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Monstrous Adoption

This short story was January 2017’s Short Story of the Month! If you enjoy it, and would like to support more, please consider throwing me a buck here.

This story is from a series called Monster Girl from Monster World, tales of a mother and her adopted monster child trying to survive. There’s lots more to come! I hope you like it!

The bright light made no sound. It was simply not there, and then there, powerful, cutting through the trees to shine so brightly. And then it stopped. You could not look directly at it, or you would be blinded, but as it died down, I looked past my lair towards where it had come from. It had been very close. All around me, creatures of all shapes were running away, terrified, which was likely the right action. Though I was loathe to leave my lair, I figured I had no choice, and was about to turn and put some distance between me and the phenomenon as well.

But then I heard it.

There was a wail, a sound I had never heard before. It was not an angry sound, but a desperate one. It was a cry for attention and comfort. It was a cry of despair.

Last time I had intervened in such a cry, it had not gone well.

I closed my eyes and took a breath, and then headed towards the sound.

It became clear very quickly I was heading towards the strange stone formation no creature had been able to come up with an explanation for. There were no tales of its history, and none claimed it. Each stone came to a point, and they all pointed towards the center of the circle, towards something that should be there. On lazy days while sunning myself, I’d sometimes wonder what it could be pointing at.

Today, it was pointing at a creature.

It was small. It would take six or eight of the creatures to equal me in size. It had a strange red shell that flopped this way and that as it wailed, covering its head. With two appendages, it wiped at its eyes. Its chest had some sort of design on it. Next to it was a metal object, perhaps a club.

I ducked down nearby and simply watched it. Perhaps it was prey. But if it was related to the light, well…

It eventually stopped wailing. It stood, on two legs, and adjusted the shell on its head. It picked up its club and looked around. Its eyes eventually landed on me. I did not know how good its vision was, but it clearly saw me. It started trembling and held the club, shouting unintelligible sounds at me. It was not moving as prey would. It became clear fairly quickly it was trying, poorly, to communicate.

It clearly posed no threat. The smart thing to do at that point would be to go. But it was desperately shouting, waving its club. Something was wrong.

And once again, I made a decision to put me on the course to pain and heartbreak.

I opened myself, and reached out.

“Hush. I cannot understand your sounds,” I sent.

The creature let out a scream, and fell, string of additional sounds erupting from it. I twitched my tail in annoyance. “I told you, I cannot understand your sounds… you will have to send, like someone civilized,” I sent.

More sounds followed.

“Do you really not know how to send?”

More sounds, but these were followed by the creature suddenly running towards me, club up as if to attack. As it neared, I grabbed it with a tentacle, and lifted it into the air. It swung the club uselessly, more and more sounds pouring out of it.

I sighed. “If you really cannot, I will attempt to send for you for now, then…” I sent, and focused some more, trying to get a good handle on the creature’s head.

It eventually came into focus. “…me down you monster!” I caught.

“I am not a monster,” I sent. It made more sounds. “Please, hush, and send to me.”

“You’re in my head!”

“How else would we communicate?” I sent.

“With words?” it sent back, suddenly feeling a bit confused.

“We are communicating with words,” I sent.

“I’m… I’m not supposed to talk to strangers…” it sent.

“Talk?” It let out another burst of sounds. “Are those sounds ‘talk’?”

“Yes…?”

“Well, we are clearly not engaging in talk,” I sent. “So perhaps it is alright.”

The creature thought this over for a moment, and then supposedly seeing the wisdom in my words, immediately started sending more. “Where are we? Where’s my mom? What are you? Are you going to hurt me?”

I set the creature back down. “I have no plans to hurt you. We are in the forest, of course, at the circle. And I am me. What is a ‘mom’?”

“My… my mother…”

Mother? Was this a young creature? Perhaps that would explain the size. “Are you a child?”

“Yes…”

“It is dangerous for you to be alone. You should head back to your mother,” I sent.

“I don’t know where she is… or how I got here… I don’t…” and then its sending got undecipherable as it began to emit the wail again. Water droplets formed in its eyes and rolled down its face.

I thought back to when my kittens were young, and Form had gotten lost during a hunt, far away from the den. He had bawled for me, and Truth had found him and brought him back to me. I remembered how grateful Form was, and I was, for his brother’s deed.

Whatever this creature was, it was similarly lost. Would I be so cruel as to not offer the same help?

