Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
“Will you tell me a story before bed, father?” asked Rachel as she bounded onto the small cot that sat in the corner of the room. Candlelight flickered and sent shadows dancing on the walls.
“Of course I will, my sweet,” replied her father. “I’ll tell you the story of the Bear and the Rabbit.”
He helped her snuggle down onto the straw filled mattress that was draped on the precarious frame of timber he had hewn from a tree nearby. “But first you must say your prayers. We must give thanks to God for all of his blessings.”
Jacob Burnell was a simple and devout man of God. A widower, he worked hard to provide for himself and his only child. Rachel was his life. For six years he had loved her dearly and mourned the loss of his wife who had bled to death giving birth.
He and his wife had only been settled in the Virgina colony for about a year when she announced she was with child. Jacob was overjoyed. They had come to the new world to start a fresh life and build a family. He’d constructed a small home from the expansive forest that surrounded the village and produced a meager living as a cobbler. Most of his business came from mending the boots of the men in the village and he made enough to feed and cloth his family. If not for Edward Fenton, all would have been perfect for Jacob.
Fenton was a drunk and surly man. He took pleasure in mocking others, especially those in whom he percieved weakness. Edward Fenton was a bully and his favorite victim was Jacob. Fenton would deride Jacob as he passed by in the streets and on occasion would journey to the shop Jacob had built next to his small home and ridicule him in front of customers or worse, Elizabeth, Jacob’s wife.
She told Jacob that he should turn the other cheek, as it was written in the good book and chided him to pay no mind to the abuse that he suffered from Fenton. Elizabeth sought to see the best in everyone, although she was no fool. She knew her husband’s temper and realized that it fell to her to keep him from acting out. Fenton was trouble and Elizabeth wanted Jacob to have no part in confronting him. She knew it would end badly.
As Elizabeth lay dying in a pool of her blood, the midwife swept the small baby girl up in white linen cloth and whisked her away. Jacob knelt by his wife’s side, tearfully gripping her hand and praying to God to be merciful and spare his love. She stared blankly at him as if she were gazing down a long tunnel and could barely see. She whispered his name.
“Yes, my dear, I’m right here,” he said, squeezing her hand.
“Is she alive? Is our daughter alive?” she asked weakly. Jacob turned to look at the midwife who cradled the swaddled bundle. The midwife nodded gravely.
“Yes of course she is, my love. Our daughter is fine. You did a wonderful job. Now you should rest,” he sobbed.
“You must look out for her,” said Elizabeth. “You must care for her and you must protect her.”
“We’ll do that together, my dear. Now please, just rest. You’re going to be fine.”
“Jacob,” Elizabeth said focusing her gaze at him and squeezing his hand. “Promise me you will contain yourself. Promise you will not give into anger. Wrath is a sin and it leads us on the path to Hell.”
“Please, Elizabeth, please,” said Jacob, his voice cracking with emotion.
“Promise me!” she said with strength that surprised him.
“Yes, I promise. Of course. But now you must rest. Susan will tend to you now.” said Jacob as the midwife returned to Elizabeth’s side. She had set the crying baby in the small cradle that Jacob had built for her.
Jacob stood and walked to the cradle. He scooped his newborn daughter into his arms and held her tightly. He closed his eyes and prayed.
An hour later Elizabeth was dead.
As Rachel knelt on her bed and began her prayers there was a loud knock on the door. The noise startled both the young girl and her father. She looked to him with fear and he stood. Another loud thump sounded followed by a drunken cry.
“Open yer door, Burnell!” said Edward Fenton loudly.
“Oh Lord,” said Jacob softly. It was not unusual for Fenton to antagonize Jacob when Fenton was full of liquor, but that was only if Jacob had the poor fortune of encountering him at the tavern or in public. He had never come to Jacob’s home before in one of his drunken rages. Jacob walked to his door and looked for anything he could arm himself with. Fenton was a large man and even sober he was intimidating.
“Go away, Edward!” Jacob shouted, hoping to sound more threatening than he actually felt. Another loud crash sounded as Fenton bashed his meaty fist against the wooden door.
“I know yer in there, you coward,” said Fenton with a slur in his voice. The only thing Jacob saw that was handy to grab was a broom. It was better than being unarmed, he reasoned as he took it in his hands.
Just then his door splintered and burst open in a loud crash. Fenton stood tall in the doorway and Jacob heard Rachel scream in fear from behind him.
“Leave, NOW!” shouted Jacob, brandishing the broom as though it were some kind of steel sword.
