Sometimes our imagined fears can become unimagined
A BEDTIME STORY
Troy Campbell had a rough start in life. When he was a year old his mother was killed in a terrible car accident, so the only parent he ever knew was his father. His father was a good man, but when it came to raising a child by himself, he wasn’t quite all there.
Some of Troy’s first memories in life were when his father used to tell him bedtime stories. They were usually just the old traditional Grimm’s fairy tales, but they never seemed to have the traditional ending. Many a night Troy would lie in bed and cringe with fear as Goldilocks was eaten by the three bears, or the big bad wolf ended up with a stomach full of Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, or the three little pigs would end up homeless, or worse yet, they wound up in their wolf’s stomach. Troy sometimes wondered if it was the same wolf who was committing these heinous acts, so he asked his dad one time. Mr. Campbell didn’t answer; he simply smiled, shut off the light, and walked out the door.
By the time Troy had outgrown bedtime stories, his father would still come into his room to wish him ‘goodnight’, always ending it with some line about not letting the bedbugs bite. He didn’t know what bedbugs were or how hard they could bite, but his father’s warnings had kept him laying awake for a long time after that, thinking that if he did go to sleep, those things would start crawling all over him; in his nose, in his mouth, even in his ears where they could get into his brain and just start chewing tiny bits of it off.
Eventually, Troy learned the true endings of those bedtime stories and that those bedbug warnings were just a cute way of saying ‘goodnight’, but even though he didn’t know it, they still left him somewhat emotionally scarred.
Which is probably why when he became a twenty-five year old happily married man and a proud father to his own son, he decided he would follow in his father’s footsteps by telling his ‘grim’ versions of those fairy tales to put his son to sleep. But without his wife’s knowledge, of course; the stories would just be their little secret.
When little Markie turned three years old and Troy realized the toddler could understand at least some of what those stories were about, he would sit at his son’s bedside with a book open and start with the standard ‘Once upon a time…’. But it wouldn’t take him long after he’d captured Markie’s attention to stray from the original story to make it his own. The major difference between his stories and Grampa Campbell’s was that Troy’s stories always went into great detail about how those bears and wolves devoured their prey. It wasn’t unusual for him to say, “And Mama and Papa Bear, knowing their porridge was running low, quickly ripped the young girl’s stomach open so their cub could begin feasting on her internal organs, which usually started with the intestines.” Or, “The wolf didn’t see any reason to huff and puff and blow a simple house made of straw down when he could just set fire to it, thereby allowing him easy access to his dinner while cooking it at the same time.” Or, “The blood splashed all over the walls and the floor as the wolf made a short snack of what little there was of the old lady’s insides, and then he had to clean up the mess before the granddaughter arrived to meet her own fate.”
Markie rarely fell asleep during one of Troy’s tales. Instead he would sit up in bed, his baby blue eyes huge with fascination, and ask, “What happened next, Daddy? What happened next?” And Daddy would continue to the next gruesome detail.
What puzzled Troy though, was why the child never seemed to be scared of his stories like he was when his father told them to him. When Markie turned five he began making up his own endings, and a lot of them were even more disturbing than what Troy’s own mind could come up with. But as puzzling as it was, he never questioned his son’s vivid imagination, and the stories continued for the next three years.
But one night when Markie was eight he suddenly told his father that he no longer wanted to hear the stories. Troy could understand that. After all, his boy was getting older. After closing the book and giving him a kiss goodnight, Troy was on his way out of the room when Markie said:
“Don’t let those bed bugs bite.”
Troy stopped in his tracks. Bedbugs were what frightened him the most when he was young, and he’d never mentioned the warning to Markie.
“Where did you hear about bedbugs?” he asked.
But Markie didn’t answer. He simply shrugged his shoulders and smiled his cute eight year old smile.
The police never came up with an explanation for the skeleton that Troy Campbell’s wife found lying next to her in bed the next morning.
But the bedbugs lived happily ever after.