E r i c  P e t t i f o r

Farewell His Child's Fear

Farewell His Child's Fear

by Eric Pettifor

Images by Tim Rasbash, trasbash@yahoo.com

A pajama clad man tossed and turned frantically in his bed, convulsing from fetal position to spread eagle, flipping on to his stomach and turning his head from side to side. Then the image dissolved to that of the narrator, an older gentleman, smiling with the indulgence of a patient sage.

"This time lapse film was taken of a man during the course of a fitful, refreshing, sleep. Note how active the body is even in a slumber."

Then it cut to a shot of the sleeping man's face. Zoomed in on the eyelids. The eyeballs beneath were zigging swells, as though they were burrowing just beneath the surface, back, forth, and around.

"Researchers are unlocking the secrets of rapid eye movement sleep, 'R', 'E', 'M' - 'rem' sleep."

In this experiment, rem, rem, rem, ohm, ohm, ohm, joule, radian, onomatopoeia, deoxyribonucleic acid, gross national product, the home row keys...

He couldn't sleep, rem denied. Brain circling, whirling, and nothing constructive to grasp, just a fleeting bird which came and went, suggesting relaxation exercises from drama class. If he could just keep his errant mind on the task of relaxation perhaps he could drift, drift to sleep, sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care - Shakespeare, he hated Shakespeare, why couldn't he write in English - to sleep, perchance to dream, the rub. 'Rub'? Or fear of dreaming? Some place between fear of sleep and desperate desire for oblivion, yet the dreams, the friend, everyone's friend since he killed himself. Hadn't really known him, yet he had been a part… now gone and on everyone's lips, "I had a friend who…"

The closet door was open. He looked into the black space and could make out the shape of clothes, shapes that could be imagined into scary things, ghosts, devils, the undead. He thought to move and creep up cautiously and slam shut the door, then sprint and leap and land and throw the covers over himself in a terror that always held just one perverse shred of pleasure.

But he just looked at the closet. Just looked at the clothes and worked at imagining the horrors it could spawn from the shadows of cloth. A terribly twisted witch grinned maliciously, a skull, something that looked like an evil bird. And he saw his clothes, and the shadows they cast by the dim illumination of the streetlight that sent a few rays through his bedroom window. He grew bored and put his head back on the pillow.

He slept in just his ginch. He liked that word, just 'ginch', one syllable, much more their own word, the guys, than 'underwear'. That was a parent sort of word. All the guys slept in their ginch. Increasingly he would sleep in nothing at all. He liked the feel of slipping naked between cool sheets and feeling them embrace the whole of his body, and when he moved there was no resistance of pajamas twisting, just smooth, cool cloth sailing across his skin, almost like swimming.

That was one of the few things at school he was into. As far as phys-ed activities went it beat the hell out of running laps and wrestling. Especially wrestling. He didn't like being that close to another guy, to have his hands all over him, grabbing and pulling and pushing, sweating, so close he could smell his opponent's sweat. He figured he had two choices. He could become so good he could win in a flash, or he could just lose. It became a matter of who he was wrestling. With some, like Mark Neskig, it was quicker just to put up a minimal show for face and then lose quickly. Mark was well built, had a man's body with muscles everywhere. Good looking too. He hoped Mark's neck would get broken every time they worked on the trampoline and Mark would do suicide rolls, tucking in his head at the last possible moment every time.

He could beat Mark swimming. Mark wasn't that bad, but wasn't as good as him. Nobody was - he was the best, a medal winner in competition. Another great thing about swimming was that it was mixed, boys and girls, young men and young women. One in particular, Jo. Sounded like a boy's name. Weird, since she was the most luscious girl in the school, all the guys wanted to make it with her. She wore a one piece suit of burgundy that was tight. It flattened out her breasts and showed her nipples, erect from the cold water, as if she were nude, nude and burgundy. She was talked about in the locker room, fantasized about, every part of her anatomy itemized. Except her eyes. He did not know how they could be overlooked. The body belonged to the eyes. He didn't quite know what he meant by that, except to think that if God had to reflect the sum of all that she was in just her eyes, then He had done a good job.

IMAGE: That Girl I Like, by Tim Rasbash, trasbash@yahoo.com When he looked at Jo she didn't look away, she didn't giggle, she held his glance, almost a challenge, almost an invitation to accept that challenge. To simply talk to her. He'd lost more sleep tossing and turning over her than he had lost even for the suicide, the friend, and the dreams of her were more pleasant. When he started washing his own sheets his mother just smiled and said that she assumed he was taking responsibility for his own laundry since he was becoming a man. He was certain mom was psychic.

