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Bedtime Story

There're monsters.  And then there're monsters.

If the boogeyman under your bed even scares your protectors, it's time to pull that sheet up to your chin and pray.

Bedtime Story by Eryk Pruitt



There's but a sliver of light in the hallway and you frown, because she was long ago told to shut off the light. But that frown melts quickly away, because you love her and everything that makes her what she is and, more likely, what she will be. So softly you open the door and mind the little creak in the hinge, the one that makes her look up, see you, and smile.
              
"Mommy," she says.
              
"Honey," you say, "you are supposed to be asleep. Why is your light still on?"
              
"I can't sleep," she says. "I'm scared."


"There's nothing to be afraid of," you tell her.
              
"I'm afraid of Big Jack Caro." She whispers the name, as if there were more than the two of you in the house.
    
You only take half a breath. "What—How do you know about Jack Caro, honey?"
              
"I hear you and Daddy talking," she says. "They talk about him everywhere. At school. Is it true Big Jack Caro killed Suzy Egan's daddy?"
              
You hold onto that half-breath for dear life. Children will talk. Hide what you will, they will find it. For years, you have secreted Christmas presents about the house, always in a new spot, and hasn't she ferreted them out, each and every time? How can this be different?
              
"Mr. Caro is a sick man, sweetie." You say it as you bring the covers up tighter around the bottom of her chin. As if the blanket were made of chain mail or chicken soup. "He's not well."
              
"They say he's mad because his little boy died. Is that right, Mommy?"
              
"He's very upset," you say, "but that doesn't make it right, what he's doing."
              
No matter what they say on the news, you want to tell her. You want to tell her that all those people protesting outside the courthouse and the state capitol and the job sites popping up around the county... all those people are just as sick as Mr. Jack Caro and, no matter how bad a hand he'd been dealt, there still existed Ten Commandments and a Bill of Rights and a Golden Rule, all of whom still heralded to the heavens Thou Shalt Not Kill.
     
         
That Mr. Jack Caro was a nut. An environmental wingnut. The type of guy the two of you would have laughed at on the news or a one-hour drama on TV when he tied himself to a tree about to get cut down or a bulldozer about to raze a copse of withered pines. The kind of guy who made more than enough noise when he didn't have a job, but Mr. Caro had a job. He worked at the school until he got fired for bringing his politics into the building, then lost it after his little boy—
              
"Why are you crying, Mommy?"
          
You can still see Mr. Caro holding the signs. That look of mad desperation on his face. The pictures of his boy, missing teeth. Missing hair. The pictures of flames shooting from the taps and faucets and wells around the county. The vitriol and vengeance he spouted as his boy grew sicker and sicker. As if he spent less time pointing fingers and more time tending to his own family... But you can't blame him. The horror he must have endured watching his boy die slowly in front of him. You can't imagine, but it is no excuse.
              
Bill Egan – Suzy's father – found in the office trailer up at the job site off Highway 42. It, being the first murder, had a spin of mystery about it, but everyone knew who'd done it. Jack Caro, less cryptic about the next one: the lawyer found shot to death in his car at the parking garage downtown. Or the representative sent down by the energy company, the man who helped all those families negotiate the mineral rights, helped them get the most money for their land. They were still looking for his head.
              
These are the things you can't tell your daughter. Instead, you focus on the things you can tell her.
              
"Mr. Caro won't be coming here, sweetie."
              
"Is that we put in all those alarms?"
              
You brush away a lock of golden hair from her forehead. You pick away a strand from her cheek.
              
"We put those in to keep you safe."
              
"From Mr. Caro?"
              
"From everything."
              
Lance had them installed not after the three lawyers that were found dead near the hydraulic equipment, but after the pair that weren't. Those two sent down from the corporate offices that were last known to have checked into the hotel downtown, but then mysteriously vanished from the face of the planet. How every law enforcement agency from here to Washington had sent resources, yet still nothing. You'd never seen him so rattled.
              
"He's not so stupid to come after a senator," your husband had told you over and over again. Still, the next day he had bars fitted into the windows and bought each of them a gun.
              
With your daughter, you have more room to negotiate.
              
"How about I leave open the door," you reason, "just a little?"
              
"And leave on the light?"
              
"And leave on the light."
              
She smiles sweetly and closes her eyes. She makes likes she's sleeping, but you know better. You wrap the blanket around her even tighter, then kiss her forehead.
        
      
You kiss it again for good measure.
              
And once outside her bedroom door, you reach into the pocket of your robe and hold fast to the tiny revolver, feeling warmer knowing it is there. You doublecheck the alarms, then check them yet again. You inspect each lock one more time.
              
You take vigil on your ottoman, the one facing the door. The third night in a row. Fresh pot of coffee. Eight rounds ready to go.              

For you are not like Mr. Jack Caro. You will stop at nothing to protect your child.

Eryk Pruitt is a screenwriter, author and filmmaker living in Durham, NC with his wife Lana and cat Busey. His short films FOODIE and LIYANA, ON COMMAND have won several awards at film festivals across the US. His fiction appears in The Avalon Literary Review, Pulp Modern, Thuglit, and Zymbol, to name a few. In 2013, he was a finalist for Best Short Fiction in Short Story America and has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and a Derringer for 2014. His novel Dirtbags was published in April 2014, and HASHTAG is available now from 280 Steps. A full list of credits can be found at erykpruitt.com