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An Exercise in Receiving Kindness

a flash fiction story

By Mackenzie DavisPublished 3 months ago 5 min read
An Exercise in Receiving Kindness
Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

My therapist calls it “immersion therapy.” I don’t agree with his methods. The key, he says, is to lie entirely still and breathe only from my mouth, enough to not panic, but not too loudly that the human wakes up. I cross my arms.

“That is so stupid,” I say.

“Ralph, you know you’re terrified of these creatures. You can’t work, can’t take the bus. You can’t even walk in your own neighborhood. Don’t you want a new lease on life?” He leans forward in his chair. I slouch in mine.

“Yeah, ‘spose,” I say.

“Then do it. Here’s the address.” He hands me a slip of paper with an untidy scrawl.

I squint at it. Wasn’t too far from my house. “Can’t hurt.”

“That’s the spirit. Nothing like a good lie-in, eh?”


I manage to sneak in through the backdoor. People in this neighborhood have always been too trusting; it’s part of why I’m terrified of walking. The niceties, the smiles, the offers to help if I express any kind of struggle… My therapist says it’s due to my failure to bond with my mother.

What beast bonds with his mother? I asked him.

Normal ones, he said. You’re only used to dysfunction.

I pass the kitchen, find the stairs, and ascend, light on my feet. Not even a creaky stair, although I didn’t really expect one. It’s the exact wrong kind of neighborhood for horror movie tropes. I pass two closed bedrooms, a hall bath, and am suddenly faced with the master suite. I bet the homeowners are sleeping just on the other side of the room in a king-sized bed. A long, bare wall to my right belies what must be the master bathroom.

I sigh, vacillating. Where to go?

Kids’ rooms are the most obvious, but I have no idea how old these ones are. Teenagers are pointless; too hormonal. If I choose the parents’ room, I could really walk that line of danger, like my therapist wants.

You have to activate your fear of kindness, Ralph. Exposure is the first step. You’ll be close but unable to do anything lest they catch you. If they do, it’ll be a fight and we both know who wins in that scenario.

It’s 1:44 AM. The doorknob is cold. I enter, quick as a shadow, and insert myself beneath their bed. King, as I’d predicted, and many dust bunnies. Small beast that I am, I fit easily amongst the boxes, and assume a supine position.

The humans are utterly still. Silence envelops the room.

As the minutes pass, I feel my heart racing, roaring in my ears. I can’t help glancing to either side of the bed in case I’ve been found out. Any second now, I’ll see a glinting pair of eyes rove across my body. A tremor rolls through me.

Control your instinct to run, my therapist has warned. It's the whole point.

I breathe steadily, in and out through my mouth.

At some point, someone shifts above me, the sheets like klaxons in the quiet. I stifle gasp. In. Out. In. Out. Back to normal. The woman murmurs something, the man answers, and more sheet adjustments occur. Then stillness once again.

Prolonged proximity to your greatest fear is the only way to cure yourself.

I used to laugh at that. Doesn’t make sense why suppressing my instinct during a willing encounter will help any when my fear sneaks up on me. Then again, I choose to live domesticated. Many a wild beast are out there avoiding the human plague, not having to endure immersion therapy.

Time passes.

I silently curse my therapist. This is a cruel and unusual punishment for my involuntary inability to bond with my mother.

“Donny, do you hear that?”

I nearly kick the bottom of the bed frame. Heart racing even faster than before, I hold my breath.


“That noise, it was like someone breathing.”

The man pauses, listening. “I can’t hear anything.”

“It woke me up like an hour ago. I can’t get back to sleep.”

The man sighs and the bed wriggles. A dark outline passes me, then stops at a closet.

“Nothing here, honey.”


He makes his way to the other side of the room.

I breathe lightly through my nose.

You know who wins in that scenario…

I curse in my head again. Did I do it wrong? I followed every instruction: Lay on back. Breathe quietly from mouth. Don’t fall asleep. Control your instinct to run.

Maybe my breathing did get too loud. Did it, though? I was in a steady rhythm, just thinking.

The bed wriggles again. Another dark shadow passes me swiftly and seems to disappear into the bathroom.

If I leave, I’ll fail.

Then again, I stayed longer than I thought. I hear absolutely nothing aside from my quick breaths.

