The car trundled into the driveway and parked.

Laura got out, grabbing her backpack and purse from the other passenger seat.

Her brother had stayed behind while their parents had picked her up from campus, and when she opened the front door, she saw why.

“Welcome home!” he yelled, along with a few members of their extended family and some of her friends who had already returned home.

“Aww, you guys,” she said, setting her bags by the door and going over to them, “you didn’t have to do this.”

“We know,” her brother said, “but we wanted to.”

Her family and friends hugged her one by one.

A thump over by the door caught her attention after the last hug. She looked over to see her dad walking back out to the car to grab more of her stuff.

“Wait, Daddy,” she called, starting after him.

“Don’t worry, hon,” he answered over his shoulder, “there’re only a couple bags left. I got it.”

She turned back to the group, and then glanced around the living room.

“Where’s Rufus?”

“The backyard,” her brother answered.

She padded through the rest of the house, the group just behind her, and slid open the screen door leading into the backyard.

“Oh, Rufus!” she yelled out. “I’m home!”

A bark came from the corner of the backyard, just outside of her range of vision.

A second bark was followed by a golden blur as Rufus raced towards her.

She crouched, and the golden retriever jumped into her outstretched arms, the impact knocking her onto her butt. As she giggled, Rufus wriggled and barked excitedly, a manic ball of loving energy, his nose knocking against her face as he sniffed and licked her.

When he finally calmed down enough to just look adoringly at her, the group went back inside.

“We ordered from Paisan’s, by the way,” her brother told her.

“Yes!” she exclaimed, pumping her fist. “I missed Paisan’s. Couldn’t find any good pizza by campus.”

“Welcome back,” he said, hugging her again.

“Did you grow more?” she asked incredulously, pulling back to get a better look. “You weren’t taller than me last time I saw you.”

“Yeah, a little bit,” he answered proudly. “Now you’re my little sister.”

She laughed and ruffled his hair.

“Like hell I am, smartass.”

“You just got home,” her mom playfully admonished, “and you’re already calling each other names?”

“Hey, I didn’t do anything,” her brother said quickly, “she started it.”

Laura stuck out her tongue at him, fighting back a giggle at the dramatically scandalized look that was his answer.


The welcome home party was over, and Laura was tired.

Her friends, and those extended family members, had left, and her parents had gone to bed. Now, it was just her brother and her in the den, her on the couch, him on the recliner, Rufus on the floor next to the couch.

“I’m going to bed,” her brother announced, following his announcement with a yawn.

“Yeah, I should probably go too,” she answered, following that with her own yawn.

He nodded absentmindedly, heaved himself from the recliner, and trudged from the den.

“Night, love you,” he called over his shoulder. “Night, Rufus.”

“Love you too, night,” was her half-yawned reply.

She stretched out on the couch.

“Time for bed,” she murmured down to Rufus, who was already dozing.

When she got up, he stirred, and when he saw her leaving the room, he followed.

Her bedroom was just as she had left it the last time she had been home, which had been the last day of winter break.

She realized, as she changed into sleepwear, that she had not actually slept in her bed since leaving home for her freshman year of college late last August.

During a weekend back here in October, she had slept one night at a friend’s house when a reunion had become an impromptu sleepover, and then had slept on the couch the next night because she had been too lazy to go upstairs to her room. Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving weekend had been spent at her maternal grandparents’ house across the country, so she had not had a night at home, as she had flown out by herself from an airport closer to campus and flown back also by herself to the same airport. Her winter break, except for the last two nights, had been spent in London, with her flying there right after finals alongside her British roommate, and her parents and brother flying over a few days later to spend some of the break with her. The second-to-last night had been spent at another reunion-turned-sleepover at a friend’s house, and the last night she had slept on the couch, again too lazy to schlep herself upstairs. Spring break had been spent down in Miami with her college’s Habitat for Humanity chapter.

Rufus leapt on the bed and settled to the side.

Now wearing a tank top, and boxer shorts with nothing underneath, she slid into bed, giving Rufus an affectionate pat before lying down and closing her eyes.


Laura woke up.

