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THE MONSTERS

Once, in a country not too far away, there lived a tribe of monsters. They were grotesque, with great, clumsy bodies and crooked limbs. Their heads were misshapen and their features twisted. All in all, they looked like enormous plastecine dolls smashed out of shape by the angry child who had made them.

Strangely enough, their home was a beautiful valley. But busy with plotting acts of cruelty and with finding enough food to satisfy their insatiable appetites they barely noticed the splendor of the landscape. Monsters spent most of their time gorging, and frequently they even ate each other. For such ugly beasts, their flesh was surprisingly tender. One’s neighbour was, beyond anything else, a delicacy.

From every point of view except the culinary, they hated each other. They were very idiosyncratic beasts, and each one had a highly developed knack of irritating the others. They did not cultivate tolerance or compassion, so violence was common. Murder was not disapproved of, quite the contrary. It was one of their chief pleasures, since it gave them the opportunity to make a fine feast of the victim.

Any display of goodness was discouraged. A monster who betrayed an unselfish impulse was tortured to death in public then burned and his ashes buried. He was never eaten for fear of contamination. And when his remains were finally disposed of, the remaining monsters breathed a sigh of relief.

Fortunately, these creatures were very prolific. Pregnancy lasted only a few weeks and monsters came to maturity in a year. In this way the tribe survived in spite of its incredibly high mortality rate.

It may seem that, in their way, the monsters were happy. You might imagine that the sheer pleasure of unrestrained desires more than compensated for loss of love, friendship, loyalty, and safety. I will enlighten you. The monsters were not happy. Though they destroyed anything that threatened to bring a kinder way of life, deep in their distorted souls they longed for it.

One day, a female monster gave birth to a baby girl. From the day of her birth, this monster child was different. Perhaps she was a mutation. Perhaps certain elements of monster heritage had come together in a novel combination. Whatever the source of the problem, or the blessing, depending on your viewpoint, one thing was certain: this new monster had a totally unprecedented portion of goodness in her makeup. Her conscience was abnormally developed. She functioned almost like a human being. Of course, she did enjoy torturing animals and birds, but she put them out of their misery with uncommon haste. And once, while feasting on a murdered neighbour, she was tempted to offer the eyes to another child, though they were the tastiest bits of all.

Luckily, she was clever as well as good, or she would have been discovered immediately. She quickly realized the danger of her situation and disguised her nature. Because the monsters were such selfish creatures, preoccupied with thoughts of vengeance or of food, the child survived unnoticed and unharmed.

But she was desperately unhappy. Home was not home to her, it was a battlefield demanding constant alertness. There was nowhere to find comfort or reassurance. While all monsters were friendless, their sense of belonging to the tribe helped overcome isolation. But she was truly alone.

One day, she tried to kill herself by jumping into the river near her cave. But the current carried her back to the grassy bank where she lay gasping, fists clenched in frustration. At that moment, she realized she must leave her home behind. Somehow she must escape to the world of men.

From then on, she paid careful attention whenever the human world was talked about, stories laced with contempt yet containing much important information. Having become a master of concealment she felt certain she could disguise herself there as well. The monster had a dream, a strange dream for one of her kind, but it propelled her forward: one day she would find a friend. There, in the human world, where friendship was valued and desired, this dream could be fulfilled.

The time for departure came. The young monster had secretly gathered food and fashioned clothes that humans were known to wear. She fled at night without a backward look.

The journey was long and harder than she’d imagined, but finally she arrived at a human town. It was not as lovely as the valley of the monsters. The dwellings were angular and stiff, set in straight rows upon the earth. Monster homes were carved from the landscape, open to the sky, carpeted with moss and glittering stones. Still, it was the people who enthralled her: their bodies were attractive, their movements graceful, their expressions kind. Their clothes were vivid, unlike the drab coverings that monsters wore.

The young monster wasn’t sure how to begin her life in the human world. For a time, she strolled the streets, absorbing impressions. It was all very odd yet very charming. She saw two children playing, actually playing together, laughing and shouting. Abruptly, a quarrel broke out. But, to the monster’s surprise and gratification, the shouting passed and the children resumed their game. Quarrels in the monsters’ world generally ended in death or a life-long feud. Later, she saw a mother and a baby. The mother lifted the baby towards her mouth, but instead of devouring it, monster fashion, she covered its little face and body with kisses. Delighted, the young monster gazed.

