The woman brings a plate of food to the door of the room where her family keeps the monster.
“Dinner,” she says and kicks the wall.
She hears the chain rattle and uses a key to open the heavy door. In the room, a little light slides in between the boards that cover the small window near the ceiling. In its shackles, the monster cannot move very far from the wall. She feeds it with a spoon.
“Thank you,” the monster says.
“It’s been a month.”
“Well.” The woman looks down. “He still says no.”
“Of course, but—”
A holler rises through the floor.
“I have to go,” the woman says.
“Tell me where he put the lavaliere.”
She slips the spoon into her pocket and hides the plate under her shirt, and then leaves without answering.
That night, the monster escapes. The woman’s husband jumps out of bed as soon as they hear the crash through the wall, and he returns with a grim look.
“It’s got out.” He throws the chain on the bed. “You been feeding it? That why it get strong enough for tonight?”
Still in bed, the woman shakes her head.
“I haven’t the faintest,” she says.
Her husband gets out into the foggy fields with his dogs and his boys. They vanish in the mist, while the woman watches from the porch. She can hear birds winging overhead in the dark. A single hound is all they left her.
“You’re cute,” she says.
The dog’s tail quivers like a compass needle.
When it finally quiets, the monster strolls out of the fog and up to the porch. The dog starts barking.
“Please,” the woman says. “He’ll hear. He’ll come back.”
“I want the lavaliere,” says the monster.
“Is that a good idea?”
“Do you care?” The monster is so tall that even standing at the foot of the stairs it looks her in the eye through a curtain of bedraggled fur. “Why would you ask that?”
“You’ve suffered so much ‘cause of it. You’re better off without it.”
The monster turns away.
“I was a prisoner without it.”
The woman shakes her head.
“No. As a prisoner, it was taken from you, when you were weak, but now you’re free—and strong. You should run. That body was made to run.”
The monster growls.
“Why would you do this to your own son?”
Neither of them has spoken the word in so long it feels half-magical now. The dog carries on, a shrill squeak punctuating the breath between each bark, like an old hinge.
The woman starts to say something, but everything has gotten so far out of hand that it is impossible to think, to feel all that there is to feel. The fog has slipped through the keyhole. Her mind has all its doors and windows open.
“I’m getting it,” the monster says.
He climbs the porch stairs. They sag and crack. When his mother doesn’t move, the monster nudges her aside, almost but not quite gentle, and the dog goes truthfully nuts.
“Come on,” the monster says, with a hint of affection, but the dog leaps up his arm and comes away with a mouthful of hair, blood on its muzzle.
The monster cries out and kicks the animal. It only barks louder when it scrambles to its feet again. Turning to the door, the monster does not use the knob but instead puts his paw through the window and rips the entire door from the frame, then tosses it into the fog like a dinner plate.
“They’re coming!” the woman says. “You have to run.”
“I don’t care. The lavaliere is better than this.”
The woman starts to weep.
“No,” she says. “Stop.
She pulls a green and bronze pendant on a chain out from under the collar of her dress.
“It’s here. I’ve been wearing it.”
The monster’s yellow eyes go wide.
“Oh my god,” he says. “You didn’t.”
“It’s not a charm.”
“’Course it is. It keeps you human.”
The monster shakes his head.
“Only by saturation. It works for me, but for you or anyone else—it would leak.”
She unhooks the lavaliere from around her neck.
“I only kept it safe.”
When she drops it in the monster’s hand, his sharp claws retract and disappear. His shaggy fur vanishes. His fangs recede, and his eyes regain their original shape and color. Though he is naked now, it has been so long he feels no shame. Instead, he feels horror, for before him stands a leering monster, its breath foul and its mouth slavering. It is tall and grim. The torn remains of his mother’s dress still cling to its shoulders and chest, floral print with mangy fur underneath.
Voices come through the fog, yelling for the hound.
The monster wipes a claw across his chest. He stumbles backward and looks up at her. He’s just a boy, really. She tilts her massive head to the woods. Her mouth bristles with more teeth than he ever had. It feels like the first time he’s understood something against his will.
The boy slips the lavaliere around his neck.
The men come upon a terrible scene. The bloody dog is howling, and on the porch the monster bellows. It has torn the door from its hinges, shattered the windows, and snapped one of the stout columns that support the roof. It roars at the men, spittle hissing where it lands in gobs on the grass.
“Your wife,” someone yells.
He sees her tattered dress on the porch and not another trace of her.
“The gate ‘a hell swing wide, boy!” the man yells, raising his rifle.
He shoots, and while the bullet goes straight through her head it misses all her bloody thoughts. She takes the stairs, steps twice in the icy grass, and puts both paws on him, almost but not quite gentle. Every monster has a history with another monster.
Rumpus original art by Briana Finegan.