Monster Eyes

He snaps awake, jolted by an electric terror. A nightmare he doesn’t remember. Sean Connery stares up at him from a perch on the wall. The dapper MI6 agent flying a plane with no hands is the only thing recognizable in the bedroom. His mattress has transformed from a queen to a king. His wife’s mixed media paintings no longer adorn the walls. They have now become a dark teal instead of some neon color he could never remember the name of. Unrecognizable photos are sparsely spread around. A couple brass lamps, the usual nightstand and dresser, yet only one bookshelf. This “new” room calms Cal but makes him feel strange, almost dirty, at the same time. Cal removes the foreign down comforter. Natalie would never have allowed something made from animals, no matter how comfortable it was. To his relief, Cal finds that he’s still wearing the same AC/DC pajama bottoms.

The bathroom is where he expects it to be. Fully stocked with his usual brand of shaving cream (Barbasol), toothpaste (Crest), and all-in-one shampoo/body wash (Dial). But no trace of Natalie. Yet Cal can feel another presence in the house. So he does what one does in a bathroom that isn’t quite your own: he snooped. After repeatedly sniffing a pod-like, mango air freshener and failing to get into the cabinet under the sink, he explores the rest of the doppelganger house. He once again ignores the soft blue robe and slippers lurking between the bedroom and bathroom. Then he creeps downstairs in the pajama bottoms and an undershirt (Hanes) he found poking out from the wooden dresser near the bedroom door. The stairs don’t even creak. The woman reading the paper at a table in the center of a cold metallic kitchen is not alerted to his approach. Definitely not my wife, Cal thinks. She’s wearing a Victoria’s Secret teddy with a loosely-tied silk robe draped over only one shoulder, the pink to “his” blue upstairs. She’s reading the business section of the Times. Her long light brown hair makes her face indistinguishable. Still, as with the rest of her outfit, glowing, smooth skin bleeds through. Cal wonders if he should do something to get this woman’s attention. He worries he might frighten her. He wonders if he somehow sleepwalked into the wrong house, and if this woman, perhaps, just has a strange affinity for men’s soap and clothing.

That’s when she sees him.

A possible robber, or predator. She’ll scream and call the police. Cal hates it when they scream.

The woman reaches out a perfectly manicured hand for the coffee mug on her left. She misses it and, removing her gaze from the paper, spots him standing there. Cal is frozen to the stairwell.

“Hun, are you feeling okay? It’s almost nine. You’ve never slept this late before.” As her hand closes around her coffee mug, she furrows her brow.

Cal recognizes the voice before her face. It’s runner-up prom queen Claire Bennett. He hadn’t seen her since the reunion seven years ago. She told the same damn story the entire time. Claire Bennett, Miss Mississippi two years running, but not qualified enough to wear a plastic crown next to a raven mascot. “In this very gym!” she would say, and then everyone would laugh like she was headlining at the Apollo. To be honest, he did think it was a cute story, but he was there with Natalie. Even though she wasn’t the type to get jealous, Cal wasn’t looking forward to having a chat in the middle of the gym, sandwiched between his wife and high school crush.

“Don’t you want some coffee?” Claire asks. “The new Sumatra just came in. It’s amazing.”

The word amazing uncoiled from her mouth and slid into his ears, hypnotic as the eyes of cobra, enticing him into a forgetful ease. He sits beside Claire and takes it all in. The modern kitchen, the clutter-less floors, the simply decorated walls. Claire. She is as beautiful as ever. Maybe even more so than from back when they would pass poorly-translated notes between each other in French class. Except something is off in her attitude or appearance. It reminded him of Natalie not buying name-brand food. You could tell from just looking that something was amiss.

“Calvin, what’s wrong?” she asks, sliding her hand over his.

When he sees matching gold bands on their fingers he gets that same comforting-but-dirty feeling again. Her face scrunches as she tries to diagnose Cal, feeling his forehand and poking at him. He likes the attention but still wants to blend in. He says he’s fine and asks for that coffee. As Claire gets up, he notices the light catching her hair in an odd way. It shines but not in the way it’s supposed to. When she hands him the cup and sits down, he sees it—the gray. She’s gone gray! She was a year younger, how was this possible? He follows the few gray strands with his eyes as he gets up to subtly check her scalp. Almost half her roots are gray or white and then slowly twist into her normally light brown strands. Seeing those strands worming around her roots makes a pit form in his stomach.

