Life Lessons

“But Mommyyyy! The Boogeyman will get me!” Billy whined as his mother tucked him into bed. She sighed heavily. At six years old she couldn’t help feeling that her son was a little too old for such ridiculous fears.

“For the hundredth time Billy, there is no such thing as the boogeyman. You’re just having nightmares.” Nightmares that would, hopefully, soon subside and allow her an evening of peaceful rest. Billy’s mother was a headstrong, no nonsense kind of woman. When Billy’s father ran off with his personal trainer, she had taken to parenting advice books for how single mothers could fill both the mother’s and father’s roles. She had consulted with them on the subject of boogeymen and the consensus was solid. She couldn’t afford to humor her son’s frivolous behavior. The sooner he learned to face his fears, the better off he would be when he grew up. All the books said so.

“Yes there is yes there is yes there is. He’s dark and scary and has glowy eyes. Leave the hall light on mommy. Please.” Billy stared up at her from the center of his bed, brown eyes dilated, on the verge of tears. She felt her maternal instincts quicken; she unexpectedly wanted to pull her son close and tell him of course she believed him, and that she would always keep him safe.

Instead she set his alarm clock for the following morning, kissed him on the forehead, and turned out his lights.

“The boogeyman is just in your imagination dear. You have to be a big boy and face your fears. It’s part of growing up.” She shut the door firmly behind her. While she might want to coddle him, the books all said it would be doing him a disservice in the long run. Without a father around he would need a strong hand to shape him. She stepped briskly to her bedroom, confident the books would be proud of her if they could see how she handled the situation. As she exited the corridor, she made sure to turn off the hall light.

Inside his own room, Billy lay in his bed, covers pulled up to his chin. Many of the children his age would have pulled them over their heads, hoping to hide from their demons in the darkness. Billy was smart enough to know that wouldn’t work. His mother’s so sought after strong hand had succeeded in teaching him that problems won’t vanish by hiding from them. So Billy lay there, wishing it was in him to fall asleep, and knowing it wasn’t.

At first nothing happened. It took a full ten minutes after his mother left before Billy caught the first movements in his peripheral vision. Darkness was seeping out from the crack in his closet door and from under his bed. More of it seemed to be coming from the drawers of his little wooden desk, and still more dripping down from the ceiling. This wasn’t darkness like the absence of light that now filled Billy’s room; this was Darkness in the oldest, most visceral sense of the word. It devoured light wherever it moved, like a fluid swathe of blackest midnight. The Darkness began to pool in the middle of Billy’s room, just beside the foot of his bed. It convalesced upward, shifting until it took a humanoid form. The Boogeyman appeared as a faceless, sexless, predominantly featureless hooded figure. The figure was amorphous in a sense; while the general shape of the hooded person stayed constant, its edges were subtlety moving and rippling. A red glow emanated from within the figure, two pinpricks of smoldering fire where a real person’s eyes would be. The voice that creaked from the hooded figure was deep and willowy; it sounded like angry whispers being carried on the wind from far away.

“She didn’t believe you Billy.”

Billy nodded; there seemed no point in lying when The Boogeyman had clearly been listening.

“Three nights. Three chances. Tonight was your last chance Billy.”

Billy began tearing up. He blinked them back, willing himself not to cry. He desperately wanted to leap from his bed, hurtle through the door and dash into his mother’s room where it would be safe. He had tried that the first night of course, when The Boogeyman first appeared. He had made it halfway there before a claw of Darkness had whipped him back into his superhero themed bed sheets. He knew he couldn’t outrun The Boogeyman, he was aware enough to know he couldn’t overpower him, so he had had no choice but to accept the challenge that The Boogeyman presented to him. If in three nights he could make his mother believe The Boogeyman was real, then Billy won and was free from his nightmare. That was all there was to it. But Billy had not won. Billy had lost.

“You belong to me now Billy,” The Boogeyman croaked as it glided toward him. Billy’s stomach convulsed, but he willed himself to stay strong. He was determined to be brave, just as his mother was always teaching him. As Darkness began flowing over him though, a tremor rippled through his resolve and a choked scream broke free from his throat. His mother couldn’t hear him of course, that was a part of The Boogeyman’s magic. With no one save for the monster to see him, Billy’s long promised tears finally began splashing down his cheeks. Muted sobs echoed from his throat, and Billy hunched his shoulders and closed his eyes. Hiding wouldn’t make it go away, but he still didn’t want to see it coming. He would do what his mother wanted and face his fears, but she had never said he had to do it with his eyes open.

As Darkness swallowed more of his body, enveloping him like a cocoon, Billy heard The Boogeyman’s voice once more. It had changed though. Here, surrounded by Darkness, it was no longer deep and distant; instead it bore the same soft tinkling melody of the voices in girls his age. There was sadness in it now too, full and rich with the unknowable years it had had to flourish.

“If it makes you feel better, my mommy didn’t believe me either.”

* * *

Billy’s mother awoke in a cold sweat. All the dim lights in her small room were turned on. There was music coming from a hotel room below, Latin and loud through the cheap building materials. She had been here for only three days, and already she knew it had found her. She couldn’t see it yet, but she could feel It. Waiting for the lights to go off. When It grew tired of waiting, there would be a power failure, or a breaker would short, or the bulbs would all break. She didn’t understand, and she didn’t care anymore. All that mattered now was getting away. She threw her meager belongings into her suitcase, a sleeve and a pant leg waving from a zipper gap in the top. She bolted out the door and down to the well lit bus stop. She would go to a hospital this time, a place with backup generators and safety measures to make sure the lights never went out.

As she scurried down the sidewalk, harried and thin from her last year’s ordeal, a hooded figure watched on. It stood one room over from hers, with nary a speck of light in the entire dwelling. You could never have told it was there, save for the dull orange glow pulsing where its eyes should have been. It watched her carefully, and some measure of pity might have swollen within the ungulating shadows of its form. If that pity did try to rise, it was quickly swatted down. One could not be comforting and still teach strength. The hooded shadow knew that lesson very well, and it was determined to repay its teacher with the same knowledge.

After all, It’s mother couldn’t run from the Dark forever. Sooner or later the lights would go out. And she would face her fears.