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Toby, The Underbed Monster (Short Story – 2413 words)(all)

 “Don’t be scared of spiders; they’re probably more scared of you than you are of them.”  So how might that apply to the monsters that live under the bed?

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Toby was an Underbed Monster.  You know the type, the ones that lurk beneath the bed that would probably eat you at night if you let them?  The ones that make that creaking, clanking sound late at night when everyone has gone to bed – and you know it’s not your mum or your dad (especially your dad because he snores so loudly). It isn’t Butch either, because he’s curled up at the bottom of your bed. They’re not like the Incloset Monsters either – they don’t make a sound, but you really don’t want to open that old cupboard up to see if one’s lurking there.

But Toby was not like other Underbed Monsters.  He certainly wasn’t like his Dad – who held the title of The Fiercest Underbed Monster That There Ever Was – EVER.  No, Toby was different – he just didn’t have the fierceness that was expected of an Underbed Monster.  You could see it just by looking at him – his eyes were big, round and open, not all pinched and growly.  I say you could see it, but in truth you would have a hard job because just the slightest sound would have Toby running away going

AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!

And waving his little arms around.  In fact as he ran, with his little arms waving around, he actually made himself wobble – to the extent that he would often fall over sideways or bash into walls! Toby’s school friends of course were as supportive as you would expect Underbed Monsters to be – they would jump out at him, put little spiders in his desk, burst balloons with a pin – you know, anything that would make Toby go

AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!

And either fall over, run away or crash into something.  Or, if the prank was particularly spectacular, all of them.  But Toby didn’t mind (once he’d calmed down and hid in the shadows for a while).  He realised that his friends were trying to make him tougher, stronger – in other words, make him into the Underbed Monster he was supposed to be.  He knew they were doing their best – and besides, he knew that they weren’t trying to hurt him and that they also were doing the same to some of the other less fierce Underbeds too.

At the end of the day at school, Toby would go home where his mum would make his favourite tea of fish fingers and peas (nothing else, just fish fingers and peas) followed by red and green jelly with cream.  She’d smile and listen kindly whilst Toby told his mum about how the day had gone and how his friends had tried to make him fierce.  His mum would smile – she knew that Toby was never going to be big and fierce like his dad, and secretly worried that the time would come soon when he would have to go out into the world and be an Underbed.  She knew that there was no chance of Toby becoming an Incloset (which would have been far more in keeping with Toby’s gentle skills) – she remembered the day that she had mentioned it to Toby’s father.

“Toby will be an Underbed.  It’s part of the family.  My father was one as was his before him.  Even your family has Underbeds in them – and no-one in either family has ever been an Incloset and I’m not letting my Toby be the first.”

The matter had been dropped – and that was that.

Well, the Day of Dispatch came and everyone was given their respective Bed locations to go to.  It was part of the schooling that they would be sent to locations that didn’t need Really Scary Underbeds (like Toby’s father) and would spend time there until the school decided that either the Overbed was no longer being scared (in which case they would be swapped for a more Fierce Underbed) or that they were doing a Good Job (in which case they would stay a little longer).  It was an unusual quirk of the Monster Schooling System, especially the Underbed Fraternity, that no-one ever actually graduated and if they did it was to become a teacher at the school.  So even Toby’s Dad was still technically at school even though he had spent so many years under the beds of so many people!

So Toby was sent to his Bed location.  He sat in the dark as he heard the lights go off.  His eyes were big, bright – and very scared.  He didn’t have his friends and he felt so alone. If there had been any light under that bed (and luckily, there wasn’t) it would have sparkled and twinkled on his big eyes as they filled with tears.  He wanted to go home, back to his mum, back to the fish fingers and peas and jelly and cream.  He didn’t want to be here, he didn’t want to be alone, he didn’t…

He heard a noise.  The sound of an Overbed coming into the room. And then another, with much, much heavier footsteps.  Toby held his breath as best he could so no one would hear him.  There were strange noises and the heavier Overbed left the room.  The big door closed with a click and everything was dark.  There was movement and then suddenly…

THUD.

