I could feel the belch growing in me all morning. I don’t know why I didn’t just go outside and let ‘er rip—a thick, cloudy emanation seeping into the wind like a thick snake of gasoline in a puddle in the gutter, befouling the crisp, clear, pristine morning air. I could’ve ducked outside, pretending I needed to take out some funky foul garbage, but for some reason, I didn’t. I don’t know why; I just sensed something in myself, something in the hazy back corners of my mind, something building. Maybe I felt some unannounced visitors on their way and was worried I would be embarrassed socially by some faint, wafting sewer odor—that they’d think my house reeks, that I can’t keep a nice house to save my life, that I’m deficient in several important, unacceptable, and very embarrassing ways. That thought would be unbearable, much worse than the banging, panging, bursting boiler swelling that writhed in my midsection, periodically rising like a monster begging to escape and wreak havoc on an otherwise peaceful and unsuspecting morning. I held it in for some vague reason. Perhaps I would release the noxious mixture later out in the alley. I lifted the basket of clothes and walked into the hallway. I saw something at the end of the hall; a lump, maybe more clothes my little one had tossed into the hall. I turned and walked down the hall, stopping before the soft lump.

“Why are you lying in the hallway?” I asked my little one as I held the basket of laundry, trying to begin the Saturday morning delivery of fresh, clean clothes.

“There might be a monster…” she moaned as she laid under the top cover of her bedding, trying to shake off her heavy fur of sleep. “…in my room.”

“There is not a monster in your room,” I adjusted the laundry basket on my side.

“How would you know?” my little one rolled from side to side, onto her back to confront me. “Have you been in there lately?”

“No,” I whispered dramatically. “…But I know.”

“How do you know?” my little one whispered back, trying to mimic me.

“I would be able to hear it,” I whispered back. “Now march back in there. I have no intention of raising a child who is not confident in her abilities and faculties. For that just wouldn’t do.” I pointed my finger down the dark morning hallway to her bedroom.

She lazily rocked and rolled back and forth, starting up at the ceiling. “There’s a monster in there,” she sighed to herself.

“How do you know?” I challenged her.

“Because you took my blanky,” she sighed to herself as if she were done speaking to me, as if we had already had this conversation several times, as if she understood that anything she said would be disregarded anyway.

“I took your blanky?” I questioned her logic. “That is why you cannot return to your room?”

“Yeah…you took it,” she answered.

“So there’s a monster because you don’t have your blanky?” I asked.

She pulled the cover over her head and nodded under her bedding.

“Your blanky needed washing,” I explained. “It stank. So I washed it. Do you want people to think you live in a stinky house?”

“I don’t care what people think,” she sighed sleepily.

“You don’t?” I asked.

“Nope…I care that the monster might take me away, though…into the shadows…and…and perform horrible experiments on me…or make me listen to opera music, or something,” she explained.

“Well, that’s a lot for a young lady to deal with,” I feigned astonishment. “And on such a bright spring morning…I think you’re stalling.”

“Yeah, it’s a lot to deal with,” she whispered to herself, looking away to stare at her door down the hall.

“I have your blanky right here,” I notified. “Nice and fresh and clean. If I give it back to you, will the monster then go away?”

“Probably not,” she answered.

“Why is that?” I asked. “Is it making itself at home in there?” I looked to her bedroom.

“Who’s to say what a monster will do?” she answered.

“You just don’t want to get up, do you?” I prodded. “If you start your weekend chores, they’ll be done and tucked away before you even know it.”

“The monster would get in the way,” she explained. “It wouldn’t want me to finish…plus, I don’t want the monster to perform hideous, unspeakable medical experiments on me…and I don’t want to listen to boring opera music.”

“That’s a lot to deal with in the morning,” I nodded.

“Tell me about it,” she sighed.

“So your blanky can help with any of this?” I asked.

“Not anymore,” she answered. “No.”

“Well, why not?” I sighed and looked down the hall, starting to become exasperated.

“Because you washed it,” she answered, still lying on the floor under her bedding and looking up at me.

“The fresh new smell doesn’t scare away the monsters?” I asked.

“I don’t know about all the monsters ever, just the one in there,” she explained.

“Should I never wash it ever again until the end of time?” I asked.

