The off-white ridge of the roof of the second to last house of the cul-de-sac cuts hard diagonal lines across the starless sky. No light shines within. No dogs bark. No cats cry. In one window, farthest on the left, a dull red glow outlines a mass of blankets on a bed. The red glow is from a bedside alarm clock.
Eyes see the clock and hiss a harsh whisper: “Oh no. No no no no noooooo.”
The mass moves. A boy's head emerges from beneath blue covers. He looks at the clock, then to his bedroom door, then cranes his neck to scan the rest of the room. He only scans half way before diving back beneath the temporary safety of the blankets.
“Go back to sleep. Just breathe and relax and fall right back to sleep.”
The boy closes his eyes. He squeezes them shut, as if the harder he closes them the sooner he'll sleep. He stops, relaxes, realizes squeezing them hard might actually keep him awake. He breathes in deeply and holds it. He breathes out, long and slow. He breathes in again, deeper, into his fingertips and down to his toes. He pushes the air to the edges. He packs it in and in and in and then slowly, humming slightly, lets it all out. It is the way the woman in his mother's yoga video did it. “Breath down into your tailbone,” she said. “Relax and find peace,” she said. If breathing to the tailbone could bring peace, why not go all the way down to the toes?
As the boy breathes in a second time, the deep breath nudges his bladder.
“I can hold it,” he whispers, “I can hold it.”
He knows he can't hold it. He couldn't hold it last night, or the night before. Last night and the night before, he had to leave the warmth and safety of his bed and make the cold and treacherous journey through the darkness to the bathroom. He made it there and back safely, but barely.
He knows it is only a matter of time before they catch him.
He considers turning on his bedside lamp. But turning on the lamp would require reaching out from the covers across the dark canyon between the bed and the dresser. It seemed free of creatures in the daytime, but of course it would. What decent monster reveals himself in the light of day?
He lifts the blankets so he can see the clock. The red glow illuminates the dangling beaded cord of the lamp. It is close enough that he could reach it without getting out of bed. He imagines reaching out over the expanse and feeling the cold air on his skin just before a spiked tentacle snatches him by the wrist and pulls him screaming into oblivion.
No. No lamp light tonight.
The wall near the door creaks. It's creaked before, but the boy still jumps at the sound. He pulls the covers back over his head and closes his eyes. His rapid breaths bounce back to him. His breath stinks. He imagines it smelling like the jaws of the slug-like creature oozing under the floorboards near his bedroom door. He knows if he tries to make it to the hallway, there is a good chance his feet will catch in the slug's sticky goo, and even if he screams there won't be enough time for his parents to save him. He sees the dark hole in the front of the slug's shining wobbly mass open, exposing churning gears of oily teeth.
“No, it's fine,” he reassures himself. “It's fine.”
His bladder begs to differ. After another thirty seconds of lower pelvic pain work on him, the blankets come off of his head and he looks to the door again. There are no signs of killer slugs. There are no shimmering goo trails.
None that he can see.
It's so risky. The thoughts do battle in his head:
I could just pee the bed?
I'm eight years old! I'm not peeing the bed!
I can always wash the sheets. Unless I'm dead, then I can't wash the sheets.
Or maybe I should just wear diapers to bed. That would seem cool to all of my friends, right?
Would you rather wet the bed or be eaten by monsters?
Is that a trick question?
The covers come down to the boy's waist and he sits up. He stares, eyes wide, breathless, into the darkness. He waits for a shadow to move. He listens for another sound.
Nothing moves. He doesn't hear anything. The heater isn't running. The creaking of the wall and the floor has stopped. All is quiet.
It's too quiet.
“Hello?” the boy whispers.
The darkness replies with more silence.
That's just what a drooling, blood-thirsty creature would want me to think.
The boy knows he will need to get down from the bed quickly but quietly. A creature under the bed could be waiting to strike. If he crawls down too slowly, he is sure the monsters there will grab him. If he gets down too quickly, causing echoing booms on the floorboards, or squeezing creaks from the nails and joints, he might alert the beasts in the room's other dark corners, or at the doorway, or in the hall.