A Teddy Bear was staring right at Toby.  Toby had heard something about Teddy Bears, but couldn’t remember what (he may well have been falling over, running away or crashing into something at the time) – but he knew that THIS Teddy Bear was staring straight at him, one eye directly looking at him, the other… the other seemed to be a button, sewn in place.  Oh no, a Pirate Teddy Bear!!

There was another THUD and two … feet… landed on the floor. A… Hand (Toby Remembered) swooped down and picked up the Pirate Teddy Bear.  The feet then disappeared and all was quiet again.  Then…

THUD.

This time, Pirate Teddy Bear had decided to make a move towards Toby, who hadn’t moved at all (except to make his eyes even bigger with fear).  Then the feet were on the floor and the hand swept down, but rather than grab Pirate Teddy bear it PUSHED IT TOWARDS TOBY!!!

Toby could feel his heart in his mouth.  Then a small pair of eyes looked under the bed – the small Overbed was looking at Toby!!

AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Screamed the Overbed.

AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Screamed Toby – his little arms waggling around even after he’d run in a full circle and fallen over.

Almost instantly, the door flung wide open and the heavier Overbed came running into the room.  He heard strange noises above and a much bigger hand reach under the bed, grab Pirate Teddy Bear and then with quite calming sounding noises settled the small Overbed.  In truth, whilst Toby had no idea what was being said, he found the noises all quite soothing and it made him happy again – just like his mum did.

He relaxed, leaned against one of the legs of the bed and closed his eyes.

Something made him open his eyes – and he realised he was staring straight into the eyes of the Overbed.

AAAARRRGGGHHH….?!

Went Toby, but the Overbed was just staring.  He wasn’t afraid?  He wasn’t afraid!  Oh no, he wasn’t afraid of Toby!  That was bad – if the school found out he would be sent somewhere else.

“Hello.” Said the Overbed.

“?” said Toby.

“Hello.” Said the Overbed – this time with a smile on his face.

“Hello?” said Toby.

“I’m Simon” said the Overbed. “Who are you?”

“Toby.” Said Toby – still scared, but feeling unusually safe.

After what seemed like ages, Simon said he had an idea.  Toby was learning the language of the Overbeds quite quickly – his teachers said that he would, it was a characteristic of the Underbeds so that they could learn how best to scare people.

Simon returned with a biscuit.  Toby hadn’t had biscuits before and they were nice.  Not quite as nice as fish fingers, but still very nice.

It took several nights, but eventually Simon and Toby would play after Simon’s mum had tucked Simon into bed.  Toby still didn’t fully trust Pirate Teddy Bear, but he hadn’t attacked him, so that was alright.

Three nights before Toby knew that his school would come and inspect, he told Simon what his problem was.  Simon asked if he could pretend to be scared – but Toby said that they would know.  There was nothing that could be done – so Toby changed the conversation and suggested that they play a game.  It was a fun game that they had invented and soon all worries and concerns had drifted away as the two friends played.

The problem with parents is that they know when you’re not sleeping when you should be; and Simon’s mum was no different.  She, like so many parents the world over, just waited outside the door until it was clear that Simon really wasn’t sleeping and flung the door wide open.

The first thing Simon’s mum saw was Toby.

AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Went Simon’s mum.

AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Went Toby, standing on Simon’s hand.

AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Went Simon.

Toby’s hands instinctively started to waggle and he ran in circles, falling off the bed.  As he landed, Simon’s mum’s hands also shot up and she ran out of the room, bouncing off the door as she went.  Simon’s waggled his hand furiously because it hurt.

From outside the room, Simon’s mum was heard to yell

“GO TO SLEEP SIMON!!! NOW!!!”

Toby felt guilty about scaring Simon’s mum, so he decided, once it had all calmed down and Simon had gone to sleep, to go an apologise.

He opened the door to Simon’s parents’ bedroom.  He climbed up onto the bed and walked up to Simon’s Mum. She lazily opened an eye.

AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!

She went.

AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Toby went – and dashed back under the Simon’s bed.

The following night, two days before inspection, Simon and Toby were talking about the previous night.

“You scared mum pretty good.” Said Simon.

“I know” said Toby.  “I feel really bad.”

“Why don’t you try and apologise again?” asked Simon.

“You settle down to sleep and that’s what I’ll do” agreed Toby.

Simon settled and Toby set off.

He could hear Simon’s mum gentle breathing.  He knew from his school that she wasn’t asleep yet, so could still be disturbed.

Toby quietly climbed onto the bed and walked up to the Almost Sleeping mum.

“Look, I’m really sorry about scaring you last night…” started Toby.  His voice was just loud enough to bring Simon’s mum out of the doze and she opened her eyes.

AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Toby was off like a rocket and back into Simon’s room before his mum could work out what was going on.  As Toby fought to get his breath back, he could hear Simon above… he was laughing! He’d been set up!

“You’d better get to sleep Simon” said Toby. “Or your mum will think it’s you!”

They both slept well that night.

The night before the inspection, Toby was worried.  Simon however, wasn’t.

“You’re an Underbed Monster, right? Your job is to scare people by being under their bed.  Obviously you don’t scare me – but my mum, well, she’s very scared – and I’m sure your school will see that, right?”

Simon settled to sleep and Toby thought.  He needed to check.  Once more, he snuck into Mum’s room and up onto the bed.  He didn’t need to wake her this time, he could see she was clutching tightly onto her Miss TiggyWinky, the stuffed hedgehog she had always kept on the chair in the corner of the room.  Miss TiggyWinky was going to protect her that night.

On the evening of the inspection, Toby was surprised to see that the person who had been chosen to inspect Toby’s performance was Toby’s Dad!  He arrived with the usual creaks and groans and said,

“Show me the Small Overbed you’ve been scaring.”

“Can’t I’m afraid. Simon isn’t scared of me.” Replied Toby, his voice a little shaky because he knew that disobeying orders was never good.

“And why not? And why are you calling the Overbed, ‘Simon’?”

“Because that’s his name – and he’s my friend.”

“Toby, No.” Toby’s Dad was feeling very mixed.  Toby was never supposed to make friends with Overbeds, let alone get to know their names.  Oh, this will be so embarrassing when I have to tell the school about my son’s failure, he thought.  But, he’s my son, perhaps there is a reason.  Trying to be firm, Toby’s dad continued.  “So, do I need to find a replacement to scare ‘Simon’?”

“You might” replied Toby, “But I’m afraid that he won’t be scared of anyone – and that includes you. But…”

Toby’s dad groaned.  That means Toby has explained what we do, how we do it… oh, this is terrible.  Hang on though, Toby said ‘but’.

“You said ‘but’?”

“Yes” replied Toby, “But I’ve found someone else who IS scared of me.”

Toby led his Dad to see Simon’s mum.  Miss TiggyWinky was still being hugged so very, very tightly and Toby’s Dad was very proud.

“I can’t say for certain” replied Toby’s Dad, “But I think that Overbed is more scared of you than any of the other Overbeds we’ve allocated monsters too.  I won’t say she’s as scared as the Overbed that I scared” (he smiled here), “but you should know that I’m very pleased with what you’ve done here. Well done Toby, you can stay here until the next inspection.”

“Thanks Dad” said Toby, “Mum will be so proud.”

Toby’s Dad then hugged Toby smiled and went onto the next inspection.  Toby almost ran back to Simon to tell him the news.  Simon smiled, and then said to Toby

“I know you sometimes get scared at nights too.  Here, I have another small Teddy Bear that I use when I can’t find Pirate Teddy.  You can have him.”

Toby smiled, his eyes watering with happiness.  He hugged his new Teddy and said “Now, what shall we call you then?”

That night, all was quiet.  Simon’s mum hugged Miss TiggyWinky, Simon hugged Pirate Teddy Bear and Toby… well, Toby hugged Bear.  He was never any good at naming things and Bear described what he was.  But they all slept soundly.

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