Billy Smith knew there wasn’t a monster in the bathroom. His mother had said there wasn’t, and that was that. Billy believed his mother. Most of the time.
Still, you could never be too careful. His grandpa always said that. “You can never be too careful Billy,” he would say as he pulled on his leather gloves, or coiled a rope, or stacked the wood just so. Billy didn’t always understand the significance, but he was pretty sure that it applied to the monster that didn’t live in his bathroom. Just because he knew it wasn’t there, didn’t mean he shouldn’t be careful anyway.
So when Billy went to brush his teeth in the morning he would stop, curl his arm around the door jam, and flick the light on before entering. He would brush his teeth with his back to the mirror, and made sure to keep his eyes on the sink when spitting. When he had to go, he would sneak outside and do his business behind the walnut tree.
One time his mother caught him in the act. When she asked him just what he thought he was doing, he explained that was how real men did it. He was pretty sure that was true, even if it wasn’t the whole truth. She had walked away shaking her head and muttering about having a talk with his Grandpa. That didn’t seem fair to Billy. It wasn’t Grandpa’s fault that a monster didn’t hide in his bathroom.
Billy’s mother sat him down one evening and asked him why on earth he refused to use the bathroom like a big boy. Billy didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to tell her that he was afraid of a monster that he knew darn well wasn’t there. He was the man of the house. He had to be brave. But his mother saw right through him.
“Billy… You aren’t still worried about monsters in the bathroom are you? I thought we talked about that.”
Billy flushed and stared at his shoes. He started swinging one foot and lightly kicking the coffee table. Thud.
“Well… Only one…” Thud.
“Only one monster.” Thud. Thud.
“Honey… There is no such thing. And could you please stop that?” She reached over and put a hand on his leg.
Billy quit kicking the table and look at his mother. “I know, mom. I know there isn’t a monster.”
“Then why all the fuss?”
Billy shrugged. “I know there isn’t a monster. But when the light is off and I go in, I feel something hungry just… waiting.”
“Waiting for what?”
“For me to look. I know if I look it will be there. It will be there, and it will get me.”
Billy’s mother didn’t seem to know what to say to this. Her mouth opened and closed a few times before she finally spoke. “You’re never going to stop being afraid, until you face it head on, babe.”
She kissed him on the forehead, and left.
Billy sat in the dark living room and thought about this. He realized she was right. He was afraid because, even though he knew there was no monster in the bathroom, he still didn’t know. How could he? He’d never been brave enough to look. Billy was the man of the house. He needed to be brave.
Clenching his fists, Billy walked quietly to the bathroom door. It was open, and the light was off. From where Billy stood it looked like a monster’s gaping maw, huge and pitch black. He reached a trembling hand around the door jam, and flicked on the light.
Suddenly there was nothing there but a perfectly ordinary looking bathroom. Relaxing slightly Billy entered the room and turned to face the mirror head on. He saw his reflection. A small boy with brown hair, blue eyes, and a bit of a pug nose stared back at him. Nothing scary there. Billy smiled at himself. Encouraged, he stuck out his tongue, then gave himself a double thumbs up. Was this what he’d been afraid of? He flexed his arms.
Billy wanted to laugh as he flicked the light switch off, and turned to leave. Then he stopped. Something was moving. The back of his neck prickled. Billy almost ran right out of there, but he remembered his mother’s words. Face it head on. Billy closed his eyes and turned to face the mirror. Then, he opened his eyes.