“I breathe on it all night long,” she explained. “In the morning, my blanky stinks. Stinks like foul, sour milk breath. It is disgusting. Especially after a few nights of breathing on it…that smell scares away the monster. It doesn’t like that smell.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“I’m still here, aren’t I?” she explained. “That’s why…that stink…that stale sour milk morning breath…must scare them away…triumph of the stink blanket.”


“One time, he was right up near me,” she continued. “Sneaking in real close like. Then he got a whiff. He recoiled. Winced. Scampered back into the closet, back into the shadows…”

“Where he lives?” I asked.

“…I leapt up and held out my blanky. My stink blanket.” My little one held up her arm dramatically. “And backed him back into the darkness of the closet where he came from. And he disappeared, dissipating into a shadow, like the shadow sucked him back to wherever he came from.”

“He’s from the shadows?” I asked, pretending to be concerned.

My little one shrugged from under the cover of her bedding. “Probably just a passageway…like a tunnel,” she speculated.

“That was very brave and valiant of you,” I complimented.

“Tell me about it,” she sighed wearily. “That’s why I need my stink blanket back…I hear him in there now…He’s still here…he’s back again…that’s why I’m out here,” she rolled over, placing her ear against the floor. It looked as though she was thinking, concentrating, listening for vibrations. “Yeah, he’s still here,” she nodded. “That’s him, alright…he’s in there…looking for me.”

“I’m sure he’s gone by now,” I explained, looking down the hall into the brightening living room. “It’s morning now. The sun is rising. You should get dressed and ready for the day.”

“Can I roll over there?” my little one asked.

“I don’t care how you get in there. I just need you up and dressed,” I looked at the clothes basket, trying to gauge how much of it is to be delivered to her room.

“Yeah, I need to get back in there. Get back to the story I’m writing,” she sighed.

“Good for you. What’s it about?” I asked.

“Cow feet,” she sighed, looking up at the ceiling, thinking.

“What’s ‘cow feet?’” I asked.

“You know how you have feet? Well, what if they turned into cows?” she explained. “…Cows the size of your feet…what if you suddenly had cows for feet?…So that’s what it’s about. Walking with cows as feet. A girl with cow feet. Her struggle. Her ankles and legs growing out the backs of two small cows. The pressure and ridicule she faces daily. In every daily encounter…”

“What happens to her?” I asked.

“She ends up growing antlers…out of the sides of her head. Big ones. One on each side.”

“Oh, my. What happens then?” I asked.

“She has trouble getting through doorways…has to turn sideways. Like this.” My little one turned her head and shuffled a little on the floor. “Like that. Sideways. That’s why they call her ‘Sideways.’”

“They don’t call her ‘Cow Feet?’” I asked.

“No. That would be rude,” my little one explains. “Calling out her affliction like that.”

“What about ‘puppy hands?’ Someone with puppies for hands?” I asked.

“No. That would be stupid. That wouldn’t work at all,” my little one assured me without even thinking about it.

“Well, you best get up and at it, then,” I persuaded. “Maybe we can get your hair cut today?”

“I don’t want to go to the drive-in barber,” my little one protested. “It feels weird sitting in the car getting my hair cut. I’m too old for that.” Slowly, she rolled over to her door and then stopped. She looked up in thought, searching the ceiling as if looking for something. “Mom?” she sighed.

“What, hun?” I turned my head and looked down.

“Am I free?” she asked, staring up, thinking.

“Free of what, honey?” I shrugged. “Free of your own emotions? Your instincts?”

“Free,” she shrugged.

“That’s a very wide and deep category,” I shook my head, indicating I’d need more information before I could offer a comment.

“Am I free?” she squinted, as if asking herself.

I stopped and had to think about that for a moment. There was a rattling. A slight, far off rattle.

“Yeah, he’s in there,” my little one sighed.

“That could be anything,” I thought and listened. There was a rattle. It could’ve been just about anything from anywhere. It could’ve been the wind outside. Maybe something on the roof. A squirrel. Maybe something in the garage or basement. I stood and thought and listened some more.

My little one searched the ceiling, also listening and thinking, trying to locate the distant noise. “He might take me away,” she whispered to herself.