Within a short time, she managed to acquire a furnished room and job. She came and went as she pleased. At work, people were affable and helpful. At first, they made overtures of friendship, but the young monster had no idea how to respond so they soon left her alone. Secretly, she wished they’d persisted.

All in all, she loved the human world. She loved its rules that protected everyone. Violence and dishonesty were punished. People treated one another with respect. Children were cared for with devotion. The old were cherished and their wisdom sought.

But slowly, surrounded by goodness and beauty, the monster began to despair. She felt her difference here just as she had in her own world. At times, walking the streets, her monster nature rebelled against the harmony of her surroundings. She longed to destroy, to murder, to feast on flesh. She rushed home in a panic, terrified that her expression, her eyes, would betray her.

One day, she was invited to a party in her office. She was determined to go. She had bought a soft blue dress for the occasion. With great care, she applied makeup and dabbed on delicate perfume. When she arrived, the others welcomed her, but she soon escaped to a corner, where she sat, frozen with shyness.

Presently, she sensed she was being stared at. She looked up angrily, her monster nature aroused and affronted. A man was gazing in her direction, an older man with fine, intelligent eyes. She was about to move away, but something about the man held her attention, something familiar. Her heart leaped painfully. He appeared very cultured, very human, but she couldn’t be mistaken. He was a monster.

Soon he rose and came to stand beside her.

“May I?” he asked, motioning towards an empty chair.

The young monster nodded. She found it hard to speak.

“I never thought to see another of my kind,” he said with a directness that surprised her. “You are a monster, are you not?”

“I…yes,” she managed to whisper.

The man gazed at her. He looked perplexed. “You are not at all what I remember. Has there been some change in the monster world?”

“There has been no change. I am….different.”

“You are indeed,” the old man said. He looked thoughtful. “I suppose you are a throwback.”

“A throwback?” The monster wrinkled her forehead. “What is that?”

“Ah, yes. I forgot that monsters teach no history, no culture.” The old man smiled, as if at some private joke. “A throwback means a return to the ones who came before us. Our ancestors.”

Ancestors? The word was unfamiliar. Monsters began when they were born. Their lives were all they knew.

“Who were our…ancestors?”

“You haven’t guessed? Our ancestors were human, even more splendid than the humans you have met.”

The young monster’s eyes widened. “Can it be true that we were human once?”

“It’s certainly true, my dear. We were a gifted race, a race of scientists and artists, gentle, self-critical and reflective. People envied us, and envy led to anger and persecution.” He saw the girl’s surprise. “Yes, in humans, too, a monster lurks, a beast kept in a cage, but sometimes it breaks free. Many of us were slaughtered before the instinct for survival asserted itself. We fought back. We transmuted our gifts and our passions into hatred. And we prevailed. Human society, no longer able to destroy us, simply expelled us.”

The old man stopped. It hurt him to remember. After a few moments, he went on.

“Some of the monsters, however, avoided expulsion. They retained elements of civilized behavior, enough to mingle in the human world. It is not entirely home, but we are happy, preferring life here to the mayhem among monsters.”

A startling idea seized the young monster’s mind.

“Could we not return to what we were?”

The old man shook his head. “My dear, you must surrender that illusion. Better to stay here safely, forget the past. I will help you.” He took a small notebook from his pocket and carefully wrote his address. “I shall introduce you to others of our kind. You will have friends.”

Friends! The young monster’s heart leapt. The old man was offering what she longed for most. Too moved to speak, she accepted the slip of paper and fled the room.

For many days, she unfolded the paper and read the precious words. Yet, how could she stay when everything had changed? For the first time, the young monster felt compassion for her people instead of revulsion. She wept for them. She wept for the cruelty that had scarred their souls. She could not abandon them.

She spent sleepless nights struggling with her decision. Perhaps what she hoped for was impossible, naive. Yet wasn’t she herself the living proof that beauty and gentleness, friendship and trust, still existed in the monsters’ nature, within their grasp?

Finally, she returned home to the valley. She chose a cave quite distant from the others and furnished it with taste, placing here and there some treasured object from the human world: an embroidered tapestry, a much-loved book, a glazed ceramic plate in vibrant colours. A sense of purpose lightened her solitude.

In time, she discovered another like herself, a young male monster who secretly hoped for change. He became her mate and ally, her children’s father.

And so began the long and painful process of the monsters’ transformation. After great hardships, her people established a mingling of power and goodness in themselves and in their valley that even the human world, embroiled as yet in its disguises and evasions, has no conception of.

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