“Please hush your noises, child…” I sent. “I will help you find your mother.”

It made more noises, though less wailing. I twitched my tail, annoyed. Why would this creature’s mother not have taught it to send? It was the first thing I taught my kittens once they could open their eyes.

Finally, it tried sending again. “Hello?”

“I am still here, child… this is the only way I can understand you.”

“You’ll help me find my mom?”

“I will try.”

“What’s your name?”

“They call me Mother Twist.”

“You’re a mom too?”

I took a moment. “Those days are behind me, I am afraid, though the title has stuck.”

“What?” It looked up at me, it’s eyes studying me, attempting to figure out what I had meant.

“It is… not important. What is your name, child?”

“Shakyra.”

“That is a strange name.”

“No, it’s not!”

I was unsure how to respond to that.

“It’s just not a monster name, because I’m not a monster like you!” it finally sent in explanation.

“I am not a monster… am I misunderstanding what that means?”

“I dunno.”

“What is a monster?”

“It’s… it’s like… a strange creature! Something unknown and… and weird! Not from here!”

“Ah. So you are a monster,” I sent.

“No, I’m not! I’m a girl!”

“You are a monster girl, then. I have never seen a strange creature like you before.”

“You haven’t?”

“No, I have not, and I have lived a long time.”

“Well, I haven’t seen you either!”

“Alright.”

“So… so I’m right too!”

“But you are not normally from here, are you, child? You’re from elsewhere.”

“So… I’m the monster…?” Shakyra sent, trying to wrap her head around that.

“By your definition, it would seem so.” I got up. “Come, let us look for your mother. I assume she looks similar to you, so she should be easy to spot.”

“She’s got green hair!” Shakyra sent. “And big glasses! She’s really smart!”

“I see. Then I am sure she is looking for you too. This will not take long.” I headed away from the circle.

Shakyra made more noises at me as I walked away, her legs having to move quickly to keep up. Due to my size difference, my strides were much longer than hers, and I was easily outpacing her. She finally thought to send again. “Mother Twist! Wait! Wait for me!” I stopped, and she caught up. “You’re fast…!”

“Are you not able to keep up, child?”

“I’ll try, but… but don’t leave me again!”

“Very well.”

But she was simply much too small. Simple obstacles, like logs and stones, took her quite some time to navigate over. I was forced to stop again and again.

“Let us try this,” I sent, and wrapped a tentacle around her again. She made noises of surprise as I lifted her and set her on my back.

“I coulda done it…” she pouted.

“This will be faster. You want to find your mother, do you not?”

“Yes…”

“Then please hold on, and we will look.”

Shakyra gripped the fur on my neck, and we moved at a much more acceptable pace. She would occasionally drop her club or her shell, and I would have to retrieve them, but such is the way with children.

“Why do you have those grabby things?” Shakyra asked as I once again retrieved her club and gave it to her.

“Grabby things?”

She pointed with her club to my side and my tentacles.

“Those are my tentacles,” I sent.

“But cats don’t have those,” Shakyra sent, sounding confused.

“What is a cat?” I asked.

“It’s like… a little animal with claws… and a face like yours…” Shakyra sent, obviously thinking hard. “And ones with black fur are unlucky… are you unlucky?”

I considered this. “Perhaps I am,” I sent. “I am not a cat, however. I am called Mother Twist.”

“Can’t you be both?” she asked.

“…I do not believe I am. Let us focus on looking for your mother. We must be vigilant.”

However, while I ran much farther around the circle than I thought it would take, we found no creature like Shakyra. I kept asking if various features of the forest were familiar to her, as that might give us a direction, but she did not recognize the curved stream, or the jagged cliff, or any of the obvious locations we passed. As the sun began to set, we were no closer to locating her mother.

“Mother Twist…” she sent.

“Yes, child?”

“I’m hungry…”

I, too, was hungry, as I had been running all day and doing no hunting. “I will catch something,” I sent. “But you will have to be sure not to make any of your noises, or you will scare the prey.”

Shakyra did not seem assured by that statement. “Okay…”

I had caught a scent earlier, and headed back that way, stalking. My paws pressed against the ground softly with each step as I spotted the creature. It was one of the brown things, its long snout sniffing along the ground, oblivious. I tried to send to it, and as expected, got no response.

