Frank Right came home early in the summer, floating to the ground in his patched balloon. He waved goodbye at the dirigible train on which he worked and tied his balloon to the flagpole before his house. Out of the house rushed his daughter, raven-haired Amelia, running on fat, little legs and giggling with excitement.
“Daddy, Daddy,” she squealed, and threw her arms around his right leg before he could stoop to embrace her. Laughing himself, he picked her up and threw her in the air. She came down into his arms with a shriek of delight.
“You’ve grown so large,” he exclaimed, “and I’ve been gone so long. Why you must be twenty pounds heavier and two years older, now.”
“No, Daddy,” she shouted gleefully, “I’m still only five.”
“Yes, Daddy, I’m five.” She held out five, fat, little fingers.
“Well, it seems forever.”
“It was forever, Daddy.”
“I’ve got something for you,” he said.
It was a doll, a brand new doll from New York, decked out in the latest fashions from Paris. But to Amelia, it was just a doll, and that was enough for her.
“A new baby,” she said, and hugged it tightly to her chest.
“Where’s your mother?” asked Frank.
“In the garden.”
So they went through the house and out into the garden to find Flora Right and give her the present he had brought her from New York. She brushed her own, raven hair from her eyes and kissed him before she opened it delicately. It was a bottle of perfume, also French, but what mattered to her was that it smelled sweet and came from Frank. So husband and wife embraced and kissed again then went inside to eat a meal together with their little girl, and all was well with their world.
When night fell, they put Amelia to bed after story and prayers in her second floor bedroom with the window open to catch the soft, night breeze. She put her head on her pillow and stared out at the sky, hoping to see a dirigible train float past, blotting out stars and showing its own constellation-like running lanterns. But there were no dirigible trains floating past that night. The moon was out. It and the stars shown through the patchy clouds from time to time. Amelia counted them as she yawned and fought sleep in that sleepy, bound to lose kind of way that so frustrated her at times. Though that night, with her father home, she was too happy to be frustrated at all.
As she drifted off to sleep, she thought she heard children playing and laughing in the park down the street, though she had to be wrong, for children would not be out in the park after dark. Everyone knew it was wrong for children to be out after dark. She told Frank and Flora about it in the morning, how she thought some naughty children were up past their bedtime, playing in the park after dark.
Her father looked perplexed at first. “Perhaps you only dreamed it,” he suggested.
“No, Daddy, I heard it before I fell asleep.”
“Well, maybe you heard them in a house with a window open, like yours.”
“No, Daddy, they were on the swing sets, I heard the chains creaking. They were on the merry-go-round, too.”
“Oh, that is naughty, and what parents would let their children out after dark like that? Don’t they know the goblins might be out?” He added the last bit, half-joking.
That was when Flora poked her head out of the kitchen from where she was fixing breakfast. She was frowning as she said, “A child in another neighborhood disappeared last week, Frank. Some of the neighbors think there really might be goblins in the park after dark again.”
“Well, it’s been years and years,” said Frank.
“I know,” she said, “I was hoping they were never coming back.”
Amelia’s hand shot up and covered her “Oh!” of surprise. “Mommy! Daddy! What if they ate the children who were out in the park after dark?”
Flora shook her head firmly, “If you heard anything, it was only goblin children, sweetie. No real children would be out after dark in this neighborhood, not without their parents. We all know better, around here.”
Frank thought a moment then said, “I think I’ll alert the constable, if he hasn’t been already, and let him know to make extra patrols through the park nights.”
“Are they really real, Daddy?” Amelia asked.
“Well, no one’s seen one around here in a couple of generations, I guess, but my father used my hickory walking stick, which was his father’s first, to fend off a pair of goblins that attacked him once when he was crossing the park, late one night, when he was a still a youngster. Oh, yes, they’re real, my baby girl.”
“He fought them with that stick?” she asked.
“Yes, he did,” said Frank, “They tried to lure him, but he had too much sense to want to be a goblin. After all, the only monsters are those who choose to be, and he chose not to be. If they couldn’t make a monster, they thought they’d make a meal.” Frank smiled proudly, “Your grandfather was no meal for goblins.”
Eyes wide and mouth hanging open, Amelia imagined her grandfather, sans beard and wrinkles, using the stout, hickory stick to hit the goblins that came at him as he crossed the park.
