Jennifer Moore is a freelance writer and children’s author (writing as Jenny Moore). She was the first ever UK winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Competition and was shortlisted for the Greenhouse Funny Prize. Her funny children’s books include Agent Starling: Operation Baked Beans, Audrey Orr and the Robot Rage, Bauble, Me and the Family Tree, and The Misadventures of Nicholas Nabb (all published by Maverick).
The Monster Under the Bed
by Jennifer Moore
The monster under the bed isn’t like other monsters. Sure, he’s got two heads and bulging, red-veined eyes, and his razored claws and glistening yellow fangs are every bit as sharp as the next beast’s. But this monster’s only a child and hasn’t grown into his daylight invisibility yet. Plus, try as he might—and he does try, really he does—he still can’t deflect the gaze of grown-ups. It’s a delicate skill that comes with age and experience, neither of which he possesses.
The little girl in the bed isn’t like other little girls. Leila doesn’t mind having a stowaway under her springs. It gets lonely, sometimes, being an only child, and there’s plenty of spare room down there, between the Lego box and her secret collection of used tissues and odd socks. Some nights, when she’s having trouble dropping off, or if she wakes in a sweat from a bad dream, the monster lulls her to sleep with a lilting lullaby, his two heads duetting in rasping harmony. Sometimes he and Leila count sheep together. Hers jump over a white picket fence into a sunny field of grass, while the monster’s leap two at a time, straight into his waiting jaws. He lets out a funny gulping sound after every fleecy mouthful: Two – unnggh, four – unnggh, six…
No, Leila doesn’t mind having a monster under her bed. Aside from the occasional outburst of sulphurous flatulence, he’s no trouble at all. It’s Leila’s mother who has a problem. She doesn’t like the mice in the attic. She doesn’t like the weevils in her flour, or those little brown moths who set up their nursery in her favorite winter coat. And she really doesn’t like monsters with black blubbered lips and sharpened spikes along their spines. She’s tried everything she can think of to get rid of him: king-sized moth balls (which the monster snacks on between meals); ultrasonic mouse deterrents that plug into the electric sockets; an entire Yellow Pages worth of pest controllers. But none of their sprays and traps and smoke guns are the least bit of use when it comes to evicting two-headed pests from their under-bed lairs. And, after an unfortunate incident involving the slightly chewed left hand of one particularly careless bug-buster, it looks like Leila’s mother is finally ready to admit defeat. Short of selling the house (tricky with their live-in lodger), or investing in a gun and shooting him out herself (which rather goes against her left-wing vegetarian principles), she’s at a loss. It looks like the monster’s won.
“That thing wants muzzling,” gasps Bruce the Bug-Buster, as Leila’s mother tightens the home-made tourniquet above his wrist and waits for the paramedics to arrive. Bruce’s face is white with shock and the unfortunate loss of blood and fingers. “He wants locking up with the tigers at the zoo.”
“No he doesn’t,” calls Leila, watching from the bedroom doorway. “He belongs here, with me.”
Leila’s mother turns from one to the other—from the pale one-and-a-half-handed man with the blue waxy lips, to her equally pale daughter.
“Do you know?” she says, with what looks suspiciously like a smile (Leila’s mother never smiles—at least not since the monster appeared), “I think you might be right.” It’s not quite clear at first which one of them she’s addressing, but it turns out to be both.
Leila’s mother has already approached every zoo in the country to see if they’d like a two-headed beast for their menagerie, and they all laughed at her like she was mad. But who’s to say she can’t set up her own version at home: a mini zoological collection of one? No doubt there are plenty of laws about keeping regular animals in captivity, but surely there are no rules for monsters? After all, they don’t really exist. Not officially.
By the time she’s mopped up the last of Bruce’s blood from the carpet (hooray for Scotchgard!), Leila’s mother is positively beaming. Of course the poor old monster, who’s curled up behind the Lego with an embarrassed head in each paw, doesn’t have a clue what he’s in for.
Things take a more tangible turn for the worse the following day, when his Lego box is hooked out from under the bed with the vacuum cleaner nozzle. He can only look on in despair as his knobbly treats are banished to the top of the wardrobe, where even Leila can’t reach. The monster feels a cold finger of panic in his spare stomach, and gobbles up the last few escaped bricks before they disappear too (even though they’re blue, and red ones are his favorite). In fact, he’s so worried by this unwelcome turn of events that he swallows down an odd sock and six dirty tissues for good measure. Stress always makes him hungry.
What comes next—after the invasive vacuuming-up of sock fluff and flaked-off monster scales—is even worse. A long roll of metal netting (chicken wire, according to the man Leila’s mother has brought in to fit it) is double-wrapped around the bed legs, and fixed into place with a hammer and nails. The monster couldn’t leave now, even if he wanted to.
Leila is suitably aghast when she gets back from pre-school.
“My monster!” she cries, flopping down on her belly to check on him through his chicken wire cage. Four scared-looking eyes stare back at her, their red veins pulsing brighter than ever in the under-bed gloom. “What have you done?” she asks. “Why have you taken his bricks away? He’ll be hungry.”
“No one’s keeping him here,” says Leila’s mother, even though she’s spent the last hour caging the creature in. “If he doesn’t appreciate our hospitality he can always find somewhere else to live, can’t he?”
Leila doesn’t know what “hospitality” is—probably something to do with the crying bug-man who disappeared off in the ambulance the day before—but her mother doesn’t seem to need an answer anyway. She’s already flapping around the bedroom, stuffing fallen clothes into drawers, and scooping up paper and wax crayon stubs from the floor.
“It’s about time he started earning his keep,” she tells her daughter. “I’m not made of Lego bricks, you know.”
Yes, of course Leila knows. You’d need boxes and boxes of bricks to make a whole person and the colors would be all wrong.
“Come on,” says her mother, pointing to a pile of barely used tissues in the corner. “We need to get this place shipshape before our visitors arrive.”
Leila’s room is still nothing like a ship, despite her mother’s best efforts. And the visitors are nothing like normal visitors. They don’t bring bottles of wine to drink with dinner, or flowers, or presents for Leila. They don’t ruffle her hair and tell her how much she’s grown. They bring money instead, and clicking cameras, and they queue up all along the landing, waiting for their turn in Leila’s bedroom. One by one they slide down onto their bellies to stare at the cowering monster under the bed. And with every “ugh” and “yuck” they throw at him, the monster shrinks into himself a little more. He might not be getting any fainter, but he’s definitely smaller than he was.
Every night he has Leila sweep the bedroom for hidden gawkers before he goes to sleep. He makes her look inside the wardrobe too—you can never be too careful when it comes to humans.
“Have they gone yet?” Every night he checks and double checks, his blubbered black lips trembling with fear.
“Have I gone yet?” he asks each morning, searching himself all over for signs of disappearing limbs. If only he were invisible there’d be nothing for the humans to gawk at.
“Not quite,” says Leila, feeding him consolatory squirts of toothpaste through the holes in his cage. “But you’re a bit more see-through than before,” she adds, to be kind. She may only be little but she knows about feelings and magic from her favorite bedtime book—the one her mother used to read from the doorway for fear of getting her ankles scratched. Leila knows that if you really, truly want something to happen, then belief is everything. Just like she believes her mother will stop fussing over the visitors and the growing pile of money on the kitchen table, and start fussing over her again. She’s been feeling rather invisible herself lately. “In fact, I can’t see your fifth tail at all,” she tells the monster, holding toothpaste-covered fingers up to the light, to make sure they’re still there.
Copyright 2021 by Jennifer Moore