UNDER THE BED
Janet C. Beaulieu
Copyright © 2000
In the morning, the Thing under the bed slid out from underneath the mattress and made its way across the rug and out the doorway. Invisible in daylight, today it had no worry of being spied by prying eyes, for there was no one in the house. There had been no one in the house for several days now, and it was becoming clear to the Thing that it would soon have to move on.
It was very hungry. It did not remember when it had eaten last, but it had been a long, long time.
The Thing was not required to eat often, but when overtaken by hunger its body would be racked by pain so acute its huge, ovate body would curl up upon itself in writhing spasm. It was almost at that stage now, and it knew that if it did not find Prey soon, it would surely die.
It inched its way down the hall and across the living room rug, then braced itself as it slowly flattened out and slid underneath the front door.
It was hard for it to see in daytime, for it was a creature of the night. The already bright sun of morning burned deep into the unprotected gelatinous body, causing painful, repetitive pulsations throughout its being.
Angry now, the Thing inched its way across the lawn and down the street, searching.
There were few of its kind left, but it was in no danger of extinction since it could divide and create its duplicate at will. The decimation of its population was due more to boredom and sadness than anything else. Prey was only succulent when it was full of dread and fear, and these days little terror was reserved for minions of the night. Some Prey had no belief in Things at all, which made them unpalatable and difficult to digest.
The small Prey were the best. They were fat and juicy and screamed and wriggled horrifically when seized unsuspecting by the Thing. They gabbled and drooled when clutched by the suckers at the end of the Thing's long tentacles, then shrieked aloud once more as they were dragged under the bed and thrust into the Thing's ravenous maw. Any Thing would agree that in the case of Prey, smaller was unquestionably better.
Some large Prey were tasty as well, but they were difficult to find. Once, many years ago, it had slithered into a small white house where it had found a grown female Prey that not only believed in Things but became terrified at merely the thought of them. It remembered the night it had attached its suckers to her leg and pulled her into its lair under the mattress. She had been unusually delicious, and since she was quite large, she had given the Thing a feast fit for a king.
The Thing remembered her with some fondness.
Several blocks down the street now, the Thing heard small chirping noises coming from across the road. It blinked in the sunlight and peered ahead, and beheld playing in a yard two of the prized small Prey, one so small it could do no more than crawl about.
The Thing twitched with joy.
The small Prey tumbled about in the yard, squealing and chattering to each other. One pushed a strange metal thing with wheels about; the littler one held something soft and stuffed and furry and attempted to chew its ear.
Mustering all its resolution, the Thing made its way across the blistering tar and inched onto the yard where the Prey cavorted. It slithered up close to them and too their scent, then stretched one suckered tentacled towards the larger one. The Prey immediately screamed and began to cry, the small one joining in just moments later.
Soon the door to the house opened, and a grown Prey hurried outside. It looked around and appeared puzzled, then scooped up its wildly wailing young and carried them back inside the house.
The Thing's stomach spasmed.
When the pain passed, it followed its Prey, sliding up the stairs, through the open doorway, and into the house. Toys and picture books were scattered all over the rug, and clean Prey garb was stacked in high rows on the couch. Prey voices murmured from another room, and the Thing moved towards the sound. Down the hall and past several more doorways, it found the Prey, and quickly slid under the small bed in the far corner of the room.
Despite its hunger, the Thing knew it would not feast tonight. The Prey needed careful seasoning and tenderizing first. It was hard, but the Thing knew how to wait.
It burrowed silently beneath the mattress, nesting. In a night, or two, or three, it would stretch a tentacle out beyond the borders of the bed and tug on the sheets until the Prey awakened, then it would, for just a moment, fasten a sucker to an arm or leg and hold it fast until the Prey screamed. It would do this several times, perhaps even letting the Prey see it for the one quick moment when the lights switched on before it became invisible again. And on the night it heard the Prey beg to sleep with a light, beg to sleep in another room, beg to be protected from the Thing under the bed, on that night it would feed.
The suckers on its tentacles pulsed, and its body trembled happily. It was home!
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