The Drabblecast brings you three original stories this week (Modern Fairytales, if you will) from authors Alice Gauntley, Matthew Sanborn Smith, and Kevin D. Anderson.
Our birthday was the first of March, and for two weeks beforehand it was all Caleb could talk about—cake, presents, and, most importantly, whom to invite. He would chatter about it as we did his homework, as we played his video games, as he went to sleep and I watched over him. Mom had him try different kinds of cakes, and even let me eat some and asked which one I liked best. I liked the carrot cake, but Caleb liked chocolate, so that’s the one she scheduled the kitchen to make fresh for the morning of the party…
by Alice Gauntley
Our birthday was the first of March, and for two weeks beforehand it was all Caleb could talk about—cake, presents, and, most importantly, whom to invite. He would chatter about it as we did his homework, as we played his video games, as he went to sleep and I watched over him.
Mom had him try different kinds of cakes, and even let me eat some and asked which one I liked best. I liked the carrot cake, but Caleb liked chocolate, so that’s the one she scheduled the kitchen to make fresh for the morning of the party.
The presents started arriving the last week of February, and Caleb and I pressed our noses to the window panes to watch the drones descend until they were hidden from view by the trees around the guardhouse. We tried to estimate the size of each package, listing off different things the packages could contain: a new gaming system, a kids’ practice gun, the kind of dog you could turn off and on so it wouldn’t end up like the last one we’d had.
I knew one of those packages was for me, as well. I was glad we didn’t talk about that one.
There was a rule at school that you had to invite everyone in the class to your party, but what everyone did was just open a private chat and invite only their friends. Caleb invited only the boys, and not Justin. I wasn’t sure if this was the kind of thing I was supposed to morals-correct, so I asked Dad. He patted me too hard on the back and said, “No, kiddo, that’s fine.” I nodded and waited an uncomfortable 1.4 seconds before his verbal override of my moral sense kicked in.
Caleb hadn’t been in the same place as anyone in the class for almost six months, not since the annual retreat, and even then some parents had made their kids opt out. I felt desperately jealous when Caleb talked about the school retreats. Thankfully, no one ever noticed, and I followed the procedure I had gotten the year before for bringing myself out of unwanted emotional states. These emotions are not what I am for. They are just an unfortunate side effect of consciousness. It is my job to stop them so I can be good. We were turning eleven, so I had access to that level of vocab.
Eliot’s helicopter touched down at 12:02 on the day of the party, and Lee and Ben arrived soon after in bulky black cars that had to be buzzed through the gates of our compound.
The first thing we all did was go down to the basement and play traitor attack. I had to be the traitor, but it was still fun. Eliot said his dad was a general and had shot either 500 or 50 traitors.
“Next year,” he said, “When I’m old enough to have a gun, I’m gonna take it to our fence and wait until I see one outside.” He made machine gun noises, and we all joined in.
Then we went upstairs and ate pizza. Mom asked Caleb if he wanted me to have some and he said yes, so I did.
When Mom left the room, Lee said, “I put my companion in storage last year. My mom says it’s a little kid thing. A security blanket.”
I stopped eating mid-bite. I glared at Lee, since there were no adults around.
Caleb couldn’t look at me all of a sudden.
Then, Eliot piped up. “I still have mine,” he said, shrugging.
Ben nodded. “Me too. It’s not just a kid thing. They make companions for grown-ups, too.”
“Yeah,” said Lee, “but those ones are girls.”
Eliot wrinkled his nose. “I don’t want a girl companion.”
“You will when you’re older,” said Ben. “That’s what my dad says. He’s got two, but he doesn’t keep them on all the time the way I do with mine. The way you do,” he said, looking from Caleb to me and back again.
“It’s dumb that it’s eating pizza, though,” said Lee. “They don’t need to eat!” He smacked the table so hard the paper plates and cups of juice shuffled around like tiles in a puzzle game. Then, he took the pizza slice from me and stuffed it into his mouth all at once.
As we headed back downstairs, Caleb whispered to me that I was still his friend and he wasn’t going to shut me off for a long time. I couldn’t help noticing how Lee was out of earshot, though.
