There is only one thing in life that I'm afraid of, and that's the dark. Even as an adult it still has that ability to scare me, and those childhood fears have stayed with me, like the shadows in the corner, something lurking in the wardrobe, the thing under the bed...
Now as a storyteller, I can take those fears and turn them into stories to scare others. I'm a big fan of psychological horror, or 'implied' horror, the kind of dark stuff that makes the reader think, rather than serve up blood and guts on a plate. Less is sometimes more with scary stories, and even more effective with a twist in the tale. With the Thing Under the Bed, which I originally wrote for Thrillers Killers 'n' Chillers, I brought the childhood fear of 'things in the mind' and gave it a sense of reality.
The Thing Under the Bed
Michael always believed something lurked in the dark beneath his bed.
The large wardrobe frightened him. The deep alcove in the corner scared him, because that’s where it was darkest. Even the windows overlooking the trees in the field at the bottom of the garden terrified him, especially when the pewter glare of a full moon fleeced the walls and invited the shadows.
Most of all, Michael feared the thing under his bed; the strange movements, scratching noises, the creeping black clouds swarming around the furniture ready to devour him should he look upon the entity.
Each night he would pull the covers right over his head, afraid to peep into the darkness settling across his body. He would dream of his father’s return, dream of the things they could do together, dream of the light of another day, and eventually he would drift off to sleep, safe in slumber.
After breakfast, Michael put on his scruffy jeans and trainers.
‘Where are you off to?’ Dee asked her 10-year-old son.
‘I’m building my den,’ Michael replied, pointing to the field. ‘I want to finish it before Dad comes home.’
Dee lit a cigarette. ‘Your father won’t be back for weeks. You have all that time to finish it.’
Michael stared at his mother. He needed to finish the den. He would rather spend time in there than his bedroom, because he knew The Thing lived under the bed and he didn’t feel comfortable in there, even though it only came out at night. But then he dreaded each night and the darkness it would bring. It hadn’t always been like this. Ever since his father left to work on the rigs, his school friends had told him about the creature that lurked beneath people’s beds. If you looked at it long enough, it would kill you.
He had to finish the den.
‘Just be careful,’ Dee said. ‘Don’t wander too far. Six o’clock is teatime. It gets dark after six, so I want you back in the house. ’
* * *
Dee rolled across the bed, poured another glass of wine. She giggled as her lover, Jason, swept his hand down the curve of her back.
‘That was pretty intense,’ he said, planting a kiss on her shoulder. ‘The fear of being caught. Always makes it so exciting.’
She handed the glass of wine to him. ‘Maybe so, but Michael could walk in any minute. He’s only in the field just beyond our garden.’ She noted the time. ‘It’s nearly five o’clock. I said tea would be ready at six.’
Jason gulped the wine. ‘Stop fretting.’ He could easily shut the kid up if did happen. Nasty threats always worked. He hated kids. They were like vermin. He smiled at the thought. ‘He’d never tell anyone, trust me. Besides, we’ve got time to squeeze another in.’
Dee lay back. ‘Perhaps we should keep the noise down. I would--’
The sound of the front door closing filtered through the hallway. A voice.
Jason frowned at Dee’s stony expression. ‘Who the hell is that?’
Dee shot up. ‘Oh Christ, it’s Jimmy.’
Jason let go of Dee. ‘Shit. I thought you said he wasn’t gonna be back for weeks.’
Dee stared at the open bedroom door, shook her head. She lowered her voice. ‘That’s what I thought. Oh God, you need to hide. If Jimmy finds you he’ll kill you.’
‘Hide?’ Jason quickly slipped out of bed and grabbed his clothes from the floor. ‘And where the fuck am I supposed to hide in this poke hole?’
Dee flung the covers back. ‘Michael’s room. Quick. There’s a huge wardrobe in there. Don’t move until I give the all clear.’
Jason slunk bare bottomed towards the hallway as Dee hurriedly dressed herself. ‘The kid’s room? You got to be kidding.’ He looked back at her, his eyes coloured with fear.
‘You don’t have a choice. Don’t try to leave without the all clear.’
‘How long for?’
‘For as long as it takes. Jimmy’s a big man, you’ll have no chance if you try and sneak out of here.’ She pushed Jason towards Michael’s bedroom. ‘Stay in there. Don’t make a sound. I’ll get you when it’s clear.’
* * *
Michael wandered through the trees towards the garden. He looked up at the house. There was something different; he didn’t quite know what. It was only when he approached the back door, and he saw the large shadow standing in the kitchen next to his mother that he realised.
‘Dad!’ He ran into the kitchen. ‘Dad, I’m so happy you’re home.’
‘Hey spud.’ Jimmy glared at Dee. ‘At least someone’s happy to see me.’
Michael clung to his father. ‘I’m dead happy now. I’ve been waiting for you. I don’t have to be scared of the dark anymore.’
Dee brushed unruly hairs from her face. ‘I don’t know what on earth those kids tell him at school. He thinks there’s a monster under his bed. I showed him the other day. There’s nothing to be afraid of.’
Jimmy embraced his son. ‘Mum’s right. You don’t have to be afraid. I’m here now.’
During tea, Michael told his father all about his den, even though it wasn’t finished, and that night he went to bed on the promise that tomorrow they would finish it together.
Michael stood by the bedroom doorway. The light from the landing silhouetted his small frame. He stared at the bed. The covers hung right down to the floor, shielding him from the creature that stalked his waking moments.
He glanced to his left. The wardrobe door was slightly open. Some of his clothes had spilled onto the floor. The Thing had been in there, he was sure. Perhaps it was still in there, watching him, waiting.
Tonight he would face The Thing.
‘Come on, son. Bedtime.’ Jimmy ushered the boy into the bedroom, tucked him beneath the covers. He kissed him on the forehead. ‘Sleep tight, and--’
‘Don’t let the bed bugs bite,’ Michael whispered.
Jimmy smiled. ‘Sweet dreams.’
The light went out. The door closed. The darkness was swift - a cold, consuming, hungry darkness that crawled from the corners and slithered across the walls.
Michael was very still. His mind bubbled. Adrenaline began frosting his veins. His eyes switched from one point to another, seeing shadows. He could make out the outline of the wardrobe in the murk. He stared hard, thought he saw the door move. He slowly reached back and slipped his hand beneath the pillow.
His fingers curled around his father’s hammer. The one he’d carefully sneaked from the shed while mummy and daddy were arguing in the front room.
Something juddered beneath him, then a murmur.
Michael gripped the hammer tight. It was so heavy, but he managed to hold it in both hands.
The bed rattled. Michael wanted to scream, but didn’t. He eased forward slowly; his breath coming in short bursts as he peered over the edge of the bed.
Something white flashed through the black maw. The Thing blinked.
Michael lifted the hammer and forced it down onto The Thing’s head. Something cracked.
Michael did it again, listening to it gurgle and splutter. The bed jerked beneath him and Michael knew The Thing was strong. He jumped off the bed and this time used all his strength to smash the hammer repeatedly into the shadow poking from beneath the bed. He forced one last blow. A dull squelch echoed around the bedroom.
Silence returned. The Thing had stopped moving.
The bedroom door shot open. Light flooded the room.
‘What the hell...Michael?’
Michael looked up at his father in the doorway. He blinked through the blood smearing his face. ‘Look, Dad. The Thing. It was under my bed all this time, just like I told you. But it’s okay now, I’ve killed it.’
© April 2009