Sean, twelve years old but as big as a flabby fifteen-year-old and clumsier than a crippled rhino, plays his television through the night. His neighbors, an old married couple, whose bedroom is on the other side of Sean’s wall, are bothered but indulgent: he is slow and, they believe, otherwise troubled. Even with the TV, he sleeps with his light on, and there are often loud noises to go with the light, sometimes startling, banging thuds.
The old man speaks to the boy’s apologetic father; it turns out Sean is afraid of monsters, monsters in the dark, monsters under his bed and in his closet in the dark. The banging is the sound of Sean throwing things inside the closet as he searches for the monsters, which he thinks will disappear if he finds them before they find him.
One day, the old man, who would sometimes look in on the boy when he was alone, speaks directly with Sean, telling him there are no monsters.
“But how do you know?” asks the boy.
“Because we’ve lived here a very, very long time, Sean, and we don’t see them.”
“But,” answers the boy, unconvinced, “that doesn’t mean that they’re not here or won’t come back.”
“Really? You sound pretty sure, Sean. Tell me, what are these monsters like?”
“Well. . .” The boy hesitates. “They are very scary and disgusting and mean and always hungry.”
“I see.” The old man is patient. “Can you tell me what they are like? You know, what they look like?”
“I’d rather not,” the boy answers.
“Why, Sean? Why don’t you want to describe them?”
“Because whenever I do, like to other kids, who I think must know about them, they laugh at me, that’s why! They make fun. The school counselor sent me to a doctor, and when I told him about the monsters, he gave me pills.
“Oh, I see. Did they help?”
“Well then, Sean. Tell me. How long has this been going on?”
“All my life. My whole life. I’ve never slept by myself in a room without monsters.”
The old man was not a very big believer in pills that changed people. But he did believe in clarity and understanding. You could do a lot by just talking to people, he thought.
“Sean, listen to me. I don’t make fun of people, no matter what. And if you can tell me what the monsters look like, maybe I can help.”
The boy looked up into the face of the old man, who, though bent over, was still pretty tall. “Really? How?”
“I’m . . . not quite sure, Sean. There could be few different ways. But I know I’ve helped lots of people. I do know that talking helps. And I promise that I will never tell anyone anything that you tell me—unless you say I can.”
The boy waited a long time. The old man waited with him. Both were very, very still.
Then the boy said, “They are bigger than my bed. There are, like, six of them? And they all have three heads and mouths filled with huge, huge, huge teeth. And they drool. And they have tentacles, lots of tentacles. And each tentacle has claws at the end that snap real hard. And they slide around like snakes, even though their bodies go straight up. And they’re slimy. But I don’t think they can see me. They move all around like they’re looking for food–that’s me!—or they’re, I don’t know, lost or something, and after they bump into stuff, they go back under the bed or into the closet. Until the next night.”
“Ah!” exclaimed the old man. “The classic swamp creature!”
The boy’s eyes widened. “You know them? You believe me?” The boy’s eyes were as big as two full moons.
“Of course,” answered the old man. “They’re not here.”
Now the boy was becoming shaky. “But how can you know? How can you possibly know??”
“I told you, Sean. We don’t see them.”
The boy, now screaming: “BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN THEY’RE NOT HERE!”
The old man, not screaming, but looking straight at the boy, tells him, very firmly, “Yes, it does Sean. It sure does mean that they’re not here.”
The boy wants to believe, wants to believe so badly, so he asks again, “How can you know for sure? Why are you so sure?”
The old man waited, uncertain. Then he stooped very slowly to face Sean, eye-to-eye. He grimaced, because bending hurt his knees and his back. But when he was finally at Sean’s level, he spoke, softly and with a shrug of his shoulders, but all the while looking Sean right in the eye.
“Because we beat them all, Sean.”
“Beat them? You beat the monsters? What do you mean? How did you do that?”
“Yes Sean,” said the old man, the pain growing in his knees. “All of them.”
“But how? How could you possibly do that?”
So slowly and so very painfully, as though knives were cutting through his knees and into his back, the old man unfolded himself until he was standing upright.
“Okay, Sean. I see your problem. How could you believe such a thing? Listen. Wait here. I have to get my wife. Together we’ll . . .you’ll believe us, Sean. Just wait. I’ll be right back. Will you wait?”
The boy just nodded, and the old man turned and left to cross the hall. He came right back with his wife, who had expected that it might come to this. She said nothing, but with a smile, nodded at the boy, who just stared.
“Now, Sean, you will see why I’m so sure. But, listen, while we’re convincing you, you really have to be still. Do you understand?”
“Real still. And quiet. Okay?”
The old man looked at the boy a long while, finally satisfied that he understood. Then he spoke.
“I’m sure Sean—we are both sure—because—”
And the old folks began to change. Their heads shrunk into their bodies, and three monster heads grew from each neck. Huge and twisted and just ugly, with long, drooling teeth. Their arms turned into tentacles, and other tentacles sprouted from all over, each with snappers. And their legs got all twisted together and turned into big, thick, slimy tails. And they grew—way bigger than any monsters Sean had ever seen. And they clicked and they slurped.
“You see Sean? Do you understand now? Do you get it? We are the worst monsters of all—and we ate them! All of them. Every single one of them. Everywhere!”
And when the old man monster said this, both monsters began to click and slurp a lot, like they were excited. Then they calmed down again.
“Now all the other monsters know that we’re the baddest monsters—ever!”
The boy was petrified—he felt as though he had literally turned to stone—at first. Then he started crying, and then sobbing, with his eyes shut tight, and then he realized that he was all right, that nothing was happening to him. So he opened his eyes and looked up, and he saw the two old monsters laughing. So he started to laugh, too, even though it wasn’t all that funny.
“Now watch this, Sean. This is so cool.” And the two monsters turned right back into the old married couple who lived right next door, still laughing.
Then the boy stopped laughing and asked, “But I . . . I’ll be okay?”
“Perfectly, Sean. We’re the baddest monsters just with other monsters. We have nothing against people. Nothing at all. Long ago we realized we were good monsters. And you . . . well, you’re our friend. In fact—” and the old man looked at his wife, who nodded. “You’re our best friend. In fact, you’re the best friend we’ve ever had! Now we’re old and want only peace. And quiet. So turn off the TV and shut the light and we’ll look out for you, okay? Nothing can touch you. Nothing can bother you in any way. Ever.”
Again, there was a long silence.
“As long as we get our sleep . . . .”
Thereafter, darkness and silence ruled at night. Sean saw no more monsters. Ever.
He would always be slow, and would seem a bit nuts to everyone who knew him. A therapist told him to write the story down as a movie script, and he did, and only five years later, he sold it to Hollywood, because the old couple had . . . connections. And the show was a hit. Sean became rich. And very famous. He became known as the founder of Neo-Gothic Crypto-Realism, whatever that means, and his name was mentioned in the same breath as Tarantino’s and Hitchcock’s and Rami’s. And people wanted to know when the New Sean would come along, but none did, because Sean kept making movies, one every two years, about all sorts of monsters. He won two academy awards, one for writing and one for directing. He even acted in some of his movies and was pretty good. Everybody forgot all about other so-called “multi-talented stars,” like Ben Affleck, who were now just . . . boring.
And then people finally knew that Sean was crazy, for sure, when he bought this really, really old couple several big houses, each one right next to each of his own mansions. And that’s how they always lived, side by side, and nobody could figure out who those old people were. But it didn’t matter, because they all lived happily ever after.