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Here There Be Monsters

But they're not always who you think they are.

As a kid, watching monster movie endings were always a disappointment. The monster died at the hands of its human adversaries — a.k.a., “the good guys.”

“But the monster killed people. It’s end was justified,” someone might say.

Maybe. But then, the story is being told by the victor. Without fail, the truth is slanted in their favor. The truth, however, might be very different. Oh, I know. Everyone’s heard the argument. “The monster really isn’t a monster. Its intentions were benign, but humans misunderstood. Forced to kill for self-preservation, the only way humans could protect themselves was by killing the monster.”

A little better. Certainly more sympathetic. But again, the story is being told by the victor, and again slanted in their favor.

Only the victor gets to tell the story.

Of course, there are monsters that are truly monsters. The ones that kill for the sake of conquest, that get off on the thrill of the hunt, or the ones who kill just because they can. That’s different, no different from humans hunting down another human who’s a vicious serial killer.

But for a “benign” monster, there’s is another explanation for the human’s behavior — the one from the monster’s point of view. Simply put, humans chased it down for what it was. It was different. It was “other.” It isn’t human, it doesn’t belong, so it must die. If it killed a few humans out of self-preservation, for its own survival, that’s even more reason to kill it. Damned if you don’t, damned if you do.

A monster just can’t catch a break.

So, let’s explore the narrative from the monster’s point of view. A werewolf, for instance,  living in the big city. He’s not always a wolf. Just for one night, once a month. The rest of the time, he lives like a human. He has to eat, he has to have shelter. That means he has to have a job. But not any job. He has to take a job that’ll lessen his chances of being found out. Something on the night shift, when there are fewer people around. Maybe he owns a service business, one that allows him to go from place to place, never staying too long in one location. Say, a computer tech, or a software engineer who works independently on a contract basis. Or, if he has a single employer, maybe he’s lucky enough to be remote. Working from home, only interacting with his colleagues via Zoom, or Microsoft Teams.

Monsters always hide in plain sight.

Yet no matter what he does, he’ll still have personal interactions with humans from time to time. If he’s an independent service provider, he can’t be an asshole to office staff and certainly not to the person who hired him. That’s a sure way to lose a contract. He doesn’t initiate conversation with others, but they may initiate a conversation with him. You know, nothing seriously personal. Maybe “do you have a family,” or “where did you go to school,” or “what hobbies do you have?” Chit-chat stuff. He doesn’t have to tell his life story — and he wouldn’t — but he’ll be expected to talk about himself a bit.

This is where it gets tricky. He’ll have to spin a web of lies, and keep track of them all. He attended a tiny college in the middle of nowhere that nobody’s ever heard of. His hobbies are solo, like hiking and camping in the wilderness. As for family, he could always say they’re all dead. That certainly makes things easier.

In any event, our werewolf has to live in a constant state of hyperawareness. Every person who crosses his path is a potential enemy. For him, impersonating the average Joe is like walking a tightrope a hundred feet above the ground without a safety net.

Are you wondering where all this is going, yet?

Well, let me ask YOU a question. You do know there are real people who live like our werewolf, right? Walking that tightrope. And if they’re discovered, sometimes they get murdered.

Monsters aren’t always monsters. Sometimes, they’re human.

Who are they? They could be people you know. Maybe gay, or trans. Maybe they have religious beliefs considered unacceptable by the majority. They might be Black passing for white because they know as a white person, they’re more likely than not to escape the dangers faced by their darker brothers and sisters, like dying while in police custody. Or being murdered for walking in the “wrong” neighborhood. In all cases, they’re the enemy, the “other.” The monsters.

These are the kinds of dark, unsettling themes my books deal with, cloaked in speculative fiction. All are works of social and political criticism. Sometimes readers see them for what they are. Usually, they don’t.

I’m not mad about it. If they only find entertainment in my books, that’s good enough for me. After all, that’s why they buy them, right? But for those readers who do see beyond the fur, fangs, and plasma pistols…

I salute you.


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