Bump in the Night

Jill was just about to turn off her bedside lamp when there was a soft knock at the door. Without waiting for a reply, it slowly swung open.

“Mommy,” whispered a young girl in pony pajamas. “There’s something in my room.”

“Emily, sweetie,” said Jill. “There’s nothing in there. I checked.”

“Under the bed?”

“Nothing but dust bunnies.”

“But you forgot my nightlight.”

“You’re six. You don’t need a nightlight anymore.”

Emily’s lip began to quiver. “Please, can I sleep with you? I promise I won’t wet the bed.”

That’s what you said last night, Jill thought with a roll of her eyes. She let out a great sigh as she raised the white flag. “Okay, but just for tonight.”

Emily smiled, ran and jumped into bed. The minute she felt the weight of her body next to hers, Jill was glad. Although she turned six two months ago, Emily still asked to sleep with her and insisted on a night light to keep away monsters under the bed. Considering how fast she seemed to grow, she didn’t know whether to scold or savor those moments.

Right now, it didn’t matter. Right now, there was just the two of them.

Two instead of three.

Brad was supposed to call hours ago. She guessed that on the way home from work, he and his work buddies stopped off for a few (which would turn into a few too many). By now, he’d have both feet in the bag, would sleep it off at someone’s house and be home in the morning smelling like a brewery. It was becoming a broken record she feared would never be replaced.

“I forgot my water,” said Emily. With hardly a second thought, Jill hoisted herself out of bed and made for Emily’s room down the hall. It seems whenever a child says they forgot something, that’s usually the parental cue to go fetch.

There was no need to bother with the lamp, as the water glass was clearly visible next to it, bending and refracting faint grey rays of light. Funny how something that could easily go unnoticed in a lit room actually stuck out among the deep shadows and silhouettes.

Glass in hand, Jill was just leaving when she caught a hint of something, something that didn’t belong. She sniffed the air a few more times, but dismissed it as nothing more than a stray whiff of Brad’s grimy tool belt he’d left in a heap by the half hung light fixture in the hall.

Jill handed the glass Emily, who thanked her and took a few short sips.

She came around the foot of the bed and stopped when she caught her reflection in the closet mirror as it tried to sneak past. Oh no you don’t. Get back here, it said, pausing just out of frame before reluctantly returning to view.

Fresh-faced but tired from the unyielding rigors of parenthood, her hair was pulled back in a ponytail. People told her she looked like Renée Zellweger, but she didn’t see it. She had about ten pounds of pregnancy weight that never quite went away, covered by sweat pants and an over-sized football shirt from high school.

“Go Vikings,” she muttered to herself wistfully.

“What, mommy?” Emily asked as she swallowed the last mouthful of water.

“Nothing,” said Jill as she shed the sweats, letting them drop to the floor where she stood, and slid under the bed covers. The sheets felt crisp and cool on her smooth, bare legs as they reached toward where Brad should have been, but found someone else in his place, someone who actually wanted to be there.

“Can you read me another story?” Emily asked, attempting to stall bedtime even further.

“I’ve read you two already.” Jill replied, yawning.

Emily huffed, “You’re no fun.”

“I know, I’m terrible.” Jill took the empty glass and placed it on the nightstand. Emily flopped down on the mattress. Jill kissed her forehead and pulled the covers up around her. As if under some motherly spell, Emily’s eyes instantly began to droop.

Jill turned off the lamp and like a snuffed candle the bedroom was instantly doused of its light. A lone square of ghostly blue moonlight cast across the floor and foot of the bed.

Quiet now. There was nothing but the ebb and flow of their sleepy breaths and the occasional rush of a car driving by outside.

“Mommy,” came Emily’s hushed voice, breaking the near-silence.


“I miss daddy.”

“I know, baby,” said Jill. “He’s been busy.”

“He’s always busy.”

Jill agreed, but it meant something else to her, something a six-year-old wouldn’t be able to understand yet. That would take time. As the absence of light became the darkness of sleep, she uttered a drained and feeble reply, “I know.”

To a parent, every second’s worth of shut-eye was as precious as air. Wading in the shallows before the depths of sleep, she breathed deeply and let the world slip away.


The door opened with the moan of a coffin lid on rusty hinges. Jill’s heart froze solid. There was no breeze, no open window. Nothing. Next to her, Emily didn’t even stir.

Just below the silence was a very faint sound, a smooth rustling like that of a snake slithering through sand.

Jill bolted upright, listening. Whatever she heard, it had stopped. Probably nothing, right? Young or old, it never truly goes away, the immediate rush of panic in these moments. The kind we never think of until they happen again when the only thing worse than the sound itself is the dead silence that follows. But it is always only a matter of time for the next thing to go bump in the night.

Jill laid back down and turned on her side toward Emily. The blanket hugging her small chest as it moved up and down, rising and falling with each breath. Even in the dark, this small sign of life was unmistakable.

