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CHAPTER 12: TRAPPED

<<Read Chapter 11

“I’LL be fine, though,” Nugget whined at Mrs. Prune-Applebutter. “Really,” he said, “you don’t understand. They can rescue me—they got here on their own. No humans ever do that. If they’re powerful enough to do that, obviously they’re powerful enough to protect me from the monster. Right?”

     Mrs. Prune-Applebutter refused to utter a response. She hunched on her chair by the fire, knitting away, ignoring Nugget’s pleas. She remained unfazed by the increasingly high timber of his voice. She ignored the slight stomping of the foot and the red-faced desperation Nugget exhibited more fully with each request. She knit her blanket, deftly, calmly, and confidently maintained silence.

      “I can’t stay here forever,” Nugget said, anxiety gathering at the back of his legs. “Right? I mean, I can’t. And you said yourself you don’t know how to get me out of here. So . . . I mean, if people are here who know how to get me out of, don’t you think that it’s best that you let me go to them? I think that’s best. I do,” Nugget said, edging slightly closer. “And I’m pretty smart, you know. You should see my report cards. I’m really smart.” His attempt to prove his wits was fruitless. He shut his mouth for a moment and glanced back toward the window. The brown gravy-colored day had long since faded into black coffee-colored night. Hours passed since he watched Abbey and Wendell race past Mrs. Prune-Applebutter’s window, chased by that giant lizard-like beast.

      At first, the sighting left him buoyant with hope. Even though Mrs. Prune-Applebutter refused to let him chase after them, Nugget could have floated up to the ceiling—farther even, given how low those old colonial ceilings were. He could have floated up to the sun. He waited patiently in that way that one does when one is confident that the worst is over and the best is yet to come. But forty-five minutes passed, than an hour; than two; than three, and darkness settled in. And suddenly Nugget’s stomach wrenched with fear. What if the beast GOT them? he wondered. Why didn’t I think of that sooner—they’re not as used to fighting monsters as I am. What if the beast GOT them and they’re dead? Why did I listen to her? Why didn’t I just chase them anyway?

     And as the minutes ticked away, Nugget became more and more terrorized; he realized that it was more and more likely that Abbey and Wendell had made it all the way to this bizarre universe, or time, or whatever, only to wind up in the gut of a monster. And once that realization settled in, Nugget began his wheedling. And Mrs. Prune-Applebutter began ignoring all his different tactics—reasoning, begging, bribery, threats, and the one that generally worked with his parents: high-pitched, unbearable whining. Nothing moved her. Despite his desperation to get away, Nugget found himself impressed with her resilience and resistance to his most annoying qualities—qualities that no mortal could put up with. He had one last idea. It was a big gamble. If it didn’t pay off, he’d be stuck.

     He took a few minutes to sort out the best course of action—a misstep could be fatal, in this case—and he didn’t speak until he knew that his choices were perfect and his methods ideal. Certain now, he sidled up to the side of her chair.

      “You know, you’re really impressive with that. It’s hypnotic,” he said.

      “I do know, in fact,” she said, her eyes never leaving the knitting.

      “It’s almost magical.”

      “No,” she said, “it’s not almost magical.”

      “It’s not?”

      “No,” she said. “It’s not almost magical—it is magical.”

      “Oh—Oh! Ahahahahahahaha. Mrs. Prune-Applebutter, you got me there! It is magical,” Nugget said, slapping his knee. Even as he did it, he knew that his acting lacked a certain naturalness necessary for this kind of job. “Seriously, that’s really funny—and it is magical. It really is magical.”

      “Thank ye,” she said with a sidelong glance at the boy.

       Nugget watched for a moment and adjusted his performance a little to better suit his audience. “You must be really smart to do something like that.”

      “To weave string together with sticks? Yes, Nugget, I’m a regular genius.”

      “No, but I mean you are,” Nugget said, sitting beside her. “I mean you are: you knew I’d be coming out of the window like that when I did. You knew all my favorite foods. People don’t just know things like that, people have to be really smart about that—and then to do such beautiful work. I mean, you never miss a loop; you never have to undo what you’ve done. There’s real smarts at work there.”

      He winced at the use of the word “smarts.” It didn’t sound like him. It sounded like an old cartoon, or something; it was too old fashioned for him. He squinted and watched her face—no hint that she noticed the weird word choice. He went on:

     “People with minds like us . . . we’re a rare commodity in the world,” he said.

      “Ye aren’t lyin’ there, Nugget,” she said, still knitting, still looking away from him.

      “And we understand things that others don’t. We know deep down that we have different responsibilities. That’s why you risked your job to save me—because you had a different responsibility.”

      She slowed her knitting and looked at him—but she didn’t stop completely, and she only let her eyes linger on him for a moment or two.

      “I guess I mean that . . . well, I appreciate that you want to protect me from the monster and all, and I appreciate that, I mean I really appreciate that, because . . . these guys are somethin’ else. But . . . I think you know deep down that my friends went by a long time ago and they’re in danger, and that I have to go in search of them because they’re even less prepared for dealing with this realm than I am. And because you’re smart you know that I’m going to have to go at some point.”

      Mrs. Prune-Applebutter lowered her needles and swiveled in her chair to face him. A warm, gentle look spread across her face. She smiled at him. She leaned forward and narrowed her eyes.

      “Nugget Silverfish,” she said. “If ye think I risked my health savin’ ye only to let ye out into the wild again three hours later, yer even dimmer than Clementine. Now quiet down, because all yer chatterin’ is sendin’ me into the first phases of dementia!”

      She swiveled her chair back to the fire, picked up her needles, and instantly went back to work. Nugget flopped down on the floor by the fire, defeated.

                                                                                 * * *

They’d spend at least two hours cramped under the broken staircase outside the dilapidated old mansion, but every time they put a foot out into view, another terrifying monster to strolled by. Doubled over and C-shaped, both felt twinges of pain up and down their spines, both could feel their heads throbbing, and neither could feel his or her feet. Neither had spoken in about forty-five minutes. At long last, Abbey could hold it no longer.

      “It’s been a while since one went by,” she said, her voice cracked and dry from unusual lack of use.

     “Yeah,” Wendell said after a pause.

     “We can’t stay here forever,” she said, “I’ve got pins and needles in my butt.”

     “Me, too,” Wendell said.

     “So we should probably . . . probably get up and head on our way, then.”

     “Yeah, probably.”

      “OK,” Abbey said. “Let’s do it.”

     Neither of them moved.

     “Go,” Abbey commanded.

     “I don’t think I can,” Wendell groaned.

     “Come on, we can’t sit around here terrified forever.”

     “No,” Wendell said, “it’s not fear—I mean it’s not all fear—I literally don’t think I can move. I’m all cramped up!”

      Abbey scrunched up her face and considered the problem. She wiggled her toes a little, and the sharp sting of pins-and-needles shot up and down her leg. She laughed in pain, and Wendell tilted his head at her, as if to say “what’s so funny?”

     “Aaaaaaaaaaaahahahahaha that hurts!” Abbey’s laughing rang out like a trumpet call across landscape. She tried to force her foot out into the yard—again, pins and needles filled the entire length of her leg. “AAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA THAT HURTS! AH-AHHAHAHAHAHA! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA MY GOD THAT HURTS.”

