Trigger warning: This story has graphic child abuse.
By Neil P. Allen
I’m not going back and you can’t make me,” Donald, a large snake with two heads, yelled as he returned to the office from yet another unsuccessful night of trying to scare Nikki, a precocious three-year-old who lived in a small cabin in Vermont. He slammed the door behind him then huffed loudly as he slithered across my office.
“What happened this time?” I asked then looked up. He was covered in flowers and butterflies crudely cut from construction paper and taped on his body with way too much scotch tape. “No, don’t tell me. I can see what happened.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with her boss. She just isn’t afraid of us monsters,” Donald replied. He was clearly shaken from the events.
“Take the rest of the week off and I’ll reassign you. There’s a one-and-a-half-year-old in northern California who just became eligible for a monster. It should be a piece of cake.”
I watched as another battered and nearly broken monster leave my office and head to the showers to get rid of the human stink. I shook my head as the laughter and comments from the other monsters as they made fun of him reached my office.
This was the last straw. I needed to find a monster that could scare this young girl and retain the company’s reputation as the scariest under-the-bed monster contractor in the world. It was a monster eat monster world and I couldn’t allow one little girl ruin everything.
I pulled her case file out of the pile on my desk and sat back. My tentacle flipped through the pages. Every kind of monster had been sent her way — socks, water, fire, wind, swampy, goblins, ghosts, decayed and the list went on. There were at least 100 monsters that had failed. Many of them had gold star ratings.
“Didn’t respond to any of my tactics,” said Henrietta, a sock monster. “I even pulled out some advanced scare stuff and nothing.”
“I tried everything … jumping out at her, making scratching noises, pulling her blanket off,” James, a swamp monster that dripped swampy ooze, reported. “She responded by covering me with glitter. She’s the monster!”
I shivered. Flowers, glitter, hugs, kisses and the list of her attacks on monsters went on and on. It was not a surprise that the monsters had returned to the office defeated and refusing to go back. There was also a list of those who refused the assignment, taking a dock in pay rather than face an unfrightenable girl.
This was going to take some investigative work. And, there was only one person with the authority to go to the human world during the day — me.
I poked my head out the door. Gladys, my secretary, was typing on her computer.
“Gladys, I’m going to the human world to do an investigation. If I’m not back by night fall, please send the recovery crew. The address is in a folder on my chair as well as my will and my justification for this trip,” I directed. “If I don’t make it back, tell my wife I love her.”
“Yes, of course, Mrs. Squiddleton,” she replied without looking away from her work.
I closed my office door and headed for the portal to the human world, I practiced making my body naturally blend into the environment making me virtually invisible. At the kiosk, I punched in the address then my security code to authorize the unplanned excursion.
It had been years since I’d been in the field. Scaring kids had seemed like fun when I started, and I was good at it. Then I saw my first abused child.
Timmy was nearly five years old and had Perthe’s disease, which affected his hips, and he was wheelchair bound. He had a cast from the ankle to upper thigh on both legs with a board between them holding them at just the right distance apart to allow his hip to heal. Timmy was dependent on others to do many things for him, including going to the bathroom.
I felt bad about scaring a disabled kid but we prided ourselves on not discriminating. Every child got a monster under their bed until they stopped being scared of us or reached eight years old. It didn’t matter where they lived, how much money their family had, what color or religion they were. Every child got a monster.
Timmy was tossing and turning in his sleep. Normally, he was out cold and it was difficult to scare him. I watched him and was about to yank his blanket off and say, ‘boo!,’ he started to whimper.
“I’m sorry! I won’t do it again!” he cried out. “Don’t hurt me!”
He was sobbing. I barely had time to get under the bed before his mother came into the room.
“What’s wrong?” she asked as she wrapped her arms around him.
“I was … I was just having a bad dream,” he replied evasively.
“About what? Who was trying to hurt you?”
“No one,” Timmy hedged as he clung to his mother.
“You can tell me,” she said in that soothing voice only mothers can make. “I promise nothing bad will happen.”
He buried his face against her chest. “She told me not to tell.”
“Who told you?”
“Why did she tell you that? What did she do?” the mother’s voice was getting higher pitched that matched her rising panic.
“I … I had an accident. We were playing and I didn’t notice I needed to go pee and I went in my pants,” Timmy whispered as if he were afraid the babysitter would somehow hear him. “I didn’t mean to!”
“What did she do?”
“She put me on the potty and … and …”
“Meme was very angry. She shook me really hard and yelled at me in French. I said I was sorry but it wasn’t good enough. She told me I was an awful little brat for making her remop the floor.”
“Oh Timmy!” His mother hugged him. “I’m so sorry!”
I was, too. It was awful to think that anyone could do something like that to a kid, much less one that was dependent on you for nearly everything. That was the day I found out there were real monsters out there. I vowed I would protect these children from imaginary monsters like herself.
I requested a transfer and was put in charge of the rookie monsters at the academy. It was my job to teach them the rules and instill the fear of what would happen if they broke the rules. It wasn’t exciting work but at least the new recruits kept me amused.
That is also where I met my wife. She was a young octopus in the last class I taught at the academy. Kimbra was beautiful, smart and one a helluva good scarer. She was one of my best students in all my years at the academy.
