When I was a young boy, something lived under my bed...
When I was a young boy, something lived under my bed. I could hear it as it groped and clawed beneath me, feel the rustle of my bed sheets as it would stand. Twin beads of crimson contemplated me through the darkness. But, it would never touch me. Sometimes, late at night, it would lumber to the closet, its huge form stomping through the gloom over scattered toys, knocking loudly into furniture. Pa would come upstairs and ask me what the hell I was doing making such a racket so late at night. When I explained that it hadn't been me, that there was something living under my bed that seemed to enjoy going into my closet, he'd tell me that lying was not a good thing and if I didn't start telling the truth, "I'd get a wuppin'." The next morning I'd wake to find myself sharing the bed with an item from my closet: a shoe, a matchbox car, an abandoned sock…
As time passed I became accustomed to the idea of having a hidden roommate, but never talked of the thing with anyone; Pa's wuppins had cured me of any conversation about it. However, I would talk to it. Moonlight streaming delicately through the blinds, the cool night air accented by the gentle chirping of crickets in the distance, I would sit up in my bed and talk. I would ask it questions, tell it stories and jokes, try to make it feel welcome. Silence loomed over me in return.
I tried leaving it food: cookies, left over chicken legs secretly pilfered from the refrigerator, candy bars. I even placed a Cadbury chocolate egg on my nightstand one Easter. These little endeavors met with success of a sort. I would wake in the morning to find the food gone and myself and my bed inundated by a myriad of crumbs, like tiny beads of hail from a violent storm.
I would even draw it pictures of things that I thought were neat, like planes or cars. Sometimes I would scrawl out crayon re-creations of my Pa and I when we throw ball at the park, or events like when Aunt Millie got her arm caught in the toilet. With each drawing I would tell it things about my family, or invite it to go out with me and Pa to the park or the movies. It never answered me…
Days wandered by with the idleness that exists only in the hearts of the young. As I grew older I found that I saw less and less of the thing. Oh, it hadn't gone away. It would still scrape it's way from under the bed and glare at me through the frowning darkness. I would still wake to find myself in bed with an item from my closet. These events still occurred, only with less frequency. By the time I haunted the halls of Junior High School it would only pervade the room about once every week. During these times it would simply stand over me, its bright eyes narrowed in what I would now call thought.
It was in these lazy days of youth that a certain event occurred to which, at the time, I devoted very little attention.
It was late October of my thirteenth year when I stumbled into the fight with Chad Marsten. It all started out, as many such incidents do, in a typically innocent fashion. The school bus was almost to my stop and, as I prepared to stand, I accidentally knocked into Chad's arm. Tiny rivulets of soda sprinkled from the can he was holding to his dirty, faded jeans. He swept long strands of greasy hair from his eyes, his face locking into a deadly scowl.
"I'm… I'm sorry," I stammered, knowing full well that the apology was useless.
As the bus slowed to my stop I arose and edged my way down the narrow aisle. Behind me I sensed, rather than saw, Chad stand and work through the thin corridor of legs and books until I could feel his harsh breath on my neck. The bus staggered to a halt, jostling Chad into me.
"Get off the bus," he whispered delicately in my ear, his voice soft, scratchy.
A mindless automaton, I felt my legs urge me into motion. . . The clomp-clomp of my sneakers on the narrow steps. . . The scent of burning asphalt and freshly mowed grass. . . A dove gently cooing from a power line far above my head. He was behind me, even though I never heard him come down the steps. With a hiss of hydraulics and a mechanical roar the old bus disappeared around a near corner.
A swish of something cutting through the air…
My head snapped forward with a crack and I fell, teeth smashing to the harsh, black asphalt. Blood flowed willingly from my mouth. I don't know how long I remained this way; it seemed like hours. All around me I heard a gentle rustling of paper as the wind carried my homework away. From the corner of my eye I could see my books scattered like tombstones randomly strewn about a graveyard of dark tar. Eventually I found the will to prop up on one arm.
