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Kim could have handled another earthquake. She was four, and earthquakes couldn't hurt you—not the little ones that happened in Washington, at least. But this was no earthquake because only the bed was shaking. The rest of the trailer was as still as the car that the next-door-neighbors kept on blocks. She knew because it had happened last night, too, and that time she might have thought it was an earthquake, had the monster not been in her room.
The shadows had been there, though, like they were now. Lots of them. Thin, wavy ones, that looked like snakes crawling up every wall. So she'd rolled off of the mattress, but the floor hadn't moved. Neither had her dresser or toy box. Only the bed, which just kept shaking the way mom's phone did whenever daddy called from jail. It made the picture of Cinderella on her blanket almost seem like she were dancing.
The shadows had swayed like seaweed under water, and then Kim had glanced at the mirror above her dresser and saw the monster's eyes, glowing orange—the same color as her one-piece pajamas—staring right at her like she were a bowl of ice cream. She'd screamed so loud that her throat burned, and she'd run to mom and learned her lesson because Gus was over.
Gus was here again tonight, so Kim didn't dare scream. The bed shook, and the shadows squirmed, letting her know that the monster was back, but Kim wasn't going to look in the mirror again. She'd known he was coming anyway, because he'd been here every night for close to a week.
So she hugged the stuffed dog that she used to think would keep her safe, feeling her pajamas stick to her body from sweat. Her chest heaved up and down, up and down, and she wanted to cry, but didn't because that only helped if somebody cared that you were crying.
A gust of cold wind blew her red hair over her eyes.
"Stop!" she whispered, releasing her grip on Dog McGee, and brushing her bangs so fast that she slapped herself in the face. "Please, just go away! Leave me alone!"
Then the monster laughed, and Kim couldn't hold the tears back any longer because he had never laughed before.
It had all started under the bed. The very first night, she'd just thought there was a mouse down there, running around and scratching at the carpet. It had scared the living daylights out of her anyway, so she'd gotten mom, and they'd spent nearly half an hour searching for the pest.
That happened for a couple of times, then toys started moving and falling onto the floor, and mom had taken a wooden spoon to Kim's bottom for not being in bed. When Kim swore it was a ghost playing with her toys, and not her, mom hit her again for lying. But when the shadows appeared, Kim knew it was a monster, and not a ghost. She didn't tell mom until the next day after Gus left.
The monster's laugh wasn't like anything she'd heard before. It was almost a whisper, because it hissed and whistled like the wind. Kim cried and sniffed as he continued to laugh and the bed continued to shake. She used to like the rain on account of it reminding her of running under the sprinkler in the summer. Now she hated it because if it wasn't so loud, mom would have been able to hear the bedposts as they tapped the trailer's floor, then she'd believe her.
The monster whispered her name and she covered her eyes with her hands, pressing so hard that she saw red.
"Please just stop!"
"Hahahahahahaha! Are you afraid, Kim? Oh, baby, you don't have to be scared. I just wanna play with you."
Then she knew it didn't just sound like the wind. It was the wind. It was icy-cold, like she was lying next to a fan. It made her think of orange and green leaves, blowing along the sidewalk. It shouldn't have been able to form words, yet she could understand it perfectly. She felt her bottom lip curl into a frown. Every muscle in her face scrunched up without her consent.
"Oh Kim," the monster whispered. "Are you gonna cry, pretty girl? Are you gonna cry out to your mommy now? She doesn't care, baby. You know that. She's just gonna hit you with a spoon, or make you eat soap for telling lies. Don't cry to mommy, Kim. Play with me instead."
That's when Kimberly Brenton lost control. It started deep in her stomach, and grew in volume faster than Mom's car could even pick up speed at a green light. She let out a long wail, crying like a newborn, and the bed stopped shaking but the shadows still danced on the wall, letting her know the monster hadn't left. So Kim kept crying until heavy footsteps appeared in the hall. The door flew open, and the room filled with light, causing the shadows to finally vanish. Mom stood in the doorway looking like a tall, thin clone of Kim, her straight red hair flowing over a baby-blue robe.
"Kim? Baby, what is it?"
Kim stopped screaming, stared at her mom attempting to catch her breath. The music mom liked to dance to while she cleaned played lightly from somewhere outside the room. Kim was aware that her face expressed nothing less than pure agony, but she was unable to do anything about it. She opened her mouth to tell mom about the monster, thought about the spoon, hiccupped, and shut it again. She wiped away tears and snot with the back of her hand.
Mom didn't take another step into the room, just locked eyes with her daughter, and Kim knew what was coming next.
"No. No. No. Don't even think about it girly. You're not sleeping in my room. For fuck's sake, Kim. You're four years old."
"No Kim. This is BS. You know I don't wanna hear about any monsters tonight, don't you?"
Mom raised her voice. "Don't you?"
