The Monster by Tony Rauch

I hear an unexpected noise. It wakes me. It is a muffled shuffling in the night. I lay on my side and listen. Sounds like a gnashing of teeth, a familiar, almost comfortable sound, as if from my subconscious – a primitive, primal noise that I am strangely comfortable with. The gnashing stops, then starts again after a bit. It is a rough, confined mumble – as if originating from another room, or maybe from outside, or from a drawer, or from inside the walls, ceiling, or floor. I lie in bed as still as can be and listen for the mumble, trying to locate it, but it isn’t there anymore. I think about it more, as if thinking of it will bring it back. 

It is definitely a noise I’ve heard before – a tiny sniffing rattle deep in the night that I’ve felt through my slumber on many occasions. But then my mind wanders and after awhile I am almost asleep again. . . And then the noise returns. This time is it a rustling? . . Could it be a faint rumple? It is a sound I seem to remember from somewhere. It is vaguely recognizable, like I hear it from time to time – often enough that I almost remember it, but yet not so frequent that I don’t recognize it right off. 

“Who’s . . . Who’s there?” I stammer softly, but no one answers. The noise is clear and present. “Who’s there?!” I shout pleasantly, in a friendly non-demanding tone. 

“Who . . Who wants to know?” a timid answer squeaks, followed by a scratching noise. 

“Where are you?” I roll over onto my back to allow both my ears a clear listen. 

“I’m . . . I’m not here. . . I’m, ah, I’m not anywhere. . . You’re just dreaming. Go back to sleep now. Everything’s fine.” 

“Are you in my room?” 

“No. No one’s here. No one at all. You’re just sleeping. . . It’s nobody. . . Just a dream.” The voice is soft and enclosed. Some more tiny scratching sounds. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch

I sit up and listen closely. “I can hear you,” I say. I try to say it as friendly as possible. I’m in bed after all, and it is terribly terribly late, horrifically late and I’m tired and I don’t want any trouble. After a moment of silence, the soft rumbling returns – at first as a faint jostling, then the gentle scratching resumes. “Ah, there you are again,” I say with a smile. “See, I can still hear you.” Followed by a muffled squeaking. Then the slight rattle begins again. 

“Ah, no. No you don’t.” 

It still sounds like it’s coming from inside one of the walls or a drawer or closet or something. 

“You don’t hear anything. . . Nothing at all.”

I slowly, quietly, work my way out of bed, gently settle my feet onto the floor, slowly return the top portion of my blanket, now clutched in my hand, back to my bed. Carefully I step around the bed, tiptoeing to the door to flick on the light. 

There is an instant flash of sound. I leap and fling open my closet door and what do I find standing there before me in the sudden bright white light – crouching in embarrassment is an unspeakably grotesque, hairy little monster. “Ah ha,” I point. “There you are! Mr. Sly Boots. . . Look at you. Why you’re a little monster!” 

“Ah, no. No I’m not. I’m not a monster. You’re dreaming. Yeah, this is all just a dream,” he whispers, shooing me away with his curled little claw. He looks around, his bulging eyes darting. “Back to bed now, little boy.” 

I crouch and point, smiling at my discovery. 

“I’m not the monster, you’re the monster,” the monster’s eyes dart around. One of my favorite stripped T-shirts is hanging from one of his little horns. His big mouth is dripping a long, thin strand of drool down to the floor. His big tongue hangs out the side of his mouth between a jumble of crooked, yellow fangs. 

“So, it’s you,” I point, aghast. “You’re the one who’s been stretching out the necks on my striped T-shirts. . . And messing up my room. Playing with my toys. Leaving them out.” 

With shame, the monster just looks down to the floor and snorts, finally reaching a thick, scaly claw up to untangle the little garment from its poking, stubby little horn. 

I think about yelling at him, pointing, accusing, commanding him to return to where he has come from and leave my stuff alone, but seeing him crouching there like that, looking like a hairy little monster whose only wish in the entire world is to be a little boy, I can’t. I just can’t. Maybe he was a boy at one time and someone put a spell on him that turned him into this. Maybe I can show him how to be a boy, and then we would be pals. Maybe we could comb his hair, brush his teeth. What do looks matter? Looks just aren’t important when you get right down to it. All that matters is our friendship, someone to share things with. “It’ll be morning soon,” I sigh, placing my hands on my hips the way my mom does. “Would you care to stay awhile? My mom can fix us up some pancakes.” 

Tony Rauch has four books of short stories published – “I’m right here” (spout press), “Laredo” (Eraserhead Press), “Eyeballs growing all over me . . . again” (Eraserhead Press), and “What if I got down on my knees?” (Whistling Shade Press). He has been interviewed and/or reviewed by the Prague Post, the Oxford Univ student paper in England, Rain Taxi, the University of Cambridge paper, MIT paper, Georgetown University paper, Iowa State paper, and the Savanna College of Art and Design paper, among many other publications. He is looking for a publisher for additional titles he has finished and ready to go.