For 2022, I’ve been wanting to write more ‘creature features’ and generally improve my short story writing. My partner got me a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual for my birthday so I came up with the idea of writing a story every week based on a different creature from that – All There in the (Monster) Manual. Hope you enjoy!
This Week’s Inspiration: Magmin
Playtime has never been so lethal, as Kevin and his friends discover the floor has transformed into bubbling, searingly hot, molten lava. Not everyone will survive as they make the treacherous journey from playroom to kitchen, across the dining room and to freedom through flames and choking clouds of smoke, pursued by evil lava monsters.
Trigger Warning: Children Dying Horribly
“The floor is lava,” Kevin said.
Four children clustered on an old couch at the far end of the playroom. Beneath the couch, the floor was a seething mass of molten rock. Black veins threaded through neon orange lava. Bubbles bustled to the surface and popped, releasing sulphurous gases.
Kevin was the oldest, at seven. Genievere and Malcolm were both six and Thor, Gen’s little brother, was four. Kevin’s neighbours often came over to play but now playtime was a matter of life and death. Blistering heat rose off the lava. Their mouths became parched just breathing the air and the lava almost hurt to look at, some fissures glowed so incredibly bright.
“We’ve got to jump from here to the rug to escape,” Kevin said.
“The rug is on the floor,” Gen said.
“Yeah, but it’s not part of the floor so it’s okay.”
A rainbow rug drifted atop the molten rock not far from the couch. It rippled with eddies on the surface but it looked secure enough. Between them and the rug, however, was a stretch of lava so hot it would roast the flesh from their bones in an instant and lead to an agonising death.
“It’s too far!” Malcolm said, already almost in tears as the hellish light reflected back on his face.
“I’ll go first to prove it’s safe,” Kevin said.
Leaning out over the stewing rock, Kevin steadied himself and leapt. He landed on the rug easily but felt it bob and sway on top of the lava’s semi-liquid surface. Heat radiated through the weave and into the soles of his bare feet like he was walking on hot coals. Flames began to singe the edges of the rug.
“Hurry, we don’t have a lot of time,” Kevin said.
Malcolm snivelled, and Thor just looked confused. Gen steadied herself and pounced across the gap. Throwing out her arms, she balanced as she landed on the wobbling rug. Thor followed, backing up and flinging himself over the lava as if mindless of the danger. Only Malcolm hesitated.
“Hurry up!” Gen said.
“I’m scared!” Malcolm replied.
“You’ve got to, or you’ll burn up and die,” Kevin said.
Bubbles and splatters of lava erupted in the gap between them and Malcolm. The rug’s edges burned, quickly causing it to shrink. If Malcolm hesitated too long, the rug might sink into the lava and leave him trapped. Finally, Malcolm steadied himself and in an ungainly bundle of limbs he heaved himself across. Kevin and Gen caught him so he didn’t stumble.
“Where now?” Gen said.
“This way,” Kevin said.
Only one large step away was a low, wooden table and chairs where Kevin usually did drawing and craft. Flames licked his feet as he made the jump. Fire climbed the table’s legs. Kevin knocked a plastic cup full of pencils and some sheets of paper off the tabletop. The paper immolated from the heat, disintegrating in a series of bright flashes and leaving nothing behind but black ash. The cup melted instantly and the pencils burned up as they hit the lava.
“Hurry!” Kevin said.
Gen picked up her little brother and passed him across the gap before making the jump herself. Lava bubbled threateningly. Malcolm hopped across as well. The chair wobbled beneath him, sinking. He joined them on the table, which became quite crowded with all four of them. Behind them, the rug burned and sank into the lava, disappearing.
“Where do we go from here? We can’t make it to the doorway,” Gen said.
“Up there.” Kevin pointed to a serving window that lay open between the playroom and kitchen.
“That’s high,” Thor said.
“We have to climb that, it’s dangerous,” Kevin said, pointing again to a play kitchen that sat under the window.
“You can’t!” Malcolm said.
“Watch me, follow me one at a time.”
Kevin jumped the gap and landed on top of the play kitchen with a crash. Plastic cups and plates rattled inside the kitchen cupboard. Bits of the kitchen melted in the heat.
A set of shelves attached to the back of the play kitchen. Kevin started to climb. Sweat plastered his shirt to his body. More sweat steamed on his arms and face. The others watched as flames climbed their table’s legs. Kevin’s efforts knocked toy food and a fake plastic toaster off the shelves. Lava consumed the toys in seconds as they hit the floor.