      “OK, well can you be in quieter pain, please?”

      “I’m sorry,” she laughed.

     “Seriously.”

      “I’m trying!” she said, suddenly annoyed. “At least I’m trying.”

     “I’m trying, too.”

      “No,” she said, “you’re whining.” And with that she shoved herself out from under the staircase and forced herself to her feet—dancing back and forth, trying to work the pins and needles out of her feet and butt, and the twinges of pain in her spine. Wendell watched, dreading having to do the same.

     As Abbey danced she looked in the landscape. “It’s kind of cool here, now that I’m looking at it,” she said. “I mean I wouldn’t want to live here, I can’t do anything without my books and my stuff, but . . . I mean it’s kinda neat being in a place where not everything is made out of plastic, ya know?”

      “I guess,” Wendell said, tentatively and slowly stretching his leg out into the space vacated by Abbey. He felt the electrical tickle in his feet and gritted his teeth. “I’d probably think it was cooler if we could find Nugget, and, you know, go five minutes without being chased by something.”

     “Yeah,” she said, stepping out further into the dry grass. She turned and looked up at the rotting shell of what had once been a beautiful, large home. “Still, though, how often do you get to see a world where everything looks like it’s out of a history book.”

       But Wendell wasn’t listening anymore. He was deep breathing, trying to convince himself to rip off the band-aid and get out of his fetal position. Abbey drank in the site of the old building, but once the novelty of the age wore off, she realized that it was a creepy old place and she’d just as soon be as far from it as possible. She looked back over at the rotten staircase, and the tiny piece of Wendell’s leg that she could see. “Oh, for Pete’s sake,” she said. She marched over to the staircase and reached under.

      “Wait, what’re you—what are you doing??” Wendell said, panicking, as she reached for his arm. But instead of answering, she grabbed him and dragged him out from under the stairs—his whole body exploding in pins and needles.

     “The more you put it off, the longer they’re going to take to wear off. Get up and get over it.” Wendell looked up at her from the ground, anxious in his discomfort, and, with little else to do, he obeyed and jumped to his feet—hopping from foot to foot, trying to regenerate the blood flow that had been constricted for however long they’d been trapped there.

      Abbey wandered through the broken wooden gate and back out into the cobblestone street. She looked up and down the road.

     “The thing that I didn’t factor into the puzzle,” she said, “was that the monster wouldn’t be able to say anything. Nugget’s monster spoke to him, and I guess I just assumed that yours would, too. But, judging by your monster, it’s probably less developed in the verbal department than Nugget’s is. He’s sort of a monster Neanderthal, if you will, which doesn’t help us at all. So now we’re faced with the problem of being wherever Nugget is, without any conceiveable idea of where in this place he could possibly be.”

      “Once again, Abbey,” Wendell grunted, finally starting to feel a tiny bit of relief from the crushed position, “you’ve done an excellent job of summarizing what I already know.”

      She looked at him. “You know I regret apologizing for being to rude to you, don’t you?”

     “I’m sorry,” Wendell said, approaching, “but I’m frustrated. We’re here, and we’re stuck again. It’s insanity. It mean, it’s not like we can just walk up to one of these freaks and ask him if he’s seen Nugget.”

      “No,” Abbey said, “that’s true. We’re just gonna hafta do it the old fashioned way: we’re going to have to sally forth into the universe, here, and search. As people do, when faced with no other option.”

     Wendell cocked his head to the side. “Why you talkin’ like that?”

     “Like what?” Abbey asked.

     “Like . . . ‘sally forth’? What’s that even mean?”

     “It means ‘go forth’.”

     “So why not just say ‘go forth’?”

     “Because dramatic situations call for dramatic language, Wendell—gah, don’t you have any sense of occasion?”

     “Obviously not,” he said, joining her on the street. “So . . . which way?”

      Abbey looked up and down the street again. “Well,” she said, “the monster chased us down that way, and he went further down the road there . . . so, I say, we go back where we came from.” Wendell didn’t have any reason not to agree with her, so he didn’t. He took a step forward, ready to follow Abbey’s instincts, and just as he did, there was a huge thunderous rumbling in the not-too-distant distance.

     Abbey and Wendell turned to it.

     “Oh, no,” Wendell said.

     “How does this keep HAPPENING??” Abbey demanded of no one in particular. But before no one could answer, the thundering grew louder, and from a side street just about a block from where they stood, Wendell’s monster appeared running at them with incredible speed. Both of them bolted in the other direction, but within a few steps, Wendell’s foot got wedged in the space where a cobblestone should have been, and he fell flat on his face. Abbey turned to see it happen. He lay there for a moment, motionless as the monster approached. Abbey ran back to him. She pulled his arm, and he looked up at her—blood running down from his nose, and a bruise already forming under his eye.

     “Come on,” she said, pulling him. “I know it hurts, but we gotta run.” She looked up at him.

     She pulled his arm again, and he screamed.

     “Get up!” She said. She let go of him. “Wendell get up!”

     Wendell tried to push himself up again, but when he put pressure on his arm he screamed again.

     “I can’t,” he said, “I think it’s broken, or something. I think it’s—”

      This time Abbey screamed, and before Wendell could ask why, the monster scooped him up into the air.

      “Wendell!” Abbey screamed. “Wendell!”

      “Abbey!”

      The monster studied Wendell, and then let out a beastly laugh. With that, it started away back from where it came.

     “LET HIM GO!” Abbey called after it, but it barely registered her voice. “YOU LET HIM GO!” No response, and off it went down the street.

     “Abbey!!!” Wendell called.

     Abbey stood for a moment, dumbstruck, and looked around. Off to the side of the road she saw a large chunk of broken cobblestone—the very one that should have filled the spot that tripped Wendell. She darted for it and hoisted it above her head and flung it at the monster with all her might. It arched threw the air, and in a flash, it hit the beast square in the back of the head.

      It turned to her and looked down.

      It considered her for a long time, and she couldn’t read what—if anything—was surging through it’s mind. The suddenly something that resembled a smile spread across its face and another bizarre and monstrous laugh erupted from the monster’s guts. It started for her.

      “Run, Abbey,” Wendell called. “Run and find Nugget—don’t worry about me.”

      “I can’t find him without you!”

      “Yes you can, you know you can, and no one’s gonna find him if this ugly creep eats us both alive!”

      But Abbey wasn’t listening. Instead of running away, she turned back to the house and the staircase they’d been hiding under—back toward the monster. She raced over to the house and began rooting around the ground for more stones or something to throw at the beast. She found it difficult—for some reason, despite the age of everything in this world, there was a surprising lack of things to throw.

      “Abbey! Abbey stop it! Abbey!” Wendell called at her. “Abbey! ABBEY, YOU IDIOT, GO FIND NUGGET!”

      She ignored him still, as the monster slowly made its way toward her.

      She rooted under the stairs, in the remnants of the garden, all over the yard for anything she could that might serve as something heavy enough to throw. In a few minutes she’d gathered a tiny armload of smallish rocks, stones, paving bricks, etc. She turned in time to see the monster about ten feet from her.

