Your monster leaves green, wiry fur everywhere. He slops greasy white drool onto the furniture when he eats. His horns have splintered the door jambs and frames in nearly every room in the house. He never wipes his hooves before coming inside. He’s got a wet dog smell when he’s dry. A dead dog smell when he’s wet. He never cleans up after himself. Cigarette butts. Beer bottles. Take out containers. Condom wrappers. All over the place. All the time. He steals cash right out of your wallet too.
And every time you’ve tried to murder him he’s never, ever died. Not even once. Not even for a second.
But you keep trying.
You keep trying because if he’s still mucking around, you’re still making excuses. For the late nights. The inability to commit. The endless string of angry friends—former friends. For everything.
You cook up a beautiful breakfast of eggs and toast and waffles and bacon and sausage. You pepper it all with arsenic.
Your monster, he doesn’t bother to thank you—because, of course he doesn’t—before he starts throwing clumps of food into his face.
But you don’t care.
Not about the bits of egg that end up on the wall behind him. Not about the slurping, sucking sounds he makes while he chews. And not about the scratches he leaves in your good plates and custom, authentic Amish-crafted table, grabbing for more. (You bought that thing to show your mother, your father, your friends that you can take care of nice things. And now it’s wrecked.)
So you laugh when he keels over, shatters a plate with his face.
The impact jingles the unused utensils. Spills juice and coffee over the rims of glasses and mugs.
His face in a bed of shattered ceramic, you’re a cackling fiend. Your stomach muscles ache, you can’t catch your breath, your eyes are all runny. A rope of slobber runs from your bottom lip to your tie.
All because now, starting today, you’ll be taken seriously.
At work, you’re a new man. Everyone sees it. Your boss. Lola from accounting. Your marketing team.
You’ve hit reset. You’ve got a chance to begin again. Like the song you used to sing as a kid—the one about the pathetic old Irish man.
Lola says, “You look happy today.”
“Michael Finnegan begin again,” you say. “What would you say to drinks? Monsterless. Just you and me?”
But, of course, your monster calls the office just after lunch to tell you how delicious breakfast was. To ask what you did differently.
A Google search later you find out that arsenic acts as a strong sedative for monsters. That it adds volume and body to their fur on top of the very deep, euphoric sleep it induces.
You cancel on Lola before you leave for the night.
The next time you give it a go, you get your monster good and drunk at the bar you two used to close-up almost nightly. Now just semi-nightly.
You act like he’s your best buddy.
It’s easy because he used to be.
You buy him beers, shots, mixed drinks. More beers, more shots, and even more shots. And you, you’re faking sloppy while matching drink for drink. With a little help from the bartender, the beers are Becks NA in pint glasses. The white liquor is water. The brown liquor is…okay, it’s brown liquor. But you don’t blame yourself for that. You’ll need the guts to do what needs to get done.
Your monster, he’s cutting it up with other’s people’s monsters—the ones who have it together. The ones with their fur trimmed, and their horns polished, and their tusks or teeth all pearly white. Sure, they’re playing pool and swearing and smoking and talking bawdy about the purple-furred, fanged waitress’s scaly, sparkly tail…but most certainly they’ll go home with their humans to get enough sleep so that they’ll be ready for work bright and early.
The guys sitting at the bar with you, they’re adults. They’ve tamed their monsters. Landed good jobs. Bought houses. And only get drunk and rowdy when their schedule permits.
Buy you, you’ve had enough of all of it. Enough for two monsters, really. And despite your monster refusing to cut it out with the drinking, the smoking, the everything, you’re doing everything you can to separate yourself from that.
You talk to the bartender politely—because that’s what you do now. Ask her what she does outside of this place, what her hobbies are, where she’s from. You’re friendly with the waitress-monster, who, like most, grew up properly alongside her human counterpart.
But that’s when your monster loses everything he drank all over the pool table.
“He’s yours, right?” the bartender says.
You smile, say, “Yeah. But our priorities are different these days.”
You manage to get him into your car, buckle him in.
Then you remember the plan and unbuckle the belt as if it had buckled itself without your permission.
It’s dark. Dark-dark. No stars-dark. Just the halos from your headlamps crammed into yellow binoculars on the road. A streetlamp once or twice. Headlights every now and then. A police cruiser tucked behind some bushes here or there.
Before, this stretch of road at this time of night was just about the loneliest you could get.
Tonight—your monster snoring and slobbering all over himself in the passenger seat—you could scare children to tears with the grin stretching your face achy.
The bolt cutters bite through the chain at the quarry entrance with almost no effort. Maybe it’s the adrenaline. Maybe the light weight lifting is paying off. Maybe it was a bad chain because what kind of lunatic breaks into a quarry in the middle of the night?
Headlights off, the gravel’s a whispering rumble under the tires.
Your monster doesn’t stir, move, adjust. Doesn’t make a sound. Not a grunt. Not a deep, wet, drunken burp. Nothing.
But a hundred or so feet from the hole, you’re giggling.
