art by Stephen James Kiniry
I Kill Monsters
by Nathaniel Matthews Lee
Robbie killed monsters. He used a baseball bat, because they didn't give better weapons to ten-year-olds. It worked well enough. He'd cleaned out his room first, the slithering whispering things under the bed and the Chatterer in the closet. Then the attic, full of Flappers and Flutterers, and one that was more like a fog or a mist than anything solid. He'd poked holes in it with the bat, then swirled the bat around until the drifting fog-thing shrieked and funneled up through a crack in the ceiling like a tornado in reverse.
The last monster he killed was in the basement, where the strongest monsters always live, down near the earth and the dirt and the rot and the dark. The monster in Robbie's basement was a fetid, swollen worm of a creature, with a mouth of flat, grinding teeth. He'd hit it right between where the eyes would have been and kept hitting until it was a pulpy mass. It had taken him three days to finish breaking it into chunks and burying it in the backyard. Robbie's backyard was peppered with mounds of dirt, some overgrown now with grass, others still fresh. His neighbor Mrs. Cotterly thought Robbie was just a spectacularly bad goldfish-taker-care-of. Robbie patrolled the backyard nightly to make sure the monsters weren't coming back.
Robbie sometimes wondered if other kids saw the monsters like he did. He knew adults didn't; Mom had gone down to the basement every week to do the laundry and never once mentioned a twenty-foot, acid-drooling, spined worm that smelled like nail polish and farts. She'd even done laundry the week Robbie had killed it, but she never seemed to notice its decomposing corpse. He wondered if all little kids saw monsters to start with and then pretended they weren't there until everyone forgot they were pretending. He wondered why he couldn't pretend like everyone else.
When Robbie first started seeing the monsters, he'd tried to hide from them, but that only made them more interested. They swarmed under his bed and filled his closet until the hinges groaned, poking and prodding when he was asleep, leaving terrible messes to clean up in the morning and try to blame on the dog. This would have worked better if they'd had a dog in the first place. Now, after he'd cleaned out his house and made it safe, they just got him angry. He carried his baseball bat everywhere he could and threw a fit when they tried to take it away from him. Mom had had a word with the principal and Robbie was allowed to keep his baseball bat in the coatroom with the lunchboxes and jackets. He also had to go to see Dr. Spindler twice a month and talk about his feelings and why Dad left, but this was a small enough price to pay for safety and security. Even the school wasn't completely safe from monsters; Robbie had found one in the boy's shower room in the gymnasium, and he was fairly certain another one lurked in the boiler room, though he hadn't been able to convince Ned the janitor to let Robbie in to investigate.
This morning, Robbie stalked down the street stiff-legged, like a tomcat spoiling for a fight. The monsters that still lurked in the early morning shadows kept their distance, glaring snarls at him and flashing their white, white teeth. They knew him, now. All the monsters on his street did, because he'd hung the remnants of the worm-thing's head from his bedroom window on a jump rope for a week before burying it, as a warning to monsterkind. Something like a chimpanzee-wolf-porcupine puffed itself up as Robbie neared the thick bushes it hid in. Robbie hefted his bat from his shoulder, readying a swing, and the chimpolfupine hissed and withdrew.
They were all guts-nothing, anyway. The sun was half-risen; it wouldn't have been able to get even a normal kid. Robbie snorted and sauntered to the corner where the bus stopped.
A new kid was waiting there today. Normally, no one else was up as early as Robbie; he liked to do a sweep of the street and make sure no monsters got too bold and snatched up any of his classmates. The new kid had red hair and tons of freckles and glasses as thick as cheeseburgers. He smelled like medicine and soap.
"What's the bat for?" the new kid asked.
Robbie slung his bat and backpack down to the ground and rocked on his heels. "Killing monsters."
"Mom made them let me carry it, in case I need it during the school day."
The redhead nodded. "My mom had to fill out a form and stuff for my inhaler because they wanted it to stay in the nurse's office but I might need it when I can't get to the nurse's office or when it would take too long and so she told them and did the forms and now I can carry it with me." He rummaged in his pockets and came up with a small white canister encased in plastic. "See?"
"Cool. Is that, like, medicine?"
"I have asthma."
"My name's Stuart."
"It's my first day today."
Robbie grunted as though this were news. "Did you just move in?"
"Yeah." Stuart bit his lip and glanced around. "Are the kids here mean or nice?"
Robbie shrugged. "I dunno. I don't really pay much attention. I gotta keep an eye on the monsters."
"Wow. So you're... like... a policeman or something?"
Robbie shook his head. "It's not like a real job. It's just something I do and I have to do it because no one else does it."
Stuart was silent for several moments. "Do you really believe in monsters?"
"I have to, if I want to kill them."