“Mommy? Daddy? I had a nightmare.”
You force your eyes open to a painful wall of light through the hallway door, and the diminutive, featureless shadow of your son standing so still and outlined from behind makes your skin crawl. But only for a moment. Four nights in a row, now, and you are exhausted. You don’t ask, because you know it is the same nightmare, the same monster torturing your sons dreams.
“C’mon in, baby,” your wife calls out, her voice low and coarse. “You can sleep with us again.”
You pull your body up out of the quicksand of sleep to make room, eyes closed so that you do not wake too much, and you can fall back to sleep, praying he doesn’t kick tonight. The door closes mercifully, and the utter darkness returns.
You hear the small sounds of your son stumbling across the carpet and clambering onto the mattress, as tall as he is, pulling on the sheets like scaling a mountain. Though you miss the still warmth of your wife and her deep breathing into your chest, you do not begrudge the intrusion, reminding yourself they are only this young, this sweet, for so long.
So you think little of the cold air as the covers are pulled down, and he slides in the pocket between the two of you, completing the family set. You anticipate the feverish heat of his tiny body, you expect his unique smell, and inhale the ghost of it before it comes. But the small body that wriggles into the space is cold. The soft Dalmatian pajamas that slide up his calves and torso gives contact not to soft, smooth, juvenile skin, but icy, scratchy, briar-like rasps, and the stabbing of coarse hair. The smell is not that of little boys and night sweats, but the invasive tang of rot and the acidic scent-taste of blood that makes your tongue thick and the glands in your jaws tingle.
“Sweetie?” your wife barely whispers.
You lay there frozen, unsure if you should move, if you even can, and the thing twists between you two. You feel the first pinpricks accompanied by sour, sticky breath, and the scaly flesh gouging into your skin, tearing small, fiery seams of panic into your sides, arms, legs.
“Sweet dreams,” it says in an empty, growling imitation of your child’ voice. “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
Daniel Mowery lives in Greensboro, NC with his expecting wife and anxious dog. With degrees in Literature and Creative Writing, he builds houses for a living, and spends his spare time writing to live.