Probably Sort-of Safe

Chapter 2: The Monsters

The monsters arrived right on time, but Lim was in no mood.

For starters, he was wide awake. Midnight had come and gone and the hour of his scheduled awakening was fast approaching. Any hour now, Mom would come bursting through his door and start yanking and yelling and hurrying him out the door. He should be fast asleep by now. He knew this. But he was not the least bit drowsy. Irritation for the day behind and fear for the day ahead left the boy sour and drove him to toss and turn.

Also irritating him were the scratchy pajamas he had to wear to bed that night because Mom had put his most favorite ones in the wash that day.

“I have to wash them, Lim,” she had said. “Because I’m bored all day and making you miserable is the most fun I get to have.”

Perhaps she had not exactly said that, but it was what he had heard.

And then there was the matter of the door. He tried to push the door from his mind, tried not to picture the fantastic phantasmagoria that might, no, that must, lie behind a door so odd and interesting. The more he tried to keep his mind from filling up with such imaginings, the more of them came swelling up from his brainpan.

So there he was, exhausted and excited all at once. He lay, uneasy, in his bed while the darkest pit of twilight formed outside his window.

It was perfectly understandable that he was in no mood for the monsters.

They came out of the shadows. Dread wings slapped together. Hair like cobwebs rustled in the approach. Eyes without faces jostled in the air, the pupils burning with hungry fire. Forked tongues ran over razor-blade teeth.

Lim sighed. “Not tonight guys,” he said.

The monsters froze. This was something new. And they did not like anything new, let alone an actual something. They did not know how new might taste. It might be delicious, maybe, but it might also be too crunchy or too sweet. No, new was a troubling thing, to be ignored at best and spat-out quickly at worst.

Usually, Lim was only sort of half-awake, and his half-lidded eyes could barely behold the silhouettes of the inhuman figures as they drew closer and closer to his bed. But tonight, he was wide awake, and facing them evenly. This was new. And probably not even the tasty kind of new.

One of their number tried to muster up some courage and instill some fear. It said, “We’re going to eat you, Lim, eat you up. We’re going to start with your toesssssssss-”

“Start wherever you like,” he snapped. “But I’m telling you, I’m not in the mood tonight. So you may as well get lost.”

“There’s no need to be rude, young man,” said a beast known as Bludstab.

Lim sighed once more. “I’m sorry,” he said, meaning it. “But today’s been terrible. Just awful. You see,” he struggled with the words. Which colossal tragedy in the plethora that had defined the past several weeks of his life should he choose as an example?

He decided on: “You see, Charlie moved away.”

“What?!” the ghastly chorus cried.

“I know, right? He’s gone. Went all the way to Nebraska.”

“Why would anyone want to go to Nebraska?” asked a goblin. “What’s in Nebraska that’s worth going to?”

“Nothing,” declared Lim. “Absolutely nothing is in Nebraska. It’s just some dumb, stupid place. I don’t even know why they still let it be a state.”

“Probably it’s some economic thing,” a troll muttered. Others in the crowd grumbled assent.

Lim had to admit that this made sense. The nature of the economy, in terms of what it was or how it worked or why he should care, continued to elude him even now, well into his tenth year alive on earth. He associated the word ‘economy’ with the world of big people, the elderly folk who shaved each morning, wore suits and ties each day, and left and sometimes returned in nice cars.

He remembered the word mostly for how it had been screamed through the walls of the house which he, Mom and Dad had all shared, right before Dad took a trip in his nice car, a trip that had never seemed to find its way back to the front door.

To Lim, ‘economics’ was a code word that embodied all of the blockades to happiness that the dumb world of dumb adults imposed for no reason except for the amusement it brought them to witness the suffering of children.

And no doubt Charlie had been dragged away to some state that no one cared about, that no one could possibly care about without being stupid, because of some dumb reason to do with the dumb economy.

“But Lim!” croaked a spider-faced fiend, “Charlie is your best friend!”

“I know.”

“And you still have five months of school left!”

“I know!”

“And that’s forever from right now!”

“Didn’t I just say I know?” Lim yelled.

“Young man!” hollered Bludstab. “Didn’t I just tell you to be polite?”

“But I-”

“‘But’ nothing!” the hulking brute made a violent gesture. His fist collided with the head of a nearby troll. The upper-half of the troll’s skull was pulverized. “Oops, sorry about that Kenneth.”

