Small Monsters

By E. Lily Yu

All its life, a small monster with emerald scales has been a source of never-ending food to larger and more powerful creatures who feast on the small monster’s limbs each time one regrows. This is the story of how the small monster meets an industrious artist and re-forms into someone new—someone who can’t be eaten.

Content warning for fictional depictions of physical and emotional abuse.

The small monster, whelped, slipped out of its caul and onto the pebbly floor of the den.

Its emerald scales flexed. Its soft tail swept the earth. The small monster stretched out its new limbs, shuddering. It smelled raw white roots and mud and dried ichor.

The den was an egg-shaped void under a hill. A roof of rocks and matted roots hid the small soft monster and its parent from the moon’s white gaze.

The small monster unstuck each gluey eye and saw the ruby scales of its parent, whose side heaved with long and labored breaths. The birthing of monsters is hungry work, a labor of a week or more. And as the small monster looked upon the world, still damp from birth, its parent lowered its great golden beak and bit off a tender limb.

Humming with relief and satisfaction, the parent shifted its gleaming bulk to the rear of the den and settled down to sleep.

The small monster bled, and bled, and wailed.

Like gecko tails and starfish arms, the small monster’s lost limb scabbed, healed, and regrew. Its parent left the den and returned with bloodied lumps of deer, bear, rabbit, and hawk. Over time, the small monster sprouted two rows of serried teeth; six hard, ridged horns; and stubby claws.

Occasionally the gold-beaked monster did not return to the den for days, finally dragging in a much-mauled haunch of deer.

Sometimes it returned without anything at all.

Those mornings, when the small monster felt its parent’s footfalls through the packed earth, it fled cowering to the steep curved back of the den, though that was of course no hiding place at all. And by noon the small monster would be diminished by a leg or a tail or a bite from its side, too wise and afraid now, as its parent slept, to make a sound.

Though beak, fang, and claw speak more directly, monsters have their own harsh and sibilant language. Now and then the parent spoke, either to itself or in challenge to another monster whose shadow crossed the mouth of the den, and syllable by hiss, the small monster learned.

One morning, after they had devoured the remnants of a mountain lion, the small monster spoke.

Why do you eat me? it said.

Its parent lolled onto one side, spines bristling. Gobbets of meat warmed its belly and weighed it down, and it felt pleasant toward the world and its whelp. Because I am hungry.

But why not eat—the small monster took a breath—your own leg?

Silly. I am your parent. I birthed you. You are mine.

But it hurts.

It grows back.

And neither said a word more.

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