It was another crappy Friday for Beth McGill. She had slept through her alarm, found a hole in her favorite Agatha Heterodyne t-shirt, painfully combed a snarl out of her past-her-shoulders-length brownish blonde hair, and swore when she saw that she had run out of strawberry jam for her toast. She barely made it to her first class on time, and was met with yet another disapproving stare from the TA. She hadn’t had time to pack a lunch, so she had to settle for a decent but overpriced meal at the campus pizzeria. And she discovered that she’d forgotten to charge her smartphone and couldn’t follow the updates from her webfriends who were attending the big convention, which made her feel bad all over again about not being able to afford to go. And which made the tomato sauce and grease stain on her jeans seem small.
Beth found herself wondering, again, if she had chosen the right college. She had wanted to get as far away from bickering parents and Midwest suburban life as possible, and Cooper College, a smallish campus in a smallish town tucked into the redwoods of northern California, had lured her with their curriculum, which focused on English and literary studies, and a generous scholarship. But no matter how she tried, she couldn’t fit in with the other students. It seemed like no one else there had ever seen a fantasy movie or television show, let alone waited in line all day for the latest Tolkien film; no one else there had ever read a sci-fi or fantasy novel, never mind tried cosplaying as “Harriet Dresden”.
She knew it didn’t help that she dressed like a stereotypical geek girl. She always wore her green army jacket, faded jeans, black sneakers and whatever t-shirt she felt like putting on that morning. Her thick glasses tended to offset her bright blue eyes. And campus cuisine, and an overdependence on comfort food, had caused her to put on extra weight.
By the end of her last class, Beth had managed to work herself into a state of near-depression. But her mood had brightened afterward, when she ran into Puck on the quad.
Even by the standards of both liberal arts colleges and northern Californian ones, Puck was a bit odd. If he had actual first and last names, he kept them to himself. He was short, half a head shorter than Beth, bearded and balding, and he tended to act like he had seen it all and it still quietly amused him. He also wore socks with sandals; he said it was because his feet got cold otherwise, and fashion be hanged. He was Beth’s favorite professor, and the one reason she was glad that she chose Cooper. Puck had taken a liking to her as well, and thankfully not in a way that would have been highly unethical but gotten her an A. She enjoyed his anecdotes about Shakespeare and Austen, and he seemed amused by her day-to-day travails.
The travail that tickled Puck the most was Beth’s continuing bad luck with roommates. She had gone through more than she cared to remember since she had started at Cooper, including the one who had fled to Manhattan and become a body-paint performance artist, the one who had tried to blackmail the TA after a legendary frat party, the one who had eloped with the tribal chief from Fiji and the one who had signed with the Harlem Globetrotters. Her most recent roommate had just moved out after getting a six-figure book deal for her real true story about being abducted by aliens.
“Wasn’t she on Jerry Springer?” Puck asked as they walked across the tree-lined quad. He and Beth were the only ones not in a hurry; students rushed past, heading back to their dorms or apartments to get ready for the weekend, followed by faculty members trying to beat the traffic.
“She was supposed to be,” Beth said, “but she canceled at the last minute. That’s when VH1 was trying to sign her to a reality show. I was ready to kick her out anyway.”
“Why is that?”
“She spent the rent money on alien costumes and video editing software.”
Puck chortled. “So, lass,” he said, “was there something else you wanted to talk about?”
“How—” Beth caught herself. “I shouldn’t be surprised, should I? You’ve always known me better than I’ve known myself.”
“Debatable, but do continue.”
“Professor…” Beth gathered her thoughts and wrapped her jacket tighter around her as a breeze sprung up. “Have you ever felt trapped? Stuck in a rut?”
“All I ever seem to do any more is go to class, watch TV, study and sleep. It feels like…like I don’t have a life. Sometimes, I feel like life is leaving me out, having a big party while I sit on the couch and eat too many appetizers.”
“Interesting analogy,” Puck said.
“And what do I have to look forward to when I graduate? A dead-end job in an office surrounded by brainwashed wage zombies? Or teaching kids how to get into their own ruts? I mean, what’s the point?” Beth stopped, blinked, and reached under her glasses to rub her eyes; the breeze had blown some dust into them.
Puck paused for a moment before he spoke. “You know, lass, most people wait until midlife to have a midlife crisis.”
Beth barely managed to hold back a smile. “Professor…”
“Hush, lass.” He laid a hand on her shoulder. “It’s not unusual for us to feel trapped in our daily routines. I’ve felt that way myself at times. But it won’t be that way forever.”
