The Iron King

By: Julie Kagawa

“Yes, there are!” He scowled and kicked his feet into the covers. “I’ve seen them. They talk to me. They say the king wants to see me.” He held out his arm, showing me the bandage. “The man in the closet grabbed me here. He was pulling me under the bed when Beau came in and scared him off.”

Clearly, I wasn’t going to change his mind. And I really didn’t want a temper tantrum in my room right now. “Okay, fine,” I relented, wrapping my arms around him. “Let’s say something other than Beau grabbed you today. Why don’t you tell Mom and Luke?”

“They’re grown-ups,” Ethan said, as if it was perfectly clear. “They won’t believe me. They can’t see the monsters.” He sighed and looked at me with the gravest expression I’d ever seen on a kid. “But Floppy says you can see them. If you try hard enough. You can see through the Mist and the glamour, Floppy says so.”

“The what and the what?”

“Ethan?” Mom’s voice floated outside the door, and her silhouette appeared in the frame. “Are you in here?” Seeing us together, she blinked and offered a tentative smile. I glared back stonily.

Mom ignored me. “Ethan, honey, time to get ready for bed. It’s been a long day.” She held out her hand, and Ethan hopped down to pad across the room, dragging his rabbit behind him.

“Can I sleep with you and Daddy?” I heard him ask, his voice small and scared.

“Oh, I guess so. Just for tonight, okay?”

“’Kay.” Their voices faded away down the hall, and I kicked my door shut.

That night, I had a strange dream about waking up and seeing Floppy, Ethan’s stuffed rabbit, at the foot of my bed. In the dream, the rabbit was speaking to me, words that were grave and terrifying, filled with danger. It wanted to warn me, or it wanted me to help. I might have promised it something. The next morning, however, I couldn’t remember much of the dream at all.

I WOKE TO THE SOUND OF RAIN drumming on the roof. My birthday seemed destined to be cold, ugly, and wet. For a moment, a heavy weight pressed at the back of my mind, though I didn’t know why I felt so depressed. Then everything from the previous day came back to me, and I groaned.

Happy birthday to me, I thought, burrowing under the covers. I’ll be spending the rest of the week in bed, thanks.

“Meghan?” Mom’s voice sounded outside my door, followed by a timid knock. “It’s getting late. Are you up yet?”

I ignored her and curled up farther into the covers. Resentment simmered as I thought of poor Beau, carted off to the pound. Mom knew I was mad at her, but she could stew in her guilt for a while. I wasn’t ready to forgive and make up just yet.

“Meghan, get up. You’re going to miss the bus,” said Mom, poking her head in the room. Her tone was matter-of-fact, and I snorted. So much for making up.

“I’m not going to school,” I muttered from beneath the covers. “I don’t feel good. I think I’ve got the flu.”

“Sick? On your birthday? That’s unfortunate.” Mom came into the room, and I peeked at her through a crack in the blankets. She remembered?

“Very sad,” Mom continued, smiling at me and crossing her arms. “I was going to take you to get a learner’s permit after school today, but if you’re sick…”

I popped up. “Really? Um…well, I guess I don’t feel all that bad. I’ll just take some aspirin or something.”

“I thought so.” Mom shook her head as I bounced to my feet. “I’m helping your father fix the barn this afternoon, so I can’t pick you up. But, as soon as you get home, we’ll go to the license bureau together. That sound like a good birthday present?”

I barely heard her. I was too busy racing around the room, grabbing clothes and getting my stuff together. The sooner I got through the day, the better.

I was stuffing homework into my backpack when the door creaked open again. Ethan peeked in the doorway, his hands behind his back, a shy, expectant smile on his face.

I blinked at him and pushed back my hair. “What do you need, squirt?”

With a grin, he stepped forward and held out a folded piece of paper. Bright crayon drawings decorated the front; a smiley-faced sun hovered over a little house with smoke curling from the chimney.

“Happy birthday, Meggie,” he said, quite pleased with himself. “See how I remembered?”

Smiling, I took the homemade card and opened it. Inside, a simple crayon drawing of our family smiled back: stick figures of Mom and Luke, me and Ethan holding hands, and a four-legged critter that had to be Beau. I felt a lump in my throat, and my eyes watered for just a moment.

“You like it?” Ethan asked, watching me anxiously.

“I love it,” I said, ruffling his hair. “Thank you. Here, why don’t you put it on the fridge, so everyone can see what a great artist you are.”

He grinned and scampered off, clutching the card, and I felt my heart get a little bit lighter. Maybe today wouldn’t be so terrible, after all.

“SO, YOUR MOM IS TAKING YOU to get a permit today?” Robbie asked as the bus pulled into the school parking lot. “That’s cool. You can finally drive us downtown and to the movies. We won’t have to depend on the bus, or spend another evening watching VHS tapes on your twelve-inch screen.”