Dad waited until after the cake was served to come get me. He beckoned me stealthily, like the two of us were doing a magic show and didn’t want Caleb to see how the trick was done. I waited 2.6 seconds before following him to the basement, although I wasn’t sure why.
Dad was opening the box as I came down the stairs. On the side I could make out snatches of writing: Life-like playmate. Offline socialization. Dynamic homework help. The companion that grows with your child. I had heard from one of Caleb’s other classmates that some families paid people to do their companion transfers for them, but Dad was a DIY guy, so he always did mine himself.
I took off my shirt and turned around. I wondered what the changes would be this year. Caleb’s body had started changing recently in ways other than the growing-taller way. I had been given some knowledge of that, enough to answer Caleb’s questions up to a point in case he ever asked me, but I didn’t know the ultimate goal of the whole thing, nor did I know if my body would follow the same progression.
Dad took my new body out of the box, and I stared at myself, assessing. Nothing looked too different; I just seemed a bit bigger. I wondered if my clothes would still fit.
Above us, I could hear Caleb opening presents in the living room. Lee was explaining how some new VR thing worked.
I turned my back to Dad and looked down. I knew what to expect by now. His hands started probing the back of my neck, feeling around for the latch. When he found it, the shock of my skull opening up made my eyes widen and my fists clench at my sides.
The year we turned seven, Dad asked me if the transfer process hurt. I said yes. He never asked me again.
Dad slowly, carefully pulled the slim black box out of my head and set it down on the table. I was plunged into a world without senses; I was nothing but my thoughts, untethered from my body. I could still measure time, so I counted the seconds—72 in total—before Dad inserted my brain into my new body and closed the back of my new head with a triumphant flourish.
“You know how this goes, right, kiddo? It’ll take about half an hour for everything to sync up, so you just sit tight, OK? Then you can come up and rejoin the party.”
“Dad?” I said. My speech was slurred, nakedly robotic; my tonal patterns not yet synced to my new body’s mechanisms.
Dad had already climbed the stairs. He turned at the top, hand on the light switch, and looked down at me, standing in the basement, not yet clothed, beside my slightly-smaller discarded body.
I almost asked if Lee was right, if I was a security blanket. Instead, I said, “Thanks.”
He smiled, and nodded, and turned off the light.
Above me, I heard Caleb’s voice as he opened another present. “Woah,” he said. “The latest model.”
The City Tongue
by Matthew Sanborn Smith
“What’s this tongue doing here?” Cecilia asked her father as they walked back from lunch. There was a wall by the docks, painted a black that shone like it was forever wet, and maybe it was, with the spray of the ocean just yards away. Near the beginning of the shining black wall, where it seemed to grow out of the piled earth beside it, a tongue stuck out, pink and as wet as its surroundings. It hung at the level of Cecelia’s eyes, thick and very human tongue-ish in shape and in size.
“I don’t know,” her father said. “It’s always been there.”
“Well, long as I’ve known. I think so. I’ve never given much thought to it. Kinda weird, I suppose, isn’t it?”
“More than kind of, really.” the girl said. It looked healthy and alive, even though it didn’t move. She might have run screaming if it had. Her father might have as well.
But it just hung there from the black wall. The wall was so flat behind it, as walls often are, that there couldn’t have even been a human head behind it to hold the tongue. There was no bulge for the nose or chin.
When they got to the boat, Cecelia found old Skirmish, who was moving crates and tying things down as sailors loved to do. The old white-bearded salt, perhaps the oldest man still working in the port, was the perfect person to ask. She stood back and allowed him plenty of room to work as she always did when she spoke to him.
“Skirmish?” she asked.
“Do you know about the tongue down there?”
“Which tongue is that?” he asked. Which made her think that Skirmish apparently knew a lot of tongues, a field of interest into which she did not wish to tread.
“The one on the big black wall jutting out from the raised earth.”
“Ah. Oh, yeah, I know exactly the one.”
“How long has it been there?”