“Why don’t you make me, you cowardly cobbler!” Fenton roared as he rushed into the single room of the small house. Jacob swung the broom and connected but Fenton brushed it off as a horse swatted flies with its tail. Fenton lunged at Jacob and a huge fist crashed into Jacob’s jaw. Darkness took him and Jacob fell to the floor unconscious. As all thought faded from his mind, he heard the screams of his daughter as if from a long distance and then nothing. He may have heard her screams, but he was mercifully spared from seeing what Fenton did to her. He only saw the aftermath when he finally awoke.
Jacob regained consciousness later, although he knew not how much time had passed. His house was dark and he fumbled around for a candle. Locating one, he lit it with one of the still glowing embers from his fireplace. He then lit a second and set one on his table. He still felt woozy from the punch and it was only after the second candle was lit that he realized that his house was too quiet.
“Rachel?” he called to his daughter. He received no reply.
He ran to her bed, candle in hand to illuminate his way. What he found caused his stomach to lurch and he violently emptied it’s contents. His mind receded into a fugue state. He remembered seeing her bloody, broken body laying on her bed. He recalled seeing that she was naked and laying on her blood-stained mattress. The blood seemed to have come from between her legs which were still splayed open widely. Her small head was turned unnaturally to the right and her unseeing eyes looked to the front door.
Rage filled Jacob. It was a hot, bloody rage unlike anything he’d ever felt. Everything took on a scarlet hue and his mind felt small like it was no longer in control. His body acted alone, and Jacob could only watch as if in a dream. He staggered outside and found his axe. The long solid handle and heavy iron blade felt weightless in his hand. The night sky was bright with moonlight which cast a yellow glow upon an indigo sky. Jacob stomped towards the village with a single purpose: Vengeance.
It was late and few people were out. Jacob plodded along and did not stop until he reached the tavern. Upon entering, he scanned the room and his eyes found their quarry. Edward Fenton stood at the bar with a mug in hand as he spoke loudly with a compatriot. His drunken laughter filled the common room of the tavern. He did not see Jacob Burnell enter.
The horror of seeing his mangled daughter, the only thing he’d left in the world filled his mind and a savage scream erupted from Jacob’s breast. Agony spilled forth from his lungs and whatever sanity that might have remained in his mind vanished in the echoes that rang off the walls. He lunged at Fenton like a charging bull with the axe held high in the air. Fenton turned towards the commotion just in time to watch the axe bury itself deep into his head. Blood and brains were on the floor the moment his body fell. Edward Fenton’s days of tormenting others were over.
On the day of his execution, Jacob was asked by the local constable if he wanted to say anything to make his peace with God before he was hanged. For years afterwards, the residents of that small village remembered how Jacob Burnell, the kind-hearted town cobbler had cursed God Almighty, spewing forth such blasphemous things that no one dare repeat them. His vitriol towards the Lord was such that no one doubted his soul was destined to Hell. He was still screaming his curses at God until the moment that the trap door beneath his feet opened and he dropped. The silence that followed the sharp crack of his neck was chillier than that cold November morning.
The Monster enjoyed the darkness, as monsters usually do. Light burned his eyes and monsters see well in the dark. It had wandered into her bedroom from the nether regions because its monster senses had detected a small child. Children were toys and children were prey. Fear was delicious and this monster was so good at causing it. Nearly 300 years had passed since its human body had died and the wretched soul that had dwelled within had transformed into the beast it was today. Lurking in shadow and feeding off of terror, it was a despicable, lonely existence, but that’s what evil begets.
The room was small, devoid of too many objects of female decor. No frilly curtains or bedspreads adorned this room, nor was it cluttered with doll houses or endless pairs of shoes. As girls rooms go, it was rather spartan. The bareness of the room reflected the life of this young girl. Her mother was dead and her father was cold and distant. Upon arrival, the monster had crept though the house, hiding in shadows and watching, listening to the humans. He had watched as the girl and her father sat quietly together at the small table in the kitchen — there was no dining room in this small house — eating dinner in silence. On the few occasions when the girl spoke, her father barely responded. Seeing his disinterest, her lonely gaze would return to her food.
Their interactions, the girl and her father, were brief and seldom. He usually only took the time to address her if he was giving her instructions or scolding her for some minor transgression. The Monster did not follow her activities during the daylight hours much but he assumed she went to school like most children her age would. In the afternoons she would return home and spend time in her room. She seldom played outside much and no friends ever visited her.
The girl had a doll she’d named Elizabeth that she played with every day. The doll was rather plain, consisting of stitched fabric with stuffing and bits of yarn for hair, but the Monster could easily see this was her favorite toy. Through her interactions with Elizabeth, the monster realized she was a bright girl. Though only eight, she spoke clearly and intelligently.
