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Monster-Killer

When the monsters came my one useful skill was knitting. I made grey mitts to keep my little sister's fingers warm. I made slouchy caps to cover my shorn head which my father still tut-tutted and sighed over. I made scarves to keep my hands busy so I did not slap away his affectionate caresses. After all the schools and workplaces and shops were closed--they had infested the gutters and eves of the city's narrow streets--I made double thick hats and mittens and traded them for ration bars and cans of beans at market. I mended things.
"Why do you treat yourself like that? Why do you do that to your pretty face?" Dad asked in his wheedling voice. He grabbed my hands to keep me from picking at my acne scars. He held my wrists too tight. He stood too close. He called me by the name that made me itch in my own skin. I smelled him on me and I scratched and scratched.
"You'd be such a pretty girl if you let your hair grow back."
I wouldn't be.
I was hurrying home, hood up, clutching the sack of ration bars, the coverless paperback I'd gotten for my sister tucked into my hoodie pocket, when I saw the boy fighting. One of them was on him, wrapped around him, throat to groin, its many mouths sucking and boring into his flesh. Most people, with one of them that big on them, went limp, their faces taking on the same blank despair their corpse would wear. But he still fought, his fists sweeping and flashing like the fins of betta fish.
I could see its third eye, and ugliness welled up in me. So rarely were they vulnerable. It was we who were vulnerable, glancing over our shoulders for their many spread heads, their pinwheeling mouths as they detached from their nests in the rafters and sailed down to wrap us up in their screaming arms.
I didn't decide. I didn't choose. I was just suddenly there, my #10 straight knitting needle in my balled fist, and I plunged it into the eye, in and out and in and out like fucking, and I was shouting fuck you, fuckyou, fuckyoufuckyoufuckyou.
When it was dead, I peeled it off, but the boy was already dying. It had eaten part of his guts. Untended he'd bleed to death, tended the infection would take him. He gave me a pained charming grin, sad, like he knew his fate. I liked the looks of him, his hair a burr of dark fuzz, eyes bright, even as his guts leaked onto the pavement. He looked like the kind of guy I wanted to be. He looked like he'd have been a good friend.
I looped his arm around my shoulders and helped him sit up. We shuffled back against the skeleton of a junked car.
"Thanks, man," he said, his voice breathy with pain. "Some badass moves you got there, monster-killer."
"Thanks," I said. The #10 was covered with ooze, but I spun it in my fingers and he laughed.
"I got some buddies, monster-killer," he said. "Bring'em my shit?"
Dad would be worried with me getting home so late, and I didn't like what he did when he was worried. But the boy was dying. "Sure."
"You keep my jacket." It was a leather jacket, the elbows rough with asphalt burn, the inside lined and warm. "Give Benny a hug."
His buddies were a few kids in the back of a van. The littlest cried when I told them what happened. The oldest, the girl, took the knapsack and wouldn't look me in the eye, putting an arm around the littlest, talking softly to them. Benny, the middle one, accepted the hug. His wide eyes looked like my sister's. His hands were chapped and cracked with cold. I gave him my last pair of mitts.
The girl looked at the mitts and me and at the knitting needles sticking out of their dead friend's jacket. "If you want to come with us, we could use a monster-killer," she said.
I thought they could use someone to mend their clothes.
When I got home, Dad pressed me close and snuggled his nose against my cheek. "We were so worried, babygirl." He frowned at my new jacket, at the way its thickness meant I couldn't feel his fingertips on my skin. "That looks dirty," he said. "Take it off."
My fingers closed around the cool, smooth metal of my #10.
My little sister was in her room, shaking, her clothes rumpled, staring at the wall.
"Hey," I said. "Get packed. We're leaving."
"But Dad--" she said. Her voice quavered. But as she took in my new jacket--the way it broadened the line of my shoulders, the way I stood more easy, more confident--her eyes grew brighter than they'd been in weeks. Would they be as bright as the dying boy's when they were the only thing to fear?
"It's all right," I said, and spun my #10, still warm with the heat of flesh. "Your big brother is a monster-killer now."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 22nd, 2019
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