I clutch Nemo, my teddy bear with a missing eye and red threaded stitches up its left arm. “Don’t forget to leave the door open a little please.” I watch daddy slow down his pull of the door, leaving a tall, skinny rectangle of light seep into my bedroom. My fingers dig deep into Nemo’s stomach. I stare at the light, wishing it was daytime. Wishing the dark didn’t scare me so much.
Night after night, my screaming would summon bleary eyed daddy to flip my bedroom lights on and rub my goose bumped back until I calmed down, “it’s just a bad dream Adira...now go back to bed.” The lights would flip off, daddy would return to bed, and I would be alone again, fighting sleep, knowing as soon as I rest my eyes, those big black eyes will eat me whole.
Three days ago, I had dropped Nemo from bed and flopped my head upside down, like I do on the jungle gym, to pick him up. I sensed something was not right, so I grabbed my flashlight and flicked the switch to spread light into the darkness below my bed. I gasped and felt as if my heart skipped two beats. It was the door. The same small square door in the floor I traveled through in my dreams. The wooden door, with its rusty iron ring handle and wild vines hugging its surface, exuding a strange sweet scents of spring time and rotten swamp.
I came close to opening the door but stopped knowing what lies beneath. Black eyes. Protruding spine. Spiked tail. Outstretched black wings like a bat’s, with red veins pulsating throughout. Thin legs bent backwards at its knees. Slippery skin like a lizard’s. One body part seemed more pronounced than the rest each dream I had, as if its parts were taking turns on which one held the most power. The black eyes wider, the spine bonier, or its teeth sharper. I especially dislike when the beast’s claws are the star body part of the night. On claw night, I wake up searching frantically for deep bloody cuts, but find none.
I am tired. Tired of being afraid. It’s just a dream, I thought at first, but the emergence of the door changed everything. Something could be done. Something has to be done.
I look at Nemo. “Ready?” Jumping off my bed and grabbing my flashlight, I begin to crawl towards the door with Nemo nestling in my left arm. I reach the thorny vines and wrap my tiny hand around the rough decaying ring. Uncertainty of the future filled my pressed mind, but it was reoccurrence of terror and lack of sleep, that pushed me to lift up the thick, rickety door and fall, fall, fall.
Whoosh. Whoosh. Thud. “Oof!” I rub my now bruised backside. “You okay Nemo?” I direct my flashlight into Nemo’s solo eye. Flutter. “Nemo, did you just blink?” Nemo’s black glossy eye did not move. “Huh. Guess not. Too bad. I can use your smarts right now.” I looks up and flash the light on my surroundings. Flutter.
Green and yellow feathery grass beneath my bare feet. Dozens of identical sized trees, with glittery, silver mushrooms growing out of their pure white trunks, as well as layers of billowing pink, turquoise, and purple crescent moon-shaped leaves, fill the circle of light I shine in every direction I turn. I tilt my head up. The sky is black but stars smile at me. I turn off the flashlight and toss it on the grass. The stars illuminate the radiance of the leaves, the frosted trunks, and the gold highlighted emerald grass, and within the trees, I spot the hidden path, unveiled only by starlight. The path, a curvy stream of red and orange braided hair, travels far and deep into the forest. I hug Nemo tightly and whisper in his ear, “There’s Rapunzel’s hair Nemo. It’s the way.” I take a deep breath and start my stride into the forest, bouncing on fiery locks, frightened of what is to come at the end of the tail. Flutter.
It’s growing on me now. The rotten stench. No more spring time in the air. The stench permeates my white ruffled nightie. Sinking into my pores. Corrupting Nemo. “Phew! You are going to need a bath after this Nemo. Sorry, but I need to do this. I don’t think I could face the monster without you.” I press Nemo tightly to my stomach. “I’m scared Nemo. Why am I doing this? All I do is my homework, brush your hair, and go to ballet practice. I’ve never done anything like this. I can’t do this. I don’t even raise my hand at school or ask that mean boy to stop picking on me. If I can’t do those things, how am I going to be able to make the monster go away?” As I shrug and kiss Nemo on top of his head, I notice the path of braided hair has gone, and ashy dirt with maggots squiggling throughout has taken its place. I slowly lift my head. Flutter.
Blood red leafless trees with bony branches surround the beast and his throne made of the same wood and vines as the door under my bed, except the vines slithered like snakes, moving around, not only on the throne, but on the beast’s arms and legs.
What is the beast holding up to its mouth? Worms?
I reluctantly step forward. It’s not worms. The beast stabs its claws deeper into the brain it’s holding and chews it viciously. I look behind me, ready to run, but something inside myself tells me to turn back around. The beast has stopped chewing and is now smiling at me with syrupy gore masking its teeth. My trembling hands drop Nemo. Flutter.
“You found me, my sleeping beauty.” Black eyes larger than I have ever dreamt. A forehead, as big as an inflated balloon, beating like a heart. A smile curved wide enough to bare all its knife sharp teeth. “You’re shaking, child. Spooked? I know you are. Everything gives you a fright. How do you think you’ll banish me from your dreams? You can’t even stand up to a bully at school. And I am much worse than a bully. Much worse. You’re a scaredy-cat and always will be.”
I fight the tears clouding my vision. “Adira!” I look down at Nemo and shock transforms my face when I see my teddy has come to life. “Don’t listen to the beast Adira. You are strong. You may think you aren’t, but you are. Believe in yourself and the solution will appear.” I shut my eyes as tight as I can and think.
I don’t know. I don’t...wait. What is the monster without his most powerful part? Nothing.
Next to Nemo, underneath the dirt a silver sliver appears. The beast gets up from his throne and starts to run towards me. “Now open your eyes and destroy the nightmare!” Nemo yells. I lunge for the silver sewing needle, the one mommy stitched Nemo’s arm with, now oversized and as sharp as a sword. I look up, the beast now inches from me, and swing the sword in a horizontal motion. The beast’s head flies through the air and the atmosphere turns white, blinding my eyes.
Whoosh. Whoosh. Plop. I open my eyes. I’m lying in bed with Nemo in my arms. “Adira,” mommy says from my bedroom door, “wake up. Time for school.” I jump out of bed and throw my arms in the air. “I did it!” I give Nemo a big kiss on the cheek, put on my favorite purple dress, eat every bite of my waffle, and go to school. I lead the morning pledge of allegiance, volunteer to read my daily journal out loud in class, finally pull the boy’s hair who pulls mine, and even eat lunch with the lonely boy with freckles and glasses. I give him one of my Oreos.
That night, I didn’t need the slice of light or Nemo in my arms. Instead, Nemo sat on my window sill keeping a watchful eye. Jumpy and excited for tomorrow, I eventually fall asleep, wondering what the new day will bring.
So many possibilities for the brave new girl.
Oh my sweet Adira, little do you know what is rumbling underneath your bed. Is it the horror you believed to defeat? Of the monster that called your name at night? Of the creature that slithered into your dreams and poisoned your joyous slumber? Or is it a new birth of fright you must face with powers yet to be discovered? Will you find those powers, Adira?
The door in the floor slowly creaks open.