SRU: A Higher Power -2- Nightlight

Andrew was afraid of the dark....

SRU: Nightlight

by Lainie Lee

I do not own the SRU universe, I am just borrowing it. The Spell-R-Us store and wizard were created by Bill Hart.


Theodora felt harassed. After a particularly hellish day in her job as administrative assistant to the City Manager, Andrew, her teenage son had called her at work, and almost became the straw that broke the camel's back.

"The light in my bathroom is burned out," he said. He didn't quite whine.

Theodora gritted her teeth and said, "Then change it. You know where we keep the spare bulbs." She didn't need this aggravation, not after the Planning Commission meeting had broken up in shouting and name-calling and her irascible boss had almost fired her for failing to have the right paperwork for the meeting. How was she to know the PC was not going to follow their agenda but skip ahead to consider the merits of the new shopping mall.

She liked the old mall, anyway; it had lots of nice quirky shops, not like the malls in the bigger cities nearby. And it was close-by, just down the street from the city offices. She realized that she wasn't listening to her son's complaint.

"You're not listening," he almost whined.

That voice made her wish that he was still small enough to give a swat on the behind but of course she couldn't reach him through the phone anyway. "Yes I am," she lied.

"Well, it isn't the big light in the ceiling, it's the nightlight. The one by the sink, under the mirror, next to the light switch. Y'know, it plugs into the wall and it has that little blue glow. It burned out last night. I need a new one." He tended to carefully over-explain things.

"You are nineteen, Drew. You are in college. You don't need a nightlight." Why am I using such short sentences? Drew was nineteen, and a History major but, well in some ways he had never grown up. Like the nightlight.

"Yes, I do. I can't see in the dark, you know. And...." He didn't say it, but truth was, Andrew was afraid of the dark. Still. He had never outgrown a childish fear of the terrors of the night. Theodora sighed. Andrew had other problems too but she would rather not think about them just now.

"Then go get a nightlight. They sell them down at the corner market, that Quickie-Mart thing, you know."

"I looked. They want three fifty for the one I want. And I don't have it, you didn't leave me any money today." He didn't quite accuse her of neglect. "Can you stop and pick one up on your way? Actually, I saw in the paper that they are selling the same exact kind at Lamps-R-Us in the mall near you for less than a dollar."

The mall. Hmm. "Well, okay." She relented. It wasn't Drew's fault that he still had a fear of the dark. Perhaps it was hers. But it wasn't her fault that he spent all the money she gave him on video games and junk food was it? So she had to be tight with the purse strings. All they had to live on was her salary, Drew's father had been killed by an intruder twelve years ago while she and the boy slept in the next room.

No wonder the kid was afraid of the dark.

"Ok, baby. I'll stop on my way home and get a nightlight."

"Don't call me 'baby'," protested Drew.

"Well," sometimes you act like one she didn't say. "Okay, but you are my baby." Theodora smiled, a bit ruefully.

"Mom!" Andrew never quite whined on the phone.

How had she let him turn into such a disagreeable young man? Nineteen, taking history at a junior college, never having worked except a summer at a fast food stand, and of course, the thing she wouldn't think about; Theodora frowned at the phone as she and Drew said goodbye and hung up.

* * *

When the car turned in at the mall parking lot she had almost forgotten why. A nightlight? She was making a trip to the mall for a nightlight? But she parked and went in because she had said that she would. Lamps-R-Us? Was there such a store in the mall?

She thought she saw the name on the mall directory and hurried to that end of the echoing marble corridor but when she got there the shop was small, cramped and the sign did not say, Lamps-R-Us.

It said Spells-R-Us! What a ridiculous name, probably a New Age gift shop or something. She decided she would go on in and ask the store clerk for directions to the right store.

It seemed deserted at first. Well, empty of people. But full of -- odd things. A candelabra with hooves. Salt and pepper shakers shaped like Warren G. Harding. If that wasn't a ducking stool in the corner why in the world did she think that it was?

The oddest thing was the coatrack or whatever covered in some disreputable old shawl or blanket that suddenly turned around, grew a beard on a wrinkled face and asked, "May I help you?"

Theodora didn't quite yelp. "W-who are you?" she managed to stammer.

The bony old man who wasn't really a coatrack quirked a bushy eyebrow, "The proprietor of this establishment, the wizard in residence." He smiled, his teeth curiously white and gleaming in his ancient face.

"Oh." Theodora muttered. Theatre major, probably, she said to herself. "Oh, well, I'm just looking for...." She didn't get to finish.

"A nightlight?" said the wizard before she could ask for directions for the shop she really wanted.

"Uh, no? I mean, how did you know? I...."

