Daddy says, There is no such thing as monsters. You know there are.
Your quick survey of third grade homeroom right before Miss Pattison takes attendance reveals the matter-of-fact conclusion all kids seem to know: Having a basement will attract a monster. Whether furnished like a games room, bright and warm -- or all dusty joists, stored dirty tools, and the washer-dryer thumping madly in the corner -- or only a dirt hole and the house planted on top -- it's like putting out the Welcome mat.
And once the door is open, it's like they bring along their family, friends, and foes.
There's the kind that plays with the cat in the quiet of the night -- and hides when you flick on the light.
There's the kind that likes closets, and at night standing in corners of your room in your clothes. Sometimes, if you lie very still, and one eye barely open, you might catch the closet door as it screeeaks open just that thin, tall, black crack, after midnight usually, when the whole house is asleep but you.
And there's the monster that moves in under your bed.
You have one under yours.
While brushing teeth, just before bedtime, you memorize your options for tonight -- as if practicing your kid'do, self-defence for kids -- your guard positions, your attacks -- so that you will react instinctively, come what may.
A -- The table lamp will stay on -- all night, obviously.
B -- Cover up in your blanket -- because there is some property in every kid's blanket that borders on the magical, and will confound a monster's attempts to get at you.
C - Call out loudly for Momma.
Daddy's always very busy. Some days he doesn't come home until so late that you're asleep. And you might wake, rub your eyes, in the grey before morning, and hear Daddy's car go away. You know he's awfully tired, most of the time, so if he's sleeping you want to let him go on sleeping.
But you know Momma is just like most kids' Mommas. You've even done a homeroom survey -- Mommas always know, because Mommas never really sleep.
You remember last summer she jumped in the pool in her nice clothes because she thought you were drowning, when you were only doing the deadman's float really well. Daddy was angry with her after, maybe because the grown-ups usually like to take pictures, and like to look their best -- and because the other Daddys were staring -- and Momma looked a mess.
Momma will come if you so much as cough in the night.
You prepare your bedroom. Having one monster to deal with tonight is more than enough: You shut the closet door, and jam the chairback under the handle. And just the once quickly check that as you're about to go to bed there does not appear to be anything but a sock and some toys under there. The table lamp is on. You slide into bed. You pull the blanket up to your chin. You shut your eyes.
You sleep -- until jolted -- thumped in the back -- and your bedroom is dark as monster hour -- shadows and grey, like a drawing. Your heart is drumming -- throat dry.
Don't move! -- Go away! -- Go away!
You guess the lamp burned out.
Some thing scuffs the underside of your bed. You feel it in the middle of your back. And then -- THWAKK! -- you jump -- it hit hard directly under your pillow.
Plan B -- You hide under your blanket -- You hope the thing gets tired of trying, or bored, and goes away!
From under the bed, it thumps you, and again. And -- again. It seems as if this monster is turning over, knocking the rafters of your bed, and you, with shoulders and maybe hairy limbs probably all a bit big to be scrunched tightly under there.
Then -- stillness.
Then -- What is that?
Breathing. It isn't under your bed any longer. Although you cannot see -- because you must not peek out from inside your strategic cover -- you feel somehow it is leaning over you in bed -- looking down at you -- safe under your magical blanket -- your heart hammering in your mouth.
It pokes your shoulder. And -- again.
Suddenly it takes you -- in all four big unseen hands -- bundled in the air inside your blanket!
PLAN C! -- MOMMA! -- But your voice won't work -- You cannot scream for her.
And it carries you forever -- up-ends you -- tips you this way -- then that -- and you feel the monster is trying to fit you in somewhere -- maybe under the bed.
Then -- stillness.