Suddenly her breaths grew shallow, more rapid. There was something else too, a low rumble as if her ear were pressed against a hungry stomach instead of a pillow. Whatever it was, Jill realized that she wasn’t listening to her daughter’s breaths anymore. It was coming from under the bed.

Her pulse quickened.

Then came the smell. Something sick and rotted invaded Jill’s nostrils, turning confusion into nausea. Still asleep, Emily began to toss and pitch.

Jill immediately sat back up and reached to turn on the lamp.

It wasn’t there.

Where it had been not five minutes earlier there was now nothing but the lonely shape of an empty glass.

Just below she heard tapping.

Jill looked over the side of her bed to see the lampshade jutting out from the space between the floor and the bed as if being pulled by invisible hands. She nervously reached down and grabbed the lamp. With one forceful tug, it disappeared the rest of the way taking the plug and cord along with it.

Jill let out a horrified gasp as Emily’s words came back to haunt her. There’s something in my room. Images surfaced from the fog in her mind. Nocturnal horrors. Things with sharp teeth. Her older brother used to tell her tales about monsters that came through the space between floorboards, cracks in the wall, in the closet and other dark places where there was no light, where they would wait for passing ankles to grab.

No. That’s crazy, said the grown-up in her. There are no monsters. The gaping jaws of a ravenous beast on the floor are just shadows from tree branches outside. And there’s no way that’s a tentacle crawling its way up the wall, it’s just…

Yes, the frightened little girl in her chimed in. It’s just…what?

Jill didn’t make a sound, didn’t move a muscle as she watched what looked like a stream of ink staining its way across the dim floral wallpaper of her bedroom. Darker than shadows, she traced it with her strained eyes along the floor, widening in girth at the foot of the bed. Paralyzed, she watched as it fumbled with the blinds, coiling itself gently around the cord. Slowly, stealthily the blinds began to lower, their shadow constricting the square of light coming from the window like a black-bladed guillotine.

The lamp! The blinds! Jill saw what it was trying to do and she had to stop it before she and Emily, still lost in a bad dream, were drowned in a sea of total darkness.

Jill grabbed the empty glass from the night table and pitched it hard at the wall. It crashed and shattered in tiny pieces which reflected the shrinking moonlight for a second as they flew in every direction and disappeared.

Whether she’d injured the thing, or just scared it off she couldn’t say, but it was enough for it to retreat swiftly back under the bed. Emily’s fit halted, but she was still fast asleep, held tight in the subconscious grip of this nameless intruder.

Whatever it was it sounded angry now, creeping back and forth like a trapped animal beneath her. Jill shook so hard she could have flown apart, expecting to be plucked from bed and pulled below any second.

Then she noticed something; the blinds had fallen at such an angle that the light from outside, so precious now, formed a wedge across the room. She and Emily were surrounded in a protective triangle. They were safe…for now.

What’s to stop it when the moon is gone? She wondered.

Her eyes fell on the place where the light switch was. She could just make out its pale face beside the door. It couldn’t have been more than five feet away from the foot of the bed, but with no way to reach it, it may as well have been as far as the space between stars.

Jill grabbed her daughter and held her tighter than the cold grip of terror. Half awake now, Emily grew feverish as she muttered incoherent things. One word lingered between the gibberish, “…Daddy.”

At that moment, Jill would have given anything just to see his face in the doorway, to know he was near, just outside the door and ready to save them.


Her heart began pumping ice water, fingers digging into Emily’s sweat-soaked hair. Her maternal embrace became a death grip as she heard the voice, the one she most wanted to hear…only it wasn’t his. It couldn’t be.

“Damn thing…I was tightening the screws like you asked and got caught on the bed frame. Be a doll and grab my tool belt from the hall, would you?”

Though it came from under the bed, the voice sounded far away as if coming from the opposite end of a tunnel.

“What are you waiting for?”

Don’t answer. Don’t say anything. Don’t give it what it wants.

 “Look, the sooner you help me, the sooner we can spend some time together. Just you and me. We’ll put Emily to bed, maybe open a bottle of wine and watch the sun come up. C’mon, whaddaya say?”

It sounded great, and she almost believed her ears, but the slimy thing had given itself away.

“I don’t drink,” she said, letting Emily slip from her arms. “My husband would know that, believe me!”

“Oh…of course. How stupid of me.

“You’re not my husband.”

“What? That’s crazy. I just forgot, is all.”

“Then what’s my name?” she demanded.

No answer.

“I said what’s my name?”

There was a long, awkward pause before it finally answered, “Mommy.”

“Nice try,” Jill said a little calmer now that she was free of its spell. However it chose victims, it was clearly used to dealing with children. She could feel the power it held unravelling quickly like a loose thread on a wool sweater.

“Babe, it’s me. You know me, and I need your help right now. So please, honey…baby doll…get off your fat ass and get me my fucking tool belt!”

“Over my dead body!” she yelled, crippling fear now replaced by anger.

“As you wishhh…”

Silence. Even when it’s quiet, there’s always something, the tick of a clock, the drip of a faucet. But it seemed the whole world now held its breath. Jill was beginning to think it was truly gone somehow, forked tail tucked between its legs, when she heard another voice; this time from beside her.

