Note: This is a horror story
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This story was written from the heart.
Night was always the worst. When her phone was set aside and the lights were off, Diya could feel it creeping up, starting at her feet and drawing up her body like heavy stones crushing the breath from her chest. It started as a nagging, then grew until tears filled her eyes. A thunderous headache left her reeling–it wasn’t really a headache, but she had no better term for the pressure building in her skull, telling her to bash her head against a wall to relieve it.
It didn’t work. She had tried, and maybe for a brief few moments–an hour if she were lucky–the pressure would be gone and she would feel relief. But come morning, such violent acts never served her beyond a bruise or a dull ache, so she instead fought it and lay in the darkness staring at what she knew to be a mirror, but could not see without the light.
She sighed and sank deeper into the feeling.
A scraping shook her from her apathy; a sound like the floorboards were slowly being pried up and something was trying to make a home beneath her bed.
Then the mattress quivered and she sat up.
An earthquake? She flipped on the light to look around. The dying fern in the corner wasn’t swaying–a stark reminder that she was incapable of caring for even a dog, or so she told herself after demoting her attempts at caregiving to plants. The last time she fostered ended in a fit of tears and her hair balled into fists over an accident on the carpet. A minor inconvenience, which made her feel worse to recall how she had overreacted by collapsing into sobs.
She turned from the plant, looking at the mirror–but never herself–and the walls and the floor.
Satisfied there was no imminent danger from her cursory investigation, she dropped back onto her pillow and picked up her phone.
No messages. No emails. No notifications, not even from the overly-intrusive apps that wouldn’t shut up and normally kept her company.
She scrolled through neverending social media feeds. Pictures of friends with drinks. A new baby. Political statuses rueing the state of the world.
It distracted her from the feeling of something creeping out beneath her bed, but it didn’t make her feel better. If anything, she felt the same, but in a different and frantic way. Apathy turned to helplessness. Loneliness to purposeful isolation.
Tears welled in her eyes as she scrolled through her contacts. Someone. She needed to talk to someone about anything, but the more she scrolled, the more of a burden she felt, weighing heavy on even her own chest.
She set her phone down in forfeit, turned the light off, and lay curled on her side, listening to the scraping beneath her bed grow louder.
Dinner was supposed to be fun. It was fun. Diya remembered joking with her friends and clinking their glasses together over every little thing. Everyone smiled and hugged and admired each other.
So why did it feel like none of that had happened? Why was she more exhausted than before? Why was she so ashamed to have existed in the world for one night?
Her jacket slipped from her fingers into a crumpled heap on the ground, and she fell back in bed, makeup still smudged around her eyes from trying to rub it off with her fingers.
She had listened to their stories, sitting to the side and smiling. Laughing. All of it piling on top of her until her shoulders were so heavy she couldn’t stand up straight. Their joy was all too much as she cracked and crumbled.
She undressed and lay with her feet dangling off the edge of the bed, her toes brushing the wooden floor. With no reason to stay awake, she flicked off her bedside lamp; the scraping resumed beneath her.
Logic would dictate she look for the source. She should flip on the lights, get on her hands and knees, and find whatever rodent was making a home in her room. When she didn’t find anything, she would call pest control to pull her poor friend from its new home and release it somewhere better.
But she lay still instead, staring at the moonlight casting slits across the ceiling from between her blinds.
What was that scraping? No rodent made noises that loud, nor would a simple rat make her whole bed quiver.
A warmth slid around her ankle–heart in her throat, she yanked her feet up before the intruder could grab her.
Whatever it was was not furry, and she could hear its rasping breath heaving and the floorboards cracking.
It was certainly larger than a rat.
Just the sound of it made her chest want to cave in and now it had a body.
“Why don’t you come down here?”
Her body went rigid at the voice echoing beneath her bed. A deep growl beckoning her to succumb.
“It’s not so bad. It’s peaceful.”
She pulled herself to the center of her bed and curled into a ball. That was no animal.
Diya had sat on the shower floor for over an hour, hot water running down the drain until only cool water was pumping from the showerhead. She was stuck thinking of all the reasons she was worthless.
In truth, none of the reasons were good, but she believed them anyway, repeating insults to herself like mantras and clutching her knees to her chest.
But at least she had showered. She was successful in lathering her body and massaging her scalp–the first time in a while she had washed her hair. A victory she found hard to celebrate as she pulled on pajamas and dropped into bed.
Wet hair splayed on her pillow, she lay staring out the window, away from the lamp still keeping the room bright. The light chased away the scraping and the breathing. She felt safer with the light on.
Darkness was no ally. It never had been, sinking her into the dark abyss of her mind, but now it was worse, a beast beckoning her beneath the bed. And she almost wanted to trust it.
