Dad of the Year Award

Submitted into Contest #16 in response to: Write a story around the theme: Be careful what you wish for.... view prompt

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General

 The darkness is my haven. This is where I am safe.

The familiar aroma of a dusty mattress wafted up my nose. Most people don’t experience the smell of a musty mattress after the sun sets and the breeze from outside brushes against the sheets. It’s more calming than anyone would imagine. The toys touching my nose and stabbing my side as I laid there were not bothering me as I listened intently. The sun had finally set. Everything was okay. Everything was calm again as I took a deep breath.

Now you just wait for bedtime.

The door swung open and light from the hallway flooded the small space. Scattered clothes and disarrayed toys covered the floor, but the tripping hazard was easily avoided by my little girl skipping across the space. This was her space and she could do whatever she wanted with it, but I still had a hard time with how dirty it got. Because when it got really dirty, it would bug my wife to no end and she would make her clean it.

Not that I’m saying cleaning your room is bad, but my little girl cleans her room like most kids—shoves it all under the bed. And trust me, it was already plenty crowded under here. When she was sleeping or out at school, I would slowly expel the crowding, and often, smelly objects, until the bedroom was a mess again. She would promise her mother that she just cleaned everything, but then she would walk in to see a nice mayhem scattered on the floor.

“But mommy,” My little girl whined. She sounded just like her mother in a stubborn set kind of way. “I’m not tired.”

“Well, that’s too bad,” I watched my wife’s footprints as she stepped further into the room. “Because you have school tomorrow and you need your rest.”

My daughter whined. “Daddy let me stay awake all the time.”

My wife hustled our daughter into her bed and the springs recoiled slightly, supporting her energetic body. The blankets tousled and flattened and she grabbed the picture book off the nightstand next to her princess palace bed. “Mommy, what about the man under the bed? I don’t like him.”

My eyebrows scrunched together. I understood if she didn’t like the monster, but how could she not like me?

Of course she likes you, you’re her father.

“Honey, there are no monsters under the bed.”

“There are, mommy, I swear! He talks all the time and when he comes out, I have to hide under my blankets.”

“Here, I will scare him away, alright?”

My wife’s face came into view as she got onto her knees and lowered her face to the ground. I inched closer to the edge of light so I could get a closer look. I stopped just in front of her face, taking in as much as I could. This was probably the only time in a long time that I will get to look at her. She looked different from the last time I saw her. Worn; tired. Like she had aged tremendously within the last couple months.

“Shoo!” She hollered, mostly for the child than for me. Her eyes saw right past me. To the world, I was invisible, and I always would be. “Leave this bed at once!”

My heart sank when she sat back up, no longer facing the darkness I relished in so frequently. I reminded myself again—I wasn’t here for my wife. I was here for my daughter. By this point my wife had already moved on. Now she had someone else.

That was a part of the deal—I can see my little girl, and I could see my wife, but I had to be the monster under the bed. The bad guy.

Was it worth it? I literally had the worst occupation in the world and had no way out of it.

But isn’t it nice to be among the living? Isn’t it nice to still be a part of their lives? It’s better than nothing.

Most people believe that God will meet them when they die. Or that everything will just disappear. I’m still not sure about that; I never got past the devil. When he offered a way out of the death I had cornered myself into, and I took it. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the fine print.

Who needs to read the fine print? That’s all the minor things. You know I’m here to help you. To give you another chance to be with your family.

I can’t come out in the day. I have to stay away from all light. I also can’t leave this room. I am locked into my little girl’s room until she turns 10, then I have to move onto another room and child. Those are fine, but the one thing that really disturbed me was that I was a monster.

Long talons replaced my once human hands and green, scaly skin covered my alligator body. Long, sharp yellowing teeth were displayed constantly when I closed my jaw and they lined over my lips. Thick, coarse hair sprouted between the pastly scales along my back and the top my head, but they were stringy and seemed almost scarce where they were prominent.

But only my little girl can see me. To my wife, her selfish boyfriend, and anybody else in the world? I was invisible.

Being invisible is so much better than being dead, though. You know this is what your daughter would have wanted—to have daddy with her for the rest of her life.

I was the monster they sent me out to be.

“Mommy, I know he’s there,” she repeated, stubborn as her mother. “He comes out when you leave.”

