THE HOUSE WAS SO quiet it hurt. Bo-Bi closed his eyes to keep the dark out. The sheets felt hot and close but he didn’t want to push them off. He wanted to turn on his back but his body was stiff. He stayed where he was, on his side facing left with his bear smothered against his chest, tingling with the feeling that he wasn’t alone.
“Did you hear me?”
“But there’s a—”
“What? He’s seven. I wasn’t this damn precious at seven.”
Bo-Bi whimpered. The sound startled him. He opened his eyes but saw only his room, the light from the street making the shadows large. I’m not scared, he thought. I’m seven and I’m not precious. I’m not scared.
He squeezed his eyes closed again.
Bo-Bi thought he was asleep when he felt it. The bed moved. Just a little. He thought he was dreaming, but then he heard it, too, and he knew he was wide awake.
Something was under the bed.
Bo-Bi tried to make a sound. Nothing would come. He was certain now, it was true, something was there. There was a dragging sound, weight over carpet, and the bed bumped again at pressure from below. Bo-Bi’s fingers clenched in his teddy bear’s fur. He tried to cry but he couldn’t.
I’m seven, he thought. I’m not scared.
But it was a very long shadow that separated itself from the darkness. Bo-Bi could see the splendid horror of it, the thin neck stretching up, up. He saw the bowed, segmented back with its defined vertebrae, the long claws, thumbless and withered to the bone.
Mommy said if you turn on the lights the monsters go away.
Bo-Bi turned on the light. He threw off the covers and ran to the door. He was reaching for the knob when he heard his parents downstairs.
Daddy was loud. He was always loud on bad days.
Mommy was crying.
Bo-Bi’s hand shook on the knob. He turned to the monster.
It was staring at him. Bo-Bi was still scared, but with the light on he thought the monster looked thin and brittle, like a bent stick ready to break. Bo-Bi stared at the thing, watching the rapid, out and in motion of its ribs. From its shoulders arched what would have been wings, ragged bits of membrane sticking uselessly to the delicate bone structure. Its eyes were large, black, and somehow in their quiet very tired.
“Are you an angel?” asked Bo-Bi.
The black eyes blinked.
Bo-Bi stepped a little closer. His wide eyes saw the harness made of cloth around the creature’s withered torso, the rough belt around its hips. Its gray forearms and legs glistened in metal clasps.
“You’re not an angel,” said Bo-Bi. “You’re an alien.”
He ran to the window and looked out. The window was closed, so all he could see was his own face in the glass. Bo-Bi opened the window carefully and looked into the street. The smell of exhaust and the distant wail of a siren left him still peering and curious. His nose pressed on the window screen.
“Where is your ship?” asked Bo-Bi.
The sound of breaking glass made the little boy jump. Daddy was angry. Bo-Bi closed the window quickly and ran back towards his bed when he saw the monster still squatting in the middle of the room.
“Get under the bed,” said Bo-Bi.
It stared at him.
Bo-Bi could hear Daddy on the stairs. He hurried towards the monster and started pushing. The monster leaned forward on its hands, its shoulder against the mattress. Bo-Bi panted and pushed. The thing felt bony and leathery. Bo-Bi’s anger almost made him forget his fear. But there wasn’t time.
He gave up, looking around the room.
“What’s going on in here? Why is the light on?”
Bo-Bi lay very still. Daddy turned off the light, but he could still hear him standing there, breathing in the dark. Bo-Bi hoped Daddy would think he was asleep. He heard Daddy’s feet on the carpet, felt his hand on his arm. Bo-Bi had learned to keep his body relaxed when Daddy touched him. He was the little curly dog in the movie that played dead on command. He didn’t breathe until Daddy closed the door.
Bo-Bi threw off the covers. He opened the closet and saw the monster staring at him with its black eyes. Its wings bumped the hanger bar and its long arms and legs looked funny, an elbow here and a knobby knee there.
“You can come out,” said Bo-Bi in a whisper. “You don’t have to stay there. Come here, come out.”
He went down on his knees and patted the carpet.
It came out. Although its posture had been awkward, the monster’s unwinding was almost graceful, sinuous and slow. In the dark it was still a little scary, and Bo-Bi sat for a moment just staring. When the monster breathed there was movement under its chin, in its neck, down to its inward belly. Its quiet black eyes were fixed on the boy’s face.
“What are you?” whispered Bo-Bi.
For the first time the monster’s expression changed. It had a human-like face, and at Bo-Bi’s question its forehead lowered and its mouth turned down. Its black eyes lost their vagueness and showed a mild irritation.
Bo-Bi giggled. He clapped his hands over his mouth. It was quiet downstairs, and he didn’t want to be heard.
“Why were you under my bed?” he asked, hoarsely.
