Little Mae Clark is afraid of the dark.
She sits with her back as straight as a cliff, her open mouth a moist cave at its apex. Her eyes are open; she would not dare close them, for fear of something sneaking up on her in the cover of darkness. Her hands alternately clench and unclench her blanket, and she has developed a nervous tic in her foot.
She is staring intently about her, on the lookout for formless shapes and shadows to turn into monsters. Everyone knows that monsters live in shadows during the day and only at night assume their true form to sneak up on young victims. If the monsters are coming, Mae Clark is going to spot them first.
Endless reels of empty time pass like scene after scene of a bad movie. The shadows stretch and shrink every once in a while but do not yet betray their true identity. Mae Clark knows, however, that monsters are patient creatures, and so she keeps her vigil diligently.
Finally the shadows grow more confident. Out of the corners of her eyes, Mae Clark can see them shift positions when she is looking elsewhere. Monsters tend to get uncomfortable after long periods of time. She knows a lot about monsters, such as how they eat, when they sleep, and how many usually occupy a single room. Mae Clark has read a lot about bedtime monsters. She considers herself an expert. her mother has tried to tell her that monsters do not exist, but Mae Clark is far too knowledgeable for that. She knows they exist, and she knows of the dangers they pose. Now the vigilante sits silently, tingles of tension running down her spine, fingers of fear driving hammers into her brain.
One of the shadows now suddenly breaks free. As it begins to lumber slowly towards her, other shadows follow its lead and begin their journey towards the bed. Mae Clark’s fingers move restlessly about the fringe of her comforter, and her eyes swing wildly from monster to monster. She sees the shadows coming for her, knows their purpose and ultimate destination.
Her mind jumps around to find an escape path, but the one she has designated for use in an emergency, a straight line to her window, is quickly blocked by an oncoming shadow. Mae Clark can no longer tell which corners are occupied by dressers and such and which hide the form of a carnivorous creature.
The shadows are drawing nearer. Mae Clark envisions herself being devoured by unsightly beasts, imagines the great sorrow which her parents will feel upon learning of her departure. She has yet to do so many things in life, and now the monsters are going to cut short all of her opportunities to accomplish them. She can picture how cold her face will look in death, but cannot picture what will lie beyond.
Meanwhile, a monster has almost reached her. It is stretching out its dark claw towards her, a horrible, volatile thing against which it would be useless to put up a fight. The hand, and with it a certain coldness within her, reaches closer and closer and closer to Mae Clark. She braces herself for a searing pain when…
Suddenly a bright light flashes on. A thunderous roar echoes between the four walls of the room. Mae Clark is familiar with the routine: her mother has come to check on her, thereby sending all of the monsters to their respective hiding places until tomorrow night. It happens now almost every night, so Mae Clark looks with relief towards her doorway, thankful that her mother has saved her once again in the nick of time.
When she looks at the door, it is closed, and her mother is nowhere in sight.
With eyes frozen with terror, she brings her gaze slowly, painfully around to look at the heart of her room. Like glaciers trying to defy the tyranny of time, her eyes move towards the new source of bright light. She can almost hear Death’s heartbeat pounding in her ears.
When she looks at her room, she sees monsters, many of them, all staring hungrily at her. But in the middle of their circle, she quickly notices, lies a party platter of food, and each monster is wearing a party hat.
“Hello, Mae Clark,” says one, grinning broadly at her. “Welcome to our party.”
The ghastly beasts all begin to smile now, showing horrid teeth covered in slimy saliva. A soft uproar engulfs the room as conversation begins.
Mae Clark is taken aback, but soon she, too, begins to smile. She has overlooked the most important trait of monsters: they are all, unquestionably, vegetarians.
***Photo credit: Steven Shwartz