One rainy day she was playing with Elizabeth when her father called her from downstairs. As she left the room, she left Elizabeth lying on the floor near her bed. The Monster peered cautiously out from under the bed at the doll. The gloomy day had left the room darkened enough that he could see with minimal discomfort. Curiosity got the best of him and he reached out a clawed hand and snatched the doll up and pulled her into the darkness. He turned the doll over in his gnarled hands and inspected her. There appeared to be nothing remarkable about the toy and yet, the Monster could feel what could almost be described as a soothing sensation washing over him as he held the doll.
It was an odd feeling, one that he had not felt since… well, not for a long time. The sensation startled him and he cast the doll away. She landed on the floor in the middle of the room. When the little girl returned she noticed her doll lying in a place where it had not been before she left. Though confused she quickly shook it off and sat back down and resumed her play. The Monster watched her with growing interest.
That night as she slept, pale moonlight beam through the window of her darkened room. Hungry, the Monster crawled out from under her bed. He would wake her and stare into her eyes and feed off of her screams. He would not devour her tonight. Fear should be savored and as most monsters do, he would draw out his feeding for many nights.
He crept up the side of her bed, over the edge and onto her thin blankets. She lay curled on her side, clenching Elizabeth tightly as she slept. Like a predator, the Monster moved closer until he hovered over her helpless form. He flexed his sharp talons. His long, needle-like teeth almost glowed in the darkness of the room. He savored the anticipation. The moments before the scare were always so sweet.
He gazed upon her, noting her small features. She breathed comfortably, completely unaware of the beast that stared hungrily at her. She clutched Elizabeth tightly, as if the doll were her only friend in the world and indeed she might have been. The Monster’s gaze lingered… and lingered. He meant to strike, but didn’t. Years later he would never be able to explain exactly why it had happened, but something about her and that doll… it awoke feelings within him he’d long forgotten. The feelings were not completely alien to him, just part of a distant past he barely remembered. In that moment, his hunger abated. He just sat and stared at her as the long night passed. Finally, when the first hints of dawn were about to burst into her room, he crept back under her bed to the dark confines of his lair.
Later that day, after the girl returned from school, she once again sat on her bedroom floor playing with Elizabeth and a ball. In her play, she pretended to be Elizabeth’s mother.
“Mommy, would you like to play ball with me?” asked Elizabeth.
“Of course dear, I’d love to play with you,” responded the girl. She tossed the ball with her left hand across the floor where the doll sat perched against the leg of her bed. The ball was meant to roll directly to the doll, but the trajectory was off and it rolled under bed instead.
“Oh darn,” said the girl. “I’m sorry Elizabeth. Mommy missed.” She crawled to her doll and picked her up. She turned the doll to face her and said in the voice that was supposed to be Elizabeth, “Can you get the ball, mommy? I don’t like the dark.”
“Of course,” said the girl. “I’m your mommy and mommies aren’t afraid of anything.” She paused then for a moment as if remembering something sad from her past. She whispered to herself, “Mommies are always there to protect their daughters.”
Setting Elizabeth on the floor, the girl crouched as if to shimmy on her belly under her bed. She reached out to pull up her bedspread, which draped to the floor when suddenly her ball came rolling back out. It rolled right up to her face which was now almost floor level. The girl shot up quickly and stared at the ball. She was only eight, but she knew that should not have happened.
Reaching out, she snatched the ball and stared closely at it. Nothing appeared to be amiss, but a tingling feeling grew up her spine, regardless. However, curiousity got the best of her, so fighting back her fear, she slowly crawled on her hands and knees to her bed. Snatching up her bedspread in a quick yank, she peered underneath.
Shadows lurked beneath her bed but there was enough light in her room that she could see across to the other side. No one was there. She wondered if her ball could have struck something and bounced back, but there was nothing save bare floor. The girl frowned in confusion and slowly lowered her bedspread. She grabbed Elizabeth.
Crawling back about five feet from the edge of her bed, she sat and rolled the ball underneath her bed once again, this time with purpose. She waited. Seconds ticked by silently. Just when she was about to give up hope and pass off the incident as a fluke, the ball came rolling back to her. The girl’s eyes grew wide.
Staring intently at her bed, she summoned all the bravery should could muster. Clinging tightly to Elizabeth, she called out, “Is someone there?”
A moment passed. Then, to her amazement, a voice replied. “Don’t be afraid,” it said. The girl jumped back.
The voice spoke slowly and had a slight edge to it, but it was not menacing. In fact, it almost sounded to her like the owner was deliberately trying to sound pleasant, the way she might speak to an injured animal if she were trying to calm it.
“W…who are you?” the girl asked quietly.
