Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Monsters, By Jon VanZile

I remember everything about that night.

After my parents put me to bed, they stood outside my door and had a whispered argument.

"We should leave the light on," Mom said.

"No way," Dad answered. I pictured his face just from the tone of his voice. There would be lines between his eyebrows, and his mouth would be tight.

"But he's just a little boy!" Mom said. "And seriously, this lightning is even freaking me out. I wouldn't want to sleep alone in a dark room on a night like tonight."

Just to make her point, there was a huge FLASH! from outside that lit up my room with an electric glow. I pulled the covers up to my eyes and counted ... one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand ... until a BOOM! rolled down from the mountainside, over our house, and shook the old windows in their frames.

"That was a big one," Mom said in a far-away voice. "Honey, just for tonight. Let him have his light on just for tonight."

"No way," Dad answered. "We start letting him sleep with the lights on, next thing you know, he'll be in our bed. He'll be running the whole house. He's the original give-an-inch, take-a-mile kid."


"Seriously, if you turn that light on, I'm gonna break out the bulb," Dad said. "I thought we were on the same page about this kind of stuff."

"We are, it's just that ... I don't want him to be scared."

"What's so wrong with being scared?" Dad said. "This is our house. If you can't learn to handle fear in the safety of your own house, where will you?" Mom was silent, and I could tell the argument was over. He'd won.

There were a lot of good reasons to be scared in your own house. I knew that, even if they didn't. They still pretended they liked this old house, even though I could already tell that, underneath, Mom hated it just as much as I did. I wasn't even sure Dad liked it. He cursed when he talked about it, and he said it was "probably going to kill him," but when he talked on the phone, he laughed and said he was going to "put lipstick on this old pig and make a fortune."

I didn't sleep. I lay in my bed with my felt blanket pulled up to my nose and my eyes plastered to the window. My room was on the second floor, and my window looked across the overgrown field to the dark line of trees. It was very windy, and the branches tossed and flailed beneath the racing clouds and full moon.

Another FLASH! lit up the sky and I counted to two-one thousand before the BOOM! came and shook my bed. My window was old so cold air rushed around the frame. I felt like I was almost outside, like the skin of the house was thin and brittle like skin on top of pudding.

After the traces of thunder rolled away, I listened for Mom and Dad. I didn't hear their voices. Nothing. So I waited with my eyes plastered to the glass. I knew he would come again tonight. He had come every night for the last three nights, each time inching closer and closer to the house, until once I thought I almost saw his face. Even thinking about it made my throat close around my breath.

I watched the same spot in the woods until my eyes were drawn away, closer to the house. I saw a blacker shadow among the other shadows move slightly, the hulking shape of a man shifting under the cover a dark bush right beneath my window.

I began to scream. I kept screaming as their footsteps drummed up the stairs and Mom flung my door open and turned on the light. I was sitting up in bed. She raced to my bed and wrapped me in her arms while Dad stood in the doorway, shaking his head and frowning.

"See?" she said to Dad. "You're being a major asshole about this. Just so you know." Then she turned to me and nuzzled me. "It's just a storm, honey. Don't worry."

My breathing slowed down, and my crying dissolved into hiccups.

"Did the storm scare you?" Mom said. "It's just thunder. It's just God bowling."

"No," I said, finally working up the courage to tell them the truth. "There's a monster outside. I saw him. He comes closer every night."

"No honey," Mom said. "It's just a storm."

Dad came in a few steps and looked down at me. He didn't look so angry anymore. "She's right," he said. "Listen, I'll tell you what. We'll both be brave tonight. You sleep with your light off like a big boy. And I'll take care of that monster. OK? Any monster comes in here, I'll kick its ass. I’ve got a air-powered nail gun with that monster’s name all over it."

"Trevor!" Mom said. "What kind of message is that?"

"Just the truth, baby," Dad said. "OK?" he said to me. "We got a deal?"

I nodded, but only because I knew they both wanted me to. What good was a nail gun against a monster? Then Mom kissed me and they left. Dad turned out the light, and before he shut the door, he said, "You remember. I'm right outside this door, and I'm tougher than any monster."

But he wasn't.


Erica Orloff said...

Hey Jon:
What I really liked about this was the family dynamics. You did a great job in a short story of letting me know exactly who these people are.


E. Flanigan said...

I really liked this story. I especially liked that I never knew for sure whether the monster was real. And so ultimately, what matters is not MY reality, but the kid's reality .... his dad is not bigger than the monster he's scared of.

As Erica said, it tells a lot about the dynamics of this family unit.

Melody Maysonet said...

The poor kid. Now I don't feel so bad for letting my five year old sleep with the light on.

I'm with Erica on the family dynamics. They were made very clear with just a few lines of dialogue.

And I love the skin-on-the-pudding simile! How I wish I'd thought of that.

LurkerMonkey said...


Thanks ... this was my third try at a story for this prompt

LurkerMonkey said...


It's funny, because I get the metaphor, but I have a pretty definite opinion on whether or not the monster's real.

LurkerMonkey said...


We let our four-year-old sleep with the light on too... I remember being that age. I was a total chicken and they made me sleep in the dark. I used to lay awake, terrified that a vampire lived in the heating duct by my bed. Of course, he would have been a very small vampire, but then again, I was a very small boy.

Jude Hardin said...

What good was a nail gun against a monster?

Smart kid. A pneumatic nail gun would be a terrible choice of weapons against a monster, because you would have to get too close for it to be effective. Ideally, you want to keep as much distance as possible between you and a monster.

Cool story. I think we can all relate to occasionally being frightened at night, even as adults.

Allen said...

As I read this story, the building next door was removing a concrete parking lot. For those not in construction, each slam of the excavator shakes the ground and rattles like thunder. I though this appropriate, but one of you needs to do a better job coordinating the audio with the reading.

I liked the flow of the story. I like the mystery of hanging the story's end just before what could be an epic battle of father and monster, although with my twisted sense of plot, I thought they might be the same.

LurkerMonkey said...


"Ideally, you want to keep as much distance as possible between you and a monster."


And everyone knows that pneumatic nail guns only work against terrorists, as in Lethal Weapon II.

LurkerMonkey said...


I actually tipped off the construction crew, you know, to enhance the reader experience :)

That's interesting about the father/monster thing. I hadn't thought that myself, but it just goes to show how we can all look at the same picture and see so many different things.

Melanie Avila said...

I'm sorry I'm so late to the game. I could REALLY relate to this story. No, my dad didn't get killed by a monster but I have always been terrified that there were things in my house coming to get me. It wasn't until I read this that I realized I never thought they were monsters -- I always thought real-life bad men were sneaking in. SCA-RY.