“Baby, it’s okay, he won’t get you, I promise. I bought you that night light and it keeps out the scary monsters.”

It was quiet for a while before my daughter spoke back. “Promise?”

I heard my wife give her a kiss before she stood. “I promise. Now get some sleep.”

The light from the hallway was pulled away like a curtain and I lay there, motionless for a while. I knew by now that she never actually read the princess book, but that she just slept with it. Sleeping Beauty had always been her favorite.

The story about a princess who would give up everything in her life to be with the one she loves. It’s no doubt heroic, especially in my little girl’s eyes.

See? You are the hero in this story, not the villain. You gave up everything else just to be around her.

I waited until I knew she was asleep before slithering out again. I relied on my back legs as I stood tall, stretching my crouched legs. When I first started, I could hardly stand laying there all day just waiting for night to come. With every day it gets easier and easier.

The moonlight shining through the open window cast enough light to outline my little girl’s face and my heart broke. She had my Blonde hair and her mother’s small nose and ears. But I also knew that hiding behind those crusted over eyelids were eyes identical to mine. Well, my old ones. Now my eyes were red.

There’s nothing in an eye color. The only reason I changed your eye color is so you can see your baby girl better in the dark. It was for your own good.

But it was the scar lining down the whole half of her face that broke my heart. A thick line traced from the middle of her forehead, headed right and trailed around her eye before sinking down and skimming her nose and ending at the top of her tiny mouth.

It wasn’t her fault, yet she had to bare the scars from my accident. She was in the car when it rolled, taking my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m relieved that she lived—I would have been heartbroken if she died—but I hate how she has to bare those scars because of my mistake.

But lo and behold, this was the worst part of my sentence. It was fine that nobody could see me, I looked like a demented crocodile, and I couldn’t go into the sunlight; it was something else that I had to scare my daughter every night. For if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here. The deal would be over and my daughter would be without her father forever. And I couldn’t not see my daughter.

And now it’s time. You know what you have to do.

I stood on my back legs and flicked my long, stiff tail. It collided with a toy, sending it across the room. The pirate ship let out a loud thunk as it whacked against the wall and startled my daughter. Her eyes split open and there were her brown eyes, dying to remain hidden. She looked at the pirate ship and ensconced herself under her covers, sheltering herself from the frightening darkness.

Just scare her and all this will be over. Just one time a day, that’s all I need.

I can’t scare this perfect little girl. She deserves better. I can’t be selfish.

You call this not being selfish? You are robbing your daughter of the only father she has because you are too afraid to scare her.

I can’t scare her.

You can and you will. For both of your sakes.

I wanted this over with. I slithered to the other side of the bed and tugged the comforter, sliding it off with ease. She shivered under her sheet. This was the most exposed I would get her. I growled and flicked something else with my tail, sending it flying across the room again. She whimpered and squeezed the comforter, her knuckles turning white from the deadly grip. My heart sank. She was so petrified she didn’t know what to do.

She doesn’t deserve a fear so gripping she can’t even breathe correctly.

I couldn’t do this. I lowered my head and retreated to my corner under the bed, my favorite scent wafting up my nose. This wasn’t fair to her. That sweet little girl deserved better than a monster.

You WILL scare her, you COWARD!

The voice rang so abruptly and commanding that I jerked my head, but it bumped against the mattress unintentionally and that was the last straw for her. She burst out in tears and hastily threw away the sheet before scampering to the door. Hallway light flooded the room again and I was thankful I was shielded from the light.

Oh, monster. We have a deal. I allow you to stay and watch over your daughter and you just do one little thing every night. Just one small task. And you can’t do that?

She was so scared. Her fear was nearly palpable.

I have done you a favor! To live immortally and just have to cooperate and do one little thing a day. Maybe if you can’t do it, I will find someone else who could. And they wouldn’t love your family like you do.

I heard her footsteps retreat down the stairs and the waft of voices float into the empty space. Finally, my wife and her self-consumed boyfriend came into the room, flicking light into the dimmed area and invading the space. I sunk deeper into my corner, hoping they would just all go away. I wouldn’t scare her again tonight.

“Honey, I don’t see anything,” my wife spoke, looking around the room.

“Mommy, it moved my toys! Then it took off my blanket and I felt it move! I know it’s there.” My daughter spoke between tears and hiccups that ripped my heart in half. The other nights weren’t nearly this scarring.

