Written by Atticus Payne
Art by Namia on Artstation
Why do you fear the monsters under your bed? I knew a girl, once, who did. In the nights she spent as a helpless baby doing nothing but crying in a swaddle, she had no choice but to listen to fools talk of the things each monster would do. A monster born out of spite, her wet nurse would say, was one that would carve out her heart bit by bloody bit and eat it slowly, keeping the girl’s eyes on her mantel-piece so she could watch. A monster born out of jealousy would do the same, only it would scrape at your belly first, stirring up every naughty thing you could think of into a thick soup, sliding into your head, that would infect your brain until even the maggots would retch. A monster born out of bitter fury, however—that was, a mix of sadness and anger, love turned to hate—would skin you whole, burn each layer of fat, and tear the meat off your bones. It would make you feel its chills deep in your marrow; first a strange, familiar caress, then a raging pain.
Each monster has its special appetite, the nurse would say to the girl, born of the worst parts of you. So never would she look underneath her bed before she slept; never would she peek when she woke. Even when the rays of sister sun beat down hardest, her toes skirted the edge and climbed instead on the bed frame.
And once she had settled into her quilt, the girl would cry all the way to the gray lands of sleep, and another monster would be built. Her cries were plenty and unquiet, but no one came to look. How could they, after all? She knew that they feared the monsters under her bed too much to check. If those so strong as to leave marks on her skin from a simple touch were afraid—how much more should she fear, clinging tightly to her shield of sheets as the day turned at midnight?
Then one day, the girl decided to look.
At the first gray sliver of dawn, she fell to her knees and peered under the wood. Darkness lurked back at her; waiting, trying, in its own way, to look at the face of their master. It was small, pale, and unafraid.
The monster of envy turned its head sideways, curious. Slowly, it crawled forward, pulling back slightly with each step it took. Envy was a strange thing—not entirely devoid of fear, certainly afraid of what it might never have.
The girl reached her hand out to touch the monster’s shadowy wraith. The girl smiled: now that she had touched it, she knew it.
The girl smiled, and the monster smiled back, gaps forming in its face for a mouth and large, nosy eyes. Then they turned slitted from an expression so fey the girl knew in her heart that it would not harm her. After all, it only wanted everything; as did she.
Seeing this, the monsters of pain, fear, grief, and bitter fury, countless others besides, came forward to touch her also. Now every wisp on her skin was a feeling not of discovery, but a remembering of that which she had always known. Her wet nurse had been wrong: the monsters under her bed weren’t to be feared.
She’d talked to them. Nurtured them, tended to every burn, in the nights that the girl had cried. She had birthed them, her army. And now, she would use them.
The girl whispered to them, and they readied. Then they erupted into the house.