Sometimes, I just don't know what inspires me to write a story. A lot of times they literally just pop into may head, mostly in the form of "what if" questions. For "Teresa's Monster," I really can't say what gave me the idea. But it's a story I enjoyed writing. Hope you like it, too! Feel free to comment.
As always, the CC license is at the bottom of this post.
"Teresa's Monster" by Kevin Tumlinson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at kevintumlinson.blogspot.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.kevintumlinson.com.
As always, the CC license is at the bottom of this post.
by Kevin Tumlinson
Teresa always thought the worst thing that could happen to her was the cancer. Just hearing the doctor say the words—you have cancer—had been enough to send her into a full-blown panic. It lasted days. She had kept to herself and hadn’t really confided in anyone because she had this vague (albeit unrealistic) hope that she could make the whole thing go away. Ignore it. Let it vanish along with the day’s headlines, the crappy movie that was released a week or so before, the new deodorant commercial that everyone currently thought was funny.
Make it a non-entity and it would no longer exist.
But it did exist. It was gnawing at her every day, chewing away at the interior of her abdomen. The doctor had said she could start treatment right away but Teresa had refused. She would wait, she said.
“This can only get worse. The longer you wait, the more dangerous this becomes. It’s treatable now. You should deal with it now.”
But she couldn’t. Dealing with it now made it real, couldn’t he understand that? And after a week of not dealing with it she couldn’t face going back to his office. After a month of ignoring phone calls she couldn’t face returning any of them or even acknowledging them. It was three months later before she knew it.
She hadn’t told her family.
Not that she had much family any way. Who would really miss her? Her brother who lived three states away and only called on Christmas? They hadn’t seen each other in almost fifteen years. They were strangers.
Her mother? She was barely able to understand that the nurse who took care of her wasn’t trying to hurt her. She’d been in the home so long that Teresa couldn’t think of her any other way. There was a time, she knew, that this woman had taken care of her, nurtured her. That time was so far in the past that it was less than a memory. It was just some story she’d heard somewhere.
And the thought of ending up like her mother …
She hadn’t told her friends either. They would have made a fuss, for sure. Flowers and cards and words of encouragement. Maggie, her closest friend since high school, would have insisted that Teresa get the treatments. So to cut off that line of thinking Teresa had started distancing herself from her friend.
It wasn’t hard to do … Maggie had a husband and two kids to keep her busy. All Teresa really had to do was stop being the one to pick up the phone and make the call. Sadly, she realized, the gulf had been growing there all along. All Teresa had to do was stop fighting the erosion.
Without the constant reminder from friends and family it wasn’t hard to wipe the whole thing from her memory. Only the pain was there to remind her—and boy, did it insist on being heard. Sometimes it screamed at her from within her stomach. A knot of horror that threatened to pull her down and sometimes succeeded in literally bringing her to her knees. But any voice can be ignored if you’re popping over-the-counter pain pills by the dozen. The threat to her liver seemed moot compared to what the cancer was doing.
Surely, with all the pain and the impending death and the growing distance between her and her friends and family, surely this qualified as “the worst thing that could ever happen to her.” But then she started seeing the monsters.
At first, she didn’t see them as monsters at all. She saw them as little glimmers. It was like watching heat radiate off of the hood of a car in the summer sun. A shimmer, but it moved about, writhed as if it were alive. She started seeing them everywhere when she was in public, crawling and oozing over people she would pass in the street. She would sometimes see so many that she felt sure she was losing her mind.
It wasn’t like they were dancing at the corners of her vision. She could track them. She could follow them with her gaze. This meant occasionally staring at people, though, since the shimmering creatures were always perched on a shoulder or hanging from someone’s shirt or otherwise attached like tiny, transparent jockeys. More than once she’d been caught staring by someone who would say something to her, ask what she wanted. She could never answer with anything that was all that convincing, and so she developed a technique of simply smiling, shaking her head, and pretending that she’d been lost in thought. It usually worked.
After a while the shimmering began to take a more definitive shape, though. It began to have distinct outlines. It might have vague arms and legs, a head, maybe a tail. It took on the form of an undulating, semi-transparent silhouette, occasionally turning to look at her as she stared. As if it couldn’t quite figure out what she was staring at, or couldn’t make out what it was seeing.
More time passed and the gnawing, aching pain in her stomach got worse. She was now popping bottles of pills at a time. She felt sick most of the time—drowsy, dizzy, nauseated. It was a lot like having the flu and riding a Spin-n-Whirl at the carnival at the same time. Some days she could barely get out of bed. The end must surely be coming soon.
