by Laura Borrowdale
Henry’s eyes are clamped closed, but this doesn’t stop him from seeing them. The fingers that creep along the edge of his mattress, feeling for him, have think tufts of black hair growing out of the knuckles. The nails at the end of the fingers are bird’s claws; curved, black and sharp. They click together gently as the fingers move their way up and down, searching. The fingers pause, as if
“Henry, Michael. It’s nearly bed time.” Their mother’s voice calls up the stairs and Henry obediently gets to his feet. He stacks away his Legos, puts his car in the toy box at the foot of his bed and pulls out his Superman pyjamas from under his pillow.
“Aww, Mum. It’s only quarter past eight.” This happened every night.
“You know the rules, Michael. Get ready for bed.”
Henry takes off his pants and tugs his jersey over his head. He stands in his singlet beside his bed, pulling the blue and red flannelette over his legs.
“Mum, it’s a baby’s bedtime. It’s Henry’s bedtime, not mine.”
“Michael, we’re not going over this again. You share a room, you share a bedtime. It’s not fair otherwise.”
“But Mum,” Michael whines. His side of the room is a mess; cars crashed into the bed legs, books, face down, scattered around, cups piling up on the bedside table.
There is no answer to his complaint. Henry knows his mother can hear him, but she has this discussion every night, and right now she’ll have her head back in her book, about to take another sip of her gin and tonic, while she waits ten more minutes before checking up on them.
He hears the ice tinkle in a glass downstairs, then the click, click of the glass being put on the table.
listening. When they start moving again, they don’t work side to side like before, but rather they start to creep toward the center of the bed, toward Henry. He holds his breath. Scabs ooze on the fingers, mingling a dirty sheen of liquid with the dark hair. Henry’s eyes are still closed, but that doesn’t stop him from seeing it
Henry’s brother smiles, the hole in his front teeth black in his mouth.
“And, then, when you’re not expecting it, they’ll reach up from under the bed and grab you.”
Henry stands next to the bathroom basin, looking up at his brother, his pajamas wrinkled around his elbow. He is brushing his teeth, except he’d stopped the actual brushing part shortly after his brother’s story had begun. Now he just stands with the toothbrush clamped between his molars, his stomach liquid at his brother’s story, his feet freezing against the cold tiles.
“Isn’t there one under your bed too?” he says.
“Nah, I’m too old,” Michael replies. “Your flesh toughens up, they’re not so interested if you’re old like me.”
Flesh. Henry feels a shiver around his neck when Michael says that word. It sounds bloody and cold, like something you might find in a butcher’s shop. Maybe flesh is the name for meat that comes from little boys, thinks Henry.
“Why don’t we just tell Mum?”
“Don’t be stupid, there are rules. Man, I can’t believe no one’s told you all of this before. I’m surprised you haven’t been eaten already.” Michael turns back to the mirror, smirking at his gap-toothed reflection.
grope its way toward him. Henry remembers the rules. Don’t move. Don’t turn on the light. Don’t tell Mum. Never let any part of yourself go off the edge of the bed. If you play by the rules, it might touch you, but it won’t know you’re there.
Some of the hand’s scabs have flaked off against the blankets and now there are spots of blood appearing in the white sheets. Henry wonders if opening his eyes counts as moving but decides he can’t risk it. He takes a breath, drawing the air in as shallowly as possible. He can hear the nail clack louder as the hand gets closer and there is the sound of breathing like slurping the last of a milkshake through a straw. The hand gets closer, and finally it touches
“Right, you two. Finished with your teeth? You still going, Henry?”
“Yeah, Henry’s a real slow coach tonight, Mum, maybe you’ll have to skip tucking him in.”
Henry looks around wide-eyed at his mother. She laughs and rests her hands on his shoulder.
“It’s okay, Henry, you know I’d never do that. This monster on the other hand…” and she ruffles Michael’s hair. “Okay, let’s get into bed. Rinse your mouth, Henry, those teeth are shining beautifully.”
Henry holds her hand as they walk down the hallway to the bedroom.
“Are you sure it’s our bedtime, Mum?” he says.
“You too now, Henry!” she laughs. “Yes, I’m sure.”
“You don’t want me to stay in your bed while Dad’s on the night shift?”
“I’ll be okay, love. It’s more important you get a good sleep, and that means in your own bed.”
His mother pulls back the covers for him. On the other side of the room, Michael is sitting on his bed, his earbuds in and a comic in his hand. He isn’t watching, so Henry says, “Are you really sure? I don’t mind.”
“Good night, darling. Stop worrying about me. I’ll see you in the morning.”
She kisses the top of his head and pulls the covers up under his chin.
“Michael, ten more minutes. That’s all,” she says, then she pulls the door closed and her shoes clatter down the wooden stairs.
the bulge of Henry’s elbow under the bedclothes. It gropes at the lump, its nails ripping into the blankets, feeling the nubs of bone and skin. It follows the shape of his arm up to his shoulder, and then to his neck, then
In the semi-darkness, Henry can see Michael get under his covers and open a book. He can hear his father saying goodbye and picking the car keys out from the bowl by the front door. He can hear the door swing closed with a bang, and Michael putting his book away.
“Night, Henry. Don’t forget the rules.” He sniggers. “Don’t let the monsters bite.”
Michael clicks off his light and Henry curls into a ball. He lies on his side, his back to the wall, his knees at his chest. Don’t move. Don’t turn on the light. Don’t call Mum.
it reaches for his face. Henry can smell it. It smells like the damp leaves that Henry sometimes has to rake out of the corners of the garden. He can’t bear it any longer. He opens his eyes into the darkness
but there is nothing there. No hand, no blood on the sheets, no smell. He looks over at Michael triumphantly in the gloom. It isn’t completely dark, some light from the street lamp outside creeps through the buffer of curtains and he can see Michael asleep, one knee bent, and one arm flung over the side of the bed. Maybe he’ll tell him in the morning that the thing didn’t get him.
As he watches, he notices something moving near the bottom of Michael’s bed. It’s a hand. Along the ridges of bone, there are thick black tufts of hair, and Henry can see the trail of blood it is leaving on Michael’s bedclothes as the hand works its way around the edge of the bed, past the place where Michael’s tented knee has pulled the covers away, past the place where their mother folded back the top sheet. When it comes to Michael’s arm, it stops, then grips his wrist tightly. The it starts to pull.
Michael doesn’t seem to wake up; his eyes stay closed at least, but he is definitely aware of something. He starts to thrash in his bed, and his mouth is opening and closing as though he is screaming, even though he isn’t making any noise. There is a rip as his pyjamas are pulled away from his body. Blood starts to appear around Michael’s shoulder, as though the skin is starting to give way. He flings his body around and, as one foot slips over the edge of the bed, another hand reaches out to grab it. Henry doesn’t think the two hands belong to one body, rather that there are more than one under Michael’s bed, which means there could easily be another one under his bed.
The hands start to work their way further up Michael’s limbs; getting a good hold, then tugging hard to pull Michael closer to them. His face looks frantic now, but his eyes are still closed. The hands are holding his bloody shoulder and his hip, and they give a final pull. Michael tumbles out of his bed. There is a thump as he hits the floor, and Henry thinks he hears a groan, but that is soon followed by crunching and snapping and sucking. He isn’t sure if the groan was Michael’s.
Henry lies in bed very still. After all, there are rules. Don’t move, don’t turn on the light, don’t tell Mum, and most of all, don’t go over the edge of the bed.