Felix woke up in the woods, wearing his pajamas. He looked around for his slippers, but his slippers were under his bed, and he wasn't lying in his bed. He was lying on dry, rust-colored pine needles. The bed of needles was soft until he rolled over. Then the needles turned sharp and pricked him.
He stood up. There were tall, thin trees all around him, their bare trunks marching off into gray mist. High above, their green branches touched, forming a ceiling. Nothing moved in the trees, not a bird, not a bug. He listened, but the woods were completely silent except for the sound of his own breathing.
Felix shivered in his thin pajamas.
"Well," he said. "There's nothing here, so I may as well see what's over there."
He started walking. He wondered what time it was. In the dim light it was hard to tell. The ground rose under his feet. He was going uphill. The dirt he walked on was worn into a path. But the trees were growing closer together, and it was getting darker.
Up ahead he saw a flight of stone steps climbing the hill. The stones were old and crumbled and had moss growing in the cracks between them.
He climbed the steps, counting as he went. " ... thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine."
Then he stood at the top. He had expected to find something, maybe a house, because surely steps were made to lead somewhere. But there was nothing, only the woods crowding the daylight from the sky. On the other side of the steps, the path ran downhill.
"Well," he said. "I guess I'll keep going and see what's at the end of the path."
But his feet didn't move. Maybe they weren't listening. The way ahead did look awfully dark.
Then Felix heard something. Somewhere in the forest, a moan rose and fell and then trailed away.
Felix listened, but the woods were silent again. Maybe it had only been wind blowing through thepine boughs. Once again he got ready to follow the path downhill.
Then a branch broke with a crack.
"Hello?" called Felix. "Hello?"
He heard the clatter of hooves on rock. He heard wet, ragged breaths. He glimpsed something, fast as quicksilver--curly horns, scaly hide, spiky tail--and then it was gone again.
It was nothing he'd ever seen in a zoo. But he had seen something like it somewhere. As he remembered, his heart started beating more quickly.
He had seen it in a book about monsters.
Felix spun around. It was behind him. No, it was in front of him. He couldn't tell. He held his breath, listening.
It grew very quiet, as if the monster were listening for Felix, too.
Then Felix heard snuffling sounds. The monster was trying to catch his scent.
There was a shuddering inhalation, a low growl, and then the monster started coming toward him, much faster than before. Rocks slid and scattered as its hooves kicked the earth. Its breath huffed and chuffed, its belly making hungry rumbling sounds.
Felix turned and ran back down the hill. He watched his feet flying down the broken steps as if they belonged to someone else. He made it to thebottom of the steps without falling, but as he stepped onto the path, his ankle twisted and he stumbled and fell.
Sprawled on the ground, he looked back, up the stone staircase, expecting to see the monster galloping down. But he saw nothing. The monster was still hidden in the trees.
Felix stood up and started running again. The sharp pine needles hurt his bare feet. His throat burned as he sucked air into his lungs. He felt as if he were running in slow motion. Surely the monster could run faster than him.
The monster was louder now, crazed with hunger. It sounded like a garbage truck crashing through the woods. Any minute now, it would come into the open.
He ran harder. The monster was still loud, but it wasn't getting any louder. Maybe Felix could get away.
He saw the clearing, the bed of pine needles where he first woke up. He thought for a moment that he was safe. Then he realized that he wasn't safe at all. He was in a huge forest far away from his home. In a moment, the monster would storm into the clearing. Felix would have to keep running, into the dark trees on the other side.
As he crossed the deep bed of pine needles, hisfeet dropped out from under him. He fell, through the forest floor, into darkness--
--and into his own bed.
He was awake. His heart was racing and he was breathing hard. The sweaty sheets were tangled around his feet. He was still scared--he felt as though he were in two places at once and, at any moment, his bedroom might turn into a forest filled with monsters.
But the city's light glimmered around the corners of his window shades. Far below, a car horn honked. Two sirens wailed in a sad duet. And the walls of his dark room stayed white.
Felix looked at the glowing numbers on his clock. It was three in the morning. He pulled up his blankets and reached for his stuffed aardvark. He was too old for stuffed animals, he knew, but a boy who was chased by monsters needed a friend.
Soon his heart had slowed to a normal bump-bump, bump-bump. His breathing became deep and even. And in a little while he fell asleep again.
Text copyright @ 2011 by Keir Graff Illustrations copyright @ 2011 Oriol Vidal Published by Roaring Brook Press Roaring Brook Press is a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10010