You know who it is.
"I'm not scared of you."
Oh, you en't?
"No. My mom said you're not real."
Mums, they say a lot of things, yeah?
"My dad said it, too."
Oh, well in that case. Daddies are another matter.
"Are you making fun of me?"
Only a bit.
"You're not real. I know it because there's no room in there for you."
Aye, so certain? You know how big I am?
"No, but there's no room in the closet for anyone."
Maybe I en't in there, yeah?
"Where are you?"
Why's it matter? I en't real, remember? Go back to sleep. Nothing bad will happen to you.
"You're lying. Go away."
I canna do that, sorry to say. I come here for you.
"Do you want to eat me?"
By the seeds of the earth, no. You're probably filthy, yeah?
"Then what do you want to do with me?"
Take you away, away, away. Away to where all the gone children play.
There are songs and sweets and other children, my love. Din't you want to see?
Can be done the hard way or the easy way; your choice.
"I'm not going with you. I'm not scared of you. If you're small enough to fit in my closet, you can't drag me anywhere."
I fit in a thimble or fill a symphony hall. I can go anywhere. I can run between the rain drops or I can sink a ship, yeah? I can fit in a closet and I can drag boastful little boys screaming from their beds.
Try gettin' to the hallway, then.
"Why do you want to take me?"
Because it's what I do, and it's what I always done.
I'm looking for sweets, little one. Looking for sweets, and you're a sweet one, yeah?
"No I'm not! I'm...I'm bad. I'm really bad!"
Most children, they're bad. But the really bad ones—I takes them, too.
"Okay, I'm kind of bad but not really bad."
"My mom's coming, I can hear her. I know you leave when she's around."
I will be back, boy, mark 'em.
"I'm not scared of you!"
"Who are you talking to?"
"There's something in my closet."
"For the last time, Toby, there is nothing in your closet."
"There is! He was talking to me! I heard him! He said he's gonna take me away—"
"—because I'm sweet."
"—See? The closet is empty."
"I know, but—"
"You were dreaming, kiddo. It's not real. There's nothing here. Okay?"
"I heard him."
"Fine, don't believe me."
"Don't get snotty."
"Go to sleep. You're nine. You're too old for this junk."
"No.... I'm sorry, honey. I didn't mean to snap at you. You're my sweet little bunny. Okay? I promise, there's nothing in your closet but shirts and shoes and maybe some dog hair."
"I love you, too."
Maybe she wants me to take you.
"She does not."
She would go to Hell and back for you, and look at how you talk to her, all stroppy, yeah? Maybe you are really bad.
"Shut up already."
So nasty. Such a nasty child.
"Maybe I will just get up. I'll just run out of here and run downstairs."
Think you're faster'n me, yeah?
"You can't get me if I get to the door, cuz the light's on and my mom and dad are out there."
I took a little girl once who could run faster'n anyone. Nobody could ever catch her. She was sore surprised when I grabbed her soon as her foot set down.
"You're lying again."
Just so smart, en't you?
"I'm not going with you. I'm not going. Leave me alone."
Come, now, en't nothing worth a cry. You heard your mum. Too old for that junk.
"I'm not crying. I just...have allergies. I'm not getting out of bed, so you might as well leave."
Sounds just and fair. See you tomorrow.
"That's dumb. We're not looking at each other."
But I am looking at you. Cheerio, Toby.
* * *
"You came back."
Course I did. Another night, another chance.
"Why don't you go bother someone else?"
En't you the one who just called out to me in the dark, boy?
"I just wanted to see if you were there."
And here I am. You been chose. En't that exciting?
"Chosen by who?"
"What's the she? She who?"
You're a small, funny thing, yeah?
"Whatever. Tell her to choose someone else."
Got a suggestion?
Sounds like you might.
"Well...no, I don't. I'm not gonna tell where other kids are. I'm not gonna help you."
Maybe I can help you.
"That's dumb. You don't wanna help me. You wanna kidnap me."
So nobody's pestering you at school?
Took you a long time to answer.
"He sits behind me."
"He says mean things to me, quiet so Miss Danko can't hear him."
What's he said?
"I dunno. Stuff."
"He said my mom's a slut and I'm a fag."
Them en't nice things to say, yeah?
"He said I'm a pussy and I should die in a fire."
Them also en't nice things to say. Do you know what them words mean? En't nothing to be ashamed of if you don't.
What's his name?
See you tomorrow, Toby.
* * *
"Are you there?"
I'm always here, yeah? It's night time, innit?
"Ben wasn't in school today."
I imagine he weren't.
"The principal came to our class to talk to us about safety. He told us that Ben wasn't in bed this morning when his father came to wake him up."
That makes sense.
"Did you take him?"
Sometimes, even when they en't chosen, I take little boys just because they're bad.