That night after story and prayer, Amelia lay her head on her pillow to receive her parents’ blessing, but could not go to sleep. She listened at the window with an urgent sense of eager dread and curiosity. Would the goblin children be at it again, swinging, laughing, playing chase, and riding on the merry-go-round, hoping to see some errant child out after dark that they might make a gory feast of him? Would the child go dashing home to his parents and rush inside just feet ahead of a horde of yellow-fanged goblin tots? Would he have a story to tell and retell at school in the fall? Or, would he be devoured in his own front yard, just short of his own front door, while his parents were heedlessly drinking wine and listening to the phonograph, the music of which would drown out the cries of their offspring?
There in the night, after moonrise, she heard the distant laughter, so childish and innocent seeming, of what was surely goblin children playing in the park. She sat up in bed and peered out the window, her face pressed against the screen straining to see the half-animal/half humanoid forms, just shadows really in the moonlight playing in the park down the block.
She thought she could see them, and she stayed up long into the night listening to their chatter and patter, their squeals and laughter as they swung on the swings and danced in the dark, and cooed at the moon and rode in crazy circles on the merry-go-round and played chase around the playground equipment and in and out of the trees and bushes around the park. They were having fun, those vicious, child-eating, goblin children. At last, worn out with a hard day of play and by the late night thrill of eavesdropping on the distant, goblin fun, she succumbed to sleep.
Asleep, she still heard the sounds of their play long into the night, and she heard their sing-song rhymes,
Amelia, Amelia a long summer has ya,
Full of soft nights, and nights full of fun.
Stay up with the moon,
Stay up with us soon.
Amelia, forget the sun.
Forget the sun, in the summer night of goblin fun.
Amelia, Amelia, the summer night is short
Join us Amelia, ere this summer night’s forgot
She didn’t exactly remember it in the morning, but it lingered on the tip of her tongue and the back of her brain all the next day.
“Let’s have a party, since your back for a time,” suggested Flora a day or so later.
“Why not?” agreed Frank, and they drew up a guest list and sent out invitations with the morning post. Then they spent the rest of the morning in the garden playing games with Amelia and her new doll, which she named Azalea. In the afternoon, they lazed in the shade drinking lemonade and reading. Amelia read from Milne, Frank read from Macdonald, and Flora read from her Bible. But Amelia soon drifted off with the warmth of the day for she had stayed up late to hear the dreadful, goblin children play every night that week. In her sleep, she heard them laughing and calling to her. So, she shivered in her sleep in the warm afternoon, for she felt repelled by them and yet somehow sure that she was losing some fun, night after night after night.
She woke with a start and asked suddenly, “May we go to the park?”
Putting down his book, Frank said, “Why not, it’d be a pleasant enough change.”
Setting aside her Bible, Flora said, “Certainly.”
So they left the garden and walked down the block to the park. Amelia played on the swings, after being sure that no goblin bogeys were on the seats or chains. Frank pushed her for a bit, but later she wanted to do it herself. She played on the merry-go-round with the sure thrill that it had been gripped by little, clawed, goblin hands night after night. She slid down the slide, knowing that little, goblin behinds had been on it too. Oh, those evil goblins, she thought, oh those child-eating, goblin children. It was her park too, and she would have some fun in the day if they were having fun in the night. She ran and played at an almost fever pitch, squealing and laughing with nearly forced delight, but somehow it was a little less thrilling than sitting up in bed at night with her face pressed to the screen listening to those wicked, goblin babies playing in the park after dark.
She was worn out sooner than she thought she would have been and felt wilted by the sun too soon. She asked to go home, and Frank carried her there and set her on the couch under the ceiling fan to doze with a glass of water close at hand.
“Amelia, Amelia,” sang the goblin children in her dreams, while the breeze from the fan cooled the sweat on her skin.
In the next room, Frank and Flora sat down with their books again. After a bit, she told him, “I heard from the Smiths that the parents of the child who disappeared have already begun to forget they had a child, and no one I’ve talked to can seem to come up with the child’s name either. All they can recall is that a boy disappeared.”
He looked up from his book and said, “That does sound like a goblin kidnapping.”
They went back to their reading, the nagging worry there in their heads. Flora leaned over periodically to see Amelia asleep on the couch in the next room.
Came Saturday night, and the party, and Amelia was bathed in the mid-afternoon and dressed prettily for the party, though she would be sent to bed early that night, so the adults could be at ease in their talk and unburdened. She was winsome and quiet, trying to be forgotten, the better to stay up late and overhear adult conversations and taste chocolates. Flora was well aware of the artful way that she lingered ever so unobtrusively, and sent her to bed early, regardless, though with a glass of milk and piece of cake as consolation.
“Sit up reading if you like, sweetie,” Flora told her, “We’ll check on you in a while.”
