Roland Allnach, 2009
Published in The Storyteller, Spring 2009
The bedroom is dark; still in the quiet recesses of night. Shadows blend into mutual expanses of impenetrable black depths- except by the bed, where there is the soft, faint light of a clock. The numbers glow on the bed’s disheveled landscape, muted red figures staggering across crumpled white sheets. But they are not so randomly crumpled, for there is the shape of a small body huddled beneath, completely covered. There is one opening, like a tunnel into a cave, which leads under the sheets and where the red glow illuminates the single wide, staring eye of a boy.
He blinks as he stares out at the clock. He’s been in this way before: the quiet night, the lonely darkness, nothing but him and the lurking, shapeless shadows of his imagination run wild. Yet his eye holds on the clock as a silent debate rages within him: could he be brave enough to emerge from his refuge for some water? His mouth is dry and sticky from anxious breaths, breaths that pulse between his lips as he stares at the clock, hesitantly anticipating the far off dawn.
Eventually he knows he must rise. The anxiety within shifts, it is no longer the trepidation of emerging from his refuge, but instead the challenge of making his foray across his sleeping home without making a sound. He knows the way, he tells himself. When no one watches, when no one can notice during the day, he tests the floor, probes it with his weight on the ball of a foot to see which slats in the oak floor will creak, which will be silent; which are minutely bowed, and moan if he puts his weight in the middle of their length. But first he must make it from the bed, and that is perhaps the greater challenge, because of all the darkness in the house, there is no darkness like that under his bed, the darkness where the lower depths of his imagination hide. He never sleeps with a hand or foot dangling over the edge of the bed- he would hate to tempt whatever waits under the bed, whatever monstrosity wakes under the bed as he sleeps.
Slowly, patiently, he gathers the sheets as he rolls them down from his head to the small of his back. It’s an awkward process, but he has practiced this over many nights, and soon enough is ready. He rolls them down no further. Instead, with hands planted under his chest as he lay on his belly, he swings one foot out wide, as far as he can, and carefully lowers it until he feels the cold floor on his toes. Then using his hands and this foot as his base, he slips his other leg free before pushing up with his hands to stand.
And then he pauses. His eyes scan the floor; he is a good arm’s length from the edge of the bed, certainly clear enough for any claw or tentacle to snag him. Forcing a swallow he begins the precarious journey to the bathroom: his eyes are adjusted to the dark, but even without them, he knows where to step, which parts of the floor to avoid, where he had left his toys as unseen obstacles.
There! he congratulates himself as he halts just outside the doorway of his room. His eyes dart to either side, to the left where his parents sleep behind a door that is only open a crack, to the right where his older brother sleeps with his door wide open. It’s the most difficult part of the journey, because the floor takes a lot of traffic every day, and only the areas of the floor right along the wall can take his delicate footfalls without making a sound. He trembles; his heart bucks, thunders- it has to be done in three precise steps to make it without a sound. Diagonal left, sidestep left, diagonal right…made it!
He halts opposite the door to the bathroom to let the pounding of his racing heart recede from his ears. His eyes drift about. He is alone. Nobody knows where he is, that he has escaped from bed, that he stands in the hallway in his pajamas. It is no longer his home in all its familiarity; rather it is something far different, far…stranger. It is his little world, his private little world- as long as he remains silent. If someone were to wake and find him, what would he say? Sneaking about the hall in the dark…how to explain that? During the day everything is different. Sneak a drink when no one looks, no problem. Sneak a peak when no one knows, no problem. Caught doing these things, easy enough to explain, even if they would land him in trouble. But sneaking in the hall at night? It would scream ‘guilt’ in a profoundly disturbing way. What could he say to that?
