This is Jenny. She is six and a half years old. She lives with her mum and dad and her dog Spot.
Jenny’s house is close to a lovely field and a big forest. So is the home of her best friend Chris. They like to come to the field and play.
Chris liked to come to the field, but he didn’t like the forest because it was dark and spooky. ‘I hear there’s a monster in there,’ said Chris.
‘No there isn’t,’ said Jenny, ‘There’s no such things as monsters. I’ll go into the woods and show you.’
Jenny went into the dark and spooky forest. It was so dark she could hardly see anything. Suddenly, she heard a noise.
‘It’s not a monster,’ said Jenny, ‘It’s probably just an owl.’
Then she saw something move in the bushes. She was so scared she froze.
Behind the bushes was a monster. It had purple fur and three eyes and long stripy arms that looked like spaghetti.
OOOOOOO went the monster again.
‘Why are you saying OOOO?’ asked Jenny.
‘I’m scared,’ said the monster, ‘This forest is dark and I’m afraid of the dark. I have no home and no mum or dad.’
‘Don’t worry,’ said Jenny, ‘You can come home with me!’
Jenny took the monster by the hand, leading him out of the scary woods. ‘Thank you,’ said the monster, ‘By the way, my name’s Bert.’
Jenny and Bert came out of the forest. When Chris saw Bert, he screamed. ‘AAH! Monster!’
‘Don’t worry,’ said Jenny, ‘He’s a nice monster.’
‘Okay,’ said Chris, ‘but other people may be scared of him. We must keep him a secret.’
Jenny brought Bert to live with her, her mum, her dad and Spot. Bert liked Spot, and they even shared a big bowl of dog food.
That night, Bert slept at the foot of Jenny’s bed. The dark isn’t so scary if you’re with a friend!
Sometimes Jenny wished the night would last just a little bit longer. When she was a kid, a restless little tyke, she begged for the day to come, especially when Bert would have a “relapse”. Nowadays, night meant pleasure. Night meant either going down to the clubs or getting some well-deserved shut-eye. If the night was a bit longer, Jenny thought, I’d get more sleep, and thus be more prepared for school. Did God have a complaints department?
Nonetheless, she showered and put on her clothes and makeup before stumbling down the stairs for breakfast. ‘Jen!’ cried Father before finishing off his coffee, ‘Remember what today is!’
Jenny slapped her face. ‘Oh right. That.’
‘Did you remember to buy a present? You did bring him here, after all.’
‘Yes,’ replied Jenny, rolling her eyes, ‘I didn’t forget.’
‘Well,’ said Father, raising an eyebrow, ‘aren’t you going to bring it down?’
‘Is he even up yet?’ She walked towards the basement door, and her question was answered by a loud ‘DAMN IT!’ coming from within. ‘I’ll get it.’
Ten years. An entire decade of that monster living under her roof, being given asylum by her and her parents, hiding from mankind. Bert the three-eyed, furry monster, unable to find his own kind, having to rely on human beings for shelter. When Jenny had found him in the forest when she was six, he said he didn’t know when his birthday was, so instead they celebrated the anniversary of when Jenny found him.
For the fifth anniversary, Bert had been bequeathed a laptop, allowing him a little gateway into the outside world. He had only spent brief spells outside, donning a hoody and baggy trousers, with his three eyes covered by gigantic sunglasses. Nowadays, he rarely ever left the basement, leaving only to make himself some coffee and to use the loo. With the laptop, he could watch movies, play video games, and utilise his creativity.
Not that long ago, it was decided that Bert needed to earn his keep, even if there weren’t that many jobs available for monsters. Bert himself even said he wouldn’t mind working at a ghost train, but ended up becoming a freelance writer. He had become a fairly regular contributor to a pop culture magazine, and had even started his own blog reviewing corny old monster movies and showcasing his art, complete with a big fat donate button. He hadn’t made a mint, he even took some free jobs, but still made a fair amount of money.
