This week’s fiction post is a little different. First of all, while it’s not a particularly long story, it’s too long for me to consider it flash fiction. However, I am out of town today and this post has been scheduled for days. I typically write my flash fiction on Friday–most of the sites I go to for prompts post them toward the end of the week–but since I knew I was breaking from the norm anyway (scheduling the post days in advance), I decided to go an entirely different route this week.
Today I submit, for your consideration, one of the very first horror stories I ever wrote. I hadn’t read this story in years until prepping it for this post, and it kind of creeped me out re-reading it, which I take as a good sign. I can remember writing it, though, and I remember that the inception of the idea was something that Stephen King talks about–asking what if questions. In this case, what if there really was something under the bed…?
In a way, I suppose that was the prompt, though I gave it to myself. I do recall it being fun to write, and I had a blast re-reading it. Consider it something to think about on those dark nights when you wake some time around 3 am with the uneasy feeling that you’re not alone. What if, you’ll wonder…what if there really is something under the bed…?
under the bed
Brian McAlister woke from a fitful night of sleep glazed in a thin coat of sweat and wrapped tightly in his sheets. The material clung to his body. His pillows were scattered here and there across the landscape of his bed and he was almost perpendicular.
He had been dreaming. The content of his dream was just out of reach, lost somewhere in the milkiness of waking. It seemed to him that it had been important, this dream, but he had no idea why he thought that. All he could remember was that it had been a nightmare and that in his dream he had known it was a nightmare and struggled to wake himself out of it. But now, back in the safety of his bedroom with the soft glow of the bathroom light down the hall, he longed to remember what had happened just moments before, even if the events were only in his mind.
Brian was 32 years-old and single. He had always been single. Never married. Never a girlfriend. His childhood had been a traumatic one to say the least, and his adult years had not brought the relief he’d expected to come with freedom. No relief and no social success either. Brian had few friends. The real shame of it was that his lack of social prowess was nothing that a decent haircut and a little cockiness wouldn’t fix, but Brian didn’t know that. Brian never would.
He resituated himself on the bed, gathering up his pillows and trying to redistribute the sheet so that his feet were covered. He hated sleeping with exposed feet. When everything seemed to be in order, he worked his back into the bed, sliding down a little and getting comfortable. His breathing slowed. His mind began to blank. He could feel sleep coming on, but he could feel something else, too. It was almost un-noticeable at first, but it was there. Like a pea under the mattress. What was it? He adjusted his posture, moved his hands and his feet slightly to make sure he was lying just right and took another deep breath. The breath. Something was there, in his abdomen. Something subtle, but there. Another deep breath and he felt it again. A slight jab. His mind struggled toward consciousness, it was on the internal equivalent of the tip of his tongue. One more breath and—
Oh. He had to piss.
He exhaled in frustration and tried to ignore it. There was nothing unusual about that. Brian had found that after reaching thirty years of age, he rarely slept all the way through the night without having to get up to piss at least once. He hated this reality. Though he knew it was actually the result getting older, it felt like something a child would do.
Still just a little boy, aren’t you? Gotta go pee-pee?
His routine went like this: after feeling the familiar pressure he would try to deny it. He’d get as comfortable as he could and hope that sleep would come on again quickly enough for him to sink out of consciousness before he really had to go. He would negotiate with the bed, trying three or four new positions, though inevitably none would be comfortable enough to undo the building sensation in his crotch. Finally, after five minutes, maybe ten, he would concede and get up. The bathroom was a whopping 15 feet from his bed, but he would make that trek like he had just finished a marathon, limping toward it and collapsing into the bed on his return.
Sometimes he’d get a drink of water while he was up, but not every time.
He went through the full cycle of denial that night, tossing and turning and wanting to believe that he could wish the piss away. But he knew that in the end he only had three options: get up, lay awake all night or wet the bed. He huffed a sigh and began to pull the covers back when he heard it. A scraping, scratching sound.
It sounded like it came from under the bed.
He paused and listened for it. He could hear the AC churning and he could hear a few crickets. He could hear his fan humming on the other side of the room. A car pulled into his apartment complex. A couple of dogs barked—maybe the same dog, but it sounded like two different ones. No weird noises from beneath the bed.
He tossed the sheet to the side and began to sit up and then, scraping. Nails on a chalk board. Louder this time and definitely from underneath the bed. Brian froze, his legs stiffening. He held his breath and wondered what could be making that sound.
If he’d owned a pet, a cat perhaps or a dog, it would have been easy to account for a sound even as unsettling as this, but he was alone in the apartment. He wondered if a rat or mouse running on the hardwoods could make a sound like that. He wondered if his downstairs neighbors were messing with their ceiling fan or having a wild party. He even wondered if he wasn’t still asleep, maybe just having a particularly vivid dream, but a sudden urgency in his crotch convinced him that he was very much awake and very much in need of a bathroom.
Besides, this is silly, he told himself. I’m a grown man.
What could possibly be under the bed?
Starting low and gaining volume, some unseen thing, a hook or some claws, ground into the wooden slates of his flooring again and he could see, in his mind’s eye, the wood pulling back and lying in neat little circles under the bed like the shavings from the number 2 pencils he’d used when he was in grade school. The noise was real.
He sat, full-upright, and considered what he could possibly do. He could ignore it. He could get up, planting his feet just inches from God knows what, stand and casually walk to the bathroom. He found himself believing that this is what any sane person would be doing.
