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art by Justine McGreevy

Monsters Big and Small

Jakob Drud lives with his wife and children in Aarhus, Denmark, where he writes web copy for a living and science fiction and fantasy for fun. He writes in English because of the many interesting writers and people involved in the SF and fantasy web community. His short stories have appeared in various webzines and anthologies, including Space&Time Magazine and Flash Fiction Online. You can follow him on twitter (@jakobdrud) or jakobdrud.livejournal.com.
There is a monster under my bed. I know because it followed me home from school.
I could call for help, but I'm afraid what Dad will do. He was so mad about my suspension. He never hits me, but even when he was through with his 'Jason-dammit', he kept shouting at the TV.
Well, dammit, I was just practicing baseball swings. Wasn't my fault that Carlton ran into my bat, but the teachers and the principal kept saying how nobody had thrown a ball, and how angry I had been all day, and how angry I always am. Of course I was angry. Carlton tipped his tray over my head at lunch on purpose, but that's not why I hit him. That was an accident.
Or so I thought. Now I'm guessing the monster tripped him. Maybe it even herded him into my swing. You never know, what with monsters being invisible in daylight and all.
There's a scrape beneath the bed. It sounds like wind blowing, but I know the monster is sharpening its claws down there. I pull my blanket over my head, but it doesn't dampen the sound, and suddenly I can't hold back the tears.
"Dad!" I cry. "Help, Dad, there's a monster."
There's no answer, but after a long time I hear footsteps in the hall. They're slow, hard against the wooden floor, and I almost regret calling. Dad stomps his feet when he's angry, and I don't want him yelling at me again. Except, there's a strange rattling or ringing sound as well. What if it's not Dad? What if the monster called some of its friends and they're coming for me?
A knight in full plate armor opens my door. "Stay in your bed, Jason," the knight says. He has Dad's voice, but it sounds hollow coming from the closed helmet.
He crosses the floor to my bed in two long strides and pulls a longsword from the scabbard at his hip. The sword bursts into flame, nearly blinding me, but I can't take my eyes off the flames. They're good flames. They make me feel warm, like my blanket, and much safer. Even when the knight pulls back the sword for a strike, I am not afraid.
For all his slow, clanking steps, the knight strikes swiftly. In one fluid motion he kneels and stabs at the darkness beneath my bed. A bright light shines out, bathing his armor in a shower of gold. It shimmers up through the crack between bed and wall and brightens the room like the sun in the morning. I hear a small whimper from below and smell something dark and musty, like dust burning from a heater the first time you turn it on in the winter.
The whimper finally ends and the light under the bed winks out, but the longsword's flames light the room as the knight rises. He stuffs his helmet under his left arm. It's Dad. I'd know his black, short-cropped hair and sad eyes anywhere. Why he's come to my rescue when he was so mad before, I don't know. But he smiles now, a sad, courageous smile.
"The monster is gone, Jason," he says. "It was only a small one."
"I know." A big one would have eaten me long before. "Can you kill all kinds of monsters?"
He fingers the helmet as if he can feel it through his gauntlets. He's picking at a patch of rust, I realize. "I can kill some monsters," he says. "Some of the time. But never all of them. Nobody can do that."
I've wanted to ask him a question a lot of times, but Dad is often so quiet, or tired, or watching TV like he's lost to the world. But tonight he is strong, invincible, and my questions won't make him cry. "Was it a monster that killed Mom?"
"You can say that," he says. "One I couldn't fight. The knights at the hospital tried. Remember the shiny white cloaks they were wearing?"
I nod, even though the details are lost to me. Sometimes I can't even remember Mom unless I look at her picture. Still, I can imagine the doctors fighting in the hospital like a bunch of ninja warriors, only clad in white instead of black.
"They used sharp knives and poison and death rays, but even they couldn't win," Dad says.
"I should have helped them," I say.
"A boy shouldn't have to face the big monsters. The small ones, sometimes, but not always."
I nod and pull my blanket up around my shoulders. I've always known that monsters come in different sizes, but it feels good to hear Dad say it too.
"Now go to sleep, Jason." The armor rattles as he walks to the door. He stops there and sheaths his sword. "Do you want me to turn on the lights?"
"No, that's ok," I say. Nothing is going to bother me again tonight.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

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