This weeks Short Story Review comes to us from author Paul Flewitt. This story is included in the CHBB anthology Dark Light volume 4 available at Amazon.com
Before we beginning a warning, if you are easily scare this is a horror short story. I am not one to be easily frightened and this story sent a chill down my spine. Proceed with Caution!
Always Beneath follows the story of a young man named Robert, and the struggles he has endured since he was a child. The horrors he thought he had escaped come flooding back. “Now, that sealed box he kept in his head was wide open and all the old terrors were flying out.”
Are monsters real? Are they figments of an over active imagination? What happens when you allow the monsters to much power? Give into the temptation to look under the bed, or in the closet. Maybe there is nothing there, but what if something looks back at you? What happens when the thing under the bed gets what it wants?
Always beneath was a hauntingly unsettling look at exactly what can happen if you allow the monsters to use you as their key into our world. What will happen if you lie to your children and tell them that monsters don’t exist. We live in the real world, and they live in theirs, but one day there will be that child that falls for the trick of the light and looks for the source.
Robert woke with a start, not for the first time in his life. He was well used to being wrenched from his dreams and snapping back to the waking world, that feeling of momentary disconnect before reality seeps back in like blood flowing back into a squeezed finger. It happened to Robert often, it seemed it always had. The doctors had warned him that it would be the case; it would be miraculous if he went a week with no night time disturbances. Not without the pills. He didn’t succumb to the temptation of their prescriptions for this and that drug. He didn’t like the way they made him so lethargic.
When he was a child he was made to swallow the damned things. They hadn’t helped him; just made his thoughts disjointed, like each one had to crawl through molasses to become action. His movements were slow and his speech slurred, people thought him stupid. In adulthood he had tossed them aside for a clear view of the world, and to hell with the consequences. If sleep came then it came, if not…
He stared around the room in his temporary confusion. Shadows from the tree outside his window crept across the wall opposite like fingers stretching out. He’d petitioned to have the tree removed, and failed. It had bad associations for him; that shadow. Memories of a different room; another tree.
He looked around the place he had woken to. His grey painted table stood in the corner, his wardrobe and nightstand. Awake. He breathed a sigh of relief as familiarity drifted back to him and turned, trying to find his way back to his dreams.
He felt the noise before he heard it through the sea noise of sleep in his ears that comes on the border between asleep and awake. It wasn’t a constant noise, enough to make him doubt his own nerve endings at first. It came again and again, calling him from his near-sleep, some small vibration coming from somewhere underneath him. One more time it happened, when Robert was awake and aware. A small sensation; like a child beneath his bed and running its hand and nails across the fabric of his mattress. Fingernails: pulling at the loose threads which dangled to the floor like hair. Robert was wide awake now.
He lay in his bed, a sudden sweat turning cold on goose-fleshed skin. He knew that sound, he had it locked up in a box in his brain marked “Keep Closed”. He had heard that scratching many times; once he had almost welcomed it. He knew what the scratching presaged, his heart quickened in anticipation of it. He wanted to jump from the bed and flee the room but fear had him pinned in his place. He had no choice but to listen to the scratching. He tried to convince himself that it was a mouse or rat, but he knew that it was neither of those things. He had seen the things from under the bed, had looked upon them with his own eyes. He’d never slept soundly since. First had come the scratching under the mattress…then…
“Bobbbbbbeeeeeeee…” the voice whispered from below. “Bobbbeeeeee.”
He knew the voice, it was him. Robert tried to ignore it, he screwed his eyes shut and clamped his pillow over his ears. Anything, he just didn’t want to hear that hideous voice.
“Bobbbbeeeeee” It came again, only the mattress between his face and the It under the bed.
“Bobbbbeeeee. We came back to play.” Robert’s teeth began to chatter as his fear mounted. He counted the time, listening for his hall clock’s ticking.
