Monster, monster

The wealthiest man in America has my blood on his hands. 

I think I might die. 

“Congratulations,” the announcer’s voice booms through the loud-speakers. He looks at me pointedly from his place behind the podium. I’ve already spent far too long onstage. 

Jack Right stands with his fingers still extended, as if trying to create distance between himself and the specks of my blood on his skin. 

“I’m sorry,” I stutter again. My mind seizes on the first solution— “you can wipe them on my dress.” 

My god. 

Out of all the things to have come out of my mouth, I chose the single worst thing. Who did I think I was? Who did I think he was? As if a multi-billionaire would reach out and gather my skirt in his hand, to use it like a dirty napkin. 

In an instant, my face blooms with heat. I try not to let my legs move instinctively, and instead smile at him, turn my back, and walk briskly across the stage at what I hope is a refined and professional pace. The moment I descend from the stage’s staircase, I break out into a run. The heavy metal brooch, only half-fastened, flaps against my chest. Dear god, don’t let it fall off of me while I’m running to the bathroom. 

There’s no lock on the bathroom door. At least all the stalls are empty. I grip the edges of the sink and look at myself level in the mirror. “Stupid,” I say to my reflection. My face stares back at me, frustratingly vacant. “Stupid.” My hands are sticky, and shaking. The smallest bit of red has made it from my lapel to the middle of my bust. And it stings, where the pin dug into me. I pry the sharp metal end out of my flesh with ginger fingers. It throbs.

So this is what triumph feels like. 

“Angela?” Chrissy bangs through the bathroom door. 

“Chrissy! Jesus, you scared me.” 

“What the hell happened to you? You acted all weird onstage. What, did you get too starstruck? Start fantasizing about making Jack your sugar daddy?” 

“Don’t be disgusting,” I snipe. “He stuck me with the pin. I started bleeding— a lot.” 

Chrissy sighs and smiles, putting her hands on either side of my face. “Hey. Calm down. Don’t look so embarrassed. We’re here to celebrate. We’re the Chosen Ones.”

I laugh. I like when she describes it like that; like we’ve been selected to form some ridiculous mystical tribe. We worked hard to get here, that’s it. And she’s right. This is our moment of glory. 

“Our coronation,” I say out loud. 

Chrissy raises her eyebrow. “Exactly. Starting tomorrow, we’ll be the kings of Right Labs. We’ll be making monsters all day for the best company in the country.” 

I can’t help but grin. Every year of school; every honors luncheon, every networking ball has led up to this point. 

“I know you already have drafts,” I say to her, prying just a little. 

“Of course. And you do too. I saw some of your drawings.” 

I let go of the small hint of annoyance I feel knowing that she’s been prying. But at the same time, I feel pride. If she’s flipped through my draft notebook, she’s seen my best, most recent work. 

I see them in my mind now, just waiting to be Fleshed and animated. The monster with the steel teeth down its back and the overactive saliva glands. The creature with the perpetually raised heckles, a cross between a werewolf and a rat. And the most exciting— an oozing, molting snake I engineered to open its mouth the width of a small child. 

“I wonder where we’ll be Dropped,” Chrissy muses, reapplying her lipstick. “I hope I get the 34th ward. Their lore about monsters is so deeply rooted already. It would be fun to give them something fresh.” 

I feel secret satisfaction at Chrissy’s predictability. Everyone wants the 34th— and they can rationalize it however they want, but it’s because it’s the easiest ward. The people there have been scared into line for generations already. And the more subservient the population measures up to be, the better the bonuses for the engineers. 

I have more of a challenge in mind. 

“I’m thinking about the 12th,” I say casually. 

Chrissy stares at me. “Oh, really?” 

“Yes. They were just recently put on the list for a drop. There’s been more political activism lately.” 

“But they’ve never had monsters, at all?” 

“Never. I think that’s what makes them interesting.” 

Chrissy shook her head. “Right, and they’ll go through their phases of resistance before you could ever start earning good results. Everyone knows that the first reaction to monsters is disbelief. The fear has to be built, has to have longevity. Choice people have to die—” she holds out her palm as if reading her class notes from it, “not all at once. You’ll be 30 by the time they’re using monster lore to justify the State.” 

“We’ll see,” I say with quiet surety. There are the ways we were taught in class, and then there are the new methods— methods I’ve studied and curated— tactics to take our lab-grown horrors and truly put them to use. For me, it’s not about earning bonuses. I’d like to see fear wielded for homeland security better than ever before. I’d like the be the best. 

I look down at the pin by the sink, still tinged red, and go back to scrubbing my skin. The goal that I’ve been dreaming of since primary school, I suppose, is a simple one: to have the most blood on my hands. 

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Run, Wabbit, Run

“Gee, I hope it didn’t hurt too much when I killed you, Mister Wabbit.” 

The voice ripples through the empty apartment; filling the space as an alarm would, each following silence feeling like it rings. There are few other sounds to compete. The sound of a clock with a decaying battery: more like a tut… tut… than a tick, tick. The slightest rubbing sound as the curtains inch against the wall. The window is cracked open a thumb’s length.