"You must have been talking to yourself and I heard you," said the wizard. "That is certainly likelier than my being able to read minds, isn't it?" His eyes gleamed brightly, were they blue, or gray or green or...? "Hazel," he supplied, "at least, today."

Theodora almost didn't jump in surprise. "No! A nightlight? Well, of course, you don't have anything like that here, do you? No, I didn't think so, I'll just be going..."

"You're afraid of me suddenly aren't you? Fear is a terrible thing, one of the terrible things that lives in the dark, isn't it?" The old man was bent and gnarled but even so, taller than she by several inches.

Why can't I leave? Theodora wanted to ask. Why am I standing here nodding to this madman? Her hands clenched and unclenched but her feet did not move.

"Because you need a nightlight to chase away the fear," said the wizard. "Fear isn't the most terrible thing that lives in the dark, though." He studied her face, not unsympathetically, but perhaps a bit dispassionately. "Guilt lives in the dark, too."

Theodora's heart was a cold stone in her chest. Her breath came in one ragged indrawn whoop and she tried to speak.

"Did you say your child's name is Drew?" asked the Wizard with a quirk of a smile.

Had she? She didn't think so but....

The old man went on. "The one that is so afraid of the dark. The one who was afraid of the dark on a night twelve years ago, so afraid that you left your bed beside your husband and went to sleep with the child?" He didn't let her speak but nodded to himself in answer to his own questions.

"And why did you leave? Because your husband wouldn't let the child come in and join the two of you in your bed. 'The kid is seven. He's got to learn to sleep alone. You're trying to turn him into a sissy.' Is that what he said?" Theodora's neck hairs stood up, the wizard had done a perfect job of imitating Allen's voice, a voice she hadn't heard in twelve years. And he'd gotten the words right, too.

The wizard leaned close and unconscious of her action, Theodora leaned toward him. "The boy also heard your husband," the old man whispered.

She nodded. She had known that, little Drew had been crying even before the burglar had broken into the house and killed her husband. She felt her throat closing up again, the way it had on that night, the way it did whenever she thought of that night.

"Stay calm," said the wizard, calmly. "It's not fear that closes your throat, you know. It's guilt. Guilt is the other monster that lives in dark places, guilt that you are alive and Allen is dead." The wizard said nothing for most of a minute and Theodora tried desperately not to think at all. "You even feel guilty that your son is alive when your husband is dead and buried."

Tears rolled down Theodora's cheek. What sort of place was this? What sort of man knew so much about her? What was he going to do to her? Was he the devil? An angel?

"No," said the wizard. "Though I may be an agent of a higher power," his eyes didn't almost twinkle. "But then, would I know it if I were?" The wizard casually began opening drawers in a large chest and examining the contents. One drawer after another, not taking anything out, just looking in and closing it again.

The noises she made might have been laughter or sobs, she wasn't sure which.

"How long have you known about Drew wearing your clothes when you're out of the house? Your frillies and such?" asked the wizard, not looking up from his mysterious inventory.

"Years," she whispered.

"Has he ever left the house wearing them?"

She shook her head. "I don't know."

"Do you think he knows that you know?" The wizard removed something from a drawer, something small and wriggling.

Theodora closed her eyes, she didn't want to see what he did with it. "Drew knows that I know," she said, she was sure of that.

"But you never talk about it--the guilty little secret you both share. Why, you've bought things just for him and left them where he'd find them so he would stop stretching your stuff out of shape. And you never saw those things again, did you? Because he knew why you bought them."

"Why are you doing this?" Theodora asked suddenly with some heat. "Why? And, and how do you know this stuff? Drew's just a boy with a problem, and I should get him some counseling and...." she trailed off looking at what the wizard held out in his gnarled old hand.

"What is it?" she asked.

"It's the nightlight you needed," said the old man. "Seventy-nine cents." He screwed up his face like this last part hurt him to say it. "Plus tax. Eighty-seven cents total."

She gave the old man a dollar and left the pennies he offered in change lying on the counter, took her purchase and hurried out of the mall. She almost looked back to see if the odd little storefront had disappeared behind her as soon as she got out of it.

The wizard watched her go, satisfied that he had found just the item to solve her problem. He had known he had it in the shop, but of course he could have made one if he hadn't. A nightlight was such a simple thing. He scooped the thirteen copper pieces into the bowl labeled, "Need a penny, take a penny. Have a penny, leave a penny."

He smiled, yes, that particular nightlight is just exactly what she needed.

* * *

"It's pink!" Drew was definitely whining this time.

"I'm sorry, I didn't notice," Theodora sighed tiredly. "If you knew what I went through to get that nightlight...."

"It has little fairies and pink bunnies around a pink lightbulb and...and it's a nightlight for a little girl, Mom!" Drew's voice practically broke with emotion, dread at the thought of putting this object in his bathroom.