No, she chided herself, she couldn’t succumb. She didn’t want to know what was under there.
She rolled over and pulled the blanket over her head–still too bright, but now too hot. She flung off the blanket with a groan, sticking one foot out the bottom, then quickly retreating it back underneath the safety of her covers. The act felt childish, but there was something trying to drag her down. She swore it, and if she turned off the light or let her toes dangle over the edge, it would get her.
She buried her face in her pillow to hide she was crying, exhausted from doing nothing and now sobbing because she couldn’t fall asleep and she couldn’t turn off the light and what if it got her?
And yet she had to sleep. Staying up all night would only make her feel worse and all her attempts to sleep elsewhere were futile. Her hand shook, reaching for the light switch.
The movement was swift. She flicked off the light, shot her hand beneath the blanket, and snuggled deep into her pillow.
The scraping started–as she expected–though it was more determined than before. Giant claws raked from beneath the floor, prying apart floorboards and making the nails squeal in protest.
Something clattered–she could only picture a creeping hand dropping aside one of the boards.
Her heart jumped to her throat as it dragged what sounded like a sack pulled across the wood floor. Its body? How big was it? She held her breath and kept still as the room fell silent and the side of her bed sank.
“Won’t you join me, Diya? There’s room for two.“
She tried to act like nothing more than a lump on the bed. Maybe if it–he thought she was asleep, he would go away.
The bed jostled; he was climbing on.
“You’re trembling.” His weight sank on either side of her, trapping her on the mattress.
In her fear, a whimper slipped from her throat and he laughed–the harsh sound echoing off the walls and shaking the room.
“What are you afraid of? The monster under your bed?“
“Go away.” She pulled the blanket up higher. “I won’t go with you.”
“Why not?” His fingers–claws?–traced her hair.
She yanked the blanket over her head, quivering and heart pounding in her ears.
“Leave me alone,” she sobbed.
“You don’t want to be alone,” he hissed so close she could feel the warmth of his breath through the blanket. “Why not come with me?“
She squeezed her eyes shut. There was no reasoning with something like him. All that could be done was push him away and remind herself she was better off curled in bed trying to ignore him, even if this was another tedious and sleepless night.
He shook the bed.
Again, he shook the bed.
“You can stay if you want, but you have to let me sleep.”
“No.” He raked his fingers down her side. “I will stay and I won’t let you sleep.”
She shot up, ready to turn on the light, but he caught her wrist.
They were face to face. Though she couldn’t make him out, she could feel his breath wrap around her and his heat caress her skin.
He lowered her hand, coaxing her onto her side and lying behind her, holding her like a lover. He even raked his nails through her hair, humming an old lullaby she swore her mother had made up.
She wasn’t sure how she could sleep with a strange monster holding her, but her other option was to stay awake and lie rigid all night beside him, so she closed her eyes and tried to relax. Sleep was no easy feat for her, but it did come despite the persistent petting and humming of her new companion.
Diya gripped a pot to her chest, her new spider plant quivered with every step as she roamed around her room looking for a spot. The fern was gone and according to her brief research, spider plants were easier.
‘Resilient’ was the word used. Resilient was what she needed.
She decided on the bedside table, beside her water bottle. It would be harder to forget if it was nearby and it would be easier to water. She was also told they were good for the air.
Maybe it would help. She set it down, poured a little water from her bottle into it, then took a sip herself.
“A plant?” The lights went out, but that was normal by then. After weeks of spending every night with his breath down the back of her neck, it didn’t bother her anymore to feel the bed sag and his presence peer over her shoulder.
He was an old friend. A familiar friend.
“You love plants.”
“I want a dog.” She reached out to stroke one of the leaves.
“Then get a dog.”
“Let me try with a plant first.” She pushed back, settling against his chest and staring at the stars out the window. “What should we name it?”
She smiled to herself. “That’s what I call you.”
“Little Monster, then.”
He let out a grumble. “I want to name it Monster.“
“You want a lot of things. I’m calling it Enid.” She tried not to think of how her heart still sank and skin prickled when his fingers brushed against her arms, like he was trying to tug her away.
“Does Enid make you feel better?” His fingers wound into her hair.
“I think so. I’m going to tell her when I’m upset. She’ll know all my secrets.”
“Why not come with me instead?” He always offered to whisk her away.
She wasn’t sure where he wanted to take her. The one time he tried to explain, it was a vast concept that went over her head and left her more confused than before. When simplified, he only said, “You will hurt less.”
She didn’t like that answer and she didn’t like his offers, but no matter how many times she told him she wouldn’t, he didn’t stop.
When she didn’t reply, he leaned his chin on her shoulder. “Come with me.”
“I want to be with Enid.”
