Copyright 2018 by Chris Benedict
The skitter-scratch, slithering sound came from beneath Stephanie’s bed again. “Daddy!” she screamed.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” Her father, sleepy and rubbing his eyes came to the door. “Do you want a drink of water?”
“Daddy, I heard it again!” Stephanie squealed. “There’s a monster under my bed!”
“Oh… Steph, sweetie.” Daddy 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 ‘magine it.” Just like she hadn’t imagined hearing it, every night since she got her own room. But he hadn’t believed her any of those other times, either. Just like Mommy hadn’t believed when she saw the shadow of a giant daddy-longlegs on her wall.
No matter how she insisted, Daddy just smiled and told her to think happy thoughts — balloons and bicycles and kittens and butterflies. All too soon he made excuses and went back to bed, leaving her alone again with the scary noises.
She wanted to believe 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.
Stephanie held her breath, waiting for the monster to make another sound. But 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. “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 her window, trying to open it. “Please help me, I’m so worried. 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. Stephanie knew she had to help. Maybe the puppy was scared of the man. But puppies weren’t scared of Stephanie, 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.
Quicker than a blink, a spindly, spidery creature with long legs like bendy-straws darted out from the shadows beneath her bed. Its jaws opened wide 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 happened, they exchanged a look of concern.
“She’s too young,” Mommy said, hugging Stephanie’s head gently against her chest. “It’s too scary.”
“We have to tell her. She’s seen him,” Daddy argued.
They led her from her bedroom, 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,” Stephanie 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 the harvestman isn’t a monster — he’s a protector.”
“What did that man want from you? Why was your window open?” Daddy asked.
“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. “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.”
Mommy and Daddy 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, sweetie.” Daddy kissed her forehead and tucked her in, after stories the next night.
“Good night, Daddy.” Stephanie cuddled Teddy in her arms, snuggling down under her covers as Daddy turned out her lamp and left.
“And good night, mister harvestman,” Stephanie whispered, as she heard a soft skitter-scratch from under the bed.