There was something under the bed. I don’t think it was there when I was in a cot, but when I moved into my ‘big boy’s bed’ there was always something under it. Of course I was told not to be silly, but I knew that I wasn’t being silly at all.
There was something under my bed and it was waiting to get me. I was as sure of this as I was that Father Christmas would tumble down the chimney on the 24th of December each year and sneak into my room. There was something under the bed. My bed.
At first the thing under the bed was Andy Pandy. I knew he was there even though I couldn’t hear his bells jingling. There he was in his blue and white striped costume with that blank expression and those glassy vacant eyes. Was he a clown? I didn’t think so, and the way he trapped Ted and Looby Lou into his basket each night made me wonder what he was doing to them in the dark. I used to cry myself to sleep hoping that he wouldn’t do the same things to me.
After a while Andy Pandy became the Wicked Queen in Walt Disney’s Snow White. She used to lie motionless, deadly silent and clutching a poison apple as she waited for me to fall asleep so that she could force it into my mouth and down my throat. Sometimes I used to wake up choking knowing that she was standing above me, her black horns making the shadows slither across my bed. Of course it was just a dream, but she’d be back the next night waiting under my bed for me to fall to sleep again. ‘This time, this time,’ she would whisper in my mind.
When I started going to Sunday school gentle Jesus meek and mild came to lie under my bed surrounded by rotting fishes and mouldy bread. He was bleeding from holes in his hands and feet, his head was scored by thorns and blood flowed from a deep wound in his side. I used to pray to him from the safety of the covers, hands clasped, praying that he didn’t answer me in the dark. He didn’t seem very meek and mild to me as he dripped blood onto my bedroom floor and performed miracles in the tomb beneath me. He stayed until my parents agreed that I needn’t go to Sunday school any more, mainly because since I’d been going I’d begun to wet the bed. Of course, it was the holy Jesus who pissed in my sheets - another miracle - and not me.
Over the years I knew lots of beds. Beds of girlfriends, beds of wives, beds of mistresses, hotel room beds; even a hospital bed for a while and every time there was something underneath them waiting for me. Maybe I was being the ‘silly’ of my childhood, but the progression of vampires, ghosts, monsters and zombies were always there and waiting for me to lower my guard so that they could come out and get me.
All the big stars were under my bed at one time or another: Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Christopher Lee with a stake through his heart, the creature from the Black Lagoon. Later it was Regan with her spinning head and green vomit, Pennywise with his slash of a smile, a black eyed Japanese child that looked like a blot; and there were others. Once I taped a couple of sticks together to make a cross as I absolutely knew that Nosferatu was patiently waiting among the dust bunnies on my bedroom floor. Even the decaying bath woman from the Overlook Hotel was a regular guest and would rot away under the bed in my room.
Over the years I must have had just about every evil and badness possible under my bed stalking and staking me out. Not once did they venture from under the springs whilst I was awake and not once did I have the courage to lean out and look at what was there. I just knew that something - some horrible thing - was beneath me and waiting. Even on the hottest nights I made it my habit to keep my feet and hands inside the covers just in case they reached out and pulled me down into whatever dark hell they came from. On top of my bed I was safe. Underneath was another story and not one with a happy ending.
All my life they’ve been there, night after night. I can’t remember a time without them. They’ve stayed with me long, long after Father Christmas went away. Sometimes – the really bad times - they’ve been actual people and not monsters from fiction at all. They were the real monsters, the bullies and teachers and bosses, even an ex-wife for a while. My father turned up every now and then, Adolph Hitler, Charles Manson, Myra Hindley, and once there was a suicide bomber strapped to the bed frame under my mattress. I convinced myself that I could hear his vest ticking, but of course none of them ever made a sound, not even a breath, but they were always palpable in the blackness of my room no matter where it was.
Then tonight it changed. Tonight, for the first time I heard it breathing. I can hear it gently wheezing away now. I don’t know what it is and of course I don’t want to look. Sleep is impossible as I listen to that quiet breath. What’s under there this time? Is it a werewolf or a porcelain faced doll, a bloated and bleached drowned child? Maybe it’s the corrupt remains of a zombie, or even a demon from Hell. ‘Don’t look, don’t look’, I tell myself. But the breathing goes on and on, not getting any louder but becoming more maddening with each breath in and each breath out.
‘Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look.’ I tell myself over and over. But of course I do, carefully leaning out, I do. I don’t know how or why I do this after all these years of hiding away from it. But carefully leaning out, I do. Maybe the breathing makes it more real, a living thing; or maybe it’s just that after all these years I’ve had enough and I need to know. Anyway, I shuffle myself to the edge of the bed, desperately clinging to the covers to stop me from falling, and I look beneath my bed for the first time that I can ever remember. It is dark in there, but I think that I can see something in the darkness.
And yes, there it is, this thing I have been so scared of all my life. It isn’t a vampire or Jesus or a ghost or a bloody mouthed clown, it’s not a livid corpse or a possessed child; it’s not anything like that at all. It isn’t even Andy Pandy. I look into the eyes of the thing hiding in the dark beneath the bed and I see what’s been haunting me for so long.
It’s me. It’s me under my bed. I am the monster that I’ve been scared of for all this time.
I begin to move, stiffly crawling out of the blackness and onto the bedside rug. I stand and carefully climb under the covers to lie quietly beside myself. It’s cold, but there’s nothing to be scared of; not any longer and I can’t hear that breathing any more. We are quiet.
Time to sleep.