As a kid, my sleep was often haunted by nightmares. Night after night I would awake with a start, my pulse pounding in my head, afraid to go back to bed. BENJAMIN is very personal to me, as it is one of those nightmares. It's just one of those that have stayed with me over the years.
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Lying in the dark, waiting for his parents to turn off the lights, Benjamin was trying so hard to stay awake, but he knew he was going to lose the battle if that light didn’t go out soon.
“C’mon,” he whispered. There was an urgency in his voice, like when he had to pee bad and one of his brothers was taking his time in the bathroom hoping the “little booger” would piss his pants. But Benjamin didn’t have to pee, not this time. He didn’t have to poop, either. No, what he needed now more than anything was for his parents to go to bed so he could sneak downstairs and watch TV. There was this really cool movie on at midnight that he wanted to see, but his mother had told him he couldn’t watch it because it was past his bedtime.
Thinking about the movie, he glanced at his watch, but it was too dark to see its face. He had no idea what time it was; he only knew it was late, but he didn’t know how late, which only served to increase the feeling of anxiety. Lying in the dark, time seemed to crawl, especially when there was nothing to do except stare at the ceiling. He wished he could turn on the light by the side of his bed so he could read his comic books, but that would tip off Mom and Dad that he was still awake. They would come in to see what was wrong, ask if he had had a bad dream, maybe even insist on sitting with him until he fell asleep again, and that was something he couldn’t have happen. He’d never get downstairs then. So he was just lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, waiting, occasionally glancing into toward his parents’ room to see if the light was still on.
When the thin gap between the sliding French doors went dark, Benjamin gave a start. It’s about time, he said to himself, and it was all he could do to keep himself from throwing back the blankets and running from the room. Every move he made from here on out would have to be slow and careful. The slightest sound was bound to wake up somebody—his mother, his father, or worse, his brothers, who would no doubt raise the alarm and ruin everything. So rather than rush downstairs, he stayed in bed and counted slowly to ten, and then he did it again. He ticked off the number of times he counted to ten on his fingers.
He had just finished his sixth round of tens when he heard a soft rumbling sound. In that moment, listening to the distant sounds of his father snoring, he knew the coast was clear. Mom always drifted off to sleep first; Dad liked to stay awake and read a little bit before turning in.
Benjamin sat up in bed and slowly slid his butt toward the edge of the bed. No matter how careful he was with his movements, the springs of the bed still emitted an ear-grating squeal each time he pressed his hands to the mattress to shift his weight. He cringed with each betraying squeal because, even though they weren’t all that loud, in the darkness of his room they sounded as loud as the cats he often heard fighting in the backyard.
Once he was perched on the edge of the bed, he looked toward his parents’ room and whispered, “Fuck you, bitch.” This was directed at his mother, who had told him he couldn’t watch the movie because it was on too late. That wasn’t the real reason she didn’t want him to watch it. He had overheard her talking to Dad earlier, and she had said she thought the movie was too scary for him. “It’ll give him nightmares for weeks.” But Benjamin would show her. He had no idea what the meaning was behind the words he had just muttered, but he knew they were bad because he often heard Stevie, his older brother, say them after he and Mom got into a fight. He never said them while Mom was in the room; he always waited until she had walked away so she couldn’t hear what he was saying.
Soft light from the streetlamp outside his brothers’ window slipped into his room through the doorway. It did little to drive the darkness from the room, but Benjamin was able to see the face of his watch in the gloom. He smiled as the two figures teeter-tottered on the little seesaw at the base of the watch face. If he had had the time, he would sit there and watch the two figures go up and down for hours, wondering if they ever got tired (they never seemed to because they never stopped), but he didn’t have the time. The big hand was on the nine and the little hand was on the twelve. That didn’t leave him much time to get downstairs, grab a snack, and get back to the couch before the movie started.
Slowly, he pulled back the sheets that covered him and let his left foot slide off the edge of the bed. He was about to let the right foot follow when something brushed the sole of his dangling foot. He jerked his foot back onto the bed. “Whew! That was close.” In his rush to get downstairs, he had forgotten all about the Monster Under the Bed.
Leaning over the side, he scanned the floor, but the dim light shining in from the street wasn’t bright enough to let him see it, but he knew it was there. Daddy had told him there was no such thing as monster, but Steve had said differently. Stevie had said there were monsters all over the house just waiting for little boogers like Benjie to let down their guard. Benjamin knew he should believe his Dad, but Stevie was very convincing, so he didn’t know who he should believe—until now. The Monster Under the Bed had tried to grab him; it had touched his foot.
“Now what,” he asked himself as he stared into the darkness. With the Monster patrolling the floor, there was no way he was going to be able to get off the bed, at least not until the sun came up and chased away the shadows from his room. If he waited that long, he was going to miss the movie, so that wasn’t a choice he would even think about. There had to be another way.
As he sat there trying to figure out what to do, there came a tug at the sheets at the foot of the bed. Instinctively, he jerked his feet back, pulling his knees to his chest and hugging them tight. His eyes scanned the width of the mattress, darting from one corner to the other, but he couldn’t see it. He could hear it, though, a light scratching as it clawed at the thick material of the box spring. His breath caught in his throat and his heart thudded so heavily in his chest that he could feel it in his head when he felt the mattress dip a little, as if it had caught the corner and was trying to pull itself up onto the bed. Wait, wait, you can’t do that. He aimed his thoughts at the Monster, hoping by sheer force of will he would be able to send it scurrying back to the darkness beneath the bed, but the Monster was immune to his mental attack.
The corner of the mattress furthest from the dim light shining in through the window continued to sag, and then suddenly something heavy landed on the bed. Benjamin clapped a hand over his mouth to keep from crying out as he scooted backward, the mattress springs screaming in protest beneath his rapidly shifting weight. He stopped moving, and for a moment he thought the Monster had grabbed him, but then he realized he had gone as far as he could on the bed; his back was pressed against the headboard.