ABOUT THIS STORY: Along the same lines as FREE INSIDE I wanted to write something that was appealing to young people, as well as share a fear I had about the monster that lived under my bed when I was a child. So much for happy endings!


       Tommy, wearing a pair of mismatched pajamas, snuck out of the kitchen and on his way up the creaking steps when his mother caught him.
       “Thomas, where do you think you’re going with that?” his mother questioned.
       When Tommy spun to face her accusing stare, he held the object behind his back.
       “What?” he asked innocently.
       “You heard me, young man.” His mother tapped her foot on the floor and Tommy knew she wouldn’t tolerate much more. “Where do you think you’re going with that jar of jelly?”
       Tommy took the far from behind his back and managed big round eyes with surprise on his little face. “Gee, how did that get there?”
       His mother removed the jar from his two hands. “You think I was born yesterday. I bet you thought you’d take that jar up to your room and eat it all. Then you’d get a stomach ache and think you’d be able to stay home from school tomorrow.”
       “No I, ah. Well, no,” Tommy fumbled, unable to find courage for the truth.
       She put the jar of jelly on the table next to the stairs and escorted Tommy up to his room. “Come on, it’s getting late. As they entered his room, his mother tripping over a Tonka truck, she said, “Look at this pig sty! When you get home from school tomorrow, you’re going to clean this mess up. Is that understood?”
       Tommy nodded then climbed into bed. He pulled the covers up to his chin and looked back to his mother as she went to the doorway. She smiled slightly at him.
       “Good night.” Then she turned off the light and closed the door.
       Tommy lay in the silent darkness staring at the ceiling. The street lamp outside let shadows dance across his walls and ceiling from the tree limbs outside his window. Trembling in the dark Tommy knew there were no such things as witches and ghosts, but there were such things as monsters because one lived under his bed.
       “Did you get it?” it whispered from the dark.
       “I couldn’t,” Tommy replied. “She caught me.”
       “What?” Tommy felt the stirring from under the bed. “I’m hungry!”
       “I--I know! I can get you something later.”
       “You better or…” the thing started but didn’t need to finish. Both parties understood it.
       “I can get you anything you want,” Tommy offered.
       “I want some jelly!” Its low voice vibrated the bed frame in a bear’s growl.
       The room went silent again as sweat beaded on Tommy’s forehead. He didn’t like when it talked to him. Sometimes days went by before it spoke a word. Tonight it was hungry.
       “Tommy,” it hissed.
       “Yeah?” Tommy swallowed hard.
       “You stepped a little too close to the bed tonight. I told you I don’t like it when you get too close.”
       “I’m sorry, Jerry, it won’t happen again.”
       “It’d better not.”
       Staring at the ceiling, Tommy felt Jerry’s restless movements under the bed. More than when Jerry talked to him, Tommy hated when he moved around. After Jerry ceased movement, a few minutes went by before Tommy’s tension eased. He covered his head up in case Jerry decided to climb out from under the bed. Tommy didn’t want to see Jerry, had never seen Jerry. If Jerry wanted to lurk around the room at night, Tommy didn’t want to be caught watching for him.

It was around two in the morning when Tommy went downstairs and retrieved the jar of jelly Jerry had requested. Returning to his bedroom, Tommy slid the jar near the edge of the bed then jumped in from a safe distance, hoping it was far enough and the jar of jelly was enough to appease Jerry.

