Come, come, follow me down. Go in through the wardrobe and out through the looking glass. I’ll show you my world, dark, hungry, revolting. Give me your hand and please don’t scream when my palm writhes and splits to transform into tendrils that grasp each of your lovely fingers.
Down we’ll go and you can see what waits in the dark, what makes your palms sweat, and your heart race when the floorboards settle and the trees scratch your window at night. This is where I live. But don’t be scared. When the beasts smell you and come out from their shadows, I’ll tell them you aren’t for them. You’ll be safe from their claws and their hungry teeth. And no matter how they beg, I won’t let the ghouls wipe their hands—dripping with blood and nameless gore they’ve scavenged from the dead—on your favorite blue floral dress.
We’ll come to a great lake that boils and pops with bubbles of the most putrid stench your beautiful nose has ever been subjected to. I will put you high on my shoulders so not a single creature who rises from the muck dripping toxic sludge and screaming in pain will be able to grab your ankle as we pass. On the far bank we’ll climb out and you won’t have a drop on your soft skin. Please don’t flinch when you see what the scalding sludge has done to my legs.
Deeper and deeper we’ll go where the monsters grow hungrier and yet more bizarre. A one eyed Minotaur with bits of its victims still buried between its teeth will flee at the sight of us, its stomach too full for a fight. It knows I won’t let it gore you and it has no taste for my ruined flesh. A skeletal beast with eyes empty and white as milk will stalk you from the shadows until it pounces with a piercing shriek. I will stand between you and it because it can’t hurt me, not anymore. Please don’t cry when you see what its claws do to my skin. The scars were already there, you just couldn’t see them before.
At last, we’ll arrive at my home. It’s small and dark and beasts made of shadows lurk on the edge, ravenous and evil. I’ll wrap you in armor and pull the visor down over your warm eyes because I couldn’t bear to hear you scream in fear of me when I unleash my fangs. When they lie dead and you are safe, I’ll pull you inside and ask if I can kiss you. Please don’t weep when you see what they’ve done to my face.
As long as you are here, I will protect you. There are monsters that lurk outside and trees who sometimes reach down to strangle. There are big eyed beasts that no one has ever thought to name who hide in the dark corners and reach out their hands to eat the eyes from the skulls of the unsuspecting. They’ve bitten and clawed and burned me so I know all their tricks.
What kind of monster would ask a soul as sweet as you to stay in this labyrinthine nightmare? I should tear up this letter and light the shreds on fire. But I have been here so long that I have become as foul as the ghouls and as cruel as the Minotaur. In my darkest moments, I imagine that if you stay, you’ll become a monster too. Will I still love you when you’re vicious and hard? Or are you stronger than this world? Strong enough to stay kind and warm?
Are you stronger than me? If so, please take my hand and follow me down.
Leigh Harlen is a speculative fiction writer whose work often has a dark bent. Their work has been published or is forthcoming in Dark Moon Digest, Aurealis, and Shoreline of Infinity. When not writing, they can typically be found wandering Seattle petting strangers’ dogs. Follow them on Twitter @leighharlen for updates on future publications and bat pictures.
Image by elandarel