Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Squeebler

This is a story for children. Actually, it might be better to describe it as a story for some children. It may be frightening. It may cause bad dreams. Nevertheless, it is an important story. A "warning" might not be the best word to use in this case, and "caution" might not be good enough. It's probably somewhere in between. "A beseeching suggestion" is probably as close as I can get to properly labeling the tale you are about to read, but this is a children's story, after all, and that just muddies things up further.

So, with that out of the way, let's get on with it. I would like to tell you about the Squeebler.

I only saw the Squeebler once, many years ago, when I was a child. His horrendous, menacing face still haunts me, even though I am an adult and far too old to believe that the dark imaginings that keep little children up at night are real. I know what I saw, though, and to this day I sleep with my bed cover wrapped over my head and tucked under my feet.

But before I explain what the Squeebler looks like, please allow me to explain what the Squeebler does. And here I must be careful, because I'm not sure if you could call the Squeebler evil. He certainly looks scary -- but so does a cockroach or a spider, and I don't think it would be fair to say that a cockroach or spider is evil.

The Squeebler takes wax from the ears of children. Whether he uses the ear wax as a food source, some type of fuel, or for some other purpose, I'm not sure. All I know is that he appears when children are fast asleep and extracts the wax from their ears.

The ear wax may be essential to the Squeebler's survival. Without the ear wax of children, perhaps he might die. This I cannot say for sure. However, just as a mosquito's bite leaves behind an itch, children who have had wax taken from their ears by the Squeebler are left with painful earaches.

And that is what happened to me when I was eight years old. One Sunday morning when I was in the third grade, I woke up with an awful earache. It felt like my eardrum was being poked by a knitting needle over and over again. My mother gave me two Children's Tylenols, and while the rest of the family were at church, I stayed at home, watching cartoons on the sofa with my head laid on a hot water bottle.

By the time they arrived back home, my earache was nearly gone. But every two or three weeks afterwards, I would wake up -- sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes in the early morning -- with the same throbbing earache. I was taken to probably half a dozen doctors and specialists, but none of them could figure out the cause.

"It's not that uncommon," I remember one doctor telling my mother while I sat on the examination table, its paper rustling noisily as I shifted uncomfortably. "It's part of growing up," the doctor said. "Eventually, the earaches will go away."

I, however, was not as optimistic. I had begun to think that this was a problem that had a source outside of the realm of medicine and human biology. This was because of the odd dreams I would have on nights when I'd wake up with earaches. They were all pretty much the same. In every dream, I would be standing in the corner of my darkened bedroom, looking at myself sleeping. Sometimes the room was illuminated by a TV test pattern because I had fallen asleep with the television on. Other times, the room was almost completely black, only the light from the upstairs hallway providing a faint, yellow glow around the frame of my closed door. I would stand in the corner and wonder how weird it was that I was looking at myself, and then a round shape the size of a manhole cover, blacker than the darkness of the room -- blacker than anything -- would form above my bed. Something appeared to be coming out of that black hole.

Then I would wake up, my ear screaming in pain. If I fell asleep on my right side, it would be my left ear that hurt. If I fell asleep on my left side, my right ear would hurt. That wasn't the only weird thing. My parents let our bloodhound, Cooper, sleep on the floor next to my bed, and every time I woke up after having the same dream and my ears stinging, Cooper would bark so loudly that he woke up the entire family.

"Coop's just worried about you, buddy," my father said when I tried to connect the two occurrences: my dreams and Cooper's barking. Dad was making omelets in his boxers. "He probably hears you moaning in your sleep, so he starts barking because he thinks he needs to protect you."

I didn't tell my father that he was wrong. He wasn't. Cooper was trying to protect me. But it wasn't from a bad dream I was having. It was from something real. Something that came out at night.

After my next "episode," my father put his foot down: Cooper was no longer allowed to sleep in my bedroom. My father was sick of getting woken up in the middle of the night when he had work in the morning. Also, my older sister had to study for high school exams. I protested, but the youngest child's opinion didn't carry much weight.

For a time, things were calm. I went two months without an earache, my sister passed her exams with flying colors, and my father was able to sleep soundly without Cooper waking him up with his barks. Then, on Labor Day, the night before I was to begin fourth grade, the Squeebler returned.

