‘Look, there’s no such thing as monsters.’ Erin wiped tears from the cheeks of her crying six-year-old and pulled the blanket up around his shoulders.
‘There – is – I – saw – it!’ Sobs punctuated his words.
Erin sighed. Zach had always had nightmares, but over the last few months, they’d got worse. Every night he’d wake screaming, and she’d end up sprinting across the hall to his bedroom to find him shaking in the middle of his bed.
She’d taken him to doctors and counsellors, all to no avail. They’d each suggested that the recent change in their living arrangements – moving from her parents’ large country house to their small two-bedroom apartment in the city had unsettled him. They’d assured her he’d settle soon enough, but he hadn’t.
After a referral from their family doctor, Zach had been to see a sleep disorder specialist.
‘Why does he still wake up screaming every night, doctor?’ Erin had asked. ‘Everyone else I’ve seen tells me he’ll stop, but they can’t tell me when that will be.’
‘The reasons for nightmares vary’,’ he said, looking at her across his desk. ‘Some kids who go through a lot of stress or worry tend to have a problem with bad dreams. It could also be the case that he’s seen a movie or something on tv that wasn’t age appropriate.’
‘He doesn’t see anything inappropriate, I’m always careful with what he sees and hears.’
‘What about arguments? is there any tension at home? You’d be amazed at what kids can pick up on, they’re very intuitive.’
‘No,’ said Erin, ‘there’s just Zach and me.’
The specialist looked at his computer screen and read in silence for a few long moments as he scrolled through Zach’s notes. ‘From the looks of things, you’ve tried just about everything. Sedatives, meditation, talking therapy.’
‘Yes,’ said Erin, ‘but none of its worked.’
‘Yes, I can see that, and I suppose it’s difficult to get a six-year-old to sit long enough to mediate.’ He switched off his computer screen and sat back in his chair. ‘I’m afraid there’s not much more I can do at this stage. He’s still rather young for any sort of intensive treatment. My advice would be to stick with everything you’ve been doing. These things take time and it’s important to remember, there’s no magic cure. It’s all about trial and error.’
‘It’s all been error as far I’m concerned!’
She looked down at Zach, his head resting in her lap as she stroked his hair. ‘He only has little snippets of sleep like this. Little snatches here and there throughout the day but, come bedtime, all bets are off.’
‘Tell me,’ said the specialist, ‘how long is he asleep before he becomes distressed?’
‘Minutes. We have story time – nothing heavy, nothing scary – you know, just fluffy cheerful stories about dogs chasing tennis balls. When we finish one, he begs for another but a few pages in and he’s out like a light.’ She explained to him that once Zach drifted off, she would tiptoe out of his room, leaving the door open and the hall light on.
‘After ten minutes or so, almost like clockwork, he starts screaming – and it’s not a little scream either. You’d think someone was physically hurting him.’
‘Could that be possible?’ He asked.
‘Absolutely not. Not even remotely. I already told you there’s just the two of us, and if you’re implying-.’
‘Erin, I’m not implying anything. I have to ask, that’s all.’
‘But that’s all anyone ever asks’.’ She knew she sounded defensive, and she was, but she was tired and every time she brought Zach to someone for help, they asked her the same thing, and it irritated her. She felt like she couldn’t do anything right. ‘I just want him to have a full night of uninterrupted sleep.’
‘Well, I’ll prescribe a slightly stronger sedative to the one he’s had before and with a bit of luck, that’ll be enough to help him sleep through the night.’ He smiled, reaching for his prescription pad. ‘Then, hopefully, when he’s sleeping, you can get some rest yourself.’
‘All right,’ she said, ‘I suppose it’s worth a try.’ She had hoped that she would leave his office with a guaranteed solution; his title of specialist had given her hope, but she just felt fobbed off again.
‘Look, I know it can’t be easy, but most kids do just grow out of it,’ he told her as she put her jacket on.
Most. That’s what stuck in her mind. Most kids grow out of it. Meaning, some don’t. Would she be doing this forever? Was Zach going to scream the place down every single night for the rest of his life?
The specialist handed her the prescription, and she left. He had seemed confident that this new medication would work, but Erin wasn’t confident at all.
That had been a week ago now, and Erin had been giving Zach the medication every night. He was still having trouble.
‘If you really saw a monster,’ said Erin as she lay down beside Zach, ‘then tell me about it. What does it look like? Remember, that lovely lady with the mediation and whale music told us that saying what scares us out loud can help to make it seem smaller.’
‘It’s – the – same – as – always!’
It broke her heart when he cried so hard like that.
‘But what does it look like?’ She stroked his hair and, as she did, he calmed, breathing a little more deeply. ‘Describe it to me. Is it a big monster? is its small? Slimy? Hairy?’
‘It’s – a – a bug, – a giant bug – with big black eyes – and – and shiny skin.’
The thought of her baby dreaming about such things made her shudder. He had always been afraid of bugs, ever since he first learned to crawl and put his hand on a bee who’d stopped for a breather on the grass at the park. The bee had stung him defensively, and the memory had stayed with him.
‘You know that, really, bugs are kind and helpful creatures, though, right?’ She hugged him closer and felt him relax.
‘Yeah,’ he mumbled.
‘We need them to help make the world work. They help us grow our food, so if you look at it like that, we kind of work together with the bugs to look after the Earth, right?’
Moments later, he’d stopped crying completely, and his breaths were soft and even as he slowly drifted back off to sleep.
Erin lay there watching him. He looked so peaceful now, and yet she knew, all too soon, he would wake screaming again. She placed her head on the pillow next to his and listened to the snuffling noises he made while he slept, basking in the peaceful calm of his bedroom. Soon she was nodding off herself.
Sometime later, Erin awoke with a start. Zach was sitting bolt upright, screaming bloody murder and pointing to the pitch dark space between his open bedroom door and the wall.
‘Zach,’ she grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him gently. He continued to scream.
‘Come on Zach, please. Not tonight. I’m so tired, please be quiet. The neighbours’ll complain again.’
He turned to face her and for the first time, she realised that he wasn’t actually asleep. He was awake, his eyes wide with fright.
‘Baby, what is it? What’s wrong?’
He stopped screaming then, though his eyes darted between her face and the bedroom door.
‘The monster,’ he said, ‘it – it’s here!’
‘No, Zach, there are no such things as monsters. There’s only you and me here.’ She tried to pull his trembling body close to hers to comfort him, but he resisted.
‘Zach, come on, you’ve had a bad dream, that’s all, you need to sleep and-’
Then the floorboards creaked on the other side of the room, and as her head snapped up to look, a shape darker than the ambient gloom shifted in the shadowy space between the door and the wall.
Erin focused her eyes, certain they were playing tricks on her, but a moment later, the monster stepped out from behind the door. Large, black, bug-like eyes glowered at her, and its skin seemed to shimmer as it stepped into the single beam of moonlight streaking through the window.
It wasn’t a bug.
Zach started screaming again, and Erin pulled him close. It was all she could do, her screams joining his as the creature lunged towards them.
As always, thank you for spending your time with me and my words, I really do appreciate it and I hope you’ve enjoyed it! If you did, please feel free to like, comment and subscribe!
Until next time,
© 2021 GLT