Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The Good Girl

My short story The Good Girl is now available online and in print from Luna Station Quarterly! It's about a transgender vampire! It's based on a Tom Petty song!

… So last year on Twitter, I decided I needed to point out how the Tom Petty song Free Fallin’ is about a transgender vampire.

Yes, really.

And… somehow this story happened.

I talk more about my inspiration in this interview.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Enough: A Free Reprint Story

 Hello! Continuing my attempt to make as much of my work available for free as possible, I have another reprint story to share with you today. If you don't want to listen to me ramble, feel free to scroll down to the story.

Enough was originally published in We Shall Be Monsters by Renaissance Press in 2018. (Fabulous anthology, by the way, all different takes on the Frankenstein mythos.) My story is about monsters as a metaphor for disability, about finding your place in a world that doesn't always want you, and about not letting other people tell you what you should be.

Content warnings: ableism (internalized and from other people), mentions of death in the past, mentions of a disabled person being killed in the past, psychological abuse and manipulation, abled people talking over disabled people

It's not the most cheerful story I've ever written, and some parts are hard for me to read. But that's because large portions of the story are not fiction. The doctor is inspired by the worst parts of my relationship with my father, and the final scene is almost word for word something that happened to me. If you want more context about that, I wrote a blog post about it in 2017. (the blog post was titled Enough, actually, and I don't remember if I named the story after that but I do know I wrote the story very soon after the incident.)

I wrote this almost 6 years ago, and while I've gone through some major changes in my life and I have changed so much as a writer and as a person… but also, this is still one of the most personal stories I've ever written, one of the most relevant to who I am and what has happened to me. I wish that wasn't true, but it probably always will be. Although I have met some really good people who aren't like the characters in my story, and I have been lucky enough to fill my life with them, not every disabled person is lucky enough to have people like them, and it feels like there are far too many of the other kind some days.

When I wrote the story, I thought it was always going to be the way it was then. And I was scared. Now, now I know that's not true, at least not always. There are good people out there who don't see me as a monster.


Enough


The blood was still wet when the story made the leap from newspapers to movies. Everything from exploitative, gory slasher flicks to more introspective examinations of the brilliant doctor and his fall from grace.

In an instant, the tragedy became something more, a metaphor that storytellers could twist to serve their own purposes. The townsfolk died not at the hands of a monster, but at the latex-gloved hands of science itself, that wretched craft practiced by witches in white coats who sought to squeeze the last bit of life from religion. Or maybe science could have saved them, if only the world had disregarded his methods and let the doctor continue his research.

If you ask the right person, it's a story about abortion. Ask someone else, and it's about the struggle between good and evil waging inside each of us. If you look hard enough, you can probably find someone who thinks it's a story about the importance of lightning rods, but there's always one unifying thread that ties together these disparate narratives.

Whether the doctor is the merciless villain or the sympathetic victim, it's always his story.

Not the woman unjustly accused of murder, not the reporter who broke the news of the experiments. Not even the miraculous creations, cobbled together from corpses and given the spark of life.

No, he's managed to steal the spotlight from us all.

It's his picture splashed across tabloids and movie posters, his name whispered in schoolyards alongside other urban myths. Even his first monster bears his name in the popular imagination.

Maybe it's because he's a white, upperclass man, and that makes him the default hero. Maybe we're just too "other" to care about, our lives too alien to appeal as anything more than bit characters and plot devices.

I don't know why it happened.

I only know this is not his story.


***


They say he never built me. They say he threw my parts out to the sea, a scene I've seen and read a thousand different versions of. It's the pivotal point, the final betrayal that turns his creation against him.

I don't know who invented that part of the story. Someone who didn't understand that Adam needed no reason to turn against our abusive creator, that the way he treated us, giving us life only to be disgusted when we didn't match his idea of perfection, was reason enough.

Maybe he wanted to throw me away when he saw the way Adam turned out. Undoubtedly, he would have debated the morality of bringing another life into a world that didn't want us in it, but in the end he did anyway.

I am made from the bodies of five women. I don't know where he found them or who they were, but I am not their scars or memories. I am not them. I am me, his Eve, birthed into existence in a thunderstorm summoned by the largest Tesla coil on the eastern seaboard.

He wanted to livestream my awakening to all the media outlets. Only Adam's first rampage spared me my privacy; after that, we had to go dark, hide away from the media.

I think I'm only alive now because no one knew I existed then.