      “FORGET ABOUT THAT STUFF, ABBEY! GO! FIND! NUGGET!”

     Abbey pitched the first of the stones at the monster. Prepared now, it swatted the projectile away—and it flew in another direction. Nothing daunted, Abbey continued to bombard the beast, like David did Goliath. Stone after stone thrown, stone after stone batted away, and now Abbey stood, stuck between the house and the monster.

     “RUN!” Wendell called.

      And this time Abbey considered it—but before she could take even a step, the monster scooped her up into its free hand, and bounded along down the road.

      “Way to be a hero, Abbey,” Wendell said. “Now we’re both trapped.”

      Abbey said nothing for a long moment, and then she drawled: “Maybe.” But she didn’t say another word—not the whole time the monster bounded down the road, not when he smashed into his house, and not when he uncovered a well-like pit in the floor and tossed Abbey and Wendell down into the darkness of a slimy, grimy dungeon.

                                                                               * * *

“Trapped” Nugget muttered, as he sat with his face pressed against the class.

     He’d finally given up attempting to outwit or convince Mrs. Prune-Applebutter. Monsters, whether friend or foe, clearly have a stronger will than little boys do, and Nugget knew there was no winning. For the briefest of moments he considered attempting to just trounce out the door, but he knew she would be on him like a flash. Nobody—monster or no—takes such a strong stance if they are not entirely sure they will be able to defend it.

      Now, free of concocting methods of winning his battle with Mrs. Prune-Applebutter, Nugget could concoct horrible scenarios in which Abbey and Wendell were maimed or eaten by a buffet line of hungry, greedy monsters. He imagined them being electrocuted by monster energy. He imagined them doing forced labor, cleaning out monsters’ houses—and he even imagined the reality: that they’d been caught and imprisoned in a dank dungeon with no hope of escape. But mostly he imagined that he’d imagined them to begin with, and that he’d never get out.

     His mind wandered so deeply that he didn’t notice when the gentle “tick-tick-tick” of Mrs. Prune-Applebutter’s knitting needles ceased as she dozed by the fire. But he did notice when he heard a thunderous noise down the road—and he noticed when he heard the faintest sounds of distinctly human screaming and shouting. Despite the distance, upon the first indication of the sound, Nugget perked up straight like a dog. He stood and looked out the window for a moment, utterly silent and focused. Then, he moved over to the edge of the window, attempting to peer down the road. No matter how he positioned himself he could not see—but he could hear.

      Until the sound stopped altogether.

      Then he reached for the door handle—but remembered Mrs. Prune-Applebutter. And only then did he notice the absence of the clicking of her knitting needles. He turned, slowly, and discovered her head drooped onto her chin, and the knitting folded neatly beside her. The faintest, faintest sound—part snore, part purr—escaped her nostrils.

      A little bolt of joy leapt in Nugget’s stomach—then that got washed over by guilt. She’d helped him so much, he felt bad disobeying her. But he couldn’t wait around and do nothing—that simply wouldn’t do. So he vowed to come back and thank her before he went home. He reached for the doorknob and pulled it—and realized it was locked. He looked up and saw a little padlock he hadn’t noticed before.

     “Marvelous,” he said aloud.

      He stood looking at it for a while, trying to will it to unlock—and when that didn’t work, he turned back to the room and looked for possible places a key could be stored. As he considered his surroundings, he stuck his hands in his pockets. Without thinking much about it, he began playing with a small metal object that he’d shoved there before jumping from Clementine’s window.

     Where would I find I key, he thought, taking in each object, each nook and cranny in the room, as he turned the small metal doodad in his pocket over and over. With my luck, she’s probably got it there in her knitting. As a matter of fact, I have no doubt that she wouldn’t have let herself fall asleep if she thought I’d find the key. So how am I going to--

      And he stopped.

      And he realized that he happened to be holding something strangely key-like in his pocket. He withdrew his hand from the pocket and held it up, and low and behold: a key. One he’d ripped off from Clementine’s desk before escaping.

     There’s no chance this will work . . . unless it’s a skeleton key . . . but what’s the chance Clementine had a key that would work on any lock locked up in his desk . . .

     Nugget slowly approached the door, and held the key up to the lock.

     He slipped it into the opening—it took a little effort, both the key and the lock there a little rusty. But with a little gentle effort it slipped in. And, to his surprise, it turned. Another bolt of joy shot through his gut. He withdrew the key from the lock and put it back in his pocket. He gingerly took the lock off the doorknob and placed it on the windowsill, and he quietly, quietly opened the door.

      He put one foot out on the sidewalk.

      “Ye really are a smart one, eh?”

      Nugget turned to Mrs. Prune-Applebutter, fully awake, watching him form her chair.

      “It’s just—,” Nugget stammered, “I know they’re here, and I have a feeling they’re in danger, like you said, and-and-and I—”

     She held up a hand to stop him, and she rose from the chair and waddled over to him.

     “If yer smart enough to get past me,” she said, “then I’ve no doubt yer smart enough to find ‘em an’ get’m outta whatever danger they’re in. An’ yer right, sittin’ around here doin’ nothin’ isn’t gonna solve anyhin’. So . . . yes, ye should go—an’ ye clearly will.”

     “I really do appreciate what you’ve done—I know it was a risk.”

     “Nonsense. What’s the worse Clementine can do, eh? Not much. Monsters can’t die, so it’s not like he can kill me—an’, what? He’ll deny me the privilege of tidying after him? I’m sure I’ll survive. But, here,” she said. She held out the large, voluminous, moon-colored blanket that he’d watched her knit since their first encounter. “It’s not much,” she said, “but it could help.”

      Nugget reached out and took the blanket.

      “How?” He asked. “It can’t . . . it can’t make me invisible, can it?”

      A yelp of laughter erupted from Mrs. Prune-Applebutter’s mouth. “Invisible? What do ye think is some kind of fairy story? No, Nugget, nothin’ can make normal human’s invisible, sadly, but, like I said, it will keep ye thinkin’ about the here an’ now, an’ when yet faced with the kinda terror yer always faced with, stayin’ in the present moment can go a long way in keepin’ ye level headed an’ keepin’ yer wits intact, sure. So take it, an’ go.”

      “Thanks,” Nugget said.

      Mrs. Prune-Applebutter winked—and nodded out the door. Nugget obeyed and stepped out to the curb. They smiled at each other once more, and she closed the door behind him.

      Nugget looked off toward the sound of the screaming he’d heard, with the herenow blanket tucked under his arm—but with no idea of where to begin the search.


Read the Second Intermission>>

 
 
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CHAPTER 11: IT'S GOOD AND IT'S BAD

<<Read Chapter 10

“OOOF!” Nugget ejected as he hit the pile of mattress and rags. He’d gotten out of the monster’s house in one piece; now all he had to do was get off the two-story pile of junk without crashing into the broken glass below.

     He flipped onto his stomach, and slowly crawled backwards off the mattress. He dangled his foot off the edge of the pile, looking for something sturdy to settle it on—something rung-like he could climb down. Soon, he felt something. He slid down and off the mattress onto what he realized was the broken arm of a rocking chair. Next, Nugget lowered his other foot, searching for the next rung. And on and on.

