Some people have guardian angels who watch over them, and protect them from things that go bump in the night as they dream of sugar plums and fairies or whatever it is that normal people dream of. I have Angus. He’s the monster under the bed. He mostly eats dust bunnies and occasionally one of the cats’ toys now, and he doesn’t live under the bed anymore.
You see, when I was little, I was utterly terrified of the dark. I mean, flat-out screaming terror if the lights were out. I couldn’t sleep without a nightlight until well past the age when most kids have given up their fear of the dark and moved on with their lives. Nothing my parents or anyone else said would convince me that there wasn’t anything in the dark to be afraid of. I was regularly informed that there was “nothing there in the dark that wasn’t there in the light”, which, I mean, I guess they meant well, but that merely meant things were there and I just couldn’t see them.
I didn’t sleep much as a child.
Now, every child knows (and those adults who have not forgotten that the world is bigger and far more interesting than most want to think about) that there are monsters everywhere. There’s the monsters under beds, the monsters that live under the backless basement stairs, the monsters that live in the shadow behind the streetlamp posts, the ones that run beside the car at night, and countless more. None, though, are as fearsome and terrifying as the monster in the closet*. It is known.
I had a particularly menacing specimen in my closet who, to make matters worse, moved with us. So, even though we moved every couple of months, I couldn’t shake the bastard. At one point my mother, who was also a witch, tried to banish it, but I’m pretty sure I heard it laugh as it increased the menace rating. This was, to say the least, A Problem.
One day when I was maybe around 10 or 11, I had a really bad night. The shadowy horror in the closet wouldn’t give the looming a rest, and even when I did manage to get a little sleep, it whispered nightmares into my dreams. By morning, I was exhausted. That day, I decided that I had had enough of being afraid and that it was time to try a new tactic. I was desperately underslept and nothing had worked so far, but I had to try something else.
I went to the library to try and do some research on the subject (it was the 80s and the internet didn’t exist yet…it was a Dark Time), but couldn’t find much that would help me. I knew how to deal with fairies and trolls and all that, having read basically every collection of fairy tales and lore I could get my grubby little fingers on, but nothing in them had information on what category my problem fell into. Folklore has an odd gap when it comes to these types of monsters, and I’m still not sure why, given how common they are.
I didn’t leave completely empty-handed, though. One theme that comes up frequently is bargains, and to be honest, if I’d been a little less desperate, I probably would have dismissed it, but let’s face it…I’d been dealing with this monster for as long as I could remember, and it had to go.
Now, you’d think that I’d have tried making a bargain with the monster in the closet directly, but you’d be wrong. I had two monsters that lived in my room; the bastard in the closet and the one under the bed. Either of these are dangerous, but of the two, the monster under the bed has rules that are sacrosanct. Don’t let your hands or feet dangle over the edge, don’t get too close when getting in or out (it’s best if you can jump, but if not, go ask quickly as you can), and never use a hand to retrieve something that went under at night (wait until morning, or have an adult get it for you), and most importantly, ignore it, no matter what it says. For it’s part, the monster under the bed stays under the bed, and tries to convince you to look at it, or reach a hand under, or generally get close enough to where it can grab you with it’s spindly claws. As long as you follow the rules and don’t listen to it, you won’t get eaten. Clearly this was who I had to strike up a deal with.
Also, the monster under the bed is in closer proximity, and of the two, I’d rather the one who lurked under my pillow be on my side in all this. At the moment, it was effectively a neutral party, and I needed to shift the balance of power in my favor.
One of the most important things that I knew from folklore was that when dealing with fairies, goblins, and the like, they were probably going to ask for something excessively unreasonable, like my firstborn child or some unspecified thing like “the first thing you see when you leave the room” that was likely going to be something like my cat or my mom, and that agreeing to something like that is a totally rookie mistake. No, I was going to make this bargain on my terms from the start.
That night, after dinner, I went to my room and sat, cross-legged, on the old loveseat I’d commandeered when my parents had gotten a new living room set the year before, facing the bed from the safe distance of across the room.
“Okay, monster, let’s talk.” I said, addressing the shadowy recess under the bed. “I have a proposition for you. You and I both know the situation with You Know Who over there. This needs to stop. So, I was thinking that you and I call a truce and instead of trying to lure me out so you can have me for dinner, which has proven wildly unsuccessful after all these years, if I might add, you start protecting me from it. In exchange, you can have whatever finds it ways under the bed, on the condition that it’s not one of my pets, any belongings I actually care about, or something that I’ll get in trouble if it goes missing. The deal is off if you eat something not on the list (if there’s doubt, leave it for 24 hours….if I haven’t claimed it by the next evening, it’s yours), you attempt to eat me, or if it comes after me and you let it. Please let me know by tomorrow, so I know whether or not I need to find…other solutions… Thank you for your time.”
The “other solutions” part may have been spoken in such a way as to also imply dealing with removing it from my life, as well as the one in the closet. I wasn’t above subtle threats, as well. I think he appreciated that, to be honest.
That night, I slept better than I had in a long time, as I did for many nights afterward. My bargain had been accepted.
Within a few weeks, I felt comfortable enough to try turning off the night light, and never turned it on again. The monster in the closet still stood in the shadow, but it mostly sulked and tried to loom from a distance, which was reasonable progress and an acceptable compromise. I’d gotten rather used to its presence, to be honest. I still kept my hands and feet from dangling over the edge, because it was best not to tempt my new bodyguard, but I didn’t jump on or off the bed anymore, and made sure to uphold my end of the bargain. I made a habit of thanking him, as well, because manners. Eventually I learned that my monster’s name is Angus, and we became friends. The closet monster moved out, but still pops in to check on me now and then, but it’s mostly out of habit now and not a serious dinner attempt. Angus still hangs around, but he moved out from under the bed years ago and spends most of his time bothering the cats and relaxing.
I still keep my hands and feet on the bed, and I still keep an eye on what goes under the bed, though. A deal is a deal, after all, and it’s best to not break promises made to the things that go bump in the night.
*There’s some debate whether the monster in the closet is the worst, or the monster behind the door. Several informal polls have shown the results so close as to be more or less tied.
(Originally posted on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter.)