A man lies on a bed. He cannot sleep. It is not his bed; he is visiting relatives and the bed is too small for him and he is a tall man so his feet dangle over the end. He lies on the bed and does not sleep and instead stares at the ceiling, trying to discern patterns in the darkness. This doesn’t help and so he turns over onto his stomach and lets his arm dangle down the side of the bed. He traces patterns in the carpet as he listens to himself breathe.
It is then that he feels the touch of the monster under the bed: a long, cold finger that wraps itself slowly yet firmly around his ankle like a snake. The finger, in fact, feels like a snake–it is cold, and dry, and leathery–but the man knows it is a finger because he feels the joints of the finger bones against his flesh. There are more joints than in a human finger. He feels at least twelve. The finger wraps around his ankle several times and then a cold, sharp object which he assumes is the fingernail presses into his flesh, not hard enough to pierce the skin but hard enough to hurt.
The man doesn’t move. Before the finger wrapped around his ankle his body was heavy and sluggish and the finger doesn’t provoke any change in him. His heart rate doesn’t increase at all. There is no fight or flight response. Instead, the man speaks. Not bothering to look down–he is still tracing lazy patterns in the carpet–he says, “So you’ve come at last.”
It is important to mention that the monster under the bed is not a young monster. It is one hundred and forty years old, and most monsters under the bed only live to one hundred and fifty years or so. So this monster is experienced, almost venerable, and yet in all its life it has never encountered this reaction before. It has killed over fifty-seven thousand people–it has long ago lost track of the exact number–all of them dead by what coroners describe as “natural causes”, even though the monster, of course, knows better. It has, on a few occasions, grabbed at the ankle of people who were already dead or who were unconscious from drug or alcohol consumption. Those people did not respond because they were unable to. But this is something different.
Strangest of all is that the man on the bed had spoken to it. That has never happened before. How could it? Its victims always die of fright within seconds of his touch. At first the monster isn’t sure what to do. It will not, of course, release its grip. But perhaps this is some kind of elaborate trap. It has heard of such things–human beings who attempt to fight the monsters–although it has never experienced anything like it itself. So it keeps its grip tight, but waits.
The man is puzzled. He can feel the cold, dry weight of the finger wrapped several times around his ankle, can feel the sharp pressure of the nail on his flesh. But nothing is happening. Irritated, he glances back over his shoulder. Although the lights are off he can see the finger quite clearly in the moonlight. The finger is a mottled inky black, long and shriveled. It feels like a snake but doesn’t look like one; the joints are too pronounced. “Get on with it already,” he snaps.
The monster has no idea what to make of this behavior. If it is a trap it is a strange one that doesn’t seem to make any sense. But just because it makes no sense does not mean it is not a trap. For the first time in its long life the monster feels anxious. Its grip on its victim loosens temporarily while it tries to decide what to do next.
The man, of course, feels the grip loosen. The pressure on his ankle releases as the finger slides back like a nervous snake. This angers the man. He sits up in bed and, for the first time, looks the monster right in the face. “What’s wrong with you? Do it! Do it!” The monster’s face, at the foot of the bed, is shadowed and blurry; the only features that are clearly visible are its eyes. They are a thick yellow, the color of pus, of rotten egg yokes splattered on hot pavement. The man stares at the eyes and does something no human being has ever done before, at least not to this particular monster–he moves closer, sliding his body towards the long finger that is still wrapped, albeit loosely, around his ankle.
It is important at this point to stress that monsters under the bed have a very unique metabolism which not only differentiates them from human beings, but from all other life on the planet. They do not eat organic matter but instead feed on an unquantifiable essence that could be described, for lack of a better term, as the “life force”. (Contrary to popular opinion, monsters under the bed do not feed on fear, and it is an extremely dangerous misconception to believe that lack of fear will protect a sleeper from a monster under the bed, as many brave and foolhardy people have discovered to their dismay). Simply put, monsters under the bed feed on the love for life possessed by their victim. The passion for life, the joy for living, the daily certainty that each precious breath is a gift–these are meat and drink for monsters under the bed. For a monster to encounter a human being who has none of this life force would be analogous to a human being encountering a zombie. Or a vampire.
It is this shock, this dismay, this amazement that paralyzes the monster as the man on the bed reaches out and grabs the monster’s shoulder. To the touch it is cold, and clammy, yet instead of shrinking in revulsion the man grips it as hard as he can, wanting to drive the monster to action, to do what it came for, to do what it is meant to do. He shakes the monster as if trying to wake it up.
This is too far. The monster has no context for this behavior and for the strange emptiness, the hollowness, that inspires and empowers the man. It slides its finger off the man’s ankle, unwinding it with lightning-like speed, and pulls back, trying to dislodge the man’s hand. The monster shrinks down to the carpet.
“NO!” the man yells, enraged and horrified as he realizes that the monster is escaping. “DON’T!” His ankle free he now scrambles into a sitting position and lunges at the monster, trying to catch it before it gets away.
The monster’s mind is reeling with an overpowering, and crippling, emotion it has never experienced before–fear. It wants nothing more than to leave, to escape, to get away from this horrible place and this horrible human being with his strange, alien essence which empowers this dreadful rage.
Then the man is on the floor, on his knees, his hands gripping nothing where an instant before there had been a monster. He is alone. Realizing that the monster is gone and the man has lost his opportunity, he leans back against the bed and stares up at the ceiling, his shoulders sagging in defeat.
It is several hours before he finally falls asleep.