Chad towered over me, his body relaxed, natural.
"Get up," he said softly.
Animal fear tremored through me. I shook my head. No.
His foot ripped into my stomach. I felt hot blood splash down my chin with the force of the blow. My lungs exploded and I bent forward. Each intake of breath sent sharp spikes of pain searing through my body.
Somehow I managed to stand. Through eyes misted by tears I saw Chad walk toward me. His hand closed around my collar. I was dragged forward. The harsh smell of sweat mingled with cigarettes.
"I want you to listen up," he whispered. "Little crap like you gets stepped on. Don't fuck with me."
"But… But I-"
A rustle of fabric. Pain lanced up from my crotch and arched dizzyingly into every nerve.
He released my collar and I flopped to the ground. It was a long time before I was able to stand and drag my protesting, battered body home.
Late that night I contemplated what the rest of my life could be. There I lay, nestled comfortably under folds of warm linen, while outside - right in my own neighborhood - waited a guy who would persecute me for the remainder of my days. If I looked through the window I could see him peering in, leering at me, his face contorted into that of a grotesque, feral animal. I was afraid. So afraid.
Pa had chuckled softly when I shambled into the house that afternoon. After opening another beer he took me into the living room to show his freshly mashed son to his new girlfriend. I didn't even know her name. She broke into hysterics when she saw me then spilled her drink down the front of her tube-top. Pa laughed then steered me toward the bathroom. He cleaned me up, coated all of my cuts with iodine, then ushered me to my room. I had climbed into bed and stayed there.
I guess at some point I fell into a light slumber. Stark images of rage danced beneath my closed lids… A beast with bloody fangs… Pounding… Pounding… Burning crimson spattering in an arch across a mildewed wall… A snap followed by a pulpy sound of tearing flesh-
An abrupt sliding noise startled me awake; someone had just opened the window to my bedroom. The blinds clattered roughly inward followed by a scraping sound.
Something large and heavy fell through the window. Visions from the nightmare swam through the darkness as I tried to focus my eyes on the shadow that remained for a moment in a crouching position on the floor. Then it stood. Red eyes blazed at me. The wind howled through the open window, clacking the blinds repeatedly against the sill. Stray shafts of moonlight cut through the twisted strips of plastic, scattering phosphorescent knives of illumination. Each ray of light that fell upon it was swallowed, as sun by nightfall. It moved away from the window, knelt, and disappeared under my bed.
I rose and stumbled in the darkness to the window, intending to close it against the harsh October wind. As I reached out for the blinds something warm dripped heavily into my open palms. I pulled quickly back and raised my hands to my eyes. Too dark. Turning, I picked my way to the light switch. It flipped upward with a mute click. Light cascaded through my small bedroom.
My palms were glazed with a heavy slick of blood. I dropped them to my side and turned my gaze to the window. Large, crimson handprints marred the pure white walls around the sill. The plastic blinds continued to tremble violently in the wind. With each shudder large drops of blood would flick off the bottom, landing in a Rorschach pattern on my carpet. Without thought I walked calmly to my bedroom door and went to the bathroom to get a small bucket and some washcloths. It would be much more difficult to clean up in the morning after it got all crusty.
Chad Marsten was never seen again.
In August of my twenty-eighth year I married a beautiful young woman named Ellen. In her heart I found the warmth and care which had eluded me in the life with my Pa and his many girlfriends.
I met Ellen in a grocery store. "Met" refuses to be an accurate explanation as to how we ended out together; "collided skulls" would be a better term. I bent to get the last bag of "Cheez Puffs" from a lower shelf and when I came back up, my head knocked into something so hard that my legs gave way. I fell on my ass and whatever I had hit fell on top of me. When the little, glittering red spots drifted from my eyesight, I became aware that there was a person flopped on my chest.
A soft, gentle moan…
"Are you okay?" I asked, my voice trembling slightly as I realized that some unknown woman lay prostrate on top of me and that people get arrested for misunderstandings like this.