When Tommy arrived home from school, his mother greeted him in her usual manner and walked him to the kitchen. It was a little while before dinner.
       His mother wanted to know if he wanted a snack. “How about a nice peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”
       “Sure,” Tommy answered. On her way to the cupboard, Tommy’s brain squealed as recollection came the night before. “No wait! I changed my mind, I’m not hungry.”
       His mother’s hand hovered dangerously close to the cupboard handle. “That’s a switch.”
       “Can I go watch cartoons?”
       “Do you have homework?”
       “No.” So far, the first grade had been easy when it came to bringing work home.
       “Go ahead then.”
       Tommy plopped down on the couch to channel surf to the Cartoon Network. A satisfied smile pressed his lips because his mother’s short-term memory didn’t account for him cleaning his room. It was better this way he wouldn’t disturb Jerry.
       After supper again in his mismatched pajamas, Tommy was seated between his parents while they watched television. He hoped they’d overlooked the fact it was past his bedtime.
       “Come on Thomas,” his father ratted him out. “Time for bed.”
       “Ah dad, can’t I stay up a little longer? Tomorrow’s Saturday.”
       “No Tommy you can’t.” His mother leered down at him accusingly. “By the way, I went through the cupboard tonight and guess what I couldn’t find?”
       Tommy’ stomach fluttered. “What?”
       “Where’s that jar of jelly you had last night?”
       Tommy swallowed he couldn’t help himself. It was a sure sign he was about to lie. “I don’t know.”
       “Don’t lie to me, young man.” His mother’s tone sharpened.
       “I swear, I don’t know.”
       “Is it up in your room?”
       Tommy didn’t answer.
       “It’s probably under your bed, right?”
       “I don’t know where it is.” Tommy slid off the couch and started for the stairs.
       His mother grabbed him by the arm and spun him around. “Don’t you dare walk away from me when I’m talking to you. I know you’re lying because I found the empty jar at the foot of your bed earlier while you were in the bath.” Tommy looked to his father who sat silent, pretending to watch the television.
       “What’s gotten into you lately?” his mother asked her voice softer, disappointed. “You never lied to me before.”
       Tear erupted from Tommy’s eyes and rolled down his flushed cheeks. His breath came in short pants, and he started sputtering. “There’s a monster that lives under my bed. He told me if I don’t bring him food, he would eat me instead.” The tears turned into full on crying. He sobbed heavily. “He told me that if I told you about him he would eat me.”
       By that time, his father waited on the edge of the couch, rubbing his hands together, staring at Tommy with real interest. Then his father regarded his mother with a shrug.
       “How long has this thing been living under your bed?”
       With a shrug, Tommy said, “I don’t know.”
       It was his mother’s turn to question Tommy. “And do you feed him or It every night?”
       Tommy shook his head. “Not every night. Only sometimes when he gets really hungry.”
       The three of them remained silent for a long time. While his parents debated quietly about the mental health of their son, Tommy listened to any sounds from upstairs that made him think Jerry was overhearing their conversation. Tommy wiped his runny nose on the sleeve of his pajamas.
       His father stood. “I think I’ll go take a look under your bed so you can go up to bed.”
       “No, Dad! Don’t go up there!”
       He smiled down at Tommy, padding his head. “Don’t worry, Thomas, I’m experienced in situations like this.” Off his father went with his hands in his pockets and a smile creasing his thin lips.
       “You don’t believe me, do you?” he asked his mother as she sat down with him.
       She pushed the hair out of his eyes. “I believe that you think there’s something under your bed. But don’t worry, Dad’ll take care of everything.”
       Tommy sat on the couch next to his mother shivering, listening to his father’s footsteps marching up the stairs and into the bedroom overhead. There was a muffled umph then swearing from his father. After a few minutes that seemed too long for Tommy, he heard the footsteps returning down the stairs, in a limping gate.
       “Well,” his father announced when he returned to the living room. “I searched the entire room. All I found under the bed was a lot of empty candy wrappers and other junk. When was the last time you cleaned that room? I almost broke my neck on a Tonka truck.”
       “Then he’s hiding somewhere else,” Tommy reasoned aloud. He started crying again. “He knows I told you.”
       “Come on, Thomas, don’t you think you’re carrying this a little too far?” His father crossed his arms. “I mean this Jerry sounds like a creation from a lot of late night snacks.” He looked to his wife then down to Tommy again. “I guarantee that if you went to bed tonight without a snack for Jerry, he wouldn’t bother you a bit. He’d probably get mad and leave you alone. He’d go find another little boy to pick on.”
       “I have to bring him something to eat. Especially tonight! If I don’t…” Tommy couldn’t bring himself to finish. The look in his parent’s eyes was enough to dissuade him for more pleading. One way or another, Tommy knew he’d have to face Jerry that night, probably without a meal to appease him for telling of his existence.
       “Your father’s right,” his mother said, already guiding Tommy by the shoulders toward the enviable doom. “I’ll tuck you in.”
       From a distance, Tommy got into his bed. Although his father reported Jerry wasn’t under the bed, there was no reason to say he wasn’t monitoring Tommy’s movements. Tommy pulled the blankets to his chin and looked at his mother with wet eyes.
       “I’m telling the truth about Jerry,” he whispered.
       She bent over and kissed his forehead without saying more to her son. The door closed behind her after she turned off the light, leaving Tommy waiting for Jerry’s wraith. Only the wind outside made sound pushing against the window.
       “Jerry?” Tommy called in a whisper to the shadows.
       There wasn’t an answer.
       When there was still no answer, Tommy felt confidence in his father growing. Maybe Jerry wasn’t real. Daringly, Tommy lifted his head off the pillow and glanced around the dark corners of the room.
       In the living room, Tommy’s parents talked.
       “That’s quite an imagination our little boy has,” his father said when his mother returned to her place on the couch next to him. The tow of them huddled close together.
       “Do you think it’s healthy to have that kind of imagination?” his mother questioned.
       His father laughed. “When I was a kid I thought something lived in my closet and had to make sure it was closed every night before I went to sleep.” After a moment of reflection he said, “Still.”
       “I don’t know. When I looked under Thomas’s bed something wasn’t right.”
       “What’s that supposed to mean? There’s something under there?”
       “No. Nothing like that. I don’t know, I can’t explain it.” And he didn’t try to.
       While drifting into the mindlessness of the sitcoms, they sat quiet on the couch until something shifted under them.
       “Did you feel something?” Tommy’s father asked.
       His mother looked to him. “No, why?”
       “Never mind, it must have been me.”

