“But mom I don’t want to!”
“I don’t care,” Jenny called to her daughter, “you have to brush your teeth before bed.”
Bailey swung her legs down off her bed and let them carry her down the apartment’s cramped hall to the bathroom, the scratchy rug her mom had bought from the flea market tickling her feet. She looked down and picked a couple of pieces of lint off of her solid, jet black jammies. Mom had also found these at the flea market and they were her favorite, the only thing she liked that Mom had given her in fact. They had no chance at staying nice and jet black for very long, though. Jenny was lazy with the laundry, always in a hurry to get it done and forgetting to clean the trap. They would be lucky if the house did not burn down one day.
Spots from splashes covered the lower part of the bathroom mirror that doubled as a medicine cabinet, the cheap fluorescent light overhead giving the room an odd greenish-yellow color and making the spots seem more like a thick smear. Bailey sighed and grabbed some butt-wipe from beside the potty to wipe it off with. The blue spray under the cabinet was for glass, she knew that much, but she also knew Jenny cleaned nearly everything with it so she went ahead and wiped off not only the mirror but the sink as well. Little chemical buildups from the spit toothpaste disappeared things began to….well, not sparkle exactly, but they were acceptably clean. The girl wadded all of her toilet paper into one ball and dropped it in the wastebasket. Why she had to brush her teeth and keep them clean while Mom let the bathroom turn into a filthy pit was beyond her.
She got her toothbrush out of the medicine cabinet and squeezed some of the cheap, chalky toothpaste onto the bristles. She scrubbed her teeth exactly as Daddy had taught her, getting every nook and cranny that she could find. She spit and rinsed. Looking at her teeth in the mirror she decided that he would be proud of her and rinsed her brush off, replacing it in the cup contained in the medicine cabinet.
“They’re brushed!” she yelled, a sing-songy sarcasm edging her words.
“Good for you,” Jenny yelled back, adopting a similar tone. “Now get down here. Mom wants a kiss goodnight and you better get down here with it, stop hogging it.”
Bailey rolled her eyes. Mom was so dumb sometimes, her jokes were weird and not very funny most of the time. Daddy’s were better, but Mom was not in the mood to let him come around much anymore. Bailey staggered off the stool, an exaggerated movement that was theatrical to the point of ridiculous. She sluffed down the hall to the living room, dragging her feet the whole way.
Jenny was on the couch, reading with her music app playing softly on the big TV. She was reading about magic and ghosts and goblins or some such thing. Whenever her boyfriend was at work or was too busy to come over she usually read or caught up on her shows, which she called her “stories”. She loved stories and would sometimes get home late at night, let the babysitter go, and just watch tv or read until time to take Bailey to preschool. She slept most of the day, exhausted from her job serving liquor to drunks all night. She turned her face and pushed a lock of fiery hair aside so she could see the pages better.
Bailey walked over to her mom and dutifully kissed her on the cheek before wrapping her arms around Jenny to hug her close. She loved her mom, but it was still weird. Jenny had this new boyfriend, Kurt, and he was okay but daddy was better and she was still pretty mad at her mom for divorcing him. The court days had been rough, mostly crying, and daddy had tried desperately to get her to live with him. Jenny had won, though, and Bailey could not understand why.
She released her mom and turned to walk away. Then, like remembering a line in a play, it clicked that she had forgotten part of the ritual.
“I love you Mom,” she said evenly.
“I love you too, sweetheart,” Jenny said as a wide smile spread across her face. Bailey often forgot this part of it all but whenever she remembered it lit up her Mom’s world. They were not as close as Bailey and Daddy but she knew she should remember to say it. Daddy always told her it was important to remember that they both loved Mom despite anything bad she had done, so Bailey always tried to remember to say it.
Jenny reached out and cupped Bailey’s face in one hand, radiant and happy, and then let her go. The girl turned and sprinted down the hall for her room, grateful that the encounter had come to an end. Mom was happy, Bailey could get to bed, and it seemed to have gone alright. Daddy would be glad about that, she would tell him all about it in the morning when he picked her up to drive her to school. Maybe Ms. Bennett would come out and talk to Daddy too, tell him about how well Bailey was doing in school. They seemed to like talking to each other and while it was a bit odd Daddy always seemed a bit more pleasant after talking to her. He was less likely spend so much time in his room or on the couch, he wanted to go outside. He even left his medicine at home in the cabinet like he no longer needed it.
