By Taylor Clark
Along a weaving road deep in the overgrown mountain valley next to Coos Bay, Oregon, there lived a small boy. His family and he lived in one of those farms that aren't the true kinds of farms most people think of (red barns, tons of cows, a fat farmer in overalls with a stalk of grass in his mouth, actual crops, etc). Part of the reason to that was because it was the year 2012. But his father had a thing for attempting romantic sorts of lifestyles, so thus there was a field occupied by three llamas, a chicken coup, and a sad little orchard that frequently got gnawed on by deer. The electric fence was suppose to stop that, but of course, no one had bothered to tell his father that up here in the rain forest of Oregon, the deer have uncanny abilities to get to anything and everything—with or without 5,000 volts.
The little boy, once they had moved there, had quickly grown tired of the farm, even bored of it. Every morning his father woke him at the crack of dawn to feed chickens (why the crack of dawn, he didn't know), and the llamas just loitered around and spat at anyone that got close. If they managed to actually hit you they laughed. Yes. The llamas laughed. It sounded like a donkey sneezing, but it was unmistakably laughing. And the orchard only produced during a certain season, and even then the deer got to most of the fruit before they could ripen. Not to mention their father insisted on homeschooling them (something both the little boy and girl were averse to once they realized how lonely it could get without other kids, even if you did get to choose when to do your schoolwork).
And since their mother was paranoid about them touching the very limited, very finicky internet, he had gotten into video games. For days at a time he would play, fascinated by the many different worlds outside of his own dewy green one. His six year old sister found them a relief to her own boredom as well, but she preferred to watch him rather than play. At six, the controls often got jumbled up in her hands.
By far their favorite was Hero's Journey.
The story wasn't remarkable, by any means. It was about a young man who lived on a farm in the mountains (what do you know?). He lived a fairly peaceful, fairly boring life until one day a great evil man came through and kidnapped his sister. Every good game has an evil villain, he had told his sister, who seemed confused as to why someone had to steal the little girl in the first place. The villain was a sorcerer of the darkest kind and wished to use the girl in a ritual to awaken his dark master demon god, so that he could—very originally and unexpectedly—use that power to rule the world. The little boy and his sister reasoned together that ruling the world wouldn't be half bad. Then they could visit the gas station down the road as much as they want and take all the Skittles in stock, and the owner couldn't say anything about it. Or mom, for that matter.
The little boy beat the game several times over. Soon his little sister, Cheyenne, had her favorite parts. He loved it all, though. Especially the hero.
When his mother would kick them out of his room to go out and play like 'normal, healthy children,' Cheyenne and he would have wonderful sword fights and adventures where the laughing llamas were the villain's evil henchmen and the chickens were the minor monsters along the trail that were more of a nuisance than an obstacle.
"Take that, you goblins!" they'd cry, and with a swing of their great wooden swords (still with a twig or two upon them), they'd send the chickens into a flutter of clucking terror.
They often stayed out until dark or until they could play Hero's Journey again. Once in a while his father would try to ingrain his romantic ideals by having them prune the sad orchard trees with him, but more often than not they would hole up in the little boy's bedroom and play, or simply lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling. After chores, of course.
For it was far scarier in the rest of the house.
From what the little boy could tell, his mother didn't much care for his father's crazy dreams, among other things. In the beginning their yelling had taken the young boy unawares. He had had to rescue Cheyenne, who had frozen in the middle of the hall to cry at the awful sound of their first huge fight, and let her touch all his stuff before she felt better again. After this father became more engrossed in his farm than ever. Mother went into town more often, dressed in the high heels father hated and with her hair teased up in a bouncing fluff, and the little boy and his sister grew wary of the rest of the house.
But, safe within the walls of his room, the video game console gave off a magic spell that set up barriers over the doors. The magical barrier kept out yelling, crying, and confusing things like mom and dad not seeming to like each other. Moms and Dads were created to like each other. They poofed into existence all goo-goo and gross. Moms were incapable of crying, and yet their mom somehow got a faucet installed into her face. Dads, especially silly ones who cooed at llamas, didn't get loud and mean. It was all very strange. Sometimes, late at night, when the young boy was playing his video games, only because his mother wasn't at home to catch him in the act, he'd wonder if something evil had come into his house. An evil curse of sorts. He'd have to look into this.
