Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Penguin And Monster

Once upon a time, in the middle of the woods, there lived a monster and a penguin.

They lived in a small wooden cottage they had built themselves from the wood of the woodlands. It had taken twenty-seven trees in all, to build the small wooden cottage. It had taken them a long while.

The monster was very monstrous and hideous to look at, but he had a good and handsome heart. The people of his village were not able to see through his monstrous appearance, and they were mean and horrible to him. He tried to tell them that he was good at heart, and not as ugly as he looked, but they wouldn’t listen to him. They thought he was trying to attack them, and would run screaming from him. Then the villagers got together and forced him to leave the village and never return. They chased him with fire and sticks, and he fled into the woodlands.

The monster was very upset and didn’t wish to see or be seen by anyone else ever again. He spent his first few nights in the woodlands crying and feeling very sorry for himself. His head was filled with many bad thoughts. Monstrous thoughts. Then he had met penguin.

Penguin had passed out under a bush from heat exhaustion. Monster could see his little webbed feet sticking out from under the leaves.

Monster leant over the stricken penguin and carefully shook him awake. Penguin slowly opened his heavy eyes and looked up at the monster, saw his hideous face, but did not recoil; instead, the penguin smiled.

‘What’s wrong?’ monster said.

‘I just need some rest,’ said penguin, ‘It’s so hot.’

‘Shouldn’t rest here,’ said monster, ‘must shelter.’

And so they decided to build the cottage and live together in the woodlands.

Monster was very big and strong. He took care of all of the manual work, building and maintaining their small wooden home.

He was very conscious of his ill looks and asked penguin if they could do without mirrors in their home. Penguin wanted his new friend to be happy and had no need to see his own reflection, and so agreed.

Penguin was very small and not very strong. He had flippers instead of hands and couldn’t grip or carry. Penguin was more suited to cold and wet conditions, but the woodlands were dry and hot.

These conditions would quickly tire penguin and he would often have to sit down and rest while monster laboured on. Penguin would often lie in a bathtub full of ice cubes or sit with his back to the open fridge door to try and keep cool.

The fridge was kept running by an old generator at the rear of the cottage. It often broke down and monster would have to try and fix it. Although his hands were big and strong they were clumsy, and the small, fiddly operations repairing the old generator took much effort and many attempts, and often monster would get the connections wrong and have to start all over again. When the generator was broken, penguin would try and keep cool by sipping a lemonade out on the porch.

Monster did not resent penguin for having flippers instead of hands. He did not mind working hard. If anything monster was very grateful to penguin for being his friend, he had never had a friend before. Penguin did not run away screaming from the monster like the people of the village had done. Instead penguin was very kind to monster and appreciated all the work he did around the small wooden cottage. He felt lucky to have found someone who could take care of him. In the evenings when the sun had gone down and the day’s work had been done, monster often joined penguin out on the porch. They would both sit and sip lemonades and talk about many things together.

Monster and penguin were happy with their small wooden cottage, and they were happy with each other.

But while monster was happy to do all he could, there was only so much one monster could do no matter how big and strong he was.

And monster had many chores to do.

There was the washing and the ironing, the building and the repairing, the cooking and the cleaning. All were daily chores monster had to see to and monster was kept very busy every day. The work kept his head clear of the bad thoughts that had upset him so much during his first few nights alone in the woodlands, and had plagued him when people in the village had been mean to him. He had been an unhappy monster then.

Despite all of these chores, monster still needed to spend a large amount of the day looking for food. Penguin was used to eating fish, but there were no lakes or streams anywhere to be found. So there were no fish.

Monster was very sorry that he could not find any fish for his friend. Monster ate flowers, and suggested penguin ate them as well as there were many growing all about the woodlands. Penguin agreed and monster made them both some flower stew. And although penguin ate his share and had eaten every meal of flower stew since, monster could tell it wasn’t what he really wanted to eat.

There was a well off to the side of their small wooden cottage, and was why they had built the cottage there, that they could use for drinking and washing, but there were no fish in it. Monster and penguin were grateful for the clean water, all the same. Monster would get very hot working all day and would often drink several buckets full one after another.

Early each morning, monster set out to pick flowers for their food and hope to find some spring or stream full of fish, but each and every morning he was only able to find more flowers. He would stay out as long as he could, straying as far from the cottage as he could reach, but when the sun began to set he would turn back and return home. He did not want to leave penguin all by himself day and night. Monster knew that penguin would not be able to survive on his own for too long.

