A short, almost-true story
for smart, almost-big children
Meir’s scream, the first time he saw the monster, was extremely loud (for the most part a high-c, though its pitch varied as he wailed), and his parents came rushing in a panic to his room.
It was 2:14 in the morning, and the creature had woken Meir up with growling and grunting noises. He wasn’t furry or fanged, but was terrifying all the same. He had a huge face – in fact, he was mostly face, with no visible body at all, just arms and legs jutting out from where his ears and chin should have been And the face, well, it was a frightful one, with angry eyes – four of them, in fact – and a bulbous, gnarled nose. At the end of the monster’s long, bony hands were clattering claws, which seemed to be reaching for Meir. And the monster’s mouth, which dripped with a mayonnaise-like substance, was slowly opening.
And so, Meir’s scream.
When his parents arrived, the monster promptly disappeared. When they asked Meir, still shaking with fear, what had happened, he couldn’t say a word. His tongue seemed frozen. Truth be told, he had only been speaking intelligibly for a half-year or so, and what speech he managed even in calmer circumstances was rather simple. But even “I saw a monster” eluded him for a full minute, until he managed to squeeze out the words.
“Now, now,” cooed Mother soothingly. “There aren’t any monsters.” Meir wasn’t calmed, though; and now, what was worse, he knew that his mother didn’t know everything after all.
All the same, though, Mother’s embrace and gentle rocking, along with Father’s singing quietly lulled Meir back to sleep in what seemed to be seconds, even though as Mother and Father could tell you, it was really close to an hour.
As fate would have it, the frightful monster showed up with frightful regularity, every night for many nights thereafter, and always at, or around, the same frightful hour. And each night Meir would scream, his parents (at first, both; eventually one or the other) would come, and the monster would, at that very moment, disappear.
Meir was not happy. How do I get rid of this monster, he thought to himself, once and for all? His father, sensing Meir’s anxiety (and remembering his own interrupted sleep) had suggested several methods. One was shooting rubber bands at the monster, a technique that Father taught Meir, but which wasn’t successful. Meir’s fingers just didn’t work right when the monster appeared and he could only fumble with the rubber band as the monster came alarmingly close. And so Meir had no choice but to resort to Plan B, the scream.
Then Father asked Meir to draw a picture of the monster, which Meir was happy to do with red and black crayons (although the depiction didn’t really look quite like the monster). Father then told Meir to take the portrait to bed with him and, when the monster appeared, crumple and crush it. The monster, Father said, would then disappear. No need to scream.
Alas, although Meir managed to crumple the paper when the monster next showed up, it had no effect at all. Meir figured, in fact, that it had probably made the monster all the more angry. And so he screamed.
Every night, for many weeks, was a monster night, and both Meir and his parents grew accustomed to the routine.
One night, though, Meir hadn’t even fallen asleep yet when he found the monster right at the side of his bed. But as Meir took a deep breath to scream, the monster held a bony finger to his mouth, as if to say “Please don’t.” And so Meir didn’t.
And then the monster, for the first time ever, spoke. His voice was gruff, as Meir had imagined it would be, but his words were quiet ones.
“I have a confession to make,” the monster said. Meir’s eyes answered, “What?”
“I’m only a figment.”
It took him a minute, but Meir managed to respond, although the monster certainly didn’t look like it was having a baby. “You’re prigmant?”
“No,” said the monster, with a hint of impatience but also, Meir thought, of a smile. “I’m a figment.
“A figment is something you create in your thoughts. That is to say that I am only what I am because you formed me in your head. I am real only because you believe in me.”
Meir didn’t fully understand, even as the monster continued to speak.
“The moment you stop thinking that I’m really here,” he said, slowly, “I won’t be.”
Meir thought he saw something like a tear emerge from one of the monster’s four eyes.
“What?” was all that Meir could manage to say.
“Think about it,” the monster said. And then, at the sound of Mother walking past the door, he just disappeared, leaving Meir to his thoughts.
And think he did, hard, about the monster’s words, and, as he drifted off to sleep, he thought that maybe he did understand them. He slept through the entire night that night, much to his parents’ delight.
The next day, though, Meir was unusually quiet. Mother and Father asked him if something was wrong. “No,” was all he said.
That night, though, he woke with a start at 2:25 AM. And there sat the monster, across the room, on a beanbag chair, eyeing him with all fours.
He stood up slowly and walked toward Meir’s bed. Meir was totally silent.
And when the monster reached Meir’s bed, he opened his mouth and spoke.
“Thank you,” he said.
© 2014 Avi Shafran