On one such night, Cheyenne wandered in, so small in her fluffy pink Barbie nightgown. She closed the door quietly behind her and climbed atop his bed to watch.
"Are you to the place with the red ladies with the swords?"
The place she was talking about was the level you had to beat before you could go to the evil boss's castle. The ladies themselves were not human at all, but winged harpies that would claw at your face and swing their swords at your knees. Very unpleasant.
"No. They're a while ahead." he said.
"Oh…well hurry. I really like them."
If there was a least favorite part of the game for him, that would have been it. But for Cheyenne, he wished he was at the level.
The next day, while he and his sister were working closer to said level, the unthinkable happened: the magic barrier of the game console was shattered by his mother bursting in and yanking out the power cord. Her cheeks were blotched with red and her eyes were puffy.
"That is enough!" and her voice broke when she said this. "Both of you, outside!"
But Cheyenne, always being the tender one, promptly burst into tears on seeing that her mother had been crying. The young boy was very upset that his barrier had been dispelled. It was like having your progress ruined while jumping across a lake of lava by a minor monster knocking you off the final platform. In fact, that had been exactly what he was doing when she unplugged the console. Did she even think to warn him of it so he could save before she did that?
His mother quickly grew frustrated with Cheyenne's crying and yanked the tiny girl onto her hip, where she proceeded to glare at her son.
"Fine! You! Out!"
The irrefutable mom voice. Or just being yelled at by someone bigger than you. Wisely not saying a word, he scrambled to his feet, grabbed his shoes, and fled.
Outside he found his wooden sword of a branch next to his sister's under the porch and swung it about him in anger. What was all that about? Just because his parents didn't get along didn't mean they had to drag him and Cheyenne into it—especially Cheyenne. And he had done so much in his game! Why hadn't he saved at the last save point? Why!?
He knew his anger was so great, he could have sword fought a million spitting llamas, three coups of chickens, and a bajillion tree trunks. He even headed down the hill to the field where the llama's watched him, stony faced and chewing mouthfuls of mossy grass. The chickens clucked on the other side, unaware of the terror about to be inflicted on them. But when he reached the first llama and raised his branch, he stopped. He wouldn't have actually hit the llama. Not only would it have made Cheyenne cry to hear that he actually hit a llama instead of pretending to, the fluffy wannabe farm animal was also much bigger than him and had sharp feet on top of that. So, with a war cry, he turned on the chickens. Feathers flew, some birds pooped in surprised, and one chicken even had the gall to scream back at him and attempt to peck his shoe to death. Kicking off the lone brave bird, he left the coup and headed for the forest. Now for some trees.
The trees had it coming for them, standing there all woody and mossy and innocent. He whacked every tree he passed, kicking ferns out of the way and piles of old leaves. Mushrooms crumbled beneath his mighty blade. A banana slug met its unfortunate demise with a loud squelch. Many snails got crunched, and when the sword wasn't enough he picked up whatever rock he could find (there weren't many rocks in a place where plant life overgrew everything), and chucked it into the forest.
It wasn't until he got tired that he realized just how deep into the woods he had gone.
The trees were older here and so tall one would have to lay down on one's back in order to see the tops. The moss had had the chance to grow in thick carpets from the root to top of tree. The young boy felt his anger melting away as he shivered in the shade, wondering why the forest had grown so dim. Had a cloud passed over the sun? But through the canopy he could catch glimpses of blue sky. Why hadn't he thought to grab a jacket on his way out?
He whacked another tree just for the distraction as he began to wonder if he should head back. Though he couldn't see a trace of the farm, he remembered the direction he came from, so he began to turn—but then he saw something. A shiver of ferns, a rustle of leaves.
Every organ in his body squeezed itself into a fearful ball. His father had casually told him of bears up here, and the one or so mountain lion in the area, thinking that would be enough to deter his son from exploring. But now, deep in that shady wood where the blue sky could barely be seen, the small child was close to peeing his pants because of his father's words. Slowly, clenching his branch and believing with all his might that it was a sword, he turned.
