I stand behind a podium in front of my Public Speaking class, and I’m talking about The X-Files. It’s nice outside, a few weeks into Spring. I hear a lawnmower buzzing. It’s far away, probably on the other side of campus, but the smell of fresh cut grass wafts through the open window and I feel like I’ll start floating away like a cartoon character seduced by the scent of warm cookies (and who doesn’t know that a mouse with a hammer is waiting just through the doorway).
Stay focused. You know what you’re doing. Don’t fidget. Make eye contact. Don’t bury yourself in your notes. Speak clearly. Don’t do that weird facial tick you developed last semester because you were making fun of somebody for it and now you can’t help yourself.
Oh God, I just did it. I wonder if anyone noticed. No, they’re just sitting there looking bored.
Oh God, I’m boring.
I should’ve come in costume. I should’ve brought some episode clips. I should’ve not picked The X-Files, which scared me as a kid, by the way. The theme song sent me running into another room. It conjured monsters into corners and under the bed. I use it as a ringtone now, but it creeped me the fuck out. Still does, sometimes.
Oh good, some chuckles. What can I say that will satisfy them and help me pass this presentation?
There was one night when I was falling asleep and the monsters came for me.
I see eyes shift from the window to my face. Scribbling stops. People lean forward. Someone licks their lips.
It was the kind of night that brings monsters to life. The heavy wind hooooing through branches. The garbage lids thumping to the ground and skidding across concrete. The clack and rattle of an unlatched shutter. A cat’s cry that sounds like an infant’s scream. Me with the lights off, blind to the darkness beyond the darkness of my eyelids, floating in the space between asleep and drifting off. And then my phone rings the theme song, and I’m a kid again. Something’s happening, and the only thing saving me from it is this blanket, which I pull over my head to wait out the nightmare.
What? Did I answer the phone? Are you kidding? Picture every scary monster you’ve ever hid from, the ones with the claws or the fangs or the balloon animals, and picture them standing over your bed in the darkness. Picture them leaning in, hands clamming, mandibles clicking, tongues slobbering, waiting for you to open your eyes, waiting to inhale one second of terror before they devour you, or shred you, or whatever your monsters wanted to do. Of course I didn’t answer the phone. It wasn’t worth it. It was probably a pocket dial, and I wasn’t going to risk my life for it.
Time’s up. Some scattered applause. I leave the safety of the podium and settle into my seat among them. The teacher calls another name, and I feel sorry for the guy.
We’re a tough crowd. We’ll eat you alive.