For the third night in a row, Lucy Pennykettle's startled voice came echoing out of her bedroom. Along the landing, in her workplace known as the Dragons' Den, Elizabeth Pennykettle put down her paintbrush, wiped her hands on her artist's smock, and went to investigate.
"Lucy, what's the matter?"
Lucy lay quivering under her blanket. She had it pulled up so tight under her nose that only her head, her fingers, and two pigtails of straw-colored hair could be seen. "It's here," she gulped. Her gaze slanted toward one corner of the room.
"What is?" said her mom.
"The monster," said Lucy in a muffled voice.
Mrs. Pennykettle gave a quiet sigh and sat down on the edge of the bed. She rested her hands in her lap and looked thoughtfully at her daughter. Lucy was only nine years old. She was a bright and clever child with a strong imagination. She loved stories and was fond of making them up. She could make up a story out of anything, in fact: a missing glove, a pebble on the beach, or even a shadow creeping up the wall...
"Lucy, we talked about this," her mom said. She pointed to an opening in the curtains. Just beyond the open window, the light from the lamp in Wayward Crescent was glowing brightly through the sycamore trees, throwing crisscrossing lines and patterns into the room.
Lucy shook her head. "It's not branches, Mom. The monster flies. It jumps around. It's fast. It turns. It flits!"
"Flits?" Mrs. Pennykettle repeated, thinking that was an interesting thing for a "monster" to do. When she was a child, monsters (or shadows) usually stomped through her imagination.
Lucy pulled down the blanket and went on in a fluster, "Sometimes it's big and sometimes it's small, on the ceiling and around the wall!"
"Very poetic," said her mom.
"I mean it," said Lucy, looking quite serious. “Close the window. Draw the curtains. It might get in and steal me—or eat me!"
Mrs. Pennykettle's gentle frown suggested she didn't think either of those things was terribly likely. She didn't think a monster was very likely, either. But it was unusual for Lucy to be quite so stubborn. So, sweeping her red hair behind one ear, Elizabeth went to the window to check.
In the lamplight, the Crescent looked as beautiful as ever. Autumn was almost over and there was barely a leaf left hanging on the trees. A leaf was probably the culprit, she decided. One single piece of copper-colored sycamore, fluttering madly in the wind, desperate to complete its seasonal cycle and fall into the road along with the others. She suggested this to Lucy, who replied rather sparkly, "Mom, I'm not scared of leaves!"
"Come and look," said her mom, not about to give up on her theory yet.
Nervously, Lucy came to stand by her side, just in time to see a large old leaf go dancing on the wind past the streetlight.
"Now, quickly, turn and look at the wall," said her mom.
And sure enough, when they looked, there between the wardrobe and Lucy's mirror was a large, creepy, fast-moving shadow. It could have been a monster—if you were nine, thought Mrs. Pennykettle.