The baby lay still awake as the nursery door drifted closed again. His hands waved in the air and he looked up at the circus wallpaper, all the way up to where the wall met the ceiling. A pod of dolphins balanced balls on their noses and danced along an endless wave. Below that, another row of creatures, then another, and another and so on. Blue-white lightening exploded, throwing the rows of animals in sharp relief. The baby’s gaze focused on a line of elephants wearing tassels and headdresses that paraded in a line, holding each other by the tail. Below them cantered a line of rhinoceroses wearing tassels and g-strings. Beneath them, a herd of giraffes. In between every row danced ringmasters with whips.
The baby kicked off his blanket. He sucked a tiny fist as the lines where the walls and ceiling met grew darker, darker, curled outward with a sticky sound. The winged monkeys crawled into the room.
The winged monkeys rolled the wallpaper, rotting it black as they did. Black cracks in the paper snaked onto the dolphins. The winged monkeys swung tiny human figures as they crawled down the wall. The swinging figures had bloated stomachs and stick arms and legs like starving babies. They grabbed a baby dolphin and passed it from monkey to monkey. The winged monkeys posed laughing and screeching at the baby dolphin. The swinging babies took selfies with the monkeys squeezing the baby dolphin until there was nothing left of it but shredded skin and blood.
The bloated stick figures threw the dead baby dolphin into the row of elephants as lightening lit up the wall again. Elephants exploded. One crumpled to its knees, back legs splayed out behind it, one of the monkey’s chainsaws leaving bloody meat for a face with bloody eyes on either side of where a trunk and tusks used to be. Monkeys with machetes hacked off the ears of a second elephant and carved maps on the severed ears. A baby elephant ran from a monkey who caught it, wrapped it in chains, and shoved it into an oubliette. Blood dripped down the wallpaper into the oubliette.
The baby’s eyes moved to what had been a row of galloping giraffes. Now, two blindfolded giraffes stood swaying in the back of a truck driving towards a bridge. One giraffe ducked. The other’s head smashed against the bridge, bursting blood across other rows of other animals.
The winged monkeys set the dripping blood on fire and blew it all over the trapped emaciated figures who screamed in pain. The baby whimpered and sucked hard on his own fist.
The baby’s daddy came into the room, carrying the baby monitor, frowning. “You afraid? Your mommy should have turned on your nightlight.” The daddy flicked a little switch and the purple black darkness recoiled from the tiny circle of warm yellow. The baby’s eyes were open. The animals were dancing their way towards the circus again. “What’s wrong, little man? The darkness can’t hurt you.” The daddy picked up the baby. The baby smelled his father, squirmed closer.
“Bad ole crack, Monsters, go back,” the daddy chanted, and kissed the baby.
The baby’s eyes stared at the crack where the wallpaper had rolled away from the ceiling’s edge. The daddy turned, saw the peeling paper. He set the baby in his crib and got a chair. Standing on tiptoe, he tried to roll the paper back in place. The paper’s edge sliced into his fingertips. “Damn it!” He covered his mouth sheepishly, smearing blood along the corner of his mouth. “I didn’t mean to say bad words—forget you heard that—your mommy’d kill me! Good thing, I have the monitor with me!” He turned back to the wall. “How’re we gonna fix this? Don’t worry! I won’t let anything happen to you.” Wiping his blood like paste on the peeling wallpaper, the daddy sealed up the crack in the wall, trapping all the winged monkeys. The daddy’s bloody hands slid down the wall so he could get down from the chair. The corner was just a corner again. Every line of animals was back the way it had first been on the wallpaper. Except there was the daddy’s blood on the wall. Once there were two rabbits…bad old crack, monsters go back. At the edge of the nightlight’s glow, a naked misshapen child sucked the daddy’s blood off his fist.
“Watch the nightlight until you go to sleep, keeps the monsters away,” his daddy whispered. He kissed the baby, and left, closing the door.
Now the baby lay there. His eyes were open. His gaze moved in and out of the nightlight’s glow. There were animals, now there are no animals. When he finally closed his eyes, he found them waiting for him in the darkness.