I wrote this story on Valentine's Day 2009. It is inspired sadly by my first marriage. As you will see, it is why I write horror. Some monsters are close to you, really close.
The Monster Inside
He’s let her leave the room this time. Sometimes he doesn’t. It depends on his mood.
She can’t even remember what the fight was over—something stupid but not to him, never to him.
He doesn’t beat her; his mode of operation is to kill her slowly—destroying her mind and wearing her down. He wants her to die or to lose what’s left of her soul.
She doesn’t even want to run away anymore. Those pitiful dreams have died along with hope. Hope, a barely remembered word something lost from long ago.
The funny thing is no one would believe the truth. Take this evening; they had guests all over the place. Nice, happy sparkly-eyed people; friends of his mainly. She hasn’t any friends now, they drifted away.
She’s protected his secret too long, you see.
“Don’t ever tell anyone, not a soul. Because I’d know, Joanna and you’d pay for it…”
She had a good friend once, they used to phone each other up and occasionally go to the movies but then she married Donnie. And Donnie wanted her all to himself.
It was flattering to her. She didn’t understand about possessiveness then. Besides, no one had ever paid that much attention to her before.
Even her mother was quite taken with him. “Where’d you meet him, he’s quite the thing, isn’t he?”
Quite the thing alright—a vicious blood monster that waited until after her mother exited the world before turning on her.
But first there were the plans.
They had been talking about marriage for a while. He wanted it a certain way.
“I want to be married on the beach in Oahu at dawn. I want you to wear flowers in your hair, a garland of white lotus flowers. I want the wedding to be special, Joanna because we will remember it for the rest of our lives!”
Oh yeah, she’d never forget.
They moved in together when her mother still lived in Encino. They were living in Boston then on a neat little street near the college.
She was proud of him in those days because he taught English literature and it was known that all the girls had crushes on him.
How many times had they been in a restaurant when some girl with sappy cow’s eyes would greet him and say dreamily, “Why good evening, Professor Mason…”
It didn’t bother her either because Joanna to her credit was not possessive in the slightest. Once upon a time she’d been an extremely well-adjusted confident, happy person with no hang ups but one. She hated flies but they were dirty yucky things and they spread disease. Aside from that she was pretty normal.
She hadn’t ever panicked about anything either. She lived her life on an even keel. When her dad died and her mother went to pieces, she saved her mother, staying with her until her mom got back on her feet again.
“You’ll see Jo, the rewards that will come to you for being such a good daughter.”
She met her reward two years later when she was working in New York. Laura nearly died when she saw him.
“He asked you out?”
Joanna laughed. “Thanks a lot! You put a lot of stress on the word, ‘you.’
Funny cute, well she could laugh then. She didn’t laugh now though. Laughter had become an alien thing buried as if it had died and was relegated along with other things like happiness and love to lie in a forgotten old cemetery.
Besides even if she did laugh she reasoned the hurt would be the same as when she laughed after her father died. It had been such an odd feeling, like ice cold pain in her chest. Yes, laughter could hurt.
Her poor father had died too young—barely fifty, probably because he had worked for a couple of monstrous bosses who drained him and used him and then spit him out.
Monsters. Joanna knew all about them. She now knew them to be all over. People nearly always ran into one or two or ten in the course of a lifetime.
Some people said they were the psychopaths that make up eight percent of the population most of whom aren’t criminal psychopaths. But Joanna didn’t think so. She just considered them to be generic monsters: bullies first and foremost; those whose sole occupation on earth is to torment.
They had within their ranks school children and teachers too sometimes. Their membership also included demonic bosses, bus drivers, cabbies and occasionally in-laws but in Jo’s case her husband.
So when had she first noticed it: this proclivity of his to change into a demonic being? Answer: their honeymoon--even there, even then. There was hell in paradise.
It had started over something stupid and inconsequential. She hadn’t finished her omelet or fruit salad. She didn’t know the rules yet you see.
They were having room service and it was lovely eating breakfast out on the terrace—tropical breezes bearing down on them. She felt so happy, but then again she hadn’t looked carefully at his face.
“Aren’t you going to eat that?”
She smiled and shrugged and even giggled, because she felt cute and mischievous. “No I’m not!”
He blew up in a flash. There was no time to prepare herself. His screaming lasted for ten or fifteen minutes.
She didn’t know then that it would last much longer normally. He only cut it short because he didn’t want to be over heard there in the hotel.
She was in shock afterwards. He left her like that. The phrase, what have I done, went through her head a few times. Then he came back all remorseful and sweetly sorrowful with a coral necklace as a peace offering.
“Hold out your hand.”
She forgave him for some idiotic reason. But that was because she was stupid and didn’t understand that his words of apology meant nothing and would continue to mean nothing.
When he did it again, over something else, she left him, walked right out. They were living in New York then in a sweet little apartment off Gramercy Park.
She felt right about leaving him. After all New York women are so confident. Or they have secrets too, some of them. Abusive partners are found all over the world in every city and town and village. Only those who are stomped on physically and verbally don’t like to discuss it much, so it’s often hidden and no one really knows how many people suffer the abuse of monsters.
She got herself a job and a little studio apartment on 19th Street, but then she ran into him. It must have been six months later. He was unshaven and thin looking, sitting in Paley Park off Madison Avenue.
She had just begun to eat her little salad from Gristedes when she saw him. “Don?”
He glanced up at her with the most amazing look of abject misery she had ever seen in her life. “Joanna?”
