It was nearing the end of the witching hour, and most sensible folk were tucked away in bed, resting to face the new day. For the fourth (or was it the fifth? Sixth? It was hard to keep track) time that night, a cautious knock came on the bedroom door of one such couple, shattering the silence that had settled over the house. For a fourth time that night, a sleep-addled voice called out: “What do you need NOW?” and a small and wavering voice replied “Mommy!”
“Your turn.” came a voice from underneath a mound of pillows and blankets.
“A’ight. ‘m goin’, hun.”
The covers were tossed to the side, and a man in his late thirties disentangled himself and groped sightlessly for clothing. His fingers met a light switch, and the darkness was banished. The form under the blankets swore viciously and rolled over to block the light from unadjusted eyes.
Click. Darkness again. “Hurry!” urged the small voice.
“Hang on!” The man snapped, most of his good humor lost to the first few repetitions of the ritual. He felt around until his hands met the cool metal of the door knob.
A small girl launched into his stomach hard enough to send him stumbling back into the room.
“Sleepin’ in here with you guys tonight, kay?”
“No, not ok, kiddo. You have a perfectly nice big girl bed in your room. Mommy and Daddy’s room is much too small for you and us. What’s the matter?”
“It’s the monsters, Daddy!” She whispered, scanning the hallway as if one might be creeping up on them from the yawning maw of the stairwell.
“Anna, there is no such thing. We’ve been over this, honey.”
“Yu-huh! I can hear ‘em snufflin’ around in there, growling and stuff. They’re probably hungry!”
Her father rolled his eyes. “I’ll walk back with you.”
“No! Wanna sleep here!”
Her father scooped her up and carried her back down the hallway, ignoring her protests and kicking.
“Lookit, nothing under the bed, inside the closet, outside the windows, or anywhere else. No monsters to be seen anywhere.
“They can hide!”
“Sweetheart, there is nowhere to hide in here. I checked every little nook and cranny. You’re gonna have to believe me.” He scooped her bear off of the floor. “You two curl up under the covers and get some rest for me, ok? You’re perfectly safe. Promise.” He shut the door gently and shambled back to his own room, sleep already overtaking him.
“Is she ok?” his wife asked. “Maybe we should have let her sleep in here. Just this once.”
“That’s how bad habits get formed, you know. She needs to learn to beat these silly fears by herself.”
“You’re right, I suppose. But I do worry about her.” His wife’s words fell on deaf ears. He was already snoring softly, a slab of dead weight leaning up against her.
Anna cuddled deeper under her blanket. Her dad had said she was safe, but… Something still felt wrong. The gibbous moon outside cast odd shadows about her room, turning a doll into a grotesque alien being, a chair into a looming mouthful of teeth, ready to swallow up a little kid such as herself. She didn’t like it a bit.
And the sounds. She could still hear the deep, throaty gurgles, the snuffles, the growls. If anything, they had grown louder. She ducked her head under her covers and curled into a ball, hugging her knees. “Just a few hours until morning.” She whispered under her breath until it became like a silent mantra, over and over. “Only a few more hours. Only a few more.”
The noises seemed to fill her world now. They were right at her ears, surrounding her. She sucked a panicked, sobbing breath in. She was beginning to get uncomfortably hot under the blankets. Her night gown was soaked with a mist of sweat and her bangs clung to her face. She could have sworn that by the second the heat was building,much more heat than her small body should have been able to generate. Her breath was coming faster, and she felt smothered by the heat. She kicked the blankets off, even though the noises still echoed all around her. Or, tried to. She hadn’t remembered her father tucking her in quite so tight. In fact, the more she thrashed to get an arm or a leg free, the tighter it seemed to get. Yes, definitely. The blankets were tight against her chest and stomach now, and getting tighter still. She screamed for her parents as loud as her constricted lung capacity would allow.
“That didn’t sound like her normal scream.” Anna’s mother said, bolting up in bed. “Go check on her!”
She didn’t have to say it twice. The two of them hurried down the dark hallway to Anna’s room.
The room appeared to be empty. Anna’s blanket lay perfectly neat, spread out on the floor. There was no sign of the little girl. The bed lay empty, the pillow and covers still soaked with sweat.
Anna!” Her mother half shrieked half sobbed, as her father checked any spaces she could have hidden in. He reached down to pick up the blanket, and then recoiled. No, it couldn’t have been. It was just exhaustion playing tricks on his mind, right? But no. he saw it again. The blanket moved.
He felt the material writhe under his fingers, and he let out a hoarse cry.
“What is it?” Her mother leapt around to face him. “What did you find?”
The blanket was most definitely moving on its own. He felt it tighten in a nearly bone-shattering grip around his wrist. He could see it changing into something…. Else. Something almost human. His daughter’s words echoed in his mind. “They can hide, daddy!”
The blanket-thing was looming over him now, rapidly changing. He peddled his feet backwards, but still the grip did not loosen. He felt something in his wrist pop. And at that moment, his eyes fell on his daughter’s blanket, the real one, neatly folded at the foot of her bed, where it had been placed the previous morning.
And on the bed were a few pink scraps, splattered with something red. Scraps of a pink night gown.