"It's a nightlight, Drew. Just a nightlight, use it or don't." She moved tiredly to the kitchen to see what he might have made for dinner. Cheeseburger mac, again.

"But it's pink! I distinctly said I wanted a blue one," Drew whined.

She glared at him from the door of the kitchen.

* * *

Later, they ate quietly. Theodora had made a bit of salad and they both drank Caffeine-Free Diet Cokes with the cheeseburger mac. In the living room the TV made quiet noises about some crisis in some far away part of the globe, a worry for presidents and wizards perhaps. They had their own troubles.

The nightlight lay on the table and they both ignored it for awhile, too.

Theodora considered the purchase of the nightlight as an episode of some old black-and-white TV show with spooky music. She tried to ignore the implications. The nightlight must be magic, but did she really believe in magic? After dealing with a wizard how could she not? She smiled a bit, conscious of her circular thinking.

Drew picked up the nightlight and turned it around a few times to look at it closely. "Why in the world did you buy a little girl's nightlight for me?" he asked, then blushed..

She shook her head. "You weren't there. Believe me, I'd have bought a cement mixer if I could have got out of that shop sooner."

"Huh? Mom. Uh, is this supposed to be some sort of, uh, message?" Asking the question obviously cost him something but she really didn't know what he meant.

"Message?" she repeated. Maybe she just didn't want to admit knowing.

"Never mind," he muttered, blushing again.

He cleaned up the kitchen while his mother watched TV and tried to unwind. Drew knew how hard she worked so he tried to do most of the housework, cooking, cleaning, even the laundry of her intimate things. Theodora let him, even though it made her feel guilty.

Guilty. Why did that concept make her remember the nightlight again? Hadn't the wizard said something about guilt being one of the terrors of the darkness and that was why she needed a nightlight?

Why had he sold her a little girl's nightlight for her teenage son's bathroom? He'd known all about it, everything, Allen's death twelve years ago. Drew's -- hobby?

If the old man really was a wizard then the nightlight had to be magical. If Drew put the nightlight up in his bathroom, what would happen to him? Would it turn him into a little girl? Did she want to turn her son into a little girl?

Drew came in from the kitchen and sat on the floor beside her chair. He rested his head on the padded arm and snaked his hand up to where she could grasp it. They watched a rerun of "Touched by an Angel" on the Family Channel.

Drew would be happier if he were a girl, decided Theodora. She remembered that even before --before Allen's murder-- Drew had been a quiet child who would rather talk with her about anything than play roughhouse with the neighborhood boys. He had seemed fascinated when she put on makeup and had once asked her, "Why are some grown-ups mommies and some daddies? Why are some kids boys and some girls?"

She hadn't known the answer then and now that she did know, she knew it wasn't really an answer to the question Drew had been wanting to ask. She looked over at him, slouching against her chair, his head just beside her elbow. "Are you going to use the nightlight?" she asked.

He shrugged. "I guess. I-I really do need one, Mom."

If he used it, would the magic in it somehow chase away the guilt he felt, they both felt for having survived that terrible night? How powerful was it? Could it bring Allen back to life after twelve years of being dead?

The insurance had paid the mortgage on the house but they had moved within the year to this smaller home and put the difference between sale and purchase into the bank. Living there would have been too painful for both of them.

Allen had been the only man she had ever loved. She hadn't even considered remarrying, hadn't dated and had given up several friendships because her friends kept trying to set her up with eligible men. Could a little pink nightlight wash away guilt hiding that deep in the crevices of her soul? Maybe if she had remarried Drew would have had a role model and wouldn't be trying on her underwear when he thought no one would know.

Maybe the nightlight would turn back time, turn Drew into a little girl that Allen could allow to sleep with them because she was afraid of the dark and it's all right for little girls to be afraid. And then they would have all been in the same bed and the burglar might have killed all of them. At least, they wouldn't feel guilty anymore.

Or would they? Maybe Allen's ghost felt guilty, too. Guilty for having sent his only child, on the last night he would ever see his father, to sleep alone with the night terrors; night terrors that proved to be, oh, too real. If they were all dead would they still feel guilty?

If magic was real, why not ghosts?

Drew stood up, "I'm gonna bed, Mom. Got an eighter in the morning." He stood so tall now, at nineteen taller than his father had been. She put her arms up and he bent to her face and they kissed each other on the cheek, a kiss goodnight. They did this frequently because they really did love one another even though they were often unhappy together.

She had kissed Allen goodnight and goodbye twelve years ago when she went to the child's room to sleep. Was she kissing her son goodbye?

"Mom?" Drew asked. "Let go?"

She took her arms from around his neck and let him stand back up. He would make a very tall girl or would the nightlight change that, too?

