Junior Magicolo felt a little embarrassed to walk down the halls of his high school with his best and only friend, his Living Nightmare named Moths and Bats, fully aware most other kids (probably all other kids) lacked the delights of a flesh and blood nightmare as their best friend. Moths and Bats was made of two interlocking tornadoes of literal moths and literal bats, the moths part of his body billowing downward like a billowy hoopskirt, the bats part of his body billowing upward like a hoopskirt-wearing lady standing on her head, both funnels spinning and churning, eternally eating each other (or eating himself more accurately (the bats part of his body eating the moths part of his body, the moths part of his body constantly breeding to replace the parts of himself he’d eaten))(This awesomeness was detrimentally distracting in class, and Junior Magicolo had to constantly apologize to his teachers (“Sorry for my distractibility, but my Nightmare is too awesome.”))
Still, the other kids would whisper and turn away (even though Junior had a note from a psychoanalytical professional called Dr. Jason Oppenheimer Sophen that said, “Junior Magicolo is allowed to bring his Living Nightmare, Moths and Bats, to school; other students are not allowed to whisper and turn away under threat of psychoanalytical reprimand.” (Junior had a hand in shaping the phrasing of authoritative Nightmare excuses under threat of his own emotional manipulations (Junior may not have known much about making (non-Nightmare) friends, but he knew a lot about emotionally manipulating psychoanalytical professionals))).
His mom and dad didn’t have much appreciation or understanding of the need among kids of this generation to be cool and well liked. His mom, Lyn Magicolo, was a nurse (or a “semi-doctor” as Junior called her for no reason) and what does a nurse know about being well liked? His dad, Junior Magicolo Sr., was a part time stage magician and most of the time stay at home dad. The stage magician part of him was undoubtedly cool, but he manifested that aspect of his identity so infrequently anymore.
But then his mom told him about the Estonian exchange student.
Junior exploded in rage. At least he did on the inside. On the outside he said, “Oh, that’s nice. Except for four flaws in your plan:
- Where’s he going to sleep?
- He’s going to be inside my immediate and Nightmare-populated space for God knows how many bloody centuries.
- What if Estonians are naturally very cool people, and you (my so-called ‘parents’ (why ‘so called’ was necessary there is a mystery but it felt good at the moment)) have this stubborn deafness to what coolness is.
- Where’s he going to sleep? Our apartment is too small.
He’ll have to sleep on the balcony with the pigeons. Or otherwise I’ll run away and hunt for jungle chickens with bow and arrow for the rest of my life. I bet you regret not getting me archery lessons. Oh well. Too late now.” But the truth is Moths and Bats had to have a place to sleep, and he didn’t feel like explaining that to some Estonian. For all he knew, Estonians were far cooler than the cool kids at school, and this Estonian Satan (for surely he must be equal to Satan) would spend the whole time saying things like “Nightmares are so nerdy and un-Estonian and in Estonia we define cool things by being Estonian.” And when he went back to Estonia, he’d tell all his cool friends, “You’ll never believe what this nerdy un-Estonian American kid had living in his bedroom: a Nightmare. A real Nightmare in the flesh, a Nightmare made of moths and bats – can you believe how uncool that is?” Junior was destined to be an international disgrace.
But the Estonian kid showed up one day, and he had a horse with a jellyfish belly. He was called Clearance Liquidizes, a name that didn’t seem Estonian, and his accent seemed more American than Estonian (of course Junior had no idea what Estonian names and accents were like). When Clearance arrived at his little apartment followed by a horse with a jellyfish belly (really just luminescent blue jellyfish-like tendrils hanging down from the horse’s belly) Junior wondered if this was just another thing he didn’t know about Estonia. Maybe all Estonians had such magnificent horses.
Clearance said (in his suspiciously American accent), “This is my Nightmare. His name is Pride in the Backstretch (based on classic racehorse naming rules).”
Junior decided to take the shame blanket off of Moths and Bats after all since this Clearance kid was likewise a Nightmare-having loser. “This is my Nightmare,” he said. “His name is Moths and Bats. He is literally moths and bats. In case you didn’t notice.” Junior was ashamed again at how uncreative his Nightmare naming was. Considering this was a fleshy outcropping of his subconscious, a completely literal name seemed to be a clever irony until he said it out loud.
Junior sat in his now crowded bedroom (with Clearance Liquidizes and the two Nightmare monsters) and said, “Kids in America like things like food and game playing. What do kids in Estonia like?”
“Mostly the same,” said Clearance Liquidizes and then silence (except the regular monster noises (breathing in and breathing out and self-eating moth/bat activity)).
Kids at school seemed even more intent on avoiding him when Clearance and his jellyfish-bellied horse walked down the hall with him. “This is American school,” he said. “We learn about math and animals. Also, cool kids are kind of mean to everyone else. What’s school like in Estonia?”
“The same.” Again, they had run out of things to talk about.
Then Junior said, “I think we should have a death match between our Nightmares.” Junior came up with this plan as the words left his mouth, but it was the most perfect plan in existence.
“Why?” said Clearance.
Junior said, “Because I kind of hate you right now. Plus also a Moths and Bats monster versus a horse with a jellyfish belly seems kinda rad and the sort of death match everyone on the planet should enjoy. Mostly, however, it is the hate I have for you.”
The next day, Junior made the poster and plastered it on all the viable spots. He shouted out, “Death match will begin shortly!” in noisy spots where no one heard him shouting.
But then the death match came, and Moths and Bats and the horse with a jellyfish belly just spent the whole time standing there looking at each other (as much as a creature made of moths and bats can stare).
They were alone. None of the other kids gave much interest in his advertisements.
“Why don’t you fight each other to the death?” Junior said to Moths and Bats. “It is the point of a death match, in case I have to inform you.”
“I’m honestly not cool with this at all, dude. I am not a fighting type. Man, I’m a Buddhist, for God’s sake.”
“Not cool, Junior,” said the horse with a jellyfish belly. “Not cool at all.”
“You realize they’re afraid of you, right?” said the Horse with a Jellyfish Belly. “That’s why kids don’t like you. They’re terrified.”
“Why would they be afraid?”
“It’s probably because your best friend is a tornado made of moths and bats.”
“That makes sense,” said Junior, and again they ran out of things to talk about.
It was pretty nice in the week of fear that followed in the wake of revelations that Nightmares made of moth-and-bat tornados might frighten normal kids. He didn’t know what to do with this power and spent most of the week planning scare pranks with Clearance and his horse with the jellyfish belly, but then he’d say, “Nah, better not,” because Jr was a good kid. Like “We can spook the football players when they kick the ball except, nah, maybe better not.”
But then Clearance said, “Dude, I gotta go back to Estonia now, so...” Right in the middle of school one day. He got up to go, and that was all there was to it.
They stood there staring at each other, making subtle protohandshake motions, initiating a hug but aborting it when it barely even started. Junior wanted to say, “You mean so much to me,” and “you are my best and only friend,” but he couldn’t.
Then he was alone again. He had the power to cripple others with fear, but he would never use it and he would always be alone because Junior was a good kid.