Beneath Erik's Bed.
Erik stared at the bed.
Whatever brilliance from the overhead fluorescent lights seemed drained away by the inky blackness puddled under the bed. Were his eyes playing tricks on him? Or… did it seem like there were tendrils of non-descript darkness floating around the edges of the bed frame? Abit like wispy fingers skirting the rims of his vision… there, but yet not there, especially now that his eyes were fixed on the bed.
Erik stopped breathing.
No… that was probably just a shadow, he'd ever seen shadows race across his entire room because of the headlights of passing trucks. This was probably one, hurrying on home or to wherever it was trucks went, trying to leave the biting chill of the night behind it, together with the acrid stink of the blue-black fumes spewing out of its oily exhaust pipe.
Yes, that must be it. A huge, black and silver chrome monster hurtling through the empty, dark highway just outside his window.
He'd specifically requested for this room because at one point in time, a couple of years back, he'd been fascinated with the beasts. He used to crouch on the window seat in the middle of the night, waiting for the inevitable rumble of tires three-quarters his height, staring fixedly into the brief glare of high-powered headlamps and hoping eagerly for the blast of horns. When he was lucky, some of the particularly drunk truck drivers would roll by more slowly, wave to him with a hand clutching a damp, fizzing beer can, and then give him a short albeit loud salute before rolling off quickly into the dreary darkness. Not often though, because his father would fumble out of bed and come stomping, roaring about inconsiderate sons of bitches and then carrying on with the different ways of ramming steering wheels up sorry little drunk arseholes. Then his father would grab a fistful of Erik's pyjama collar and throw him back onto his bed before stomping back to his room. Erik soon knew enough to give a quick wave, fly back to bed and lie face-down before his father crashed in like a bear with gripe. He'd savour the short, ground-shaking blast with his cheek pressed against his pillow, just as his father began his tirade.
Erik slowly let his breath out. He licked his cracked lips.
There hadn't been any hornblasts this time, and if the ground was trembling, he must've missed it, what with his head clogged full of the roaring, whining buzz of his palpitating heart. But he was sure the truck, if there had been one, had been moving fast, for the shadows came and went within a split second.
"… drunk bastard, inconsiderate sonofabitch, shoulda shoved the steering wheel up yer arse when they had the chance, you drunk bastard, you sonofa…"
Erik stopped and licked his chapped, cold lips again. His mantra sounded weak and scared as it floated around the room, and worse of all, it sounded… useless.
He shuffled forward half a step, eyes never leaving the darkness beneath his bed.
Erik froze, breath caught in his throat again. For a moment there it seemed like the ambiguous pool of blackness had coagulated into something, something longish and, well, filmy. Almost…slimy-looking. Like a hose coated with jello. Erik's mind screamed with hysterical laughter at the idea, but Erik couldn't hear it. His heart had started up its rapid, hollow tattoo again, like the sound of the first few heavy raindrops of a thunderstorm upon the ground, repeated over and over, faster and faster, tapping incessantly against the insides of his skull.
Erik raised both his fists and pressed them tightly against his ears, then he quickly lowered them again when the build-up of pressure in his head turned the tapping into a migraine-like thudding. His left foot twitched backwards.
Why Erik… scared aren't you?
So scared you wanna run back to mummy?
A jolt ran through Erik's small body. A sound, rather like a cross between a hiccup and a whine, erupted from between his grey lips.
Oh, Erik doesn't have a mummy, isn't it?
No mummy to run to anymore?
Poor poor Erik.
The voice…the voice no one heard now except for Erik. It seared through the cacophony in his head, hit him in the mind like a blast of dry ice, and settled in the pit of his stomach like lead. A voice like the melody of the wind, like the howl of a typhoon, like the song of crickets, like the buzzing of a swarm. It made Erik want to tear his ears off. Right now, it also pierced through the darkest recesses of his brain like a high-intensity halogen, and Erik could feel tears welling up in his eyes and flowing down his nose as certain memories bobbed up to consciousness like a corpse in a river.
Remember her, Erik?
