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Lights Out

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Once again the story is boring and hard to read. You miss your fifth grade reading book already.

Try as you might, you just can’t stay awake any longer. Your eyelids begin to close all by themselves and the text on the page grows fuzzy. When you realize you’ve read over an entire sentence and remember not a word of it, you decide it’s time for bed.

The usual routines go like clockwork. Wash the hands, brush the teeth (lazily, to preserve that sleepy haze in your brain), swish with mouthwash. Fifteen seconds instead of thirty, like the label says. You don’t care. You’re tired. Spit once, twice. Seems like mouthwash always wants to stay for good. Three times. One last pee before lights out.

Into the bedroom. You dig out your best PJ’s, and clean underwear for sleeping. It’s been really hot all day and the ones you’re wearing have that disgusting moistness to them.

Mom pokes her head in to remind you it’s bedtime, lets out a surprised “Oh” when she sees you’re way ahead of her for once. She gives you a kiss and bids you good night before disappearing down the hall, turning out the bathroom light that you forgot to turn out, yourself.

Dad’s already in bed. Leno delivers his opening monologue from the TV in the folks’ room. He usually konks out before the first commercial break, then the TV will go off and the house will be silent for the night.

All the lights in the house are off except in your bedroom. The street light outside burned out over a year ago and no one’s bothered to fix it, so the neighborhood seems to have vanished into a black void. Somehow it makes the house’s shadows thicker than they ought to be as they creep up the hallway toward your bedroom. You find yourself noticing every night now.

You turn to your bed, eyes instinctively dropping to the dark slit underneath. Except for that blackness, the entire room always looks deceptively cheerful when the light is on. Funny how you used to be scared of the closet when you were five. Dad used to tell you all the time that there was nothing hiding in the closet, and he was right.

You reach for the light switch by the door, eyes still locked on the underside of the bed. Somehow it stares back.

Your hand stops. Better not just yet. You turn on the bedside lamp first, then walk back across the room and flip the light switch. The room dims, but a safe yellow aura envelops the bed.

It’s only three feet to the mattress. Last summer Mom insisted on rearranging the entire house, including your room. The bed used to be tucked snugly in the corner; now it rests near the center of the room, with only the headboard leaning against a wall. Sleeping in it makes you feel exposed. Stepping near the shadow under the bed fills you with the sensation of teetering on the edge of a steep cliff or stepping too close to a lagoon filled with crocodiles. When it was in the corner you could get a full running start and dive under the covers.

You take a step toward the bed, diverting your eyes to the pillows. Don’t acknowledge it. It’s nothing to be afraid of. A figment of your over-active imagination. That’s all.

You clear the next two feet with a graceful bound, landing square on the center of the mattress. Climb under the comforter, tuck the bottom under your feet so there’s no way to reach in. Wrap yourself like a burrito. Nice and cozy. Except now you’re wide awake.

The hum of the air conditioner is a slight comfort. It’s deep and gentle, almost animal-like, and hopefully the only sound you’ll hear tonight. Soothing ambience always helps you get to sleep better.

You have to pee again. Not a lot, but just enough to keep you from falling asleep straight away. It always happens after all the lights are out and you’re neatly tucked into bed, but hours before your eyes have had time to adjust to the darkness.

You could probably leap clear of the bed and make it to the bathroom with little incident, but then you’d have to hope it didn’t decide to follow you. And sometimes it’s not under the bed. Sometimes it’s somewhere else in the house. You hear it wandering around out there on rare occasions, when everyone else is asleep. You almost bumped into it on the way to the kitchen late one night. Since then you’ve never set foot outside the room after bedtime for fear of being ambushed.

You decide to tough it out. You don’t have to pee that bad. Pulling the comforter up to your cheeks, you close your eyes and try to focus on the hum of the air conditioner.

Then it shuts off. The hum dies with a deep sigh and a dull “kathunk”. Silence.

Outside not a single leaf rustles. Your ears don’t even ring from the day’s noise. You start to wish for a car alarm, or a catfight, or the distant blare of a passing train. The house is dead calm. All you can do is lie there, wrapped in the comforter ever-tighter, and try to focus on the darkness behind your eyelids until you pass out.

Maybe you won’t hear it speak if you go to sleep quickly enough. The few times it spoke, it called you by name — it’s known your name from the beginning — and when it was sure you were listening intently, it giggled. Then it was quiet the rest of the night.

It doesn’t stir often enough for you to get used to it. Once or twice every other month. Usually you just hear its voice somewhere in your room, laughing quietly to itself — a soft voice, almost a whisper but not quite. It always sounds like it’s coming from the entire room, but you know its origin is under there, in the shadows. The worst part is its unbearably motherly tone, like its desire to do unspeakable things to you has escalated to adoration.

