“Jamie, it’s time to get ready for bed,” called Maria Pennington. “Race you to your room!”
The five-year old shrieked, and sprinted up the stairs, Maria behind him. The two went through Jamie's bedtime routine: Taking a bubble bath, which involved a lot of splashing, putting on the little boy’s fuzzy red fire truck pajamas, brushing his teeth, and reading his favorite book, Goodnight Moon, before Maria finally tucked him into bed.
“I love you, Jamie,” Maria said, ruffling his chestnut-brown curls and planting a kiss on his forehead. “Sweet dreams.”
“Night night,” replied Jamie.
Maria opened the window, letting the warm summer breeze enter Jamie’s room, before turning off the light, and going downstairs to her husband. “How was work today, Frank?”
“Fine. We finally got a client to sign onto a big deal, thank God. The guy got on my nerves! He acted like he completely ran the place and…” Trailing off, Frank shook his head. “It’s done, that’s what matters.”
The couple chattered away as they did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen, not a care in the world. Jamie, on the other hand, lay in his bed, stiff as a soldier, straining his ears. Thud! There it was again, a distinct sound from outside the window. A twinge of fear squeezed his chest, and the little boy ran downstairs to his parents.
“Mommy, Daddy, I hear a monster. There’s a monster in my room!” he cried. Maria and Frank gave each other a look saying, Here he goes again, before turning towards their son.
“Jamie, sweetie, there is no monster in your room,” said Frank, walking towards the little boy. “Now I want you to go back to your room and get some sleep. I don’t want to you be tired tomorrow.”
“No buts,” replied Frank, cutting him off. “Now up to bed.”
Pouting, Jamie went up the stairs and cautiously entered his room. He looked around in the darkness before climbing into bed, and pulling the blanket up to his neck. He closed his eyes, trying to fall asleep. But something was wrong. He sniffed the air, smelling a musky odor that didn’t belong to anyone in the house.
Again, Jamie dashed down the stairs. “There’s a monster under my bed, Mommy and Daddy!” he shouted. Groaning, Maria and Frank turned to him.
“Jamie,” sighed Maria. “Your father told you before, there is no monster under your bed! Don’t let your imagination freak you out.”
“There was some weird smell,” he whined.
“Honey, that’s all in your imagination! You need to get some rest, because I know how grumpy you are when you’re tired.” Maria bent down to hug Jamie. “You’re safe, sweetie. Mommy and Daddy love you very much. Now, please go to back to your room.”
“Okay,” sniffled Jamie, hanging his head. Defeated, he dragged his feet as he slowly walked up the stairs. Peeking through the door into his bedroom, Jamie thought he saw the outline of a body lying under the bed. It’s just my imagination. It’s just my imagination, he repeated over and over again. Taking a deep breath, he lept onto the bed and lay in the very middle. Nothing happened. Relieved, Jamie closed his eyes, trying to fall asleep. Mommy was right, he thought. It was just my imagination. He was halfway between the threshold of consciousness and dreamland when something poked him through the mattress. Jamie let out a shriek of terror and scampered out of his bed, down to his parents.
Jumping into his mother’s arms, he wailed, “Mommy! The monster just poked me! I felt it through the mattress!”
“Jamie! Listen to me,” replied Maria in her steadiest voice. “It’s way past your bedtime. You need sleep, sweetie! And remember what I told you you last time? It’s your imagination! Calm down, Jamie. You are perfectly safe.”
“No! Mommy, Daddy, please, believe me! There’s a monster, and it’s going to get me!” pleaded Jamie.
“There is not a monster, Jamie,” chided Frank. “In fact, monsters don’t even exist! Now, go to your room!”
“I said, go to your room!”
His face red with anger, Jamie stomped up the stairs, and slammed the door.
“What’s going on with him today?” exclaimed Frank.
“I don’t know. He seemed fine after school, even when I was putting him to bed,” sighed Maria, shaking her head. “His imagination gets the better of him sometimes.”
“Kids and their imaginations,” Frank chuckled.
To his parents’ relief, Jamie didn’t come downstairs again. They finished cleaning up the kitchen and decided to go to bed themselves.
“I’m going to check on him,” whispered Maria. “He’s so cute when he sleeps. See you in a second.” Careful not to cause the door to creak, Maria entered her son’s room. To her dismay, he wasn’t in his bed. She whirled around, scanning the room, but Jamie wasn’t anywhere to be found.
“Frank!” she shrieked. “Jamie’s not here!” Within seconds, he hurtled into the room. That’s when she saw the window, wide open, like the mouth of a cobra ready to strike. A ladder leaned against it. Trembling, Maria sniffed the air, breathing in the scent of an unfamiliar cologne.
“Frank, Frank! He’s gone. Someone’s taken him!” Putting his arm around his distraught wife, Frank felt a fire burn in his stomach.
“We’ll get that goddamn monster, Maria,” he said, his voice low with anger. “We’ll get our Jamie back!”