Ethan awoke to the soft creaking of his bedroom door.
A small, blanket wielding silhouette stood wavering in the pillar of light from the hall, casting a stark shadow through his softly illuminated room.
“Daddy?” It asked meekly.
Ethan rubbed his face and eyed the digital clock on his nightstand.
It was 2:14 AM.
“Yeah, Emily?” he croaked tiredly. “What is it?”
His four year old daughter popped her thumb out of her mouth and itched her belly.
“They won’t let me sleep,” she answered nervously.
“Is it the monkeys again?” he asked, noting the clock tick to 2:15 with mild annoyance.
His daughter shifted reluctantly in confirmation.
The monkeys had become a nightly fiasco.
“Well, did you tell them what I said?” he asked as he clicked on the bedside lamp.
“I told the big one, but he just laughed at me.”
Ethan sat up and probed the floor with his feet in search of his slippers.
“Just laughed at you, huh?”
“That’s what he always does,” she added dismally.
Emily wrapped her blanket around herself and looked hopefully at Ethan’s bed.
“Can I sleep in here tonight, Daddy?”
Ethan thought a moment.
The proposition was tempting. If he allowed Emily to sleep with him, he would waste no time confronting these ‘monkeys’ and could get a bit more sleep before he had to get up for work. But if he didn’t deal with these fantasies immediately, they might only gain strength in Emily’s mind, keeping her (and consequently him) awake for many future nights until she grew out of it.
He decided on the former. A little payment now, a greater profit later.
“Now, Emily,” He started, nearly wavering as her cherubic face pouted knowingly. “I fixed that room up so that you could have a place of your own to sleep. You’re a big girl now, so it’s past time that you started acting like one and sleeping on your own. I-”
“I want to sleep by myself, Daddy,” Emily interrupted. “But I told you. The monkeys won’t let me sleep.”
“There are no monkeys, Emily.”
“He told me you’d say that,” Emily whined, her voice growing heavy with welling tears. “He said no one would believe me.”
“Oh, Em…” he said as she began to sob freely- her little face scrunched and wetter than he’d thought possible. “Come here…”
She abandoned her blankie and all but sprinted across the room to his arms, nearly tripping over her own feet in her eagerness. He hugged her tightly, nestling her warm little form comfortably against him.
“I believe you sweetie,” he said, patting her back firmly. “Sometimes Daddy has dreams about things that seem so real to him too. It’s just something you realize when you’re bigger.”
She cried into his shoulder for a bit longer, then stopped. They sat quietly for some time, a little wet sniffle breaking the affectionate silence every so often.
Finally, Emily spoke up again.
“Why can’t I be bigger now, Daddy? I don’t want to see the monkeys anymore.”
“They’ll go away before you know it, honey.”
“He said they’d never go away,” she said.
“The big one.”
“Well, he’s a liar, then,” snapped Ethan, grimacing at his curt tone.
“He said you’d say that,” Emily said with a sigh. “He says everyone says that.”
Ethan didn’t know what to say. His daughter was making this much bigger than it was.
“He said nothing of the sort,” Ethan said impatiently. “He’s in your dreams.”
“He said he’s in your dreams too, Daddy,” said Emily weakly. “With mommy.”
Ethan shivered and shoved the grizzly scene of rain and blood and the cold, dark highway from his mind.
He hugged Emily tighter, siphoning her warmth. It helped.
“When did he tell you this, sweetie?” He asked slowly.
“Just a little bit ago. He said he’d say hi to mommy-” Emily choked on a sob “for me when I left.”
Ethan’s blood ran cold.
He snapped his daughter away from him at arms length, his anger flaring.
Emily’s innocent wet eyes looked back at him in alarm.
He took a deep, steadying breath and relaxed, brushing a lock of dark hair from Emily’s face.
“He said what?”
“He said he sees her every day and….,” Emily trailed off as if afraid to finish.
“And WHAT?” Ethan nearly shouted.
