Just for fun, I went back in my old files and dug up the very first story I ever submitted as a "serious writer." I've pasted it below so you can laugh at me and cringe with me, and maybe realize, growth is something that is CONTINUOUS.
Enjoy my embarrassment. :)
There was a hole under Bree’s bed. She couldn’t see it, but she felt it was there. Throughout the night she would lie awake and listen, hold her breath until the blood pounded in her ears. From inside the hole came the grating, terrifying sound of things moving, breathing, chewing. In the morning when she was brave enough to drop to her knees and peek under the fluffy white bed skirt, the hole was always gone.
“There’s something there,” she told her mother, but her mother only shook her head and told her to stop acting like a baby. Bree was eleven years old now, a big girl by anyone’s definition.
“There’s nothing under your bed. It’s just a dream,” she said. She turned and left Bree sitting amongst her stuffed animals.
Her mother would be angry if she knew that she lay awake night after night, listening to the black, hungry sounds coming from the hole. But they were so loud, those things lurking in the hole, and even if Bree clamped her hands over her ears, she could still hear them. She wouldn’t scream, couldn’t, because if she did, they would know she was there hovering above them, and they might come out of the hole and find her, use their teeth to break her toes if they dangled off the edge of the bed. Then she would be nothing more than a part of the incessant sound of their chomping and smacking, a part of that gluttonous sucking sound that filled her up night after night.
“Sissy,” her brother said from his seat across from her at the table one morning a week after the sounds had begun. “You’re such a sissy baby,” he said and gulped the last of the milk from his cereal bowl.
Cringing, Bree closed her eyes and tried not to listen to his slurping. It sounded too much like the things in the hole under her bed.
“I’m not a baby. There’s something there,” she said, and her brother got up from the table to take his bowl to the sink. On his way past her, he pinched the soft flesh on the underside of her upper arm, and she yelped and pulled away from him.
When she did, her cereal bowl turned over, and the milk spilled into her lap. She didn’t like the way the milk felt, didn’t like how it ran down her thighs in small drops. It made her think of blood, how when the things under her bed finally found her, her blood would seep out of her in this same way. A slow oozing that would itch as it fell towards the floor and surely drive her mad, would turn her into some clawing, shrieking animal.
“Momma!” her brother called, “Bree spilled milk everywhere,” and then he was scurrying off with a wicked grin. She stuck out her tongue, and before he disappeared into the hallway that led from the kitchen to the bedrooms, he thrust his middle finger in the air.
“Jesus Christ, Bree. You’re not five years old any more. I swear, you can’t even eat like a fucking lady,” her mother said as she plunked a roll of paper towels down on the table.
“But, Gage” Bree began, but her mother cut her off.
“But Gage nothing. Now clean yourself up,” she said and stumbled. Red liquid sloshed over the edge of the plastic Smurfs cup her father had bought her for her last summer before things got bad. Bree’s mother brought her tongue to the plastic and dragged it along the edge. The sickly sweet smell of wine filled the air. Bree looked away.
She hates us, Bree thought as she placed paper towels over the wet spots, watched as the paper went translucent with milk. Ever since the night her father had kissed her and John goodbye, the night she’d woken to find him stuffing his clothes into plastic bags, her mother had grown cold. She stopped baking cookies, stopped hugging or kissing them, stopped tucking them in at night or reading them stories, or letting them climb into bed with her when they’d had a nightmare. She stopped kissing boo-boos and wiping away tears or bringing cold wash cloths when they were sick.
“I’ll come back for you and Gage. I’ll get you both away from here, live on the beach maybe” her father had whispered before he climbed into his pickup. It had been four months since then. He had not come back.
Bree was tired, so very, very tired, and after she put her bowl in the sink, she laid her head against the counter. She pressed her face against it, relieved with the way it felt, smooth and almost wet against her cheek.
If she could just close her eyes, just for a moment, she would feel better, would maybe be able to nod off without hearing those torturous sounds.
When she closed her eyes though, she could hear them, could hear them down there in the shadow places gnawing and chewing and swallowing, and the sound was filling her up, was threatening to rip her in half. The sounds were bulging in her head, pushing against her eye sockets. Her voice caught in her throat, and she wasn’t sure if the pressure she felt building was the desire to scream or to vomit.
Fearful that somehow the things had found a way to slash a hole in the shimmering fabric that separated this world from some other awful, horrible world, Bree forced her eyes open. She was alone in the kitchen, and the granite had grown hot under her face.
Down the hallway Gage stood in Bree’s bedroom. A slight grin played at the corners of his lips, his eyes had taken on a yellowish tinge, looked almost feral.
He knew that what his sister heard was real, knew that there was a hole under the bed because he’d heard it, too. Just last night he’d heard the sounds that she described. He thought that they had been nothing more than the lingering imprints of the dream world on the waking, but as he’d come awake--had pinched himself just to be sure--the sounds had not faded.