So quiet you are, suddenly.
"Did you take him for me?"
Maybe. If I did, will you get out of bed and come with me willingly?
All the same.
"What'll happen to him?"
I en't sure. He's where he belongs.
Nowhere you'll ever go.
"They're not...he's not gonna get hurt, is he?"
A lot of concern over someone what's rude and angry and callous, yeah?
I knew you were sweet.
"I'm not sweet. I'm not going with you."
We'll see, yeah? Tomorrow night, then, Toby.
* * *
"Ben Brody was still out today."
Course he is. He en't coming back.
"His dad was on TV, crying."
That make you sad?
I thought it might.
"I thought I would be happy if he went away, but I feel worse."
You're a kind little boy.
"I didn't want him to get hurt. I just wanted him to stop picking on me."
Bad children reap what they sow, Toby.
"What do you do with bad children?"
I take bad children one place, good children another.
"What will happen to Ben?"
I din't know, and that's the truth. He's with a fickle host. Might be showered with love and treats today and beaten with a golden rod tomorrow.
I do know he cries. Oh, he cries, near every minute. I hear him, all throughout Tír na nÓg, yeah? I hear him, crying for his daddy like his heart broke.
And now you cry. Why? Why do you cry for this boy what was cruel to you?
Don't cry for Baby Ben. He en't ever cried over any of what he done to you.
"This is worse."
Didn't catch that.
"I said...I said this is worse. He just called me names. This is worse. I...I made him disappear."
All the same. See you on the other side of the moon, Toby.
* * *
"Are you there? Did you know Ben's mom died last year?"
Aye, that she did.
"They said that on the news today."
"His dad was crying on TV again. He said Ben was all he had left."
Aye. He's a daddy what loves his boy, yeah? And now he's got a whole lot of nothing, innit?
"I didn't want this."
But you did. You told me about him. Fairly asked me to take him, didn't you?
"I...no, no, I just..."
He's gone, boy. He's gone, his daddy's alone, and you're safe in bed, like you wanted.
"Please bring him back."
"Bring Ben back. Please? I didn't want anyone to get hurt."
What's it you expected would happen?
"I...not this. I didn't want this."
Here you go again, crying over this boy who en't ever been good to you.
"Please? Please bring him back."
Maybe. Maybe I can.
If you come with me.
A bargain, yeah? Come with me, on your own, and I'll put that horrid little beast right back in his bed.
Your fault he's gone, en't it?
You can make it right, Toby.
I won't take you where I took him. I'll take you someplace where you can play and eat chocolate biscuits, yeah? Toby?
"What about my mom and dad? Will I ever see them again?"
There will be lots of new mums and daddies there, my love. And your mum and daddy will miss you, but you've a sister, yeah? They've still got a baby, haven't they?
"If you take me, I can never come back?"
How's about another bargain, then. You come with me now and stay awhile, stay three days. After that, if you still want to go home, I'll bring you back.
Aye. You're a sweet one, Toby.
"And you'll bring Ben back like normal, and never take him again?"
I promise, yeah?
"Then...then okay. If I can come back after three days, and you'll bring Ben home forever, I'll go."
That's excellent, Toby. Reach out your hand. Reach it out, and I'll take it.
* * *
"Can I have another candy, Lady Mother?"
"Of course you can, my sweet love, my Toby."
"How many days has it been?"
"My precious darling, the sun has risen in Tír na NÓg three times. Why do you ask?"
"Um...I don't know. I mean, I don't remember. I think...wasn't I supposed to do something after three days?"
"Of course not, dear heart. What would you need to do? You have everything here."
"I just...I thought I remembered something about three days."
"Perhaps you dreamed it, darling.
"Actually, I think I did have a dream."
"What was your dream, little treasure?"
"I dreamed about a room with a bed and a desk and a closet.
"Outside the window, the sun moved really fast, flying by over and over...and there was a lady crying and saying my name, and her hair was turning more and more grey while she stood there...and....Seeing her cry made me sad...I'm...her baby bunny."
"You dreamed of another lady? How miserable that makes me. I thought you were my baby bunny."
"Am I not the best, most kind, most generous and loving mother you have ever had?"
"I do not feel like playing today, actually. I am very cross. I may just sulk."
"I'm sorry, Lady Mother. It was just a dream. I'm sure it didn't mean anything."
"Really, yes, please don't be mad at me."
"Of course not, my dove! Please, no tears."
"Yeah. I'm too old for that junk."
"I...I don't know. I don't know where that came from. I think...I think it was in my dream."
"I love you, pet."
"I love you, too, Lady Mother."
BIO: Rebecca McDowell, a writer since childhood, lives in Philadelphia with her husband and her dog. When she's not thinking up creepy stories in her basement, she is working on writing them and trying to forget about her student loans.