Beth nodded and blinked again as Puck said, “There is one constant in life, and that is change.” He paused. “Something wrong?”
Beth shook her head and pulled herself together. “I’m okay,” she said. “Just had some dust in my eyes.”
Puck nodded. “Of course,” he said. “But I have to run; I need to meet with the department head in ten minutes.”
“On a Friday?”
“He’s buying the first round,” Puck said. Beth smiled and nodded.
They exchanged quick goodbyes. As Puck walked away, Beth stared after him. She hadn’t meant to startle him, but she had been startled herself, when she had blinked.
For a moment, Puck’s appearance had changed. Beth hadn’t been overly bothered by his eyes; even though they had seemed darker and deeper, they always seemed dark and deep anyway.
His ears looking as pointed as Elrond’s? That bothered her.
* * *
On a nearby rooftop, a crouching figure in yellow, black and red watched Beth and Puck go their separate ways. She stood and wiped a dusty hand on her leg. “JACK-pot,” she said with a grin.
* * *
As the sun set, Beth sat on a bench, arms on knees, staring at the ground, mind racing. “So,” she said out loud to herself, “either I’m going crazy, or the Professor is turning into an elf. Maybe both.”
Beth stood up and looked around. She had wandered along, lost in thought, after Puck’s brief change, and had wound up in an unfamiliar part of campus. Across from the bench where she’d been sitting were two classroom buildings, both unused recently due to budget cuts and ongoing renovations. The ground in the alley between the buildings was covered in trash, and the breeze that blew through there was cold enough to raise goosebumps.
Beth shivered in the early evening chill. Then, her stomach growled. “I get the hint,” she mumbled. “Time to grab a burrito.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
Beth turned and saw a man with sunglasses and a scraggly beard standing by a lamppost. He was wearing a sleeveless black t-shirt, beat-up jeans, and a sleazy smile. “You should get something to eat instead,” he said, walking up to her. He paused for a moment, as if he was trying to remember his next line, and then said, “Can I come with you?”
Beth’s first thought was Good grief. “No,” she said, keeping her voice level and calm.
The man seemed to be shocked by her answer. “Why not?”
“Because, frankly, you’re nowhere near my type. And my day’s been weird enough already.” Beth started to walk away, hoping that he would get the hint.
That hope abruptly faded as the man reached out to grab her. “You’re coming with me,” he said.
Beth blinked, surprised and startled—
And the man’s appearance changed. He was a foot taller, with fallow skin and grotesquely yellow eyes. His dark, greasy hair was tied up in a topknot. And his teeth, which matched his eyes, were all pointed and sharp.
Beth jerked away from the monster—troll? Ogre?—and ran away as fast as she had ever run, down the alley between the two buildings. Panic moved her, but in her fear, she didn’t see the board on the ground in front of her. She tripped over it and fell hard.
She wasn’t hurt, but the fall knocked the wind out of her. As she rolled over, gasping for breath, the ogre stood in the mouth of the alley. “Ha! I have you now!” he said. He laughed cruelly as he raised his fist.
That’s when Beth noticed someone standing next to the ogre. She was slender and short, not much over five feet tall, in her late teens. She was Asian, Beth guessed Japanese, with brown eyes and ruffled, slightly messy black hair that came to just above her eyebrows in front and down to her collar in back. She was wearing a yellow karate-style jacket with red trim over a black t-shirt and leggings, and a red pillbox hat with a matching scarf that was just long enough to make Beth wonder how she kept from tripping over it. She held in one hand a wooden staff with gold tips; it was taller than she was. She had one fist in the air, mimicking the ogre. She was grinning.
“Now,” the ogre said, pointing at himself, “you will come with me.” The woman pointed at herself.
“If you do not,” and the ogre clenched a fist; again, the woman did the same.
“You will be destroyed!” the ogre said.
“NOT!” the woman shouted.
The ogre finally realized there was someone next to him. He turned to face the woman, looming over her but visibly confused. She grinned back at him. “Monkey Queen!” he finally said, stepping back.
“Right the first time, Sunshine!” she said, her grin widening.
The ogre growled and grabbed a cracked two by four from the ground. “I will destroy you, Monkey Queen!” he bellowed.
“Oh, it’s always the same, isn’t it?” the woman said as the ogre charged. “I meet a new guy, and all he wants is to destroy me. Whatever happened to romance anyway?”
And with that, the Monkey Queen jumped in the air and kicked the ogre in the face.
