“Bryan, eat your vegetables,” Mom says, “or the Grinning Man will get you.
I give her my best flat-eyed stare. “The Grinning Man?” Does she seriously expect such an obvious trick to work on an eight-year-old? I shake my head and continue ignoring the disgusting pile of green on my plate.
“Yes,” she says, “the Grinning Man.” Her voice sounds off. Distracted. Like she isn’t devoting much thought to what she’s saying. But she stares right at me as she continues. “If I call him, he will come get you in the night, and you really don’t want that to happen. He lives in darkness, you see, and can be anywhere it is present, and you know he’s come for you when you hear the sound of his claws tapping on the walls. But by then it’s already too late. He will find you. And even though he’s a monstrous being that does monstrous things, he will be grinning. Always grinning.”
“That’s stupid,” I say after a moment. “I’m still not eating any.”
“Very well,” my mother answers. She closes her eyes, then chants in a loud monotone. “Grinning Man . . . please teach my child . . . the error of his ways.”
I open my mouth to call her an idiot when the lights flicker. A second later I’m not sure whether it really happened or I imagined it, but I feel suddenly nervous.
“It still won’t work,” I tell her. “What made you think I’d believe such a weird story anyway?”
My mother shakes her head and pinches the bridge of her nose like she’s got a headache. “I don’t know. It just popped into my head, I guess.” She lets out a long sigh and reaches over to take my plate. “Fine. Have it your way. Let’s clean this up and get you tucked in for bed.”
I sit awake in my bed, wrapped tightly in my comforter, surrounded by the deep shadows that lurk just outside my night light’s dim glow. A couple of hours have passed since my mother kissed me goodnight and closed me in my room, and I’m growing angrier at her by the second for planting that strange story in my head at dinner. I doubt I’m going to get much sleep tonight.
Fortunately, it has proven to be an uneventful night. As I’ve known for years, my mother is full of crap. I force myself to lay back, and my eyelids quickly grow heavy.
I bolt upright in my bed, straining to hear in the oppressive silence. What had that noise been? My imagination? It came from the front room of the house. The front door, perhaps?
For at least the twentieth time since telling her goodnight, I curse my mother’s name.
The silence stretches, and I feel foolish for being so scared.
This time there is no doubt. I heard a noise, and it was closer than the last one. I think it came from the entrance to the hallway my room sits at the end of. I suddenly have to pee badly but don’t for a second consider going to the bathroom across the hall.
This time the tapping is on the doorframe of my bedroom. I’m too scared to breathe and shiver uncontrollably as I peer into the darkness. I think I see a silhouette at the foot of my bed, that of an incredibly large man, but I can’t be sure.
“Hello?” I venture weakly.
A deep-throated laugh answers me.
I scream and throw my pillow in the direction of the laughter and leap from my bed. I sprint from my bedroom, socks sliding on the hallway’s hardwood floor, and turn towards the door to my mother’s room. A heavy banging sounds from the other side of it.
“Bryan?” my mother shouts. “What’s going on? I can’t get this door open.”
She can’t help me, I think, somehow it’s trapped her. What do I do now?
I turn and run into the front room, away from the dreaded sound. It seems my mother’s story was true after all, but . . . how could she have done this to me? I realize I am in utter darkness and cast about for a light switch, but I’m too scared to think straight.
Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.
The sound is all around me now, freezing me in place. I fall to my knees and squeeze my eyes shut. After a moment, I sense a presence next to me.
Almost against my will, I open my eyes and look up.
A massive man in a long, hooded coat towers over me. Twisted, clawed hands hang at his sides. His face is smothered in shadow, except for his shockingly white teeth, fixed in a permanent smile.
The Grinning Man.
Another deep-throated laugh escapes him.
I piss myself and squeeze my eyes shut again.
A long moment passes.
“Bryan, are you okay? What happened?” It’s my mothers voice. Then I feel her familiar embrace enfold my shivering body. I open my eyes and, to my relief, the Grinning Man is gone.
For some reason, my mother is crying.
But I’m not fooled. I remember she is the one that brought this on me. I now know what she is capable of subjecting me too.
“I’ll never disobey again,” I woodenly state, feeling relieved and exhausted and defeated at the same time. “I promise.”
©2013 Paul Miller
Paul Miller lives near Dallas, Texas with his beautiful wife and three small children and writes in what free time he can find. If you enjoyed this story, find links to his other work at paulmillerfiction.wordpress.