So what had Jenny gotten for her monster friend? DVDs. He liked to watch movies while he wrote, probably hoping the genius of Scorsese and Tarantino would rub off on him, so she got him a couple of cheap flicks from That’s Entertainment. He had also demanded a collection of Spongebob DVDs, simply because he heard writing about that show earned a lot of clicks.
Jenny grabbed the box and prepared herself, feeling the same tingle of excited fear she had when she first went into the forest she had found Bert in. It had been months since she had last been in his bedroom, and once or twice she had told herself never to go in again. Just install a cat door or what they have in prisons and slide the present in, she thought.
Father and Mother and Jenny knocked on the door and heard ‘C’min.’ The family entered to witness Bert losing at Amnesia: The Dark Descent before he turned around on his chair and opened his spaghetti arms.
‘Happy anniversary,’ said Father, as the trio held the presents to the ceiling.
‘Ta,’ said Bert, before snatching one away. A guide to writing novels – ‘Because you said you were thinking of writing one,’ Father said – a big book of street art, and of course, a couple of DVDs. Jenny gave him her gift, he opened it, looked at the contents, and said ‘Ta.’
‘Are you sure you don’t want to have a little party or something this evening?’ asked Mother.
‘No, I’m fine,’ replied Bert, looking back at his computer screen then back at his family, ‘I’ve got a lot of work to do, and you know, I think privacy is actually a pretty good present too.’ He then focussed on Jenny. ‘Besides, Jenny, aren’t you going out tonight?’
‘Yeah,’ said Jenny, as she attempted not to cringe at the stench in the room.
‘C’mon, Jenny,’ said Father, ‘you were the one who brought him here in the first place.’
‘Look, Dad,’ said Bert – for Father didn’t mind Bert calling him that – ‘if Jenny wants to go off with her boyfriend, let her. She’s sixteen, she can make her own decisions and all that crap.’
Jenny almost sighed, but decided to nod instead. If this was Bert’s day, then he called the shots more or less, and thus she had permission to go out. Sure enough, Father turned to her and said, ‘Oh go on then’ and that was that.
‘Ta,’ Jenny said to Bert, then she turned to Mother and Father and said, ‘I think we should just leave him in peace. Like he said, he has a lot of work to do.’ For once, Mother and Father agreed, and they let Bert get back to whatever he was doing.
After grabbing her lunch money and her books, Jenny walked on over to school and had a very uneventful day there. When she got back home, however –
It had been years since she had seen him, yet it could be no other. People just have that feeling about them, Jenny supposed. She knew why he was at her house, the box with the shining wrapping paper made it obvious.
‘Hi, Jenny!’ he said, ‘When was the last time we saw each other? I know it’s been ages since I’ve seen Bert. I’ve been reading his blog though.’
‘Yeah, yeah,’ said Jenny, letting Chris in and taking his present. ‘I’ll give it to him.’
‘Can’t I see him?’
‘He’s a pretty private person.’
Chris narrowed his eyes. ‘Jenny, I’m like the only other person who knows that he exists. You know, years ago, I could have called the news or something. I could have come here in the night and captured him and sold him to the circus or a laboratory and I could be rolling in dough right now, but no, for ten years I’ve kept mum!’
‘Okay then,’ said Jenny, ‘I’ll let you see him. I doubt he’ll let you see him though.’ Feeling as if she were Bert’s butler, she walked Chris over to the basement, and knocked on the door. No answer. Jenny knocked again. Still no answer. Jenny had to resort to opening the door and screaming Bert’s name. Bert had his earphones in, and yanked them out when Jenny yelled.
‘What?’ Bert replied.
‘It’s Chris,’ shouted Jenny.
Jenny buried her face in her hand, ‘You don’t remember…’
‘Hi, Bert,’ said Chris allowing himself in, holding his nose for a few seconds.
‘Oh,’ said Bert, turning his chair 180 degrees, ‘It’s you.’
‘It’s been a decade since we met,’ said Chris with a slight chuckle, ‘so I think I should just get you something to mark the occasion.’
Bert snatched away the gift and opened it. A cuddly King Ghidorah. Bert plopped it next to his laptop.
‘Um,’ said Chris, ‘I’ve read your movie blog. It’s good.’