He roared wordlessly and staggered back. She landed on her feet and said, “I know. It must be a shock. But can’t you just picture it? Our first date?”
The ogre swung his makeshift club at her. She easily bent out of its way. “The two of us out on a moonlit night…” she said.
The ogre swung again. The Monkey Queen raised her staff with both hands and parried the blow. The board splintered, but the staff wasn’t even scratched. “…The wind blowing through my hair and your ears…” she said.
The ogre growled and raised a fist the size of a bowling ball. “And you smile and eat the flowers you just bought for me,” she said as she hit the ogre over the head with her staff.
As the ogre fell to his knees, holding his head and wincing in pain, the Monkey Queen said, “Well, maybe we should have dinner first. You okay over there?” she shouted to Beth.
“M-m-me?” Beth said, still trying to absorb what she had seen as she sat up.
“Well, I don’t mean Sunshine there. Did you smell his breath?” The woman grimaced. “But you still haven’t answered my—”
She spun around and had just enough time to say “Uh-oh” before the ogre hit her.
She hit the ground hard, dropping her staff, and didn’t move. The ogre roared in triumph. “The Monkey Queen was no match for me!” he said as he bent down to pick her up. “My mistress will be pleased.”
As Beth watched, a small voice inside her head whispered, He’s not paying attention to you. Run while you can. Get away. Another part of her said, Don’t move! Stay still! Maybe he’ll forget about you and leave you alone. But then she realized that both voices were being drowned out by the one that was shouting Screw this!, and that’s when, to her surprise, she grabbed an empty soda bottle and threw it at the ogre. “Back off!” she yelled.
The bottle bounced off the ogre’s head, and he turned to face her. Beth gasped, her heart racing, as he said with a sneer, “So you are brave after all. No matter.” He took two steps towards Beth; she tried to back away as he said, “I was told to bring you in alive, but if you—”
The Monkey Queen jumped to her feet and grabbed the surprised ogre by his shirt. “I try to be nice, and this is what I get?” she said as she lifted him over her head. “The date’s off!”
She gave the ogre an airplane spin. “Oh well, it wouldn’t have worked out anyway. After all, I am the Monkey Queen…and you’re a dork.” She threw the ogre head-first into the garbage cans. “That should do it,” she said, picking up her staff. “Now, are you okay?”
Beth tried to put what she was thinking into words. “I—you—he—”
“I know,” the Monkey Queen said with a nod. “Sunshine there was tougher than I thought. But you still haven’t answered my—”
“Look out!” Beth shouted.
The Monkey Queen glanced over her shoulder. The ogre, sitting up amid the garbage cans, had pulled a dagger from his boot. “Die, Monkey Queen!” he said as he threw it at her.
“Do you mind?” she yelled as she swung her staff at the dagger. “We’re trying to have a conversation here!” The staff struck the dagger and sent it flying back at the ogre, hilt first. Before he could react, the hilt hit him in the forehead. He toppled over, unconscious.
“Say goodnight, Sunshine! Now,” the Monkey Queen said to Beth, “let’s see if we can get this in a complete, coherent sentence: Are you all right?”
“That’s a complete, coherent sentence?” The Monkey Queen grinned.
“Don’t play semantics games with me,” Beth said. “I’m an English major.”
“Gotcha. Need a hand up?”
As the Monkey Queen helped Beth up, they could hear someone approaching. “Campus security,” Beth whispered.
The Monkey Queen nodded and planted one end of her staff on the ground. She grasped the other end and wrapped her free arm firmly around Beth’s waist, moving close to her. Beth’s eyes widened as her feet left the ground.
The Monkey Queen’s staff had grown. In seconds, it had lifted its passengers to the roof of one of the nearby buildings, bending slightly to set them down gently. That done, it then shrunk back to its previous size, just in time to not be noticed by the two security staffers who had shown up. “You could have warned me,” Beth said.
“Sorry,” her companion said. “I didn’t want to stick around for questioning.”
“But what about the ogre?”
The Monkey Queen knelt by the edge of the roof and peeked over the side. “His seeming is back, and he’s still out cold, so they’ll probably think he’s drunk. Let’s hope they put him in the tank for the night.”
“Shhh. Wait until they’re gone.”
After a few minutes, the ogre was led off by the security staffers. As soon as they had left, the Monkey Queen stood up. “Okay!” she said, extending a hand. “Time for introductions. I’m the Monkey Queen, but my friends call me Michiko.”
“Beth McGill.” They shook hands.
“Pleased to meet you, Beth! Now, I know you’ve got a lot of questions, so ask away!”
