The Fallen Pilot

The pilot of the rocket ship had lost his way. He’s made the jump into light-speed fully confident that the computer had properly calculated the destination correctly, but when they returned to normal space, none of his charts could identify his location.

There were several planets nearby, but only one was life supporting, so he headed for it to see if there was any help for him there. He disengaged his landing pod from the larger rocket booster and descended into the atmosphere.

His computer identified that the planet was almost entirely populated to the extent that he would have difficulty landing with any degree of discretion. So he headed for a remote location that seemed to have generally fewer people.

Mid way towards his destination his pod began to have some difficulty. The strange mix of gases in this planet’s atmosphere began to clog the pod’s exhaust system and the engines failed. He managed to perform a successful emergency landing in a field.

He fastened his life support system onto his head and chest, and took up a blaster on his hip. The canopy of his ship lifted to reveal a crowd of small beings with a form that generally matched his own. Each had two arms, two legs, and a head with various organs to support sensory perception. The major difference was the colour of their skin, which was pinkish white rather than blue.

When the beings saw the pilot, one of them made a gasping sound and uttered the sound, “cool.”

The beings ran away as he emerged from his ship. They went towards a large building and entered it. Sensing some danger, the pilot chose to enable the invisibility powers of his suit and follow the beings. As he reached the structure his decision was proven prudent as a large number of vehicles arrived to surround his crashed pod in the field.

He remotely enabled his vehicle’s invisibility powers, too.

Inside the building he discovered a crowd of the small beings he’d seen outside. They were being controlled by a very small group of larger beings who were ordering them around and directing their movements and actions.

The pilot wandered into a room where several of the small beings were expelling fluids into a white receptacles attached to the wall. Understanding this to be the product of the environment in which he wandered, he took notes and captured images.

However, as he did so he was careless and his blaster fell to the floor near one of the beings. Once the device had disengaged from contact with the pilot, it became visible.

“Dude, where’d you get that thing?” said one of the beings to the other near whom the device had fallen.

“What?”

“That blaster. Is it a clone one?”

The being stooped to pick up the blaster, and said: “This isn’t mine. But it’s so cool.”

The being with the blaster held it carefully in his arms and began to point it about the room, making shooting noises. The pilot ducked for cover.

“Does it make noise?” the other being asked.

The being pointed the blaster at the other and pulled the trigger. A tremendous noise sounded and a beam of green light shot out of the blaster, tearing a gaping whole through the chest of the first being and sending a massive splatter of blood onto the wall behind him.

“Cool.”

The pilot stood back silently and observed the being, who examined the remains of the other being. For a moment, the pilot considered revealing himself in order to seize the blaster. But before he could act the being fled the room. The pilot followed.

The being ran down the hall. Suddenly he yelled, “Hey, Martin! You’re a fucking turd brain!”

Another, much heftier and taller being turned to the being with the blaster and shouted, “You little runt! You’ll pay for that. Let’s get him!”

The being with the blaster shouted, “I wouldn’t do that!” He pointed the blaster at the being called Martin.

“Scott, a fucking Star Wars gun won’t stop me.” Martin lunged at Scott. Several other large beings followed Martin.

Scott again pulled the blaster’s trigger and a tremendous sound exploded and a beam of light shot though Martin’s head. The contents of Martin’s skull were expelled  and several nearby beings received a splattered coating of them.

Mayhem immediately ensued as the beings began to run about and away from Scott. The pilot lunged to grab the blaster, but an unfortunate side effect of invisibility is a loss of dexterity. Scott continued down the hall at a fast pace, towards a door and outside. Again, the pilot followed.

Atmospheric cover had been reduced since his landing and the strong glare of the powerful sun was much stronger than the pilot had ever experienced before. He increased the strength of his suit’s solar protection, but it was barely enough to permit the pilot to see in the powerful light. He heard explosions.

Scott had emerged into a large, open area holding a collection of immobile vehicles. He was indiscriminately destroying them with the blaster, one after another, in quick succession. 

The being had discovered that firing the blaster at a certain location of a vehicle resulted in a larger sound and incendiary event. He enjoyed this. Several other beings had joined Scott and cheered his actions. They all joined in a chant: “Can I try?”