Most people who would have turned because they saw something out of the corner of their eye would have seen nothing except for a pheasant running out from the underbrush, maybe even a raccoon. Maybe even nothing at all. The small boy, on the other hand, was not so lucky.
Crouched between two beds of ferns with great, puffy yellow eyes, a black form watched him.
He took a step back. A single, black paw came forward. The creature was large and roughly shaped like a lion, but the longer he looked at it the more he couldn't make out the lines of its shape. One minute it could've been a lion, the next a bear, the next a dragon. But the yellow eyes, lined with red as though it had just gotten over a good cry, stayed the same.
He felt his knees wobble. His heart had stopped beating.
In a flash his brain came into connection with the rest of his body. He whirled around, a scream in his throat—
To come crashing down on the forest floor by great paws on his back. It was then he found out the unfortunate fact that, whatever it was, it had claws. The monster, however, was completely silent.
He wailed for his mom, for anyone, and fought to get back up. He swung his branch behind him wildly, for that's really all his sword was: a branch. He felt it thwack against flesh, but that only made the claws dig in deeper. He felt the creature set its jaws against the back of his neck and press harder and harder.
And then, somehow, he was free and running like no kid has ever run before. Tears of fear streamed behind him. He didn't dare look back. He could feel an aching pain on the back of his neck where it had bitten him. Several times he tripped over rotting branches, but adrenaline gave him superhuman balance and he pressed on.
All the llama's looked up when he burst forth from the forest. He super jumped the fence and raced up to the house.
His mother opened the door to a sweaty, crying child who smelled suspiciously of urine.
"What happened?" she asked, quite alarmed, as anyone would be.
But when the little boy opened his mouth to explain—or to at least cry and beg to be held—all that came out was air. He clumsily cleared his throat through all the snot and tried again, but again nothing. In his panic he looked behind him for the first time and saw nothing but chewing llamas.
His mother sighed. "Please, tell me what's wrong? What happened? You look like you've seen a ghost—come inside and get cleaned up. I thought you were past wetting yourself."
He pointed behind him frantically, starting to cry harder out of sheer panic. Why wouldn't his throat work? What had happened to his voice? He wiped a hand on the back of his neck at the pain to show his mother the blood, but his hand came back clean. He stared at it, shocked, as his mother grabbed his wrist and pulled him inside. Cheyenne poked her head out around the kitchen doorway, eyes still watering from her recent cry. He could hear his father muttering over something in his office and the clatter of typing.
He remained in shock as his mother gave him an attempt at a comforting hug and ushered him into the bathroom. She ran a hot bath for him and he peeled off his clothes without really paying attention. He had been so sure that…thing had bitten him. He had felt it! It had hurt! A lot! Hiccupping, he tried again to tell his mother what had happen. Again, nothing came out. Just air. He started to cry again.
His mother got a strange look on her face as she gently scrubbed him down as though he were five again. She told him to finish up and left the bathroom. The next thing he knew he could hear his parents talking in the other room.
"He's scared speechless. I think he saw something in the woods."
"Probably just a fallen log." said his father. "The bears and lions avoid this area of the mountains. Too much traffic and noise."
"Could you go out and check anyways?"
The boy tensed. No. No, that would be very bad. No one should go into the woods. He even moved to get out of the tub.
"If there was some sort of beast out there, isn't that the last thing I'd want to do? Really, just keeps the kids inside for now and let him play his game. That should help him calm down."
He had just wrapped a towel around himself when Cheyenne slipped through the door.
"You okay?" she asked.
He opened his mouth. Air. He could feel his face screwing up for another cry. Cheyenne's eyes got big and shiny and her mouth made a little 'o' in understanding.
"You lost your voice?" she said.
He fought against the tears. Little sisters weren't meant to see their big brothers cry. Besides, she had just gotten better. He didn't want to make her cry again.
Instead of crying, though, Cheyenne took his fingers in her little hand and led him out of the bathroom.
"Mommy! Cody's voice is broken!"
"It's not broken, Cheyenne, he's just scared. Let him calm down first before you make assumptions."
"But mommy, Cody wouldn't lose his voice because he was scared. Cody's brave."
His heart twisted at this. Good thing she hadn't seen him run away from the black thing like a pansy.
Another sigh. "Of course he does. Everyone gets scared. Now let him get changed."