“You can call me… Mr. Thomas.” said the voice
The girl was surprised but her young mind accepted this easier than it would have if she had been grown. The possibility of the bizarre is something that children realize better than adults. She spoke with some trepidation, but the initial stinging fear was dissipating.
“Hello,” she replied, not really knowing what the appropriate response was to a disembodied voice emanating from under her bed.
“May I ask your name?” inquired the Monster, trying to sound pleasant.
“My name is Alexandra,” she said. “This is my doll, Elizabeth.”
“It’s nice to meet you Alexandra and Elizabeth.”
” But who are you and how did you get under my bed and why can’t I see you?” asked Alexandra, finding her courage.
“Oh, well,” said the Monster, “you can’t see me because I live mostly in the shadows and I came here shortly after you moved in. I…” the Monster hesitated. “Well, as for who I am, you can think of me as a friend. Do you have any friends?”
Alexandra paused. She knew that this was odd and part of her wanted to jump up and run to her father and tell him what she’d seen and heard. But as soon as those thoughts went through her head, she saw the inevitable outcome. Her father, being a stern and pragmatic man would not believe her. He would dismiss her story as nonsense and scold her for bothering him. He did not like being disturbed and never seemed to have time for her. Reporting this to him was out of the question.
Alexandra considered the Monster’s question. She had no other adults with whom to speak and no friends from the neighborhood or school. The other children in her class avoided her unless they were in groups, in which case they would laugh at her and tease her because she was the new girl.
One girl in particular seemed to delight in saying mean things. Delilah would point out that Alexandra had worn the same dress twice in one week or that her shoes were scuffed and worn. Delilah always seemed to be attired in new, colorful outfits and had matching shoes for each. Her golden hair was brushed neatly and she wore it in different styles with bright ribbons or clips. By contrast, Alexandra had only three dresses and one pair of shoes and she brushed her own mousey brown hair each morning. Her father had no time for such things. His daughters clothing and grooming were not his concern.
“No,” she replied at last. “I don’t have any friends”
“Well then, I’m glad we met,” said the Monster. “Would you like to play?”
“How can we play,” asked Alexandra. “I can’t see you.”
“Well, I can’t come out right now because the light hurts my eyes,” replied the Monster. “But you can roll the ball back to me and we can play that way.”
“Ok,” said Alexandra, warming up to her new friend. She rolled the ball under the bed and a moment later it came rolling back to her. She and Elizabeth spent the rest of the afternoon playing with their new friend. At five minutes before 6 p.m. she told Mr. Thomas that she had to go downstairs for dinner. Her father insisted on her arriving at the table, hands washed promptly at 6 p.m.
“Will you be here when I get back?” she asked hopefully.
“Of course,” said the Monster. “We can play some more after you return.”
Alexandra left her room and went to her bathroom to wash for dinner. The Monster smiled, but it was not the evil grin that usually adorned his face. This was different. There were no ill intentions behind it. No malice or wicked plots filled his head. The monster simply felt… good.
That night Alexandra crawled into her bed yawning. She’d had more fun this afternoon and evening than she’d had in a long time. She and her new friend, Mr. Thomas had devised several games to play, all of which required him to remain hidden from her sight, but she didn’t mind. The last time anyone had paid this much attention to her was before her mother died.
She and her mother had been close and they often spent hours playing when she was smaller. Those happy days had come to an end when her mother became ill. Alexandra had wanted to be with her mother by her bedside to keep her company, but her father had refused her. He explained that her mother needed rest and that Alexandra would only disturb her. The day her mother died, she had begged her father with tears in her eyes to allow her to see her mother one last time, but her father refused.
Alexandra would not be deterred. While her father spoke with the ambulance driver who’d arrived to transport his mother’s body away, she had sneaked into her mother’s room. There in the dim haze of the evening sunshine that faintly penetrated the curtains of the bedroom, she’d seen the only true light in her life, extinguished. The one person in the whole world that had ever shown her any real love or attention was gone. She’d walked to her mother’s body and noticed the skin was ashen in color. Alexandra had reached out and touched her mother’s hand. It was cold and still. Tears had poured from Alexandra’s face and her world had shattered that day.
Now, for the first time since then, Alexandra felt the faint tingling of happiness course through her. She smiled as she snuggled under her covers.
“Will you be here tomorrow, Mr. Thomas?” she asked sleepily.
“Yes I will,” replied the Monster. “We can play again when you return from school.”
“Good,” she said yawning. “I’d like that.” She reached over and turned off the small lamp that sat next to her bed on her nightstand. Her head rested on her pillow and within a minute she was asleep.
