"Toebiter, toebiter, don't you dare, show your teeth and give me a scare..."
"Katie Maclaren, stop talking to yourself and get into bed."
But Katie Maclaren wasn't talking to herself. She was talking to it - the unseen thing that lurked beneath her bed, the thing that had come to live in that dark, scary gap where the mattress ended and the floor began.
Nor could she suddenly break off halfway through this special warning curse or the toebiter would know she was scared of it. And the one thing you must never do is let a toebiter know you are scared. They feed on fear, along with tiny drops of blood from soft young human toes.
Katie shut her eyes tight, screwed her hands up into two hard fists and gabbled the rest of the curse under her breath.
"...if I feel your teeth sinking into my toes, I'll punch you hard on your very long nose. So there!"
"Katie - bed - NOW!"
There was a rush of air as Katie leapt, a twang of protesting bed springs as she landed on the mattress, followed by a sob of relief. She had escaped. Beneath the bed she thought she heard the toebiter grinding his teeth in frustrated fury.
It was a small unpleasant sound rather like the rasping of two pennies rubbing together and it was replaced by a short, devilish chuckle. Katie's heart sank. She knew the toebiter might have missed her tonight, but it would get her tomorrow.
Most people can find something unexpected under their beds, even if it's only a wisp of fluff, a forgotten paper handy or a stray marble, but no one that Katie knew of had anything even half as terrifying as a toebiter. The worst that any of her friends had found was a spider and you can get rid of spiders.
Toebiters are not so easy. They cling invisibly to the springs or the underside of the mattress like a headlouse clings to a shaft of hair. When threatened, they ooze silent between the cracks in the floorboards or they creep craftily into the doll's house and watch through the miniature windows until it is safe to come out.
So, naturally, when Katie told her parents about the toebiter and they moved her bed to Hoover underneath, there was no sign of anything nasty.
" There!" They said triumphantly, switching the Hoover off. "That's got rid of the nasty gnome for you."
"It's not a gnome."
"It's not a goblin either."
"What is it then?" Katie's father was getting restless. There was a big match on in five minutes and he wanted to be there, in front of the TV before it started.
"It's a toebiter," Katie explained. "A brown one."
"Whatever it is," he said, pointing to the freshly-cleaned carpet, "It's gone now. See..."
Katie did see. It was obvious that grown-ups were pretty thick when it came to toebiters. They did not realise that toebiters are clever creatures and don't just lounge around waiting to be Hoovered up. The toebiter was so crafty that even Katie herself had never seen it. But she did not need to actually clap eyes on it to know what it looked like and the toebiter looked like nothing she had ever seen before.
Its body was small and hairy, but its head, mushrooming from a squat, wrinkled neck, was large, lumpy and hairless. It had no need of eyes, living as it did in dark, secret places so, where its eyes should have been there were only two horrible sightless mounds. Its nose, on the other hand, was highly developed. Sensitive and boneless, it probed and wiggled, homing in on human flesh as an earthworm pushes blindly through soil towards the light.
And when human flesh was sniffed out the toebiter would pounce, using long rubbery arms to seize its prey and a mouth full of razor-sharp yellow teeth to draw blood.
But the worse thing about the toebiter, worse even than its worm-like nose or its tiny grasping claws or its brown, wizened body, was its smell.
Sometimes the smell wafting out from under Katie's bed was overpowering. It was a combination of all the most disgusting pongs imaginable - a freshly- opened packet of peanuts, burnt toast, blue cheese, cat poo, steaming nappies, brussels sprouts on the boil, kippers, week-old football socks and dog breath.
But the annoying thing was, only Katie seemed able to smell it. There had been a ray of hope one morning when her mother had paused while tucking Katie's sheets in and sniffed suspiciously. "Phew, what's that stink?" She had demanded, rummaging under Katie's bed. "Toebiter," said Katie.
" Toebiter, my foot." And Mrs Maclaren had smiled, seized something lying under the bed and tossed it straight into the waste paper bin.
"If you must eat bananas in your room," she had continued, "at least throw the skin away afterwards."
Katie had stared at her mother incredulously. Couldn't she smell it? Couldn't she smell toebiter? Would no-one ever believe her?
Then, one day at school, they had to write about the most frightening thing in the world. Katie, naturally, described the toebiter and the teacher was so impressed with her story that he read it aloud to the class. And, at play time, a boy called Nathan Spong came up to Katie. "This toebiter thing..." he said, "I can get rid of it for you."
Now, Nathan Spong was not known for his clever ideas. In fact, people made fun of him because his hair grew straight up from his scalp in a rather surprised way and because of his name-(there are several words that rhyme with Spong and none of them are nice) - but Katie was desperate.
"Can you really get rid of it?" She asked.
"I think so." He paused "Do you want it captured alive?"
"Dead then." Nathan nodded. "In that case, we need to work out what likes to eat toebiters. Everything in the world has a predator, something or somebody that likes to hunt it and eat it. I can't see a toebiter being any different. Unless... you don't think it comes from another planet or something?"