Five minutes later found him sitting on his floor staring blankly at the screen, a controller limp in his hands. Cheyenne made sure the door was shut (the way he liked it), and took the controller from him.
"It's okay," she said, "I will play for you. Maybe mommy is right and your voice will come back."
He gulped and tried not cry again. For the next hour or so, Cheyenne struggled to get through the first level of Hero's Journey, occasionally asking him a question in which he would have to point in the direction she would have to go and take over when a monster proved to be too much for her. When dinner was ready he stayed in his room while Cheyenne told their parents that he wasn't hungry.
That night, with his voice still lost, Cheyenne snuck into his room and curled up at the foot of his bed. She made sure to, once more, close the door behind her.
His mother was not pleased the next day. She could not comprehend why her son wouldn't respond to her and tell her what happened. His father was dragged in to hear theories of rape, abuse, seeing a murder, but his father just shook his head and looked down at Cody with friendly eyes.
"He'll talk when he's ready." he said, as though Cody was a shy two year old who had yet to speak his first word.
"Cody's voice is lost. He lost it in the forest." insisted Cheyenne, but of course no one paid her any heed.
"But what about his lessons! What if I take him to public school—how will he handle that?"
"That isn't a problem. He'll be home schooled until he is ready, and by then he'll probably be talking again."
But this started another argument between their parents, so the two ended up in the young boy's room playing video games like before. Cody was beginning to feel cowardly. He had finally met up with a monster just to chicken out and wet himself. If Cheyenne ever knew…
"You did lose it in the forest, right?" she asked him, to which he would nod. Cody was back to gaming duty and she watched with her small feet in the air besides him. He had finally reached the level with the harpies, so she was more involved than usual tonight.
"Maybe we could go in and look for it tomorrow."
To this he paused the game and shook his head furiously. Cheyenne frowned.
"But how are we going to get your voice back then? You can't be all quiet forever. Mom is already mad about it."
He made no move to respond to this, but unpaused the game and started playing. As his sister eventually fell silent to watch, he wondered once more about the troubles outside the magical barrier that was his door. Did the monster possibly have anything to do with his parents acting unnaturally? Had it only taken his voice in that bite, and why? And where had it come from?
The next day he set to work on his sword. Stealing a steak knife from the kitchen he went to sharpening the end and cutting off the various nubs and twigs. He tried to hide his project behind the house, but Cheyenne eventually found him on their mother's request and gasped.
"Cody! What are you doing with a knife! We're only allowed to touch butter knives!"
All he could do was give her a pointed look towards the stick. He already sported several nicks on his hands and knees where the knife had poked through, but trying to talk again that morning and failing pushed him on despite the sting.
Cheyenne, though, came to the verge of her famous crying sessions.
"You're hurting yourself! Why are you doing this?"
He nudged his head towards the forest. Starting to get too upset for her little six year old body to handle, she turned back into the house. Cody already knew what was going to happen next and hid his sword underneath the porch.
The steak knife was found, confiscated, and he was bandaged up for lessons.
His mother, strangely, allowed him an extra hour of game time. But for the first time in his life he didn't want to play a video game. What if that thing was still out there? Shouldn't he be doing something about it before the creature got someone else? But really, what could he do? Maybe he should just stay in the house forever. In a fervor of brainstorming, he wrote a letter to his mom during grammar and composition time about all that had happened and passed it to her. She looked at it, smiled, and handed it back with an A+.
"Those video games are really turning your imagination." she said.
Frustrated, he went to his father in his study. It was still his 'work' time, but he went in anyways and shoved the paper atop his dad's keyboard. His father glanced at it, then went back to the screen where rows upon rows of senseless numbers and words passed down.
"That's good, son. Now what did I say about my work hours?"
Cody jabbed the paper pointedly, but his father just shoved it aside and gave him one of his looks. It was the look on the edge of being grumpy, but not really. With angry helplessness he crumpled the paper and threw it to the side of the office as he went out. Cheyenne was on the other side, looking uncertain. He ignored her questions and stomped to his room. If he had just stayed a minute longer, he would've been able to see his little sister slip into the office and come out with the crumpled letter in her hands. Unwrinkling it, she went into the kitchen where she innocently asked her mother to help her read it. She was fully capable of reading, but her brother's handwriting was unintelligible to her. Somehow, her mother had the power to crack the code, which she did happily, explaining that he had probably seen a dog or shadow rather than this strange monster that changed shapes and had big, crying yellow eyes.