Drew smiled at her and then trudged down the short hall to his room. She couldn't see if he had taken the nightlight with him. She didn't ask.

If he plugged the pretty little thing into the outlet in his bathroom would the pink light change him immediately? Would his cock and balls melt and smooth out and form a crease and a pussy with an opening up inside of him where ovaries and a womb would form? Would he shrink and his skin soften, his hips widen and soft mounds of breasts swell on his chest? Would his voice get softer and lighter and sweeter? How long would her hair be and would the light change her wardrobe too, make his jeans into dresses and his sneaks into high heels? If the nightlight turned Drew into a girl, she might be very pretty and she would want nice things to wear.

Or would the light wait until Drew was asleep to work it's magic? Would he just wake up as a young woman and never know that he had been a boy who felt guilty for letting his father die?

Should I warn him? Theodora thought. Should I tell him what might happen if he uses that nightlight? Would he believe me? No.

Will I feel guilty for turning my son into my daughter if that is what happens?

She fell asleep in the chair in the living room still puzzling out what she ought to do if magic were real, if the past could be changed, if a little pink nightlight could wash away guilt and horror and change the past and make everything all right.

* * *

"Mom?" Drew's voice woke her. "Mom, you really ought to get up and go to bed, you'll have a stiff neck sleeping in the chair."

Theodora stretched. "What time is it?"

"Past midnight by a bunch."

She could see Drew smiling in the light from the windows. She closed her eyes again for a moment.

"Mom?"

"I'm awake. I had the strangest dream." Theodora shook her head to try to clear the cobwebs, something about a nightlight?

"I don't understand it but I don't think it was a dream, exactly, Mom." Drew stood there in her pink lace shortie nightgown, her long, champagne-colored hair looking deeper than mahogany in the darkness as it fell around her delicate heart-shaped face.

"You're beautiful," whispered Theodora.

Drew giggled. "Mom! Larry tells me that all the time, don't you start! It's embarrassing. I'm a model, being pretty is just a job."

Theodora grinned, Larry was Drew's boyfriend and they might be getting married in a few months. "You're not pretty, you're beautiful, there is a difference."

"Okay, but that's just genes and good nutrition and who's fault is it anyway?" Drew grinned back.

<>< />"Mine, I guess," admitted Theodora. "I married your father and he was the handsomest man I ever knew."

Drew nodded solemnly. "Daddy was a hunk all right. But...."

Theodora shook her head again. "It wasn't a dream, was it? You were a boy and we both felt very guilty about your father...."

Drew nodded and her blue eyes misted up a bit. "It's kinda like looking down two different tunnels that come from the same place. I get cross-eyed just thinking about it. And Daddy, well, this time we were all in the same bed." She wiped her eyes.

"And your father fought the burglar and the gun went off...." Theodora trailed off. "Just like the other time."

"And he died this time, too," Drew sniffed. "How can we both believe that we lived this life before, but different? It's like -- sideways reincarnation. Are we both crazy, Mom?"

Theodora stood up and embraced her daughter. "No, baby. I don't think we are, not now. Maybe a little bit before. Hey, you're still taller than me." They hugged and sniffled on each other's shoulders for a bit.

"But I'm not taller than Daddy, anymore," said Drew. "I wouldn't want to be, Larry likes me just this tall, he told me so." They both giggled a bit, Larry liked everything about Drew just the way it was; her face, her hair, her breasts, her voice, her sex.

"You two love each other a lot, don't you?" asked Theodora, smoothing Drew's longest strands away from their faces.

Drew thought about that a moment and decided her mother meant quality not frequency and it was safe to answer. "Uh huh. And you are so going to meet Larry's uncle Aaron, I'll be moving out soon and I don't want you to be lonely.... Daddy wouldn't want you to be lonely."

They were both quiet for a while.

"Daddy loved us very much, didn't he?"

"Yes. He died saving our lives, you know." Drew nodded and Theodora continued. "He always loved us both, even when you were a boy..." she stumbled on the thought for a moment. "He loved you so much," she finished simply.

"I know," said Drew. "But it's just easier to see that this time, it's like in a different light or something." They walked down the short hall to the bedrooms. "I still feel sad about Daddy, but he kissed me just before I went to sleep and then there was the noise, the gunshot.... Do you think we will forget those other lives? The unhappy ones where we felt so guilty about everything? Will we think they were just dreams in the morning?" Drew asked her mother as they paused at the bedroom doors.

"I don't know, baby." Theodora said. "But can I sleep in here with you the rest of the night? Sometimes I'm a little afraid of the dark, too. And you've got a nightlight."

Drew smiled and followed her mother into the dark bedroom dimly lit by a pink glow from the pretty little girl's nightlight.


Copyright 1999 by Elaine Blankenship.


Originally posted on BC 2005-02-10



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