My son, it was only yesterday that you left. We begged you to stay, your mother and I, but you could not listen. You had heard the call of duty, felt the tug of its grasping tentacles as they wormed their way around your heart. Off to fight the war, a month before your eighteenth birthday. Our son.
Your daily letters were a comfort to us. They allowed us to pretend that we would see you again, that I would be able to protect you when you were afraid. We sent letters, cookies, small presents. Did they ever reach you? Did they bring you joy, or longing? I don’t want to know the answer, because right now, I can believe that you cherished our love and shared our kindness among your fellow soldiers.
I remember when the soldier came to the door. He said he had news. You had served your country, and it demanded more than you could give. It took your sacrifice and gobbled it up, along with those of all the men fighting beside you. How was I to know the true face of the monster under your bed? You used to be so scared. I would always come to you, comfort you, and you would only rest when I was there beside you. Was there anyone to lie beside you when you were facing the truth of that malevolent beast?
Eleanor, your sister, wanted us to move to one of those new nursing homes. She started asking when your mother first got sick. We refused to go. We claimed that we were too attached to the house, that we couldn’t bear the thought of it going to some stranger, that we were perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves. The real reason is you. If we left, how would you ever find your way home again?
Calm now, Elliot. I see you standing behind me, watching me. You must know we love you, we always have. Right now, your father must work. I must write this letter. Why must I write this letter? I don’t remember… When I am done, we can go outside and play. We got you a new baseball mitt for your birthday. It’s still sitting on the shelf beside me. Why is it so dusty? I must remind your mother to clean in here more often. When I am done here, we can go outside and play.
But, no. There will be no more play. The past and the present and the future all blend together now. Sometimes I wonder how much of what I see is true, how much of what I know is false.
Your mother passed a couple years ago. It was peaceful, if such things can ever be peaceful. She said not to worry, that I would meet her soon, and that she would get to see you. That monster which hid under your bed, it comes in many forms. It was the call of duty that sent you away from us, it was the soldier that sent you home full of holes, it was the force that stole my wife away in the night, and it is the creeping disease that fogs my mind and brings your ghost so close to home. When it decides to come, there is no stopping it. All we can do is lie together in the dark, giving comfort and love. When I came into your room those dark, gentle nights so long ago, it was really you that was comforting me.
Do you remember that night? Even when everything else slips from my mind, I will never forget it. You asked for our blessing, you told us you had to go. You were too young. We were worried about what would happen to you, but we were more worried about what we would become when you left. We sent you to your room, locked the door, begged you not to leave. You snuck out the window that night, and we haven’t seen you again.
I keep a candle in that window, so you know to come home. It’s my own war, making sure it never goes out. I fight time, I fight darkness, and I fight that stubborn shopkeeper who won’t let me buy any more candles. Eleanor comes sometimes to care for me. She brings food and clothing. I convinced her to bring candles as well. She doesn’t know why; it’s our little secret.
Come inside now, Elliot. Your mother is making dinner.
Hannah is a senior in high school, looking to enter college for engineering. While she loves science, engineering, and math, she also loves reading. She recently took a Creative Writing class, and her teacher convinced her to submit this piece. She is very excited to have her work appear in print for the first time!
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “The Monster Under The Bed”
Stories of love and loss can be powerfully resonant, and author Hannah Seppala has delivered such a piece in only 759 words.
Back in 2002, a small print magazine called New England Writer’s Network published a 450-word story built on the same theme. “My Boy Aaron’s Coming Home” was set during the Civil War and told of the mother of a twelve-year-old boy who had joined the Union Army. A year later her boy Aaron is coming home… in a pine box.
Interestingly, that now-defunct magazine had a section called “Why We Chose to Publish,” and it’s the one that gave us the idea to do likewise in ours. One of the editors’ comments for that story said it was about a specific mother, a specific son, and a specific war, but also a universal story about any mother, any son, any war.
We believe that those comments of universality also apply to Hannah Seppala’s heartbreaking “The Monster Under The Bed.” This is her first publication, and we’re proud to be the first magazine to publish her.