Un Posto Per I Mostri

What a fine vacation this turned out to be.

It’s cold and misty and every so often I can see the stars when the clouds break and it’s like I’m looking into a parallel universe through a rift, and in this universe there’s this other me and he knows where on Earth he is. He knows where the North Star is located and he has an overall better sense of direction and he remembers to keep a map on him at all times. He knows what’s what. I hate that guy.

The cobbled stone pathway leads me from one cramped street to another–a tightly packed maze, and I’m the little rat. The hotels and apartment buildings lurk over me like monoliths, silhouetted against the gray sky. Someone in a neon orange helmet zips by me too close on a small motorbike and I spin three times like it’s been choreographed and I end up flat against a brick wall, left with a never-ending spinning sensation in my brain.

Rome is against me.

If only what Jo first said was true: “No strolling. I’m beat. Let’s just go back to the hotel.” The tone in her voice suggested snuggles were on her mind–her pressing her freckled face against my chest while we bundled up in bed and watched a dubbed version of Source Code—but her words, what she was saying, that was code, total and complete code. And I had to call her on it. I couldn’t just press the point that I wanted to see the city at night. I couldn’t make up an excuse that I had a feeling that stupid raven was still at the window, pecking on the glass, deaf to my shoos and pecks right back at it, and I wanted to steer clear. No, I had to accuse her, the way she accused me two months ago, blunt, no holds barred, straight to the truth above all truths: “You just want to talk.”

Nonstop moving since getting off the plane, then to the hotel and to food and to the Colosseum and to the Forum and then back to food and then to where we are now, her safe and sound and seething in the hotel room, and me wandering aimlessly around a foreign city. All because I didn’t want to talk. A lame reason, but what was there to talk about?

“I want answers, Patrick!” Answers? Answers? She didn’t want answers when she caught me in the lie. She took my apology and then we began the healing process.

“You can’t use this vacation as a distraction.” Well she can’t use it as a trap! I don’t want to talk about it or about us or about her or about her. I knew she’d try and corner me eventually, and I’m more than thankful that new prescription for those sleeping pills worked out perfectly, otherwise I’d bet a million euros that she would have had an outburst on the plane, just to get it all out of the way before we officially became tourists.

“Sorry isn’t good enough anymore.” Sorry is always good enough, babe. For you. You’ve never been one to hold a grudge. And hey, we’re in Rome, one of the most famous cities in the world. Is it so wrong to see how it twinkles instead of arguing over past transgressions?

Going back to the hotel would have been more ideal than being lost. I could have just lied like she expects me to lie, like every single word out of my mouth is now only meant to deceive her ears, another language entirely. I lied for six months—what’s stopping me now? But those lies would have been things she wanted to hear—why I did what I did. I could make something up. Anything’s better than the truth.

And I would be inside, where it’s warm, where I have shelter, where I wouldn’t have this sudden and awful headache running its fingers through my arms and down my back and into the soles of my feet.

I’m not going to ask every person I pass if they can speak English, though. I’m not going to pop into a shop and do the same thing. We have a map in the hotel, so I’m not going to get another one. Sweet Jesus, I am the typical American male who won’t pull over to ask for directions. I’m still not going to ask anybody. I’ll figure it out myself. Retrace my steps. In the dark. In frickin’ Italy. While my feet are inflated with blood from the nine hours of walking I’ve already done today, up and down these streets, and my head throbs and throbs and throbs…

Just bite the bullet. Just go into this shop and hope the guy inside speaks enough English to point me in the right direction. Then I can make it back and get this over with. Let Jo demand answers and apologize for the billionth-and-first time, because the longer I’m out here, the more she’s going to think that I’m out here doing it again. Because I’m that guy now. I’m the guy who cheats. I’m the monster.

Into the shop I go.

