OF MONSTERS is a series of flash fiction exploring what it means to be monstrous, and each piece, small and silver-wrapped, opens to reveal something different. In Dana Diehl’s “Child Star”, monstrousness is fame, and the feeling that your body is undependable, might any moment split like a seam. In “Jane Eyre,” Zach Doss explores the monstrousness of cutting someone to bits and reconstruction, of a love turned scientific and procedural. Monstrousness is having a fish in your heart, is a series a B movies where we’re just waiting to be attacked, is the pebbling in of a migraine, is being a different sort of person in your attic, is darkness, is senility, is the struggle to swallow. A topcoat of witchcraft. The hint of a tentacle in a pool. Monstrousness is being the person who wasn’t good enough to love. Is the dragon you can’t control. Is knowing how powerless you are.
The series is inspired by Melissa Goodrich’s debut collection Daughters of Monsters, a raw and magical book of spells, an honest yet harrowing look at the wonder and threat of the world.
The dance studio at dawn smells like spearmint and poison. Maddie’s toes crack as they crawl against the waxed Marley. She folds herself small and then stretches herself big, wills her ribs to separate. When you feel yourself getting spicy, her dance teacher says, don’t back down. Lean deeper. Maddie likes this, the replacement of the word pain with spice. Likes imagining her muscles as containers full of black pepper ready to crack.
Dance studio, jet plane, cities hazy and bright.
Neutrogena make-up wipes, MAC emerald eye shadow, blonde bob wig.
Stella McCartney Kids Overalls.
Tendu. Chassé. Plié.
Chassé. Chassé. Chassé.
Sequined leotard. First-class plane ride from Pittsburgh to L.A.
Maddie sits alone in her row, the Midwest organized into crop circles beneath her. I recognize you, says the gray-suit man across the aisle. Are you an actress or something? Maddie wears Keds and zebra-print leggings that a clothing company mailed her for free. She wishes she had internet on the plane. If she had internet, she would smile charmingly then Tweet, Haha this guy won’t stop talking to me. 1.3K would favorite it. She would Tweet, Hope Everyone’s Having a Great Day <3, and 1.6K people would Retweet. But instead, there’s just her and this man who is looking at her like she’s something he’s forgotten. She reaches for her ear buds, turns away. The man pretends not to look at her, while she pretends to like it.
In LA, the interviewer says, Look at your skin. The interviewer says, How does your body move like that? The interviewer says, What do you want to be when you grow up?
And she says, I want to be what I am now.
She’s scheduled to dance in a music video with a famous movie star. They will dance together in a giant cage that the director has told her was originally made for chimpanzees. The video will be done in one continuous shot and she has three days to learn the dance. She tells them she could do it in two, and knows she’s won them over when they smile at each other in a way that implies they think she doesn’t see.
She reapplies her Bonne Bell Lip Smacker. She is flat-chested and suntanned and has crooked teeth and blue eyes that make the world want to give her everything.
The movie star isn’t as good a dancer as she is, and that makes her like him. Between rehearsals, he carries her on his shoulders and buys her Cherry Dr. Peppers from the vending machine. He doesn’t ask her what she wants to be when she grows up. He makes faces at her when the choreographer isn’t looking, tries to make her laugh.
Then one afternoon after rehearsal he follows her to her dressing room. He sits on the tiled floor and cries while she draws butterflies on the mirror with eyeliner. He says that he used to be like her. A dancer? she asks. An adult has never cried to her. She wants to feel lucky and good that he, an adult, has chosen her, a child, to confide in, but she is disturbed by the way his face is taking new shapes, by the way tears pool in his beard. No, he says. No. No. No. No. His no’s create a rhythm she could dance to.
LA is hazy and bright, but she moves through it behind tinted windows. Her driver takes her through Venice Beach, and between buildings she catches a glimpse of the ocean. She’s never seen the Pacific before, never had time, and she’s surprised to discover that it’s gray instead of blue. Maddie watches a flock of black birds alight on the water, and thinks of flies swarming to rotten fruit.
On set, an assistant dabs Cover Girl smoother on her chin, on her cheekbones. Asks, Do you need to pee?
Neutrogena make-up wipes. Twice as Nice Mascara. Tan leotard.
The cameras buzz. Maddie warms up with a tendu, with a plié. She feels her body grow large. In motion, she no longer feels like a girl. She wouldn’t be surprised if her skin split fur, her features turning beast-like. Dance to the camera, the director says, and for the first time Maddie knows that he means Dance for.
Dana Diehl earned her MFA in Fiction from Arizona State University. Her debut short story collection is forthcoming from Jellyfish Highway Press in 2016. She lives and writes in Tucson, Arizona.