“He says that I can see her too if I want,” she finished. “That he can take me to her.”
In those next moments, it took every ounce of strength Ethan had in him not to slap his daughter- to not toss her angrily on the bed and yell at her.
How could this be? How could she invent such things? These were not the kinds of thoughts that cross the mind of a four year old by themselves!
Emily seemed to sense his inner struggle and latched onto him like a leech.
He let her.
“You would never hurt to me, would you Daddy?”
Ethan winced and his anger washed away. He looked down at her, noting her small innocence and was ashamed of his inner turmoil.
“No, Emily. Of course not.”
He kissed her on the top of her head and felt her smile into his chest.
“Then, you’re right,” she said happily.
“Right about what, sweety?”
“The big monkey is a liar.”
Ethan’s hand balled into a fist and he clenched his teeth tightly.
Something was not right here. It was clearly something that could not be handled completely tonight.
He scooped up his daughter and put her in his bed.
“You’re sleeping in here with me tonight,” he said.
Emily smiled and snuggled back against his pillow, pointing to her blue blankie with one hand. It was bathed in warm yellow light from the hall.
Ethan smiled in spite of himself and went to fetch it.
Leaning through the doorway to grab the blanket, he became distantly aware of the darkened doorway at the end of the hall.
It sat there smugly, daring him to investigate.
Ethan walked strongly (or what he hoped appeared as strength) to the door and stood just outside it.
It seemed to laugh in his face.
There he was. Safe in the hall. Safe in the light.
Despite the alarms in his head, he stepped into Emily’s room and walked to its center.
He could see most of it in a sort of pallid, city-night light, but the corners were completely lost in seemingly impenetrable shadow.
His skin prickled with static and his insides screamed at him to leave as
the dark corners bristled dangerously.
The closet was open a crack. He was sure he had closed it earlier at Emily’s request.
Did she open it during her nightmare? Hard to imagine she’d be willing to go anywhere near it…
Something gnawed at the edge of his mind. It was a primal instinct- one that flares to life only when a seemingly close yet unseen presence intends to cause one harm.
Ethan suddenly decided that he did not wish to investigate this matter any further tonight and, with a rapidly beating heart, he began to cross the eternal gray twilight of Emily’s room. His peripheral vision seemed to stretch out before him and the brilliantly lit hallway appeared as some distant horizon at the end of an ocean of oily blackness.
It was all that ever existed- just him, the door to the safe and comforting light, and the overwhelming perversion of darkness.
He imagined the door beginning to shut and electric crackles of panic bounced around inside of him as it began to actually close!
His legs quivered clumsily in panic as he moved to break through the veritable brick wall of malicious will that both froze him in place and casted him out.
He nearly lost his feet by tripping over a stuffed duck and paid for it by stumbling into the door frame painfully with his shoulder causing him to fall-spin comically out of Emily’s room and onto his rump in the hall.
The clean, well lit hall. It really couldn’t have come any sooner.
Relief gave Ethan a cleansing wash as the door stopped its effort to close with a small creak and he felt more than a little foolish.
Hadn’t it always done that- always closed itself about halfway after one opened it and left it idle?
It had. He remembered now.
He got to his feet and massaged his shoulder tenderly. It was truly amazing what a tired mind could do to one’s perception!
Ethan peered into Emily’s room.
It may have been because he was standing in the light, but her room looked considerably less dark now. The stuffed duck he had tripped over in his ridiculous panic stared gaily up at him with its glossy plastic eyes.
He was about to enter the room for round two in the boxing match with his fears but was suddenly quite aware of the time.
He needed to get some sleep for work in the morning!
The battle with the monkeys (and his disturbingly overactive imagination) would need to wait until tomorrow.
He recovered Emily’s blanket from the hall floor before returning to his room, convincing himself that the gravelly laughter he heard buzzing around Emily’s room behind him was yet another act of a fatigued mind.
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