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.
I was only a monster once they came here. I remember it: the sea stood on her hind legs and spit the man and his daughter out onto this shore. They were wet and trembling. I took them under the arms of the trees, I put berries in their water. The man taught me words, gave me a name, then he took magic I didn’t know I had.
Before Prospero came, I simply was: my ribs round and my legs stout, I ran from sea to pine and knew every rock and tree. Before, the sea was a line of blue reflecting blue, each side a home for light, big and small. The voices of this place were full in my ears. Before, I only dreamt—I could only see and chase, see and eat, see and stir and shit and snarl. Marvel meant nothing, pain only part of the flesh.
And then, Prospero gave me words: island, kingdom, noble sons. And then others: pinch, slave, freckled monster, subhuman son. My back hunched. My skin became scales. My tongue turned to thorns. The ground beneath me became rocks and the soft sounds of the sea curved brittle. No more fresh springs or songs, no more shifts of wonder in the crook of my heart. Now all things fit into a name, in the crevice in what I now know is called my mind.
I was too monstrous, too wild. They tied me to a cactus and then they boarded the ship. Prospero did not look at me. But Miranda did, satisfied. I remembered my mother, her hands bloody and open. I imagined her on the shore, swollen with me and with rage, the sand bitter in her mouth. I hadn’t understood it until then, this inheritance she left me, and I wished that I didn’t know how to know her name, or theirs, or mine. Now I have a word to name this curse – alone.
They turned the soft shift of the waters meeting the sands into the place they did not bother to say goodbye. They sailed into the line of the horizon. My voice broke like waves against the bow.
Before they came, the days were as the stars – bright and the same, each for each. They taught me numbers to count the links in my chains, count the pieces of wood to be burnt. I have counted the other ways it could have gone. I could have gone with them and been civilized. I could have stayed their subject. I could have been their king. I could have been run through on a sword. I could have burned the ship and kept them here with me.
If those who knew me dream of me, they call it a nightmare, and are glad to awaken with an ocean between us. I mark the days they’ve been gone in slashes against the cactus. I pinch my skin against her thorns. The ribs of the cacti do not yield. They need no words to keep every cut.
Mariah K Young is a Bay Area native who grew up in Hawaii; she then became a Los Angeleno, and is now a Tucson transplant. Her collection Masha’allah and Other Stories won the James D Houston award and a California Book Award First Fiction prize. When she isn’t teaching or getting crispy under the desert sun, she’s working on a novel about an archaeologist who is excavating the roots of her family tree.