Liril is in bed. She hugs her doll. It’s named Latch.
Micah walks up to his bed. He hesitates. He lingers. He waits too long. The sniggly, snatchy hand of the horror grabs his ankle. He sucks in breath. The room is still. But Liril is ready.
Liril tumbles out of bed. She draws a gun. It’s not a real gun. It’s made of plastic. But it’s got a string wrapped around its handle that she found in a mean dog’s yard. It’s got mud on its barrel from the shores of the scary lake. It’s been blessed by that weird lady from the house down the road and cursed by that guy who stands around near the grocery store. She fires. There’s an explosion and everything happens at once.
There’s blood and there’s skittering and Micah’s desperately hacking at the monster’s arm with the knife edge of his hand. The creature’s out in the room now, and it’s screaming, and its great floppy feet crush the Lego Man. A cuff of its squirmy arm sends Liril staggering back, and Latch’s head cracks. Then it shrieks; and wriggles, bleeding, between the slats of the venetian blinds; and it’s out the window and into the night and they shall not see its like again.
Liril slumps against her bed, and Micah against the wall.
Micah says, quietly, “It’s gone.”
Liril looks at the Lego Man and Latch. She touches the welt on the side of her face. She looks at the creature’s blood. “Screams. Lots.”
“We can’t surrender our room, Liril. It’s part of being people. We have to be able to stop things like that. To cleanse them with fire and the sword. If we can’t, then we don’t have any power, and when the nightmares come, they’ll just take us. So I have to have priorities. If there’s a monster under my bed, I kill it! It’s grabby. I have to.”
“You were scared.”
“It had a buggy face!”
“. . . I’m sorry.”
“You used the gun. You shot it. How about you justify it?”
“Dead Lego Man? Latch? The blood?”
Micah nods firmly.
Liril says, “I woke up. I got dressed. I went outside. I looked at the dawn. It was pretty. I told it, ‘You are pretty.’ I had cereal. I had toast. Then I said, ‘Good morning, Micah!’ You said, ‘We’ll kill it today.’ I said, ‘Okay.'”
“So you’re just going along with me?”
“You’re my friend. I know you’re right. I just think it’s awful.”
Micah frowns. “What if I told you to shoot yourself?”
Liril thinks. “I would be surprised. But you’d probably have a good reason.”
Micah peers at her. “Do it, then.”
Liril puts the gun to her head and pulls the trigger. There’s a click. Nothing happens. She smiles wanly. “I don’t have a real gun.”
“Ah.” Micah slumps. “You’re smart.”
Liril shrugs. “I think that it’s bad,” she says. “Killing is bad. People are supposed to live. That’s why the sun shines so brightly.”
“Is that what the sun’s for?”
“Uh huh. Most things have reasons.”
“Then why is there so much blood?”
Liril’s mouth quirks up a little at one side. “Maybe we forgot to try talking to it.”
“I talked to it,” Micah says.
Micah nods firmly. “It said it only wanted my leg. I could have the rest of me. It would even grant me a magical kingdom and lots of gold. But I’d have to hop.”
Liril giggles. “Really?”
“I said no,” Micah says. “I don’t trust monsters.”
“Do you ever think,” Liril says, “that we’re the monsters? I mean, to it?”
Micah shrugs. “We are,” he says, “but it doesn’t matter. It came to our house, and we didn’t ask it to, and now the Lego Man is dead.”
“I can put his head back on,” Liril offers.
“And the creature’s off somewhere bleeding.”
Liril smiles a little. “It’s okay,” she says.
Outside the window, the creature under the bed staggers in the night. The moonlight presses sharp against its skin, like a blade. Its nostrils flare. It smells something. It’s a magic road. Its drawn in crayon. The creature slithers and stumbles to the road, and down its path; and onto a piece of paper, nailed to the garden, fluttering in the wind. There’s a palace drawn there for the monster to live in, and it’s full of legs; and it’s signed Liril.
“Everything will be okay,” she says.
The horror snuffles and snorts and staggers to the sidewalk. There’s another house down the road. There are kids there. They have legs.
It doesn’t choose the palace.