Sounds of laughter echoed from the tv, traveling into the bedroom. Anil lay still in his bed, desperately trying to fall asleep. A thick comforter blanketed the young boy’s thin frame. Today marked the first day of August and the air within the room was warm despite the air conditioning.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to leave the windows open for you sweetheart?”, Anil’s mother asked him earlier. She had been concerned her son would sweat himself silly during the night.
“Yes, mommy”, Anil replied firmly. “I don’t like sleeping with the windows open.”
“Suit yourself.” His mother knew how stubborn Anil could be. He wouldn’t sleep with the windows open once his mind was made up.
Now Anil lay sweating in his bed, covers up to his chin. A thin sliver of light from the hallway illuminated the first few floorboards by the doorway. Anil listened carefully, waiting for the dreadful words he had memorized.
“That’s all for tonight folks. We’ll catch you later on next week’s segment of The Carson Caspie Show!”. The brass started to play the ending jingle and Anil quickly adjusted his body before remaining still once again. Now the covers came to his nose with his hands clasped across his chest. He knew what was coming next. With a resonating tick, the sound stopped. With two taps the light across the floorboards was replaced by pitch black. Next came a creaking across the steps followed by a muffled patting as his father reached the landing.
“Dad!”, Anil called out. “You forgot to leave the staircase light on!”
With a tap, a weaker ray barely crossed the doorway. The hollow sound of wood colliding with wood indicated Anil was truly alone now. He waited the customary five seconds before…tick tock tick tock. The clock in the nearby bathroom and the other on the facing wall sounded off in unison. Anil glanced at the digital alarm clock on his nightstand through his peripheral vision. He didn’t dare to turn his head. 12:30 am. The bus arrived at 7 each morning. As much as he desired to sleep, Anil lay there motionless with his eyes boring a hole into the ceiling. He wished his mother was still in the room to finish the second story like she should have.
“And the…hungry caterer…”, Anil’s mother had stumbled through the words of the bedtime story once again before calling it a night.
“Go to sleep mom. You’re falling asleep.” Bedtime stories came to an abrupt end when his mother became too tired to continue. Her head would drift to lay over her shoulder and she mixed up her words too frequently.
“Uhm…num”, she shook her head several times before fully waking up and rising from the chair. “Sorry Anil, you know I always fall asleep during the second story. I’m only good for one.”
“Whatever”, the young boy grumbled through a mouthful of comforter.
“Don’t be angry”, she kissed his forehead. “And remember there’s nothing in the closet, see?” She had made a habit of demonstrating to her son that no monsters existed in the closet. “Monster’s couldn’t fit into your closet even if they wanted to. You have too many clothes”, her laughter was met with a blank stare.
“Close the closet door mommy”, Anil stated in an even-tempered, but demanding voice.
In the present, Anil shifted his gaze across the dark ceiling to the large wooden doors of the closet; monsters never escape closed closets. Suddenly a creak came forth from the hallway. With one quick jolt Anil pulled the comforter over his head so fast it appeared as if his head had disappeared.
Hot breath bounced from the fabric back to his face. His chest rapidly rose and fell, shifting his cover with it. This wasn’t part of the plan, he wasn’t supposed to move. Beads of sweat dripped down his face. The result of the heat under the covers as well as his anxiety. Regardless, Anil tried his best to remain motionless and didn’t dare to bring down the cover. Monsters never break through comforters. Monsters don’t attack what they don’t see.
The steps groaned once again. Anil held his breath, listening intently. Nothing could be heard besides the sounding of the clocks. After a minute, an audible sigh broke the barriers of the comforter. Sweat drenched the boys face now. The fabric of the comforter clung to his face and he had a great urge to pull it away with his fist. But that was not an option. The air started to thin.
Anil’s sleep abruptly broke as he tossed the comforter aside, gasping for air. “I’m coming in five minutes mom”, he called out as he went to turn off his alarm. 2:35 am. The boy froze momentarily as he read the clock. The he bolted down the hallway, racing for dear life.
“Mom! Mom!” his grabbed the door handle, but it stood firm. Locked. Bang! Bang! Bang! Anil pounded his fists on the door. No response.
The sinister sound echoed from the stairs once again. The safety of his parents bedroom wasn’t available to him tonight. Creak! He just had to make sure. Dashing wildly again, he slid to all fours at the landing of the stairs. The lone ceiling light above revealed the path to his bedroom and in the other direction half of the staircase below. Beyond lay the dark abyss of the living room. Anil remained on all fours, petrified as he gazed into the beyond. No monsters. No one climbing the stairs. Abruptly two cone-shaped lights faintly pierced the curtains of the distant living room window.
He ran like the wind. Down the hall, into the room. He leaped for the bed with limbs outstretched and landed against the mattress with a resounding thud. Immediately the cover was replaced and warm breath bounced back against the fabric of the comforter. Monsters don’t like movement.
“Anil!!”, a deep voice bellowed.
Beep! Beep! The ringing of the alarm clock accompanied it.
“Anil! You’re going to be late for school! Get up!”, Anil recognized the raised voice shouting from downstairs as his father’s.
“I’m coming! I’m coming!”
Very groggy, he threw aside his pajamas and slipped on the first pair of clothes he could find. He rushed over to the bathroom to pass a toothbrush through his mouth; grabbing his backpack, he hustled downstairs towards the front door.
“Hurry, but I don’t think you’re going to make it”, his mom whispered to him by the door. “I’ll drop you off if you don’t make it. Don’t listen to him.”
Her words were interrupted by his father shouting from the kitchen. “Hurry up! If you miss the bus again no one is going to drop you off! You’re staying home!”
Anil wrenched the door open and desperately raced down the road to the bus stop. As he turned the corner, a yellow school bus pulled back its stop sign and drove away. It had happened too many times for him to be disappointed anymore.
“Get in the car”, his mother said sternly as she closed the door, muffling the shouts of his father.
Their drive to the school started with silence as usual. Until she pulled over in the school parking lot.
“Wait”, Anil’s mother commanded as he moved to open the car door. “I hear you running around every night. You need to go to bed earlier young man. Do you understand?”
A blank stare was her only reply.
“I know you’re little, but you have to understand Anil. Your dad won’t drop you off and I get marked late for work every time I have to drop you off. You need to sleep earlier sweetheart.”
After a minute of silently taking his mother’s reprimanding, Anil couldn’t stand it anymore.
“I can’t sleep at night! I can’t sleep! it’s the monsters! I have to check for monsters! Don’t you understand?!”
The featured image is the clock on the stove in my kitchen. The green color is very distinct in the dark.