The child stood, the moon to his back, at the threshold of the hallway. He peered, with sleepy eyes out into the darkness, which now seemed so unfamiliar.
It was pure blackness, a stark contrast to his room, bathed in the warm light of the moon. He thought about turning back, crawling under his blankets, and hoping this was all a dream; but he stayed put, one hand bracing his mind in reality by gripping the door frame.
The child called out to his Mother. He knew she was just downstairs, asleep under a pile of blankets and dogs. She did not answer when he called, but he still waited for her response. Her voice alone was enough to bring him comfort. Instead he heard only the echoes of his own calls, they mocked him.
Tears welled up in his eyes, the back of his throat began to pulse, and he knew the next sound he heard was his own sobbing. Then he heard another sound.
It was a deep rumble, like thunder, but with more direction. Almost like the thunder was coming for him, almost like footsteps.
Now the child began to full-on howl, the heartbreaking cry of a lost child who knows he is lost. He would have sat, then, would have given up completely, but the darkness of the hallway had begun to bleed into his room. The moonlight no longer reached the floor. He felt a cold tingle in his skin where ever his feet touched the black.
The rumbling thunder footsteps grew louder, closer; they rattled his baby teeth. A glow, faint at first, but growing in intensity, appeared in the distance. As it came closer, the child could make out more of the surroundings. The glow was being carried by an enormous creature.
The creature was indeed a giant, if the hallway had still been there his shoulders would have had to hunch over to fit. It didn’t have skin, but seemed to be covered all over with small white objects. He walked closer and closer to the child with a loping stride, and very soon stood right in front of the child. Now he could see that the small white things the creature had instead of skin were bones. Animal bones, to be precise. The child recognized the skull of a snake on the creatures belly from his visits to museums of natural history. Its head was massive, beaked, with a mohawk of finger bones running down the back to its shoulders. It peered at the child with eyes that were somehow darker than the absolute darkness surrounding them both.
“What is your name?” The creature spoke and its voice caused goose-bumps to rise up all over the child’s body. Its voice was fear itself.
“Jude Parker,” he told the creature, dutifully. He was a shy boy, but he liked introducing himself, if only because doing so always invited folks to faun over how great his name was, and had he heard the Beatles song? Then they would sing a line or two, and he was the center of the universe, and he liked that. This time, however, it felt like more of a power-play. As if identifying himself to this monster, standing his ground and not cowering, took any of the creature’s power. It didn’t quite work, however, because Jude Parker was still quite scared.
“I am Yitzhak,” the creature responded, holding out his massive, bony hand. Jude Parker giggled.
“That’s not a very good monster name.”
“I’m so tired of hearing that. It’s a fine name. Now, Jude Parker, you must come with me.”
Jude Parker took Yitzhak’s hand and the two turned toward the darkness where the hallway used to be. Yitzhak, the finely named monster, took a huge step forward, lifting Jude Parker into the air and bringing him to a landing right next to him. As he swung through the air, Jude Parker put his free hand out, feeling around. The air had a thick, oily feel, and when he looked at his hand it was slick with blood. “Where are we?”
“This is the monster world. This is where all the things of nightmares come to live. This is where we practice our skills, skills to terrify little children like yourself. It is also where we punish the truly bad children.”
Jude thought back the previous day. He had told a little lie to his mother, and threw a fit when he was put in timeout. Was he going to be punished by Yitzhak and his monster friends? What kind of horrible things did monsters do to children down here? The two travelers entered a corridor, which was only recognizable as one by the doors on either side. Outside one door, a monster leaned against a wall, out of breath.
“Hey, Yitzach, how is it going?” This monster’s voice was like the sound of a roaring fire. He had a bulldog-like face and his body was covered in bright, silver feathers.
Yitzach waved to the feathered-dog monster, “Hello there, Derby, I thought you were going on vacation?”
“No,” his voice roared, his breath smelled like burning coals, “I got called in to deal with this bad kid.” He jerked a thumb toward the nearest door. “Alright, my break is over.” Derby took a deep breath, stretching his arms. Then he pulled a feather from his belly and entered the room quickly, not giving Jude Parker a chance to see inside.
