remote, barely touching it with her fingertips, the television cuts to a loud, blaring snow screen. She quickly picks up the remote and turns the television off, but the sound lingers in her ears for a few seconds.
She grabs the blanket and pillow, and makes her way to the bedroom. The hallway is totally dark and almost seems to be getting longer as she walks down it.
She eventually reaches the bedroom door and opens it. The room is pitch black, but that doesn’t faze her. She knows exactly where everything is. The bed is straight forward on her left side. When her left foot brushes the bed, she tosses the pillows down and falls into bed, asleep again before her head touches the pillows.
Then the dreams began.
Just as she was reaching a deep sleep she started seeing her kids. Not in their beds at home, but in their beds at the in-law’s. She saw them as though she were hovering over them. Their limbs were thrashing under the sheets. Both boy and girl were making moaning, whimpering noises. Their faces were beaded with sweat.
Their eyes were rapidly twitching back and forth.
Kat’s heart was beating in her chest. She felt like she was in agony. Something bad was going to happen to them. She knew it.
But there was nothing she could do. She could already feel herself disappearing. She was being pulled toward wakefulness, but she shouldn’t- couldn’t leave. She had to be here to watch over her babies.
Kat snapped straight up in bed, her back as stiff as steel, a scream barely caught in her throat. Her shirt and sweats were soaked in stinking sweat. The sheets were twisted and knotted. She could hear the air conditioner clicking on, humming away as it cooled the house. But she couldn’t feel a breath of cool air, could not in fact even try to get up and cool off. She was paralyzed. Frozen completely to that spot on the bed. She was remembering her dream. She was certain that at the end, as whatever had woken her up had started to pull her away, she had seen a twisted claw begin slinking its way out from beneath her daughter’s bed.
With a sudden spasm of movement, she almost toppled off the bed in her haste to grab the phone off the nightstand beside her. She wrenched it from the table, punching in her in law’s number. She listened closely to every ring as it went by, actually feeling the seconds tick by as a prick at her skin.
Finally someone picked up on the other line.
“Hello?” The gruff voice sounded sleepy. “Who is this?”
“Hey, it’s me Kat. I just really needed to hear that the kids are okay. Please, just… um… are they okay?” Suddenly she felt foolish and crazy. “I’m sorry. I just had one of those bad dreams where you…”
“Baby? It’s me, hon. Are you okay?” Mark’s voice came on the line. The first voice had been her father in law.
“Mark? Oh, I’m so sorry, babe. I just. . .” And before she could stop it, Kat started to sob. “I just… I just had a bad dream and I just needed to know… to know…” Kat broke down and couldn’t say anything else.
“Honey, calm down. Relax. Take a deep breath like the doctor told you to, remember? On, inhale, two, exhale, three, inhale, four, exhale. There now. Feeling a little calmer?”
Kat could see him in her mind’s eye. Sitting down on the couch, away from all the bedrooms, a patient and loving look on his face. He crouches over, leaning his weight on his knees, and holding his face in one hand.
“Yeah, honey. That helps. I just had a bad dream.” Kat is breathing loudly, letting go of her panic with each exhale.
“See? Better now. You didn’t watch anything scary did you?”
Kat’s loud breathing paused while she debated her answer. But before she could say anything, he’d picked up on her hesitation.
“Dammit Kat. You know that this stuff freaks you out. And,” he continued quickly, knowing she was about to interrupt him, “I bet your nightmare was just like the movie you watched, wasn’t it?”
Again, she paused to think and he’d almost heard her thoughts.
“That’s what I thought. Now, take one of those pills the doc gave you and get some sleep. Rest easy, babe, the kids are fine and have had a great time so far. I’ll call you in the morning, okay?”
Kat felt tears building up again. Not just at the prospect of facing a dark, empty room again, but also at the tender way her husband of five years tenderly admonished her. She smiled a soft sad smile and wiped away a quiet tear.
“Okay, babe?” Mark said, since she hadn’t replied yet.
Kat nodded, and then realized that Mark couldn’t see her nod, and muttered a barely audible “ok”.
“Love you,” he said again, before hanging up the phone.
Kat set the phone down, placing it back in its cradle to charge. She took a deep breath, in and out. She laid back down in the bed, hoping sleep would come soon, afraid that it wouldn’t.
She’d had no reason to fear in the end. She fell asleep quite easily.
She awoke a few hours later, covered in sweat, the sheets a tangle around her legs. She glanced at the clock. It was four in the morning. She was off that day and hadn’t set the alarm the night before. It hadn’t been the alarm that had woken her up.
