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.
You discover that when you cut off your boyfriend’s arm he grows a new arm. You examine the newly-grown arm, and find it is exactly the same as the old arm, no better or worse. Under scrutiny, it doesn’t even seem to be any newer. Just a regular boyfriend arm, the kind your boyfriend has, the arm you’re used to. The cut-off arm is also no different. You hold them near each other and cannot tell them apart.
The room where you lock up your boyfriend to study him is wood with a dirt floor. Really it’s less like a room and more like a shed. You keep your boyfriend in the shed while you work on studying his amazing re-growing limbs. You do the difficult work of sawing through your boyfriend’s skin and muscle and bone. The bone is the hardest, it takes the longest. It’s a pain, it’s definitely a pain. You give your boyfriend a leather wallet to bite down on. This is going to hurt, you say. You dare not use anesthetic in case it negatively affects your boyfriend’s regenerative properties.
You suspend the cut-off limbs in scientific fluids to see if you can encourage them to grow a new boyfriend. You try to determine the very smallest piece that your boyfriend will re-grow from. But the limbs suspended in scientific fluid are pristine, unchanged. They still do all their usual things—the fingernails grow and the skin cells slough off and replenish. Regular arm stuff. But the jagged wound at the shoulder doesn’t heal and no matter what you do you can’t encourage it to grow another boyfriend.
Ultimately you wind up with so many spare boyfriend parts you could make an entire second boyfriend if you cut off a few more things, so you cut off a few more things. At this point you are an expert, you have the sharpest tools, your dissections are clean and even and painless. Your boyfriend barely makes a sound. You stitch together all the parts you have, the arms and legs and torso and butt. Even a head. Your boyfriend even re-grew his head. When you stitch the head onto the body (tiny, perfect sutures, almost invisible) the second boyfriend opens his eyes and looks around. Right away he makes inarticulate sounds, a strange howling.
Now that you have a second boyfriend, you’re not sure what to do with him. You decide he should sit in the shed with your first boyfriend, who spends his days on the cot staring at a wall. The second boyfriend curls into himself in the corner, sits in the dirt and hugs his knees. When you shut the door, he starts crying, sobbing really, and doesn’t stop. You think it’s the second boyfriend who is crying. The next day you come to check on your boyfriend and your other boyfriend, and they have your tools, and they are cutting off their own limbs, cutting off each other’s limbs, but they just re-grow, everything they cut away grows back, and both of them are crying and when you hold them near each other you can’t tell them apart.
Zachary Doss is a fiction editor for Banango Street, and the most recent former editor of Black Warrior Review. His writing has appeared in, or is forthcoming from, Fairy Tale Review, Caketrain, DIAGRAM, Paper Darts, and other journals. He lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he is working on a book of stories about boyfriends.