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Night Terrors

The house was still.  The evening had waned and given way to night, and tired parents and a tired child had retreated to their beds to rest and await a new day.  Though it was silent and calm now, scattered about the humble abode was evidence of the business that daylight had seen.  A half-folded basket of laundry lay tipped over next to the couch.  Blocks and trucks, plastic tools and stuffed animals were strewn about like some miniature tornado had struck the toy box.  A trail of dog food lead from the cupboard to the bowl on the floor in the kitchen, evidence of a tiny person doing their favorite chore.  The dishwasher hummed softly, though a bit dissonantly, finishing its work while the rest of the house slept.

In his bed, a tiny boy slumbered peacefully, snuggling tightly a little blue elephant.  The day had been the first clear day in weeks, and his mother had taken him and the dog out for a nice, long walk.  Daddy had played blocks with him right up until bedtime.  Dinner had been his favorite.  He even got to read an extra story with Daddy because he had asked nicely.  Now he was relaxed, warm, and comfortable.

From underneath his pillow, something small and dark crept.  The boy’s brow furrowed in his sleep and he turned onto his side, away from the thing.  It was completely black and about the size of a cockroach.  It had a head and two arms, but the rest of its body faded away in a misty, ghost-like form.  Its eyes were narrow slits, glaring and full of mischief and disdain.  Its mouth, full of black, pointed teeth, was twisted into a horrible grin.  Its hands were outstretched, crooked fingers with ugly claws reaching for the sleeping boy.  It drifted towards him, checking over its shoulder several times to be sure that it would not be surprised or interrupted by some bothersome unseen guardian.

When it reached the boy, it hovered over his chest and scowled down at him.  The creature could sense the peace and happiness radiating from the sleeping form, and hated him for it.  All at once, with a sharp spin, the tiny monster turned into a wisp of black smoke and dove straight at the boy’s face, disappearing into his mind in an instant.

For a minute or so, all was still.  Then, the boy jerked.  He tossed over to his other side, then back again.  He let out a short cry, then began breathing heavily and rapidly.  He screamed, he wailed, he tossed again and again.  Inside the little child’s mind, the creature dug its claws into his consciousness, unearthing fears, planting darkness and terror, turning joy and peace into panic and confusion.  Loneliness, abandonment, intimidation, dread–small though the creature was, it was full of all things dark and painful and it emptied them out into the boy, determined to create terror.

After only a few moments, the door to the bedroom burst open and a figure ran in.  The creature grinned maniacally.  Helping parents often only made things worse for the child, adding physical experience to their mental anguish.  In the foggy nightmare the boy was trapped in, he wouldn’t know it was his mother or father holding him close, trying to soothe him.  To him they might as well be a monster trying to smother him, or a stranger trying to take him.  Sure enough, the boy writhed in his mother’s arms, screaming desperately.  

Soon his father was in the room as well.  The lights turned on and they were bouncing him, speaking loudly to him, obviously trying to wake him.  But the creature dug its claws in deeper and let its angry blackness flow.

The parents tried everything.  They tried to give him water, they tried to change his diaper, they tried to tickle him, even the dog tried licking his face, but he was wholly trapped in the world of his nightmare.  They tried singing, they tried shouting, they tried putting him back in his bed and hoping it would just pass.  He kept writhing, he kept screaming, he kept weeping.  The mother was weeping now too, and the father was looking hopeless.  The creature was delighted.  

Then, the boy was being lifted from his bed again.  The creature couldn’t help but grin and roll its eyes.  Another try?  It would be happy to return their efforts with more terror.  Then, the boy was being laid in his mother’s arms on the bed.  His father lay down next to him as well, and even the big, black dog hopped up and curled up at their feet.  

Good luck, thought the creature menacingly.

Mom stroked his arms and legs, and whispered stories in his ear–stories about the adventures they were going to have together tomorrow, and every day.  She told him it was okay to be scared, that it would pass and he would be happy again.  She promised him that Mommy and Daddy and Doggy would always be there, always.  He would never be alone.  If his family couldn’t be with him, God would always be there.  Never alone.  It’s okay to be scared.  It won’t last.  It will pass.  Light will always beat dark.  Her voice, somehow so calm now despite the desperation that had filled her moments before, kept going and going.  The creature had a moment of misgiving, though it continued to let the wicked darkness flow.  

Then, a small thread of light appeared.  The creature pounced on it at once, smothering it.  Its pride and confidence wavered, but it had stifled the light with such ferocity and immediacy that it seemed for a moment to be even stronger.  Another thread of golden, feathery light appeared, and with a shriek the creature pounced again, but there was another, and then another, and soon the creature was surrounded by the soft, gentle glow of peaceful, warm light.  Desperately, it leapt this way and that, trying to destroy the intrusive threads.  Finally, it realized it was no good.  There was only one thing left to do.  It flexed its fingers briefly, then thrust its ruthless claws into the boy’s consciousness and pushed all of the darkness it had in its being into him.  For a moment, the blackness seemed like it might overpower the quiet, gentle golden threads.  But something else pushed back–the creature could hear the mother’s voice echoing sweetly through the boy’s mind.  She was praying now.  

With a howl, the creature writhed against the onslaught of light until suddenly–POP!

It was gone.

With a gentle kiss and a deep sigh, the mother laid the peacefully sleeping little boy back into his bed while his father watched quietly from the doorway.

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