By Josie Beecher
“Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream…” Mommy stared down at me through the darkness, with only a miniature Spongebob shedding bars of yellow light over in the far corner of the room. I always wished the nightlight could be closer, but the socket decided to live far away from my bed. One night during a thunderstorm so loud I’d thought the house was falling into pieces, I asked it to move closer to me … to protect me from whatever may be hiding in the darkness surrounding my bed, but it didn’t listen. I huddled under my Juniper Jade covers and felt a little safer, a little cozier. My Little Pony had been my obsession since my cousin decided to throw her old hand-me-downs into my room. She hated Juniper Jade, so by default, I fell in love with her.
“What comes next, Kyla baby?” She’d done that for me since the day I’d been born, or at least for as long as I can remember. Even though I was already eleven years old at that point (number one twice, I remember a birthday card saying), I’d beg my mom to sing to me every night until I was tired enough to fall asleep. At least then I had a distraction from the creaky floor and the closet that sat almost directly in front of my way-too-big-for-a-kid bed.
“Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily…” I whispered, forcing my eyelids to push against each other. My entire face scrunched up and I suddenly thought of Cole. He was too old for Mommy … I didn’t know why she’d been so happy to be with him at first. They only ever fought and when they weren’t fighting, they hardly spoke. She told me that she loved him, once. I was crying in my room because I was scared of the noises I kept hearing under my bed (short, quick thumping noises, kinda like someone was tapping the underside of my bed to get my attention) and Mommy passed my room with tears falling from her eyes too. I thought she heard the noises and was scared just like me, but after having a long talk about how grownups have fights sometimes I figured out that she’d been crying because of Cole … not because of the girl under my bed.
“Life is but a dream.” Mommy breathed in that wispy, tired way that she did every night. It made me smile and she smiled back, brushing the black hair out of my eyes. I could hardly see her through the dark, but I knew the smile was there.
“You coming to bed anytime tonight?” Cole pushed open my door, and a wave of light flooded in. I didn’t mind the light, but I shielded my eyes from him. He always took Mommy away from me … and he always took the light out of her. I needed her light to fall asleep, but I rarely had it anymore. I didn’t know why she always flocked to him whenever he called, but it didn’t matter. The reason didn’t matter, the reason never mattered — it was just that she did it. She left me behind in the dark. I may have had my Juniper Jade covers to hide under, but it was a big bed, and Juniper Jade never scared away the monsters.
“Yeah, in a few.” Mommy closed her eyes and forced out the words. She stopped smoothing the hair away from my face and pinched the space between her eyes. The light drained from Mommy’s body, and darkness devoured the entire room. Spongebob didn’t stand a chance. I wanted to yell, I wanted to scream at Cole — make him go away and never come back to do this to us, but I couldn’t. It’d only burn out Mommy’s light even more, maybe even extinguish it.
“A few what? Weeks? Days? Hours?”
I bit my lip as I watched my Mommy’s mouth curl into a sigh. I could feel her stomach shrink into a little ball, shriveling away with the smile I put on her usually glowing face. I squeezed my blanket tighter and imagined Juniper Jade’s mouth curling into the same sigh, her purple mane standing on end. I didn’t like the thought so I let up on the blanket and just bit my lip harder instead. It hurt and I tasted metallic blood, but it didn’t hurt nearly as bad as the knot in my stomach did. My whole body started to shake, but I tried to hold it back. Mommy didn’t need another reason to squeeze the space between her eyes or rub the place just above where her glasses sat.
“Cole, you know damn well what I meant. Just go to bed and I’ll see you there when I feel like it.” She talked with her eyes pressed shut, her face scrunched up like I had earlier. She was still pretty, though. I’m sure I looked like a chubby, wrinkled hamster when I did it.
Cole didn’t say anything; instead he slammed the frail door as hard as his little muscles could. The room went pitch black again and Spongebob’s smile glowed brightly once more; I could almost hear him laughing. A few porcelain dolls sitting on the shelves Daddy put up slid closer to the edge, but stopped just short. I imagined the walls doing Mommy’s sigh, sick from the impact, and I sat up against my headboard. I didn’t like the thought of those walls looking down on me; I didn’t like the dark … I didn’t like that I couldn’t see Mommy anywhere.
“Mommy?” I whispered. “Mommy … don’t go…” I felt the air in front of me for her familiar soft skin, but I only scraped the edge of her nightgown. I heard my throat let out a small whimper, urging the silk to come back.
“Mommy, please … don’t leave.” I reached out into the air again as my abused door was opened, the light flooding in once more. I didn’t shield my eyes this time.
She shook her head and looked at me with scared eyes. I hated this part of every night, the two seconds right before the light from the hallway was cut off and I was left behind with only Spongebob to protect me.
“Mommy…” I said again, but she wasn’t listening. Cole yelled from down the hall – words I didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand – and she left me behind. The light was gone. She was gone, and I immediately knew I wasn’t alone.
I clawed at the underside of my covers and held my breath. The dark infected every inch of my room. Spongebob’s weak light was just enough to see the monster in my closet and keep him there, but the little girl that lived under my bed could do whatever she wanted. Sometimes she even let the closet monster out.