And I'm lucky, if such a word can be used in this context, that the doctor's techniques improved after making Adam. You can hardly see where I've been stitched together, and when people stare, it's more out of curiosity than the outright horror they projected on Adam.

I can walk down the streets of Boston, my adopted hometown, and if I keep my gaze on the pavement and don't look them in the eye, I can pretend they aren't trying to work out what's wrong with me.

But still, I am not equal. There's something about me that isn't good enough, even if no one can put their finger on it. There's something wrong with being the way I am.


***


My left ankle has a tattoo on it, a little crescent moon. It's my only clue to who she was.

I shouldn't care whose parts he used. I am not them. I shouldn't waste any time thinking about that man and the things he did to me, but it's all I know how to do, care about the expectations of a man who's been dead for months. Everything I do, every skill I learn, somehow it's always for him, to show him that I'm smart and capable and good enough to be worth loving.

Except nothing was ever enough. I had to be better than everyone else, even though my body is too broken and my brain doesn't work the way anyone else's does.

So I look for them. They had lives before they came together to make me; maybe, if I find out what they were, my body will remember how to be that again and I'll find my purpose. Be something more than an aimless freak doing odd jobs and scavenging scrapmetal to stay alive.

I spend every spare moment at the library in front of a screen, searching for images of my tattoo. It isn't an uncommon design and it feels like I've seen more moons on more ankles than there are people on Earth, but then I find it.

On the millionth page of results, it's my ankle. My ankle and its moon, my big feet that don't like to be squeezed into pretty shoes, my olive skintone that blends awkwardly into the darker brown of my torso.

Her name was Caroline Beaufort, a beautiful young woman with a wide grin and high cheekbones.

I touch my face. Not the same. I'm a patchwork ragdoll.

The article accompanying the photo says she's missing. Disappeared from the parking lot where she worked just a few days before I was born.

Maybe she had an accident. Maybe he just found her body after she was already dead. It doesn't have to mean he killed her to make me.

For the first time since I've been living on my own, I feel the beginnings of hope fluttering in my chest. She had a life once, a happy one. Maybe I can, too.


***


I don't like taking the bus. All the routes and numbers jumble in my brain and people stare at me as I drag my clumsy feet down the aisle. But if it gets me downtown, to that little brick building with the parking lot where she disappeared, I can put up with a few stares.

We used to live in a laboratory, Adam and the doctor and I. It was dark, full of steel instruments and disembodied limbs, but it's this cheery building with its sunny windows that twists my gut with fear, and I stand here helplessly as the bus roars away.

I must stand here for a long time, because someone eventually comes out to check on me. An older woman, blonde with a string of pearls at her throat.

"Can I help you with something, dear?"

I recognize her from Caroline's social media. One of her coworkers. I glance down to make sure my pants cover my ankle while I try to find my voice.

The words slip from my grasp like sand. The harder I grab, the finer the grains become. I need to collect them; I can't just stand here soundlessly moving my mouth forever, but they just slip away.

His voice haunts me, flashbacks of the days after I awoke. Cameras in my face, that infernal red light flashing impatiently.

"You know this," he says, trying to sound encouraging. I can hear the underlying frustration. "You're learning faster than Adam did, but no one will believe us if you don't show them."

I did know it. I'd been studying Hamlet every waking minute, trying to fill my brain with its poetry. I should have been able to recite every scene by heart.

But when he pressed me, it disappeared. I didn't know the speech he wanted, and the more I tried and failed, the harder it was to find the information.

This woman is more patient than he ever was, and I manage to find some words. Not exactly the ones I want, but they do the job.

"I knew Caroline Beaufort."

Understanding turns her face dark for a moment, but she forces it to brighten again. "Was she your case worker?"

I don't know what that means, but I nod.

"My name is Mary Waldman. We were all very sad when Caroline disappeared, and I've taken over most of her cases. Do you want to come in?"

I nod again and follow her inside. She must see my dragging feet, the way I clumsily grab the door handle with more force than is needed, but she doesn't stare or comment. When we're inside, I see why.

This place is made to help people like me.

Not monsters. Maybe there are other scientists bending science to their will out there, but I doubt it. I think I'm the only monster.

But the people here, seated around tables in a big, colorful room, they're so much like me that it hurts. I'm not alone.

Some hold markers with awkward hands, others walk with unique gaits that must get them laughed at elsewhere. They talk with impediments, or by pointing at boards, or not at all. For the first time, I see the struggle from the outside.

