“Henry!” Ethan screamed. “Get me down!”
The maiam perched itself on one of the metal rafters, clutching him with only the claws of foot so that he dangled helplessly forty feet above the floor. Confident that I couldn’t reach it up there, it raised him up to eye level and licked its lips.
“Hold on, Ethan!” I yelled. I needed a way to get up there, but how?
The playground! It was old and looked like it would collapse if a mouse coughed on it, but it was tall enough that it almost reached the ceiling. I ran for it, my shoes exploding with blue light again. I could feel the magic sapping my laughter, but I jumped anyway.
The magic blasted out of my feet, and I rocketed upwards. Twisting in midair, my feet hit the dusty plastic tube ten feet below the ceiling. Before I could charge up again, though, the tube lurched — and the entire thing began to collapse.
“Corn flakes!” I yelled, and thrust off from the tube as hard as I could. I shot upwards, fingers stretching out to grab the rafter above, with nothing below but a forty-foot drop. Once up there, I could monkey bar my way across until—
Gravity began to pull me down mere inches below the rafter. Thinking fast, I whipped Splatsy out, extended her to full size, and swung her up over my head. With only a fraction of a second to spare, she hooked over the top of the rafter, halting my fall. The maiam froze in surprise a few rafters away, dangerously close to french kissing Ethan.
“That’s right, mothercrumpet!” I yelled. “This party’s not over yet!”
It hissed angrily and set Ethan down on the rafter beside it. He couldn’t balance like it did, though, and immediately rolled over the side.
“Henry, help!” he screamed, holding on with one hand.
“Yeah, getting there,” I said, hoisting myself up to grab the rafter with my left hand, freeing my right to fight with. “Just don’t let go for a couple minutes, okay?”
“ARE YOU SERIOUS?”
The maiam hissed at me in challenge, and I began to realize what I’d gotten myself into. I’d fought hundreds of maiams, but never while hanging from the ceiling. The maiam clambered around effortlessly with its freakishly long limbs. I was in its territory, its element.
This was going to be interesting.
It came for me, and I threw myself out of the way. The maiam’s claws slashed through the air where I had just been, and then sprang nimbly out of my reach when I swung back with Splatsy. I growled in frustration, and chased after it as fast as I could, one hand over the other like I was on the monkey bars at school.
“Henry, I’m slipping!” Ethan yelled.
“If you fall, try to land on your butt,” I called to him, not taking my eyes off the maiam.
The maiam hissed as I drew closer, swinging Splatsy and missing again. The stupid thing dodged me so easily it was embarrassing. It had the advantage up here, and it knew that. The only thing hurrying it was Ethan. Since it couldn’t drain laughter from a corpse, it needed him alive just as much as I did, which meant it had to finish me off before he fell.
It lunged for me, teeth snapping, and I barely managed to get out of the way. It didn’t let up, though, coming for me again and again. I looked nervously at Ethan. I wouldn’t be able to reach him from here if he fell. The maiam made its way toward me with murder in its eyes. I couldn’t fight it like this. If I wanted to win, I needed to regain the advantage.
Not knowing what else to do, I swung Splatsy — not at the maiam, but at the rafter itself. The metal was old, and the entire thing shook from the impact. The vibrations surprised the maiam, making it stumble, but it still didn’t fall.
So I grabbed its arm.
It shrieked when my fingers wrapped around its wrist, and I let go of the rafter with my other hand. It tried to shake me off, but I wasn’t going down unless I took it with me. Hissing, it raised its other hand to swat me away, and that was all I needed. I yanked on its arm as I hard as I could, and its feet were jerked free of the rafter. My stomach shot up into my throat — because suddenly we were both falling.
Hitting the ground was one of the most painful experiences in my life. It was like every inch of my body was being punched by a fist going a hundred miles an hour…that was made of concrete…with a thin layer of moldy carpet covering it. Splatsy bounced and went spinning through the air, landing too far away for me to reach. My magic surged through me, doing its best to fix the damage, but it still hurt enough to make me almost black out. Raising my hand, I saw my bright white skin fading to a duller gray. My hair and paintmarks must have been turning black too. I was low on laughter. Dangerously low.