At the sound of my voice she turned her head. Her eyes, though somewhat glazed from the rap on the head, held within them the lush emerald of a spring morning.
"You gonna eat those Cheez Puffs?" she asked, a teasing smile playing on her lips. Within a year we became husband and wife.
My life drifted peacefully through azure skies of happiness. Shortly after our marriage we bought a small house in a rather isolated neighborhood. Our only neighbor was a sixty-something year old woman named Nadine. Both of us worked (Ellen taught kindergarten and I did odd jobs here and there) and brought in what money there was to be had. Our weekends were spent around the house, repairing this and that, tending to the garden that Ellen insisted we have in the back yard. Domestic stuff.
So, what became of It? Rest assured, It still visited me, though never when my beautiful wife was about. Normally it would claw from under the bed in the early mornings when Ellen was in the bathroom getting ready for work. On occasion it would hazard a quick glance at me from the closet as she snuggled against me in the depths of sleep. Once in a blue moon I would find a shoe or some article of clothing from my closet firmly wedged between my wife and myself. I still don't know how it did that without waking one of us up.
* * *
For three years I dwelt in Eden. Then, abrupt as the single bite snatched from the apple, the heavens crashed down around my ears.
It all came to an end on a calm Wednesday in July. Having worked every day for the previous two months, it came as rather a surprise to me when I found myself with a day off. Instead of telling my wife, I decided to go into town and buy her a little gift, grab a bite of lunch, then be back home before she got off work.
Just as I snatched up my keys to leave, the phone rang. It was Pa. Drunk as usual. It seemed his latest "girlfriend" had left him and taken the television in the process. He kept me on the phone for over two hours, bitching and slurring about what this woman put him through and how she had no right to take the TV. I finally managed to break free.
At the mall I found a small purple monster. A sign nestled in its little stuffed claws read, "Worlds Greatest Teacher." A quick run by the florist for a dozen roses, then home. I'd be cutting it close, but a chance still lingered that I'd get home in time to surprise Ellen.
As I turned down my street, the first thing that caught my eye was Ellen's little Ford Escort. Damn! Too late. Behind her car, taking up my space in the driveway, squatted a sleek little sports car. We had company. Next door, Nadine stood in her front yard, nylons dangling limply around her twig-like ankles. A hose flopped limply from her hand and she slowly, methodically twisted her body to-and-fro, watering her rather dismal flower garden.
I pulled my car up on the grass and, picking up the little monster and the flowers, made my way to the front door. I waved a quick greeting to Nadine. Her reaction, now that I think about it, was somewhat strange: her eyes bugged out, she dropped the hose, turned and hobbled into her house as fast as her stick legs would carry her. That should have warned me.
Upon opening the door, a soft sound immediately tugged at my hearing. At first this was unrecognizable. An incessant creaking. This mingled with several soft moans. From the bedroom…
I quickly placed the stuffed monster and the flowers on a table and, my heart thudding in my chest like the repeated hammering of a fist, slowly walked down the hallway toward my bedroom. The creaking became more forceful.
The moans escalated in pitch and intensity.
The door stood cracked open just enough for me to see. The moans peaked to sharp screams of ecstasy, followed by shudders of harsh breath. The odd thought occurred to me that my wife sounded the same with me as she did with the sports car guy. My mind reeled in disbelief. Pain, sharp, tangent, lanced through my body.
A dull thud came from under the bed. Screams of agony echoed spastically throughout the house.
I don't even remember going into the bedroom, but I obviously did because that's where you guys found me. One of the arresting officers told me I was smoking a cigarette and bouncing my wife's head off the wall like a basketball. That true?
The jury recommended the death penalty. They didn't believe that I had nothing to do with it; just like I had nothing to do with Chad Marsten. I can't rip people apart like that! It's the one to blame! Why the hell won't anyone believe me?!
See! Look! There, under the cot! Don't you see its eyes?