When my daughter was 5, she really liked to play with blocks.
You know the ones, they have colorful letters and numbers printed on the sides. My daughter started reading at a young age, and she could already spell a lot of words by the time she hit kindergarten. She loved spelling, and she’d play with those blocks for hours. She’d often try random combinations of letters and ask me what they meant. On those occasions that she’d stumble on a real word, she’d clap her hands with delight and giggle.
She was a very sweet child.
One day, I noticed that her collection of blocks had shrunk considerably.“Where did your blocks go, Kiki?” I asked.
“I gave some to my friend,” she said, setting her remaining blocks up into a tower to imprison a hapless Polly Pocket.
I was both proud and exasperated by her answer. Kiki was so generous, she was forever giving her toys away to other children. I was often tasked with tracking them down when she decided she wanted them back.
“And what friend did you give them to?”
“The Wordeater,” she said.
Well, that was new. It must have been a new game – Kiki was very inventive.
“And… who is the Wordeater?” I asked, crouching down next to her on the floor, watching a Polly Pocket hurl herself off the block tower, presumably into a pit of molten lava.
“He’s the Wordeater!” She said, giggling at my ignorance.“He likes words so much, he eats them.”
“I see,” I said very solemnly.“And what does the Wordeater look like?”
“Hm…” she thought, tapping a tiny finger to her lips. “He’s fat,” she started, “and has real little eyes… and a trunk! Like an elephant!”
I frowned. “We don’t call people fat, Kiki.”
“But he is!” She protested. “And he’s not a person, mom, he’s the Wordeater!”
Now I was getting genuinely curious about the little friend she’d made up. I left off my admonition, instead asking, “Where does the Wordeater live?”
She pointed across her room. “He lives under the bed. It’s warm down there, and dark. He likes the dark.”
A strange little shiver crept up my spine at that. He likes the dark. Kids are creepy. Shaking off the feeling, I walked across the room and checked under the bed.
Sure enough, there were Kiki’s blocks, scattered as though she’d tossed them underneath the bedframe, sort of like feeding an animal at the zoo. I smiled, somehow glad that those blocks were the only things I found under there.
“Well, make sure the Wordeater gets enough to eat,” I told Kiki before leaving the room to start dinner, “And that he goes to bed at a decent hour!”
“I will, mom!” She answered, casting yet another Polly Pocket into the den of carpet lava flames.
Kiki made good on her promise.
I didn’t think much about the Wordeater for a few days after that. Kiki didn’t mention him, and I was busy filing taxes and waiting on pins and needles to see if my husband got the promotion he was aiming for.
No, I didn’t think about it one Saturday morning, when Kiki was helping me bake cookies.
“Mom,” she said, her voice lilting with the absentmindedness of childhood, “What’s your favorite word?”
I had to think about that.“Hm… why, my favorite word is ‘Kiki,’ of course!” I teased. Kiki giggled. I loved her giggle.
“What’s your favorite word?” I asked back as I rolled the cookie dough into balls and began spacing them on the cookie sheet.
“The Wordeater has been teaching me lots of new words. I like them all,” she said.
“What kind of words?” I asked.
She looked up at me, grinned proudly, and said,
Being a parent is a constant tug of war between wanting to scream at your kid and laugh your ass off.
It was pretty damn hard keeping a straight face as I told Kiki that was a bad word. I realized very quickly that she had no idea it was naughty – wherever she’d heard it, apparently she hadn’t picked up its meaning or connotations. I was firm with her, but kind, all while trying to stifle my own giggles. Oh, that story was definitely going to be great fun telling at Kiki’s graduation in years to come.
I tried asking Kiki where she’d heard that word, but she just kept insisting that the Wordeater had taught it to her. “I give him my blocks when he’s hungry, and he teaches me new words,” she said.
Eventually, I gave up asking, telling her to ask me from now on what the new words she learned really meant. She had probably heard it at school or on TV, anyway. I didn’t think much of it, other than to tell her father later that night. Unlike me, he was unsuccessful in preventing his laughter, and tears rolled down his face as he listened to the shenanigans our daughter had been up to.