Tired of the vehicles, and bothered by the resulting black, noxious smoke, Scott turned his attention to the building that he’d exited. He began to randomly destroy the transparent light portals and the walls themselves. More and more beings began to cheer.

Suddenly, from the crowd came a shout.

“Everyone be quiet. Scott Simpson, you give me that gun immediately!”

One of the much larger beings approached Scott.

“Why should I?”

“Scott, this is quite enough. I don’t know where you got that thing, but  you’ve caused enough havoc for today.”

“Mr. Denson, I like you but if you try and take this blaster away I’ll shoot you, too!”

Sensing danger, the pilot edged closer to Scott, who was carelessly holding the blaster.

The wind shifted at that moment. It pushed the thick black smoke from the burning vehicles towards the pilot and Scott. They were wrapped in its stench. The sun was unable to fully penetrate the cloud and the pilot’s vision returned; this was his moment to act.

“Scott, stop! Look out!” The larger being shouted, pointing at the pilota.

As it wrapped around the pilots invisible form, the black smoke revealed his shape.

Scott turned abruptly and saw the pilot lunging towards him. He carelessly and rapidly began firing the blaster. 

He caught the pilot in the leg, then in the shoulder. The pain was searing and unbearable. The pilot fell to the ground. His suit damaged, his visibility returned.

“Holy shit.” Scott stood over the pilot. “What are you?”

Mr. Denson joined Scott. He turned to the approaching crowd and shouted, “everybody stand back!”

“I think we’ve found the owner of your gun, Scott.”

Scott looked down at the fallen pilot and began to cry. He mumbled, “I’m sorry, Mr. Alien.”

He laid the blaster across the pilot’s chest. The pilot felt the strange atmosphere seeping into his damaged suit. His lungs began to convulse as the mixture of gases poisoned them.

Scott sat down next to the pilot and touched his arm. The pilot closed his eyes, cursed his faulty hyperdrive computer, and was gone. 


The Attack

The tree had stood there for a long time, thousands of years. She’d observed many events as the rain had washed her and the soil fed her and her trunk had grown thick and her branches towered into the sky.

Many of her compatriots had perished, mostly from lightning or fire. Just over there was another ancient tree like herself, but they were too far from one another to talk. Every few years they cast glances at one another, to make sure each still stood.

The old redwood had witnessed the death of many a deer, the murder of many a bear, the tussle of many a man and woman. Some had used her girth for cover, to hide or to ambush. Sometimes it had worked, sometimes not. She’d tasted the blood that had seeped into the earth at her base, absorbed into her roots.

Birds had nested in her branches for generations. Bears had climbed her in fear of human predators, and her trunk was forever scarred by the marks of their claws. Once she’d been shot by an arrow, and the stone of its head was still nestled deep in her fibres.

But things were changing. The water that washed her sometimes stung and burned. The air choked her and the rays of the sun’s rays weren’t as healthful as they once were. More people came now, tramping her roots, compounding the soil, making it harder for water to reach them.

The forest seemed to be growing lighter as ever more trees were cut down and taken away. More sun hit the ground, and it seemed to drink the water that she needed. She seemed to be thirsty most of the time.

And just recently she’d felt sick inside, like something awful was growing. It had happened that night of the full moon when a light had come down from the sky and she’d felt the sharp sting of something penetrating to deep inside her.

Eventually, the forest grew empty around her. Ever larger machines came and chewed up the younger trees, cracking and breaking them into splinters and chunks of bark and mere wood.

The animals left. She never saw another bear, nor deer, not even a squirrel. Soon she stood alone in a vast open landscape. Fires burned around her and smoke choked the air. Even her ancient brother was gone, and all she had to look towards was a dusty, twisting road that seemed to bring people in growing numbers.

They were digging holes now, tearing up the soil and the rocks. She could feel uncertainty in the earth around her.

The wind was stronger now, and some nights it took all the ancient redwood’s might to fight the power of the air around her which seemed intent on knocking her down. The rain was plentiful, mainly because she was the only tree around to drink it. But it always seemed to dry back to the air before her roots could enjoy its moisture. 

Even the worms in the earth were fleeing.

One day a truck came and fastened a large, flat piece of the remains of her brethren to her. It had markings on it. She hoped the wind would come and blow it off, but it never did.

