There was a monster that lived under my bed for most of my life. I could hear it growling at night—that heavy hum vibrating from its chest. When I was young, it was only that, a heavy hum, just to remind me that it was there. Just to remind me that I was not alone. I would throw myself underneath my bed sheets and call for my father.
He would come running into my room, asking, “Is it the monster again?”
I would peek my head out from beneath the covers, and nod. He would sit beside my bed with his feet sturdy on the ground.
He said, “You don’t need to worry. It’s all in your silly imagination. There is no monster.”
I asked him if I could sleep between him and Mommy, but he would tell me, like always: you have to be a big girl. After he left, I would retreat underneath my sheets once more and listen to the growl coming from beneath my bed.
When I turned ten, the other girls started bullying me at school because they thought the pants I wore were “baby-ish.” I would run away crying, and they would chase after me with their mouths gaping and their heads hung backwards, calling, “Baby! Baby!”
I noticed that the growling beneath my bed grew louder, more angry and violent, like a ripping. When I turned eleven, I started wearing mascara because a boy in my class asked me where my eyelashes were. By then, I would lie down to sleep and the monster would bark, and I could hear it twisting and turning underneath my bed. When I turned thirteen, I started getting acne. Red, sore pimples sprouted from the center of my cheeks, and the girls called me “pizza face.” One day after school, I walked into town and bought three sticks of concealer. I started packing it onto my face, but the pimples always won—they were always too large, ready to burst, and I knew the monster would let me know it knew.
One morning, my mother said, “Dear, why are you wearing all of that makeup? Thirteen-year olds don’t need makeup, honey.”
I hissed at her, “I’m not a child!” I ran off, and hid myself beneath the sheets of my bed. This time I could hear the monster’s claws scratching at the boards that held up my mattress. It peeled away at the wood, and I could feel the bed shake, the wood chipping. I screamed, and ran out of the room, down the hallway and out of the house.
When I turned fourteen, I brought a boy home with me after school. His name was Kyle. Kyle was in my Geometry class, and he told me he thought of kissing me instead of listening to Mr.Piazzi talk about shapes. I told him I would kiss him back, maybe. We played a movie on my laptop, and laid down in my bed. At first, far apart. But as the movie went on, Kyle put his hairy arm around me. He kissed my cheek, and I heard the monster’s hum, low and crackling. I was nervous, I didn’t want him to know about the monster that lived under my bed. He kissed me again. I asked him if he could please stop, and if we could just watch the movie.
He said, “What are you? A prude?” The monster laughed a sinister laugh—a laugh that you pray you’ll never hear when the lights are off, and Kyle looked at me as if I had hurt him. Then, he left.
I turned fifteen, and my sister took me shopping at the mall. “You need clothes that make you look hot. You dress like you’re five.” I came home with a push-up bra, a strapless dress, three pairs of lacey thongs, and two skirts that suffocated my stomach, but my sister squealed with joy when I came out of the dressing room, and she swore if I didn’t buy the skirts, she would bite me. I put on one of the skirts and stood in front of my mirror. It squeezed in all the wrong places; I felt like I couldn’t breathe. As I was looking in the mirror, I saw a gigantic, black hand slide out from underneath the bed. It waited there, without moving, and on its return to the underside of my bed, it scratched its yellow, curled nails into my wooden floor. I saw it—the monster was growing braver.
“Dear, I think we need to have the talk,” my father started one morning on the drive to school.
“What talk?” I asked.
He kept a serious face and said, “I’m sorry to be the one to say this. But your mother is too much of a baby. You can’t go walking around in such tight clothes. Boys are going to get the wrong idea.” We were in the car, yet I heard the monster’s laugh as if it was a thought of my own. I gripped the sides of the car seat, petrified to look in the back seat. It had to be there. Where else could it be?
My father tapped my thigh, “Are you listening? You need to dress more lady-like. Okay, honey? That can’t be too hard.” I nodded, and in the rear-view mirror, just for a second before it dissipated, I saw its eyes. Cold and white with bleeding red pupils staring back at me.
Then, it disappeared, but I heard it somewhere between my ears: “I don’t just live underneath your bed anymore.”
On my sixteenth birthday, my sister walked into my room and gave me a box of condoms. “You’re gonna need these soon. You don’t want to be a virgin.”
I looked at her, tired and confused, knowing the monster was listening. “But I don’t want to have sex yet.” She looked at me, and I swore in her pupils, I saw red. I blinked, and it was gone.
She laughed, and I heard the monster laughing with her, “You’re going to be such a loser. That baby weight hasn’t even come off of you yet.”
After she left, I walked into the bathroom and stepped on the scale. I watched the numbers climb and climb. Then, I felt a sharp pain in my stomach, and another in my lower back.
The monster said, “We’re almost there.”
I fell off the scale and onto the floor. I pedaled backwards until I was backed against the far wall of the bathroom, beside the toilet. I held onto my stomach for dear life; it felt like someone was chewing, scratching at the inside of my flesh.
I yelled, “Almost where? Please stop! Make it stop!”
And it was gone, the pain subsided, but I heard it’s voice, “You’ll see soon.”
I tried not to eat as much, but I always felt hungry.
When I caved, my sister would say, “You’re really gonna eat that?” or, “That’s gonna make you huge.”
I would put the food down, and walk away. But I was always so hungry. I pinched my love handles in the mirror, squeezed the fat in my hands and tried to suck inward.
I asked my father for a gym membership and he said, “Of course, honey. Just don’t build up too much muscle. You don’t want to look like a boy.”
He laughed, and although I didn’t know what was funny, I laughed too. I started going to the gym. I would run until I felt like I was going to pass out. I would run and run and run until my vision would blur and the monster would giggle.
Then, I fainted one time, and my father took away my gym membership and said, “The gym isn’t any place for a girl anyway, sweetie.”
When I turned seventeen, I thought I was so ugly. I couldn’t bare looking at myself. I started wearing baggy clothes to hide the curves of my body. I barely ate. I skipped school. I didn’t want to move from my bed. When my mother suggested that I was depressed and needed counseling, my father assured her that I was fine, and it was just a teenage phase: we all go through them. I stopped showering. I stopped doing schoolwork. I stopped answering my friends’ texts.
I was lying in my bed on the morning of my eighteenth birthday, feeling sadness like a boulder weight on my chest when the monster came out from underneath my bed. It stood before me, black and misty. It smelled of body odor and vomit. The sharp teeth in its smile were glossed over with some type of black goo, and its eyes were no longer red but a moldy yellow, bulging from its head.
It said, “You’ve finally made it.”
With a weak voice, I asked, “Finally made it where? I don’t care anymore. Take me if you want.”
It scoffed and sat on the corner of my bed, like an old friend.
“You don’t get it. You don’t need me to scare you anymore. You’re next in line.”
I asked, “The next in line for what?”
It stood up from the corner of my bed, and turned to leave.
Over its shoulder, it said, “To be the next monster underneath the bed.”
Before finally disappearing, I heard a shrill voice that called out from the depths of its black body, “But don’t give up, now. Please.” I saw a human hand reach for me from within the monster’s back, the fingers outstretched in every direction, and I felt the need to reach back, but I didn’t, and it was gone.
About the Author: Cerissa DiValentino studies English with a concentration in Creative Writing at SUNY New Paltz and is Editor-in-Chief at literary magazine, The Giving Room Review. You can follow her on Twitter @cerissa_jo and Instagram @cerissadivalentino.