A tan woman, slender, with wavy, mousy brown hair pulled back in a small ponytail. Round eyes, green, with little crinkles at the sides. "Smiley crinkles," Erik whispered. A sharp, aristocratic nose above dark pink lips, with another "big smiley crinkle" at the right corner. Toned limbs from always running around, either at work, sending or fetching Erik from school, fussing over little Georgie, or doing the housework.
Remember her Erik?
Remember her eyes?
Remember her green eyes?
The eyes everyone said you were lucky to inherit?
The eyes that I have now?
The eyes which I scooped out of her sockets while she tried to scream?
Remember what she looked like when you found her, Erik?
Erik's lips trembled. The tears in his eyes were obscuring his vision, and everything went hazy for a moment. In a panic, Erik swiped his palm over his eyes, rubbing the tears away so he could still see under the bed.
…remember how her mouth was wide open, and the blood was pouring into it from her empty sockets?
Remember how it had pooled on her tongue, her disgusting black tongue, and then spilled over her bottom lip and down her neck and dripped all over the place like syrup?
…And how it had soaked so deep into the mattress that they couldn't get the stain out, even after pouring half a bottle of detergent on it. And how her hands had been frozen, claw-like, near her face, like as if she had been trying to claw away the thing that had attacked her… like as if she had wanted to hurt it as much as it had hurt little Georgie before she died. Her revenge, on the thing that had hurt little Georgie so badly that she herself had almost died from grief.
And guilt, Erik.
She was guilty.
She couldn't protect little Georgie even though
she had been lying right next to him that night. Little Georgie had been restless for quite a while, refusing to go to bed at night and moping around the house in the day, huge, dark eyebags making him look like a baby vampire. At first he had simply thrown tantrums and fussed about until Erik's mum and dad left him alone with his box of alphablocs out in the TV room. But one day when they saw him stumbling down the porch steps and falling asleep where he lay on the driveway, mummy had put her foot down and insisted on tucking him in every night before going to bed herself.
That was when little Georgie started complaining, in his baby-talk, about tummyaches, footie-aches, whatever aches his childish 3 year old mind could think of. He'd cling on to mummy, only agreeing to go to bed if it was mummy and daddy's bed, crying pitifully if they suggested he return to his own cot and be a big boy. Eventually he had become so worn-out with his lack of sleep and his tantrums that all he could manage were tiny sobs, chest hitching, face red, eyebags prominent against his pale face.
Poor poor little Georgie.
All mummy's fault.
In the end, mummy had decided to shift Erik's bed into little Georgie's room, and moved the cot out into Erik's room. Mummy had held him so gently by the shoulders and looked him so steadily in the eyes, telling him he had to be a big brother and not mind because little Georgie was going through a phase, a phase during which Erik had to camp out on the couch while his room lay cluttered up with little Georgie's big cot and the extra toys that they had to shift over to make space for Erik's bed in little Georgie's room. A phase during which mummy spent all her time with little Georgie, even sleeping next to him at night on Erik's bigger bed just to keep him quiet. And Erik had not minded. He had been a good big brother. He had been worried about little Georgie's whining… he had been the only one to pick out the words "nnda bad…nndahh baaadd…". He had been the only one who understood what they meant.
"…Under bed… oh Georgie…"
Oh Georgie, poor poor little Georgie, poor poor little Georgie with his torn lips,
Poor poor little Georgie with his swollen face that collapsed like a deflated beachball when mummy tried to hold him and make it all better, poor poor little Georgie.
Erik went white and cupped a skinny hand around his mouth. He could feel the bile in his mouth, coating his tongue, his teeth, his lips… his lips…
Little Georgie's lips had been forced apart so hard that they had torn halfway across his cheeks at the sides, making him look like a hideous little clown with dark red lipstick smeared across the lower half of his face. Except clown's lips were just painted on to give the impression of a big, gaping mouth. And clowns didn't use blood for lipstick. And clowns' heads didn't sag when you cupped their cheeks, didn't crumple in on themselves the way little Georgie's did, because little Georgie's skull had been completely fragmented from the inside and the contents of his head dug out the way you dig at a mussel to get the flesh off the shell. All that was left of little Georgie's head was a raw, bloody cavity. Mummy had wakened to find herself covered with little Georgie's blood, and her horrified puzzlement had turned to screams of such anguish that Erik was afraid she would die. He was only sure she had died when, more than two hours later, she just sat stock still on the gory bed, cradling little Georgie and humming an eerie, tuneless melody that up till then had been little Georgie's bedtime lullaby.
