Monster Under the Bed
Originally published in Spellbound Fall 2002.
“Goodnight, sweetie.” Jennifer’s mother tucked her in and switched out the light. “Don’t you dare get out of bed.”
“Night, Mommy,” Jennifer said sleepily.
Her mother nodded and closed the door. Jennifer listened for the quiet click and the soft thud of footsteps going down the stairs.
She leaned over the edge of the bed. “Monster!” she called softly. “Monster under the bed! Where are you?”
Slowly, a voice grumbled from beneath her. “Where I always am.”
“I thought you might have gone away,” Jennifer said accusingly. “You didn’t even try to grab my ankles when I got into bed.”
“Light was too bright.”
“Don’t be silly.” Jennifer leaned over further, her head almost level with the floor. “You’ve tried before in more light.” She giggled. “You still haven’t got me.”
The monster grunted.
“What happens when you get someone?” Jennifer demanded, pulling her head up a little. “You never told me.”
“Power,” the monster grunted. “Got power over the person, if they believe in me.”
Jennifer pondered that for a moment. “What kind of power?”
“Never done it. Don’t know.”
“You won’t ever,” Jennifer grinned, pulling herself back up on top of her bed. “I’m too fast for you.”
“Get you someday.”
“No, you won’t,” Jennifer said cheerfully.
The monster grunted again.
Jennifer scowled. “You’re being boring today. You’re supposed to argue with me.”
“Don’t feel like it.” The monster sounded sullen now.
Jennifer leaned over her bed again, curious. “Why? What happened?”
The monster’s voice came mumbling from under the bed. “Her, if you must know.”
“Her?” Jennifer repeated, perplexed. “Who?”
“Her,” the monster repeated with a growl. “The one who was in here.”
Jennifer’s brow wrinkled. “Mommy?”
“No. The one before her.”
Jennifer’s face cleared. “Oh! You mean David’s new girlfriend!” She giggled. “She’s Cynda, and she’s really nice. She gave me a bag of M&Ms just for promising I wouldn’t tell Mommy about that movie she and David rented and watched in the family room while Mommy and Daddy were gone.”
The monster grunted noncommittally.
“Have you ever tried M&Ms?”
“What’s M&Ms?” the monster asked suspiciously.
“You’ll love it,” Jennifer promised, pulling herself back up into bed and feeling around on her bedside table for the bag. “I still have some. Try one.” She tossed an M&M in the general direction of the floor. She heard a chink as it hit the wood floor, and a soft shush as the monster grabbed it.
“What is it?” he asked doubtfully.
“It’s an M&M,” Jennifer said, exasperated.
“What do you do with it?”
“You eat it, silly. I’ll show you.” She grabbed an M&M and shoved it in her mouth.
“Can’t see without light,” the monster grumbled from under the bed. “Hate light. And don’t eat hard things.”
“Don’t you eat?”
“’Course I do.” The monster sounded a little irritated. “Eat dust.”
“Yuck.” Jennifer wrinkled her nose. “I like M&Ms better.”
Jennifer wrinkled her nose again. “Mommy says dust has to be cleaned out all the time.”
“Don’t like it when you do that,” the monster grumbled. “Too bright, then have to start growing the dust all over again.”
“Mommy says it’s dirty when you don’t,” Jennifer said loyally.
“Not dirty,” the monster said sullenly. “Just hungry.”
“Then eat something else.”
The monster sounded stubborn. “Can’t.”
Jennifer sighed loudly. She knew how stubborn the monster could be.
“Don’t like her,” the monster said again, louder.
“I like her.” Jennifer gulped down her last handful of M&Ms. “She’s nice.”
“Don’t.” The monster sounded sullen again. “Don’t like exterminators.”
Jennifer put the now-empty bag on her nightstand and wriggled back under her sheets. “But they make icky bugs go away.”
“Other exterminators. Ones that make us go away.”
Jennifer stopped wriggling, startled. “They make monsters go away?”
The monster mumbled an indistinct answer.
Jennifer stared out into the darkness. She didn’t want anyone to make her monster go away. “Maybe you’re wrong,” she said doubtfully.
“Know an exterminator when I see one.”
Jennifer shivered and wriggled further under the covers.
