Each night when Agarok’s mum and dad told him to go across to sleep, he’d start begging to be allowed to stay up just a little while longer. It wasn’t that he was actually all that interested in sitting in the back of the closet with the others watching the dustmites play all evening, but he really, really, didn’t want to go under the bed.
“But you must,” his mum would say firmly, and push him out of the closet, and there he would be, forced to crawl under the bed and stay there all night.
It was pointless telling himself that he was a brave monster and that nothing would happen to him. Each night when the door opened and the Boy fell into the bed above his head, he’d retreat to the far corner by the wall, and huddle there squeaking with terror and misery.
The Boy would sometimes ask about the squeaking, and his dad, the Man, would reply in his huge, booming voice that it was only the bed settling. But sometimes the Boy would demand that the Man look under the bed to check, and those were the worst nights of all.
Though Agarok knew well enough that the Man couldn’t see him – the adult Manpeople couldn’t see monsters unless the monsters allowed themselves to be seen – he would cower in abject terror, tentacles wrapped around himself, his eye spots covered up tight. But even then he could imagine it, the huge flat face with the two moist, swivelling orbs that served as eyes glared around under the bed. Then he’d be forced to lie perfectly still while the Boy begged the Man to read some story or other, and the Man would, usually, comply.
Agarok hated these stories most of all. They were always horrifying tales of the Manpeople and their doings, where they would steal and rob each other, or trick other creatures, often poor innocent monsters, perhaps like himself. And always the tale would end with the Manpeople coming out the victors, instead of being punished as they so richly deserved to be.
And then the Boy would usually fall asleep, and the Man, with a sigh of relief, would go away, leaving Agarok to lie shivering with fear in the dark, with perhaps only a dustmite or two for company, the horror stories he’d just heard playing around in his head. Sometimes it would be well past midnight before he could fall asleep.
It was even worse on the nights when the Boy wouldn’t sleep. Agarok would be forced to lie perfectly still, shivering with fear, as the creature above him – the thickness of a little wood and mattress away – turned and tossed and muttered. Sometimes he wished he could cry out with his fear, but he couldn’t even do that, because the Boy might hear – and Agarok’s tentacles shivered with terror at the thought of what would happen then.
Even his parents noticed that something was wrong. “Agarok,” his mum said, “your tentacles are wilting, and your integument is losing its shine. What’s wrong?”
“Please don’t make me sleep under the bed,” Agarok begged. “I can’t take it any longer.”
But each time he said this, his mum would grow stern, and her eye-spots would darken. “Now, Agarok,” she said, “you’re a big monster now, old enough to know better than to be afraid of the dark. You know Boys don’t really exist.”
“But,” Agarok protested once or twice, before he realised it was useless, “they do exist. Every night he’s there, right on top of the bed, and I can hear him.”
“What did I say just now?” his mum replied. “Your dad always says your imagination is going to be the end of you. Now stop dithering and go under bed, and not one word out of you.”
“Your mum and I do deserve some time to ourselves, you know,” his dad would say mildly, glancing up from his monsterpaper. “How was school today anyway? Your grades were terrible last time.”
But Agarok couldn’t care less about school, because that was tomorrow and right now he’d have to go back under the bed, and that was the most frightening thing in the universe. And his grades were the last thing on his mind as he crawled slowly out of the closet and across the bedroom floor.
Not that school was any better either, because none of the other monsters was interested in making friends with Agarok, and because he really wasn’t interested in the subjects the teachers taught anyway. He’d been asking his parents to send him to another school for months and months now, but they never did.
“It’s the best school,” his dad said. “I went to it, and so did my father, and it’s easy enough to make friends anyway, if you only try.”
This was, of course, ridiculous as advice, and utterly useless, so Agarok stayed lonely, and the lonelier he got the less anyone wanted to be his friend, because he was lonely, and because he was such a sorry little monster they didn’t even want to make fun of him.
Maybe if he’d had friends, he thought sometimes, he could tell them about the Boy, and they’d give him some suggestions about how to cope. Or maybe they’d make fun of him, so it was maybe better that he didn’t have friends, after all.