It wasn’t long before I noticed that Kiki had begun acting… strange.
She wasn’t any different during the day or anything. No, it had more to do with what happened at night.
The first time it happened, I almost screamed, I was so startled. I walked into her room around ten at night to check on her – I’d put her in bed almost an hour earlier – and was surprised to see her sitting on the floor facing her bed. She was cross-legged and rocking just a little back and forth, as though trying to lull herself to sleep.
“Kiki? What are you doing up? I thought I told you to go to bed an hour ago.” Kiki and I had already had several discussions about her inability to go to bed when she was told. I walked over to her and saw her closed eyes, realizing with surprise that she seemed to be asleep. Kiki used to sleepwalk when she was about three, but it had only happened a few times. I’d thought she’d grown out of it.
I reached down to pick her up when I saw that her lips were moving. She was saying something. I leaned forward to listen, but I couldn’t make out what she was saying.
Then, suddenly, the little whispers stopped. In fact, Kiki stopped. She stopped moving, and it almost seemed like she stopped breathing. I reared my head back a little, disconcerted.
Kiki lifted her arm, extending it towards her bed. For one moment, in that small, dark room, she held perfectly still, like a statue of an angel child on top of an infant’s headstone.
It took me a full minute to collect myself before I managed to reach out and pick Kiki up, tucking her back into her bed.
Looking at Kiki snuggled up in her bed, the moonlight casting a waxen glow on her face, I began to feel suddenly that the room was too small. The darkness of the walls crept in on me, and the brown carpet seemed to be swallowing me whole. The door, with its small patch of light coming in from the hallway, seemed very tiny, as though I’d never be able to squeeze through it. I felt something akin to a rat in a dry trap, and it made me terribly anxious.
I shook my head, trying to dispel the feeling. I’d always been terribly claustrophobic. I switched on Kiki’s nightlight – for my sake more than hers – and left the room.
There were a few more incidents of the whispering, the rocking. I mentioned it to my husband, who actually seemed more worried than I was. He said we should take her to a doctor, just to make sure it was normal. I agreed, knowing that it would put our minds to rest, even if we ended up having to pay a few hundred dollars to learn that we were making a big deal out of nothing.
In the end, we never got the chance.
A few days before the doctor appointment, I walked into Kiki’s room to find her rocking in front of her bed again, muttering to herself.
I sighed, a little exasperated, a little scared, and leaned down to pick her up, wondering if maybe I was being too overprotective after all. Trying to rationalize. Trying to reason.
If I hadn’t turned my head ever so slightly, I might not have seen it. I might have lived my whole life not knowing. But the fact of the matter is, I DID turn my head. And I DID see it.
My brain froze and my body turned to stone. Something was under the bed. Something was under the bed.
No, it can’t be, I told myself, even as my heart began to race and my palms began to sweat. I straightened back up, my hands shaking, leaving my daughter where she sat, rocking to herself like a lunatic. My hand reached back and fumbled along the wall for the light switch. Because nothing bad happens in the light. All the bad things stay in the dark, right?
I turned on the light.
Kiki stopped rocking. She stopped muttering. Her eyes shot open and she raised her head to look at me in absolute shock. In betrayal. There was something in her eyes that I didn’t recognize, something that scared me.
But not as much as the thing under the bed.
The long quilt draped over the bedframe fluttered a little as something reached out from under the bed. It was pale and stretched out, flexible and malleable, almost like a tentacle. Except tentacles don’t have little mouths at the end, with sharp shards of teeth. The strange tentacle-like thing bypassed my daughter entirely – thank God. It made its way towards me – oh God.
As it left its home under the bed, a body followed in its wake. First came the head, a bulbous protrusion with folds of loose skin. The thing had small pinpricks for eyes, almost as though someone had taken a drill press to its head. The pinpricks were surrounded by black, the skin looking like it had been badly bruised. Inside the pinpricks was pure white – no pupils, no coloration. Just solid, frigid white. The tentacle protruded from where I assume the thing’s mouth should have been.
