“Miss Susie there is a monster in the woods.”
Twelve sun kissed, terrified children stared back at me. The fear in their eyes was real, but I knew that their monster couldn't be.
“Go inside and get ready for bed,” I replied; shooing them inside as if I were guiding sheep into their pen.
I lay there in my bed later that night, listening to the orchestra being played between the crickets and frogs. A sharp SNAP sounded out. It was as if something heavy had pulverized a branch.
I was only sixteen. Old enough to know monsters weren't real, but still young enough to be frightened anyway. The whimpers of the younger children I was responsible for reached my ears.
“It's okay,” I whispered to them, reaching for my phone. The screen lit up my face as I texted my boyfriend. I clicked 'send' as yet another crash in the trees sounded out.
“I'm scared,” cried a voice. I reached for my flashlight, stumbling towards them. “It's okay,” I said softly. “It's probably the boys playing a prank.”
The loud vibration of my phone startled me as I pulled away from her. “Can't come. Busy,” read my boyfriend's text. Ten minutes out busy. Past midnight busy. I put my phone away. I was on my own.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
The lights within the boy's cabin lit immediately, and I knew I was wrong before the counselor even reached the door.
Pratt stared back at me standing on the steps. Me in my polka dot two piece pajamas and muddy red sneakers. I watched his face for a smirk, anticipating a sarcastic comment that wasn't coming.
My accusation didn't cause the response I expected either. I expected him to ridicule me like he had in school. She writes too much. Bookworm. Nerd. Know it all.
Instead he grabbed his flashlight, beckoning to his sleepy eyed boys to come with him. I watched Pratt lead the boys past me towards the edge of the forest. Peter Pan and his tribe of lost boys.
As they swept the woods, the crash sounded again. Pratt turned to his tribe, and they hatched a plan.
Soon all of us were huddled in the back of the girl's cabin. Darkness engulfed boys and girls alike as they sat on the cold floorboards; knees tucked under their chins as they nervously waited.
Strung through the door was a trap made from combined effort. Whatever monster was in the woods, it wouldn't get any of us tonight.
Pratt and I sat directly in front of the children. I sat cross-legged on the ground while Pratt sat behind me; his arms wrapped about me from behind in a comforting manner.
Yes he used to tease me, but people change just as much as the leaves do. I could see a change in him that summer. He was no longer a beast. He was a beauty. A beauty I hadn't seen until now.
Heavy footsteps could be heard on the steps then; Pratt's arms winding about me tighter. I felt his lips rest near my ear; his warm breath tickling past it.
“I love you.” I don't remember saying the words, but they were in my voice. My heartbeat beat fast; partly from the admission and partly from the monster lurking outside on the steps.
“I love you too,” came his soft response. He placed a kiss on my ear. “I've always loved you.”
The door creaked open then, triggering the trap. Feathers and syrup rained down from above, coating the monster that had entered the cabin.
I recognized the monster. I knew this monster. I had loved this monster.
Standing up shakily, I rose to my feet to walk towards it. “It was a joke,” the monster claimed. “It was for fun.”
Done. We're done. It took me so long to realize the one I had loved was a beast. A monster.
Pratt's hand slipped into mine as my feathered ex descended the steps to walk away. The curse was broken. The monster was vanquished. I could now see what I was blind to before.
I was no longer afraid.