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It came when the night was most quiet and still; when trees stood rigid outside the window, and stars littered the black satin sky. Deep slumber fell upon everyone; nothing stirred, but the monster and I.
The door creaked, and steady snoring drifted in from the hallway. I welcomed the sound and wished it would stay; but like my hope, it disappeared when the door clicked. It glided across the room, soundless like falling petals, and stopped at the foot of my bed. Its monstrous form blocked the moonlight from the window, casting a heavy shadow over me. Engulfed in darkness, my heart beat violently, loud thumping exploding in my ears. The monster had arrived.
It first came to me a week after I started kindergarten. I was prancing through a field of flowers when a kaleidoscope of butterflies, black wings dipped with the blue of the ocean, came circling around me. Hundreds of fluttering wings caressed my skin, some landed on my eyes, some on my lips, sending a strange but pleasant sensation coursing through me. I twirled in their embrace, my feet moved to a rhythm unknown to me, feeling weightless in the column of air they created. I smiled. It was the sweetest dream.
The monster wasn’t always a fearsome creature. Its first few visits were pleasant. When the day surrendered to night, and the dark unknown began to roam; I yearned for that dip in the bed, knowing soon I would be frolicking with the butterflies again. But our dance took a sinister turn nearing my sixth birthday, and the kaleidoscope of butterflies became more ominous than the creeping shadows I once feared. They pushed me down, pressing against my body with the weight of a mountain. Immobilised by fear, I laid inert, too frightened to open my eyes or even whimper. They sneaked under my blanket, and their once soft wings felt cold and sharp against my legs. Pain surged up to my stomach as tears slipped from my eyes.
The monster was as real as the salt in my tears, but my parents never believed me. Mother insisted that it was a repeating bad dream that would eventually go away as I grew older. Father used to check under my bed, but he stopped caring when I started primary school. He said I was too old to believe in bogeymen.
Three years later, it still visited me often. I had since surrendered to it, and kept very still and quiet until the pain ceased. The monster never uttered a word to me. The temporary crescent indentations on my cheeks left by its claws, and a simple soft “Sshhhh” by my ear were enough to hush me up.
Now as the monster descended upon me, dread paralysed my body. It lifted the blanket from my feet and spread it over my face. Head pounding, throat seizing, my lungs starved for air. I shut my eyes, and my mind wandered back to last Sunday, when I saw mother slaughter a chicken given to us by a neighbour two months ago. Father said we needed to fatten it up, so he sent me to feed the chicken everyday. Mother saw me peeping from the kitchen window, and waved me to move away; but I didn’t budge. Without waiting for my retreat, she turned back to the chicken and slit its throat without hesitation. I cried.
I was still crying when I watched mother wash the blood off her hands, and put everything back to its order in the kitchen. She didn’t look at me nor did she say a word until we sat down for dinner. “Eat your chicken,” she said. But I couldn’t. I told them I named it Nissa. Father looked up from his plate, and laughed. He called me a silly girl, and proceeded to lick the grease off his fingers. Mother didn’t respond. Her face was unreadable. I shook my head and left the table.
The monster was leaning closer to me now, spraying its warm breath onto the blanket covering my face. It always did that when it was ready to slip out of the room. I forced my eyes open, tears flowed like a broken levee and pooled in my ears. I thought of mother, the determination on her face. I borrowed her courage, pulled down the blanket and scratched at the monster as I screamed until my lungs burned.
Footsteps thundered outside the hallway. The door flew open, and light flooded the room. The monster turned to face the intruder, and met another monster with eyes inflamed with anger and despair. With one swift move, mother slit the monster’s throat, just like she did with Nissa. It fell off the bed and crashed to the floor. Mother dropped to her knees, screaming and crying while her nightgown soaked up the blood flowing from the lifeless body next to her.
“He said he would stop,” said mother, over and over with the knife still in her hand.
I looked over the edge of my bed. On the floor laid the monster, my father.
Cover image by Damien Hirst