And this time I saw him. And it wasn't a dream.

I'd fallen asleep earlier than usual. The Labor Day weather was perfect, and my father had invited over some friends from work for a barbecue. I stuffed myself with hamburgers, hotdogs, corn on the cob, and lemonade. Tired, I packed my school bag, set out my new school clothes, and went to bed before eight o'clock. I hoped that Mrs. Jensen would be my teacher. She was pretty.

I don't know how long I was asleep for, but when I woke up the light outside my bedroom window was a shade of blue that suggested it was still a long way from midnight. My window was open, and I could hear my father and his friends talking. Every couple of minutes, they'd all laugh about some amusing joke or story. I couldn't hear what they said, and I likely wouldn't have understood what they were talking about even if I could.

I was no longer sleepy, so I folded my hands over my stomach and stared at the ceiling as I lied in bed. The darkening light was playing with my eyes as they moved in and out of focus. Various shades of black, white, and gray danced in my vision. It looked like a horde of houseflies scurrying over the corpse of a dead fish.

Then a familiar black oblong shape formed above me. It was so black that it looked like a bad computer effect, something out of line with the reality of my world. The hole vibrated quickly, like a stereo speaker playing loud music, contracted, and then a foot appeared.

The foot was long and gray. And shiny, as though it was covered in mucous. There were eight toes, each one pointed, each of the same length. I pretended to close my eyes and, horrified, watched through my slit eyelids as the rest of the creature emerged.

The Squeebler dropped down from the hole and onto my chest. He didn't make a sound, nor did his mass disturb my bed cover the slightest. Whatever dimension he came from -- and I believe he came from another dimension -- the physical properties of our world didn't seem to apply. He looked around, craning his neck from left to right, then all the way around in a perfect 360 degrees, and settled. Then he slowly crept up my chest until he was within less than an inch in front of my face.

I tried to control my breathing. I was scared, more scared than I've ever been, both then and now. But I was also curious. I wanted to know what this thing was. I think that's a particular form of courage that only children possess.

The Squeebler stood upright, still devoid of weight, and extended both of his arms at his sides. I was familiar with this pose because I had seen it every Sunday morning at church. He wasn't wearing a crown of thorns, but the Squeebler looked like Christ on the cross.

Those arms started to stretch and bend, and the Squeebler's hands-- on which, like his feet, there were eight digits -- transformed into two long tubes that looked like water hoses, or maybe gasoline pump nozzles. But I was sure that, instead of putting something into me, their purpose was to take something out. They wiggled and writhed in the air, then crept into both of my ears.

I wanted to scream. I desperately wanted to scream. But I couldn't. My whole body was numb, and my voice was stolen, as though I was under anesthesia. Those cold arms went into my ears and started digging, like a miner searching for coal.

It was then that I opened my eyes and saw the face of the Squeebler. He was hideous. His mouth was open, and his teeth looked like the burnt tines of a plastic fork, twisted and misshapen. Something pink that might have been his tongue flicked behind that gross set of teeth. And his eyes were as big as grapes. I will never forget that, no matter how hard I try. His eyes looked like two fat Concord grapes.

I couldn't move or speak, but I was able to open my half-shut eyes and stare into the monster's. Please, leave me alone. I don't know why you're coming here, again and again, but I don't like it. Maybe you're not such a bad guy, maybe you just need to feed your family or something, but it's bugging me, so will you please knock it off?

That was when the Squeebler spoke. His arms came out of my ears, and feeling returned to my body. I could move again, but I didn't.

The Squeebler looked ashamed. He fidgeted on my chest for a minute, sat cross-legged, stood up, then said, meekly, "Squeeble." He didn't speak a human language, so that's the best way I can describe what he said.

I may have missed some nuances, though, because when I reached out to touch him he shrieked, "Squeeble!" Then he jumped back up into the same portal he came from.

That was twenty-six years ago. I don't know if there is one Squeebler or many. I don't know how or why they appear in children's bedrooms and try to take their ear wax. There's a lot of stuff I don't know.

But last night I had a familiar dream, and when I woke up, my dachshund, Wendel, was barking.

And I had an earache.

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