He pivots, making sure not to let his legs dangle out over the side of the bed. His legs aren't long enough to hang down below the bed line, so a monster staring out from beneath shouldn't be able to see his feet, but he isn't going to risk it. He will keep his legs tucked in until the last possible moment.
His palms press into the edge of the bed. He sees the move, a push off, a landing on the tippy toes of his right foot and then his left, followed by a quick ninja walk to the light switch at the wall. He knows where the switch is – chest height, one step from the door frame. He will flip the switch upward.
He pushes off.
His right foot lands as he envisioned, softly rolling from toes to the ball of his foot. His heel doesn't touch down. It is cat-creep quiet. His left foot landing does not go as planned. He forgot about the sweat pants he kicked off a few hours ago. They are waiting for him, and when his left foot touches soft cotton, he feels his mistake. The sweats slide on the slick wood floor and take his foot with them. They slide until they hit solid wall and the thud of the collision is followed immediately by the thud of of his butt hitting the ground. Falling at that angle sends his shoulders and head sideways. He grasps for something solid in the darkness. His grasping hands find nothing.
His head finds the bedside dresser.
The wall echoes a low boom from where his foot hit. The floor creaks under the weight of the fall, and the dresser's metal handles jingle on their hinges. The beads of the lamp clink against their metal support post, and the boy's head rings from the blow. It happened so fast, and in such darkness, that he can't get his bearings. The fall knocked the wind out of him, and it takes a few seconds of pained groaning and three labored breaths to remember.
The bed monster.
He's been sitting directly in front of the beast's lair.
Why hasn't he attacked?
He stops wondering why and takes advantage of the lucky break. He presses into the floor and is up to his feet. He reaches a hand out to the wall. He needs to find something solid to make his way to the light switch.
When he pushed into the floor, the boards creaked slightly. But there was another sound, a sliding or a grinding across the wood. As his hand touches the wall, he knows what the sound must be. It is the tentacled wolf beast dragging it's furry stomach out from its hiding place. He can hear the fur hiss across the wood, and he knows long, crushing tentacles are swaying in the air, reaching out in the same way he is, waiting for contact. The tentacles are waiting for something they can hold. The boy knows if he doesn't move now, he will feel the sting of the monster's barbs, feel the poison burn through his veins, and then feel nothing as he is dragged into the dark and devoured.
He steps forward, sliding his hand along the wall as he steps. The roughness of his palm scraping against the wallpaper is too loud. He lets off the pressure. As he does, he is sure he hears a tentacle hit the wall behind him.
Move, move, move!
He wants to cry out. He wants to scream for his mom. But that will make it too easy to zero in on him, and will alert the monsters ahead.
Another thump on the wall behind him. It's getting closer.
The boy steps again, another step. The boards in the corner are creaking. He is close, but that also means...
He knows the slug hates light. If he flips the switch, the creature will slide its way back under the floor to its home. But what if it is already out, already waiting below the light switch. The boy listens. The thumping of his heart and the swishing of blood in his ears is blocking out all other sounds. He can't hear the frantic rasping of his own breath, let alone the wet suction of the slug beast opening its mouth to full width in preparation for a meal.
The boy sees a glint from the corner. For a second he thinks it could be a sliver of light hitting the slimy, twisting slug. Maybe the light caught one of its spines, or a section of extra thick slug goop.
They've set a trap! They've boxed me in!
There is no safety behind, and to run back to the bed while the two creatures hone in on his location would be suicide. There is no time to go back now, there is only one thing that will save him.
The boy clamps his lips shut against the scream trying to push its way out. The wall thumps behind him. He is certain he hears the hungry growls of the wolf beast just over the sloppy hissing of the slug monster. He can feel their weight warping the wooden floor. He can smell their breath.
He flips the light switch.
The light of the room's central ceiling fan flickers, then burns brightly. The room is instantly soaked in warm orange light. The boy looks to the corner. The slug is gone. There are no slimy tracks. He looks back. No sign of the wolf beast, either. It has returned to its under bed cave.