Just after that a large group of people gathered around her. One large, fat man did most of the talking, the others listened. Sometimes they used machines that shot light at him. She didn’t understand what they said. But sometimes they smashed their hands together, which seemed promising.

Suddenly, the sickness in her began to burn. Her entire being trembled and she swayed uncontrollably. The burning was unbearable, it grew within her and seemed to be moving outward.

Suddenly there was an explosion, and she shattered near her base. Wood splintered in all directions, killing some of the people. Dead now, she toppled and the weight of ten thousand years fell down on the crowd.

A pool of green gel oozed out of the centre of the dead tree’s trunk. From the gel rose a rose-coloured form. It had arms and legs like a human, but its head was shaped like a triangle. It spoke from between two sharp yellow horns.

“We are the Lorax,” it said.

The creature looked at the fat man who had been speaking to the crowd. As he tried to flee, the creature grabbed him.

“Leave me alone!” the fat man screamed.

The creature grabbed a huge splinter of wood from the dead tree. It rammed it through the fat man’s body like a toothpick through an olive. The man screamed as blood flooded from his mouth. The creature grabbed the man’s head and crushed it easily.

“It’s time for you all to die,” the Lorax said, and then walked towards another survivor who lay pinned under the dead tree.

Lights shone in the sky.

Super Dilemma

It was a boring meeting.

Perry had been yammering on for almost an hour about journalistic quality and integrity and yadda-yadda-yadda. Even for a superhuman being from Krypton, boredom was dangerous and Clark Kent’s eyes were getting heavy.

“And dammit, Jimmy, get a new camera,” Perry exploded. “Every frame you’ve shot for the last two weeks has been out-of-focus!”

Clark permitted himself a quiet smirk. That was Jimmy’s newfound coke habit on display. He’d picked it up after that last photo feature about the East Side, and it was getting out of control. Jimmy was a friend, but ever since he and Lois has been sneaking off for lunch-time rendezvous, Clark was a bit miffed with him. The curse of x-ray vision, really. He pretty much hated them both now.

Suddenly the window of the news room exploded and glass flew everywhere. Clark managed to discreetly atomize a few large shards with his heat vision that threatened to pierce the lovely bosom of Lois Lane. 

He let one implant itself in Jimmy’s left butt cheek, just for sport. Olson was high anyway, he wouldn’t feel anything.

“Hello, Daily Planet staff!”

Lex Luthor was standing just inside the broken window with six of his goons.

“Time to make some news!”

Several people screamed even as several other hurled insults. Jimmy groped for an imaginary camera then giggled quietly to himself.

There was a desk in between Lex and his buddies and Clark Kent. They couldn’t see him well on the floor where he’d fallen. The door to the hallway was about five feet way. Clark decided to make a run for it.

He straightened his glasses and lunged for the doorknob. It was a perfect motion, his body was twisting in anticipation of the door opening. He’d be gone before anyone noticed he’d moved.

But the door was locked. And instead of slipping out an open door, Clark’s face slammed into the casing. One lens of his glasses cracked and the frame broke.

The room was silent. Clark turned his head slowly, his hands still on the locked doorknob. The cracked lens fell to the ground.

“What the hell was that?” Lex Luthor roared with laughter. “Were you trying to run away? That was pathetic!”

Most everyone began to laugh at Clark Kent now.

“I just really have to pee,” Clark nervously chuckled.

As the laughter died down Lex tapped one goon on the shoulder.

“Kill him.”

Gunfire roared as bullets sprayed across Clark Kent’s body. He closed his eyes as pain roared through his mind and he fell to the floor, face down.

“Clark!” It was Lois. She ran to him, sobbing.

Yeah, whatever, bitch.

“Get away from him!” Lex screamed. A goon came over and dragged her away.

“Now listen carefully, everyone, so we don’t have to kill any more of you. We’re looking for Superman. He seems to like you people, so we’re going to terrorize you until he arrives.”

Great. And here I am, stuck on the floor.

Clark could hear Lois sobbing quietly.

“Fuck him, Lois,” Jimmy whispered. “You’re my girl now.”

“But, Jimmy, it’s Clark…”

“Don’t worry about him. Here. Take this.”

“No, I don’t want any right now.”

“Take it. The pain goes away.”

Clark listened as Lois unwrapped something. Then she sniffed heavily. Then the sound of her head knocking back softly against the wall.

