It was my first night in the Billy House apartment and I was sitting up against my pillow in bed, exhausted out of my mind, hoping this book I was reading would calm my rapid thoughts down enough that I could finally fall asleep. That’s when I saw the little boy sitting on the foot of my bed. I had my reading light on and I looked up from the page and he was staring right at me.
I got this choked smothering feeling over my face and neck as if someone had wrapped their hands around me, but it was just fear and panic. “You’re sleeping,” I screamed inside my head. “Just wake up.” I tried. I flexed my hands. I pinched my arm. It hurt.
The little boy was still there. He didn’t say anything. He was just staring at me. He had a light-blue shirt on with dark stains on the front. His hair was neatly cut, brown and clean. His pale eyes didn’t blink.
“Hello,” I said, at last. Even if he was a dream, he was just a little kid and not threatening me. The panic and fear was in my head.
The little boy didn’t answer. He just watched me. I felt super self-conscious and tried to pull the covers up over me, but he was sitting on the other end. So, I slid down underneath them instead.
“Why are you here?”
“Is your name Billy?”
Then he began to scream. The sound punctured my eardrums like an icepick. I couldn’t help it. Bolting upright I screamed back. Then he was gone. Just gone.
I got up shakily, and did what I always do. I turned on the lights and made myself some hot chocolate. I’d started adding creamer to it. I know, really healthy, right? All the saturated fats you could want and more. Keep it up, Laura, and you’ll die younger than your Dad. But it was what I needed.
My phone buzzed and my heart nearly stopped at the sudden noise. I had three messages from Monster.
12:31 AM, Laura, was that you screaming? Are you okay?
12:33 AM, Are you sleeping?
12:34 AM, I did not imagine that scream. It sounded like you. I mean, I think it did. I don’t want to pry but I’m going to come knock on your door if you don’t answer.
I heard a knock on my door and started again. It was a good thing I’d set my mug down when I’d picked up my phone.
I went to the door? “Is that you?”
“Laura?” It was Monster’s voice. Just then, thinking that name in my head drew an icy finger down my back. I did not want to open that door. Not now. Not when I wasn’t sure if I was awake or dreaming. What if I was still dreaming and the Monster I let in wasn’t just a quirky guy with a penchant for making me simultaneously laugh and feel uncomfortable? What if it was a real Monster, something with claws and tentacles and a giant squid beak…?
I opened the door and Monster said, “Laura, sorry if I’m bothering you. You can tell me to go. I just thought I heard you scream. I guess it could have been someone else.”
“It was me,” I said. “Come here.”
He came in and stood in the tiny kitchen living room, a little large for the space. He smelled like hot towels fresh from the laundry, not like fabric softener or laundry soap, just hot cloth. That’s weird, right?
I said, “I had this dream. I was reading and then I looked up from the page and this little boy in a blue shirt with bloodstains on it was watching me.”
“Sounds intense.” He started to fill my kettle from the sink then stopped. “Can I make some hot chocolate for me?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t know if I’ll sleep now at all.”
I didn’t have any chairs so I sat down on the floor. He sat down facing me. “Do you get these dreams often?”
“No,” I said. “I’ve never had a dream like that.”
Part of me wanted to tell him that I was pretty sure it wasn’t a dream. But, of course, it had to be, right? Unless I was as sick as Billy had been. Unless somehow the ghost of the little boy who’d haunted the Billy House had survived and was now haunting the apartment building. But there were no such things as ghosts. The boy hadn’t looked transparent or anything, either. He had looked as real as Monster did sitting across from me.
The kettle boiled. Monster stood up and spooned some hot chocolate powder into his cup, poured the water, then added one of my creamer packets before stirring.
“I stole those packets of creamer,” I said. “I never used to steal things.”
“I saw you,” he said. “You need practice so you’re less obvious.”
This made me laugh. I wondered if he’d meant it to.
We talked for about an hour. Not really about anything. Books we’d read. I’d started Bleak House for my class on Victorian literature. It was huge, a lethal weapon of a book, but I loved it. He hadn’t read it, but had read a Tale of Two Cities. He read me that first wonderful sentence off his phone. I read the wonderful paragraph of sentence fragments that opened the first chapter of Bleak House…“Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.”
We agreed that the opening of a Tale of Two Cities paled in comparison. “It’s catchy,” I said. “Like a pop song.”
We talked about a YouTube video we’d both seen that featured an adorable 2-year-old girl laughing hysterically at a little dog sitting inside a carved pumpkin. She’d put the top on the pumpkin and the dog would growl and bark as if trying to inhabit the ghoulish face.
At last Monster said he’d better go and I knew he was right. He at least could go to sleep. I’d be fine on my own. I was fine. I could probably go to sleep if I tried. I was really, really tired.
He left and I went into my room, and that’s when I saw the bloodstain on the foot of my bed.