In future city dwellings, even the monster under the bed doesn't like overcrowding!
| Ben Stiers readjusted onto his side, allowing more of the Thinsulate blanket to cocoon him. Long silence followed.
"Good," Ben thought, "I haven't disturbed Paula." Ben relaxed into his Viscoelastic pillow. The light touch of veluor cloth on his face caused his eyelids to flutter open involuntarily. Ben tried getting his body to relax, but a soft thought filtered through his semi-conscious haze.
"Still dark outside." Fully, suddenly, Ben clicked one eyelid open. Ben believed that he enjoyed the benefit of comparatively excellent night vision. Yet, his gaze picked up only darkness. He should be facing the front window from his position on the bed. Straining to penetrate the darkness, Ben's mind couldn't reconcile the hard facts with his bodily instinct. He snapped his head around, peering into the darkness over his shoulder. His bearings were right, he was sure. He could not see the window on Paula's side of the bed, either. An alarm would've gone off in Ben's head if he was not immediately and intuitively aware of his wife in the bed.
He inventoried her positioning in the bed. Paula's hair was touching his back. The fingertips of one of her hands, turned in a relaxed upward curve, nestled between his pillow and hers. A bare knee brushed against his skin as well. He glanced to the headboard console where the LED clock should have been.
"Power out?" he muttered to himself. Ben flipped over like a startled house cat, and jabbed his free hand into the darkness to check the powerless clock he expected to find there. He was able to stretch his arm out fully, and was uncertain why the clock wasn't there.
Typically, Ben liked solitary tasks, yet, the obligatory "Dad function" of getting out of bed to check about the house seemed unreasonable at the moment. Although he rarely was disturbed by darkness, he suddenly felt a mixed sense of high panic and simple claustrophobia.
The breath now escaping his lips seemed cold. The levels of population by quarter-century in Earth's new millennium had reached space-choking proportions on every continent. Irreversible global warming now included the very body heat of each living thing. The air to one side of his outstretched arm seemed to grow warm momentarily over the chasm of darkness. The hairs of his forearm raised on end in a clammy response. Ben found himself holding his breath. Then, his focused senses were jarred by a creeping movement across his blanketed legs.
"What the--" Ben yelped. Silence.
Then, a small voice, "Daddy?" His son, Billy, spoke his need with no consternation in his voice. "Mama's sleeping! Daddy, you get up?"
"Daddy's still sleepy," Ben said evenly. "You come lay down. Is that your pillow you've brought up with you? Scootch up here, Son."
The air seemed to grow warm, near Ben's face, yet he felt sure that Billy still bobbed rhythmically at his feet. A cold stillness followed. Billy's next words brought Ben on edge, and Ben felt yet another heartbeat of panic.
"Pill-ow!?" Billy called out loudly. The three-year old must have thrown cupped hands up to his mouth, as if he were calling out to a lost dog. "It no come. I weft it on the floor, Daddy."
"Now, if you haven't woken up Mommy, and every family in the building, Billy-boy --" Ben hissed. "Maybe you should go back to your bed compartment and play quiet."
Billy mimicked his dad's hushed tone suddenly and confided, "There's no nigh'light!" Then Billy bounced defiantly. "Play in yur bed. No' my bed!"
This roused Paula. "All that overtime...to procure a three-year old some bed space and a nightlight, and neither one of you will cooperate," she grumbled lightly.
"The monster under yur bed...ate it...ahhh up!" said Billy proudly.
"Baby," Paula drawled to the child, as she moved slowly to scootch to an inclined stance in the bed, "You should go back to bed. The sun i' not up ya-et."
"Mama, I'm too full of sleep," Billy complained.
"Uhhh, guess it's time for Mama to be awake." Paula said this to hammer down a point with her husband, more than anything else. "Com'on Billy, we'll get out of Daddy's way. He seems to be doing his exercises in bed anyway," she added good-naturedly. She twisted herself to one-arm support, slightly leaning into Ben. He was relieved to be able to discern a silhouette now, at least. When he failed to give her a kiss though, she swung her hips around and began to throw her legs off the edge of the bed.
"No, Paula, wait..."Ben rasped. He grabbed for the arm that was supporting her, and pulled her down flat. Billy giggled and bounced more, positioned on the last third of the bed.
"What're you doing, Benny?" Paula whispered in a playful tone. Ben quietly leaned down and kissed his wife, trying to push off the uneasiness as the still moving three-year old straddled one of Ben's legs again.
"The nightlight is out," Ben whispered with seriousness as he pulled away from Paula's lips. This close, Ben thought he could see the look of confusion in Paula's eyes as she glanced past Ben, to pinpoint the bobbing, shadowy blob, so close.
"The monster under yur bed...ate it the nightlight!" sing-songed Billy.
"What's going on really, Ben?" Paula said. She couldn't see the look on Ben's face, but she caught on to some body language as he still held her in place. She tightened her toes' grip in the edge of the bed and began to hug her knees to her chest. Suddenly Paula made a connection to the truth of the three-year old's lyrics. "Under our bed?" she queried.
"We like yur bed! Monster too huge for be under my bed. I give him the nightlight to eat. He go eat all nightlights! Now he want more."
A grunt came from the nearby darkness in agreement.
Paula shuddered. Ben gathered up his son and pushed hard toward his balled-up wife just as the shriek escaped her. She scraped her knees across jagged ridges of a torn floor. But her hand quickly found the wall to get her shaken body up and running.
Ben and Paula had rarely thought in grateful terms for the utilitarian design and small depth of their apartment, but the good fortune seemed clear in this moment. In complete darkness, fifteen feet to the corridor hatch was attainable. Ben kept one hand secured around Billy, the other hurtling his wife in a nightmare "third down" sprint to the goal post.
The atrium bed pod behind them exploded forth into the rest of the chamber. They intuitively discerned being pursued by the monster. Their eyes had nothing to adjust to once out. Darkness. They did seem to have escaped what pursued, once they clamored out the front door.
Other stunned people meandered on the cold greenbelt felt under foot. It was one shred of proof to being outside. Ben knew, even without his night vision that the neighbors were looking up. Great swaths of stars were missing from the sky.