Benjamin caught himself stroking the cover of the book a bit more than was strictly decent, and, tucking it under his arm, turned back to the group. Still two players left to handle at the leviathan’s mouth.
“Jason,” he said, making the few short feet back to the front door in quick, hopping steps. “I don’t want to tell you your business, but you’re close to a giant monster’s tongue, and you’ve got, well…” He gestured at the maniac’s fake machete.
“Oh,” said Jason, then: “Oh!” He raised his homemade weapon and menaced Eury and the other girl with it, who shrieked obligingly. “Are they, like, taste buds or something?”
“They’re the tongue, yeah — but don’t actually hit them!” Benjamin finished, as Jason raised his machete. “Just give me a — hold on –” He fished the calculator from his jacket pocket, juggled it and the book for a second before using one as a platform on which to rest the other, then did a quick bit of math. “Success!” Benjamin said. “You slash the monster’s tongue, and it no longer draws breath. You and…” He looked at the other player, another escapee from Troop #242. The kid wore a fur coat no doubt liberated from a mother or grandmother’s closet.
“The Yeti,” volunteered the kid. “But I wanted to be a ghos–”
“…the Yeti are both expelled from the leviathan’s mouth safely.” Benjamin stepped to the door. “Hey, Cy?” he asked, and was answered with a cookie-stuffed mumble. “Jason slashed the monster’s tongue. It’s going to barf you up. One more Health point down, and you’re free, too.” Cy exclaimed happily from the kitchen, and Benjamin could just picture the crumbs spraying everywhere.
“Okay, good fight, y’all,” he said to the assembled team of beasties as they made their way from the house, plus the supporting cast of the giant monster’s innards. “Let’s take a break, and then we can start the next section of the story.”
“Actually,” the mummy piped up, “I gotta get home. Sorry. I got a bunch of homework.”
“Me, too,” said Randall with a grimace. “Algebra. Oh yeah, and Geography. I was trying to block that one out of my mind.”
Was it a school night? Benjamin wracked his brain. It couldn’t be, could it? The late afternoon felt so free, so open, like a Friday or Saturday, not one of the other hated days of the week where the threat of school loomed large.
But no, the others were right. Thursday, which meant not only homework but also a pep rally at the Junior High tomorrow. ‘Twas the season for JV Football, after all.
A station wagon pulled up to the curb and sounded its horn. The left side of the leviathan’s tongue grabbed her backpack from the foyer and ran to the vehicle, waving goodbye to Eury as she left. Benjamin noted the mother at the wheel and her expression as she looked over the odd assemblage in the front yard: What on Earth have I been letting my daughter do this afternoon?
One by one, the group disbanded for the day, with a few hangers-on lingering to polish off the soda and snacks. The Yeti, divested of his fur coat, chatted with Eddie while Cy, all sugared out, helped Benjamin pack away the props and costumes. Eury, no longer having an ally, retreated to her room to listen to Madonna at top volume. Still another hour until Mom and Dad got home. Still another hour of freedom.
“But I don’t understand why I couldn’t be a ghost,” the Yeti complained, and Eddie did his best to explain, without going into all the unneeded details. Eddie always was good at explanations, and at clarifying things. Benjamin considered him his right-hand man in the game, as Eddie could always unravel a knotty complication in the rules, or come up with just the right suggestion for a plot twist while letting Benjamin maintain his control as Horror Host.
More than once, Benjamin had considered letting Eddie contribute more to the game, maybe even letting him write a full storyline. But he never could let himself give up enough authority to do it. Collaborations were a nice idea in theory, but they never worked out.
“We already have a ghost, kind of,” Eddie said to his Yeti troop-mate, and Benjamin glanced out the window at the mannequin that leaned against the right-hand property fence, the sheet that draped over it wavering in the breeze. A find at the JC Penney store’s going-out-of-business sale, the shop dummy had since been drafted into service as an October yard decoration at Benjamin’s house.
It served another purpose, one that Benjamin, Randall, Eddie, and Cy all agreed on: a silent player in the game, a proxy of sorts. The one and only ghost allowed in Voidville.
As that final hour wound down, everyone said their goodbyes and made their departures, with plans to get together Saturday and continue. At least one newcomer seemed interested in coming back, which buoyed Benjamin’s spirits. It felt like the game was legitimized, somehow, when outsiders accepted it.
He wondered why that mattered to him so much, if at all, as he walked outside to escape the ninety-ninth replay of “Burning Up” from Eury’s blaring jambox.
His steps took him, as they always did now when a game session ended, to the sheet-draped mannequin. His sneakers crunched on the light carpet of leaves, and he scuffed a toe to watch the orange and yellow castoffs scatter across the browning grass.
“Hey,” he said to the figure. “So what did you think about today? Good game? Anything you would have done differently?”
No response — not that Benjamin expected one. His imagination was vast, but not so infinite as to give window-dressing with a bedsheet over it any dialogue.
“I’m trying, dude. I’m trying to be a good Host, and run a good game. But it’s hard, you know?” He looked right at where the mannequin’s eyes would be. “Big shoes to fill.”
The silence broke as a car engine’s hum worked its way up the street. Mom, her hatchback purring along like usual. Benjamin fought a brief urge to pat the mannequin on the shoulder, then stepped away to wait until his mother pulled into the driveway.
Time for normal life to resume. Time for the monsters to go away, if only for a little while.
And maybe that was for the best. For while monsters sometimes banded together to travel the universe, fight evil, and have adventures, sometimes they did other things.
Sometimes they drew a mighty breath and ate innocent kids alive.
And sometimes they got liquored up, got behind the wheel, and ran down your best friend in the street.
Mom turned off the engine, got out of the car. “Hey, you,” she said to Benjamin.
He hugged the hell out of her.
Today’s Words: 1155
Total Words: 2264
Notes: This is one of two novel ideas I was torn between choosing to write for the challenge this year. They have some overlap (both are 1980s period pieces), but I felt like this one had more potential to work at novel length. The other story will surface eventually, but it may work better as a novella.
I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information or Day One to read from the beginning, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!
(And the cat is Valentine — I figured the presence of a black cat would make things that much more Halloween-y!)