Archie peered out from the small tent as the sun began to rise. The propane heater did little to break the cold as he and Lily huddled among a mound of sleeping bags and blankets, staring through the small window.
Their equipment was spread around the floor of the tent. Flashlights lay between them. The motion detector and infrared scanners sat propped against the canvas. Cell phones were at their sides, ready to call the police if they sighted the creature that had terrorized the small town for weeks. They each had a backpack with water bottles, snacks, and, of course, an assortment of weapons, including wooden stakes, batons, and small throwing knives.
Three days ago, the chief of police of this small town had arrived at their office and asked for their help. Clients came to Archie and Lily to investigate mysteries that were outside the experience of typical law enforcement. In this case, the police were stumped. A hideous creature that people described as a large, pale zombie, but that moved with great speed, was terrifying residents. The creature would make its way into the town square at night, smash the window of a small business, and then vanish into the interior. By the time the police arrived, it was gone, unseen until the next night.
Archie and Lily peered across the fog-covered field for signs of motion. The scanners were dark, which didn’t make any sense. They had reviewed every police report. The creature came from the east every time, crossing the cornfields onto Main Street just before dawn. But here they sat in their tent, facing east at 6:15 a.m. on a cold fall morning with no signs of movement.
And then the motion sensor light blinked. The display on the infrared scanner flickered to life.
“There’s something out there, Lily.”
“I think I see it.”
They lay quietly as a dark shape approached their hideout.
“Archie, it’s coming this way!”
They grabbed their backpacks and dug through them for weapons.
“It’s getting closer.” Archie gasped. “Are you ready, Lily?”
They unzipped the back flap and tumbled out.
Lily spun around. “I can’t see it anymore!”
Archie held the motion sensor in front of him. “I think it’s over that way. And it’s getting closer.”
Suddenly, the creature leapt out from the dark trees and lunged at them. Archie and Lily jumped back and flung their throwing knives. It reared back and let out a howl. A very human howl. The monster turned to flee, and Archie and Lily sent another round of throwing knives into its back. The creature stumbled and fell. Archie bounded on top of it. As it rolled on the ground, groaning, a pale zombie mask slipped off its head revealing a thuggish, middle-aged man.
“Stop! Stop!” the man shouted.
As Archie held him down, Lily asked, “Who are you?”
“None of your business.”
Archie dug his thumb into one of the wounds.
The man yelled. “All right. Stop. I’m Nate Williams.”
“What are you doing going around town dressed in this costume?” Archie demanded as Lily dialed the chief of police.
“Those bank robbers last year who got caught. No one ever found their bags of money. They stashed the cash somewhere downtown right before the police arrested them. I’ve been searching the town looking for the cash. This was the best way to keep people outta my way. And I’m sure I woulda found that money soon if it hadn’t been for you.”
Nate squirmed on the ground with Archie on top of him as Lily waved her flashlight for the police to see.
Lying on the floor of the living room, snuggled under a blanket, ten-year-old Archie let the warm furnace air blow his hair as he fell asleep, dreaming of his future adventures, watching out for monsters from his small tent.