“Welp,” he said, slowing in his work, eyes pointed upward toward the brim of his cap, “Long as I’ve known, I guess. I got here, let’s see, my early twenties or so. I don’t remember when it wasn’t there.”
“Hm,” she said. “It’s kind of strange, isn’t it? A tongue sticking out of a wall?”
Skirmish stopped moving completely at that. His face contorted just a little bit. “I suppose it is at that.”
Cecelia decided that she didn’t want to ask anyone else about the tongue. She’d already drawn the attention of two men to it and to draw any more, she felt, would be a bad thing. Someone might overreact to the reawakened knowledge of the tongue that had been there for their entire lives and do something bad to it. She wasn’t sure how she felt about the tongue yet, beyond curious, but she didn’t want anything bad to happen to it. Not yet, at least.
She found her old dad and gave him a smooch. “I’m gonna go.”
“Already?” he asked.
“I want to get down to the library,” she said.
“All right then. Give a kiss to your mom for me.”
“Will do.” And she walked back the way she had come, taking one more look at the tongue to reassure herself that she hadn’t imagined the entire thing. Then, once around the corner from that, she stepped up the pace.
The road was rough for the first block in from the water. Chunks of crumbling asphalt tripped her up. The city needed to get its people out here to fix it. But then she felt silly even calling it a city. Maybe it used to be, years ago. She’d been to Chicago last year and this was no Chicago.
At the bus stop she watched the first bus zoom by as if no one was waiting. A couple of other failed passengers yelled after it. Once the second passed as well, she took to her feet, grumbling. She jumped on at the next stop, joining a small group as it crowded on. An old woman in front of her looked about for a seat that wasn’t available. Cecelia wished she had one to offer. The buses sucked, the streets sucked, there were tongues sticking out of walls, this whole town was a joke.
She squeezed off at the Melvi Street Branch of the library, the one near the McDonald’s and the one closest to home. She was unsurprised to learn that the county’s computers were down. Fortunately, they shared systems with the University and those computers were running. It struck her that this was how the city kept on, relying upon the vast support network that wasn’t the city to keep the old girl alive. Its businesses and banks, people and organizations had real things to do, fought on to do them no matter the budget or the climate and they all dragged the municipality behind them.
The internet gave her nothing. The combination of “tongue,” “wall” and “dock” as keywords brought up loads of unrelated and irrelevant hits. She hit the books. The section on local history. After a half dozen books, she imagined she knew more about the docks than most people alive today, yet there wasn’t a thing about the tongue.
“The library is closed,” said the old library lady who suddenly stood over her.
Cecelia looked around. There wasn’t another soul in sight.
“But it’s still light out!” Cecelia said. What was going on?
“We’ve closed at five for the past year now. Budget cuts.”
Five? She’d been there for hours and hadn’t realized it.
“Can I just finish this part?” she asked, pointing in the open book in her hands.
“I’m not being paid to babysit, Miss. And my show comes on at five-thirty, so I’m asking nicely one more time.”
“But . . .”
The librarian answered with the extension of her arm toward the door.
But there were still so many books to go.
Cecelia returned after school on Monday, keeping an eye out for the librarian. She went back to the books. It went on like this for most of the week. She would have given up had she had something like a boyfriend or hell, even a show to watch, like the fortunate librarian had. Her eyes were bleary from bookdust and eyestrain, even when she arrived and should have been at her freshest. Words and images of the city, the docks, the boats and even the gulls swam through her head until she thought she had slipped into another uglier world where there were no cows or rainbows or ice cream. Or tongues, for that matter.
Late Thursday afternoon as the library was about to close, Cecelia dashed to the back with a hot pee. She made her way through aisles of books to the restroom and her eyes fell upon the words, “Great Tongues of the World.” She snatched the volume from the shelf without conscious volition and brought it to her table, forgetting that she had had to pee just moments before. Leafing through, she found pieces on the tongues of Catherine the Great and Alexander the Great and for a moment felt sunken. It was a book not on great tongues, but on tongues of the great. In desperation, Cecelia went to the index and searched for her city. There it was! Pages 102, 104-105.