Bailey flipped off the lights and got into bed. The pitter-patter of rain against her window was fairly soothing and she looked at her alarm clock before drifting off to sleep. It read “9:45 p.m.” in bright green letters. “Right on time,” she thought to herself. Within minutes she was asleep.
She was only out an hour at the most before it pinched her foot.
Bailey shot up, instantly awake and confused and frightened. Pulling her legs and the blankets tight to her chest she panted hard, trying her best not to cry out. The feel of the fingernails against the arch of her foot had jolted her completely into consciousness. Daring to glance away from the darkness and out of the window she was greeted with a blinding flash of lightning very close to the apartment building. The wind howled, the rain droplets exploding against the window as they fell, and Bailey skittered further back until she sat straight up against the headboard. The continuous flashes of lightning drowned out the light from the parking lot outside and it was hard to see much.
She looked back into the darkness of her room, wondering what could have touched her. Had she dreamed the whole thing? Perhaps. Slowly, uncertainly, she extended her short legs, leaning forward to see what was in her room. Looking around, back and forth through the darkness, she could see nothing. She sat in the soft light streaming through the window, waiting for another flash of lightning to illuminate her room and show her what she had felt at the foot of her bed.
Crossing her fingers, she wished for it to be anything but a rat.
The lighting lit up the bedroom, the tiny space lit up for a brief moment. There was nothing there, of course nothing was in her room with her.
Sighing with relief, Bailey flopped back down on her pillow and spread her arms out, staring at the ceiling and hoping she could get back to sleep. Whether she got any or not she had to be at preschool the next day, and while there was naptime she would not make it to that if she went in frazzled from a restless night. She stretched.
A scratching, scraping noise rang out in the room and Bailey could have sworn something touched her hand, trying to grip at it in the darkness. She leapt up at the noise and drew her hand to her chest, pushing away from the area where she had felt the thing. As she edged out of the light and into the dark she felt something run fingers through her hair. Gasping, she lurched forward, crumbling into a ball in the edge of her bed and looking back over her shoulder. There were tears in her eyes now, and her heart was pounding. Another flash of lightning lit up the room.
There was nothing behind her, nothing there in the darkness. Yet she had felt something, felt it multiple times. Could whatever it was, then, only be seen in the dark? She considered this for a moment. She knew there were creatures she could not see. Mom and Daddy had talked about God and angels and stuff once every few days or so, but this felt like nothing she had heard from them or from the man in church. This was something scary, nothing she wanted around like you were supposed to the other things. Most even wanted the Devil to be real, to be scary and evil, because he made God real and he made God good and loving.
“Okay then,” Bailey thought to herself, “maybe it’s just the dark playing tricks.”
This thought brought a sudden stiffness, a readiness for flight with nowhere to go, into her arms and legs. Entire body suddenly frozen and ready, muscles taught, she realized what must be out there.
The Dark was playing tricks on her. It was being cruel and mean, threatening.
She looked around. It was everywhere. Lightning flashed again and it retreated momentarily, but then it slid back as Bailey reached up to rub the blinding light out of her eyes. It was there, and she was trapped, the off-center rectangle of light from her window the only escape she had. At least if she stayed here she would be alright.
She reached behind her, hand grasping around for her pillow. She found it and gripped the corner, bringing it up in front of her. She brought the fluffed, white thing around and held on with both hands. Tentatively, she swung it out a bit, the tip of it edging out of the light and into the darkness. She pulled it back and raised it before her light a sword, hoping to hold off the darkness with it.
“Okay,” she thought, “I touched it and it didn’t do anything. That’s good, right?”
She swung the pillow forward again. All it did was swing into the dark, a bit further this time, and swing back to her. She swing it again and again, letting it go further each time. Attacking the dark entity with memory foam and cotton, she forced a little further with each imprecise blow dealt to an unfeeling, semi-seen antagonist. She pushed forward, further and further, and grew bolder. At last she raised the pillow and prepared the final blow, a smile on her face and triumph in her eyes. She swing down, the whole of her weapon dipping into the darkness.
