Al didn’t have time to explain. The monster was about to attack again. He pointed at its shadows and coils and focused again. The monster turned bright pink.
“It’s like making a painting,” Al said, more to himself than Tango.
He kept his finger pointed and drew a circle around the monster, and as soon as he finished it, a sphere encased the beast. He used both of his hands the squeeze the sphere as tight as he could around it.
“You change yourself when you need to,” Al told Tango. “It’s not much harder to change other things.”
At that moment, even as the monster still struggled to free itself, Al wished he could to be home painting. Despite what he’d promised himself before, he knew he’d never be able to give it up, but he still needed to find a way to support his family.
“Let me try!” Tango said, bringing him back to their current peril.
He hopped in front of Al and held up both of his hands so they looked like they were holding the monster’s bubble. Then he clapped them together.
There was a pop and a flash, and fireworks exploded all around them. For a second Al was afraid the monster was free again, but then he realized that each pop was one tentacle breaking free of its body. Al stood back to watch the show, but Tango ran into the middle of the explosions and then came back holding something small, black and squishy.
“This is the monster,” he said. “It was eating everyone so it could be the biggest.”
“What should we do with it?” Al asked him.
Tango smiled. He squished it between his hands until it fit in his palm. He closed his fist around it, and when he opened his hand again he was holding a small, pink piece of taffy, which he ate.
“Yum,” Tango said.
Al tried not to gag as he turned away. Aside from the remaining popping fireworks, the area they were standing in was still stark and shadowy. “Let’s fix this place up,” Al told Tango.
Tango nodded, and they made a sun and a rainbow, a forest full of fruit trees and flowers. The bats came soaring out of the cave behind them, and Tango turned each of them into a different animal, creating everything from bunnies to gorillas to alligators. Al was starting to get elaborate with his work, making a cottage that could be his and Cathy’s dream home with a big room for Nadine and a room for Tango if he wanted. He longed for his family, and slowly he felt himself become distanced from the festivities.
He wasn’t afraid, even as an invisible wall formed between him and the others. An outside force seemed to be communicating with him, but he never heard any words aside from his own thoughts. He realized that to stay in this world he had to relinquish a layer of himself—the layer made of his past and his memories of his family and himself. He’d have to give up his name, even his shape, and start anew.
Al understood why. This place was not part of his old world—those anchors would only limit him. Still, he told that entity a firm no, and he heard, or thought, his own reply: very well.
Al embraced his wife and daughter. For some reason, when he’d woken up that morning he’d realized that he’d been making a horrible mistake. He couldn’t work at the ad-agency, drawing pictures that would manipulate people into buying things they didn’t need. That job had never been right, and he’d known that the whole time. If anything, it would stress him into having another heart attack, and his family certainly didn’t need to go through that again.
He had a new idea—one he knew would work out, and he started on it immediately. That night he showed his sketches to his wife and daughter. Cathy genuinely loved them, and Nadine said that even though they didn’t make a statement they did tell a nice story.
“Where’d you come up with this?” Cathy asked him.
Al shrugged. “I guess I dreamed it,” he said, but he couldn’t remember the dream, either.
A few months later a publisher excitedly accepted Al’s first picture book for publication: The Adventures of Tapper: The Boy Who Could Do Anything, and it became an instant classic.