The Care and Feeding of Invisible Monsters (short fiction)

Life in Rockwood

The monster had come with the house. It lived in a small room in the back barely big enough to hold a few linens. That was one of the things that bugged Mom. The house was always short of storage space, and the monster didn’t help. It ate any towels or sheets left in its space.

For the most part, the monster was harmless. It sometimes made noise at night. Growls. The scrape of claws against the door. A gurgle now and then. But it was easy enough to ignore, so Alice and her family did just that.

But sometimes, it got out.

Alice and her father studied the open door.

“Did you open it?” he asked.

“No, dad,” she replied. “Did you?”

He shook his head. He shut the door, and they both listened for any indication the monster might still be in there. It took more than just opening the door for it to escape. It wouldn’t leave until at least five minutes had passed.

“How long was it open?” said Dad.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I just noticed it.”

Dad grumbled. “Guess we should get the kit. Just in case.”

The kit consisted of an old sheet, an aluminum baseball bat, and a pendulum. They kept it in an out of the way corner because there was no other convenient place to store it. It would’ve fit easily enough into the monster’s space, ironically.

Alice tapped on the door. “It still might be in there.”

He handed her the pendulum. It only worked for women. She held it beside the door. It didn’t move.

“Shit,” she said.

Dad snorted.

“Sorry,” she said. “So it’s out. So what? I don’t get why we have to catch it anyway,” said Alice. “Why can’t we just let it go?”

“You know we can’t do that. The monster came with the house.”

“Yeah, but–”

He walked away without saying another word. That was how he ended discussions, and once they were ended, there wasn’t any way to continue them.

She failed to see why this was her problem. She hadn’t opened the door. She hadn’t bought the house. She only lived there. She’d liked the house across the street a lot more, but Mom had insisted on this one because it came with a washer and dryer and had a pool that they never used.

In two years, Alice would be off to college, and the invisible monster wouldn’t be her concern anymore. But with Mom off at her Bunco club, she was the only woman around.

“Should we call Mom?”

Dad said, “No need to trouble her. Now use that pendulum.”

“All right.” Alice held it up, and it swirled clockwise for a few moments before slowing and pulling toward the east. It was no surprise. The Peterson farm was that way, and the monster almost always ate a cow the first chance it got.

They climbed into the truck and drove after it. All the while, Alice held the pendulum, watching it tug toward the monster. The closer they got, the stronger the pull, the tighter she had to hold the chain. Her hand tingled as Dad pulled off the road to stop at a section of broken fence.
The Peterson’s cows were still there. Their bells clanged as they moseyed about eating grass.

“It’s here.” She held the pendulum up for Dad to see. The small silver medallion was nearly ready to fly from her hand. If that wasn’t enough of a clue, there were also the claw-like footprints in the dry grass.

“It’s bigger,” she said.

“Uh huh.” Dad handed her the baseball bat and unfurled the sheet. It billowed in the warm evening breeze.

The monster loved eating cows. The only reason it hadn’t eaten one yet must have been because it wasn’t big enough. But it would be. Eventually.

Dad said, “Okay, now I know you don’t want to go back, but you’re going back anyway. So why don’t you make it easy on everyone and come along peaceably?”

The invisible monster growled. Several of the cows wandered away from the sound.

“We’ll buy you some spare ribs from that Olsen’s Barbecue Hut,” said Dad. “You like those.”

The monster didn’t reply. It never could be talked into going back into its cage, but Dad, believing in reason, always tried.

A cow howled as it was hoisted in the air. The brown and white bovine flailed, and must’ve struck something with its hooves. The monster dropped its prey, and the cattle went scattering.

Dad charged toward the sound of labored breathing. He plowed into the monster, and they tumbled end over end. He managed to wrap the sheet around some part of the monster. Screeching, it ran, dragging her father behind.

Cursing, Alice chased after them as Dad dug his heels into the ground. The monster stopped and attempted to shake loose of the sheet. Alice took a swing at her best estimate of where it might be, but her bat hit nothing but air. She swung twice more with the same results. On the fourth, she managed to make contact. A charge ran through the bat and down her arm. Dust billowed and the grass flattened as the monster fell.

The bat only worked for women too.

She wailed on the monster. It howled and roared, but every cry was weaker than the last. Finally, when it was small enough, Dad wrapped it up in the sheet. It hissed and grumbled in his arms.

“Don’t complain to me,” he said. “You could’ve had spare ribs. You chose the beating.”

He threw the invisible monster over his shoulder, tossed her the keys to the truck. “You’re driving.”

About the only perk about the monster was that she got to drive the truck back after they captured it. Dad never let her drive.

“Two more years,” Alice reminded herself as she followed Dad. “Just two more years.”

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