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Creature, With
Melissa Martini

Content Warning

Monsters, Mental Illness, Blood, Injury, Wounds, Suicide Mention, Apocalyptic Themes

Pink donut

I stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts for a coffee. In the parking lot, I leaned against my car and lit a cigarette, unintentionally scoping out my surroundings as I inhaled and held the smoke in my lungs. I breathed out through my nose. New Jersey parking lots always felt like this early in the morning: like an abandoned movie set haunted by hungover ghosts.

 

The walk from my car to the door wasn’t far, but the windchill creeped down my neck. Pinprick tingles wove through my body like I’d just been shocked by ice rather than electricity. Dunkin’ Donuts had metal door handles, cold and moisture-slicked from last night’s leftover fog. The inside was reminiscent of the backrooms, but I entered anyway. A lightbulb flickered behind the counter.

 

I ordered a large hot coffee from a girl whose sister I might’ve gone to high school with. I couldn’t be sure and didn’t care enough to ask. I considered a donut and decided to treat myself. Double chocolate. I debated buying one for my therapist but I didn’t know what flavor she would like, so I made a mental note to ask her when I saw her. Which would’ve been in 12 minutes if I hadn’t dropped my change and spent a handful of seconds picking it up, apologizing to the cashier, and fisting the coins into my front pocket. Instead, it was in 13.

 

I had visions of where my world was headed - disaster that would only come to fruition if I told someone about it. But I couldn’t survive much longer keeping it inside. The visions manifested; each night when I slept, I lived another life. In that life, I told someone about it and New Jersey was nothing but a wasteland.

 

I told this to my therapist in simple terms. She listened with interest - genuine interest, I could tell, because she had a tendency to interrupt. Ask clarifying questions. Make assumptions.

 

“These sound like what others would refer to as dreams,” she said finally, thoughtful expressions animating her face as she considered what I’d shared.

 

“They’re not dreams. They’re periods of time in which I’m living a future version of my life that is the direct result of discussing said version of my life,” I explained again.

 

“And in this ‘future version of life,’ New Jersey is…” she started, and I said it with her when she finished: “a wasteland.”

 

“Yes, so technically, I’ve just destroyed the state by having this conversation with you. Congratulations, you’re partly to blame for it, too!” I mockingly clapped my hands. She didn’t laugh. It was obvious she didn’t believe me, but I let her continue analyzing and taking notes.

 

“You’re an INFJ,” she declared, as if my admittance to being able to see the future was what told her that, not the “INFJ” pin on my backpack. It was next to a bi pride pin and a poorly sewn on patch depicting a chocolate frosted donut topped with rainbow sprinkles. It was sticking out its tongue. I realized at that moment: I no longer wanted to get her a donut. I just nodded. “The symbols you’re seeing in your dreams may be linked to your anxieties about the future.”

 

I didn’t bother trying to convince her that I hadn’t been anxious about the future until I first saw it. Lived it. Experienced it wholly. Embodied it. The therapy session wasn’t fruitful and involved me trying to sell her on the possibility the spectral sewer rat in my visions wasn’t representing my abusive ex-boyfriend: “...and what does this spectral sewer rat look like?”

 

I had been approached by the spectral sewer rat whilst camping out in an abandoned 7 Eleven. In the future, the world existed in quiet, toned down ticks of time, as if someone had turned its saturation down to half and its volume down to a quarter. I made a bed behind the counter using my coat before exploring and foraging. Shelter came first always - even before food.

I’d developed a routine. As soon as I fell asleep and found myself waking up in the future, I followed three steps:

 

1. First, I found a safe place to sleep. Sometimes I was already in a safe location - future me knew how to take care of herself, so she often had better safe spots than present me. I was grateful for the nights she let me skip step 1.

 

2. Next, food, which sometimes future me had packed in her bag. When that was the case, I tried to leave her as much as possible, and when I was on my own, I always searched for non-perishables for her.

 

3. Last step, survive.

 

Venturing into the store, I caught a chill, the brush of a ghostly touch on the back of my neck. The rat. Startled, I stumbled into the coffee station, long dried out, knocking over a stack of paper cups. Creatures like these only ever showed up on nights the temperature dropped.

