Life just got ugly.
If you listen carefully during the inky hours of any night, you are sure to hear the howls not just of babies but of their parents too.
“For the love of Patagonia!”
Sleep deprived parents don’t notice, but if you peer into the shadows of your child’s bedroom you will see the cause of this howling, a mischievous little imp named Clay.
Clay enjoys his job of stealing sleep. In fact he has a number of rather ingenious ways of waking little ones from their sweet slumber.
Sometimes he will lift up their eyelids until they catch a glimpse of his ugly, wrinkled face.
Or he will shout ‘Fart!’ really loudly in their ear.
Other times he will stick his bony finger up their nose and tickle inside.
But his favourite way of waking a sleeping baby is to somersault from the corner of their cot, bounce off their tummy and then blowing bad breathe into their face shout, ‘Boo!’ This always gets the biggest howl of all.
Tonight was no different. Perched on the windowsill sat Clay, smiling at the chaos he had created with just one superb somersaulting dive bomb. A good nights work he thought as he looked down at the jar he was carrying, fifty-five golden stars jangled against the glass.
He peered out of the bedroom window, the sun would be up soon. So he headed back to the Moon Mistress’s lair.
The lair was dark and cold as usual when Clay arrived.
He only ever saw the shadow of the Moon Mistress across their dank, empty space when she arrived back from shining all night. Clay wasn’t allowed to look directly at her. He didn’t even know if she had a face, he only thought so because she was very angry that many people assume it to be a man’s face that you can see in the moon when in fact it’s hers.
You’d think being the moon she was illuminating in some way, but she had always been cold and mean towards Clay. Never a kind word for her employee.
She would often say to him, “You must understand that you are ugly and smelly and are nothing to anyone. You must know your place in this world, to live in my shadow.”
Clay couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t live in the lair with the Moon Mistress.
She told him. “You came from the earth, you have no mother, no father, your job is to steal sleep for me. In return, you will earn a golden star for each awakening. When you have earned 500,000 golden stars you will have paid me the debt of looking after you and are free to do as you please.
Clay had a goal. He had been working for the Moon Mistress for 14 years and by his last count he had earned 499,995 stars. He had nearly gained enough stars for his freedom.
It was the next night and Clay was working, although for some reason he wasn’t in a rush to earn the last 5 stars that we needed to be free from his Mistress. He had been stopped in his tracks by baby Lily waking up just before he could steal some of her sleep. Into the room had come her mummy to soothe her.
As Clay sat and listened to the hypnotic tones of the loving mother singing to her baby, he felt sad. He had never heard anyone singing like this before. It was a beautiful sound.
Clay sat in the glow of the nursery nightlight and wondered if what he had been doing all these years was right. It had never occurred to him before to question the Moon Mistress. He didn’t know anything other than what she had taught him.
The mother sang to her baby.
I am here, by your side,
I’ll never go, I’ll never hide.
Let’s just sit, my precious child,
Safe from the world, from the wild.
I promise you, with all my heart,
I’ll never leave, we’ll never part.
And in time, when you’re grown,
In my arms, you’ll be home.
Clay didn’t wake any more children that night. Instead he returned to the lair to talk to his Mistress.
“I only have two more stars to collect and then I’ve paid off my debt to you and I’ll be gone,” said Clay, as bravely as he could.
He heard the Moon Mistress laugh and she mimicked him cruelly, “I only have two more stars to collect and then I’ll be gone.”
“Do you honestly think I’d make it that easy for you? You’re keen to leave all of a sudden, who’s got to you?” She demanded.
“No-one. It’s just I heard this mother singing a song and…” Muttered Clay.
The Moon Mistress interrupted. “Oh you like songs now do you? I know a little song too, it goes like this.”
Go on then nitwit, I see that look in your eyes,
Think there’s more than this, well I have a surprise,
There is no release, when your star count is full,
You’ll always be mine, you silly ugly fool!
“My magic will only be broken if someone else chooses you. Who in this world is going to do that! Who would choose an ugly, troublesome pest like you?”
Anger burned inside the sleep thief and he ran. He ran out of that small dark lair and across an endless prickly field, he ran and he ran until his wonky legs couldn’t carry him along anymore.
Eventually Clay found himself back in the beautiful nursery where he’d heard the mother singing. Hiding behind a blind he watched the baby feeding happily from her mother. They moved back and forth on a rocking chair, the mother hummed softly and then lay baby Lily in her cot.
As he watched, Clay’s first ever tear fell down his wrinkled cheek. He instinctively reached his hand out to the mother as she left the room, this rustled the blind and the mother turned towards the window.
The mother paused and then whispered, “I too am alone. As long as you don’t wake her, you can stay.”
Clay’s eyes widened with delight as he nodded furiously from behind the blind, not knowing if she could see him or not.
So ever since that night Clay watches over baby Lily as she sleeps, guarding her from harm. After all, he doesn’t want another sleep thief getting up to his old tricks, does he?