"Mommy, there's a monster in the basement."
"No there isn't, dear. That's just silly."
"It's not! My teacher says that half the houses in the county are built over the Reading Prong."
"The Reading what?"
"Prong. It's a geological formation of igneous and metamorphic rocks, composed primarily of granites and gneisses, underlying parts of Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey."
"Well! Sending you to a private school certainly seems to have paid off."
"All right, sweetie. I'm listening. So there are lots of nice rocks under our house. That doesn't mean there's a monster in the basement."
"Yes it does. Naturally occurring uranium in the rocks decays into radon gas, which seeps through tiny cracks in the rocks and soil and into the basement, where it gets trapped. It's radioactive. You breathe it and breathe it and breathe it … and then, years later, you come down with lung cancer!"
"My little alarmist."
"It's true, Mommy, it's true! My teacher said so."
"All right, honey-pie, I'll tell you what. First thing tomorrow, I'll buy the test kit, and if there's a problem, we'll have it fixed. Now go to sleep."
"I can't, Mommy."
"There's a monster in the attic, too. It has gnarly, tangly hair, and long, twisty nails, and scary eyes, and it's chained to the wall, and it smells funny. And … and … and … it eats rats!"
"Oh, you funny little bunny. That's just your Aunt Heloise."
© 2003 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.