She’s doing the shit, too? Fucking Jimmy.

“Too bad we can’t do it right now.”

“Oh, Jimmy.”

Do I have to listen to this?

“Oh Jimmy, you’re sticky. Is this blood? Jimmy, you have a piece of glass in your ass.”

“Whoa.”

That was worth it.

“What’s going on over here?” Lex rushed over to the scene between Lois and Jimmy.

“Jimmy is injured, you have to let him go.”

“Nobody leaves here! If Superman doesn’t arrive in time, he’ll just be dead.” Clark heard Lex pace back and forth once or twice.

“In fact… maybe he needs some incentive.” Lex’s foot steps went away again.

“No! No!” That was the voice of Ned, the mailroom sorter. There was the sound of dragging and a struggle. “Please, god, no!” Several voices started to yell in a unified sort of pleading.

“Shut up all of you,” Lex yelled. “If I don’t have Superman’s attention yet, maybe this will get it.”

Then Ned’s scream, which faded quickly.

“He threw Ned out the window!” Lois gasped.

“Cool!” whispered Jimmy.

Dammit. Is this where I get up? Ned was an idiot, is he worth revealing my identity? If I just lay here more people might die? But I can’t let everyone know that I’m Superman! 

“Where is Superman?” Lois whispered to Jimmy. “Why isn’t he coming?”

“I dunno,” muttered Jimmy. “Maybe he’s busy. Hey, did you really love Clark?”

“Clark? I don’t think so. He was a bit of a schmuck.”

“Why did you stick with him for so long?”

“He reminds me of something. I dunno.”

“Hey, remember when Ned taped the Kick Me sign to Clark’s back?”

Ned taped a kick me sign to my back? I should have killed him myself.

“Yeah, that was funny. He wore it all the way home. I finally took it off after dinner.”

Jimmy laughed. “What a loser. It’s amazing to remember what an idiot Clark was. I still don’t know why you stuck with him.”

“Pity, maybe. Self-loathing? You know, he was halitosis central. I don’t think he ever brushed his teeth. Kissing him was almost torturous.”

My teeth are fucking immortal, bitch. I don’t need to brush them.

Jimmy laughed. “And his butt. What was up with his butt. It always looked like he had an extra shirt stuffed in his pants, or was wearing some mondo ginch. What was that?”

What would you do with a cape under your suit, Jimmy, shove it up your ass?

“I don’t know,” Lois giggled. “He always got undressed in the bathroom. He’d say, ‘I just have to slip into something more comfortable, Lois’ and he’d disappear for like an hour.”

Oh that’s nice. At least I had the decency to freshen up. Your armpits always smelled like monkey balls, dear.

“No way! Was it worth it?”

“Not really. It was all over in a few minutes and then we’d be watching Leno. He had a bad habit of farting after he, you know… I usually had to get up to open the window while he’d sit there guffawing at the opening routine.”

You’re so not saved. If Lex tosses you out the window, you’re hitting the pavement.

“Oh man, do you remember when Sue from accounting baked the chocolate Ex Lax into that birthday cake for Clark? He almost ate the whole thing, didn’t seem to notice nobody else was even touching it.”

Sue? I thought she was flirting with me, baking me a cake. What an awful cake. I didn’t want her to feel bad. Do I have any friends in this office?

“I think Clark had something for her. Oh my good, you should have smelled the apartment that night. It was like somebody was letting off depth charges in the toilet.”

 I do have super-bowels, too, you know. My indigestion is interstellar.

Jimmy and Lois continued to gossip about what they believed to be the corpse that lay face-down a few feet from them. Over time Lex tossed a few more Daily Planet staff out the window in an effort to gain the attention of his nemesis. But the superhero never arrived.

“Well that’s enough. We’re out of here,” Lex complained. “I suppose Superman doesn’t care about the lot of you as much as we thought.”

Lex and his goons fired up their jetpacks and disappeared into the sky.

“Okay, everybody, stay calm!” That was Perry shouting. He loved the sound of his own voice. “The police and paramedics will be here any minute, I’m sure.”

Clark roused himself slowly. He feigned pain in his head and chest.

“Oh my god, Clark! You’re alive!”

“What happened? I just remember trying to run for it.”