“Bobby… we brought Mama to play too.” At the words his bladder emptied of its own volition, he felt the warmth of it growing at his groin, but still his legs wouldn’t move.
It was a different bed in a different room. It was a whole different life back then. He lived among giants in that life, he called them Mom and Dad. There were other giants that came later, but he grew and then he called them doctors and nurses, cops and killers; aunts and uncles.
He could smell his Mom’s kiss on his forehead and her fingers ruffling his hair. He could smell her perfume, he smelled her breath as she lingered over him and he enjoyed the feeling of her long hair tickling his nose. Sometimes it would wake him when his mother checked in on him. Sometimes it didn’t. He heard his Mom moving toward the door and he risked opening one eye, just a slit. He watched her reach for the light switch and flick it off, then the door closed with a slight click and all was dark. He lie in his bed and listened to the noises of the house as it settled, jumping at the odd creaks and cracks of the night. He watched the shadows move across the walls and imagined what monsters might prowl the streets under the light of the moon. He didn’t like this time, when his parents were asleep and he was vulnerable to the whims of those monsters. Alone, his imagination could run free.
He didn’t know how long he had been in the dark, watching the shadows and not sleeping. It could have been hours or minutes, he couldn’t know because he hadn’t yet learned to tell the time. However long it was, his bladder had begun to ache but he daren’t get up to empty it. He debated with himself whether to go use the bathroom or not. He wondered if the monsters would hear the trickle of his pee, if they would smell his fear.
That was when the scratching started on that first night.
He lay there with his bladder full, goose bumps all over his body and something under his bed, scratching at the mattress. Had one of the outside night creatures gotten into the house? Was it trying to make a hole? Was it trying to get to him so that it could eat him up? His little mind raced, unable to answer any of his questions. Only one option seemed open to him, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“MOM!” he yelled. “MOM, DAD. HELP!” His father ran into his room, the door ricocheting off the wall and slamming back almost in his face. He pushed it away and strode over to his son, the light from the landing throwing the boy’s face into sharp relief.
“What is it, champ?” he asked with concern on his face. “Nightmare?” Bobby nodded wanly and leapt up to hug his father close, sudden tears in his eyes. His father held him tight, stroking his hair. “It’s okay, Bobby-boy. All over now,” his father whispered. But all Bobby could think of was the It under the bed.
Robert had no escape; he couldn’t call for his Poppa or even run from the room. He had attempted to move but his muscles had turned to water, either out of fear or some magical sway he didn’t know. He lay in his own urine and listened to the litany issuing from under the bed.
“Do you remember the fun we had, I know it was a long time ago?” it whispered. “You remember how we laughed, Bobby? Well… we laughed.”
Why couldn’t they just leave him alone? They had left him for almost twenty years, though he had woken almost every night of those years expecting to hear the nails on the fabric. Why would they return now? He had come to terms with what had happened all those years ago, though he would never recover. It had taken most of those twenty years to rid himself of the sound of that voice. Now, that sealed box he kept in his head was wide open and all the old terrors were flying out.
Robert could see himself in his soaked bed and felt like the youngster that he was last time he had met the It under the bed. He felt pathetic, laughable even. Surely an adult could fight this… could beat it.
“Bobby… won’t you talk to us?” the thing whispered on.
Little Bobby wasn’t woken again until the next week. He thought it was just his mind playing tricks on him and had almost forgotten about his night fright. This night he clambered into bed and read a story, as was his ritual. His father poked his head around the door after a while and called light out. “Goodnight, little man!” he called as he closed the door. Then he was alone in his room and sleep caught up with him quickly, the day had been busy and he was tired out.
It was dark in his room when he was woken again by the scratching. He could hear his father’s snoring from the room across the hall, should he call out? The scratching became more insistent as his breath quickened. The dark of his room seemed several degrees darker than usual as the It beneath the bed carried on its insistent clawing. What was it doing? He was tempted to look over the side of his bed, perhaps even peer into the shadows beneath; but what if something grabbed him? What if there actually was something there?
