by Jennifer Walne
No one in my class knows about the Monsters except me. Well, they know of them from stories their parents tell to make them behave. But none of my classmates would know a Monster if they saw one. I’ve got a big encyclopedia of fantasy creatures at home and there’s a whole page written about the Ahuiztol. I don’t know how to pronounce the name—no one in my class does—but I’m the only one who can spell it. Everyone calls them Monsters because it’s easier.
Did you know even though they look like dogs, they can make a crying noise like a human child? It fooled a lot of people, once.
“It looks like Sheryl,” Jake Broome says loudly. He is looking over at me to see if I react. I don’t think it’s very funny. His friends all do.
We are watching a Youtube video of one pulling a car into a river. It’s an old video from back when people used to antagonize them for fun. Its head is bobbing on the surface like a cork. The tail lashes out. The car is gone. Mr. Ruinder stops the video because there is too much swearing. The Monster has big bulbous eyes and a mouth like a frog. I think it’s cute. Its face looks like someone sat on it. If I were able to go outside I wouldn’t annoy them. I’ve never been out in the natural air.
“Alright, exercise books out,” Mr. Ruinder announces, “and for the next twenty minutes I want you to make a list of good and bad reasons for the domes, thinking about what you’ve just seen.”
I’m putting that they’re a good thing because living in them keeps us safe. Otherwise we would be overrun with Monsters trying to eat us. Before they were built years ago, so many people heard the hunting cry and went to save what they thought was a baby. Now, the Monsters try to grab for us with their tails and they can’t because the domes stop them. They are just swiping at glass. I don’t think they’re that dangerous. They have killed people but that’s only because those people were on their territory. If people would just treat them nicely, they wouldn’t attack us.
I also put that the domes are a bad thing because people don’t like being shut in. They feel trapped. And we don’t get any wind or rain. Everything is grown in the domes and I just know it would taste different if it were grown outside. But no one seems interested in life outside the domes. The government didn’t give the public any reasons for building them. They also didn’t tell the public how they had the technology to build such big structures in the first place.
I take my book up for marking. I try to hurry past Jake Broome but he sees me coming and sticks his lips out so he looks like a Monster. I’m not brave enough to tell him it’s an improvement. He sticks his foot out. When I try to step over it he kicks up hard. I manage not to fall over this time.
“Don’t fall into the swamp,” he says, “or the Monsters will get you. Watch out for the fifth hand!” I want to tell him that if he can’t say the name properly he may as well not bother, but there’s a lump in my throat.
Mr Ruinder says my work is good but that I don’t have to think about the bad reasons quite so much. He suggests I think of us as being next to nature, but not part of it. Like looking at a picture. I find this easier to do. The dome walls are so clear you wouldn’t know if they were right in front of you. The only way to know is to stand so close you can see the wires. If you stare long enough they gradually become visible. Thousands of silvery lines like thread. We studied them in science. The wires all connect to the doors. They detect movement outside and determine if people are safe to move between domes. We can’t walk across so we use pods instead. If you don’t, a Monster could be waiting by an open entrance and its fifth hand would shoot out at the end of its tail. Down you would go.
Jake Broome is wrong. The Monster doesn’t look like me. Its big eyes actually remind me of my Mum’s. She’s having friends over tonight. She’s a receptionist in a government building and she finds her job really boring, so these parties help. But that doesn’t mean she has to drag me into it. As I head home, I remember when I was first getting good at piano and she made me perform for them. They piled into the lounge and she pulled me from my hiding place and sat me down in front of them all. I hated it. Mum watched me like the Monsters watch prey from the water. She was waiting for me to make a move. I tried to run but she snatched me back and planted me on the stool. I wondered if Mum has a tail with a fifth hand on the end of it hidden under her dress. Or maybe hands hidden in her socks instead of feet like an Ahuiztol.
“After all we’ve spent on your lessons,” she said, “and you don’t want to play for us. I just think you should be a bit more grateful.” If everyone was sitting on the other side of the room it wouldn’t have been so bad. But they all crowded around me like it was a live experiment. Like I was something they’d stolen from the swamp to dissect. Their eyes were all fixed on my fingers and I knew what they were thinking. Isn’t it wonderful how good she is at such a young age, they said to each other. It’s a shame about all the mistakes, considering how much her parents spend on her.
“Sheryl,” Mum calls, “don’t forget I want you looking your best when our guests are over tonight. Oh, and there’ll also be one of your schoolmates coming with his parents, so you’ll have someone to play with afterwards. Do you know Jake Broome?” I freeze. My stomach starts turning. Last time I had to play piano in assembly he coughed really loudly and I had to stop and start again. Now whenever I put my hand up or say something in class he does it and I lose concentration.