The monster didn’t answer. It stretched its back, its frail wing-bones softly rattling, and leaning on its elbows began to drag itself under the bed again. Bo-Bi thought he recognized a certain stiffness and pain in its struggle.
Just before it disappeared into the under-bed dark, Bo-Bi’s eyes widened when he saw the white scar on the monster’s thigh. It was a harsh imprint. It wasn’t natural like a birthmark, but the design wasn’t like any letters or numbers Bo-Bi knew, either.
Bo-Bi climbed into bed. He could hear the monster’s breathing, first heavy then relaxed, and almost silent.
He hugged his bear and closed his eyes.
The next morning Bo-Bi leaned over and pulled up the bedclothes.
The monster’s black eyes blinked at him.
Mom knocked on the door and Bo-Bi sat up straight.
“Breakfast, Bo-Bi,” Mom said. “Hurry.”
Bo-Bi made his bed quickly. He stared at the monster.
“Are you hungry?” he whispered. “I’ll bring you breakfast.”
Downstairs, Mom had placed the orange juice and milk on the table. Bo-Bi’s bowl was filled with Cheerios. Dad’s place wasn’t set and Mom was looking out the window over the sink. Her arms were folded and her robe was carelessly tied, one end of the belt dragging on the floor like a patchy pink tail.
“Mommy?” said Bo-Bi.
She turned and smiled. Her face looked puffed and wet, as if she had washed her face hard and hadn’t dried it.
“Hurry and eat, Bo-Bi,” she said.
Bo-Bi brought the monster some of the Cheerios he had hidden in his napkin, and an apple. The Cheerios were soggy and didn’t even look like Cheerios anymore, but Bo-Bi held them out to the monster.
The monster leaned forward. Bo-Bi felt a little shiver of fear when he saw its hand clearly, pressing down on the carpet as it inclined forward. Its four fingers were troublingly long. The monster sniffed the Cheerios in Bo-Bi’s hand. Its nose wrinkled. It turned its face away, and though Bo-Bi held the napkin closer it wouldn’t look at it.
“I have an apple,” said Bo-Bi.
The monster took the apple. Its mouth pressed on the shiny skin. To Bo-Bi’s surprise it didn’t bite but setting its teeth, began to suck. It drank noisily and earnestly, as if it had been dying of thirst.
“Water,” said Bo-Bi.
He ran downstairs and filled a glass. Mom wasn’t in the kitchen anymore. Outside the window he could see the school bus.
Bo-Bi hurried back to the monster, the chilly water spilling over the glass rim and down his fingers.
The monster had finished the apple. Its four fingers curled on the wet glass. For a moment it paused, its eyes on Bo-Bi’s face, and the boy felt that frightened tingling in his chest. But then the monster drank. It rested its chin on the floor and closed its eyes.
“The bathroom’s down the hall if you need to go,” said Bo-Bi.
Bo-Bi’s favorite class was math. The math teacher, Mr. Thorne, was a funny man with a bald spot just south of his crown. Although his name sounded sharp, Mr. Thorne was really the nicest of Bo-Bi’s teachers.
Bo-Bi bent over his notebook with his no. 2 pencil and started drawing the monster.
He drew the shape of its head first, narrow and thin, with a delicate simplicity at the chin. He tried to remember if the monster had hair. No, no hair. The monster was bald as an egg. It did have eyebrows, though. He drew the eyebrows slightly arched, and the sharp nose. He drew the long neck, its worn halter, and the stripped wing-bones.
“Wow. That is scary.”
Bo-Bi jumped. Mr. Thorne was standing by his desk.
“This is really good,” said Mr. Thorne, tapping the drawing. “But I asked, what’s the sum of seven and three?”
Bo-Bi tried to count on his fingers. His mind blanked. “I don’t know, Mr. Thorne.”
“Anyone?” Mr. Thorne looked around the room.
Bo-Bi drew in the monster’s eyes. They were big, and he colored them black.
The monster was curled in a square of sunlight in the middle of the floor, its tattered wings relaxed at the joint. Beside it were half-a-dozen sucked apples. Bo-Bi picked up the apples gingerly and put them in a plastic Walmart bag. Mommy saved the bags to use in the little bathroom and bedroom trashcans.
“What’s your name?” asked Bo-Bi.
The monster licked its lips.
“My name is Bo-Bi,” said Bo-Bi. “I’m seven. This is Bilbank, New Jersey. Where are you from? How old are you?”
The monster watched through heavy lids.
Bo-Bi had an atlas of all the places in the world. He opened the atlas to the United States and pointed at New Jersey.
“That’s where we are,” he said. His finger moved south. “That’s Florida. You’d like it. The sun shines there every day all the time. Do you tan? I’m glad the sun doesn’t hurt you. Some people turn red.”
