It started at the age of 5. The first time she noticed there was something off. Playing hide and seek with her Mum, Sienna ran into her room and hid behind the door. As she stood behind the pink, sparkly dressing gown hanging there - hand clamped over her mouth to stifle her telltale giggles - Sienna's breath caught at the flash of movement under her bed. Even at 5 she knew that it wasn't meant to be there. That small twisted figure that hid in the shadow.
It took 2 hours for her mother to find her. 2 hours of pulling the house apart, calling her in a panicked voice as she searched every one of Sienna's favourite hiding places. She had the phone in her hand, ready to call the police, thinking somehow Sienna had managed to slip past her and out of the house. She had already started to call when she finally found her. Sienna was huddled under the dressing gown. Her face was sickly pale, and her eyes were wide and blood shot. Even as her mother bent and scooped her up, scolding her through relieved tears, Sienna's terrified gaze was transfixed to the underside of her bed.
Long after she'd fallen asleep, Sienna's mother and father sat up talking while she slept in their bed. She'd refused to talk all afternoon. Every attempt to find out what was scaring her was met with tears. After hours of heart wrenching sobs, Sienna had finally fallen asleep.
Her father had come home to find his wife cradling their little girl, tears soaking into her shirt where their daughter had buried her face against her mother's collar. Seeing the obvious distress on his wife's face, he lifted their princess into his own arms. She stirred and let out scared little mewls, her fear still clutching her, even in sleep.
They didn't say a word, trying not to wake her. They walked in silence as they carried her upstairs to put her to bed. It was as they walked through her doorway that her eyelids fluttered. She looked up at her Daddy and a sleepy smile crossed her face as she realised who held her. "Hey Baby-girl." She snuggled closer for a second... then she looked around. She went rigid at the sight of her bed. The blood drained from her face and terror contorted her face. Her father didn't have a chance to question this before she started screaming. Long piercing screams that made the windows shudder.
Her father clutched her closer as he whisked her out of the room. He took up station on the couch downstairs, rocking the tiny bundle of never-ending tears, while his wife dealt with the neighbours who'd come running at Sienna's blood curdling shrieks. Another 20 minutes passed before she finally cried herself to sleep. He held her for a further hour, holding her tiny, lax body close to his heart as he reassured himself that she was really alright.
It was only when he was certain she was in a deep sleep that he'd taken her back upstairs and tucked her into their bed, her little form enveloped by the queen-size bed, her bunnicorn Freddy tucked in next to her, held as tightly as she'd clutched her father before.
They sat drinking coffee, dinner completely forgotten, while they tried to figure out what was wrong. Hours of discussion, rehashing everything they'd seen, everything they knew, yet they were no closer to figuring out what had happened.
Weeks passed with Sienna sleeping in their bed, refusing to set foot in her own room, and insisting they carry her to bed at night. Weeks before they finally pieced together what little she would say about it. A 'monster under the bed'. That was all? They sighed in relief. There were books with tons of ideas to deal with that. In fact this was practically a right of passage. They'd both gone through this themselves at roughly the same age after-all.
After months of hard work and reassurance they finally got Sienna to sleep in her own bed again. A new bedtime routine had Sienna in bed before the sun went down, every inch of her room was checked and double checked, night lights were scattered around the room, the space under her bed was filled with storage containers, and an army of soft toys took up every available inch of her bed, creating a barrier around the little girl. Still Sienna woke sobbing most days and there was nothing more they could do. Her parents watched as their vibrant and engaging child became quiet, watchful, and introspective.
The sienna who had chased rainbows and wished on stars was gone.