“There’s something I wanted to say first,” Beth said. Michiko nodded, and Beth gathered her thoughts. “Michiko…thank you for helping me out there. I don’t know what that ogre wanted with me, but I’m sure it wasn’t anything good, and you got me out of a jam, and…well, thanks.” She smiled warmly.
To Beth’s surprise, Michiko blushed and looked away. “Aw, you’re welcome,” she said. “Glad I could help.”
“You know,” Beth said, “I’ve never heard of a ‘Monkey Queen’ before…”
“Now you have!” Michiko said, grinning again.
“But I know about the Monkey King.”
“Well…” Beth paused, digging into her memories. “He was Sun Wukong, a monkey with mystical powers who considered himself to be the Great Sage, Equal of Heaven. The gods of China brought him to Heaven and tried to recruit him, then tame him, then fight him. None of that worked out very well. It took Buddha himself to defeat him and imprison him under a mountain for 500 years.
“Finally, the goddess Kwan-Yin showed the Monkey King mercy. She freed him and ordered him to accompany a priest named Tripitaka on a sacred quest. They picked up two companions, Pigsy and Sandy, along the way, and they had many adventures and fought monsters and demons.”
“Not bad!” Michiko said.
Beth grinned. “Hey, I aced Comparative Mythology and Folklore last semester.”
“But you left something out.”
“I did? Which part?”
“It’s the part that gets left out of all the retellings,” Michiko said. “It’s the part where he helped save the world.
“It was about a thousand years ago. Magic was at its peak on Earth, and everyone from everywhere was out to take advantage of it, or just take it for themselves. A band of heroes, including the Monkey King, fought to defend the Earth, while its greatest magicians performed a ritual designed to rein in magic.
“It worked too well. Earth’s magic was all but drained away. Many of the races and creatures that depended on it fled; the rest went into hiding. It’s been that way ever since…until now.
“The millennium is coming.”
“Wait, didn’t we have one of those a few years ago?” Beth asked.
“Things are running a bit behind schedule,” Michiko said with a shrug. “But this is the True Millennium. The spell cast a thousand years ago is wearing off. Magic is returning.”
Beth’s jaw dropped. “Seriously?”
“When’s the last time you saw an ogre? In real life, not in the movies or cosplay?”
“And that’s just the start. Creatures and beings that haven’t been seen here in centuries are coming back. Most of them have good intentions and just want to live quiet lives, but some want to take advantage of people or exploit Earth’s magical resources. And a few are set on conquest, or worse. Their goals could endanger people here and on other worlds.”
“We have police and armies here,” Beth said.
“Of course,” Michiko said, “but when your opponents can cast spells and recruit monsters and you can’t, things can get bad for you real fast, especially when the first thing every wizard learns is the spell that neutralizes gunpowder. That’s where I come in.”
“So you’re saving the world.”
“On your own?” Beth said, raising an eyebrow.
“Well…I’m starting small.” Michiko smiled abashedly. “But it really started with a woman named Grandmother Fox. Many years ago, she and the other members of the Council of Eight, the group she works with, saw it was time to prepare for the True Millennium. One of them told her of an orphaned baby girl destined for great things, and she took that girl in.”
“And I’m guessing that girl was you.”
“It was!” Michiko said. “Grandmother Fox taught me about Earth, and the stars and planets, and all the other worlds, and all the peoples and creatures you can bump into on any of them. She told me about magic, and all its good and bad uses, and she did her best to teach me right and wrong. And when I was old enough, she brought the masters in to teach me how to fight.
“At one point, one of the masters compared me to the Monkey King. I don’t think he meant it as a compliment, but Grandmother Fox then joked about me being a Monkey Queen, and it stuck. Then, about a year ago, I was given my staff. They tried to tell me it was Sun Wukong’s staff, but that weighed 18,000 pounds, so I doubt it. It can still do some cool things, though.”
“So I noticed,” Beth said. “But you’re not descended from him, are you?”
“Nope. I’m no relation, and I don’t have any of his mystical powers. I’m cuter than he is, though!”
“Uh-huh.” Beth tried not to smile, and mostly succeeded; still, she had to admit to herself that Michiko’s cheerfulness was rubbing off a little.
“But there is one thing you can do that I can’t,” Michiko said.
“Ummm…remember the words to ‘Do You Hear The People Sing?'” Beth said.
“Besides that,” Michiko said, grinning again. “Beth, you have second sight.”