Later that night the Monster crawled out from under the bed and as he had the night before, sat quietly next to her watching her sleep. He was still puzzled by his behavior and these feelings he was experiencing. He knew he should be terrorizing her but he felt no desire to do so. The hunger for delicious fear was gone. All of this was new to him and he sat for hours wondering what was happening. His mind told him this was stupid and he should just ignore these “emotions” and carry out his task as always, but every time he looked at her, sleeping comfortably and peacefully, he felt a wave of contentment wash over him. Once again, he crawled back to his shadowy lair under her bed just before dawn, but before doing so, he reached out and patted her small hand with his own dark, clawed palm. The contact had only lasted for a moment, but in that span, a spark of light appeared in his dark soul.
Several weeks passed and each day the Monster spent the afternoons and evenings playing and talking with Alexandra. She would ask him questions about what he looked like and what he did and where he came from and not wanting to frighten her, he always answered in the vaguest of ways. He would then turn her questions back on her and she would eagerly speak about her life before her mother passed. This seemed to be her favorite subject. When he asked her about school or her classmates, she became less talkative and had little to say. On a few occasions, she spoke of the hurtful things the kids said or did but then changed the subject. It was clear to the Monster that those topics brought more pain to her.
The Stranger came to the house on a Saturday. Alexandra was outside in her backyard. She usually preferred to play in her room, but this was such a beautiful spring day, she couldn’t resist. There was a small dirt mound in the corner of the tiny yard and it was covered in wildflowers and Alexandra took Elizabeth with her to play amongst them. She marveled as bees buzzed around, gathering nectar and ants from a small colony within the dirt mound marched in lines seeking food. She was enjoying herself so much she didn’t hear her father call to her. After repeatedly shouting her name, her father captured her attention and Alexandra looked towards the back door of her home.
She ran to him with Elizabeth firmly in her grasp. “Yes father?” she asked.
“What is the matter with you?” he shouted. “I called you three times! Three! You better start paying attention or you’ll not be allowed outside anymore.”
She looked down ashamed. “I’m sorry, father. It won’t happen again.”
He looked at her for a moment and then said, “I want you to come inside and meet someone.”
She walked in front of him and he directed her to the living room. There sitting in the one chair that sat in that small room was a tall, thin man with greasy locks of hair and a large nose. He stood as Alexandra entered the room and smiled down at her, grinning perhaps a bit too broadly.
“Alex, this is Mr. Joshua. He’s going to be staying with us for a while.”
The man extended his hand to Alexandra and she took it hesitantly. He gripped her small hand firmly but gently and gave it a shake. Alexandra thought his hand felt moist.
“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet such a lovely young lady. Alexandra, is it? You are such a pretty girl. I’m sure we’ll become good friends in no time.” said Mr. Joshua in an oily voice.
“Mr. Joshua will be staying in the room we used for storage. I’ve cleared it out and set up a bed and dresser for him. You are not to go in his room or disturb him, do you understand, Alex?” her father asked sternly, looking down at her.
“Yes, father, I understand.” she said quietly.
“Oh, I’m sure she’d be no bother at all,” said Mr. Joshua, patting her gently on the top of her head. Such a lovely young girl would be lovely company.” He looked at her with his extra wide grin.
Later that night after dinner, Alexandra’s father explained to her that money was short and he had decided to take in a border to help pay the bills. Then her father did something Alexandra had never seen him do. He knelt down on one knee so that he could look into her eyes at her level.
“Alex,” he said slowly, with a touch of softness in his voice. “it is very important that you listen to me. You must not disturb Mr. Joshua or go into his room, even if he asks you to, do you understand?”
Alexandra was a bit confused. Her father had already spoken to her about leaving Mr. Joshua alone. She knew her father didn’t like to repeat himself and at first she was afraid he was angry, believing somehow that she had not paid attention to him during his initial warning. But her father was not angry. In fact, she felt as though he was concerned about her. This was not a tone she was accustomed to hearing in his voice.
“I understand, father. I won’t bother Mr. Joshua and I won’t go into his room, even if he asks me to.”
Thank you Alex. Now off to bed you go.” said her father. She climbed the stairs and walked down the short hallway to her room. She had to pass by the doorway to Mr. Joshua’s new room. He was inside but the door was closed. She could see a thin strip of light shining through the bottom of the door. She crept by his door as though she was sneaking past a sleeping guard dog. She made it to her room. His door did not open.
Once in her room, she closed her door and began to dress for bed. As she was putting on her nightgown, she heard the voice of Mr. Thomas from under her bed.
“You’ve been gone most of the day. Where were you?” he asked. In truth, he had crept downstairs earlier and seen the Stranger in their home. He was unable to follow him into his room because the man had immediately flooded the small bedroom with light and the Monster had been forced to retreat back into Alexandra’s room.