“I hope you can hewp me mister game warden,” the television says, and the shadows on the walls move like swimmers.

In the kitchen are bare countertops with no crumbs or dirty dishes. On the fridge, nothing of personal note. A newspaper clipping fixed with yellowing tape advertises a sale on sofas. A printed notice warns of preventative maintenance, scheduled for December 9th, 2063.

And in the next room, a portion of a sofa can be seen. Not the same sofa in the advertisement, mind you, but a comfortable and weathered one. No one is sitting on the sofa. There are no cups on the table. Only the items which would have proven most cumbersome to move have been allowed to stay. Important items; still, like the lamp with the hand-painted shade, but in a rush even these must be sacrificed.

The television with its garish colors is a forgotten detail. It has been playing old cartoons for a number of days. The cartoon imagines and re-imagines a caricature of a chase: the stumpy old hunter with the little legs, and the quick-witted rabbit who outsmarts him. And in this moment; we see that the rabbit has not been killed at all- it is bounding away from the useless instrument which is the old man’s musket.

Retreating from the living room brings one towards the doorway. There are no shoes lined up on the mat, although a hint of muddy bootprints remains; hastily scrubbed.

It’s funny, the preparation which a man can put into his own departure.

Knowing that you were to die; why wipe the countertops? Why clear the dishes from the TV room, wash them, and place them back onto shelves? Knowing that no one in particular will care to inherit it, why pack the silver bowl into papers and carry it away? And why, during a quick but thorough exit, would the television have been left on? 

These details fall upon an array of curious eyes, which peer from a spot just past the doorframe, swiveling about but never daring to venture inside. No one has thought to find the remote and silence the parade of re-runs. Perhaps they can’t be blamed for being a little afraid, considering the circumstances of his death.

The thought is enough to make the blood run cold, although no one could ever admit it. All it takes is three nominations, and then the laborious process can begin.

There are reviews, and letters, and juries. There is an entire period of observation which is broadcast to the parties involved. There are random checks and independent verifications, and finally, many forms which require many notarized signatures. Perhaps they make the process so drawn out because they hope the applicants will lose heart. But it’s been rare to start this without finishing.

Most commonly it happens to abusive fathers. When he has three children or more, it’s easy. The siblings weigh the pros and cons as a united front: debating the morality, the costliness, the logistics. And should they decide to nominate their father for death, they have each other to lean on during the process. One feels bad for the girls who nominate their rapists. There have been cases where a disgruntled roommate had to be found, or a bitter ex lover, or the cop who originally booked him. To sign these papers in the company of strangers must be burdensome.

And at the end of the day, it’s not their immortal souls which the applicants are concerned with. It’s not murder, after all. There are no electrical chairs or needles full of slow-acting compounds. There could never be a firing squad, no, the law is not meant to be regressive. Once the deceased is notified, they have twelve hours to pack, and arrive at the government to be handled.

It’s commonly believed that while death is the name it’s been given, the result is more of a relocation. It is known, quantitatively, that the deceased’s absence will be better for everyone.   Children can begin to forget the guilt and shame involved in ignoring their long-condemned parents, and victims can live without the fear of meeting their abusers around every corner. It’s been guessed that the government owns an island in the far east that’s been remodeled for this purpose. Of course, the mechanics are not the public’s business. But why else would the deceased be allowed to bring along their belongings? Regardless, the process is thorough. There are no tricks or illusions, no way to evade the result. No one has ever been reported to be seen again, after.

Soon this man’s assets will be liquified and donated to the charity of the applicants’ choice. But knowing nothing about him, it is fun to peer into his doorway, trying to pick apart the reason why he was not wanted. There are more than one set of eyes. Word has spread and the neighbors have been offering coffee. It’s a bit tasteless- one of them tried to charge.

The people at the doorway look at his sofa, his refrigerator, his hand-painted lampshade. They try not to find anything to which they relate. They watch the rabbit running, and think of cartoons with disdain.

Two Strings

B: “We’d have to drill holes through the ceiling.”

A: “Well, that does it then.”

B: “Don’t be like that.”

A: “No, holes in the ceiling!

B: “Darling. Imagine.”

A: “I do imagine. A bit of sawdust, an easy patch-job. Unless you’d rather fly to Mexico. Their ceilings must already have the holes.”

B: “Nonsense. You think they walk around all day skipping over holes? They drill them, once the woman is pregnant.”

A: “What’s wrong with two little holes?”

B: “Imagine, if your toe slips inside!”

A: “A broken toe! Think of my vagina.”

B: “It won’t be broken, darling.”

A: “You ask the doctor, then. She said it may be torn all the way to my asshole.”

B: “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

A: “I want a little empathy.”

B: “This goes beyond empathy. It’s not about empathy. It’s about revenge.”

A: “I think it’s a beautiful custom. And the men in Mexico never think of it as punitive.”

B: “Of course they don’t. I wouldn’t say a bad word about anyone if I had my balls in a noose!”

A: “That’s ridiculous. It’s voluntary. They agree, and then they place their balls in the noose.”