The monster’s eyes were closed. Bo-Bi could see the warm light leaving little rainbows in its skin. Bo-Bi held out his arm and saw the same rainbows on himself, like strange little specks of starlight.
Closing the atlas, Bo-Bi frowned. The scar on the monster’s thigh looked strange and stark. No wider than Bo-Bi’s hand, Bo-Bi didn’t recognize it as anything but small loops and crossed, straight lines.
He was reaching to touch but gasped when his arm was caught. The monster held Bo-Bi’s wrist, its fingers firm. Bo-Bi’s mouth opened and closed like a fish’s, his eyes wide and round as bowls.
The monster turned its face away.
Bo-Bi tried to stand. His knees were shaky. On his bed, he rolled up his sleeve and held up his arm. Although the monster had gripped him tight, there was only a little redness. The sun was behind a cloud but the monster stayed where it was, resting on its hip to hide the bare mark on its leg.
Bo-Bi looked down at his arm. “Someone hurt you. Did someone hurt you?”
His throat was tight and his voice wobbled up and down. The monster raised its head. Bo-Bi tried to see understanding in those big black watching eyes but couldn’t, he couldn’t tell. His heart drummed against his ribs.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry they hurt you.”
The monster sat up. What was left of the webbing in its wings fluttered in the air conditioning.
“I promise I won’t,” said Bo-Bi. “I promise. I won’t ever-ever hurt you.”
The monster placed its hands on the window.
“Please don’t go,” said Bo-Bi.
The monster must have understood. Bo-Bi thought it must. It sat on its knees with its palms on the window. After a pause, it crossed the room with that slow care that was too stiff to be painless, and its human-like face stared into the child’s. Its brows knit forward, its mouth tense. It touched Bo-Bi’s hand, and its long fingers felt lightly over the little boy’s arm, from wrist to elbow. Then, with the same sinuous yet flinching purpose, the monster lowered itself and crawled under the bed.
Bo-Bi picked up his atlas and opened it to the map of the United States. On paper, the States looked very small. Someday, he would go to the bottom of page 27, and he and the monster would go to Florida.
“Bo-Bi, what’s this?”
Mommy touched the rough surface where the monster’s wings had scraped the paint on the closet doorframe.
“Bo-Bi,” she said. “Bo-o-o-Bi-i-i-i…”
She pulled him in her arms and held him. And then she looked at the door and pressed her fingers into her scalp.
“I’m sorry, Mommy, I’m sorry,” said Bo-Bi. “It was the monster.”
“Come see, it’s under the bed. It’s nice it’s not scary—”
“It’s real, it’s real, look Mommy look—”
“Don’t LIE, Bo-Bi.”
Her cracked voice made him flinch. Her dilated pupils were stark against the whites of her eyes.
Bo-Bi was crying. “But it’s real, Mommy Mommy it’s real—”
She shook him. “Don’t—tell—lies,” she said. And, breaking down, “Why do you hate me, Bo-Bi? What did I do to make you hate me?”
Bo-Bi lay in the dark. His cheek was sticky and hot and his throat felt like sand paper. The house was quiet but he huddled against himself. His legs were cold but he didn’t pull up the blankets. He sucked on his thumb. Daddy didn’t like it when he sucked his thumb, but Daddy wasn’t there.
He almost cried out, when he saw the monster. It was sitting, watching, and he could see the glitter of its eyes in the dark.
Bo-Bi patted the bed beside him.
The monster was motionless.
The little boy’s face collapsed.
He felt the mattress shift. He saw, in the dimness, the monster’s long body stretch beside him.
Bo-Bi held out his arms.
The monster hissed. It bent forward, its chin pressing Bo-Bi’s shoulder. When it lowered itself to rest it pulled Bo-Bi with it, its fingers curving around the little boy’s skull. It folded Bo-Bi within itself, and although it was bony its leathery skin was soft. Its smell was faint and indefinable, like warm water.
The monster’s heart was sluggish, plodding, a slow drum-drum, drum-drum. Bo-Bi listened, his fingers curled in fists on its rough halter. The monster’s hand relaxed at his head and he felt the great, slow breaths heaving in its sides. When Bo-Bi wiggled and threw his leg over the monster’s hip, clinging like a monkey, the monster barely flinched. Bo-Bi guessed it was sleeping and he tried to stay still.
If Daddy came in he would see the monster. He wouldn’t see Bo-Bi, not at once, not the way the monster was curled around him. He would see the long tail and the wings, and the back with its several bony humps.
Bo-Bi nestled against that leathery body, making himself smaller. Maybe the monster wasn’t quite asleep. It hissed again, more softly, and circled him close.
