Mine was in the attic.
It was in the attic of the small home where I grew up and it was above the hallway right outside my room. A small square of drywall in the ceiling could be lifted and slid to the side, revealing the attic within. It lived up there and it watched me. You know what I’m talking about, you understand. I know you do. Maybe yours was under the bed or in the closet, but you did have one. You had a monster. Something that watched you turn out the light and get in your bed and stared at you as you lay there frozen with fear because it knew you would not move, could not move. Even if you managed to move, to scream, to shake, to stutter out what you saw, no one would believe you. Because only you could see it. You were the only one who could see it because you were the only one it wanted.
This is the story of my monster.I was six years old when I first saw it. It was a July summer and it was hot. I had hopped out of my bed to use the bathroom during the night like I usually did. I liked going pee at night because on hot nights the coolness of the tile floor felt good under my bare feet. It was dark in that bathroom, but not too dark to see thanks to the slivers of moonlight that tricked in from the small window and through the plastic shower curtain. I never turned on the light when I went to the bathroom because we lived in a small house and my Father told me never to turn on the light because it wakes him up and he hates that. My Father yelled a lot, especially when he was tired and I remember him being tired every day and every night. He also told me to sit down when I pee because it’s too loud. He said I could stand up and pee when I was either not in his house, or I was a man.
This small version of me sat quiet as a mouse on that cold toilet seat, buttocks resting on the ceramic, my paltry form so small only the sides of my hips kept me from being swallowed into the plumbing. Then it happened. A feeling of being watched, studied. It felt like the very air itself was poking me. I knew in that instant I wasn’t alone. My breath stopped and the hot night turned cold quick. My eyes widened and my skin rippled. Without thinking, I turned towards the hallway and slowly looked up at the ceiling. The attic tile was there, but I saw something different: an open sliver of darkness where the attic tile had been lifted and slid to one side. Something was watching, looking at me. In the inky black of that attic, two dark pinkish eyes faded into view and stared right at me. I sucked in a breath and quickly glanced away. I wanted to scream, move, run. But I didn’t. I didn’t dare move. Maybe I chose not to move, or maybe I couldn’t even if I had wanted to. But I do remember feeling that if continued to look away and not meet its gaze, if I just didn’t stare back at it, it wouldn’t notice me. It would leave. It would slide that piece of drywall back into place with one of its black spindly legs and skitter through the splintered eaves of the roof of my small house and hungrily stalk some other prey. Someone else. Some other kid. Dear God, any other child in any another house, just not me. I sat there shivering for what seemed like hours. I didn’t dare make a sound. Then I heard a breathing, a rasping. Something was breathing with an open wet mouth and using nailed hands to inch that ceiling tile open even further. I wondered if it knew I saw it, or if it thought it had the element of surprise and in any instant it would pounce from that attic shadow and rip into me, chew on me, and feast. I felt I was going to die. I was going to die because I knew it had done this before. It was birthed by an endless age of carnivorous instinct and its thirst for flesh had sniffed out Me, a tiny human child. I started to silently cry when my eye caught something fall from the attic above. It was a silvery drip of pale saliva syruping onto the tile floor inches from my left foot and I screamed.
There are no monsters. He spanked me that night, like he had done before. He didn’t hit me. My Father didn’t hit. Maybe that’s a lie, or maybe I just can’t think of the right word between Spank and Hit. Whatever that word is, some cowardly piece of me wants to believe he never hit me. No. But I did pass out. I passed out from his spanking.
In the morning my Mother told me what she had told me before: To mind my Father. And just like the last time she told me, she was trying not to cry. But on this morning, she was different. Shaking softly, she had gripped her coffee cup, stood up and stepped to the kitchen window. She stood there for a full minute and stared away at nothing. I remember wondering if she even knew I was still there. I watched her from behind and for a moment, I felt she believed me about the creature in the attic because she seemed as frightened as I. Then softly, without looking at me, she whispered, “We are leaving this house. All of us”.
I remember being terrified all day. No amount of sunlight could delay the bleak fact that the night would soon envelop this day and darkness would approach my room. I knew that whatever it was that nested in the attic above, whatever ghastly thing looked at me last night, one thing was sure. It was very much at home in the dark. I had closed the door of my bedroom and put a small chair in front of it. I didn’t want to look in the hallway and see the attic. I knew the thing might come and my little plan was to just hope. Hope that the Father I hated was right, that there were no monsters and it wasn’t really up there, waiting for me to drift to sleep.
My parents fought that night. It wasn’t the first time, but this time was different, there was a temperature to the emotion in that house, an intensity. Their raised voices thumped through my door like dog barks. I didn’t understand everything they said, but the assault they threw at each other made me weep. I wanted to hide, or run, or die. I could do it if I wanted to. I knew my Father kept a gun under his bed. He once wrenched my wrist, telling me never to touch it and leaving a bruise where his wedding ring ate into my small arm. I thought about that gun and gripped the blanket around my head to try and not absorb the words they were spitting at each other: Hell. Awful. Bitch. You.
