You hold your hand-carved, blackwood cane close to your heart. You don’t have a limp, but you never go outside without it. Just in case you have to—
–just in case.
The world is a dark place.
You want to believe you aren’t a monster. But you’ve been chased away from everywhere you’ve tried to settle. You tiptoe across glass, trying not to get cut, trying not to make a noise, but you always fail.
You start to hate them. (when did your neighbors become “them,” anyway?)
Some nights you don’t see the point in tiptoeing any longer. In trying to keep those monsters safe. (when did they become monsters?)
When have any of them ever tried to keep you safe?
Those nights become more frequent.
You retreat to the basement later each month. You forget to lock the door. You let yourself stay outside after dark.
Part of you almost hopes you’ll be too late, but you’d never admit it.
What scares you is, you don’t know if that’s the monster talking or your own exhaustion.
Your life has taught you to be careful, but it never explained why.
Your carelessness scares you to death.
So you board yourself up. You become the weird neighbor in the big, dark house with the dead grass, who only speaks to neighbors when he’s complaining.
You’re frightened, but you’re angry because you aren’t frightened enough. Because the fire doesn’t go away anymore—nor do the cravings.
Because you and it aren’t as separate as you were last month, and you’ll be even less so next month.
You gave up on love and replaced it with fate.
Enemies bite at you from all sides. You can’t fight them all and the monster. So you choose one battle and ignore the others. But even the one you choose to fight is too much for you.
What hope is there then?
Suppose you win—the concept is so foreign, it would scare you if you ever came across it. You wouldn’t be able to handle its new expectations.
Turns out, you can’t handle much of anything these days.
You surrender. You decide to live out what you hope will be a short life, taking up as little space as possible.
But look. Something happens. You hear it.
You lift your head and see one of the rowdy neighbor boys. He’s staring.
How did he find out? Probably through your carelessness. You’ve given yourself away. You decide to only take one suitcase this time.
But it isn’t like that.
He isn’t shouting, or pointing, or tugging at sleeves. He’s just looking.
He sees you—he sees you more than you’ve been seen since grandfather died.
And for some impossible reason, he understands.
A single crack in the charred carcass you call a heart—the tiniest of cracks, but through it you can see the glow of blood. Vibrant and proof that you aren’t quite dead yet.
Forgotten desires seep from that crack. Love, family, morality, friendship, scholarship…
You remember you used to write. You set up a porch swing. You pull the weeds in your garden for the first time since moving in.
Because maybe you’ll stay a while.
Someone else finds out and they understand, too.
You talk over the fence with your neighbors as you rake the leaves. Trick-or-treaters come to your door for candy, not just as triple-dog-dares.
Their parents take turns sitting guard once a month. They make you scrambled eggs the next morning.
Maybe they’ll ask you about it, or maybe they’ll just ask what you have planned for the front flowerbed.
They share their own secrets with you.
Meesha across the street is afraid to tell her parents about her girlfriend.
Bob, three doors down, has been seeing a therapist four times a week for his depression.
You talk about your family, and about that one time you got shot and you had to dig out the bullet the next day.
About the bag you always keep packed in the closet by the back door.
And they understand. And you understand.
You will never unpack that bag in the closet,
but you do start to leave your cane at home.
A/N: Inspired by some childhood monster movies.
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