Charlie is crying. Anne goes in to comfort him, but he is still afraid. She calls me, "He thinks there's a tiger out there."
"Between the washer and the dryer."
We live in married student housing. The washer and dryer are in the hall straight in front of Charlie's bedroom. Charlie is four.
"You tell him," Anne says, "He won't believe me."
The way the light hits the hallway, it reflects in two spots. They look like eyes, the kind of glowing eyes that night stalkers have.
"It can't be a tiger, Charlie. It's coming from the space between the washer and dryer. That's no wider than your arm. A tiger could never fit in there. Okay?"
He calmed down, still sniffling, but not nearly so afraid. I looked at Anne. She smiled at me.
"If it's not a tiger, what is it?"
"It's just light, Charlie, just a reflection of light."
"But it looks like eyes."
"A tiger couldn't fit in that space, could it, Charlie?"
"So, it must be a snake."
Anne glowered, "Idiot! How can you tell a kid that?"
"I'm just kidding, Charlie. Charlie! Charlie, I'm just kidding!"
"No, it's a snake, Dad! Don't leave me!"
"It's not a snake, Charlie. It's just light."
"The night is your friend, Charlie. You'll learn that. What you can't see can't see you either. You're safe. Be still. It's just light and shadow. Duck under your covers and hide. Night is for hiding. Be quiet and hide, Charlie. I'll kill the snake."
I went out into the hallway and made a big show of sliding and stomping around the dryer. I poked a broom handle into the space and whacked the hell out of whatever was or wasn't there. When I went back into the bedroom, Charlie was huddled under the covers.
"You can come out now, Charlie. It's dead."
"Did you kill it, Dad?"
"I killed it. When you're big enough, you can kill the night things yourself."
We looked out into the hall, into the space between the washer and dryer. Somehow, all my stomping and banging around had changed the way the light fell. The eyes were gone.
"It's all right, Charlie. Get some sleep. You need to sleep to get big and strong and kill the night things."
"Will you stay here, Dad?"
"I'll be here, Charlie."
I sat in the room until he fell asleep and then some more. When I was sure he would sleep until morning, I left, to deal with my night things.