Miss Hemsworth had that “concerned teacher” look as she watched Sylvia Marden read her son’s essay, but she kept quiet until the mother put the page down.
“Well,” Mrs Marden said brightly, “I always said he was marvellously imaginative!”
Miss Hemsworth smiled, but the concern didn’t leave her eyes.
“Oh yes,” she agreed, “But the problem is… well the assignment wasn’t… We didn’t ask for fiction, Mrs Marden. The children were supposed to write about something that actually really is in their bedroom.”
“Oh,” the mother said. “I see.”
“It’s not the first time, either,” the teacher continued, opening a blue cardboard folder and taking out more sheets of lined paper, scrawled with familiar handwriting. “He’s written about a monster under his bed four times before.”
Mrs Marden said nothing, and for a moment the two women just looked at each other.
“When we see repeated themes like this,” Miss Hemsworth said slowly, “Well, we have to ask. Is everything quite all right? At home?”
Mrs Marden pressed her lips together for a moment, then smiled.
“Quite all right, Miss Hemsworth. As I said, Luke simply has a marvellous imagination. He told me that he was writing an entire book about the monster under the bed, you know!”
The teacher smiled, the concern finally slipping from her eyes. After a few moments talking about Luke’s purported book, the rest of the conversation was banal, meaningless, simply filling time.
When Luke got home, his mother was waiting for him with folded arms and stern eyes.
“I spoke to your teacher today,” she said, her voice low and steady.
Luke said nothing.
“She showed me your essay,” she said.
He looked up at her, his eyes big and fearful.
She reached out, as quick as a snake striking, grabbed his wrist and dragged him upstairs and into his bedroom.
“No, mummy, no,” he cried. “Please don’t!”
She forced him to his knees on the carpet, and leaned forward to grab the bottom edge of the valance sheet.
“Writing school essays about a monster under your bed,” his mother shrieked angrily, “What were you thinking?!”
She put her free hand on the back of his neck and forced him to lean down towards the edge of the bed, towards the valance sheet she was threatening to lift.
“Please,” he whispered,” Please don’t…”
A deep growling noise came from under the bed, and the smell of stale, rotten breath drifted out.
“How many times,” Luke’s mother hissed, “How many times do I have to teach you not to tell anyone about your brother?”
© Kari Fay