“Why are you standing?” she asks while reaching for the paper again.

“Uh, needs sugar.” Cal nods towards his coffee cup.

Claire drops the paper and stares at him, her eyes turning cold.

“What?” he asks.

“You always take it black.”

“Oh, I think it’s a bad batch,” Cal says.

“Hmm, it is earthier than a Sumatra should be. I know how you hate that.”

After another suspicious glance at Cal, Claire goes back to the paper while he carefully searches through the kitchen’s contents. Claire gets bored with the paper again.

“I’m going out. Poke around all you want but I threw away your snacks. No cheating on your diet this week.” She smiles and then heads upstairs.

She’s going out? Cal shuts the door to the cabinet. Natalie hasn’t gone out by herself in months, maybe more. He’s never figured out why. She used to go on walks or to shop all the time but now even their groceries are delivered. Natalie was one for the ridiculous outfit, though. Plaids and polka-dots together, tie-die swirls, vintage clothes. A cornucopia of color disasters. That and her attraction to strange hats set her apart when they first met in college. She was an adult now. No longer a girl playing dress up in mommy’s closet. Cal told her people wouldn’t take her seriously in clothes like that, that they wouldn’t see the person she really was. Natalie wasn’t much for listening. Her usual morning was working from home, wearing something she ordered online or, even more garish, in something she made herself.

A front door he can’t quite see slams shut. Cal roams the house but this world is smaller than he imagined and Cal soon found himself back in the bedroom.

Cal lays back down on the bed, admiring the huge space, and absorbing the simple nature of the room. It looks like a delicate finger has pulled out only what one would need and removed any personal touches. He hears the cabinet below, the sink clicks shut, and Claire reemerges. Her hair is up and she’s wearing a black pencil skirt and cream-colored blouse.

“Where’d you go?” he asks.

She smiles, “Just out. Making it a pajama day, I see.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” he says.

The words roll off his tongue before he can stop them. He would never dream of cheating on Natalie. Yet, this probably is a dream. He’ll wake up and tell Natalie about it and she’ll brush it off. But part of him wants it to be real. To have a life with someone new. Though Cal enjoyed the freedom he had with Natalie. They were the first of their friends to get married but all of his buddies remarked that he didn’t sound like a married guy. It was true, he said whatever came to mind without pressure to change.

Their wedding was at the court house with his parents and a few friends as witnesses. They got matching EKG tattoos on their wrists—Natalie’s idea—to show the world they shared one heartbeat. It was the only thing he missed in this strange place.

Claire shakes out her hair and lays down next to Cal on the bed. The king-sized space seems to shrink around them, forcing their closeness. Cal starts to sweat as Claire slowly unbuttons her blouse. He moves closer to her. Wants to kiss her. To smell the outside and the sunshine on her skin. Something stops him. Her hair. Up close, he could see that steel-colored strands had overtaken her crown. They enveloped her fashionable bangs, bringing attention to wrinkles on her face and crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes. A knot grew in his chest, the same queasy feeling when he sees Natalie staring longingly out their kitchen window.

“What was you waiting for?” Claire asks, her long fingernails tracing circles into a flat and perfect stomach. For a woman of her age.

As Cal watches fingernails circle soft skin, he regains that caveman impulse. Her hands! They were so smooth a moment ago. Now they resemble a well-loved road map. Blue veins popping near ragged knuckles. That withered hand tugs his undershirt collar. Cal meets Claire’s once soft lips and he can feel the skin fleck off them and into the back of his throat. It tastes of rot and darkness.



Last night was their anniversary and Cal couldn’t find Natalie. He was going to drag her outside, preferably in a nice dress, no matter what. He heard a soft mewling noise coming from the attic followed by thumps and scratches. It startled Cal at first but he reasoned it was a lost bat. Then it got louder. Driven by primal instinct or the urge to become a teenager in a horror movie, Cal grabbed a tennis racket from the closet and ventured up the attic steps. The animal tones made Cal’s knees weak. The mewling became a low but familiar moan. He stifled a cough. Still hoping for a small rodent but knowing it was something larger. His eyes caught something white in the darkness. Things took on natural shapes, becoming old boxes and lumped insulation. A glimmering snowy object floating in the air became a limp, pale leg.