I could tell the truth, he wonders, but his heart resumes its pounding terror at the thought of that scene. Tell the things in my head? That would never work. They should never know. This is mine, all this…
He blinks. He sees himself at school the next day. His guts knot when he thinks of that world under the sun- cold and hostile, he finds no comfort in it- there is no comfort in it for him- he finds nothing in it but repulse and revulsion. The teacher drones on. He doodles on his papers instead of paying attention. He implodes to his own world, his shadow world, far away, fantastic and frightening, but nonetheless his. And if he had to admit that all the monsters he draws are real enough to him, and worse, what he imagines they do, what he imagines he could do in his silent refuge…they would lock him up and throw away the key. Surely they would, he tells himself. He is young, but he is clever enough to understand. The night, the dark, the shadows, they are the realms of his imagination, the spheres of his freedom, but they are traps as well. And someday the fragile boundary between could pop, and things he knows shouldn’t see the light of day would take their hold on him. Maybe, he wonders, that’s the reason he fears the monsters under his bed. Once they get him, he’ll see they’re not monsters…they’re just things, thoughts, he put there, and if they’re monstrous, that would make him-
He can barely swallow, his mouth is so dry. Steadying himself he makes it into the bathroom- diagonal right to the edge of the doorframe, two small sidesteps in, feet to either side of the sink- did it! He braces a hand on the bathroom counter and slowly extends his other hand until he finds the faucet. He must turn it just so: too low, and the trickle will make loud plops, a little further and the water will foam, emitting a low whistle as it comes out of the faucet’s aerator screen. No, it has to be done just right, in one quick small motion, to give a silent, steady stream into the bowl of the sink. He clenches his teeth, gives the valve a turn, and gets it right. With relief he holds for a moment before leaning forward to carefully sip the water. It’s an odd stretch for his height, awkward and off balance, but he manages. So tall! he wonders to himself as he thinks of his family. I’m so small! So small…I fit better in my world…
He turns the water off and holds in the silence. No one moves; there is no sound. Nobody has heard him. And for a moment, he feels an unsettling power burn inside him…I could do anything in my world, the monsters urge, their chorus channeling straight through his head. His eyes dart toward the bedrooms. I could do anything to them; from my world, I could do anything to anybody-
His eyes squeeze shut in fear at that chain of thought. Where did it come from, where does it come from? Why does it come? It comes all the time-
He forces his eyes open. He trembles in the chill of the night. He looks back in the direction of his bedroom and knows he must go. The darkness presses about him. He follows his way back, but not as slowly, for the shadows, he feels them right on him now, pouring out of his back and threatening to drown him with icy tingles if he doesn’t make it under his sheets quickly.
Quick! They’re coming!
He pads across his room only to halt before his bed, his eyes darting nervously along the edge of the impenetrable darkness spilling out from under his mattress. Hurry! he orders himself and in his carelessness overlooks the part of his bed where in nights past he has isolated a creaky spring. It lets out a ratcheting groan as he settles into his bed, but he doesn’t freeze to check if someone has heard. Instead he reverses his escape from his bed, rolling the sheets up over his head and reforming the tunnel to view his clock. It’s done the very moment before he is certain the shadows might be aware of his exposure on the bed, but if they gaze down now, there is nothing to see but a crumpled sheet.
Made it, he assures himself. I made it!
He looks at the clock.
And for a moment, he is just a frightened boy, a boy lost in thoughts that are maybe too big for him, too wild for him, too subtle for him to see through, but his nonetheless, and he trembles at the echo of their passage through his restless mind. Forgive me, forgive! he pleads to himself, constricting against his pillow in fear. He wishes he could sneak back through the moments, creep back in time to take those thoughts and strangle them, but he knows it is too late. It is just his imagination, yet it is him, and he knows enough to be sure he can’t deny it, can’t separate it, from himself. The monsters may be everywhere, but they come from him.
They watch him- of that he is sure. They watch…and wait.
He fears even to breath, that even the little rise of the sheets with his breath will give him away and leave him at their mercy. Hold it, he tells himself and stuffs his thumb in his mouth to keep his teeth from chattering. Hold it tight! I need the sun to rise! Come on!
His wide eye locks outward.
Something…something’s coming…coming for me…
The moments, they just don’t stop. The race begins anew. His mouth dries from anxiety and fear.