A Mildly Erotic Monster Romance
I’ve been waiting, watching out the window, for almost six days. I know he’ll be here, eventually. His scent hangs around this place the way dog hair does, when it links with a canvas couch cushion and refuses to budge. When you can’t even get it out with a vacuum cleaner.
But the waiting is nothing for me. Time comes and goes, like a breath in and out.
I set about making some tea—gathering snow up from outside, boiling it, adding the leaves to my mug and then fishing them back out again with a metal spoon because there’s not even a strainer in the cabin’s tiny kitchen. I don’t get all the leaves, though, so I inhale tiny bits of leaf as I drink the weak, yellow tea.
Night comes. I read a book by the lamp as long as I dare. I’ve got one barrel of kerosene and I don’t know how long it needs to last before he comes back. Even if he does return, he won’t know to bring me more fuel. I don’t think it’s something his mind would even consider.
I peer out the window. Stars glisten against the flat black, but I can only make out a few small squares of the night sky through the panes. I wish I could go out and look at them, stare up into the sky and pick out the silver shapes of the Big Dipper. Of Orion. Of Cancer and Capricorn and the couple other constellations I’ve learned to find in the night sky.
But I have to wait. I have to wait for him to come back for me, to tell me it’s safe. I could step outside right now and get too close to a squirrel I can’t see, inhale just an atom of his breath… and then I’m done.
Then I’m covered in black boils and red welts. Then I’m bleeding from orifices I didn’t know I had, from pores, from armpits, from earlobes. Blood trailing long, thin rivers down my flesh because I’ve puked up all my water and now my blood is too thick and too sticky, like copper red molasses.
Compared to that, the waiting is nothing for me.
When he does come, I see him from a long way away. His lumbering shape is impossible to miss or confuse. He moves like a gorilla, his long arms and bulky, fisted hands pounding the ground as he gallops over the crest of the closest ridge. Long hair drifts over his face and back again, but it doesn’t impede his movement or direction. I watch through the window until he’s close enough to knock, which I know he’ll do. When he reaches the door he stops, lifts himself up onto two legs, and sets out his chest with his arms back—making his “human” look.
Then he knocks.
I wait a few seconds before answering, though I don’t quite know why. But it’s worth it when I open the door and his face morphs. When his eyebrows raise high onto his forehead and his lips spread wide, wide, wide over his huge, shaved teeth. It’s something that I might not have interpreted as a smile before I knew him at all. It would have come off like a grimace, like the face a lion makes before it decides to carve out your throat.
But now I know that this is, in fact, a massive grin.
“Lou Ann,” he says, the shape of my name still difficult for his mouth. He manages to slip a rugged ‘R’ sound in there, like, “Lourr Arrrn.”
“You came back,” I say. And I’m glad he did, or I would have died in here.
I usher him into the house and close the door behind him, even though he has to crouch and duck and squeeze to get safely through the doorframe. He smells like rot, and maybe like death. Maybe the death came first and the rot followed; hard to tell.
“You need a bath,” I say. “You stink.” I wave my hands for him to follow me into the bathroom. It’s small, not really big enough to squeeze him into the clawfoot tub, but I’ll just close the door and put down some towels and hope for the best. He follows, not saying anything to my remark about his smell.
In the bathroom I help him into the tub as much as he’ll fit, then start brushing out his hair. That’s where the smell’s coming from—bits of gut and flesh have found their way into his mane while they were still still soft, gotten stuck between the strands, then hardened like cement. I run a hard bristle brush through it first, then some of my warm boiled water, then brush it more.
“How is it outside?” I finally say, because he hasn’t offered up any information yet. Can I leave this place yet? The waiting is nothing, sure, but it would be nice to move my legs. To forage for some fresh food of some kind. Hell, I’d even eat grass at this point, as long as it means I don’t have to shovel down any more canned pears or cubed ham.
I never want to eat ham again.
“Ugly,” he says. “It all ugly. Dead. But okay.”
I don’t know quite how to interpret that. I suppose I’ll find out.
Once I’m through with the hair on top of his head, I slowly fill up the tub with more heated snow until the water level is up to his calves. He stands patiently the whole time, watching me, waiting. I pour a bucket of water over him, running it through the crusted hair on his chest and back and crotch and legs. He gets hard as I run my fingers through the hair on his belly and crotch, freeing matter and debris and what I guess is more guts.
