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Fiction

Monsters

October 8th

I found more skin this morning. Pale flakes polka-dotting my blue sheets, grouped there as if they had conspired to jump together. Little sailors abandoning ship to take their chances in the expanse of my bed. I look my normal self in the mirror and find no red patches on my torso or legs. My back, maybe? It’s been itchy.

• • • •

October 10th

There were footsteps on the wooden stairs an hour ago. They thudded like my heart. One flight, then another, another, then the last, to my apartment where it stands alone on the top floor like Rapunzel’s turret or Poe’s attic. A loud drumbeat knocking on my door. I could have opened it; I stood close, just the other side. But I didn’t. Not even when I heard the familiar plastic crinkle and thump of bags carelessly dropped to the floor, bruising the bananas and apples, crushing the delicate cilantro. If I’d been brave, I might have opened the door to reveal the delivery person and banished my fears of a monster on my landing. I could have interacted with the world outside, even if only for a moment. It’s been so long. But if I open it next time and it is a monster, what then? Devise an escape like Rapunzel or invite them in like Poe?

• • • •

October 13th

I watched a movie last night when I couldn’t sleep. Bride of the Monster. It came on in those fragile hours between bar-closing time and dawn, when TV is all infomercials and old movies and local programming. Monster. What an odd word. Large: “Her house upstate is monstrous.” Sinister: “You’re a monster when you drink.” And, of course, a creature, unnatural and terrifying. When someone says Frankenstein, people think of the monster, but Frankenstein was the doctor. Maybe all our worst fears are meant to be unnamed, the ones that live deepest in our hearts or at the back bottom of our brains.

• • • •

October 18th

My forearm split in the shower this morning, the skin cracking like a ripe plum receiving too much water after too little. There’s a red line of irritation down the center of my chest, and I wonder if that will be next. I also found old flakes of skin today, really old, at the back of my closet. I was searching for a VHS tape of a party from when I was young. I remember presents and games and a new dress and shoes. I thought I might watch the video. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone other than the hunched shapes of strangers trundling along the sidewalks below. I wonder how many of the people who came to my party are monsters now. Back then, I only knew of the one, but I was young. Sad that we learn to recognize them. They’re everywhere now.

I didn’t find the tape, but under the yellowed confetti of skin were journals. The flat cursive is my hand, but I don’t remember writing them. There were five in all, written on yellow legal pads, like the one I’m using now. I put them back without reading them.

• • • •

October 21st

Stem cells of humans are successfully being grown in monkey embryos. I read about it in the news today. A plan to provide replacement parts for humans, so they say. Animals caged and redesigned to serve, life and limb. I doubt many will take the time to examine which is the monster in this partnership.

• • • •

October 24th

I wonder if a higher percentage of monsters exist this century than last? Than a thousand years ago? Or perhaps it’s a constant, a set percentage scattered among the population. Maybe monsters in our midst are a balance or a toll, something the rest of us endure to help us recognize goodness in the world.

The red line on my chest cracked and split last night in my sleep. The one on my arm has widened, revealing fresh, pink skin beneath. I think that soon the entire organ will slough off like a snakeskin. I’ll step out of the shower and rub it off or wake to find it next to me in bed.

Groceries came again today. My fingers toyed with the deadbolt. I wanted to open it. I wanted to trust that it would be okay. That the person on the other side would be good and kind.

• • • •

October 29th

I found the videotape today. Things in closets are often said to be buried, which seems apt. It lay in the undisturbed dark—deep beneath the summer clothes and spare linens—and rested in a small, coffin-like box. I held it a long time before I watched it. My mother was the mother of my youth, and my friends played and screamed in joy and excitement. As did I.

The monster was there, too, but it didn’t look like a monster on the tape. It gazed out from middle-aged human eyes and wore a form as vulnerable and fallible as everyone else there that day. It inspired no fear. Like a werewolf in daylight, the monster was revealed to be utterly ordinary.

• • • •

October 31st

The rest of my skin sloughed away last night, though I found none of it this morning, as if it had burned from me and the ash fell to dust. I’d hoped to examine it to confirm what I’d cast off. Checking in the mirror, the shedding has revealed only more pale, human skin beneath. I look the same as before. I recognize the differences, though, and I remember this now. This feeling of lightness and renewal, of healing, of rediscovering myself. Maybe this time it will hold. I have this journal to remind me. I’ll place it in the closet where I won’t forget.

Groceries come today. I plan to open the door.

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L.D. Colter

L. D. Colter

L.D. Colter has followed her heart through a wide variety of careers, including farming with a team of draft horses, as well as working as a field paramedic, Outward Bound instructor, athletic trainer, and roller-skating waitress, among other curious choices. She also knows more about concrete than you might suspect. Her short stories have been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and she was a 2020 finalist for the WSFA Small Press Award. Her debut novel A Borrowed Hell was the 2018 Science Fiction & Fantasy winner of the Colorado Book Award and While Gods Sleep was the 2019 winner. You can find a list of her published works and more at lizcolter.com.