For several terrifying moments, Kevin’s weight pulled the shelving away from the wall. He tilted above the hellish glow of the molten rock. Lava over seven hundred degrees celsius broiled below. The others gasped. Kevin threw his body weight back against the shelves and set it straight. Heart pounding, Kevin climbed the rest of the way and reached the serving window. More toys dropped into the lava and disintegrated.
It was obvious they couldn’t stay where they were. The table was burning. The rug was gone and now the couch was on fire as well, filling the room with smoke. Breathing in the intense heat was hard enough already. Their eyeballs felt baked into their skulls. Kevin, up higher, started to cough. The others, including Malcolm, hurried to follow Kevin across the gap and into the kitchen.
To one side of the serving window, one of Kevin’s mother’s plants wilted in the heat. Kevin turned and his foot slipped into the sink. From where they were sitting, the four had a temporary reprieve. Below, trash cans sank and melted into the molten rock. The refrigerator started sinking as well, very slowly. Photographs and some of Kevin’s drawings, magnetised to the lower half of the fridge, burned, ignited by the searing heat. Magnets dripped down the refrigerator’s surface. The sink and the kitchen island, however, were secure.
Smoke wafted from the couch behind them. From the open bedrooms, more smoke poured into the room. Kevin’s bed, his clothing, and the curtains in his rooms were all on fire.
“We can’t stay here,” Kevin said.
“Why not? It’s safe,” Malcolm said.
“If we stay here we’ll suffocate in the smoke,” Kevin said.
Along from the sink, clipped to the wall, was a squeegee mop that sat above the lava unharmed. Kevin waddled along the edge of the sink and took it. They had a long way to go to cross the kitchen and dining room, which was all one space. The kitchen island, and then the dining room tables and chairs, his mom’s desk, and then they’d have to make it to the front hallway. The squeegee mop could come in useful. Kevin used the squeegee end to push down against the lava. Immediately the head began to warp and burn. Kevin vaulted from the sink to the kitchen island. A bowl of fruit was knocked flying, cooking instantly as it hit the lava and then disappearing from view.
Kevin passed the squeegee mop back. Gen and Thor used it to vault across. Malcolm, however, lagged behind and rejected the mop. Below, the last of the trashcans disappeared in a bubbling pool that released a stink of burning metal and garbage. The refrigerator continued to sink as well.
“I can’t make it!” Malcolm said.
“You got to!” Kevin covered his mouth as smoke got thick in the air.
Malcolm went to jump but hesitated, stumbled, and fell forward. His arms stretched out as he fell. Hands just caught the edge of the kitchen island and held him there. Malcolm’s body formed a bridge, hands gripping the bench and feet still against the sink. The six-year-old looked straight down into the bubbling lava. The glow painted his face orange.
“Help me! Help!” Malcolm said.
Kevin scrambled around the others to help Malcolm. He grabbed Malcolm by the wrists but couldn’t pull him up. The position he’d landed in was too awkward.
Malcolm’s feet slipped and he fell, feet and lower legs landing in the lava up to his shins. His pants instantly ignited. Malcolm screamed in pain and fear. They smelled roasting meat.
Kevin and Gen both tried to pull Malcolm out of the lava. His legs came free. Below the knees, the flesh ran like candle wax and peeled away. All that was left of his shin bones were blackened snarls, burnt and twisted into new shapes by the heat. His feet were gone. Kevin and Gen tried to pull Malcolm up but he kicked and thrashed too hard. His arms slipped free and he dropped back into the lava with a scream. As soon as he hit the molten rock, Malcolm’s clothes and hair and skin combusted. Flesh roasted, and everything that touched the lava turned black before sinking below. Eyeballs boiled and popped before Malcolm’s charred skull burst and its scattered pieces dissolved.
“He’s dead,” Gen said seriously.
“We have to keep moving,” Kevin said.
The remaining trio moved to the other end of the bench. Malcolm’s horrifying death was a stark reminder of what was in store for them if they made a single misstep. They didn’t have a choice though, smoke continued to fill the room. Fortunately, Kevin had earlier laid out some of the dining room chairs like a little chain of islands. The legs of the chairs, however, started to warp and bend in the heat.
“I’ll go first again,” Kevin said.