I don’t want him here in my home. He’ll be watching me play. He’ll start coughing and I’ll start making mistakes and he’ll laugh when I start crying and tomorrow at school he’ll tell everyone what a big baby I am and how weird my bedroom is because Mum will suggest I show him my toys and he’ll steal one to throw around to his friends whilst I try to take it back like a little piggy in the middle. I hate him. I wish I had a fifth hand like an Ahuitzol. If he comes near me I’ll drag him down and pull his teeth out very slowly, one by one. Then he won’t be able to make that ugly grin. But I would get in trouble if I did anything like that. People never listen to me. They only listen to popular boys like Jake Broome.
“Ok,” I sound much louder and bouncier than usual. “I’m just going outside for some fresh air. I want to play really well tonight.”
“Excellent!” Her voice sails up to me. “Are you trying to impress this Jake boy?” I yank out some wellies.
“Jamie!” Mum’s voice follows me as I head downstairs. “I think our Sheryl fancies this Jake Broome! We’ll have to make sure we invite them round more often!”
Dad then joins in. “Don’t go getting any ideas, Sher!” That’s the last thing I hear as I close the back door. There is a gentle drumming sound coming from above. Rain is pattering on the ceiling of the dome. My face is cold. A soft sheet of rain is coming down inside the dome now, too. That’s new. It feels nice. I bet the government won’t tell us how they did it. At least when the Monsters hide beneath the water, you know what they are going to do. If I were a Monster I wouldn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do.
I’m out the back gate and heading down the street. Beyond, I can see the trees. I wonder what it would be like to climb up into one and see everyone beneath me. I think they are swaying in a gust. I wonder if the government can make wind happen as well.
I reach one of the exits. I’m in luck—a pod is getting ready to leave. The last passengers have boarded and the door is shut. The pods still have small outside decks like the boats they used to be.
The huge metal gate slowly lifts with a groan. The engines are being fired to get out as quickly as possible so it can shut. The guards have done their usual checks and lose interest as they head back to their stations. I take my moment, slip round to the back of the pod and cling onto its old railings. Behind me I can feel the dome looming like a cloud. My fingertips feel a vibration. It’s strange seeing the dome fall behind from the outside. With a large iron clang the gate is shut, and I am in the outside air. I release my hands and drop. My feet are sucked into the ground. After taking a few deep breaths, I manage to wrench myself free. I have been swallowed by the swamp. My heart should be pounding in this new world but it’s not. I’ve never been calmer. I can see the glistening roof of the dome. I move away from it, lifting my knees right up to my chest and begin to wade. I just want to get away. Perhaps if I stay out here long enough, my parents will panic and they won’t make me play. If my fingers get pulled out I won’t have to play ever again, especially in front of Jake Broome.
I’m clawing my way through the swamp, now. My feet are invisible beneath the sickly green surface. If anyone comes looking for me I can hide underwater until they give up.
There is a crying in the distance. I try to feel fear deep inside, as every person before me must have, but it won’t come. It only does when I’ve been dumped onto a stool in front of dozens of people to perform like a monkey. There’s nothing to be afraid of here.
Black eyes rise up. A slimy mouth opens and utters a noise. It’s not the cry of a baby. It’s me. Come here, it’s telling me, come home. It’s no bigger than a dog. Its fur is spiked in different lengths, like broken piano keys.
The moss that blankets the water is starting to drift away. Weeds are stroking my cheek. The rain is dying. I didn’t realize how clear it is here until now, always stuck in a dome or a pod.
I don’t flinch when I feel the hand on my wrist. It is warm and soft, nothing like my Mum’s. The tail it is attached to is strung out, long and smooth like a drop of syrup. The Ahuiztol wants me. I can give it nothing, but still it wants me to go down there. Unlike my Mum and Jake Broome and everyone else, this lovely thing just wants me for me. I don’t care if those creatures back in the domes never find me again. Beneath the water, I vanish.
About the Author:
Jennifer is a recent graduate who spends most of her free time either writing or worrying about the fact that she should probably be writing. She often tries to write pieces based in reality but they often end up wandering into the element of fantasy. When she’s not doing this, she is either working part time in a Care Home or enjoying a glass of red wine. Regardless of what she spends her days doing, she always finds time to talk to her love, who is currently 3,000 miles away in Ghana, West Africa.