Episode 97: The Monster & Mrs. Blake by Alethea Kontis


The Monster & Mrs. Blake

by Alethea Kontis

Jeremy Blake took a snorkel to bed. An eleven-year-old boy was way too old for such nonsense, but he didn’t know what else to do. There was a monster under there. A big one. And it was going to kill him.

He hadn’t given the monster a name, like Jabberwocky or Wendigo or even Boogeyman. Mom always said that naming your fear made it real. Like having a pet. Once it had a name it was part of the family, for better or worse.

The monster had been with Jeremy since he was little. It started out as a shadow, haunting the corners of his eyes and scaring him into bed every night. It had stayed in that form for years before the noises came–a scratching at the window, the creaking of the closet door, deep, soft breathing. Like a cat’s purr. A big, evil cat.

By the time Jeremy was nine, the monster was strong enough to move the bed. It liked feeding off his fear in the wee hours of the morning. Then it started to feed off his flesh. If he left his foot outside the covers, the monster bit at his toes with its many little mouths and tiny pointed teeth. If he rolled over and left his side exposed, the monster would scratch him from hip to armpit with its razor-sharp claws.

It hadn’t left a mark…yet. But some days, Jeremy’s feet were a mass of pins and needles that forced him to limp to the bus stop. Some days, his side hurt so badly he couldn’t raise his hand in class to answer questions.

He could only hide under the covers for so long. It was only a matter of time before the monster became smart enough to catch him, strong enough to lift the covers, and real enough to kill him.

He couldn’t tell anybody – who’d believe him? They would say that monsters don’t exist, like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Yeah. Only Santa didn’t want to skin you alive and lick the blood off your bones, and the Easter Bunny didn’t want to snap you in half and suck out your insides like a crawfish.

Baggy-eyed and sleep-deprived, Jeremy suffered in silence. He straightened the shiny, stiff baseball glove at the top of his bed. His eleventh birthday was two weeks ago. He wished he’d enjoyed it more; he knew he’d never see his twelfth.

Most days, Jeremy pretended he was a normal kid. He went to school. He played baseball with his friends. He helped Mom clean up after dinner, when Dad retired to the living room to watch TV.

“Jeremy, can I talk to you for a sec?” Uh-oh. It was the Mom Voice. She took the half-empty bowl of fruit salad from him. “Have a seat.”

Jeremy shot a glance in the direction of the living room. When he heard the Jeopardy theme, he relaxed a little. A one-parent conference then. Whatever trouble he was in couldn’t be that bad.

Mom smiled as if she could read his thoughts, and then scowled again. She picked up a fork and stabbed at an orange wedge, mad at the orange rather than mad at him. Mom was a bit of a nutcase, but for the most part, she was all right.

“Your midterm report card came in the mail today.”

Jeremy winced.

“See, I have this problem,” she said. “I’m a mom. Moms worry about their kids.” She put the fork down. “I’m worried about you, kiddo. This isn’t like you.”

Jeremy shrugged. “I’m okay, Mom.”

“You’re not okay,” she said. “And I have Mom Eyes, so you look ten times worse to me.” Jeremy laughed. “You started middle school this year. Is it that? Is it the pressure of being the small fish in the pond again?”

“No,” said Jeremy.

“I know some teachers don’t like smart kids. I had my share of those when I was your age. If some teacher’s taking it out on you, let me know. I’ll beat the snot out of her.”

The thought of his tiny little mom taking on anyone was funny. And not a little bit scary. “No, my teachers are fine.”

She rested her chin in her hands and batted her eyelashes. “Is it a giiiirl?”

“Ma!” Jeremy started stacking plates.

Mom sat back in her chair. “Is it the monster?”

Jeremy knocked over his milk glass. What little was left soaked into the tablecloth before he could throw a napkin over it. He had told his mom about the monster once, years ago. He hadn’t expected her to remember long after he should have grown out of it.

“It’s all right, kiddo.”

The hand she put over his was soft and steady. Jeremy flinched, ashamed of his own trembling. “I can handle it. I’m handling it. Just”–he looked toward the living room again–“don’t tell Dad, okay?”