He resolved to stay where he was and count sheep, ignore the scratching and try to sleep. Maybe, if the It was there now then it always had been. And if it hadn’t hurt him yet then perhaps it never would. It was a small hope the like of which a child would cling to. “One sheep, two sheep.” He thought, picturing the animals in his mind. “Three sheep, four sheep.”
“Bobbbeeeeee” a voice whispered. Bobby stopped counting at the sound of the voice. It sounded like a child calling him to play. He cocked his head, listening intently.
“Bobbbeeeee.” The voice came again. The boy gasped. “Bobby, come play with us.” It whispered, doubling its clawing.
“MOM!” Bobby cried. The voice was just too much.
“Bobbbbeeeee.” The sibilant voice went on, “why won’t you speak with us? We used to be great friends, you and I. You remember what fun we can have. We had lots of fun before, didn’t we?”
He sang a tune in his head, still unable to escape the confines of his bed. He escaped in his mind instead. He walked in meadows under blue skies from some almost forgotten other day. He was humming to himself, carrying a kite or pushing a bike. The voice under the bed went on…
He walked in the meadow, his tiny hand enclosed by his father’s. The sun was warm in a cloudless sky. His mother walked a little way ahead, her blonde curls shining as she stepped over rocks and divots. She carried a basket in the crook of her arm, filled with sandwiches and fruit.
At that moment night time seemed a long way off. Bobby felt no fear; the sun had burned the chill of fear out of him. He remembered the voice as no more than an echo of a bad dream, only vaguely. How could it be that the owner of the voice under his bed could be as real as his father’s hand, the sunlight and the blue sky?
The family found a bright spot in the field and set up their picnic. While his parents busied themselves preparing the lunch, Bobby ran through the tall grass in search of crickets. At his mother’s call he ran back to their little camp and ate like he was starving. After, they spread out on the blanket, stomachs full and contented. They luxuriated in the warmth and napped a little.
“Dad, where do monsters come from?” Bobby asked after a while, one of those questions that children ask from out of nowhere.
“What monsters, champ?” his father asked.
“All of ‘em. Any of ‘em.” He replied.
“There are no monsters, Bobby. They’re just made up things.” His mother sighed. She’d held this conversation several times in the past few days.
“What about the ones under my bed?” Bobby asked, impatience in his tone. He’d tried to explain to his mother already about the voice and the scratching.
“You been having nightmares, buddy?” his father asked with a look of curiosity on his face.
“I don’t think so.” The boy replied uncertainly. “I’m not asleep when they come. They wake me up.”
“They do? Well maybe you should tell ‘em to go away?” his father suggested, a glint of mischief in his eye.
“Don’t encourage him, Corey.” His mother admonished, jabbing his father in the ribs with her finger.
“Okay, okay.” Corey laughed. “There are no monsters!”
“But… are there?…Really?” Bobby asked, not amused by his parent’s horseplay.
“No son, no monsters.” Corey replied.
Bobby went to bed with a little more confidence that night. His father had taken him aside after dinner and explained all about how the mind sometimes plays tricks on a boy’s eyes, especially in the moments after waking. He already knew all this, but it was comforting to have his father’s reminder. Besides, his parents slept only feet away, what harm could possibly come to him? So he climbed into bed and slid between his sheets, exhausted from his play in the meadows. Sleep wrapped him up in a warm embrace and he drifted off into blue summer skies, back to the meadows he visited often in his dreams.
He was woken some time later by the familiar scratching under the bed. Bobby looked around the room, panic rising slowly despite his father’s assurances.
“Bobbbeeeee.” The familiar voice hissed. “Are you ready to play?”
He tried to ignore the voice that his parent’s said didn’t exist. It was so very close to his ear, almost close enough to bite it. He pressed his pillow over his head but still he could hear the voice.