Fluorescent lights, and my head crunches in on itself, but I keep going. A short, old man behind the counter flips a euro and lets it land on the floor, and he’s doing this over and over again: flip, land, ping, flip, land, ping, not even noticing that I’m here. His head is oddly misshapen, like a flat basketball, only this flat basketball has a weird moldy patch in the middle, this being the man’s white mustache, and one eye is frozen in a squint like Popeye. He bites his lip with teeth that look like erasers every time the coin lands, as if he’s unpleased with the outcome. The odds are against him, it’s a stupid coin, man, you are so weird.

Finally, he looks up and sees me. “Buona sera,” he says. “La porta vuoi e accanto al congelatore.”

I walk up to the counter. My head is full of stones that shake with every step. If he can’t help me, I’m at least buying some ibuprofen. “Do you speak English? Parla inglese?”

“Si, I do.” The man flips the coin high and grabs it from the air with a clawed little nub of a hand. He hands it to me. “I said the door you want is next to the freezer. Just back there.” The melody of his voice is both soothing and creeping me out.

“Actually,” I say, refusing the coin, “I’m lost. Can you help me find my hotel on a map?”

“No maps here,” the man says, and he offers me the coin again. “But downstairs, they will help you get home.”


This guy’s trying to kidnap me, isn’t he?

The door next to the freezer suddenly opens. A pale, young woman in a white cocktail dress straight out of a 1960s happening glides down one of the aisles. She looks sixteen, but her drunken state… well, she could still be sixteen.

“Heading out, Ms. Lewton?” the old man calls to her.

“What?” she says in an American accent. “Oh, yeah, back to the haunt.”

“See you next time, then.” The old man winks with his good eye, so I guess he blinks? He then sets his eyes on me and hands me the coin again. “Trust me,” he says in anything but a trustworthy voice.

“Thanks, but…” I inch away slowly and make my way to the backdoor. This is probably the dumbest thing I could do right now, but I figure anything that gets me out of the presence of this melted jack-o-lantern of a man will be good.

I head down a staircase of sharp right angles. It quickly changes direction every fifteen or so steps like a rigid bend in the limb of an action figure. Down I go. Still going down. All the way down. The echoes of my shoes on the steps compress into a dullness, which compresses my head even further. I need to squint even as it gets darker, just to try and lessen the pain, and still, it seems to get worse. Closing my eyes sends in a slideshow of Jo and me during the time before I met what’s-her-face. Jo smiling, Jo rubbing her fingers over my stubble, Jo in that black dress she wore on our first date—Jo happy. Jo happy with me. Then I see her now, going to bed, eyes still wet, her maybe pounding the pillow a few times pretending it’s my face. There’s nothing to worry about, sweetheart. Except maybe with the staircase still going down, I’m likely going to be knee-deep in the Earth’s core any minute.

Except now there’s a chatter that’s getting louder the farther down I go—bar ambiance. Glasses are clinking and there’s drunken laugher and is that Brubeck’s “Take 5” playing on what I assume is the jukebox unless it’s an actual live jazz quartet? Am I heading towards a speakeasy? How is some prohibition-era throwback going to help me get home? There’s no one down here that’s going to be of any use.

My feet hit the final step, and I immediately want to run the billion stories back up.


One unicorn, anyway. It’s lapping up water from a trough next to the pool tables, and at the pool tables, something that looks like Bigfoot—seven feet tall and drenched in damp and dread-like hair—is lining up his shot while a short (like, super short), bow-legged man decked all in green with little tufts of orange hair puffing out from under his chin stands on a stool in order to get a better view, and at the bar, which looks like it’s made from petrified snakes, three people with the faces of cats are taking quick sips from their White Russians, and the bartender is huge, taller than Bigfoot, bald and with an egg-shaped head and a bacon-shaped grin, a hunch over his left shoulder that isn’t stopping him from mixing red drinks for this pale couple all in black, and the pale couple, the woman’s eyes are smeared with mascara and she’s seductively tracing a finely manicured finger around her lover’s finely-manicured teeth and he takes a quick bite down on her finger, she flinches, and then he’s sucking on the finger like it’s a straw, and there’s a hot tub at the other side with only one person lounging in it, and it’s a mermaid, a mermaid.

