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The Monsters Under Her Bed
“I have a feeling I won’t be going to sleep tonight.”
The glowing green numbers of Liz’s car’s clock read 11:35 as we pulled onto my street. She’d already broken curfew by 5 minutes, but I don’t think either of us were really dwelling on that fact, since she broke it all the time. She’d ushered me out of her boyfriend’s house five minutes ago, partly because she needed to get home, and partly because I was crying. I was still crying at 11:35. “I don’t think I can handle my dreams anymore.”
Liz looked over at me from the driver’s seat with a strange mixture of sorrow and sympathy on her face. “I know…you just have to beat your demons. You say all the time you’re like the mom of our group, so tell those demons off. ‘No, you’re grounded, demons! Go back to hell and leave me alone.’” I knew she was trying to make me laugh while being serious at the same time—usually it worked, but not tonight. I heard her sigh before saying, “At least you got a good amount of sleep at my house last night. What, like 10 hours?”
“Something like that,” I said, though I wasn’t really sure. I woke up a few times, but I don’t know when or for how long, because my dreams had seeped into those waking moments in the dark of the night. The monsters hiding under my bed couldn’t follow me to Liz’s house, but my messed up dreams of watching myself get chopped up by helicopter blades or blowing up in a car could.
As she braked in front of my house, Liz turned and looked at me, dead serious this time. “Hey, you know, if you need me, just call me. Any hour of the night, I don’t care—I don’t have to work Saturdays anymore, so I can make up for whatever sleep I lose later. Don’t hesitate.”
“Okay,” I said, though I knew I would only hold her to that promise in the direst of emergencies. I wasn’t like Christina, who called Liz at one in the morning because Andrew had broken up with her.
I was trying to get out of the car when Liz said, “Wait, come here, I’ve gotta tell you something.”
I leaned back over and she kissed me on the cheek, which, I have to admit, brought a little smile to my face. There was a time when Liz and I, though great friends, felt awkward kissing on the cheek. Now it didn’t matter—we still refused to kiss mouth-to-mouth, but all the times of faking it to drive Tony crazy had erased that line. Tony…
We said goodnight, and Liz drove away. I walked up the steps to my basically ghetto house across the street from the train tracks, my feet and mind heavy with exhaustion but unable to relieve themselves. My demons never let me sleep.
Mom and Dad were already snoring when I quietly walked through the door. I checked to make sure Mom wasn’t twitching weirdly—thankfully, tonight wasn’t yet a seizure night—and proceeded into my own room, stepping carelessly over the clothes and purses strewn across the floor. I found Tony’s hoodie, the one he’d sneaked to me via Mark and Liz, and pulled it on, then crawled into bed. It was very dark, except for a pale shaft of moonlight that shone through the gap in my window shade. I closed my eyes, trying to stop the tears…but the creaking of floorboards and the random scurrying movements across my bed only made them come faster.
Part of me wanted to bury my face in my arms, wrapped in Tony’s sweatshirt, and pretend they weren’t there; but that other part of me, the one that always wanted to look at the gruesome aspects of the world, if for no other reason than just to make me sick, overwhelmed my senses. So I looked up, and saw what I expected to see.
Monsters, some shadows flitting across flat surfaces, some small lumps of gray, mangled flesh, some larger and made of scales ranging from blood red to green, some with long claws, some with sharp jaws, some with tails flicking back and forth, back and forth—all manner of ungodly creatures were creeping out from the darkness around me. I cringed, my fingers clenched into fists, my whole body involuntarily curling into a ball. “Go away,” I whimpered, knowing it was no use even as the tiny, frightened words left my mouth.
One of the creatures laughed; or maybe all of them did. Then a voice spoke: “We’ll never go away,” it hissed, “We’re as much a part of you as anything in your life. You can’t banish part of your mind.”
“Liz told me I should ground you,” I mumbled, laughing inside my head.
“Ground us? Why, you can’t do that. You can’t do anything but sit there and tremble while we remind you who we are…”
Then certain monsters faded away, while others became more solid, more real, and stepped into the moonlight. One big one, with both claws and jaws, with scales of red and black that would have glittered if they weren’t suffused with evil, said, “You know me very well…I’m your mother’s seizures. I’ll come at any given moment, and cause such pain to her that she can’t think, and you can’t keep from breaking down…”
Another demon, this one smaller with wrinkly gray skin and razor-sharp yellow teeth, grinned—or was that a scowl?—at her. “I’m alcohol,” it said, “I’ve stolen the lives of many in your family, and your father has completely succumbed to my power…he’ll be one of the rest soon enough.”
The next one to speak was similar to the first, though smaller than both its predecessors and decorated all over with the color green: “I’m Envy…you know me well enough. No matter how cute you think Liz and Mark are, you are always forced to think about Tony when you see them, and—though you would deny it—you’re jealous of your friend’s happiness…”
“No,” I said, a little stronger this time, “No. I want to be happy, but Liz deserves it…Andrew put her through so much s***…I can miss Tony without tainting their happiness!”