I set the laundry basket on the floor at my side. I knelt on the wood floor and bent to lean down to press my ear against the floor, keeping an eye on the door to my little one’s bedroom. I wanted to prove her wrong, so she wouldn’t worry about monsters or anything.

“Feed me yucky porridge, like yogurt…banana yogurt…stick me in a small cage in the darkness…or be fed to a giant, wild centipede…or a hairy boar…a giant, wild, mistempered boar…or have to recite bad poetry…doggerel…” My little one whispered to herself, as if reciting a checklist.

The funny thing was, I could hear something; some pressure against the wood, as if some faint, quiet stirring. As if someone was in there, tiptoeing around, turning, turning around as if searching for something. I sprang up, snatched a small picture from the wall, leapt down the hall, and threw myself into her room. I burst through the door and there was a skinny reptilian man with big yellow eyes on the other side of her bed. It was as if he were leaning over her bed, searching for her in the twists of blankets.

“Yeah, that’s him. That’s the one,” my daughter sneered as she leaned into the doorway. “I call that one Iggy Boogie.”

I turned to look at my daughter, partially hiding behind the hallway wall, as if using it for protection, just her face peeking in the doorway, her face flush with accusation. I turned back to the skinny reptile man.

“His only way out…” my daughter seethed.

I turned to her again. She was pointing to her closet in the opposite corner.

“…his only way back home,” she nodded.

I turned back to the lizard man. He was on the opposite side of the bed and closet. He looked up at my daughter’s face in the doorway, then over to me. Our eyes met.

“Too bad I don’t have a backup.” My daughter shook her head. “Another stink blanket…we’ll have to keep one handy. A spare.”

I bent into a secret Italian judo stance. I was about to crack the small picture frame over the lizard man’s head. Or maybe slam the picture against the top of the dresser and slash the tall, skinny, gray and green, scaly, shimmering reptilian with the big yellow eyes. But he leapt over the bed, spinning into the air, and arced into the closet. The morning sunlight was diffused through the sheer window curtains. The faint, grainy sunlight caught the lizard man as he tumbled through the air, the light glinting a dull rainbow of colors off his collection of small, glistening scales.

My eyes followed, and sure enough, he summersaulted right into the darkness, into the shadows inside.

“There he goes again,” my little one peeped, unimpressed, as if she’d seen this maneuver several times.

I froze, then snapped out of it and rushed over and looked into the closet. But he was gone. I was so frustrated, so mad at myself for letting the moment slip past me. It all happened so fast, but it was all my fault for letting it slip by. I should’ve at least taken a swing at him, yelled at him, spit at him, something, anything, threw something at him. But he was just too fast; I just wasn’t ready for this stuff. But I was so frustrated, so angry at myself that all I could do was lean to that dark morning closet and release that fog of belch into that void. A warm, stale, pent-up gaseous emanation rushed out, flowing from the deepest recesses, my sides deflating, a tight pressure of pain easing. Instantly, I felt a relaxing and satisfying relief rush over me. All that pressure was finally out, my sides deflating, a pain easing, a comforting emptiness spreading.

“That’s not appropriate, Mom,” my little one commented. “That’s gross.”

I leaned back and watched for a moment, looking into the darkness, into that tall, narrow box of void.

“Mom, are you a secret agent?” my little one asked.

I turned to look at my little one.

“He’s gone again,” my little one cautiously peered around the doorway. She looked around. “Better luck next time, Iggy,” she sang in a little kid sing-song lilt.

All I could do was stand and stare, trying to take it all in.

“The little one I call Myron. The big one is Iggy…” my little one explained. “That one was Iggy. The big one.”

“What about that ‘Richard the Betrayer’ you had mentioned one time?” I suddenly remembered. “Or ‘Larry the Destroyer?’…Was that it?”

“No, that was Iggy Boogie. Larry was here earlier,” my little one shrugged.

I stood thinking for a moment, trying to crunch all this recent information in hopes it would somehow find a good spot to tetris into my brain. I looked over to the closet, searching around. “We need to get a light in there,” I turned to my little one again and gestured to the closet. “Take care of that shadow once and for all.”

“Yeah, but not under the bed.” My little one pointed. “…The trolls from under there aren’t so bad.”