‘Oh, ta,’ replied Bert, and looked back at his screen.
‘Sheesh,’ said Chris, ‘You know, I’m beginning to worry about you, really. I mean, I’ve been sending you tonnes of e-mails, but you’ve never replied to them …’
‘I get a lot of e-mails. My writing’s quite popular, actually.’
‘Okay,’ replied Chris, who then eyed a Spongebob DVD next to Bert’s keyboard, ‘It’s just…you don’t remember when we went to the seaside and looked for pirate treasure? That was fun, right?’
‘Very interesting,’ sighed Bert, ‘but really, why are you so concerned about me? I’m not human! People who care more about animals than people are nuts in my opinion. You ever see those crazy cat ladies?’
‘I know you’re not human,’ said Chris, ‘but you still think and talk like one. Look, I’ve still been trying to find others of your kind. I’ve been looking in the forest Jenny found you, and been looking at all the paranormal websites…’
‘Those are bullshit,’ snorted Bert, ‘if you’re going to use them to find more of my species, I’d rather it’d get extinct.’
Chris rubbed his forehead, staring at the floor. ‘Jenny, you’ve been trying to find more of his kind, haven’t you?’
Jenny said nothing.
‘I’m happy where I am, thank you very much,’ said Bert, ‘If you’ve come here just to give me a pity party, you can just leave now.’ He waved his hand as if shooing away a fly.
‘Well, fine,’ said Chris, marching away, ‘If that’s how you’re going to be, you’re lucky I don’t sell you to a laboratory.’
Bert said nothing, and let Jenny escort Chris out of the basement. ‘Jesus, is he like that to you?’ asked Chris.
‘We don’t talk that much actually.’
Chris chose only to shake his head and leave. Jenny did consider waving and saying ‘Bye’ to him but decided it wouldn’t be worth the bother. Instead, she slumped down on the TV and watched Kerrang for a while before dinner. Dinner where she would take one tray to the basement and one to her own bedroom. She’d leave Mother and Father alone, they’d leave her alone, and all three of them would leave Bert alone. Mother had asked Bert if he wanted a birthday cake, and all he said was that he was too old for such a thing. An odd thing for him to say, thought Jenny, given how much he liked food and most of the stuff he watched, but whatever floats his boat or whatever.
When Jenny finished up her meal and took the tray downstairs, the doorbell rang. Oh crap, Mark. After putting her tray on the table, Jenny rushed up to the bathroom, freshened herself up and then went to the door.
‘Mark,’ she cried before embracing her boyfriend with a big bear hug.
‘Please don’t do that,’ Mark sighed, and Jenny instantly complied.
Bert doesn’t have anything like this suddenly popped into her head.
‘Have you got any poems to read out?’ Mark asked.
‘Oh!’ said Jenny and ran upstairs to get her notepad. As she did, her mind fixated on Bert’s loneliness. He was the only one of his kind, at least as far as Jenny knew, and had to stay hidden, so he couldn’t do…
No, he was happy by his lonesome, Jenny told herself while giving herself a smack for good measure. When she grabbed her notepad, she went off with Mark to the poetry reading in a taxi he had called. Just seeing it made Jenny wish she was just one year older so she could commence her driving lessons; she almost told Mark about it, but he said nothing on the ride, so she assumed he wanted her to say nothing.
Some people read out their own works, others read Whitman and Blake, and Jenny read out various trains of thought reworded to sort of sound like poetry. She almost nudged Mark to read something out, but he looked as if he didn’t want to, so why bother?
She did ask him if he wanted to come back to her house after the reading, but he refused, saying he was too tired. ‘What a bloody killjoy you are,’ Jenny said under her breath, though she knew Mark wouldn’t likely care. Bert didn’t give a shit when someone badmouthed him, neither did Mark. She was the luckiest girl in the world.