     Feeling more confident now, he began to move with more speed—and less care. And this proved a mistake. Halfway down the pile, he stepped without testing the strength the next rung, and what felt secure and sturdy turned out to be nothing more than the lip of a cardboard box. Nugget put his full weight on it, only to feel it give way immediately. He fell. In terror, he grabbed for something—and, for once, he caught something.

     Celebration!

     Except that whatever he grabbed gave way, too, and the whole pile of junk collapsed on itself—and him with it. He fell face down, watching the glass-strewn cobblestone street fly up to meet him. He gritted his teeth; he clenched his eyes; he waited for impact. And he felt enormous relief when a strange pair of arms caught him.

     “Ye really need to be more careful, Nugget,” came the familiar voice.

     Nugget looked up and discovered the face of Mrs. Prune-Applebutter. He gasped in relief, as the tower of junk fell around them. She set him down on the ground as he started to stammer his thanks. But she interrupted him.

     “Best not stand around like this, here, when lord knows what Clementine’ll be back. If he’s gone to the pub, he could be there for days or hours. There’s no tellin’. But my little shack is right around the corner, now, an’ we’ll be there quick.” With that, she waddled in the other direction.

     Nugget looked up at her, relived she’d come when she had, and—moved that she’d saved him—he ran toward her and tried to embrace her. She turned in time to see his arms reaching up to her, and she put out her hand to stop him. “No,” she said, “ye can’t. I appreciate it, Nugget, I do—but ye remember the fryin’ pan? We’re made out of energy, Nugget. If ye touch any part of us but our hands, we’ll give ye a shock now. We’ve got this . . . leatheriness on our hands, but touch any other part of me, an’ it’s a good zzzzzap for ye. Listen close. Can ye hear it?”

     Nugget listened close. And, after a moment, he could hear it—just the faintest buzzing, that sounded not unlike a generator or transformer on the streets at home.

     “Weird,” Nugget said.

     “Not weird,” Mrs. Prune-Applebutter said. “Magical. Now, walk.”

     And they walked—but Nugget turned back, suddenly, and raced toward the pile. He jumped into the rubbish and dug through it.

     “What are ye doin’, Nugget?” Mrs. Prune-Applebutter called. “Come away from there, it’s not safe.”

     But Nugget had crawled so deep into the collapsed pile that she couldn’t see him anymore. She waddled back over to him, just in time to see him emerge from the pile holding a huge book over his head.

      “What’s that, now?” Mrs. Prune-Applebutter asked.

     “Just a memento,” Nugget said, joining her.

     They trekked down the cobblestone streets, and Nugget noticed that the whole monster world looked a lot like the colonial world—with all its gas lamps and slatted houses and bubbly, wavy windowpanes. Everything looked the way it did in his history books. He pointed that out to Mrs. Prune-Applebutter just as they arrived at the front door of her little cottage.

     “Ye’ve got a good eye, sure,” she said. “Yes, well, Nugget: the reason it looks like the eighteenth century, here, is because it is.”

     Nugget’s eyes widened.

      “Get yerself in there,” she said, “there’s soup warmin’ on the fire. Have at it. I imagine ye haven’t had lunch yet.”

      As he ate, Mrs. Prune-Applebutter settled herself in and went about regurgitating the moon-colored string, as she had the previous night at dinner. Nugget turned so he could eat without watching her vomit thread.

      “It’s the 1700s here,” she said, “because nobody’s usin’ this time anymore. But it’s all real. When ye walked down the street with me, did ye see anythin’ familiar?”

      “No,” Nugget said, “all the houses looked just like the other houses.”

      “Run over to the window, there, an’ look at the big building down the street.”

     Nugget obeyed. He pushed his face up against the glass and peered down the road. Sure enough, there was a large granite and brick building that Nugget recognized as the True Enough Savings and Loan. Nugget passed it every day on the way to school—and, as long as he’d known it, it stood empty, abandoned. It didn’t look any more active now, but he recognized everything about it. He turned back to Mrs. Prune-Applebutter, wide-eyed.

     “That looks familiar now, eh?”

      Nugget nodded as he returned to the table.

      “Built back in 1771. Most of the places around there were knocked down over the years, but not that one. This, Nugget, is the very place where ye were born and raised—except that ye live in 2012, an’ we live in the past. Monster’s can’t live in the world with people—partly because there’s monster’s like Clementine, who feed on the human race. But partly because we don’t fit well with humans.”

     “But if not every monster is cruel, like Clementine,” Nugget said. “Why can’t you live with humans.”

     Mrs. Prune-Applebutter stopped knitting, and looked down at Nugget with a sharply raised eyebrow. “Nugget, ye don’t know much about yer own kind, do ye? If ye humans found out there’s a race a’ creatures made from energy, they’d hook us all up to wires an’ use us to charge yer phones an’ whatnot, eh?”

     “I’m not sure we’d do that,” Nugget said.

     “I am,” Mrs. Prune-Applebutter said. “We may be called monsters, but ye look at the world ye live in, an’ tell me if there aren’t humans as cruel as Clementine out there in your world, eh? And humans are wasteful. Once they’re done with a time period, like this, they just throw it away—stuffing pieces of it in history books, and moving on. Monster’s reuse things. We’ve got no other choice. Good or bad, we reuse things. An’ we’re not picky. Nobody’s using thing time? We’re happy to take it—an’ nobody’ll want it back, because there’s not much attractive about it. The houses are a little small for us, but we’ve grown used to stopping.”

     Nugget finished his soup, and sat listening to Mrs. Prune-Applebutter. Again, he found himself lulled by the motion of her hands as she deftly hooked and looped the strange thread into her large, and luminous blanket.

     “Time is . . . well, it’s not unlike a highway, Nugget. Ye drive along, an’ just because ye pass a place, doesn’t mean ye can’t go back there. It just means you may or may not. It’s not as easy as drivin’, an’ probably for humans it’s a good thing it’s not, because if they could go back, they’d probably make a mess outta things. But . . . it’s possible. Just because a time passes doesn’t mean it’s gone.”

      “The world is a strange place,” Nugget said.

      “Aye, it is.”

     “So I guess the question is, how do I get back to the time I should be in—and away from Clementine.”

     Mrs. Prune-Applebutter  stopped knitting and looked at him. She clicked her tongue, and reached over to collect Nugget soup things.

     “I’m sorry, Nugget,” she said. “I don’t know the answer to that. I wish I did. I may know a lot about things, but there’s a lot about things I don’t know. But I can tell ye, that as long as yer stuck here, I’ll do my best to keep ye out of Clementine’s claws. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to do much good, but I’ll do my best—and that, Nugget, is the best any of us can do.”

     With that, she disappeared into the kitchen.

     Nugget returned to the window and looked out and across at the True Enough Savings and Loan. He peered through the bubbly glass and worked out the numbers on the base of the top step: 1771. Seeing that building, something he’d passed nearly every day of his life, knowing that he somehow wasn’t as far from home as he thought, he felt a little better.

                                                                               * * *

Just as Wendell’s eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, an impossibly bright spray of gray-brown light exploded around him. And just a moment later, he smashed to the ground.

     Somehow, he bounded off the ground, and got to his feet—Just as Abbey crashed to the ground beside him.