She sat up groggily in bed, looking around to see what had disturbed her rest. She hadn’t been dreaming, at least not strongly enough to remember. She did, however, have a lingering feeling of unrest.
She turned on the bedside lamp to disperse the shadows in the room.
In the corner of her eye, she saw something jerked under her bed as the light came on. She yanked her feet up and curled them beneath her. A deep moan escaped her.
“Oh, God” she cried out. “No more nightmares tonight, please.” She pinched herself, hoping she’d would really wake up this time. She pinched hard, wrenching the skin on her forearm around hard enough to leave a mark.
She still didn’t feel anymore awake then she had been.
She started panting in bed, breathing in short shallow breaths.
“This is just a dream, this is just a dream, this is just a dream,” she repeated to herself over and over again. “There is nothing under my bed. There is nothing under my kid’s beds. There is no monster under the bed trying to get me.”
Summoning up whatever courage she had, she leaned way over the side of the bed, so far she had to put out a hand to keep from falling off. She glanced under the side closest to her, more towards the head of the bed. There was only a plastic tub under that part of the bed. It was fairly well lit-up, the light from the tableside lamp reaching almost to the other side. She could see a few pieces of cereal and chips. The kids had been eating in her room again.
She scooted down the bed a bit, still looking under the bed as she moved. It was getting darker under there. The shadows were seeping out and were repelled by the light.
She reached the middle of the bed. Here she would have to lift up the portion of the blanket and sheet hanging down to the floor. She brought her other hand down to lift it. Her hand and arm were shaking with nervousness. She reached for the blanket, but found herself unable to grasp it. She sat up in the bed again.
“Stop being silly, you’re a grown woman. Just reach down and grab it,” she chided herself.
Leaning down again, she reached out again, her hand still shaking, though more subtly this time. She reached out, took the blanket and sheet in her grip, and threw it up in the air.
And screamed. Small, red eyes were glaring out at her from under the bed. Long, reptilian arms with claws for hands, and long talon like fingers reached out for her.
She fell off the bed and scrambled away. Her back reached the dresser and she froze. Paralyzed with fear, she watched as one of the arms slunk to her leg, while the eyes never moved from their position under the bed.
It slid slowly across the floor, as though it was trying to maneuver carefully, keeping itself within the boundaries of the shadows.
As one of its claws just barely scraped the bottom of her foot, she heard an outsider’s voice in her mind scream “MOVE! NOW!”
She jumped up and ran towards the doorway. The arm reached high into the air to grab her. She felt it grip her shirt, but she twisted and pulled away. She flipped the light switch as she reached the door. She looked back in time to see the arm and claw spasm in pain. It was black all over, but as it lingered in the light, shocked by the pain, it turned to a reddish gray in places, tendrils of black smoke curling away from it.
Then it was gone, yanked under the bed so fast she’d missed it. Whatever was under her bed moved quickly, so fast it had vanished in the blink of an eye.
Again she just stood there, frozen by her fear, by her uncertainty. What should she do now? She looked into the hallway. It was pitch black there. The shadows seemed to laugh at her and her fear of the unknown.
Could the thing under the bed be in the darkness in the hallway as well? Doubt clawed at her mind, as the creature had clawed at her. She stared down the long corridor, certain that something evil and vicious was lurking in the dark.
She could not turn on the hallway light at her bedroom doorway. The light switch was at the end of the hall. It was at least fifteen feet away. She glanced back into her room. The room was filled with light and if she could perhaps climb on the dresser it could be a safe haven for her until morning. She was certain the creature went away when morning came.
She looked down the hallway again; it seemed to be getting darker with each second. She moved, slowly and subtly, so as not to attract the monster’s attention, and took one child sized step towards her dresser.
Then the lamp just shut off. The room wasn’t as bright anymore. Still, she hesitated plunging into the darkness of the hallway. The light in the ceiling was more than adequate to keep away the shadows.
She lifted her other foot, preparing to take another child sized step towards the dresser, walking as far away from the bed as possible, when the light flickered.
She looked up at the light, then down at the bed where two small beady eyes were watching her progress, delighting in her fear.
She turned around and ran like hell down the hallway.
The monster was in the hallway too, although this time it wasn’t just the eyes and arms under the bed. Down the hallway, where she’d just seen dark only moments before, stood a creature of immense proportion. The red, glaring eyes were the only detailed features she could see. The rest was just a darker area of shadow, except where its arm had been damaged by the light. There it was dripping fluorescent red blood.
