It was around two in the morning and Daniel was awake. It always happened that way. He would fall asleep at ten or so, but then he woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep.
He didn’t want to wake his parents or his sisters up, so he just stayed in his room and kept quiet. Part of him wanted to go out to the living room and watch TV, though he had no idea what might be on at that time of night. Another part of him wanted to go out and play on the computer, since during the day he had to share it with his younger sisters who always wanted to look at princess stuff.
But he knew that if he left his room, his mom would wake up and wonder what was going on. And since Daniel himself didn’t know what was going on, he’d decided against it. So, when he couldn’t sleep, he generally turned the lamp on beside his bed and did some reading, or just stayed in the dark and thought about things.
That night he decided to just stay laying in the dark and think. He wasn’t sure what he’d think about, but he didn’t feel like reading. The only book he had in his room was a boring book that the teacher had assigned. So, just thinking was going to be more entertaining.
In the corner of the room there was a chair, and as he looked, he saw one of the little shadow men scurry from behind it. And then Daniel realized that it was going to be that kind of night. He had no idea what the shadow men were doing, but sometimes when he woke up at night, he could see that they were up to something and running around the room.
They were very small, much smaller than Daniel, in fact. They were just little bundles of darkness about two feet tall and featureless. All they seemed to do was flit around the room, from behind the desk to the chair or under the bed. Anywhere that they could hide themselves until the next time that they decided to run around the room again.
But even though they never seemed to actually do anything, Daniel still found them frightening. The fact that he couldn’t see anything about them just made them more disturbing. He thought he saw the movement of a leg or a swinging arm as they rushed past to hide under the bed. He could never be sure, though, and either the limbs were moving so fast that he couldn’t see them, or the shadow men didn’t have any limbs, and were just dark blobs that somehow managed to propel themselves around his room. Either possibility was upsetting.
He’d never told anyone about them, even his mom. She was usually pretty understanding about stuff, but he wasn’t sure what her reaction to the shadow men would be. He wondered if she’d just think he was being silly. It had taken a great deal of talking to get him to accept that there weren’t monsters in the closet, so shadows flitting around his room would probably just make her sigh and roll her eyes. She’d try not to let him see it, but he’d know it was happening.
Besides, there was nothing anyone, including his mom, would be able to do. Daniel hadn’t found any reason why they showed up on any particular night, so there wasn’t any way he knew of to avoid them. In fact, most times when he woke up in the middle of the night, they weren’t around. They only showed up sometimes and for no good reason. He had even tried sleeping with one of those little night lights in his room, but the light was dim and only cast enough light to make more shadows, and so it just made things worse. Either the light would just keep him awake or it would make the running around even creepier.
The only solution that Daniel knew would work was to turn on his overhead light in the bedroom. That made it bright enough that the shadow men had to disappear. He didn’t like doing it though, because he knew he’d never get back to sleep with the overhead light on. Also, he worried that it would be a bright enough light that his mom would see it under his door and wake up. He’d done it before, and she’d never woken up before, but it still worried him.
Plus, it felt like a kind of defeat. Even though it was the only sure way to get rid of them, it still felt like he’d made some huge concession by having to do it. He felt like they shouldn’t be in his room at all, and having to turn on the light to make them go away was just what they wanted.
So that night he resisted. They skittered around on the edges of his vision, but he resolutely refused to go and turn the light on. Instead he closed his eyes so he wouldn’t have to see them anymore. That worked briefly, but it wasn’t long before his curiosity about what they were doing got to be too much and he had to open his eyes again.
Then he tried staring into space and not letting his gaze get distracted by their sudden movements. He stared out the window, and the snow coming down reflected the bright light from the street lamp. In fact, the whole sky was kind of lit up from the light of the town reflecting off the low clouds. Watching the wind blowing the snow around in the air distracted him for a while, but then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of the shadow men dart out from behind his desk. Before he had time to think, Daniel had turned to watch the shadow instead of the snow.
He tried to get it back, but he couldn’t do it. Try as he might, he spent less and less time looking out at the snow, and more and more following the shadow men running around his room. It was becoming apparent that, in spite of his reservations, he was going to have to turn the light on.
Then he remembered that there was another book on the top of his desk where his mom had put it. She had just been tired of it sitting on the coffee table, so she had picked it up and put it back in his room. He’d already read it, so it wouldn’t be super-interesting, but it was still better than the school book. At least it had robots.
Feeling very relieved, Daniel went over and turned on the overhead light. If all he’d wanted to do was read, he really just needed the lamp, but at least the reading made him feel justified about turning on some sort of light, and so it didn’t feel like a total defeat.
He read for a while, but he was so tired that he couldn’t concentrate on the words. After a while he put the book down. He wanted to turn the light off again, but he didn’t want the shadow men to return. He knew they’d just gone into hiding, and they’d come back out as soon as it was dark again.
So, he closed his eyes, lay back in the bed, and pulled the blankets over his head to shut the light out. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it had worked before. And it worked again. It took him a while, but he managed to get to sleep even under the bright light.