Just the thought of hearing it talk sends chills up your spine. You pull the comforter over your head, curling into a fetal position, eyes tightly shut.

You’re not sure how long you’ve been lying there, curled into a pitiful and slightly painful little ball. Your joints ache. Has an hour passed? A few minutes? Will daylight never come? You want to peek out of your haven to check the time, but the fear of seeing the thing staring back at you freezes every joint in your body. But if it were standing at the side of the bed just now, watching you, it makes no sense that it would only wait until you’d seen it to pounce on you, and a lot of good the comforter would do for protection.

The house is so deathly silent…maybe a little peek won’t hurt…

Your eyes have fully adjusted to the dark. Peering through a small hole between the covers and the mattress, you can discern every piece of furniture in your room, and every poster on the wall.

The bedside clock reads…eleven-oh-oh. Less than an hour has passed since you went to bed, but it appears you dozed off at some point. The house is just as unnervingly still as it was when you slipped away. Maybe the stillness, itself, jarred you to waking.

No. No, that isn’t it. That isn’t it at all. The house isn’t completely still. Though the floor of your room is draped in blackness as far out as the hallway, you swear you spot a twitch of movement. Sudden and swift, like something darting out of view to avoid detection.

The voice whispers your name. You’re not sure you heard it at first — not because it’s so quiet, but because part of your mind is trying so desperately to shut it out. Your throat seals up. You feel all the blood drain from your face as you pinpoint the source at the foot of the bed.

“The hunger’s too much to bear,” it whispers.

Resistance is beyond you now: terror has taken control of your body. You stare down the comforter toward your feet.

It’s looking at you. Peering over the lumps in the sheets, staring with two sightless slits in a dry, shriveled, hairless head. Its mouth stretches into an insane grin, like those found on the embalmed faces behind museum glass. How long has it been watching you?

You want to scream and pull your feet back from the thing’s horrible face, but your legs ignore the command again and again, even as those ghastly fingers slither onto the mattress and take hold of the right foot. Even as it pulls your foot closer and stuffs it, still wrapped in the comforter, into that gaping, grinning mouth. It has no teeth. It has no teeth but its nails are like razor chisels. It has no teeth so it minces its food by hand.

With a horrified cry you break free of your trance and reel your legs in, ducking under the comforter. You scream again and again, calling for help, but all that comes out is sobbing incoherence. It’s climbing onto the bed now, clawing at the covers, its bony arms reaching inside, searching for something to grab a hold of. It’s going to drag you onto the floor, and from there you daren’t think. You swat its hands away frantically, screaming at the feel of its leathery skin, gagging at the smell of its cold, rancid breath as it whispers in your ears through the comforter, madly repeating with awful glee, “It’s too much to bear! It’s too much to bear!”

Light floods the room. Still sobbing and kicking, you suddenly realize you’re alone on the bed. At the door, Dad stands with his hand on the light switch and a concerned look on his face. He speaks, but what you hear is unintelligible at first.

Your eyes jump from one end of the room to the other. It’s nowhere to be found. Your skin still shudders from its touch, and that graveyard stench still lingers in your nostrils, but the moment you acknowledge either sensation it vanishes.

Dad’s voice draws your attention back to the door. Now Mom is there, too, asking about the noise. The moment Dad mentions bad dreams she’s sitting on the bed with her arms around you, kissing you gently on the head and asking if you’re all right.

You want more than anything to throw your arms around them both and cry. Instead, with a nod and a sniffle you play along, admitting your dreams haven’t shaken you up this badly in a while, but swearing that you’re okay now. Confident they’ve chased the demons off once again, Mom and Dad kiss you goodnight and plunge you back into darkness.

Monsters are never real to adults. They always find an explanation. Something you ate. Reading scary stories or watching scary movies before bed. Your overactive imagination. The solution is always attention or medication or visits to a psychiatrist. They’re never real.

Maybe it’ll get you someday, and it’ll be the grown-ups’ fault. Mom and Dad will come into their “imaginative” child’s room one day and find it mysteriously empty, or perhaps they’ll turn on the lights and find the thing there instead, sitting on the bed with a bloated belly and that horrible eyeless grin.

They may come up with an explanation for that, too.

You curl up under the comforter again, eyes closed, mind struggling to shut out the unnerving silence. Sleep may yet find you if your thoughts remain on mundane subjects, like school. Mom suggested it once when you were seven, and it always seemed to work. But now you may never sleep again.

The thing giggles.

You open your eyes partway to scan the floor for movement, but it’ll be hours before they adjust to the darkness again. Pulling the covers over your head like before, you curl into a ball and wait.

The room is silent the rest of the night.

Written by Mike MacDee
Content is available under CC BY-NC

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