“I was playing outside this morning, you know that,” she said matter-of-factly. Her conversations with Mr. Thomas were daily events and they spoke now as though they were old friends.
“Yes, but you never came back upstairs.”
Alexandra laughed quietly. “You worry too much,” she said.
“I wasn’t worried,” the Monster scoffed, protesting perhaps too much. “I was just… bored, that’s all.”
“We have someone new in the house,” Alexandra said solemnly. “His name is Mr. Joshua. Father says I’m not to disturb him or go into his room.” She added as an afterthought. “I don’t want to go in his room. I don’t like him.”
“I don’t like him either,” said the Monster truthfully.
“How do you know?” she asked, looking down at the floor by her bed. She was directing her voice at the spot she imagined he would be. “You haven’t met him, have you?”
“I watched him,” said the Monster. “I even got close enough to smell him. He doesn’t smell right.”
“You mean he doesn’t take baths?” she asked, mildly confused.
“No, not that. I can smell things about people. Like… if they are good or bad. He smells bad.”
“How can you do that?” Alexandra asked with a slight giggle. Sometimes Mr. Thomas said the funniest things.
“I just can,” he said in a serious tone. Alexandra hopped into her bed. She pulled back her blankets and slithered underneath her covers. Then she yanked them up to her neck and settled back into her pillow.
“Will you tell me a story tonight?” she asked hopefully.
“I suppose I can do that,” he replied slowly, as if he were actually considering whether or not he would. They both knew he would tell her a bedtime story. He had been doing so every night for the past several weeks. It had become a nightly ritual with them. “What story would you like to hear?”
“You know which one,” she giggled softly.
“Again?” he sighed. “But I told you that story last night… and the night before.”
“I know, but I love that story,” she said. “Pleeeeaaassse?”
The Monster smiled to himself. He did not mind telling her the story one bit. It brought as much pleasure to him telling it as it did to her in hearing it.
“Very well,” he began.”Once there was a Bear and a Rabbit and they both lived deep in the woods…”
By the time he finished the story, her eyelids were closed and she was breathing soundly. She had forgotten to turn off her bedside lamp. Normally the Monster would crawl up the side of her bed after she fell into slumber and sit with her as she slept but the bright light of her lamp kept him from doing so. The light burned his eyes and even his decrepit skin.
Monsters don’t sleep and night time was when most monsters were active anyway, so he usually spent those hours watching over her. It never occurred to him that she needed protecting, but that is the role he assumed, almost without thinking about it. Tonight though, he was relegated to his dark lair below her bed.
A few weeks passed after the arrival of Mr. Joshua. He turned out to be a rather reclusive man and Alexandra found that avoiding him was easier than she first suspected. Most days he was gone. Alexandra never knew where he went and she certainly had no intentions of asking him. At night he would share their table at dinnertime and it was then that he would speak. He seldom addressed her father during the course of the meals as it became apparent to him, as it had to Alexandra so long ago, that her father was a man of few words, especially at mealtime.
He spoke rather, directly to Alexandra in a tone that she was sure was meant to be pleasant but somehow made her skin crawl. She never let on that he had this affect on her and would smile and respond to his questions politely, but never in great detail. The less he knew about her, the better she felt. His presence in her home felt like having stepped in something nasty and being completely unable to remove it from the bottom of her shoe.
Their dinnertime question and answer routine was not so much what disturbed her. His questions were innocent enough: “How was your day?” and “What did you learn in school?” and other standard inquiries. It was they way he asked her, or more specifically the way he looked at her that sent feelings across her skin as though a thousand bristly spiders were traipsing along her arms and neck. She began to eat her dinners quickly and then disappear up to her room, under the premise that she had schoolwork to complete.
One afternoon, after arriving home from school, she found a note on her door from her father, explaining that he had business in town and that he would not be home until late. She was not concerned about dinner as she was capable in the kitchen and could make a meal for herself, but she realized this meant she would be left home alone with Mr. Joshua. She planned to stay in her room for the rest of the day and only venture out for a brief visit to the kitchen for food or to relieve herself.
Her plan went well until about seven o’clock that evening. She had heard Mr. Joshua return home a few hours prior and had listened to the sounds of his footfalls in the hallway when he came upstairs and entered his room, as was his custom. Normally he stayed in his room until Alexandra had drifted off to sleep. Tonight however, she was interrupted while reading a book by the sound of his door opening and his footsteps echoing in the hallway as he approached her room. He stopped just outside of her closed but unlocked door and there was a moment of silence as though he were standing just outside her doorway and listening for her. The pause went on until Alexandra was close to calling out. Just before speaking, there was a sharp rapping on her door. This was followed by Mr. Joshua’s skin crawling voice.