It was too late to turn around, and the monster seemed to grow larger with each step towards it. It was tall and growing taller, wide and growing wider.
Kat’s mind, fragilely pieced together and still suffering from its collapse only eight months ago, shattered. She no longer questioned the monster’s existence and whether or not she’d gone crazy again. She accepted that thing’s existence as she accepted her own. But she wanted it dead. This thing was the killer of children, the destroyer of young lives. This monster was the murderer of babies in their cribs, children in their beds. She knew then that this monster had killed her infant daughter in her sleep. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was an excuse doctors made up for their own negligence and fear- oh, they were scared alright, children dying in their beds with no logical reason, can’t put UNKNOWN in the records can they?- because doctors were too rational to believe in the monster under the bed. Those kind of things only existed in fairy tales and scary stories, meant to both frighten and excite the children listening.
But now Kat knew. And she knew what she had to do.
She approached the monster at full speed and jumped up into the air right before it. She slammed into it, feet first, knocking it back. Even though she’d run straight at it, she had taken it by surprise. Kat had a brief moment of exultation at knowing she’d done something no one else had had the courage to do before.
But her joy was cut short when it stood up quickly; agile and lithe, even though its prey usually didn’t put up a fight, and a meager one when it did, it surprised Kat now with its superior athleticism. It reached down and picked her up as she was getting to her feet, wrapping its long clawed fingers around her throat.
Kat couldn’t breathe. The fingers were tightening around her neck, slowly to draw out her death. The creature smiled, and she could see its fangs glistening in the light.
Glistening? In the light? She could see, from the farthest corner of her eyes, the small patch of light that forms when dawn approaches. It was coming through her living room window, and she realized that she’d reached the end of the hallway in her mad dash to the attack the monster.
If artificial light could hurt it as badly as it did, she wondered, how badly could sunlight damage it?
She was quickly losing all ability to wonder or think or comprehend as the oxygen to her brain was being cut off. She managed, in a last effort to make it release her, to kick her leg up high and swing it around and on top of the monster’s arm. The monster started making a rough sound, like fingernails scraped on a chalkboard, while its arm shook a little as it held her. She realized it was laughing at her, thinking her attempt was in vain.
Once her leg was sitting on the thing’s arm, she tightened up her core muscles, and kicked out towards its head as hard as she could. It reached up quickly, in an attempt to block the kick, but she had just enough momentum to get her foot there first.
She kicked it right across its face, turning its head hard enough to make a snapping sound. It dropped her immediately and grabbed its neck in pain. It made a screeching noise, high pitched and angry. She didn’t waste the time that kick had given her.
She got up and ran across the room, towards the front door. It was within inches of the front bay window, the mini-blinds lowered and allowing just the smallest fraction of light into the room. After living here for years though, she knew that was a trick of the light. There was probably more light waiting to break through. She was counting on it.
The creature followed her, just a step behind her. The thought flitted through her mind that when they say “breathing down your neck” they really mean it!
She reached out for the doorknob with her right hand and the cord for the mini-blinds with her left. Right now she was eternally grateful that she hadn’t gotten around to putting up the curtains yet.
As she felt the monster stand behind her, breathing down her neck, intending to frighten her to death, or maul her if need be, she yanked mightily hard with her left hand, whipping the blinds up into place faster than she’d ever done before or would ever again.
It screamed again in pain, and she could tell that this time it was indeed in immense, agonizing pain. It fell to the floor in the sunlight and was a strange sight to her eyes.
The creature, whose features she’d seen only as blurred shapes in the darkness, had seemed solid enough in the dark, but in the pale light of dawn, was as wispy and formless as the shadows. Its skin was a thin veneer of shadow covering … nothing. As the creature’s screams faded away, so too did it. This time there was no bloody mess, no smoke, no frills. It just faded away, screaming as it went.
Kat felt satisfied, but not triumphant. She was unsure as to whether it was really gone. Could that creature die? Did she kill it? Or did it just fade away, to its own shadow filled cave somewhere deep underground, waiting for its chance to strike again?
Tired, uncaring as to where it went as long as it was gone, Kat laid down on the couch and took a nap.
She awoke several hours later feeling restored and well. She was not happy, she was not depressed, she was not particularly angry or worried. Just well. She hadn’t felt this okay in eight months. In fact, it’d been over a year since she last felt ok. She hadn’t felt okay since her daughter’s funeral.
Her daughter had been a healthy three month old; breastfeeding regularly, playing with her older brother and sister, and sleeping when she felt like it. She was beautiful. Her eyes hadn’t settled into their permanent color yet. They were still a bluish green that Kat knew would become a beautiful deep brown. She had an adorable smile and a few thick reddish brown curls on her head.