Goblins and gremlins mingle in a booth. A dozen fairies or pixies or something small that is definitely not an insect and is leaving a trail of stardust behind them fly overhead. A red thing with horns is hitting on a green thing with horns and I don’t know which is which gender or if they even have genders.

Now the vampires are full-on making out and the woman is in the man’s lap and the ogre has to slap a towel on the bar to keep them from even going as far as to dry hump.

Scream.  I should scream. And run away. Get. Out.

I stumble off the last step as I turn around to head up again. My shoe makes a loud enough noise against the floor to at least get the attention of the ogre bartender. He nods at me. “Welcome,” he says in a Texan accent. “Sorry, we don’t have anything for you to drink, but please, take a seat until your ride comes.”

My what?

“No. No, no, no. No. No, no—”

“Hey, pal, I know it’s weird, but believe me. There’s a perfectly good seat right—” He’s about to point to one next to the vampires, but thinks against it. “Over there.” He points to one next to the cat people. One cat person gives me a meek wave with her (his?) paw.

I take in a big helping of breath. It doesn’t make the panic go away. “No,” I exhale, and I’m up the stairs again.

Only I bump into a flannel shirt and two furry claws are on my shoulders. “Watch it, wanker,” a British voice slurs into my face with a heat that is unmistakably from booze, unless it’s dog’s breath. Two yellow eyes are staring right back at me. The man has a bit of White Fang’s snout and a snarl that goes right with it. He pushes me back onto the bar floor and I see he’s not wearing any pants, but that’s just so his hind legs and tail can flourish. “I’m very—hic—I’m very partial to this shirt. It’s the only one that fits me on a full moon, you understand? So don’t, don’t drool on it, don’t drool…”

“You’re the one doing the drooling, John,” the bartender says.

“I beg your pardon, you gargantuan grotesquerie reject.”

The ogre nods approvingly “You’ve clearly been saving that one for a while. It would have sounded better without the alcohol-laden speech impediment, but I’ll give it to you. Come on, John. Sit. Leave the specter alone and take a seat. I’ll give you a beer on the house for your incredible insult prowess.” The ogre pulls a glass from the shelf and fills it from one of the taps.

The beer draws the werewolf toward it like he’s a moth. “Sorry, chap,” he says as he brushes by me, and he takes his seat.

The bartender hands John his beer and then turns back to me. “Well?”

Things that shouldn’t exist surround me and they all probably have the capability to kill me, so I should sit down and order a drink.

I sit next to the cat people. They smile at me (if cats can even smile) and I give them a polite yet horrendously confused smile back. The bartender stands in front of me and puts his boulder fists on the serpentine bar. “Um, I’ll have a beer, any beer,” I say.

“I’m sorry, pal, like I said, I can’t serve you anything.” He must read something off my look, because then he says, “It’s not a discrimination thing. You’re sort of… beyond the capability of drinking.”

I blink. And blink some more. I could keep blinking and not say “What?” But I do say, “What?”

The ogre edges back, sighs. He shoots a glance toward the cats and shakes his head. “Gonna be blunt. You’re a ghost. Sorry.”

Now is an appropriate time to say “What?” again, only this one comes out like a squeak.

“Does this look like the sort of place that a living, breathing human would have access to? I’m afraid you’ve died, fairly recently, I would imagine, and now you’re here in order to go onto the next phase.”

“The… what?”

“Unless you would prefer to be a ghost for the rest of existence. Wandering, searching for a place to haunt, perhaps—just some phantom nomad. There’s some romance in it, but it’s really your call.”

“Wait, wait.” My pulse is in my head. My mind is melting. It’s goo. I suppose I’m goo. Or ectoplasm. WHAT? “How did I die? I don’t remember… dying.”

“You wouldn’t,” the ogre says. “Not right away, at least. But… you look pretty unscathed, so I’d reckon something internal’s responsible for… for death. Anything hurting?”

Gulp. “I have a pretty bad headache.”

“Head trauma. You wouldn’t remember dying two times over.”

