“But I don’t want to go to bed, Daddy,” Susanne whined while rubbing her eyes.
Bob smiled and patted her head. “I know, Susie-girl. I know. I often feel the same way. But you’ve gotta get your sleep. Mommy and I are going to bed too.” He led her from the bathroom where they both brushed their teeth and into a room where the walls were painted with flower covered hills and rainbows bursting from fluffy white clouds. The family had painted Susanne’s room together two years ago, and while Bob was initially against the idea, he now had no regrets.
Susanne grabbed her favorite stuffed animal, a very large rabbit with buttons for eyes, and hopped into bed. “Can I sleep in your room tonight?” she asked with eyes that already knew that answer.
“No, sweetheart, no. I’m sorry. You’ve got to sleep in here,” Bob said. Susanne frowned and flipped the rabbit ears with her fingers. “Aren’t you more comfortable in your own bed? Look at all this space you have.”
“Yeah,” she said, looking down and fidgeting with her animal.
Bob leaned down to peer into her sulking brown eyes. “What’s wrong? You’ve got this nice room. You’ve got Buttons the Rabbit and a nice, soft bed.” Susanne buried her face further to avoid his gaze and held the rabbit to her chest. “Is this about your bad dreams?” Bob asked.
“But they’re not dreams, Daddy!” she said, surging with new life. “I told you!”
“What you told me didn’t make any sense,” Bob said. “You said a man was trying to get you, but you know that’s not true. There’s no one else in this house.”
“He’s in the wall!” she cried. Bob leaned back and gave her the look that every parent gives when they’ve heard enough nonsense before going to bed. She lowered her voice and her gaze and rubbed her cheek on the rabbit. “You have to believe me.”
“Which wall?” Bob asked, calling her bluff.
“That one,” she said, snapping her arm straight toward a very specific location. It was near the corner, adjacent to her small closet. “He lives right behind there.”
Bob looked and saw nothing unusual. Where he imagined her finger to point, there were only two smiling flowers holding leafy hands. “He lives in the wall,” Bob said in a dry tone.
“Yes,” Susanne with sudden seriousness. “He’s there. He’s always there. And he waits for you and Mommy to go to sleep. He only comes out when the house is dark and everyone is sleeping.”
“Is this like a cartoon man?” Bob asked. “Or a shadow coming through the window?”
“No. It’s a real man.” Susanne was staring passed her father, at the wall, and held her rabbit tighter and tighter. “He wakes me up at night. I have to hide under the covers.”
“How, Susie-girl? How does he wake you up?”
Susanne looked down and started rubbing the rabbit on her cheek again. Bob gave her a gentle nudge on the knee. “He just stands there looking at me,” she finally said.
Bob looked back at the corner, at the two smiling flowers running down a green hill together.
“He tells me he’s gonna get me,” Susanne continued. “He says he’s why I have bad dreams. He says there will be a night when the lights turn off and never turn on again. He says that’s when he’ll get me.”
Despite his best efforts to resist the sensation, Bob felt every inch of his skin begin to crawl. He stared at the wall, trying to imagine what it would be like to be a scared little girl experiencing something like that. “Where does he stand?” Bob asked.
“In the corner,” she said with a whimper.
Bob saw the stain on the carpet again for the first time. It was a subtle mark, something you’d miss if you weren’t actively looking for it, but it was there. It appeared to be from some sort of water damage. They had noticed it after they bought the house, but decided not to worry about putting in new carpet until Susanne got older.
“Do I still have to sleep in here?” Susanne asked.
Bob stared at the stain and the cartoony flowers and shook his head. He pictured… something standing over his daughter’s bed. “Hell no,” he said.