By Jacqueline Seewald
Her first day at the day care center, Annie was afraid.
"I want my mommy," she said.
Miss Claire, the teacher in charge, handed Annie a Teddy bear. "You can hold him."
The bear looked at if it would growl and bite her. Annie began to sob.
"Look at that cry baby!" one of the bigger girls said.
"Jill," Miss Claire said to the mean girl, "show Annie some of the other toys we have."
Jill shoved her toward a chest of toys. Annie had picked up a baby elephant with big floppy ears when Jill snatched it away.
"You can't play with anything unless I say so."
Annie tried to move far away from Jill, but it seemed as if Jill’s main delight was in taunting her.
That evening, Mommy asked, "How was your first day at the center?"
"I don't like it there. I want to be home with you."
Mommy placed Annie on her lap and stroked her back. “I wish I could stay home with you, but I have to go to work.”
Since Daddy had gone away, Mommy was always sad.
That night, the monsters came. They hid in her closet. They hid under the bed. Annie called for her mother. And Mommy came and held her.
"Why are you afraid?"
"There are monsters in my room," Annie said.
"There are no such things as monsters."
But Annie knew the monsters wanted to hurt her.
The next day, Miss Claire told Annie to take a toy from the chest to play with. There were so many toys in the chest!
Annie stared at a doll wearing a black mask, white gown, red slippers, and a golden cape.
"Are you a monster fighter?" Annie asked. “Can you help me?”
“I can help you.”
Annie held the masked doll tightly in her arms.
Miss Claire smiled at Annie. "That doll is one of a kind. She's got a computer chip in her head. They call her Minerva for the Greek goddess of wisdom because she has a brain and can think. Still no one wants her; she isn’t very pretty. Her face is scarred. That’s why Minerva wears a mask."
“She’s just what I want,” Annie said.
When Annie put Minerva on the chair next to her so she could finger-paint, Jill snatched Minerva away.
"Put her back!" Annie said.
“What an ugly doll,” Jill said and she pulled Minerva's hair.
“You’re the ugly one,” Minerva said. “Don’t be afraid of her, Annie. Your fear makes her strong.”
Annie listened to Minerva. "You're a nasty bully," Annie said to Jill.
Jill dropped Minerva and tried to yank Annie'shair.
"Help!"Minerva called out. "That bad girl wants to hurt us!"
Miss Claire hurried over. "What's going on?"
Annie told Miss Claire what Jill had done.
"You need a time out," Miss Claire said to Jill. Miss Claire made Jill sit byherself.
It seemed to Annie that Minerva’s eyes twinkled behind her mask. That night, Annie looked to see if the monsters were still in her room. She looked in the closet. She looked under the bed. The monsters were gone!
The next day, Annie went to day care with a lighter heart. Maybe things would be all right after all, since Minerva was there to help her.
But Jill soon came over and gave Annie a hard shove when no grown-ups were around to see her. “You and your ugly masked doll are going to be sorry for yesterday. Just you wait!”
Later, Jill tripped Annie as she ran toward the swings in the backyard play area. Annie fell hard on the ground and other children laughed. Annie tried hard not to cry, knowing it would just encourage Jill.
“Annie, it’s going to be all right,” Minerva said in a soothing voice. “Climb up to the top of slide platform and stand there. We’re going to solve your problem with Jill.”
Annie did as Minerva suggested. She climbed to the top of the slide. Then Minerva told her to wave at Jill and smile.
Jill followed her up. “I can really hurt you here,” Jill said with a big smirk.
“Just try it,” Minerva said.
The next thing Annie knew, Jill was charging at her, trying to push Annie over the side of the platform. For a fraction of a second, Annie was like a deer frozen in car headlights. Then something was nudging her.
“Move this way!” Minerva commanded.
Jill’s own momentum took her over the side of the slide. Annie heard a sickening thud. Jill’s head hit the metal side of the slide as she fell down.
Minerva’s eyes looked very dark, their expression hidden by her mask. “Jill won’t be bothering you anymore,” she said.