By John Henry Whelan
Among all those knobbly mastiff-jawed manglers there are only perhaps a few go-getters, but what they are going to get is you. No, we can’t hide under the bed—they’ll look there first, the smart ones will. They’ll look everywhere eventually.
Of course I’ll help. Hush, old friend. Hush. I have an idea, but you’re going to have to be very brave. Still trust me sideways?
Out to the hall then, and be careful not to smudge the chalk. I know it’s frightening. My dear boy, you must do as I tell you! They are coming, and our only hope is to forestall them. Into the hall, my brave one.
Feel your way along the wall. Pick me up, I’m far too slow for this.
Not the closet, not yet. First the kitchen. Are you hungry?
No, of course… silly old habits. But that’s not why we’re here. Get a mug from the cupboard, put it on the table. A saucepan on the stove. A spoon in the mug.
No. If you can’t see well enough slow down. Two things matter: darkness and a trail for them to follow. Now go unlock the back door.
They’d get in anyway: they may batter it down just for fun.
No, not yet. There’s more to do in here.
To the front door now, open it, step outside—look at the moon!
It’s just been such a long time. I…
Clomp down the sidewalk, big heavy steps—now hop up on the grass and creep this way. We’ll leave trails to befuddle a legion, the way we used to play at.
Climb under those bushes, tramp around a bit. Back inside now, my boy.
Are you ready? Steel your heart. We must go to the attic—we won’t have enough time otherwise. Do you remember how we used to hide up there? What I wouldn’t give for one more rainy afternoon.
Do be careful—you weigh a bit more than you used to.
Hah. Dust weighs very little. Think you can bear a minute here in darkest dark?
What do you mean you don’t want to leave? They’re coming!
Just a little while longer, then. Do you know, I’d forgotten that I was the one who was frightened of this place?
No, we’ve spent up all our leeway: go now or we are lost. Down the ladder, close the hatch but not quite all the way. Perfect. They’ll be up there for a good long time.
Back this way now, to the hall closet. Get inside. They won’t find us. I’m sure they’ll go to your room first.
I know them.
Well, maybe I wasn’t entirely certain. My poor boy: your hands are trembling. Close your eyes and think of this: in a few minutes they’re going to pour out of the bedroom, following our trail, and we’ll have done it!
There they go. But you have to move. Focus on my voice. One moment then another. Open the door. Now turn left. Take three short steps. Good. Feel for the doorknob. Slide your hand along the door, don’t rush. A little lower. Turn it slowly, inch the door forward. Get in and shut the door behind you. Take a deep breath. Take three.
I believe that we have shaken them.
And here we are exactly where we need to be. They won’t return until they’ve run the little course we’ve set.
I know how difficult, how frightening, that was.
Me too. But we can’t wait any longer. Where do you keep the chalk?
If I stay, they’ll get you.
Because you would have fought it. But also because…this way let us have one last adventure. Otherwise it would have only been goodbye.
I’m so sorry.
No, you don’t have to redraw it, there’s a trick. Just erase right…there, yes. Add a line between the center of the third axis and that corner just below it. A straight line.
Yes, well, I’ve learned some things over the years. I thought you might try it, one day. I always hoped.
No one had ever wanted to play with me before.
No, no shortcuts. They have to be the same words: this is what we were buying time for. You have to begin it. Right now!
And do you think I want to leave you? My best friend? But if anyone would stand for you it must be me.
Of course I forgive you. It meant…oh, I’d never even have seen you grown!
Don’t cry, my boy. My boy. Say the words.
There’s a good lad. You’ve done all you need to. They will never, ever catch you.
Of course I am! I’ve dreamed of seeing you again since they first followed me here. But no more. You can’t do this again.
No. If you ever reopen it, there won’t be any time. I’m so sorry.
You must try to sleep now. It will be better for both of us, if you don’t see it. But I will watch over you always. I want you to remember that, even when there’s nothing left of me here. Promise me that you’ll remember!
That’s my boy. Oh, I love you too.
Wait. Please don’t put me down. I don’t want to leave you, not yet. No. No, it was the right thing to do. Of course I don’t blame you! But could you…could you…
Could you sing me to sleep, just one last time?