A growl came from next to her. She squinted over to see Rufus standing on the bed, his attention fixed on the floor, another growl coming out.

“What’s wrong?” she asked blearily, surprised at his demeanor, none of his customary goofy playfulness apparent.

A third growl followed.

She leaned over and turned on her bedside lamp. A check of her phone showed her that she had only been asleep for a few minutes.

A fourth growl came, and she hesitated before peering over the edge of the bed.

There was nothing there besides floor.

“What is it?” she asked Rufus, but he only stared down at the floor, lips drawn back to reveal his teeth.

When she eased herself off the bed, he leapt down onto the floor and poked his nose underneath the bed.

She knelt and followed his lead.

There was nothing there besides more floor.

“What is it?” she asked Rufus again, rubbing at his back, glancing over to the space under her bed one more time.

There was, again, nothing there besides more floor.

Over the next few minutes, Rufus kept growling at the space under the bed. Her soothing comments and affectionate pats did nothing to calm his strange, newfound ferocity.

She had been perplexed at first, but that quickly gave way to annoyance in the face of her need for sleep.

“Alright,” she grumbled, “let’s get you out of here.”

She stood and headed to the door. After one last growl, Rufus followed her.

The hallway was dark and quiet, as everyone else was asleep.

As soon as Rufus slipped past her, she jumped back into her bedroom, closed the door, and locked it.

“Sorry, buddy,” she murmured through the door, “but I’m tired, and there’s nothing under the bed.”

His desperate whines made her hesitate, but she finally went back to her bed, turned off the lamp, and burrowed under the blanket.

A scratching came at the door.

“I’m fine,” she muttered, turning onto her side.

She closed her eyes, trying to ignore the pitiful noises coming from outside her door.

And then something wrapped around her mouth, muffling the subsequent squeal of surprise.

Her eyes flew open, but before she could turn to see what was happening, the blanket flew off her, and two more somethings wrapped around her, one pinning her arms to her sides, the other bringing her legs together at the knees. She tried to peer over her shoulder but was restrained by the strength of that something around her mouth.

To her horror, the somethings pulled, and easily dragged her back towards the edge of the bed. She squirmed helplessly, more muffled squeals coming, Rufus now barking frantically.

In seconds, she was over the edge of the bed, suspended in mid-air. Her eyes were adjusted enough to the dark that she could see there was no one in the room but her and nothing out of the ordinary but these strange somethings so easily restraining her. She struggled to no avail, her panic giving way to fear.

The somethings lowered her, and then she was pulled to the side.

Through the fear, she realized that she was being dragged under the bed. That realization made her think of how ferociously Rufus had been growling at that space.

Once she was entirely under the bed, her field of vision restricted to the underside of her bedframe, the somethings pulled her down.

There should have only been a few inches in between her and the floor, but to her surprise and confusion, she did not meet that hard surface, nor any hard surface. It felt like she was sinking; she noticed dimly that darkness was creeping in from the edges of her field of vision, the underside of her bedframe receding further than should have been physically possible.

Darkness soon completely surrounded her. Her brain could not quite interpret where she was, physically speaking. It felt as if she were somehow suspended in mid-air, but there was no tactile reference point.

The somethings loosened, and then slipped from her. She yelped, expecting to fall, but she instead stayed somehow secure on some sort of surface in this space of amorphous darkness. Despite the brief instinct to stand, she stayed lying down, unsure of what might happen were she to try, instead just supporting herself on her elbows so she could at least look around.

“Hello!” she cried out, not expecting an answer.

“Hello there,” a voice answered, right next to her.

She shrieked in terrified surprise and glanced over to see nothing but darkness.

“Don’t worry,” the voice continued, “I won’t hurt you. At least, I don’t want to hurt you.”

She mewled, fear throbbing through her.

“Thank you for getting rid of that mongrel. I’m sure I could’ve taken you anyway, but it would have put up a fight.”

The fear made it hard to think. She just squirmed wildly, glancing around for the source of the voice that was somehow so close.

“You probably have a lot of questions.”

She mewled again.

“You also probably don’t remember me.”

That comment confused her, overriding the fear just enough for her to reply.

