"I'm not going," said Steven. "You get it. You kicked it over."
"But it's your ball."
He shook his head. "No way, there's spiders in there. And monsters. Monster spiders."
Well what could she say to that? There were spiders in there. She settled for, "Yeah, well, you're just chicken!"
"I am not!"
Kayla glared at her enforced playmate of the day. They were at the park- and not even the good park! Their mothers had both decided that Kay and Steven could use a good dose of fresh air and forced socialization. Kayla looked at the spot in the brush where the dodge ball had gone. Oleander bushes at least six feet tall loomed over her.
"Fine," she said, walking off with as much pride as she could muster. "I'll get it myself."
She crawled through the massive bushes, trying to hold her breath. Someone had told her once they were poisonous, but she couldn't remember if that was when you ate them or when you touched them.
What was it Steven had said? Spiders. Poisonous spiders, dunked in oleander juice. Poisonous monster spiders.
She stopped crawling and wrinkled her nose. Stupid Steven. Now he had her doing it.
Pale light flickered through leaves and petals. Everywhere she looked, she imagined spiders of varying levels of monstrosity and poison peeping behind leaves and branches. They were waiting for her to turn her head, to look away. As soon as she did, they would jump on her head. Spiders jumped- she knew 'cause she'd read it in a science book at school.
Stupid Steven, she thought again. Cobwebs caught her hair and tangled. This is all his stupid fault. I'm gonna die of poison oleander spiders and it's all his fault.
She could see the spot up ahead, near the back of the park fence, where the ball had landed. She grinned. Any and all fear evaporated instantly.
This'll show him, she thought, heading for the ball. She'd make sure to tell their moms, too, once they got back. She'd go up to Steven's mom and tell her all about how she'd gotten it back and not him. It was perfect.
As she reached out to take the ball, she noticed something large and black skitter behind it.
Very slowly, she snapped off a sprig of oleander, then prodded the ball. It moved a few inches aside. The black thing skittered after it.
"Steven! There's a monster in here!" she called.
"Squash it!" she heard him call back.
"Get your stupid butt in here Steven or I'm tellin' your mama you got me killed!"
There was a groan from outside the bushes. A few seconds later, Steven came crashing through, not even bothering to take the trail she'd carefully left behind.
"What is it?" he said, crawling up beside her.
"Look." She moved the ball again, and the monster once again scuttled after it.
"It doesn't look like a spider," he said eventually. "Not enough legs."
"No legs at all."
"It's shiny. You think it's a bug?"
She thought about it for a moment. "Do bugs usually glow like that?" She prodded the ball.
"No," he said, after getting a better look. "You think there's more of them?"
"Nah. I think this one's by himself." She set down the stick. "I'm gonna catch it."
She smiled, then, slowly, lifted up the ball.
The creature looked, for all the world, like a teardrop. One of the cartoon kind- all round on the bottom and pointy on the top. It was black and shiny, and had two slanty spots on its front that poured out white light. When it saw that it was now exposed, it squeaked and glopped, rolling over itself in a definitively liquid way until it was gone amongst the brambles.
They stared after it.
"That was. . ."
"Weird," she finished for him. "Really weird."
"Not very monster-y, though."
"No," she agreed. Together they made their way out of the bushes.
"I feel kind of sorry for it," said Steven.
"Me too." She looked up. Their moms were by the picnic table, waving them over. Time to go home.
"Do you wanna come back tomorrow? We can see if we can find it again."
Kay thought about it. "Yeah," she said. "Poor little thing." She looked up at Steven and smiled. "Besides, you need to go back for your ball. It's still in there."
He grinned back at her. "I know."