“And leave us all here, as usual, Clark. Look at my ass!”

“How are you even alive?” Lois exclaimed. “You were shot! Lots of times!”

Clark smirked. “Kevlar. I started wearing it a few weeks back. Major crime beat has its risks, you know.”

Lois’ head nodded lazily down against her chest. She struggled to lift it up again. “I’m so glad… Clark.”

“What about you, Lois? Your nose is red and bleeding a little…”

Lois wiped her nose clumsily. “It’s just a cold. Just a cold.”

Jimmy giggled, “Yeah. A snowy cold.” Lois hit Jimmy with the back of her hand, a weak smack.

“Well, gee, okay. I’ve still got to pee, so I’ll see you guys later.”

“Clark, wait for the paramedics…”

“I’m okay. I’ll see you later.” Clark walked across the room and slipped out the main door. Lois watched him go.

“Do you think he heard us? Was he awake?”

“Oh who cares. Clark’s a schmuck. Just a straight-up, sober, schmuck.”

The Monkey Hunter

He was already sweating under his pith helmet as he struggled through the jungle’s thick underbrush. He’d left his machete behind, having expected to have seen a monkey long before dawn and much closer to his property, so the bush was wearing him out. 

Last night as he fell asleep his heard his wife say, “I’ll need some monkeys in the morning.”

“Yes, dear,” he replied as a lovely scotch buzz pushed him off into a dream.

When he woke this morning he recalled his wife’s request, and found it odd. But she was young, and far from home, and blonde – and she’d been dabbling in the local cuisine – so he thought nothing of heading out into the pre-dawn after a chimp or two.

Up ahead he heard the river and he looked forward to stopping there for a rest and some water. He was surprised he’d made it this far so quickly. He stopped on the bank and found a comfortable patch of dirt in the shade between two trees. He filled his canteen and sat back against the trunk of a tree to doze and regain some energy. The jungle was full of sounds around him, and they lulled him into a calm, quiet state of meditation.

A shrill, chattering broke his doze and he woke up abruptly. Across the river he saw a small monkey doing some sort of dance as a hawk circled close around him.

“That’s my fucking monkey, you dirty bird,” the man muttered to himself.

The man grabbed for his rifle, raised it to his eye and peered through the scope. He carefully placed its cross hairs on the monkey and followed the creature’s dance up and down a log.

As he watched the monkey, he realized that the bird wasn’t bothering the monkey at all. Rather, it was following the monkey’s instructions, pulling fish out of the river and tossing them on the bank. Before too long the monkey had collected quite a pile of fish. He let the hawk land to rest and feast on one.

The man noticed some motion in the jungle behind the monkey. A large shape crept out of the shadows.

“That’s my fucking monkey, you dirty cat,” the man muttered as he recognized the tiger prowling towards the monkey. His finger fell gently on the trigger and prepared for his shot.

Suddenly the monkey turned to the tiger and began to chatter at it loudly. The tiger listened a moment, then turned its attention to a nearby banana tree. The tree was on a ridge and hung out precariously over the river on an angle. The tiger went to the base of the tree and climbed up two-thirds to where it began to hang down from the weight of its bountiful fruit. The mighty cat was careful about creeping too far out over water.

The steel of the scope had become uncomfortable, and the man pulled it away and rubbed his eye. When he looked up again he noticed an alligator had taken an interest in the monkey’s pile of fish. The reptile seemed ready to pounce out of the water on the monkey, in fact.

“That’s my fucking monkey, you dirty lizard,” the man muttered. He returned the rifle sight to his eye and began to aim carefully.

Once again, he observed the monkey chattering noisily at a predator. The alligator stopped and listened, then calmly cruised across the water to a point just below the tiger. He turned and looked at the monkey.

The monkey issued a series of instructions to the alligator that were clearly meant to better position the alligator. Then the monkey directed the tiger to crawl a bit further out on the branch and bounce.

The banana tree began to sway wildly up and down and a shower of banana bunches showered down on the alligator’s back. Many more bunches fell into the river and sank out of sight.

After a brief time a mountain of bananas formed on the alligator’s back. The monkey was wild now. He motioned for the alligator to come back, then he instructed the tiger to leave its perch in the tree. The banana tree leapt back up into the sky, light of its fruit burden.