The football helmet from high school smells too much like the past you hated while you lived it for no other reason than you were young and stupid and lonely. But it’s nice now. Like the prom you shouldn’t have drank through. The graduation you should’ve paid attention to. The couple of friends you should’ve kept in touch with.
One more big old whiff of sweat and dry rot, and you slam your foot onto the gas pedal, throw the car into drive, and take off toward the drop edge of nothing.
Just before the car sails into the black, you open the door and dive into the gravel. The momentum drags you through the dirt. Eats at your knees, hands, elbows, chest. But you don’t care. There’s plenty of time left to stop yourself before you roll over the edge.
Now that he’s gone.
The Uber ride home is silent. Every now and again you hum about the Irish guy in that kiddie song. Every so often your brain replays the sound of the car hitting the bottom of the pit. And every time crumpling metal smashing against stone fires through your head, you add to a list of ways your life is about to improve.
Lose thirty pounds of fat, gain fifteen of muscle: In-Progress.
Lola falling in love with you: Be your new self and make it happen.
At home, in bed, sleep doesn’t come easy because of the wonderful potential future ahead. But you drift off. Nice and slow, you drift away to be replaced by a brand new you in the morning.
Your monster calls from the police station first thing.
You have to burn some PTO to pick him up. Have to empty out your savings for bail.
At the station, your dinged up, bandaged, bruised monster acts all sheepish behind bars. He smiles, waves.
“He’s yours, right?” an officer says.
You say nothing. Nod.
Once he’s let out of his cell, you throw your arms around your monster, hug him tight. Then you say thank god, that you were worried sick, that you wouldn’t know what you’d do without him.
The cop says your monster was lucky. But not lucky enough to walk away from an accident like that without any consequences. There will be a hearing. Probably required community service. Restitution. Maybe thirty days in jail depending on how the lenient the judge is with first-time monster offenders.
You’re also told you need to be more responsible. “He is yours after all. Lead by example.”
You hug your monster again, a bit tighter this time.
Face in his reeking green fur, you listen for a pained grunt or a slight crackle of bone. But he doesn’t make a sound.
It’s weeks before you even begin to think about trying again.
Longer until you wonder if you’re the one who has to get murdered in order to get rid of your monster. But dying wouldn’t work at all. That productive-member-of-society status you want so badly wouldn’t apply to you. Lola from accounting would forget all about you, start talking to Dan from marketing, or Brian from the leadership team, or Ken from HR before too long. And your debt would get shunted back onto your sad, disappointed parents.
But when your monster falls asleep on the couch after talking about how wild that purple-furred, fanged waitress is, you turn all the gas burners on in the kitchen.
While gas stink fills the house, you’re on your computer.
You google, are monsters flame retardant? How many monsters died in fires in the last ten years? Does monster fur gain a new lustrous color after being burned?
You google, will Lola forgive you for canceling on her so many times if personal tragedy strikes? How much time off will you get for being caught in a catastrophe? Is a person whole if their monster dies?
You’re lightheaded when you reach for the scented candle on the coffee table. The scented candle you bought when your friends started putting scented candles on display in their lovely, well-maintained homes.
You pull the lighter that’s tucked between cigarettes in your monster’s pack of smokes. And when you flick the flame on, light the wick, you spring off the couch toward the door.
The explosion throws you through the screen door, down the porch steps, and spills you onto the little patch of lawn the landlord mows.
Aching, burned, bleeding, you laugh and laugh. You spit blood and laugh and laugh. And you have to force yourself to stop when the fire trucks and cops and ambulances show up, turn the neighborhood into a rave with their lights.
You answer all their questions lying on a stretcher.
“My monster was in there.”
“I smelled gas right before it happened.”
“I lit a candle. Is this my fault?”
The looks you get. Halfway between pity and scorn.
The same looks you’ve been getting since you and your monster never stopped yourselves from acting like you acted in high school. And college. And young-professionaldom. And middle-agedness. A boy and his monster, all grown up never having grown the fuck up.
“I’m alive now,” you say. “I’m alive.”
One of the paramedics, she turns to you, sort of smiles. “You’re very lucky.”
You laugh again.
That song floods your brain. The one about the Irish guy who never did anything right but always got second chances. The one you sang when you were a kid. Before you and your monster turned yourselves into beasts together.
Through your mangled, bloody smile, you say, “Luck had nothing to do with it. Poor old Michael Finnegan, begin again.”
Then you start to sing. “Poor old Michael Finnegan, begin again.”
Just before the EMTs shut the ambulance doors, someone outside says something like wait, wait, look. Something that sounds a lot like they’ve found something under whatever’s left of your apartment.
That something’s alive under there.
So you sing all the way to the hospital. You sing because you’re going to get another shot. Whatever it is, you’ll get another go at it.
Again and again.
Until it’s right.
Nick Gregorio lives, writes, and teaches just outside of Philadelphia. His fiction has appeared in Crack the Spine, Hypertrophic Literary, Third Point Press and many more. He earned his MFA from Arcadia University in May 2015. His debut novel, Good Grief, is available now from Maudlin House.