Carlie lay anxiously in the exactly center of her bed, her whole small body tense. She lay exactly in the center, because if she was too far to the right or left, it could reach up and grab her, dragging her underneath to the dusty, somewhat smelly darkness.
Afraid to move, even to breathe, lest it should hear her and attack, she kept perfectly still, not making a sound, despite her terror. She didn't want to let it know she was alive.
She listened closely. If she was very quiet, she could hear it, the raspy, ominous sound of its breathing. The sound of it petrified Carlie to the point of paralysis, but at the same time, it relieved her in a small way. The sound of its breathing proved it was real, that she wasn't imagining it. It proved that her mother was wrong.
It had only been about two hours since Carlie's mother, Laurel, had tucked her into her bed, but to Carly it seemed days. This was the fourth day in a row that the monster had sought refuge under her bed. She had had almost no sleep as a result.
Carlie's mother, of course, had tried to convince her there was no monster.
"Carlie, sweetheart, monsters aren't real," Laurel had told her. "They don't exist."
"But Mommy," Carlie had pleaded, "I can HEAR it breathing! It wants to eat me!"
"It's only your imagination, Carlie."
"Mommy, it's not my imagination! Please can I sleep with you and Daddy tonight? Please?" Carlie had begged.
"No, Carlie. You're going to sleep in your own room, because there's nothing for you to be afraid of."
Every night Carlie had begged her parents not to make her sleep in her own room, not to entrap her with the monster under her bed. Every night her parents had refused. Each night Carlie grew more and more desperate. She tried every tactic to get out of going to bed. She dawdled, she cried, she threw tantrums, she called her parents every few minutes. At first they were patient, but tonight, her mother had blown up at her.
"You are six years old, Carlie Preston, and that is quite old enough to sleep in your own bed and to know monsters don't' exist. Come here, I'll prove it," Laurel had said roughly, and she had grabbed Carlie by the arm, dragging her into her room and yanking her down beside her bed. Terrified, Carlie had struggled, but Laurel pushed up the blanket draped over the side of the bed and gestured underneath. There was nothing but some toys and a few dustballs.
"There, Carlie, you can see there are no monsters. Now go to sleep!"
Seeing no monster beneath didn't bother Carlie. She knew monsters were invisible. When she told her mother, this had only further angered her.
"I've had enough of your nonsense, Carlie! Get in bed and stay there, all night long! If I hear you make one sound the entire night, you're in for it!"
So Carlie had been made to sleep in her own bed, yet again, with the monster just beneath. She was sure it was just a matter of time before the monster ate her.
Scarcely breathing at all, lying as still as possible, she was wide awake, waiting for her death, or if she was lucky, morning. She knew in the morning, the monster would leave, and she would be safe…for a while.
The monster's shadow loomed menacingly on the wall by her bed. It seemed to get bigger the longer Carlie stared at it. She tried to look away, but couldn't bring herself to do so. She wanted to yell for her mother, but she knew her parents were asleep.
Suddenly, it spoke.
Carlie gasped and almost screamed, but bit her tongue savagely to stop herself. She didn't want to let it know she was in there.
It had never spoken to her before. Why was it now? It was going to kill her tonight, Carlie just knew it.
Make it go away, make it go away, she pleaded silently.
"Carlieee…I know you're here."
A loud snapping noise punctuated its statement. It sounded like it was licking its chops. Carlie shivered in terror.
"It's just a matter of time…"it rumbled.
"Go away!" shrieked Carlie, her nerves snapping. "My mommy says you're not real! Go away!"
An awful chuckle filled Carlie's ears. The monster was laughing at her.
"Not real? Why Carlie, you know better. You know I'm real."
"No, you're not!" Carlie shrieked. "It's all in my imagination. My mommy says so!"
"Oh yeah?" sneered the monster. "What does your mommy say to this?"
A vicious snarl filled the room, the sound reverberating off the walls so it seemed the thing producing it was everywhere. Its evil surrounded Carlie. The snarl was not merely for show; it was the sound of a large cat stalking its prey, ready to pounce.
Suddenly the covers were ripped off Carlie's bed and pulled beneath it, seemingly by nothing at all. Carlie screamed and thrashed, trying desperately not to be pulled off the bed along with them. In the struggle, her teddy bear, which had been in the bed beside her, fell off the bed with the blankets. Carlie heard a pleased, purring sound then and the gnashing of teeth and ripping cloth as the thing under her bed tore apart the teddy bear.
"Noooo! Mommy! Daddy! Noooo!" she screamed.
The door flew open, the light switching on, and Carlie's irate mother stood in the doorway, clad in her nightgown, her hair messy. She did not look happy. In fact, the expression on Laurel's face could easily have been described as murderous. But her mother's murder-face didn't scare Carlie nearly as much as the same threat posed by the thing under her bed.
"Carly Preston!" Laurel roared. "What are you doing? You are going to get it in the morning, young lady!"
Her gaze fell upon Carlie, lying in her bed panting and shaking with fear, her eyes huge, blankets tossed on the floor.