Another article finished, thought Bert, puffing up his chest. The perfect end for a perfect birthday. Just leave it for a couple of days, then edit it and send it off. Bert had read somewhere that it was good for writers to give themselves a little reward, so he decided he’d treat himself to some more Amnesia and maybe some Spongebob. Everyone else had gone to bed too, so he had a little peace and quiet, for his species didn’t need to sleep as long as humans…
That, he suddenly realised, was the only time he ever acknowledged himself as a monster. Also, that was the only thing he really knew about his species when it came to how they differed from humans. Both he and humans liked coffee, both he and humans liked computers and movies and video games. How else did he differ, other than looking different?
Oh god, listen to me, thought Bert, I sound like some crappy kids’ cartoon about accepting people for who they are and all that crap.
He took a look at his Ghidorah toy, took it from its resting place and played with it, or rather just fiddled about with it. Chris had given it to him because he cared. Chris kept Bert a secret because he cared about Bert.
No, he just savoured the novelty, he did, thought Bert. He was a kid with a monster for a friend, and he only kept it a secret to give him a sense of superiority over other kids. Not only did he have a monster for a friend, he was one of two kids who did. He had power.
There was no chance he was going to blab, thought Bert as a smile crossed his face. If he told the government or something, he would lose that power. The feeling of having that power meant more to him than all the money in the world, as it did to Jenny.
He and Jenny never spoke that much, but he had seen her Tumblr. He had seen her writing. She had written a bunch of poems and even a piece of flash fiction or two, and had put them up online without the intention of profit. Bert remembered a quote from one of his favourite movies about that sort of thing, but then again, would Jenny’s poetry really sell?
Humans needed money and so did Bert. Then again, Bert pondered, if he did come from another world, maybe they needed money too. That was another thing he hadn’t thought about since he was young: the possibility that he was an alien. When he was eleven, when Jenny first found him, she asked him if he was an alien, and told stories of spaceships, meteors and twinkling stars. Bert had tried to remember flying around on what Chris had called “a UFO” but his oldest memory was being alone in the forest, eating acorns and mushrooms and leaves for sustenance.
Odd that now would be when he remembered that. Not after countless movies about invasions from space and creatures from beyond the stars. Then again, when he was eleven, he and Jenny watched a film about monsters coming from childrens’ cupboards, and after that, Bert spent days and days going in and out of Jenny’s cupboard, yet never found a portal to the world of monsters, if such a thing existed.
Still, this basement, and the house above it, had everything Bert needed. He had a computer that allowed him contact with the outside world without anyone seeing him, he had coffee and toast and toiletries, he had Mock the Week.
Just then he thought that maybe he was the lost prince of his world, destined to overthrow the evil overlord. Well, that was all the more reason to stay on Earth, then, wasn’t it? He was ill-prepared to face against such an overlord, and if he did destroy the overlord and reclaim his royal title, that would mean too much responsibility. Too much attention. Too many people asking him questions and too many babies to kiss. Bert was also pretty sure merely being a politician did something to your brain. Jenny’s poetry may have made his eyes roll, but he did see some truth in her ‘Fuck the Prime Ministers’ poem.
So, thought Bert, it’s better if I stay here because then I won’t get attention. Then he thought if he didn’t want attention, why did he submit so much writing to so many different places. Well, there was a difference between a person getting attention and their works getting attention, wasn’t there? Bert thought of himself like Banksy or maybe even Santa Claus, an unseen being that brings people what they want. Kids didn’t like Santa Claus. They liked what he brought.
He knew Jenny liked some of his articles, but she didn’t like him. He could live with that.
‘Trick or Treat!’
When Jenny answered the door, she was greeted by a skull-faced figure wearing a black robe, yet didn’t feel an iota of fear or surprise. And it wasn’t just because she lived with a monster.
‘Chris,’ she said with an annoyed laugh, ‘act your age.’
Chris took off his mask and rested his scythe against the wall. ‘I actually don’t want any sweets. I was just wondering if you and Bert wanted to come along to the Halloween dance…’
‘Yeah, this is the one night of the year he can go out and about, isn’t it?’
‘I don’t think he wants to go out though. Round this time, he just sits around watching horror movies and then reviews them. Besides, the dance is for under 18s and he’s like twenty.’
