The Town Drunk  
Bugaboo, Electric Blue


Beth slumped against chenille-covered cushions and stared at the shambles her living room had become. Two suitcases sprawled on the floor, their contents flung to all corners of the room. Books lay scattered, and a half dozen stuffed animals lolled about. A panda, sporting a purple felt flower tacked to one ear and a bald, thready patch on its belly, leered at her from the coffee table. With a grimace and a nudge of her sneaker, Beth sent it to the floor.

Candy wrappers littered the room, twinkling at her in accusation. She’d given them sugar. Laughing in the face of their mother’s concern, against dire warnings and dark predictions, she’d given them sugar. She’d kick herself in the morning. She was exhausted.

“Auntieee! Auntie, c’mere! Please! Auntieee!”

Dear God, she thought, slumping deeper into the comfort of chenille, make them sleep.

“Auntie, come quick!”

Beth sighed and pushed herself up. Since bedtime, there had been three books, four pleas for water, two trips to the bathroom, and one explosive sneeze requiring much tissue. It was now almost eleven. Like the wearied commander of an ancient city besieged, she thought, Surely, they can’t keep this up.

She pushed open her bedroom door, spilling light to reveal two small figures huddled in the center of her bed. “What is it? Everything okay?”

“There’s a monster under the bed.” That was Clara, the four-year-old, still sniffling a bit. Rachel, the elder at seven-and-three-quarters, squinted at Beth and yawned.

“Really?”

Clara nodded. Rachel yawned again and reached for her glasses.

“Funny,” Beth said, “I’ve never had monster problems here before.”

Both girls just stared at her. She wondered what her sister would do. With a sigh, she shuffled into the room and perched on a corner of the bed. She was about to say something warm and insightful and comforting when Clara yelped, “Watch your feet!”

Beth jumped off the bed. “Why don’t I take a peek? I’ll look under the bed, make sure there’s nothing there, and we’ll establish a monster-free zone, okay?”

“Okay,” Clara said. “But be careful.”

“Will do.” Beth flicked the lights on and sank down on one knee. She pulled up the dust ruffle.

Two orbs, glowing blue, glared at her from the shadows—two eyes, blinking on a slimy, bloated toad-like creature that chortled and gurgled.

“Holy shit!”

Two gasps rang out from the bed above. “You’re not supposed to use that word,” Rachel whispered.

“Sorry.” Beth remained frozen, her eyes still glued to the monster under the bed. It didn’t move, either. “Umm,” she began, before realizing she didn’t know what to say.

The two girls peered over the edge of the quilt. Clara sniffed and looked excited.

“What should we do?” Rachel asked.

How am I supposed to know? Beth thought. Was this one of those things a person was supposed to pick up on once they grew up—that under-the-bed monsters were real? Screw that. It should have been Santa Claus. Or the Easter Bunny. Neither of which is slimy. Keeping an eye on the thing, she lowered the dust ruffle.

A pair of sweet, solemn faces stared down at her. Nothing rushed at her from under the bed; nothing exploded in a flurry of motion. She did, however, hear a muffled chuckle. “Okay,” Beth said. “Okay.” She wasn’t willing to concede the monster-ness of whatever was under there, but there was without question something there. That made four living things in the room, and only one of them was a responsible adult. Damn, Beth thought. And self-respecting, responsible adults don’t run away screaming, leaving the kids alone with the monster. Or whatever.

“Girls?” Beth whispered. “I want you to jump off the bed and run out the door.”

“Really?” Rachel looked doubtful.

“Really. I’ll count to three.”

Clara bounced. “I want to count!”

The dust ruffle stirred with a grumbly whuff.

“Go!” Beth yelled. “Go now!”

The girls jumped off the bed and scurried to the door. The dust ruffle did not stir again. Beth, her heart beating in a snazzy new six-eight tempo, frowned, absurdly miffed at the lack of reaction. She wondered if their monster was lazy, or perhaps lacked ambition. With the girls now safe in the hall, Beth abandoned her post and rushed to the door, pulling it closed behind her with a slam.

“You didn’t count,” Clara said.

Rachel nodded, her glasses slipping. The look on her face reminded Beth of car trips in days long since past, and evil sisterly glares in the back seat.

Anne was going to kill her. There was no way around it. Even putting aside the complication of the monster. Even assuming it was just a figment of their collective imaginations, and there really wasn’t a scary, slimy thing intent on mayhem (and maybe worse) lurking under Beth’s bed. She would still be guilty of feeding the girls sugar, letting them stay up way too late, and then humoring them on the whole imagined monster bit.

What would Anne do in this situation? Like the Shadow, mothers know, right? Maybe Beth had imagined the whole thing. She was really tired. She cast a wary glance at the door. Not that tired. I’ve never been that tired in my life.

“What should we do?” Rachel asked.

Be the grown-up, Beth told herself. It just looks like a monster. It was probably something... else. Some kind of new infestation, like those killer bees from Mexico you keep hearing about. Some kind of bloated, blue-eyed frog infestation.

Ideas flashed through her head like an eight-millimeter projector on speed. Call Anne? No way. Call Jake? Like hell. Call... who?

While Beth stood thinking, Clara dashed into the living room to grab her stuffed panda. She scrunched it tight to her neck so that it looked like a cuddly panda parasite.

The epiphany hit so hard it hurt.

She herded the girls into the kitchen and picked up the phone. “There are people who take care of things like this.”

“Who?” Rachel asked.

Beth flipped through the first few pages of the phone book so furiously that the proper page ripped right off. She showed it to the girls as she punched in the number, her finger pointing to the relevant entry.

For Clara’s benefit, Rachel read it aloud. “Animal Control.”  Both girls looked skeptical.

So was the dispatcher on the phone. “Could you repeat that? What’s in your bedroom?”

“A giant frog, I said.” Beth listened to the silence. “Look, I didn’t say it was a frog; I don’t know what it is. It looked like a frog.” More silence. “I didn’t get a really good look at it.”

“A giant frog?”

“Forget the frog part. Focus on giant. Huge. It was the size of a—” Beth struggled to remember. What, a beagle? No, “—a Rottweiler. And it’s under my bed right now.”

Her rising hysteria succeeded where the frog story had not. “Right,” the dispatcher said. “Are you safe now?"

“Yes. We’re in the kitchen. That thing, it’s in the bedroom, and the door’s shut. I think we’re safe.”

The girls craned their necks to look at the bedroom door. It remained shut, quiet and innocent-looking.

“I don’t think it can open the door,” Beth said.

“Right.” The dispatcher spoke slowly, and with unnecessary inflection. “I’ll send somebody out to take care of it. He should arrive in about five minutes.”

“Thank you! Thank you very much.” Beth flashed a triumphant grin at her doubtful nieces.

“Whatever you do, don’t open that door.” She heard a choking, gasping sound on the line and frowned. The dispatcher continued, “We don’t know what that frog’s capable of. Hang tight, help’s on the way.”

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