“Yes!” she shouted. She soon had to apologize to the twisted librarian whose body shambled out as if on cue. She got a grimace in response.
“The library is now closed, noisy girl,” the librarian said.
“Can I still check out this book?”
“That’s a reference book. They’re not for borrowing. If they were you still couldn’t because the library is closed.”
“How ’bout I just make some copies?”
“That you can do while the library is open. However, the library, as you may have heard, is now closed. It is time to go.”
“Please? It’ll only take a second!”
“Young lady, The Minutes of Our Hours comes on at five-thirty, and Jessup is about to reveal the identities of two of his three fathers. If you think I’m going to miss that for you—”
Cecelia ran to the stairwell before she learned what would happen if she thought the librarian was going to miss that for her. She knew there was a copy machine on the second floor and knew too, that she could beat the librarian up there, even if the old woman took the elevator. She reached the copy machine in triumph, opened the book from around her pinched fingers and slapped it face down on the glass. Only then did she see that the machine had been turned off for the night. Damn it!
She heard trudging footsteps from the stairs.
“You are now banned from the library, young lady!” the librarian called. The top of her tight bun bobbed into view in the stairwell. Cecelia ran behind the second-floor desk to the little office behind it. It had to be there. She willed it to be there. Yes!
The office copy machine. She squatted down out of sight and waited, sweating while the machine did its too, too slow copying dance.
“B-A-double-N-E-D!” shouted the librarian out on the floor. She must not have seen where Cecelia had gone, but her voice was getting louder. She was coming. Cecelia reached up and turned the page to 102 without entirely lifting the book. It was the second loudest sound in the whole building, the first being the lady in charge. She hid behind the far side of the copier and had to squeeze hard to fight the return of the hot pee. The angry librarian was there.
“Show yourself this instant or I am calling the police!”
Police would be bad. Mom would flip! The woman strode to the copier as it spat its final page into the tray just above Cecelia’s head. Cecelia reached up and grabbed the warm sheets and dove out of her hiding place, causing a librarian shriek.
“Thank you!” Cecelia yelled as she leapt up onto a nearby desk and then out the door. She took the stairs two at a time and listened to how very banned she was. The most banned former library patron in the county. The most banned ever.
She ran toward the McDonald’s, the closest available bathroom she could think of, all the while trying to take in the crumpled treasure in her hands. She needed to read it immediately, in case something happened, like a sudden meteor strike. She had to know now.
The tongue was old. One hundred and seventy years old next Tuesday, in fact. It looked awfully good for its age, she reflected. Plump and red and wet. The city fathers had installed it when the docks were being completely renovated to accompany the arrival of the railroad. There was an engraving in the book of the mayor at the time cutting a red ribbon which had been draped around the tongue as various politicians, military men and citizens looked on and applauded.
It was the City Tongue. They wrote it just like that, with the capital letters and everything. The details were pretty sketchy, especially considering that this was supposed to be a book which highlighted tongues of the world, but it seemed to her from what she could gather, that this was literally the tongue of the city. Well, everyone had to have a tongue, she supposed. And you had to put a tongue somewhere. Why not there? Her own tongue happened to be in her mouth. There was no reason it couldn’t have been just as at home on her knee. Or on a black wall down by the docks.
The City Tongue! Her head danced with the idea even after she read the passage two more times and squatted over the toilet reading it again. Even after she was home and in bed with a belly full of supper and a body showered of all that extraneous muck she’d taken into her head over the past week. The City Tongue!
She hardly slept and dragged through school the next day. But her energy returned as soon as her last class finished. Cecelia bolted out to the 7-eleven down the street directly from school. She wandered the three little aisles, then deciding she had wasted too much time there, snapped something up and headed for the great tongue itself. Oh, Great And Powerful Tongue, she thought, as if it was Oz himself.
She made her way toward the water, hoping, hoping, hoping, a little fearful that it wouldn’t be there any longer, that someone might have done something horrible like cutting it off like they’d done to Boris Karloff at the beginning of The Mummy.