Tonight, at first, things seemed to have gone better than usual. Normally, when Agarok went under bed, there were always noises from outside the room, voices and banging and hooting and other signs of the dreaded Manpeople. Agarok could always hear them clearly, though his parents insisted they didn’t exist, and so had his teacher the one time he’d dared mention them in class.
“We’re here to talk about studies, Agarok,” she’d said, tapping the desk with her tentacle tips to express her irritation, “not to discuss whatever trashy horror novel you’ve been reading in your spare time. So let’s get on with class.” And she’d told him to write an essay on his best friend, and submit it by the weekend.
He didn’t have any friends, and so he hadn’t even started writing the essay, and the weekend was two days away.
Anyway, tonight there was total quiet, with no Mannoises, and Agarok hoped the Boy would stay away and he’d have an undisturbed night’s sleep for once. He’d even found a few dustmites to play with, and after laughing a bit at their antics had actually fallen asleep and dropped into a nice dream.
In the dream he was in a land with orange skies and purple grass, and monsters of all sizes and shapes were gathered around him. They weren’t making fun of him, though, or looking angry; they were cheering him and calling him their saviour, the one they had always been waiting for.
“Saviour from whom?” he asked.
“From the Manpeople, of course,” they said. “You are the One who will defeat the Manpeople.”
Agarok had opened his mouth-gash to protest that he wasn’t the one that they were looking for, that he was actually terrified of the Manpeople, when he suddenly realised that this wasn’t true. He remembered suddenly that he wasn’t afraid of the Manpeople at all, that he could make them disappear with a snap of his tentacles, and he’d just begun to swell himself up with a mighty sense of accomplishment when there was a noise like the sky – or a very large sheet of tarpaulin – being ripped apart, and all the monsters began shrieking in abject terror.
“The Manpeople,” they screamed. “Agarok the Saviour, help us! The Manpeople are coming!”
Then Agarok raised his tentacles and snapped them together, but it didn’t seem to help the monsters. They fell to the ground in terror, and the more he snapped, the more they screamed and cried, and the orange sky began to grow black.
Agarok woke to find himself in darkness – the familiar darkness under the bed. But though the dream had ended, the weeping had not, and he realised it came from above him.
The thickness of a little wood and mattress away, the Boy was sobbing.
This was beyond astonishing to Agarok. That such a fearsome creature as the Boy could even feel sorrow was inconceivable; that he could lie awake crying his heart out was something that the young monster hadn’t even thought about. It was so strange that he decided he was imagining it at first.
Then, in a move so astonishingly bold he afterwards couldn’t believe he’d actually done it, he decided to have a look.
Oh, he wasn’t that rash. He didn’t come right out into the middle of the floor where he would be totally exposed. No, he just crawled to the side of the bed, able to shoot back in if necessary, and raised a few tentacles with uncovered eyespots just above the edge.
Yes, the Boy was sobbing. He was sobbing and he was talking to himself, and what he was saying was something about his parents not caring about him a whit, about the monsters under the bed, and that he was lonely in school and without a friend in the world.
He was lying with his back to Agarok, facing the wall, his bony, angular shoulders – so unlike a monster’s smooth curves – shaking. This was fascinating to the young monster; so fascinating that he decided he needed a closer look.
You know what he did, don’t you? He crawled fully out from under the bed. Then he crawled on to the bed. And then he crawled to the Boy and nudged him gently with his tentacles.
And the Boy was so miserable that he didn’t even scream.
Agarok’s class teacher gave him a failing grade on the essay on his best friend. “It’s well-written,” she sniffed. “But I wanted an essay on a real best friend, not a figment of your imagination. A Boy, indeed. Whatever will you come up with next?”
And of course you know what the Boy’s own teacher said about his essay, as well. Also, naturally, it’s perfectly predictable what their parents said. We won’t bother talking about that here.
The two of them don’t care, though. They’re planning to run away from home together tomorrow.
If you see them, don’t give them away, will you?
Copyright B Purkayastha 2016