I have never shared a bedroom with anyone. But one night when I had climbed into bed and clicked the light off, I heard someone speaking.
I opened my eyes. The room was dark, quiet. A dim light came in from the far window from the streetlight outside, but what light it gave showed only my furniture, bed, and the lump I made under the covers. I shut my eyes, and I heard the voice again. It was soft, sad, like someone in deep grief.
It was a warm evening and the windows were open; surely I had heard some passerby on the sidewalk outside.
And yet, I did not get up to look.
You’ll think it silly of me, but I was convinced that whoever was speaking might be easily startled away if I moved too fast, or even at all. And I wanted it to speak again. Something about the tone was achingly familiar to me—like the moment in a novel where a complete stranger voices some feeling that you thought only you felt and you find yourself suddenly bound in friendship for a person made of ink and someone else’s dreams. I spoke as softly as possible. “Who—is anyone there?”
“You can hear me?
It was barely audible, but there was wonder in itstone
“Yes.” I said. “Who are you?”
“Who are you?” It responded and for one silly moment I thought, “Oh, it’s just an echo.” But I answered it. I don’t know why. I said, “I’m Emilia. What are you doing…here? Why can I hear you?”
There was a pause. And it said in a voice choked with fear: “I’m trapped.”
I held very still in my bed, certain that this was only some bizarre dream. But I also felt that if I woke up and missed getting to talk to this voice, I would grieve the loss for the rest of my life. “Are you…a person?”
“No.” It said, wistful. “Or maybe yes. I don’t know what I am. Or why I’m here. I’m just here, and I don’t want to be.”
“Well,” I said, “Can you see anything?”
“Some shapes…” It said, clearly trying to calm itself down. “Hard edges. It’s dark. Maybe they’re books? I seem to be under some dark shelter; it’s lighter out by the edge and I see some piles of things. There’s a little light coming from…maybe a window? It’s very dusty.”
I was silent. I hadn’t expected to hear a description of what sounded a very lot like the underside of my bed.
“Are you sure you’re not a monster?” I said, with a halfhearted chuckle. “Sounds like you’re under my bed.”
“Oh, I’m not a monster.” It said. “I’m sure.”
“How do you know, if you don’t know what you are?”
There was a pause. “I don’t…feel monstrous…” It sounded frightened. “What if I am a monster and I don’t know it?”
I found myself trying to calm it down again, which is not what you picture yourself doing when you imagine interacting with something hiding under your bed. “I guess your intentions might help define who you are. So what do you want?”
“I just want to get out.” It said, miserable. “But the light hurts me. It’s so noisy.”
“But there isn’t any light now.”
“Oh yes there is; coming from that window. It’s not very much, but it hurts my ears. I can only barely hear you. Could you…shut the blind? I just want to get out from under here.”
I did not want to get out of the bed. There is some deep instinct buried in the human psyche that forbids putting your feet out over the open and unknown air beside your bed in the dark. Especially when you’re speaking to the thing lurking under there.
“What do you mean noisy?” I said, stalling for time. “It hurts your ears, not your skin or something?”
“Yes. I couldn’t hear anything at all until you turned off your lamp. If this room was dark enough that there weren’t even any shadows left, I bet I could make it out…Could I come out? Will you let me come out into the fresh air and just sit and talk to you? It would feel so good. I’ve been alone for so long. I was trying to escape, but I got caught under here.”
“I’m not sure I can do that.” I said. “I only have curtains; I don’t think they’ll ever block the light that much.”
Up unto this point I hadn’t moved. I’d been lying on my side, fully certain that at some point I would wake up from my dream, find myself alone in my room, and then I’d be able to go back to sleep. But I sat up and nothing changed. I pinched myself. I inched my way to the end of the bed, reached out across the open space of floor to the window, and gave the curtain a little tug, putting the room in further dark.
Under the bed, the voice sighed in relief. “Even just that feels better.” It seemed louder now, larger and not as frightened. “I can reach the edge of the bed. If you peek down, maybe you can say hi and see me!”
I shook my head, suddenly less confident in my actions. Why had I done that? Why did I think this thing was harmless? “No, I’ll stay here.”
“Please don’t be scared of me.” It said. “I’m just lonely. I need company.”
“I’m listening.” I said with a weak laugh. No, of course it wasn’t threatening; it was just closer to escaping, that was all. And who would want to be trapped under someone’s bed? Was it a wrong thing to want freedom? “I’m here.” I said. “But what will you do when dawn comes? My curtains can’t even keep out nighttime lights completely; they certainly won’t keep out the sun.”
“You could stay with me?” It suggested. “Tape up your windows, close the blinds. Tell me about yourself. We could have a good talk. I haven’t talked to anybody in…oh, well, I don’t even know. Centuries?”
“Centuries?!” I said. “Who was the last person you talked to?”
There was a long pause. A very long pause. “I don’t remember.” It said, finally, and there was an odd, detached note in its voice. Almost cold. “I don’t remember anything about them. Just nothingness, swallowing nothingness. Then I was trapped for a very long time.” Genuine puzzlement seeped back into its voice. “It’s funny…I know I talked to someone.”
At that moment, the streetlight outside my room went out. Shadows vanished. Darkness deepened. I gasped, surprised, and felt a coolness steal over my limbs.
“Ahh,” the thing under the bed sighed, louder now. It sounded close enough to be sitting beside me on the bed. I thought about my childish daydreams of having a friend over for a sleepover, how fun it would be to cozy up in the darkness together and tell secrets.
“Now that feels nice.” It said, voice cheerier. “I don’t know how you can stand all that light. Let me show you how nice darkness is.”
Then the coldness increased to a wave of prickling numbness, like when you sleep on your arm wrong. Only this feeling was spreading all over me, up my arms and legs. I huddled under the covers, rubbing my arms, fear suddenly chilling my insides. “Stop.” I said. “Stop. I don’t like that. I’m meant to be in the light. I’m not like you.”
“No, no,” it said, “Wait and see. Let me show you; the darkness is good. I’ll make you like me. Just try it.”
And the coldness overwhelmed me, a prickling numbness followed by an absolute loss of feeling.
“Stop!” I said and lurched towards the light switch on the opposite wall. I couldn’t feel my knees on my bedspread; my hands tingled and stung.
“Not the light.” The voice begged. “Not the light, please. It hurts me.”
It sounded so truly terrified that even with my arms and legs going numb, I hesitated.
“Don’t hurt me.” It said. “Just talk with me.”
“Who did you speak to last?” I gasped as I lost all feeling in my fingers. “What happened to them? Why were you trapped?”
“It doesn’t matter.” It said, firmly. “The darkness is good for you. Let me show you. Come be my friend. You don’t have many of those, do you?”
My face was numb now. What could possibly be wrong with it wanting to escape confinement? My limbs totally numb, I slipped and staggered off my bed, only catching myself by toppling against the wall.
“That’s right.” It said, so close to me it might have been speaking in my ear. “Stay in the dark. Be my friend. Nobody will miss you.”
I reached out a numb hand for the light switch.