David Parker ran through the rain as his mother drove the van up to the school entrance. Despite the short distance from the school to the car, David's Spider-man costume was soaked by the time he slammed the car door shut behind him. He put his bag of candy on the floor and settled heavily into the bucket seat.
"So how was the Halloween party, Davy?" Muriel Parker asked.
"Fine," said David woodenly.
"That's all? Just fine?"
"It was fine. Good. Really." David lapsed back into silence.
Muriel gave up. She turned left out of the school parking lot onto Rural Route 7, a lonely road almost devoid of homes, but nevertheless a faster route home than driving through town. The rain seemed to pick up in accord with David's gloom. It drummed on the roof of the car in counterpoint to the periodic swish-thump of the wipers. The sky was as black as ink.
"Mom," said David finally. "Are there really monsters under the bed?"
"Of course not, honey," Muriel replied soothingly. "You're 7 years old now. You should know there are no such things as monsters."
"But I heard one," David said. "Last night, after you and Dad had gone to bed."
"You heard one?"
"Yes. It said . . , " David hesitated slightly, ". . . it said that it was glad I was awake. That children taste better when they're awake."
Muriel felt a chill and hesitated before answering. "You must have been dreaming, sweetheart. But it must have been one really creepy dream."
"It wasn't a dream , Mom. It was real . And I could smell it too. It smelled real bad, like that rat Scotchers caught last summer and left under the maple tree for a week. Then I heard it move, like a slither under the bed with a kind of scratching noise like claws. I wanted to scream, but I. . . ."
David's voice broke and he uttered a little choking sob.
"Oh, Davy, my poor baby!" Muriel said. "Why didn't you come get me? You know you can come to me when you have a nightmare."
"It wasn't a nightmare."
"What did you do, honey?"
"I turned on the light. The monster was afraid of the light, so it stayed under the bed. But I couldn't go back to sleep all night."
"That was very clever, honey!" she said. "There are no monsters, but if there were, then light would keep them away, for sure. They say evil grows in the dark."
David didn't reply. He just turned away and resumed his former silence. Muriel drove on into the night, the rain continuing its assault on the car, demanding entry. The fog was closing in too. Muriel was having to concentrate hard to see the road.
"Mom," said David, "where's the Sainus Island? The monster said that Aunt Liz went crazy and murdered Uncle Mike and had to go to the Sainus Island."
"What?" Muriel sputtered, looking in surprise at David. "Who told you that?"
At that moment, the van hit an oil slick on the wet pavement. Muriel wouldn't have seen it even if she had been watching the road, but she would have reacted better if she had been. The car went into a violent skid, and Muriel wrenched the steering wheel instinctively, turning the wrong way against the skid. The car whirled out of control.
"Look out, Mom!" David cried as the van completed a 360-degree turn and crashed headfirst into a power pole. The pole lurched and the power line came down on top of the van. One hundred yards down the road, the street lights winked out as the power failed for a mile in every direction.
David looked up groggily in the dark. The car was wrapped around the power pole, engine steaming in the rain. David felt stiff and sore, but he seemed OK, other than the fact that he was pinned in the wreckage and couldn't move. He looked over at his mother in the driver's seat.
"Mom!" he said desperately. "Wake up!"
She groaned once and was still again.
David suddenly smelled a foul odor and recognized it.
"I'm glad you're awake, David," said the eager voice from under his seat.
* Estes, 36, is an engineer. He lives in Lancaster.