“What’s going on?”

“Ah, question number one.”

“Where am I?”

“Another question so soon. I haven’t even answered the first.”

“What the fuck is going on!?”

“You already asked me that.”

Her fear came back, the confusion receding as she squirmed, tears brimming at her eyes.

“Please,” she whimpered, “whatever is going on, whoever you are, just let me go, please!”

“Oh no,” the voice crooned, closer now, “no, no, no, that’s…that’s not going to happen.”

Tears fell now, dribbling down her cheeks.

Something nudged against her side. She looked down, and then screamed through the tears as a shadowy, tentacle-like shape slithered over her hip and up her stomach. It continued in between her breasts and then hovered over her face. She turned away frantically, but it reached her cheek easily, its bizarre, off-putting coolness throbbing against her skin. To her confusion, all it did was wipe a few tears away before receding into the darkness.

“Now, now, don’t cry.”

“Please,” she bawled, “let me go, let me go, please!”

“I already said that won’t happen.”

She moaned in despair.

“Aren’t you at least wondering who I am or where you are?”

She shook her head.

“I don’t care, please, just let me go!”

“You should care. I want you to care. Ask me who I am.”

“No,” she mewled, shaking her head.

The tentacle returned, hovering menacingly over her face, and she squeaked in terror.

“Please don’t hurt me! Please, just let me go…”

The tentacle wiped away a few more of her tears.

“You need to realize that I’m not letting you go anytime soon.”

She squeaked again, but through the despair came an understanding of her predicament, that she was helpless, that she knew nothing about what was going on, that she should do whatever this mysterious, seemingly disembodied voice wanted.

“Who are you?” she asked, her voice uneven and choked with fear.

“There we are,” the voice purred, “was that so hard?”

She bit back a sob.

“Think about where you are, then think about your childhood, then think about how those two topics would connect…and you shall have your answer.”

Confusion again bubbled up, but she had already resolved to do what the voice said.

“I’m under my bed,” she said numbly.


Her thoughts went back to her childhood, and almost immediately, she knew.

“No,” she whispered, “that’s…that’s…no…you can’t be…how could you be?”

“How could I be what?” the voice asked teasingly.

“This is a nightmare,” she said, closing her eyes tight and willing herself to wake up. “Just a nightmare.”

That bizarre coolness rubbed over her cheek and then the tentacle slapped her lightly.

Her eyes snapped open reflexively, despite the slap not hurting much.

The tentacle withdrew, again just hovering over her.

“Did that feel like ‘just a nightmare’?” the voice asked.

“No,” she mewled, more tears spilling forth. “But…you can’t be, you don’t exist, you never existed! I was just a little kid…every little kid thinks there’s a monster under their bed!”

“But you happened to be right.”

She thought back to her childhood.

This house, and this bedroom, had seen her come home from the hospital soon after birth, had seen her grow from an inquisitive toddler into a precocious child, and then into an industrious teenager, and finally into the ambitious young woman she was today.

From the age of six, until around the age of nine, she had been convinced that there was a monster under her bed. It went as it would for any child, with her asking whichever parent was tucking her in to check under the bed, and them dutifully doing so and informing her that the coast was clear, sometimes even showing her that in fact there was nothing there. She could not remember, and neither could her parents, if there had been a singular event or experience that had triggered the fear. All she could remember was that fear, and one single event after it had already been established.

Her father had been tucking her in, when she had asked him to check under the bed.

As always, he had obliged, even reaching his hand into that space, demonstrating to her that there was nothing there. And then he had gone a step further.

Her parents usually did not indulge the fear, or speak of any possible monster, only ever showing or telling her that there was nothing there, which she had always accepted, trusting her parents as any little kid would.

This time, however, her father had done something different.

“There’s nothing there,” he had said, “and even if there was, I’d protect you. Your daddy is strong, and if there’s a monster under your bed, it’s weak. Okay? You could probably beat it up too. It’s weak and afraid.”

Her eyes had widened in awe at his casual proclamation, and then she had giggled as he had given her a good-night forehead kiss, her worries suddenly gone.

He had left the room, closing the door behind him, leaving her in darkness but for the gentle glow of the nearby nightlight.