Gritting my teeth, I ignored the sudden wave of exhaustion as best I could and struggled to my feet. I needed my inhaler. You can’t imagine what being drained of laughter feels like if you haven’t experienced it. It’s not like physical hunger. It’s more like…like a piece of your soul, yourself, is missing. I couldn’t stop my hand from shaking, but I managed to pull the inhaler from my pocket — just in time to be tackled from behind.
“No!” I yelled, watching my inhaler bounce across the floor.
I rolled onto my back, and the maiam threw itself at me. I thrust both my legs up, kicking it into the air so that it crashed to the floor ten feet away. Scrambling to my feet again, I scanned the room. Splatsy lay on the floor just a few feet away, but I couldn’t see my inhaler.
“Henry!” Ethan’s screamed. “I’m slipping!”
There! I spotted it lying on the floor halfway across the building. I took a step toward it, but then a cold hand grabbed me by the ankle. I fell, hitting the ground hard. My head spun, but I focused through it and kicked savagely out behind me. I felt the maiam’s nose crunch under my heel, and it let me go, retreating with an angry hiss.
The monster glared at me with eyes filled with hate as I groped for Splatsy. Could I fight it like this? Hurting, dizzy, lightheaded? I needed laughter! The maiam crouched down as if to pounce…and then made a mad dash for my inhaler.
“Eggplant fondue!” I yelled. Snatching Splatsy, I got to my feet and raced after it.
The maiam moved on all fours faster than I could have run even in top condition. I was so tired that my legs felt like I was wearing cement blocks for shoes. It grabbed the inhaler off the floor, turning it over in its hands. It could smell the laughter inside, but didn’t know how to get it out. Finally, it gave up and just put the entire thing in its mouth.
“Hey!” I yelled. It turned to look at me. “That’s mine!”
Pulling Splatsy behind my head like a baseball bat, I hurled her across the building as hard as I could. She became a humming brown blur and struck the maiam square in the gut, knocking it to the ground. My inhaler came flying out of its mouth.
The maiam screeched in anger and sprang back to its feet. Together, we raced each other for the inhaler. I was close enough to get there first this time, even exhausted as I was. I stretched out my hand…
And ran right past it.
The maiam grabbed the inhaler with a triumphant howl. It turned around to see what I was doing — just as I slammed Splatsy into its face. It collapsed, and when it tried to get back up I put a foot on its back.
“My name is Henrietta Rider,” I said down to it. “You tried to eat my inhaler. Prepare to die.”
I raised Splatsy.
“May you find joy in the next life, Harriet.”
I brought the hammer down, crushing its head. Thick black goop splattered across the floor, and its body jerked and shook as it deflated. I was barely paying attention, though. My inhaler was sitting on the floor right in front of me, covered in disgusting maiam slobber, but undamaged. Falling to my knees, I put it to my mouth and pressed down on it over and over again until it was empty. Laughter flowed into me. I could feel my colors coming back. It wasn’t much, but it would keep me alive until I got home.
“Oh, thank the whoopie cushion in the sky,” I murmured.
“Henry!” Ethan yelled. “I- I can’t hold on…much…”
I looked up just as Ethan’s fingers slipped from the rafter and came plummeting down. Chocolate gravy, I’d forgotten all about him! Getting to my feet with newfound energy, I charged my shoes with power again and jumped! I flew through the air, blue hair whipping behind me, and we collided fifteen feet above the ground. I wrapped my arms around him, twisting so that he landed on top of me when we hit the cold, hard floor.
For a few seconds I just lay there with him on top of me.
“Am I alive?” he finally asked.
“I hope so,” I said. “Because if you’re dead, that means I am too, and Heaven looks…disappointing.”
With a groan, he climbed off of me and stood up. “It’s dead, then?”
“As dead as dead can be.” I held out my hand. “Help me up, will you?”
The magic I’d used to save him was taking its toll, leaving me exhausted again. When I got home, I was going to empty my stash of inhalers and then take the mother of all naps. With Ethan’s help, I was able to stand up on wobbly legs.
Then he stomped on my foot.
“Ow!” I screamed, grabbing my foot and falling back down in the process. “What was that for?”
“For using me as bait, you psycho!” he yelled.
I frowned. “Fair enough, I guess.”
After a minute of nursing my poor foot, I stood back up.
“Come on. Let’s go home."