She chuckled. “Your dad’s a bit of a monster himself, isn’t he?”

“Mom, I’m not joking.”

“Okaaaaay…” she started. Jeremy could hear the “but” coming like a freight train a mile away. “…but only if you promise to listen very carefully to what I’m about to tell you.”

Jeremy reluctantly plopped back down in the chair.

“Are you listening?”

Jeremy nodded.

“Sometimes in life there come things that are just plain-old too big for one person to deal with.” Mom pushed a strand of curly dark hair out of her pixie-like face. Jeremy would miss her when he was gone. “There’s a reason there are six billion people on this planet. We’re supposed to help each other out. There will still be lots of things you’re meant to do on your own. It’s part of growing up. But sometimes…” She sighed. “I want to help you, Jeremy. But I won’t. Not unless you ask me first. Just promise me you’ll ask me.”

“I promise,” Jeremy whispered. He would not cry. He would not. He might not have been big enough to scare away the monster, but he was big enough tor resist that.

She kissed him on the forehead and tousled his hair. “Don’t worry about the mess tonight. I’ll take care of it.” She put her silverware on top of his stack of plates. “Go on upstairs and try to get some rest. You look like crap.”

Jeremy smirked. “Gee, thanks, Mom.”

“Hey.” Jeremy turned just in time to catch the apple she threw at him from the centerpiece on the table. “Midnight snack,” she winked. “Love you, kiddo.”

God, she was so weird. “Love you too, Mom.”

What on Earth was he going to do with an apple? He wasn’t supposed to eat in his room. If he got hungry in the middle of the night, he’d just go down to the kitchen…assuming he could let his feet touch the floor…

Huh.

Jeremy polished the apple against his shirt. Maybe his mom wasn’t totally Looney Tunes after all.

He put the apple on his headboard next to his shiny new baseball glove. He got his pajamas and the snorkel and cocooned himself under the blankets. He said his prayers just like he did every night, with special emphasis on the “If I should die before I wake” part. It was rare, but some nights, the monster left him alone. He prayed this would be one of those nights.

It wasn’t.

Jeremy woke to grumbling and gnashing teeth, the slurp of spit and the crunch of bones. He pulled himself into a ball and checked all of his limbs. In the blessed relief after his physical inventory, Jeremy realized that the crunching wasn’t bones at all. It was the apple.

He smiled so hard he thought his face might break. If the monster liked fruit more than it liked him, it could have all it wanted.

Jeremy started taking an apple to bed every night. Mom never said a word. Red, green, yellow– she bought apples by the bushel and kept every bowl in the kitchen stocked. Jeremy got sleep. He did his homework. He passed his tests. He broke in his new baseball glove. He ate his meals with gusto and cleaned his plate in ten seconds flat.

“Drink your milk, son,” Dad said, “so you can grow up to be big and strong like me.”

Grow.

The monster had nibbled at Jeremy before, but it had never actually eaten anything. What if it was growing? What if, by feeding it, Jeremy was making the monster stronger than ever? What would happen when apples didn’t fill it up anymore, and it wanted Jeremy for dessert?

That night, the monster bit Jeremy on the toe. Through the sheet. In the morning, there was a hole. The next night, a tentacle brushed across the bottom of Jeremy’s foot. It left a welt. The claws left red stripes down his chest and across his legs. The little mouths left bruises and small puncture wounds.

It hurt to put on clothes. Jeremy took to wearing a hat and long sleeves, even when it wasn’t cold outside. Each step was slow and painful and reminded him of what a coward he was. What a silly little boy. Eleven years old and still scared of the monster under his bed. What a baby. He knew that’s what they’d say. If he’d been in their places, that’s what he would have said.

True to her word, Mom said nothing. She and Jeremy cleaned the kitchen after Dad left, just like always. Sometimes she tried to make him laugh. Sometimes they worked in silence. But every night, when they were done, she handed him an apple and sent him off to bed.

“Mom,” Jeremy said finally. “I’m asking.”

