The bedroom walls shake as he slams the door behind him. I wait a moment, listening. I hear the throaty roar of a car engine as it turns over and the high-pitched squeal of tyres as he speeds away. I sigh, slump back on the messy duvet and swipe tears from my cheeks. My lip is split and my cheek is throbbing. A bright splash of crimson stains my sheets.
A rustling noise comes from below.
“You caught all that?”
My monster crawls out from underneath my bed and growls.
“He’s an asshole, Anna,” they say. “You’re better off without him.”
I take a deep breath. Flash a smile that doesn’t quite reach my damp eyes.
“I know. But at least he’s predictable. Better the devil you know, and all that?”
They grimace and make a gurgling noise like waste-water flushing down a sink.
“Even the Devil wouldn’t treat you like that,” they say, flopping onto the mattress next to me and gathering their lower tentacles into a loose knot. “I don’t understand you. You always seem to settle for the shit ones. Don’t you realise you deserve better than that?” They put one scaly hand on my arm, patting it gently.
It’s such a human gesture, one I’m sure they’ve learned from watching television romcoms with me. All those evenings when we drank hot chocolates together. Stuffed ourselves silly with marshmallows. I put my hand on top of theirs.
“I appreciate the sentiment, G’ahlgeigh, but I don’t think I can explain it to you, at least not in a way you’d understand.”
“Because I’m a monster?”
“Well, yes, mostly because of that. Also, you’ve never dated.” I pause. Look at them carefully. “Wait, have you dated?” They shake their head.
“No. Monsters don’t ‘date’. We’re supposed to select a mate when our Trials are done, but after we’ve procreated we devour each other’s eyeballs and internal organs. A new Creature will grow in our fused corpses. So I guess you’d say one partner is quite enough.”
“Oh.” I struggle to find the right words. “So, you’re a bit like a Praying Mantis?” They shrug.
“Yeah. I suppose. More limbs though.”
I pick idly at my thumbnail. My other hand still rests on theirs.
“So when do your Trials end?” They make that weird noise again. “Sorry, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
“I’ve been your monster for almost twenty years, Anna. Since you were six, I was eight and your mother walked out on your family.” I nod. “We’ve grown up together. Seen and done a lot. You do know that having a monster under the bed in your late twenties is, well … unusual?”
“I’ve never really thought about it. I figured maybe lots of people do, they just don’t mention it. Emily talks about having a Black Dog. This isn’t much different, right?”
My monster chuckles. It sounds like popping corn exploding in a hot pan.
“Yeah. It is. Emily’s Dog isn’t real for starters. I am.”
“Oh,” I say again.
“Trials are supposed to last for a maximum of ten years. Other monsters sometimes take over depending on the human’s needs. Usually Illusion Wraiths and Sound Sprites.” They see my blank expression, realise I don’t know what they mean. “You know, they make you think your pile of laundry is something demonic when you see it in the dead of night? Or they whisper things and move stuff when you’re in the house all alone. All very different to what I do.”
I fidget a little, plucking at the sheets. For some reason they’re making me feel nervous.
“So why are you still here?”
“Good question. I didn’t intend on staying so long.” The dark fur on the back of their neck starts to bristle. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” I say. “You know you can.” They turn towards me and their pupils turn from bright violet to smoky grey.
“What do you see in him?”
“Well, I suppose, at first I was attracted to his good looks. We like the same movies. The same music too. Similar books and stuff. He can be sweet and caring, and he’s a brilliant cook. But…”
“But he hits you, Anna! And you let him. Why?”
“Oh God, come on! I don’t know.”
Their eyes are almost completely black now. They flare their nostrils rapidly and grind their double rows of teeth.
“So, as long as they look good, and sometimes do nice things for you, it’s okay that they treat you like crap. Is that what you’re saying?”
“What are you getting at G’ahlgeigh? Why this sudden attitude? You’ve seen me in this place before. God knows I’m a terrible judge of character. I do keep trying to do better.”
“Anna, you know I would do anything for you. I’d give you everything. Whatever you need. I realise that I’m not attractive in a human sense, but you must know that I’m in love with you! I have been for many years.”
We sit for a while, in silence. I don’t know what to say. Our hands are still touching. It feels comfortable. I realise I don’t want to move away.
“You’re in love with me?”
“And you’d do anything for me?”
“Is there something you want to do for me?” I hear that popcorn sound again.
“I want to eat the rancid heart out of that abusive sonofabitch boyfriend of yours and take his place! Oh. Is that too honest? Not quite what you were expecting me to say?”
“No, not too honest. You are a monster after all.”
I look deep into their massive, almost triangular eyes. Watch as they lick their mottled lips with a forked tongue. I’d never thought about them romantically at all. They were my childhood monster first and later, my best friend.
Twenty years. Seven house moves. Numerous terrible partners in a variety of genders. Did it really matter so much that they weren’t ‘attractive’ by human standards? Not to me. They were good and kind and just a little bit scary. Maybe they were exactly what I needed after all.
I take my mobile from my handbag and dial. It rings twice before he answers.
“Eric? I’m sorry. I don’t want to fight. Will you please come back and we can talk about this?”
He does what he always does: accepts my apology begrudgingly, and agrees to return to the house.
I kill the call and G’ahlgeigh grins. I can’t help but return the gesture. They lean forwards and kiss me deeply, exploring parts of me they’ve never been before.
My beloved monster. No more hiding underneath the bed.
This story is copyright. Except for the purpose of fair review, no part may be stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including recording or storage in any information retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. No reproduction may be made, by any means, unless a licence has been obtained from the author or publisher. ©️ Tabatha Wood 2020