“Mommy!” cried Emily as she woke from her false nightmare and into a real one.

Something hit the underside of the bed with a hard bang. They both screamed and seconds later came another, this time raising it clean off the floor.

“You can’t protect her forever!” Brad’s voice replaced now by a disembodied hiss between blows. “Just think of all the children gone missing…ssstolen in the middle of the night…never found again.”

The floor became alive with black flesh everywhere. A swarm of obsidian eels writhed together in a sinewy mating dance, each one connected to the other by pairs of pale eyes floating in the darkness. The tendrils were climbing the walls again, and as they grew, so did the wretched stink until it filled the room.

Jill thought she was going to throw up. Emily beat her too it.

“I sssnatch them from their cozy beds, their warm little cribs…suck the meat off their bones and use them to pick my teeth…so sweet…so sssweet…”

Emily screamed and cried all at once as the bed continued to rise and fall, its metal frame whining as it weakened. It was playing with them, tormenting them the way a child would a fly in a glass jar before finally pulling off their wings. It was only a matter of time.

With each hit the bed was lifted higher and higher. Jill knew it was now or never. She crawled through the tangled wad of sheets as Emily’s screams pierced her ears. The bed was thrust so close to the ceiling she could feel stucco catching her hair.

The bed dropped again and with all her strength, Jill leapt for the light switch.

She was seized right out of the air and violently pulled down.

A tentacle caught her by the ankle and slammed her hard into the floor. Thin coils of greasy brown smoke spilled from it as it fought to keep her still. Its skin sizzled in the waning pool of moonlight, pulling her ever closer toward the bed in a fatal tug of war.

Jill grabbed the leg of the dresser and hung on for dear life. The tentacle wound further and further up her bare leg, wet as a hagfish. Something glimmered underneath, something barely there. Her fingers fumbled for it and finally touched the solid base of the broken glass, fat shards jutting out like the points of a jagged crown.

She gripped it tight in the palm of her hand and flipped onto her back to see the snapping, snarling jaws of the beast at the edge of the bed.

Two blank white eyes were fixed on her atop a gaping mouth with row after row of needle-thin fangs. Jill channelled every ounce of fear and anger in her and repeatedly stabbed the slick, boneless flesh holding her. There was a bloodcurdling wail unlike any earthly creature she had ever heard.

As soon as the thing released its grip, Jill sprang to her feet and hit the light switch. At the same time a gurgling choke came from behind. She spun around to see an oozing, nebulous mass burned into the middle of the floor, halted in its last feeble attempt to stop her. It appeared to have burst from the inside out in the light that now filled the room. A stringy yellow substance bubbled from its charred body like melted cheese, followed by the worst wave of its foul odor. Whatever it was, it was definitely dead and for an instant, it had suffered terribly.


 Jill rushed over to Emily, her face twisted and ruddy from crying. She fell to her knees and wrapped her arms around her little body, rocking her back and forth between grateful sobs and silent prayers.

“Are you alright?”

“Uh-huh,” Emily answered in tears.

She may have been but Jill wasn’t. She held her hand up behind Emily’s head to see it red with blood. Adrenaline was still coursing through her but the pain in her hand became more fresh and clear with each passing second. Her whole front throbbed with a terrible ache that would soon grow to full blown agony.

“Wh-what was that? Emily whimpered.

Jill let her go, peeled the football shirt off her sore body and bound her bleeding hand with it. “A monster.”

“You said there was no such thing,” said Emily, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her pajamas.

Jill stared at the creature’s molten remains, realizing that ‘no such thing’ was now a thing of the past. She should have felt better, but now that there was time to think, time for it all to sink in, somehow it was worse. “I guess I was wrong.”

It was nearly noon when Brad finally lumbered through the front door. He looked like he’d slept in the backseat of a car. His hair was a mess, eyes puffy and dark and the sour smell of spilled beer clung to his dishevelled clothes in a thick, stale funk.

There were several missed calls from Jill on his cell phone, but since he’d never set up his voice mail, no actual messages. He foresaw a good nagging in his future, but for now all he wanted was a shower and a handful of Motrin.

He climbed the stairs, until he was standing in the doorjamb of his bedroom and saw a most peculiar sight.

The carpet was torn up and rolled into one large bundle nearly the length of the room. The dresser and night table stood upon bare floor where the carpet used to be. The bed had been reduced to a box spring and mattress laying flat against the floor, the frame dismantled and leaned up against the wall. There were pink and white pieces as well which he recognized as the remains of Emily’s bed.

Jill was crouched down next to the box spring, making sure there was no space between it and the floor.

“What’s going on?” Brad asked with confusion. “Where’s Em?”

Jill stood and wiped sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. She was wearing his tool belt. “At my mother’s…sleeping.”

“Okay,” said Brad. “Why?”

Jill tucked a wrench into the belt, sat down on the mattress, and patted the space next to her with hand. “We need to talk.”