Mom was pregnant again. The thought of his mom and dad....; 'screwing'? No, even their engaging in 'sexual intercourse' was a little much, they were just a little too old for that. They were all concerned about this pregnancy because there had been pregnancies before, yet he had no brothers or sisters because they had been 'lost', though not in the same sense that a sock is lost, more like the big feeling when something should be but isn't, simply isn't, and will never be. But they were trying again, and he was worried for his mom. She was getting on, not an old lady yet, but he'd be an old man himself by the time his little brother or sister grew up. If it grew up....;

His stomach was tense. With conscious effort he relaxed it, but it tensed up again, almost like his old cat who would just climb back up if pushed off. Since he started sleeping with his door closed she couldn't get in. She used to claw at the door and meow, but he never let her in. She was old. He used to pray to God that she would die on his parent's bed. He didn't want to wake up one morning and find a dead thing on his chest.

His eye wandered to the dark closet. Still open. For some reason he almost found it comforting. It was his closet, a thing that was familiar and he knew. Like mom and dad. He could hear the tap tap tapping of the furnace ducts as warm air passed through causing them to expand. He used to be frightened by those sounds, he thought of evil little men with picks trying to bust their way out, and while mom could comfort and try to explain away, the image of the little men was never dispelled. He had prayed the pipe would hold them. But now he was educated and brave in knowledge and knew about the expansion and contraction of metals in response to changes in temperature. And why leaves are green and how the chlorophyll diminishes in the fall allowing other pigments present to show through thus causing the phenomena that poets wrote about for millenniums and which scientists finally exposed.

IMAGE: To Your Eyes, by Tim Rasbash, trasbash@yahoo.com He'd written a poem to her. To Jo. To her eyes. And given it to her. Although she was shorter than he, it had felt as though he had to reach a very great distance to place it in her hand.

"What's this?"

"Uh, a poem."

"Should I read it now?"

"No! Uh, no. Later."

"Okay." She began to leave.

"Wait!" She stopped and looked at him. "Maybe you'd… That is, I'm going to the dance on Friday and I thought maybe if you weren't doing something else then that you might… I'd… Would you like to come with me?"

She laughed. Her eyes lit up. Was she deliberately irradiating him, he wondered. So agonizingly beautiful.

"Depends," she said.

"On what?"

"Whether or not I like the poem." She smiled again, tapped his nose with the envelope, turned and walked to class. He knew that she knew he was watching her. Blue jeans, cowboy boots, flowered blouse, long brown hair falling to mid-back…

He wished he could stop thinking of her. What if she said no? That would hurt, but that would be it. What if she said yes? A whole world of what-ifs opened up and needed to be thought through. He wished he were more experienced like Mark, so he would know really what to do, what to expect, how to react. But it was only a dance, she would go home after, he would go home and toss and turn in his bed as he seemed to do so much lately. But what if she wanted to be with him after the dance? He needed a car, his dad's car, no, a van, John's van, that would be perfect. But it would mean talking to John. Maybe an apology. He liked John, but he wasn't someone it was cool to be friends with now. But the van, some blankets, he could pay one of the grade twelve's to bootleg him a bottle of wine or something, the tape deck playing, kissing, touching, undoing her shirt, he hoped she wouldn't wear a bra, he wasn't sure if it was difficult, what if he fumbled, he'd manage somehow, and finally actually seeing those breasts, those nipples for real, touching…

He had a hand on his hard-on. He pulled it away. He didn't want to jerk off. He wasn't a jerk off artist. Besides, it was a 'sin', and as uncool as 'sin' and church and all that was, he still believed in it, and hoped that as long as he didn't kill anyone and even if he didn't go to confession as often as he probably ought to he still prayed every night, and he wasn't going to jerk off.

The first time he'd been introduced to the concept was in Sunday school. A nun. Said they shouldn't 'play' with themselves. He'd known John even then, and it was John who had to explain to him that she meant they shouldn't play with their dinks, which was something of a relief at the time, since for a moment he thought his time alone playing in the sandbox in the back yard would destine him for hell.

John was a jerk off artist. Some guys caught him stupidly at it in a cubicle in the can. Thereafter his life was made hell. He was beat up, ostracized, and given the name Johnny Jerkoff. He'd seen them reduce John to tears and then beat on him. He didn't know John anymore, didn't associate with him. But John seemed to be all right, he'd manage, he wouldn't kill himself, he prayed John wouldn't kill himself.

