Ignorance is the soil of lies, darkness nourishes the roots.
Currently, Grumpkin didn’t have lips, but if he did, he would have licked them. All he had was eyes, and they narrowed on the plump object in the room.
“When’s that blasted moon coming, I’m tired of being so flat. I wanna sink my teeth into one of these toys.”
Phlegmdrake rolled his yellow eyes. “Remind me never to shadeskip with you again, you’ve got the patience of a piranha.”
Grumpkin’s red eyes burned, turning the shadows under the little bed crimson. “I happen to be a very patient skipper, thank you very much. But look at all those treats. He’s even got a plushie, think of how much cotton’s in that. I can’t wait to gobble it up.”
“How many times I gotta tell you, this ain’t a gobbling job, this is a napp'n job. We ain’t got time for cotton chewing.”
Grumpkin huffed, “Toynapping better pay well, all I gotta say, better pay real well. All this waiting around.”
Phlegmdrake’s eyes squinted in a smile, “It does pay well–something about this boy. Grimwicker said he’d give us enough cotton to fill our tummies for months, if we can snatch the lion from him.”
“Grumpkin’s eyes flashed, “A stuffed lion?”
“You’re a glutton, you know that. A gluttonous little shadeskipper. Yes, it’s stuffed but no, you can’t eat him.” Phlegmdrake cleared his throat in a bubbly cough. “Besides, this one is different, he’s stuffed with flaxseeds. Parents can warm it up or something.”
“Warm it up? Seeds? Yuck, humans are so weird.”
Phlegmdrake opened his mouth to speak, but paused. A single beam of pale moonlight cut through the slatted blinds like a sword, lighting the far wall of the room in a gash of luminescence.
“This is it,” he said, “now’s our chance.”
The bed above them creaked with movement, and the shadeskippers froze.
Phlegmdrake looked up, “Shh.”
They looked to the wall. Two gashes of light striped the far side of the room, and then three. When the moon had drifted to the center of the window and shone through the blinds, illuminating the wall in a ladder of light, they made their move–creeping out from under the bed slowly.
Grumpkin hesitated as he reached for the first wrung of the ladder, confirming that it was indeed moonlight, and not any of the poisonous alternatives, like sunlight, or streetlight. When his long black tendril latched on to the first step, the appendage grew out from the flat wall, the moonlight imbuing him with a third dimension. He continued to ascend, slowly, feeling his body fill the shadowed void that had replaced everything but his eyes. When he stepped away from the wall, he was in full figure, towering over the boy's bed with his red eyes and a host of serpentine limbs.
Phlegmdrake coughed as he climbed the moonlight, his whispered hacks becoming rounded and tonal, echoing in that three dimensional way. He smiled, it felt good not to be flat anymore. Shadeskipping had its perks, dashing between shade sources in the blink of an eye was fun–being as silent as a whisper, efficient, but being whole again reminded him how much he wanted to be home, in Underbed, watching the moonset from his balcony.
“Would you quit your hacking. Getting on my case for being a little hungry. I’d rather be impatient, than loud. Now let's get this lion and get out of here.”
Phlegmdrake flashed a set of jagged teeth.
Grumpkin shivered, feeling a momentary wave of vertigo. He found Phlegmdrakes huge mouth, and deep, dark, throat disturbing. “Would you keep that thing shut, makes me feel like I’m gonna fall in. Besides, your breath is going to wake the boy up. You smell like a coffin.”
“Excuse me,” Phlegmdrake said, “Who's calling the shots here?” When he spoke the breath from his massive mouth swirled around the room, a paper drawing of a lion flapped against the wall, dangling from a thin piece of tape. The vibrations of his deep voice shook the walls of the room.
As a shadow all he could do was whisper, but now his voice boomed when he spoke and he had to force the quiet into his words. “Just grab the lion and get outta here.”
The two monsters stared down at the little lump of blankets covering the small boy.
Grumpkin spoke first, “Why do you think Grimwicker wants the boy’s lion so badly? What’s so special about it, or the boy?”
“Look around,” Phlegmdrake said, “What’s missing in this room?”
Grumpkin spun around and scanned the place. “I dunno, nothing seems out of the ordinary for a kid his age.”
“Don’t see no nightlight, do you?”
Grumpkin looked again. He did not see a nightlight. “That’s odd.”
“It is,” Phlegmdrake said, “very odd. This boy, apparently, is not afraid of the dark.”
“Not afraid of the dark? Impossible.”
“Apparently it is possible, and Grimwicker thinks the lion gives the boy courage. Take the boy’s lion, and he’ll fear us again.”
Grumpkin thought about this for a moment. “So you’re saying the boy doesn’t fear us because of that seed-stuffed toy?”
“I guess so,” Phlegmdrake tried to suppress a throaty cough. “Grimwicker seems to think the boy is dangerous.”
“Dangerous?” Grumpkin laughed, “Him?”
“Grimwicker thinks any child who isn’t afraid of the dark could pose a threat to Underbed, even Closetton. Courage casts its own light, he told me, if it should fall on Underbed…well, it won’t be pretty.”
“Ridiculous,” Grumpkin scoffed, jabbing a tentacle toward the blanket, “This is ridiculous, why don’t we just wake the boy up, and show him what really lurks beneath his bed.”
“Nooo!” Phlegmdrake yelled, but Grumpkin had already torn the covers away.
“What in the cellar furnace is that?” Grumpkin said.
Both monsters cocked their heads trying to interpret the shape before them.
“That’s not a kid, “ Phlegmdrake said, “It’s–it’s, just a heap of stuffed animals.”
“Wrong, “ A young voice said behind them, “That right there, is a trap.”
Before the shadeskippers could react, the boy flipped a switch and light–harsh, moonless, light– pierced them from every direction. Phlegmndrake roared and the room quaked. Books dropped from shelves. Papers and posters fell from the walls.
Grumpkin whipped a black tendril toward the boy, but a sharp beam of incandescent light blasted from a flashlight in the boy's hand and severed it in the air. The monster screamed and shrunk back. His flesh rippled and twitched. His tentacles writhed. And then he was flat again, a dark blotch against the wall–two quivering eyes.
Then Phlegmdrake saw the boy snatch something away from the lense of his flashlight, a green, star-shaped object. His eyes widened; the star continued to glow even as the boy reared it up into the darkness above his head.
“You messed with the wrong kid, nobody touches my stuffed animals.” Then he hurled the object. A blur of green soared toward Phlegmdrake–too fast for him to dodge. When it struck the monster, it blasted him back against the wall, and he too, became a splash of shade.
With tormented cries, two pairs of glowing eyes, red, and yellow, dashed back beneath the bed and disappeared into the world of darkness, returning to Underbed empty-handed, hurt, and humiliated by the boy who fears no shadows.