Clint came awake to his wife shaking his shoulder.
The lights were on and she was mouthing something at him and then she was moving, getting out of bed and hurrying toward the door.
Clint scrambled for his hearing aids.
He put them in and then he heard the screaming.
He rolled out of bed and caught up with Laura, hurtling down the corridor to Lila’s room.
Laura slammed her palm on the lightswitch and Clint saw their daughter huddled in the corner, where her bed met the wall, with her covers pulled up to her chin and tears running down her face.
‘Sweetie, what’s wrong?’ Laura said, rushing forward to scoop Lila up into her arms. Clint followed, looking around the room to try and see what was wrong, what might have scared her.
Her voice was thick with tears and Clint couldn’t make out any of it. He sat down on the bed and put his hand on her back. She was trembling.
Lila stabbed her arm at the opposite corner of the room.
Clint still couldn’t understand her, but Laura seemed to manage.
‘What man? There’s nothing there, sweetie. Sweetie, you just had a nightmare.’
‘Nuh, nuh,’ Lila shook her head. She was still crying, still shaking, and all Clint could do was murmur and rub her back.
She gulped and gasped.
‘There was. There was!’ she wailed. ‘’Is face wa-- wa--’ she started sobbing again. This time she twisted and buried her face in Clint’s shirt.
Now he really didn’t have a chance of knowing what she was saying.
What happened? he signed.
She said she saw a man. In the corner. Something about his face being red...I don’t know.
Clint frowned and looked back down at his daughter.
‘It’s okay, pumpkin. It’s okay now. Deep breaths.’
She was trying, but it must have been one hell of a nightmare. Clint knew terror when he saw it.
She clung to him, her tears and snot starting to soak through his shirt onto his skin. So much of parenting seemed to revolve around fluids, it was unbelievable.
I think she should sleep with us tonight. She’s too scared to go back to sleep here.
Laura didn’t disagree.
Clint picked Lila up.
‘Come on, Lila-bear, you can sleep in Mommy and Daddy’s bed tonight.’
Clint glanced at the corner again as they walked out, but there was nothing there - no coats or other objects which might have caused Lila to see the shape of a man.
He rocked the small child in his arms, rubbing her back and murmuring to her softly.
She had a big imagination - drew colourful fantasy-scapes at the kitchen table. Clint had listened to her making up elaborate storylines and enacting them with her dolls. Her imagination had just gotten the better of her this time. It was nothing to be worried about.
It was a phase, Clint told himself.
They’d been up almost every night that week with Lila’s nightmares. The only night they weren’t was because they let her sleep with them the whole night.
It was waking Cooper up as well, and more than once he’d poked his head outside his door and asked what was wrong with his little sister.
Each time it was the same.
There was a man in the corner. He was a bad man. His face was red and Lila couldn’t or wouldn’t say more than that.
They’d tried sitting in her room with her until she fell asleep, checking under the bed and in the closet for monsters.
So now they got creative.
Clint put up a dreamcatcher, and told Lila about how it would tangle up any bad dreams so they wouldn’t get to her, and only the good dreams would get through.
Maybe it didn’t convince her, because that night they were up again.
The next day Laura had her shot.
She made Lila a bracelet with brown string and green glass beads. She told her it was a magic bracelet, and that any bad things that tried to get to her when she was sleeping would get sucked into the beads and so Lila would be safe.
And that worked. Except now Lila would come and ask her mom to put new beads on her bracelet, and throw the old ones away because of the bad stuff trapped inside. So Laura would do it - not the throwing away part, because the beads were expensive and it wasn’t like she could just pop down the road and get more - threading on fresh beads from her craft box and giving the bracelet back for bedtime.
It seemed a small price to pay for uninterrupted sleep.