She dropped the apple she held and took Jeremy into her arms. “Thank God! I was afraid you were going to wait until your school called and told me to stop beating you.”

“You still won’t tell Dad, right?”

She locked her lips and threw away the key. “Mum’s the word. Go on, now. I’ll be in after I put your father to bed. Don’t worry, kiddo,” she said. “We’ll beat this thing.”

Jeremy wasn’t so sure. For one, Mom was small. He was as tall as she was, and he was only eleven! For two, she didn’t know how huge the monster was. Or how strong. Oh, no. Jeremy didn’t know Mom’s plan for the monster, but he wasn’t going to let it hurt her.

He did as he was told and went to bed. He picked up a book and turned the pages, too distracted to actually read. Mom showed two hours later, dressed all in black, with a green bookbag. “Jeremy, are you still up?” she scolded overdramatically. “You put out that light and go to sleep, young man.” She waved her free hand in the air at him.

What? Oh! She wanted him to play along. “Aw, Ma…five more minutes?”

She gave him a thumbs-up. “No, sir! Lights out.”

“O-kay.”

Mom kissed Jeremy loudly on the forehead and laid the bookbag on the bed, close to his body. “G’night, kiddo.”

“G’night, Mom.”

She closed the door, tiptoed back to the bed, and eased on to it gently until she sat cross-legged, facing Jeremy. Moonlight fell into a square on the covers between them. Mom quietly emptied the bookbag into the square. There was an apple, a big knife, and a tape recorder.

Jeremy was confused. Mom put a finger to her lips. Relax, she mouthed. Jeremy fluffed his pillow and rested against the headboard.

After about ten minutes of complete silence, she pressed “Play” on the tape recorder. Slow, even breathing filled the room–the sound of someone sleeping. The sound of him sleeping! Jeremy sat up. Was that really what he sounded like? When had Mom taped him sleeping?

He opened his mouth but she scowled, so Jeremy listened to himself sleep. It was kind of funny. Every so often he murmured or rustled the bedclothes. He was so caught up in listening, he almost didn’t see the hand reaching for the apple.

Jeremy slapped his hands over his mouth and swallowed a scream; tears sprang to his eyes with the effort. He’d never seen the monster when he was wide awake. Its fingers were large, with purple and yellow stripes. Blue-green veins pulsed under pimply skin. At the tip of each finger was a small mouth, each with hundreds of tiny, glistening, pointy teeth.

Having Mom there should have made it easier. It didn’t. It made him more afraid–the most afraid he’d ever been in his whole life. The monster was real. Jeremy was going to die. And when it finished with him, it would kill his mother.

The arm slithered to the center of the bed where the apple lay. Two tentacles joined it. Jeremy refused to wet the bed and embarrass himself in front of his mother. Mom. At least he could see her wonderful, lovely, crazy face one last time before he died, could see her…wink at him.

Like lightning she grabbed the monster’s arm with both hands. “Gotcha!”

“What are you doing?” Jeremy screamed.

The arm wriggled madly. The tentacles disappeared back under the bed. “Jeremy, help me!”

He didn’t give himself time to think about how nuts this was. He threw himself on top of the monster’s slimy arm and hugged it to him.

“Come out from under that bed!” No one disobeyed the Mom Voice.

The arm thrashed and writhed. Jeremy expected the monster to come out and attack them both head on, but it didn’t. It kept trying to hide back under the bed. What did it have to be afraid of? Didn’t it know it was bigger than Jeremy and his mom put together?

Awestruck, Jeremy watched Mom brandish the knife and cut off one of the monster’s fingers. It growled and howled. The bed shook mightily. Green blood oozed onto the bedsheet and the smell of rotten eggs filled the air.

“Come out right now,” said the Mom Voice, “or you’ll lose another one.”

The arm stopped moving. The howling changed into a whimper. Slowly, the monster eased itself out from under the bed.