It wasn’t long before monster was so busy looking for flowers he had no time to look for springs or streams or anything else. There had been many bunches and clusters of all sorts and varieties of wild flowers as far as they could see when monster and penguin had first built there small wooden cottage. They had picked as many as they fancied and had feasted on them three times a day. But they had eaten them all so quickly there wasn’t enough time for new flowers to grow. Soon they were all gone and the earth was bare.

Monster had to travel further and farther away from the small wooden cottage to find more flowers to pick and cook for himself and penguin to eat. He was gone most of the day and often only returned with enough for one meal each.

Penguin could see the devastation they had caused when he sat out on the stoop. Even though the sun had gone in, he could still see the flat, flower-less land that surrounded them. He hoped they would grow back, but they didn’t.

Penguin knew that the day would come when monster would have to travel so far for fresh flowers he would be unable to return home before dark. This worried penguin, and he tried to talk to monster about it, but monster said it was okay. Monster said he would walk faster.

Monster spent so much of his day searching for food, there was very little time left for all the other chores he had to do. He would try to get them done during the night when penguin was asleep, but walking all day made him tired and he often fell asleep before he finished what he was doing.

The washing and ironing was piling up. There was cleaning to be done and things were starting to smell bad. Parts of the small wooden cottage were beginning to fall apart because monster had been too busy looking for food to fix them. Whenever monster found himself with a spare moment or two, there would be so many things to do, and all to be done at once, that he would not be able to do them properly. In many places the small wooden cottage was being held in place by sticky-plaster, and that wouldn’t hold for long.

These things worried penguin, and although he did not show it, he knew they worried monster too.

Monster would try and blot out the worry, along with the bad thoughts, by keeping busy and concentrating on working hard. He could forget about any problem as long as he was working hard and didn’t allow his thoughts to drift. But Penguin often lay in his cold bath staring at his flippers and wishing they would turn into hands. He felt very bad that he couldn’t help out. He wished there was something more he could do.

If only they had an extra pair of hands.

Since living in the small wooden cottage, monster and penguin had not seen anyone else, no other creature. There had been no visitors to show around their home. Monster had never seen any signs of life on his searches for food. He hadn’t even heard any birds singing in the trees. They decided they were the only ones in the woodlands.

Then one day there was a knock at the front door.

Monster and penguin had been cooking wildflowers, stirring the pot over a low flame, when the knock came. They would have ignored it as the force of the wind, so little did they expect anyone else to be out there in the woods, but then it came again, more forcefully this time.

Monster looked at penguin and penguin looked at monster. They both looked at the front door.

The knocking came again.

Monster put aside the wooden spoon he had been stirring with; turned down the flame he had been cooking on, and put a finger to his misshapen lips, indicating to penguin to be quiet. Penguin waddled away into the evening shadows that fell across the corner of the kitchen, his little feet lightly slapping the bare wooden floor, and watched on from his hiding place. Monster stood by the door, his hand on the latch.

They both held their breath as monster turned the latch, opened the door a crack, and peered outside.

There on the doorstep in the evening gloom was a shadowy figure bent and huddled in a filthy rag of a cloak. The figure was shaking and monster could see it’s chilly breath. It wasn’t shaking with fright, monster would have recognised that; something else seemed to be rattling it’s bones.

With a frail hand the figure took down the hood of it’s cloak and monster and penguin saw that it was a wolfhound.

The wolfhound met monster’s eye, and they were a dim, bloodless pink. The visitor seemed to have no strength within him. Even so, monster was wary of trusting a stranger. He still remembered all to well the villagers who had run him from his old home. He didn’t want anyone running him out of his new one.

‘Yes?’ monster said.

The wolfhound’s lips trembled as they parted, and he spoke with great effort.

‘Pardon me for bothering you like this, friend,’ the wolfhound croaked, ‘but I am not well. I’ve got the fever bad and I fear if I don’t…’

‘Fever?’ monster interrupted, standing hunched over in the doorway. He looked carefully at this wolfhound on his doorstep. Looked at his rheumy eyes and his chattering teeth, at the frail bony hands that clutched his rags so tightly about his quaking body. For sure the wolfhound was not well, but the arrival of this stranger, this unexpected third party, stirred inside monster a feeling of disquiet that he could not place. As cruel as it seemed to turn away someone in need, leaving them to face the elements by themselves, monster did not want to allow this intruder into his home. And if he was sick there was the risk he might make monster and penguin sick as well.

‘We don’t want any of that in here,’ monster said.

‘Friend,’ the wolfhound replied, a note of desperate pleading in his voice, ‘I only ask one night’s stay for I fear one more night out here in the wilderness and it might well be my last…’

Monster hesitated to close the door when he felt something brush past his knees. It was penguin. He had waddled out from his hiding place and had patted across the kitchen to meet this guest at the door. Penguin held out a flipper to steady the sick wolfhound.