It doesn’t bother me when this happens, not anymore. He’s some degree of human, and it’s a perfectly human reaction to standing naked in a tub of water while a woman cleans your pubic hair.
Once I’ve washed his body, I ask him to open his mouth. His teeth are stained dark red. I wonder how many people he killed out there. I wonder if he ate them before he killed them, or after.
I take out the extra toothbrush, put some baking soda and water on it, and start scrubbing. He hates the taste but doesn’t pull away; simply locks his eyes onto mine and focuses on the shape of my face until it’s all over. Then I have him wash out his mouth, and even give him a mint from the tiny tin I found in a drawer.
When we’re done, I take a couple drops of the conditioner I’ve been saving—I found the bottle in the tiny crawlspace under the cabin, and have held onto it ever since—and run it through the hair on his head and chest. He preens a little, and we wash that out, too. When he’s all dry I suggest he touch his hair, to see how nice it feels. How nice he feels. It’s novel to him, as I knew it would be, to be smooth and soft like that. He makes that strange purring sound I’ve only heard a couple times before as he runs his fingers through it, snaking trails in the hair with his claws.
As I stand up to clean myself up and dry off, he puts one hand on my arm, and then the other on my other arm. I repress the urge to leap away from his grip. His bright amber-gold eyes stare into mine and he says, “Thank you, Lou Ann.”
My chest seizes. Thank you are new words for him. I taught them to him, before he left. Before he went to find out whether all the world was lost or not. I had said it to him first—for saving me.
Thank you, Wally.
That was the name they gave him, the people who used to live in this backwater little Arkansas town. Well, before they all died. Wally the What. Bigfoot? Sasquatch? Gorilla? Bogeyman? Nobody knew; but he’d been around for a long time, occasionally sighted by farmers and hunters.
But everything needs a name, and Wally didn’t have one. So before half of the town died, that is—and the other half went completely out of control—the school children who debated his existence decided to call him Wally. I think he was something of a totem for them.
When he’s all dried off, he leads me back outside because he says that he’s brought me something, some sort of gift. It must be safe out here now, I think with immense relief, if he’s willing to let me out of this tiny cabin where we holed up over a week ago. Maybe enough potential hosts have died that the only living organisms left in the world are resistant.
Maybe the only creatures that remain alive are not-carriers, like Wally.
But he can’t explain this all to me so I have to merely guess that’s what he meant by ugly and dead, but okay. He leads me back over the ridge, to a high, high rock that we can only reach when he places me on his shoulders like a toddler and climbs up there with his massive gorilla arms.
At the top, a few birds pick at a deer’s corpse. It is, miraculously, an undiseased deer. A fat doe, pregnant I’m sure, its head smashed and shattered. Wally must have grabbed it when he saw it and bashed its skull over the closest rock.
Fresh meat. Fresh food. The sight horrifies and thrills me in equal portions. I show him how I want the deer’s hide cut, and he works at splitting it with his sharp nail-claws, whatever they are. Once he’s sliced open the deer’s belly, he shucks underneath the hide to free it from the flesh. I hold the edges and peel it back as he works, guiding him from the belly up the sides, neck, and legs. The hide comes off clean and I realize how stupid it was to bathe Wally before all this, but I didn’t know this corpse was out here. Now his hands and arms are covered in meat and blood and guts once more.
But I’m immune to the smell. And I suppose I can just bathe him again.
I carry the hide and he carries the slick meat back to the cabin. Out back, we put the skinned corpse over a work bench and butcher it with a knife. It takes a small eternity, even with both of us working. I haven’t butchered any animal this large before and I don’t know quite which cuts are which, but it’s all edible and that’s all I care about. We cut out the underdeveloped fetus and butcher that separately. In another lifetime, this would have felt wrong; sacrilegious. But the deer fetus is more tender, juicy meat for me. More meat that can keep us alive.
While Wally starts scraping the remaining bits of flesh off the hide, per my instruction, I gather up wood for a fire. I bring out the matches, light the tiny tower of tinder I’ve built in the middle, and we blow on it together until the flames flare up with orange leaps, and break through the thick skin of the tree logs I’ve arranged over it.