But then she’d have “good” days. She’d feel less like vomiting and less like her stomach was on fire. And she’d be able to go out, walk in public, and see the monsters.
They had full forms now. They were every different shape, color, and size. Some were fiery red, glowing slightly like embers and cracked, burning coal. Others might be a sickly green, covered in slime and oozing over the person they rode like a horse to and fro. Still others were as black as soot, powdery and smoky and coating their human with their pallid residue.
One morning she was sitting in a coffee shop, enjoying a “good day” for the first time in over two weeks, sipping on a latte and watching as people strolled past. She had left her job a few months ago, cashing in her 401k and living off of her savings. Her needs were slight—and it wasn’t like she was going to have to worry about growing old with no one to care for her. She’d be long gone before it became an issue.
“Teresa?” she heard a man’s voice say.
She looked up to see Michael Carrington, a guy she’d known in college. He looked fit. He had the build of someone who worked out often, and his complexion was tan and healthy looking. He had a monster dangling from his neck.
“Michael?” Teresa managed, trying not to stare at the imp that crawled around on Michael like some sort of dark-violet insect. It was covered in shiny, pliable looking scales like the wings of a cockroach. She managed not to shiver.
“Wow, it’s you! I haven’t seen you since … what, college right? How many years?”
Teresa smiled a little. “Four years. Not too long, I guess.”
“Forever,” Michael smiled. “Mind if I sit?”
Teresa shook her head and Michael dropped into one of the wooden seats at her table with a loud, screeching sound of wood on concrete as the chair slid backwards slightly. In his hand was some sort of smoothie—fruit blended with vitamins. It was “healthy.” Teresa hated them.
Michael took a sip of his drink and the creature hissed a bit then sank his teeth into the flesh of Michael’s neck. Teresa wasn’t sure if the two were connected but guessed they probably weren’t. Just a coincidence.
“Man, it’s acting up today,” he said.
Teresa blinked. “What?” Could he see it too?
Michael looked sheepish. “Oh, sorry. I’m so used to everyone knowing. I have skin cancer.”
Teresa stared for a moment, unsure what to say. She was vaguely aware that her mouth was open and she closed it, pursing her lips a bit.
Michael waved. “It’s nothing. Spots. Sometimes they hurt. It’s weird. But I’m getting treatments. My tan is going to hell but you do what you have to do, right?”
Teresa nodded. “Yes,” she said, hoping they could get away from the subject of cancer. This was a “good day,” after all. Cancer was far away from her ruined abdomen. An imaginary illness. Never touched her. She watched as the creature moved again, this time biting Michael’s cheek. Again he winced slightly but said nothing.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to bring down the mood,” he smiled and laughed a little, obviously trying to put her at ease. “I learned a month or so ago and I guess I’ve sort of adjusted. Who doesn’t have cancer these days, right?”
Teresa suddenly laughed, but it sounded almost manic, even to her. It was all she could do to clack her mouth shut and keep herself from rolling into hysterics.
Michael gave her a strange look. “Are … you ok? I think I freaked you out.”
Teresa shook her head. “No. No, I’m fine. I’m sorry. It’s just … well … you’re the second person in my circle to get cancer. I guess it’s just got me a little freaked.”
Michael nodded knowingly. “Well, don’t worry too much about it. They’ve made some pretty fantastic advances in medicine. People usually do ok. When I first learned I had it they gave me the name of a counselor. I stopped going after a couple of visits. It just seemed … pointless. I felt fine. I wasn’t depressed or scared. I feel like it’s just … part of life. You know?”
She nodded, though she didn’t agree. Or didn’t want to agree. Part of life? That was just stupid. This was death, not life. It was like comparing stone and water.
As she watched the monster crawl around on Michael’s flesh, taking random bites and grinning obscenely, she realized that it might be part of something else, too. Some unseen world in which people were on the menu for some grotesque creature. There was obviously a connection between this monster and the disease that was eating away at Michael. The two were connected, she was positive.
Why hadn’t she noticed it before? Was it just cancer or were the monsters connected to other illnesses?
“I’m sorry,” Michael said again. “I hate it when the cancer becomes the conversation,” he smiled. “So let’s change the subject. What have you been up to since college?”
Teresa didn’t want to change the subject. She wanted to ask questions. She wanted to tell him that she could see the thing that was eating him a piece at a time. She wanted to tell him that it showed no signs of weakening, so it was possible his treatments weren’t working. But she knew that he’d never understand what she meant. She was seeing something no one else could see. It would just make her sound crazy.
