When Dan woke in his bedroom, his limbs were frozen in fear. His eyes darted in the dark, finding faces watching from afar. His mouth was dry but he tried to swallow, tightening his throat. A scream died in his neck.
Eventually Dan managed to move his toes. He barely tensed them to keep his blankets flat. Monsters could sense movement, he knew, and the subtlest disturbance in his blankets would alert them. So he lay struggling to control his body yet unwilling to make a move which would get him gobbled.
A creature jumped in bed with him.
Dan tried to shout but only twitched with all his arms and legs. He breathlessly watched the creature slink up to him. It exhaled moistly on his neck and dug claws in his chest. Four fangs filled its face. “Oh,” said Dan, “hi Django.”
The cat kneaded the blankets and purred.
Now adjusted to the darkness, Dan saw the watching faces were toys on shelves and cabinets. They looked lifelike in the dark. “Django, help me,” said Dan. “I gotta go to my parents’ room, okay? Can you take me through the hall?”
Django the cat leaned on Dan and curled into a circle. It licked its fur and settled in to sleep.
“Okay.” Dan sat up on his own. He looked for monsters under his bed before setting his feet on the floor. He selected a stuffed animal—a purple Teddy Bear—and flipped his bedroom light-switch.
Django blinked in the light and swayed its orange, stripey tail. “Mrow.” It hopped to the floor and followed Dan to the door. “Mrow.”
“You wanna come?” Dan peered down the hallway. His Teddy Bear checked every corner for movement. “It’s not so far. We can make it.”
“Mrow.” Django snuck through Dan’s legs and sauntered to the kitchen. It turned to see if Dan was following. Its eyes gleamed green. “Mrow.”
“Oh,” said Dan. “You want food.”
Dan followed the cat to the kitchen. It sat by an empty bowl beside a container of kibble. “Mrow.”
Dan rest his Teddy on the tile floor and put both hands on the container’s lid. To remove the lid Dan had to grunt and twist with his entire body. Django stood on its hind legs to stick its head in the container and smell the dry food. “Just a little, Django.” Dan scooped whole handfuls of kibble into the cat’s bowl. “Just a little.”
Dan spun to see a latina in a white bathrobe and a black man in boxers.
“Jillian, are you okay?” asked the man as he knelt to Dan. He had wire glasses and a close haircut. “It’s past midnight. Why are you out of bed?”
“Django was hungry,” answered Dan.
“Django’s fine, sweetie.” The woman lifted Dan in one arm and his Teddy in the other. “Your father will feed him when he leaves for his flight in a few hours. Right, Ethen?”
“Sure thing.” Ethen hoisted Django by the armpits and held the cat to Dan’s face. “Wanna say goodnight, Jillian?”
“Wait! I remember!” Dan kicked the air. “I woke up because I had a nightmare.”
“Oh, sweetie.” The woman brushed his hair back. “Let’s get you back to bed and you can tell me about it, or I can read you a story.”
“Thanks, Camilla.” Ethen ambled back to their bedroom. “Jillian, my plane will take off before you wake for breakfast, but I’ll call home tonight when I land at my layover. Okay?”
Dan said nothing as Camilla carried him to bed. She tucked him under the covers and set his Teddy Bear beside him. “I’m sorry you had a bad dream, Jillian. What happened?”
“I was in a desert with Faith,” said Dan, “and we went in a hole in the ground, and in the hole there was a monster with arms and legs. And it ate us!”
“Faith?” Camilla pulled the covers to Dan’s chin. “I don’t know Faith. Did you meet her in preschool?”
“Preschool?” Dan looked at his hands as if for the first time. “Mommy, how old am I?”
“You’re four years old, sweetie.” She felt Dan’s forehead for fever. “Why?”
Dan sat up. “What do you keep calling me?”
“No, what’s my name?”
“Jillian,” said Camilla. “Your name is Jillian Diaz-Jackson.”
Jillian inspected her fingers like they’d changed. “Has it always been?”
“Of course it has.” Camilla felt her daughter’s forehead again. “Are you okay? You seem confused.”
“I don’t wanna go to bed.”
“Oh,” cooed her mother. “Poor thing. Did you know I had nightmares, too, when I was young?”
“Yes!” Camilla shook her head. “I had the same nightmare every night, so I learned to tell when I was asleep, and then the nightmare couldn’t hurt me. In fact, I could control my dreams and fly and have fun.” She scratched her daughter behind the ear. “So do you remember what that monster looked like?”
Jillian frowned and nodded.
“Then the next time you see it you’ll know you’re dreaming,” said Camilla. “Then you can tell the monster, ‘you can’t hurt me! Make me a sundae!’”
“Yeah!” Now Jillian smiled. “Make me a sundae!”
“That’s right!” Camilla bumped her forehead against Jillian’s and they both laughed. “I’ll see you in the morning, sweetie. Tell me about your sundae on the drive to preschool, okay?”