‘Well,’ said Chris, scratching his chin, ‘I just thought, no-one else knows…’
‘You want him to get put on a watchlist or something?’
‘Hey!’ Jenny turned around to see that Bert had emerged from his hole, now donning his hoodie and jeans, as well as what seemed to be her old witch mask. At first it seemed like Bert was just getting his evening coffee, but then he began shuffling over to Jenny and Chris. It was then Jenny realised how ridiculous Bert’s “human” disguise looked; it reminded her of the wobbly guy from Noddy.
‘Oh,’ he said, ‘It’s you again.’
‘And a Hello to you too,’ said Chris, ‘You know, you don’t need to wear that tonight.’
Bert took off his mask and eyed Chris. ‘Well, maybe I want to wear this hoodie. Maybe I just felt like it. You ever think of that?’
‘It’s just, I thought that’s why you have a little cartoon version of yourself on your blog’s logo? You know, so if they see you they’ll just think you’re a costume?’
‘Huh, you figured that out,’ said Bert.
‘Anyway,’ said Chris, looking over Bert’s costume, ‘does you dressing up like that mean you’re thinking of going out tonight?’
A moment of silence followed, with Bert wringing his fingers – he was wearing woollen gloves – his mask dangling around his arm. ‘I did consider it, just to get some fresh air.’ Jenny laughed. ‘Shut up,’ he hissed at her.
‘See, this is why I came,’ said Chris, ‘Look, Jenny, you brought Bert into this house. Bert, you and Jenny used to be inseparable. What happened?’
‘Okay, Mum,’ said Jenny, grabbing Bert by the hand, ‘me and Bert will go out like a nice brother and sister!’ As Bert pulled his mask down, Jenny shoved him out of the door. ‘There, happy now?’
Bert began taking a few deep breaths. When Jenny shot him a look, he replied, ‘Like I said, fresh air.’
‘Well, fine then,’ sighed Chris, ‘guess I’ll go to the party by myself then.’ So he walked away while Jenny and Bert watched.
‘You were planning to go out,’ smirked Jenny, ‘where were you planning to go?’
‘Why do you want to know?’
Jenny just shrugged.
‘Well….maybe I just wanted to go back to the woods where you found me. You know, because Halloween’s spooky and those woods are spooky, I guess.’
Jenny chuckled. ‘You sure it’s not because you’re hoping there’ll be a female you there?’
‘No, like I said, just for some fresh air.’
Jenny looked down on her feet and saw that she had gone outside on the wet autumn grass without her shoes. With a ‘Well, knock yourself out’, she went back inside.
Bert took a look around at the pavement. There actually weren’t that many people around aside from a couple who weren’t even in costume. They didn’t seem to notice him, so off Bert walked, his mind flooded with images of him cowering under the claw-like branches. Thinking about that actually put a spring in Bert’s step; he had matured now, and knew that there were scarier things out there then trees. He had rarely been out, but he had seen the news. He had seen copious amounts of movies, not just monster movies. He had seen the bombs blow up in Dr. Strangelove, he had seen a backdoor abortion in Alfie, he had seen much more. Mere trees could not compete with those.
Soon he found the field where Jenny and Chris played football, and the nearby forest. It hadn’t changed one bit, well, at least not physically. It seemed to exude a different, for lack of a better word, air. It used to have an oppressive cloud hovering above it, harsh whispers that reminded Bert that he was alone and a unique type of chill that Bert had never felt since. When an adult Bert walked into the forest, he was reminded more of Wonderland or Oz or some other magical fantasy world. There seemed to be a tiny iota of magic hovering about.
Bert went deeper into the woods, embracing the dark corners and the cold breeze. As he walked, he tried to think of all the horror games he played, and his mind conjured up images of monsters – angrier and more bestial monsters – lurking behind the trees. That was more or less what he did when he was a kid, but this time, he welcomed the manifestations of his mind.
When he was certain no-one but him was there, Bert slipped off his hoodie, letting the witch mask flop to the ground. Off went the gloves and jeans and sneakers and in no time, he was naked as a jaybird, just like his first days in this setting.
