I turn off the bedside lamp, curling onto my left side under the downy blanket. The warmth of the covers is a pleasant contrast to the cool breeze drifting through the open window, where a light rain patters gently against the screen.
“Why don’t you cuddle this way?”
“Because,” I inform my husband, speaking softly over my shoulder. “If the Monster comes into the bed, she’ll want to snuggle with me and this way she can go in the middle. She doesn’t like me breathing on her hair, and I don’t like choking on hers.”
He sighs into the dark. “She needs to stay in her own bed. She’s six years old, for crying out loud.”
I flip my pillow to the soft side. “She was doing fine until we moved in here. It’s natural for a young child to feel a little afraid in a new house. Not sure how much I’m liking having our bedrooms on different floors. I have to admit, I’m a little nervous myself. I’ve never lived in a house with a real well in the yard before.”
“What, that creepy gaping hole in the middle of the yard?” He chuckles, knowing he’s freaking me out. “The empty, musty, echoing well? With all the spiders, and probably a skeleton lying at the bottom? Just picture it clawing its way up the wall, crawling out of the darkness, coming to get you . . .”
“If you don’t shut up, I’m going to jab you in the kidney with my elbow.” I make sure to articulate every word, but I’m also trying not to giggle. “I hate that thing. It’s spooky.”
The bed shakes with his laughter. “You’re too easy. Don’t worry, I’m going to put a permanent cover on it tomorrow. I don’t like how the wooden one is rotted. I keep finding it lying next to the hole.” I hear him yawn and turn onto his right, so our bums are lightly touching.
“You don’t think she’s been dropping things down there?” I reach over and touch his arm. “We’ll have to get a load of dirt and fill it in, first thing in the morning. Or get a concrete lid for it somehow.”
“I haven’t seen her going near it, but I wouldn’t put it past that kid to throw in some rocks to hear them splash. I’ll take care of it tomorrow.” He sighs. “And here comes the child.”
I hear shuffling footsteps in the kitchen, just beyond our bedroom door. “Bedtime used to be so much easier when she was a baby,” I mutter.
“Mommy?” The pressure of little hands on my feet is both sweet and annoying.
“Yes, dear. Come into the bed.”
As the Monster scrambles into the middle and scrunches down between our warm bodies, her cold little toes against the small of my back make me squeal. “Your feet are so cold!”
“My room is cold.”
“You always have an excuse, little one.” My hubby has rolled over to tickle her. “Mommy and Daddy need their privacy, too.”
“I had a nightmare.”
“Mommy’s too tired to put you back in your room,” I lie. The truth is I’m just too lazy, and I actually find it comforting to have my baby girl in the bed. “One more night won’t kill us.”
“I’ll take you back,” my hero states firmly. “Come here, Monster.” He flips back the covers and I hear the floor creak as he stands. All the flooring seems to have its own voice in this old house.
The bed groans in protest as he lifts her into his arms and carefully makes his way out into the kitchen. I can hear the little snaps of the elderly staircase as he mounts each step.
I consider pretending to be asleep when he comes back down. We’ll have maybe twenty minutes, at the most, before she sneaks back in. It would be nice to make love, but I’m not sure I would enjoy a quickie with one ear cocked at our currently door-less entry, listening for our offspring.
He comes back down, and I hear him use the washroom. There is a long pause after the water stops running and the light goes out.
“Are you okay?” I call out, quietly.
“Yeah. You still in bed?”
My husband comes back in and gets into the bed. He pulls the covers up arounds us and spoons me. “It was so weird,” he whispers. “I was coming out of the bathroom, and I could swear I saw a girl standing behind me, reflected in one of the pictures on the staircase.”
“I haven’t gone anywhere.”
“I know. Just imagining things, I guess. I couldn’t remember if you were wearing your long nightie or pyjamas, but whoever I saw was in a nightgown.”
“Nope,” I tell him, sighing. “I’m in PJ’s tonight. Maybe you saw a ghost.”
“You know I don’t believe in ghosts. It was just weird.” He kisses the side of my neck.
“This house is so old, it’s probably haunted.”
“Lucky us. No wonder the Monster doesn’t want to stay in her room.” He laughs into my hair, snaking his arm around my torso and under my breasts to pull me closer.
I begin to relax, enjoying his attentions, but my Mommy mind won’t let go of something. “Did you make sure the well was covered over before locking up tonight?” I feel him tense a little. “Sorry, that’s not very seductive, but I couldn’t remember doing it. We have to fill that thing in, first thing tomorrow. It really makes me nervous. What if she fell in?”