"What... what are they?" I whisper. It sounds rude to my ears, like I'm separating them from other people, but I need to know. If they aren't monsters, maybe neither am I.

Mary tells me they have developmental disabilities, that they learn slower or have trouble accessing information. Some of them have bodies that don't work the way they should.

It's like I'm hearing a song for the first time, but I know all the words by heart.

She says the workers here, people like Caroline, help people like me reach our potential. I'm not sure if I qualify as disabled the way she thinks I do. There's no disease or condition; I was just built wrong.

But I'm not a monster to these people. I am not a shadow of the man who killed and reanimated in a dark lab, nor a reflection of his creation who rebelled against his creator's hatred and wreaked violence in the streets.

I am not a tragedy, not a lingering warning to count their blessings.

I am just me, and that is enough for them.


***


I stand before a room of people, and can't help but think of the presentations Adam gave in the beginning.

The doctor paraded him through the scientific community, making him recite poetry and lauding even his most minor accomplishments.

"See the way he ties his shoes?" he would say. "Even though his hands came from two different donors, even though I had to completely rework his nerves, he is as dexterous as a skilled surgeon!"

I remember watching the videos when they came home, hearing the spectators ask probing questions, seeing the enthusiasm drain from Adam's face as they dehumanized him by directing their questions at the doctor. Because no matter how he proved himself capable and intelligent, it was never enough to make him equal in their eyes.

Is it any wonder that when he finally snapped, they put him down like a dog, without so much as a trial?

I tell myself this is different, that these are kind people with good intentions. But still my mind replays those videos, those panels full of curious eyes, and I can't help but draw parallels to the people who started his descent into hatred, who first told that beautiful soul that he wasn't worthy of their world.

Mary's looking at me expectantly. Did she ask me something?

I grab the edge of the table so no one can see my hands tremble.

Noticing my confusion, Mary gently says, "I asked you to tell them what we've helped you with since we've been working together."

"Oh. I work now." That didn't come out right. Someone giggles at the simplicity of my words. "A steady job. I sweep up at a pet store."

"Do you like working?" Mary asks.

Do I like it? I love it. I'm earning money, paying rent. I'm self-sufficient and, for the first time since the doctor died, I know I'll be sleeping somewhere safe every night.

But those words don't come out of my mouth. No words do. I just give a little nod, still unsure why I'm here. What can I possibly teach new employees that isn't covered in orientation?

Some of their smiles get a little wider, a little less sincere. Do they... do they pity me?

A man raises his hand. "Do you want to go to college?"

"No."

I didn't think there could be a wrong answer to that question, but I have found one. The atmosphere in the room turns darker, spotlights shining bright in my face.

"A college education can be enlightening," Mary points out. "You can learn new things, meet people..."

I stare at my fingernails. "I can do that on my own."

"Of course, but college—"

Is a bigger room full of more people to judge me and put a value on my knowledge.

"—is an amazing experience. Wouldn't you want to get a degree?"

"No."

"But you could get a better job."

"I like my job. I like the animals. The, um. The rabbits." It's another wrong answer.

"A degree would be such a great accomplishment for you."

An accomplishment they could brag about, I realize.

Look at the monster, they'll say. See how deformed her body is, the way her hands bend funny and her foot drags. Hear her struggle to speak.

But look at her now. Educated. We did that. We took this abomination, this wretched waste of limbs, and turned her into something better. Something more normal, more like us.

I'm their Eliza Doolittle. They're parading me around high society and making themselves the heroes for it.

Just like with Adam and the doctor, I am not the main character in my own story.

They're looking at me again, and I have no earthly idea what they asked. My brain locks up and Mary answers for me.

"It can be tempting to assume disabled people are unintelligent," Mary says, "or that you need to talk down to them. But once you get to know someone like Eve and you see how bright and funny she is, hopefully you'll feel more comfortable talking to her."

I have to stop and make sure I heard her right.

We're only worth respecting if we can prove it? If we're smarter than they think we are, or if we accomplish things they think are important?

The words don't hide this time. They leap to the front of my mind and fly out of my mouth, and I'm not only talking to the people in the room with me.

"If you need to get to know someone before you can be decent to them, you are in the wrong profession. You're supposed to be helping us."

I see his face, his frown deepening as he compared me to eloquent, graceful Adam who was still not good enough.

"It isn't fair to say some people are better because of what they can do. I am smart. I can talk. I learn slower and my words... my words get lost sometimes, but that doesn't make me less than you and it doesn't make me better than the people who can't talk or who need more help to do things."