Maybe she was.
“I started working in accounts at Webber & Cole,” she said, managing to smile. “Of course I decided to leave recently. I’m … between jobs, I guess.”
Michael nodded. “Accounts. Exciting stuff,” he smiled.
Teresa laughed. “Not really.”
The conversation went on for some time and Teresa tried not to become focused on the skin-cancer-creature as it crawled. It was concentrating all of its bites on Michael’s face and neck, and Teresa figured that must be where the cancer was limited at the moment. Maybe these things could only affect some weakened area of a person’s body. Maybe they could only feed on parts that were susceptible to the disease they represented.
Finally, after a couple of awkward silences and conversational stop-starts Michael stood to go. “It was great catching up with you,” he said. He took a card out of his wallet and gave it to her. “Shoot me an e-mail some time. We’ll stay in touch.”
Teresa smiled. “Sure,” she said. She would probably never see him again.
He turned to leave, the creature in tow around his neck, and Teresa suddenly found herself unable to just let him go without saying something. “Michael,” she said, getting to her feet.
He turned, wincing slightly as the creature took a nip at his cheek.
“You should go see your doctor. Tell them you want them to check your neck and face. Tell them …” She paused, unsure if she should say it or not. “Tell them that the treatment isn’t working.”
Michael looked startled. “What? I …”
“Just tell them,” she said, leaning forward and touching his arm. “Please.”
Michael looked at her for a moment, then nodded and left.
Teresa wasn’t sure he’d follow her advice but at least she had said something. She tossed her half-empty coffee cup in the trash and got up to leave, ignoring the half-dozen or so monsters dangling from some of the other patrons in the coffee shop.
There was no sign of it on her. She had been staring into the mirror for an hour and couldn’t see so much as a shimmer on herself. Could she have been wrong? Was it just a coincidence that Michael’s skin cancer had coincided with the monster that crawled on his skin? Maybe she was just delusional after all, seeing things that weren’t there.
She shook her head, refusing to accept that. It was too much. Every bite on Michael had resulted in a flinch. And the creature was targeting specific areas. No, somehow that thing was either the cause of Michael’s cancer or was feeding off of it.
So why couldn’t she see one of these things on herself? She had cancer. Stomach cancer. She’d spent months denying it, trying to pretend it wasn’t there, but now she embraced it, allowing her mind to look at it clinically and accept that there was something feeding on her. So shouldn’t she see something there?
Maybe it didn’t work that way. Maybe she could see these things on other people but not on herself. Or maybe the thing was on the inside, hidden from her view. She looked again at the mirror, at her bare stomach.
Or maybe she had to look at them directly.
She stepped away from the mirror and looked down. She held her breasts, compressing them slightly to make it easier to see past them, and stared at her own navel. She looked for long moments, took in the lines and details of her stomach, the pattern of fine, blonde hairs that were barely visible themselves. She stared for long moments at what was just her stomach, until her breasts began to ache at being confined so tightly.
And there it was.
It was just a shimmer, like what she’d seen on others when this had first started, but it was there. A crawling, writhing mass. And as she watched it began to take form. It began to coalesce into a shape, first, and then a color. A haze, some texture, and now a distinct outline of features began to form. It was slow, but growing. She concentrated. She stared. And then it was there.
A monster with its head buried in her abdomen.
It was black and shiny, covered in slick, sharp looking scales that opened and closed as it moved. It had long arms that ended in slender, clawed fingers that gripped her, piercing her. And it’s tail, snake-like and black, curled and coiled around in an involuntary fashion.
It seemed to be feasting on her, gorging itself on her. It was consuming her from the inside.
Teresa panicked, closing her eyes and turning her head away. When she finally looked back the creature was gone and all she could see was her stomach.
Again she concentrated, focused her attention on that area, and again a shimmering shape began to form until it was once again her own personal monster, consuming her a bite at a time.
She again closed her eyes, and when she opened them she couldn’t see it anymore. Good. She pulled on her clothes once more and went into the kitchen where she struggled to pour herself a glass of water without dropping it to the floor. Her hands trembled as she drank greedily; as if it was the first drink she’d had in months. She swallowed the cool water quickly, concentrating on it, letting it take her out of her own head for a minute.
What the hell were these things?
She could no longer contend herself with the vague belief that these were somehow figments of her imagination. Some sort of delusion brought on by her illness. These were real things. Real monsters. And they were everywhere.
