Cayden knew he wasn’t alone in the empty room. Knew it like he knew his own name. It wasn’t a ‘feeling’ or a ‘belief.’ It was fact.
He also knew that no one would ever believe him. Oh, sure, they’d pretend. First, they’d crouch down and speak to the air next to him as if the faceless, shadowy, man-thing leering over their shoulder at him was an invisible playmate. Then, they’d give Cayden a spray bottle filled with water and labeled ‘Monster Repellant’ in his mother’s handwriting. And finally, they’d do the obligatory shake down of the dust bunnies under the bed, followed by a cursory, annoyed shuffling of the soft disarray of stuffed animals, cheap toys, and clothes in the closet.
“See? Nothing’s in there that isn’t supposed to be. Nothing is going to get you,” they would conclude with an exasperated roll of the eyes, implausibly ignorant of the creature huffing in amusement right next to them. “Now, go to sleep. You’ve got monster repellant, a night light, your teddy, and the new dream catcher to catch those bad dreams and keep them from waking you anymore. You’re safe.” Then they’d turn off the light, and leave him alone with it. Again.
‘Safe,’ they’d promised. He hadn’t been safe for what felt like months, not since the man-thing first appeared, slinking through the night to carry away bad little kids like his grandmama had told him. The first few nights, Cayden would lay in his bed, eyes wide, body stiff as a board, barely daring to breathe, while simultaneously praying that it was gone for good, and listening fervently for any indication that it was already there. If he fell asleep–which he rarely did anymore–he would claw his way back to consciousness screaming. Over time, however, his soaring terror had honed his senses to the point that he simply knew when the creature was in the room. Even when–like now–it couldn’t be seen.
As if reading his thoughts, the man-thing chuckled–a sound that sent icicles plunging into Cayden’s fluttering heart. Tears flowed unchecked down his pink cheeks as his small limbs shook in silence. He curled his little body into an even smaller ball around his teddy, and snuggled further under his bunny-print sheet and blanket. When the bogeyman ran a hand lightly along the curve of his back, Cayden stifled his scream by shoving a fist into his mouth and biting down hard enough to draw blood, but he could not stop the liquid warmth that seeped into his pajama bottoms.
In the morning, Cayden’s empty bed–rumpled, whimsical, bunny sheets stained with tears, snot, urine, and blood–would provide the only proof the boy could have ever offered, but only after it was much, much too late.