The house where I grew up is a Bed and Breakfast now. I stopped one afternoon, determined to conquer the dreams that have plagued me since childhood.
Inside my soul, I carry my own boogey man. I first saw him when I was ten-years-old and walking along a dusty road in Chatsworth, Illinois. A shrill whistle cut the summer air as I watched a freight train approach. Not being the sort of child to race a mountain of steel, I stopped. Even then I was more given to fantasies of trapped shoes and hopeless death.
Lost in thought, I watched Monarch butterflies flit over wild red poppies along the tracks and shuffled my feet in the dirt. And just that easily, my world changed. I heard a hiss and looked up to see an apparition leaning out of a slow moving boxcar, so close that his long and curling fingernails brushed across my T-shirt. I jumped back. His eyes were wild, his hair gray and stringy, filthy enough I could smell it over the heat and dust and train fumes. He hissed again, then screamed with rage. That night when I stripped for my bath I found a red and swollen welt where his hand had grazed me.
Innocence ended for me that day, giving way to a parade of nights where the thing from the train reached out of nothingness to touch me. I never went to sleep without checking my closet and under the bed. Even now, twenty years later and living more than a hundred miles away, he catches me in my sleep once or twice a year.
That's why I checked into the Bed and Breakfast. I am determined to sleep here, to take a stand and banish this monster forever. My grown-up self does not underestimate him. He is a breath of purest evil, making that clown in Stephen King's IT look like the Good Samaritan. They give me in my old room and I stare at the ceiling at least an hour before falling asleep.
And then he is there, leaning over me. Closer. Closer still. I don't jump, don't flinch, don't move. Behind him, I sense movement, a flutter, a shirt, a soft sweet hand. Then I see he has my son! Tad, tiny and holding a red balloon, has one of those gigantic lollipops in his other hand. The thing reaches for me, long fingers releasing Tad's thin wrist.
It's Tad or me.
I take the thing's hand, hearing the unchanged hiss, recognizing his foul and fetid odor. A Monarch lands on Tad's finger, distracting him as I am pulled into the creature's world. Hoot owls scream as darkness closes around me.