I'm not just talking to the people in the room with me, but I might not be talking to the doctor, either.

"Not everyone needs to do things. Some people can't, others just don't want to, and you shouldn't make them feel bad about it."

The doctor is dead. I saw Adam kill him. But the ghost of his teachings haunts my thoughts, tainting the way I see the world.

"It is enough to be happy. To exist in a society that accepts your strengths and your limitations, accepts your goals for yourself and doesn't hold you up to an impossible standard."

I think I'm talking to myself.

"It is enough to live your best life without having to show off for others."

I pause here for effect, because it's my story and I get to tell it any way I want.

I came here looking for purpose.

I don't know if I have one. I only know that I don't need a purpose to be worthy of having this body and these limbs that other people died to give me.

Part of me wants to storm out of here, but not the part of me that used to be Caroline, the part that dedicated her life to helping people. That part, not just my ankle with the little moon tattoo, but a piece of my heart, too, knows nothing will change if I leave.

People will still act like we're less than. They'll still turn themselves into heroes and us into monsters.

So I take a shaky breath and sit back down to help people. And when I'm done here, I'll find the source of the rest of my patchwork pieces, and finish the work they started.

And maybe that's purpose enough.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Blame The Monster: A Free Reprint Story

 Blame The Monster was originally published, and is still available in digital, in All Worlds Wayfarer last year, but I am slowly trying to make as much of my work available for free as possible. I still want to support all of the amazing publishers I have worked with so far, and I hope if you like this story you will consider purchasing the issue so you can read the rest of the stories, but I want my work to be accessible to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay for books.

So, Blame The Monster is the next one I am re-printing for free on my blog.

Please be advised that this story deals with, in a metaphorical Twilight Zone "turn social issues into monsters so we can talk about them" kind of way, themes of sexual assault and victim blaming. It is not a light and cheerful story, but I think it is a hopeful one all the same, and nothing explicit is described in much detail.



Blame the Monster


The night smelled like charcoal, wine coolers, and the smoky tang of fireworks. In a perfect world, it was the way all summer nights should smell. That heady mix of barbecue and bad decisions that burned itself so deeply into people's memories that it only took the merest whiff of starter fluid, and they were transported right back to high school, young and carefree and absolutely convinced that anything was possible and that they would live forever.

On nights like that, there was no such thing as college loans or office jobs. There was only fireflies and cutoff jeans and kissing your significant other down by the lake. The real world and its consequences just faded away.

And then the scream cut through that most perfect summer night, and the illusion crumbled, fizzling away like the last sparks of a fireworks finale. From that moment on, everything was too real and nothing would ever be okay again.

They found the girl by the lake, dress torn and blood streaked down her face. She shook, despite the warm breeze, despite her girlfriend holding her tight, her wide-eyed gaze locked onto the starry night reflected on the glassy surface of the water.

She whispered a single word: "Monster."

 

***

 

The formerly perfect summer night was soon filled with search parties and ambulances. Bandages covered the girl, a high school sophomore by the name of Grace Campbell, and the words "significant scarring" were whispered in the crowds as the flashing lights spirited her away.

Flashlight beams, both civilian and police, danced across the lake, startling frogs that splashed back into the safety of the water, but no monsters were found. Not even so much as a single footprint or claw mark in the wet sand.

"Think she made it up?"

"Probably got attacked by a raccoon and was too drunk to know the difference."

"Just wants attention."

"Or to distract us from what she was doing down here."

The low voices carried on the humidity, making it difficult to discern their precise origin, but Hallie glared at the silhouetted boys up ahead all the same. Kirk Lehman and his jock cohorts, no doubt. Bunch of jerks and bullies.

Her hand tightened on her flashlight, and she walked a little closer to her father as they trudged through the weeds. They hadn't seen the blood, hadn't seen the terror in Grace's eyes. They hadn't seen the water part as the last of a reptilian tail disappeared into the deep.

Hallie had.

She would never admit to being the first on the scene, of course, as that would lead to questions about what she'd been doing down by the lake, and who she'd been doing it with. The mayor's daughter had to be better than all those other girls, with their short skirts and loose morals. The scandal that it would cause... Her father would never forgive her if she and her girlfriend ruined his chance at re-election.

But she'd seen it. She'd seen... something. A hulking shadow, a glint of eyeshine. Claws and teeth that tore into flesh. And even more chilling than the thought of such a monster lurking in the lake was the idea of no one believing in it.