She saw them on maybe six out of 10 people. Some were large, some small, but they were everywhere. And though she hadn’t really paid much attention before she was sure they were all doing the same thing. They were consuming people.
They were killing people.
She had to tell someone. She had to let people know about these things! But whom could she tell? How could she ever convince anyone that what she was seeing was real? They’d label her as crazy and put her away before she could finish telling them anything.
Besides, even if she could convince people what could anyone do about it? There was no real cure for cancer, after all. If these things were responsible for cancer then that meant there was no good way to fight them. Right?
Or was there?
She stripped out of her clothes again and looked down at herself, concentrating. In moments the creature was back, burrowing into her. She felt a stabbing pain for a moment, one she recognized from the previous months. The creature continued feasting, oblivious to being watched.
Carefully, slowly, Teresa reached towards it.
The whipping, coiling tail disturbed her the most. It was like a snake with its head caught. It moved in an unnatural, flesh-crawling way. But that was the easiest point of purchase and so with a quick snap Teresa reached and grabbed the base of the tail.
She had half-expected her hand to pass through with no effect, and was shocked when she felt the slick, sharp scales in her palm. She tightened her grip even though it was like holding on to a fistful of tacks.
The monster suddenly realized its tail had been nabbed and pulled its head from her stomach. Somehow it could phase through the healthy flesh of her stomach and go directly to the cancerous, diseased areas inside. There was no hole or wound, indicating the creature somehow passed through flesh like a ghost. But that apparently didn’t mean it couldn’t fight back.
It rolled in on itself, bringing the upper portion of its body to bear on her wrist. Teresa suddenly felt the points of its claws pierce the flesh of her forearm and cried out, nearly letting go of its tail.
Somehow, though, she held on, and as the creature frantically dug at her arm she raised it above her head and then slammed it hard onto the kitchen counter. It didn’t pass through, and instead made a dull impact with the counter’s surface.
The creature was dazed for a moment, then shook itself and renewed its attack. Teresa now reached out with her other hand and grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, squeezing hard as she pulled it away. It scrambled and struggled in her grip, caught by neck and tail with its arms and lets slashing wildly.
Again Teresa raised it above her head and slammed it on the counter top. The cool marble of the counter was a pretty formidable weapon and the creature was obviously feeling it. For a moment it went slightly limp.
Teresa took advantage of that moment and again slammed it on the counter. This time the creature seemed to lose consciousness. She let go and let it slide to the floor in a small heap.
Teresa panted, holding her injured arm. It stung and burned, and blood oozed out around her fingers in an alarming quantity. Apparently these things could cause physical damage if they wanted to. Her wrist and forearm were bleeding from deep cuts and gashes, and she had to apply pressure with a dishtowel to make it stop.
Meanwhile, her new friend was stirring once again.
Teresa stepped back, watching. She could feel panic coming on, and adrenaline was coursing through her. Her heartbeat was pounding in her temples and she felt like she might throw up.
The creature struggled to its feet and Teresa prepared to defend herself. She looked around and quickly seized one of the butcher knives from the counter, holding it in her injured hand while she staunched her bleeding with the other. She fought the urge to laugh in hysterics.
She was ready to fight this thing to the death.
But strangely the thing looked around as if it couldn’t see her. Teresa watched anxiously as the creature shook itself, swaying slightly as if dazed, and looked around the room for her. More than once its gaze went right through her. It sniffed the air, as if trying to catch her scent, but seemed to find nothing. Teresa watched as, confused, the monster began moving around the kitchen floor, trying to pick up her trail.
It couldn’t see her. But she could see it.
Well, that was fair. For all this time, apparently, it had latched on to her, fed on her, and she hadn’t even realized it was there. Or rather, hadn’t fully realized what it was. It was the cancer. The disease. It was the thing that had isolated her, had created a knot of fear within her that had caused her life to be a living hell. This thing, this monster, was the source of all of the grotesque, hideous changes in her life. It was the cause of her self-imposed exile from family and friends and life in general.
And it was looking for her.
“Not this time,” she said out loud, half expecting the monster to turn and leap towards her voice. But it acted as if it hadn’t heard her, and continued its sniffing, crawling trek across her kitchen floor.
Teresa started to follow it. She got behind it, slowly pacing it as it moved. She held the butcher knife in a tight fist despite the pain from her cut and bleeding wrist. And as the monster sniffed and searched she crept closer and closer. Now, as it paused and looked towards a corner of the room, she raised the knife and quickly plunged it into the creature’s skull.