I was completely smitten with her and I was sure she felt the same for me. Unfortunately, teachers couldn’t fraternize with students outside of the academy, much less date them. That was a rule that if broken meant instant expulsion — for both of us.
Thankfully, at the end of that class, I was promoted to the placement office and was free to date Kimbra. I finished packing my stuff, closed the door behind me and called her on the way down the hall. Before I left the building, I had a date with her for that night. Twenty-one years later, we were still together and still very much smitten with each other.
Once I was in my new job, I instituted a new policy regarding abused children. They would no longer get monsters under the bed. The real ones in their lives were much scarier.
I paused before the final doorway to the human world. Once you passed through it, there was no guarantee you would come back. Then, I remembered the look on Donald’s face when he came back. No monster should be made to feel like that by anyone, it was up to me to figure out what was going on and fix it.
My tentacle pressed the button as I changed the color of my body to blend in with the background. The door opened and I found myself in a very dim room. It was late morning, nearly noon. The room of a young child should be bright.
The bed was empty, as expected, and there were only a few scattered broken toys strewn across the room. There were clothes spilling over in a dilapidated hamper and the room was filled with the scent of pee. I looked around for Nikki but could see no sign of her.
“Maybe she is at school,” I said to myself. Then, in the corner of the room I saw a small lump. It was emitting occasional cries of pain when it breathed too deeply or moved. At first I thought it was a dog but then, as I inched closer, realized it was Nikki.
I leaned in close. The smell of blood and a hint of burnt flesh was detectible over the nauseating smell of urine soaked clothes. My stomach churned. I had never witnessed anything like this before. This was way beyond anything I had experienced before.
I wondered how Nikki had somehow never made the list of abused children. It explained why the monsters I sent to her didn’t scare her—imaginary monsters could be scary but the real ones were much scarier.
Nikki sat up slowly and looked in my direction. I worked harder to maintain my invisibility, knowing I could be instantly expelled for being seen in the light of day. The young girl’s sniffling ceased and she slowly inched towards me.
The door swung open suddenly, bathing the room in faded light from a single dingy light fixture in the hall, and a large woman with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in the other stumbled into the room.
“Did I hear you cry?” she screamed, teetering in the doorway. Her black dress was two sizes too small and barely covered her body. It was torn and wreaked of sweat and alcohol. There were times I didn’t like having my strong sense of smell and this was one of the top two.
“No … no Mama!” Nikki scooted back away from her mother. “Please … I quiet!”
“Are you lying to me?” the mother sneered and lurched closer to the girl. I could see the mother’s blood shot eyes and haphazardly applied make-up.
I wondered where the father was. Why was he allowing this to happen to his child?
“No, Mama!” the girl cried out. The panic in her voice drove daggers into my hearts. “I didn’t make a sound!”
“Lying bitch! When your father gets his sorry ass out of jail, he will give you the what for,” she screamed then kicked Nikki in the stomach, launching her into the air. There was a loud thud as the small body hit the wall then silence. “That’s better. Don’t let me hear you cry again.”
The mother left the room, slamming the door behind her.
I rushed over to the child, protocol be damned, and checked on her. She was breathing, but barely.
“Hold on little girl,” I whispered.
I slid under the door and out into the living room. The mother was passed out on the couch. I found a phone and dialed 9-1-1. I hadn’t spoken human words in more than 10 years. I didn’t even know if I could.
“Hurry, child hurt, dying,” I squeaked out when the 911 operator answered the phone. “419 Red Tail Lane, Dorset.”
“How is the child hurt?” she asked.
“No time! Hurry! Child dying!” I said then hung up the phone before I woke up the mother then returned to the child. She was still breathing but each breath was a struggle.
“Stay with me,” I pleaded and wrapped a tentacle around her hand. Tears were streaming down my face when she squeezed back.
I heard sirens coming towards the house. There was a knock on the door then the door being crashed open.
“Ma’am, wake up,” a man said in the living room then footsteps heading towards the room.
“I’ll be back later, I promise. Just live so I can come back to you,” I whispered then took my place under the bed.
The policeman opened the door and he flashed his flashlight into the room. He spotted Nikki on the floor.
“In here!” he called then gagged at the stench. He opened a window to let fresh air in. “Good lord!”
The room filled with police and emergency medical technicians. With a sigh of relief, I entered the portal and headed back to the monster realm.
My boss was waiting in my office when I returned.
“You have some explaining to do,” the Headless Horseman, the president of the company, said.
“I had no choice. She would have died,” I replied.
“There are rules.”
“Yes, and I taught them well. Too well it seems,” I said, looking him. He had been one of the best students in my first class and had quickly passed through the ranks to get to the top. There was silence as we each stood our ground.
“I am required to suspend you,” he said.
“I will be returning to active duty, beginning tonight, and this child will be my charge.”
“You’re not listening.”
“You were not the only one who learned in that class,” I replied, refusing to give way.
“As of now, only I know of your actions. You will not speak of them to anyone other than your wife,” he said. “If I discover you doing something like this again, I will expel you from the company before you even have a chance to try to explain away your disregard for the rules.”
I watched him walk out of the office. When he closed the door, I collapsed to the floor and sobbed uncontrollably. My only consolation is knowing Nikki will never again be tormented by monsters — real or imagined.