The impromptu search party circled the lake for hours, even venturing into the woods on the edge of the park, but more and more people dropped off as the sky brightened, many of them muttering things about hoaxes and attention seekers. Hallie couldn't imagine any amount of attention being worth all that blood, but she said nothing, and in the morning the town tried its best to return to normal.

"Nothing to see here," the townsfolk said. "Go about your day. Eat that frozen treat, blast your radio as you drive with your windows open. You're young and invincible and the world is made of magic."

"Yes," they told their daughters, "it's a tragedy what happened to that Campbell girl. But she had it coming, going down to that lake at night. It won't happen to you. Never to you. You're better than that."

Grace's hospital room bloomed with flowers and balloons from well-wishers she hardly knew, tokens to prove that they weren't heartless, that they weren't bad people. If they only gave enough stuffed pandas to the girl they sneered at behind her back, then maybe they weren't the sort of girls who got their faces torn off by monsters.

A few nights later, there was another attack.

Two girls this time, neither of them so lucky as Grace Campbell.

The town mourned, because that's what you do when you lose children. You hold candlelight vigils, and you leave sweet little cards outside the school where they will never graduate, and you dedicate a moment of silence to them before the minor league baseball game in the park.

You talk about their innocence, about how they were taken before they really got a chance to live. And then, just when your citizens start to fear for their safety, you hold a press conference to blame them for their own deaths.

"These young women," the mayor began, and how quickly they had become women, now that it was inconvenient for them to be innocent children, "appear to have been attacked by something unknown to modern science."

Hallie stood uncomfortably by her father, trying not to make eye contact with the families. Could she have prevented these deaths? Could she have given more weight to Grace's claims, made people search a little harder, if only she'd spoken up?

"Teeth like an alligator, claws like a cougar. I didn't want to believe it, but the evidence is undeniable. There is something preying on our people."

An uneasy murmur went through the crowd, which was dotted with reporters from across the country. One girl getting attacked was a sad occurrence, two was a curiosity, but three... ah, three was the magic number that got the rumor mills churning.

"Fear not," the mayor continued, "for the monster only preys on those who go down to the lake at night."

Left unsaid was the insinuation, "And we all know what kind of people go down to the lake at night."

Hallie glared at her father from beneath her sun hat as he glossed over plans to hunt down the beast and focused instead on how the girls should have been more careful, how they should have protected themselves, looked over their shoulders, left at the first sign of danger. And she glared at all the nodding people who thought this was a perfectly reasonable response.

But nod they did, and just like that, it was no longer a tragedy but a cautionary tale.

 

***

 

No one went to the lake anymore, because that would solve the monster problem, wouldn't it? Just put up a little yellow police tape, and the night could be carefree and endless once again.

A grand idea, except the monster didn't take too kindly to being shunned. Once it had exhausted its supply of fish and frogs, it had to find food elsewhere. Yellow police tape meant nothing to the monster.

The sedges parted as it crept out of the water, moonlight glistening on its wet hide. It stepped cautiously, not wanting a snapping twig or rustle of leaves to draw attention, but it needn't have bothered.

The joyful shrieks and laughter of children filled the air as they chased one another and traced their names in the sky with sparklers, giving a pleasant background noise to stargazers. A singalong in the park further camouflaged the natural sounds of the evening, the monster's heavy footfalls included.

It crouched low to the ground, almost slithering as it wound around abandoned badminton nets and stacks of paper plates that still smelled of ketchup all those hours after the barbecue. It tested the air with its tongue, sensing the heat signatures of so many human bodies.

And then it pounced.

These shrieks were unlike those of the children. Even from across the park, even not knowing what had happened, people knew it was the monster. They could hear the bloodshed in the screams.

In the morning, the mayor had to amend his earlier statement, and "no going down to the lake" became "don't go to the park" became "don't go out at night."

But the attacks continued, in the middle of town and sometimes even in broad daylight, and they soon realized they would need a new rule to keep people safe.

The mayor and the police scoured crime scene photos and incident reports, searching for any common thread that linked the victims. They could have expended this energy hunting down the monster, but then they would be liable for protecting the citizens, and any blood would be on their hands if they failed. They couldn't have that, now could they?

At long last, they made a shocking announcement.

Women were not to leave the house in clothes that exposed large amounts of skin.