"Yes mommy. I just—"
"You just nothing! You always do this when Gus is over, don't you?
"Oh?" Mom let out a fake laugh. "But I think you do. I think someone's a little jellyfish. But listen up, cause mom needs a life too. So I don't wanna hear another peep come outta this room tonight. You hear me?"
Kim told her mom that she'd heard.
Mom said, "But do you understand?" then turned her head toward the hall. "What? Why? Dude, just smoke in the room. No. Just open the window. Yeah. I'll be right there."
Gus's hand appeared around Mom's waist. He smacked her bottom, then he was gone. When mom looked back, she was smiling, but her expression quickly went flat.
"Do you, Kim?"
"Mom, I just—"
"Uh-uh. No more noise. You're going to sleep. Do you understand me?"
"Yes. I understand."
"Good." Mom smiled again. "Always nice to have an understanding. You know I love you, right?"
"Then what do you say?"
"I love you, too, mommy."
"I know you do, baby. Now get some sleep."
With that, she killed the light, shut the door, and the monster laughed again, the cold breeze that accompanied his voice nipping at Kim's face.
"See, Kim? See? Didn't I tell you she wouldn't care?"
As Kim's eyes readjusted to the dark, she saw the shadows once again dancing on the walls.
"My mom cares!" she hissed back, refusing to cry again. "She loves me."
"Hahahahaha! She does, does she? Then tell me, Kim. Why won't she believe you about me?"
"Because," Kim spoke through a frown. "You hide every time she comes in. You won't let her see you!"
Her hair tossed in an extra strong gust of wind as the monster said, "Because I shouldn't have to, should I? A mother who loves her daughter would believe her. I needed you to see that, baby. I need you to understand so we can play together." The snaky shadows grew thicker, and stretched across the walls, reaching for Kim like they wanted to tickle her. Every muscle in her body tensed, she trembled. Outside, the rain continued to tap the aluminium roof like a giant was pouring a bag of rice over the trailer. "Don't you wanna play with me, Kim? We'll have so much fun together. It's almost Halloween, and I wanna dress you up like a princess and take you trick-or-treating. It'll be so much fun you won't know why you were ever afraid."
Kim's voice came out in hiccups and yelps, but remained a whisper as she asked, "What are you gonna do to me?"
"What do you think, baby?"
"Please. Please don't kill me. I don't wanna die. I swear I'll be good."
"But you have to, pretty girl. You have to die first, then we can play. I just need you to remember one thing, okay?"
"Please," Kim sniffed.
"Don't yell, Kim. You don't want your mom to get the spoon, do you?" The shadows were so big now, that only small slivers of light existed in Kim's bedroom. Two bright orange eyes appeared just over her face, glaring down at her, and the freezing wind blew so hard that her hair went absolutely wild.
That was it. Kim could take the spoon. She could take the strap from Mom's suitcase. She could take whatever punishment awaited her. Sucking in a deep breath, she prepared to scream. But a thick shadow covered her face, as another wrapped around her wrist. Then the other wrist. Two more coiled on her ankles, and Kim's body was stretched across the twin-sized bed like the letter X. She couldn't move. She couldn't scream, because she couldn't even breathe.
The wind howled and whistled as the room grew so cold it was like being in a freezer. The monster said, "Remember, Kim, your mom let this happen because she doesn't love you. She's a liar. All she cares about is that guy in her bed. What's his name? Russ? Raul? Oh, yeah. Gus."
Kim tried to kick, to fight, to scream through her nose, but that was covered too. Her eyes averted to the right, where Dog McGee sat smiling, his cloth tongue sticking out of his mouth, his black plastic eyes staring into hers. She felt hot tears once again pouring down either side of her face and into her ears. Before she could stop herself, she wet her pajamas. Her body jerked, and after what seemed like forever, her ears began to ring. The room spun briefly, and Kim went to sleep, but the monster didn't let up.
The bed started vibrating again, but this time it was because Kimberly Brenton was going into convulsions. When her heart finally stopped beating, she soiled herself as the shadows uncoiled from her limbs. The one on her face slithered into her mouth, and once its tail disappeared, Kim's eyes popped open, but she still didn't breathe. Her heart still didn't beat. She sat upright, looked around, and climbed out of bed, walking barefoot to the door.
Twisting the knob, she opened it slowly and carefully so it didn't squeak too loud. The entire house was dark, but Kim saw everything perfectly. Mom's door was shut, a few feet down the hall, on the left. Kim shut her own door, and tiptoed past it, hearing mom's music inside, and her bed moving as she made the noises she always made at night when Gus was over. Kim had opened the door once and seen her sitting on his belly, bouncing up and down, up and down, then she'd crept back to her own room giggling before she earned a spanking for being out of bed.
