Most children have always had a fear of something horrible living under the bed or in their closet. I was no different. Of course, while most only have one such creature living in their home, I had both.
Now, while this might make people think that I live with twice the fear of the dark as a child, the opposite is true. I actually felt quite safe. For you see, the creature that took residence beneath my bed was more of a guardian. A protector of sorts. A beast that defended me from the monster that lived within my closet.
As a child, my more formative years were spent living in a country of Italy. In those days, being a foreigner in that land was not particularly a great thing. In fact, it could be quite deadly. However, my family and I were lucky. Not only were we part of a higher born family, but we held close ties to an Italian noble family. It was much like living in a gilded cage, to me, though. But, this is not about my childhood.
There was a child close to my own age in the family my parents and I lived with. A spoiled brat who had only to stomp his feet to get what he demanded. I pitied many of the birds and puppies that squalling creature wished for and then tossed aside upon losing interest. Perhaps it was that behavior that first drew the taloned monster that took residence inside his wardrobe. Or perhaps it was being within it's presence that made him demand so many animals that then, for lack of a better term, vanished.
It must've been the constant disappearance of these animals that made his parents decide he had had enough of them. Which was a blessing for any future pets brought into the mansion. However, he still had one final demand. A new wardrobe. This demand, unfortuantely, came to impact me. How? As I had no wardrobe of my own at the time, I was forced to take the hand me down one. Needless to say, it led me to fear when night fell. And as we had no electricity in those days, I had no way to illuminate the room to protect myself.
How many nights did I spend huddled under the covers and listening? How long would that creature rake it's claw-like nails across the door and handle of the wardrobe? It felt like it was trying to drive me mad with it's hissing whispers. A sound that I desperately tried to block out by covering my ears with my hands or pillow. And at nights when the moon was full, I could see as it slowly pushed the wardrobe open and crawl across the floor on all fours. Each night, it would inch itself closer and closer to me, a hungry gleam in it's yellow eyes.
Each night, I would pray to any deity or spirit that was listening for some kind of protection. And each night, it felt as if those pleas fell upon deaf ears. Until one night, that is.
I could hear that spine tingling skirtching sound, even through the pillow I had buried my head under. The creak of the wardrobe door opening made me curl up tighter under the covers. There was then silence. A deafening silence that I was not so familiar with. It lasted for so long that I couldn't help but peak out to see what was happening.
There, crouched inside the wardrobe, was the very creature that had been tormenting me. Unlike previous nights, though, it's focus was not on me. It was on something else. Something...I was unable to see.
Unable to help myself, I slowly started to sit up. But as I shifted on the mattress, that was when I heard a deep, low growl that stopped me cold. Thinking that it was a new sound from that thing in the wardrobe, I glanced over. It seemed as though my moving had gotten it's attention and it had started to step out of it's nest, but had stopped mid step. The growl, I realized, didn't come from the wardrobe. It was from underneath my bed.
I distinctly remember how I started to tremble at the idea of a second monster threatening me. I already had no protection from one and now I needed to contend with two? But, those thoughts soon left me when I noticed the one I could see had started retreating back into the wardrobe. This was what prompted me to move to the foot of the bed, hoping for a glimpes of whatever it was that was there. I had barely noticed the thin, humanoid creature starting to come for me when a massive, heavily furred paw with large, black claws shot out from beneath me and slashed at my would be attacker.
The shock of the sight forced me to scurry back to the head of the bed. At the same time, though, my previous tormentor had retreated back into the wardrobe, slamming the door closed. I nervously peered over the side of the bed, just in time to see a long, rat-like tail swish back into the shadows.
It was morning before I finally had the courage to get out of bed and see what was lurking under me all night. With the light of the sun, I knew the predator in the closet wouldn't come for me. And given I could see no sign of the other one, I assumed the same rules must apply to it.
Staying in a beam of light, I knelt down and peeked into the space under the bed. What I saw was not what I had expected. This creature couldn't have been the same thing that attacked the one from the wardrobe. The paw had been like that of a lion. This...was maybe the size of a cat. But, the tail and the fur matched what I had seen in the darkness.
Feeling rather brave, or quite stupid, I decided to reach a hand to it. All that thick fur on it's body and those long, droopy ears, the tempation to try and pet it was too strong.
Just as my fingers reached the shadows, the creature stirred and opened a pair of big, green eyes. My chest ached as I hadn't realized I had been holding my breath, but I didn't dare let it go yet. I feared that doing so, even so much as twitching would cause it to attack me. It wasn't until it yawned, showing off needle-like teeth, and nestled it's face into it's paws that I allowed myself to relax. There was no aggression, no fear, nothing. But, instead of trying to pet it right then, I chose to leave it be. For the moment, at least.
For the next week, I would lay in bed and just listen to the two creatures growl and hiss at one another. Every now and then, the one in the wardrobe would attempt to step out, only to be forced back in by the large paws of the one under the bed. In a lot of ways, hearing the low rumble beneath me was quite soothing. I didn't dare to try and get out of bed, for fear of being attacked. But knowing that the thing that previously terrified me was being held at bay was a comfort.
It was late in the night, during a particularly bad snow storm, when I felt movement at the foot of my bed. Under normal cirmstances, perhaps I would've assumed one of the family's greyhounds had decided to curl up there for warmth. But, with what lived in the closet being a notorious eater of dogs, that was unlikely. With that in mind, I decided I had to investigate.
Slowly, cautiously, I sat up and saw a dog sized form laying right at my feet. Even with the storm, there was still moonlight coming through the window. Just enough light to see a larger form of the beast I had discovered under the bed. I sat there, frozen, afraid that any further movement would be my last. My eyes flit from the foot of my bed to the wardrobe, seeing not even the usual crack of an open door.
Out of fear, I huddled up near the head of the bed. I didn't even dare to draw the comforter around me for warmth, not wanting to risk disturbing the unknown animal. Apparently, though, it noticed my movements and decided to sit up and watch me.
How long we sat there like that, just staring at one another, I don't recall. Time seemed to crawl right then.
Eventually, the creature moved. Stretching out and yawning like a sleepy wild cat. Instead of laying back down or returning to it's place beneath the furniture, it padded it's way over to me. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as it reached me. And all I could imagine was those sharp claws reaching out and swiping my face. Or those fang-like teeth closing around my tiny, pale throat. What happened was not what I had expected. Instead of attacking, it rubbed it's head against my cheek like an affectionate house cat.