Negotiations Have Failed.
From under the bed: “I just don’t think it’s fair, is all.”
“I’m not having this conversation again,” I said. I was on top of the bed, where I should be.
“Ha-HA! You are! You responded! The conversation has commenced!”
“You can’t count that. I was refusing to talk. Conversation over. Conversation not even begun.”
“And yet you continue to respond. Do you see the contradiction? Because I do, and I’m down here, under the bed. It’s dark under here. And dusty. You should clean under here more often. People work here, you know.”
“Used to work here. And don’t get me started on the word ‘people.’ Now shush. I’m trying to sleep.”
“Already with the personal attacks. You know what I think?”
I said nothing.
“I said, you know what I think?”
I still said nothing. No encouragement, no encouragement, no encouragement…
“I think you’re the one who belongs down here. Get my meaning? As in, you should have my job? As in, you are a–”
“Don’t,” I said. “Don’t even say it.”
“Well, it’s nice to see I can still provoke some kind of reaction out of you.”
“I work in the morning and I need sleep. I don’t have the time or the patience for this.”
“I could sing you a lullaby.”
“No thank you.”
“Yeah, that’s not really my bag anyway. I don’t have the best singing voice. And my teeth get in the way.”
I covered my head with my pillow, though I knew it wouldn’t help.
From under the bed: “Tell you what.”
“No,” I said.
“I’ll just move around some of these boxes that are down here and you can tell me if you think it’s scary or not. You don’t actually have to be scared, just give me your honest opinion of whether or not someone could be scared.”
I said nothing. I didn’t hear anything for a while, and then I heard a short sliding sound, tentative and abrupt, no more than a second long. I could hear the dust trapped between the floor and whatever was being moved. A longer slide followed. I tried to remember what I’d stashed in boxes under the bed; it couldn’t be anything important or I wouldn’t have to think about it. Then something thumped. Then a frenzy of sliding and thumping, boxes smacking into other boxes, the sound of whoever was sliding the boxes around rolling on the floor, its bony parts hitting the hardwood and creating an irregular rhythm of thumps of a different pitch.
“Alright, alright, I give up. Just stop messing with my stuff.”
From under the bed: “So was it scary?”
“Are you kidding me?”
“So that’s a no?”
“You told me what you were going to do. How could it possibly be scary?”
“Maybe the scare came from how I did it.”
I said nothing.
“Alright, that is kinda dumb. I admit it.”
“I’m listening, y’know. Maybe you should take this opportunity to say what you want to say.”
“Oh, right, right.” From under the bed, throat-clearing sounds, then: “It’s not fair. You should still be scared of me.”
I waited for more, but that’s all there was. “That’s it?” I said. “That’s your impassioned plea?”
“Look, I’m not a good talker. I’m a scarer. I scare. I should scare you.”
“Maybe a couple decades ago.”
“Are you saying I’m not good at my job?”
“I’m saying you can’t be good at your job. I’m well past the point of being scared by things under my bed. When I think there might be something under my bed, do you know what I do?”
“Nothing, because you’re paralyzed by fear?”
“No. I check to see if there’s anything under my bed. And there never is. There never was.”
“I was there. I am there. But I move. I’m very quick.”
“What I’m saying is it doesn’t matter anymore if you’re there or not. The concept doesn’t scare me anymore. For you to scare me at all, I’d have to see you under my bed, and then I’d probably be more startled than scared.”
“You can’t see me. It’s not in the job description.”
“Then we’ve reached a stalemate.”
“Are you gonna make me call my union rep?”
“You have a union?”
“Why wouldn’t we? Look it’s not just my job that’s at stake here.”
From inside the closet: “Yeah, you tell him.”
“You stay out of this,” I said.
From under the bed: “I can’t believe you’re not scared of me. I’ve got–”
“–huge pointy yellow teeth, yes I know.”
“–razor sharp claws that are black as night, yes.”
“And a gigantic body covered–”
“–in bristly matted hair, I know. I remember. I imagined what you looked like every time you scared me when I was little.”
“So what’s the freakin’ problem?”
“I told you. I grew up.”
I opened my mouth, but had no response, so I closed it again.
After a while, I said “I don’t understand why this is still an issue. I haven’t been scared of you for years and years.”
“Jeez, pour salt in my wounds, why don’tcha.”
“Oh come on, like you didn’t know.”
“I don’t know what I didn’t know. I was… I was…”
From inside the closet: “He was blinded by hope.”
From under the bed: “Yeah. Thanks. See, he’s got the words, he should be talking at you, not me.”
From inside the closet: “You’re doing fine. Besides, the kid was never that scared of me anyways. You kept this operation going.”
From under the bed: “Thanks, man. But really it’s a team effort.”
“I’m glad you guys are bonding,” I said, “but I still don’t understand why you think you should be able to scare me now.”
From under the bed: “You’re still afraid of the Shape.”
“Yeah, the Shape. Like last night, when you went to bed. You turned out the lights and in the pitch blackness you had a feeling that there was someone in the house with you. You could almost see the Shape, almost hear him moving.”
“That was fatigue.”
“Nope. That was the Shape. He does good work.”
“That was more primal. That kind of fear is very basic, it’s all in the lizard-brain, not like something under the bed. It’s a completely different thing.”
From under the bed, with a smile in its voice: “Why?”
“Because,” I said, grasping, “because I made you up when I was a kid. I’m done with you now.”
The room was quiet for a while, then I heard gravelly chuckling from under the bed, and then from inside the closet. I couldn’t be sure since the door was closed, but I thought I heard more chuckling, raspy and faint, from elsewhere in the house.
From under the bed: “If you’re done with us, then why are we still here?”
I said nothing.
“I think maybe I’ll move these boxes around again. Just for the heck of it.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” I said.
“Of course not.”
I heard the dragging sounds of the boxes moving around again. I pictured a smile of huge yellow pointed teeth.
From under the bed: “Good night.”