A short story by Laura A. Freymiller
I first noticed it under my bed a few months ago, but who knows how long it was there before. It was small at first. I only found it because of the bump.
It was about midnight, and I was tossing and not sleeping as I tend to do when Charley is out of town. I had woken from dreams of digestion, luminescent glowing fluids, and tentacles, when I felt the mattress lift ever so slightly and fall with a bump back onto the bedframe.
It reminded me of sharing a bunkbed with my older sister as a child. Sometimes at night if she was angry or more often if she was bored, she would lift the mattress with her feet and let it drop, so that I, sleeping in the top bunk, awoke with the sickening feeling of falling.
Here I was, an adult woman, with the same feeling of falling.
I got up, lowered myself onto my hands and knees and peered into the darkness.
It was small then, a lump half-hidden in the darkness, but I felt it watching me.
Charley came home the next day.
“There’s something under our bed,” I said.
“Hello to you, too,” he said.
“Just look at it,” I said. “Also I missed you.”
He kissed me.
“Under the bed?” he said. “Are you sure it isn’t on top?”
“Come and see,” I said and dragged him to the bedroom.
Charley dropped to his hands and knees beside me. He sat still for a moment. There it was, staring back at us. I forced myself to breathe evenly.
“I don’t see it,” Charley said at last.
“What?” I said. “Are you serious? It’s right there.”
Charley looked again. “Sorry,” he said. “I just don’t.”
I looked at the thing. It looked larger than the day before. I wondered whether it could laugh.
That night I felt the bed rise again and drop with a bump. Charley, sleeping soundly next to me, didn’t stir.
The next few weeks, I kept my eyes open. It hadn’t, as of yet, done anything more sinister than jolt me awake every once in a while. Still, I didn’t like that I alone could see it.
Or so I thought. Until one day when my niece was over to visit.
I love my niece. She’s a nice niece. I don’t get to see her as often as I want. As a teenager, she has a bit more going on in her life than hanging out with her aunt.
“Jenny,” I said. “I need to show you something.”
“Okay,” she said.
“It’s under the bed,” I said.
“You’re weird, Aunt Margot,” she said. But she followed me anyway.
I held my breath this time. Hoping against hope that it had indeed disappeared, that it was nothing more than my imagination. I didn’t say anything as Jenny took a look.
“Ew,” she said. “What is that?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“It’s scary,” Jenny said. “You should get rid of it.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ll try.”
The exterminator was as kind as he could be under the circumstances.
“Ma’am,” he said, “there’s just nothing there. I can set out the traps if you’d like, standard cockroach and mouse. But really I can’t do more than that.”
“Please,” I said. “Maybe you’re not looking hard enough. It’s there. Right there. Why would I be making this up?”
“I don’t know,” the exterminator said. He glanced nervously towards the door. “Why would you be making this up?”
“Can’t you just poke at it with a net or something?” I asked.
“I think you’re thinking of animal control,” the exterminator said. “Or a psychiatrist.”
“Come on,” I said. “This has to be a joke.”
He might have been joking, but his bill certainly wasn’t.
“Margot,” Charley said when he found out. “Are you okay? Is this about something else?”
“No,” I said. “It isn’t about anything else. It’s about that weird thing that’s under our bed. It’s getting bigger. And I swear the other day I saw it grab one of my socks.”
“Margot,” Charley said. He ran a hand through his hair, his thick beautiful hair. Probably one of the reasons I fell in love with him in the first place. I looked at his face, so trusting, so trustworthy. He couldn’t be lying to me. He just didn’t see it.
“It’s there,” I said. “Please, just believe me. It’s there.”
By April it was so large I could see it every time I walked into the room. It had started to make little hissing noises whenever I walked by, something like air escaping from a tire, or hysterical giggling. One morning I found a pile of little bones next to the bed.
“We should move,” I said. “Please, Charley. Let’s move.”
“Margot,” Charley said. “It’s okay. Whatever this is, it will pass. I promise. It will go away.”
I tried to lure it out with cheese, raw meat, beer. Nothing worked. It stayed where it was glowering under our bed. I took to sleeping on the couch. I couldn’t persuade Charley to join me. I was scared all the time. I ate fewer and fewer meals. Started pulling out strands of my hair as I’d done in college.
Jenny came over again.
“Aunt Margot,” she said. “Are you safe?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It hasn’t done anything yet.”
“I’m scared,” she said.
“Let’s go see a movie,” I said.
We went to the local theater that was playing old-fashioned flicks. We watched a back to back screening of Roman Holiday and Sabrina. For a little while I forgot to be worried.
Until I got home, took off my shoes and felt it watching me.
I looked up and there it was in the doorway of our bedroom. It was larger than ever. Looking at me. Watching. Waiting. Hissing gently. Oh so gently. Mocking. Watching. Waiting to—
I grabbed my shoes and flung them as hard as I could. It hissed when they hit and sprang towards me.
I screamed and raced towards the kitchen, reaching for a knife–
It was on me before I made it two steps. Sharp claws and a heavy heavy weight. Dragging me down.
I screamed again, pushing it away, beating at it with my hands. It was so heavy. My lungs were in agony reaching for air. Its smell overpowering, I felt it sucking the oxygen out of me. Cutting into my arms and belly, my legs, my face. This was how I would die and Charley would have no idea.
Charley if only you’d believed me.
I woke up in the hospital. My arms in bandages. Charley sitting next to me.
“Margot,” he said. “Hey there.”
My head hurt. The sun was too bright. Everything hurt.
“Where?” I asked. “Where is it?”
Charley dropped his gaze to the floor. “Margot,” he said. “I love you so much, baby. I just love you so much.”
“Is it dead?” I asked. “Is it finally dead?”
“The doctors aren’t sure,” Charley said slowly.
He was talking from a million miles away, the bottom of the ocean.
“They’ve seen cases similar, but not exactly like this. I should’ve said something sooner. Picked up on signs.”
“It’s dead,” I said. “Just tell me it’s dead.”
“There was nothing there,” Charley said.
Outer space. His words could barely reach me.
“Margot, you did this to yourself.”
“No,” I said. “No.”
That night in the hospital, I lay awake, tossing and turning. When I closed my eyes I saw it again, smelled its breath on my face, the sharp claws, the suffocation. I heard Charley saying, “There was nothing there.”
I lay there in the hospital bed listening to the machines beep-beep-beeping away. The traffic outside my window. The ticking of the clock from the nurse’s station.
I felt the mattress lift ever so slightly under me.
And fall with a bump.