"No-o. I think it crawled up from the compost heap," Katie said.
"That's good. I'm not sure I can do aliens. Now, we need to know what a toebiter tastes like in order to work out what would want to eat it." Nathan took out a jotter and a pencil stub and looked expectantly at Katie.
"I'm not sure how it tastes ," she said thoughtfully, "but it smells revolting - not like anything we'd want to eat anyway." Nathan made a note of this, then asked a few more questions - was it tame? Would it fit into a matchbox? Was it vicious? - and Katie answered as best she could until finally he put his pencil and jotter away.
"Leave it with me," he said mysteriously. "You ask me to tea on Wednesday and I'll see what I can do... I like sausage and chips by the way."
And, on Wednesday, after school as promised, Nathan Spong turned up on Katie's doorstep clutching a shoebox under one arm and a small, dirty, white dog under the other.
"Grubber can wait in the garden," Nathan said "while we're busy." But Grubber did not like being shut out in the garden and Katie heard him whining and scrabbling at the back door while she and Nathan climbed the stairs with the shoebox. She was not allowed to look inside this box.
"I do experiments," he told her darkly, "top secret ones. This," he patted the box, "is highly confidential."
From her bed, Katie watched as, very slowly and carefully, Nathan loosened the lid of the shoebox. He pushed the box slowly towards the gap under the bed, turned it gingerly on to its side, gave it a tap, then leapt up on to the bed next to Katie. "What happens now?" she whispered. "We give it three-and-a-half minutes exactly," Nathan whispered back. "Then we see if it's worked."
Three-and-a-half minutes seems an eternity when you are waiting for something out of the ordinary to happen.
Katie watched the second hand crawl around the face of her alarm clock - 20 seconds ... 30 seconds ... 35 seconds ... 40 ... one minute...
She peered over the edge of the bed at the upturned shoe box, watching and waiting with bated breath. She could hear her heart thumping loudly and Nathan breathing heavily with concentration beside her... one minute passed... one minute and 30 seconds... 35... 40...
From the kitchen downstairs came the muffled clatter of pots and pans as Mr Macaroon began preparing tea. Two minutes...
In the garden, Grubber had stopped whining and scrabbling and was whimpering quietly. There was no sound from either the box or the toebiter.
Two minutes and 20 seconds... 30... 40...
"Time's up." Nathan's voice made Katie jump. "Ready?" She nodded. Together they took off their shoes and socks and lowered their bare feet over the edge of the bed until their toes were dangling temptingly in the gap where the toebiter lurked.
"I can smell it," Katie said fearfully. A reek of rotten fish and cheesy socks seeped into the room. The gap beneath the bed remained ominously silent. A small breath of air tickled the soles of Katie's feet. She snatched them back up quickly to safety, but Nathan was more confident.
"Seems to have worked." He wiggled his toes recklessly, "I think my experiment was successful - yeowch!"
As he spoke, his whole body shot up into the air and landed back on the bed in a huddle. He turned white, then pink, then white again and there, on the second toe of his left foot was the distinct impression of two sharp little teeth. He rubbed at the tiny marks with shock and disbelief.
" It bit me," he said in surprise. "It actually bit me." Katie was about to reply that biting toes was what toebiters actually did, when she heard a commotion downstairs. The kitchen door burst open and, over a background noise of sizzling sausages, came a yell "Come back here you little..." from Katie's dad. This was followed directly by a sound like a herd of stampeding antelope galloping up the stairs and a very un-antelope like panting.
"Grubber," Nathan groaned "You were supposed to stay outside." But Grubber the dog had other ideas. Yelping with excitement, he charged towards the gap under Katie's bed.
Flat on his belly, he squirmed and wriggled until almost all of his body had disappeared underneath the bed and only his tail, wagging furiously, remained visible.
Snap! Snap! His jaws met, missing their target, but on the third snap came a sickening, crunching, slurping noise and a single thin, high-pitched screech. Then nothing.
Katie looked at Nathan. Nathan looked at Katie. And Grubber, backing out from under the bed, glanced from one to the other, licking his lips and looking very pleased with himself. The dog sat for a moment, quite still, on the rug in front of them and, as he sat, a low rumble began deep in his belly. The rumble was no more, at first, than a distant growl, but, as it started to move, creeping upwards, it grew louder and louder, until by the time it was vibrating in Grubber's throat, it had become thunderous. Katie and Nathan stared at him, transfixed. Grubber closed his eyes, opened his mouth and let out an enormous... BELCH!
The smell that escaped with the enormous belch was absolutely atrocious - a combination of freshly-opened packets of peanuts, burnt toast, blue cheese, cat poo, steaming nappies, brussels sprouts on the boil, kippers, week-old football socks, and breath of dog - atrocious but instantly recognisable. Toebiter.
A species, now, thanks to a small, dirty, white dog named Grubber, extinct.Reuse content