“Hey, remember what I told you?”
He clenched his fists and closed his eyes as he recalled the sentence, accompanying every two words with a nod.
“My heart…is strong.”
The two of them were standing on the wooden floor of a child’s bedroom. Having just entered, they positioned themselves in front of the door. The wall opposite them hosted two square windows cut from a light brown wood. In one corner of the right windowsill, a figurine faced the night. Outside, the thin branches of a tree could be seen swaying in the wind, as if it were the hand of a gentle giant, waving in friendly gesture. Deep blue curtains ruffled on either side of the windows.
A bed, resting on a carpet, manned the right wall. Above the bed, framed posters hung. One displayed the structure of an atom surrounded by paragraphs discussing the subject. The young boy had always found it cool, but had never understood the text. A second poster was centred on aviation through the ages. It showed images of everything from da Vinci’s rendering to World War II planes. Each photo was accompanied by quick facts such as the date of invention, wingspan, and speed. A third poster concentrated on the Egyptian civilization, with a rather prominent photo of the Sphinx. This one always made him uneasy but it reminded him of an Asterix and Obelix film he had once watched.
The final hanging was a framed painting of a harbour dotted with sailboats. The painting had taken shape through mostly dull colours, highlighted by streaks of bright shades here and there. Whenever he went to sleep, he always thought he could hear the waves. For him, the sea was alive.
This collage was manned on either side by two leaf-shaped wall lamps, which cast light across the room alongside their counterparts on the opposite wall. The glow of streetlights merged with the illumination of the half-moon, and filtered through the windows, adding a smidgen of bluish-white to the yellow and brown of the room.
The left wall sported shelves, cabinets, and a desk. Books lined the upper shelves, uncategorized. The desk was neat but marked with squiggly coloured lines and shapes left by wandering crayons. Faded fingerprints decorated the ledges. Vigorous scrubbing had not managed to completely remove the paint impressions. Lego models stood here and there, some missing a couple pieces. A few original creations of spaceships and other curious inventions commanded space on the floor, multicoloured bricks all over the place. A dismantled train set, a remote-controlled car, and a robot lay on the fringes of the clutter.
Their outfits were remarkable. The taller one wore casual beige trousers, folded at the ankles. The floorboards creaked, ever so slightly, under his hiking boots. A grey, oversized, round neck t-shirt draped his brown belt. On top of that, he wore a black overcoat. His ruffled dark hair cushioned a flat cap. In his right hand he brandished a mop, and in the other a thin book of jokes. Vintage aviator goggles covered his eyes.
The younger one wore swimming goggles. He had earlier been sporting a bucket hat but he had discarded it in the hallway. He had pulled on grey trousers and black sports shoes. His favourite reddish-pink t-shirt was topped off with a chequered, deep blue bowtie. The final touch was a dark brown cloak. His yellow backpack was full of random objects, which he claimed were tools. In his tiny hands, he clenched a lightsaber.
It was a comical sight but the two were comfortable. They were focused on the darkness beneath the bed. It had been haunting the younger one for a few days now, and they finally decided to do something about it.
“Can you go first?” the younger one pleaded.
His father looked at him and smiled.
He got down to his knees before crawling under the bed. Once he was engulfed by the darkness, he poked his head out and beckoned to his son.
The young lad followed, bag clunking on his back. He trembled as he positioned himself near his father.
“So where’s this monster that’s been troubling The Great Knight of the Haven?”
“DAD! The monster will hear you! Whisper! Then he won’t know that we’ve come to destroy him.”
“Oh. You’re right! We should whisper. Brilliant thinking, good Sir! So where is the monster?”
“Usually, every time you and mommy say goodnight, the monster is over there.”
The boy pointed in an indiscernible direction. Nonetheless, his father nodded and confirmed the coordinates.
“It’s a good thing we came here early. Now we can surprise the monster.”
“And destroy the bad monster.”
The frank comment was followed by a hush. They waited. Many minutes passed but the monster did not show. The boy began to get impatient.
“Where is the monster?”
“Maybe the monster was tired and decided to go get coffee. Maybe the monster took a break because you’ve been really strong in your fights.”
“Monsters don’t drink coffee!”
“How are you so sure?”
“If monsters drank coffee, they would be warm and happy. But monsters are not warm and happy. They are grumpy and cold.”
His father laughed.
“Again, brilliant thinking, good Sir! Hmm. Then we should try something else. Let’s turn off the lights. Maybe the monster does not think you’re asleep.”