All of the victims, they had discovered, had been wearing tank tops and short skirts, bikini tops and Daisy Dukes. It stood to reason, they argued as the crowd in front of City Hall shouted, that the monster could sense people's pulses through their skin, but not through clothes.

"Or perhaps," the mayor said, "thick clothing prevents it from smelling the estrogen given off by the feminine reproductive organs. In any event, if you want to keep your daughters and wives and sisters safe from harm, you will keep them decent so as not to tempt the monster with their flesh."

Never mind the great leap in logic, the fact that most of the town had been wearing shorts all summer and only a dozen had been attacked.

Never mind that Grace Campbell, being transgender, lacked the reproductive organs the mayor no doubt thought of as "feminine."

Never mind that women were, in fact, people with autonomy who deserved the right to dress however they damn well pleased without having to fear their hemline putting them in mortal danger or needing the men in their lives to keep them safe.

No, never mind any of that silly stuff like logic and feminism. There was a monster in their town, and a dress code would stop it.

 

***

 

When Grace was finally discharged from the hospital, it was in a heavy wool dress that dusted the floor as she walked and covered every inch of her body from neck to wrist. Better safe than sorry, the nurses said.

Of all the people who had brought balloons and cards and little stuffed pandas, only Hallie was there to greet her, sweating profusely in a jacket and long pants. The rest had forgotten they'd ever sympathized with her, now that they knew her exposed kneecaps and oh-so-tempting clavicles had caused the attack.

"It hasn't gotten you yet?" Grace asked, wincing as she slid into the passenger seat. The air conditioner felt like a miracle, but it was already on full blast and sweat still prickled on her forehead.

"Of course not," Hallie said with a scoff. "I'm a good girl. I'm an example."

"I seem to remember you showing a lot of skin that night down by the lake," Grace said, voice trapped somewhere between nostalgic and mournful. Hallie nodded, taking her girlfriend's bandaged hand.

How quickly the beginning of summer had been relegated to the distant past, how easily that perfect summer night had lost all its magic.

It wasn't even the monster. No, there had always been monsters, lurking just on the shadowy edges of our collective consciousness, but Hallie and Grace had always thought that society would protect them. That even if they couldn't stop the attack, nothing would stop the people who loved them from hunting down the monsters afterwards. They had thought that there was such a thing as justice.

But all the magic had gone from the world in the time it took Grace Campbell to whisper "monster." There would be no more endless summer nights, chasing fireflies and making wishes on falling stars, no more wishes at all. Just student loans and office jobs, dressing for safety and holding your keys between your knuckles as you look over your shoulder on that long, lonely walk to the car.

That was no kind of world to live in, to raise kids in.

So the girls--because no matter what people called them, they were still just girls--would have to take care of their monster problem for themselves.

 

***

 

The girls went down to the lake that night. Hallie, Grace, some of the other survivors, and a handful of those lucky enough not to have endured that particular trauma. Even Kirk Lehman, who Hallie thought had come to mock them, came in solidarity.

"It doesn't just attack girls," he said, rolling up his sleeves to show the scars on his arms.

They all marched down to the lake, dressed however they damn well pleased, and they kissed their significant others and they did all those evil things people told them only bad people did.

They dared to dream of a world that punished the monsters instead of the victims, and a world where clothes and love had no assigned morality, and some would say that was the most dangerous and courageous thing of all.

People came down to shame them, to warn that they were tempting the monster with their wicked deeds.

"You can't dress like that," they said, the mayor and the police and the journalists. All those people too stubborn and afraid to know better. "You can't let yourself feel that safe. It will smell you, it will sneak up on you while your back is turned. You can't go out at night without weapons. You're not protecting yourselves at all--anything that happens is on your heads."

But they were so very wrong.

When the monster came--sneaking and slithering up from the depths--it came not for the children. They were too confident, too organized. The monster knew it stood no chance against them, not now that they had decided they would not be shamed for being survivors.

So it turned instead to the adults, who were too busy saying "it doesn't happen to people like me" to see it coming.

The children watched it stalk ever closer, and though the temptation to stay silent was strong, none of them would ever wish that on another person. So they switched on the floodlights.

No longer able to hide in the shadows, the monster's true form was finally seen: a pathetic little worm so desperate to feel powerful that it sucked power from others, making them feel as tiny and as insignificant as it was.

Grace Campbell crushed it with her shoe, and the summer night returned to that perfect, endless state where anything was possible. There were still monsters, everyone knew they were out there, but those monsters could be killed, if people were just willing to try.

End