At first, the room gave no sound, but then a creak was heard from under the bed. Ryan’s ancient house, aching and groaning in the night. It happened all the time. He shut his eyes, half-dreaming, and then he heard the creak again. He shivered. Maybe it was the way the floor creaked, or maybe it was the time of year, but tonight, it reminded him of when he once snuck into his mother’s room while she was sleeping and slid under her bed. His mind drifted off. He was no longer forty and single. He was nine and afraid to be alone.

He’d stay there for the night, he told himself. There were things lurking in the dark corners of his room, and he knew if he hid under his mother’s bed, he’d be safe.

But when he went under, the floor creaked.

A rustle above, and then a grunt.

“Fuckin’ kid. Hey, Mary. Mary. Wake up. Your fuckin’ kid just came in here.”

Ryan stayed silent. He hadn’t realized his mother’s boyfriend was staying over.

“Huh? What?”

“Listen to me. Listen. Lis—”

“Tommy, you’re still drunk.”

“I don’t care. Your dumb kid is interrupting my sleep,” he said, slurring his last few words.

Ryan’s breathing quickened. He knew what was coming.

“Fine. Fine. I’ll do it myself.”

He curled up into a ball and started to whimper.

“Stop your whimpering, kid.”

He reached under the bed and pulled him out. Ryan could smell the stale, tinny odor of alcohol.

“Get the hell up and go to your room.”

Ryan didn’t move.


He pulled him by the shirt. Then, from the bed: “Stop it! No. Stop! He can stay here if he wants to!”

“No. I need my sleep.”

He felt his shirt stretch, and then he heard it tear.

“Oh, well. Sucks for your shirt.”

Tommy pushed him into his room and slammed the door. He trembled, then started to cry. He looked out of his window and saw fingerlike gray clouds sliding across the darkness. He heard the late autumnal rustle of the naked trees in the nearby woods. And then he turned and looked at the corner of his room, heavy dark, and he imagined a laughing beast there, dripping fangs, red eyes, waiting to devour him.

Ryan opened his eyes and shook his head. He was forty again.

Then he heard another creak.

“I need to move,” he said, and then he rolled over and fell asleep.




Photo by Philippe Put