It made a short, gurgled cry, high pitched like a scream, and suddenly began to writhe on the blade. Teresa let go and stepped back, watching horrified as the creature fell to the floor and wriggled and bled there. It continued to flop and shudder until, quite suddenly, it was still. It’s strange blood oozed onto the floor only to evaporate into a waft of thin, black smoke. And then it, too, began to dissolve.
First it became powdery and dry. Then particles began to drift from it, and smoke tendrilled its way up from the small body. In moments, the butcher knife tapped to the floor, fell in a clatter, and the monster was gone. Nothing was left of it but the wounds on Teresa’s arm.
She stood, panting, once again holding the dishtowel to her arm. It was already soaked and sticky with blood but it seemed the only thing could do to avoid screaming in horror at what had just happened. She shivered for a moment with revulsion and nausea, and watched the butcher knife lying in a strange position on the floor as if it might suddenly spring to life and fly towards her.
It was strange to think that only moments before she’d plunged that knife into the skull of some vile creature that had, up to today, been feasting on her. But stranger yet was how she began to feel when the revulsion subsided. Despite the weirdness, despite the nausea of fear, Teresa felt … good.
The pain from the cancer was gone. The aching, sickening feeling was absent entirely. And despite the pain in her arm or the building headache she felt coming on she hadn’t felt this good in months. She was free. She was healed.
What the hell had just happened here?
Google proved useless. There were plenty of references to “monsters” and “demons” and other unearthly creatures, and plenty of lines connecting them all to the woes of man. Disease could be directly traced to demonic possession, some of the links claimed. But the cure was always prayer or exorcism or some other ritual act. No one said anything about physically ripping the creature from your body and stabbing it with a butcher knife. She seemed to be unique on that score.
Her arm ached a little from the wounds. Some would probably best be treated by stitches, but she wasn’t sure how she’d explain to a doctor how she’d gotten them. It was bound to come up in her medical records that she’d been diagnosed with cancer, and there was a pall of depression associated with that particular illness. They might conclude that she had tried to kill herself, and the next thing she’d know she’d be in a straight jacket banging her head against a padded wall, begging for people to listen to her warnings about invisible monsters.
For now she daubed gobs of Neosporin on the wounds and wrapped them in gauze.
More important than a potential infection was finding out what she should do next. No matter how she looked at it, this was big. The fact that she could see these things had at first made her afraid she was losing her mind. She had feared that the cancer had taken root in her brain and was eating away at who she was. Now, though, she knew these things were real and that she could hurt them. So what was she supposed to do with that?
She could cure people of cancer.
The thought rang in her head but she wasn’t sure what to do with that, either. What was she supposed to do, set up a booth at the mall and stab invisible monsters for anyone who came by? Like a lemonade stand for curing disease? She couldn’t exactly advertise this to anyone. How was she supposed to explain how she could do this?
Her cancer was the best proof she had, of course. Or rather, her current lack of cancer. The medical records would show that she’d been diagnosed and had refused treatment. And if she were to get a checkup now they’d show that she’d been completely healed. Right?
Or would they?
She realized with a start that she was taking an awful lot on faith, considering this could all be some cancer-induced hallucination. After all, she’d “cured” herself by knifing the cancer and watching it dissolve into smoke and ash. Maybe she should get a second opinion.
She called and made an appointment to see Dr. Naddeu, and was on her way almost before she’d realized it.
It had been a while since she’d set foot in this office. It seemed unchanged. She sat in a paper gown on a cold table and stared at the “hopeful” artwork on the walls, the collection of strange and medical-related objects that spotted the counter top on one wall.
It had been quite a while since Dr. Naddeu had slipped out to get the test results. Teresa had been poked and prodded in ways that seemed beyond the pale. Some of it had been intrusive on a level that made her want to call the whole thing off. This was, after all, part of the reason she’d refused treatment in the first place. Humiliation. Degradation. But for the first time there was actually something else at stake here. Something other than her life, that is. Strange as it was to think, it was more important than her life.
After the better part of two hours had passed Teresa was just about ready to give up and quietly slip out. They could call her with the results. But just as she was preparing to slip her clothes back on the door creaked open and Dr. Naddeu came in. He looked strange. Puzzled would be one way to describe him, but also somewhat alarmed. His dark hair was slightly mussed where he’d obviously run his hand through it a couple of times.