Erik had just stood at the doorway the entire time, trying hard not to cry and even harder not to puke. The worse part had been when his mother abruptly stopped screaming and smiled down at little Georgie, and when she stroked Georgie's blood and tear-streaked face, one of his eyeballs had actually sunk down into his cheek, such that it was staring at Erik while the other remained rolled up to the zenith.
You haven't been a good big brother, have you, Erik?
You let little Georgie get killed.
Did you see his big smile, Erik?
His big big big smile.
Yes… his big big big smile. And the still damp tear-tracks running down his disfigured cheeks.
He died smiling, Erik.
It's good to die smiling.
His father had finally managed to drag Erik's mum off the bed after a huge amount of struggling, during which she had bit and scratched like an insane, wild cat, even though she didn't say a word, not a word, throughout the entire time. Then she had simply collapsed, half on and half off the bed, wailing incoherently, heartbreakingly. Little Georgie, too, rolled back into the blood-slimy hollow where he'd lain until Erik's mum had picked him up. A tiny, little corpse of a sweet, little boy, who'd never done anything worse than following you around all day nagging for a cookie. Who'd once chewed up Erik's homework, but then had spent the rest of the day offering all his toys and sweets to Erik by way of compensation. Who'd crawled into Erik's room a couple of times not more than a year ago and spent the night sleeping on top of Erik, and who'd quietly crawled back early the next mornings before Erik woke. Who'd tweaked Erik's ear, hard, every time Erik teased him, but who'd given Erik huge, slobbery kisses when Erik pretended to cry. Little Georgie. Poor, sweet little Georgie.
And Erik had started to cry for real then, because little Georgie would never again be able to give his huge, slobbery kisses and childishly disarming grins, because little Georgie was dead, was dead forever, and his lips had been torn apart in an obscene parody of his sweet, sweet smiles.
His father had to carry Erik's mum back to their room, where she had immediately fallen into some kind of a stupor from which she had never really woken, a kind of stupor where nothing seemed to matter anymore apart from her memories and the pain. And then Erik's father had enveloped Erik in a fierce hug, the last hug he ever gave Erik, and his large body had been racked with sobs, which had made Erik cry even harder.
After that, his mother refused to sleep anywhere else but in little Georgie's room, on Erik's bed. They'd changed the mattress and mopped up the blood beneath it, but the wooden planks beneath the mattress was a permanent rusty maroon in colour. She never spoke anymore, except when she sang little Georgie's lullaby every night before she slept. Her smiley crinkles disappeared one by one when she lost half her weight and developed a sallow complexion, complemented by her sunken-in cheeks and the tightly stretched skin across her face.
And then she'd died, too.
After that, his father never hugged him anymore, never cared much one way or the other about whatever Erik did, and Erik never cried anymore, not even when his father came back from work drunk as a lord and slapped him a couple of times when Erik tried to lead him to bed.
And the trucks roared by still, except Erik no longer cared.
…you were afraid to hear the trucks, Erik, weren't you?
Because their blasts drown out almost all sound, don't they?
They hadn't heard any screams. Maybe they couldn't hear, because…
…it wasn't the trucks, Erik.
I was the one who killed them,
But… no one heard them scream, isn't it, Erik?
…because the blaring of the horns on both nights had been loud enough to irritate even Erik, who loved the blasts. And on both nights his father had stumbled blearily into Erik's room to yell at the trucks, not little Georgie's, because Erik's room was the one next to the highway, not little Georgie's, oh no.
…you should have offered little Georgie your room, Erik.
Except he hadn't, because…well…it was his room, with all his posters of gleaming trucks and Technics models and his colourful rock collection carefully arranged on the display shelf next to the window.