The cyclist? The impromptu Samba with the wall?

“Damn shame.” The ogre shakes his head. “I can’t imagine living—excuse me—with that. That headache ain’t ever going away. You’d best be taking that ferry.”

I slam my hands on the bar. The leprechaun swears behind me while the Sasquatch laughs at him. The leprechaun’s suddenly at my feet to pick up the cue ball and he looks up at me and shakes his head and then goes back to his game.

“I can’t be dead,” I say. “I’m not… I’m breathing. Right now. I’m…” I take in a big helping of air to prove it. It certainly feels satisfying.

“Sorry, friend.” The ogre frowns at me sympathetically. Then he sighs. “Here. You want to try for a drink?” He grabs a bottle and opens it in front of me.

I grab it for myself. I’m holding onto it with no problem. See? See this?

“Take a big sip,” says the ogre.

I do, and just to prove my worth and my life, I chug the whole thing down. Each swallow squeezes my temples, but I keep going and do away with the whole thing in twelve big swigs.

“Ha,” I say once the bottle is finished, and I bang it back down on the bar.

A cloud of foam erupts from the bottle and onto my hands.

I look closely at the bottle. It’s full.

The bartender points to the mirror behind him. I don’t want to look. I don’t want this nightmare confirmed, but my eyes look up and I’m see-through. I’m see-through. I’m bending into warped rainbows like a bubble in sunlight. The back wall is clearly visible right behind me. I look down at my actual hands and it looks like they’re covered in non-ghostly skin, but my reflection’s hand? Not so much. It’s not a trick because the ogre and the cat people look normal (or whatever). I’m the problem. I’m a ghost.

And now I’m shaking, or at least I think I’m shaking. Do ghosts shake?  What?!

“What is this place exactly?” I have to ask it.

“It’s kind of like a hub, I guess,” says the ogre. “A place in-between, where the things regular folks don’t believe in can congregate, have a drink, you know, socialize. People like us don’t get out much, and if we do we’re kind of shunned and hated and misunderstood. We’re not really encouraged to be out there, but some can’t help it. It’s just the way of monsters, I guess. We do what we want, when we want. It’s in our bones. Well, for those of us who have bones. You don’t really have them anymore… In any case, ferry should be here in fifteen minutes if you’re itching to go right away.”


“Like I said, this is a hub. There’s the entrance, right over there, that blue door.” He points behind the hot tub where the mermaid is now passed out. Compared with everything else in this place, the blue door is really unremarkable.

“What’s in there?”

“Whatever’s next. You’re done with whatever’s up there.”

“Sorry,” says one of the cat people.

“My girlfriend is up there. I can’t just leave her,” I say.

“You already did, pal,” the ogre says.

“No. She needs to know. She needs to know I’m gone. She’s gonna think…” I’m already backing toward the stairs.

I bump into something soft.

“You bloody wanker! Hic—Again?!”

I slip by the wolfman and I’m running up the stairs, up, up, up, each step tearing new holes in my skull, if my skull can even be torn anymore (something tells me it couldn’t be torn before). I’m back in the convenience store and outside just as quickly—

Into daylight?

It’s late afternoon by the looks of it. That’s impossible. That’s impossible! I just had a conversation with Shrek that lasted barely ten minutes.

Whatever. The time of day is the least of my worries, because right now, I need to get back to Jo, back to the hotel.

Easy, considering I’m still lost, and now I definitely can’t ask for directions.

“Where are you trying to go?”

I turn around. It’s the drunk teenager from last night, or thirty minutes ago. She’s swaying with the wind and looking at me with half-open eyes.

“Are you a ghost, too?” I ask her.

“Yup. Welcome to the club,” she says. “So where are you trying to get to? I hope it’s in Italy, because if it isn’t, you’re going to have trouble.”

“I need to get to my hotel.”

“Your hotel in Italy?”


“Your hotel in Rome?”


“Rome, Italy?”

“Are you kidding me?!”