Yitzach and Jude Parker stood in silence for a moment, then the hall was filled with screams from inside the room. “No! No! Please! I’m sorry! Please don’t!” Then there came a high-pitched, squealing, scream. Jude Parker nearly jumped out of his skin, Yitzach just shrugged and the two of them moved on. They passed a large, steel door with a pictogram that may have been a small child throwing a tantrum. From inside, Jude Parker could just make out the screaming of a little girl, followed by a crackling snap. He recognized it instantly as the sound of a toy being broken.
“You are torturing these kids?”
Yitzach winked at Jude Parker, “In our way.”
Jude Parker shuddered, what torture would they have for him?
The end of the corridor seemed to race at them. As they entered, Jude Parker had to shield his eyes. The brightly lit room was not what he was expecting after the long, dark corridor. It was an enormous room, the ceiling of which was far out of sight. Clouds clung to the walls high up. All around the room, every imaginable configuration of creature milled about. There was one, who resembled a giant snake with a thousand legs, that ran from one end of the room, to the other. A bear-type creature, but with what looked like fish fins instead of fur, watched the snake monster with growing interest. Monsters climbed the walls, crawled along the floor, hid in corners, they even flew through the air overhead.
Jude Parker began to shake in fear. The monsters had begun to notice him, and to turn and stare at him. A few of them began to drool. That was when Jude Parker figured out that these monsters all planned to eat him. He began to cry again, trying to pull away from Yitzach, but his grip was too strong. Panic seized him, and his breath came in short, ragged gasps. “You can’t eat me!” He cried, trying to sound powerful.
It started with a chuckle from Yitzach, a deep, rumbling sound. Then it spread from monster to monster. Soon the room was filled with the horrible sound of hundreds of monsters laughing. Jude Parker knew that he stood no chance, but he lashed out, all the same. He kicked Yitzach in the shin, then yelped as the pain shot up his own leg.
“Jude Parker, we don’t want to eat you. That’s gross.” Yitzach knelt down, bringing his face close to Jude Parker’s. His breath smelled like sour-milk farts. “We need your help, Jude Parker.”
“Yes. You see, down here we watch all the dreams of boys and girls, big or small, and we’ve seen what you dream of: adventure!”
“I like adventure!”
The snake monster approached, rising up so that he looked down at Jude Parker, “Hello, Jude Parker, my name is Thomas. Someone has taken our king, the wise old Johnathan, and we don’t know where to.”
“Well, we need an adventurer like you to help us rescue our king, so what do you say?”
Jude Parker looked down at his pajamas, his bare feet. “I can’t go on an adventure in my pjs!”
Thomas smiled, “Not a problem.” Thomas the snake gave his body a great shake and a section of his scales fell to the floor. He motioned to them with one of his feet, and Jude Parker picked it up from the ground. It was a suit of armor, light, but strong and it looked to be Jude Parker’s exact size.
“That was amazing! But how about shoes?”
A pair of minotaur’s approached, one of them walked with a funny limp. “We are Amalia and Erick,” said the non-limping Minotaur. I made you these leather boots from the toughest hide around.
“Yeah,” spoke Erick, “From my butt!”
Jude Parker slipped his feet into the butt-boots and found that they fit perfectly. “I have a question,” he called out to the room, “Which way to adventure?”
The monsters all turned as one, pointing with fingers, claws, and paws toward a dark and menacing cave. Jude Parker donned his armor and moved toward the cave entrance. Yitzach came to his side. “One last gift, for our hero,” he pulled from his back a long, thick bone. He placed an edge of the bone on the ground and spun in a few quick circles. When he was finished, the bone’s edge had been sharpened into a sword. He handed it to Jude Parker, then reached back behind himself again, producing a bone that Jude Parker was too young to recognize as a shoulder-blade. “Take this sword and shield and use them wisely.”
“Thank you,” he said, because he was raised with manners. He looked around the room one more time, at the scores of monsters staring at him, then turned and ran into the mouth of the cave. His exit from the room was accompanied by thunderous applause and ear-splitting cheers. He was going to be an adventurer, a hero.
To Be Continued…