“And they all lived happily ever after.”
Toby’s mother closed the story book and gazed down at her petrified son with a look filled with such compassion only a mother could give it. She knew he was scared. She could feel it. Since the moment he came home from school the fear had been slowly building up inside him, and as the afternoon marched relentlessly on towards night he became a dishevelled shell of a boy.
Toby wouldn’t tell her what the problem was. Throughout the evening she had gently poked and prodded at his defences trying to make him open up, but he remained tight-lipped. He was stubborn, just like his dad.
She leaned in closer to her son and planted a delicate kiss on his forehead. “Okay?” she asked. The boy nodded emphatically. He was tying to hide his fear, probably for her sake. But she knew he was quaking in his boots, she could almost smell the fear coming off him in cloying waves. It was in his voice, his eyes, the atmosphere. The fear was like a dense black cloud that threatened to engulf everything.
As a last resort, she decided on the direct approach. “Toby, tell me what’s wrong, love.” The boy remained silent, but the expression on his face spoke a thousand words.
“Monsters?” she asked, tentatively. “Is it the dark? Bogeymen? Did someone at school say something? What is it?” She fought to keep her voice from rising. Not in anger, but pure frustration. “Do you wanna sleep with the light on? Would that help any? For God’s sake, just tell me what you’re so scared of!”
She was getting ready to give up when Toby spoke, quietly and deliberately, as if worried about who or what may be listening. “I’m not scared of the Bogeyman. I’m not a kid, I know its not real. I’m scared of the Monkey Man, because he’s real.”
Toby’s mother was momentarily stunned into silence. What a bizarre thing for a six-year old to say! In all her years, she had never even heard of anything called the Monkey Man but decided that it must be some variation on the Bogeyman theme. Adopting her softest, most understanding tone, she met his eyes and tried to look sincere. “Toby, listen,” she began. “Nothing and nobody is going to hurt you, okay? I promise. Not the Bogeyman, the Monkey Man, or any other kind of man. Do you trust me? Do you trust mummy?”
Toby nodded again, as if he had known all along such creatures didn’t exist, but didn’t look entirely convinced. There was more than a shred of doubt lingering in his mind, and that shred of doubt was causing all the problems. But what more could she do? With a sigh she stood and went to the door, then turned to look back at her son. She didn’t want to leave him alone like this but it was getting late, and surely this was the best way? She remembered reading an article in the Mail on Sunday. He would confront his fears, win the battle, and be all the better for it.
“Remember, Toby,” she said. “Monster’s aren’t real. I promise. They only exist on television and in your mind. So don’t you be afraid, okay?”
“Okay, mum,” Toby’s voice was small and weak.
“Okay, then. I’ll leave the landing light on until you drop off. If you want me, just call out.”
“Goodnight then, love.”
Alone in the semi-darkness, Toby lay still, listening. The old terraced house creaked and groaned around him and the muffled voices of his parents drifted up the stairs, but he was oblivious to them. His ears were cocked, his heart thudded in his chest, and every nerve was wound tighter than a spring. The first sign of the Monkey Man, and he was going to run for it.
There was such a thing as a Monkey Man, too. Adam Yates had told him at school. And Adam Yates had a cousin who had actually SEEN it with his own eyes. He said when it was dark, the Monkey Man climbed up the drainpipe of little boy’s houses, quietly opened their bedroom window, crept in and carried the boy off as he slept. Adam said after that, he did unspeakable things to them and they were never seen again. Toby wasn’t exactly sure what unspeakable meant, but it didn’t sound good. He secretly suspected that know-it-all Adam Yates didn’t know what the Monkey Man did to little boys either, and tried to disguise the fact by using words nobody else could understand. It was probably a made-up word, anyway. Suddenly there was a noise outside the window. A faint scrape.
He was coming! The Monkey Man!
Instead of running for it as planned, Toby buried his head beneath the bedsheets. In his mind’s eyes he saw the exterior of the house. A shapeless black mass, barely visible amidst the crawling shadows, clung to the drainpipe just below the upstairs windowsill. For the first time Toby noticed that his parents had kindly fitted his bedroom with rather a large window, easily big enough for the sly Monkey Man to squeeze through.