The breeze grew stronger, yet Bert didn’t shiver. The wind seemed to cleanse him, wipe away all his doubts and frustrations. Even the forest seemed to grow lighter. Once again he could see the pudgy face of a young Jenny discovering him, and all thoughts of articles, coffee and Chris dissipated.
With his body completely cleared of negative thoughts, energy began to surge through him, and he ran down a path, and then between the trees, jumping over thorns, letting the leaves crunch under his feet.
Just then he felt something he had dismissed as make-believe, something he was certain he had never felt before.
He hoped there was a portal in this forest, and when he would arrive, more of his kind would emerge. His true parents, willing to welcome him in with open arms. There’d be no need to hide anymore; in his own world, everyone was like him.
It was just like when he was a kid.
All that energy suddenly vanished.
Bert leaned against a tree, rubbing his face, only know feeling cold. There was nothing in these woods. No portal, no secret door to his world.
If he came from a world.
Bert took another look at the trees, what he used to see as gangly demons. This was his first memory, being lost among them. He scrunched up his eyes and tried to think further back. He thought about what Jenny had, what she had grown out of. She had a crib, building blocks and teddy bears. Countless photos of Jenny as a baby in a nursery had been shown to Bert, yet he had no evidence of having a similar childhood.
Bert laughed, he let loose a hoarse chuckle at what was swimming around in his head. He was home, he was in his own world. He had everything he could ever want, why would he want to go back to a world that likely didn’t even have the internet? If he did come from another world, that world was unlikely to have any TV shows as good as Breaking Bad, if it had any TV shows at all.
But there was no-one like him here. Everyone here made him hide.
He was alone.
Just then he noticed he was near a couple making out against a tree. In seconds, he crouched down, attempting to impersonate a bush, and slunk off. He crawled on the ground back towards his home, back to his clothes. Back to Jenny coming down the path holding those clothes.
‘Jenny,’ said Bert, ‘What are you doing here?’
‘You wanted to find more of…you, didn’t you?’
Bert rubbed his face. ‘No, of course not, why would I…’ Jenny smirked, tossing him the clothes. ‘It was just, you know, a bit of fun.’
‘Look,’ said Jenny, ‘sometimes I feel I don’t belong, either. Times I think I’m adopted.’
‘Well, you would, wouldn’t you?’ said Bert, putting on his hoodie. ‘Don’t pity me. Sometimes I pity you.’
‘What are you on about?’
‘You know, all that poetry you write, all that music you listen to, it’s a cry out for attention.’
‘You’re the one who goes on about horror movies!’
Bert groaned, tying his last shoelace, ‘You’re always so miserable and I have no idea why. You have a boyfriend, you have a nice home. I’m not even human, and I’m happy as hell!’
Jenny stood there, grimacing somewhat.
‘I think about you, I do what you want. You want me to leave you alone, so I do that, because I’m nice! So why not go back home right now?’ Jenny stood there, only for Bert to wave his hand. ‘Come on, get!’
Bert turned away, and suddenly the trees seemed to grow, engulfing him in their shadows. Once again, he was a child, one with no memory of his parents or his home, if they even existed at all. The dark, the blackness grew wider and wider.
He collapsed onto the ground.
He couldn’t help himself.
He covered his face with his elongated fingers and let loose the howl, as tears streamed from all three of his eyes.
Jenny approached him. Jenny put her hand on his shoulder.
‘Bert,’ said Jenny, ‘I have nowhere to be tonight.’
‘Yeah,’ snorted Bert, wiping away mucus, ‘so?’
‘Well,’ said Jenny, ‘is it okay if I watch some horror movies with you or something? You know, for old times’ sake?’
‘Okay,’ sighed Bert, ‘if that’s what you want.’
So off they went back home, and Bert booted up his laptop to play Mutant Ghouls From Mars. He had already reviewed it on his blog, he watched it just for fun, and so did Jenny. She laughed when he laughed, she added her own colour commentary – apparently one of the ghouls looked like her math teacher – and when the movie was done, Bert let her pick another.
He felt like a kid again.