A kraken came to Edgewood Street on the first day of summer vacation. It was a land kraken, with tentacles of fur and spiny branches of coral growing on its head. Elizabeth hadn’t seen it, but she’d heard about it from Sandy, who had heard about it from Laura, who had spotted the beast while playing at O’Malley Park.
“Come on, Puff,” Elizabeth called. Jimmy was training a pirate army to fight the kraken, and Elizabeth wanted to join. She brought her dog Hufflepuff with her, in case she ran into the kraken on her way to Jimmy’s back yard.
The army wasn’t very impressive — half a dozen neighborhood boys all running around aimlessly and swiping at each other with sticks. Elizabeth knew all kinds of magic that would help them be a better army.
She swaggered up to Jimmy, who was shouting orders. “I hear there’s a kraken in the neighborhood.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Jimmy reassured her. “My pirates will keep you safe.”
Elizabeth almost explained that she was here to join the army. Then she looked at the boys, running around with their sticks, and decided she wasn’t interested after all. She would start her own army.
Pirates needed swords, and Elizabeth knew just the right magic for that. She collected all the butter knives from the kitchen and stabbed them into the dirt around the maple tree in her yard. Her mother made her bring the knives back in at lunchtime, but the magic had worked by then and the tree had grown some lovely sword-branches. Butter knives weren’t very sharp, so the swords were blunt practice swords, but her mother wouldn’t let her have the steak knives, so Elizabeth decided that practice swords would have to do.
She grabbed a bunch of swords and wandered around the neighborhood, looking for pirates for her army. Her first recruit was Laura, the only kid who’d actually seen the kraken. She took Laura’s little brother too. Jimmy had turned him away for being too small, but he could hold a sword, and he followed most any order Laura gave him.
They got Kira, and Sandy, and even Jared, who had deserted from Jimmy’s army because they made fun of his glasses. Elizabeth brought them back to her yard and they spent the afternoon practicing with their swords and hunting for bottle caps and buttons and other pirate booty.
They needed something to guard their treasure, and Elizabeth knew just the spell for that. She made Hufflepuff sit with his front paws touching the treasure, and flicked a cigarette lighter that Kira had taken from the junk drawer in her dad’s kitchen. On her third try, Elizabeth got the spark to make a flame, and Hufflepuff was transformed.
“He’s kind of a small dragon,” Sandy said.
“And he keeps barking,” Jared added.
“Conjuring dragons is harder than making swords,” Elizabeth replied, scratching Puff behind the ears, “and I’m sure he will be very fierce in battle, even if he’s small.”
They trained until it got dark, and they were a good army. In the morning, they would battle the kraken.
Elizabeth met her army at O’Malley Park. They found kraken tracks in the gravel behind the swings, and followed them to the jogging path that wound around in the woods. Elizabeth heard yelling, and a couple boys from Jimmy’s army ran past, fleeing from the kraken.
“Hold together,” Elizabeth told her army. Her pirates held their swords high and stayed behind her. Puff ran circles around the group, yipping in a decidedly undragonlike fashion.
The kraken had Jimmy cornered, his retreat blocked by the fence that surrounded the park. Up close, the monster looked less like a kraken and more like an elk — with sharp antlers and loose tendrils of partially-shed fur — but it was still a formidable foe for her army.
Yelling her best battle cry, Elizabeth charged, followed by Puff and five screaming pirates, all waving swords. The beast turned toward them, startled, then leapt over the fence and out of sight.
Jimmy, clearly embarrassed to have needed help, swaggered up to Elizabeth and said, “You trained some pretty good pirates. You could join my army, if you want.”
Elizabeth snorted. “Now that we’ve driven off the kraken, there’s no need for pirate armies.” A shadow engulfed them as a huge monster flew overhead. Elizabeth knew just the kind of army to fight this new beast.
“Tomorrow, I’ll be training ninjas,” she told Jimmy, “and you can help us fight Mothra, if you want.”
Caroline M. Yoachim lives in Seattle and loves cold cloudy weather. She is the author of dozens of short stories, appearing in Lightspeed, Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, and Fantasy & Science Fiction, among other places. For more about Caroline, check out her website at http://carolineyoachim.com
This story originally appeared in Fireside Magazine.