“What is that…” Shakyra sent.

“Prey,” I sent, as I crept closer. “Please be still and do not make noise until I have downed it.”

“It kinda looks like a cow,” she sent. “With a funny face.”

“I do not know what that is. Please let me concentrate.”

“Okay…”

Shakyra fidgeted on my back, and the prey stirred, perhaps sensing something off. But it did not run. A step, and another, and I was close enough. I leaped, wrapping my tentacles around the beast as I dragged it to the ground. It bleated uselessly. Fresh blood filled my mouth as it shuddered beneath me, trying to kick out of my grip, until, at last, it ceased to move.

I stayed there for a moment, as I often do, basking in the energy you get from a successful kill. The stress of worry about letting it get away fading from you. The appetizing hints of a meal to come in your mouth.

I could not stay in that space for long, though, as Shakyra was back to making her wail.

“Shakyra, please, hush…” I sent, before realizing she wasn’t on my back. I turned. She had fallen when I had pounced. Her leg had been cut by the hard landing, as there was blood on it.

How old was this creature? Why was she so delicate?

No, that’s not right. Children aren’t delicate. They are just inexperienced. Perhaps Shakyra had never been cut before. Perhaps she had never dealt with true pain.

And that idea made me ache, that I would now be the one who would likely deal with this, instead of her mother. Wouldn’t she prefer to teach that lesson?

But I couldn’t just ignore her.

“Child, are you hurt badly?” I sent as I moved to her.

She made more of her noises in between her wails. Even with me doing the heavy lifting, she could not send. I was about to remind her to do so, but once again considered the situation. She’s hurt, and she’s clearly new at sending. It would be hard to concentrate right now.

“Allow me to help,” I sent, and laid down, curling around her. She was so small, I worried I’d swallow her up. But just that act of being surrounded by me made the wails lessen a bit. I softly moved her a little with two tentacles, and lapped softly at her wound, cleaning it. It was not very deep at all. I did not know much about how she worked, but I could not imagine this being a significant problem that rest would not mend. “See? It is not so bad…” I sent.

The wailing had mostly stopped. Shakyra leaned in against me. “Yeah…” she sent.

I looked down at her, and shivered a little. For a moment, she was Shape, when she had first fallen on a hunt. I had sent the same to her as I pressed her against me, her brothers watching and questioning.

There was too much past in this new creature.

“Did I surprise you when I pounced?” I sent.

“Yeah… it was hard to hold on…” Shakyra sent back.

“I am sorry. I had thought my intentions were obvious. But you are… not like me, it would seem.”

“Is that bad?”

“No, child, no… I just… need to remember that…”

We laid there for a while, and I groomed her softly with my tongue. She squirmed at first, but eventually relaxed. Perhaps it was her simply realizing I wasn’t going to stop. I hoped it was more that it was calming, as was my intention.

The sun was setting, and I looked to my kill, cool now, laying there. “We should probably get our kill back to my lair. You can stay there tonight, and we will eat, and resume our search in the morning.”

“Mother Twist?”

“Yes?”

“Did you really kill that cow thing?”

“Of course.”

“That’s… isn’t that wrong?”

I stared at her for a moment. “We are both hungry.”

“But you aren’t supposed to kill! My mom told me!”

“It is true that you shouldn’t kill creatures of importance. Thinking, communicating creatures, like us. But child, that was prey. It was of no consequence.”

“But…” Shakyra didn’t continue. She was seemingly looking for a better way to argue.

“If I did not kill, I would not eat,” I sent. “And either way, what is done is done. Will you hold on tighter? You may ride back to my lair.”

“Okay…” Shakyra sent, reluctant.

I placed her back on my back, and taking my kill in my tentacles, headed back towards the lair. Darkness set in, and I felt her holding my fur tighter, clearly worried. Perhaps she could not see well in darkness. I tried to safely hurry my pace.

“Do you kill every day?” Shakyra sent.

“I hunt every day, yes, so I can eat,” I sent.

“How do you know they can’t think…?”

“You always attempt to send to prey first, to see if they react. If they do, they are not prey,” I sent. Not all creatures followed these rules, but that is what I had been taught, and what I had always followed.

“If… if I hadn’t reacted… would you have eaten me…?” she sent.

Was she feeling scared of me, after all this? But why? For hunting?

“You reacted, child. You are not prey. I would never eat you,” I sent.

