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NIGHTMARES

David Bruce Bozarth

"Daddy! Daddy!"

John Brian Smith sat up from a sound sleep and shook his head while his son, John Brian Jr., wailed with high-pitched voice -- exhibiting all the fears and terrors known to man.

"My God!" Smith gasped. "What's happened?

Confining covers were tossed back, feet dropped and fumbled for slippers, Smith's robe was yanked off the bedroom door and carried in hand through the ebon darkness of the hallway. Could the boy have fallen from his bed? What a time for Karen to be away!

John Brian Smith stumbled across his son's room and reached for the bedside light. His hand touched something cool and slippery, which temporarily hindered his action before falling aside. Both man and child blinked in the sudden, garish illumination. Johnnie Jr., stiffly erect with sheets clutched in shaking hands had tears streaming down his pale, freckled cheeks.

"What is it, son?" Smith soothingly brushed the youth's fevered forehead with a gentle, loving hand.

"Dad?" the boy fought his fear, clinging to his father. John Brian Smith sat on the edge of the bed and reassured his son with a hug.

"Have a nightmare, Johnnie?"

The boy cringed as he clung to his father. His voice broke into sobs. "A big thing with arms like ropes, Dad! It tried to take me away!"

"Johnnie," his father hid his smile over the child's head buried against his breast, "was it like the squid we saw on TV tonight?"

"Sorta," the boy nodded. "But with shiny eyes and it stank something awful! It came out of the closet!"

"It was only a dream, son. There's nothing here that can hurt you."

"But there was!" The boy's denial was emphatic.

Smith sighed. Parenting was a bit hard to understand at times. Who'd have thought Jacques-Cousteau would give the boy nightmares? Little Johnnie'd enjoyed movies with graphic horror and violence and chuckled with mirth, but let him watch something intended as educational entertainment and he went to pieces...

"Okay," Smith rose to his feet. "Let's see if there's anything in the closet."

The sooner his son faced the truth, the sooner he'd learn to handle his fright. "See?" John stepped aside with a sweeping gesture of his arm to display the innocent contents of the closet. "Nothing but toys, your clothes, and the chest with more of the same. Do you see anything that could harm you?"

The boy was dubious, though he admitted there was nothing unsual about the contents of his closet. "But it was there!" he cried. "I saw it when it tried to get me. I felt it, Dad!"

"Where? I mean, where did you feel it, son?"

Johnnie's eyes grew round as he at the cluttered bedside table.

Smith sat on the edge of his son's bed and examined the accumulation of toys and whatnots. He leaned over and picked up the small plastic boat which had fallen between the table and the bed.

I must have knocked it off when I turned on the lamp, he thought. It was cool and smooth to the touch.

"I'll bet you touched this in your sleep, boy. There's a part of us that never sleeps -- and that part of you recognized the boat as something different than the bed clothes. Understand?" John Brian Smith handed the toy to his son.

"Didn't feel like that--" Johnnie was skeptical.

"With your eyes closed you can't always tell what you're touching. Believe me?"

"No."

"Let's try something. Close your eyes, and no peeking, and I'll show you. You try to tell me what they are... Okay?"

Since this was more a game than anything else, the boy agreed. Young Johnnie was amazed that he guessed four wrong out of six. "Well," the boy concluded, "how come it stank?"

The night wind provided the answer. Through the half-open window the aroma of the over-worked sewage plant a few blocks away convinced John and his son it was the source of the stench which had frightened Johnnie.

"I'm sorry, Dad."

"That's alright, Johnnie. All children have nightmares when they're about your age. Life starts getting tougher and there's things you don't quite understand. You'll grow out of it, son, I did."

"You had nightmares when you were a boy?" Johnnie was surprised.

"Sure I did! When I was your age I shared a room with my older brothers. They'd get very angry when I turned on the light to go to the bathroom. I was sure there was a monster waiting to get me in the dark so I used to stay in bed feeling miserable all night until dawn.

"One night I had to pee so bad I couldn't wait. I figured if I kept looking over my shoulder the creature would stay, but it never came. Ever since then I've never been afraid of the dark."

"Just a dream, huh?" Johnnie hopefully looked at his father.

"That's right, Johnnie. Get to sleep now, son," John tucked the boy tight, giving him a kiss on the forehead.

John stepped into the hall and headed back to the bedroom. The dark outline of the bathroom door lay to the right and, as if seeing the portal was a signal, a physical need was felt. He reached for the light switch as he had all his life, then laughed at himself. He had just convinced his son there were no monsters in the night and here he was still turning on the bathroom light in the middle of the night.

John Brian Smith was still smiling as he stood over the bowl when something cold and slimy wrapped about his ankle and jerked...