‘Ah,’ the wolfhound said, his insipid eyes sparkling alive for one moment, before returning dull, ‘I see there are two of you.’

‘Yes, yes,’ penguin said, ‘you poor thing, come right in, come right in.’

And penguin, only waist high to the wolfhound, brushed aside the presence of monster and ushered the sick guest into the kitchen.

Monster closed the door behind them, sealing the three of them inside together. Not once did his eyes leave the stranger, and he muttered, ‘Only need two,’ but he was not heard.

Penguin fussed and flustered, trying to support the stumbling wolfhound and lead him to the kitchen table, talking all the time.

‘We were just cooking dinner; you’re more than welcome to some. It’s only flower soup I’m afraid, but it’s very good. You’d be surprised. Yes, it’s very good.’

Penguin sat the wolfhound at the kitchen table and turned to monster, ‘Is the soup ready?’

‘It’s cooked.’

‘Pour some out for this fellow, will you. He needs his strength.’

When penguin turned back to attend to the wolfhound he saw that their guest was slumped in his chair, his eyes closed.

Penguin thought their visitor was dead, but he soon found a pulse, as weak as it was, with a flipper pressed to the wolfhound’s chest.

‘He’s asleep,’ penguin whispered to monster. ‘We should set him down to bed. He needs his sleep.’

There was only one bed in the small wooden cottage and it belonged to monster. It was large and cosy, with blankets and pillows. It was too hot for penguin, who preferred to sleep in the bath, but for monster it was very comfortable to rest his weary body between those sheets after a hard day’s work. Monster didn’t want to give up his bed to this wolfhound, but he didn’t want to disappoint his friend either.

‘He’s obviously very sick and needs plenty of rest,’ penguin said.

Monster said nothing, but lifted the sleeping body of the wolfhound from his chair, holding the withered frame in his big powerful arms, and carried the guest to the room he had called his own, before carefully setting him down upon his bed.

‘We should take off his boots,’ penguin whispered, and monster pulled at the tatty leather as gently as he could, setting the boots down beside the bed. Then they tucked the wolfhound in, pulling the blanket up to his chin.

‘He’s very pale, but he should be warm now,’ penguin said. ‘I think I’d better watch over him during the night and see that he makes it through.’

Monster left his room and returned momentarily with a chair from the kitchen for penguin to sit on.

‘Thank you,’ penguin said. ‘Why don’t you sleep in the bathtub tonight as our guest here has taken your bed? I won’t be needing it.’

Monster left again and returned again a brief while later. He carried a small bowl filled with ice and laid it at penguin’s webbed feet.

‘In case you get too hot,’ he said, and made leave of his room for the night.

Monster didn’t sleep in the bathtub. Instead he paced the dark shadows of the woods immediately behind the cottage, listening to the hum of the generator. There was something he didn’t like about the wolfhound. It wasn’t only that he had taken monster’s bed, it was more that he seemed to have taken a large part of the kindness and understanding penguin had once solely devoted to monster.

Monster paced and pondered for most of the night before curling up upon the barren earth and falling asleep under the stars.

Over the course of the following nights and days penguin remained by the wolfhound’s bedside and watched as the visitor shivered and trembled and sweated the fever out. Penguin had monster boil a flannel, which he placed on the wolfhound’s brow. He would take his share of flower soup monster made and carefully spoon it between the wolfhound’s cracked lips, in the hope that it would make him better. Penguin ate almost nothing himself. Monster replaced the bowl of ice whenever it melted to a tepid water.

Monster continued to spend his days searching for wild flowers. In the evenings he sought out other chores to busy himself. He worked as hard as he could to try and quieten down the angry voices that spoke inside him. They spoke horribly of the wolfhound and he tried to ignore them as best as he could, but even without the voices telling him, monster did not care for the presence of the wolfhound, nor did he think he ever would. He spent his nights outside, asleep, when he could, on the hard floor.

After several bedridden days the wolfhound finally managed to shake the last of the fever and was soon up and about and healthy once more.

Monster was only too happy to see the wolfhound well again. He thought the wolfhound would soon leave and everything would return to how it had been before. Monster was wrong.

The wolfhound was very grateful to penguin, and to monster, for looking after him when he was so ill and for probably saving his life. He said if there were anything he could do to repay them he would be more than happy to do so.

Monster would have said, no thank you, but his thinking was too slow, and before he could say anything, penguin had said, ‘Well, you know, we have been struggling just the two of us for quite a while now to make ends meet here. If you’ve got nowhere else to go we could always do with the extra help.’