We have to build a spit, which takes some time, but Wally’s claws are perfect for quickly shaping wood. He’s done it a lot, I know, by the small arrangement of wooden spears he had when he first found me. It was one of the first sophisticated things I saw Wally do—put a used spear back in the big bag he carried over one shoulder, a stolen item from who knows how long ago.
That was the moment I knew he was intelligent. That he was more man than animal. Animals don’t carve spears.
Once the spit is set up, I take the largest piece of rump roast from the doe and Wally spears the spit through it, and sets it on the forked supports. I instruct him to occasionally rotate it, and squeeze the meat at intervals to see how done it is.
I go out and gather whatever I can find that looks edible for a salad: a couple blackberries, dandelion greens, some herb that looks like oregano or marjoram. A few walnuts, but I can’t hope to open those alone. I toss them into the bowl of a wide-brimmed hat I’m using as a basket and carry it all back.
The meat’s looking good as Wally smashes the walnut shells over a stone. They’re not totally ripe, but ripe enough. We could use the diversity of nutrients. Well, I can, at least—I don’t know about him.
Does he need anything besides meat? Is he like a cat, who only requires protein to live, or a dog, who’s an omnivore? Or is he like your average human, where he needs even more variety? It doesn’t seem like it. But with all the zookeepers and biologists in the world dead, I’ll probably never know except by trial and error.
After all these days eating canned pears in disgustingly sweet syrup, stale twinkies, and Spam, our dinner of fresh food is the most perfect thing I’ve ever eaten in all of my years on Earth. The crust of the meat is dark brown and crispy and melts like butter in my mouth; the inside is still a tad pink, but not red, because I don’t trust for even a second a corpse that was left rotting out on a rock in the sun. At least it was blooded a little.
There’s no dressing for our salad but Wally shoves it into his mouth anyway, one fistful at a time, somehow managing not to damage his fingers with his own sharpened teeth. He smiles at me as he chews up the meat, the tendons hanging from his gums like moss on a willow tree. At the grotesque image I can’t help but think of that first night, when he found me, hiding in the woods. In town, flames billowed into the sky, turning it yellow as daylight. The voices of screaming people echoed down the valley, but as the night wore the screaming slowed, quieted; but then grew more sour and desperate and animal.
I learned later that it was the sound of violent grief as people found their loved ones dead. Then, it was the sound of those who survived the illness eating those who didn’t, until no one of a sane mind was left. Soon they turned on each other, tearing themselves apart, fingers from sockets, bones from joints, teeth from jaws. A total anarchic battle royale, with no consciousness or pain threshold to keep them from raging until their own fingernails peeled off, and their bodies collapsed from the strain.
That night, Wally found me up in a tree, clinging to a branch and crying dry heave tears because I was too dehydrated for real ones. I don’t remember how I got there. Everything after the bleeding started is like a foggy winter morning. I heard the noise, saw my neighbor at the duplex tossed out the window by his twelve-year-old daughter, and I ran for it.
When Wally made himself known to me down on the ground, I screamed like one of those townspeople. I screamed double when he reached a hand up towards me. I scurried higher into the tree, wrapping myself around a branch that was too delicate for my own weight. It bent perilously toward the ground, crackling.
Wally climbed partway up the tree and wrapped one clawed hand around my arm, the claw as long and sharp as a paring knife, but never once hurting me. I let out a gurgling yelp and tried to pry him off, but his grip was solid and firm. Gently, he tugged me down from my thin branch, using both hands to catch me in his arms and set me down on the ground. In shock, I stood there like a doll, waiting to be moved or posed.
Then he opened his mouth to speak to me, and the shredded intestines of some creature he had eaten sprayed out on my face. It was too much; now, looking into his face as he happily tears up his dinner, I remember vividly the splatter of bloody guts on my cheek. I sobbed aloud and bolted, but I only got a couple of yards before tripping and falling over.
Wally patiently followed me as I did this multiple times—getting up, running, and falling again, screaming all the while. Screaming until my throat closed up and my voiced stopped working and all I was left with was a hollow mewling deep in my chest.
The last time I fell, I couldn’t get back up again, because my legs were beaten and scratched and the muscles had nothing left to fuel them. Wally picked me up and carried me to this strange little cabin, nestled deep in the hills, surrounded by huge oaks and red ferns and quivering willow trees.
