Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
Imagine the multiverse: Atoms converging into patterns infinite. Most universes listening to physics, placing only that which should exist into reality, but there are others in which the impossible happens simply because there’s no reason it is not. All the darkest horrors of the grimmest imaginations, made real with naught more than a vast cosmic whim…
It is a night, like any other, and the Stevens are a family, like any other. Sleeping in a house, like any other. A house containing young boy’s room, like any other.
Little Howie Stevens was always an imaginative young boy. His room reflects such. Small, glow-in-the-dark stars coat the ceiling and offer dismal green light to a room otherwise blanketed in black. By this light, one might see the blue walls with thin, vertical white stripes. Simple white carpet, supports a dresser of neatly organized clothes as well as chest of toys ordered with far less finesse. The half-open closet, the lamp slumbering on the dresser, and the door shut firmly.
This view in all its under-spoken peace would be decidedly picturesque but for the one small discrepancy: Young Stevens is not sleeping peacefully. No, he is quite awake and with no intention of rectifying this.
He is afraid, you see.
He is afraid, because Little Howie Stevens–in pajamas broadcasting his interest in small insects–sees monsters in the night.
Not ones in the closet or under his bed. (At seven, he is too old for such childish fears.) He sees them on the very floor before him, fading silently into existence, confused and purposeless before blinking away to nothingness once more. They don’t notice Howie and for weeks he was not sure they were appearing at all. A trick of the light or a dream creeping into conscious thought, haunting his waking hours too. But each time, they’ve stayed for longer. Not much. So incremental were the changes that he had no reason to notice them at all until the monsters began to stay for seconds at a time. Long enough to notice their surroundings.
He has seen monsters for almost a month’s time now–not every night, but every night where he lie awake past eleven. Not until the second week had he seen clearly the otherworldly beast. Abominably fat, squat hind legs, a slimy, lizard’s tail wagging in the night all dyed as red as the stones of Hell.
Once he saw it, the image was forever burned into his eyes like spots of colored light, ready to present itself whenever he blinked–whenever he slept–whenever he dared to let his mind wander.
Last week was the worst. The monster had finally turned around to see him. At first, the monster’s bulging eyes, dripping teeth, and questioning snout flashed astonishment at this young boy’s presence. The next night, this emotion was replaced with another: hunger. Hunger and delight.
The last few days, Howie did not sleep. Would not sleep. He stayed each time the monster whipped about and charged Young Howie–lunging to claim his meal, but always vanishing as the boy winced to meet his doom.
Afterwards, he would scream and his parents would come to save their boy from a would-be criminal, only to find him sobbing in solitude.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” his mother asks, sitting down to offer a protective embrace.
“Th-there’s monsters! Th-there was a monster right there a-and it keeps coming and then disappearing and now it wants to eat me!“ He trails off into sobs as he awaits his parents fear-wrought plan of defense. They won’t come.
His father flashed his mom an askew glance and sits next to his son.
“Howie, do you know what daddy does?”
“A physicist,” he corrects proudly. “I study everything that is possible in this world and even some things that are impossible, but if there is one thing I can tell you with absolute confidence, it’s that there was no monster in this room. If there was, we would see evidence of it. How it came and left!”
Exasperated, Young Howie retorts, “It appeared! A-and then it just disappeared!”
“Son, as a physicist I assure you teleportation is, thus-far, impossible,” then he adds matter-of-factly, “I think you just had a bad dream.”
“B-but that’s what I thought at first too!” He thirsts to make his parents understand. “But it kept happening for like two weeks and then last week it saw me and–and–”
He cuts off, distracted by his mother’s reaction. She’s suddenly fraught with worry. At last, he thinks. At last she understands.
But it’s not comprehension that his created her worry, but it’s lack. She looks with despair to her husband, but he waves away her concerns with a reassuring head gesture and then turns to his son.
“Son, I think you’re exaggerating. I promise there is no monster. You can sleep in our bed, this one night, but for the rest of this week, I expect to hear no more screaming about these nightmares.”