The girl chuckles. “A little bit. You need to have some fun when you’re all spoooooooky.” She chuckles again and almost trips over her own feet. I’m glad I didn’t die drunk. (Actually, that might have been preferable.) She regains her balance and looks at me square in the eyes. “You just need to concentrate really, really, really hard on where you want to be. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there.”

“Do I need to click my heels, too?”

“I didn’t… make up… the ghost rules,” she says, her neck bending down with each word so she’s looking at me from underneath her brow. “Just try it.”

What’s the harm? Eyes closed. I want to go to my hotel. I want to go to my hotel. I want to go to my hotel…

Eyes open.

I’m at my hotel.

Thanks, drunk girl.

“You’re welcome.” She’s still next to me. She looks at me and shrugs.  “I don’t know. I’d rather be at my hotel, believe you me, only it was torn down in the 80s or something.  I don’t know why I travel alongside you.”

I jog toward the building, but the weight of my headache sends me careening into the brick wall. The girl laughs behind me. Okay, so no overexertion, not if I want to keep my head on my shoulders. Just…

Eyes closed.  I want to be in my room. I want to be in my room…

I’m in my room.

It’s empty. There’s no one here. It doesn’t look like anyone has been here for a while. The bed is neat and there are mints on the pillows and there’s no luggage and the shampoo and soaps are new. There’s no sign whatsoever that Jo and I had ever occupied the room, or that anyone has occupied this room in days.

“Looks like she bailed, man.”

Why is this girl still here?

“Where would she go?” I say.

“Where are you from?” the girl says back. “Probably there.”

It doesn’t make sense. Time has obviously flown by, but how much time?  Whatever the answer to that, the fact is Jo isn’t here anymore. She’s gone without a trace.

“She probably figured I was with some random Italian floozy,” I say.

“Were you?” asks the girl.

Ignoring her, I say, “She’s probably on an early flight back home right now, stranding me here. Hoping I lose my passport and have to busk my way back to the States.”

“That’s kind of cruel and elaborate.” The girl leans on the doorframe.

“I deserve cruel and elaborate as far as she’s concerned. Can’t she just let it go? I’m not going to do it again.”

“Do what again?”

“Cheat on her.”

“Ohhhhh. You just lost a little respect from me.”

“I’m crushed,” I sneer. “I apologized, and now she wants me to explain myself. Some things are beyond explanation!” I look at the window. There are little dash marks where the bird was pecking as if his life depended on it.

“You should probably feel bad,” the drunk girl proposes.

“I do! But… can’t we just move on? Why does everything need to be laid out in front of us to look at?”

“She might know you died,” the girl says. I look at her and she just shrugs. “Maybe she’s escorting the body home.”

Reality (or whatever it can be called in this plane of existence) comes tumbling down on top of me. I’m suddenly in Jo’s shoes when she learns I’ve died, and all the sadness and the pain and the anger that comes with that news. I’m gone, and not only did I leave her, but I left her without those answers. I left her hanging without any explanation for why I decided I could fool around with a girl I picked out of a crowd in a bar despite having a loving girlfriend at home. She’s left with no answer to why I couldn’t love her the way she loved me, or why I felt the need to throw it all away, or why I would even expect forgiveness. Am I that callous? Am I so blind to everything I do that I forget about the beautiful, sweet and one-of-a-kind girl right in front of me?

I am a monster.

I won’t be haunting her, but the wish for what she will never receive might. That’s my fault.

I sit down on the bed, put my head in my hands. This is just completely unfair.

“Hey, you realize if a maid walked in right now, she wouldn’t see anything,” the drunk girl says. “I always get a kick out of that. Just… nothing.”

She would see nothing. Me. Nothing.

I want to go back to the bar. I want to go back to the bar. I want…

I’m in front of the shop.

“Here again? I want to go somewhere new.” The drunk girl closes her eyes, starts muttering to herself. “I hate being dead!”

I don’t want to accidentally go with her, so I quickly shuffle my way into the store. The clerk is still there. “Buongiorno,” he says. “Welcome back.”

