Tucked in on the bottom bunk, Brinley nestled her favorite stuff toy Neta the giraffe under her chin so that both of their faces poked out from the pink comforter. The turquoise glare of a single mermaid themed nightlight illuminated the bedroom she shared with her twin sister, who had already fallen asleep on the top bunk.
As she waited for sleep Brinley heard a faint tapping on the window pane. Sometimes branches of the leafless maple outside would scratch the window, but could only hear it be heard when it was very quiet. Tapping, scratching, a long purposeful scrape—the window latch wiggled, shifted, and unlocked.
Shrinking beneath the comforter up to her nose, Brinley watched the window glide upward and a person’s head appeared, peering about. A man. Not big, not small, and certainly not daddy.
The man crawled inside and straightened. With his attention arrested by the ajar bedroom door, he offered only a passing glance at the bunkbeds however that glance proved ample, because he stopped cold, and looked twice at the bottom bunk. Brinley squinted quickly, pretending to sleep though still able to see what was going on through long eyelashes.
Hesitantly, the men stepped toward the beds, bent forward and staring anxiously, until his gaze was drawn to the floor. An longish object with several gnarled appendages, resembling very much a naked tree branch, was jutting out from under the bed at his feet. He moved his boot away to avoid kicking it, but the branch—which was in fact a grotesque 5-digit hand—tried to grab his ankle. From behind the hand an oval face emerged; it was creased all over and rough like tree bark, with unearthly lime green eyes like those of a lizard’s, alert yet unfocused, intelligent but governed by instinct.
The man’s step back became a repulsed stagger as a creature slithered from under the bed and unfurled into a jagged tower of limbs with a bipedal shape as lithe and unpredictable as tangled saplings. The creature’s wooden face split nearly in half where should have been a mouth, earning a mortified yelp from the intruder who stumbled in retreat through the window, falling outside.
Following him to the window, the creature lingered with its face to the glass and gazed out after the man, or perhaps at the tree, or at the cloudless starry sky. Out in the night, a multitude of crickets chirped; the neighbor’s oak trees rustled in a breeze with a sound resembling that of summer rain. The creature’s curved body, even when standing still, creaked and sighed like a tired, old wicker chair.
Brinley lowered the comforter from her face. She said softly, “Will you close the window?”
Bending ungainly elbows, the creature placed the heels of large bristled hands on the sill and pressed downward until the window slid shut.
“And lock it, too?”
A crooked finger pointed at the unfastened latch. When the child nodded, the creature slapped the latch into the locked position.
With an annoyed huff, the creature ambled toward the bunkbed with the lethargic sway of a willow branch and proceeded to fold its large body into a stiff crouch; it crouched lower still; ducking its head, it plunged into the narrow space beneath the bed in the same way a blob of ink afloat on water is drawn thin and vanishes down a drain.
The glitter on the mermaid nightlight twinkled gently. Brinley turned over, hugging Neta the giraffe’s neck, and closed her eyes.