 

The spectral sewer rat reminded me of the Rodents of Unusual Size, if R.O.U.S.’s were real but phantasmic and a faded newspaper gray with deep, bloodred eyes. It backed away, defensive, so I kneeled down to hold out my hand. It let out a throaty growl. Its teeth flared, expanding until they took up the majority of its head.

 

When it snapped at me, I fell back. It climbed on top of me, big enough to plant two sharp sets of claws on my shoulders. Warm blood pooled on either side of my head. The metallic odor was lost to the scent of sewage wafting off its body, translucent but maintaining substance. I struggled beneath it, thick strings of saliva dripping from its teeth to my cheeks. Releasing one of my shoulders to bite into my clavicle, it roughly flipped me over before pinning me from behind.

 

I relaxed into it, letting the weight of its body press me into the cool wooden planks beneath me. I closed my eyes and breathed, trying to remember this timeline couldn’t kill me or it would cease to exist. The rat shifted its weight and my clavicle ached into the floor, pulling a scream agony out of my throat. Through hazy blinks, I saw a horned creature approach us. It yanked the rat off of me and flung it across the room.

 

“Thank you,” I said out of habit - the creature, with its poor posture, horns, and dragon-like wings, still appeared humanoid. It opened its mouth and let out a deep roar in the direction of the rat, ensuring it left the 7 Eleven before locking the doors. As the creature approached me, I noted its masculine features - charcoal gray skin blending into the world around us like a comic book with a sharp jawline and pointed horns and wingtips, gold eyes.

 

“Are you alright?” He asked, and future me’s body calmed in his presence. She knew him. I knew him. I hesitated in my response, prompting: “...Are you not yourself self right now?”

 

“No, I suppose not,” I replied, “But I know you’re safe.”

 

“I am,” he wrapped strong arms around me and my body didn’t tense up at the touch. His scent was familiar - white cedar, pine, and forest fires. “She told me about you.”

 

I knew him to his core, second nature, because we were made of the same stardust, constellations forming monsters instead of god or goddesses. Abandoned by our mothers. Unloved by our loved ones. Cursed into night sky wastelands. It came back to me as if I was living both lives simultaneously for a moment - retaining my memories and future me’s memories.

 

I landed in the wastelands in a pink stork swaddle rocket ship, wrapped around my adult body. It still smelled of cigarette smoke and salty beach air. Muggy with ash like the back of a shitty bar. Warm and moist like the space between two beach houses, pinned against the wall of one.

 

He flew over my basket and spotted me struggling, swooped down to retrieve me. We fought off glitching QR code wolves. Watercolor wooly mammoths. Oil pastel raccoons sketched on graph paper. They wanted us dead. If his tiger’s eye gaze was sunshine desperate to peek through gray clouds, their piercing red irises were acid rain.

 

In the 7 Eleven, I showed him to my makeshift bed and we settled in to address the hot, rosewood blood pouring out of my body. Wrapped us in his wings and held me close. I had the sense that I’d saved him in some detrimental way - a way I couldn’t quite recall but needed to.

 

As if suicidal, the timeline consistently tried to kill me. But something always reigned it back in. Sometimes that was finally finding something to eat, and other times that was the Jersey Devil saving me from a spectral sewer rat in a 7 Eleven. When I woke up from that vision, I decided to tell someone about it. I made the appointment on my way to Dunkin’ Donuts, scoring a last minute cancellation. Fate was on my side.

 

“So, now that you’ve told me about it, it has no use for you?” She spoke slowly, digesting each portion of her question as it came out of her mouth.

 

“Yeah. I’m pretty sure it was just trying to torment me enough to get me to talk.” I shrugged. “I have a feeling I’ll be able to sleep easy tonight.”

 

Despite knowing where the future was headed now that I’d cemented it in place, I felt a sense of serenity. Because I knew I’d eventually meet him and we would hold our tongues out to catch black peppercorn snowflakes and build snowmen out of dusty gray snow just to button them up with thirteen dark chunks of coal.

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