“I always see the little people on your ceiling,” Lizzie was lying on our bed when she said it, chubby cheeks flushed and damp hair sticking to her forehead.
“What little people, sweetheart?” I snuggled closer to her, feeling her rhythmic breathing and smelling milk on her breath. She waved in the general direction of the ceiling.
“Up there. I don’t see them anywhere else.”
I laughed a little too quickly, my eyes seeing nothing but the smooth white of the painted ceiling.
“Are they friendly?” I smiled.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, are they smiling?” My eyes roved the ceiling, looking for something that a two year old could interpret as a figure. “Lizzie?” I rolled over, feeling suddenly cold. “Are they smiling?”
She scrunched up her nose. “I don’t know. They don’t have any mouths.”
A cloud passed over the morning sun, and I shivered.
“Where’s Daddy?” she asked.
“He’s at work, darling. He’s going to stay away for a few nights, remember?”
A frown. “I want him here.”
Me too, darling, me too. “I know, sweetie, but we’re going to have so much fun. You’re sleeping here with me, remember?”
She nodded slowly, and went back to staring at the ceiling.
“So, do the little people have eyes?” I tried to make it sound fun. Lizzie yawned.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said.
“But do they?”
“They don’t have faces,” she said. There was a long silence. I pulled the blankets around us.
“We should get up, baby,” I said. Lizzie hopped out of bed and ran to the door.
“I want porridge,” she said, and her footsteps thumped towards the kitchen.
I held a blanket under my chin and stared at the ceiling. Nothing there. Just white paint. A spark of a thought flickered, and I killed it before it could become wildfire, spreading uncontrollably throughout my brain. I could see them if I wanted to see them.
“I don’t believe in you,” I muttered, and threw back the blankets. The sun came out again, and I shook my head at my silliness. It was going to be a long couple of days before Richard returned.
Usually Lizzie would go to bed in her own room many hours before us but, with Richard away, we both went to bed upstairs in the king bed, and we snuggled together until Lizzie’s eyes stopped scanning the nothingness above the bed, and sleep took over. I reached for my phone and began flicking through news and social media, the dim blue glow creating a soft cloud above me.
Something caught my eye, and my breath stuck in my throat. A shape—something in the light of the phone. I forced a deep breath. Lizzie was two. I knew better.
“Mama! Mama! They’re taking me!” Lizzie’s screams made me give a little gasp, and my heart jolted in my chest as she clutched at me.
“It’s okay, baby,” I said, “it’s just a nightmare.”
Lizzie’s breathing settled almost instantly back into the soft sounds of sleep.
“I don’t like it up here, Mama,” she mumbled. “I want my bed.” The room pitched suddenly into darkness as the light on my phone went out, and my stomach dropped. I fought the urge to turn the lamp on.
Something in the air felt different. A sense of waiting—being watched. Through the darkness my eyes strained to make out the ceiling. I shut them tight.
“I don’t believe in you,” I recited my litany to the cold air. Tomorrow we would sleep in Lizzie’s bed.