Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
I was almost friends with a monster when I was eleven years old. I would have preferred a human friend, but my family had just moved to a new city where everyone was cold and distant. My father promised that I would meet new people at school, but there were still a few weeks of summer and I had nothing to do.
Elisa Williams was the one I really wanted to be friends with. She lived next door in a beautiful gray house with a high fenced yard.
I used to sit with my back to the fence and listen to her playing and giggling, the sound bubbling up like music made for everyone but me.
I wasn’t brave enough to introduce myself, but after a few days of moping around the house my mother volunteered to do it for me.
I stood behind her, carrying a basket of cookies while she knocked on the neighbor’s door.
“Elisa!” The man who opened it looked like a poorly shaved bear. “Get over here and meet your new friend.”
“We’re busy!” came the shrill response from somewhere deeper in the house.
My mother marveled about the woodworking and craftsmanship and asked the age of the venerable structure.
“Now, Elisa!” the bear bellowed. “I know you’re alone up there.”
A short, angry sigh, like what circus lions must do before they’re forced onto the stage.
Then footsteps creaking down the stairs.
“I’ve got cookies!” I supplied hopefully.
“Elisa spends all day playing by herself,” the bear said.
“She’s been so lonely since her mother passed.
Some company will be good for her.”
I thought about the giggling I heard through the fence, and I didn’t understand how someone could have such a good time on their own.
Elisa appeared a moment later, her head hanging low in surly obedience.
She wore shorts and long socks pulled halfway up her thighs: one bright green and the other purple.
That’s all I really saw, because I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t look up from the basket of cookies I held out.
Elisa snatched the whole basket and briskly turned around again.
I glimpsed a wave of black hair, curly like her father’s but not so wild.
After a few steps she turned to glare over her shoulder with the expression a vegan might give a BBQ.
“Well? Are you coming or not?”
I hadn’t taken my second step before she cut in.
“Shoes off.” I hasted to obey. “No, the socks stay on. What are you, some kind of barbarian?”
“No ma’am.” I don’t know why I said that, but I was scared of her and I didn’t want to give her any reason to send me away.
Elisa seemed satisfied with the answer though, and she permitted me to follow her up the stairs toward her room. I felt like I was on solid ground until she said:
“We don’t need any more friends. None of our games have room for a third person.”
“Your dad said —”
“He isn’t my dad.
He killed my father and took me prisoner.”
“Oh yes,” she said, pivoting her socked-heel on the wooden floor so smoothly that she seemed to almost float.
“But that’s okay, because sometimes he brings me little boys to eat.”
I could only hope that my stunned silence was mistaken for composure.
Elisa rolled her eyes and opened the door to her room.
You’re not stupid, are you?”
I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until that moment.
“I’m sorry. That wasn’t a fair question. Most stupid people don’t know they’re stupid, and I suppose it’s perfectly fine if you are as long as you don’t try to perform surgery, or vote, or do anything a normal person would do,” Elisa rambled.
The stairway and hall we passed were heavily decorated with framed portraits, hanging tapestries, and ornate tables littered with precious and intricate things.
It was a stark contrast to Elisa’s room which had a simple metal-frame bed in the corner and a dark-wood cabinet on the other side.
The walls were painted black, and the window was concealed beneath a thick curtain. There was nothing on the hard-wood floor to disrupt the monastic austerity.
“How do you play games without any toys?” I asked.
“We play blood games,” she said, stressing the plural again. “The kind that need magic to work. You do know about magic, don’t you?”
“Yeah sure. Of course.” I didn’t want to say anything more to betray my ignorance.
I reached for a cookie from the basket, but she slapped my hand away.
I stood in disbelief as she ate one of the cookies herself.
“My mother taught me after she passed,” Elisa said casually, moving to set the cookies on the cabinet.
She retrieved something and turned to face me again. “If you want to play then you’ll need to give me your hand.”
“What do you mean after she passed?” I tentatively stretched out to her.
“Now close your eyes.”
She could have told me to jump out the window and I probably would have done it. She had the sweetest smile on her face, and the soft brush of her fingers tracing my palm made me blush. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
“Don’t scream. Mother hates screamers.”
I opened my eyes a sliver, just in time to see a metallic flash in the air.
Elisa’s grip tightened around my wrist while her free hand gouged a needle into the center of my palm.
I didn’t scream exactly.
It was more of a shrieking yelping sound, like a rabbit trying skydiving for the first time. I tore my hand away with the needle still in it, blood freely running between my fingers.
“Come back here!” Elisa shouted. “You’re going to make a mess!” We both dashed for the door. I hesitated to avoid running into her, but she pushed me aside and didn’t slow until she’d slammed it shut and locked it from the inside.
“You’re wasting the blood. Give me your hand.”
“No! You’ll stab me again!” I gingerly pulled the needle out of the skin, prompting a fresh swell of blood. I felt dizzy.
“Baby.” She snorted. That hurt slightly more than the needle. “You’re already bleeding, so I don’t need to stab you, now do I? Here, wipe some on me.”
She offered me the back of her hand.
Bewildered, I rubbed a long smear on her pale skin. Her dark eyes sparkled as she watched with eager fascination.
I almost took the opportunity to flee, but I couldn’t resist asking:
“How does blood magic work?”