The alligator swam the short distance to a small patch of muddy shore. He climbed out and shook himself to dump the bananas onto the ground.

The monkey quickly ran over with several fish and tossed them down in front of the alligator. The alligator began to eat the fish.

The tiger made its way to the fish and began its own feast there on the log. The hawk returned and helped the monkey move some of the fish down to the alligator, as well. After a few trips the tiger took grievance with his own dwindling resources and let loose a nasty snarl.

The man watched all this through the sight on his rifle.

“What a clever fucking gibbon,” he muttered. The monkey ran to its newfound treasure of bananas and carefully dragged a small bunch to what it seemed to consider a safe distance from the feasting alligator.

The man’s stomach grumbled. He rolled over on his back and looked at his watch.

“Well, damn it all,” he muttered. “I’ll be late for tea.”

He rolled back onto his belly and sighted up the monkey again. As the creature settled in for his first bite, the man shot him through the heart.

At the sound of the gunshot, the other animals scattered. The man rose from his spot in the shade. He knew a wider, shallower spot just downriver where he could cross.

When he came upon the dead monkey, he marveled at his own good aim. The small creature still clutched the banana in its claw, and the man took it. Then he noticed that the monkey only had the one hand, the other was missing, along with part of its forearm. It was the same for its one leg, part of which was missing from the knee down.

“Fuck,” the man muttered. “Well I hope it’s not some hand and foot delicacy she’s preparing.”

He looked at the impressive mound of bananas in the mud. 

“A whole fucking market’s worth,” he muttered. The man pulled back the peel from the banana he’d taken from the monkey and bit into the flesh.

“Lovely,” he muttered. “That should hold me till tea.”

He grabbed the dead monkey by the scruff of its neck and tossed it into his satchel.

When he arrived home he found his wife under the awning at the back of their house, enjoying a drink.

“Where the hell have you been, dear?” She barely looked up from her book when she said this.

“Well, I only got one, and its short some hands and feet, so I hope that’ll do for your purposes.” He tossed the satchel onto the ground beside her.

The man motioned to his manservant for a scotch. The man’s wife gave her husband an odd look and put her book down.

“One what? What are you talking about?”

“Why, one monkey, you said you needed some monkeys last night.” He kicked the satchel over and the monkey fell out into the dirt at her feet.

The man’s wife screamed, stood up and ran across the patio.

“Are you insane?” 

The man was taken aback. “But you said you needed – ”

“Some money! Some money for the market you stupid old fool! I do wish you’d put that damned hearing aid in!”

The man’s wife started crying and went inside.

The manservant arrived with the man’s drink. The man drank it quickly and quietly and stared down at the monkey’s carcass.

“You were a clever monkey,” he muttered.

The man put the empty glass on the table. He took the monkey by the tail and dragged it across the yard. When he arrived at the high fence he paused for a moment before tossing the monkey’s body over into the grass.

“The wild dogs will get it tonight, I expect,” he muttered and then headed back to the house.

The Blue Monster

Tom’s day at school had been rough. One of the boys had spat on his face from the top of the slide when Tom had been the Lava Monster. His collar was crusty with it now as he arrived home. He really needed a hug.

He’d followed his older brother, Hank, home. Hank’s friends threw rocks at Tom all the way just to make sure he kept his distance from them. Tom’s backpack felt incredibly heavy with the Illustrated History of Dragons, and the lunch his teacher has confiscated at noon and then forced him to take home at the end of the day. His mom should know by now that his school was a nut-free zone.

So Tom was hungry, too. But he didn’t mind that. He just needed a hug.

When they arrived home Tom’s baby sister Liza was crying. His Mom was busy mopping up the baby’s vomit and talking to someone on the phone about baby fevers.

Tom looked around hopefully, but his Dad wasn’t there. He never was, Tom never knew why he might expect him. He worked, after all. But he just hoped that maybe, by chance, this one day when Tom really needed a hug his Dad might surprise him and be home early. Then they could sit together on the couch and read his Illustrated History of Dragons and have a snack together.

But he knew that would never happen, either. Tom’s Dad just worked some more after he came home.

Tom’s Mom started yelling at Hank and his friends for tracking mud in the house after they marched into the kitchen after a snack.

