MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Once there was a monster who loved a boy.
The monster had never met the boy because monsters are nocturnal and boys (well, most boys) are not. But he knew the sound of the boy’s voice, and he loved that sound. He knew the smell of the boy’s dirty socks, and he loved that smell. He knew the sight of the boy’s slippers by the side of the bed, waiting for the boy’s feet, and he loved those slippers and those feet.
Monsters don’t know much about love.
Or maybe they do.
The monster had lived under the boy’s bed for many years. He listened to the boy playing during the day. He listened to the boy talking in his sleep at night. He heard bedtime stories and songs, he heard snoring and snuffling, and he loved the boy more and more.
One night, the boy’s mother read him a book. A book about monsters.
“I’m not afraid of monsters,” he heard the boy say.
“Of course not,” said his mother. “There’s no such thing as monsters.”
I’ll show her, the monster thought. And as soon as she closed the door behind her, the monster pulled himself out from under the bed. He stretched. He stood. And he looked at the boy.
“Hello,” the monster said.
The boy was silent. The monster thought maybe the boy couldn’t see him, so he made himself light up.
“Ta-da!” the monster said.
The boy took a deep breath and opened his mouth, and the monster knew he was going to scream.
The monster panicked. He did the only thing he could think of.
He swallowed the boy.
This story is not quite what you were expecting, is it? When a story begins with the word Once, it seems like you know what you’re getting into. The word once is tricky that way, because it means that whatever happens in this story happened only one time, and therefore it could not possibly happen to you, too. But once also means that every story is different. Anything is possible.
If it makes you feel any better, I am also quite surprised by what just happened. In fact, I have no idea what’s going to happen next.
Does that make you feel better?
We’d better keep going, then.
The monster was instantly sorry that he’d swallowed the boy. The boy felt strange in his stomach, heavy and nervous. The monster did not like how it felt, and also he missed the boy terribly.
Then he heard a small voice from inside himself.
It was not his conscience. It was not his soul.
It was the boy.
“I’d like to come out, please,” said the boy.
“I’d like that, too,” the monster replied.
“Then let me out,” said the boy.
The monster put his hands gently on his belly. “I don’t know how.”
His belly was silent. Then the boy said, “My mother says there’s no such thing as monsters.”
“Hm,” said the monster. “I think she’s wrong about that.”
“I’m starting to think so, too,” the boy told him. “Maybe she forgot about monsters when she grew up.”
The monster thought about this. It made sense to him, but it also made him unbearably sad because the boy would grow up, too, and then the monster wouldn’t be believed in anymore.
The boy yawned. It was warm inside the monster, and dark, and he was getting sleepy. The monster swayed gently back and forth until the boy fell asleep. He snored a little, and it tickled the monster’s stomach in a pleasant way.
The monster was a bit less sad now, but he was still lonely. And he still didn’t know what to do.
THINK, he told himself, but as soon as he did, his mind went completely blank.
Isn’t that always what happens?
Here I shall tell you that even though the monster and the boy had not properly introduced themselves to each other, they both had names.
However, neither the monster nor the boy has properly introduced himself to me, either, and so I don’t know what their names are.
Ah, well. Let’s make some up. We’ll call the monster Reginald, and we’ll call the boy Grover.
Soupbone and Ted?
Big Magic and Earl?
Well, why don’t you go ahead and make up your own names for the monster and the boy, and I’ll just keep calling them the monster and the boy. There’s only one monster and one boy in this story, so it won’t be too confusing.
At least, I don’t think so …
The monster sat there, with the boy he loved sleeping in his belly, and waited for his mind to fill up again. Then he thought.
He thought about making himself burp. He thought about tickling himself until he laughed so hard that the boy came flying out of his mouth. He thought about calling his mother and asking for advice.
But burping was embarrassing, and he didn’t want the boy to hear him do it. And tickling yourself is very nearly impossible. (It is. Try it. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you.)
And although his mother was nocturnal, too, she didn’t like talking on the phone.
Then a very particular, rather naughty thought scrolled slowly through the monster’s head.
He had gotten used to the feeling of the boy in his belly.
He almost liked him there.
