The Night Light
A short story
“No, Daddy, please.” Stevie clutched his brown bear blanket so tight it nearly ceased to exist. He ran his fingers back and forth along the blanket’s edge as his father, towering over him like a giant from one of his nightmares, said, “You’re too old for a night light.”
“No!” Stevie rubbed the bear blanket faster, sending gold, blue, and red static sparks flying like shooting stars.
“You can’t use a night light forever, son. Big kids don’t need night lights because big kids sleep in the dark.”
The small night with its plastic Superman cover glowed brightly beside Stevie’s toy chest. Stevie’s parents had bought this four years earlier, and it had been on every night since.
“I’m afraid of the dark.”
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. Nighttime dark is the same as daytime light.”
“There are monsters.” Stevie pointed down below his bed.
“Do you want me to look under your bed for monsters?”
Stevie nodded like a bobbly doll. “And check the closet, too.”
His father, a policeman, loudly called “clear” as he checked under the bed. “Clear on the right top corner, clear on the left top corner, clear on the bottom right corner, clear on the bottom left corner.”
“What about the middle?”
“Clear in the middle.”
“Now the closet.”
Stevie’s father took longer to check the closet because of its many nooks and crannies: cardboard game boxes, pockets, coats, plastic bags, and shoes; he examined on top of the high shelf and in the far back and distant sides. He made a show of illuminating everything with his Nitecore flashlight. “Your closet is clear, too, son. You can sleep soundly now.”
Stevie’s father knew all it would take for his son to fall fast asleep was a single, quiet minute with his head on the pillow. “To be six again and fall asleep so quickly,” he lamented softly.
He walked across the room to the toy chest and knelt on the floor. As his finger contacted the night light’s power switch, Stevie yelled, “Wait!”
“Can I have my night light one more night, Daddy? Please?”
His father sighed and shook his head. “I’m afraid not.” He paused for a few beats, thoughts interfusing, a story being born. “Because of the moth monster.”
“The what!?” Stevie gasped and pulled his bear blanket over his head. His little body quivered, shaking his bed and spilling tremors across the room like an earthquake’s convulsions spreading in every direction.
“You know how moths are attracted to the light?”
Stevie knew all about that. He recalled a blizzard of a million moths circling the kerosine lantern with which they had illuminated their evening picnic at the lake.
“There’s a mutant moth monster, a giant moth that’s especially attracted to night lights. I’m not saying it comes to every night light, but the more you use a night light the greater the chance you’ll attract the moth monster.”
Stevie was afraid to ask, but he was even more terrified of the unknown, and why hadn’t Daddy told him about the moth monster before? “What…what does it do?”
“The moth monster is so strong it can carry away children.”
“Oh yes! And grown ups, too. That’s how powerful the moth monster is.”
“Does it eat people?”
“Nobody’s sure because the children never come back.” His father pressed his finger against the night light’s switch. “So, do you want the night light on or off?”
“Off! I want it off! Now, Daddy, turn the night light off now!”
His father kissed Stevie on the cheek and smiled in the darkness. “You’re a big, brave boy, Stevie.”
Stevie smiled, too, a tepid, hesitant smile that blossomed into a big, broad one.
Small sounds—crickets, wooden floorboards creaking as the night air cooled them, a distant owl—and the sounds in Stevie’s fertile and ever-expanding imagination grew more ominous with each passing minute.
Something’s out there, maybe something’s in my room already.
Stevie couldn’t see the night light but knew it was there, still. He thought a troll or evil elf or leprechaun or some other mischievous or devious creature would turn the night light on while he slept, and the moth monster would come.
The moth monster will come and eat me, and it’s going to hurt; it’s going to hurt a lot.
His fear of the night light intensified, fear replacing the oxygen in his room, almost suffocating him.
His child’s mind conjured a tiger-sized moth monster that bore bat wings, and with antennae like lobster claws, snapping open and shut, searching for human flesh. Blood dripped from the moth’s jagged teeth, and it buzzed as loudly as a thousand mosquitos.
The house shook ever so slightly as if an ethereal wind nudged it. A clip-clop echoed through the house’s wooden frame, and the stench of old, thick mud made Stevie cough.
Stevie counted to ten, bolted out of bed, ran to the light, and yanked it from the outlet.
He held it between his forefinger and thumb like a dead fish that was not yet dead but was trying to bite him and ran to his parents' bedroom, where he slipped the night light into an open electrical outlet.
When Stevie was done, he realized he’d been holding his breath. He dropped to the floor panting, curled into a crescent moon, and stayed there for a full minute before carefully tiptoeing back to his bedroom.
Stevie didn’t see the six-inch-tall troll, its green skin covered with warts oozing viscous, pink liquid, open the window to his parents' bedroom. The troll climbed over the window sill, slinked across the floor, turned on the night light, flashed its yellow, cracked teeth, and exited, leaving the window open.
If you enjoyed The Night Light, I think you’ll also like my story, O. Henry’s Pen.
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