The wolfhound said, ‘But I cannot be any further burden to you good people, you have already done so much for me.’

‘And you’ll be doing so much for us if you agree to stay,’ Penguin said. ‘Unless you have some place else you need to be, we would really really like you to stay.’

Monster wanted to say something, but he didn’t want to argue with his friend.

The wolfhound thought a while, before smiling broadly, ‘All right, then it is agreed. I would be delighted to accept your hospitality and stay.’

He shook penguin by the flipper, flashed his smile at monster, and retired at once to monster’s bed for a rest and lie down.

Monster waited until he heard the sound of his bedroom door closing before saying to penguin as quietly as he could, ‘Don’t find food for two, won’t find food for three.’

‘Don’t worry,’ Penguin said, ‘he can help us find more food. He can look for flowers while you do your chores around here. Or he can do the chores while you look for flowers. And if you have to stay out all night looking for more flowers I’ll be okay to stay here now because our guest can look after me.’

Monster felt as though he were no longer needed as much as he was. He worried that he might soon not be needed at all if this wolfhound was able to do everything he could.

‘I manage,’ he said. ‘We don’t need no one else.’

‘It’s only fair to help him,’ Penguin said, ‘like you helped me. Now there are three of us all helping each other. I only wish I could help more. I’m sorry I can’t,’ he said, looking at his flippers, ‘but I think our new friend will be the answer to all of our problems.’

The next day monster was cutting up firewood for the stove to heat the few flowers he had managed to pick the day before. He enjoyed chopping up firewood. He could concentrate on that and nothing else. Nothing bad.

He would chop firewood while penguin sat out on the stoop and watch. Monster was glad to have penguin there as a friend and did not mind that his friend couldn’t help. Monster knew he could do the work of two men, but this day he didn’t have to. This day he had help. He had the wolfhound, and the wolfhound stood beside monster measuring and placing the blocks of wood on the chopping block in line to be chopped, for though his hands were smaller than monster’s they were steady and precise.

The two of them worked in silence for most of the morning when the wolfhound said to monster, keeping his voice low so penguin couldn’t hear, ‘Does he just sit there all day?’

Monster looked up from his chopping, his axe held over his head; he wasn’t used to being disturbed. He looked to where the wolfhound gestured, looked at penguin sitting happily in his chair, then brought the axe down and chopped the length of wood the wolfhound held in two.

Monster said, ‘He can’t work like us. He don’t have fingers. Don’t have no thumbs.’

‘Even so,’ the wolfhound said, gathering the next piece of wood and lining it up atop the chopping block, ‘you would have thought he could do something to help.’

‘Well he can’t,’ monster said, and brought his axe down. And that was that.

For a while.

‘You need somewhere to sleep,’ Penguin said.

‘I can sleep outside,’ monster said.

‘Don’t be silly. You need a roof over your head. Our new friend can help you, you’ll have it finished in no time.’

And so it was decided to extend the small wooden cottage further and build an extra room, an annexe, for monster to sleep in now that the wolfhound slept in his old bed. Monster and the wolfhound were to work together. The new room was to be at the rear of the cottage, and the two of them worked there while penguin sat out on the front stoop, out of eyesight and earshot.

They took the trees to make monster’s new room from far out into the woods. They didn’t cut down any nearby trees, as the missing leaves and branches would let in the sunlight and heat poor penguin even more. So, monster and the wolfhound had to carry the large logs they felled through the woods and back to the cottage. They carried each long, one either side, but monster felt as though he was taking most of the weight.

They worked in silence, stripping the bark, pressing and drying it, until it was ready to build. Then they set about building.

The wolfhound was the first to speak. He said, ‘I am very sorry for causing all this bother by taking your room. I’m quite happy to take this as my lodging instead, and you can have your old room back.’

‘Either’s fine,’ monster said.

They hammered away at the wood, knocking it into shape. It took longer than they had expected because for large stretches of each day one of them would be out looking for flowers while the other toiled away. It was usually left to monster to build his new room, as he was by far the stronger of the two, leaving the wolfhound to hunt for flowers. Many times the wolfhound returned with only enough food for two. And all the while penguin sat in his chair, keeping cool, sipping lemonade and eating the flower stew cooked for him. When he saw the two workers he waved a flipper.

‘Does it not annoy you,’ the wolfhound said, as he carried another bundle of finely cut wood in his huddled arms and sat them down before monster to hammer, ‘that he idles away his days while we have to sweat and toil?’

‘Not his fault,’ monster said, ‘he can’t help it.’

‘No, you said. I just wonder if he’s not very useful maybe he’s somewhat useless, and I wonder why he’s still here cluttering up the place.’

