The rain kept Julie awake. It always did. It drummed against the window in a persistent patter as rhythmically as Rob’s breathing next to her. Neither lulled her. They only served to disturb the thing under the bed.
Julie curled herself into a foetal position and backed herself into Rob’s warm body. The blanket was tucked tightly around them both, its weight reassuring and restrictive, preventing limbs from escaping and dangling out.
Still she could sense the thing lurking.
“Rob,” she said, shaking him awake, “under the bed.”
Rob groaned, switching on the bedside lamp and clambering out mechanically.
“Nothing. As usual,” he said, climbing back under the sheets.
He was less obliging these days. At first he thought it was adorable. Indulging her childish fancies, he would check inside the wardrobe as well and even bought her a ladybird nightlight, which glowed red. Over time though it became tedious. Sleep deprivation was serious, he’d said, and he had to be up early for work.
Julie had work too she wanted to remind him. What about her sleep deprivation? The creature under her bed didn’t care about all that, about the havoc it was wreaking on her relationships. And Rob would soon tire of playing the rescuer each night.
With the approach of daylight, Julie faced the space under the bed. It had become a haven for forgotten things. Space was a premium in her one-bed flat but under the bed was unclaimed territory, a refuge for miscellany. Everything that didn’t belong belonged here.
There was no indication of the thing. Julie half expected there to be telltale signs; a nest of valentines cards and photos, teeth marks on the corners of shoe boxes, maybe beastly hoof-prints in the dust. But there was nothing.
Instead Julie pulled out a pair of dusty trainers. It was about time to begin jogging again, she reasoned. About time to exorcise those extra pounds she’d put on, which she inevitably did at the beginning of a new relationship. When everything was good. Before her secret reared its ugly head.
Rob was waiting for her when she returned from her jog that evening. He wanted to talk. Rob was much better at it, since he was clinically trained. Perhaps that was why she’d been attracted to him: that he had the potential to fix her.
“We’ve got to do something about that junk under the bed,” he said, “it’s unhealthy. The stuff juts out and trips you up, plus the dust upsets my sinuses. Also, I really think you could do with letting a few things go.”
“You mean have a car boot sale or something?”
“Maybe. But you’re obviously holding onto that stuff for a reason. You should confront it, put it away, or get rid of it.”
Julie didn’t really want to confront it. Who knew what she would find? Plus the stuff was a kind of buffer between her and…
“I don’t know.”
“You’re clearly fabricating monsters because of the negative associations you’ve accumulated under there. It’s time you accommodated me in your life and until you do this, I just don’t think there’s room.”
Julie hated it when he spoke in psychobabble and even more when it was directed at her. Still, he’d laid his cards down. It was him or her stuff.
It took Julie the rest of the evening. She hauled out cardboard boxes containing keepsakes and mementoes; teddy bears won at the fairground by old boyfriends, school books etched with love hearts and photo albums of loves lost. Some boxes were labelled, Sam 2001, Pete xmas 1998, Dan 2005-6, others were not, and she was ambushed by dead relationships preserved beneath bubble wrap and tissue paper.
There was no room anywhere else in her tiny flat, so she pushed everything to the periphery of the bedroom, ready to take out with the bins the next day.
Rob was impressed, though he had to step over the debris to reach the bed in the middle. Julie cast one last look under the bed at the vacuous space she’d created. A huge, hollow emptiness. There was no thing.
Content at having faced her demons, she fell almost instantly asleep.
Rob, on the other hand, couldn’t quite unwind; perhaps it was being surrounded by Julie’s baggage, both literal and emotional, or maybe it was the sense of something close by.
And then he heard it. A sound so faint it was almost a whisper, so soft that he doubted whether he’d heard anything at all. It sounded like a muffled scream. Coming unmistakably from under the bed.
Rob thought about waking Julie but, illuminated by the glow of the nightlight, she looked so peaceful. Besides, he was the man of the house, at the frontline to protect Julie from fears real or imagined. It was a bedtime ritual he’d hoped to have vanquished but he found himself pulling aside the covers and kneeling in the dark.
He looked tentatively underneath.
Crouching in the darkness, the thing stared back at him.
Rob wanted to move but his body didn’t react. Only when the creature scurried towards him did he manage to retreat but by then it had grasped his ankle and was pulling him under.
“Julie!” Rob called. “Jul–”
He hit his head as his other leg was whipped out from under him. From the floor the world above seemed hazy and the wall of junk engulfed him. He was concussed. The boxes couldn’t do that, he told himself. The room could not close in on itself. Yet he was being dragged along the floor, under the bed, followed by cardboard boxes, teddy bears and photo albums.
“Julie!” he called again. “Julie!”
But muffled by the remains of Julie’s failed relationships all that emerged was a murmur too soft to be heard. And above, Julie rolled over, sleeping soundly.
WRITTEN BY V.H. LESLIE
ILLUSTRATED BY TIM SPARVERO
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