She tried not to pout as she took her milk and cake up to her room. She had been around for such parties before. She knew well she might be forgotten anyway. A story, prayers, and her customary blessing might not occur this night. She sighed and read nonsense poems, drank her milk and nibbled at her cake, first the frosting, then the cake.
Down the street I go at a trot,
Chasing away the spot, the round black spot
I scrubbed from my favorite, pink, canvass pack
I never want it to come back.
“Amelia, Amelia,” called a birdlike, piping voice from below her window.
She started and dove under her covers, but then, unable to make herself resist, fearfully put her head up by the open window and called, out, “Who’s there?”
“I’m Gleelelia,” said the voice, “I’ve been forgotten tonight, too. And I was dressed oh so prettily to impress the adults.”
“Were you? How sad. Me too.” Amelia looked down into the garden beneath her window and saw a fat, little pig-faced, goblin girl all dressed up in black with glowing, green frogs embroidered on her gown.
“Oh, you’re a goblin,” she said, amazed.
“Oh, yes, and I want to play, Amelia. We’ve both been forgotten, so why can’t we play together, to comfort each other?”
“No, no, you’ll eat me, won’t you?” said Amelia.
“I couldn’t if I wanted to. I’m too little for real teeth. I’d rather just play. We goblin children just love to play.”
“Oh, I shan’t trust you, Gleelelia, though I do feel sorry for you being forgotten like me. I wanted to cry when they sent me away.”
“I know what you mean,” said the goblin girl, “and I did cry.”
“I might’ve too,” admitted Amelia, “but at least they gave me milk and cake and said they’d check on me later.”
“Oh, they never check, do they? And I was given no cake or milk, just sent out into the dark alone.”
“I thought goblins liked the dark,” said Amelia.
“Well, maybe adults do, but I’m just a little girl by myself. Where’s the fun in that? Won’t you come down to play?”
“I don’t think I should trust you,” said Amelia.
“Oh, poo!” said the goblin girl, distraught.
After a moment’s thought, Amelia said, “Well, it’d do no harm for me to share my cake and milk, but how would I get it down to you?”
“I don’t throw and catch very well, you know. I’ll just have to do without.”
But she added, “Unless you sneak down and out the side door.”
“But would you snatch me with your little, clawed hands and drag me out if I opened the door?” asked Amelia.
“Oh, I’m too little for strong, snatchy claws,” protested the goblin girl.
“Well, I hate it that you’re down there all alone while I have cake and milk,” admitted Amelia, “but you stay back, and I’ll set half of it on the step then shut the door fast.”
“Okay,” said the goblin girl, rather mournfully, “but I wish you’d come out and play.”
“Well, I won’t,” said Amelia, “so don’t ask again.” She left the window, put her feet into her house shoes, and carried her plate and glass to the door, creeping, creeping along. She listened first, and heard nobody close by. She cracked it open and peeked out. The hall was empty. She started to sneak out, then felt too alone, so she ran off and grabbed her New York doll in its Paris fashions and, tucking it under her arm, snuck out and down the hall. Looking down stairs, she saw that Frank and Flora and the guests were gathered around the piano, singing along while Flora played a ragtime tune. Quickly, she descended the stairs and slipped into the kitchen. It was empty. She set her cake and milk on a counter and dragged a chair over to the window. Doll still tucked under arm, she climbed the chair awkwardly and looked out, cupping her hands around her eyes. Gleelelia was still standing there in the garden, well away from the side door.
With a distinct thrill running up and down her spine and making her scalp tingle, she jumped off the chair and collected her plate and glass. She had to drop her doll to do it for how else would she open the door now? With a trembling hand, she went to the door and opened it just enough to slip the plate and glass out onto the step. There was Gleelelia just five feet away, smiling winsomely and waving shyly. With a start, Amelia shut the door and said through it, accusingly, “You said you’d stay back.”
“I’m back, aren’t I?” protested Gleelelia, “and I didn’t snatch at you with my little claws did I?”
“No, but I wanted you further back,” she responded.
“You’re scared of me,” said the goblin girl.
“Am not. I don’t want to be snatched. That’s all.”
“If you weren’t scared, you wouldn’t be so worried about being snatched, fraidy cat.”
“I’m not scared of you!”
“Maybe not. But you sure are hiding from me.”
Amelia stood safely behind the door, fuming.
“Well,” said Gleelelia, “Thank you for the cake and milk. They look awfully tasty. I guess I’ll just wander off and eat them all by myself. Goodbye. I wish you weren’t so afraid of me.”