B: “My brother thinks you’re crazy. He thinks I should leave you.”

A: “Ah, yes. The endlessly wise Mitchell. Leave your wife at nine months pregnant over a ceremonial practice.”

B: “I almost cried when I described it to him. I couldn’t get the words out. I felt ashamed, Astrid.”

A: “Let me hear what you told him.”

B: “What?”

A: “I want to hear how you put it to him. You didn’t even give it a chance, did you?”

B: “It’s quite straightforward, isn’t it? You want to rip my balls off every time you have a contraction.”

A: “I knew it.”

B: “What?”

A: “If that’s what you said to him, of course he hates it.”

B: “What’s to love, where’s the—”

A: “—if you only took care when you told people, explained the history. Women and men have been choosing this custom since before the Aztecs built their golden temples, when births were natural and the sky was clean and all around the couple were trees and…”

B: “We can have a natural birth. Darling, let’s have a natural birth. We can plop you right down in a meadow and make sure there’s lots of soft ferns and, I don’t know, let’s cut the umbilical cord with an arrowhead.”

A: “Don’t patronize me.”

B: “I’m sorry. Baby, I didn’t mean that. But let’s… let’s have that natural birth you want. Whatever you want. Did you think about water?”

A: “Yes, and have my baby’s first sensation be drowning.”

B: “Our baby.”

A: “I know. But that’s the whole point. The Huichol people use this as a way to acknowledge and honor paternal responsibility. It’s stopped infidelity, it’s reduced teenage pregnancy—”

B: “You don’t trust me.”

A: “Why would you say that?”

B: “You said it first. It’s about infidelity, is it?”

A: “No, don’t get defensive. I hate it when you—”

B: “I’m not. I’m not defensive. I’m scared for us. Do you think I’ll leave you?”

A: “Of course not.”

B: “Okay.”

A: “But you might.”

B: “Baby?”

A: “Once we have our kid. I mean, we don’t know what will happen.”

B: “Yes I do.”

A: “We can’t know.”

B: “I do. We’re going to be parents. We’re going to love each other. That’s it.”

A: “And what if… we don’t?”

B: “Don’t… have our kid?”

A: “Don’t love each other.”

B: “Do you—”

A: “Of course I love you. I’m not saying that. I just mean that everything will be different. Our lives will be upside down and we’ll be tired all the time, and we’ll fight, and we won’t have sex again. All of my friends have been telling me. And my mother, she’s like a direct dial line to my dismal future. When she had my sister, her vagina actually ripped—”

B: “Don’t tell me that. Astrid. You need to stop.”

A: “I- I mean, it’s true, we’d be fooling ourselves if we thought—”

B: “Darling. Wait. You’re spiraling. You need to stop letting them get to you.”

A: “It’s not all in my head, if that’s what you think.”

B: “That’s not what I’m saying. I just know that you’re so afraid, when you don’t need to be. You can’t think about those things. This is going to be the most wonderful—”

A: “Well it’s not happening to you, is it? It’s not happening to your body.” Her hands were on her chest. There was plaintive silence.

B: “Astrid.”

A: “I can’t recover from this. I will never be the same.”

B: “I know.”

A: “But you… you could walk away.”

B: “I couldn’t.”

A: “You wouldn’t. Because I know you. Because you’re a good man. But you could. And if you wanted to, you could start a new life, as if none of it had ever happened. You wouldn’t have the scars. Your penis would work just as well. You wouldn’t risk the depression or the psychosis…”

B: “That’s very rare. Darling. That’s not gonna happen to you.”

A: “Alright.”

B: “You’re right. It’s not fair. You’re right.”

A: “I’m just… afraid.”

B: “Come here.”

They whispered.

B: “You know that pulling on my balls isn’t going to make me stay with our family. It won’t be the thing that makes me a father. That’s… that’s going to be me. And trust.”

A: “I trust you. I trust you, but I can still have fear, can’t I?”

B: “Yes.”

A: “I love you.”

B: “Would the… would the ceremony make you feel better?”

A: “I’m not sure. I just like it.”

B: “We’ll do it. Then we’ll both be afraid together.”

A: “But I know that’s awful. I don’t want to make you feel pain, when you don’t have to.”

B: “You have to.”

A: “Yes, I do.”

B: “So we’ll do it together.”

A: “What if I… ruin you?”

B: “I don’t know. You won’t, will you?”

A: “I hope not. I don’t know exactly what’s safe.”

B: “Oh, god.”

A: “I mean, we’ll find out! I promise, we’ll be careful about it.”

B: “What have I done?”

A: “If only you knew, that day you kissed me…”

B: “I think it would still be worth it.”

A: “Do you mean it? We’re really doing this?”

B: “I mean it. Don’t let me change my mind.”

A: “Trust me, I won’t.”

B: “How kind of you.”

A: “My love. I can’t believe this is happening.”

B: “We need to stop talking about it, before I think it all through.”

A: “No, not that.”

B: “What then?”

A: “The kid.”

B: “The kid.”

A: “Ours.”

They looked at each other in contented disbelief. They laced their fingers together.