If he kept the boy, he wouldn’t have to miss the boy when he left for school in the morning, because the boy wouldn’t go to school at all anymore. And wouldn’t that make the boy happy? Wasn’t the boy always complaining about having to get up so early and get dressed and eat breakfast and get on the bus?
Now he wouldn’t have to do any of those things! The boy would be so happy!
The monster couldn’t wait to tell the boy the good news.
But the boy was still snoring away, and the monster was tired from so much thinking and so many feelings and all that swaying. He needed some rest.
The monster crawled under the boy’s bed and, thinking happily of what he’d say to the boy when they both woke up, he fell asleep.
He woke up some hours later, as the moonlight crawled across the floor and crept its bright fingers under the edge of the monster’s home. He came out, blinked, stretched, and then he noticed something. Something terrible.
His belly felt light and empty.
The boy was gone.
The monster felt all around his belly. He jumped up and down. He wiggled back and forth. But he didn’t feel anything. He was empty.
“Oh no!” he cried. And then he really cried. He cried so hard that he gasped for air and then began to cough.
He coughed again and again and again, and then once more. He coughed so hard that something flew out of his mouth.
It was about the size of a grasshopper. But it wasn’t a grasshopper. It was the boy.
“What happened to me?” he squeaked.
“You … got tiny,” the monster said.
“Does this happen to everything you swallow?” the boy asked.
The monster shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never swallowed anything before.”
“Never?” the boy asked.
The monster shook his head. “I’ve always just been under your bed.”
The boy was amazed. “You’ve never had cookies? Or pizza? Or broccoli?”
“No,” the monster said sadly.
“That’s a shame,” said the boy. Then he got a strange look on his face.
Alarmed, the monster asked, “What’s wrong?”
The boy looked up. A tiny, tiny tear rolled down his tiny cheek. “Talking about food has made me really hungry. And I don’t know if I’ll ever get to eat those things again, either. Maybe I’ll have to live under the bed with you.”
This thought delighted the monster for exactly four seconds, and then it didn’t.
“Do not worry,” the monster told the boy. “We will fix this.”
“How?” asked the boy.
“I do not know,” admitted the monster.
He looked around the boy’s room. There were many, many things in the room, but he didn’t know how any of them worked or what they were named.
“Do you have anything that makes things bigger?” he asked the boy.
“I have a magnifying glass,” said the boy. “It makes things look bigger.”
The monster considered this. “That may not be enough. But it’s a start.”
The boy was much too small to get the magnifying glass, and he couldn’t remember which drawer he had put it in, so the monster had to look for it. Since the monster had never seen a magnifying glass, he spent a rather long time pulling things out of drawers, holding them up, and asking, “Is this it?”
And each time, the boy said, “Nope.”
Finally the boy suggested that maybe he should describe the magnifying glass. “It’s round,” he said, “with a straight handle.”
The monster found a round thing with a handle.
“No,” said the boy, “that’s a net. A magnifying glass has a part you look through.”
“Like this?” asked the monster.
“No,” said the boy, “that’s a kaleidoscope. That won’t make me look bigger. It will just make it look like there are a lot of me and we’re all mixed up.”
The monster quickly dropped the kaleidoscope. “No, thank you!” he exclaimed. “We have quite enough trouble already. What else does the magnifying glass look like?”
“It’s silver,” the boy said.
“Round and silver and you can look through it … got it!” The monster held up the magnifying glass.
“Almost,” said the boy. “Those are handcuffs.”
“Drat it all!” shouted the monster, and he slapped at the drawer in frustration. The drawer flew out of the dresser and fell onto the floor with a tremendous noise.
(Have you ever noticed how much louder noises are when you are trying very hard to be quiet? Even little noises and medium noises and especially embarrassing ones? Well, this noise was like the loudest, most heart-stopping trying-to-be-quiet noise you have ever heard.)
The monster gasped. The boy clapped his hands over his mouth, even though he hadn’t said anything.
They both waited for someone to come running into the room.
But no one did.
And there, on the floor—right in the middle of everything else that had fallen out of the drawer—was the magnifying glass.
Text copyright © 2020 by Hannah Barnaby
Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Anoosha Syed