Only he knew that they had made a mistake. The hole shouldn’t be under Bree’s bed. It should be under his. Under the wet sounds of their eating, came a repeated, unmistakable whisper, “John,” and hearing this, John knew that he, and not his pansy of a sister, was meant to go to them.
He’d always known that he could do better than this rat trap of a house with his piece of shit, wine swilling mother and snot-nosed, scaredy-cat sister. For what he thought was the millionth time, he wished he could run away, find his father in California and live with him, maybe learn to surf. On nights when he couldn’t sleep, he’d sneak out to the garage and take out his father’s tools—the only things his mother had not sold after the divorce—test the weight of them in his hands, before carefully returning them to their rightful places.
And now, out of the darkness from the hole under the bed was his opportunity to do more, to be more than what this pitiful existence allowed. He wanted to be far, far away, and somewhere in the whisperings of the things under the bed, he thought he’d heard a promise.
His skin grew hot as he knelt next to the bed and reached for the bed skirt. His hand shook, and he paused to steady it. It wouldn’t do to be nervous or anxious. If they knew of the uneasiness that had wound its way around his muscles they wouldn’t take him, would leave him behind to rot.
His smile grew wider as he threw back the bed skirt. “Are you there?” he whispered into the darkness.
“I’m here now,” he continued, but all was quiet and there was no hole under the bed, just a thick layer of dust that had settled on the wood floors his mother had called “fancy” when they’d first rented the house.
He frowned. Where were they? They had called to him. They wanted him. Where were they?
He scooted under the bed, the dust tickling his throat, and he fought the urge to sneeze.
“Are you there?” he said again, but nothing answered.
If I wait for them, if I’m very quiet and wait for them, they’ll come for me, he thought, and he closed his eyes, waited for the sounds to come, for the hole to split open and take him home.
It was very quiet in the house, and he sank into the silence, let it carry him deep into his subconscious. It seemed as if he floated up, up, up, until he could see the outline of a boy--a boy he knew was himself--lying in the dust under a bed. The boy’s eyes were closed, and he was breathing, slowly, steadily, the muscles in his neck and forearms flexing as if he was steeling himself for some immense exertion.
The boy shifted, almost imperceptibly, and John, from his spot above his body, listened and waited.
Bree’s mother had to tell her three times to go to bed before threatening her with the belt.
Brushing her teeth with care, Bree lingered in the bathroom, watched her eyes in the mirror for a long time. Was she in there somewhere? Maybe hiding behind the darkened green eyes of the girl in the mirror, behind the sickly skin and stringy hair? She pressed her mouth against the mirror and exhaled, let her breath fog up the glass and watched as it distorted her eyes, the pupils a dark dot in the fog.
“Bree, if you don’t get in that bedroom in one minute, I swear to high heaven that I will wear your ass out,” her mother shouted from the living room.
“I’m going,” Bree said and made her way down the hallway to her room. John had not come out of his bedroom all day, and she was glad. If he’d come out and started in on her again, she’d decided that she would have slugged him a good one right in the center of his chest, maybe knock the wind clean out of him, but he hadn’t made a peep all day. Probably he’d spent the day looking at the panty catalogues he kept stashed under his bed. When Bree had caught him at it, a towel draped over his lap and his face red and sweaty, she’d shut the door quickly, but not before he saw her.
“If you breathe a word of this to Mom,” he said later after he’d cleaned himself up, “you better believe you’ll regret it.” She believed him.
The hallway stretched before her, looked almost crooked as she began to walk towards her bedroom on unsteady feet. Twice she stumbled. I shouldn’t be afraid. There’s nothing there. It’s just a dream, she told herself, but her skin had crawled into icy gooseflesh.
Darkness poured from the doorway of her bedroom. It looked like a great tongue unfurling, reaching for her legs so that it might lap at them, taste her before gobbling her up.
There’s nothing there, she repeated to herself and ignored the sudden boneless sensation in her legs.
I’ll turn on the light and then go in, she thought and reached a hand into the darkness, found that the air was cold. She flipped the switch and light flooded the room. Everything was as it should be. Her bed still made, the stuffed animals still stacked against the pillows, her top dresser drawer still open from this morning’s dressing, her yellow shorts peeking out.
Her breath rushed out of her in a loud exhalation. Silly, she thought and shook her head. She was being a baby, a great big baby, scared of the dark and her own shadow.
She hurried into her pajamas, folded her clothes neatly and stacked them on her dresser, before she turned off the light and took a running leap into her bed.
Snuggled down amidst her pillows and stuffed animals, she knew that she should feel comfortable, sleepy even, but as the dark settled back into the corners of her room, the cold chill she’d felt earlier slithered its way up her back and settled at the base of her neck.
The hole had opened. She could hear them moving around in the dark, could hear the clacking of their jaws opening before closing with a sticky smack, the same chewing she’d heard night after night.
She squeezed her eyes closed and covered her ears with her hands, but still, she heard them. The greedy noises of their eating coming faster now, sounding hungry and desperate.