He breathes, squinting into the new bright light, and he rubs the part of his head that slammed into the dresser. He looks at the culprit. His sweat pants are crumpled against the wall, jammed there by his foot. He walks to them, careful when he bends down to pick them up. The lights are on, but wolf monsters are crafty. He peers under the bed.
All clear, the monster is gone.
He throws the sweats onto the bed. He doesn't want anything to happen on his return trip.
The boy's bladder reminds him to stay focused on the mission.
The worst is over.
Within the now well-lit safety of his room, the boy can relax a little. The hallway is still dark, but light from the room is leaking into the hall and the boy is confident he will be in full light when he holds onto the door frame and leans out into the hallway to reach the hall light. When he gets to the door he takes another deep breath.
He leans out, seeing the hallway's far wall, and he keeps leaning to slowly expose the rest of the corridor. It is dark, and particles of dust are drifting on small, invisible currents, illuminated by the little bit of light from the boy's room. The hallways is dark. It is empty.
But it seems clear.
He reaches for the light switch.
The switch is on the near wall, close enough to reach but requiring the boy to hold onto the door frame, lean fully out of his room at a forty-five degree angle, and stretch the full length of his arm into the semi darkness. If he positions himself well, at full extension, his middle finger can hook under the switch and flip it upward. He knows there must be night creatures out here, too, crouched in low corners, scrunched flat under floorboards and behind wood panels.
Between his room and the bathroom are three other doors: his sister's room, a sewing room, and the central hive of the deadly night creatures... the basement.
The basement. The thought of the basement door alone makes the boy shudder. The thought of what might actually be in the basement at this time of night, well... he doesn't even let the thought ignite before snuffing it out.
He takes his grip on the door frame. He positions his feet. He checks to make sure there isn't something he could slip on when he leans out. No sweatpants in sight. He leans. He reaches.
He flips the switch. Click.
He pulls himself back to reset. He wonders if he did actually flip the switch, or if he flipped it halfway only to have it bounce back to its original resting place. He grips the frame harder, checks his feet again, leans, reaches, hooks his finger on the switch. It is up, the on position. He flips it back down.
He stays stretched out and flips again, and again.
Nothing. Darkness. The shining flecks of dust laugh at him and dance in mocking spirals.
This happened once before, years ago. “Somehow the lights blew their fuse,” dad said. The boy's father then went to the fuse box and flipped some switches and fixed the problem the way grown-ups do.
With magic, obviously.
The boy leans back toward the door frame. Now he is grabbing it with both hands, squeezing, pressing his face into the wood. Again, he wants to scream for mom and dad. But again, his better judgment dissuades him.
His judgment, and the spider web that falls on his hand.
In the commotion of leaning in and out and reaching back and forth and blowing hot, scared, frustrated air from his mouth and nose, the boy stirred the air of the hallway. The small bursts sent more dust up and around the dark space, and a web, from some unseen spider in some unseeable hiding place, fell onto his hand. At first he thought it was a hair. Then it wrapped around his hand. It was long. He went to remove it with his other hand and, upon feeling the stickiness, he knew what he was dealing with. His chest was pierced by an icy dagger, stopping his heart, paralyzing him.
He'd evaded the wolf monster. He'd dodged the slug beast. But those weren't the worst creatures lurking in the dark and damp corners of the old house.
As the thought appears, a sound from the quiet hallway. Scratching, soft and quiet. The boy backs into his room, back into the safety of the light. He stands, back against the wall, like the soldiers he's seen in movies taking cover from machine gun fire. He wants to use the hallway, but without light...
There's no way.
He cranes his neck again. He checks the corners at the floor. He checks the corners at the ceiling. The light isn't touching these areas, but sound is. The scratching he heard is closer now. It is almost directly above him, skittering softly at the black center of the shadows. Are there sets of curled legs clinging to the dark, cold corners of the hallway ceiling? Spiked feet at the end of fuzz-covered hard shell legs, coiled in bracing tension, spring-loaded, scraping hungry divots in the double-coated paint, dangling soft strands of enslavement from heaving thorax at one end and dripping an eager cocktail of saliva and venom from shimmering fangs at the other?
