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Ankle Grabbers

Alisha Tyson is a 21-year-old New Zealander who was born in Australia. By day she works in libraries where she can often be found reading to children about bears who wear hats. By night she writes about coffins, time travel, body-snatching clowns and the monsters that live underneath your bed. She has a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Creative Writing.

Once upon a time, when you were a little girl, your favorite monster was an ankle-grabber who lived beneath your bed. You met one night when your mother was too tired to escort you to your room. With a child's stumble you stepped toward the threshold before the darkness beneath your mattress. It is there that covers breathe. And you said to a sticky black hand by your toes, "Ha! I can see you, silly."
The Ankle-Grabbing Monster revealed himself, so angry with you for messing up his act that he lectured you on unladylike behavior. He was a small monster with dark skin and an unkind spine that kept him perpetually bent and Sad.
You were confused by his back until he explained that his spine was wrapped around the Happy in his heart. The bone gradually choked his Happy so that Sad had to keep him going instead (which is hard on Sad because it is not as good at keeping things alive as Happy is). He told you this about the Sad so you didn't look for a better ankle-grabbing monster without so much of it.
He never let you go beneath the bed. He said you were too small to handle the space. Your pajamas were always the wrong shade of pink. Your body not broken enough. This made you want it more--to crawl beneath the mattress and be with your favorite monster.
As the years passed, he built a wall with gadgets and doodads, furnishings he claimed had fled beneath your bed of their own accord. He made a barricade of unwashed socks stuffed into used tissue boxes. Old coloring books backed a Lego brick wall--everything was reinforced with re-chewed gum. He even made a door out of the covers of your Hairy Maclary books. The door only had one knob, and it was on his side. The wall was far enough back from the edge of the bed that your mother wouldn't see and dismantle it. He called the space from the wall to your ankles his patio.
Your monster never let you know his name.
"Ankle-Grabbers must be mysterious at all costs."
"Why do you want to be mysterious so bad?"
"We don't necessarily want to be mysterious. It's more complicated than that," he said as he massaged your feet.
"Explain some tonight, please? It makes me mad that you have all these things you won't let me do for no good reason."
"Huia." He growled gently. "How can I make this clear? Even monsters know there are things that are right and things that are terribly wrong. But our rights and wrongs can seem a little oddů even scary to people. When we follow our rights and wrongs we feel like ourselves, like monsters. It may not be lovely but it is how it's meant to be. Do you understand?"
You nod.
"Well, when I say I can't have you underneath the bed, it's because, for my kind, it is wrong for me to invite a little girl into the home. It is right for me to drag you by your ankles to my home beneath your mattress, but that is all I am allowed to do. So you must understand, were you to come underneath the bed, you would not only be doing something wrong but you would also be making me feel wrong. I wouldn't be an Ankle-Grabbing Monster. I'd be a mere crooked thing that fits into small places."
You withdrew your feet from his cracked palms and smothered your face in the covers, leaving him with no audible goodnight, which hurt and made your eyes leak, so you tried sleep.
There were too many questions.
At three in the morning you whispered, "Ankle-Grabbing Monster? Are you awake?"
"I'm always awake when you are," the floor muttered.
"I need to ask you something. It's quite important."
The floorboards were scrambled and scuffed, a book door opened and shut as a head emerged to meet you. He parted a curtain of dreadlocks for his eyes to look into yours. Inches away from him, you rested your chin on the canyon edge of the bed.
You chose your words carefully. "If it is right for you to grab the ankles of children and drag them to your home, why didn't you do that with me? I mean, I know I saw you when you first tried, but you could have done your trick later. Or you could have left to find someone else to drag into your home."
He looked guilty; like the cat was out of the bag--out from underneath the bed and leaving behind a mess from its stay.
"Don't you care about being an ankle-grabbing monster? Do I make you less of a monster? I don't want to make your Sad worse than it is, but that's what I'm doing, right?" He didn't mind the tears that invaded the crevices of his features, even though they splashed as they made the journey from your eyes to his.
His hands cradled your face, wiping away the liquid your body had misplaced. "You don't need to worry. It was my choice. People lose bits of themselves for those they love. Don't cry, Huia, go back to sleep. Go to sleep."
He serenaded you with a melody of growls from beneath your body until you drifted away. On a gondola, you rode a river of salt out of the waking world. With him.
It ended as many relationships end--with the turning of a mattress. Your mother was the executor; she saw your monster in the corner, folding clothing. Without the mattress providing his mystery, there was no more magic. He was, as he had said, just a crooked thing who could fit into small places. Only your mother didn't see him with this kind of simplicity. She saw him as a man on her child's floor beneath a naked bed frame. You knew this because of her screams.
If she had known your thoughts at the time, she would have let you cry into her big belly. She would have puffed out a sob or two and something motherly like, "It's okay, baby, there are real monsters in the world. I promise. We'll go out and find some soon. All right, honey?"
Even now, you don't know why you asked her to turn the mattress. You don't know why you told her it was getting lumpy. You wonder if it was something he'd said the night before or a lesson learned at school that compelled you. You often tell yourself that you wanted to free him from his prison--to let him run on his useless spindle legs, heaving a concave chest.
But all along, the only thing you really wanted was to see what would happen when the mystery was solved.
And the answer was this: he was a little man, blackened from mold dust in the dips of his prominent skeleton. His eyes yellow from years of squinting in seclusion. He clutched his knees--a fetal ball retreating from your mother; knowing she would grab him and hurl him from the room.
His eyes full of apology and worry. For you.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Author Comments

Ankle Grabbers was part of a series of stories I wrote about modern day monsters. I was thinking about who we believe to be "monsters" in the world today--like the homeless, they're often deprived of humanity until they are treated like a whole other species. Does that make them monsters, or us inhuman? Ankle Grabbers was actually a flash back in a larger story that I wrote about trolls. But this story wanted its own space. So I snipped it out, took it away from the trolls, and haven't looked back since.

- Alisha Tyson
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