“Alexandra, are you in there?” he asked in his sickeningly sweet voice.
Alexandra paused for a moment. She really did not want to respond. She had no desire to see him or to let him into her room, but she felt she had no choice. He was, after all, a grown up and she had been taught that she must always obey grown ups as they knew best.
“Y…Yes, I’m here,” she said shakily. She didn’t want to sound afraid, but the first butterflies in her tummy started to flutter.
“Oh good dear,” he said. “May I come in?”
“Yes,” she replied.
Her door squeaked as he slowly opened it from the outside. Standing in the doorway, he seemed to loom taller than ever. She was sitting on her bed with her book still in her hand. It was nearly June and the last rays of summer sunlight managed to find their way through her bedroom window, casting shadows here and there. She had her bedside lamp turned on for reading light but that still left enough gloom in her room for it now to feel a bit scary. She hadn’t even noticed the shadows until Mr. Joshua’s presence made them apparent.
“Ah, good evening dear,” he said looking down on her with a smile on his face. “Your father let me know that he would be out for the evening so it appears it is just the two of us tonight. Since I did not see you downstairs for dinner, I thought I might come up and visit with you. We so rarely get to talk. Might I sit down?”
He gestured to her bed and Alexandra reluctantly moved to her right to allow him to sit down. She moved, perhaps a bit more than he expected towards the head of her bed and rather than sitting at the end or even in the middle, he chose to sit down quite close to her. It was far closer than Alexandra wanted.
“What are you reading?” he asked her.
She showed him her book and he remarked that it was a delightful read, one of his favorites as a young boy. Alexandra hoped that perhaps after showing him her book he would exit her room and leave her in peace, but he showed no signs of departing. He continued to engage her in conversation until her bedside lamp was the only illumination. Finally, she summoned to courage to remark that it was her bed time and she should go to bed.
Mr. Joshua agreed heartily and suggested that he could help her to prepare for bed. He stood and walked to her small closet and found her only nightgown hanging next to her trio of dresses. Snatching it into his hand, he turned to her and walked back to the bed. He handed her the nightgown and told her to put it on.
Alexandra hesitated. Surely he did not mean for her to undress in front of him. She looked curiously into his dark eyes but did not take the nightgown from him. He gestured to her again and she eventually took the garment from him, but only held it up against her as if it were some kind of shield against the growing unease she was feeling.
“Come now,” he said in a tone that was both too sweet and yet commanding. “Undress so that you can change into your pretty nightgown.”
Alexandra stared at him. She knew now that he wanted to watch her undress. All that she feared about him was coming becoming real, like stepping directly into a nightmare. Her heart began to beat faster. In the back of her mind, she wondered when her father would return. He’d been gone so long. Normally she thought little of his presence, as he was so reserved there was little connection between her and her parent. Tonight, she wished more than anything he would arrive home and save her. She suddenly felt more alone than she had since her mother died.
Seeing her reluctance, Mr. Joshua’s smile melted and in it’s place was a stern visage that looked cruel and hungry. They were alone and he had finally put away his mask and now was showing her his true face. The desire in his eyes shone clearly and it chilled Alexandra deep down to her core.
He reached his right hand out quickly and grabbed her arm. His grip was vise-like and she was unable to wrench free. He squeezed tightly and she let out a sharp cry of pain.
“Ow, you’re hurting me,” she cried. “Let me go!”
Ignoring her, he pulled her from her bed and dragged her across her bedroom floor towards her open door.
“Stop it, please,” she begged and then “My father will be home and he won’t like this. He’ll make you leave!” she shouted at him to no avail. His mind was set as firmly as Excalibur in it’s ancient stone and only his perverse satisfaction would abate his actions now. He’d waited for this moment, waited patiently for the opportunity to strike, like a viper. Before the night was over, he would have what he wanted and would be gone into the night like a shadow. Should her father return before he was finished with his pleasure, he would suffer the same fate as his daughter and both would find an early grave.
Mr. Thomas had heard the commotion. The moment that Mr. Joshua had grabbed Alexandra, he knew what he would do. The Monster’s claws and teeth were ready, but he was unable to leave his lair. While the sun had set, Alexandra had left her lamp on and it’s bright, piercing beams were like prison bars to him. He was trapped.