    “That was crazy,” Abbey said, standing.

     “No doubt,” Wendell said, helping her up. “You OK?”

      “Yeah,” she said, patting herself just to make sure. “Actually, I feel pretty good. You?”

     “Yeah. Sorta.”

     “Where’s the monster?” She followed Wendell’s eyes to the sky, and watched the monster fall toward them with a terrible velocity.

      “We should probably, ya know, run away,” Wendell said.

      “Mmm,” Abbey said—and just a moment later, the monster crashed to the ground.

      Wendell grabbed Abbey by the hand and bolted down a cobblestone road.

      “Listen,” Abbey said as they ran, checking behind her to see how far away the monster was, “about before.”

      “Don’t worry about it,” Wendell said. “Now’s not the time.”

      “But,” she said, gasping for breath, “the thing is—I need you to know why I couldn’t be more help to you out there.”

      “Don’t worry,” Wendell said, also feeling winded—something entirely unusual for him.

      “But I don’t want you to think—”

      But she got cut off by the monstrous roar of the beast. They could feel the ground shaking with its steps, and she turned to discover it racing toward them. He was about fifty yards away, but was gaining speed quickly. They kicked it into high gear and doubled their speed.

      GONG-GONG! GONG-GONG! The monster stomped along, roaring at them. They turned again, and it made a swipe in their direction. On an impulse, and with his usual athleticism, Wendell tugged Abbey and pulled her down an alley. She felt her feet lift off the ground as he flung her around the corner.

      Wendell pulled Abbey further down the little street, but as they moved on, the street grew darker and darker—any light in the sky snuffed by the closeness of the buildings.

      “It’s a dead end,” Abbey said.

      “I don’t think it is,” Wendell said.

      “Why?”

      “Well, for one thing we don’t seem to be running into any walls.”

      “But that doesn’t mean a wall won’t come, does it?”

       “No,” Wendell said, “but that doesn’t mean it will, either.”

      “But what if it does?

      “But what if it doesn’t?

      “But what if—” She stopped. They felt the ground shaking again. Without another word, Wendell pulled Abbey deeper into the darkness of the alley. Behind them, the monster stalked down the road, but apparently didn’t see which direction in which they went. It paused and peered into the darkness of the alley, before racing off in the other direction. With that, Wendell pulled Abbey deeper into the darkness.

     “Seriosly, Wednell,” Abbey said, “I think this is a dead end.”

      “YOU KNOW, JUST CUZ YOU THINK I’M STUDID, ABBEY, DON’T MEAN I AM!”

 The suddenness of shouting that surprised Wendell, and he shut his trap. As did Abbey. They continued in silence. And as they ran on, the street brightened and at last they could see a light at the end. They ran toward it and spilled out onto what appeared to be the main thoroughfare. On either side of the road they saw rows of old-fashioned, colonial style stores—abandoned, but recognizable as shops, thanks to the hanging signs and large display windows. Down on one end of the road was what looked to be a large, brick and granite building; and at the other end, a more residential neighborhood. Both ends of the street were entirely deserted.

     Safe from the monster, at least for the moment, Wendell and Abbey stopped to catch their breath. Wendell stooped down, hands on his knees, andlet out a high-pitched “Hoo!” as though on the right side of a marathon finish line. Abbey collapsed against a building and mopped sweat from her brow with the sleeve of her sweatshirt.

      After a moment or two, with air back in her lungs, Abbey looked over and Wendell.

     “I never said you were stupid, you know,” she said.

     “Yes you did,” Wendell said, straightening up. “A lot.”

     “Fine, I did,” Abbey said. “But I didn’t mean it.”

      Wendell looked over at her, and crooked an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

      “Yes.”

     “I don’t believe you.”

      “I know,” she said, “but it’s true . . . I had to be rude to you, I had to get you not to like me, because grampa needed it that way—because part of his lessons involved me taking on the role of monster in these reenactments, and if you liked me . . . it woulda been harder for you to fight me. But I don’t think you’re stupid. Or Nugget. And I hate both of you because of that, but that’s the way it goes.”

     A little smile spread across Wendell’s face. “Awe Abbey!” he said. “You’re in love with me!”

     “You remember I can kick your butt across the street, right?” she said, holding up a first and taking a step or two toward him.

    “Yeah,” Wendell said, backing away, the smile fading from his face. “Yeah, you can. Sorry. Sorry about that.” Abbey relaxed. “But thanks.”

     “You’re welcome,” she said.

      “And don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone you’re in love with me.”

     “OK,” Abbey said, “you are stupid.”

     “Well right now I am,” Wendell said. He stepped out into the middle of the road and looked up and down. “Because I really have no idea what to do next.”

      “Next,” Abbey said, “we find Nugget.”

     Just at that moment, a thunderous sound erupted in the distance. Immediately Abbey and Wendell’s glances shot toward the noise. Coming down the round, from the residential end of the street, came Wendell’s monster, racing toward them with ridiculous speed. Without another word, Abbey grabbed Wendell’s arm and pulled him off toward the commercial-looking quarter.

                                                                                  * * *

Nugget sat looking out the window, staring at the old bank building, as the murky daylight slowly faded into murky twilight. All the while, Mrs. Prune-Applebutter kept one eye on her knitting and one eye on Nugget.

     He marveled that he hadn’t seen a single soul walking around outside—not a single monster passed by.

      “Not much to do here,” Mrs. Prune-Applebutter said. “There’s the pubs, but only a certain kind of monster frequents those. The rest of us only go out when we have to, and we don’t have to all that much. Believe it or not, most of us are homebodies.”

     Just then they heard a thunderous noise rushing from the end of the street. Instantly Mrs. Prune-Applebutter appeared at the window beside Nugget. She peered out, but saw nothing. She dragged Nugget across the room. He followed her, but kept his eyes on the glass—and just as she was about to usher Nugget into the pantry, they saw two shapes pass the window, screaming in horror. And though they moved fast, Nugget recognized them instantly. He broke free of Mrs. Prune-Applebutter’s hand and ran back to the window.

      “Abbey!” Nugget called. “Wendell!”

     But of course they couldn’t hear—and they passed just as fast as they came. Mrs. Prune-Applebutter pulled him away again. “Come away from the window, Nugget—ye’ll get us both caught here, sure.” And just as she got him away again, they saw a hideous, lizard-like beast race after the kids.

      Mrs. Prune-Applebutter swept Nugget into the pantry—a windowless room, off to the side of the fireplace.

      “You don’t understand,” Nugget said breathlessly. “I know them! That was Wendell and Abbey!” he shouted. “They’re here, Mrs. Prune-Applebutter! They’re here for me!”

      She looked down at him, her feline face attempting to look hopeful—but an undertone of skepticism bled through.

      “Well that’s great for ye, sure,” she said. “But it’s good an’ it’s bad, child. Because they may be here—but like ye, they’re now in a world of danger.”


Read Chapter 12>>

 
 
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CHAPTER 9: ZZZAP!

   <<Read Chapter 8

“THIS is not what I expected,” Nugget said, as his head popped up over the wall of the pit.