While the night moved into the morning hours and all were fast asleep in their beds, the bedroom door to Tommy’s room creaked open. Asleep, Tommy lay on his stomach with the blankets half off the bed. The door closed and something large and hairy slithered across the floor. Close to snoring, Tommy shifted and the thing stopped moving, waiting.
       Tommy flopped more to the edge of the bed, still on his stomach. His mouth gaped open, drooling. In his heavy sleep, Tommy raised his hand to his nose and scratched it then let his arm fall, hanging the limb off the bed.
       The thing moved toward it. In the dark, Jerry laughed.

Eight-thirty that Saturday morning, Tommy’s father went into Tommy’s bedroom. When he saw Tommy wasn’t in the bed, he smiled while he got on his hands and knees near the bed.
       Lifting the covers, the smile disappeared and a hollow space opened for a scream. A large pale blue claw grasped his face and dragged him completely under the bed with a quick jerk. The bed lifted off the floor a few inches to accommodate for the man’s height and weight, then dropped with a thud and that was that.

Months later, after the search for missing child and father had been called off and the broken hearted mother found a buyer for the house, she sat on Tommy’s bare mattress, looking at the bare walls and clutter of boxes from packing. Her eyes were red and swollen from crying. She stood, clearing her throat, placing a stuffed animal into an open cardboard box. She retrieved a wadded Kleenex from her pocket and wiped her eyes before glancing to the window.
       Morning had turned to noon and clouds gathered, blotting out the sun. Returning to the last of the items to pack, she went to the bedroom closet and opened the door. Inside was a large box full of the miscellaneous things Tommy had collected in his short life and stored in the closet. Although she swore she’d taped up the box for moving she saw it was still unsealed.
       Bending over, she lifted the flaps of the cardboard box to peer inside. She heard Jerry laughing as he reached out of the box for her.


Originally completed

April 16, 1987

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