Ryu looked as if the very thought of monsters existing offended him. “Come on, son. There’s no such thing as monsters.”
His son stuck his bottom lip out in a pout. Julia wasn’t sure what emotion he was trying to convey, but the sight of the tiny, five-year old boy was nothing less than adorable. “But Dad! Kira told me that she saw a real monster under her bed!”
“Eric, come on. You’ve seen what’s under Kira’s bed,” he snorted, “There’s no room for a monster to hide under there. Your sister is just trying to scare you.”
At this, little Eric turned to look at Julia. “What do you think, Miss Julia?”
“I think you should listen to your father.”
“That’s not an answer!”
Ryu laughed, rubbing the top of his son’s head. He looked grateful. “Thanks,” he said, grabbing his son’s hand. “I’m really sorry too. I know this was last minute and all.”
“No worries,” Julia said, “I was off today, and we had fun.”
“Yep,” Eric chimed in, “Miss Julia let me paint a picture, and we ate chili dogs and French fries! And I checked all Miss Julia’s closets and looked under her bed! Unlike us, she does not have monsters!”
“You’re a lifesaver, Julia,” Ryu said, pointedly ignoring Eric’s monster comment. “We better get going. I gotta pick Kira up from soccer practice. And kill her for putting this dumb idea in Eric’s head.”
“Bye. Take care, and tell your wife I said hello!”
Julia watched them walk off. Eric was bouncing all over the place, undoubtedly trying to convince his father that monsters were real.
Sometimes, Julia would get an itch. It would start somewhere innocent, like her the back of her hand or the side of her neck. But then, it would start to grow in intensity. It would spread across her body, tormenting her second by second until she felt like peeling off her skin. On these days, Julia would have to remind herself to breathe.
Today, she was trying desperately to remember that she needed to breathe. However, when she walked into the grocery store and an elderly man placed his hand on the middle of her back in a friendly gesture as he tried to navigate through the crowded aisle, Julia forgot that she needed to breathe. She abandoned her shopping cart and ran out the store.
It wasn’t until her lungs started to burn, and she was leaning against the front door of her tiny apartment that she remembered to breathe. Julia exhaled slowly and then breathed in deeply. She had to focus on the now – she had to stay in the present. If she didn’t, then Julia would travel back to the time where she learned monsters really did exist.
Julia was a pragmatic person, and believed nothing existed in the darkness that wasn’t there in the light. At least until that night when she walked confidently out of the building where she worked. And just as she reached the door of her car, the monster attacked her from the darkness.
She remembered her eyes going wide with surprise as the hand, which felt too slimy to be human, wrapped itself around her neck and squeezed until she thought her throat might literally be crushed. It threw her down and Julia’s head bounce off the pavement. The world blurred and doubled as the monster kept her pinned down with its weight.
It impatiently yanked at clothes, ripping the new blouse she’d bought. The monster was hungry for human flesh and had no need for clothes. It dug into her violently, taking what it pleased and leaving nothing behind. It savored every little piece of her.
Julia wasn’t human anymore. The monster had turned her into a ghoul, something that existed between the living and the dead.
Ryu showed up at her doorstep later that night. He had a haunted look in his eyes as stood there, looking but not really seeing her. His clothes were covered in blood and dirt. “It was a drunk driver,” Ryu whispered. His eyes were red and empty and beautiful. He grabbed hold of Julia, squeezing her past the point of comfort. Julia could feel his tears dripping onto her shoulder, and her heart was breaking. The monster stole something fundamentally vital from her, but she could never put a name to it. Julia just knew she couldn’t embrace Ryu back, offer him the comfort he came seeking.
“I couldn’t save Eric or Kira. I couldn’t save my children. My wife won’t speak, won’t move,” Ryu whispered in her ear.
Julia didn’t know what to say, so she said nothing. She just stared at him, waiting for the realization to sink in.
“I should have believed Eric when he told me monsters existed.”
Now monsters she understood. Julia wrapped her arms around Ryu because monsters were terrifying. “Yeah, you should have.”