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.
[NIGHT OF THE LIVING]
A stray sound like sobbing. Like wailing. A fist slammed against the plaster of the wall. It’s night, one of those endless nights when we hear just these sounds alternating into the late morning. It’s as if we are under siege. I lie awake feeling raw and drained. Ahhh, she moans. Ahhhh. I’m hungry.
Me and some of the other tenants meet in the hallway on the third day of this siege to whisper-debate about what’s wrong with Ms. Lulu. One neighbor says it’s too much drugs; another says it’s not enough. We smell nothing, no burning rocks, not even the scent of smoldering leaves to remove the edge. It must be something inhaled or snorted or injected.
One neighbor volunteers to take her supply; another offers to bring her more. We part without a solution. A solution was, really, never the object anyway. We all just want to be heard over the racket of Ms. Lulu’s fist against the wall, her banshee wail.
My dearest slumlord, I want you to know that I don’t expect you to do anything about this. You ignored the buzzing of my water heater, the brown water in my sink, the graveyard of cigarette butts beneath my balcony I asked you to clear, and even the broken toilet paper holder. Those we love will always disappoint, and that’s you my love, a disappointment. I know our troubles are nothing to you but the most trivial quality-of-life issues. They do nothing to disrupt the smooth drift of your Mercedes in and out of the parking lot each day.
I want you to know this, though: my wife looked down on me and spoke from the corner of her mouth one recent night. She didn’t say it loudly, but still she said it. Our spirits dipped low from the wailing and the knocking, and my wife asked what I was going to do to end the siege. I could tell she thought me less of a man for letting her live like this. Once when we were young I promised, foolishly, a large house on the hilltop. My heart lies ever with you my lovely slumbeast, but she invested in me so I must honor that.
Damn withdrawal, my wife said
You think it’s withdrawal? I asked.
How the hell should I know? she shouted. What the fuck do I know about drugs?
I asked around: to the guys standing near the mouth of the complex; to neighbors behind closed doors; to that smart-mouth kid who hustles for dollars whenever he senses someone has the smallest of needs. They all pointed me to Apartment [redacted]. There J— sold me a bag of powder so white it blinded me the next day as I stood in the blistering sun of my balcony.
The siege had died down by this time, but it would start again and when it did I would knock and leave the bag at Ms. Lulu’s door like an offering.
Late the next night a noise roused me from my sleep—wailing and cursing and then banging, more banging than ever, both fists full-force against the plaster. Filtered through the sleep haze, I couldn’t make sense of the commotion.
I sat on my bed dazed next to my snoring wife. I couldn’t place the sounds—the wailing, the slamming fists. My mind blinkered alive piece by piece and then suddenly the fog broke and I understood that again the siege was happening. By this time though, there sounded another wail. A wail from above. A man’s wail. And then banging at my ceiling.
First I thought it rose from the listless winds, but I heard another wail, a distant wail followed by distant moaning and distant banging. Before long, my dear, there blared more all around me, the whole building shook and perhaps the whole complex. And first my wife, but then I, wailed and then I banged, and I hollered a moan so wounded Ms. Lulu herself must have been saddened and impressed and we wailed for a good, long time indeed. So long that I don’t know how much time passed until we stopped.
Rion Amilcar Scott has contributed to The Kenyon Review, Crab Orchard Review, PANK, The Rumpus, Fiction International, The Toast, and Confrontation, among others. His short story collection, Insurrections, is forthcoming from University Press of Kentucky (August 2016).