Our theme for the month of March is “monsters.”
He doesn’t exist, of course. Not that it matters—you believe in him, and belief is power enough.
The first time he appeared, he was a lycanthrope, inhabiting the body of a high school acquaintance. He and I were at the AMC to watch some stupid teen movie, and the theater offered concession deals to couples on dates. We were not a couple and it was not a date, but we were cheap and so was the lie. We shared a tub of neon popcorn and separate liters of watery Coke—two for the price of one fake relationship.
As I grew and changed, so did he. Spirit separated from the body of my high school friend, he ghosts after me, waiting. When I summon him now, he’s a Frankenstein, cobbled together from people I’ve known. He has my brother’s job, my housemate’s beard, my coworker’s name. See him looming over me in the line at the McDonald’s, when you ask me where I’m headed after this. I’m going to my boyfriend’s, actually. He’s expecting me. He works out.
Because lies are more believable when they’re sewn together from the truth.
Sometimes, he vanishes for months, slinking back into the night to haunt the steps of other maidens. But his shadow still stretches under my bed, lingers in the mirror when I turn away, hovers in the dark behind my eyes. He lurks behind church ladies when they ask if I’m still single, behind relatives who inquire about “any boys” in my life, and well-meaning near-strangers who tell me that I just haven’t met the right guy yet. I’ll feel differently once I do.
He is, very occasionally, a she.
Now it’s 2021, ten years after he first materialized in the lobby of that movie theater. You’re standing too close and would’ve been even before COVID-era courtesy.
“How long did you say you’d been working here? Three years?” you ask.
“Something like that,” I say, even though I haven’t told you anything about me.
“You’re a Hope student, right?” You lean in.
“No, I went to school in GR. But I did my master’s further away.”
You are undeterred by my attempt to intimidate you with my education. “So you’re from around here, then?”
“Are you married?”
His hand breaks up through the opening you’ve left in the conversation. He claws his way free of the earth, a shambling tangle of limbs that rolls between me and you.
“I’m engaged, actually,” I say.
He growls at you, showing mossy stumps of teeth. The flesh is peeled away from his rib cage; his heart hangs there, a useless slab of unbeating muscle. You take a step back. “Oh,” you shrug. Then, after a pause: “Do you think it will work out?”
“I guess we’ll see,” I say, taking his hand.
Someday, when I’m too old for you to take a chance on and too angry to fear your hurt feelings, I’ll no longer need him. I don’t trust that you’ll learn to respect me without him, but by then I’ll have learned to conjure up something more potent than the protection of an imaginary man.
And then—oh, then—what a witch I’ll be.