Once night Kat had put her to bed with an ominous feeling in her chest. Her baby girl had smiled up at her, happy and carefree as she always was. She was cheerful and ready to go to sleep. Kat left her baby, asleep and dreaming, and went to bed herself.
Kat, unable to sleep, had gotten up and checked on her baby. She was fine, snoring softly as some babies do. Kat tried to shake off the feeling of dread she’d had and went into the kitchen for a snack.
When she finished a small sandwich and felt calmer and perhaps able to sleep, she went back to her room. She decided to check in on the baby, one last time for the night; sure she would find her still snoring in that adorable way.
She walked in the room and could not hear her baby’s whuffling breathing; that gentle snore was absent. Scared she turned on the light, and later would swear that something had moved under her child’s bed as the light came on, but was too worried to investigate it. She ran to her child’s crib and found her child dead. No heartbeat, no pulse, no breath. She was gone.
Kat tried to resuscitate her, screaming for Mark to come help her. She begged God to not take away her child, to not hurt her this way.
Mark ran into the room, saw what was happening and left. Kat barely registered in her mind that she could hear him calling the emergency services. Kat after a moment’s struggle had realized her child was not coming back.
She tenderly picked her up and cradled the baby in her arms. She took her to the rocking chair, where she’d rocked her so many times past in her short life and sang to her as she fed at Kat’s breast.
The emergency technicians had come and taken her child away. They’d also been unable to revive her. In the end, they’d attributed her death to sudden infant death syndrome. Which Kat knew meant they didn’t know how she died or what caused it.
She just died.
Kat had started to spiral down then, descending deep into her mind. By the time of the funeral, only two weeks after her daughter had passed away, Kat had lost it. She’d kept the façade up for a while. No one could tell what was going on beneath the surface.
Finally, she couldn’t keep her tenuous grip on sanity anymore. She slipped entirely, and Mark came home one day to find her sitting in the bath tub. The water was frigid and a brand new bottle of Tylenol lay open beside her. Every pill in that fifty count bottle was gone.
He had asked her what she was doing.
“I’m tired of seeing her face everywhere, Mark. When I look at you, I see her. When I look at the kids, I see her. There’s a memory for her everywhere. I can’t take it anymore. It weighs down on me. I feel like I’m being crushed under her memories, my memories of her.”
“Kat, don’t do this. You still have time. I can take you to the hospital and you’ll be okay.”
“No Mark. I want this. I can’t stand to be here anymore.”
Mark had stood up then. He was hurt and he was angry.
“Do you think you’re the only one in pain? How dare you presume that your grief is worth more than mine, or the kids’ or the rest of our family’s! Everyone is hurting right now. You’re not the only one. You’re just being a selfish bitch.”
Kat had jerked her head around and looked at him then.
“That’s right. You are being a selfish bitch. Did you think about the kids? What about when they come home and I have to tell them their mother loved their baby sister more than them? That they weren’t worth living for? Are they not worth living for? Don’t they deserve more?”
Kat looked down into the water. She clenched her hands, trying to focus. The medicine was finally really kicking in and she was sure she’d lose consciousness soon. She had to decide and she had to decide now.
“Mark, please, help me.”
Then everything faded away as she passed out.
Later she’d been told that they were able to remove most of the medicine in her stomach. Luckily enough, she took Tylenol on a fairly regular basis for her bad headaches and had built up a tolerance. The medicine her body had consumed just left her knocked out for a while.
She’d admitted herself to a hospital and received the help she needed. She was there less than a month in the end. She was able to realize how important her living children meant to her, and that the loss of one didn’t negate the love she held for the others.
She went home and continued living her life. She went back to work and things fell into an acceptable routine. Everyone seemed satisfied.
But Kat had never really felt happy again, nor really sad or emotional at all. She was not withdrawing deliberately, or holding herself back. She’d just gone numb. Unable to function or feel, she followed her routine throughout the day and just held tight to the hope that one day she would feel again.
That day had come. Finally.
While she did not truly feel like she’d triumphed over evil, she definitely felt vindicated.
She went about her day, running the errands that had to be taken care of such as paying bills and buying groceries. She even bought a box of cake mix to bake a cake for herself. In celebration of what she wasn’t sure. Could it be for making it through the night, fighting against her terror and a shadow monster? Or could it be for finally, really, coming to terms with her daughter’s death? She didn’t think she would ever really know for sure.
But either way, she’d enjoy the cake.