The hallway was dark and full of hiding places. The black shadows halted Anne for a moment, but it was crawling out from its lair. She flung herself out of her room, crossed the great void, and smashed into her parent’s bedroom door. She fumbled with the knob. Scooting, scratching across the carpeted floor it came. “Momma! Dadda!”
Dadda lifted her up and held her close. She pressed her face against his chest.
“It’s all right, Annie. Don’t worry, we’re here. It’s all right.”
He sat her in the bed between himself and Momma.
“What’s the matter, sweetie?”
She gasped for air. “M-monster.”
“There’s no monster,” Momma said.
Anne pursed her lips to hold back more tears and shook her head.
“It was just a bad dream,” Dadda said.
She stared stubbornly forward. “Monster.”
“It’s all right. There’s no monster now.”
The door was ajar. It could slither in, still. “Monster,” and she pointed.
“It’s time to lay down, Annie. You can sleep with us, but it’s time to sleep. There’s nothing to worry about.”
They placed her on a pillow, their bodies warm walls against the night. She stared at the ceiling, her body rigid, until she could no longer keep her eyes open.
* * *
“Annie wasn’t in her room this morning,” Brody said when Mom got out of the bathroom.
“She had a bad dream. She slept with us.”
“I used to have bad dreams.” Brody, at four, wanted to show how mature he was.
He found Anne on Mom and Dad’s bed, laughing as Dad tickled her. “Annie!” he called. “Annie! Did you have a bad dream?”
The fairy-birthing giggle and squeals stopped. Anne sat solemnly and stared at her older brother.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I used to have bad dream. I don’t any more.”
“Monster chased me.”
“Cool. What did it look like?”
“Big furry snake. It tried to eat me.”
Brody studied her. “Let’s eat breakfast.”
“Breakfast time!” shrieked Anne. “I want marshmallows.”
* * *
Mom struggled, unsuccessfully, to put Anne’s pajamas on. She squirmed and twisted. “No bed! No bed!”
She got a swat, which stopped the movement and started the crying, but the pajamas got on.
“Bad Annie,” Brody said from the doorway where he watched. Mom shooed him away, but he came back.
“I’m scared,” Anne said.
“There are no monsters. Look, I’ll show you.”
Mom lifted the skirt of her toddler bed to show her. “See?”
“I want to sleep in Momma’s bed.”
“You’re going to sleep in your bed. Pick a book to read.”
They read Good Night, Moon. The rabbit had lots of things in his room but no monsters.
* * *
She woke. The orange light from her princess night light transformed her room into a vast cavern, full of passages and secret alcoves. She searched the shadows. They reached out, the hands of strangers. But if she stayed in bed, they could not touch her.
She waited. She turned, trying to get comfortable.
Then she heard it, low, beneath her–Sssssss. “Monster.” She pressed against the far side of her bed. Something was moving, slowly, hiddenly, sliding softly across the floor.
She burst out crying.
* * *
Brody munched on dry Fruit Loops as Dad washed last night’s dishes. “Annie, did you have a bad dream again?”
Anne was picking through her Lucky Charms for the last marshmallows. She nodded.
“Was it a monster?”
She nodded again, face screwing up to cry.
“Daddy, can Annie sleep in my room? I’ll take care of her. I used to have bad dreams. I don’t now. I’ll show her.”
“That’s very nice, Brody, but she needs to learn to sleep in her own room.”
“One time? Pretty please?”
Anne, not quite understanding what was happening, repeated her brother. “One time? Pretty please?”
“Let me talk to Mom about it.”
* * *
That night, Dad moved Brody’s mattress onto the floor of Anne’s room. “If you come out, you’re going back to your room.”
“I won’t,” Brody said.
Brody and Anne sang together once the light was out and laughed. Anne liked having Brody with her. “Don’t worry, Annie. I’ll protect you. I’ll show you what to do about bad dreams.”
She woke to darkness. Brody was snoring quietly. “I’m scared,” she said.
Brody woke and looked at her.
“I hear it,” she said.
Brody stiffened. He heard it, too. Slowly, he sat up. His eyes were fixed beneath her bed. He stood and started toward the door, watching it creep out from its hiding spot.
“Stay here,” she said. “Don’t go. Stay. I’m scared.”
Brody’s back reached the door. “It’s a big snake.”
“Help. Help me, Brody.”
Quickly, he turned and opened the door. She heard him run down the hall and open another door. He said something. He was telling Momma and Dadda.
It was slithering out, slithering up, raising its hairy head.
Her door creaked and she raised her arms for Momma and Dadda. But they weren’t there. She saw horns and eyes and a big mouth.
The new monster charged in, scaring the snake. It pressed its head under her bed, snorting and snuffling and growling, searching. Her bed shook as the monster’s antlers knocked against it. She drew in breath and almost cried.
“Go away.” It was Brody’s voice. The monster of horns and teeth pranced away, leaving only her brother, standing in the doorway.
“It’s okay, Annie. It’s okay. I used to have bad dreams. Now I have pets.”