Howie wanted to argue, but he was so tired and his parent’s bed seemed so safe and he trusted his father’s words, though his reason yelled to the contrary.
The next night and Howie dared not sleep. He sat huddled against the wall sobbing silently into his pillow–determined to stay up the whole night and prove to himself the monster was not real.
It was eleven thirty-four and this time Howie smelled the creature’s hot breath as the wide jaws attempted to close around the young boy. If it had only been half a second faster, the blade-like fangs would have pierced Howie’s soft flesh and the monster would have tasted the blood it so violently craved.
The pillow muffled the young boy’s screams and then contained his sobs as he cried himself to sleep, determined not to displease his father.
He knew tonight could be his final moments of life. His mother expressed worry when her perpetually starving young boy pushed aside his dinner with a forlorn “I’m not hungry,” but her response was only to suggest he go to bed early if he were not feeling well. He solemnly agreed, only coming back out to sneak away with the biggest knife he could find.
He hardly dared to blink. He stared at the digital clock–numbers a clown-like, mocking red–as it slowly counted down his remaining minutes on Earth. It always happened at about eleven thirty. He didn’t know when exactly, but he was determined that it should not happen as he turned away. He wouldn’t sleep until then. It was ten now. It was… it’s… eleven thirty-two?
He jolts to alertness. Perhaps in fear of his imminent demise. Perhaps in rage that he let his guard down. Perhaps because he thought he might have missed it and find himself forced to endure such hell another night. Whatever the reason, Howie Stevens screams, dragging his parents from kinder dreams into his own personal nightmare. Howie’s parents come in with the same urgent rush as before, but as the father looks upon his whimpering boy, his worry hardens and he prepares in his head a lengthy speech about the boy who cried wolf and telling lies and about how Howie ought to be brave like his father. He sits down next to his boy, his mother already frantically stroking the child and waits for the child’s frightened eyes to meet his. He is determined to be gentle this one last time, but this is it. Never again, after this.
The father is right, on the last note, but the speech never comes to pass nor does the opportunity for gentleness ever arise, because–unbeknownst to all but one of the Steven’s–the monster of a far-off dimension had been prepared for its own recurring fantasy in which a young meal was but a single dive away. It prepared itself for the moment of transition and as the tingle that marked the beginning of a random, cross-dimensional journey through space-time, the monster did not make note of its victim as it bore down its destructive, knife-like teeth into the flesh of some writhing prey. Blood burst merrily into its mouth and when it sensed the presence of another, more aggressive being, the beast drove it’s fangs into that one as well, and felt its own home fade into meaning around it as the taste of foreign meat became only a treasured memory, nursed by a tongue licking crimson nectar from long teeth.
Far, far away, all Howie could do was howl in despair. Tears, running as warm as the blood that covered him, pouring from his parents wounds. Pouring onto the chrome tool he thought could be his only lifeline. He would cry all night. Loud and constant enough to warrant a disgruntled neighbor’s complaint to the police.
Howie thought–perhaps–this was his salvation. The bite marks would be the proof he needed to be safe. Between howls of pain, he tried to explain about the monster.
It was a certainly tragic tale the boy wove, but who could believe the words of a child when the wounds of the parents appeared so knife-like? When a suitable blood-stained blade was found clutched in the hand of that very child? When all signs of the monster had vanished as if it had never existed?
Certainly not the state-ordered psychiatric specialist who applied the sedative to Young Howie, who could no longer find any peace in the night. The doctor could only pray miserably that his words would break through to the poor, ten year-old boy, and shouted “There is no such thing as monsters! There is no such thing as monsters!”
Young Howie thought he heard his father shouting these words from across a great distance and although he knew he was ten now and far too old to believe in monsters, he swore he would never stop believing that somewhere, the monster was still out there, searching for Howie–getting inches closer every day. He swore it because the only thing worse than believing that the monster was coming to find him was believing the doctors and the judge that the monster was inside him and that it was coming for everyone else until Howie was left all alone, whimpering into the night.
Credit: Jered Kral