“Let me explain. Lots of people who come here from other worlds want to blend in, at least a little. It’s hard to do when you’re, say, seven feet tall and purple, so they have complex illusion spells cast on themselves so they can pass for human. Those spells are called ‘seemings’.
“A couple of weeks ago, I almost lost a chance to stop a faerie who wanted to cause trouble nearby. He had a very good seeming, and I couldn’t tell him apart from a normal human in a crowd. I nabbed him later, though.”
“So…where do I fit into this?” Beth asked.
“It’s your second sight,” Michiko said. “A very few humans are born able to see through and disrupt seemings and other illusions, and with practice they can look past the surface so that everyone else can see what they’re hiding. That’s what happened with the ogre who was after you.”
“And with the Professor?”
“Ummm…one of my teachers?” Beth said. Michiko raised an eyebrow. “Okay, his name’s Puck. You probably don’t know him, though.”
Michiko nodded. “I talked about this with Grandmother Fox and she said that I needed to find help, because otherwise every bad guy would try to hide behind a seeming. She cast a spell to track down someone with second sight, and that’s how I found you.”
The Monkey Queen smiled. “I need you, Beth. How would you like to help me save the world?”
Beth had not expected to hear that. “M-m-me?” she said.
Beth stared at Michiko. She saw the scarf drifting in the evening breeze, Michiko’s smile, the excitement and joy in the Monkey Queen’s eyes. The geek girl part of Beth stirred, the part that wanted to chase Golden Snitches, stand with the Browncoats, ride on the Catbus, the part that wanted to take the wheel of an airship and set a course for the second star to the right. And that part almost said, When do we start? But the realistic side of her spoke up first.
“Michiko, I don’t know,” Beth said. “I’m no hero. I’m not a fighter or a wizard. I’m just a college student. Okay, maybe I’m a college student who’s read every Discworld book and watches way too much Doctor Who, but I’m nothing special. The only things I’m good at are sewing cosplay outfits, diagramming sentences and finding plot holes in bad movies.”
“Seems like you’re qualified to me,” Michiko said.
“But it sounds dangerous…it sounds crazy…oh, this is all too much.” Beth shook her head.
“Maybe it is, but do you know something, Beth?”
“You haven’t said ‘no’ yet.” Michiko grinned and winked.
Beth was about to reply when she realized that Michiko was right. She turned things around and around in her mind for a moment before giving up. “Can I sleep on it?” she said. “I really need more time to think it over.”
“Got it. Let’s get you off this roof.” Michiko grabbed Beth around the waist, moved in close to her and held her staff out over the roof’s edge. It stretched downward until the tip hit the ground below. Michiko, holding Beth and the staff tight, stepped off the roof.
Beth tried not to panic as the staff slowly shrunk, carrying her and Michiko down to the sidewalk. The sun had set, and the wind was blowing stronger and colder, as their feet touched the ground.
“One more thing,” Michiko said as she let Beth go. “If you’re still not sure I’m telling you the truth, you should talk to Puck.”
“Puck?” Beth said. “You do know him?”
“Everybody knows Puck. See you soon!” And with that, Michiko sprinted down the alley and out of sight.
“Um…bye?” Beth shook her head and started down the alley, trying to take everything in. Then, she saw Puck on the far side of the quad. What a coincidence, a cynical part of her thought, but she still ran towards him, shouting, “Professor!”
He stopped as Beth approached him. “Lass? What are you doing out this late? Is anything wrong?”
“Oh, Professor! I just had the weirdest, craziest thing happen!”
“You found a new roommate. And she’s sane.”
“No! Not that! Listen…I just met a woman named Michiko who calls herself the Monkey Queen! And she rescued me from a thug who turned out to be an ogre! And she says that magic’s coming back, and that she needed my help to save the world, and—” Beth stopped and took a deep breath. “And I sound like a complete lunatic right now, don’t I?”
“To other people,” Puck said, “yes, you would. Now, lass…this ogre you saw. He was disguised as a human?”
“I—I think so,” Beth said.
“And you disrupted his disguise?”
Puck nodded. “And when we were talking earlier…did you notice something different about me?” Beth blushed and looked down, too embarrassed to speak.
“Beth.” She looked up again, almost in shock; she couldn’t remember the last time Puck had called her by her name. “Michiko had told me she was looking for help. I had no idea it would turn out to be you, and I’m both worried sick and overjoyed that it is.
“It could be dangerous, make no mistake about that. But it will also be the greatest adventure you could ever hope to have. You will see sights no one else from this world has ever seen, go places you never thought you’d go. And you’ll have friends, allies stout and true.”
