1. Stare straight into the Marionette’s bulging, white foam-ball eyes starting immediately after Mom tucks you in, clicks your bedroom door shut. That terrible ostrich hanging from the ceiling corner opposite your bed, shards of moonlight sharpening its hungry, murder-menace gawk. Shabby craft store, mess-of-yellow-feathers torso with glue seams showing through. Four too-long, frayed yarn legs, dangling like they’re always running, like some fun-house fowl gone AWOL. Stare because you know if you take your eyes off it—or worse, fall asleep—it’s going to pounce. Imagine the moment of impact, its spindly legs tangling you tight, its rotten breath against your cheek. Stare until you finally blink into involuntary slumber around four a.m. Wake with a start at seven and don’t exhale until you see it’s still there. Stare, again.


  1. Take the opposite tack. Decide: if you don’t look at it, it can’t get you. Whisper to yourself: Don’t look, as you trace the snaking cracks in the wall beside your bed. The cracks you just now notice form the semblance of a pointy beak. Whisper: Don’t look, as you feel the Marionette’s beady eyes boring into your back. Whisper: Don’t look. Don’t look. Don’t look… Hear a tiny scratching sound, a bony bird foot pressing off the wall. Turn! Look!


  1. After months of barely sleeping, finally give in and tell Mom. Arrive home from school the next day to find the Marionette is gone. I sent it away where it can’t harm you, Mom says. Don’t tell her this just makes it worse. Now that you can’t keep watch on it, the Marionette could be anywhere. The dark shadows behind the door. The shred of yellow in a pile of dirty clothes. The murky recesses beneath your bed, its musty shoeboxes and collected sticks and seashells perfect fodder for an avian nesting ground.


  1. Start checking EVERYWHERE before you go to bed.


  1. Reason with yourself that if you scare your little brother, then you can’t be scared, right? That night, while your parents are watching TV, lead him to the basement landing and whisper about the bears who live in the narrow closet beneath the staircase. There are four of them, curled in the mud of their underground pit where they sharpen their blade-claws on slabs of concrete from the foundation of your home. Their yellowed incisors drip with spittle and drool. And, of course, they eat little children. For nourishment, but more so for sport. They notch their cave with claw swipes for each successful catch, and when they’re victorious, they snarl and growl and roll hysterically until, with bloody canines and clay-caked manes, they fall into deep slumber.


  1. Soon, your brother refuses to go to the basement alone. Then he starts having trouble sleeping, too. When Mom finds out why and yanks you down the hall to his room, demanding you tell him the truth, hold your ground. Insist: But there ARE bears in the closet, your eyes wide and serious. I’ve found clumps of their fur and heard them snoring late at night. I know they’re there.


  1. Get in big trouble. Realize that now you’re terrified of the Marionette and the bears. Spend sleepless nights and grounded days imagining them conspiring about your demise.


  1. Beg Mom to help you get rid of the Marionette once and for all. Let her lead you to her closet where it lays, flaccid and tangled, on a back shelf atop a heap of old t-shirts. Still fixed on you with that ugly, feral, goggle-eyed gaze. Together, carry the Marionette, solemn and ceremonious, to the trash bin outside on garbage day. Watch—it’s important to witness—while the garbage man dumps it into a grimy truck and pincers crush and chew until its yellow feathers are blended up in all the other junk. Walk away and don’t look back.


  1. Feel strangely sad that night.


  1. Feel sad, again, the next night. Peer up toward the ceiling corner and realize you miss the Marionette. That something about it made you feel… awake. Alive. The secret thrill of lying in wait. Alert to every movement, every sound. The twitch of your eyelash on the pillow. The thump of your heart against the mattress. Imagining it, daring it. Knowing it could happen at any moment.


  1. Realize that logically, now, in its current form, the Marionette could be anywhere, anyplace, anytime. Forever.


  1. To this day, check in the closet, under the bed, and in any dark corners before you go to sleep. Hope you’ll find the Marionette staring back at you.