Then it happened. Between the roars of my parents fight, I heard the dry scrape of the attic tile scratching open. They had to have heard it too, I thought. They must have. For an instant I wanted to jump from my tiny bed and somehow cross my room and quickly click on the bedroom light. But I couldn’t move. It somehow knew the thing would be faster than me and it would get me. I imagined it hauling its form from the attic and searching with its quivering wet snout, sniffing the air for me. I stared at my closed door, my muscles tense with cold fear and I saw that the doorknob of my room was beginning to turn.
My parents were still fighting in the other room, seemingly oblivious to my terror and I thought I was going to die right there in my bedroom, torn open, gnawed on and eaten by a beast. No one would ever know. Not my parents, not the world. Everyone would glare at my tiny carcass and never comprehend what horror could have done that and what tortures I must have suffered. Outside, my parents cackles grew louder: Leave. Go. Hate. Their screeching echoed in my ears and my jaw tightened. The door clicked open, inched open, scraping the small chair I had placed as my defense backwards against the floor. A form was revealed. A spindly shadow melted into view, something barely illuminated by the kitchen light. It stared at me, boring those small pink eyes into me, its thin fingers curled around my door, moonlight catching the saliva of its open mouth. My Father and Mother howled again: Hate you. I HATE YOU. YOU MONSTER. Monster? Did they say monster? Did they know? Then a flash, a lightning burst of color and I knew my Father’s gun had fired, sirening once in my ears.The shadow creeping into my room froze. There was a half-second of silence, then another shot. My ears rung and nothing moved. There was barely a sound. Then the thing at my door turned from me and quietly moved away from my door and crawled up into the attic, leaving me alone in the darkness with the ringing.
I received the letter in the mail about three weeks ago and I’ve been driving for two days straight. After my wife tried to talk me into letting her go with me, she tried to talk me out of going altogether. My Father had murdered my Mother and then shot himself. And in some way, she said, I was better for it. We might have never met, she pleaded, might not be raising our two daughters. “Hell, your Father may have even killed you”, she said, “He was a monster”. We hugged and I held her and I didn’t share with her what I sincerely believed: A monster was what my parents had saved me from from.
According to the Police report I was still in my bed when they arrived. Sixteen years, seven Foster Homes, six months of incarceration and one lucky Halloween party later, I met Judith. She was the one who handed me the letter detailing the court trust and the ownership of the small house I had lived in for six years, the same house I was now standing in front of. Somehow it was still here, a two-bedroom vagrant of a building tucked back at the end of a drive, grass long dead, paint peeling, windows dark. I gripped the small brass key, thought of what I needed to know, and stepped forward into a secret to confront my monster.
It was like breaking open a box. The door creaked open revealing broken glass, dust and wood floors dark with mold and age. I entered the kitchen and awkwardly stepped over the spot where my parents bodies had fell and my memories whispered their silent roars of hatred at each other. The dim hallway was not as long as I remembered, nothing more than a cramped pale alley of stucco leading to two bedroom doors. My bedroom door was open and the room was empty. Nothing hinted that I was ever here. That my small life had lived here, slept here, had feared here.
I looked up and there it was. The attic. Just above me. That very same small ceiling tile stared back at me, daring me to lift it open. My hands were damp with sweat and I seemed to not breathe enough, but I leaped up and knocked the tile away into the shadows, shaking. I took a breath and sprung again, gripping the sides of the small attic crawl-way and with some effort, lifted myself inside its meager space. I had reached my monster.
I blinked dirt from my widened eyes and moved inside. It seemed empty and the light there was ashen, like winter. Dust drifted into the air and danced softly around me as I crouched on all fours and hesitantly crawled ahead. In the corner were some old blankets, three or four wooden toys, a sooty pile of books and some boxes, everything surrounded by cans and glass bottles that must not have moved for years. Soup cans. Beans. Rice. Crushed juice boxes. The books were varied: a dictionary, nursery rhymes, an elementary school textbook, a Bible. I gripped one, my fingers wiping away grime, and opened it. A small slip of creased paper fell out. It was a faded color photograph of a family.
It was my parents. They were young. My Father had his glare, but still he showed an optimism in his eyes that I’d never witnessed. My Mother looked pretty and she appeared satisfied, but unsure of life. In the photograph she was seated next to my standing Father, holding an infant in her arms and a large doll on her lap. Was the infant me? It was a baby, a baby like any other, but the doll next to it was what drew my eye. It was misshapen, the pallid face contorted unnaturally with an open mouth and its awkward body was partially covered in what looked like a patterned homemade pink dress. But however grotesque the doll looked, it was clear that it was looking directly at the camera and it was holding the baby’s hand.
I turned the photograph over and read the crayoned words written on the back, scrawled in clumsy block letters:
ME aNd mY broTher.