By Top Contributor Alcy Leyva
My son digs his fingers into my back. His arms are bound around my neck like a python and his head is buried between his hair and my shoulder. His legs are long. I can’t remember the last time I’ve carried him like this but they go right past my waist as we walk into the dark room.
Don’t worry, I think I say. The only light in the room, which seeps in from the gold streetlights outside, are muffled by heavy curtains. I can’t make out a thing other than a few silhouettes here and there. And still I walk in slowly as my son grips me tighter. The room scares him, scares him to death. At three, he’s gotten to the age where only the worst things live in the dark. I’m trying to get him through this the only way I know how.
I say a few things to calm him. They’re barely working.
“Please. Let’s leave.”
I tell him not to worry. That the room is safe. Meanwhile, from the corner of my eye, a creature sits up near the ironing board. It’s in a bad mood tonight, I can tell. It looks a lot like a bird, but all wrong. All wrong. Its yellow, segmented eyes blink at me as the tips of its fangs grow larger. It makes a motion with its black feathered wing like it’s going to rip my throat open. It laughs and slaps its wings together.
See, I think I tell my son over the mirk-raven’s snickering. Nothing to worry about.
The slippery shadow beneath the bed lurches forward and sniffs my ankle as I sit my son down on the bed. It’s a rustbunny: an ancient little thing that I probably should have killed before it grew the solid plated shell around its skull. Its lungs hang off of the sides of its face, wet and exposed, and they expand with my scent. When it exhales, the air grows hot and the reek of ammonia stings my nostrils. It trims some of my leg hair with its teeth-lined nostrils, possibly to restock its warm home with, and hops into the darkness.
Not too dark, I think I tell my son. I can’t really be sure because my attention is on the “pillow-poser”-- the fat spider camouflaged as one of my son’s pillows. Filled with blood, I nudge its body and it rocks like a waterbed with hateful eyes. I nearly lose two fingers as it snaps at me, but I manage to scare it away before it takes off my son’s head in the middle of the night.
Everything’s alright, I try to say. I mumble it as a scaly arm longer than my body extends from the closet, takes my son’s teddy bear, smashes it over the head with a wiffle-ball bat, and drags the poor thing into the black interior. I hear gnashing teeth and the tearing of cotton.
My son quietly lies back on the pillow and looks around, not as frightened as when we first came in, but his eyes are alert.
“Ghosts? What about ghosts?”
There’s no such things as ghosts, I say slightly as the direbugs scatter across the ceiling with their large horns dancing back and forth. I scoot over to the side to avoid them landing on me. They use those horns to burrow into a living person’s eyes so that they can steal a person’s ability to see color.
I lay my hand over his chest and he feels how real I am.
He doesn’t see the tree harpy scraping her talons against the windowsill or sense the wall behind him become pregnant with dozens of screaming faces.
He doesn’t hear the music box on his dresser playing a song backward before flooding the room with dozens of bile crickets.
He just senses the pressure of my hand and feels protected enough to close his eyes. He’s asleep a minute later.
I don’t know how to tell him these things. I don’t know how to tell him to not be afraid of the things that rummage around my imagination. And I realize that it’s something no one has ever taught me. I know how to boost him up on my shoulders for balance. I know how to explain how bridges are built and where rain comes from. But I can’t explain to my son that I write nightmares for people. That daddy is in the business of dressing up his own terrors for people he will never meet. That my sole purpose in life is to have them turn on all of their lights and check under their beds.
More importantly, I don’t know how to tell him that fear is very real— for me, for everyone. That while there may not be ghosts or monsters out in the world, there are worse things that keep me up at night. I am common acquaintances with severed heads and ten foot spiders, but I wake up screaming at night, too. But these dreams include him walking into traffic or drowning. I don’t know how to tell him how daddy walks to this room at night, shaking, and looks through his doorway just to make sure that his dreams remain dreams.
This night, I turn to leave his room and I think I whisper a good night as I close the door behind me.
Alcy Leyva is a Bronx-born writer who enjoys fiction and likes to prod at its dark corners for strange interlopers. He taps into elements of fantasy and dark humor, but tends to roam around tirelessly for the next great project. He enjoys movies, gummi bears, and the word “schadenfreude”. You can find more of his work at AlcyLeyva.Weebly.com.