He closed the door behind him and stood with his back against it, chart in hand as if he might have to use it to ward off an attack of some kind.
“Teresa,” he said quietly. “You’re cured.”
She hadn’t realized how tense she’d been. Suddenly it was as if her whole body was made of wax and a sudden bout of flame had begun melting her to the table. Her shoulders sank; she hunched slightly, and then suddenly began to sob.
Dr. Naddeu pulled up a stool and took a seat in front of her. He didn’t touch her. No comforting pat on the knee or touch to the shoulder. Professionalism taken to heart as a necessity in a PC, “sue ‘em if they touch you” world.
“Teresa, I’ve triple checked the results. I’ve even run some of the tests again, several times. Your cancer is completely gone. There’s a slight scarring to some of your abdominal tissue but nothing that won’t heal in time. I have to ask …” he was quiet and intense, suddenly leaning forward, “What did you do? What kind of treatment did you take?”
Tears burned at the corners of her eyes as Teresa shook her head. She struggled with speaking, choking a little. Finally she was able to take a calming breath and she straightened herself. “No treatment,” she said.
Dr. Naddeu nodded, misunderstanding. “Prayer?” he asked. “Holistic medicine?”
“No, nothing,” she said. “I was … I was content to die. I was just letting go. And then ... I wasn’t. I saw it, Doctor. I saw the cancer and I pulled it out of me. I ripped it out and killed it with a butcher knife.”
Dr. Naddeu glanced quickly at her arm. He’d sutured it when she’d first come in, choosing to buy her story about falling in the garden.
“It did this,” she said, holding up her bandaged arm. “It fought back.”
Dr. Naddeu shook his head and rubbed his eyes. “If it weren’t for the fact that I’m looking at your test results, Teresa, I’d say you were having some sort of delusional episode. You can’t just pull cancer out of your body.”
“You can if you can see it,” she said.
The doctor smiled, tolerant. Finally he nodded. “Ok. You saw your cancer and pulled it out. And … stabbed it with a butcher knife? You got rid of it at any rate. This is big news, Teresa. I’ve read of many documented cases of patients sending cancer into remission through holistic therapy. But this … it’s almost impossible to believe. Would you mind letting me run just a few more tests? I’d like to write a paper about your recovery. This could be a remarkable step forward in dealing with cancer.”
Teresa knew he meant well but the idea of more tests, of having her life splayed out in a paper for the world to read, it simply bothered her. She shook her head “I can’t. Not like that. I … I just wanted to make sure it was really gone.”
Dr. Naddeu nodded solemnly. “It’s gone, Teresa. No sign of it. It’s beyond remission; it’s just simply gone as if it never existed. Whatever you did, you need to share it with the world! You could help cure a plague that claims millions of lives every year.”
She nodded, but still couldn’t agree to the tests. What could they hope to find? What she’d done, the “cure” for her cancer, it had been a physical struggle. Dr. Naddeu was refusing to accept that. He was sure she’d used some treatment, some means to cure herself that could be replicated and duplicated. He was thinking of pills and therapies and practices. What she’d done had been pure animal survival.
She got dressed as Dr. Naddeu practically begged her to stay for the additional tests. She only managed to get out of the office by promising to come back in a week. She had no intention of keeping that promise.
Something strange. She’d been thinking about it for days now and she finally realized what had been nagging at her since she’d fought and killed her own personal demon.
It hadn’t been able to see her.
Every time she saw one of these things on someone else it was crawling about as if it was perfectly aware of its “host.” The skin-cancer-creature on Michael had seemed limited to his face and neck and it knew exactly where to find them. But hers, after she’d pulled it free, had obviously lost track of her. It couldn’t see her.
But she could see it.
It went deeper than that, though. She’d had to struggle to see it in the first place. She had to stare and concentrate to see the writhing thing with its head embedded in her abdomen. But once it was free she could see it with no effort and she herself had become the “invisible thing,” the unseen threat that had ended its life.
As she thought about it she realized that she’d been seeing these things for months now and none had ever seemed to see her. Could it be that they could only see their “prey?” The host they fed from? The host obviously couldn’t see the creature itself, only the results of its feeding. So how was it she could see them?
She might never know. Not for sure, anyway. It could be anything. Maybe it was some fluke of body chemistry. Maybe it was because she had all but given up on life, separated herself from it in just the right way that it opened her perception to another world around her. However it had come about, it was as if being able to see the creatures made her somewhat immune to them. She could see them but they couldn’t’ see her. It made her uniquely qualified to do something about them.