Puck laid a hand on Beth’s shoulder. “Whatever you decide, lass, remember what I said earlier about change. Your life is in for quite a bit of it.”
Beth nodded, almost dizzy from everything Puck and Michiko had told her. “I should get home,” she managed to say.
“Of course. It’s late. But one more thing, lass.”
“And that is?”
“Do try not to wreck my seeming here on campus. I have enough trouble with the dean as it is. Good night.” Puck turned and walked away.
“Night,” Beth said. She hurried off, hoping the burrito place was still open.
* * *
It was, and the to-go order with an overstuffed burrito and a bag of freshly-made tortilla chips helped clear Beth’s head. She walked briskly down the street, heading for her apartment. She wasn’t sure what Saturday might bring, but at least she had her dinner, and no matter how weird things were getting, they could be put off just a little longer. The front door to her building opened as it always did due to the lock being broken, the mail was waiting, and nothing out of the ordinary lurked on the three creaky flights of stairs that led up to her apartment.
That part came when Beth got to her apartment door. Michiko was sitting on the welcome mat, calmly sipping on a smoothie, a bag of chips nearby. “Um…hi?” Michiko said with a smile.
Beth sighed. “You know,” she said, “I should be surprised, but I’m not.”
“Chips?” Michiko held up her bag.
“Got some already. How…how did you find me?”
“We should talk inside,” Michiko said as she stood up. Beth nodded, slipped past her, and unlocked the apartment door.
As roommates had come and gone, Beth had moved more of her stuff into the small living room, to the point where her next roommate would have to squeeze any plants and decor she had in with the bookshelves, posters and DVD racks. It was cluttered and crowded, especially with the huge couch taking up the middle of the room, but it was clean and cozy. “I like your place!” Michiko said as Beth locked the door behind them. “Hardwood floors!”
“It’s nice,” Beth said. “So…”
“Oh, right.” Michiko turned to face Beth. “It’s the spell that Grandmother Fox cast. She didn’t find out everything about you, but she did find your address and that you were going to Cooper.”
“She doesn’t work for the NSA, does she?”
Michiko giggled. “I hope not!”
“So why are you here?” Beth asked.
“If Grandmother Fox found you,” the Monkey Queen said, “so could others. Like that ogre did.” Her tone was suddenly serious, and Beth had to hold back a shudder. “I want to be sure you’re safe. If I’m making you uncomfortable, I’ll wait outside.”
Beth didn’t have to think it over. She was worried about unwelcome visitors, and she also had to admit to herself that she was reassured, and even a little bit glad, to see Michiko. “Okay,” she said. “You can stay here tonight, but no loud noises and no company.”
“Okay!” Michiko said, the seriousness gone again.
“If you get cold, there’s a spare blanket in the closet in the empty bedroom. There’s a bathroom next to the kitchen.” Beth pointed towards one side of the living room, across from the bedrooms. “If you get bored, the TV remote is on the table by the couch. Remember, not too loud.”
“What about you?”
“I’ve had a long day,” Beth said. “I just want to go into my bedroom, eat my burrito, and go to bed. We’ll talk tomorrow morning.”
“Okay. Good night!” Michiko said with a smile.
“Night.” Beth went into her bedroom and closed the door. She thought about locking it, but she then realized it probably wouldn’t do any good anyway.
* * *
Beth downed her burrito, her chips, a can of diet soda she kept in the tiny fridge in her small bedroom, and a dark chocolate bar from her secret stash for good measure. She checked her e-mail, her Facebook page, and a dozen other websites. Finally, her thoughts started to drift away from everything she had seen and heard during her long day. Michiko was keeping quiet, thankfully, and Beth changed into her pajamas and got ready for bed.
Then she heard the scratching at her living room window. A chill crept down her spine as she quietly opened the bedroom door and peeked out.
MythBusters was on, but Michiko wasn’t watching. She was standing at the window, staff in hand. Outside the window, Beth could see the outline of a large black bird, possibly a crow. It glared at Michiko, and something sinister and shadowy lurked in its glowing red eyes.
The Monkey Queen spoke. “Go. Tell whoever commands you. Tell the world. Beth is under my protection. You will not have her, you will not harm her. Go.”
The bird cawed and flew off, darkness trailing in its wake. Michiko sat back down on the couch. Beth softly closed the bedroom door and dropped into bed, staring at the ceiling. Sleep took a long time to come as one thought played over and over in her mind—What in the world have I gotten myself into?