He recognized the limb immediately. The leg was dangling, lifeless over a giant hooped cage. He could make out a female shape twisting on the inside. Trapped. Wire and bone interlaced with her papery flesh. Natalie looked feral. Hair unkempt body contorted, like she’d be held captive in there for weeks, maybe more. Guttural moans escape from her lips. She hadn’t seen him yet. Cal’s grip tightened on the tennis racket. He shifted it behind his back. The floor moaned as he stepped closer. Her ears perked. Then she turned to him, her head twisting like an owl spotting prey.

“You came for me. I didn’t think you would.” Natalie’s new voice echoed through the attic, a raspy song only the walls were used to hearing. What is this thing, he wondered? The compulsion to touch his wife surged through his free hand. When he reached out, she growled. Then a grin moved across her face. All teeth. “Isn’t it pretty?”

He looked at the cage. One half bare bone and wire. The other half partially laced with fabric he couldn’t identify.

“It’s the blue,” she says. “I remembered. But I can’t see it.”

A dress! The realization hit Cal. It was supposed to be a dress. This was for him.

“I can’t see the sun anymore,” she moaned. “Is it still as blue as I remember? The same blue in my eyes when you stopped telling me you loved me.”

“The sun isn’t blue.”

“My eyes!” Natalie screamed. “You took the sun away!”

She lunged at him from inside the cage. The arms that once caressed him now hunger to tear at his flesh. Revenge—for the life they’d been deprived of. He backed away, out of his wife’s corrupted vision. Cal reached around and banged on the opposite edge of the crinoline. Natalie lunged again. Ready to destroy the noise but unable to get free. He whacked the rack on all sides. Forehands and backhands. Trying to free her or disorient her enough so he could get away, he didn’t know which. The loose fabric fell. The rest of the wired skeleton follows suit. All he heard was a searing shriek as he ran down the attic steps.



Claire gently touches his chest with withering hands. Her hair has grown into long gray tendrils but she doesn’t seem to notice.

“Kiss me!” she cries, her eyes pleading.

Cal’s stomach turns. The tendrils begin to move down her body, the way Claire was hoping his hands would. She still doesn’t notice.

“What’s wrong?” Claire asks. Gray hairs encircle her long neck.

He can’t respond as that gray slithers down her abdomen. He moves to the far end of the bed., fear washing over him. This terror is familiar. Claire doesn’t writhe with fear or scream, she just wants to be close to him, one last time. He barely remembers her from high school. He shouldn’t care. As he watches those steel strands swirl around her body, dread rises into a lump in his throat. Words fail him. He does not touch Claire, or warn her, only watches as the gray consumes down to her ankles. He is stone-faced as the hairs mummify her body, tightening and squeezing until they bleed her dry. He only moves out of the room when a gray tendril reaches for his arm. Cal pounds the steps all the way to where the kitchen used to be. Greeting him at the bottom of the stairs is nothing but darkness.



Sean Connery smiles from his perch on top of a stone-colored wall. Cal’s eyes snap open and he surveys the room. It’s cluttered with wooden furniture. Two bookshelves, a gargantuan dresser, and a nightstand on each side of the tight, full-sized mattress. On his nightstand sits a book he doesn’t care to read, a glass half full of water, and a framed picture of Cal with his arm wrapped around a woman he doesn’t recognize. He plucks the picture from the nightstand. The woman has blonde hair, an appealing, symmetrical face, and big brown eyes. Then it comes to him. His next door neighbor from  his early teenage years. Beth something. She grew up quite nicely. Tall, strong-looking, probably an avid reader. He moves the photo so close his nose almost touches the frame’s plastic innards. She’s got  the strangest thumbs. Stubby. They make the rest of her fingers look like overgrown weeds. It’s mutandis. A stone of revulsion begins to form in his chest.