Wanting to shout, and knowing she’d get caught and get in trouble if she did, Amelia cracked the door open and poked her head out to say fiercely, “I’m not afraid of you.”
The goblin girl was walking off with the cake and milk, but she stopped and looked over her shoulder long enough to say, “Prove it. Come out and play with me here in the garden.”
“Fine,” said Amelia, and she slipped out the door into the dark garden, Azalea tucked under her arm.
“That’s better,” said the goblin girl, turning around. She smiled at Amelia, toothily, and took a big bite of the cake. Amelia watched as she ate the half slice in a couple of bites and then drained the half glass of milk in one gulp. Goblins, Amelia realized, had large mouths. It made her nervous, but she stood her ground.
“Well?” she asked Gleelelia.
“What are we going to play?”
Amelia shook her head.
“Hide and seek?”
She didn’t want to be chased or sought by a goblin, so she shook her head again.
“I don’t have a swing here.”
“There are some at the park.”
“I can’t go to the park after dark.”
“Well, we could play hopscotch on the sidewalk,” suggested the goblin girl.
“Okay, but my chalk’s inside. Do you have any?”
Gleelelia, still smiling, produced a piece of chalk from a pocket in her dress. They went together to the sidewalk and drew out the hopscotch pattern on the concrete. Amelia watched Gleelelia draw out the pattern and saw her draw symbols in the squares but didn’t understand what they were.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Goblin, of course,” smiled the goblin girl.
“Well, I can’t read it.”
“Well, it’s played the same, silly thing.”
“You go first.”
Amelia, nervous but determined, used a pebble as a marker and jumped about on the pattern as if it were regular hopscotch. She returned without making a mistake and went again, but she messed up half-way through the second time.
“Nice,” said Gleelelia, and she followed, reciting something in goblin as she bounced along the pattern, her glowing, frog-print dress eerie in the night.
“What’s that you’re singing?” asked Amelia.
“Just a rhyme,” said Gleelelia, “just a little, goblin rhyme.”
“Oh.” She watched as Gleelelia got part way through the second set of hops and messed up.
“Oh, poo!” said the goblin girl.
“You did fine,” said Amelia, taking her turn. She landed on the square with Gleelelia’s marker and lost her turn, though. “Oh, poo,” she said. It was starting to be fun.
“Poo, poo, poo!” said Gleelelia.
She took her turn and sang in English,
“Little Sara, dressed in yellow,
Came outside to kiss a fellow.
Made an error.
Kissed a viper.
How many goblins
Got to eat her?
1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
Oh, poo,” she exclaimed, landing on Amelia’s marker.
Amelia was quiet. She remembered her fear of being eaten.
“What’s wrong?” asked Gleelelia, “Why don’t you take your turn?”
“I’d better go in. I don’t want to be eaten,” she said, backing away, clutching Azalea to her chest.
“I wouldn’t eat you,” insisted Gleelelia, easing toward her.
“Why not? You ate little Sara, didn’t you?”
“That’s just a rhyme, and besides, you aren’t dumb like a little Sara.”
“I have to go now. I’ve proved I’m not scared, right? So it’s time to go.”
“But I’ll be all alone. Do stay.”
“I don’t know,” said Amelia, pausing.
“Stay. You’re practically like me, and I wouldn’t eat me, would I?”
“Like you?” she asked.
“You’re so round and so pink,” said the goblin girl, “you’re too pretty to be a human child. You must really be one of us. We won’t eat one of our own, Amelia.”
“I’m not a goblin,” she said, appalled at the thought.
“Well, we won’t eat you, anyway,” said the goblin girl.
Amelia stepped away again, and Gleelelia stopped approaching.
“We were having fun, weren’t we? Play some more,” said the goblin girl, “Come on, it’s your turn. Don’t be afraid.”
“I’m not afraid,” she said, and she came back to the sidewalk, snatched up her marker, tossed it down on the next box and jumped in reciting,
“Hurry scurry had a worry
No one liked his chicken curry
Stuck his finger in the pot
Chicken curry way too hot!”
Her indignation carried her pretty far, and she got through the course three times before she lost her balance and stepped on a line. Elated, she looked at Gleelelia for approval with a certain sense of triumph. It melted quickly, for there were several other goblin children there on the grass between the sidewalk and her house. They were applauding though. She gave them a nervous smile and stood on the side of the grid away from them.