“Yes, it’s covered. I even put a couple of bricks on it after supper, as a temporary fix. It’ll do for the night.” He strokes my back and cups my bum. “It’s fine. The Monster is not going to fall into the well.”
I decide that twenty minutes is better than nothing.
“I’m sure she’ll be here any minute.”
I’m snuggling in a delicious afterglow, my head pillowed by his chest. “I always love hearing your voice like this. And your heart is hammering.”
“I feel like I’ve just run a marathon.”
“What was that noise?” I rise a little. The clatter and thump out back repeats itself, this time a little louder.
“Probably just a raccoon.” He sits up and swings his legs out of bed. “I’ll go check the garbage cans.”
“But they’re on the other side of the house.”
He ignores me. Edging around the bed to the window, he opens the curtain. “Huh. The cover’s off the well.”
“I’ll have to go out there and put it back on.”
“It’s still raining; the grass is probably slippery. Want me to watch you, just in case?”
He’s already dressing. “No, it’s okay. I’ll just be a second.”
I lie back down, curling onto my left again. The kitchen door opens and closes softly. The thin crack at the bottom of the door glows briefly as he turns on the flashlight we keep in the mudroom. I feel secure in the knowledge of being taken care of.
Little footsteps pad through the kitchen and into the bedroom.
“All right, Monster. You gave us our privacy, come back into the bed for a few minutes.”
The bed barely gives as the weight settles around my feet.
“No, if you sleep down there, Mommy won’t be able to move her legs. Come up to the pillow.”
Obediently, the little body wiggles up and curls into my back.
“Aren’t you cold? Come under the covers, sweetie.” I gasp in shock. “Your feet are like ice! I can feel them through my pyjamas! Did your quilt come off the bed?”
The movement behind me feels like a nod.
I reach around me. “Your nightgown is all wet, sweetheart.” Now I’m pissed. I try and fail to keep the edge from my voice. “Now I have to change the bed. Come on, let’s get you into something dry. Did you go outside on your own, looking for the kitty? For goodness’ sakes, it’s the middle of the night . . .”
I push back the covers and take her by the hand. It’s pitch black, but I know the way through the corridor of boxes in the kitchen to the stairs. “You mustn’t go outside by yourself at night. The cat will come home by morning; she’s out there hunting mice. You could’ve fallen and hurt yourself.”
The yellow glow of her nightlight is just bright enough to illuminate the top of the stairs.
“You’re being such a good girl for Mommy right now.” She hasn’t resisted me at all as I’ve brought her along. “So nice and quiet. We’ll get you changed and tucked right back into your nice warm blankets.”
I turn on the overhead lamp in order to find her some clean clothes.
My daughter is sound asleep in her bed.
Stunned, I look down at the cold little hand in mine. It’s grey and dirty. The flesh has rotted away at the wrist, to the point where I can see bone. It’s connected to a grey and dirty arm in a torn, white nightgown. My eyes follow the arm to a bent head covered in a thin layer of damp, dark hair barely covering skin so translucent I can see the veins of the skull under it.
The lightbulb above me begins flickering.
I try to let go of the hand, and it grips my fingers with incredible strength.
My breath is stuck in my lungs. I want to puke, but I can’t move. I try to cry out, but without air, my throat makes a pathetic sound.
The head of the thing slowly rises. The leg of my pyjama pants grows hot and wet as I pee myself. I am unable to look away from the skeletal face emerging from behind the matted curtain of dark hair. A maggot is squirming inside one empty, rotted eye socket. The withered nose is hanging to the side like a used rubber. Where a pretty, cupid’s bow lip used to smile, only one half of the curve remains. The other side of the mouth has been ripped away, revealing two rows of pearly white teeth.
I try to step away, between the thing and my child, and slip in the puddle of urine at my feet. As I fall, the skeletal body tumbles onto me. I flail, panicking, pulling at hair and flesh, unable to cry out because my lungs don’t seem to be working.
Icy, bony fingers are squeezing my neck, fumbling at my mouth, slapping my face.
The electricity fails, dousing the room in blackness.
There is a wild, inhuman keening in my ears, and I can’t tell if it’s coming from me or not.
“Honey? Hon, are you okay?”
My husband is thumping up the stairs, the light from his torch bouncing as he moves. “I think the Monster must have gotten outside somehow, there are muddy footprints all over the place.”
He turns on the light. “What happened? Is this . . . yours?” He gestures vaguely to the puddle on the floor.
I try to think of something to say. “I had an accident,” I tell him, lamely. He helps me to my feet.
“At least she’s still asleep. I’ll get a towel.”
He goes down the hall. I turn around to check on our daughter.
There are two little girls in the bed, now. Spooning. One is alive, fleshy and breathing.
I start to scream.