Can I pee out the window?
The tickle of webbing hits the boy again and he thrashes at his shoulder. He slaps and grabs and pulls again and again. When he stops, he can still feel the tickle of the webbing, but as he looks at his shoulder and looks at his hands, whatever touched him is gone.
Mom and dad will understand. Maybe I can pee here on the floor and clean it up tomorrow before they even notice.
There is a bump from under the bed. The boy's head jerks, but this is exactly what hallway spiders would want him to do. They would distract him before they struck. He looks quickly back to the hallway.
He looks to his feet, half expecting to see ravenous eyes at the end of slimy snail tentacles. Even though there is nothing there, he yelps. He can't stay here. He sees that the bathroom door is open. That will save him time, and the fleeting thought of quick, effortless entry draws him into the hallway. Once enveloped by the darkness, he regrets his choice, but it is too late to turn back now. He is running, and the loud pounding of his bare feet doesn't matter. He keeps his eyes forward, for fear that if he looks to the left, he will see the winged demons of his nightmares. If he looks to the right, the wall will be twisting and squirming with a million tiny, biting maggots. He knows the spiders are descending from their secret perches, their legs unfurling like the twitchy fingers of a madman. Their legs hit the floor with a dozen hard clicks as they give chase. The wolf beast howls from the bedroom. Each click of spider feet, each howl and hiss and snarl pushes the boy forward. His eyes stay fixed on the prize, the dark but open door to the bathroom, to another light, and to temporary safety.
The hallway seems to be moving. It is stretching out before him, doubling in length, tripling, tripling again, like he is viewing it through the wrong end of a telescope. The door is just out of reach, then it is far out of reach, and then it is gone. It seems miles away in an instant.
But the basement door isn't miles away. The basement door is closed and dark and dead ahead. It isn't going anywhere. The boy stops running. He knows the monsters giving chase will be on him in seconds but it doesn't matter. A thin line of light has appeared at the bottom of the basement door. Light is seeping in from beyond, only a sliver at first, and then a vertical bar as the door begins to open. It is a light, but not a good light. Not the warm, bright light of the bedroom. Not the sort of light that scares away the darkness. The sort of light that meshes with darkness, that twists and trades with it, that pushes into and pulls away from it. The dark and light of flames, of orange and red light with smoke and ash and spark and soot.
The boy is standing in the hallway. He no longer fears the monsters behind because he knows they, too, fear the monster before them. They, too, know the dark, taloned feet grasping at the floor and wall. They, too, know the scaly chest heaving through the flames and scraping long, splintering gashes into the walls and ceiling. He is too massive for the hall. He is too massive for the house. But he chugs the hot breath of territorial dominance from scaled nostrils, across a forked tongue and battered teeth. From the thick smoke brambles his breath creates, two points begin to glow. His claws grip the ground and pull up the flimsy wooden boards. The two glowing orbs emerge, sunken into the spiked head of a snub-nosed dragon. Behind his head of fanned out horns, two wings press upward and outward into the boards and drywall, demanding space.
The red eyes scan through the smoke, left, then right, high and low, searching for the figure of the boy. The boy looks back toward his room. The spiders have lowered themselves into cowering crouches. They skitter backward, bumping into each other and hissing, snapping their jaws. Winged creatures flap from wall to wall, colliding with one another, before flapping through the side doorway into the sister's room. At the doorway to his room, the boy sees the top of the slug's head just before is oozes back through the floor board cracks and disappears.
Even monsters are afraid of monsters.
The boy looks back to the dragon. The hallway's warping has changed again. It is not nearly as long now, but it is widening. The hallway is growing as the dragon grows, wider and taller and wider and taller. The ceiling opens up enough to allow the dragon to spread its wings high, the sharp hooked claw at the end of each prong shining in the fire light. The new space invigorates the dragon, and its chest broadens under a massive inhale, then contracts a billowing plume of red and white flame in a long, thick arc across the ceiling.