“You stay here. I’ll go turn off the lights.”
“But why? I’m scared! It’s dark!”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be here. I need you to protect me while my guard is down. Can you do that?”
His son nodded.
“Good. As soon as the lights go off, turn on your lightsaber. Okay?”
He crawled out, stretched his legs, and tiptoed to the switches. Counting down from three, he rested his fingers on the switches, ready to turn them all off in one go.
He flicked the switches.
The room went dark.
Immediately, a green lightsaber buzzed to life.
The boy surveyed his surroundings, a look of powerful concentration on his face.
His father quickly rejoined him.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“So let’s see where that monster is.”
They began their search, moving carefully, sometimes rolling on their side, and sometimes quickly spinning around. They were always alert.
“Maybe the monster has an invisibility cloak.”
“But monsters are not smart!” asserted the boy.
“Uh huh! If monsters were smart, they would not always get defeated by the good guys!”
“Good point. But some monsters are smarter than others. They know how to hide. Why do you think monsters stay in the darkness? They know that no one can see them. They understand the darkness. They can see in it. But the good guy needs a light to see. The good guy needs a torch. Monsters are scared of the light. Do you know why?”
“Monsters are very, very, very, very, ugly. In the darkness, they are pretty because no one can see them. But in the light, the true colours and shapes of the monsters are revealed. So they burn up!”
“They burn up?”
“Yes! But the smarter monsters can roam around during the day. They disguise themselves so the light doesn’t hit them directly.”
“But don’t people see these monsters?”
“People do. Every day.”
“So why don’t people do anything about the monsters? If you take off their cap, they will be destroyed! And people can live happily ever after!”
“Ah. That is true. But people are scared. You see, the monsters are powerful. Some of them are very strong and some of them are very smart. And some are both. That is why people look for leaders, people who inspire – ”
“Inspire means to give good thoughts and feelings – the right thoughts and feelings.”
“But leaders can also be monsters. You said some monsters are very smart.”
“Yes. Leaders can be monsters. That is why we must not only look for leaders but also be leaders ourselves.”
“But if there are so many monsters, how do we fight them all?”
“We take these monsters down one by one. We must be smarter than the monsters. We may lose some battles but if we win other battles, we can win even more.”
“So we must be stronger and smarter!”
“Yes! Now, shh…! I think I saw the monster!”
The boy braced himself, fierce determination in his eyes.
“How do we destroy this monster?”
“You are stronger than me so I will support and clean up. Shine the lightsaber in the monster’s face and laugh loudly.”
“Yes. Laughter scares monsters. I even brought a book. It is powerful because it has jokes. Monsters don’t like happiness, remember?”
“Yeah! Monsters are not warm and happy! They are grumpy and cold!”
“Good man! Now, on the count of three, we charge. One…two…three!”
The monster appeared.
The boy stabbed his lightsaber into the darkness and laughed loudly, taunting the monster to take him on. He rolled around, swinging his lightsaber in fantastic motions, doing as much as the limited space allowed him.
The monster was helpless against The Great Knight of the Haven. There was never any chance for the monster. The battle was almost won. This was going to be an easy victory. They could then proceed to take on the next monster. There was no need to be afraid anymore.
The door slammed open.
“WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON?”
The lights flickered on.
The boy’s head popped out from under the bed. He pushed his goggles up to his forehead before providing his mother with an explanation.
“We’re fighting monsters!”
His mother was puzzled.
“Me and Papa. We’re fighting monsters! We’re burning them up!”
His mother pushed her brown hair back, leaned against the doorframe, and smiled sleepily.
A second, goggle-wearing head popped out from under the bed, grinning from ear to ear.
“Hey hon! Sorry we woke you up! We’re fighting monsters! You should see this thing. We could really use your help!”
“No we don’t! I’m just about to destroy him!” contended the boy.
“Ah, but your mum can take any monster down in five seconds, all by herself,” said Papa.
She just smiled.
“So why didn’t mama come on the quest with us? We can take down more monsters!”
“Yes, but your mum needs rest. You’re going to have a little sister or brother soon.”
His parents could not help but laugh.
“Behave! That is a rude thing to say,” said Ma.
“Anyway, I’ll leave you two Great Nights of the Haven to get back to fighting that monster. But after that, you both have to be in bed. Understood?”
Her instruction was met with grinning faces.
The two boys replaced their goggles. The lights went out and the door closed.
That monster never stood a chance.