“But… you could…” she sent softly.

“Yes, I could…” Why would she be asking me these things? I thought about it as I moved. “Was that the first time you witnessed someone hunt?” I asked.

“Yes…” Shakyra sent.

“Your mother never took you hunting?”

“No…”

“You should ask her to, when we find her… you will need to know soon enough,” I sent.

We approached my lair. I walked in, and sat Shakyra down on the stone, and then the kill in front of her.

“We are here, and safe now,” I sent. “Please, eat.”

“It’s dark in here…”

“Yes…” I sent, confused.

“Can you turn the lights on…?” she asked.

“It is night, child…”

“But…”

“I cannot make the sun rise…”

“I don’t like the dark…” Shakyra sent.

I moved closer to her, so she could feel my warmth. “Then let us eat, child, and rest, and tomorrow the sun will be back again.”

“Okay…”

I looked to her. She sat there.

“So, please eat,” I sent.

“But… it’s raw…”

“Raw?”

“My mom said eating raw meat will make you sick…” Shakyra sent.

“I eat kills every day and do not feel ill,” I sent, trying to comfort her.

She thought about this for a little while. “But you’re… I’m a monster, right?”

“Yes.”

“So I’m different than you.”

I thought about this. It was true. I still did not know about the creature that she was. “I suppose you have a point, child. And you are positive your mother told you this?”

“Yeah… I did it once, and got real sick, and she told me why…”

“How do I make the meat not raw?” I asked.

“Cook it?”

“How do you do that?”

“Use an oven…”

“What is an oven?”

Shakyra was clearly thinking very hard, trying to figure out what I needed to know. “It… it’s a box… that makes things hot…?”

“Hot? Like fire?”

“Yeah! Yeah, like that. Like a camping trip. My uncle talked about that…”

“So I set the meat on fire, and that makes it not raw?” It was a ridiculous concept. Why would you do that to a kill? But I should probably follow her mother’s rules.

“Yeah…”

“Then I will have to get fire,” I sent. “We will have to go at first light, however. He won’t like us waking him.”

“But I’m hungry,” Shakyra sent.

“I am sorry, child, but if you will not eat this, you will have to wait.”

Shakyra made some sounds. She was upset, clearly.

“If it will make you feel better, I will also refrain from eating,” I sent. I laid down, a ways away, in my pile of furs. “Come, let us rest, and we will go as soon as possible so you can eat.”

Shakyra hesitated. Finally, she set her club and her shell down, and came over to me. She pressed against me, and I curled around her again.

“Is this okay?” she sent.

“Yes, child, perfectly fine.”

I sat my head down, and closed my eyes.

It was only a short time before I heard Shakyra wailing softly into my fur.

“Are you alright?” I sent.

“I wanna go home…” she sent. “I wanna go home…”

“I am sorry, child… we will get you home soon,” I sent.

“I want my bed…”

“I know you do…”

She kept making her little noises for quite some time. I stayed close. Eventually, the sounds stopped. Her breathing steadied. She was surely asleep.
I closed my eyes again, and tried to get some rest.

As the sun rose, I awoke, and checked. The child was still there. I watched her for a moment. How long had it been, since the lair had had young ones in it? It was nice, if just for a moment.

I tried to arise without waking her, but was unsuccessful.

Shakyra made her noises. I reestablished a connection with her, so she could send.

“Good morning, child,” I sent.

“Good morning…” she sent back. Shakyra fidgeted for a bit. “I… wanted you to be a dream. So I’d wake up at home.”

“I apologize, but I am still here,” I sent. “But we will continue our search today. Do not worry.”

“Okay…” she sent, clearly unsure. “I’m hungry…”

“Yes, of course… I am as well… we should hurry and acquire fire…” I stood. “Are you ready to go?”

“No… I have to go…”

“Go? Is that not what I was suggesting?”

“No, I mean… go to the bathroom…”

“What is a bathroom?”

“Um…”

It took Shakyra and I some time to navigate what she was referring to, as apparently she was not supposed to talk about it directly. Monsters were strange creatures, and I had a lot to learn. But after we’d both taken care of such things, I sat her on my back, picked up our cold kill in a couple tentacles, and ran.

Bellows lived close. He was the closest thing I still had to a friend. He was pleasant enough, and he had tried to be there for me, especially when I needed it most. I hadn’t been in a good state to accept then, but it meant something. He would listen. More importantly, he would have fire.