     Clementine’s house looked almost cozy. Not comfortable, necessarily; everything was too old, too wooden, too rough to be comfortable. But the large stone hearth with the iron pot hanging over the fire, the long wood table, the slatted floorboards and walls, and the bubbly glass windows felt familiar and warm. It looked like a home in an early American village, or at least one of those villages where actors dress up and pretend to live like it was 200 year ago.

     Nugget crawled out of the dungeon.

     “You think I’d keep a messy home?” Clementine asked. Nugget turned to see him, slumped over in a large chair. He had sprawled himself out, attempting to appear comfortable.

     “I never thought of you at home,” Nugget said. “I guess I never really thought you lived anywhere.”

     Clementine grinned and reached for a bottle of grog. He severed the top of the bottleneck from the bottle with a flick of his fingernails. Nugget’s eyes bulged, and Clementine grinned and yawned. When he exhaled, the force nearly knocked Nugget to the ground—but what actually knocked him down was the stench of Clementine’s breath. Nugget covered his face and dropped to the floor, drying to dodge it. Clementine laughed.

     Nugget looked up at him. “So . . . what?” Nugget asked. “Now you kill me?”

     “I told you,” Clementine mumbled, one of his spindly arms dropping to the floor beside the chair, “that’ll happen, but not yet. I need to figure out how to ingest all your hopeful energy. But I’ve got a plan for that—or at least the germ of one. But that energy is just the ticket to revive this aging monster’s will to go on.” Clementine’s eyelids drooped. Nugget realized that whatever the monster sipped out of the bottle made him drowsy.  “There’s something about you, Nugg-oh,” Clementine went on, his voice getting deeper and slower. “you’ve got this weird strength, even though you’re a neurotic dweeb.”

    “Thanks,” Nugget said, getting to his feet again, and scanning the room for a possible escape route.

     “I mean it,” Clementine said, sighing deeply. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been able to inflict this wound. I’ve dealt with generations of humans, and none of them have ever done this kind of damage.” Clementine’s movements became slower, more languid, even a little graceful—if such a word could ever be assigned to anything having to do with the monster. “I don’t know what you’re bound for,” Clementine said. He took another swig of grog, and then yawned again—again, the stench drove Nugget to the floor. “But whatever it is, it’s gonna be huge. Was. Was gonna be huge. You were gonna be famous, Nugget. Dunno for what, but it was gonna be huge . . .”

     Clementine’s other hand dropped to the floor, and the bottle of grog with it. It rolled across the old, craggy, wooden floor, and down toward Nugget. A spray of the revolting, eggy-smelling liquid fuzzed out of the bottle and Nugget slid out of the way to avoid it crashing in to him.

     A thunderous snore erupted from the monster’s nostrils.

     Nugget sat up and peered at the beast for a moment.

     “You awake?” he asked quietly. “Hey, ugly: you awake?” Clementine answered with another rumbling snore. Nugget stood and dusted himself off. He was covered in what he hoped was saw dust or dirt, but what might, for all he knew, be the shattered husks of insect skins or the ground up bones of mortals.

      He looked around the room, and darted over to the windows near the front door. He looked out onto the street. The old-fashioned glass made it difficult to see clearly. The glass panes were a wavy, and pin-sized bubbles were trapped within. But, with his face pressed up to it, he could see a street. He saw the bumpy, dirty cobblestone raod, and the rows of boxy, simple, old-style homes with long, wide slats and large windows made up of small square pains of glass. Smoking, guttering gas lamps lined the street.

     It’s like a nightmare, Nugget thought. Or at least a nightmare in 1776.

     He turned back to Clementine, who sat sprawled out on his chair, breathing heavily through his open mouth. A thick, brown, slimy trail of saliva oozed from the corner of his mouth and dripped down his chest. Nugget turned back to the windows—back to the front door—and reached for the handle. Like everything else, the door handle was old fashioned: made from a curved piece of iron and a thumb-sized lever that, when pushed down, lifted a bar from a cradle attached to the wall.

     No lock, Nugget thought. He pushed down on the lever, and the bar lifted. He pulled the door open. Nugget expected a spike of cool air to hit him in the face—it looked like winter outside—but he didn’t feel anything. It was still, quiet, and, aside from the guttering gas lamps, entirely still out there. Had he not been breathing easily, he might have wondered if there was simply no air in this part of the universe.

     Nugget left the door open a little—with a space just wide enough for him to squeeze through, if necessary. He approached the hearth. Hanging from a series of pegs near the large stone fireplace, he noted a collection of large iron pots and pan. A huge frying pan hung about the level of his head, and he stepped toward it. He reached up and lifted it from the peg, and—not realizing its weight—nearly dropped it to the floor with what would have been a giant clang. He caught it just in time.

     He hefted it up in his right hand—remembering the salve that had rendered his left arm useless for fighting beasts—and he stalked slowly to the sleeping monster.

     He raised the heavy pan. He aimed for Clementine’s head.

     He swung.

                                                                        * * *

“OK,” Abbey said, leading Wendell by the arm. “Show me where it happened.”

     Wendell bit his lip and looked out over the expanse of the park. The rain dried up hours ago, but the sky remained gray and the air felt unusually chilly for this time in the season. At least the dull weather kept everyone away; the park was empty. He looked toward the spot where he’d seen his monster for the first time. Little jolts of electrical buzzing popped in his body as he pointed over to the baseball field.

     “Me and my older brother Jimmy were playing catch,” Wendell said, “and the ball went out into the street there in front of the old abandoned church. He ran out to get it, dodging the cars, and suddenly the monster came ripping out of the pitcher’s mound.”

     Abbey nodded for a moment, then bolted to the sport.

     “Wait,” Wendell called. “Why do we gotta go over there?”

     She turned to him, hand on hip, and pouted.

     “I just mean, can’t we . . . what’s the likelihood he’ll come back just because we’re standing there?” he asked. “Lightning doesn’t strike twice, right?”

     “We’re not just gonna stand there, Wendell.”

     “No?”

     “We’re gonna get you so riled up and terrified he comes back. Just standing there won’t do anything, but getting you so terrified that you can’t breath would do the trick. Being in the place where you first saw him, that’s just a little insurance. It just increases the chance you’ll have an attack. C’mon,” she said, turning back to the field. “This is gonna be awesome!” And she happily skipped away.

     Wendell, on the other hand, wanted to run back home.

     Abbey realized again she was alone, and turned to him once more.

     “Wendell,” she commanded, “every moment we spend faffing around is more time that Nugget stays trapped in the hands of a monster. And there’s only so long we can keep his parents ignorant of what’s going on. You have any idea how hard it is slipping a time-lapse tincture into the food of a family in whose house you do not reside? I could have gotten arrested. If we don’t get him back by the end of the week, they’re gonna realize he’s gone and that’s gonna be bad for all of us. You wanna be implicated in an unexplained kidnapping? Because you will be. Because you absolutely will be, I’ll see to it. So come on.”

     She bounded away again, trouncing to the pitcher’s mound.

     Wendell, realizing he had little choice, followed.

                                                                      * * *

 ZZZZAP!