She hadn’t quite figured out how yet, but she was going to do something to put these things down once and for all. Whatever they were, they preyed on helpless humans. They fed on people in complete safety, invisible and intangible. A creature with no natural predators gets to be the top of its food chain.
But now there was a new Queen of the Hill in town.
The children’s cancer ward was a bright and cheery place, completely the opposite of what she’d imagined it would be. Far from being a series of darkened corridors where children moaned in misery amidst grey and dirty walls, this place looked more like an amusement park. Toys were everywhere. Color was everywhere. Laughter could be heard as she walked down the hall to the commons area.
She was here as a volunteer, and the nurses had been happy to have her. So happy, in fact, that they barely even question her need to have a large, sharp knife with her. “It’s for cutting the cakes,” she had explained. Her first stop had been a grocery store where she’d picked up a dozen large cakes. She wheeled these into the commons on a multi-tiered cart and the faces of the children lit up when they saw her.
She nearly screamed.
On every child was a slithering, writhing creature. They filled every horrific description, every vile color or texture she’d ever seen or imagined. They crawled like lice over the children, feasting on them in an invisible buffet. It was apparent that they could see each other, since occasionally two creatures passing too close to each other would swipe and spit and hiss.
Apparently they didn’t like each other much.
Teresa hadn’t expected quite so many. Could she handle them all? If she started randomly pulling at these things could she kill them fast enough? She was suddenly afraid of retaliation. She might be invisible to these things but the children weren’t. Would they swarm like rodents on the children, overpower them and consume them before she could do anything about it?
For the first time she was questioning the wisdom of her plan.
“Cake!” one small girl exclaimed. She wore a pair of colorful pajamas and was clapping with excitement, bouncing up and down with some of the other children. A spiny, purple creature was perched on her perfectly bald head, sweeping his hand intangibly through a stitched scar and feeding himself with glee.
“Yes, cake,” Teresa smiled. She felt sick. How could she hope to cure so many? How could she do this without frightening them?
What an idiot! She hadn’t put enough thought into this. What was she going to do, pull the things free and scurry after them with her butcher knife?
Three blind mice, see how they run.
She was a moron.
Instead of attacking monsters she served up cake to everyone. It was the best she could do. There was just no hope of doing any good here. What had she thought would happen? How could she help these kids?
As she served up slices of frosting-covered cake the children lined up, eagerly waiting for their treat. Teresa worried briefly that she might run out of cake, but saw that there was plenty. The line of children finally began to dwindle as each took their piece of cake and ate happily in various parts of the room.
The last boy rolled up in a wheel chair. There was still plenty of cake left, and Teresa cut him a slice and gave it to him on one of the colorful paper plates. She smiled at him despite the fact that one of the oily, black creatures was gnawing away inside the boy’s head.
“Hi,” she said.
The boy nodded vacantly. His eyes were hollow, recessed, surrounded in that bruised, swollen flesh that one gets when they haven’t been sleeping. Teresa felt her heart thud and her eyes began to sting. It was just so unfair. So unjust. This boy couldn’t be more than five years old. How dare the universe sentence him to death like this?
No, not the universe. Not God or man or anyone else. If she was going to be angry she would be angry with the real threat. It was these monsters. The cancer itself.
She found herself getting angry. She felt a surge of adrenaline rush through her. She felt so … helpless. And that helplessness enraged her. And just like that she snapped and found herself suddenly reaching out, taking hold of the creature in the boy’s skull, and yanking it out in one smooth motion.
It made a slight splatting noise as it hit the floor. For a moment it was stunned, apparently unsure of what had happened. It shook its head, and clamored to its feet. When it spotted the boy in the wheel chair it crouched and hissed, angry. It was about to spring back onto its prey.
Teresa wasn’t ready. She had left the knife on the cart and it was too far away to grab before the monster made its attack on the boy. But she had to do something to protect him, and so she threw herself in front of the boy just as the creature leapt. “No!” she shouted.
But before the oily black mass could tear into her or the boy another figure fell upon it in mid-air. Another monster, this one red and spiked like a desert lizard, now toppled and grappled with the other creature. The two rolled in a hissing, spitting mass as they clawed and bit each other.
In an instant yet another creature joined them, and now the three of them fought mercilessly on the floor of the children’s wing. They bumped into beds, knocked over stacks of building blocks, and continued to slash and bite and howl.
The children in the room were oblivious to the battle, but Teresa watched in horror and fascination. It was like watching a riot form. Whenever the rolling mass of creatures came near another of their kind that one would join the fray.