My paws pounded against the ground. Shakyra broke the rhythm with a question. “What should I call you?”

“As I told you, my name is Mother Twist,” I sent back.

“That’s a lot to say, though…”

“It is my name…”

Shakyra spent some time contemplating this. “I’ll think about it.”

Bellows’ lair was near a waterfall, important for his work. As per usual, a wall of fire covered the entrance. I felt Shakyra grip my fur tighter as we approached.

“You have nothing to fear, child,” I sent.

“It’s a scary cave,” she sent back. “It’s burning.”

“It is the home of a friend. And we need fire.”

I walked up, close enough to feel the heat of the flames on my fur. I sent into the lair. “Bellows?”

“Mother Twist… it’s been some time,” Bellows responded, from inside. “Why have you come to visit?”

“I need fire,” I sent.

“Now, why would you need fire?” Bellows wondered. “But of course, come in.”

The wall of fire parted, causing Shakyra to make a sound.

“Mother, how did that happen? I don’t think fire does that…” she sent.

I froze for a moment, processing. Then I responded. “That is Bellows’ talent. He manipulates fire.”

I headed into Bellows’ lair. The heat stayed high. Molded metal covered the walls. Bellows watched from next to his forge, taking me in, shaking his head at disbelief as he saw Shakyra. “What exactly have you brought me, Mother Twist?” he asked.

“A kill,” I sent, setting the prey before him. “And a guest.”

Bellows leaned in, baring his long fangs as he checked Shakyra’s scent. She scrambled backwards, and fell off my back onto the ground with a thump. She started making her wailing sounds.

“Child, child… it is alright…” I sent, quickly turning to tend to her. I put her near me, and let her slowly calm down as I groomed her softly.

I heard Bellows snort fire. “I see,” he sent.

“This is a monster child,” I sent back. “We are searching for her mother.”

“And you are searching very hard, I’m sure,” Bellows sent.

“Yes…” I sent, unsure of his tone.

“Hello, monster child. I am Bellows,” he sent to Shakyra.

Shakyra still seemed scared, but responded. “Are you going to eat me?”

Bellows seemed confused. “I am talking to you, am I not? You are not prey.”

“She is still a bit scared…” I sent. “Where she lives seems much different from here, from what I have pieced together.”

“I’m… Shakyra…” she said, finally calming a little. “Are you a dragon?”

“What is a dragon?” Bellows asked.

“It…” Shakyra started, but then got distracted as her stomach let out a noise. “I’m really hungry…”

I looked to Bellows. “Shakyra tells me that she will get sick if fire is not applied to a kill first. I was hoping you could help. Once she is fed, we will continue our search for her mother.”

“Apply fire to a kill?” Bellows sent, leaning back and setting his claws on his stomach as he thought. “Well, clearly most of my kills have been singed, but I am unsure why you’d do that if you have a different option…” He looked back to me. “I suppose I do recall supplying fire to a creature who did something like that. Claimed to be part of a process of changing the flavor.”

“Perhaps this is similar,” I sent.

“Yes,” he sent. “Well, it’s worth a try. Bring it to my slab over here and I will see what I can do.” I set the kill down on the slab, and Bellows examined it. “How much am I supposed to burn it, I wonder… until it is black?”

“Y-you’re supposed to stop before then,” Shakyra sent. “That means you went too far…”

“Is that so.” Bellows looked at the kill, deciding on a course of action. “Alright then.” He took a big breath, leaned in, and breathed.

Fire quickly covered the kill, and the smell of burning flesh filled the cave. I looked to Shakyra for confirmation this was correct. She just looked at Bellows, worrying.

Finally, Bellows stopped. He inspected the kill, and then ripped a chunk of flesh off, holding it out to Shakyra. “How’s this?” he sent.

“It’s… it smells about right…” she sent, looking at it. Bellows dropped the flesh to her. She immediately dropped it, making a noise.

“It is hot, from the fire…” I sent. “Bellows, give her a different piece, once it cools…”

“Of course,” he sent, taking a bite himself. “Not bad.”

I picked up the piece on the floor with my tentacle and ate it. I’d never eaten a kill that had been burned before. It tasted… different, but not bad.

Soon, Shakyra had a cooler piece, and she bit down. “Will that work, child?” I asked.