Clapping more than the rest, Gleelelia jumped in and took her turn singing,
“Jimmy Homeboy had a concern
Never knew when it was his turn
Jumped in way too soon
And ended up on my spoon”
She tripped up much sooner than Amelia had, and it was Amelia’s turn again. She tossed her marker down and went to it singing,
“One, two, buckle my shoe
Three, four, close the door
Five, six pick up the sticks
Seven, eight, shut the gate
Nine, ten go again”
She got through the grid four times before stepping on Gleelelia’s marker and losing her turn. Then Gleelelia went again, singing,
“One, two skewer him through
Three, four impale him more
Five, six beat him with sticks
Seven, eight aint it great?
Nine, ten do it again.”
But she tripped up way before Amelia had and the other goblin children cheered and cheered as Amelia took her turn. She won three more times, hopping further through the course each time, beating Gleelelia better and better each time. And they all cheered her efforts and clapped their little, clawed hands. Finally, thirsty and elated, she said she had to get a drink. Before she knew what was going on, Gleelelia had taken her gently by the hand and led her running to the water fountain in the park, where she worked the pump handle for Amelia to drink.
“Let’s get on the swings,” a goblin boy suggested, and she was soon on a swing, Azalea in her lap, with the rush of the wind in her face and hair and the rhythmic creaking of the chains in her ears. It was a terrific, mischievous, slightly sinful bliss, much as she had imagined it would be all the other nights of the week with her face pressed against the screen of her bedroom window. She was in the park after dark having the time of her life.
After the swings, they played on the merry-go-round, putting Azalea in the middle since she could not hold on by herself, and after that, they played tag. Dashing in and out of the bushes and around trees, Amelia tripped up in her house shoes and tore her pretty dress in several places.
“Oh, are you okay?” asked Gleelelia coming over and crouching beside her like a curious kitten, the ghostly light of the frogs on her dress lighting up the tears in Amelia’s dress.
“I’m okay,” said Amelia, “but I’m in oh, so much trouble with my parents, and I can’t stay out like this, I’m almost naked.” She wanted to cry and tears did stand in her eyes. She held Azalea close and rocked.
“Don’t worry,” said a goblin boy, “I don’t need a shirt. You wear it.” And he whipped his shirt off over his head and over hers onto her shoulders faster than she could object. So she set Azalea down and pulled it on, saying, “Thanks, awfully,” and got up again as little, yellow-clawed hands shot out grasped hers.
“You look just like one us, now,” Gleelelia remarked, “No one could tell the difference.”
Amelia actually smiled at that in spite of herself, for she was having such a good time, though she would never have admitted to the possibility before. So they kept running and dashing about, but she tripped again, on her clumsy house shoes.
“Throw them in the trashcan,” suggested another goblin boy, “run barefoot like we do. Goblins don’t need shoes.”
So she did, for she was having too much fun to object. After that, she was among the fastest on the playground, hard to catch and hard to get away from. When they broke up to pick new teams, both sides fought to get her. She had to console the losing side, but then they were at it again, dashing around the park, dodging through the swings and flinging them over their shoulders to evade pursuers, and jumping in and out of the bushes.
They took another water break, and Gleelelia looked across the road and pointed at a house over there. “That’s Bobby Wilson’s house,” she said, “He’s not scared of goblins, he says, but he’s always inside with his window shut before the gas lights come on, the skinny liar.”
“I know him,” said Amelia, “he’s a smarty pants. Brags that he could read when he was four years old.”
“Who needs letters,” asked a goblin boy, “when you can play all night in the park?”
“Who likes a smarty pants anyway?” asked Gleelelia.
“Not me,” avowed Amelia quickly, “I don’t care if I ever learn my letters.” She already had, though.
“Bet he makes fun of you, doesn’t he?” said another goblin boy.
He had made fun of her once or twice, so Amelia said, “He does.”
“He’ll taste good if we ever catch him out after dark,” said Gleelelia, “No one makes fun of our Amelia.”
“Yeah,” said Amelia, and strange as it was, it didn’t seem all that wrong in the heady moment to suggest that they should eat a little boy.
“Who’s that coming?” asked one of the goblin boys, for there was a man walking quickly down the street toward the park, carrying a walking stick in his right hand and a lantern in his left.
“Quickly,” said Gleelelia, “let’s hide in the bushes until he goes by.”
They all dashed away on quiet feet to the back of the playground and melted into the bushes and the deeper darkness there. Behind them, the man was coming across the park.
“Amelia,” he called out. It was Frank Right.
“Oh, I’m in trouble,” Amelia whispered to Gleelelia, who was right beside her.
“Not if he doesn’t catch you, you aren’t.”
“But he’s my daddy. I have to go home.”
“He’s a man, and you’re a goblin girl, silly. You’ll stay with us from now on.”
