Luna sat by the fireplace waiting patiently when the goose bumps on her arms told her that the sleepless children had returned. She could see them from the dining room window: translucent little spirits glowing dimly in the bright moonlight. The line started at the front door and disappeared into the forest. There hadn’t been a fear storm like this in almost a thousand years, not since the night her father and his nemesis disappeared. Last night, Luna had told herself that it might be a fluke, but two nights in a row was no fluke.
She greeted the children at the front door, and rubbing her fingers against her thumb, sprinkled each child with sand. One by one, they smiled up at Luna and disappeared. Returning the children’s spirits to the mortal realm was easy; facing the evil that caused them to come here in the first place would be more challenging.
The night her father disappeared, Luna, ever the precocious child, had secretly followed him as she had done many times before. The boy was fast asleep in his bed, but the rest of his bedroom was chaos. By the time she arrived, her father was wrestling what looked like a tornado of black smoke. Bursts of white mage-fire exploded from his palms, and the dark cyclone reeled in pain. Back and forth they went, evenly matched, for what seemed like an eternity.
Luna never knew what happened next because her mother snatched her away while the battle still raged. When her father never returned, Luna’s mother moved them back to her family home, the realm of the Jinn, and told everyone that her hapless husband had been killed by a powerful demon. She refused to use the demon’s popular name and was quick to tell Luna that anyone telling stories about the “Boogeyman” was a fool. Luna always knew that her mother was talking about her father when she said such things.
Eventually, Luna grew up and escaped the land of endless dunes. In every realm, she searched for clues to unlock the mystery of her father’s disappearance. She had almost given up when she came across an old wizard with an interesting theory. He hinted that her father might be using a strategy once employed against dragons.
“The apprentice would distract the dragon, wear it down, and let it think it was winning. Then, the master, a powerful sorcerer, would arrive well rested and finish the job.”
“But my father never knew any powerful sorcerers.”
As the old man hobbled away, he mumbled, “Or sorceress; it doesn’t really matter. If he’s using that old gambit, he won’t turn the creature loose until the master, or mistress, is ready. With immortals, I suppose the timing is very … flexible.”
So, Luna set about the slow task of making herself ready for some future battle that might never come. For seven hundred years she trained, transforming herself from a frightened little girl into a warrior of the light. She rescued so many villages from evil that she had lost count.
For two nights in a row, something had tormented these children, and it was her duty to stop it, even if it had nothing to do with her father.
One ghost of a boy remained on the welcome mat while Luna gathered her equipment. She returned wearing a white cloak and carrying her oaken staff adorned with silver filigree.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Robert,” he said, voice trembling.
“Let’s go show that old Boogeyman who’s in charge.”
They appeared in Robert’s bedroom. The boy lay in bed with the covers pulled up to his chin, eyes wide open. Luna stood near the foot of his bed. From the closet, something hissed. Black smoke crawled out along the floorboards. As the tendrils approached, Luna tapped her staff on the floor. A burst of light sent the smoke retreating back into the closet. One thing Luna had learned over the years was that every creature born of darkness carried its own unique stench.
The thing in that closet smelled like her father’s Boogeyman.
The creature growled and raged as a black cyclone toward Luna. She tossed shimmering dust above her head. A bubble of protection formed around her and the boy. The Boogeyman began circling and testing the boundary. Finally, he settled all around the dome, causing it to shrink with every blow. Luna saw a glimmer of white mage-fire inside the dark cloud. Igniting the tip of her staff, Luna dismissed the shield and delivered a series of white-hot blows. Stunned, the Boogeyman’s swirling ceased, and only a black cloud remained on the floor. Luna grabbed the darkness with both hands, digging her fingers in deep. Whispering a spell she’d been saving for ages, she sent arcs of lightning from her hands into the vaporous blob. As she pressed down, the dark cloud shrank to one final wisp and dissipated with a shriek.
On the floor, curled up in a ball, lay the exhausted Sandman. He sat up and squinted at Luna. He looked exactly as she remembered: white beard, disheveled hair, and a lanky build under a black robe.
“Ah, Luna,” he said, recognizing her instantly. “You’ve grown, girl, and not just in height. Only a powerful sorceress could have destroyed such a nasty beast. How long has it been? Never mind. That boy over there is frightened out of his wits. Help me up.” He tiptoed over to young Robert and sprinkled sand from his empty fingers into the boy’s eyes.
“One dash for sweet dreams and an extra sprinkle to forget we were ever here.”
BIO: Rollin T. Gentry lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, Shelly. A software engineer by day, he can be found reading and writing speculative fiction during much of his spare time. He’s had a number of stories appear in various publications online. Read more from him at rollintgentry.com.