“Mother said that when the world was young, all living things were connected and the same blood flowed from one to the next.” Elisa plucked the needle from my fingers and pricked her clean hand daintily to draw forth a single drop of blood. “We started to fight one another though, and it got worse and worse until we had to pull apart into separate entities. We became so distant the we started taking different shapes, and some animals even preyed upon others until we forgot that we were ever the same. The blood is the only part of us that never forgot.”
Using the nail of one index finger, she deftly traced a pattern in my blood.
A circle, with a triangle inside, and a square inside that, and perhaps even a tiny pentagon within.
With deep concentration she pressed the single drop of her blood into the center of the design.
“Now what are you doing?” I asked.
She smiled, but the gesture seemed strained and unnatural, like a dog baring its teeth for a dog food commercial.
“Duh,” she said.
“I’m making magic.”
And she was.
The pattern of blood on her hand was glowing.
Soft at first, but growing brighter in even pulses.
My heart began to race with excitement, and the pulsing light increased to match its rhythm.
“What’s it do?” I asked.
“I’m going to grow you a friend,” she said.
“That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
I wanted to tell her that I didn’t need a friend anymore, because I had her.
But we don’t always get what we want, even from ourselves. Especially from ourselves.
That’s what I came here for,” I said.
The light grew stronger, but I couldn’t look away. The pattern was moving now. The triangle was turning within the circle, and the square within that, which moved in the opposite direction. And from the center grew a red stalk, like a time-lapsed bean struggling through her skin to sprout and curl into the air.
Within a breathless moment the stalk had grown over a foot. The veins of Elisa’s hand glowed beneath the skin like a network of roots. And from that strange plant, an even stranger fruit began to swell.
“What is his name?” Elisa asked.
“Um, how about Sid.”
The fruit looked like an organ with a face.
I didn’t know what a fetus looked like at the time, but when I saw pictures when I was older I knew that’s what it was.
“How big will he be?”
“I want to be taller than he is,” I said.
“What?” I said. “We’ll be playing sports and stuff. I want to win.”
“What does Sid like to eat?” she asked.
“Uh…” I glanced around the empty room, spotting the basket. “Cookies, I guess.”
It was larger now. I could make out tiny hands and feet pressing against its transparent cocoon.
“And what does he love?” Her voice was fainter now, straining with exertion.
Her glowing veins extended all the way down her arm now, and for the first time I realized the concentration on her face was mixed with pain.
“I don’t know. I don’t think I like this game. I don’t want to play anymore.”
“You can’t stop now. What does Sid love?”
Elisa took a sharp intake of breath and grimaced.
The plant had stopped growing, and the swiftly gorging fruit was about the size of a watermelon. How was it getting so big? Was it filling up with her blood?
“Stop it,” I said. My voice cracked, but I didn’t care. “Make it go back. Cut it off.”
“It’s not an it,” she grunted.
“His name is Sid, and he is already alive. You have to tell me what he loves or he will be nothing but—”
“I hate it. I hate him. Make him go away, please.”
“Hurry! You’re part of the spell too. I can’t do this alone,” she said.
It wasn’t a watermelon anymore.
It was the size of dog and beginning to grow course fur. Now it was heavy enough that Elisa had to kneel and rest it on the ground. The hands and feet were becoming more defined and solid by the second. It’s eyes fluttered once, and then opened to pierce me with pale sightless orbs.
“Mr. Williams!” I screamed.“Mr. Williams help! It’s hurting her!”
Thunder on the stairs, but the wretched thing reacted to the noise and flailed its arms. One wild claw pierced straight through its encompassing sac and clawed the open air an inch from my face. Bright red fingers clutched the tattered opening and ripped it wide in a rush of blood.
All at once Sid was free and on the ground, standing almost as tall as me.
Pounding on the door. It was still locked. “What’s going on in there. Elisa? Are you okay?”
She lay panting on the ground. The blood was beginning to evaporate into a thick red mist.
I choked and fell to the ground to avoid breathing in the heavy wet air. The tattered sac, the discarded dying stem, both withering before my eyes. Sid was crouched in terror, its matted blue fur showing through the evaporating blood.
“Open the door! Boy are you in there?”
I crawled across the ground to unlock the door. More pounding, louder and more desperate than ever.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Sid flinching at each resounding crash.
The instant I fully turned away from it to unlock the door, I heard Elisa scream.
I pounded back the lock and the enormous pressure on the other side made the door spring like a trap. The man was roaring, but it was too late.
Elisa’s stomach had been savagely opened. Sid loomed over her, digging through her stomach as though searching for something. When it turned to face Mr. William’s onslaught, it was shoveling a bloody clump into its mouth.
Mr. Williams almost caught it, but it bounded away just in time. The bear man moved to the window to block its retreat, but he missed again when Sid lunged for the basket on the cabinet instead.
By the time Mr. Williams caught up with it, Sid had already fled through the door.
“It’s my fault.” I heaved for air.
Mr. Williams knelt above his daughter, clutching her soaked body to his chest.
“I could have shaped it,” I said. “I could have told it not to hurt anyone. I’m so sorry.”
“We need to get out of the house,” he said.
I followed him downstairs, though I knew it wouldn’t return. The monster had been born with but one desire, and it would stop at nothing to get it.
There was nothing left to satisfy it here.
A cookie monster was born that day.
CREDIT: Tobias Wade
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