“I’m not a goblin,” she said, but she said it without force, for as she looked at herself, she could no longer tell the difference between herself and the other children. The shame she felt knowing that and knowing that her daddy was there looking for her made her quiet down and hide more than anything else could have.
“Amelia,” Frank called again. He approached quickly and, with his light, showed several goblin children in the bushes nearby. They squealed and fled, and for the first time, Amelia saw them in the light. They were pink and piggish, but with pointier ears, and flat faces. Their yellow-clawed fingers and bare feet were dirty. Their clothes were rough and made of animal skins and human castoffs. The goblin children pattered away into the dark while Frank called again for his daughter. She felt up at her ears and was amazed to realize that they had grown tall and pointy on her head. Oh, I am becoming a goblin, she thought with a strange thrill that was somewhere between straight fright and mere excitement. She wasn’t sure if she liked it or not, which frightened her some more. She couldn’t show her self to her daddy as she was, yet she longed to cry and run to him and also longed to run away with Gleelelia and play every night with her and her friends.
“What is the meaning of this?” called out a deep and gravelly voice. Up to the edge of Frank’s lantern light strode a strange, tall figure, a goblin to be sure, but not round and pink as the children were. He was broad and husky and long limbed like a monkey, but the lantern light caused his boar like tusks to show wan and yellow, long and cruel and curved. His coat was like that of a merchant seaman, and his hat was like that of a cowboy. He wore no boots, for his feet were cloven hooves, and his trousers were like those of coal miner.
“Greetings, sir,” said Frank, calmly and politely, and without fear showing in his face, “I’ve come looking for my daughter.” From Amelia’s eye level, it was evident, though, that he gripped his stick tightly, and his arm trembled.
“She’s not here, I do not think,” said the adult goblin.
“That’s our daddy,” whispered Gleelelia, delightedly.
“Ours?” questioned Amelia.
“Ours,” Gleelelia assured her, and Amelia saw Frank and saw a stranger, and saw the daddy goblin and thought it ever so familiar to her.
“I think she is, begging your pardon, sir,” said Frank.
“She couldn’t be,” said the goblin, “only goblin children come to the park after dark.”
“Nevertheless,” said Frank, “I think my daughter is here.”
“Well, I don’t smell any human children here. Perhaps she’s somewhere else.”
“Perhaps, but my instincts tell me she’s here. I’m going to look around.”
“You should go home, human,” said the goblin.
“When I’ve had a look around,” said Frank, and he approached the bushes where Amelia and Gleelelia hid, raising his lantern high.
“Very well,” said the goblin, letting him pass without contest. It smiled after him a satisfied smile.
Amelia cowered from the light, for it hurt her eyes. She didn’t see the expression her altered form elicited from her daddy’s face, because she looked away, but when he scooped her up and set her down on the grass away from the bushes, she did. He smiled at her.
“Hello, Amelia, I’ve come to take you home. You’re safe now.”
Gleelelia bravely followed them out of the bushes and stood near.
“She was safe all along,” said the goblin, “after all, you can see she’s a goblin.”
Firmly, Frank said, “She’s my daughter. She’s a human.”
“She’s plainly a goblin,” said the goblin.
“No, she may look like a goblin, right now, but she is my daughter,” asserted Frank, calmly.
“You cannot have her,” said the goblin.
“Daddy,” said Gleelelia, dragging Amelia along as she dashed away from Frank. The goblin jumped between them and Frank and bared its long, curved, yellow tusks. Amelia cowered behind it with her hand firmly entwined in Gleelelia’s.
“Run, children,” said the goblin, “I won’t let him get you.” It lunged at Frank threateningly.
“Amelia!” roared Frank, and he rushed forward striking hard with the hickory stick that his father had used to protect himself against goblins so long ago.
Though Gleelelia tugged at her hand, Amelia stayed where she was, watching the fight between the human, Frank, who said he was her father, and the goblin, who also was supposed to be her father. She was confused on the point and curious, though she was also afraid.
Frank dropped the lantern aside, dodged the goblin’s rush, and struck it on the head, knocking it over, but it rolled onto its feet and rushed him again. He was forced to fend it off, holding the stick before him rather than striking with it. The goblin slashed with its great tusks and tore his trousers, but he did not cry out. He kicked it in the throat, and it backed up. He struck it with the knobby end of the hickory stick, and it fell over. He jumped onto it and put the pointy end to its throat, but it rolled, and he fell. They both rose ready to struggle on, but the goblin retreated a little, wary and no longer willing to advance. It seemed unsteady on its feet.
