The Monster & Mrs. Blake

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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."

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