Good. Good line of thought. Depressing. Frightening. His erection was gone. He rolled on his stomach and thought of the man in the time lapse film. If tonight they'd made a film of him they wouldn't even be able to make out a human figure, it would be just a blur of motion. School. Think of math. Think of the report card's overall average, mom and dad's overall reaction. He curled into the fetal position. It hurt. Whenever he was in school his stomach was tense, everything about the place filled him with anxiety, it wasn't his place, not a place he would ever have chosen to be, but every week day he had to go there. But if he didn't get up those grades then wouldn't matriculate, might not even pass, so no university, no degree, what would he end up as, a janitor? One of those sad looking guys with the mops that haunted the school halls, who mopped the cafeteria floor. A busboy? A bum? And he'd be lonely all his life or end up marrying a fat woman. The winners of the world had it all, but how much did they pay to be a winner? Be a doctor, be a lawyer, a playboy, girls, cars, boats, travel, girls… Jo.

He wished jerking off wasn't a sin. He wished it was just one of those things everybody did, he was sure none of the guys he liked or respected did it, though John had surprised him. But what could he do? He had to get to sleep, dreams or no dreams, and this erection was like a tower between himself and sleep and health and good grades…

He closed his eyes and thought of her. Her eyes, her smile, her breasts, her stomach, her snatch…

He heard a creak. It came from the direction of the closet. The house was new when he was new, but was aging with him and with age came noises. They were not the footsteps of ghouls. There were nothing to be afraid of. He looked, none the less. In the shadows of his clothes he thought he imagined a tall figure, stooped, wearing a monk's robe and hood hiding whatever face might be there. It stepped out of the closet and moved towards him. He was not afraid. A part of his mind told him that he ought to be, that this was a highly unusual and scary event, but whatever it was had come from his closet, and whatever it could be, it was his. It sat on the end of his bed. He sat up and looked at it. It looked back. He could see no face within the monk's cowl, but he could feel the eyes. It was not a creature of fear, but of melancholy, and the invisible eyes would not be full of menace or hate, but of sadness.

"Do you not recognize me?" it whispered, a whisper as natural as wind in leaves or the soft creak of a swing-set in summer. He knew it. With surprise he remembered this thing which held him in fear as a child.

"You are the Bogeyman," he said simply.

"Yes, that is what I am. I have come to say good-bye."


It laughed, a crisp laugh that had to it the edge of hot thunder and the crackle of a bonfire, the crunch of dried autumn leaves. "It is time for me to go. That is all."

"You can stay, I… I don't mind."

It sighed. "I am your childhood fears, and I am weak and I must go."


Again it laughed. "Ah, now if you had cried out "Go! Please leave me alone! I am afraid of you!", then, then perhaps I could stay, but surely you must see that there is no place for me now in your life? I cannot compete with your new fears, they are much stronger than I, the fears of a man."

"No, wait, I am afraid of you! I am, really, I'm afraid, I'm…" He was crying, but not from fear. He was crying for loss. A deep feeling. An intense feeling. Like for never. Like forever. And though he could not see its face, he felt it smile in the darkness of its hood, a sad smile, a gentler reflection of his own sorrow.

"I must take with me the others too, the other things that have haunted your childhood." It opened the heat register and the little men with the picks marched sadly out and down its arm. They sat on its shoulders and on its head. Their picks hung limply by their sides. "You have slept lately with your hand hanging by the edge of your bed, no longer afraid of the thing that lives beneath. You will never fear its grasp again. It is coming with me." And with that a small ape-like thing with sharp teeth and long, long fingers slid from beneath the bed and took the Bogeyman's hand. "And look not for the family of ghosts which lived behind your father's bar downstairs." As it spoke, three shimmering white phantoms appeared and swayed behind it. "They too are coming with me. We say good-bye."

"Wait, I… Will I ever see you again?"

"When your child cries out in the night and you go to him, you may see me reflected in his eyes, and you will sshh him, and comfort him and tell him that I am not real. But you will not tell him what is real, you will fear for your child in silence and he will not see you cry."

The Bogeyman opened the door of the bedroom and they filed out, a sad spectral crew evicted by transition.

"Sweet dreams," said the Bogeyman, and it shut the door.

"No, wait, please, I am afraid! I need you!"

The tapping of the furnace started up again, but it was just the tapping of the furnace. He could imagine faces in the shadows of the closet, but they were just the trick of light on cloth. He dropped his arm by his bedside, his fingertips brushed the floor.

"Take my hand," he whispered, "Please take my hand."

©1996 Eric Pettifor

Images by Tim Rasbash, trasbash@yahoo.com

Please contact Tim if interested in prints.