I'm at a Halloween party. My puffy, red-rimmed eyes are camouflaged with smeared pink make-up. I am a vampire, clutching my cape around me like a child's blanky. I should not have come.
People are dancing, drinking, canoodling. The costumes are elaborate and meant to impress. Hairy scaries are jumping out from around corners in this sprawling manse and shocked screams echo off the marble floors. The rooms are dim and cut with the frantic light-shards cast by disco balls and strobes. There is a pulsing beat from an expensive sound system rattling my ribs. And everywhere the crowd is roaring.
My friend Lana is nowhere. She called and insisted that I meet her and now she is MIA. I told her I wanted to stay home but she said that she needed me. I didn't tell her that I'm pregnant. It's too soon for that. I told someone -- Kent, the father -- and he fled from the news. I want to flee from the news.
Lana said she would be dressed like a gypsy. But I see creatures everywhere. Where are the people dressed as humans? There are cats, of course, and every kind of monster. Frankenstein is here in platform shoes. There are succubi and mermaids. There is a man with his face painted brown wearing a skin-tight fuzzy brown suit. Just ahead there is a blonde in harem attire and I hope that it is Lana. But she turns and I see she is a genie, not a gypsy.
I think of the wishes I would make if I met a genie for real. I wish for magic and the crowd parts around a wizard in a long, brown duster. He has dark hair and carries a silver sword. He is Harry Dresden from those books I used to read at lunchtime in the high school parking lot. Next to him, a gangster wearing diamond rings stares me down. He moves toward me and I fade back through the crowd, down a near-empty hallway. I find a door to an unused room and I am crying again before I can even get inside.
I don't know how long I sit by the door in the dark. I try to find my phone to call Lana, to tell her I am lost and I am leaving. I turn on the light and dump the contents of my purse onto a dark cherry canopy bed. I paw through my belongings, but the phone isn't there. The door opens behind me and I turn to see.
A creature comes in, sniffing the air. He is as tall as the doorway and has to duck to clear his curving black ram's horns. His skin is black and covered in bristles and he has a snout in the middle of his face. He is naked, with a body like a gorilla and an erect penis that swings ahead of him like an unlit torch.
But this is a real beast, not a costume and I scream as he closes the distance between us. There is laughter outside. I try to dive under the bed, but giant hands grip my calves and yank me back. A stink rolls over me and I feel prickles as coarse hair scratches at my legs. The thing snuffles at the back of my neck and grips my hips, pulling me up on my hands and knees. I shriek my terror but it is just another note in tonight's soundtrack. No one is worried for me.
The snuffling moves up the back of my thighs. It feels like the greeting of an overenthusiastic dog too vicious to slap away. The monster's hands twist and I lose my breath when my back slaps the floor. The snout buries itself in my crotch as I lay gasping. Abruptly, the monster pulls back and I see a flash of bloody white rib. He is badly injured but that is not why he stopped. He kneels above me and I stare as his erection fades. The beast growls, groans. Perhaps I am no good for him. Maybe he wanted a virgin. Maybe the pregnancy protects me. I lie trembling and hope that he will go away.
But he leans toward me and I begin to kick and flail. With a grunt, he sits on my legs and puts a massive hand on my chest. I am pinned beneath him as he inserts a huge finger -- topped with a long, slightly curving fingernail -- into my womb. I curl away as he stands, staggering and dripping gore from his wound. He claws at his belly and a little pouch gapes open. He tips the blood out of his fingernail into that dark space. Then he presses both hands to his belly, closing the pouch. A look of joy comes to him. For all his masculine animal qualities, I am struck by the thought that this is a pregnant mother communing with her unborn child. Communing with my unborn child. He has taken my baby and made it his own.
Then he whimpers and shudders. I see his pain, the contractions I will not be having. He twitches there, hands still on his belly for a moment, crying out softly. I want to run but I cannot bear to. He has my child. I know how the songbirds feel when they see a hawk snatch their hatchlings away. I am desperate and helpless and breathless. And then it is done. He peers down at the pouch distended under his fingers.
Out in the house, I hear a roar of laughter and cheering. The monster's head jerks up. He looks back down at me and our eyes lock. The cheering is getting louder, moving through the party towards us. The monster reaches into his pouch and plucks out an infant. He clutches it by one leg and it dangles bloody between us. I see its angry, screaming face. There are tiny waving fists and a smooth, pink belly. Swollen purple masses and a nub of flesh sit between its legs. I am reflexively trying to count fingers and toes when the monster yanks me up by the arm and shoves the baby into my chest.
Instinctively, I wrap it my arms around it, pulling my cloak up to cover it and wipe the blood from its face. His face. My child's face. The door to the room opens forcefully, slamming the doorknob into the wall and a man in a long, brown coat slips in before it rebounds and closes. The man dressed as the wizard. He swings a bloody sword and seconds later, the monster's head lies across the room. The body sinks to its knees and then falls forward. A spray of hot blood hits my face.
The baby is whimpering softly. I am whimpering softly. The man looks at us briefly, intensely, before pulling back his coat and sliding his sword into a sheath on his belt. He heaves at the corpse and flips the thing onto its back. He inspects the pouch, finds it empty. Again, he looks at us. He comes closer and I clutch my baby to my chest. The man slows, holds up his hands.
"Are you OK?" he says. I don't know what he means; what is OK? But I nod.
He reaches out gently, touches the baby's face, smearing monster blood. We stand staring at my son. He is flushed but quiet. His eyes are wide and blue, staring back at us. My heart sings out that I must protect him. I look up at the man and my eyes are wide. I will him to see that the baby's eyes are my eyes. This child is unmistakably human, unmistakably mine.
"What's his name?" the man says.
"Kent," I whisper, looking away. I am trembling. I am waiting for him to rip my cloak away, revealing the bloody, naked evidence that this baby is an abomination. I wait for his bloody sword to find my infant, whose face is Kent's face and whose eyes are mine. I put all the maternal strength I can muster into my voice. I stare him in the face, dare him to challenge me.
"He's named after his father," I say. He scrutinizes me for a tense instant and then he sighs.
"Weird place to bring a baby," he says.
"I just wanted to get out for an hour or two," I said. "I couldn't find a sitter." The man nods and reaches into his jacket pocket. He pulls out a business card. "Monster Guy" it says and a phone number. "My name is Guy," he says, shrugging. "Call me if you need to." He leaves the room. I collect my things and take my baby home.