Nightmare Magazine




The H Word: The Monster at the End of This Essay

A Rant

I’ve watched monsters topple cities, scorch the countryside.

I’ve explored the caverns they dwell in and swum the depths they arose from.

When I existed in a different form, smaller, a bit more eager, I sought these monsters out or, more often, whimpered while I waited for them to slither out of the shadows.

Would one appear while I showered? The sound of their squelching webbed steps hiding in the hot hiss of the water’s spray?

Would they hover outside my window, backlit by the moon, their claws dragging down the windowpane?

Or would they forever be trapped behind the glass of my television set, unleashing havoc on those in their way?

The monsters I have loved are comforting in theory: protectors of their domain and propelled by impulse to eviscerate those poking their heads in unknown places, the humans that stomp about, refusing to close their mouths. The monsters I adore are eager to be left alone or stick to their own. These beings are only drawn out by our invasive nature, preying on outsiders who disrupt their realms.

Monsters have thrived in literature, an integral part of stories before genre marketing terms came to light. Hiding in the songs of bellowing bards, illustrated with quill pens on parchment paper, rapturously detailed in religious texts of all cultures, creatures populate our myths and legends. We’ve reveled in the imperfections, the renderings of their hideous forms: hot coal eyes, untouchable skins, immense jaws, and endless mouths. But, when faced with the monsters we are most familiar with, seen on a street corner, we may pass them by, unable to discern their differences from a casual glance. We’ve either embraced or been revulsed by the thought of their existence, depending on the fears or unwarranted concerns of the individual. Could there be a possible menace behind the eyes watching you in the crowds? Or are they just something you don’t understand, something that defies your beliefs, an affront to your reality?

I have encountered those monsters and I’m often left wondering when the decay began and how long since the rot set in. I have been chased by monsters, ones trained to hone in on someone like me, a petite body they believed they can violate with little retaliation. I have been surrounded by monsters who smiled convincingly, carried themselves with poise and spoke intellectually only to reveal their truest self when it was too late for me to do anything but run.

Real monsters don’t wait for the night to come.

No one wants to believe they could be a monster, yet we’ve seen proof in the ones we grew up with: bursting containers of blind rage, limbs weaponized, teeth gnashing, bellowing howls of pain as they mindlessly attack, unsympathetic to their victim’s histories or pleas in between screams. Sometimes, I look into a mirror and squint until my features fall away, my cheeks and scalp sliding into the shadows. My eyes sink into the shallow pits. I will grin in a way that changes my face enough I believe I am looking at another me.

• • • •

Think about the being you gave birth to or the abomination that lives next door. Will its true essence emerge or will it stay dormant, knowing its flesh is too weak to deliver on its threats? Will it prey on others or on itself until it withers and dies?

So, what of the creatures that came from pockets of the Earth, the ones that approached cautiously from the stars and even those that have no origin, no countenance, and no mercy? Where did those monsters go? We have diminished the monsters of fables and fiction by illustrating them with our own ills. We should have left them alone, alien and unknown. One of society’s dominant fears is not being able to define the threat coming for us. The monster as a metaphor has taken the form of disease, war, civil unrest, insanity, all centered on humans. It’s no longer clever for the monster to be revealed as a symbiotic attachment to our behavior. It’s just obvious.

• • • •

Forgive me, for I know how historically important the monster has been to help us understand ourselves, but I tire of the monsters that think like us, that worry like us, that look like us. Give me the monster of instinct, not the monster of intent. What’s wrong with rows of teeth and an impulsive nature or a penetrating alien intelligence deeper and more calculating than our own? Maybe we are jealous of monsters, their minor threats easily dispatched with no concern of the laws or rules of humans. Unbothered by our policies and beliefs, instinctual or immediate, the monster is free. We are not.

Bring back the monster under my bed. Allow the monster to dwell in my closet. Say hello to the monster who is so gigantic, humans disappear under its feet by sheer proximity. Welcome the monsters who look at us with mere curiosity before swatting our heads from our shoulders.

I can hear it now, screams signaling its approach, footsteps trembling foundations, eyes burning in the dark, and all I can hope for is that we have nothing to do with its origin.

Jonathan Lees

Jonathan Lees originally hails from a shuttered mill town in New England and now can be spotted lurking in the alleys of New York or deep within the barrens of New Jersey. In 2022, he unleashed “Power Out, Wind Howling” for the spirited anthology Even in the Grave, edited by James Chambers and Carol Gyzander, “They Are Still Out There, You Just Can’t See Them Anymore”, the closing story in Doug Murano’s The Hideous Book of Hidden Horrors, “It Comes in Waves” within Other Terrors: An Inclusive Anthology by Rena Mason and Vince Liaguno, and “Persistence” kicks off Michael Bailey’s Chiral Mad 5.