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Short Stories 365:320

Monsters progress as you age. When you're a kid, the monster is the unknown thing under the bed or in the hall that hides in darkness and - you're pretty sure - eats kids just like you. Those monsters are somehow repelled by a teddy bear, a night-light, or being all the way under a blanket.

Later, the monster is in the mirror - feeling ugly, feeling different, feeling like at any moment someone will find out and then life, as you know it, will be over. This monster you fight by hiding. Burying. Disguising. This monster is sometimes other people, but very often yourself.

Monsters can be the wanting and needing. Wondering how rent will be made, or food put on the table. Those daily monsters are relentless, and they drive the older self crazy. There never seems to be a solution, and they seem to never run out of hunger. And if you beat them, there's always that fear in the back of your mind that you could be facing them at any time.

And then a monster sneaks inside. Eyesight dims, or a back that won't stop aching, or an unexplained "off" feeling that leads you into a room with a professional who explains what can (or can't) be done, and now you realize that the worst monster of them all could be hiding inside you already, and waiting. There are no teddies, no blankets, no night-lights. You can't hide it forever, and there's no "look" to make it go away. There are no plans. No new jobs. No security in savings.

It might eat your memories, or your moods. It might strip your body, or spend it spiraling in another direction. It might be pain, or numbness, or some mix of the two. It's genetic or progressive - or both - and it is, frankly, the single monster of which I have the most fear.

"Two Lives," by WIlliam Sterling Walker

This story, from Desire: Tales of New Orleans, is what got me thinking about monsters and how I think of illnesses like Alzheimer's. The story itself has a simple enough premise - a man, and his mother who he has had committed due to her illness, and the effect on his life, and the way he connects with other people thereafter.

It's not an easy story, but the sense of reality that it brings to the reader makes it so easy to have empathy for him. Most of us know someone - or have at least a one-degree-separation - who has a degenerative disease. The thoughts that run through the mind of this man as he wonders about his own future made me shiver beneath my skin.