Nobody lived there, but neither did it seem abandoned. It was dusty and dirty inside, but not moldy or rotten, as if someone put effort into maintaining it once in a blue moon. As if it was waiting just to be needed.
Whoever it was who had lived here, they were dead now.
I don’t remember falling asleep after dinner, but I wake up back on the cot in the cabin, tucked into the ratty wool blankets that smell a bit like mildew and a bit like dust. They scratch my skin so I peel them back and move about in the absolute darkness.
Wally emerges from the shadow into the small, square patch of starlight coming in through the window. It turns his strange gray skin silver, his dense black hair white. Like Santa, I think to myself, and can’t help but laughing.
“What funny?” he asks.
I lean forward on the bed and reach out to push some of the hair out of his face. “Just you. Thanks for bringing the meal.”
“Yes, Lou Ann.”
He doesn’t know courtesy words like you’re welcome, so he substitutes yes, no, and okay for just about everything. As I look into his gold eyes, wide and round like a sad dog’s, I wonder where he came from. How he found me out there, hiding in the trees as far as I could get from the town gone berserk, I’ll probably never know.
I’d thought he was going to eat me when I failed my escape attempt the last time and he picked me up, sobbing, off the ground. I tried to get away a couple times as we walked, clawing at him, scrabbling at his arms with my nails and teeth, even once trying to steal one of the sharpened wood spears hanging off his back—but with no effect. His skin was tough and hard as leather, and he was much faster than I. And he was intent on taking me wherever we were headed.
I wasn’t going anywhere in my sorry state.
Maybe he was going to cook me before eating me, I thought, as the ground bounced along underneath me. Maybe he was going to rape me before cooking me, and then still eat me. Or maybe he’d never eat me at all—just lock me up in a suspended jail cell, naked, and watch me wither and die. I could easily imagine what a human might do, what twisted fantasies a human might lust for, but not a creature. Not a monster like Wally.
But before we could reach the cabin, they came at us. From behind a cluster of rocks, four high school kids with bleeding faces and wide-open, blackened mouths charged us, like the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse.
It happened so quickly that I yelped when Wally moved, batting the first kid aside with his spare arm. The second one he kicked square in the head with only his knee, splattering the skull like a watermelon. The body fell, but the limbs continued to pinwheel in the air, the way Wiley E. Coyote does as he falls from a high cliff.
After delivering the second hit, Wally suddenly smashed a hand over my nose and mouth. All the air caught in my pipes as the hand gagged me. I had relaxed into knowing my death was imminent, that I couldn’t escape it, until now. Now it was staring me in the face as he suffocated me.
My lungs roared with fury as the third teenager lunged at us. Her jaws gnashed, tearing hair off Wally’s other arm as he tried to shove her away. He was avoiding letting her gums meet his flesh. As she swung her head, that thick, molasses-like blood spattered, leaking from her eyeballs, her ears, her fingernails, like a Pollock painting. She clawed at him, and he body-checked her back, lurching both of us forward.
As his massive hand continued to block my fevered inhalations, my blood started slowing. I couldn’t eject myself from his steel grip, no matter how I wriggled and squirmed. There wasn’t much fight left in me anymore, and that was fading with my blood oxygen.
I was vaguely aware of Wally whipping out one of his spears and in one motion, walloping the girl. Her body made a heavy sound as it flew into the ground. Before she could scramble back up to her feet, he threw the spear down, reached out with his good hand, and wrapped it around her head. Then he inserted his claws with surgical precision into her flesh.
Her body tipped back, and her face tore clean from the bone and muscle without much complaint. Dark brown, mushy blood sprayed all over her hair and pink tank top as she collapsed in a heap.
When Wally got up, she did not. He squeezed the remaining skin in his hand and tossed it to the ground on top of her like a juiced orange. Her tongue lolled out of her jaw, now that there were no lips left to keep it inside.
The fourth teenager had been circling us—waiting, thinking. Watching. None of the other diseased had acted like this. They were animals, barely more than rage on legs. Not that I cared much; my world was going gray at the edges, then black. I tried one last time to peel Wally’s huge fingers away from my passages, but it was like prodding an iron cage with cooked hot dogs.