She told them to get out, to go outside and play. Liza’s screaming was hurting everyone’s ears, and Tom’s Mom tried to yell louder than the scream to make herself heard. Suddenly Liza threw up on the floor again. Hank and his friends grabbed a bag of chips and ran out back onto the deck.

Tom’s Mom started to cry. She sat down slowly on a chair at the kitchen table and cuddled Liza carefully, her tears dropping into the baby’s eyes. Suddenly she noticed Tom watching and she wiped her eyes.

Tom and his Mom looked at each other. Liza was crying. 

“Go out and play with your brother,” Tom’s Mom whispered.

Tom went out back. Hank and his friends were fighting over bikes. There were only three bikes, and four of them.

“I’m not riding this girl bike,” Michael, one of Hank’s friends said.

“That’s my bike!” Tom shouted.

“Like I said,” Michael shouted, “It’s a girl’s bike.”

Hank and his friends laughed hard.

Hank decided to double his best friend, Chris, on his handlebars, and the other boys settled on Hank’s old bike and Tom’s bike.

“Mom says I have to play with you,” Tom said.

“Oh, piss off!” Michael yelled.

“Don’t worry,” Hank whispered, “he can’t keep up.”

The boys opened the back gate and sped off along the path towards the dam. Only Michael was slow enough for Tom to stay close to.

Hank and the others were waiting on the bridge over the creek. They yelled at Michael to hurry up, that they’d never lose Tom if they couldn’t move faster.

So when he got to the bridge Michael hopped off Tom’s bike and he tossed it into the creek.

“There, now we’ll lose him.”

Michael got a double with the other boy and they took off along the path faster than Tom could ever hope to run. But he didn’t want to go with them anyway.

The air was dusty and cool and he sat down by the bridge rail. He turned and looked through it at his bike. He could barely make out a glint of light on its wheels under water.

He looked past the bike then, up the creek bank, and saw a trail. He’d never noticed the trail there before. It lead up the steep hill towards the mountains. The tops of the mountains were starting to catch clouds from the sky and it looked like it might rain.

As he got up Tom realized he was still carrying his backpack. He knew he couldn’t leave it here. If Hank and his friends found it, they’d probably toss the Illustrated History of Dragons into the creek. 

Besides, his lunch would make a good snack somewhere along the way.

So Tom headed off along the path that followed the creek up the hill towards the mountain. It was a slender path and it was crossed by roots and sometimes lost itself among leaves and grass. But Tom naturally followed it, even through the dark patches when it veered away from the creek.

Sometimes all Tom could hear was his own breathing and the sound of his feet breaking the dirt and stones. He stopped once when he came across a beetle. It moved slowly, and made Tom feel tremendously large. Tom raised his foot above the beetle, and imagined the sickly crack of its shell as he squished it.

But something made him stop. Instead, he kneeled down and cupped the beetle in his hands. He held the beetle up and when a wind passed by the beetle opened its wings and rode the gust away across the creek. Tom watched him go, and land on a tree. It wasn’t far, but Tom guessed that it must have been quite a journey for that little beetle.

After some time Tom began to feel tired and hungry. He wished for a good place to stop but the trail had become quite steep and rocky. He thought about turning back. But there seemed to be a clearing up ahead, at the top of one particularly steep bit that Tom had to use his hands to ascend.

Suddenly he was on a large plateau that seemed to jut out into the sky from the side of the mountain. There was a bit of grass, some logs and some stones. There couldn’t have been a more perfect place to sit down for a snack.

A soft, warm wind dried the sweat from Tom’s brow. He looked out at the trees that stretched across the valley to the mountains beyond like a scratchy green sweater. Smoke rose from the empty patches of clearcut.

Tom sipped a juice box for a long time. His Mom still didn’t realize that he hated apple juice. That was Hank’s favourite.

Tom decided he would live on this plateau forever. He laid his head down on his backpack and closed his eyes for a moment.

A loud sound of breathing woke Tom up. He didn’t dare open his eyes at first. It might be Hank, ready to thrash him for taking off. But the breathing was bigger than that.

So Tom opened his eyes. He was still on the plateau, the valley was still below, but the sun had moved in the sky.

Tom felt the breath behind him. It was a light, but big breath. Terrified, Tom turned around slowly.

On a large boulder, leaning against a tree, sat a huge blue monster.

