By Chef Stephan D. Harris
When I was a small child, I was terrified of the dark. I still am, but back when I was around six years old I couldn’t go a full night without crying out for one of my parents to search beneath my bed or in my closet for whatever monster I thought was waiting to eat me. Even with a night light, I would still see dark shapes moving around the corners of the room, or strange faces looking in on me from my bedroom window. My parents would do their best to console me, telling me that it was just a bad dream or a trick of the light, but in my young mind I was positive that the second I fell asleep, the bad things would get me. Most of the time I would just hide under the blankets until I became tired enough to stop worrying, but every now and then I would become so panicked that I would run screaming into my parents room, waking up my brother and sister in the process. After an ordeal like that, there would be no way anyone would be getting a full nights rest.
Eventually, after one particularly traumatizing night, my parents had had enough. Unfortunately for them, they understood the futility in arguing with a six year old and knew that they would be unable to convince me to rid myself of childish fears through reason and logic. They had to be clever.
It was my mother’s idea to stitch together my little bedtime friend.
She collected a large assortment of random pieces of fabric and her sewing machine and created what I would later refer to as Mr. Ickbarr Bigelsteine, or Ick for short. Ick was a sock monster, as my mother called him. He was made to keep me safe while I slept at night by scarring away all the other monsters. He was pretty damn creepy, I had to admit. Honestly, looking back on it all now, I’m still impressed that my mom could think of something so strange and disturbing looking. Ickbarr had the stitched together look of a Frankenstein gremlin, with big white button eyes and floppy cat ears. His little arms and legs were made from a pair of my sister’s black and white striped socks, and the half of his face that was green was made from one of my brother’s tall football socks. His head could have been described as bulbous, and for his mouth my mom attached a piece of white fabric and sewed in a zigzag pattern to shape a wide grin of sharp teeth. I loved him at once.
From then on, Ick never left my side. So long as it was after dusk, of course. Ick didn’t like the sun, and would get upset if I tried to bring him to school with me. But that was okay, I only needed him at night to keep away the boogeymen, which was what he was good at. So every night at bedtime, Ick would tell me where the monsters were hiding, and I would place him near the section of my room closest to the spookiness. If there was something in the closet, Ick would block the door. If there was a dark creature scratching at my window, Ick would be pressed up against the glass. If there was a big hairy beast under my bed, then under the bed he went. Sometimes the monsters weren’t even in my room. Sometimes, they would hide in my dreams, and Ickbarr would have to come with me into my nightmares. It was fun bringing Ick into my dream world, as he and I would spend hours fighting off ghouls and demons. The best part was, in my dreams, Ick could talk to me for real. “How much do you love me?” He would ask.
“More than anything.” I would always tell him. One night in a dream, after I had lost my first tooth, Ick asked me for a favor.
“Can I have your tooth?”
I asked him why.
“To help me kill the bad things.” He said.
The next morning at breakfast, my mom asked me where my tooth went. From what she told me, the “tooth fairy” didn’t find it under my pillow. When I told her that I gave it to Ickbarr, she just shrugged and went back to feeding my little sister. From then on, every time I lost a tooth, I would give it to Ick. He would always thank me, of course, and tell me that he loved me. Eventually though, I ran out of baby teeth, and I was beginning to get a little too old to still be playing with dolls. So Ick just sat there on my bookshelf collecting dust, slowly fading away from my attention.
Over time the nightmares, however, became worse than ever. So bad that they even began to follow me to the waking world, terrorizing every dark corner or rustle in the bushes. After one particularly bad night biking home from a friend’s house where I swore a pack of rabid dogs were chasing me, I got home to find something strange waiting for me in my room. There, on my bed, standing fully upright in the soft glow of the moon light from my window, was Ickbarr. At first I just thought my eyes were playing tricks on me again, they had been all evening, so I tried to flick on the lights. Another flick of the light switch. Then another, and another, with no change to the darkness. It was then that I started to get nervous.
I backed away slowly towards the door behind me, my eyes never leaving the shape of Ick’s silhouette, my hand awkwardly outstretched behind reaching for the doorknob. I was just about to get my ass out of there when I heard the door slam itself shut, locking me into blackness. In nothing but shadows and silence, I stood frozen in place, not even breathing. For how long I can’t say, but after what felt like a lifetime of cold fear, I heard the shrill, familiar voice.
“You stopped feeding me, so why should I protect you?”
“Protect me from what?”
“Let me show you.”
I blinked once, and everything changed. I wasn’t in my bedroom anymore, I was somewhere… else. It wasn’t Hell, but the comparison wasn’t far off. It was some sort of forest, a horrible, nightmarish place where partial embryonic abortions hung from the canopy, and the ground swarmed with carnivorous insects. A thick fog wafted through the air and with it the stench of rotting meat, while chartreuse lightning flashed across the night sky. In the distance, I could hear the agonizing screams of something not quite human. My head throbbed like it was about to explode, the pain forcing out a river of tears. In my mind, I heard his voice again.
“This is what your reality would become without me.”
I felt earth shaking footsteps approaching fast.
“I’m the only one who can stop it.”
It was behind me now, huge and angry, hot breath across my back.
“Bring me what I need, and I will.”
I woke up before I could turn around.
The following day I raided my parent’s closet for my brother’s baby teeth, giving them all to Ickbarr. Almost immediately the night terrors ceased, and I was more or less able to go on about my life as normal. From time to time, I would have to sneak into my little sister’s room and snatch what was meant for the tooth fairy, or strangle one of the neighborhood cats and pry out its sharp little incisors. Anything to ward off the visions, anything from a shark tooth necklace to a cavity ridden bicuspid. I also began to notice that Ick would move about my room whenever I left for any length of time, rearranging my stuff and hanging additional curtains. He was even beginning to look more lifelike, somehow. In the right light his teeth would glisten, and he was warm to the touch. As much as he creeped me out, I couldn’t work up the courage to just destroy him, knowing perfectly well where that would leave me. So I went on collecting teeth for Ick throughout all of high school and college. The older I got, the more things I would learn to fear, the more teeth Ick would need to keep me safe.
I’m 22 years old now, with a decent job, my own apartment, and a set of dentures. It’s been almost a month since Ick’s last meal, and the horrors are starting to crowd around me once more. I took a detour through a parking garage after work tonight. Found a man fumbling with his car keys. His teeth were stained yellow from a lifetime of cigarettes and coffee. Even still, I had to use a hammer to get out the molars. When I got back to my apartment, he was waiting for me. On the ceiling, in the corner. Two white eyes and mouth of razors.
“How much do you love me?” He asks.
“More than anything,” I reply, taking off my coat.
“More than anything in the world.”