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Filomena DeRose

Darkness shrouds everything in my blurred vicinity. She left me alone mere moments ago, but I need her to come back this instant. Anything my eyes try to focus on morphs and shifts like a staticky image on an old television set that needs a few good smacks on the top of the box. Moonlight fails to pierce through the curtain, and the small slivers that do manage to slither in draw out exaggerated shadows from the furniture. The armoire against the wall seems to stretch and curve along the ceiling—looming, threatening to topple and crush me. The dresser’s shadow spreads along the length of the pale wall, shadow morphing into arms that reach for my bed.

The safety I once felt in my room is dissipating. Dwindling to nothing, nonexistent, as the night lingers on. The plush blanket at my feet could be thrown over me in an attempt to shield myself. And my friend—where has he gone? Could have sworn he was by my side moments ago. I should search for him, but I can’t move. What if the shadows see me? Shutting my eyes is a vain attempt at restoring a sense of safety, but it feels like the only way to calm the sea of dread that’s rushing over me. The illusion that the night’s threats will dissolve because my eyes are squeezed is laughable at best.

What’s that? With lids pulled closed, my ears perk and pick up all sounds the evening has to offer. I cannot see it, but I know it’s coming from the window. Mom locked the window, right? What if she didn’t? What if whatever is tapping the glass pushes it open and slides into my room? I don’t want to picture the trail of slime it might leave along the cream carpet. I gag thinking about the sound of its skin catching on the fabric threads lining my floor.

Rattling erupts from my left. I keep my eyes shut tightly and fall victim to the imagery my mind conjures of the monster drumming their crusty nails on the wall beside me. The way it must live, cramped and stuffed, with its face wedged between the wall and the side of my bed. I roll to the right but realize too late I’ve left my back unguarded for the hand to grab me. My soft pillow-topped mattress brings no comfort. Even if I lay still in the middle of the bed, holding my breath to avoid drawing attention, the mattress has minimal surface area. If an adult arm can reach from end to end, then a monster will have no issue sinking its claws into me and dragging me under.

The rails surrounding my bed imitate a jail cell. What good will the soft wood be to keep out the monstrous figures that crawl towards it? Claws can shred the material into wood chips and pierce my body. Drain me of blood. Sink their teeth into my heart. Simply kill for the thrill of taking my life before it’s begun!

The door is shoved open. A dark figure standing in the doorway—a soul-sucking shadow, perhaps?—its bony fingers slide along the wall. Fat tears roll down my cheeks. This is it. I struggle to breathe as the figure closes in. My demise is near. Between the thing at the window, the creature under the bed, and the ghoul at my door, I’m toast!

It lurks toward me. Hands outstretched. And—oh, god. It’s wearing the skin of my mother! Her features are all scrunched and tight. My lungs burn as a shriek rips through my chest.

“Shhh,” it hisses, “you’re safe.”

The ghoul lies. Trying to trick me into a false sense of safety while the guts of my mother are strung along the hall and this thing stands here wearing her skin like a fashion statement. I wriggle away as it looms over me and reaches into my crib.

Unhand me, foul beast! I screech as loud as my underdeveloped lungs allow as it wraps its hands around my stomach.

“You’d think you’re strangling him with the way he’s shrieking,” says my father’s voice.

God have mercy—there’s two of them! The thing wearing Dad floods the room with light. I thought it was coming out of his eyes at first, but he flipped the switch on the wall that the stupid thing possessing Mom couldn’t find.

I put up a futile fight, but my struggles cease as she places my head over her beating heart. This is no demonic creature from the netherworld; it is my mom. No monster could mimic the rhythm I’ve listened to for nearly two years—the first nine of those months spent in her womb—I know that rhythm better than I know myself.

“Oh, sweetie, it’s okay. You’re alright,” Mom says, downplaying my fears. Shoving my anxieties under the mattress with the monster.

Are you crazy? I swipe at the water pooling by my neck. Woman, do you have any idea what could have got to me? What horrors the darkness holds?

Hiccuping gurgles escape my lips as I regain steady breath. I pat her cheek, Mom, eyes narrowing at her, you can’t do that to me ever again. Please. She places a delicate kiss on my forehead.

“Mommy’s sorry. Didn’t mean to forget the light,” she says with a pout.

Yeah, yeah. All is forgiven. Just, please, never leave me in the dark again.

She gently places me on my back. Dad walks away with a chuckle, calling out his signature “G’night, Slugger” as Mom settles me into bed. She places my purple blanket atop my hips and legs. Beary the Bear is plucked out of the corner and returned to my arms.

Comrade! I pull him to my chest. I thought you fell victim to the monster under the bed!

I coo up at Mom, lacking the vernacular to express the terror her negligence caused me tonight. Grateful, nonetheless, that she came to my aid. Mom leans over the blue machine fastened to the foot of the crib and presses the power button. My room floods with sounds of bubbling water. Paper fish, blue, red, and yellow, swim around their plastic home. Mom turns off the ceiling light and soothing lilac and indigo hues fill my room. Mom says, “Good night, my darling,” and my heavy lids dip. Finally, I can get a peaceful night’s rest.

My eyes peel open, wait. I heard Mom’s heartbeat . . . I know that is her. But how do I know the man beside her is actually my father and not some alien wearing him like an ill-fitted prom suit?

Filomena DeRose is an aspiring author who enjoys romance, fantasy, adventure, ghost stories, horror, and poetry. She is working toward an Honors Bachelor of Creative Writing & Publishing degree at Sheridan College in Mississauga, Canada.

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