Her hands also dipped into up, right up to the wrists
Sharp points nipped at her hands, the unseen fangs surely ready to tear her asunder if only all of her could be drug out of the light. Bailey yanked her hands back, releasing the pillow, and falling back against the headboard, her head cracking against it with a thud. She looked at her hands, terrified of the possible damage, but they were fine. Relieved, she looked up at the darkness. Her pillow, semi-visible even in the darkness, lay at the foot of her bed in the belly of the beast, out of her reach.
“Might as well be in China,” Bailey thought to herself with an audible groan.
She crossed her legs and sat up straight. She would wait this thing out, she could outlast it. Dawn and her freedom were only a few hours away, after which she could tell Daddy all about this. If the courts found out Mom had a monster in her apartment they would have to let her live with Daddy! So she stared into the dark, daring it to make a move, and it remained still. The smiled to herself. As long as she didn’t leave the light everything would be fine.
A loud crack rang out as lightning struck near her window. The entire room lit up in a blinding flash, followed by a loud and significant boom. As Bailey’s eyes adjusted, the light fading from them, she looked out the window to see sparks flying down in the parking lot. As the sparks fell the lights began to go off. Each blinked off simultaneously, the dark in the apartments visible. She hoped no one got hurt, that this thing did not hunt in the dark.
The lights flickered and went off.
Bailey screamed, feeling the entity close in on her. On her left there was laughter, mocking tones that sent shivers down her spine. On her left she could feel the hand, rising up through the sheets to grasp at her and pull her down, down, down into the ugliest depths. She screamed and cried out, begging for anyone she could think of.
The door burst open and a bright, neon-green light filtered into the room. In the doorway stood Jenny, a goofy looking cylindrical lamp in her hand. Her red hair was lit up, flame in the light of yet another flash of lightning. She held the light up in her hand, fear evident on her face.
“What’s wrong, what’s happening?” she asked. Her daughter shook her head, her hands to her temples, and began rocking forward and back. Her panic was real.
“The Dark,” she muttered, “it was there and it grabbed me and it was hoping to cook and eat me.”
Jenny stopped at this, looked around. There was nothing else in the room, nothing of note. There was nothing to steal hardly, some picture books and the stash of horror comics from the 80’s that Bailey got from her daddy’s collection that mother was “just not to talk about.” The entire room was empty.
“Honey,” she said, “there’s nothing here.”
“It comes back, though,” Bailey added, “when the lights go out.
Jenny took this in stride. Her daughter was exhausted, stressed for her age, and she needed rest instead of being patronized or talked down to. Nodding at everything Bailey had said, she moved to sit next to the girl on the bed and bas in the neon-green glow of what Bailey could now see was a lava lmp, it’s gel interior floating inside the now-shook-up water inside as bubbles jet around it.
Bailey was muttering as she leaned into Jenny’s arm, her fear evident on her face. She turned to look up at her mother, worried about keeping Mom up instead of the darkness. Her child’s mind focused on the problems at hand and tried to force herself to forget the dark but it just kept coming back. Jenny put an arm around her daughter’s shoulders and pulled her close.
“Want this?” she asked her daughter.
“You don’t need it?” Bailey asked, nervous and excited.
“Nah,” Jenny replied. “It doesn’t want me, so we’ll use this for you for a bit.”
Bailey just nodded. Her Mom set the lamp down on the dresser, making sure Bailey could see the battery slot in it. Jenny smiled, kissed her daughter on the forehead., and got up to leave.
“It runs on batteries,” the mother said to her daughter. Then she left, closing the door behind her. Bailey lay in the dark, her heart slowly evening out and the fear leeching from her as she gazed at the bright green light that lit up her life. Her eyes were still droopy, flopping up and down as she began to nod off again. Her mother had always taken care of her when she was scared in the dark and this was no different.
As she drifted off she wondered why she did not love her mother more.
As she fell asleep she wondered what had been in the dark.
As she nodded off at last she had one last thought – what happens if the batteries die?