It didn't take long for Cody to get rather lonely inside his protective barrier. He wasn't yet past the harpies and didn't want to beat them until Cheyenne came in, so he played on another file instead. When an hour passed with nothing, he decided to go look for her.
When he took a brief look through the house, however, she was nowhere to be found.
Trying to ignore the little hot pricks in his stomach, he went to his mother to ask where she went. Of course, on opening his mouth, there was nothing. His mother didn't even seem to notice him, for she was engrossed in a pink, frilly looking novel with a shirtless man on the front. He ran through the house, even daring to check into the forbidden office of his father's. Then, heart pounding, he ran to the windows.
She was barely a blotch of blond pigtails bouncing away into the forest with a long, knobbly stick over her shoulder. The trees made her look so miniscule.
With a hiss through his teeth he flung open the front door and ran outside. Snatching his sharpened stick from underneath the porch he ran for her, panic spiking his blood with adrenaline. But his little sister had already vanished far down into the forest.
Cody ran down the steps, dived through the metal bars of the fence, raced past the llamas and leapt over the fence on the other side. Dead branches squashed under his feet, riddled with mushrooms and moss, and puffs of spores flung off ferns as he passed.
Not Cheyenne! he kept mouthing. She had never done anything wrong. She rarely got in trouble, she had never picked a fight with him-why had she suddenly thought it a good idea to go into the forest? Could it be possible she was looking for his lost voice? But she didn't even know what was inside!
He leapt over a fallen tree. The canopy had grown thicker and rattling pines began to blend in with the myrtlewood. He heard birds fluttering and scuttling besides him, as though excited to watch how this turned out. His band-aid hand had already started to cramp around the homemade sword.
And then he tripped. Something hidden beneath the wet carpet of leaves had snagged his toes and he landed with a faceful of the mulch. He gasped for breath while spitting out wads of half-decayed leaves. His chest hurt. He wanted to cry. If only he could call for her so he could hear which way she went. If only he had a voice to warn her, to tell her to come back.
Because if the beast found her before him, he wouldn't be able to do anything. He was no hero. He had no sword. And he wasn't as brave as Cheyenne believed him to be.
A shrill shriek rang through the trees. A flock of birds took flight in fright towards the dimming blue sky. The forest had fallen dim again, but this time it wasn't just a cloud. The day really had grown old, and sunset had come.
Cody leapt to his feet and ran, vaulting over obstacles. The trees were old here, and so very, very tall. He screamed her name, and he expected no sound to come out-
For one, thrilling moment he thought he had gotten his voice back. Then he realized he had not heard it from himself, but from deeper into the forest. He had reached a point in the forest which he had never reached, and the ground began to slope up. He staggered to a halt as he noticed a path dragged through the fallen leaves, as though a body had been-
He looked up, having not spoken a word.
High up on the hill, with its arms around a small figure wearing pink, light-up shoes, was a hulking, black shape. It had taken the form of something gorrilla like this time, and it smiled down at him with a mouth full of thick, white teeth. The same puffy, yellow eyes looked down on him.
It opened it's mouth.
"Cheyenne!" it echoed.
Cody felt the hairs on his body prickle as he listened to his own, stolen voice. His little sister, with her eyes so wide, had tears pouring down her face, and she opened her mouth as though to cry out to him. Not a sound came out.
"Let go of her!" it said in his voice, then, in a sweet girlish voice, "What is it? What is it?"
And suddenly, he was mad. The sound of his sister's voice from the grinning gorilla face felt like lava had been poured into his belly. No, he wasn't mad. He was enraged.
He gripped his sword.
"What did we do?" cried the creature, now melting back into something more catlike. "What did we do!"
Cheyenne had closed her eyes. Her little hands had turned white while she clenched them beneath her chin. The large, morphing arm of the monster nearly covered her entire body now.
Ignoring the fact his legs shook beneath him and his lungs had reached that wheezing point of depravity, Cody attacked the hill, climbing up it with all his strength. The monster gave an amused smirk.
