I am not a monster
I am not a monster. I used to be a man. A beautiful, desirable, decidedly human man. Broad shouldered. Thick lipped. Smooth voiced. What am I now? I cannot say. Perhaps I should start at the beginning. Better yet, let me start at the middle. On the day I first noticed the changes.
I remember the morning it happened. Well, the morning I noticed it had already happened. Gray skies without, white wisps of warm tea within. I’d singed my tongue sipping too quickly. It tasted bitter that day, no matter how much honey and sugar I put in it. My wife usually made it for me, she had a knack for preparing it just so, but she’d been busy that morning with the children. I’d spilled some tea on the side and began lapping it up with a thick, red tongue. Only, my tongue is normally pink, and normal sized. And I never lapped up anything. I was running late for a zoom call, so I dismissed the anomaly and ambled to my chair. It groaned a bit louder as I sat, but at the time I hardly noticed. As the days went on, I began to notice more and more.
First came the nails. They grew long and sharp, pointed and grey at the tips. I began cutting through my shoes, though I hardly ever wore them anymore. I ruined my favorite slippers. I ordered a second pair, a bit larger, and made a mental note to trim my nails--that never came to fruition.
Next were the itches. My skin began to bloat and peel around the middle, under my arms, and at my back. I’d scritch and scratch until my skin tore. Then came the sweats. Laundry became a nightmare as I soaked through shirt after shirt. My wife began to complain. I was leaving dark, dirty stains and smells that she couldn’t get out. I promised to bathe more frequently.
Things took a turn for the worse when the vines came. They started out small. Little green sprouts at my feet. They tickled my toes as I worked, seemed harmless. But they grew. Longer, thicker, malignant. They soon began to coil around my ankles, my torso, and at times, my throat. I could hardly breathe, hardly move. My wife was busy with the kids, busy with her work, but she came to the office more frequently to help me with the vines. She came with shears, tore the vines, pulled me from my chair, begged me to walk. The vines were vicious, though. They came after me as soon as my wife left, pulling me back down to the chair. Eventually, I got used to them, except when they cut off my air supply. It made zoom calls a bit awkward.
Virtual meetings were bad sometimes, but bedtime was downright humiliating. Dark faeries followed me to the room, born from the bloom of the vines. They didn’t carry the tinny, sweet voices of childhood stories. They screeched as loud as banshees while I slept, and tormented me throughout the night. They crawled and stomped on my face. Sometimes they’d lodge their limbs into my nose and ears and give me quite a shock. My wife would shoo them away at night. She started burning mist to ward off the faeries, but they were relentless. Eventually I was cast out of the bedroom, so at least one of us could sleep.
There’s nothing more disgraceful than sleeping in the guest room of your own house. Though she never said the words out loud, I saw them in my wife’s eyes. More and more, I was becoming a stranger to her. She recoiled at my touch. She shied away when I drew near. Her eyes and shoulders sagged lower every day, weighed down by my peculiar troubles.
More changes came. I became as ravenous as a lion, with an insatiable appetite. Plates could never be full enough, cups ran dry too quickly, and though my body gorged my cravings never ceased. By some dark magic, my food did not, could not, satisfy me. My wife tried different potions and concoctions, some I rather enjoyed, but she could never quite keep up with my demands. So I strayed. I ate things high in deliciousness and dangerously low in nutrition in between regular meal times. I would have made the potions myself, but the vines kept me tied to my chair, and struggling against them left me with so little energy. They cut off the circulation at my feet, and those began to swell. Climbing, walking, moving, standing, they soon became unbearable tasks. So I did those things as infrequently as possible.
I had to order a new chair. Spikes began protruding from my spine. I don’t know when they arrived, but they riddled my chair with holes and mauled the leather. It didn’t stop there. Needle sharp spines shot out of the backs of my hands and chin as well, some the length of my longest finger. About that time, my children grew afraid of me. Fear shone in my wife’s eyes as well, but hers was different.
My voice began to change. It was no longer smooth, but rough as sandpaper. More faeries arrived at night. The vines grew stronger, so strong that at times my wife spent all her strength cutting the one crushing my windpipe, and had none left to cut me free. I take back what I said. There are worse things than sleeping in your guest room. Sleeping in your office chair, immobile and vulnerable, and asking your wife to hold a cup or bottle for you when you can no longer hold in your waste. That is misery.
Things have been this way for nearly a year now. I fear that whatever has taken hold of me will soon devour me entirely. At times, I pray the end would come. I no longer wish to be a burden on my family. I can’t remember the last time I held my children. The last time I embraced my wife. The last time I felt the warmth of human touch.
Here comes my wife now, with another round of potion. Bless her, but she seems tired. Dark circles mar the caramel skin below her eyes, but she’s still beautiful. Her clothes are mismatched. Red shirt, green and yellow yoga pants, sharp toenails sticking out of one blue and one green sock . . . Sharp toenails. I look up at my wife again. She runs a hand through her mop of dark curls as she waits for me to finish my potion. I take my time, examining her from top to bottom. She’s altered, somewhat. Heavier, yes. With signs of sweat at the armpits of her shirt. She sits in a chair, next to mine. Apprehension creeps up my spine as bright green stems creep along her ankles.
No. Not her.
She closes her exhausted eyes, and the vines continue their advance. I send out a cry of warning, but the vines that lock me to my chair squeeze and grow. They twist around me, tighter and tighter, spinning and coiling around my throat, squeezing my chest, collapsing my lungs, robbing me of breath. I drop my potion and the cup shatters on the ground. My wife’s eyes fly open, and she turns to me in horror. The vines surrounding her wrap around her ankles, but they’re too thin and weak to hold her. They break with a snap, and she grabs the shears, tearing at the green monstrosities until my throat is free. She continues her work, but her image clouds in my head. I blink and she’s gone. In a moment, everything disappears.
I am not a monster. I am a man. A man who ate too much and exercised too little. A man whose sedentary lifestyle took over his life. Inactivity, apnea, obesity, edema, arrhythmia. Slow killers, lurking in the shadows. Benign at first and hardly noticeable. Until they’ve wrapped their coils around you and made widows and orphans of your wife and children.
Perhaps I am a monster. But you don’t have to be a monster to be like me.