“It… yeah…” Shakyra sent, eating hungrily.

Bellows and I watched her eat her fill. I felt Bellows narrowing, so Shakyra could not understand him, sending only to me. “This is a bad idea, Mother Twist.”

“I am just going to find the creature’s mother,” I sent back. “That is all.”

“Last time it did not work out that way.”

The statement hurt, as true statements often do. “Last time I was still upset and mourning.”

“We have not had contact in a bit, but I have the feeling you’re still that way. Or perhaps you’ve changed your name and I have not realized.”

“I have not…”

“Well, then.” Bellows looked to me. “I would say you’re still in mourning.”

“I did not seek this monster out. I am not about to repeat my sins of the past. You are worrying for nothing.”

Bellows let out a little puff of flame. “If you say so.”

“I do.”

Bellows grabbed a bit more of the kill in his claws, and tossed it into his mouth. “I’m sorry I find it hard to trust you in this. I often worry about you being so alone. You were never one to be alone.”

“I had to be. I had no choice.”

Bellows looked me in the eyes. “Mm, I’m sure it felt that way.”

“Can I have some more?” Shakyra sent to both of us.

“Of course, child,” I sent back, and got her some more of the kill.

Soon, we’d finished eating, and I put Shakyra back onto my back. “We best resume our search,” I sent.

“Of course,” Bellows sent. “It was nice meeting you, Shakyra.”

“It was nice meeting you, too,” Shakyra sent. “Thank you for cooking the meat.”

“Any time,” he sent. “And if you need me to send fire to your lair, we can talk, Mother Twist.”

“Thank you,” I sent, and then ran out of his lair.

We ran, and searched, until the sun started to fall in the sky. We went farther than I really thought likely, checking in trees, in water, but found nothing resembling the child’s mother.

“Mother, I’m tired…” Shakyra sent to me as I continued to patrol. She was hugging onto me tighter, and had dropped her shell twice in the last few moments.

“Alright, child… we will resume our search in the morning…”

I ran back to the lair, and I laid down to sleep.

Shakyra looked at me, unsure.

“It is still alright,” I sent.

She came over and got comfortable against me again. I could tell from her silence she was still troubled. I started licking her softly.

“Do not worry. I am sure we will find her tomorrow,” I sent as I bathed her.

“Yeah…” she sent back.

I sent those words to her every night, for ten nights.

On the eleventh, Bellows joined us, setting up fire in my cave. I had a kill ready, and he was melting out a place to store the fire in the wall. Shakyra watched, fascinated.

“Thank you for setting this up,” I sent to Bellows.

“Of course. Will keep you two from having to bother me every day at the very least,” he sent back, setting up a barrier with his talent. “Though I’m sure I will miss the company.”

“Thank you, Bellows!” Shakyra sent as well.

“You’re very welcome, child,” Bellows sent, breathing fire behind the barrier. It crackled to life, holding. “There. That should burn for at least one moon cycle… I will check up on it every so often, if that’s alright.”

“I would appreciate it,” I sent.

Bellows looked to me, and sent only to me, giving me a concerned expression. “You are looking?”

“Every day,” I sent back, annoyed. “It is all I’ve been doing besides visiting you for fire.”

Bellows looked me over, and let out a little sighing jet of fire. “I hope you will forgive me, but I have spent some time looking, too.”

I whipped my tail in annoyance. “Did you consider that an attempt to help me or hinder me, I wonder.”

“Take it how you’d like, but you know I am with you. I figured it would be easy to find a creature like the monster. But nothing has turned up. Nobody at the Trading Place even knew what sort of creature I was talking about.”

“It’s really warm!” Shakyra sent, looking at the indentation filled with fire.

“Please be careful, child,” I sent to her. “It is contained so it won’t spread, but it will still burn you.”

“I’ve been real cold at night, though! Can we sleep close to it?” she asked.

I thought about it. It seemed odd, but doable. “We can try it,” I sent.

“When are you going to give up your search?” Bellows asked. I could feel his concern for me.

“I told you, I’m not going to repeat my past mistakes. I have no plans to give up,” I sent.

“Right.” Bellows drummed his claws on his stomach for a moment, thinking. “Well, I am here if you need any other help.”

“I know.”

“And… I’m sorry. That I’m so harsh.”