All your fault, Erik.
It was all his fault.
A sudden metallic smell broke Erik's reverie. He jerked his head upwards, just in time to see a very familiar pool of thick, dark red liquid flowing out from under his bed, dripping from the mattress with a barely audible splashing sound. Erik blinked, and there was no blood, no dripping, only the ambiguous shadows beneath his bed, churning, melting into one another, beckoning to Erik, hiding from his view.
You look tired Erik.
Erik sobbed once, a helpless gulp of the copper flavoured air, the air that was rank with blood. His hands wandered to his face, then lowered themselves, then wandered back up again, shaking, as Erik teetered on the brink of terror. He didn't dare to wipe his eyes, didn't dare to block his view of the bed for even a second, not now, not ever.
Oh my God, there.
A vaguely head-shaped shadow had seemed to emerge from the depths of darkness, then withdraw with a strange, sucking noise hardly within the range of human hearing. There had been a small patch around the lower half of the shadow, a patch where no shadow existed, where Erik could see through perfectly clearly, a patch that for all the world looked like a laughing, gaping mouth.
It's good to die smiling.
His father had shifted Erik's bed back to Erik's room, after changing the mattress once again. And he had locked up little Georgie's room and thrown the key out onto the highway where it probably still lay rusted and bent. But Erik had remained out on the couch till now, because he had been the only one who'd heard little Georgie say
'under bed', he had been the only who understood that it wasn't the room, it was the
bed, it was the bed, it was the bed that killed them, it had always been the bed, his bed, and it was all his fault, all his fault, he killed them, and his father must think it's his fault too, it was all his fault.
All his fault.
Great, choking sobs erupted from Erik; his entire body shook with the force of his grief, his guilt. The scalding tears streamed down his icy cheeks; he couldn't even wipe them away in time before they blinded him again, and he wiped even more frantically at them, for they felt like blood, the warm blood of his mummy and little Georgie, the blood which should have been his because he knew now, with a dreadful certainty in his young, heavy heart, that it had all been his fault.
You killed them Erik…
And then Erik saw. The head, slowly pushing out from under the bed with its gaping, empty grin, like a fetus emerging from its womb. A grotesque, deformed head with features that seemed to flow into one another and then flow apart into a different configuration, but all the time with that patch of empty space where its mouth was. And then… a neck. A thin, long neck, moist looking, raw looking, and long, very very long, oh God, there didn't seem to be an end to it, it was so long, and it twisted, it turned towards Erik, it was multi-jointed, it looked like an enormous worm coated with what looked like blood and pus, except worms didn't have grinning heads, grinning heads that looked for all the world like mummy and little Georgie. Shadows spilled out after it like writhing tentacles, and Erik cried for all the wrong he did, for being such a bad son and an even worse brother, for being such a crybaby, for being so scared, and his tears clouded up his eyes and everything seemed fine for a moment, the tears made it all better.
You look tired, Erik…
Through the prism of his tears the world seemed like a huge, blooming swirl of shadows that seemed to entice and engulf him all at once into its oily, yawning emptiness. Like a carousel in a nightmare, with shadows that danced, shadows that lunged, shadows that caressed, shadows that stung him so deep inside his heart and mind that Erik swayed with pain and reached out blindly to steady himself. He touched something moist, something repugnant, something that felt like fungus, and it wrapped around his hand and swarmed up his arm and seemed to dissolve his skin and devour his flesh even as he fell forward, exhaustion and grief stamped into his very soul like a branding iron.
Why don't you come to bed, Erik…
He sank onto the bed with a mixture of insane horror and desperate relief, and the shadows spilled out from under his bed and grinned mirthless grins, gaping grins, terrible grins, and the blood flowed and the pain blossomed like a supernova, blotting out his entire consciousness even as he opened his mouth…
It's good to die smiling, Erik…
…and from outside his window came a rumble of tires three quarters his height, the penetrating glare of high-intensity headlights, and the screaming, laughing blast of a horn that seemed to go on forever and ever and ever and ever, except no one would ever hear them again.