The eyes return to the boy. They are now shining hot fury in the firelight. When the dragon finally spots its tiny target, the eyes narrow, and the forked tongue tastes the air once more before the jaws open wide.
The dragon roars, charging forward.
The bathroom door is visible again, just beyond the slashing tail of the dragon. The boy can see it now. It is still open, but the wooden edge of the door is already flickering with flames from the dragon's breath. The outer coating on the wood is bubbling and peeling under the intense heat, and soon the entire hallway will be a hellish inferno.
The boy's bare feet smack against the wood as he sprints to the door. Another maniacal blast of flames lights the hall, setting every surface ablaze. The dragon stomps forward toward his meal, which is now, strangely, running straight toward him. The boy's hands go up to shield his face from the heat. He can't see above the hallway floor. He can't see the dragon raise a clawed foot and prepare to stomp. He can't see the dragon's mouth open, the thrashing tongue eagerly awaiting the tiny human treat. The boy doesn't see any of this.
But he does see the door.
The dragon roars, ready to stomp the life out of the human before him. But the stomp is too eager. He brings his foot crashing down too early, a few feet in front of the boy, and the impact shatters wood and cracks concrete while sending the boy vaulting forward, through the air, over the dragon's foot and crashing into the wall near the bathroom door. The boy bounces off of the wall and falls, rolling sideways, just under the dragon's tail.
The dragon's momentum takes him forward, but the hallways opens up again. The extra space allows him to turn around. As he turns, his long tail tears at the walls and floor, and his flapping wings kick up dust and ash and slivers of wood. The debris falls down on the boy as he struggles to get to his feet.
The bathroom is nearly within reach. The fall and roll brought the boy to within a few feet of his goal, and he needs only rise to his feet and leap forward, or crawl for a few seconds on his hands and knees. But the dragon has locked onto him again, having turned in the hall and taken in a deep and angry breath. He prepares to unleash a flood of hot gas and churning flames over the boy. In two thundering steps he lets the fire loose. The flames lash out in all directions, spreading across the floor and up the walls and climbing their way to the crumbling ceiling above. The flames are unstoppable, all-consuming, and the heat is fatal to every other living thing.
The boy feels the heat and shields his eyes from the light. The flames will tear him apart. The way the heat rises in his skin lets him know it will be over quickly.
He crawls toward the door. He can feel his hands blistering on the boiling floor. He can feel the sharp pain of flames licking at the back of his legs and the bottom of his feet.
The dragon roars again and a new gust of heat hits the boy's back. It is enough of a blast to send him sprawling onto the cold bathroom floor while the door slams shut behind him.
He reaches up and flips the light switch. The lights go on. It is his bathroom, normal, quiet.
He lies there, gasping, feeling his feet and hands and the backs of his legs. He is sure he will reach down and feel blistered, possibly even still-flaming skin. But it feels smooth. A little warm, but intact and smooth and... normal. He doesn't believe it so he looks down, first with only one partially open eye, then squinting with both, then with normal vision.
His legs are fine. His feet and hands are fine.
He is fine.
Down to business. Though he is thrilled to be alive, and unburned, and seemingly in one piece, he leaps onto the toilet. He earns his prize, the sweet relief of an empty bladder.
At the sink, he washes his hands and looks in the mirror. It is quiet now, but not silent. There is still a low hum from the hallway. As he reaches for the doorknob he wonders why he would open it when he knows what's out there.
Don't open the door, are you crazy?
He opens the door. The burning carnage of the dragon's lair still rages. The long thin strands of the dragon's beard appear from above the doorway as the head descends. One fiery red eye appears, squinting into the bathroom and then opening wide with murderous insanity. Before the dragon can fill the bathroom with fire, the boy closes the door.
You know what? Yes. Yes I am. I am crazy.
The boy dries his hands on the towel and faces the door.
I'm tired of this.
He opens it and steps out into the chaos.