Mum had left the landing light on! How stupid! She was advertising him like a fresh lamb chop in a butcher’s window. Even worse then that, the beast outside was provided with enough light to enable it to open the window. Did she want him to get taken away and have unspeakable things done on him or what? But why would she want that? He had been good. Well, in the main. He had only been eight for two weeks and already he hated it. There was so much about the world he didn’t know. It was so BIG. And weird! Any thing could happen.
He wanted to get out of bed, run across the landing and turn off the light. Maybe then the Monkey Man would move along down the street in search of another, easier victim. But his body seemed frozen. Besides, this way least he would see the thing coming. Without the light there would be only darkness, and he would be defenceless.
Maybe, if he lay still, the Monkey Man wouldn’t see him. He would climb up the drainpipe, take a sneaky peak through the window and see only an unkempt, unmade bed. The seconds ticked by, agonizingly slowly. Surely, if the Monkey Man planned to come in he would have by now. It had been a long time since he heard that single scrape and he hadn’t heard any other suspicious sounds since. All was quiet now.
After a seemingly impossible amount of time passed, Toby found himself growing weary. His breathing slowed and his eyelids began to droop. Maybe mum was right, after all. Maybe the Monkey Man really isn’t real. She had promised, and mum never broke a promise. She always told him that was naughty. What was more, she would never let anything happen to him. He was safe here.
Adam Yates might have been lying. That was naughty, too. He had been caught lying in school before. He thought telling fibs made him sound clever, or made other people like him more or something. He was a sad case.
Now he was awfully tired. He could barely keep his eyes open. He was surprised to learn that he no longer cared about the Monkey Man. All he cared about was sleep. Glorious, peaceful sleep. He allowed his lids to close over his grainy eyeballs and almost immediately succumbed to the great dark abyss.
Later, the house was completely still. Nothing stirred, and the only sounds to be heard were the soft snores emanating from the master bedroom. Toby was in a different world now, a world of adventure and magnificent dreamscapes.
Nobody heard the strange, stealthy noises coming from just outside; the scrape of boot against brick, or the creak of the drainpipe as it struggled to bear a weight it was never designed for. Nobody heard the soft click as Toby’s bedroom window was tentatively opened.
Monkey Man was inspired by a story I read in a tabloid newspaper. One of those little ‘Strange But True’ fillers. The story was about an area of northern England being terrorized by a man often seen scaling the front’s of houses. It was probably either a peeping Tom or a burglar on the prowl. But maybe it was something worse, which is what my imagination did with the story. In a nod to his dexterity the media dubbed him the Monkey Man and put a cheeky, light-hearted spin on it. I decided to take it and add a dark twist, resisting the urge to place anyone in a gorilla costume.
This was the first thing I ever had published, by a man called Arthur Smith who ran the iconic Welsh fiction magazine Cambrensis. In fact, it was the first piece of fiction I ever submitted, which set me in a falsely confident state of mind until the rejections started piling up. I think the early success had more to do with Arthur feeling sorry for me than any real skill on my part. I remember submitting the whole manuscript in BLOCK CAPITALS on the suggestion of my dad. Dad, you’ve been right about most things in my life, but you were wrong about that. Readers, please don’t submit manuscripts in block capitals. Anyway, Arthur re-typed the whole thing, edited it, and put it out in an edition of Cambrensis in 1997. I was 23.
Cambrensis was a labour of love for Arthur. I can’t imagine he ever made any money out of his little enterprise. Especially when you take into account that the payment for publication was a lifetime subscription. As it turned out, the ‘lifetime’ in question was poor old Arthur’s, as he died a few years later and Cambrensis died with him. This is a shout out to you, Arthur, wherever you may be. Thanks for believing.
Monkey Man is available in X, my first collection of short stories.
© This is a work of fiction, copyright of the author, C.M. Saunders
DISCLAIMER: Picture nicked from Google Images