     As soon as the metal pan touched the monster, an enormous flash of light exploded from it. A burst of electric energy surged through the metal and into Nugget’s arm, and sent him flying across the room—he hit the wall and slid down. He looked up and realized he’d come just a fraction of an inch from impaling himself on the very peg from which he’d stolen the pan. He lay for a moment or two, puzzled, and long minutes passed before he realized what happened. He rolled over and saw the twisted remnants of the heavy frying pan on the floor beside him.

     “Abbey was right,” he said aloud. “Man I hate that.”

     He looked over at the monster, who didn’t notice any of it. Clementine flipped himself onto his side, as though he were lying in bed. Nugget marveled at how anyone—monster or no—could find such sleepy comfort in a hard, straight-backed, wooden chair. But he realized he hadn’t woken the beast, and that was a good thing.

     Well, he thought, there’s only one thing to do. He got up, dusted himself off once more, and headed for the door.

     “Yer not goin’ so soon, are ye?” came a voice. Nugget turned to the sound, fear flooding him, and looked to its source. From the swinging door, opposite the monster, a little old monster hobbled in, carrying a tray of something steaming and warm. She smiled at Nugget as she wobbled over to the table and sat down. “I’ve been makin’ yer dinner. I’d hate to see it go to waste. Why don’t ye set down here an’ have a taste before ye venture off into the great unknow, eh?” She smiled again and patted the bench beside her.

     Nugget couldn’t tell what surprised him more—the warmth in the old monster’s face, the delicious smell of whatever she’d prepared, or that there was someone else in Clementine’s house. Who could she be? Surely not his wife. His mother, maybe?

     He studied her, and noted the similarities between to two monsters—but he noted that the differences between them stood out more clearly. Where Clementine looked like a crossbreed of a goat and a human, the lady monster appeared to be more a combination of a feline and a worm. Her face featured a round, purring, friendly quality, and she was certainly furry. Calico, even. But her body was long, and though she seemed to walk, her legs were little more than stubs. She propelled herself forward partly with a kind of slithering motion.

     Nugget gaped up at her. “Are,” he stammered, “are you his mother?” He motioned to Clementine.

     “Oh, for the love of star fruit,” she said, “no, child. Monsters don’t have parents. We’re sort of . . . formed. Suddenly, we are. I’m no one’s mother. I’m the housekeeper,” she said. She told Nugget her name, but we cannot repeat it here, because—nice though she may have seemed—she was a monster, and her name was too terrible to repeat. So, for our purposes, we’ll call her Mrs. Prune-Applebutter.

     “I didn’t realize monsters had housekeepers,” Nugget said. “Or even houses, for that matter.”

     “Ah, well . . . most monster’s, no, don’t have housekeepers. Most of us can’t afford ‘em, ya know?” She looked at Nugget closely. “Yer food’s gettin’ cold. Why don’t ye sit an’ eat a bit.” She patted the bench again.

     The smell wafted through the room and lured Nugget. He imagined the steam rising from the food and forming a ghostly finger, like in a cartoon. It would reach for him, hook his nostril, and finally drag him toward the source. He took a step forward, his stomach rumbling. But he stopped himself.

     “Um,” he said, “don’t . . . don’t monsters eat fear?”

     Mrs. Prune-Applebutter reached down beside the table and pulled out a lovely blanket-in progress, and two long, thin knitting needles. “Monsters’ve got all different tastes, Nugget. Many a monster’ll make his diet from people’s fear, sure, an’ some’ll make it from actual people. Other’ll make their meals of money, and still others from nothin’ more than iceberg lettuce and wild radishes. We’re all different, of different tastes and culture, Nugget. Not unlike ye, eh?”

     He started to respond, but at that Mrs. Prune-Applebutter broke into a hacking cough. The sound was a rough, sharp bark that came from deep in her chest. Nugget took a step forward, reaching out to help her, to give her a pat on the back—but then he remembered what touching Clementine with the frying pan had done moments before, and he stopped himself.

     As she hacked, Mrs. Prune-Applebutter reached into her mouth and pinched down at the back of her throat. With a swift tug, she drew out a long, thin, silvery thread-like strand. She tugged and tugged at it with both hands. With each tug, more and more of the string-like substance appeared, and once she had enough give, she took a spool from her bag and wound the loose end of the threat around it. With a few rotations, the thread adhered to the spool on its own. She let go of the thread, and began winding the spool over and over, until layers and layers of the moon-colored string filled the large spool. Nugget stood, his jaw hanging open.

     Once the spool was about half full, Mrs. Prune-Applebutter looked up and winked at Nugget, continuing to wind away. She gestured at the table again, toward the yummy-smelling food, but any appetite Nugget may have worked up disappeared the second he saw the beast vomit string. He shook his head and backed toward the door.

     “Iiiii wwwnt eerrnt er t’rrt smmmn,” she said, frowning as she continued winding.

     Nugget’s face twisted in confusion. She held up a finger to indicate that he should wait a moment, and she finished the spool of thread. She picked up a small pair of scissors from the table and severed the string. She then gasped a big, sudden breath of air, and the bit of thread hanging from her mouth sucked inside. She took a napkin, wiped her lips, and smiled again.

     “I said,” she said, “that it won’t hurt ye to eat somethin’.”

     Nugget edged closer to the door.

     “Well,” she said, taking up an end of her freshly wound thread, slipping it between her needles, “suit yerself. I’ll tell ye, though, that findin’ yer favorites weren’t an easy task in this part of the sky, an’ I went through an awful lot of trouble finding ‘em for ye.” She worked the thread into her blanket-in-progress, and Nugget’s eyes fell on her hands—her paws?—as she wove the new thread into a fresh row of the blanket. Despite her awkward shape and weird slithering movements, she worked with astonishing speed. She knitted, slipped, and wove effortlessly, and in a blink of an eye, she’d added maybe another inch to the blanket. Nugget couldn’t take his eyes of her work.

     She looked up at him and watched him watch her—her hands never stopping their hypnotic, fluid motion. “Impressive, eh?” she asked.

     Nugget nodded, incapable of looking away or even of speaking.

     “I learned this from the others years ago. I could teach ye if ye want,” she said, “though I didn’t know if with yer clumsy human shape ye’d be able to pick up near as fast as I can.”

     “Is—” Nugget mumbled, eyes glued to her dexterous hands flashing along the edge of the blanket, “is—what—is—?”

     “It’s a, we call it a ‘Herennow,’ which isn’t a word, really, but lotsa things folk use are called things that aren’t real words, right? An’ whats a word, after all, but a sound that someone gave a meanin’ too. Ye like it?”

     “Unh-hunh,” Nugget said.

     “Take a seat an’ eat yer dinner, an’ I’ll tell ye all about it.”

     Without a word, without a single thought, without taking his eyes of the deft work of Mrs. Prune-Applebutter, Nugget stepped forward. He clonked over to the table, pulled the bench back, sat himself at it; he dug into the meal before him. As he ate, never ever taking his eyes off her work, he listened to her talk about the specific powers of the harennows.

