“Daddy. There’s a monster in the treehouse.”
My daughter’s vibrant blue eyes gazed up at me intently, as if trying to determine whether or not I believed her. Of course, I didn’t. Emily had always been a creative girl, and this wasn’t the first time she’d made some eerie remark. I simply tried to look as serious as possible, and gave a stern nod. I wanted to play along. “Okay sweetie, do you want me to check it out?” She paused, and those soft crystalline eyes of hers slowly glanced up at the treehouse. They were her mother’s eyes. The only thing I had to remember her by, actually. I know it sounds pathetic – but after she died I threw away all of our old photos… I just couldn’t bear to see how happy we used to be, knowing that she’d left me all alone in this old house that seemed far too big for just two people. It’s funny, really. Before she died we would both complain that it was too small for the three of us. I would talk intently about the benefits of moving away, and she would agree with me for awhile – before giggling at how serious I sounded. Then I’d apologise for being too austere about everything, but she would only smile and kiss my forehead. She smiled a lot. So did I, back then.
I felt a gentle tug at my hand. Breaking free from my thoughts, I looked down at Emily, who had wrapped her fingers around mine and was now mirroring my grave expression. “Daddy, there’s a monster in the treehouse,” she murmured. There was a chilling sadness to her voice that caused me to hesitate. I focused on the squat structure nestled in the pale boughs of the skeletal tree in our backyard. It was winter, so there were no leaves. Just twisted, bony fingers reaching out to the grey sky of a cloudy dusk. I have to admit, as it loomed above me in the gathering darkness I couldn’t help but feel slightly afraid. No, this was insane – of course there was nothing sinister about the treehouse… I’d been thinking about my wife’s death too long, and it had messed with my mind. That’s all. Emily looked very sincere, but she was an imaginative child – and she had played pranks on me before.
“Alright, Em – I’ll go check it out.” I gave her hand a little squeeze and then let go, beginning to make my way to the base of the tree. A frayed old rope swayed gently in the chill breeze, connected to one of the tree’s upper branches. I turned away from it uncomfortably, and focused instead on the ladder that was set against the opening into the treehouse. I turned back to give Emily a reassuring smile, but paused when I saw her staring directly at the ground, eyes downcast. She did not look up… God, she looked so unhappy. It was as if she knew something terrible, and didn’t want to face me with it.
“Is something wrong, honey?” I asked tentatively.
“Daddy, there’s a monster in the treehouse.” In that moment, I had the strongest feeling that something was very wrong.
I played off my reservations as calmly as I could, and spent a few moments to let my muscles relax. I put one foot on the first rung of the rope-ladder. So far, so good. I began to climb – trying not to look at the shadowy doorway into the treehouse. My eyes wandered, and I saw on the edge of my vision my daughter slowly approaching the foot of the tree. She was shuffling forward like an electronic doll, her head still downcast. I grit my teeth and tried not to look terrified. I was nearly at the top. The treehouse was very high up. High enough that falling from it could kill you if you landed wrong. I know it seems irresponsible to have something like that for a child to play in, but Emily was always extremely cautious. She was just like me, in that regard – quite the opposite of her mother. I stepped up one more rung, now at eye level with the floor of the treehouse. But I didn’t look in. I was shivering, and not from the cold. My hairs were standing on end. Something horrible was about to happen, I knew it. Below me, my daughter called up “Daddy! There’s a monster in the treehouse!” Her voice was shriller, more urgent this time. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I swear I felt a disturbance in the air above me. The doorway was just inches from my head. I let out a quiet, fearful gasp and forced myself to look up.
Nothing. There was nothing there. I was breathing heavily, quaking so much I’d nearly lost my hold on the ladder. But now I started to calm down. The monster wasn’t real. Everything would be okay. I smiled the sick, relieved smile of one who had just stared death in the face. But as I looked into the gloomy darkness of the treehouse’s interior, nothing seemed out of place. I thought everything would be okay. Oh, how very wrong I was.
I scanned the room briefly, not wanting to peer too hard for fear of seeing something I didn’t really want to see. “I-It’s all clear baby! No monsters here!” There was a long silence from below, and I turned quickly to look at the ground. My daughter was still there. Her head was rising slowly, long dark hair still concealing her face. She called up as innocently and sweetly as ever.
“Daddy! There’s a monster in the treehouse!” In that moment, I knew. I’d need to climb into the treehouse to get a closer look and prove it was empty. I steeled myself. “Okay, honey! I’ll check!” I crawled into the treehouse.
And that was the worst mistake of my life.
At first. Nothing seemed to happen. I was alone, shivering in the confines of the large, wooden room. And then… then I heard it. A disturbing, rasping noise from below. Something was climbing the rope. I wanted to move, but it was as if all the muscles in my body had seized up. I just sat there shivering, gasping for air, as the sound got closer and closer. My heart was hammering in my chest. My breathing was rapid, erratic. Finally, something pulled itself up into the window frame and grinned down at me, where I lay huddling in the far corner of the room. “I got you, daddy! You were the monster!” My daughter’s face smiled down at me smugly, radiantly. She was… happy for some reason. She began to giggle. “You were the monster, daddy!”
I clenched my fists, digging my nails into my palms. Shit. She got me. I was the monster in the treehouse. Well played, kid. I stood so that I could sink to my knees, devastated. It all made sense. I let out a bloodcurdling scream and began to tear at my shirt, half pulling it, half ripping it off my body. I raked my nails across my chest – drawing long lines of blood. “I AM THE MONSTER IN THE TREEHOUSE!” I roared. I didn’t even notice my daughter’s reaction. I charged toward the window and pulled her through, sinking my teeth into her neck and shaking it vigorously like a wet dog shakes water from his fur. I tore out her throat and stumbled to the door. This was just another day in the life of a monster. “I AM THE MONSTER IN THE TREEHOUSE!” I screamed, for all the world to hear. I began to cackle maniacally, and leapt from the treehouse door, spreading out my arms like wings – expecting to fly off into the night like a monstrous bat. Instead, my body smashed against the ground with a deadly impact, killing me instantly.