There was a monster under the child’s bed.
The child knew that if he cried really loud, his father would come, angry with sleep, and turn on the light. Monsters hate the light. But his father would scold him, telling him what time of night it was, how old he was now. His father would make good his threat to take away Mister Wally.
The child clutched Mister Wally, stroking his fluffy head and tracing his button eyes.
Under the bed, the monster’s nails scratched and scraped. The child pressed Mister Wally to his cheek, inhaling his comforting scent of soiled fabric.
The monster tugged at the quilt, yanking it towards the floor. The child gripped the quilt, ready for the nightly tussle. The monster released its pull.
The child wrapped the quilt around him like a snailshell, no corner over the mattress. This was how sleep was earned.
Mister Wally had gone.
Not under the pillow. Not inside the quilt. Sleep was impossible without Mister Wally.
The child peered over the edge of the bed. Mister Wally lay half under the bed frame in sliver of street light from where the curtains didn’t quite meet.
The child reached down, fingertips towards the upturned button eyes.
The monster caught his wrist.
The scream brought the child’s father, blinking furious sleep from his eyes. Light pounced on the room.
“Was it another nightmare?” the father asked.
The child sat in bed, his quilt neat, shielding his eyes from the light with a pale hand.
“Not any more,” the child replied.
The father smiled at the child’s mannered tone. He picked up the fluffy doll on the floor.
“Here’s Mister Wally.”
“I don’t want it.”
“You are getting a bit old for Mister Wally.”
He shoved the doll into a drawer. What a helpless expression was in those button eyes. Almost pleading. He slammed the drawer shut.
“Shall I leave the light on for a few minutes?”
“No,” said the child. “I like the dark now.”
The father reached for the light switch but hesitated. Why did he suddenly fear the darkness that would follow, with that still figure sitting in his child’s bed, watching him with unkind eyes?
You just can't go wrong with stories about children in peril. This one owes a lot to Ray Bradbury, who enjoyed making the domestic setting full of alien menace and cosmic significance. I think I'm remembering a story called 'Boys, Raise Giant Mushrooms In YOUR Cellar!'
Reactions to this story surprised me. People didn't like the ambiguity of the ending. Was the child possessed by a spirit or substituted as a changeling? Was he going to attack his father? Readers proposed a better ending where blood ran down the walls and Mr Wally had to be exorcised. Well, I just kept on writing ambiguous endings - even if people hate 'em.
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