Meaty arms with stumps instead of hands pulled the rest of the body out. It was fat, smothered in folds of skin as though it had once been even more immense and dropped so much weight that the skin had lost its elasticity. Its pale body wobbled and jiggled, the skin full of dirt and must from its nest under the bed.
Its hind legs were thick and strong, made for pursuit, if it could get its body up off the floor. It had wide feet and I imagined, for a moment, the feet planting themselves on the floor as it lunged at me, quick as a snake, to crush me under its weight.
I screamed and I screamed and I screamed and then everything happened very quickly.
“You fucking bitch!” She screamed, and the thing took that as its cue to lunge at me.
Its body lurched forward, aided by its strong appendages, enough to hit my legs and send me sprawling to the floor. I hit my head against the wall hard enough for my vision to go dark. The room was bright now, but in the light it seemed even smaller than it had before. Now I knew it was, indeed, a trap. A place that I was meant to feel safe, that I should have associated with my daughter. The last place I would have expected to be accosted.
When my vision cleared, I realized the thing was on top of me, its moist, sweaty skin suffocating me. Its eyes peered into mine as its tentacle-like mouth licked and stroked along my cheek…
And then slipped in-between my teeth.
On instinct, I snapped my jaws together, trying to sever the tentacle, but it was impossible. Although it had looked soft and malleable, the thing was diamond hard. It shoved is way down my throat, past my gag reflex, deep into my body.
I screamed again.
I could feel the sharp sting of its teeth digging into my flesh, sucking out my blood and…
And something else.
Next to us, my daughter kept chanting expletives.“You fucking mother-bitch, son of Satan whore, fuck you, dirty cock cunt bitch fuck…”
The thing dug around inside my body, its eyes never leaving mine, searching for something…
That’s all I remember before the pain overcame my senses and I passed out.
I came to in the hospital, surrounded by my loving husband and daughter, waiting anxiously for me to awake.
I was told a great many things as soon as I woke up, everyone trying to cram some piece of information into me as quickly as possible. They told me that I’d had a seizure, the first and only one I’d ever experienced. They said I’d hit my head and been rushed to the hospital. They said I’d probably be fine, but they wanted to run some tests to make sure.
I opened my mouth to tell them about the thing that attacked me… but nothing came out.
It took a while of disbelief and prompting before the doctors ascertained that, somehow in the course of my seizure, I’d lost my voice.
I tried writing out my account, to tell the doctors and my husband that there is something in our house, but they didn’t believe me. A hallucination, they said. I saw them exchanging worried glances as I gestured vehemently that I wasn’t crazy.
Things became stressful at home after that.
The doctors said my voice would probably come back – surely I wouldn’t be mute forever – but it didn’t. In the meantime, I began to search the house frantically, focusing special attention on the space under Kiki’s bed.
There was nothing there.
I noticed, too, that Kiki was… different. Oh, it was just a little different, to be sure. But it was there. For the most part, she was the sweet, loving, kind little girl that I’d born and raised. But sometimes, a peak of something malicious would show through, something hateful and angry that was as foreign to Kiki as Greek. My Kiki had never been like that…
But she was now. At least sometimes.
As for me, I’m different, too. And not just because I’m mute. See, it feels like there’s… pieces of me missing. Like parts of my mind and my personality have just vanished. I can’t pinpoint what exactly is different, I just know it is.
I don’t feel like myself anymore.
I’ve stopped trying to convince my husband of what happened. He made me see a therapist for a while, claiming that I needed to get help. I pretended that I got better, that I knew it was all a delusion.
He’ll never believe me, no matter what I say.
That’s why I’m writing this here, for all of you to read. Without my voice, this is the only way to tell my story, the only way to get people to listen to me. So, please, don’t forget what I’m about to tell you.
The Wordeater is real. It steals your words. It steals your voice. But it steals something else, too… and sometimes, it chooses someone, maybe an innocent little child like Kiki, and it gives it to them. Like sticking shards of glass into their souls, little pricks of hatred and cruelty that can’t be pulled out no matter how hard you try.
And it’s still out there, searching for a place to stay, for someone else to consume.
Oh God, save us all from the Wordeater…