James was always a late sleeper. More often than not, his mother would put him to bed around 8 o’clock, and then, for the next few hours until she came to bed, he would lie awake, creating strange and fantastical stories in his head and occasionally whispering with his imaginary friend. Of course, whenever he heard his mother coming up the stairs to check on him, he would invariably pretend to be asleep. His door would open just a crack and his mother, silhouetted against the light of the landing, would peek her head around the door, see that he was asleep and then quietly close the door again as she left. James knew all this because whenever his mother would peek around the door, he would open one eye, just a fraction, so that he could see her. Until now, she had never guessed that he wasn’t asleep.
Then, one night, everything changed.
The night began as usual. James had finished watching his programs on TV and his mother, in her usual singsong voice had said “Come on little man, time for bed.” James yawned and stretched and then held up his arms so she would pick him up. She groaned as she hauled him onto her hip. “You’re going to be too big for this soon.” she said. Once upstairs, she tucked him snugly into bed and then turned to leave. “Straight to sleep now, James” she said.
“Yes Mum” he replied, blowing her a kiss as she closed the door.
For a few hours, James lay in bed, dreaming about monsters and faraway lands and whispering to his imaginary friend about why his mother hadn’t peeked in to check on him yet.
Suddenly, he heard footsteps outside his door. Quickly, James closed his eyes just enough so that it would appear that he was asleep. Immediately, his bedroom door swung open. James stifled a gasp as he saw a large man framed in the door, holding the lifeless body of his mother in his arms. Still pretending to be asleep whilst looking as much as he dared, James watched as the man brought his mother’s body into the room and propped it up in the small rocking chair that stood in the corner. The man then glanced over at the bed, before turning and scrawling something on the wall. James closed his eyes tight, trying with all his might to act as if he were asleep, as he saw the man turn from the wall and head over to the bed.
For a few seconds he could sense the man’s presence next to the bed. Finally, he heard movement and, listening as hard as he could, he heard the man cross the room again and close the bedroom door. Unsure as to whether he had left or whether he was still in the room, James lay perfectly still.
Eventually, he summoned up enough courage to open his eyes a little. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he could just make out his mother’s form on the chair in the corner. Looking over to the wall on which he had seen the man write something, James tried to make out the words. It was no use; the room was just too dim to read what was written there. He still didn’t know whether the man was still in the room with him, so for what seemed like hours, he lay perfectly still, wondering what he should do.
Just then, outside, the moon came out from behind a cloud, illuminating the room through a crack in the curtain. With the aid of a little more light, James looked again at the wall. He gasped as his eyes focussed on the words – I know you’re awake. His eyes filled with tears and his breath caught in his throat, as under his bed, someone moved.