“There was a time where not even I cared about me,” I sent. “I understand feeling a burden, that you have to worry. But you do not.”

Bellows looked me over one final time. “Then I’ll stop my fool’s errand. For now.” He turned to Shakyra. “I must get back to the forge. I’ll see you later, Shakyra.”

Shakyra turned and looked up at him. “Can’t you stay and play?”

Bellows snorted happily. “I am unsure you could take the heat of the kind of games creatures like me play.”

“I could try!” she sent, standing up.

“Perhaps another time. We must get on with our search,” I sent.

“Oh… right…” Shakyra sent.

“Goodbye, child. Mother Twist,” Bellows sent. And then he left.

“Shall we head out?” I asked Shakyra.

“Mother, do you… know any other children?” she asked, looking up at me.

“I do not know any others like you. That is why we are searching,” I sent.

“No, I mean… I just… someone to play with…”

I thought about this. Of course the child would need a playmate. But I had been alone for so long, and destroyed so many connections. And those children even Form played with were surely fully grown now, so many years later. “I don’t think I do, child. Perhaps I should inquire.”

“…do… maybe we could play… instead of looking today…?” she asked.

“Should we not keep looking?”

“I… probably…” Shakyra seemed confused. She was likely exhausted. We had had a nonstop schedule.

“What should we play?” I asked.

“Um…” Shakyra thought for a while. “We could play… Hide and Go Seek…”

“What is that?”

“It’s… one of us hides, and the other tries to find them…”

“Oh! A hunting game!” I sent, surprised and pleased. Perhaps her mother had started training her to hunt after all. However, if I pounced on her, I would likely hurt her. She was quite small. “Perhaps I should hide, and you should look for me,” I suggested.

“Okay!” Shakyra sent. She went over to a stone wall and started making noises from her mouth. I watched her. Soon, she turned around. “Hey!” she sent.

“Yes?”

“You were supposed to go hide! When I counted!”

“Ah, I see,” I sent. “I will this time.”

She turned around and made her noises again, and I slinked out of the lair on soft paws. I found the first tree dense enough to conceal me, and after walking a bit in one direction to throw off my scent, leaped into the tree and pressed down to hide.

Soon, I watched Shakyra walk out of the lair, looking around. She looked in bushes and behind rocks. She was not looking up.

Apparently, though she knew the game, her training had barely started.

I swished my tail, making a little noise as it brushed against leaves, seeing if she picked up on it. She reacted, but did not look up. I did it again.

Shakyra’s eyes scanned the branches. “Mother?” she sent.

“Yes, always send to your prey before you take them down,” I sent back. “But now you must subdue me, yes?”

“Subdue…?” Shakyra asked. “I just need to find you… and I think you’re up there?” She pointed an appendage at me.

“But how are you going to get to the prey you found in the tree?” I asked.

“I… thought we were just playing hide and go seek…” She was clearly confused.

“Perhaps I am misunderstanding this monster game,” I sent, jumping down from the tree. “Is it not a hunting lesson?”

“It’s just a game…” Shakyra thought about this for a long time. “I know! I’ll teach you!” she sent.

For the rest of the day, she explained various monster games to me, including something called House and something called Soft Ball, for which she claimed her shell and club were for. I did not really understand much of it, but it clearly made her happy to talk about where she came from, and I found myself relieved at the excitement she conveyed.

However, after I had hunted and we had eaten, her excitement seemed to turn to melancholy. She had wrapped herself in a smaller fur she had begun to refer to as a “blanket” and was staring into the fire.

I laid down next to her. “Is everything alright, child?”

“I won’t play those games again, will I?” she sent, softly.

“You will likely have to explain them again to me, but I will do my best,” I sent back.

“But you’re…” she just stopped sending, curling up into a little ball.

“Shakyra…”

“You’re very nice, Mother… but I want my mom… I want to go home… and see my friends again… and…” Water was escaping from her eyes. She could no longer focus to send.

I was at a loss on what to say. I moved closer, trying to press against her and calm her down. But she tried to push me away, so I stopped.

“We will keep looking…” I finally tried. “We will get up early tomorrow…”

“I don’t want to look… I want to go home…”

“I know you do…”

She made some loud noises.

I tried to get close again.

She once again tried to push me back.

I backed up, and laid down on my furs, watching her. She was so happy earlier, had been so calm and focused the last few days. But it was silly of me to think she was not still upset about her missing mother. I was getting too comfortable with our situation. I was making another mistake. Perhaps Bellows was right to worry about me.