But no! She saw the vibrant splash of color against that wall, farther away than she imagined her eyes could have resolved. She was off like a shot, feeling in her plastic 7-eleven bag as she ran, fingers tangled in the frustrating extra dimensions and pockets it had grown since she’d brought it from the store. She slowed and gave her attention to the bag, taking careful, don’t-want-to-trip steps down to her destination. Cecelia finally fished her prize from the devil bag and unwrapped it.
Looking up, she was there at the tongue. It suddenly felt like a first date, full of nervous excitement and the sincere wish that everything would go well and no other way, knowing that all the hard work that had come before could fall apart so easily.
She was on a knife edge.
She took the cherry lollipop and stroked it down the tongue slowly, as if she was painting a house, covering every inch of the tongue with care and spinning the pop until she was sure that the whole of the tongue was even redder than it had been before. Then she drew it down the center of the tongue, again and again, enjoying the softness of it. She stayed at it for ten minutes or more, then poured some water on the tongue from a bottle she’d brought.
If a tongue could smile, she was sure this one was doing just that. She felt better than she had in a long while. This was better than having her own show to go home to. Without thinking, she kissed the tongue and ran off shrieking with glee.
Before she’d cleared the crumbling road, a bus stopped in front of her, door squeaking open. She looked around. There was no stop here.
“Hop on!” the driver said.
“Okay,” Cecelia said, climbing the first step cautiously, then forgetting all caution by the second step. She went for her purse, but the driver covered the box with one hand.
“It’s on us, miss,” he said with a wink. She looked at him, then at the other passengers, thinking some of them were certain to complain. But they didn’t. Nor did they seem upset that the driver had made this unscheduled stop. She took a seat and tried to figure out where the bus was going by watching the streets. After a couple of regular stops, the driver stopped short once again.
“Here you go!” he said, and she knew he was speaking to her. She got up, looked around and got off the bus. The door had opened right in front of an ATM. As soon as she hit the sidewalk, it spat out a twenty at her. Cecelia swept it up as it twisted in the breeze. No one even looked her way. She made a move to enter the bank, but it was already after hours. Hm.
Cecelia spotted the video store across the street and had a thought. She looked to see which was the nearest corner where she could cross, not noticing that traffic had come to a halt. Pedestrians waved at her, pointing to the street. A clear path had been made in the traffic directly between Cecelia and the video store. People in cabs, cars and trucks waited patiently for her, waving her across. The city was doing this, she realized, for what she’d done for it. She crossed the street trying to figure it out.
The City Tongue belonged to the city (duh), but didn’t that mean municipal property, like city hall and the water authority and things like that? The bank wasn’t owned by the city. The bus was, but the driver wasn’t. Well, she reconsidered, the driver was sort of rented by it. But the passengers weren’t and these people in their cars smiling and nodding at her, they weren’t, that was for sure. Her concept of a city, up till now, consisted of the things covered by the taxpayers’ money. If you really looked at it, the city was made up of all of the buildings, even though most were privately owned. It was made of the businesses, the residences, and it was made of the people. It was even made of the gum wrappers and rats, really. She had given each and every one of those things a nice big taste of cherry lollipop and they appreciated it.
Cecelia made her purchase at the video store with the twenty she’d gotten from the bank. She realized now it was okay to spend it and besides, she’d gotten a good deal. A cab waited for her as she stepped out. She got in and had a pleasant conversation with the driver about bicycle generators and otter pelts and before she knew it, she was at her destination. She hadn’t told him where she’d wanted to go.
“I’ll wait here for you,” the driver said. She nodded and rushed out, meeting the librarian on the library steps as the old woman locked up and the rest of the staff headed home.
“The library is closed, banned girl,” the librarian said. “And you owe me fifteen cents for those copies you took!”
“I know,” Cecelia said. “I brought you this.” She handed the lady a DVD, season one of The Minutes of Our Hours. The woman looked as if she’d received a letter from her long-lost love.
“Come on,” Cecelia said, “You can catch a ride with us. You don’t want to miss your show.”