“No worries,” said the mouth. “It was awfully rude of me to be standing so close.”

“You see that?” the beast called Bludstab yelled at the boy called Lim. “Kenneth here has just lost half his skull and he’s still got more class than you!”

“So what now?” cut in the hatchet-wielding ghoul. “Do you mean to tell me that I lugged this heavy thing all the way down here for nothing?”

“Well-” Lim began.

“It’s really quite heavy.”

“I appreciate that,” said Lim. “If you want, I could, at the very least, pretend to-”

The monsters groaned in unison.

“If it’s not real, then what’s the point?” said the knife-toothed bat. “Where’s the effort in that?”

“Might as well take up a foam hatchet. And not in this life will I-”

“I’m just trying to be helpful,” said Lim.

“And we appreciate that,” said Bludstab. “But there’s a great deal of craft and care that goes into this. And if you’re not going to be at the top of your game….”

“I can’t see it happening tonight, sorry. I’m really very sorry.”

“Not your fault,” assured Bludstab. “Anyone would be upset.”

“Honestly,” said a clown, “Nebraska.”

“Well, if that’s how you feel, then we may as well pack it up and head home.”

A round of whines and complaints made the rounds.

“But,” said Bludstab, “buuut…Margaret’s mother is in town, she brought her strawberry shortcake and some ice cream. Everyone’s invited!”

There was a cheer.

“Everyone except for the clown!”

There was a louder cheer.

“Aw,” said the clown.

“Lawrence, we’ve discussed this before. Take the make-up off and then we’ll see about inviting you places. Alright, everybody out, let’s go.”

The mob of monsters slunk back into the corners of shadows.

“Would you mind if I asked you a question?”

Bludstab held back a moment. “Can’t see the harm in it.”

“You’re all…you’re dreams aren’t you? You’re made up out of stuff in my head?”

The brute thought this over. “I suppose so, yeah.”

“I thought so. Well, I only ask because today in the woods I found something that, well, I’m not sure exactly what it is, but it felt like it might be carved out of that same dream-stuff as you guys.”

“And what was it that you found?”

“A weird door, right in the middle of the forest. It was black and filled with stars. Would you know anything about that?”

The monster shuddered. “You’ll want to be staying away from that, lad, and make no mistake.”

“Why?”

“That’s some old magic that you’re poking into,” said Bludstab. “Old magic is a very tricky thing. Tough to know the rules. Can get quite a bit messy.”

“But what does-”

“Young man,” said the monster, sternly. “I believe I have said enough to make myself clear. Now, if you will excuse me.”

“Alright, I’m sorry. Have a nice night with the cake and the stuff.”

“Yes, well,” said the creature, “let’s hope so.” And with the sound of crashing and the smell of broken stone, he was gone.

Only the troll still remained, picking up the bits of his skull that had scattered amidst the casual devastation that defined most every boy’s bedroom.

“Here,” said Lim, handing over a piece that had landed on his bed.

“Thanks,” said the troll, pocketing the final piece. “Right then. Things’ll look better tomorrow, right?”

Lim waited for the troll to melt away, and then he lay back down in the covers.

‘Why should it?’ he wondered.

Why should there ever be a better day than today? How could there be, when the adults could just up and decide to move your best friend in the world beyond where anyone might have remembered him?

When you didn’t get even a single say in the course of your life, then why should anything ever approach improvement? Parents, teachers, and other shapeless, faceless voices all commanded you about and decided how your life would end up being before you ever got the chance to settle things for yourself.

He really didn’t see the point in any of it. The world might just as well have stopped turning.

It was with these thoughts fresh on his mind that Lim finally, at last, drifted off to sleep.

He dreamt of an endless corridor of doors, each one slamming just before he could reach it…

And somewhere, far away, The Keeper of Keys plunged down those same endless hallways, hallways which ran a course into forever and took left turns into nevermore. The keys of his title, bound by cords which had been forged in the birthing light of a great star and were as thin as crescent moonbeams on a still pond, jingled and jangled against him as he fled.

His breath came in gasps and wheezes. Cheeks, usually bright and lit with jolly cheer, were now ablaze with terror and dripping sweat.

The Dog was gaining ground

TO BE CONTINUED