The green demon laughed. “Denying it again…”
Another demon, this one a pure red, red like the fires of Hell’s anger, bigger than the green one, shoved the latter aside. “You think you’re so tough! Ha! I bring a lot more pain, because I am Tony’s father and his anger…the reason you can’t see the one you love. All you have of his is a sweatshirt, and what good does that do?”
“It smells like him,” I said, my voice humbled by fresh tears.
“Yes, but soon enough the smell will fade,” said another. This one was completely black, both larger and smaller than the rest at the same time, and I knew it was the shadowy figures from before congealed into one. “The future brings all sorts of pain, because, thinking about it, you realize you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know where you want to go for school, and you might end up working in that Laundromat for the rest of your life. Not to mention, Liz’s promises of bliss after suffering could be false, you know. You might never see Tony again.”
I couldn’t even respond to that one; it was right, after all. My whole body shook with sobs, each one carrying a knife to stab my heart.
I thought it was almost over, but then more movement caught my eye. This demon was much smaller than the rest, and, after a moment, I recognized it. It was pinkish-red, mangled and bloody, pulsating slightly, and about the size of my fist. “I’m your heart,” it said softly, cruelly, “I’ve left you; I’ve been with Tony this whole time. You won’t be getting me back anytime soon, because, like Future said, you might never see him again…”
I was unconsciously reaching for my phone, but I stopped myself. Liz might usually have some good advice, but she’d even think I was nuts if I told her about the monsters haunting me. I felt a strange determination growing inside me, making my chest swell and my tears slow. I couldn’t go on like this, constantly fearing the night, unable to sleep for the terrors that crawled forth from the blackest corners of my mind. What she said before was true: I needed to defeat my demons, once and for all.
Suddenly, I shot up. All the demons retreated a few steps, surprised because I’d abandoned the fetal position. “What do you think you’re doing?” they hissed. Was that fear I heard in their voice? Fear of me?
“I’m getting rid of you,” I said, my voice stronger than any I’d ever used against them, “once and for all.”
First I grabbed the one that said it was my heart, my heart that was no longer mine. “Sorry, but Tony only has part of my heart, because that’s all he can have right now—I took the rest back until further notice,” I sneered, and, thrusting open the window, I threw the little demon right outside. I watched it fizzle and dissipate in the crisp wind with deep satisfaction.
Next came the one that said it was Tony’s dad. “I don’t care what you do, Tony loves me, and I love him, and Liz was right, you making us break up was just a technicality. I’ll wait for him, and he’ll wait for me, no matter what you say!” And I threw him out the window, too. Envy was easy to beat; Dad’s drunkenness was a little harder, but I beat him, too. Mom’s seizure problem was probably the absolute worst. I jumped up and wrestled with it, trying to avoid being clawed or bitten while forcing it toward the window. Needless to say, this didn’t entirely work, and I ignored the gashes on my arms and face as I continued grappling with the red-and-black monster. Then, strength surged through me, and I heaved it out into the open air. Whispers of something like, “I’ll be back,” floated in to my ears on a gust of wind, but I wasn’t afraid anymore.
Finally, I turned to face the shadow demon, the Future. It was still standing there, just glaring at me, and for the first time I saw its eyes: they were glowing orbs of white, surrounded by darkness but still bright and clear. I reached out to grab it, and it didn’t move. Apparently, it didn’t need to, because my hands went through it like it was smoke. I almost reached for my phone again, and again I stopped myself. Instead, I wondered what Liz would say about the future or darkness, and I heard her voice saying, “Darkness is only scary because you can’t see through it…just like the future is scary because you can’t see what’s coming. Everyone’s afraid of the unknown, but we all have to face it, and, sooner or later, it won’t be unknown anymore. Then what will there be to be afraid of?”
And, looking at its eyes, I realized something else: no matter how solid the blackness seems, one beam of light is all it takes to pierce it.
“Guess what?” I said.
“What?” it asked in a mocking tone.
I glared at it, then replied, “I’m not afraid of you anymore.”
It stared at me funnily, so I smirked. Then, I drew in a deep breath of the cool, moonlit air seeping through my window, and blew all of it at the Future demon. It screamed, but the scream sounded very far away; then, its figure diffused, and all traces of darkness retreated back into the shadowy corners of my room. I knew it was still there, but, for the first time, it didn’t bother me.
Exhaustion gripped me, and I collapsed onto bed, sinking into the deepest reaches of dreamland. The only thing I remember about that dream was seeing Tony run to me, and then feeling him hold me in his arms just like he always used to. “I love you baby,” he whispered, and I whispered it back, and then Liz and Mark were there, and Liz was saying “I told you you could do it…”
My alarm went off at 5:30; one hour until work. I turned it off, and then finally picked the phone up and speed-dialed Liz. After three rings, she answered groggily, “Hola mami, wassup?”
“I did it, Liz, I beat my demons.”
I swear I could hear her smiling. “I knew you could all along…I’m proud of you, Chelsea.”
I felt my face stretch into one of the widest grins it’d borne in a long time. “Thanks…I just had to tell you. I’ll let you go back to sleep now…sorry about waking you up.”
“S’no problem,” she answered, “Goodnight.”
“Good morning,” I said, and, hanging up the phone, I looked outside and saw the sun ascending into a crystal clear sky.