They fought for several long minutes, and as one of the creatures would die the others would pounce on it, tearing into its flesh, consuming it and raising their heads in obscene grins and gurgles.
Teresa watched, horrified. As her senses returned she made her way to the butcher knife on the cart and gripped it tightly. She waited, watched, and edged her way closer to the battle.
Soon there were only two of the creatures left in the room. They were covered in gore and blood and ash as their brethren began vanishing in wisps of smoke. The two squared off, injured but determined. And Teresa wasted no time in stepping up behind them. Just as one was preparing to attack she took the butcher knife and plunged it into the creature’s back.
It howled and screamed and tore at the knife protruding from its back. At that moment the other one leapt and clamped on, tearing its adversary’s throat out with one vicious bite. Teresa quickly pulled the butcher knife free and again raised it, hesitating only slightly before plunging it with finality into the last monster’s skull.
It was dust and smoke before it had even fallen to the floor.
Teresa fell back, panting. The butcher knife clattered to the floor and it seemed to her to be a sound loud enough to call in every nurse in the hospital. But as she looked around all she saw were children laughing and playing. Many of them had been lying in beds only moments before. The boy in the wheel chair was still seated but was now lively and laughing with some of the other children.
Some of the kids near her showed some concern about her falling down. One young girl in particular, probably no more than three or four, was squatting with her bald head turned slightly, curious about the lady on the floor. Teresa smiled at her as best she could, assuring her that she was ok.
“Fall down?” the girl said, and Teresa nearly burst into tears at the thought that this child, dying only moments ago, was concerned that the nice cake lady might have a boo-boo.
A few of the kids were now eagerly approaching her, holding up their plates in the hopes of more cake.
Teresa smiled, then laughed. She picked up the butcher knife and took it to a sink that occupied a countertop along one wall. After washing it vigorously with steamy, soapy water she happily sliced the remainder of the cakes and gave pieces to any child that wanted one.
“It’s a miracle,” the woman on TV said. She was crying and holding the bald little girl Teresa had seen the day before. “They’re all cured! It’s as if God just reached in and pulled the cancer out of them!”
It was been on the news all morning, and as far as Teresa could tell it was dominating even the big national channels. She sipped a cup of coffee and daubed at her wet hair with a towel. For the first time in a long time she had taken a luxurious bath instead of a quick shower. She smiled as the children’s faces flashed on screen.
It was a miracle, that was for sure. Teresa had all but given up when, out of frustration, she’d flung that creature to the floor. What she had never expected was for all of them to turn on each other. She had never thought it would be as easy as that. Let the monsters feed on themselves, take out the last one standing.
It made a sick sort of sense. These creatures were obviously used to being the top of the food chain. They were used to tearing into their prey. Total dominance. When one of them was removed from its host it was considered weak. It was prey. It was lunch.
But there was more to it than that.
There was a deep sort of isolation tied to cancer, or any disease for that matter. When Teresa had learned she was going to die her first instinct was to withdraw, to pull away from her family and friends. She had the overwhelming, overpowering urge to be alone.
Maybe that was the influence of the monsters. They certainly seemed to hate each other, that much was clear. They tore into each other, fed on each other. Maybe it was part of some survival tactic of theirs, to isolate their “host” so that they could feed in relative safety. But if that was the case, why weren’t they attacking each other all the time in places like the children’s cancer ward?
She could only guess that as long as they were feeding there was something of a truce. Maybe an “honor among monsters” kind of thing. Whatever it was, it was clear that once one of the monsters was pulled free of its victim all bets were off and cancer-monster was on the menu.
This was good news. It meant there was a way to fight these things. Since Teresa could see them she could also kill them. She might even be the only one.
She had discovered a new purpose for herself in that hospital ward. It was a mission that she knew would dominate her for the rest of her life. She would have to change her lifestyle, obviously, since there was little chance of income as a “monster slayer.” Or maybe there could be. How much would a billionaire pay to be cancer free? She had a commodity, after all. A unique resource. Maybe she could get her funding through a few desperate individuals and then give her services away for free to the rest of the world. It might be a tinge unethical to offer a cure in exchange for money, but if it helped her help millions of others then she could live with herself.
As she dried her hair and looked at herself in the mirror she smiled. It was the first smile she’d seen on that face for some time. It wouldn’t be the last.
"Teresa's Monster" by Kevin Tumlinson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at kevintumlinson.blogspot.com.
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