“Bobbeeee. Come on down, there’s a party down here. Come look…it’s fun.”
He shook his head from side to side; eyes squeezed tightly shut and humming like he did when his mother was angry with him. He didn’t want to look, didn’t want to hear.
“Bobbbbeeeee, come on. We have all your favourite games. We can play all night. Come down.”
Through his eyelids, Bobby could see flashing lights. Red: yellow, green and blue; like a fair. His curiosity over rode his fear and he opened his eyes, just a slit. Where was the harm in a little peep? On the walls of his bedroom was projected the lights, all garish and exciting. Faintly he could hear the sound of carnival music and laughter. Could there really be a fairground under his bed?
“C’mon down, Bobby. We’re having sooooo much fun.” the voice purred.
“My Dad says you’re not real.” Bobby said uncertainly, his voice shaking in his throat.
“He does? Well, you see my lights don’t you?” the voice asked.
“Well… yeah…I guess.” Bobby replied haltingly.
“So, you believe your own eyes, don’t you?”
“Just come take a peek. Where’s the harm in a little look under the bed?” the voice reasoned.
“I want my Mom and Dad.” Bobby said, his voice thickening as his fear began to rise once more.
“Why? So they can lie to you some more?”
“My Dad doesn’t lie.” Gasped Bobby in horror, no one had ever accused his father of lying before.
“Oh really? He said that I wasn’t real, didn’t he? And you see my lights and here me speaking. So… am I real?”
“I guess… I guess you must be.” Bobby conceded.
“So… is it a lie that I’m made up?” the voice asked.
“I guess so.”
“Why would your parents say we weren’t real? Why would they tell you to go back to sleep? Why would your Daddy lie, Bobby?” questioned the voice.
“I dunno.” Bobby replied.
“I do… I know why they lied. Would you like to know?”
“Yeah, I guess I would.” Bobby said, a frown creasing his brow.
“Because they want to keep the fun to themselves. They know about our carnival, Bobby. They want to keep it to themselves, so they want you to go back to sleep. They want you to think we’re dreams in the night. Can’t you hear them right now? They’re having a great time; I could show you where they are. Wouldn’t that be a surprise?”
Bobby strained his ears over the sound of the carnival and the voice. Under it all he could hear laughing, and the laughing did sound like his parents. He didn’t want to believe that his parents had lied to him, but here was the evidence. He couldn’t argue with the voice and the music, the lights. Those were all facts. Why would they keep this from him? If it was so much fun, why should he not know about it?
Curious and a little angry now, he threw back his covers and leaned over the side of the bed. He peered underneath the bed and what he saw almost took his breath.
Green eyes like burning emeralds pierced his own, mere inches from his face. The owner of those eyes grinned, toxic spittle dripping from its maw and steaming on the floor. It smiled as the stuff burned the carpet, but remained silent. Bobby pulled himself back up and onto the bed. He lay with his eyes tight shut and breathing heavily. His heart beat like a trapped bird in his chest, the shock of the thing he’d just encountered sinking in. He tried to cry out for his parents but the sound died in his throat. He knew then that he had been lied to, and not just by his parents.
He opened his eyes slowly, not wanting to see. When he did open them the whole world seemed to have gone insane.
Robert sought solace in his memories, as tragic and full of pain as they were. Lock them away, don’t think of them; that was the advice of the doctors yet now they were his only defence against these childhood lunacies. It was under his bed. He pictured it in his mind, seeing without sight. He reconstructed it from its shining green eyes to its dripping mouth. That saliva would burn away the flesh if it touched you, foul smelling and smoking. Its skin had a thin covering of short, translucent hair. Mottled skin of blues and purples shone through the hair like dark light. It was evil, this thing; if only he had been told that as a child.
“Would you like to see the carnival, Bobbbeeee?” the creature hissed. Robert imagined acid, bubbling and spitting on the floor under its chin. “Come on down, for old time’s sake. Ride my rides again, Bobbbeeee.”