Bo-Bi watched the other children playing. Some were laughing, running, and some were on the swings or trying the monkey bars.
“Don’t you want to play?”
A little girl was standing to the left of his bench. She was wearing a pink shirt and shorts.
“I can’t,” said Bo-Bi. “My foot hurts.”
Her closeness tickled, inches away. “What happened to your foot?”
“I tripped,” said Bo-Bi.
“My knees hurt,” said the little girl. She made a face. “I fell down.”
“Ow-w,” said Bo-Bi.
She smiled at him. She had a funny smile, like she was and wasn’t there.
“What’s that?” she said.
Bo-Bi fiddled with the notebook in his lap. He swung his legs. “Pictures.”
“Can I see?”
He gave it to her. She turned the pages.
“What is it?” she asked.
“It’s my monster.”
Her lips pursed. There was a little line over her nose when she frowned. “I like your monster.”
“What’s its name?”
“It doesn’t have a name,” said Bo-Bi.
“Silly, it has to have a name.” She smiled suddenly. “Bobby is a nice name.”
She nodded. “Mm-hmm.”
He wrinkled his nose. “That’s a silly name for a monster.”
It was hard to see any stars past the streetlights, but the moon was full. It was a dirty yellow moon.
“Is that where you’re from?” asked Bo-Bi, in a whisper. “The Moon?”
The monster was silent.
Bo-Bi put his arm through its skinny leather one. He pressed his cheek against the monster’s knobby elbow.
“Do you miss it?” he asked.
He didn’t expect the monster to answer. It gazed upward out the window, and its eyes didn’t look so black with the moon in them. Its shoulders swiveled, and Bo-Bi couldn’t hold on when it began to move. The little boy followed its stiff gait to the bedside.
He was flat on his belly when the monster’s head blocked him, its long neck twisted in an “S.”
Bo-Bi didn’t move. He wasn’t afraid. The instant the monster crouched to go under the bed, he crouched, too. Its arms were bent close to its sides, legs stretched, and he mimicked its posture. But his foot made him gasp. His little arms quivered. He almost hit his head on the bedframe when he heard and felt the door bang against the wall, downstairs.
Bo-Bi tried to scramble up. Daddy wouldn’t be happy if he saw the window shade was raised and that he wasn’t in bed. But something hurt, badly, and he fell. A shadow fell across him, blocking the moonlight.
It was the monster.
“Go, go,” said Bo-Bi.
The monster nudged him. It pushed, harder, towards the bed.
“He’ll find me,” Bo-Bi said. “He’ll find you.”
The monster blinked.
Bo-Bi wanted to hit it, but he couldn’t. His belly felt sick. He shouted, “Go, go!”
He knew he was too loud. But the monster didn’t listen, and Bo-Bi ran towards the door.
The light from the hall blinded him. He was pulled back by a four-fingered hand, so fast it made his breath stop, and Daddy saw the monster.
“Daddy no, no Daddy—”
The monster screamed. Its scream was high and loud, not human, and Bo-Bi screamed, too. He saw the monster’s gray blood and heard the ugly soft firm sound of Daddy’s fists against that frail bony body, and he ran out of the room, into the hall, screaming. He heard a too-solid thud behind him and knew it must be killed. The monster was dead. He reached the stairs but his foot refused, and missing the step, the pain was sudden.
The nurse brought extra blankets and Mommy tucked them around him, around his neck and shoulders. She kissed him and cried. She wouldn’t stop crying. They let her have the room next to his, to sleep. Bo-Bi was glad because he never liked to see Mommy cry. Daddy was gone and she shouldn’t cry anymore. Mommy said it was an accident, it must have been an accident, and Daddy hadn’t suffered. Bo-Bi believed it. He remembered how the monster had pulled him, how strong it was, and that last, solid thud.
Bo-Bi wiggled his toes and bit his lips. He thought, is it funny I can’t quite feel myself.
The light in the hospital room was low. At an angle from the bed, one of the shadows lengthened and stretched.
Bo-Bi tried to sit. The monster braced him and he pressed his face into its withered bosom.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you?”
The monster turned the little boy’s head up with its long fingers.
“They always go in the movies,” Bo-Bi explained. “You’ll be happy on the Moon. Won’t you, Bobby?”
The monster touched the wet under his eyes. Its human-like face pulled at the corners, at its mouth. Bo-Bi strained up and pecked the monster’s cheek, a timid little goodbye-I-love-you kiss. The monster pulled back, clicking. Bo-Bi could see the clicks beating in its throat. Leaning, vibrating, the monster’s dry paper lips touched Bo-Bi’s forehead. A little more stiffly than before, it lowered itself on all-fours, to the floor.
Bo-Bi stared up into empty darkness. He closed his eyes and listened.
Someone was under his bed.