What to do?

I begin to think about what my therapist would see if he was here. A little hairy beastie hiding beneath a human bed. He’s fending off a panic attack for hours straight, eyes wide open. Pathetic little beast. Couldn’t even bond with his mother.

I’m a coward, I know. I can’t even decide if it’s better to leave. Would I be leaving for the right reason? More importantly, what would make me stay?

Maybe the man and woman would lose faith in beasts if they discovered me here beneath their bed. I remember how I didn’t even have to pick their lock to get inside. They trust that no one will violate their privacy, as if they’ve never had a reason to keep people out. Just like I’ve never feared a monster under my own bed.

The last thing you want is a myth created about you, Ralph. Those things will cause division like you’ve never seen. Nobody realizes how fear trashes a society.


No longer hesitating, I slip out from under the bed, then through the door.

I finally take a deep, deep breath at the top of the stairs, in through the nose, out through the nose. I’m just like a shadow, blending in and making no noise. Small beast like me, I’ll be indistinguishable from a coyote on my way back home.

I expect the woman will be paranoid for a few days, probably check under her bed each night and might even lock the backdoor til she realizes nothing was ever really here.

That’s right. I wasn’t really here.

I should have never come.



A/N: I wrote this for RM Stockton’s “Monster Under the Bed” challenge. Definitely a bit of a departure from my normal style, but it just eked out of me, unbridled. Do you think this is a happy or sad ending? I know what I want it to be...but I'm curious about your thoughts.

Thank you, RM, for a great challenge. I didn’t expect this story to come out of me and now I’m contemplating deep, philosophical ideas (believe it or not, haha).

Short Story

About the Creator

Mackenzie Davis

“When you are describing a shape, or sound, or tint, don’t state the matter plainly, but put it in a hint. And learn to look at all things with a sort of mental squint.” Lewis Carroll

Find me elsewhere.

Copyright Mackenzie Davis.

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Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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Comments (8)

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  • Joe O’Connor3 months ago

    Some great lines in here, particularly “It’s the exact wrong kind of neighborhood for horror movie tropes” is self-aware and “ Nobody realizes how fear trashes a society.” is painfully accurate. My immediate thought was Monsters Inc. and how we see the story from their perspective. Of course we see them as just “monsters”. The ending feels like both- the monster leaves seemingly have failed and bailed under fear of getting caught, but they have been under the bed and for longer than maybe they would have previously. A first step?

  • J3 months ago

    I really like how many layers of self-awareness your 'beast' goes through. From letting themselves trust their therapist despite their internalized trauma to realizing the methods of their recovery may not be the right ones for them, and even maybe harmful to others; then finding new trust in their own instincts. The coyote comparison brought about some trickster energy as well, solidifying the idea that sometimes we can be both heroes and antagonists in our own stories. The monsters under our own beds.

  • Poppy 3 months ago

    Such a unique idea and so well carried out! I feel bad for poor little Ralph. I would've given up instantly if my therapist asked that of me😂

  • Monsters in therapy. What a clever idea! I love the concept, and I love the story even more. The way you build the tension, the emotions running through the little beast's head. Immersion therapy. This is such fun! The ending is perfect. Great story, Mackenzie!

  • It's a bit of both, Mackenzie. Ralph did not succeed with the full immersion but he did manage it partially--& he didn't get caught..., 'cause we all know who wins that scenario. Poor little harmless beastie, so afraid of experiencing the compassion or kindness hiding beneath his own little bed.

  • Cathy holmes3 months ago

    I think the ending is both positive and negative. He stayed a while, but didn't seem satisfied when he left. Is it weird that I wanted him to be discovered and live happily ever after with the humans?

  • Oooo, I learned a new word, vacillating! I feel so sad for Ralph. And I think it was a sad ending. Like yes, he did it but he certainly didn't feel proud of himself or content. He kinda regretted it. Loved your story so much!

  • Rachel Deeming3 months ago

    I'm not sure if the ending is optimistic or not. The beast manages to conquer their own fear but doesn't feel satiated by it - there is positivity there but it doesn't feel like a step forward. Is it the method they're against that has brought them to this point? Or is it the feelings it engenders? Still a great story, Mackenzie from the therapy to the denouement. Sometimes when these ideas come you just have to allow them space.

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