Kevin leapt from the bench to the first of the chairs. Legs bowed beneath him. He jumped from there to the next chair, and the next, and then onto the dining table itself. Gen and Thor followed. The top of the dining table was glass. Heat rising from the lava was turning it black, and it started to crack under Kevin’s weight. Carefully, like moving on rotten ice, Kevin made his way to the other side. His mouth was parched, eyes dry and stinging, and his skin burnished by fire. Dehydration began to make his head swim. Both Gen and Thor weren’t looking too well either.
“We jump from here to my mom’s desk,” Kevin said. “Then, I think we can use her chair like a raft to get to the front hallway.”
Kevin carried the squeegee mop like a staff. The mophead was a melted square of burnt plastic. Holding it, he jumped from the table, to another chair, to his mother’s desk. The end of the mop whacked against the screen of his mom’s computer and knocked it off the desk. It hit the lava with a crack, splitting open in the heat. Electronics and the casing fried and burned into nothingness.
Kevin climbed onto his mom’s desk chair. Somehow its wheeled base, splayed at the bottom, kept the chair upright in the lava. Kevin pushed away from the desk. He used the shaft of the squeegee mop to steer. The chair’s wheels sank and moved sluggishly through the lava.
“I can only take one of you at a time,” Kevin said. “And it might be dangerous I think.”
“I’ll go first, and then you can take Thor,” Gen said. “If it’s safe.”
“I’m scared,” Thor said.
“It’s okay, Kevin will be right back. Just stay here and stay away from the lava,” Gen said.
Kevin pulled up beside the dining table and Gen climbed aboard his desk chair raft. It wobbled under the two of them. Kevin delved into the lava with the squeegee mop to propel them toward the front hallway.
Smoke and sulphurous gases filled the air around them. Kevin awkwardly negotiated the chair into the hallway. With each move, the chair’s base wobbled and seemed to shrink a little further into the lava. Each time Kevin used the mop to steer its end became crispier, as well as shorter and shorter. A current pulled them toward the front door, molten rock moving sluggishly the length of the hall. Kevin let them drift and then pulled to a stop in front of a bookshelf near the door. Gen climbed onto the shelves. A few books and knick knacks were knocked off and turned to flame as they hit the lava. Uneasily, Gen clung to the shelving.
“I’m alright, go and get Thor,” Gen said.
Fighting the lava’s slow current, Kevin struggled back up the hall. His chair sank lower with every passing minute. Heat became more and more unbearable. He passed back into the smoky dining room, catching sight of Gen’s four-year-old brother.
Thor watched Kevin approach with wide, serious eyes. Sitting on one of the dining room chairs, its legs warping beneath him, he drew his knees up to his chest. As Kevin returned, something bubbled in the lava behind Thor. A humanoid shape made from blackened rock and riddled with glowing veins as hot and bright as the lava itself.
“Look out, behind you!” Kevin said.
The lava monster was a little shorter and fatter than Kevin himself. Something like Malcolm’s size and shape. It slid across the lava’s surface like it was walking on water. Thor didn’t realise the danger. Before Kevin could reach him or say any more, the lava monster grabbed Thor from behind. Its grip was so hot, Thor’s clothes burst into flame and his skin turned black where it touched him. Thor seemed too surprised to feel pain. With a fiery glow behind the lava monster’s eye holes and mouth, it gave a jack-o’-lantern grin as it looked past Thor to Kevin.
The lava monster hauled Thor backward, squealing. Wrapping Thor in its burning arms, it pulled him under the lava. Molten rock swallowed the two of them instantly. Flame and steam hissed from the rippling disturbance.
“Noooo!” Kevin said.
Seeing no other choice, Kevin paddled back to the front hallway. His mop handle had melted so much it was almost useless. Lava currents pulled him back toward Gen on the bookshelf anyway.
“Where’s Thor?” Gen asked.
Kevin shook his head sadly. “Lava monster got him.”
Gen’s jaw tightened. A single tear glistened in her eye and rolled down her cheek before turning to steam but she stayed strong. She’d been struggling to hold onto the shelf. As soon as the desk chair was close enough, she stepped back onto the seat.
Kevin pushed them toward the front door and then tossed the remains of his mop handle away. The raft sank further into the floor as the base melted, getting hotter and hotter. Grappling with the door handle, Kevin managed to tug the door open against the flow of the lava. Their chair was pulled through the gap and picked up speed as they made it out into the smoky sunlight.
