Monsters of Morningside
One Hundred Colors
In his dream, Alex stood at the foot of his father's bridge in the other world, looking down into a black pit. The other world was different now. There were no more lights in the forest. Even in the sky there was only the moon. There were no rustles of movement, no laughter, no hushed voices. Besides Alex, the only other person in the wood was his Dream Teacher, and she had stopped singing. The other world was as silent as it was dark.
Alex wanted to go home.
At home there was starlight, moonlight, a fire in the fireplace, and people to talk to.
But when he started to turn toward the bridge, something glinted from within the pit, and so he had to stop and kneel and look hard into the blackness.
There it was: a pin-prick star deep, deep down.
He reached in and groped around, but the light was much too far away.
He sat down and dangled his feet over the edge.
I have to go in, he thought. And he jumped.
Alex's arms and legs went out and he landed like a starfish on his pillow, and lay there gasping for a while, staring up at the ceiling, letting it sink in that he was safe in his bed, with Kuku snoring softly at the other end.
He had not gone back to the other world since he, Mom and baby Drew had stumbled over Dad's bridge—Linden had flown in his magic bubble—into his back yard in the middle of the night.
Had he and Linden really done all those things that were now swimming through his brain? Faced the silver Monster, and saved Drew, and escaped in a shiny flying globe? Were there really kid-ghosts floating around making people sleep so they could steal dreams? And what about the giant cat and the long-legged woman, who were the same person? What had become of her? Was she even real?
And then there were little people that he had somehow made, people who could run and talk and decorate and make up their own minds. And they were made of—not even of paper, but just of colors!
For a moment Alex felt blank and empty.
He didn't know which, if any, of the fantastical scenarios playing out in his mind had really happened. But something had. Because he knew that not very long ago, the world had been full of color. Now there were only shades of gray.
For days he had moved around like a sleepwalker, fuzzy-headed and drowsy. He'd watched a lot of movies and fallen asleep in every chair in the house. Mom checked his forehead a lot and talked about a virus, which he knew was an invisible bug that made people sick. Linden came for a visit and told him a long story, not a word of which Alex understood. Dad took him to the Shed, and they turned on the space heater and made Christmas presents for Mom, Kuku, Drew, Linden and Daoshi.
Christmas! That was real!
What time was it?
Alex checked his clock and couldn't believe his luck. Mom had said he could get up at six at the earliest, and it was already seven! He threw off his covers, sprang up and ran to his desk.
Outside the window, big snowflakes spiraled slowly through the bright air. The Escape Tree bore fat clumps of snow; snow blanketed the lawn and the trees and the bridge. Everything sparkled. It was splendid.
Alex ran back to his bed. "Kuku! It's Christmas!"
Her eyes popped open. Her face crinkled into a big smile.
"Well, we'd better get up! Quick, quick, hurry, hurry!"
And they bustled around, getting in each other's way as they found their slippers and sweaters.
Sounds of fire crackling and the teapot bubbling greeted him as he ran ahead of Kuku down the hallway to the kitchen. Mom and Dad were already up! There was a plate of frosted cinnamon rolls on the table, and Mom was filling mugs, and Dad was holding Drew up to the family room window, pointing and saying "Snow."
When Mom had moved the cinnamon rolls and steaming beverages to the coffee table, Dad and Alex started handing out presents.
The first one Alex found was wrapped in a paper bag with a bow stuck on it. Across the front was written: To Alex, From Reese.
Alex pulled out of the bag a very old-looking book. The title, in glossy, raised letters, read: Anatol of the Great Dark. The illustration below showed a young man in armor with a sword, and an angel, standing under trees.
Alex stared at the book, wondering about Reese. How could he act so mean and be so nice?
Next were all the packages labeled with Santa's fancy handwriting. Dad got the biggest one: a wooden sled. Santa had brought Drew a tiger that was the size of Alex. Mom got a fuzzy robe, and Kuku unwrapped matching hat, scarf and mittens. Alex unwrapped a book that was the size of Drew called All Monsters.
Then everyone spent quite a while unwrapping the gifts Dad and Alex had made: wooden animals and angels and other strange creatures that Dad had carved and painted, and nameless things that Alex had made out of sea-shells, pine-cones, pebbles and other odds and ends. Dad brought Alex his present last. It was a winged person with round eyes, an open mouth, and very large hands. "Her hands are big because she likes to make things," Dad told him.
Mom gave him a stuffed fox, almost life-sized.
"I noticed that Heavy's gone missing," she said.
Kuku's gift was a stuffed gargoyle.
As everyone began gathering up the wrapping paper and bows and stuffing it into paper bags, there was a knock at the door.
"Who could that be?" Mom raised her eyebrows.
Dad went to the door and came back with a lumpy, trollish-looking person carrying six-packs of dark bottles in both hands, and a flat-looking package between his teeth.
"What!" said Alex. "Daoshi!"
The old man plunked the six-packs onto the kitchen table and took the package out of his mouth. "Root beer, mead. Hobby, yes?" And he stumped into the family room and dropped the package into Alex's lap. Like Reese's, it was wrapped in a paper bag, only Daoshi's had wet teeth marks on it.
Alex looked up at his teacher, strangely reluctant to unwrap the gift.
"Open!" Daoshi said gruffly.
Slowly, Alex tore the paper at the corner, and confirmed his hunch.
It was a sketchbook and a set of colored pencils—there were so many pencils that their package was longer than the sketchpad was. The label read 100 Vivid Colors.
Alex's eyes flooded with tears.
"Ach!" said Daoshi.
Alex grabbed his fox and his gargoyle, jumped off the couch—letting the pencils and sketchpad slip to the floor—and ran to his room.
He walked back and forth squeezing his new stuffies while the tears fell down, thinking jumbled thoughts.
A hundred visions raced through his mind, which he could not put together in a way that made any sense.
He plopped down at his desk and set his new stuffies in front of him.
The gargoyle reminded him of a silver monster which he felt that he had seen in a dream, but the dream was going away.
The fox was very cute, but it wasn't Heavy. Heavy was lost. Tears plunked onto his desk, one after the other.
There was a knock on his door.
He didn't answer. The door opened anyway.
"Go away," said Alex.
"Hm," said Daoshi. He did not go away. Instead he stalked over to Alex and, moving the stuffies aside, set the sketchpad and the box of pencils in front of him. Daoshi had opened both of them.
"I don’t like coloring any more," said Alex, not looking at his teacher.
Daoshi put his big hands on Alex's shoulders.
"Why is that, Chánito?"
"Because it's not coloring. It's… graying."
"Ah," said Daoshi. "Close your eyes."
Then Alex did look up at him.
"What do you see?"
Alex frowned. "You're my fighting teacher, not my seeing teacher." But he kept his eyes closed.
"Be still," Daoshi commanded. "Look here." Alex felt a gnarled hand on his chest, where his heart was.
Reflexively, because he had done it so many times at Blackmask, Alex quieted his breath, and stopped thinking in words. A moment later, he gasped.
"Eh?" said Daoshi. "What do you see?"
Alex didn't answer. He was listening to the Dream Teacher's song, and seeing in his mind… a beast with a head like a lion's, and hawk-wings, and leaf-green eyes—and so many other colors: dark red, deep gold, velvety blue, black, purple…
"What do you—"
"A monster!" said Alex, and turned to look up at Daoshi. "I see a monster!"
And he drew a pencil from the box—it didn’t matter which one, it never had before and it didn't now—closed his eyes again, and began to move his hands.