But the sound was changing, reminded her of the soft cries of someone sobbing or choking, and she uncovered her ears and listened. Yes, someone was crying, a soft, feathery whimper as if some hand was covering its mouth.
“Bree.” The sound of her name startled her, and she shivered.
They know me. Down there in the dark. Whatever they are, they know me.
“Bree, please.” The voice came again, louder this time, and she sat up. She knew the voice, had heard it day in and day out for years.
“You, you….jerk!” she said and threw the covers off of her. She should have known that it was Gage. There was no hole under her bed, no things with awful teeth moving around in the dark, no sounds except for her brother trying to scare her.
She swung her feet out of the bed and stood. The wood was unnaturally hot, as if just moments before something had been lying there, and for a moment, the fear flooded back into her, and her knees buckled.
Grasping the comforter, Bree steadied herself. “Gage?” she said, hating the tremor in her voice. It was only her idiot brother, after all, and as soon as he popped out from under the bed skirt and stood, she’d decided she was going to kick him square in the balls. The thought made her feel better. Knowing that in just a moment, the flesh and blood of her brother would be before her calmed her, banished the chill crawling up her spine.
“Gage, I know it’s you. Stop being a moron and come out of there,” she said and kicked at the bed skirt. It fluttered under her foot, but there was no movement, no sound coming from under the bed now.
There was only an eerie quiet that seeped into Bree’s bones; a quiet that went inside of her and nested in the dark.
She would have to look under there. The sudden realization of it made her sick, and she swallowed against the bile rising in the back of her throat. In the logical sections of her brain not replaying every horror movie she’d ever seen, she knew that she was being tricked, knew that John was waiting for her to play into his trap. She knew that eventually she would bend down, lift the skirt, so that he could grab her hand and pull her towards him, his face twisted into a grotesque death mask. She knew that she would scream and slap at him as he scrambled out from under the bed, knew the sound of her shouts as he went cackling down the hallway and back to his own bedroom. In her mind she could see all of it happening.
But in the darker part of her, she felt that she should leave the room now before the quiet ended and the things came out of the hole again, before they found her and pulled her under and into the nightmare world dominated only by the wet sounds of their chewing.
She knelt, brought her hand to the bed skirt, and paused. Under her fingers, it felt as if the fabric was moving, alive even. It seemed to twitch and jump with a sort of filthy glee.
The stillness pressed in on her, and she could feel it settle heavily against her rib cage. It felt as if the silence was squeezing the breath out of her, and she realized that she was gasping for air, her breath wheezing out of her in rattling, choking succession.
Steeling herself, she lifted the bed skirt and peered into the darkness. John’s face was turned from her. If she hadn’t heard his whisper only seconds—had it really only been a few seconds?—before, she would have thought that he was sleeping.
Only, he wasn’t sleeping. His body was still. His arm was cocked backwards and lay limp against the carpet. It looked as if it had been pulled from its socket and placed behind him in some kind of obscene display. Something had mangled his fingers, and they hung from his hand in pale strips. Whatever had torn through the flesh there was very small and very sharp.
Her brain felt thick, fuzzy. There should be blood, she thought. His hands…there should be blood.
Only, there was no blood. His hands looked like clean marble, white and smooth against the dark wooden floor, and she remembered the sounds of chewing.
She had the sudden thought that the things had given him to her as an offering, had left him behind for her so that she would understand what it was they could do. Her stomach heaved, and she gagged.
She realized that she should scream, should probably have screamed when she didn’t see John’s shoulders rising and falling with his breath, but the sound stayed frozen in her throat.
The body shifted. Gage’s head lolled towards her, and Bree took in her brother’s eyes. The sockets were empty. Only tiny teeth marks remained, the skin there shredded in the same way his fingers had been.
And finally, Bree screamed before everything faded to blackness.
When she woke, Gage was gone. The darkness still pressed down on her, and from the hallway came the sound of her mother’s deep snoring.
It must have all been a dream. Gage was in his bedroom, was sound asleep, had never been under her bed. Relief pulsed through her, and she rose, walked down the hallway to Gage’s bedroom. She would find him, and if he would let her, crawl into bed with him the way he used to let her when she was little and their parent’s yelling became something menacing and violent.
He wasn’t in his bed, wasn’t in the living room, or in the garage, or outside. He didn’t answer as she went through the house whispering his name.
Bree didn’t wake her mother. She wouldn’t believe her, wouldn’t understand that the things had taken Gage, had pulled him down into the dark. There would be a missing person report, angry phone calls to her father, accusations of kidnapping, and all the while, her brother’s body would rot, would be nothing more than food.
No. She wouldn’t allow it.
The fear had left her now, and she slid under the bed, her mother’s sharpest kitchen knife clutched in her fist, lay in the spot where her brother had been. She would wait for the hole to open, and when they came back for her, came to take her in the way they had taken her brother, she would be ready.