The Boatright family woke early on Sunday morning to get ready for church. Mr. Boatright was fixing his tie in front of the bathroom mirror when he heard his wife scream. He rushed into the adjacent bedroom and found Mrs. Boatright kneeling before the open closet, holding up a pair of gnarled, red shoes.
“What’s wrong?” Mr. Boatright asked.
“My shoes!” said Mrs. Boatright, half-yelling, half-sobbing. “That awful dog chewed up all of my dress shoes!”
Mr. Boatright stuck his head out into the hall and called for their daughter. “Becky! Can you come in here, please?” Becky was a bright six-year-old girl. It was her responsibility every night to lock the gate between the kitchen and the small corner room where her dog Moses slept. Last night, she had forgotten, and it was obvious what the dog had done.
Becky skipped into her parents’ bedroom wearing a clean, white dress. Half of her hair was tied into a pigtail with a bright, red ribbon. The other ribbon still dangled from her plump, little hand. She looked up at her mother innocently, completely unaware of what she had done. Her father stepped aside and finished fixing his tie, allowing Mrs. Boatright to handle the situation.
“Honey, can you tell me what happened to Mommy’s shoes?” she inquired calmly.
Her daughter examined the shoes for a moment and said, “Yes, Mother. It looks like they were chewed up.”
“And can you tell me who chewed them up?”
“I don’t know, Mother.”
“Somebody must have chewed them up. Shoes don’t get chewed up by themselves, do they? Now, think hard, Becky.”
Becky bit her bottom lip and stared up at the ceiling as she searched for an answer. At last, her eyes lit up, and a smile appeared on her lips. “The Bogeyman must have done it.”
“The Bogeyman chewed up shoes?”
“Yes, Mother, the Bogeyman did it. He lives in the closet, and he must have chewed up your shoes while you were sleeping.”
Mrs. Boatright peered into the closet and then back at her daughter. “Where is the Bogeyman? I don’t see any Bogeyman. Tell me where the Bogeyman is.”
“Well of course you can’t see him, Mother. He’s invisible. He lives on a higher airplane of existence.”
“Well how do know he exists in the first place if you can’t see him?”
“Because the shoes are chewed up. You said yourself that shoes don’t get chewed up by themselves, so the Bogeyman must have done it.”
Mrs. Boatright was growing frustrated, but she kept her cool and decided to play along. It was the only way her daughter would learn. “Why would the Bogeyman want to chew up my shoes? Why would he want to live in the closet?”
Becky shrugged. “How should I know, Mother? The Bogeyman is a big monster, and I am just a little girl. I cannot possibly understand how he thinks.”
“Who told you about the Bogeyman?”
“Uncle Billy did, last week at the barbecue. He says the Bogeyman lives in people’s closets, and every once in a while he wakes up at night to feed. Uncle Billy says I should be afraid of the Bogeyman, because he might eat me. That is why I do not open my closet at night. So far it has worked; the Bogeyman has not eaten me yet.”
“You shouldn’t listen to everything Uncle Billy tells you.”
“But Uncle Billy is a grownup like you. He knows everything.”
“Sometimes grownups like to play tricks on little kids. You can’t believe everything anybody tells you. If Uncle Billy told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?”
“I guess not. I didn’t think about it that way, Mother. But then, how do I know you and Father are telling me the truth?”
“We’re your parents. You can always trust your parents, honey. Now, as your parent, I’m telling you that there is no such thing as the Bogeyman. So if the Bogeyman didn’t do it, who else could have chewed the shoes?”
Becky tapped her chin and stared up at the ceiling again, thinking hard. Eventually, she gave up. “I don’t know, Mother. I assumed the Bogeyman did it, since the Bogeyman lives in the closet and eats things at night. It made perfect sense. But now that I know the Bogeyman is not real, I don’t know how the shoes could have been chewed.”
“What about your dog Moses? Do you think that maybe he could have come here at night and chewed up my shoes?”
Becky’s eyes widened and her mouth dropped open in revelation. “Oh! Yes, Moses must have chewed up the shoes.” Her state of enlightenment melted away quickly, however, when she realized that she was to blame. “I’m sorry, Mother. I must have forgotten to lock the gate last night. I’m very sorry about your shoes, Mother. It is all my fault.”
“It’s okay, Becky. Just don’t let it ever happen again, understand? Do you promise to remember to lock the gate from now on?”
“Yes, I understand, and I promise.”
“That’s a good girl. Now finish getting ready for church.”
“Yes, Mother.” Becky skipped out of the room, the red ribbon swinging back and forth from her hand.
Mrs. Boatright sat down on the bed, still holding the gnarled shoes. Her husband sat down next to her and put his arm around her shoulders. “I’ll call Billy after church and tell him to stop telling our daughter stories.” Mr. Boatright laughed. “The Bogeyman…silly kids. They’ll believe anything nowadays.”
“Yeah,” said Mrs. Boatright offhandedly. “Silly kids.” She gazed silently out the window, contemplating the Bogeyman and the shoes and the world around her.
“Something wrong, honey? You can always buy new shoes.”
“Huh? No, nothing’s wrong. Let’s go to church.”
That day Mrs. Boatright wore a pair of old sneakers to church, but that wasn’t the only reason why she felt like a fool.