(From the "Miscellaneous" Creature Features)

6 months ago my life changed in a way I could have never imagined. I had just finished cleaning up after dinner while my son watched one of his cartoons on DVD. He watched those DVDs a lot. Some would say too much and even though I would normally tend to agree, I knew this was different. Even though he’d never say I know he used those cartoons to help keep his mind off of his mother. He missed her. I missed her too and sometimes I wished I could wrap myself around Homer or Spongebob or any of the others – maybe to forget, but maybe to find some common ground on which to reach him. He’d been distant lately, extremely quiet and bottled up inside of himself. It had been two years since his mother passed and even though he took it pretty hard, I had hoped he would have come to terms with it by then. He hadn’t and, for the life of me, I had no idea how to handle it.

 So, anyway, I come out of the kitchen and he’s lying on the floor watching The Simpsons. “Bedtime” I said as I snapped the TV off. He looked up at me and his expression stopped me cold. He didn’t look aggravated at the notion of having to go to bed. Instead he looked almost terrified. I knew that look. This was a Boogeyman night. Ever since she died, about twice a week he would wake up screaming, convinced that The Boogeyman was in his room. Sometimes it only happened once, some nights I got no sleep at all. I tried everything I could to help him overcome it, to convince him that there was no such thing, but time after time I’d awake to his cries for help and find him completely pale and washed out, his sheets soaked through with sweat. I knew what tonight would be like.

I started in on him immediately. “There’s NO monsters” I said several times. Not wanting to show my frustration but at the same time not being able to hide it. We did the requisite checks of his room before I got him to lie down. “Now listen Mike, we go through this every other day. There’s no such thing as the boogeyman. There’s no monsters in your closet, there’s no monsters under your bed. We just checked. Now please, get some good sleep tonight. You’re going to make yourself sick with all of this.” I handed him his favorite teddy bear, turned on his night light and kissed his cheek. He nodded his head reluctantly. He told me he was okay but I could tell he was still scared. I kissed him again, tucked him in and walked toward the door. “I love you,” he said before I walked out. “Love you too kiddo” and I left the room.

I left his doorway and walked to the bathroom, wondering how long until I’d be called back in. No sooner than I started peeing did I hear him. “DADDY! HELP ME HE’S HERE! HE’S HERE! HELP ME!” He hadn’t even fallen asleep yet. There goes my “It was only a dream” speech. I pinched it off, zipped up and ran to his room. I threw his door open. “Dammit Mike, I thought we…”

And there it was, four feet from his bed. Standing over my son. Threatening him. Scaring him to death. Its fangs dripped and its eyes glowed. Its hands were curled up and reaching out for my son. I could try to describe it, but you’d never be able to fully understand what I was seeing. I couldn’t understand it. It was unlike anything you’ve ever seen in any movie or magazine. What I was seeing was truly without description. And it was walking towards my son. I didn’t think, I didn’t calculate. I grabbed the aluminum baseball bat from the corner of the room and I started swinging. I could hear it screaming. I could hear its bones cracking. I could feel its fluids spray me. Still I swung. I wasn’t conscious anymore. I couldn’t hear Mike screaming behind me. I couldn’t see this…thing…trying to defend itself. I swung that bat with everything my entire soul could muster.

 Finally it went still. It went silent. I stared at the corpse. Covered in blood, one red eye staring at the ceiling. “DADDY!” I snapped back into reality and heard Mike crying behind me. I swung around to look at him and he drew back from me. I must have looked pretty scary myself, covered in blood and holding that bad. I can’t even imagine the expression on my face. I dropped the bat and tried my best to calm myself down. I sat beside him on the bed and held him. “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you,” I said. We both cried.

The next morning I woke up to a swift kick in my ribcage. I opened my eyes and I was in my bed. The kick came from Mike, who was in bed with me. I looked around, still hazy from sleep, but refreshed by the sunlight from the windows. For an instant, I had completely forgotten the events that happened the night before.

The incident. Holy shit. I sat up in bed in a panic and looked at Mike. He was sleeping peacefully. Did that really happen? Did I really…kill…the boogeyman last night? I went to his room and looked. No body on the floor. No bloodstains on the wall or carpet. I was ready to dismiss it as a crazy dream, but then I saw the bat. It was crumpled on all sides. How in the hell does someone crumple an aluminum baseball bat? I knew, but I didn’t want to know. I immediately started trying to explain it. Mike beat up a bunch of rocks in the yard, or trees, or anything besides fucking boogeymen. No, I knew it was a dream. It had to be – there were no monsters. There was no god damned boogeyman! “Hey Dad!” I walked back to my bedroom as Mike was waking up. “I guess I got scared and ran in here last night. Hope I didn’t wake you up.”