Back in the cab they talked about how many cans of whipped cream it might take to fill a submarine and how each of them would be more likely to join the Navy if they knew all of that whipped cream was there waiting for them. The librarian pointed out the special features listed on the back of the DVD. Cecelia enjoyed the late afternoon sun and thought that tomorrow the city deserved one of those super-sized Pixie Stix for all of this.
Kevin David Anderson
The floorboards creaked just enough to roust Casandra. She could see the closet door reflected in her full-length mirror and although closed when she went to bed, it was now open. She tried to stay still, the sound of suction cups gripping the floor echoed in the tiny bedroom, and she knew it was dragging itself toward her. Then it became quiet for several moments. She felt its presence at the side of her bed. Even in the dark, it was like a shadow moving over her and when the air turned cold, she knew that after weeks of waiting, the monster that lived in the closet had finally made it to her bed.
She rolled over, sat up abruptly, gazed into its many eyes and said, “Are you planning on eating me?”
The closet monster stared down with at least three sets of yellow pupils, set very close together, and said through a massive slit for a mouth, “Well, yeah, that’s the general idea.”
The monster tilted what can only be described as a head. “What do you mean, then what?”
“I mean,” Casandra said, “after I’m eaten, what happens to me. You know, biologically?”
“Well, I…” A tentacle reached across possibly a chin. “Not sure.”
“It’s a real curiosity of mine. I’ve watched you inch closer night after night.” She reached over and turned on the lamp on her nightstand.
The closet monster recoiled from the light; tentacles covered its many eyes as it slid back toward the closet.
“No, please, don’t go. I’ve waited so long for you to get this far.”
The monster stopped, lowered a tentacle. “Why should I?”
“It’s my inquisitive nature,” She said. “I want to know more about you. Call it scientific curiosity.”
The monster moved back close to the bed. “I don’t know. This doesn’t feel right.”
“Can you just tell me? Do you defecate?”
The monster laid a tentacle on the pillow. “Do I what?”
“Defecate,” Casandra repeated. “You know, evacuate waste.”
“I’m not following.”
“Poop. Do you poop?”
“Oh. Uhm…well, no.”
“You must,” Casandra countered. “Everybody poops. It’s basic biology. Let me show you.”
“I really think I should get on with it and just eat you.”
“Yes, yes,” Casandra said, reaching under her pillow and pulling out a stack of books. “We’ll definitely get to that, but take a look at this.” Casandra waved him closer.
A thick row of pustule welts that served as eyebrows composed a frown. Casandra scooched over and patted the empty space next to her.The closet monster shrugged what might have been a shoulder, then hopped up on the bed.
The bed frame creaked under the stress as Casandra flipped through the books.
“Freud, Nietzsche, Carl Jung, Gray’s Anatomy, ah here it is.” She moved a picture book to the top of the pile. “See. I read this when I was four, but it still applies.” She held the book out to the monster.
“Everybody Poops, by Tarō …Gomi,” the monster read.
Casandra flipped through the pages. “It attests most emphatically that every living animal poops. I researched the subject thoroughly, and except for Demodex mites, microscopic animals distantly related to spiders, which only live two weeks,”
Casandra met the monster’s gaze. “You do live longer than two weeks, correct?”
“Oh, yes, much longer.” The monster sort of smiled. “I like the pictures.”
“I thought you might,” Casandra said. “If the hypothesis in this child’s book is correct and you live longer than a Demodex mite, you must poop.”
“Well, I don’t. At least I don’t think I do.”
She looked him up and down. “Besides your mouth, which is very frightening by the way…”
“–Do you have any other orifices?”
“Orifices. Openings in your body.”
The closet monster held up a tentacle displaying its tip. “Does this count.” The end of the tentacle split open like a Venus flytrap, needle-like teeth extending outward.
“Hmm,” Casandra leaned close. “It’s very interesting, but I surmise it is designed to acquire material, not expel it.” She sat back. “Curious.”
“Well, this has been interesting,” the monster said. “But I’m not really supposed to engage like this, just eat. If you don’t mind—”
“So, we must be talking about total absorption,” Casandra said, her voice raised. “I mean a complete and utter consuming of all biological material, which is then used to…”
“To what?” The monster sounded generally curious.