Kim walked through the living room, where Grandpa's old coo-coo-clock hung high up on the wall. Mom's grey cat, Silas, hissed at her from the couch, then darted across the room as she stepped into the kitchen. Sliding a chair quietly from the table to the counter, she climbed up on the seat and stood looking at everything she wasn't allowed to play with. Toaster. Blender. Mom's glass baking dish which needed washing. A black ashtray with cigarette butts sticking up like tree stumps.
A wooden block full of knives with smooth black handles.
Kim selected two of the smallest ones, the ones mom used to cut her meat. Taking the ashtray as well, she hopped down as quietly as she could, and made her way once more through the living room. She stopped at the entrance to the hall—two knives in one hand, dirty ashtray in the other—and stared down at her closed bedroom door. Silas growled like a lawnmower from somewhere out of sight, but Kim paid him no mind. She could still hear all the noises coming from Mom's room: movement, moaning, music.
Kimberly watched, and waited for nearly seven minutes. Then, just before eleven, she cocked her arm back and sent the ashtray hurling toward her bedroom door. Grey ashes flew everywhere, and butts landed softly on the brown carpet just before it smashed into the thin wood.
The movement in Mom's room stopped abruptly, then the bed squeaked, her door flew open, and the dance music grew louder. Mom appeared, completely naked for a fraction of a second, before she pulled the robe over her pale body.
"I don't know. She's flirting with an ass-whooping, is what she's doing. What the—did you spill an ashtray?"
"No," Gus called from out of sight.
"Sure?" Mom treaded carefully through the butts, and headed toward Kim's room, reaching for the door. "Dude, there's a—"
THOOONG! The clock wailed as its tiny doors swung open and the bird flew out, mounted to its perch. COO-COO! COO-COO! COO-COO!
Mom jumped startled, shook her head, then gripped the knob, as Kim took off at a full sprint down the hall, a steak knife in each hand. Mom didn't hear her approaching over the noise of the clock.
COO-COO! COO-COO! COO-COO!
Kim passed mom's open door, catching sight of Gus in her peripheral vision. He lay nude on her bed, his legs open, his penis pointing to the ceiling.
COO-COO! COO-COO! COO-COO!
Mom still hadn't opened the door when Kim reached her.
Reaching up, Kim thrust one of the serrated blades into her mother's lower back, just inches to the left of her spine, and pulled it back out watching dark blood expand on thin baby blue fabric. Mom gasped, pressed her palms and chest against the closed door. Kim stabbed her again, this time with the other knife, on her right side. The second it came out, mom spun around and screamed, backing into the door, then sliding down and landing on her bottom. Two red lines trailed above her, and her robe opened, revealing her ta-tas as she grasped at the rug with both hands. Her eyes looked like they wanted to fly out of her head.
"KIM! WHAT THE—NO! AAAHHH!!!"
Kim thrust one knife after the other like a gorilla beating the dirt, stabbing her mom in her face, in her neck, in her bare chest.
"Carrie?" Gus's voice rose over the music. "Babe, you good?"
But mom couldn't answer because all she could do was scream and cry, and try to shove her daughter off of her. A gargling noise came from her mouth, followed by hissing. She choked and fell limp, but Kim didn't stop stabbing her because the monster was right. She was having fun. Then she was grabbed by her hair and thrown down the hall, where she landed on her back and saw Gus's naked butt. He was standing over mom.
"WHAT THE FUCK!" He leaned down and took her face in one hand, moved it around. His fingers left bloody streaks on her cheeks when he finally let go. Mom just stared at the corner where the wall met the ceiling, her mouth open like there was something she wanted to say, dark red liquid decorating her body and face in splotches. Gus stood up straight, turned and glared at Kim wide eyed. "What the fuck did you do?"
He was a pretty boy. Even at four, Kim knew this, had heard Mom's friends say it all the time. He had blond hair, which he shaved on the sides, and it looked like he combed it all day. Kim always laughed when he put his finger with the teardrop tattoo under his eye so it looked like he was crying. His penis wasn't pointing to the ceiling anymore, but shriveled and attempting to hide inside of his body like a turtle.
"Jesus, Kim. Holy shah—What the fuck did you—" He took a step forward. "Kim, gimme those fucking knives!"
Kim jumped to her feet, bared her teeth and hissed like Silas had. Gus stumbled back, falling over and landing on top of mom. He cried out and slid over so he was sitting next to her, and her head toppled onto his shoulder. Kim smiled, turned around and walked off, leaving bloody footprints in the hall. Behind her, Gus's breath seemed to be exhaling with the beat of the music in Mom's room.
Kimberly Brenton opened the front door, stepped out into the cold night, and made her way through the trailer park, a knife in each hand. Rain washed over her, leaving crimson puddles in her wake.
As she passed a home with a motion sensor out front, the
porch light clicked on, casting her shadow on the wet gravel. It looked
like tentacles—like the shadow of an exaggerated squid—or
like snakes coming off of the little girl's body, dancing and swaying
in every direction.
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