He could hear Mr. Joshua dragging her down the hallway. She was crying now and pleading with him. He was impervious to her desires and only wished to satiate his own. He’d fasted long enough and it was finally time to feast. Her virginity was about to become spoiled along with everything else he could take from her: Innocence, sanity and at long last — her life. He dragged her screaming into his room and closed his door. Only a small candle lit his room as he preferred the darkness. Monsters always prefer the darkness.
Mr. Thomas was desperate. He could not abandon her. Something deep inside him, something that was etched into his darkened soul pulled at him. It was a memory. He only had a fragment, but he remembered the screaming. It sounded like a young girl, screaming in pain and fear. He remembered a feeling of helplessness, of being unable to act. The memory haunted him now and it felt like it was happening all over again. He could not bear to experience this a second time.
Summoning all his strength, he reached out from under the bed towards the lamp. The bright light stung his skin. He reached as far as he could go without moving from under the bed, but it wasn’t enough. The only way he could reach the switch on the lamp to turn it off was to come out into the light.
It wasn’t just that bright light causes monsters great pain. It weakens them. Monsters are creatures of darkness, not just in residence, but in essence. Exposing himself to the light directly could sap so much of his strength that he would be pulled back into the Void, and that was one place he did not wish to experience again.
He had no choice. He would risk the Void to save her. He knew he had to be quick. There would be only one, brief opportunity for him to grab the lightswitch and turn it off. If he could do it fast enough, he would then be bathed in darkness and could move freely. Alexandra screamed loudly from the other room. There was no time left.
Steadying himself for the searing pain he knew he’d feel, the Monster flung himself out from under her bed and launched himself towards her lamp. Bright, burning light singed him and blinded him, but he knew where he needed to be. Using his clawed, gnarled hands, he grasped the lamp and reached underneath the shade and found the base. The switch was not there. His entire being was wracked with agonizing pain as the light swallowed him, diminishing him and still he searched.
“It has to be here!” he thought. He fumbled his hand up higher towards the bulb. “Where is it?”
Then, it was there. The broad, flat switch was in his fingers. With every bit of strength he had left, he turned the switch.
The pain was gone, but the light had taken it’s toll. He was drained and weak. In time, the darkness would revitalize him, but time was something he did not have. He must find strength elsewhere. Alexandra cried out again, this time in what could only be pain.
The spark of light within him, the one that first lit when he touched Alexandra’s hand, glowed brighter. As the spark grew in intensity, his strength returned. He felt something he had not felt since before… the Void. He raised himself to his full height. Teeth gnashing and claws open he rushed through the darkness like a shark cuts through the water.
The doorway was no obstacle. It shattered as he struck it with all his might. The dim candle light from inside the room was not enough to stop him. Both Mr. Joshua and Alexandra turned at the sound of the exploding door. He held her arms in one hand and her clothes lay on the floor in tatters. Only her panties remained on her. Her tear-streaked face lit up in both fear and exultation as she witnessed the savage darkness of Mr. Thomas as he poured himself into the room. Part of her mind told her she should be terrified, but she was not. Somehow, she knew he was no threat to her.
Mr. Joshua, on the other hand, knew no such thing and screamed in pure terror at the sight he beheld. In his mind, it was almost as if this were a specter that he’d been anticipating. The Monster lurched forward and took Mr. Joshua in his claws. He was ready to rend him to pieces right there, but did not want to subject Alexandra to such horror. He turned to her, his red eyes glowing brightly and said in the voice that she had come to know so well, “Leave us, my dear. I don’t want you to see what is about to happen. Go back to your room and close your door. You’re safe. Wait for your father to return.”
Alexandra’s eyes were wide but she nodded silently and in a flash had scurried out of the room that had almost become her prison. She raced down the short hallway and into her room. Slamming the door behind her she leaped into her bed, covered herself and threw her pillow over her head to drown out any noises.
What followed was only a blur in her memory. Years later, as an adult, she tried to recall the details of what had transpired but was never quire sure. She remembered that at some point her father had returned and she recalled that the police were involved. She never saw Mr. Joshua again except occasionally in her nightmares. For years his face became that of the boogieman for her and she would sometimes think she saw him lurking about in the shadows. Eventually she conquered those fears and his memory faded.
That night was also the last time she ever saw or spoke to Mr. Thomas. She had called out to him many times over the next few months, hoping he was just hiding. She told him she was not afraid and wanted her friend back, but her pleas for his return were always unanswered. There were times when she wondered if he had even been real, but deep down, she knew the answer. For the rest of her life, she never forgot her friend from the shadows. People came and went in her life, but her truest friend ever had not even been human.
The Monster never returned to the Void but neither did he lurk in the shadows after that night. The light within him continued to glow brighter and before the sun returned the following morning, both he and Mr. Joshua were gone. One monster was sent to the void and another was expelled forever.