INCENDIO | Margaret and the Monster

Incendio

William Zong

Margaret and the Monster

Tess O’Brien

They decided to kill the monster a few weeks after Margaret Fasberry laid her dear son to rest. The monster had been terrorizing the town, the mayor reported, and something had to be done.

Usually Margaret would have been at the frontlines of these discussions. Everyone in town was present at the community meetings, but before Marc had passed, she had been an avid participant. Now, the drive was sucked out of her.

The townspeople tried the usual things: condolence cards, casserole dishes. It was only her left in the house, her husband having died some years back from a mining accident. They knew that if nobody tended to her, she’d let herself waste away.

But Margaret wouldn’t be tended to.


Anna Jackson first spotted the monster while on a walk with her youngest son, Adam. She was pushing him in the stroller, enjoying the warm summer breeze, when she spotted it.

At first she thought it was a dog. It had a long, shepherd snout and two pointy ears. But instead of fur black feathers coated its body, glistening in the sun like an oil spill.

The shock of seeing the monster made Anna drop Adam’s bottle. “Oh geez,” she whimpered. Her mind was so addled she couldn’t think of anything stronger to say. “Oh gosh.”

The monster craned its neck towards her. Its eyes, now revealed, weren’t eyes at all. Instead, two blank pools of milk white stuck out from its head.

Slowly, Anna removed Adam from the stroller, keeping one eye on the monster. Then, once she held him firmly, she took off into a sprint and did not stop until she reached town hall. Kitten heels be damned. 

The monster was soon declared a public nuisance. “It’s time,” Mayor Landino said. “to take action!”

“Kill the monster!” Todd Jackson, Anna’s husband, cried, glancing at Margaret from the corner of his eye.

“Yes!” James Anastasio stood with him. “Kill the monster!”

“I don’t know,” Margaret heard a voice say. She realized with a start that it was hers. “Has it…done anything? Hurt anyone?”

“It’s done enough,” the mayor said, and the town cheered.


The meeting adjourned soon after. A few people stayed behind to form a hunting party, Todd Jackson among them.

Margaret tucked her hands in her pockets, ready to strike out for home, when Anna sidled up next to her.

“A shame,” she said. “The monster, well, I didn’t get a good look at it really, but it seemed sweet. Could’ve been a dog.”

“Maybe.”

Anna shifted Adam in her arms. He had his thumb in his mouth as he slept, a drop of saliva dribbling down his chin. Anna swiped it away with a finger in the way of a practiced mother. “I don’t think they should kill it,” she murmured. “Seems a shame.”

Margaret missed that feeling. The feeling of being needed. Marc was gone and he had needed her for so long…

“Maybe they don’t,” Margaret said. Anna beamed.


The hunt was scheduled for August the 24th. Margaret and Anna set off three nights prior. Margaret carried a large net. Anna two boxes of girl scout cookies.

“Who doesn’t love Samoas?” she reasoned, and Margaret had to agree.

They camped out by the Anastasio house, crouched in the bushes. Anna had planted a few casserole dishes’s worth of lasagna in their trash bin earlier in the day. The monster wouldn’t be able to resist.

Margaret twisted the net’s handle in her hands anxiously. “What if it doesn’t come?” she asked.

“It will.” Anna squeezed her leg. “Have faith.”

“What I don’t understand is why you’re here helping me when your husband is going to hunt the thing.”

“Oh, Todd?” Anna gave a soft laugh. “He knew he’d be forced into it no matter what, big as he is. But he’ll do as I say. He’s good like that.” Margaret nodded. It was well known around town that while Todd was not the quickest of wit, he was an upstanding man when he needed to be, and kind to Anna and their children.

An hour later, their faith proved true. Margaret spotted a flash of movement in the darkness of the Anastasios’s backyard. “Look.”

It was nearing midnight. The world was silent. Margaret almost thought she’d imagined what she’d seen, until two white eyes opened, spilling silver light onto the grass. Despite those strange eyes, Anna was right. It could’ve been a dog.

Anna held out her hand palm up towards the monster, all assuredness. “Samoa?”


The monster loved Margaret’s couch. Upon entering through the front door, its already wide eyes widened still. The monster pounced forward, and buried its face in the pillows.

Margaret fetched some water for the three of them. When she returned, Anna was chatting amicably with the monster as it held a Samoa firmly between two feathery, Grinch-like fingers. There were crumbs smeared around its mouth.

“How is he?” Margaret asked. They’d been referring to the monster as it, but doing so now felt wrong, even if he eluded a human conception of gender.

“Good. He likes the cookies. I’ll bring some more boxes over tomorrow. Are you going to keep him?”

Margaret sputtered. “Keep? He’s not something I bought at the store.”

“He likes it here,” Anna pointed out. As if on cue, the monster snuggled back into the couch, making a sound that reminded Margaret of a purr.

Strange, adorable thing.

“He can stay for now, but he has to follow my rules.” The monster made a sad, questioning squeak. “Yes, my rules. You have to be a good monster. No raiding the trash.”

“Oh, he’ll be an excellent monster,” Anna reassured her. “I know it.”

And he was. The monster was sweet, and seemed to have a moderate understanding of human language. What he didn’t know he learned quickly. Margaret enjoyed having him around, another mouth to feed, another person to take into consideration when she picked her evening’s entertainment.

The monster took to curling up at the edge of her bed while she slept. She didn’t mind. He warmed her feet.

The hunting party never came to fruition with the monster gone. Margaret made some inquiries just in case, but everyone she asked seemed to shrug, as if they had never known anything about it in the first place. Strange, surely, but with her new roommate, Margaret didn’t have time to worry.


After the monster had taken up residence in Margaret’s house, Anna made one more visit to town hall.

“Oh, Anna, good to see you,” the mayor greeted her. “How is everything?”

“The plan went smoothly,” she said, taking a seat across from Mayor Landino. “The monster is settled. Margaret told me she’s going to go to the store tomorrow to buy them more food.”

The mayor grinned. “She hasn’t been to the store in weeks.”

“I know. I think it worked.” Anna paused. “She still misses Marc, of course. There’s a pain that won’t quite leave her eyes. But I think…I think having the monster around will be good for her. Good for both of them.”

The mayor nodded. “Good. That was our goal, of course. Margaret’s always been reluctant to ask for help. Sometimes you have to push people into it.”

“Of course, Mayor Landino. I’m glad I could help.”

“As am I. Say hello to your husband for me.”

“I will.”


Margaret had made Anna promise not to make the monster public knowledge, but of course the town knew what was really going on. Margaret was never as sly as she hoped. Besides, they noticed when she started smiling again. Started conversing with the vendor’s at the farmer’s market each Sunday. They noticed when they passed her house late at night, and spotted two shadowed silhouettes past the kitchen curtains, laughing openly, sharing a box of girl scout cookies.