Any sane person, yeah.
He could stand up in his bed, get a running start from the headboard and leap toward the hall, maybe clearing the reach of, well, anything that might be waiting. This is what he felt like doing.
But that takes courage, boy.
Or he could stay right where he was and piss himself in fear and shame.
Gonna wet the bed, big boy?
What he could not do, did not even, in fact, consider doing was to lean over the side of his mattress and actually look under the bed. This thought was nowhere near the vicinity of Brian McAlister’s mind. Instead he looked at the clock and counted backward from 6:45 am.
A soft, growling purr emanated from below.
It was then that he reached for his phone. He had it in hand and was ready to dial when he asked himself who he would call at 3:17. His only friends were really more along the lines of acquaintances and he didn’t have a single phone number memorized. What numbers did he know? He knew his mother’s number, back in Amarillo.
Yeah, call mommy! Stupid little momma’s boy.
And he knew 911. Oh, that would be fun.
Hello, 911 operator? My name is Brian McAlister and I live at 1474 Oak Park Drive, apartment 541. Yes, I’m 32 years old and I live by myself and there’s a very scary noise coming from underneath the bed and I have to piss. Could you please send someone by to escort me to the restroom. I would have called my mommy, but she’s in Amarillo.
No, he’d rather wet the bed.
And that’s nearly just what he did. The bed jumped, like it had been bumped from underneath, and the growling purr came again, this time louder. He peered over the side of the bed in time to see claws, yes claws, grinding into the floor just at the edge of the bed and he heard, once again, the horrible sound of those sharp edges whittling away his floor. He hugged a pillow and he started to cry.
Be a man! For fuck’s sake, don’t just sit there and cry! You worthless little shit!
“What do you want?” he asked, surprising himself with the sound of his own voice. His answer was another bump and a growl that sounded almost like a laugh.
You know what I want.
He bit the pillow and tried to calm himself, but he couldn’t relax.
Except for one part of him. One part of him did, in that moment, relax, and the warmth spread across his crotch and down into the mattress. He could feel it under his ass and he could smell the stench of it. He rocked himself back and forth, hugging that pillow and wishing that the dawn would come.
He let loose a quick scream, sounding like a girl, and he sobbed, “What?”
You know what!
“Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”
Heavy breaths pounded out a rhythm from below and he could sense a growing climax. He closed his eyes and held them tight, wishing it away. Wishing it away and wishing in the dawn and a safe time, a safe place, maybe his mommy there to tuck him in—
—and hold him until sleep came, keeping him safe from the monsters, safe from the monster—
Boy, I’m just trying to teach you to be a man!
—safe from the hitting and the punching and the yelling—
My old man was just as hard on me! And look at me. I ain’t no sissy-girl, cry-baby, momma’s boy waste-of-space! Is that all you wanna be?
—safe from the feeling that he would never be enough, never do enough, never amount to enough—
It’s useless, I swear. I tell your mother she’s ruining you, ruining you by fallin’ all over you and makin’ you think it’s okay to be weak, you sissy.
—and his mother, stroking his hair and assuring him that he was a big boy, a big boy and not weak at all. Even though he felt weak.
Even though he felt like nothing.
You’ll never amount to nothin’, boy!
Never strong enough to be a real man.
Shoulda had me girl!
Just a little boy.
Just a stupid, little sissy boy.
The piss felt hot against his skin, his bladder empty, his face wet with tears. He wished away all the hurt, all the loneliness, all the monsters and pain of thirty-two long years. He wished it all away while the beast under the bed huffed and growled and carved his claws along the floor, delighted by the smell of hot piss and the sounds of crying.
All you’ll ever be, you little worthless fucker. Look at what you are—it’s all you’ll ever be.
Brian hugged that pillow and rocked for maybe an hour. He cried until he could cry no more and his eyelids, heavy from the crying, crept down over his pupils. He rocked while his breathing slowed and his mind sank into a blackness. He rocked while the monster listened and purred and scratched and scraped. He rocked until he fell into a deep sleep, and there he stayed until 6:45 am.
* * * * *
“—orning traffic out there heading into downtown. How does it look, Sheila?”
“Well, it looks messy, Tom. Northbound I-35 is held up all the way back to Roy—” Pop.
The alarm clock in snooze mode, Brian stirred. He was still sitting up. He moved toward the edge of the bed and froze.
Last night. Last night he woke up and there was scraping and he couldn’t even go to the bathroom because…
And that’s when his nostrils kicked in and a wave of shame broke over him.
Still not a man, huh, Bri-boy? Still not a man.
He released his pillow from the death-grip he’d held it in and he pulled his head over the edge of his mattress. Straight down, there was nothing. No sign of scraping or claw marks. No evidence of anything, human or otherwise, anywhere near his bed. He sat-up and looked down at the semi-wet puddle he was still sitting in. He could feel a slight burning in his eyes.
He started to get out of bed, but he still wasn’t sure. Instead, he decided to check once more. He peeked over the corner of the bed and pulled himself out further this time. There, just underneath the bed. What is that? Is that a shaving? Like from a pencil? A shaving of wood under the bed on the floor?
Mornin’ sissy boy!
Brian bolted upright and grabbed for his pillow. His tears began to flow again and his mind raced.
Let’s see if we can make a man of you today, huh?
He had to piss. Oh, he had to piss. But he couldn’t get out of that bed.
Instead, he reached for the phone and, holding back tears, called in to work.