Castles & Monsters – Teaser

This is a teaser, an excerpt of a longer story that I intend to publish soon in its own book alongside a few other, shorter stories. I hope you enjoy it!

Over dinner Caroline asks Billy some questions about himself. She asks if he goes to school and where, what his parents’ names are, and where he lived before his “castle”. His answers aren’t very conclusive. His father’s name is John and his mother’s name is Mary. Great. Just about the most generic, common names around. And no last name of course. He doesn’t go to school any more. And he can’t say which school he used to attend, where it is or even how long it’s been since he’s been there. And before his imaginary castle, he lived in a house, but “the bad men took it”.

By now she and Robert are more than certain there is something worth investigating here. They have very little information, but it’s still a starting point. They’re looking for a John and Mary of unknown last name who may have been evicted and are clearly unavailable, having left their son alone in the streets with a fantasy about castles and monsters.

That rings another bell. The monster. The monster from his story. His mom is “fighting a monster that makes her hurt a lot”. Not “hurts her”, she notes, but “makes her hurt”. That sounds like it might be a disease, possibly chronic, probably life-threatening, and definitely painful. She could look around hospitals.

And his father is on a quest for something to kill the monster. That sounds like he’s working on a cure. No, if he were he could certainly afford not to be evicted. Then he must be working a menial job and struggling to earn money to pay for his wife’s treatment. It’s really not much to go on, but it’s something. She’ll report that in the morning to Child Protection Services.

Sir Billy turns out to be a perfect dinner guest, polite and well-behaved. And he gets along well with her daughter Lily too. He tells various stories about his adventurous parents, about how they’re valiantly fighting a monster, which keeps Lily entertained and her parents ever more concerned. Caroline seizes this opportunity to ask some more questions about this monster.

“How long has this monster been hurting your mother?” He shrugs. Of course. Caroline should know better than to expect precise answers from him about that at his age.

“You wouldn’t happen to know the name of this monster, would you?”

“I call it Bayalzabob, and it’s mean, and it’s dirty, and it’s mean, and it’s making my mommy cry every day.” He’s definitely made that name up, maybe from Beelzebub.

“And where does it hurt her, do you know?” Billy points to his head.

“Do you know where your mother is fighting this monster?” Billy shakes his head.

“How about where your father is getting what he needs to fight it?” He shakes his head again.

After dinner, she suggests that Billy stay on the living room couch for the night, promising that her guards are the best and they will not leave their post until she tells them to. “And tomorrow”, she adds, “you and I will go on a quest to find your parents and help them, OK?” Billy looks excited at the prospect. He accepts, and she loans him a toothbrush and prepares the couch.

In the morning, they all wake up and have breakfast. Billy joins them, still polite as ever, and helps himself to some Lucky Charms cereal. They’re his favorite, he says. This leads Caroline to think that clearly this boy didn’t grow up on the street. He definitely must have a family and a home.

He and Lily talk animatedly, with Lily telling him about school and what she’ll do there. This gives Caroline an idea. An idea so obvious she mentally slaps herself for not having thought about it sooner.

“Tell us about your school, Billy”. Last night she only asked him which school he had attended, and didn’t think about asking him more particulars to help identify it. It’s a long shot, but then so is this whole investigation anyway. The boy starts talking about his school, describing it and the activities he used to do there.

Unfortunately, however, she only gets a generic description that could equally apply to any of a dozen primary schools in that city alone. She sighs inwardly. Not helpful. Another angle comes to mind, however.

“Do you have any friends at that school?” He starts talking about his favorite classmates and thosewho are mean to him, and more particularly about one Jason, last name unknown, with whom he seems to be particularly good friends. He also mentions a Lucy, who he says is his “girlfriend” in the naive way children become copycats trying to reproduce their elders’ behaviors. She has to smile at this, remembering her own younger siblings and even some things her own daughter has mentioned.

She asks him if by any chance he knows where Jason or Lucy live, or their phone numbers. Finding someone he knows, after all, could short-circuit a whole lot of tedious investigation, as the parents would be bound to know more about him, or at least be able to point her to someone who does. But Billy shakes his head. Wow, this is going to be tough.

After breakfast Caroline tells Billy to wait in the living room for a few minutes and ducks into the home office. She calls Child Protection Services and arranges to go onsite with Billy to get the ball rolling on tracking down his parents. Shortly after hanging up, she’s back in the living room.

“Sir Billy, are you ready to go on a quest?”

Billy stands up, beaming. “A quest?”

“Yes, I think it’s time we had news of your parents, don’t you? I say we try to find them.”

He gets very excited then, the way only kids can over such seemingly small things. She smiles at him and walks him out to the car.

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