Jeremy watched through squinted eyes. Half of him didn’t want to see. Half of him couldn’t look away. The reality of the beast was worse than he ever could have imagined. It had two hands with ten–now nine–mouthfingers full of teeth. It had two hands with four claws apiece, each one as big as Jeremy’s head. The claws on its feet were even bigger. It had two eyes on stalks and four tentacles, two on either side of its body. And in the middle of its torso, like an octopus, was an even bigger mouth–one Jeremy could imagine fastening onto his head and sucking his skull dry. Or swallowing his mother whole. The monster’s eyestalks swiveled to Jeremy. Saliva dripped from the big mouth.

“Jeremy, stop it!”

Jeremy tore his eyes from the monster and concentrated on his tiny, crazy mom with the big, shiny knife. Green blood slipped off the blade and onto the carpet.

“Now,” Mom addressed the monster. “Do I have your undivided attention?”

The monster nodded. At least, Jeremy thought it nodded.

“You’re hurting my son. It’s one thing to scare him, but it’s another thing to attack him physically.”

The monster whined.

“I know you’re just doing your job, but this has gone too far. You have to understand, Jeremy has a very big imagination. He gets it from his mother.”

For some reason, Jeremy suddenly felt very proud of himself.

“I am not going to force him to be anything less than he is just to rid the world of something like you. However, I cannot allow this to continue. You are simply too frightening for Jeremy to imagine you into existence. As I see it, you have two choices. Go away forever,” she lifted the knife again, “or we kill you right now.”

The monster bowed. It closed its eyes. Ever so slowly it began to shrink. The edges of it blurred and folded in on itself. It grew smaller and smaller until it was only a shadow and a growl, until it was nothing more than a memory and a rustle of leaves outside the window.

Mom’s shoulders sagged and she dropped the knife onto the bedspread. Jeremy threw himself into her arms, hugging her tighter than he could ever remember hugging her before. He couldn’t cry…but he couldn’t seem to speak, either.

Mom squeezed him back. “It’s okay, kiddo. We beat it. Together.”

Jeremy couldn’t stop trembling. He was going to have a twelfth birthday. He could ask for a bat to go with his glove. It was going to be so much more than just “okay.”

“You think you’ll be able to sleep now?” Mom asked. Jeremy sniffled and nodded again. “Just toss that top sheet on the floor and I’ll throw it in the wash tomorrow. And crack your window a little…it stinks in here.” She collected the knife, the apple and the tape recorder and put them all back in her bag. She helped Jeremy into bed, tucked the bedsheet around him, and smoothed his hair back, just like when he was a baby. He let her.

Jeremy smiled up at her, his mom, the Coolest Mom in the Whole Wide World.

“Thanks, Mom.”

“Anytime.” She kissed him on the forehead. “Sweet dreams, kid—” She stopped herself. “Little man.”

“Mom?” Jeremy stopped her before she closed the door. He had to know.

She poked her head through the crack. “Yeah?”

“The apples and the tape recorder and…well…how did you know how to do all that stuff?”

“Easy,” she grinned. “How do you think I met your father?”

About the Author

Alethea Kontis

New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a voice actress, and a force of nature. She is responsible for creating the epic fairytale fantasy realm of Arilland, and dabbling in a myriad of other worlds beyond. Her award-winning writing has been published for multiple age groups across all genres. Host of “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants” and Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow every year at Dragon Con, Alethea also narrates for ACX, IGMS, Escape Pod, PseudoPod, and Cast of Wonders. Born in Vermont, Alethea currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more about Princess Alethea and the magic, wonderful world in which she lives here: https://www.patreon.com/princessalethea

Find more by Alethea Kontis

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About the Narrator

Alethea Kontis

New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a voice actress, and a force of nature. She is responsible for creating the epic fairytale fantasy realm of Arilland, and dabbling in a myriad of other worlds beyond. Her award-winning writing has been published for multiple age groups across all genres. Host of “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants” and Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow every year at Dragon Con, Alethea also narrates for ACX, IGMS, Escape Pod, PseudoPod, and Cast of Wonders. Born in Vermont, Alethea currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more about Princess Alethea and the magic, wonderful world in which she lives here: https://www.patreon.com/princessalethea

Find more by Alethea Kontis

Elsewhere