"Cody! Please! I'm scared!-I know."
He hated it. He hated how it spoke like that and how it could somehow manage to grin with such animalistic features. He was terrified-he could even feel the urge to wet himself again-but he clung to his anger, because he had to. If he didn't have anger, what else did he have? Certainly not courage and Cheyenne deserved more than that.
Cody lunged with his sword. The beast dodged him easily with a scream from his sister on its tongue. He could feel his feet slipping on the slope, but swung again, stabbing, reaching, even punching at one point, but each time the monster just dodged him.
In a great leap it landed on the bottom of the hill.
"Please, Cody! Please!"
Dangerous thoughts made it to his mind. I'm not big enough. I'm not strong enough. I'm just a kid! I'm not a hero, I'm not that brave-and I'm just holding a stupid stick!
The monster leaned back onto its hind legs and wrapped its other arm more securely around Cheyenne. Now all he could see were the tips of her pigtails and feet. The form was something more grisly now and covered with black, shifting hair.
It turned and galloped back into the forest.
He choked and staggered down the hill to give chase. It didn't matter what he felt or what he was, he had to try!
He ran and ran, and the black form grew more and more distant. He could hear it echoing Cheyenne's wails against the trees, and once his own breathless sob.
Because of the pounding blood and his own ragged breaths, he didn't hear the snarl of the engine until it was practically next to him. Gagging for air, he stumbled to a stop to stare at a bright red four wheeler bursting through the trees.
Atop it was a man wearing a motorcycle helmet. He reached out and yanked Cody onto the seat behind him. Without waiting to see if the small boy had a hold on him or not, the man revved the engine and the four wheeler shot out in a flurry of soggy debre.
Cody didn't need to see the face underneath to know it was his father. The four wheeler had been bought for farm work, but on such a small farm it had been put to more recreational uses.
The monster, almost out of sight, began to grow clearer again. Trees seemed to leap out of their way as they vroomed through. Cody grabbed onto his father, despite the shotgun slung over his back smacking him in the face.
"It has Cheyenne!" yelled the beast from a distance.
Finally the creature's tail came back into view, and quite close. Too close-for from a mass of ferns the monster leapt out, claws spread with Cheyenne nowhere in sight. Both his father and he were thrown off the four wheeler, which spluttered off until it hit a tree and rolled over onto its back.
The young boy hit the ground hard, and the wind was knocked from him. Now he really couldn't breathe. His father scrambled to his feet, favoring his left leg only for a moment.
"What the hell..." he muttered as he stared down the beast panting before him. It had taken the shape of a panther, but even before their eyes it shifted into a wolf-a very large wolf, with fangs reaching down to the ground.
The wolf pounced with a childish howl of fear. The shotgun let out a crack like thunder.
Cody forced his lungs open and cried out for his father with the last breath of the monster.
A scrunch of mushrooms and ferns. A mass of fur filled his view. The smell of something salty and sickly reached his nose, and then complete silence.
His dad picked him up and pulled him away from the monster at his feet, somehow keeping the end of the shotgun pointed at it while doing so. But Cody didn't care about it anymore. Throwing off his father's hands, he set off into the woods, calling with his breaking, but returning voice.
"Ch-enne!" he cried, coughing. He hurt all over and had lost his sword somewhere. "-enne!"
He could feel that tense, pressure like feeling you get in your insides when you've tried too hard not to cry and the tears were about to come anyways. He heard his Dad pressing through the leaves after him.
For how long he didn't know, the older brother searched through the ferns and mossy trees for his little sister. His father searched with him, probably almost as frantic, but the boy didn't pay enough attention to tell. Over and over he kept playing things he could have done to fight off the monster better-to explain things to Cheyenne so she wouldn't go into the forest-or at least thought of looking out the window earlier. If anything happened to her, who would he play games with? How would he able to beat the harpies without her? The answer was no, he'd never beat that level. He'd never play Hero's Journey again.
"Cody? Daddy?" said a very small, very quiet voice.
They rushed forward, hearts doing that leapy thing they often do.
Out from a mass of rather beaten looking ferns, their little girl, with her kitty hoody all smeared with mud, crawled out, tears rolling down her face.
