THE THING UNDER THE BED
by Stephen Kozeniewski
The girl didn’t say a word.
“I know you hear me up there,” The Thing Under the Bed said, “You can pretend to ignore me but I’m still going to devour you.”
An involuntary gasp escaped from the girl’s throat. She clapped both of her hands over her big fat mouth, but it was already too late. The monster chuckled.
“I knew you were awake. I’ll tell you what: I’ll make you a deal. If you come down here by choice, I’ll kill you before I eat you. Then you don’t have to feel anything. How does that sound?”
She clenched Captain Bundrick under her armpit. She had taken the poor rabbit’s head off twice before by squeezing him in just that manner, and yet she didn’t care now. Mum would grumble, but she would take him into the sewing nook for doll surgery as she always did. That is, assuming Mum or anyone else would be left alive in the morning.
The blanket began to shift, slowly, inexorably being tugged downwards. Obviously The Thing Under the Bed had caught hold of a corner and was pulling, but gently. The goal was to scare her, not to catch her. Nevertheless, she scrambled out from under the covers and planted her bottom on her pillow.
The Thing chuckled again.
“Look, it’s the best thing for you just to give in. What’s your plan anyway? What’ve you got up there? A pillow? And that desiccated old bunny?”
“My Da’ll be home soon enough,” she spouted defiantly.
“Tha’s a nice voice you’ve got. Very pretty. I think your vocal cords shall be very tasty.”
“Well, you’re just a big bully. If you’re so tough, whyn’t you come up here, then?”
So she had finally shut The Thing up. She grinned over her little victory.
“I’m afraid it doesn’t quite work like that, little pet. No, you have to come down here. And you will. Soon enough. Along with your Da and your Mum and everybody else.”
She hung her head, trying desperately not to let a mournful tear strike her mattress. To distract herself, she turned and looked out of the window. Big Ben seemed to be wearing the moon as a halo. She had not learned Roman numerals and she still struggled with reading an analog clock, but after a moment’s counting she saw that it was three…something. Sometime after three in the morning. Her father would be home from his shift any moment now.
“Why not call out to your Mum?” The Thing whispered in the darkness, “I’ll bet she’d be delicious. I mean…a big help to you.”
The girl couldn’t tell whether the monster was teasing or not, but the sounds of her Mum’s piggish snoring from the next room betrayed that she had spent another night deep in her bottles. The girl might call and call for hours but never wake her mother.
She rubbed her forearms. Without the blanket she was getting cold, but she feared being sucked down into the writhing darkness underneath the bed if The Thing decided to start tugging on the sheets again.
“Why don’t you just be quiet?”
A wave of laughter from beneath the bed splashed the girl’s face like cold water.
“Oh, Mum!” The Thing called out, “Mummykins! Mother dearest!”
With each word The Thing’s slimy, spectral voice grew louder and louder.
“Quiet! Quiet!” the girl cried, her heart now beating solidly in her throat.
“It doesn’t matter! She can’t hear! She’s soused. It’s just you and me, my darling. Now come down here and cuddle.”
At that moment the telltale noise of the door of the flat opening filled the air and a wave of relief washed over her.
She dared a peek over the side of the bed.
“Not so eager to yell now, are you?”
The Thing held its peace.
“Oi, what is it?” her father’s voice replied from the foyer.
“Come quick, Da!”
She leaned far out over the side of the bed. The writhing tentacles of darkness that seemed to slither out from under the bed, forever on the periphery of her vision, had disappeared. And from the monster, not a peep.
Her father appeared at her doorway, a silhouette in the moonlight. He flipped the switch and light filled her room, making her blink in surprise. Finally illuminated, she could see his kind face, smiling eyes, and cracked lips.
“What’s all the racket then, little bit?”
All at once she felt foolish.
“There’s a…there’s something under the bed.”
His right eyebrow shot up, nearly rocketing through the roof.
“What kind of a something? A shoe? A ball?”
“No, Da. A…a monster.”
He smiled deftly, his toothy grin suddenly overtaking the rest of his face.
“Oh, is that all? Let me run out and get me sawed-off then.”
He turned to leave.
“No, Da! Da! Don’t go! There’s really something under there!”
Her father nodded and went to his knees before her bed, as though he were praying, the same way she did every night.
“Let’s see what’s under here.”
Her father lifted the dangling blanket and stuck his head under the bed.
“Ohhh, I don’t see anything,” her father’s muffled voice reported back, “No, wait. What’s this?”
Suddenly a sound like a whirring blender filled the room. She stared down at her father’s kneeling form. His leg began to twitch.
In an instant his twitching leg turned into a kicking leg, like a grasshopper’s. Then his whole body began to writhe and shake. The whirring grew louder and louder and then in the space of a split-second his entire body was sucked under the bed, only his screams and the strange buzz of the devouring monster filling the air. A plume of blood exploded out from under the bed an instant later, spraying the floor, her Sunday shoes, and the wall.
The girl began to scream. She began to scream loudly, not caring what the neighbors would think. Not caring what her Mum would think, if it broke through her drunken torpor at all. She screamed and screamed for all she was worth at the horrible, bloody demise of her father.
“Enough of that.”
The voice caught her off guard. It didn’t belong to the monster. It was far too refined. And somehow it sounded…smaller.
She glanced down at Captain Bundrick, the stuffed rabbit. The captain was standing of his own volition and staring at her. His button eyes didn’t blink, but otherwise he seemed fully alive.
“Cap’n…how are you…?”
“Never mind,” the stuffed rabbit said, “Perhaps you’ve gone mad. But that’s not what’s important now. What’s important is that The Thing Under the Bed doesn’t escape.”
“Don’t listen to him,” the monster intoned, “He’s clearly a delusion.”
“If you toss me through the doorway,” Bundrick continued, pointing, “I know where your father keeps the gasoline and matches. You and your mother won’t survive. But most of the people in this building will have time to escape. And more importantly that thing will burn up, too.”
“I’ll make you a counter-proposal,” The Thing said, “If you come down here of your own choice, I’ll leave your Mum alone.”
“There’s no good decision,” Bundrick said, “But there is one correct decision.”
She grabbed the stuffed rabbit and tossed him with all her might through the doorway. A moment later, the smell of gasoline filled the air.
The next day, the Evening Standard reported a wholly different explanation for the fire.