"I have told you and told you go to bed and BE QUIET! Your father has work in the morning, and he doesn't need to be woke up every five minutes by you! What have you been doing, why are your blankets on the floor?"
She bent beside Carlie's bed to pick them up, and Carlie screamed, alarmed for her.
"No, don't get near my bed! The monster will get you, Mommy, he'll eat you!"
Laurel let the blankets drop. Straightening, she looked her daughter in the eye. At that moment, Laurel looked as evil to Carlie as the monster had sounded. And when she opened her mouth, her voice matched her face.
"Carlie, I am FED UP with this monster business! The only monster in the room right now is YOU! Now stop making things up and go to bed!" her mother shouted.
Carlie burst into tears. This infuriated her mother further. Grabbing her arm, Laurel turned her over and hit her bottom several times with the palm of her hand, not very hard, but firmly enough to hurt. Crying harder, Carlie tried to roll away from her as Laurel stepped back, glowering at her, taking deep breaths, and bent again to pick up the blankets. Carlie didn't bother to warn her this time. If the monster got her, it would be her own fault.
"Carlie!" Laurel barked suddenly, looking up at her. "What is this? What did you do to your bear?"
She dumped the blanket on top of Carlie, and when Carlie looked up, she saw her mother was holding the teddy bear Carlie had kicked off her bed, or rather, what was left of it. It was missing an arm, leg, and ear, and deep slashes covered it, the stuffing poking out. Carlie looked at it tearfully.
"I told you, Mommy," she muttered resentfully. "I told you. The monster did that. He wanted to eat my bear."
Laurel looked from Carlie to the mutilated teddy bear in her hand, then back at Carlie with a rather scary expression on her face.
"Carlie, I can't believe this. Your father gave you that bear when you were just born. He bought it at the hospital gift shop. And you just ripped it up to try to pretend a MONSTER did it? Carlie, what are you trying to do? Do you think I'm dumb? Are you trying to get attention that badly? If it's attention you're after, this is NOT the way to get it, young lady! I have had enough, Carlie. I am sick of your antics. We'll discuss this in the morning, because right now I don't even want to look at you."
Her back rigid, lips in a thin, white line, Laurel started to march out of the room, but stopped briefly. "Don't even think of making another sound," she hissed, and then, still holding herself tightly, almost slammed the door behind her.
Carlie curled up on her bed. She was not crying anymore. No, she wasn't afraid, or even hurt. She was furious. Vengeful, bitter thoughts filled her head. At that moment, she hated her mother.
"I'm not a monster," she muttered. "You're the monster."
"How bright of you," spoke up the monster in his rumbling, raspy voice. Apparently he didn't even realize she had been speaking to her mother, not him.
"Go away!" Carlie demanded furiously. She was too angry to be afraid of it at the moment. All she could think of was her mother yelling at her, telling her she was a monster, spanking her, and remembering this, Carlie beat her fists against the bed angrily.
"They don't believe you," the monster rasped. "They think you're lying." He chuckled, a deep, malevolent sound that grated on Carlie's nerves as well as her ears. "But when you're gone in the morning, they'll know the truth," he chuckled.
"Why do you hide when my mommy comes in?" Carlie burst out with indignantly, sitting up in bed. "Why don't you talk then, huh? Why don't you show her you're real? I think you're scared of her. I think you're scared she'll kill you, you big fat fraidy cat."
The monster made a loud, rude sound, a cross between a snort and a raspberry.
"I'm not afraid of your stupid mommy, Carlie. I'm not afraid of anything," it boasted.
Carlie rolled her eyes, shaking her head. "Sure. That's why you hide every time she and Daddy come in here. I think you're scare of her and Daddy. You're just in MY room, going to eat ME, because I'm little and I can't hurt you. You're scared to try to eat Mommy and Daddy because you think they'll kill you."
The monster growled.
"You're wrrrrong, Carlie. I'm not scared of your puny little parents. They couldn't hurt me. No one can hurt me," it bragged.
Carlie folded her arms, a skeptical expression crossing her small face.
"Well, prove it then," she challenged. "Go eat my parents. Prove you're not scared of them. It's easy to eat me. I'm only six, and you're a monster. Of course you'll eat me! But I bet you can't get Mommy and Daddy. I bet they'll kill you."
"Think again, Carlie," the monster growled. "Just for that, I WILL eat them now. See how much you like it when you're all alone in this house."
"Okay," Carlie shrugged. "I will."
She waited a minute. The monster made no other sounds, nor did it appear to be moving.
"Are you going to go? Or are you going to be chicken?" she demanded.
A snarl was given in reply. Carlie's bed shook and bumped as the large, imageless something squeezed from under it. Carlie could not see the thing that emerged. She only saw her bedroom door open and close, and she only heard the sounds of heavy, excited breathing, and the loud footsteps of something huge enough to shake the walls as it walked.
A few moments later, Carlie heard her mother shriek, and then the sound of agonized screams filled the house. But these sounds did not frighten Carlie. In fact, as Carlie snuggled under her warm blankets, her ripped teddy in her arms, a pleased smile spread across her face.