“Well, I mean that is the question, isn’t it?” She turned to him. “Do you…I’m sorry, I don’t believe I know your name.”
“Todd. I’m Casandra, pleased to meet you. Do you get any bigger after you eat?”
“Not really, I’ve always been this size.”
“Do you feel particularly energized after you eat someone.”
The closet monster seemed to consider that for a moment. It put two tentacles behind its head and leaned back on the headboard. “No…no I don’t. In fact, I’m a bit lethargic afterward.”
Casandra leaned back. “So, it doesn’t appear that you need to eat children to support your body. Perhaps to feed your mind?”
Casandra considered for a moment. “When you absorb a child do you feel their emotions?”
“Uh, well, yes. There’s lots of screaming and trying to get away, so I assume fear, terror, horror, that kind of thing.”
“Beyond surface emotions though, do you absorb their emotional thoughts, their sense of life, wonder?”
“Are you talking about memories?”
“Perhaps, yes. Do you see them?”
“I sometimes dream that I’m learning to ride a bike or play a video game. Once I walked on a beach with my parents, our dog ran into the water…no wait.” The monster looked down. “I’ve actually never been to a beach. Not really.”
Casandra sensed it felt uneasy, maybe even ashamed. “I wonder, does it ever become too much for you? The absorbing, the constant emotional intake, I mean.”
“Whaddya mean, too much? Like eating twins or something? Because I’ve eaten triplets once—”
“No, no, I mean absorbing the feelings, the thoughts, the dreams,” Casandra said.
“How can you ever be sure that what you’re dreaming is your dream, and not just something you ate?
“I ….don’t really…”
“I mean seriously, what about you?”
“What does Todd dream of?”
Half of the creature’s many eyes seemed contemplative. He held up three tentacles pensively. “What do I dream about?”
Casandra seized the handle hidden underneath the stack of books.
“I never really gave it any thought really. I mean I just do what I do and….”
She pulled the knife from its sheath and plunged the seven-inch blade deep into the top row of the monster’s eyes. Casandra sliced downward, laying the closet monster’s head open. It fell from the bed, tentacles knocking the lamp off the nightstand.
The closet monster spasmed on the floorboard it had recently traversed, creating loud thumps only slightly muffled by a throw rug. After ten seconds the thing lay still.
The bedroom door flew open. “Cassey!” her dad said and turned on the main light. He stepped inside, making a beeline to the bed but stopped suddenly just short of the bleeding two-hundred-pound closet monster carcass.
“Are you alright?” he said.
Cassandra, on all fours, grinned. “You were right, Dad. They are stupid.”
Her dad smiled. “Did you remember to slice down.”
Casandra sat back. “I did.”
“I’m so proud of you, Honey. I can’t wait to tell your mom.” He beamed at her with pride, then turned back to the door. “I’ll go get the cleanup kit.” He paused at the door. “So proud,” he repeated, then disappeared into the hall.
Cassandra gazed down at her first kill. She wanted to grab her smartphone and take some pics, maybe even a selfie with her first slaying. But that was against the code.
She still had a lot to learn, but the code wasn’t one of them.
There was a slight vibration. She sat still, wondering if it had been her imagination.
Then after a beat, she peered over at the monster’ corpse. Perhaps it wasn’t all the way dead. She gazed down. No movement. The vibration came again, and Casandra distinctly felt it emanating from the other side of the bed. She rolled over and peered off the edge.
A pair of tentacles, thin and dark shot up from underneath the bed. One wrapped around Casandra’s wrist the other her neck. A gelatinous form slid out from under the bed frame. One bowling ball-sized eye, yellow and bloodshot gazed up at her.
Casandra struggled to speak. “Who’re you?”
A horrific slit of blood-colored lips parted. “I’m the monster that lives under your bed.” Its eye narrowed. “Now tell me, what happened to my friend, Todd?”
Fighting against the tentacle constricting her throat, Cassandra managed to whimper, “Oh, poop.”