* * *
Jennifer looked up from her coloring book. “What’s wrong, Mommy?”
Her mother was talking on the phone. Jennifer made a face and grabbed another crayon. Cerulean blue, this time. Next to the Purple Mountain Majesty on the princess’s dress.
“Yes — oh, I’m sorry, Hilary. What a nightmare — yes — of course I understand, it’s just — yes, of course — yes. All right. I’m sorry too. Goodnight, Hilary.”
Jennifer looked up as her mother hung up the phone. “What happened to Hilary?”
Her mother ran her hand nervously through her hair. “Hilary just canceled.”
Jennifer brightened. “So I can stay here by myself?”
“No!” Jennifer’s mother took a deep breath. “No, Jennifer. We’ll just have to find someone else.”
Jennifer scowled. “I’m old enough.”
“You most certainly are not. Do you know where I put Serena’s number?”
Jennifer opened her mouth to complain, but the front door slammed before she could.
“. . . down here, I’ll just be a sec.” Jennifer heard her older brother pound up the stairs. He sounded like an elephant.
Cynda came sauntering into the kitchen. Jennifer drew back from her slightly, not sure what to think.
Cynda saw her and beamed. “Jennifer! How good to see you again!”
Jennifer scowled. That smile made her look like a crocodile. “Fine.”
“Yes, I understand — all right.” Jennifer’s mother hung up the phone for a second time. “That was Serena. She can’t come ei— oh, Cynda! When did you come in?”
Cynda’s crocodile smile widened slightly. “Just a moment ago. Were you having some kind of problem?”
“Oh, baby-sitters.” Jennifer’s mother ran a hand through her hair again. “Hilary canceled at the last moment, and Serena’s not available either — you know Fridays — we’re just going to have to cancel our dinner reservations, I suppose —”
“I’m old enough —” Jennifer protested.
“Jennifer, anyone who still thinks she has a monster under her bed —”
Cynda’s eyebrows raised the slightest fraction of an inch. “A monster?”
“Her imaginary friend,” Jennifer’s mother explained vaguely. “Can you remember where I put Kim’s number?”
“I’m free tonight.”
Jennifer’s mother stared at Cynda, her eyes widening as if Christmas had come three months early. “Don’t you and David have something planned?”
“Just a basketball game.” Cynda smiled that crocodile smile again. “I’m not a cheerleader. I think he’ll forgive me if I skip this once.”
A look of relief crossed Jennifer’s mother’s face. “Well then, if you’re sure — we’ll pay you, of course, six dollars an hour —”
Cynda’s smile widened. “I’ll look forward to it.”
Jennifer’s skin prickled in apprehension. She had a bad feeling about this.
* * *
“Monopoly? Risk? Candy Land?”
Jennifer faked a yawn. “I think I want to go to bed.”
“At eight o’clock?” Cynda’s eyebrows arched. “Most children your age would be begging to stay up.”
Jennifer yawned again, as widely as she could. “I’m tired.” She got up. “I want to go to bed.”
Cynda grabbed her arm. “Didn’t you sleep well last night? Why not?”
Jennifer tried to pull her arm away, but Cynda wouldn’t let her. “I’m just tired,” she said defensively.
Cynda nodded wisely. “I understand, Jennifer, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I was afraid of monsters when I was your age.”
Jennifer wrenched her arm free and scowled. “I’m not scared of monsters.”
Cynda smiled sweetly. “Of course you’re not — that’s what children always claim. But I know better. You have a real one, don’t you?”
Jennifer folded her arms across her chest. “Real what?”
“Monster under your bed.” Cynda smiled that crocodile smile again.
Jennifer scowled. “No.”
Cynda laughed. It wasn’t a nice laugh. “What would you say if I told you I could get rid of it?”
Jennifer stamped her foot, furious. “I’d say you’re a bad person and should leave other people’s monsters alone!”
“Now, Jennifer,” Cynda said soothingly, an eyebrow arching, “I understand you think you can solve the problem yourself. I thought the same thing when I was a child, but it doesn’t work that way. You have to find someone trained to do it. Someone with the proper tools. Someone —”
“I don’t want an exterminator!”
