I’ve started dreading bedtime.
It’s Emily. Oh, it’s not her fault, for God’s sake, she’s only three, but lately every time I come to tuck her in she’s dragged out that book, and always with the same demand.
I don’t know where she found it. I certainly didn’t buy it, and it wasn’t in the house when we moved in. Trying to ask the neighbors about it has only gotten me evil looks and muttered curses and a lot of disinvitations, and I can’t say I blame them—the damned thing just looks so odd, bound in patchwork leather with some kind of crude embroidery that I guess is meant to look like stitches. And the pictures are awful: all fangs and teeth and multiplicities of limbs, sometimes blurry and seeming to slide off the page, sometimes so detailed I wake up screaming.
But Emily always sleeps soundly, and I can never find the same picture twice.
The words, though. The words are worst. Some of the text is black and some is red, like an old Bible, but none of it is in English. I’m not even sure the words are actually words. They’re crooked, wriggling shapes, shifting and writhing on the page; the first time Emily asked me to read something, I decided to play along, make something up as I went, but the shapes turned to words as I struggled over them. Not in front of my eyes, but out of my mouth. English words. Suddenly I was telling my daughter monstrous stories, stories of slaughter and gore, of dead gods rising from the sea, rising to blot out the sun.
And Emily laughed and laughed.
I said the words were worst. No. That’s not true. The changes are worst. Tuesday morning when I mowed the yard, the grass twisted and bled. That night I walked out onto the porch for a smoke and the moon looked down at me, huge and red, pockmarked with yellow eyes. Last night while I was reading, something slammed into the bedroom window, something far too large to be any kind of bird, and Emily clapped and laughed while I shrieked.
This morning there was nothing on the window but a scorch mark that stretched down the wall.
I’ve tried throwing the book away. Tried giving it to the library. Every time, it was back on Emily’s bedroom shelf that night, and now the disapproving note I got from the librarian is a soot-edged bookmark.
And Emily knows something’s happening. She knows, and she’s changing too. Sometimes I catch her watching me like she’s sizing me up, waiting; sometimes her eyes seem a little yellow, and her mouth full of too many teeth.
I should burn the book. Tear out the pages. But it makes her so happy, I can never quite bring myself to tell her no when she says, Story time.
Still, just once, I wish she’d ask for Where the Wild Things Are.