Every night. Every single night.
The dragon rears up on its hind legs. Its wings stretch out and give a single hard flap. Smoke puffs from its scarred nostrils and it readies its claws for battle.
I'm tired of being afraid.
The dragon flinches. The boy's thought affects it. It makes it even more wild-eyed with violence. Its chest expands again, a deeper, longer breath than before. The dragon is building up all of the fire within it. It will not stand for the insubordination of such a tiny, fragile being. This breath of fire will be more than is needed. This breath will take everything.
This is when the boy usually runs. The boy isn't running. The dragon hesitates, holding the final breath for a few extra seconds.
Very well. If you don't want to run...
The breath comes out. The dragon's chest contracts inward, more quickly than before, and forces out a roaring avalanche of flame directly into the bathroom doorway. Even at the end, the dragon expected a last second dive from the child, but the boy stands and accepts the flames head on. The dragon pours all of it out, every drop of poison, every wisp of gas, every flicker of white hot flame. The bathroom is instantly filled and then blown to pieces. The flames tear through the walls, flooding into the rooms on either side, up through the ceilings to the rooms above. Things aren't burning as much as exploding, disintegrating, evaporating under the pressure and heat. The dragon has to dig its claws into the ground to hold itself in place against the pressure. Even its seemingly fire-proof scales start to glow and smoke, but it doesn't stop. It will blow everything out.
It will take everything.
At the end of the barrage, as the flames begin to wain and the house is nearly gone, the dragon eases off. It feels its victory. As the last flames sputter from its mouth and its jaw slams shut, it is ready to survey the black, barren field of its dominant conquest.
It is black and barren. There is nothing but billowing smoke and wind-thrown ash and cleansing fire.
And a dark mass where the bathroom door once stood. The dark mass moves. It shudders, and flakes of black charred dust puff and flutter to the floor or get caught on the wind and carried away. As the small mass starts to move, the dragon steps back, pulling its head up and away from the mysterious moving lump.
The lump rises. It stretches out, tall and thin. A head appears. Two eyes open, white against the black mass around it. Another shudder shakes more black dust and ash free. It is the boy. He has survived.
The dragon lurches forward with fangs bared and before it can clamp its massive jaws around the tiny black mass, the boy leaps forward, slamming his fist into the side of the dragon's face. The blow sends the dragon stumbling to its right. Its wings are forced to stretch out and brace against the cavernous walls to keep it from falling over. It takes the dragon a moment to right itself and get back on four solid feet. When it turns back to the boy, it is already taking another fire breath.
It doesn't get to blow it out.
Before any flames can be sprayed, the boy leaps from the ground, eyes burning and mouth screaming a battle cry, and lands another blow to the dragon's face. This time, the punch lands on the end of the snout, twisting the dragon's head up and sideways into the charred ceiling behind it. The blow from the punch is disorienting, and the second blow from the ceiling takes the dragon's senses completely. It slumps awkwardly to the ground, stretching out its arms at odd angles in an attempt to catch itself. The arms don't find solid ground or wall and the dragon's chest slams into the ground and drags the head down after it. The neck serves as a whip and the dragon's head cracks against the burning rocks and wood of the hallway floor.
The dragon raises its head and opens its eyes. The head shakes as the dragon fights to regain its balance and re-engage with its opponent. But the boy doesn't give it enough time. Before the dragon can react, the boy's hand curls around the dragon's neck. The dragon's eyes open wide with panic, then open wider when it sees the boy's face, twice as big as its own, and seemingly growing. The fist is tightening around the neck.
The boy isn't growing. The dragon is shrinking.
With one hand crushing the dragon's throat, the boy is punching the dragon in the face with the other. He holds the dragon high and slams his fist into the beast's smoldering head. Slam, slam, again and again. Each punch sends a puff of smoke from the dragon's nose and mouth. Each punch steals a little more size, a little more strength. Each punch brings another battle cry from the boy.
I'm done... being... afraid!