     “They’ve got the power,” she said, “when you’re wrapped in one, to increase yer presence of mind, eh? When yer sittin’ around thinkin’ of all the other places ye could be, all the other things ye’d rather be doin’, all the other people ye wished ye were with, ye wrap yerself in this blanket and yer back where ye started. Wherever y’are, there y’are, eh? Doesn’t sound like much, but when yer in need of it, trust me, such a thing can come in mighty handy. I bet yer fellow humans’d pay a pretty penny to wrap themselves up in one of these, even if just for a bit. Sadly, they can’t take it back to yer world, or I’d be livin’ larger than Mr. Clementine, there. When they make the journey back, the delicate string we create—it just turns to nothin’ right in thin air. Sad, sure. But, that’s the way of the universe, eh?”  And just as her explanation reached its end, Nugget’s head dropped down to the table and he fell asleep.

     Mrs. Prune-Applebutter knitted and listened to Nugget and Clementine’s snoring play counterpoint to each other. She kept time with her needles.

                                                                        * * *

“Just stand there,” Abbey ordered, pointing to the pitcher’s mound.

    Wendell looked again, and his insides looped around inside him.  In the time since he’d first seen his monster, he’d walked around with a constant fear gnawning at his insides—but, afraid to admit it to anyone, he’d learned to pretend everything was fine. He got so good at it that nobody ever noticed anything was wrong, and, with time, he learned to believe it, too. Sure, the fear was always there; sure he knew there was a monster always feeding at it, but if he didn’t have to think about it, then who really cared? But now, facing the scene of his first monstrous encounter, he couldn’t pretend anymore; he couldn’t ignore it.

     “I . . . ,” he said, starting forward, then stopping again. “I wasn’t even standing there when it happened,” he said. “Remember? I was in the batter’s box, the monster came outta the pitcher’s mound.”

     “Doesn’t matter,” Abbey said, wandering over to him. “We’re not trying to re-enact what happened, we’re trying to get you scared. You’re gonna be more terrified if you’re standing where the monster came from then you would be standing where you saw him, right?”

     Wendell couldn’t deny it, but he also couldn’t move.

     “Go on,” she said. “I’m here with you. You don’t hafta be a wimp.”

     “I’m not a wimp,” Wendell snapped.

     “Prove it. Go stand on the picther’s mound like the wimp you’re not. You’re on a little leage, team, right? This should be nothin’.”

      “We don’t play in this park.”

     “Do it.” she commanded.

     Wendell tried to lift his feet and move, but nothing happened. The muscles in his legs wouldn’t cooperate. Abbey stepped closer still. She stood only an inch or so away, now, and she leaned in. “Do it now, wimp!”

     Wendell felt Abbey’s hand on his back. Then he felt her push. He felt himself moving closer to the mound.

     “I’m doing it,” he said, “I can do it, knock it off, jeeze. You’re stronger than you look.”

     “And don’t ever forget it.”

     Wendell moved for himself, and he took his position on the mound. Abbey nodded her approval and approached, staying on the grass surrounding the little clay island.

     “Now,” she said, “close your eyes.”

     Wendell looked at her, his eyes far from closed—his eyes, in fact, as wide as humanly possible. She pouted. She felt a little sorry for him—in fact, she felt a lot sorry for him, and that made her angry. Since Nugget brought him into the mix, she couldn’t help but look at Wendell and feel all kinds of annoying, irritating pity. And that made her hate him. Then she felt bad that she hated him, and she’d feel pity again, and then she’d hate him all over again. It was a cycle she wished to break free of. And she especially hated Nugget for bringing Wendell into the picture to begin with. But then, she also pitied Nugget. Having seen what she’d seen in her short time working with her grandfather, these monsters wielded untold power, and she couldn’t imagine living with one constantly nipping at her heels. So, resent them though she did, she also liked Wendell and Nugget and wanted to help them. And, she realized, without Wendell she’d have to go about trying to save Nugget more or less alone (who knows who long the monk would bury himself on books trying to find the answer). She was glad for Wendell’s company, or, rather, glad for company at all—something else she wasn’t used to.

     “Close your eyes,” she insisted.

     “The last time someone in your family said that, Nugget got turned to stone.”

     Abbey shrugged. “That’s hard to deny,” she said. “But think of him out there somewhere all by himself. Right? What could possibly be happening to him? It boggles the mind, really, when you think about it.”

     Wendell looked down and kicked the dirt, wishing he were about to battle an opposing team, not a supernatural being.

     “Right,” he said. “This is about Nugget.”

     “Right,” Abbey confirmed. “Annoying little freak that he is. So close your eyes.”

     Wendell complied.

     “Now,” Abbey said, “comes the fun part.”

     Wendell snorted.

     “I need you to trust me and to listen. Try to picture what I say. And no matter what you do, do not react to me. Whatever you do, don’t look at me, don’t walk away, just listen, just see it. OK?”

     “What’re you donna do?” Wendell asked, keeping his eyes closed. He wiped sweat from his brow.

     “You’ll see.” Abbey took a deep breath. “Oh . . . and Wendell?” she asked.

     “Yeah?”

     “The other thing is . . .”

     “What?” He waited for her response, but none came. He looked up again and opened his eyes. “What is it?” he asked.

     “Nothing,” she said. “Never mind, close your eyes.”

     Wendell studied her for a moment, then obeyed.

     “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.

      “What?” Wendell asked.

      “Shut up and closed your eyes, nimrod!” And with that, Abbey went to work. She drew a crumpled set of note pages from her pocket and opened them up. Immediately she began reading what she’d written there—a list of terrible things she knew Wendell would be terrified of. She’d discovered these things because, in the day between Nugget’s strange transformation and the time standing there on the baseball field, Abbey had snooped through his life, his trash, and—she felt worst about this—through is mind. “Imagine a fire burning down your house and destroying everything you love,” she said. “Imagine the ship sinking during your family’s summer cruise. Imagine everyone in school discovering you still sleep with a stuffed rabbit. Imagine everyone in school discovering you’re secretly terrified of them. Imagine your father comes back from wherever he’s been all these years . . .”

     She read item after item, revealing all his secrets. And every time she hit a particularly soar spot, she watched a terrible, tortured look pass over his face. She admired the way he resisted reacting to her, but she knew she was making him hate her more than he already seemed to. She also knew she was giving away most of her secrets, too—or at least her biggest one—that she could read reactions, body language, and minds; that she knew everything about everyone she came into contact with, and that nobody could keep anything secret from her.

     “Imagine you have to work in a bank instead of being an athlete,” she said. “Imagine you get pushed into a big pit of snakes. Imagine everyone that you love turns to you one day and tells you everything you’ve done is the biggest disappointment and you’re annoying, uninteresting, and the worst person whose ever walked the earth and that they never want anything to do with you ever again.”

     Something shifted in Wendell’s face—something that moved beyond basic hurt and basic fear, and into complete, blind terror. His face went paper-white, he stood drenched in sweat, his hands clenched at his sides, his eyes tightened and the tiniest whine escaped his throat.

     She knew it was time; she knew what he was seeing inside.

     She closed her eyes.

     Instantly, the machinery in her brain went to work. The force of her will shuffled the molecules that made up the baseball field, that made up time, that made up Wendell, and that made her. A black explosion surrounded her, louder than she’d imagined it would be. And suddenly, suddenly, everything changed and she opened her eyes and found herself standing next to Wendell in the burnt out ruins of a once-green park, staring—for the first time—into red hot eyes the eyes of a hairy-scary beast.


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