His face and his tone of voice touched her and she found herself near tears. They spoke for hours on neutral ground. She refused his offer to take her back to his place on the West Side. She was still being careful.
“How have you been doing?” her words asked gently because she did want to know despite being on guard.
He told her all kinds of stuff, some of it true. They would not see one another for some time. That is she wouldn’t see him, but then she did or at least started to.
“It doesn’t mean anything…”
Ah, but Donald and all the Donald monsters in the world know it does, they know that they have just managed to get one of their scaly, beastly feet into the proverbial doorway.
The sex was never better, there was tenderness like she had never known. Now, he was her best friend, her lover, her husband. So she listened to him when he said:
“Can we just try again, once more?”
Why did she say yes?
They are reunited and then it begins-her deliberate destruction.
Two years after the campaign, orchestrated as all good campaigns are—to defeat the enemy so that she has no self confidence, no self respect no self anything. She becomes in fact a hollowed out carcass that goes through the motions of pretending to live.
Talk about zombies!
Eventually they move to rural Connecticut. She’s not working but that’s because she can’t. She weighs 80 pounds because she has trouble swallowing. It’s a nervous thing. The doctor suggested a psychiatrist but this was of course not taken up.
“No, Joanna—stay on the medication and you’ll be fine, right honey?”
The beast works as an executive in Hartford. The closest neighbor is half a mile away. They never hear the screaming.
“What a nice man he is to care for her as he does…”
They just think he got stuck with a crazy lady. These are the people who came to their house for a little get together. They were flattered to be asked and consider the Masons (just Donald, truthfully) their “dear friends.”
The rambling Dutch Colonial house impresses them. People see what they want to sometimes.
“Please try to look normal, Joanna. You make the worst impression and our neighbors do want to visit.”
She’s putting her lipstick on thinking of how corpses are made up for funerals. It amuses her, this thought, which is pretty scary really.
The party is an ordeal, but she’s got enough Valium and Vodka in her to make it a surreal experience she can get through.
She smiles, frozenly and nods occasionally and then the stupid bastards finally leave. “I’m going upstairs.”
Ah, but he doesn’t want her to, because he’s pissed off. Maybe something one of the men said, and since he won’t take anything out on anyone else, least of all a man, he focuses his fury on her.
At some point she does escape. Somehow she manages to even doze a little. But then she hears him moving around below. Her one wish is that he’ll fall asleep drunk and maybe she’ll have a few hours in the welcoming dark to rest.
Sleep is more elusive than ever—normal sleep—although there’s that lovely deep, dark haze that sometimes comes to carry her off in its painless embrace—don’t knock respite even if it is brief.
Her thinking is muddy now—she’s losing it, she knows.
A smile curls her pale lips, better to lose it—better to sink into some eternal oblivion where she won’t care anymore.
The room is cold, he won’t put the heating on—he likes to think of her huddled up there—curled up in an icy ball, suffering—enduring.
She falls asleep or passes out, the relevance is irrelevant.
Later she awakens, stands up on shaky legs and looks at the door. It must be locked. There isn’t any reason to check he’s not forgetful.
A crash from downstairs—and she jumps, startled—clutching her bony chest. Her eyes light with a rare glimmer of expectation. That crash, did he fall down? Is he lying down dead, his monster’s head smashed open like an overripe melon?
But the hope is fleeting. “No,” she reasons, he probably just dropped something. She waits—but there’s nothing, no other sound. She walks on trembling legs to patter over to the door to listen. The TV’s on, she can hear it.
The doorknob—like a magical orb—waiting to be turned, waiting to lead her into; into what, the Promised Land? Hardly. Yet, stupid creature that she is, she reaches out to feel its smoothness.
I only want to feel it—it’s not as though I think it would actually turn! But the knob does turn—and her breath catches in her throat. It’s open! He hasn’t locked it! Dare she?
She dares. Soon, she is treading slowly—creeping along an inch at a time. Don’t let the floorboards creak!
She leans over the banister—there’s nothing to see. Just his briefcase he put down earlier from work. Briefcase! His work colleagues don’t know him like she does!
She pauses at the stairs, waiting—too afraid not to be waiting. Donald?
His name, not out loud of course, it’s only in her head.
She’s half-way down the stairs when suddenly she stops—she can hear him now, moving around in the kitchen.
Something leads her down the stairs—her will (somehow regained) perhaps—and she finds herself standing in the doorway. He’s bent over, looking in the fridge. He spins around.
She falls back—he’s covered in blood—blood down his arms and chest—and all over his mouth. He throws the food down and smiles, but his teeth look different, they’re yellow and pointed.
Her eyes lock onto the thing lying near his foot—the sandwich. But then she screams because it isn’t a sandwich! It’s…! He reaches over and picks it up. “Young, best when they’re young, darling!”
She’s used to hell, but this!
He holds it up proudly. It’s a child’s arm! “There’s plenty for both of us!”
He begins to move sideways—dipping one shoulder first and then the other—then he smiles at her.
Something huge sweeps up from behind him—two somethings. He moves again and she realizes what she’s looking at. He has wings—great, black wings!
He laughs but the laughter changes—and becomes a hawk-like shriek.
She tries to run, but he’s too fast for her, swooping down and knocking her onto her back. Then, like the predatory beast he has finally morphed into, he begins to feed on her.
She was prey and nothing more: her home, his nest, her life, his sustenance.
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