The cartoons didn't make sense.
They were cartoons for grown-ups - they did things that eight year-old Mikayla didn't understand and they used words that she knew were bad. She came to the conclusion that cartoons stopped being funny sometime after ten at night.
It was late for her to still be up, but Mikayla knew her mom and dad didn't mind. Or care.
Dad used to build houses. Now he worked somewhere far away. He left for work before she woke up and didn't come home until late after dinner. He used to be happy. Mom used to pick Mikayla up from school everyday. Now she complained a lot about being tired.
Mikayla turned off the television and the room lights. As she headed for her bed, she stopped at the window to look at the house next door. It was a nice house - built exactly like hers. All the houses in the neighborhood were the same. The window across from hers used to belong to a boy.
There used to be other kids in the neighborhood. When Mikayla was little there were so many kids. David. Monica. Ricky. Teresa. David and Mikayla's houses didn't even have a fence between or behind them. Their backyards shared a big field. David's dad made a baseball field in their backyard so all the kids could play together.
It wasn't that long ago. One by one, the kids moved away. Their moms and dads had to leave. Sometimes they said good-bye before they left - most times they would up and go without telling anyone.
Mikayla looked at David's window. When he lived there, she would sometimes see him getting ready for bed, playing with his toys, seeing his mom tuck him into bed. Some nights Mikayla pretended that he was still over there. But most nights she didn't see anything there except the dark.
But this night, there was something more than the dark. Something next door. Something was moving.
Glowing red eyes looked back at her. The two eyes were sunken into huge, dark eye sockets. She couldn't make out details in the dark, but whatever it was, it was short - about her height.
Mikayla froze. She and the red eyes stared at each other, until Mikayla finally broke from its gaze and ran to her bed. She bit her lip with her new grown-up front teeth and hid under the covers until the sun came up.
The next morning, Mikayla told her mom what she'd seen. Her mom explained that they were squatters. People who find houses that aren't theirs and stay until the police kick them out.
Mom told her that she would call the police. Mikayla pictured that the police would fix everything. They would take away the scary bad squatters next door.
But the next night after she turned off the television, Mikayla saw it again. Same window. Its eyes burning in the dark.
She bit her lip to keep from screaming, then ran from the window. She rushed out of her room to find her mom and dad.
Their room door was closed. Before Mikayla could knock, she could hear it again. The sound of her mom and dad crying.
Mikayla stopped. She was afraid of the squatters… but she was more afraid of what was happening behind that door. Mikayla backed up to her room and hid again under the covers of her bed. Afraid and lonely and confused, she wanted to cry.
Instead, she began to think of David.
David was always so smart. What would David do? He would've told her to be brave. To stop being such a girl. And he would've been right. He was always right. Mikayla wasn't a baby. She was almost eight and a half!
Mikayla was scared of the squatters. And she didn't like it.
Mikayla snuck downstairs. She put on her heavy coat, her sandals, and took the big flashlight from the kitchen. Made of shiny steel, the flashlight was as big as her whole arm and felt heavy in her arms. It was the only flashlight in the house.
Exiting the house through the garage, she set the flashlight down and opened the side door. Mikayla gritted her teeth, picked up the flashlight, flicked it on, and then stepped out into the dark backyard.
The night air was cold and she immediately thought about turning back. Her inside voice pleaded with her to go hide under the covers, but she continued walking into the backyard until she was in the backyard behind the next door house.
She crossed the remnants of the fading baseball diamond. Everyone in the neighborhood had been so proud of the little baseball park. The bright green grass. The clean brown dirt infield. Now the grass was dark brown - dead from not being watered. It was hard to tell where the bases had been.
Mikayla came to the back door of David's old house. It was closed - she pushed on it, but it was still locked. The side window to the kitchen was broken. The squatter must have entered through that window.
She shined the flashlight in through the window, but she couldn't see anything. She jumped up and down to try and get a better view, but she wasn't tall enough to see anything out of the ordinary. The idea of climbing up in through the window crossed her mind, but she instead found herself stepping back away from the house.
Mikayla looked up at the window. David's window. She shined the flashlight up into the window, but didn't see anything.
It was getting colder now - or at least it felt like it. Mikayla turned and quickly rushed back to her house. By the time she ran back inside her garage, it felt like she was going to freeze to death. She could even feel her heartbeat in her ears and her face flush red with blood.
Mikayla turned around to make sure she'd locked the side door to the garage when she saw it - standing behind her - reaching to touch her with its gangly thin arm.