My wife’s boyfriend knelt down and looked under the bed, his eyes scanning over me as they inspected the various toys and the clothing collection surrounding my fortress. I wanted to spit in the bastard’s face. Here I was selling my soul to the devil to live with my family while my wife was set on “getting over me” with this doorknob. I mean, he worked at Intel. What kind of a job is that?

“There’s nothing under here.” You are mistaken. The man you replaced resides here.

He stood and walked over to the closet, pulling the door open and inspecting it as well. “There’s nothing in here.” As if I would ever hide in the closet.

“But I know he’s in here, mommy! I know it!” My angelic little girl whined. “Please? I can’t sleep alone.”

I saw my little girl scoot in and give my wife a hug, accentuating the fear making her whole body still tremble. My wife sighed and gave in, claiming she could sleep with her, but only this once. They all retreated the room and flicked the light off, leaving me in the glorious darkness again.

It had never been that bad. Most of the time, she just rolled back over and passed out. Then in the morning forget all about it and slip on her backpack to bounce her way to school. This was the exception, I guess.

But was it really just an exception? If it happened once, it could happen again. She would be back and I would be forced to scare her, and the same result would arise. I couldn’t do this.

But wouldn’t it be nice? I’m offering you the deal even God thinks is generous.

The haunting voice in the back of my head whispered. If I didn’t, there was no other way of watching my girl grow up.

You could watch your wife patch her life back together and see your daughter turn eight and go to the prom in the same day. You can see her learn to drive and go to college. You would see her wedding day and the lucky man that would cherish her past death like you do to your own wife.

I can’t give that up. They are my life. I’m the selfish jerk that can’t give them up.

Not selfish. Caring.

I waited until morning arrived and my daughter came running into her room, throwing on some socks and shoes as she got ready for school. Her sleeping beauty backpack was propped against the dresser and she snatched it, putting her favorite book in it, then took off.

“Good-bye,” I whispered, my voice sounding so much not like my voice.

She stopped in the doorway like she was frozen. Slowly, she turned around, looking around the room as if she would immediately see me. “Daddy?” She asked.

I wanted to jump out from under this bed and envelop her in my scaly arms. To hold her so tight she couldn’t breathe. To never let her go as I just held onto her.

But I was a monster. She could never love me like this. I had to remember that.

My wife’s tall shadow stood behind her in the doorway. “Honey? Are you ready for school?” My daughter didn’t say anything—she just kept surveying her room as if the man she loved would reincarnate if she stared hard enough. “Honey?”

My daughter’s head snapped around to her mother. “Mommy, I think I heard Daddy tell me something.”

I had to see her response. Screw the consequences. I proceeded to the edge of the bed, into the sunlight. It instantly started branding my face and I clenched my teeth against the scorching heat.

My wife’s eyes were suddenly rimmed with tears and she looked down at where I was, gazing right past me. “I hear him sometimes too, honey,” She whispered.

Shaking off the dark aurora, she grabbed my daughter’s hand and reminded her of school. My daughter protested, but then complied when the tug on her small arm became more prominent.

I jumped back from the scalding light and took a couple deep breaths, willing the pain to disappear. Slowly, it started fading and I took a deep breath. What did that mean, she heard me? That perfect little girl heard the voice of her father through a monster. A distinction I couldn’t even make. She accepted me. They both did.

I had to do what’s right for them now.

You’re already doing it. Isn’t it nice to see your family for the rest of their lives? Watch them grow old? And you will always be right there for your daughter.

I took a deep breath and shot out from under the bed, placing my demonic body squarely in the window’s light. Instantly, the scaly, crocodile skin started burning as silent flames danced on my skin. The pain penetrated instantly from my bones and I wanted more than anything for it to stop.

You know the rules, no sunlight!

Well, almost anything.

What are you doing? Get back under the bed before you burn alive. I swear you won’t come back if you do this.

I took a deep breath and stood still, begging the sun to demolish my scaly body. “I love you, Emily,” I whispered and waited out my final death.

November 16, 2019 14:04

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2 comments

Tori Routsong
05:38 May 29, 2020

I loved this! This was so creative!

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Karen Jones
22:20 Nov 27, 2019

I loved this story. The undying (or dying) love of a parent.

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