And then a voice had spoken up.

It had been low enough that she would later convince herself that it had been a dream and that she had fallen asleep right after her dad had closed the door.

“Am not.”

The fear of the monster under her bed had diminished as she had gotten older, and then had disappeared completely. By the time the family had gotten Rufus around her twelfth birthday, any thoughts of the monster under her bed were about how silly it had been to be afraid of such a thing.

“This can’t be real,” she murmured.

The tentacle nudged closer to her face. She stared at it, noticing numbly how it seemed to come from the darkness and be made up of darkness, like an appendage of the shadows. It rubbed over her cheek, and then the tip curled back.

“Shall I slap you again to show you how real it is?”

“No!” she yelped quickly. “Please, I just…this is a lot to take in…”

The voice chuckled softly.

“True. Finding out the monster under your bed exists must be a doozy.”

A few seconds passed, and she asked another question, her desire to clarify her situation briefly overwhelming her fear.

“Where am I?”

“Under your bed,” the voice answered matter-of-factly.

“We can’t be under my bed. That’s impossible. There’s…there’s only darkness here.”

“This is where I live.”

“Okay,” she began, doing her best to ignore the fear so she could ask more questions, “and why am I here? What do you want with me?”

“A-ha! Now, we get to the million-dollar question.”

The tentacle had stayed still after the threat of another slap, but now, it moved, landing on her stomach. She jerked instinctively, feeling that strange, solid coolness through her tank top. It slid down and paused on the strip of skin in between the bottom of her tank top and the waistband of her boxers. She whimpered, frightened by the sensation of that coolness directly on her.

“You’ve grown up so much,” the voice crooned, its tone low, hushed, almost seductive.

She whimpered again, trying to squirm away from the tentacle.

To her horror and despair, four more came into her field of vision, shadowy and supple just like the first.

Each chose a hand or foot and wrapped around her ankles and wrists. As she struggled, the tentacles around her ankles forced her legs apart, while those around her wrists yanked her arms above her head. The fear multiplied, panic returning, a squeal spilling from her as she squirmed, bucking her hips, arching her back.

“You were gone for such a long time. I thought you might’ve left me forever.”

The tentacles around her wrists and ankles stayed still, but the one on her midriff moved very subtly, tracing over her skin in little circles. She shuddered, feeling that solid, strange, unsettling coolness at five places now.

“And then you came back…and I saw just how much you’d grown. Of course, I’m not an idiot, you were growing while you were still here. I just never realized how beautiful you are, until I saw you that night. It was back in the winter, I think…”

She whimpered, struggling against the tentacles.

“But then you left me again. You didn’t stay long, didn’t even sleep in your own bed.”

The tentacle on her midriff slipped an inch or so further down, teasing at the waistband of her boxers. The implications of such a brazen act terrified her, notwithstanding the already off-putting affection in the way it had been tracing over her skin.

“What are you going to do to me?” she asked, her voice coming out shrill.

“And now you’re back again,” the voice continued, ignoring her question. “I was so happy when you came in earlier, even if it was just to drop off your bags…”

“What are you going to do to me?” she asked again, trying, and failing, to keep her voice level and calm.

“You’re not an idiot, either, Laura,” the voice chided. “I didn’t bring you down here for tea.”

She felt movement then and looked down to see the tentacle slide back from the waistband of her boxers. Whatever relief she felt was brief, as it then slid further up, in between her tank-top covered breasts. The tip curled around the low cut of the tank top.

And then it yanked.

Her tank top tore down the middle, making her yelp in surprised terror. The remnants fell off her chest, exposing her breasts, the lush globes bouncing slightly from the sudden liberation. The tentacle whipped those remnants out from underneath her and cast them aside.

“It was my mistake not noticing just how beautiful you are,” the voice purred. “After all, I’ve been watching you for so long…”

The tentacle stroked along a breast, making her jerk, that solid coolness so strange against her bare skin, a difficult sensation to adjust to.

The voice groaned in delight, the tentacle wrapping around her breast, squeezing curiously. She whimpered, closing her eyes to block out the sight.