I can’t help but snicker. Where else am I going to go? Let’s see what this next phase is all about.

Back to the bar and back to the ogre. “Find what you were looking for?” he asks.


“Sorry,” says one of the cat people, still there, still drinking the same White Russians.

“So when’s this next ferry?” I say.

“You got good timing. Five minutes or so.”

“Great. Can I just hold a beer until then?”

“Sure thing, pal.” He hands me a bottle, leaves it unopened. I slide it across the snakeskin, passing it from hand to hand. I have to stop following it with my eyes; it’s stretching my head like silly putty.

“You got your coin?”

I look up at the bartender. “My—” The coin the shop clerk was trying to give me. What else could it be? “Why do I need a coin?”

“To pay the fare.”

“There’s a fare?”

“It’s a ferry, my friend.” The ogre raises an eyebrow at me, like I’m the one not making any sense.

“Fine,” I say. “I’ll go grab my coin from the clerk.” I turn to head back to the stairs, but the ogre grabs my arm. “What?” I say.

“It won’t do any good. You don’t take your coin right away and you forfeit your chance. It’s like your final decision. It’s a cruel game, I know, but it’s how the game is played.” He lets go of my arm, frowns at me sympathetically. “You’re stuck here for good, I’m afraid.”

I have to snicker again. This is ridiculous. Nothing can go right for me, can it? I can’t even do death correctly. I guess I can take solace in knowing I will be able to see Jo again, once I get the hang of this ghostly transport thing. I might not be able to explain things to her, but—


She’s curled up in a booth, dressed in her pajamas, asleep with her hands tucked under her head. I zip over to her and shake her. “Jo.” I shake her harder. She doesn’t wake. “Jo.” I shake her even harder. She’s Sleeping Beauty. She’s Snow White. She’s… she’s…

“Sorry.” A cat person is behind me. It puts a paw on my shoulder and lets out a quick purr.

I sit in the booth next to her, look up at the bartender. “She’s…” I want to cry. Can ghosts cry? Do we still have tear ducts?

The ogre limps his way from around the bar to stand by me. He flips a towel onto his shoulder and looks down at Jo. “Yeah,” he sighs. “She must have died in her sleep.”

“From what? She’s not even thirty! She…”

The sleeping pills? She took the sleeping pills. Please tell me she was just having a hard time getting to sleep and didn’t take too many with the intention of leading to this. Please. Please.

Or worse, it was heartbreak. Can people actually die from that?

“So if she was asleep, that means she couldn’t get a coin?”

“You’ve gotta take it with your own free will,” says the ogre.

Of course. “Can you… can you give us a moment?”

The ogre nods and heads back to the bar. I lift Jo up a bit and place her head onto my lap. I stroke her hair softly, press my fingertips against her cold, freckled cheek, and I touch her arms and they’re so smooth and her fingers are so small and thin. She’s so beautiful. I took her for granted. Throughout our entire relationship…

“You scare me, Jo. It’s nothing you meant to do, but you freak me out. You loved me. I never imagined meeting someone and giving them… everything. Everything in me. I thought it was easier to just stand next to someone than it was to be with them. These are just excuses, I know that, you know that. I was afraid, plain and simple. And I took you for granted because of that. I wanted to ruin the best thing I had. The best thing was us. I’m so sorry, Jo. I’m sorry… I’m sorry…”

I lean my face against her head. Her hair still smells like the hotel shampoo, this bubble-gummy scent that can’t come close to how sweet she was in life.

“I wish I could hear you talk,” I say to her. “But I can’t. You’re stuck asleep. I’m stuck with this headache. Forever. This is our home now.” I laugh. “There’s no place like…”

Wait a second. Could I…

No, there’s no way that could work. Right? There has to be a restriction put in place or TSA angels standing by with metal detecting wands. But what do I know? I’m a novice ghost, and even the drunk girl didn’t know how everything worked. What have I got to lose?

I close my eyes.

I want us to go to the next phase together. I want us to go to the next phase together. I want us…