Needless to say, there was much hugging, much jumping about, and much celebration. For the first time in a long time, Cody thought of his Dad as a hero, even though he thought he had grown up out of that. But maybe, just perhaps, the young boy wasn't as grown up as he thought he was.
Mother met them on the steps up to the house. Her face was kind of blotchy, but it was only because her cheeks were so red with her smile as dad explained the epic battle with a monster with puffy, yellow eyes. Of course she didn't believe it, thinking they had simply played hard, and father seemed to sense that and didn't press it. He didn't fully believing it himself after all. But she hugged them, gave the rather battered, but still working ATV a pitying look, and ushered the three of them inside for baths.
Over the next few days Cody began to see a change in his family. Whenever his parents would open their mouths to retort or growl at the other, they would stop, looking worriedly at Cheyenne, whose eyes, as though on cue, would always get big and wide. Then they'd look to Cody, smile at each other, and continue on as though nothing happened. In their mother's mind, Cheyenne ran away because of their fighting and Cody lost his voice temporarily out of trauma. So the parents sat the two of them in front of the game console and left them there to have a very long, very private talk amongst themselves in their father's office. The strange behavior had started after that. Cody didn't mind much. He could talk, Cheyenne was safe, and mom and dad were acting as they had been designed to act, so all was well.
Cheyenne had troubles sleeping afterwards, but she would just sneak into Cody's room and sleep at the foot of his bed. He made sure to keep a blanket there for her-his big fluffy one; the one she loved most. The night after the attack she brought in another stick she had found by the porch and sat it besides the bed.
"What's that for?" he had asked.
"In case mom and dad start fighting again."
This had surprised him and he gaped at her through the dark.
"But Dad shot it. I saw it."
He saw her blond hair shine in the driveway lights as she shook her head.
"Once we got rid of it, the parents stopped fighting. If they start up again it'll come back."
She said it so matter of factly, he didn't bother trying to argue with her. Eventually their parents, concerned for how they had affected their children, set up Cheyenne's bed in Cody's room and it would remain like that until the little girl outgrew her nightlight.
The day after they had done away with the monster, their father came into Cody's room and closed the door. Hero's Journey was up as always, but Cody was playing it absentmindedly and Cheyenne wasn't really paying attention to the harpies on the screen.
Cody paused the game and they both looked up. Their father folded his arms and squeezed one of his elbows.
"I...I don't suppose that thing was-did you see it change, you know, it's shape?"
They nodded, nonplussed. He now tickled his elbow and gnawed on his lip.
"I guess that means a move is in order, then. We can't stick around here with a thing like...that around."
"It won't come back if we are safe." said Cheyenne.
"And what would happen to the llamas and the chickens if we moved?" asked Cody.
Their father scratched his head. "I thought you guys didn't like it here."
They shrugged and Cody unpaused his game. As Cheyenne's attention turned away as well, the man was left there feeling awkward and questioning his sanity.
"Wait, did you two really see it?"
Cody hesitated. Cheyenne, as was her usual, answered instantly and truthfully.
"It might've just been a mountain lion." Cody said. "You did tell us there were some up here. I think it was a sick one and that's probably why it wandered down and looked so weird."
His dad swayed a bit on the spot as Cheyenne gave her brother a curious look. He seemed to grow a bit dazed at hearing something akin to what he wanted to say coming out his son's mouth.
"Of course," he muttered, "it had to have been something like that. No telling your mother of this now, you hear? And I don't want you outside unless I'm out too."
"Yes, dad." they chorused.
"I'm...I'm going to go talk to her about a move. I'm sure I could get a job somewhere in Vegas, or...but that's not much safer."
And with that awkward air of a man no longer sure of himself, he left, closing the door behind him and allowing the magical barrier of the game console to invisibly morph back over the door. Cheyenne poked him.
"Why'd you say that?" she said, looking a bit pensive.
Not entirely sure himself why he had said it, he finished off another harpie and turned to her.
"Well, what would people think if dad believe there was a shapeshifting, voice-stealing monster in his backyard? They'd think he was a nutter. We got to look after him too now, you know."
Cheyenne looked at him, then to the stick besides his bed. She took it down and squeezed it experimentally.
"All right." she said.