I found myself waking up as Shakyra pressed against me. I looked down at her, and reestablished a connection.

“I’m sorry I woke you up,” she sent.

“It’s alright, child.”

“I don’t want to be alone…”

I pressed closer to her, nuzzling my head against her small body.

“I don’t either,” I finally sent.

Every day, as the sun rose, we searched. But our searches grew shorter, and shorter still. We started filling our time with other pursuits. I tried to teach her important things. Stalking. Hiding your scent. Hunting. She tried to teach me monster things. More about her games, and the world she came from. A world we, day by day, were more sure had nothing to do with this one.

More than a moon cycle later, we found ourselves relaxing at Bellows’ lair. We had been hunting nearby, and Shakyra, finally getting a good grip on the landscape, asked if he was close. So we had to visit, as a reward.

Shakyra napped near the warm forge, her belly full of food. Bellows and I watched her, unsure where to start, now that it was just us.

“Have you found any leads?” Bellows finally asked.

“Nothing,” I sent. “Have you?”

“I have heard a rumor of a strange thing. She is also a strange thing, being a monster, but they may not be related.”

“I feel it likely they are not. The more I hear about the Monster World she comes from, the more I am sure nothing like that exists in the world I know here.”

Bellows let out a little breath of flame. “What are you going to do?”

“I do not know.” I looked to Bellows. “It is hard to keep my distance. I do not know if I am.”

“Even I feel attached at this point, Mother Twist… she is always excited to see me.” Bellows drummed his claws on his stomach. “I can’t help but feel it might be time to give up, though I worry for you if you do so.”

“I cannot… the moment I give up is the moment she is going to be taken from me. I can feel it…”

“Do you feel you are lying to her, when she asks if you will find her mother, and you say yes?”

“…she has stopped asking.”

“Then I don’t know what else you can do.”

We watched again, nothing but the sounds of the forge crackling to fill the space.

“What was the rumor, if I may ask?” I sent, unable to stand being alone with my thoughts any longer.

“I’ve heard of a spire, of a square shape that reaches far into the sky, farther than anyone could ever fly. It reflects the sunlight, but they say, if you get close, you can see inside it.” Bellows showed his fangs, clearly finding the idea silly. “It’s likely nothing, but it still gave me pause, given Shakyra’s club. I still have not been able to figure out what sort of incredibly light metal it is made of, but it does not have those properties. There’s no connection there.”

Even with the heat of the forge, I was filled with the cold of night.

Four days ago, Shakyra had told me she had lived in something called a city in Monster World.

“What is a city?” I asked.

“It’s like…” she sent, searching for a description. “There are a lot of buildings… which are like… like this cave, but they’re very tall, they reach up into the sky, and many monsters live in them! And they have windows all over the outside, so you can see out.”

“Windows?”

“Like… shiny walls you can see through…?”

“How strange,” I had sent, trying to picture these things.

And then Bellows had described one.

“Mother Twist?” he asked, concerned by my reaction.

I knew I should tell him. I should tell him, and we should find more information about this spire. We should work to get Shakyra back to her mother.

I looked to Shakyra, sleeping peacefully.

Instead, I sent, “I was just trying to picture it. What a strange idea.”

“Yes, the result of a creative but silly mind, no doubt,” Bellows sent.

I had been deluding myself to think I had any distance from the situation. That same desperate, clinging feeling I had felt last time welled up inside me. Except this time, it would work, I could feel myself swearing. This time, I could keep her for my own. I knew I could. All I had to do was keep silent. Keep her away from this spire. Then she would be mine.

I looked to Shakyra once more. Could I really do that to her?

She stirred. I reestablished a connection for her. “Did you have a nice nap?” I asked.

“Yeah… sorry… I got sleepy…” she sent.

“It is quite alright, child.”

“Mother, let’s go home.”

Home. My lair. No, our lair. Home.

“Yes, we should go home,” I sent.

I picked her up in my tentacles, placing her on my back, squeezing her gently as she got settled and ready to go.

I would not lose a kitten again.

Thank you very much for reading my story! If you liked it, please share it with your friends and stuff. That would mean a lot to me. There’s plenty more stories and things coming, so I hope to entertain you again soon!

Published inShort Stories