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.
At night, there are strange animal sounds in the woods near your house. I am not a beast prowling in the dark and you are not the moon. When your father gathers a hunting party to track the creature and put it down, one of the men lets slip that they are hunting a man-beast. I am a college student backpacking my way across the country and you dream of leaving this little town to become an actress in California. Sometimes I have bad dreams where I am running naked after gazelles. Once, I awoke in your barn with no clothes and you lent me a blanket from your truck to cover myself. I am not a fiend stealing goats from their pens and leaving the bones spread across the pasture. But you are a flock of birds before sunrise. You are a candle in the window at night. You refuse to believe in wolves that walk like men, but when your father doesn’t return home come morning, you grab your rifle and go out looking for him. We find them in a blood-soaked meadow, bodies in a violent jumble in the grass. You are not a silver bullet, not a lightning storm and a clenched fist. You don’t have to ask if I am a monster. You know who I am.
When Dr. Murder finds us on the roof of that abandoned fraternity house, face hidden behind that surgeon’s mask, apron spattered with blood, we will be new people. It’s a wet Halloween night and we have escaped across campus: through the old library, around the Hall of Science, across Public Square—all after Dr. Murder chases us out of the student union. Moments before, we cling to one another behind the information desk, terrified and listening for the click-clack of Dr. Murder’s shoes. Before that, we flee a costume party full of corpses unzipped at the throat, foreheads marked with a bloody word: cured. Before that, we find three bodies in the arboretum and you, a sociology research assistant, tell me Dr. Murder is real. Before that, you explain to me, a rookie campus security officer, how urban legends start—someone hears a scary story second-hand and it spreads like a virus. This after that sophomore freaks everyone out by wearing his Dr. Murder costume to class and I talk with that girl who spoke Dr. Murder’s name on a dare, seven times in the anatomy lab at midnight. Dr. Murder laughs and brandishes a bouquet of scalpels in each hand. Together we tackle him—he jams a fistful of blades into my belly but you manage to push him off the roof. We lay together in the rain for a moment, clutching at one another’s bodies to make sure we are both still alive, and by the time we look down at the ground, Dr. Murder’s body is gone. Before all of this, we are innocent.
We don’t know each other that night your car dies outside that lonesome diner about 100 miles outside of Yuma. It’s 1962 and I am a private eye from Phoenix who has recently lost his license. You won’t need to tell me you are fleeing your abusive ex-husband—you can’t hide that black eye or that scar on your ring finger. I will drive you to a line of dog-eared motel cabins just off the highway. You won’t need to tell me how creeped out you are by the proprietor, an old woman with one eye and no teeth. We’ll share a room, sit on the bed and smoke cigarettes until we fall asleep. You won’t need to tell me we are in danger—you will scream at the sight of that old woman with a meat cleaver in the doorway, her albino son with a hatchet. I will fight my way out with a desk lamp, then chase those two killers loping after you with machetes. It will be a hazardous game of hide-and-seek among the saguaros, you in a flimsy nightgown and those dudes wearing horned masks. In the end, we will flee back to the highway where a passing semi runs one of the men down. When the trucker gets out to investigate, he will be attacked by the rest. As they fight, I will climb up behind the wheel and you will jump into the seat next to me. We will drive to New Mexico and you won’t have to tell me anything. We won’t have to talk.
W. Todd Kaneko is the author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor, 2014). His poems and prose have appeared in Bellingham Review, Los Angeles Review, Barrelhouse, The Normal School, [PANK], The Collagist, and many other places. A recipient of fellowships from Kundiman and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, he is coeditor of Waxwing magazine and now lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he teaches in the Writing Department at Grand Valley State University.