Mikayla froze with fear. The squatter was some kind of monster or alien. Four feet tall with two thin arms, two thin legs, and a smooth head perched on a long neck. Its piercing red eyes were sunken into huge, dark eye sockets, a bump that resembled a nose, a narrow mouth slit were under the eyes, and three thick antenna extended from the top of its head.
Mikayla didn't know what to do - gripped by fear, she didn't even scream. Her breathing was getting faster. She didn't flinch as the alien extended its arm - trying to touch her.
The alien breathed out. As the air passed through its mouth slit, it sounded like it was trying to speak. Each long exhale sounded like a crude attempt at a word.
"Peace," it whispered. "Peace be with y-"
Mikayla screeched and swung the steel flashlight as hard as she could - CRUNCH - connecting with the side of the alien's head. The impact caved in part of the alien's skull, staggering it to one knee.
With it down on one knee, it was easier for Mikayla to swing again - CRUNCH - into the back of the alien's head - with an impact so powerful that it knocked one of its eyeballs out onto the ground.
She didn't stop swinging. She couldn't stop swinging. She swung and swung and swung. CRUNCH. CRUNCH. CRUNCH. The alien spun around, as if to try to crawl away. Mikayla swung again and hit the monster in the back. CRUNCH.
The alien fell flat on the ground - face down. Mikayla felt tears in her eyes. The flashlight was heavy and her arms were tired.
Was it dead? Mikayla rested the flashlight over her shoulder - building up the courage to step closer to the alien.
"No," it whispered. "Mean… no… harm…"
Mikayla screeched, "Stop scaring me!" and resumed swinging - hitting the alien over and over.
The alien finally stopped moving. It slumped to the ground - its eyes barely open.
Mikayla hit it again once more for good measure.
Mikayla tied the alien up using whatever she could reach - her pink princess jump rope, an old bicycle lock and chain, some rope, duct tape. The alien tried to open its eyes.
The alien's fearsome glowing red eyes were now one semi-glowing red eye - the other red eyeball had rolled away somewhere. Where the head had formerly been smooth, it was now bumpy with welts and dents. Its forehead looked like a golf ball. Two of its three antenna were missing - the third was bent and barely hanging on.
The alien now only had one arm. The other had been broken so badly that it'd fallen off. Mikayla thought it was gross, so she didn't touch it.
Mikayla sat on the ground on the other side of the garage and stared at the alien. She clutched the flashlight at her side - gripping it tighter as the alien tried to raise its head in vain.
The alien and Mikayla made eye contact briefly. The alien quickly averted its gaze and looked back down at the garage floor.
Mikayla was tired. She didn't want to fall asleep. She was too scared of what the alien might do to her. Mikayla clutched her flashlight and stared at the alien.
There was no clock inside the garage, so she had no idea what time it was. From under the garage door, she could see it was still night out. The alien was there with her. It hadn't moved since she'd tied it up.
Mikayla got up and moved slowly over to her dad's tool bench. Some of the tools were locked up, but there was a pair of scissors sitting on top of the bench. Mikayla wasn't supposed to touch his tools, but she did anyway. The scissors were dusty and dull - the blades were bent and rusty.
But they were sharp. They would have to do.
She put the flashlight down, took the scissors, and approached the monster. Her little fingers gripped the scissors tightly by the handle. The alien saw her coming, but didn't move. Its shoulders drooped and its gaze returned to the floor.
Mikayla walked behind the alien where it couldn't see her.
"I hate you," Mikayla whispered.
"But I'm not afraid anymore."
With that, Mikayla cut the princess jump rope. The rope wouldn't slice easily, but eventually Mikayla worked the scissors through it. She cut the duct tape, then the alien was able to pull the other bindings off.
Mikayla opened the side door of the garage. The alien hesitated, wondering if it was a trick or a trap. Mikayla stepped backwards to give it room.
With that the alien picked up its detached stump of an arm and ran out the door - disappearing into the night.
Mikayla didn't watch him leave. She shut and locked the side door and headed back into the house. It would be morning soon. And the cartoons would be funny again.
About the Author
Eugene Son has written for shows such as Ben 10, Generator Rex, Super Hero Squad, Iron Man: Armored Adventures, and G.I.Joe Renegades. He recently wrote stories for DC Comics' Cartoon Network Action Pack, and is writing on the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series (coming to Disney XD in 2012). His Korean parents are still holding out hope that he'll go to law school so they can stop lying to people at church about what their son does for a living.