Robert gritted his teeth, trying to block out the voice. It was torture to listen and to not respond, but he couldn’t give an inch. That was his battle now.
“The hotdogs are hot, the candy floss is sweet.” The thing sang.
“I’m not a kid anymore damnit!” Robert blurted out like an eruption, sudden anger loosening his tongue at last.
“Oh, but we can. We just did,” giggled the voice. “A step closer to submission; a step closer to coming to play. Why not just give in and look underneath?”
“Shut the fuck up.” Robert growled.
“We had a lot of fun… last time. Tell me, Bobbbeeee… does your Mama still look over your bed?”
“Fun? I remember it differently.” Robert snapped.
“Ah, memories are such strange things. Don’t they seem to bend and buckle in the wind and change their appearance, depending on the person recalling? We had fun.”
“I won’t look this time.” He whispered. It was an oath, a promise to himself that he would be stronger than he could be when he was eleven years old.
Robert smiled a little smile of victory as he wriggled his big toes.
The world was twisted and insane; those were Bobby’s first thoughts when he opened his eyes. It looked like the world had been picked up and wrung out, like a towel made ready to whip a bare buttock. Whatever had been a straight line before he closed his eyes was now a wavy, twisted craziness. He felt his stomach lurch at the perversity of the way things now leaned and twisted against all logic. The effect was nauseating, but that was only the first horror.
The walls were streaked with blood and excrement, foetid and stinking. He looked up and saw his ceiling miles away in the distance. All over the high walls, tentacle spiders skittered and warred amongst the excreta. At the side of his bed stood a crazed clown, blood oozing from its mouth and staining its blurred greasepaint. He backed away and off the bed, feet slipping in some substance he didn’t want to understand. He inched toward his window, as he did, the drape brushed his arm and laughed. The boy whipped his head around and looked up, to his horror he saw that his curtain had been replaced with bloody folds of skin, the head of the victim of this terrible violence giggled where the curtains met high above. Bobby screamed, sinking to his knees.
He looked around, trying to find an escape but everywhere he looked, a fresh terror loomed out of the shadows with a leering grin and a flashing of steel claws. His door seemed so far away, much further than when he had closed his eyes only moments before. The flashing lights, red, yellow and blue, lent everything an unreal and eerie quality.
He wanted to run across his slick floor, to get to the safety of his parents – but how? All over his room were representatives of every tribe of monstrosity, jabbering and laughing at their sudden release.
As he watched this hideous play he saw his bedroom door open, his father’s silhouette backlit by the stair lamp. “Bob…” he managed before the frenzy of animal hunger overwhelmed him. Talons and blades sliced him open, huge maws of every shape and configuration tore away flesh and suckled at opened arteries. Corey staggered backward, shaping words with ruined lips while the smallest of the monsters ran in and out of his mouth. Bobby screamed at his father’s undoing, even as he watched him fall over the bannister and heard him crash to the hallway floor. What else could Bobby do but scream?
“Bobbbeeee, you see what fun we’re having? Do you see?” the voice whispered. “All we needed was for you to see, and then we could play.”
Bobby jumped up, his knees popping from being crouched. He slid across the slick floor to his bedroom door, holding onto the bed, his drawers and the door lintels for support. He made it to the door, trying not to see the smaller creatures that were fighting over scraps of his father’s meat in the doorway. He skidded across the landing and burst into his parent’s bedroom, just as his mother screamed.
“Mom!” he screamed.
His mother was sat up in bed, her sheets held up to cover her modesty even in her peril. Her face was all panic, eyes wide and mouth contorted by sobs and weeping. She screamed at Bobby to get out, but his eyes were blind to her and fixed on the thing that stood astride his mother.
