Copyright 2018 by Chris Benedict
The scritchy, slithering sound came from beneath Stephanie’s bed again. “Daddy!” she screamed.
“What’s wrong?” His father, sleepy and rubbing his eyes came to the door. “Do you want a drink of water?”
“Daddy, there’s a monster under my bed!” Stephanie squealed. “I heard it! I told you it’s there!”
“Oh… Steph, honey.” Her dad sat on the bed beside her, wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulders. “We’ve been over this. It’s just your imagination. All kids think there’s a monster under there.”
Stephanie gripped her teddy bear tightly. “I didn’t imagine it.” Just like she hadn’t imagined it every night since she got her own room. But he hadn’t believed her any of those times, either. Just like mommy hadn’t believed she’d seen the shadow of a giant daddy-longlegs on her closet door, last Thursday.
But no matter how she insisted, Dad just smiled and tried to get her to think of other things. Happy thoughts, he called them. All too soon he made excuses and left the room.
She wanted to believe her daddy. She really did. But her ‘magination was too strong. She heard the monster again, shifty-shifting underneath her mattress. Little, furtive sounds. Quick as could be so she wouldn’t get caught by it, she snapped on the lamp. Silence.
Stephanie had become quite tired, waiting for the monster to make another sound. Her eyelids kept drooping shut. Making sure she had a tight grip on teddy, she tucked the sheet tightly around her body so nothing could sneak in and get her. Then, with the blanket over her head except for an air tunnel, she finally let herself sleep.
The tapping woke her in a start of terror. Until she realized it had come from the window, not from under the bed. A man was outside. He smiled at her through the glass. “Hello little girl,” he said, tapping the window. “Have you seen a puppy around here?”
“A puppy?” Instantly Stephanie was interested. She was no longer a bit tired. She bounced over to the bench under the window.
“Yes, a cute little puppy. She ran away and I need help finding her.”
Stephanie looked at him critically. “I don’t know you,” she said like she was supposed to say to strangers.
But the man was pushing at the window, trying to push it open. “Please, I’m worried about her. She’s been missing all day and she needs her medicine.” His eyes were big and his mouth was sad.
Stephanie thought about how the puppy would suffer if she couldn’t get her medicine. She was probably scared and lonely in the darkness, and wanted to go home. But maybe she was scared to approach the man.
A puppy wouldn’t be scared of her, that was certain. Puppies always loved her. She released the latch and the window opened.
The man was smiling again. “Come on,” he ordered, holding out his hands. “I’ll help you down so you don’t hurt yourself.”
Stephanie leaned forward, reaching for his hands. When suddenly, a spindly, spidery creature with long legs like bendy-straws darted out from the shadows beneath her bed. Quicker than a blink, it surged forward and snipped off the man’s head.
Mommy and daddy came running to her screams, but the man at the window was already dead. When she told them what had happened, they exchanged a look.
“She’s too young,” mommy said, hugging Stephanie’s head gently against her chest.
“We have to tell her. She’s seen him,” daddy argued. They led her into the other room, quietly shutting the door. Stephanie thought she heard the scritchy noise again, but they led her firmly to the far end of the house.
“I told you there was a monster,” she accused them with tears in her angry eyes. “Now do you believe me?”
“Oh, we knew there was something under your bed,” mommy explained. “But he isn’t a monster. The harvestman is a protector. What did that man want from you? Why was your window open?”
“The puppy!” In her terror Stephanie had forgotten all about it. “I was s’posed to help him find her. She needs her medicine, we have to look!”
Again mommy and daddy exchanged looks of concern. “Steph… that man lied to you,” daddy told her soberly in a voice that he usually used for talking to other grownups. “There was no puppy. He was going to kidnap you.”
“That’s why the harvestman took him,” mommy said. “The harvestman knows. He protects the innocent.”
They let her sleep in their bed that night, snuggled safely between them where nothing would dare to come after her. And in the morning, every trace of the bad man had conveniently disappeared.
“Good night, Stephanie,” daddy told her the next night after stories, before he tucked her into bed and turned out the lamp.
“And good night, mister harvestman,” Stephanie said softly as she heard a soft skitter-scratch from under the bed.