As bedtime approached, I would feel a strange mixture of excitement and dread. Brushing my teeth, staring at myself in the mirror with an ever-growing clown-mouth of white minty froth, I wondered what story I would hear tonight.
Would it be scary at all? I didn’t mind that. The weird cold tingle of eeriness felt good to me. I rarely had nightmares, but couldn’t figure if that made me brave or not. But I sure wanted to be the hero in my own story, not the baddie.
The baddies, of course, fascinated me the most. They had some cool ideas, the craziest outfits, and a strange confidence I admired. They rarely doubted themselves, as I was wont to do. Often described in an unfavourable light, rarely handsome or beautiful, they were fixated on those who were. They were always more interesting than the object of their obsession.
As the sunlight faded, and I put away my toys, it was time to play with objects which had no physical form. Those made from words, spoken by whichever of my parents won, or lost, the negotiations they had out of my earshot. Words that floated across the short, quiet space to me, where I was curled beneath my blankets — the only true armour a child ever knows, or needs, at bedtime.
I was much in need of this armour, as I would nag for the scarier tales. I worried there was only so much evil my blankets could fend off, though, no matter how deeply within them I hid. So, I often closed my eyes — the fool proof plan no monster ever expected.
How disappointing this must be for a monster. A truly foul creature had spent so much of its time cultivating a terrifying appearance, only to be met by the closed eyes of a child who was expecting it. For children always expect monsters.
Any monster which showed up in my bedroom would surely growl, “You can’t see me?”
“No. Not at all,” I would say.
“But I am deliciously loathsome. You have never seen such frightful features as mine.”
“Nope, I can’t see you,” I would reply. “I can only see the back of my eyelids. Actually, I can’t even see them — which is weird, don’t you think? Why can’t I see the back of my eyelids?”
“Don’t change the subject,” the monster would growl. “We are talking about me. Open your eyes! And gloat in my goriness. My foul nose, and hateful eyes. My teeth, that are stained with blood, my gnarly fingers and toes — you’ve never seen such toes!”
“I’m to be scared of your toes?” I would ask. “That seems odd, don’t you think?”
“You’re to be scared of all of me! If you opened your eyes, you would be, little boy.”
“Perhaps,” I would have replied, “you should have paid more attention to your voice. To make that more scary. I mean, it’s like you haven’t planned for children closing their eyes at all.”
“You’re not scared of my voice? It is delightfully gruff. My throat is sore from munching so many bones — bones of little boys like you!”
“You do sound a little thirsty,” I would have conceded. “You could get a glass of water from the bathroom. But I suppose then you wouldn’t sound scary at all.”
“I so would still sound scary,” the monster would argue.
“Because of the bones? It must be painful to have them stuck in your throat. I’m beginning to feel sorry for you. Well, I can’t swallow pills very well, and I always worry they will stick in my throat. It must be so awful for you. Are you sure you won’t have any water? Or, are you afraid?”
“Afraid?” the monster would boom. “I am afraid of nothing!”
“Maybe not afraid, but you do sound annoyed. Am I being annoying? I don’t mean to be. I’m told I often am, though.”
“Listen, little boy,” the monster would say, getting mightily fed up, “I had a drink before I came. I need nothing from you!”
“Except my bones.”
“Why did you drink before leaving home, but not eat?”
“You don’t understand — I eat bones!”
“Yes, you’ve said. But you haven’t.”
“What do you mean?”
“All this talking. Are you sure you even want to? Especially if you have some already stuck in your throat.”
“I’m going to eat you, right now! So stop talking and start screaming!”
“I’m still not going to open my eyes. And I’m very weak. I shall probably pass out — or die — instantly. I’ll barely have time to scream. It won’t be much fun for you.”
“Well… I’ll bite just a little. Just enough to hurt, then.”
“Like a hamster? My hamster bites.”
I would hear the monster take an uncertain step back.
“You know, I think you are far better off going to David’s house down the road. He screams at everything. Even cats. I can’t promise he won’t close his eyes, though.”
“Well,” the monster would hesitantly say, “which house is that?”
I would give directions, knowing that Davey was on holiday in France, of course. I’m not evil. And when the monster departed, I would hear it creep into the bathroom. Then a quick rush of water from the tap, a giant slurp as it gulped the water, before stomping out of the house.
I would run down the stairs and shut the front door. The last thing I needed was every Tom, Dick and monster coming up my stairs. Bedtime, apart from stories, was — of course — for sleeping. Even I had to admit that, for dreams never came with my eyes open.
I would snuggle, my mum or dad would kiss my forehead, and I would take the smell of their perfume, or aftershave, down into my dreams with me. I always felt sure that Dreamland was down. Somewhere beneath the blankets, but not as far as the bedsprings.
And I would dream the most amazing things I am sure I would not dream if a grown-up had not inspired me by writing down dreams they had while they were awake.
The generosity of a children’s author had not occurred to me then, but it does now. And perhaps I’ll dream one waking dream of my own, that one day I too will have my words read aloud at bedtime.