The following story is by guest contributor Jessica Seymour. Jessica is an early-career research and freelance writer based in Darwin, Australia. She enjoys writing in all genres, and her creative work can be found in Voiceworks Magazine, Needle In The Hay, and Gloom Cupboard. She loves to travel, sampling strange foods and stranger people, and discovering new corners of the world.
Bobby took a step back and put his hands on his hips. “I think you’re ready,” he said.
“You think so?” Teddy asked, unsure.
They were standing together in their latest backyard. Teddy hadn’t liked the last place because there were no swings, but this backyard had swings and a slide. Teddy loved this place. He was only seven and this was his second foster family, so his expectations were still really low.
Bobby still wasn’t sure whether he liked this new family or not. They seemed to cut their grass a lot. Good families usually cut their grass. Bobby was fourteen, but he had been in the system since he was eight, so he knew a lot about good families. And bad families, and every kind of family in between.
Bobby looked Teddy up and down. He looked like he had fallen face-first into a recycling bin. His arms and legs were covered in greasy fast-food wrappers that Bobby had stolen from the new family’s bins. Clutched in Teddy’s chubby fists was a long, gnarly-looking twig. His curly brown hair was crushed under an empty bucket of fried chicken, which sat on his head like a helmet.
“You’re ready,” Bobby said again.
Bobby could tell Toby was grinning because his eyes crinkled through the slit in his bucket helmet.
“Cool,” Teddy said.
Bobby raised his own twig. It was shorter than Teddy’s. “Hold your sword like this,” he said.
“How come you don’t need armour?” Teddy asked.
“Because I’ve been fighting monsters longer than you,” Bobby said. A breeze blew through the backyard and tossed his floppy blond hair into his face. He brushed it out of the way. “My skin’s like armour, though. When you’re my age, your skin will be like armour too.”
Teddy’s eyes grew wide. “Seriously?”
Bobby figured that Teddy probably already had pretty tough skin, but he didn’t know it yet. He would soon. It only took a few new families for boys like them to figure out how tough their skin was.
“Pretend I’m a monster, okay?” Bobby said.
Teddy nodded. He raised his sword like Bobby had shown him. He spread his legs like Bobby had shown him. Bobby’s last foster brother wasn’t such a quick study.
Bobby gave a loud cry and swung his sword. Teddy’s eyes went round with surprise as he stepped back. Right before his sword hit Teddy, Bobby slowed it down on purpose. Teddy blocked it.
“Nice block,” Bobby said, smiling. “Try again?”
They did. After a few practice swings, Teddy stopped stepping back every time Bobby came close. His eyes went back to their usual size. Bobby still kept his swings nice and slow and kept his face scrunched up like he was putting all of his strength into the attack.
After Teddy had blocked Bobby’s sword a few times, Bobby decided to try teaching Teddy how to attack.
“Now, when a monster attacks you, where do you aim?”
“Here,” Teddy said, pointing to his own stomach.
“Here,” Teddy said, pointing a bit lower.
“And then do I run and get a grown-up?”
Bobby didn’t answer right away.
“Sometimes grown-ups aren’t good at fighting monsters,” he said slowly. He looked down at his sword and saw a piece of bark dangling end. He tore it off. The twig beneath the bark was smooth and pale. “Sometimes monsters like to disguise themselves as grown-ups so that other grown-ups will leave them alone.”
Teddy looked unsure. Bobby didn’t blame him.
“So what do I do?” Teddy asked.
Bobby reached out and guided Teddy’s wrist so that his sword was pointed right at Bobby. “Pretend I’m a monster,” Bobby said, not answering the question. “Fight me.”
Teddy gave a shrill war cry and swung his sword as hard as he could. It hit Bobby right in the stomach. It stung, but Bobby had been hit worse. He pretended to grunt and fall over into the freshly cut grass.
“Oh no! I’ve been slain! The mighty warrior has slain me!”
“Come on, Bobby,” Teddy said, putting his hand on his hip and shaking his head at Bobby. “You’re not hurt. I can tell. I’m not stupid.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Bobby said. He stood up and grabbed his sword again. “Try again?”
The backdoor opened and Bobby and Teddy turned towards the house. Their new foster father was standing in the doorway. He had a hat on to cover his bald head and a long nose which hooked down and cast a shadow over the bottom half of his face.
“Lunch is ready, boys – oh,” He saw what Teddy was wearing and frowned. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“Bobby’s teaching me how to fight monsters,” Teddy said.
Bobby watched his new foster father. He didn’t seem angry that Teddy was dressed in garbage. Just annoyed. He probably wasn’t a monster dressed like a grown-up, but Bobby would need to get to know him better before he could be sure.
“Well, that’s nice,” their new father said slowly. He looked from Bobby, to Teddy, and then back to Bobby. “Why don’t you clean up and come in for lunch.”
“Sure thing,” Bobby said.
Bobby took Teddy’s hand and led him into the house, passing close to their new foster father as he went. Teddy dropped his sword in the grass. Bobby kept his.