Henry Trout snuck downstairs, skipping over the creaky bottom step. He brushed his bangs out of his eyes with a Tai Chi salute and slunk through the dark house. Past Mom’s room. Through the kitchen. The youngest-ever nighttime ninja at seven years old, he slipped out the back door without a sound.
Dark quiet all around made his belly go goosy, even though his big brother, Tyler, taught him long ago not to be afraid. “Think of this, Hen,” he’d said. “When it’s dark, it’s dark for everyone. You don’t even need to hide. It hides you.”
Hen pulled on his Spiderman hood. The cold night air stung. Hen’s teeth chattered, making clicky sounds. But the Adirondack Mountains hugged him all around. Where they lived in Severance, near Paradox Lake, their street was like a patchwork quilt—the Hoggs on their left was a dark square, and Miss Sally on their right was a bright square. Their house sat in the middle, their square a blend of autumn colors.
Crickets chirped in the distance. How far away were they? Maybe hedgehogs were there, too. Hedgehogs were the coolest nocturnal animals, with tough-guy spikes on the outside and soft fur on their bellies. Miss Sally would know. She knew lots of things. Like, that hedgehogs were kid-friendly pets because they sleep all day during school and are ready to play in the afternoon. Hen already had a name picked out for the one he was going to catch—Louis. He always liked the name Louis. It was the best name for a pet.
Aha! Maybe Miss Sally would babysit Louis while Hen was in school, like she babysat Hen while Mom was at work.
Tonight, in the deep night, Miss Sally’s bay window blinked different colors into the dark quiet. Like a disco ball. She must’ve fallen asleep in front of the TV again, slouched in her worn plaid chair. Hen smiled at the light. Wait ‘til Miss Sally saw his new pet. Hen couldn’t wait to see him, too. If only Louis would come out from wherever he was hiding so Hen could adopt him right and proper. Tyler said he needed a trap. But Hen thought if he was patient enough, Louis would come to him. Right in their backyard.
Hen ducked into his play tent and waited.
And waited. And waited.
It wasn’t Louis, but sleep that kept coming for him. The tent floor was like a bed—the grass underneath was soft and comfy. The moon made the green canvas glow like a nightlight. His yawn was so big it made a whooshing sound. He lay down, but made a promise to stay awake.
Louis could be there any minute! A little ball of spikes wobbling into his tent, his tiny claws scratching, his nose twitching. Hen could see it now. He closed his eyes. It was easier to keep still that way.
But stay awake.
He could do it. Don’t fall aslee . . .
A scream. Shrill and high-pitched.
Hen shot up, knocking against the tent’s piping. Dark quiet was everywhere. Was he still asleep? Inside a bad dream? His stomach flip-flopped.
Another ugly noise. From next door.
Miss Sally’s house!
Hen scrambled out, rubbing sleep away.
Light from her window. Not a disco ball, just gray. Like fuzz on channel three. The sounds weren’t from channel three, though. Not from a dream, either. They were real.
Everything got really slow. Like someone hit slow motion on the VCR.
A jagged shadow stretched across the window like a Scooby-Doo monster.
Someone was inside Miss Sally’s house!
His heart moved into his brain, beating between his ears. He shook his head to clear it like a dog shook off water.
He looked again. Two shadows. The Monster. And another shadow—small, soft, hunched over. Miss Sally? They faced each other, like they were arguing. The voices were muffled, but angry.
Fear pierced his heart. He stared so hard his eyeballs went dry.
What was happening?
Something grew out of the Monster. A weirdly-shaped object. Heavy, by the slow way it swung around. Shadows splashed together. Then one huge, heaving blob, with sharp angles striking out. Like a fight cloud in a comic strip.
Was that what he was watching? A fight? It changed so fast. Like the darkness was trapped in a net. Hen wished he had night vision.
He inched toward Miss Sally’s house, gulping pockets of air like he was about to go underwater. He had to get closer. He had to see.
All of a sudden, it was really warm. Hot. His Spiderman sweatshirt was too much. As he crawled across the grass, wetness soaked through the knees of his sweats. It traveled up his legs and into his stomach and heart and brain. He was wet all over. Was it sweat? Or pee? Maybe both.
“Don’t be scared.” Tyler’s words rang clear in Hen’s mind. “When it’s dark, it’s dark for everyone. You don’t need to hide—”
It wasn’t working. The moon was a spotlight on him. He hid inside Miss Sally’s willow tree and peeked from the curtain of its long, wispy branches.
“Put it down!” Miss Sally’s voice was clear. “Get out of my house this instant!” A voice folded over Miss Sally’s. Then a thump. Like something heavy being dropped. The shadow blob flung apart like an explosion, leaving only one shadow standing.
“Miss Sally?” Hen whispered, the night taking his words in a steam cloud.
Hot tears pricked. But Hen wouldn’t blink.
Another voice. Distant, angry yelling. Hen felt a chill, recognizing it . . .