Breathing hard, Frank said, “I will take my daughter away from here. I’m willing to take your life to attain that goal, goblin.
“Perhaps we can deal,” suggested the goblin.
“Give me back my daughter,” said Frank, “and I’ll spare you.”
“It’s too late,” it said, “she’s a goblin now, wearing goblins clothes and all.”
“Then I’m going to have to bash your brains in to get her, aren’t I,” he said, rearing to strike.
Gleelelia squeezed Amelia’s hand, tugging, but Amelia stayed fast, wondering which was really her father.
“Wait,” the goblin shrieked, and Frank paused again.
“Pray tell, why?” he asked.
“Maybe we can make a trade?” it suggested.
“I’ve offered you a trade,” he said, “your life for hers.”
“You’ve not won,” it said, “the struggle is in doubt. And there’s no guarantee that slaying me will win you your daughter back, for she might be carried away by my other children, or even frightened away. She’s goblin now, and doesn’t remember you.”
Frank considered that, and realized the goblin might be right.
“There are consequences to letting your little one out after dark,” said the goblin, “what are you willing to pay to be sure you get her back?”
“Maybe I don’t have to bargain,” said Frank, “Maybe you’re trying to bargain, because you know I’ve got you beat, and it’s only a matter of moments until I knock you down, and you won’t be able to rise again.”
“Maybe, but my other children can still carry your girl away.”
“Daddy?” asked Amelia, the truth beginning to return to her eyes.
“I’m here,” said Frank, sparing her a glance, but only a glance.
The other goblin children surrounded her suddenly and grabbed hold of her arms and clothes.
“No,” said Amelia.
“It appears you are at a disadvantage,” said the goblin, “what are you willing to pay?”
Still willing to fight on, Frank restrained himself and asked, “What price are you setting? I have little of value. I’m only a mechanic on a dirigible train.”
“Every human has much of value to goblins,” it said, running its great tongue over its tusks.
“Such as?” asked Frank.
“You love your child, do you not, human?” it observed.
“I do,” he said.
“And you cherish every moment you’ve spent with it, don’t you human?” it said, leaning toward him.
“Yes. Get on with it,” said Frank.
“You’re strange things, you humans,” it said, “crowing with delight when your offspring learn to do such little things, grabbing hold of your finger with their little, pink hands, walking without falling down, silly things that are bound to happen regardless. Yet, you make such a fuss, fuss, fuss over these things and try to preserve them in memory.”
“The difference, I suppose, between monsters and men,” said Frank, “is that we know what in life is of real value, and we cherish the small as well as the large. I pity you.”
“Oh, you pity me?” asked the goblin, “Then give me the things you cherish so. Give me the memories of your little one.”
“Do what?” he asked.
“In ransom for your daughter, you must forget your daughter. It will be as if she had disappeared with us years ago, as if you have never seen her before.”
“Forget her?” he asked, stunned, though he should not have been.
“Forget her,” it said.
“No! If I forget her, you can just walk off with her, and I won’t even know to stop you. I’m not a fool, goblin.”
It snarled and said, “You may have the memory of her from this night only, but the rest will be a hole. It will be as if you’ve never heard her voice or seen her face before this night, as if she just came into existence.”
Frank looked at the goblin, wishing all the more that he could just kill it, but knowing that it would not avail him to do so. He closed his eyes and said, “I will pay the ransom.”
“Daddy, don’t forget me,” begged Amelia.
He set his jaw, and looked past the goblin at her. He looked hard at her.
“Then think now of the day of her birth,” it said.
He did and the memory of holding Amelia just born, a little bruised and purpled around her face, swaddled, still whimpering in his arms as though she would break if he breathed on her, came vividly to mind and then faded away. All he knew was that something was gone, and he wasn’t entirely sure what.
“Don’t forget me, Daddy,” said Amelia.
“Think now of all the times you held her,” said the goblin.
He did, and it fled him.
“Think now of all the times she cried and wailed,” it said.
He did, and it was gone.
“Please, Daddy, don’t forget me,” cried Amelia.
“Think now of the first time she cooed, the first time she laughed,” it said.
The litany went on while Amelia stood in the midst of her tiny captors and wept as her father remembered, forgot, and wept.
At last, the goblin said to him, “Think of her face and voice as they were yesterday.”
“Goodbye,” said the goblin with a grin, and it walked away, summoning to it the goblin children, who released Amelia and followed.
“Goodbye, Amelia,” they said as they walked away into the dark, “We’ll never forget you. If you ever want to come back to play, just come.”