The strange boy finally decided the waiting was over and lunged at us with a piercing shriek. So far, I’d gathered the following: Wally was about six foot ten, maybe even seven feet tall. With all that bulk in his arms and upper body, I’d put him at 300, maybe 350 pounds—almost as big as a Silverback gorilla. Not as big as people in the town had rumored him to be, but nobody to trifle with, either.
Equipped with this monstrous, ham-fisted body, Wally batted the charging teenager away like he was a particularly annoying bug. The boy flew to the ground, rolled, and leapt back up again. The bleeding boy charged again and Wally hit him a second time. This time, he also stomped with one foot, right down onto the boy’s leg. The bone cracked instantly, splintering like wood, and stopping any chance he had of rolling away again. Then Wally stomped a second time, higher up, on the hips. Then the ribcage.
The boy was still moving, still trying to get up, still shrieking with fury and rage and hunger—whatever it was that drove these violent diseased, versus the diseased who simply chose to keel over and die.
The last stomp came at the neck. It still didn’t stop the boy blubbering and gnashing, so once again, Wally turned him over, buried his claws into the boy’s temples, and tore the flesh from his skull.
Then we were running and I was dying, and Wally, just as abruptly as he had trapped it, let go of my face.
Breath roared into my lungs. I expected to relish it, but it was so painful to breathe again that it blinded me. So suffocating hurts, but so does not suffocating? There’s a new, frustrating mystery to the world.
I coughed and gasped and sobbed as we ran on, leaving the four bodies behind us. As Wally ran on, rather, and carried me under one arm like a baguette as I tried to re-inflate my lungs.
That was when he showed me the cabin. Way out in the hills, disguised by a large willow from the east and a copse of ferns from the west, it was nearly invisible unless one knew where to look. A tiny refuge in a world gone to chaos.
He must live here, I remember thinking; but after he left me at the cabin alone and I began rooting around through the drawers, I realized that wasn’t true. I found the moth-eaten remains of a woman’s nightgown, a long wool skirt, a man’s wool hat and two yellowed work shirts. It had belonged to people; maybe still would have, if everyone weren’t dead now.
I thought for sure those first few moments inside the cabin that I had to get away as quickly as possible, or he’d return to eat me—to finish the job that those diseased, bleeding messes of people had started.
But as Wally set me down on the bed in the small bedroom, then went about heating up some water… he wasn’t watching me, making sure I didn’t escape. He ignored me, actually, rummaging in the cupboards for canned food.
No. Wally had saved me. By covering my face, by making it impossible for me to breathe, I hadn’t inhaled any of the pathogen that had taken over the town. That had probably taken over the world.
So instead of escaping when Wally left me there alone, going out to scout around, I stayed in the cabin. He used his broken English to give me a lay of the land, of how things in the place worked (that he knew of), and then went off to do… Lord knows what. I assumed to prowl the town, to kill the diseased. To look for more survivors.
The first time he left, he returned with supplies from town. More canned food and other random, assorted things—things that I imagine somebody who couldn’t read would select. Baby corn, pumpkin pie filling, Asian button mushrooms, boxes of brightly colored children’s cereal.
And now, a week later, standing in the starlight pouring in through the window, he’s nothing like the terrible creature that yanked me out of a tree.
He’s lived here in the woods for a long time, that’s all I know. The people in town used to say he’d been there for generations, as long as the town itself. When I first moved there, they didn’t talk about him often, if at all. Not to protect him, or out of secrecy; he was just old news. Nobody minded him. Sightings were rare, and as long as he left the cattle alone, nobody took issue with his presence on the fringes—and he never did touch the livestock.
You’d think some creature like this living in your vicinity would pull the news crews, but Wally was Arkansas’s best-kept secret.
The light of the moon illuminates his shaggy, unkempt hair; his massive, square jaw; his shoulders, as wide as a doorway. I don’t know why or how I was lucky enough to be found by him, or whether that even counts as luck when the rest of the world is dead.
He holds out a hand to me in the dark, and I take it. He picks me up like I’d have picked up my cat Daria, before I had to leave her behind. I wonder if she’s sick, too. I wonder if she’s dead.
We leave the cabin, me cradled on my back in his arms, and cross the moonlit grass in silence. Wally descends the hills toward town, moving quickly. Unafraid. We pass the bodies of the four teenagers who followed us that first night and there’s more left of them than I expected. I guess the predators are glutted with food, with so many bodies around. Or maybe they’re all dead, too. Thankfully, it’s too cold for buzzing flies.
