“I’m right here,” she told him, tucking him back into his new big-boy bed. “I promise, I’m not going anywhere. I’m just in my own bed, okay? Just like every other night.”
He sniffled, and pulled his stuffed bear closer to him. “Okay,” he said, unconvincingly. He had been very excited about the big-boy bed … until he realized that unfamiliar things make the night particularly dark and scary. He had come running to her room at the other end of the trailer, not once but three times.
Each time, she had slumped a little further into frustration and dejection; each time she had heard his little feet padding on the carpet and then on the kitchen linoleum, she had sighed a little deeper, and gotten up a little more reluctantly.
Someday he’ll be grown and gone, she reminded herself. And you’ll miss this.
She went back to her own bed for the fourth time, and snuggled down under the covers. Just as she was about to drift off to sleep, she heard the padding of little feet at the far end of the trailer.
“No,” she murmured, despairing that she would ever get any rest tonight. “Not again.”
The feet began running, and started thumping loudly against the floorboards – it sounded as though something were chasing the little boy. Thump-thump-thump-thump. Then, as the feet reached the kitchen, the sounds came even louder and faster – thumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthump! Across the kitchen, down the hall, into her room, running right past her and stopping abruptly at the far side of the room.
Unnerved, she sat up and fumbled for the light switch. After what seemed an interminable moment, her fingers finally found the switch and turned on the light.
The room was empty.
She cried out, and jumped out of bed. What the hell?!
She heard her son calling out for her, and she hurried down the length of the trailer to his room. He hadn’t even gotten out of bed.
“Are – are you okay, sweetie?” she asked, trying to slow her madly pounding heart. “I thought I heard you get up.”
“No,” he said, his bear clutched almost desperately to his chest. “I heard somebody running around.”
“It must have been something outside,” she suggested, trying to sound sure of herself. “Well, curl up now, and get to sleep. I love you.”
“Love you too,” he said, putting his thumb in his mouth.
She watched him for a moment, then turned and closed his door; wondering what it was she – they – had heard, she decided they were both just really tired. She made her way in the dim light back toward her room.
When she reached the hall that led to her bedroom door, the light shifted, and a shadow appeared in the doorway. It was a child, standing silhouetted by the bedroom light so that she could make out no features at all. The shape stood still for a moment, and she imagined that it watched her; then it giggled with apparent delight and spun away, running out through the wall of the trailer.
She backed away from the hall and ran as quickly as she could to her son’s room. She lay on his floor that night, with his dresser shoved up against the door. She didn’t sleep.
Not a wink.