Another punch, and another, and soon, the dragon is barely two feet tall, now a scrawny, limp lizard dangling helplessly from the boy's crushing grip. When one of his punches misses, the boy finally notices just how small the dragon has become. The monster is helpless now. It can't hurt the boy anymore.
He walks to the basement door and kicks it open. He tosses the dragon down the old steps and watches it disappear into the darkness.
The boy's chest is heaving. Now he has the dragon's breath. His lungs are burning, his heart a hammer on a hot anvil, his fists still clenched in righteous rage.
A sound down the hallway catches his attention. It is a shuffling from his bedroom doorway.
The boy turns his head to look. His teeth and fists are still clenched when he locks eyes with the others. The spiders are there, cowering, their feet clicking as they step slowly backward. The slug's head appears from the floor boards briefly, then zips back down below. The boy can hear another sound. The sound of a dog's whimpering.
The wolf monster is crying.
The boy turns, facing his bedroom door. The creatures freeze. The boy stomps forward and the creatures try to scatter, crashing into each other, fighting over the same hiding places and the same cracks in the floor.
As he passes his sister's room, an errant winged demon flaps wildly from the darkness in a panicked attempt to escape. The boy snatches it out of the air without even looking and crushes it in his hand. The crushing ends the creature, but the boy feels compelled to tear it in half, as well. He tosses it aside and zeroes in on the next nearest creature, one of the spiders. It is trying to squeeze into a small hole behind his bedroom door. He pulls it out and, in one quick jerk, rips all eight legs from its body. The spider lets out a brief scream before being thrown to the floor and stomped.
Another spider is scrabbling up the wall. A fist smashes the spider through the wallpaper and deep into the sheet rock. All that is left visible from the fist-sized hole is the skinny end of eight twitching legs.
A third spider gets stepped on trying to escape through a crack in the floorboards. After the stomp, the boy stops. Another spider is crawling across the ceiling, desperately searching for its salvation. The boy isn't paying attention, he has his eyes and ears on the floor. He is following a sound, closer to the bed, then closer to the door, then near the base of the bookshelf. Then the sound is gone. The spider on the ceiling stops. The wolf silences its fearful cries and the room is quiet.
The boy rams his hand into the floor, smashing through the boards. When he yanks his arm back out, his fingers are squeezing into the gelatinous mass of the giant slug. It wriggles and writhes and gnashes its yellow teeth, but all in vain. The boy's hand is a vice and it is tightening. The gooey filling of the slug's body is moving away from the crushing hand, half toward the beasts head, and half toward its butt. The pressure is building, extending the slug's eye tentacles out to their maximum length. The body stops writhing. The teeth stop chomping. For a moment the slug is perfectly still.
Perfectly still, and then...
“Hey, Brian!” a voice calls from down the hall.
Pop. The slug bursts, head first, and the mass of goo spurts out onto the bedroom wall near the light switch. The boy drops the now empty body on the floor and wipes his hands on his shirt as the slug's eyeballs slide slowly down the light blue baseball pattern wallpaper.
He leans his head into his doorway.
“Hey dad,” he says.
“You were making... a lot of noise, dude. You sure you're okay?”
The boy looks at the spider legs poking out from the hole in the wall. He looks at the lifeless blob of goop at his feet, and at the eyeballs slowly sliding down the wall beside him. He thinks about the tiny dragon whimpering at the bottom of the basement stairs. He turns to see the last spider and the wolf creature making their way out of one of the windows, fleeing madly into the night.
“Fine, dad. Everything is... just fine.”
Dad surveys the hallway and the bathroom.
“You left the light on,” he says, reaching into the bathroom to turn it off.
“Oh yeah, sorry,” the boy says.
“A little scared of the dark?” dad asks.
The boy smiles wider and shakes his head.
“No. Not really. Not anymore.”
“Well, be careful, and try to keep it down a little next time.”
The boy nods. He is still smiling and nodding when his dad heads back upstairs. He is still smiling when he turns off his own light and climbs back into his bed. He is still smiling, giggling even, just before he turns over one last time and falls back to sleep.