As we approach the outlying farmhouses, I spot more corpses, their shredded edges glowing in the dark. Many have been thrashed and eaten, but even more…
On most of them, the skin on the head has been torn from scalp to chin by four long, sharp claws. The closer we get to the center of town, taking sidewalks and backyards, the higher the body count grows. As I sit on Wally’s back, my grip on him tightens. Did he do this? Did he spend the last week combing the landscape for the diseased and ruining them? Making sure they never go on?
I wonder if it’s like those old vampire stories, where the only way to really kill one is to stake it or burn it. Maybe the only way to render these awful things dead—that’s what they are now, things, not people—is to tear them apart. To separate their flesh from their bones and scatter it. But where has all the flesh gone?
I remember Wally’s mouth, teeth red with blood. Guts and gore in his hair. He’s spent the last week eating his fill—ridding us of the monstrosities of the contagion, and then consuming the leftovers himself.
I want to feel sick, but I don’t. How could I? I don’t know what Wally is. I don’t know what’s right or wrong in his universe. All I know is that I’m safe because of him.
As we pass more densely developed neighborhoods, Wally stops and lets me take a look around. I start going into houses to gather supplies in a backpack. First, Wally checks them, then using a flashlight I picked up, I wander through old homes, shuffling through the belongings of the dead for anything useful or edible.
Once we’ve loaded ourselves up with cans of sardines, boxes of crackers, beans and rice packets and a bottle of ketchup, we head back to the cabin once again.
I imagine it won’t be the last time we make this trip.
I open some sardines and a box of crackers and start to eat. Even though I’m still full from dinner, the week of nothing but pears and ham leaves me feeling a distinct lack of real nutrients in my body.
As I cram it down, Wally sits down on the floor in front of me. Slowly I slip over the edge of the bed until I’m sitting on the floor next to him, and offer him some of the sardines. He obliges. The sun is beginning to come up, and the thin light spilling in the window illuminates the side of his face. His strange, bulky face, with its heavy-set brows, and thick, full lips, has an almost-humanness to it that is jarring and yet comforting; strange, but trustworthy.
When he sees me staring at him, Wally’s eyes dart to mine, and then away. I see out of the corner of my eye that he’s growing hard again. I wonder if there are others like him out in the world. Are there females? Is he even a male? I have to assume, by the parts, that he is—but you know what they say about assuming. Anyway, maybe he doesn’t want females. Maybe that’s not what he’s into.
He lengthens when he notices me looking, and turns his head away again. It’s hard to read his emotions most of the time, but I think this time, I’m right in guessing that he’s ashamed.
Everything I’ve ever known is gone. This weird little town that I’d made my home after college—obliterated. Fire and smoke and bones. All I have left in the world is Wally, and all Wally has left in the world is me.
I couldn’t say why, but I can’t resist touching him. He jolts, surprised by my hand on him, and looks down at it with curiosity in his red-gold eyes. I wait for him to respond—throw me off, if he wants. But he does nothing, so I take it as tacit approval.
I run my fingers up, then down, then up again, to see what response it elicits; and it’s about what I expect. He leans back into the bed and shoots me one surprised look before his eyes flutter closed.
“Thank you,” I say as I work my way up and down, up and down. “For saving my life.”
“Yes,” says Wally, gasping a little.
I wonder if I am the only person left in the world.
Wally lets out a louder, stronger noise as I move faster. My fingers knead him, that strange leathery flesh, up and down.
I would much rather eat venison cooked over a fire than canned pears. He must have known that, when he brought me that deer. I wonder how his mind works, what he thinks of. How human he is in there, when he’s so rather human out here.
I wonder: If I’m the last person on Earth, what will the rest of my life look like?
He comes within moments. It gets everywhere, but I’ll clean it up tomorrow. I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but I did, and I don’t regret it. When he’s recovered, Wally looks over at me.
“Thank you, Lou Ann.”
He reaches over and gathers me up in one arm. I let him. It feels good to be close to another creature after so many days alone, fermenting in this tiny wooden box.
The early morning light streams through the window, illuminating us. Whether or not civilization endures, at least the sun will still come up every day. The world turns on whether or not people are on board.
I watch the sun creep across Wally’s face. He smiles at me. His teeth are still stained red.