“Kyla and Markie sitting in a tree…” Fingernails tore at the wood floor under my bed. She always waited for Mommy to leave. I stayed hidden under my blanket, but her grinding fingernails didn’t stop. “K … I … S … S … I … N … G.” She spat each letter like a boy, pushing out every breath and gagging on it. It was hard for her to crawl around; every little movement she made seemed to make her lungs more and more like grapes. I used to feel bad for her, and I wanted to help, but I made the mistake of telling her that. That was the night she tried to steal my legs.
Cole was the only one that ever saw the bruises on my arms and legs. I was still dripping wet, just a scratchy towel over my oddly shaped body, when he told me to deal with it — ignore the pain, ignore the girl clawing at me, and eventually she’d just stop when she was through with me. He told me to not even tell Mommy, and I never would have. If she had seen all the scratches and bruises and the blood, she would have gone to my school in a rage only to find out that no one ever hurt me there. She’d find out that nobody even knew my name, and after she found that out, I can’t even imagine what she’d think of me, her only daughter, her angel. To the entire school, I was just the girl in the back of the room, the sweaty girl that always wore long-sleeves and fell asleep every moment she had the chance.
The room went quiet, and that’s how I knew she was watching me. Sometimes if I pretended to be asleep she went away, so I pressed my eyelids together hard enough to see the little firework show behind them.
“Kyla baby, come on out.” Tugs on my blanket. I held on. I was safer under there.
“Go away…” I whispered. “Go away, go away, go away.”
“But I just wanna be your friend, Ky.” That’s what Daddy used to call me. I bit my lip harder, forcing back the icy tears. “Do you want to see Daddy again?” Her hands groped the end of my bed, pulling herself up. I could see her grayish blue skin even when I shut my eyes.
“Yes.” Tears escaped. “I miss him so much…”
“I can take you to him.” She eagerly spat the words. “Just come out from under there and we’ll go see him now.”
“I know you’re lying.” I tugged the blanket, trying to force her back onto the floor.
“Friends don’t lie to friends. We are friends, aren’t we?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “We’re best friends. We’ll be best friends forever.” I felt her snakes for fingertips searching for my hands. “I know life is hard without him. Life is hard with your mommy and her boyfriend.”
“Stop. Go away, please…” Her voice was in my head, bouncing and vibrating like a dodgeball with a trapped bird inside.
“But I can take this all away. Just come with me.”
I opened my eyes and watched my shaking hands let the blanket fall. All I saw was dark and Spongebob glowing faintly in the distance. The closet door was open.
“Come with me,” she whispered from the closet, a blue hand waving me over. Cole and Mommy were yelling in their room. Cursing. Screaming. Throwing things. I crawled to the end of my island of a bed and let my feet touch the cold carpet.
“To where?” I breathed the question, walking toward Spongebob’s light in front of the closet.
“Wherever you want. Name it.” I stood in front of the closet, my body rattling. The closet monster grumbled sort of like Cole just waking up. “Step in and I’ll take you to your Daddy.” There was a smile in her voice, and those pearl eyes were on me. A hand took mine as Spongebob’s light died. It felt like holding a dozen freezepops. I wanted the feeling to blanket me just like Juniper Jade did a few minutes before. Cole was yelling louder, but I didn’t hear Mommy at all.
“I want to be in the dark forever.”
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“Being afraid with open eyes is better than being afraid of opening your eyes.”
“Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream,” she sang, tugging me in. “Put a pillow over her face and listen to her scream.”
“Burn, burn, burn your house … Burn it to the ground.” She pulled at my arm harder, but I tugged back toward my bed. “Watch it as it goes to flames and their bodies won’t be found.” She laughed as I tried to pull away harder. Her skin felt like it was tearing, but she didn’t let me go.
“No, no, no…”
Light flooded the room and Mommy picked me up from off the floor. I couldn’t hear what she was saying through her tears and through the sound of things breaking in the next room. Something about leaving? I thought the house was coming down.
We were sitting in the car together, looking at the house. I could see the light on in Mommy’s room, but my room was dark again.
“Are we leaving?” I asked, just to make sure.
“Yes.” Mommy sighed. “We’ll be staying at grandma’s for awhile.”
“Are you afraid?” She looked startled by the question, gripping the steering wheel a little tighter with her stubby hands. All she did was nod vacantly and start the car.
Pulling away, Mommy started to sing, “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream.” I hummed the rest with an empty head, closing my tired eyes. The wind groaned an empty threat — “…best friends forever…” — and I told myself it was just the wind. Only the wind.
Born in Pennsylvania and raised in Middle-earth, Josie Beecher is a freelance writer/poet living in California with her husband and their two fur-babies. When she’s not writing she spends her time slaying dragons, baking cupcakes, jogging, and exploring in between the words of other writers. Her work has been published in Teen Ink Magazine, Penny Ante Feud, and The Poetic Pinup Revue. “Orange Girl,” her first poetry collection, was published in January 2012 by Black Coffee Press. You may read more of her work on her blog (josiebeecher.blogspot.com).