The urgent whisper slid across the dark and through his dreams until he gave a little moan. Rolling over and huddling deeper into the blankets, he made a fervent prayer that Bo forgot whatever it was and let him sleep. Even though it was summer, he still had to get up and work with Jesse at 5 in the morning tomorrow.
No such luck.
He sighed, a heavy sound that dropped to the floor at the same time his feet did. At least it was summer, and the boards were warm under him, instead of the icy coldness of winter. The things he did for his little cousin. Yawning, he crossed the floor when suddenly Bo’s voice reached him again.
“Stop!” He obeyed, wondering what in the world was going on. In the darkness, he could just make out the sleep tossed blond hair that stuck out in wild angles around Bo’s head and the wide blue eyes that glinted in the light from the window.
“What is it?” he whispered back, glancing around.
Bo ducked his head. “There are monsters under the bed.”
Of course. Monsters. Why shouldn’t there be? I mean, it was only—he checked the clock on the bedside table—3:00 A.M. Why couldn’t they come at a decent time, like 6:00 or maybe even 8:00? Never mind.
“Bo,” he said patiently, shuffling forward despite Bo’s head shakings, “there aren’t any monsters under your bed.”
“But I heard them talking,” Bo said, eight-year old voice rising in a whine.
“What were they saying, then?” Luke asked, sitting down on the edge of the bed and drawing his feet up. Out of habit, of course.
“They were talking about how they were going to eat all of us, Daisy and Uncle Jesse, too!”
“Right. Well, if they can’t get out from under the bed, how are they supposed to go to all of our rooms?” Luke reasoned. His cousin shook his head, heaving a gigantic sigh like Luke was purposely being dense.
“There’s a great big ol’ maze that connects all of the under-the-bed’s, and they go through that. Then they drag you down there, and you can’t get out, and they got all sorts of things down there, and then they cook you and eat you.”
Luke stared at his cousin, marveling at his imagination. Bo’s teachers had commented on the story-telling skills, which Luke had always put down to the shuckin’ and jivin’ skills that came naturally to the Duke family, but sometimes he pulled things out of his hat that stunned even Jesse. One time Luke had picked up a composition Bo wrote, squinting to make out the wide-spaced scrawl and trying to figure out the complex story; a red pen had written “Too much detail!” in the corner, which made him grin.
And even though it was 3:00, Luke found himself interested enough to encourage a further explanation.
“All right, so there’s a giant labyrinth underneath all the beds,” Luke said, looking to Bo.
“Not a lab, a maze,” Bo corrected him patiently.
Briefly he considered defining a labyrinth to Bo, then decided against it. “Right, of course, sorry. So there’s a giant maze. Is it just around our house or to all the houses in the world?”
“It’s all the houses in Hazzard. All the other towns gotta get their own mazes.”
“So who builds ’em?” Luke asked, leaning back and watching his cousin, who seemed to have forgotten about the monsters entirely and was now intent on explaining the magic of them to his older cousin. “The monsters?”
“Nope. They can’t build, except for the goblins, because they learned from the elves.”
Luke decided not to pry into that one. “So who does?”
“The Tooth Fairy.”
“Pardon?” Luke said, blinking. That one came from left field.
“The Tooth Fairy. With all the tooths—”
“Teeth,” Luke corrected absent-mindedly, trying to figure this one out before an eight-year old had to explain it to him.
“All the teeths she gets from people. And she sells ’em to the other fairies, and they sand ’em down and make stones out of ’em. Then the monsters steal ’em and make the humans build the mazes, and since the Tooth Fairy had them, they’re all magical, and so they go all over the place instead of just regular.”
“Wait, wait, don’t the monsters eat the humans?”
“What? I’m just trying to understand,” Luke protested.
“You’re not taking it seriously,” Bo said accusingly.
“I’m sorry. So the monsters save the humans until they build the mazes, then eat them.”
They sat in silence for a while, Bo plucking at the strings of the quilt and Luke staring out the window, trying to figure out where all this came from. He hadn’t been that imaginative. The only thing he remembered from being eight was the dead certainty that a vampire was living in his closet. But then again, Bo had always done this. Luke could remember when his younger cousin had just turned six. Cooter volunteered to babysit him for a while while Jesse and Luke went to town, and when they returned, he was sitting on a stack of logs laughing. Bo sat beside him, earnestly trying to convince him that there were a thousand invisible alligators in the pond.
“Luke?” Bo’s voice pulled him from the memory.
“Can you kill the monsters for me?”
Luke nodded cautiously, unsure of what this might entail. “Sure. How do I go about it?”
“You have to look under the bed and look ’em right in the eyes.”
“Well, sure. They won’t come back if they see you’re here,” Bo said reasonably. Luke grinned, kneeling on the floor and lifting the bedcover. A few menacing dust bunnies stared at him, but nothing more. He shrugged.
“Go on, go somewhere else, y’hear? Leave my little cousin alone!” he said loudly for Bo’s benefit. Straightening, he put his arms on either side of Bo and smiled. “They’re gone now. Now get some sleep.” He leaned forward and kissed his cousin on the forehead, then turned to go back to bed.
“Luke…do you think that I could sleep with you?” Bo’s big eyes shone in the moonlight. “Just for tonight?”
“Bo, you’re really getting too old for this,” Luke sighed, knowing he was going to give in but determined to at least pretend he wasn’t.
“Just for tonight, all right? Then no more,” Luke said. Bo grinned and jumped into his arms, letting Luke carry him across the floor and to the other bed. The monsters might have come back, after all. After he made sure Bo was cuddled into the blankets and sufficiently far away from the edge, he crawled into bed behind him and gave one last yawn. “Good night, Bo.”
“Thanks, cousin,” Bo said, standing and stretching his arms that had recently been bound. He was sure he was a goner, when one of those goons aimed a gun right at his head, but suddenly Luke appeared, knocking the gun out of his hands and delivering a punch that sent him reeling against the wall.
Luke grinned at him, shaking his head. “The trouble you get into…”
“Hey!” Bo said, protesting. “It wasn’t my fault!”
“Right. And I still have to jump in and save you.”
“Oh, please, I had ’em right where I wanted ’em…”
“Of course you did, all tied up and staring the gun right down the barrel,” Luke said, arching an eyebrow. Bo gave a sheepish shrug.
“Okay, so I needed your help a little bit,” he admitted. Luke laughed.
“I’m still getting rid of your monsters.”
Bo frowned in confusion. “Huh?”
“You don’t remember the Tooth Fairy?” Luke asked. He stared at his cousin like he had just announced he was Santa Clause.
“What are you talking about, Luke?” he finally said. Sometimes Luke said some pretty strange things, but this one was way out there. Luke wrapped an arm around his shoulders, leading him out the door.
“Well, you see, there’s this maze—”