“You’re still a goblin to me,” said Gleelelia tucking something up under her arm, “so round and pink.” She skipped away, her green, glowing frogs bouncing along into the dark of the park.
“Daddy?” she said, standing still, hot and ashamed.
“You’re Amelia, aren’t you?” he asked, a bit confused. He stared at her. He’d misplaced something. He was sure of it, but he couldn’t remember what.
“You’re the girl who we put to bed a little early tonight because of the party,” he said.
“You’re the one that Flora talks about all the time,” he said.
“You still know me, Daddy?”
He nodded, “The goblin wasn’t as smart as it thought. I still know you through your mother. She talks about you all the time. Are you really my daughter?”
“I am your daughter, daddy. I’m sorry I snuck out,” she said, “And I’m sorry I didn’t run to you as soon as I saw you.”
“It will be okay again, Amelia,” he said.
“I tore my dress, Daddy,” she said.
“And you’re still wearing goblin clothes, my child,” he told her. To say, “My child,” seemed correct, but felt strange coming off his tongue.
“Oh, I forgot.”
“You have to take them off.”
“Okay,” she said with a sniffle, and she pulled the shirt off over her head and tossed it aside.
“That’s right,” he said encouragingly, “you have to choose to be a girl again. There are no monsters except by choice, you know.”
It felt a bit awkward, but he abruptly strode forward and pulled her to him, not because he entirely felt it, but because he knew he should, and she was supposed to be his, and she was so forlorn.
“Oh, Daddy,” she cried and clung to him.
He picked her up then and carried her back to the sidewalk.
“We should go home now,” he said, “Flora will be worried.”
She merely nodded, for to speak would mean to burst into fresh tears. So they walked down the block and saw Flora sitting there on the front porch, still in her party dress. The guests were all gone. Amelia could not restrain herself and rushed forward, shouting out, “Mommy!”
“Oh, you naughty, little girl,” said Flora, “You’re not leaving this house again, without me holding your hand, until you’re thirty.” But she took her daughter in her arms and held her fiercely.
“I’ll never leave without permission again, Mommy,” said Amelia amidst her fresh tears. “I thought I was having fun, but then I was so scared,” she added, and after that she added, “I’m sorry I tore my dress.”
Frank followed up behind and stood there, watching her hold onto the child he’d
heard so much about and only met that night.
“I got her back, Flora” he said, “but there was a price to be paid.”
“What do you mean?” asked Flora, sharply.
“I had to give up my memories of her, every time I saw her or held her or heard her voice. It’s like we just met tonight, Amelia and I. But I got her back, Flora, and I still remember all you’ve ever told me about her. The goblin didn’t think of that.”
She didn’t know what to say to that, so she opened an arm to include him in their embrace. They stood thus on the porch a good, long time, just holding on. Finally, she said, “Well, I’ll tell you all about her again. Just ask a question, and I’ll tell you. We’ve got a few pictures, too. I can show you those.”
It suddenly occurred to Amelia that she had left Azalea somewhere in the park and couldn’t remember where, but the memory was fading, already. She was too relieved to be home to think about her doll anymore.
Taking her husband by the hand and holding her daughter close to her heart, Flora struggled to get the door open. Frank got it for her and held it open. They went inside to get reacquainted.
“Here, sit,” said Flora, gesturing at the couch. Frank sat, and she put Amelia in his uncertain arms. As she nestled up against his chest, he tentatively put his arms around her, finding it strange and new, though as he yielded, also not uncomfortable. Flora returned a moment later with a photo album. She sat beside them and opened it up, showing him a page of black and white photos. The first picture was of him and Flora together sitting on a hospital bed holding a swaddled infant between them.
“This was taken the day she was born, Frank,” said Flora, holding his hand.
He looked in wonder at the photo and at the child in his lap. Freeing an arm up, he put a hand on the picture, brushing it with his fingers. He didn’t know what to say, so he just swallowed hard, regained his grip on Amelia, and held both his girls.
He had to go when the next dirigible train came by two days later. He floated up in his patched balloon, and the train caught hold of it and reeled it in. He waved goodbye and blew kisses, though they could hardly see them, so far down they were. He watched until the town was out of sight.
Amelia did not leave the house after dark again, much less wander off to the park. She stayed home and was obedient to her mother. She kept the window open at night, for it was too hot in the summer to have it closed, but her mother moved her bed over to the opposite wall and put a radio in her room to listen to as she fell asleep if she didn’t fall asleep listening to her mother read stories to her. And often, when her father was home, they would stay up late telling him stories from her first, five years.
But for all that, there were still quiet moments in the night when she could hear the goblin children at play in the park.