It hadn’t been long enough for Enid to do much–not that Enid would ever do much–but the plant still made Diya smile. She had butterflies fluttering about her stomach, like when meeting a new friend.
Though deep in her heart, she wondered if she could mess up with this plant too.
His hulking silhouette was already over her, blocking out the moonlight splashed across her ceiling. Had he gotten bigger?
She was tracing his face with her fingers, trying to understand the contours of his cheekbones and jaw, how his lips rested and what kind of point his nose had.
Impossible to piece together in the dark, she tried to picture him anyway. It distracted her to stare up at him and ponder his existence. The point wasn’t to understand what he looked like. It was to keep her mind from years of shameful memories. Painful nights in darkness. Loneliness.
He leaned down to press his lips to her throat. “Come with me,” he spoke so sweetly, taking the route now of seducing her into leaving with him. It had yet to work, though the temptation grew each day as she stopped checking her phone. Stopped going out. Slept during the day and stared at him through the night.
No one seemed to notice how she had disappeared, though she certainly realized the lack of attention as she faded away.
Despite the resentment brooding in her heart, she knew it was no one’s fault. Or rather, she knew better than to blame anyone. She didn’t want to be a burden, so she didn’t reach out when, unbeknownst to her, it was harder to watch her disappear than it was to hear her sufferings. But no one had told her that, so she shrank away into the darkness with only her monster and Enid to keep her company.
“What do you look like?” She dragged her thumb across his lips.
“Come with me.“
“Show yourself to me, then I’ll consider it.”
He let out a soft chuckle, sinking his weight on top of her and brushing her hair from her face. “No, you won’t.“
She wrinkled her nose, hoping he could see her annoyance. “Why can’t I see you?”
“Come with me.“
She pushed him off and turned away, but he stayed beside her, wrapping himself around her and nuzzling the side of her neck.
“Tempting. No.” She elbowed him in the ribs, but it didn’t shake him off.
Instead he latched on harder, kissing the back of her neck and muttering against her skin, “Come with me.”
The lights were already off. Diya hadn’t even turned them on that day, but instead was curled on the floor at the foot of her bed.
Her phone screen lit up her room every few moments as messages barraged her.
“Why am I like this?” She dropped her forehead to her knees.
“What happened?” His voice snaked out from beside her. Arms wrapped around her waist, holding her tight and pulling her against the bed.
“I bailed on my friends. Again.”
“Is that so bad?” More hands slipped around her, gripping her wrists and ankles. Her shoulders and hips.
“They were supposed to come over and I told them not to.” She reached out to his hand. “Why couldn’t I just let them come over? They’re all so upset now.”
Her phone blinked again. Hopefully they had stopped saying how disappointed they were. One had even pointed out this was always what she did. “Not again…” her friend had messaged.
It was the last one Diya had seen.
His grip loosened a moment, then she was pulled against him, his arms wrapped around her, holding her tight.
“Why did you change your mind?“
“I don’t know!” She clung to him, burying her face in the side of what she assumed was his neck–was he just a man? “I don’t know. I wanted to be alone.”
“You hate being alone.”
The room fell silent. Cars drove past outside; the roar of engines keeping Diya grounded in reality when she wanted nothing more than to fade away.
“Why aren’t you asking me to go with you?”
“I wouldn’t stop you.”
He let out a soft laugh that wasn’t so terrifying this time, but friendly and endeared.
The second he waited to move was long enough for her to change her mind. She didn’t want to go with him. After how kind and gentle he had been, it seemed a good idea, but she didn’t want to leave behind the angry texts or darkness. She didn’t want to shirk her responsibilities.
Yet a moment of weakness later, her legs were yanked back and her face slammed into the wooden floor.
“Come with me!”
“Wait!” She tried to pull herself away. “I don’t want to! I don’t want any of this!”
Claws clamped shut around her ankles and dragged her back. “Come with me!” Thousands of hands scurried up her body, tugging at her clothes and sinking into her skin, trying to pull her down with him.
He was ripping her apart. It would have been easier to let him win, but she dug her nails into the floor and–with every ounce of strength left in her body–began pulling herself away.
She screamed; no one would hear her. No one ever did when she screamed for help. Alone and in the dark, she kicked at him.
“COME WITH ME!” he screamed until her ears rang and she could hear nothing but his beloved phrase bouncing off every surface and pummeling her into the ground.
But she was more stubborn than he, and she pulled and kicked and dragged and fought until her fingers bled and her chest heaved.
Every time she had scrambled away, he snatched her again, pulling her back toward his hovel. She would beg for help. He would scream. She would fight. He would pull.
It went on for hours.
Once, she had even dragged herself onto the bed, but he found a way to pull her off.
Would this be every night? She couldn’t do this every night.