Tom gasped. He was panicked, but couldn’t run. Surely he couldn’t run faster than this beast?

The monster glanced down at Tom and seemed very unbothered by him. Then Tom realized that the monster was simply looking at the valley.

Tom looked very carefully at the monster. He was huge. As big as a house. His hair was blue, like the ink of a pen, and his hair was long and shaggy. It got short around his face, which displayed a sort of yellowish skin. His upturned nose was wet, and the monster kept licking it. And each time he licked it he displayed a vast array of sharp teeth, like cat’s. The monster had two small horns growing from his forehead, which were white.

The monster wore an outfit not unlike Tom’s: a t-shirt and shorts. He didn’t wear any shoes, though. The monster’s arms and legs were covered with blue hair which seemed to be have been kept very clean.

Tom noticed that the monster’s toenails needed a clip, though. The monster wasn’t old. It was probably a kid monster. So after a while Tom stopped staring at the monster and looked back at the valley below.

But Tom was hungry and his stomach began to rumble. The monster gave him a strange sideways glance.

Tom opened his pack and pulled out his lunch. He opened it and pulled out the cellophane-wrapped sandwich. Without thinking, he took a quick bite. He didn’t chew, though.

He looked up at the monster, who was watching intently. He lifted the other half up towards the monster.

The half-sandwich was barely a crumb to the monster, but he took it from Tom by allowing the boy to place it on his finger. Tom was suddenly gripped with fear and panic as the monster tossed the tiny morsel into its mouth: what if monsters are allergic to peanut butter?

But he seemed to enjoy it, even smiling slightly the moment after he swallowed it. Tom wondered what monsters usually ate.

Tom sat quietly and enjoyed his half of the sandwich. Then he returned to gazing out at the valley.

Whereas Tom had once wanted to flee the monster, he suddenly felt compelled to stay forever.

Suddenly a tremendous thud sounded on the ground. Tom turned to look and saw a large patch of wet. It was starting to rain.

Then another thud sounded and Tom saw that it wasn’t rain. The boy looked up in time to see the monster wipe another tear from his eye. 

Tom stood up and walked to the monster. He tapped the monster’s toe, and held his arms up in the air towards him.

The monster stood up suddenly, and towered above Tom. He raised his foot. Tom suddenly remembered the beetle.

But the monster stepped over Tom, moved to a clearing, and sat carefully on the grass. He laid his huge, blue hand on the grass for Tom.

Moving carefully, a little scared now, Tom went to the monster’s hand. He noticed that the hand had only three fingers and one thumb, and that each digit ended with a long, coarse claw-like nail. Tom touched the nail. It felt like rock, like a rough boulder. It was cracked a bit, and thick.

Tom laid his hands on the monster’s fingertips. They too were rough, but warm, and they gave a bit when Tom pressed on them.

Tom looked up at the monster, who was looking gingerly down. The monster was smiling, but his eyes were still sad. And then Tom knew what the monster needed.

Spreading his arms wide, and laying his head on the monster’s fingertip, Tom hugged with all his might. He hugged so hard that he feared he might hurt the monster, but he knew he never actually could. And then Tom cried a bit as when the monster’s finger twitched, he knew he was getting a hug back.

The sky was turning red when the two decided to say good-bye. The boy and the monster gazed upon one another for a very long time before the monster turned and disappeared soundlessly into the trees, moving up the mountain. Tom waited a moment and touched the monster’s tear puddle one more time before he headed down the path.

It was dark, and Tom could barely see the path, but he knew that if he followed the sound of the creek he’d be alright.

And it was a long time that he heard his brother calling and cursing him before he saw Hank.

Tom appeared on the bridge in front of his brother, who held a flashlight. It took a moment for Hank to notice him.

“Where the hell you been?”

“I went for a walk.”

“You were supposed to stay with me!”

“You guys took off, so I — ”

“You better not say that to mom!”

Tom could see that Hank’s fear was turning to anger in the dusky light.

“Where’s your damn bike?”

Tom didn’t say anything, he just looked over at the creek.

“Dammit, why’d you let him throw it in? Sometimes you gotta stand up for yourself.” 

Hank grabbed his little brother by the collar of his shirt and dragged him down the creek bank to the water, then he threw the boy in.

“Get your damn bike.”