It stood with its hand of talons on his mother’s neck; its green eyes pierced Bobby to the core. Its putrid saliva ran from its jaws and into his mother’s hair, where it singed and boiled her scalp. Without taking its eyes from Bobby, the monster smiled its cruel smile and seemed to click the fingers of its clawed hand and his mother’s head separated from her shoulders. It caught the head by the hair and placed her face forward on the bed knob at its shoulder, allowing her to watch the scene over its shoulder. The monster buried its face in the geyser of blood which sputtered from his mother’s neck. All the little boy could do was watch.
“Do you see what your parent’s lies did?” the monster said when its blood-thirst had been sated. “They lied and you looked. They knew about monsters, Bobby, we may have visited them too; or perhaps not. Every child knows to fear what’s beneath.”
Bobby started to back up toward the door. He wanted to scream, wanted to run but the floor was too slick and his feet unresponsive. His eyes were full of the monster and his dead mother. He suddenly didn’t know which way to turn.
“Do you fear us, Bobby? There’s really no need. We’ve had our fun. Besides, you are our key, we couldn’t harm you.”
“You killed my Mom!” Bobby screamed.
“Of course, but you shouldn’t fear us, Bobby. If you’re not convinced there is a knife at your hand. You could use it,” offered the monster.
Bobby looked to his left hand and was surprised to see a big carving knife in his grip. He tightened it, liking the feel of it. Somehow, the blade gave him strength, resolve. He felt his feet beneath him once again and backed away onto the landing, closing the door on the scene in the bedroom.
The floor was no longer slick beneath his feet. He went down the stairs, being careful not to disturb his father’s remains as he hopped over the bloody mess. He unlocked the door and stepped outside calmly, looking back at his very normal house. He went out to the road and sat there, watching the sun bleed into the sky.
His file told him that he was found in the street. He had no memory of leaving the house. He was covered in blood and holding the knife as if his life depended on it. That night it had, though no one had believed him. So he had kept the secret to himself, seldom opening the box marked “keep closed” unless absolutely necessary. It had been necessary tonight.
He wriggled his foot, all the while listening to the sound of the creature’s voice which summoned him from beneath the bed.
“Bobby, do you remember how the house looked that night? The lights and the people? My friends would love to meet you again.” The voice simpered.
Robert slid his foot over the side of the bed, touching the cold floor and then working his other foot over. He kept his eyes on a spot on the opposite wall. He sat up, still watching the wall as he swung both legs to the floor.
“Are you coming down, Bobby? You coming to play?”He stood and turned, eyes fixed on the door. He began to walk; one step, two steps.
“What are you doing, Bobby? You can’t leave. We’re always here, Bobbbeeee.”
He placed his hand on the door handle…
“Bobby, don’t you see? We’ll just visit with your children. There are always new playmates.”
“My children have been warned.” Robert said.
“Warned? What do you mean… warned?” the voice leered.
Bobby placed his hand on the doorknob, he squeezed and began to turn it.
“I swear we will go after them.” The voice warned.
“I learned about you, I know what I have to do.” Robert smiled.
“Oh? And what have you learned?” the voice shrieked.
“I know that I have you and that you are mine. I know that you could go after my children, but you won’t”
“And why wouldn’t we?”
“Because they know what I didn’t when I was a child.” Robert listened, he still didn’t turn. He pulled the door and felt cool air from the landing.
“You cannot go out there, Bobbbeeeee… you’ll have to look sooner or later.” The voice warned, Robert stepped over the threshold onto the landing.
“Bobbbeee… we are always below. Always there…” the It under the bed screamed.
Bobby closed his eyes as he pulled the bedroom door closed behind him.
“Yes,” he said quietly. “And there you’ll stay.” He said quietly. It was a promise to himself, a warning to the monsters… and an oath to his children. He wouldn’t succumb again.
Always Beneath appears in the CHBB anthology, Dark Light volume 4, available on Amazon. Reprinted with permission of the publisher and the author. All rights reserved.
Be sure to check out all the other amazing stories in Dark Light 4.