In the quiet glow of her monitor, Rebecca Raccoon twisted and yelped as her avatar ran through a gauntlet of blow darts and collapsing floor stones. She hushed herself quickly and glanced around the dark living room, holding her breath. The silence echoed back to her. She hadn’t woken anyone. She was alone.
Playing at night was always the most satisfying. Kids and casuals were all long asleep and the truly dedicated gamers ruled the servers. Trading a couple Zs was well worth the pursuit of the perfect game.
Wiping the miscalculating sleep from her eyes, Rebecca manipulated her character through the delicate maneuver of trading a bag of sand for a golden idol. Expertly performed, but this triggered a massive stone ball to roll from the ceiling and chase her avatar. She glanced at the clock. 3am.
She died, again … She knew how to outrun it, how to finish the level, but she was suddenly distracted by a new light shining in her eyes.
She spared a glance to see that the tree across the clearing had a light on in its window. Someone else was awake? At this hour?
Curious, she scurried down the stairs of her tree-condo and out the front door so quickly that she crashed right into a dark figure hovering just outside her door. The papers he was carrying scattered to the ground.
“AHHH” the creature cried, baring sharp fangs, gleaming in the moonlight.
“AHHH!” Rebecca returned. They both fell over and took a beat to size each other up. The stranger was an adorable black bat, and Rebecca laughed in spite of herself. The bat rubbed his forehead and giggled.
“I didn’t think anyone else was…” they both stammered in unison, then laughed again.
“I’m Louis,” said the bat as one of his papers fluttered down to land on Rebecca’s lap. It was a poster for a late-night monster movie screening. She handed it to Louis who started to gather them back up. “No one ever comes,” he explained. “I think it’s a scheduling problem.”
“Not many of us up this late. Might just be the three of us on the whole island.” Rebecca said, solemnly.
“Three?” Louis asked. Rebecca pointed to the lit window across the clearing. “Huh.” Louis replied. “Thought I was the only one.”
Rebecca brushed herself off and gestured for Louis to follow her, which he did in a glide. They passed dozens of tiny sleeping turtles and darkened homes. The moon shone through the velvety air and they felt the chill and shiver of being up too late as the quiet starlight settled around them.
When they reached the lit tree, they saw the light was coming from a window in the penthouse suite with no access from the ground. Louis swooped up and perched upside-down on a branch, but couldn’t see inside.
“What if it’s a monster?” Louis shuddered. “I mean, what kind of creature is up at this time of night?” Rebecca rolled her eyes and began to scramble up the side of the tree trunk. Her gaming days plagued her though and she could only scramble so far up the tree before sliding back down. Nevertheless, she continued to try. Over and over. She failed to notice the tiny door she was kicking with each attempt until it swung open, revealing a small thorny creature brandishing a slender weapon, startling both Rebecca and Louis.
“Who’s out there?” it cried.
“Monster!” Louis yelped in reflex, and Rebecca doubled up laughing.
“I am not!” huffed the spiny animal. “I am a hedgehog. Kimberly Hedgehog. What on earth are you doing up at this hour?”
Rebecca noticed that the weapon was indeed a knitting needle, and while it was held defensively it was not dangerous, per se.
“We could ask YOU the same,” Rebecca sang and smiled as Louis swooped down to shake hands. Kimberly smiled shyly.
“Knitting,” she gestured with the needle. “I get all my best crafting done when it’s nice and quiet.”
“And who’s all the way up there?” Rebecca asked, pointing to lit window shining above. “I thought I was the only one awake this late.”
“Me too,” Louis admitted.
“Oh, that’s Soren,” Kimberly advised. “He’s a bit broody, but, you know, nice kid. There’s a staircase in back.”
The three of them found the staircase that was indeed on the back of the tree (Kimberly was suddenly quite embarrassed for her earlier ineffective and ultimately unnecessary display) and crept up to a door high in the canopy.
They knocked politely and the door flew open immediately, a tiny bird with black lacquered nails and beak stood before them.
“YOU’RE BACK!” cried the happy owlet in the doorway. His face fell. “Oh…you’re not who I thought.”
His eyes welled up and Rebecca forgot herself and hugged the owl on reflex.
“What are you doing here?” Soren sniffled. “Thought I was the only one awake this late.”
Everyone smiled and nodded. Rebecca giggled and Soren invited them all in.
Soren was indeed a bit ‘broody’. He loved somber poetry and he adored Louis’ dark fascination with monster movies. Rebecca told them all about her recent campaign and Kimberly nodded with each plot twist as she absentmindedly knit gaming wrist warmers. They all agreed that the isolation and quiet of the night couldn’t be beat…that no one else understood them, and they were happy keeping schedule apart from all others. But no one made movements towards leaving. They stayed. They talked. They laughed.
And the next night they all met at Soren’s again. And the next. And for countless more nights. Until one night the spell of the camaraderie of stolen time was broken by a loud knock at Soren’s door.
But that’s another story.