Nightly, when they were toddlers, I sprayed air freshener disguised as “Heavy Duty, No-Fail Monster Extinguisher” in closets and under beds to terminate the dreaded multi-fanged scuttling creatures of my children’s dreams. I placed small piles of salt in the corners of their bedroom so that house pixies wouldn’t ooze from air conditioner vents to pinch my sleeping children until they came frightened and wide-eyed to my room. I carefully turned their pillowcase openings away from the windows so the dark fairies couldn’t crawl in under their ears and imbed wicked stories into their dreamtime.

All this to soothe my children from imaginary monsters.

A documented sexual predator with a taste for children lives five doors down on our dead-end street.

Mentally impaired and spawned in Washington State, he lurched to the farthest point on the continent from the place of his atrocious crime. He peeks out from beneath the thin supervision of a deluded, yet I suspect calculating, couple who have informally “adopted” him. Their story: They met him at a flea market, heard his sanitized “poor me” version of his crime, and consider him innocent. Their compassionate mission: They make sure he is receiving his government checks and managing his living expenses properly.

Yes. Ding! That’s correct! He receives government checks. According to his “caretakers,” this is because he cannot make decisions for himself and has the I.Q. of a 10-year-old. It’s not rocket science, then, to deduce that he cannot discern right from wrong. He has no filters. In fact, he was adjudicated unfit to stand trial for his offense in Washington due to his so-called impairment.

So we have a man-child sexual predator who doesn’t know right from wrong living among us with no boundaries.

And the little girl he physically overcame, stripped, and molested in front of her brother in Washington knows that the monster haunting her dreams is real, and somewhere, and free.

The neighborhood knows he is here. I found out when a television crew came to my door in the dark of night and shoved a camera in my face. They waved a sinister flyer that featured his smiling stoner face. They demanded to know how I felt to have a child molester living so near my children. That same smiling stoner face had been to my door to “get acquainted,” to discuss his Jesus-led redemption from drugs and alcohol, to ask for a glass of water and permission to fish from our dock. I can only assume he was there also to study the potential in my kids.

He spent three months among us without registering with the state sexual offender database. They say he tried. That the paperwork was lost. His birth certificate was late. For this omission, he was finally arrested publicly. Had I not been accosted by TV reporters hot on a sweeps ratings bonanza, I would not have known. Unless I had stumbled across his record on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website I would not have known. A free-range predator would’ve continued his long, slow neighborhood stalk of kids. My kids.

I called a meeting with his people. I did not serve tea and cookies. I outlined clearly the kinds of things a mother is capable of when provoked to defend her children from harm. I defined the unpredictable instincts that come into play when, even in the natural world, offspring is threatened by an enemy. Wondered whether they had watched Wild Kingdom lately and had observed the brutal ferocity and lack of remorse a female can bring forth in an adrenalin-fueled blind rage when her young are threatened. Just askin’. . . .

Now he sits smoking day and night, an obese shirtless trap-door spider at a tumbledown picnic table. Watching. Watching children going to and from four public schools, daycare centers, convenience stores, a foster home chockfull of tots, and public parks that ring his residence like some radiant smorgasbord of opportunities.

Driving in late at night, my headlights sometimes pick up movement in the lane and I realize it is him dressed in dark clothes, barefoot, walking somewhere, cutting though back yards taking shortcuts to his destination. Sometimes he waves.

The property on which he squats is shielded from prying eyes by a preponderance of haphazard shacks and derelict box trailers in varying states of disrepair. Shiny new padlocks dangle from the doors on each of them.

There was a public meeting once. Halleluiah—a remedy, an official help. Instead, we learned that in our greater community there are 3,500 like the monster living, watching, and not capable of reforming in any way. And it is their right to do so.

The remedy: We were given tips for training our children to recognize and flee inappropriate advances from an adult.

My children activate the house alarm day and night. They know where the baseball bat is. They take the dog on bike rides for protection. They joke about “Chester” but look over their shoulders every waking hour for the monster among us.

This is no benign Boo Radley leaving gifts in the hole in the oak tree.

There will be no trick-or-treaters on our street scampering in costume door to door under a festive fall moon.

The monster is real.