The Iron King

By: Julie Kagawa

“What?” My outburst made her start. Our German shepherd? Attacking Ethan? “Is Ethan all right?” I demanded, feeling my stomach twist in fear.

“Yes.” Mom gave me a tired smile. “Very shaken up, but nothing serious, thank God.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “What happened?” I asked, still unable to believe our dog actually attacked a family member. Beau adored Ethan; he got upset if anyone even scolded my half brother. I’d seen Ethan yanking on Beau’s fur, ears, and tail, and the dog barely responded with a lick. I’d seen Beau take Ethan’s sleeve and gently tug him back from the driveway. Our German shepherd might be a terror to squirrels and deer, but he’d never even shown teeth to anyone in the house. “Why did Beau go crazy like that?”

Mom shook her head. “I don’t know. Luke saw Beau run up the stairs, then heard Ethan screaming. When he got to his room, he found the dog dragging Ethan across the floor. His face was badly scratched, and there were bite marks on his arm.”

My blood ran cold. I saw Ethan being mauled, imagined his absolute terror when our previously trustworthy shepherd turned on him. It was so hard to believe, like something out of a horror movie. I knew Mom was just as stunned as I was; she’d trusted Beau completely.

Still, Mom was holding back, I could tell by the way she pressed her lips together. There was something she wasn’t telling me, and I was afraid I knew what it was.

“What will happen to Beau?”

Her eyes filled with tears, and my heart sank. “We can’t have a dangerous dog running around, Meg,” she said, and I heard the plea for understanding. “If Ethan asks, tell him that we found Beau another home.” She took a deep breath and gripped the steering wheel tightly, not looking at me. “It’s for the safety of the family, Meghan. Don’t blame your father. But, after Luke brought Ethan home, he took Beau to the pound.”


Ring Tone of Doom

Dinner was tense that night. I was furious at both my parents: Luke for doing the deed, and Mom for allowing him to do it. I refused to speak to either of them. Mom and Luke talked between themselves about useless, trivial stuff, and Ethan sat clutching Floppy in silence. It was weird not having Beau pacing round the table like he always did, looking for crumbs. I excused myself early and retreated to my room, slamming the door behind me.

I flopped back on my bed, remembering all the times Beau had curled up here with me, a solid, warm presence. He never asked anyone for anything, content just to be near, making sure his charges were safe. Now he was gone, and the house seemed emptier for it.

I wished I could talk to someone. I wanted to call Robbie and rant about the total unfairness of it all, but his parents—who were even more backward than mine, apparently—didn’t have a phone, or even a computer. Talk about living in the Dark Ages. Rob and I made our plans at school, or sometimes he would just show up outside my window, having walked the two miles to my house. It was a total pain in the ass, something I fully intended to fix once I got my own car. Mom and Luke couldn’t keep me in this isolated bubble forever. Maybe my next big purchase would be cell phones for both of us, and screw what Luke thought about that. This whole “technology is evil” thing was getting really old.

I’d talk to Robbie tomorrow. I couldn’t do it tonight. Besides, the only phone in my house was the landline in the kitchen, and I didn’t want to vent about grown-up stupidity with them in the same room. That would be pushing it.

There was a timid knock on the door, and Ethan’s head peeked inside.

“Hey, squirt.” I sat up on the bed, swiping at a few stray tears. A dinosaur Band-Aid covered his forehead, and his right arm was wrapped in gauze. “What’s up?”

“Mommy and Daddy sent Beau away.” His lower lip trembled, and he hiccuped, wiping his eyes on Floppy’s fur. I sighed and patted the bed.

“They had to,” I explained as he clambered up and snuggled into my lap, rabbit and all. “They didn’t want Beau to bite you again. They were afraid you’d get hurt.”

“Beau didn’t bite me.” Ethan gazed back at me with wide, teary eyes. I saw fear in them, and an understanding that went way beyond his years. “Beau didn’t hurt me,” he insisted. “Beau was trying to save me from the man in the closet.”

Monsters again? I sighed, wanting to dismiss it, but a part of me hesitated. What if Ethan was right? I’d been seeing weird things, too, lately. What if…what if Beau really was protecting Ethan from something horrible and terrifying…?

No! I shook my head. This was ridiculous! I’d be turning sixteen in a few hours; that was way too old to believe in monsters. And it was high time Ethan grew up, as well. He was a smart kid, and I was getting tired of him blaming imaginary bogeymen whenever something went wrong.

“Ethan.” I sighed again, trying not to appear cranky. If I was too harsh, he’d probably start bawling, and I didn’t want to upset him after all he’d gone through today. Still, this had gone far enough. “There are no monsters in your closet, Ethan. There’s no such thing as monsters, okay?”