He didn’t remember a thing. Of course he didn’t remember – because nothing happened. That was my mantra for the rest of the morning. Nothing happened. Nothing happened. By the time I got Mike up and off to school I had convinced myself of just that. It was a dream. Nothing more. I was happy. I had the day off from work, so I made myself a few waffles and settled in to watch some tv. As the day went on I was laughing at myself. How could I have believed that nonsense for an instant?

At exactly 12:00pm, there was a knock on my front door. I opened it to see a man smiling at me. He looked to be in his mid-30s and he was wearing an obscenely expensive suit. His hair was slicked back on his slender head and his beard was perfectly evened, following the lines of his face precisely. I could tell immediately that I didn’t like him. “May I help you,” I asked, slightly irritated. He smiled at me and then let himself through the door. “Who in the hell do you think you are?” I asked as he brushed past me. He chuckled as he sat down on the sofa. “Who in the hell…cute.” I started towards him and he raised his hand. “I do believe you know why I’m here,” he said, the smile gone from his face. “You took something that belonged to me.” I was speechless. Who was this crackpot and what did I have of his? He looked at me…looked in me. I felt hot. “You had a visitor last night, no?” A visitor. A visitor? “Oh my God,” I said as the memories rushed back. The man smiled. “God? No. He’s not here right now. He’s not all that fond of me.” He smiled at me again, and I knew.

The Devil himself was sitting in my living room.

I was paralyzed. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak and I’m not even sure if I could blink. I stared at him. I couldn’t believe it but there it was. “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?” He laughed. “That’s okay, you just need to listen anyway.” He sat back, pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and placed it in his mouth. As soon as it touched his lips it was lit. “Pretty cool, huh? Yeah, especially since I keep losing my damn lighters. Now sit down.” An unseen force sort of dragged me to the recliner and sat me down. “By now I’m pretty sure you know who I am so I just need you to sit still and listen to what I have to say. The visitor you had last night? He was one of mine.” Nope, not a dream after all. “The Boogeyman is real, Mr. Swanson, and he works for me. Well…he did. But you put an end to that now, didn’t you?”

 “I was protecting my son!” Jesus – I just yelled at Satan. “Protecting? Protecting from what? Let me ask you a question, Mr. Swanson. How many times did little Mike wake you up screaming for help? How many times did he come to you because The Boogeyman had scared him? How many times, Mr. Swanson?” He glared at me. I could feel the room getting hotter. “Now, how many times was your son harmed? How many bruises, cuts or any other injuries did he sustain on those nights? None. Your son was never in any danger. The Boogeyman – fuck, what a corny name you guys gave him – has one job – to scare children. That’s the only job he had and boy was he good at it.”

“But…why? Why kids?” “Why? Why? Because it’s fun, Mr. Swanson. And why is that so bad? How many times have you said ‘boo’ to a baby? How many scary stories have you told around the campfire? How many times have you hidden behind a corner just to jump out when your precious son walks by? See, Mr. Swanson, I’m just like you. People have a misconception about me. This whole possession and pea-soup business is all Hollywood.” “Liar! Murderer!” I couldn’t control myself. I didn’t even know what I was saying. Honestly, whatever was holding me in that chair was so strong that I was surprised it was even letting me speak. “Murderer? Me? Now, now, Mr. Swanson. I may be a lot of things, but I am no murderer.” He leaned towards me as a fire lit behind his eyes. “But you are.” He didn’t say that last line. He…he growled it. You’ve never known fear until the Devil looks into your eyes and growls at you. I couldn’t break his stare. I couldn’t even control my bladder. He noticed and he started laughing.

 “Awww. What’s the matter Mr. Swanson? Are you scared? You shouldn’t be. I promise you I mean you no harm. Now please, stop interrupting me. See, when you set up an empire, even an evil one, there are certain jobs that need to be done, certain…positions, that need to be filled. Me? I’ve been running my empire for millennia and in that much time you begin to get close to your employees. We were like a family, Mr. Swanson. A family. Which brings us to why I’m here. You took a member of my family away from me, and now I have to take a member of yours. You’ll notice I said yours, not you. See, I could take you, but then you wouldn’t learn anything. You wouldn’t suffer a loss. That’s what this is about Mr. Swanson, the loss. There’s a lesson here.” By now his cigarette had burned down to the filter, so he grabbed it with his tongue and swallowed the butt. I found it odd that Satan smoked filtered cigarettes. “So, I won’t take you, your beloved God has already claimed your wife, who does that leave?” He looked at the picture of Mike on the mantle.

You can’t have him! You can’t have him you son of a bitch!” I tried with everything I had to get out of that chair but I couldn’t. I was stuck. He stood up and leaned into my face. “Mr. Swanson, you’re not in a place right now to tell me what I can and can’t do. I can do whatever in Hell I want!” He stopped, straightened up and adjusted his tie. He smiled as he sat back down. “Now, this is where I usually score some points and earn a few new followers. While your God tells you what you can and can’t do, I’m a fan of options. I’m a fan of choices. He tells you ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ I say sometimes there’s a reason for it. He says ‘Thou salt not steal,’ I say sometimes your family needs that bread. I’m all about choices, Mr. Swanson, and I have a choice for you.” He stood up and walked over to the fireplace, which lit itself as soon as he stood in front of it.

