|Larry sat stiff and upright in his rocket ship bed. His Toy Story comforter was drawn to his neck where it was held in place by two sweaty hands. He was aware that his Spiderman undies were slightly damp now, and from the way his bladder kept trying to let go, they were destined for extreme moistness. Larry whimpered slightly, but kept his eyes on the patch of greater shadow that filled his open closet door.
A shape hunched there, distinct enough that he could almost make it out. It wasn't large like The Hulk or even Darth Vader, but it was frightening all the same. Twin triangles at the top could be ears or stubby horns. A ragged profile could indicate fur or spines. It seemed to hunch, whatever it was, keeping its body compact, about the size of a very large house cat.
The shadow moved.
Larry froze in stark terror. Up until now he hadn't truly believed that the shadow was a real creature. Surely, he thought, it was a collection of dirty clothes piled whimsically upon other toys to create a shadow with a menacing shape. Now he knew differently, and the knowledge paralyzed him with fear.
It was a bad day to be a kid, alone in a room without any siblings or even any pets to keep him company. It was also a bad day to be a pair of Spiderman underwear, which had now become a victim of collateral damage.
Last week it would have been different. His dog Jaeger, a loyal dachshund, would have been here to warn off the scary intruder with barks and growls. The dog was small, but he had loved Larry with a holy passion that bordered on doggy dementia.
Hot tears sprang alive in the boy's eyes as he recalled the sad and gory scene in their back yard. Jaeger was literally torn apart, with blood, fur, and guts strewn across the lawn Dad worked so hard to keep perfect. Dad said that it was coyotes, and they were just doing what came naturally. The doggy door had blood on it, a sad testimony to Jaeger's final moments. It had been the very worst day of Larry's life.
Larry unclenched his teeth and screamed for the one person that he knew could protect him from monsters, "Daddy!" He kept screaming until pounding feet and blinding light produced his sleepy father.
"What's the matter, buddy?"
"There's a scary monster in my closet."
Dad tried to hide his skepticism, but Larry saw him roll his eyes, "Are you sure? This isn't like the time you saw Alice in Wonderland and had bad dreams about a jabberwocky, is it?"
"Dad," the boy pleaded, "just look, please?"
Huffing out a sigh, his father dutifully checked the closet's interior, "Nope! No monsters here!" He raised his palm dramatically, "I hereby certify this closet to be monster free! Feel better, son?"
"Now be a brave boy and go to sleep. I'll turn on a night light for you."
His father retrieved the Superman light from the night stand and plugged it in. When the lights went out this time, Larry could see much better.
He lay back on his bed and closed his eyes, trying hard to be a brave boy.
Then that creepy feeling washed over him again. It was the same as before, that shivery knowledge that something was watching him. He sat up and stared in shock. In the low light, near the closet, he could see a real live monster. It had dark red eyes and a long muzzle with large sharp teeth poking out in all directions. It may have been smaller than him, but this creature was heavily muscled. Long sharp claws extruded from each powerful limb. A line of drool ran from its mouth to the floor before its long red tongue snaked out to whip it away with a nasty slurping noise.
Larry screamed again. This time his father was there in moments.
"Dad, it's back!" Larry pointed, "Look!"
Despite the light and presence of his father, the ugly little monster hadn't moved. Instead it continued to squat there like some sort of demon toad with patchy fur, grinning up at Larry's parent.
"I still don't see anything." his dad said, scanning the bedroom floor.
"It's right there in front of you!" Larry pointed frantically.
"Larry! Seriously, Boy, I haven't got the patience for these games tonight. Go to sleep or you'll get privileges taken away."
The lights went out again and the bedroom door slammed shut like a prison cell.
When his vision readjusted, Larry saw the monster again. It was near the bed now, and creeping closer.
He cringed back and began to cry, hopeless tears of fear rolling down his cheeks as he shrank away from the hideous little horror. He thought about pulling the blanket over his head, but then he'd be both helpless and blind to the monster's approach. Every muscle in his eight-year-old body tensed, his heart jackhammering away so hard behind his ribs that the thumping was actually painful.
In the light that Superman bravely cast, the creature looked ghostly, phasing between solid and insubstantial. Its ugliness was the only constant. It watched him intently with bugging eyes over a wolfish snout. That horrible red tongue licked out again to whip across its nose as it crept closer.
A high pitched sound, barely audible, came from that fang-filled mouth. Then the creature stopped right below the boy's face and seemed to retract into a crouch.
Larry's overtaxed heart juttered and skipped. He wanted to scream for help, to leap off the bed and run to his parents' room. But his mouth didn't work. His muscles wouldn't respond to the frantic commands of his fear-soaked brain.
The beast coiled further and then suddenly sprang up onto the bed.
With a supreme effort of will, Larry jerked wildly and fell out of the bed on the opposite side. His head hit the wooden floor first with a nasty crack.
The world spun with a blinding pain so intense he couldn't quite believe it was real. Larry couldn't move. He could only lay there and gasp.
The monster hopped down and peered at his face. Then that long red tongue flexed out and ran across Larry's face.
Larry groaned and then began to cry helpless, hopeless tears. Sobs shook his thin body.
The creature continued to lick, washing away the tears as they rolled down Larry's cheeks.
Then the little monster laid its head against the boy's as he lay there unresisting. A presence pressed insistently at the door of Larry's mind. Gradually, the psychic pressure resolved into a voice, "Sorry, Master."
"What?" the boy croaked.
"Don't be afraid, Master. See? I am stronger, more fierce than before. This time I chose a body that matches my name. I can protect you."
"What are you?" Larry groaned, "Why are you trying to . . . eat me?"
"Eat? I do not understand. Are you asking me to eat you? Please, Master, do not ask this thing!"
"Huh?" Larry felt confused.
"I came to protect you, Master! Coyotes are near, and they are bad. I could not go to the Dreaming Fields and leave Master alone. I asked to come back, to be yours again."
"But why?" Larry's brow furrowed, "Who are you?"
The ugly little creature shook its head sadly, "Does Master not remember his Jaeger?"