Cynda looked a little startled, then smiled. “So you even know the term for it. So much the better. Now let’s go upstairs and get rid of your monster.” She patted the bag she carried everywhere with her. “I have everything I need right here.”
Jennifer backed away, her heart beating rapidly. “No!”
Cynda shook her head sadly. “Really, Jennifer, you need my help, whether or not you’re willing to admit —”
Jennifer dashed for the stairs. She made it to her bedroom and locked the door before Cynda could follow her. Panting, she knelt down by the bed.
“Monster!” she hissed. “Monster! Cynda’s coming up, she’s going to exterminate you! Do something, quick!”
The growly voice emerged as Cynda pounded on the door. “Can’t do anything.”
“Jennifer! Let me in right now!”
“Quick, quick, quick,” Jennifer wailed. “I don’t want her here!”
“Can’t do anything,” the monster repeated dully. “Shouldn’t’ve let her in.”
“I didn’t — Mommy did!”
“If you don’t let me in,” Cynda threatened, “I will come in on my own. I know how to pick locks.”
“Do something,” Jennifer cried desperately. “Anything!”
The monster pondered as the doorknob clicked and turned, and Cynda stepped into the room. She stood silhouetted in the doorway, until her hand reached out and clicked the light on.
Jennifer jumped in front of her bed, shielding it from the exterminator. “Go away! Leave my monster alone!”
“You silly girl.” Cynda sounded annoyed now. “You don’t know what you’re asking for. Get out of my way.”
Cynda shoved her aside. Jennifer jumped back and pulled at her arm, unsuccessfully. Cynda slapped her away and —
The monster’s hand fastened around her ankle.
“Got one,” the monster said slowly, triumphantly. “Told you. Could do it if wanted to.”
Cynda screamed in revulsion and tried to kick the monster’s hand. Jennifer grabbed her bag, and she and Cynda played a furious game of tug-of-war. Cynda was much stronger.
“Monster! Monster! Get them both!” Jennifer yelled.
“Both?” the monster repeated slowly.
“Oh.” The monster’s slow, pondering voice came from under the bed. “Why?”
“So you’ll have power over her!”
Cynda snatched the bag from Jennifer, panting heavily. “Don’t you dare do that again,” she hissed, and started to open the bag —
But a strange, dreamlike expression drifted across her face before she could.
Jennifer saw her chance and snatched the bag back. She looked for a place to hide it, and finally buried it in her trash, under several old homework assignments. When she turned back, Cynda was still frozen, the monster’s hands wrapped around her ankles.
“Do something with her.”
“Hard to hold on to,” the monster mumbled.
“Do something with her!”
“Don’t know what.”
Jennifer’s eyes narrowed. “Make her stop believing in monsters.”
“Don’t know how.”
“Yes, you do.”
The monster sounded unhappy. “Don’t want to let go. Make her forget, have to let go.”
Jennifer stamped her foot. “She wants to exterminate you!”
The monster pondered that for a moment. Then, slowly, it pulled its hands away.
* * *
“Strangest child I’ve ever sat for,” Cynda was telling David as Jennifer snuck behind the couch. “First, she volunteers to go to bed at eight o’clock.”
David laughed and picked up the remote control. “My sister’s weird. You gotta respect that.”
“Then she yells at me to turn the hall light off, because it’s scaring the monster under her bed,” Cynda continued, ticking the points off on her fingers.
Jennifer scooped up a handful of dust. That ought to be just enough to start a new farm under her bed. Then the monster wouldn’t complain about not getting enough to eat.
“Then she comes downstairs at nine thirty to complain she can’t sleep and wants to know if she can have a glass of water. So I go to the kitchen to get her one, and I come up, and she’s talking to thin air!”
“Monster under the bed,” David grinned, flipping through a few channels. “She does that all the time. I think she really believes in that thing.”
Cynda rolled her eyes, looking exasperated. “But it’s so stupid. Everyone knows monsters don’t exist.”
David shrugged. “So it’s an imaginary friend. So what?”
Cynda groaned and shook her head. “I’m beginning to think your whole family’s strange.”
Jennifer snuck out from behind the couch and headed up to her room, grinning triumphantly.
Available in print or e-book format through the Worlds of Wonder anthology.