“Mike gets home from school in 30 minutes. If you take option one, well, he won’t. You will never see him again. And of course you’ll never be suspected because everyone saw him at school today. You can do the standard Ramsey thing and go on tv crying and pleading for someone to bring your son back. But no one ever will. Will you still be able to go to Heaven? I don’t know. Not for me to decide, but no matter what happens you still won’t be able to see Mike. You will never see him again.” “Fuck you,” I said, tears streaming down my face.

“Don’t be so hasty, Mr. Swanson, as you haven’t heard option two yet. But, yeah, I guess I knew there was no chance you’d accept option one. So, option two. This is actually my favorite. I mentioned empires earlier, Mr. Swanson. I mentioned positions that needed to be filled. I now have an open position thanks to you, and you’re going to fill it. See? Again, I’m a good guy. You murder one of my employees and I offer you his job. You’ll still live out your days normally, with your son, with your life, with everything that you do. However, at night you will work for me. You, Mr. Swanson, will be the boogeyman. You’ll visit kids all over the world every night and you’ll make them scream. And I don’t mean Disney Monsters type of scaring. You saw your son on those nights. You saw how absolutely horrified he was. You’ll do that to children of all ages every single night. Babies, teenagers, toddlers, all the same. And believe me Mr. Swanson, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of making a baby fear for its life. Babies don’t even know what life is yet, but when you’re staring them in the eyes, and they feel your breath on their face they’ll believe their life is over. It’s quite the rush, Mr. Swanson.”

“You can’t make me do that! You can’t. I won’t.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I could barely comprehend it. Again I tried to spring from my chair but was unable. “Mr. Swanson, please, don’t forget who you’re dealing with. If you choose Option Two you will live up to your end of the bargain. I will see to it. So, there you have it. Those are your only two options. Now it’s your turn to choose and, listen to me carefully, you only have one chance to make this choice. The choice you make is, in essence, your ‘final answer.’ If you decide to be clever and announce that you refuse to make a choice, then I will decide for you. And I will decide on Option One. So now, Mr. Swanson, I turn the floor over to you. I’ll have your decision now.”

He walked back to the sofa, sat down and lit another cigarette. I tried to figure it out. I tried to find a loophole, but I couldn’t discern it. All I could do was cry. “I’ll have your decision now, Mr. Swanson.” “No,” was all I could get out between the sobs. “Now. Mr. Swanson.” I refused to speak. “Do you think I’m fucking playing with you!? You have precisely 30 seconds to make your choice or I will walk out of this room, your chance will be over and you will never…see…your son…again! Now decide!!!” He roared. He seemed to be larger than the house. The room filled with extreme heat. I started to sweat. He glared at me and something inside my soul pushed out a single word, “Two.” He smiled and the room returned to normal temperature. He stood up, ran his fingers through his hair and said “You start tonight. Don’t worry. You’ll know what to do when the time is right.” With that he walked out of my house. The force holding me in the chair disappeared and I stood up. My entire body was sore from fighting it. I heard the doorknob turn and I swung around expecting to see him again.

“Hey Dad! How was your day?” I didn’t tell him a thing. I hugged him as tight as I could and proceeded to have a normal evening of homework, dinner and cartoons. That night, as I crawled into bed I didn’t know what to expect. I was terrified, yet I fell asleep fairly easily. At some point in the night I snapped awake, covered in sweat. I could still hear their cries and screams. I could smell the sulfur. I barely made it to the bathroom before I vomited. It felt like a dream but I knew it was real.

 The next night was the same thing, and the night after, and the night after. Every night I vomit when I wake up. My days are normal except that I’m haunted with the screams and cries of the innocent. I’ve even considered ending it all, you know. But in the end, I sold my soul to keep my son. I may be in a Hell on Earth, but I’m still on Earth. I still have him and he still has me.

Now I’m one of the most evil beings in the history of the time. I’ve terrified every single one of your children. I will drive some of them to suicide, others to murder. I will shred your relationships with them because you refuse to believe in me. Your children would rather die than look me in the eye. For that I hate myself. But I absolutely refuse to apologize. Everything I do I do for him. I killed to protect him, I sold my soul to save him and now I willfully live the life I chose so that I could keep him.

Tell me you wouldn’t choose the same thing.

Jeremy G. Butler lives in Overton, Texas with his wonderful wife, Jennifer and their beautiful daughter Kayla.  Jeremy works as the Promotions Manager/Producer for a local FOX Affiliate and also does freelance graphic and web design work.  In his spare time, Jeremy watches unhealthy amounts of The Simpsons on DVD, enjoyes playing golf, shooting pool, collecting DVDs, reviewing them for CHUD and kicking his wife’s ass at basketball.

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