Morning came and she felt sick, lying on the floor and staring beneath the bed. But as bad as she felt and as battered as she was, she was there. She had fought him back armed with only her own will and determination and saw the sunrise.
Diya clutched Enid to her chest, rocking back and forth on the floor and whispering to the plant.
“I don’t want to go.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I want to stop feeling like this. I want him to go away.”
Intrusive thoughts swarmed her like thousands of insects skittering across her skin. Her skull pounded as insults ricocheted within. Her fingers ached. Her heart was broken. Exhaustion left her limbs heavy as lead.
She let out a sob and held Enid tighter as the sun blinked below the horizon.
He was coming. He had grown. Even with the dusky orange still tinting the sky, his scraping began, dragging himself from the cavernous depths beneath her bed.
Before it was too late, she scrawled a note–a plea–that someone save her. Someone find her before he dragged her under. They would think she hadn’t fought until her nails broke. They would talk about how she gave up. That she let him take her.
As the sky darkened to a musty brown, and his ragged breath teased from beneath the bed, she crumpled the note and tossed it in the trash.
Diya gave Enid one more drink of water before diving beneath her blankets and clutching a flashlight to her chest. She had never been one to pray, but that night, as the bed sagged beneath his weight and the lights exploded around her, she did.
She asked the gods to save her.
Through her blankets, she could see the last of the light die out and feel the glass shards rain down on her.
He bunched the blanket at her side. She tried to hold it as he ripped it off, but her efforts were in vain as the fabric drifted to the ground.
She turned on the flashlight, shining it where she swore his face would be, but revealing only the blank ceiling instead.
He chuckled in her ear. “Come with me.”
She leapt off the bed, flinging the flashlight at him. Had he dodged it? His fingers clamped around her wrist yanking her back.
“Let me go!” she screamed, trying to hit him as he tripped her.
She tumbled to the ground and he was over her, cackling and repeating himself over and over, “Come with me! Come with me! Come with me!”
She shrieked in pain, clamping her hands over her ears, but his rasping cries were ingrained in her head, thundering inside of her. Hands rushed up her body, pulling at her clothes and tugging her back toward the bed.
“N-no! Stop!” She jerked her knee up, slamming it into him and winding him long enough to scramble to her feet and break for the door.
She slammed into his chest. How–she didn’t have time to ponder his speed as he yanked her up by the arm until her toes barely grazed the ground.
“Please,” she begged, what little fight she had draining from her body. “I don’t want this.”
His grip tightened, dragging her back without a word.
She tried prying off his fingers, screaming, kicking. He would not relent until a well placed kick hit him in the ribs, and he grunted, dropping her to the ground.
If she couldn’t run, she had to fight. But she was tired. So, so tired.
She threw a punch, screaming at him, “Leave me alone!”
He ducked it, or evaporated, or whatever it was he did that made him so impossible to hit most of the time, and returned her blow by slamming something into her face that smashed on the ground between them.
She dropped, fading in and out as slick, warm blood slipped across her face.
Her cheek was pressed against damp grains. A petrichor scent. Soil.
She blinked, and her eyes adjusted. A plant lay on its side in a heap of dirt, the pot smashed around it.
He started at her feet, drawing up her body and dragging her into the darkness beneath her bed.
If you are struggling, please reach out. No matter what you may feel or what depression may tell you, you are not alone and people want you around. I promise there is a community for you. There are people who love you and more waiting to meet you. There is more in this world that is worth it.
You do not need to fight your monsters alone. I–for one–am with you.
Reader, I encourage you to reach out to one person today. Reach out to a friend–even one you may have just spoken to–and ask how they are. Encourage them to talk, be it about their feelings, health, or even hobbies. Creating space for people to speak can go a long way.
Someone else’s mental health is never your fault or responsibility, but small things do make a difference.
For the monster under my bed, for pushing me to write, if only to chase you away.
Thank you to the people who have given me armor in the bleakest times, there are too many to mention here, but I plan to remind you regularly who you are. You may not realize the difference you made, but it was a large one and it is not lost on me.
To my husband for reading everything, holding me, making me laugh, letting me talk, and being the best Overcooked sous-chef ever.
To Kevin for encouraging me to do the art on this piece, helping me figure out how to finish this, and being an amazing friend. Sumimasen, watashiwa ringo desu.
To Sara for not only reading this, not only always hyping me, but also being among the first to remind me you’re there when I need it. Who else can I talk to about prickly pears?
To Will for always being willing to help out and let me ask you questions as well as beta-reading and being an awesome person.
To Peter for being one of my best friends. Not only because you read literally everything, but because you’re always there for me, through the good and bad, and your honesty and openness had pushed me in the right direction. Hopefully we can watch wrestling again soon.
To KJ for being a rock and ray of light always, as well as reigning in my love of short, janky paragraphs.
Art by me.