Lava moved in a syrupy mass across Kevin’s porch, and made for a slow, impossibly hot waterfall as it tumbled endlessly over and over down the porch’s steps. Kevin and Gen were drawn toward the lavafall. They no longer had any way to steer, no matter how they threw their weight against the back of the chair.
“We’re going to have to jump!” Kevin said. “To the railing!”
The two of them poised, forced to wait until the last second before lunging toward the railing. Their makeshift raft fell over behind them, tumbling down the porch steps. Lava lapped and buried the chair, causing it to break apart and disintegrate in a cloud of noxious smoke. Kevin and Gen clung to the railing. Their feet nested on the bottom bar of the railing, with lava pouring only inches from their heels and burning the soles of their feet.
“Oh, no! Lava monsters!” Gen said.
Two lava monsters emerged from the open doorway of Kevin’s house. One was the same creature Kevin had seen grab Thor, the other was smaller, the size of a four-year-old. Leering with jack-o’-lantern grins, they advanced on Kevin and Gen. Reaching down, they scooped blazing balls of lava off the ground and started to chuck them at the humans.
Kevin and Gen were defenceless. All they could do was continue climbing around the outside of the railing. Lava poured over the lip of the porch beneath them, into the yard. One of the lava monster’s lava balls hit the railing near Kevin’s hand. It burned through the railing, eating away at it like some kind of acid. Another hit the lava near his feet. Droplets of molten rock sprayed up and hit Kevin’s bare leg.
“Ah! It burns!” Kevin said.
The damage looked minor, the lava left a couple of blackened holes on Kevin’s skin no bigger than pennies. It was so hot though, it seared right through flesh and muscle, down to the level of bone, before cooling. Kevin grimaced, fighting through the pain with his teeth clenched.
“Got to keep moving!” Kevin said.
Kevin and Gen continued around the railing until they were within leaping distance of Kevin’s dad’s SUV, parked in the driveway. The lava monsters hung back, tossing the occasional ball of magma as if to taunt them. Gen jumped first this time, sailing into the side of the SUV and landing with her feet on the nearest tyre. She scrambled onto the hood of the car.
Kevin continued along the railing, and struggled to turn. His leg pained him. Following Gen, Kevin leapt and grabbed for the side of the SUV’s hood as well. His feet caught the top of the front tyre but his bad leg gave out on him. For a terrifying moment, he fell backward. Scorching, syrupy, blazing lava flowed down the side of the SUV below, ready to burn and consume him.
At the last second, Gen lunged and caught one of Kevin’s outstretched hands. The two of them froze like that, Kevin leaning out over the deadly lava and Gen struggling to hold on. Carefully, the two of them worked together to get Kevin back. He climbed up the wheel well and joined Gen on the hood.
“Thanks,” Kevin said.
Climbing the windshield, they left dirty footprints on the glass and reached the SUV’s roof. Up there, the lava monsters couldn’t reach them. Breathing hard, they took in the smoky air. Their perch on top of the SUV gave them their first chance to really look at their surroundings.
The yard, the street, every piece of ground as far as they could see was covered in lava. Fires burned in many of the surrounding houses. So much smoke and gas filled the air that the sun was nothing but a hot, red dot in the sky. Balls of molten rock occasionally sailed out of nowhere, trailing smoke, causing carnage wherever they landed. Bloated, greasy fireballs billowed like mushroom clouds as car gas tanks erupted from the heat. And everywhere they looked, lava monsters capered through the blazes. Grinning, burning everything they touched, some as big as grownups. The whole world. The world was lava.
“This game is going to be harder than I thought,” Kevin said.
Sean: It’s a bit of a universal game I think, the old ‘Floor is Lava’, so here it is taken to a logical conclusion. My nieces were actually playing this with me just last weekend except they were terrible at it, they kept throwing a ball into the lava and then having to run, screaming, to pick it up and then running back to me. Wouldn’t last two minutes.
To me this is a bit of a Calvin and Hobbes situation – which reality is really real? Obviously the lava world is pretty horribly realised but I think you can get what’s going on with stuff like the lava monsters in a reality where what we see is all just being imagined. To me, it was a lot of fun to think about just what kind of chaos is being left behind in the reality where this is all just a game as well.
Keep your eyes on my website for more in this series, and for more updates you can find me on Facebook and Twitter.
Next Week’s Inspiration: Orc