‘He’s my friend,’ monster said.

‘Not that it’s for me to say, but I wouldn’t consider it a friendship when one has to wait upon the other, that sounds more like a master and a servant. And isn’t it frankly a little bit embarrassing for you? I mean here you are a monster and you’re waiting hand and foot on a penguin. I would say that is something very peculiar, something a little topsy-turvy.’

At the sound of his name, monster flinched. Monster wished the wolfhound wouldn’t talk as he did. It confused him trying to listen to what was being said while trying to concentrate on his work. He found it difficult trying to concentrate on more than one thing at a time.

Monster picked up one of the small cuts of wood and held it in place for the wolfhound to hold. ‘Work,’ monster said. It was all that he knew to say. His head was so full of the things the wolfhound said there was little room for his own thoughts.

The wolfhound took hold of the piece of wood and, as monster took up his hammer, said, ‘I just wonder why you put up with it. I would imagine you could have just about anyone wait hand and foot on you. I would imagine you could tell other people what to do. They should be frightened of you and cower before you. Otherwise people might think you were a bit of a, well, a bit of a coward.’

Monster swung his hammer down, missing the cut of wood as it landed with a thud on the ground beside the wolfhound, almost knocking him from his haunches.

Monster entered the cottage, took a bowl and filled it with ice and brought it out to penguin. He placed it by penguin’s feet to cool him down as the day reached its hottest part.

Penguin smiled at monster, ‘Thank you.’

Monster said, ‘What’s friends for.’

They were cutting windows into the wood.

‘I can’t help thinking that all this time we waste looking after your friend here could be better spent,’ the wolfhound was saying, holding the wood in place as monster cut away a ledge with a saw. ‘You’re a big and strong monster, you could do whatever you wanted to do if you were not forever running after your little friend’s every other wish and want. You’re a monster acting like a mouse for the sake of a penguin. That doesn’t make sense. What kind of friend would deny someone the right to be who they are?’

Monster tried to let the noise of his sawing block out the wolfhound’s words, but he could not escape them, they talked on and on.

‘Not that it’s my place to say, but from what I’ve seen, and I’ve only been here a short while, he is getting in your way. He gave me your room without even a thought for yourself. Why, he practically kicked you out and made you sleep out here in the woods like an outcast. Why would a friend do that?’

‘We’re building my room,’ monster said.

‘Yes, yes you are, but where’s your friend to help you? It seems to me like he has you wrapped around his little flipper. It seems to me that he gets you to do whatever he wants so that he doesn’t have to lift a flipper. It seems to me like he’s using you, using up all your strength for his own needs, but what about your needs? Your needs as a monster?’

Monster didn’t want to hear anymore. He couldn’t make it stop, so he walked away, leaving the saw still shaking, stuck halfway into the cut of the wood. But the wolfhound followed him.

Monster was out of breath and thirsty, so stopped by the well. He hoisted up the bucket, could hear the water sloshing inside and felt his mouth so dry.

The wolfhound stood beside him. ‘I notice you have no mirrors here,’ he said, ‘have you forgotten what you look like?’

With a creak of wood and strain of rope, monster lifted the bucket to the surface and brought it to his lips. The wolfhound put a hand on the bucket and eased it away from monster’s face.

‘Look,’ the wolfhound said, ‘see what you are.’

The water inside the bucket calmed.

‘See that you are a monster.’

And for an instant monster saw his hideous features reflected back at him from the bucket of the well. He screamed and dropped the bucket, spilling his reflection onto the ground, and he ran, ran as fast as he could into the woodlands, leaving those words and that dreadful image behind him.

But even as he ran he still heard those words, still saw that face, his face. They seemed to be inside his head. He couldn’t tell if the voice was that of the wolfhound, or his own thoughts speaking to him. They followed him everywhere.

Monster cried out in frustration and fell to the ground exhausted. He held himself and, just as he had done during his first few nights in the woodlands, he sobbed pitifully. And the voices spoke to him still.

Monster! Monster! Monster! Monster!

He shut his claws over his ears, but couldn’t shut out that voice.

‘Go away! Go away!’ he cried. But even he couldn’t hear himself, only that word repeated again and again.

Monster! Monster! Monster! Monster!

He could no longer sleep, no matter how tired he grew. His dreams were even worse than when he was awake. They were nightmares, and he couldn’t run away from them.

He worked slowly with his saw, building the frame of his new room. He sawed without thinking, in a sleepless daze. He couldn’t see the blade moving back and forth in front of him. He didn’t see it as it cut into his arm. He sawed back and forth, tearing his flesh and spilling his blood. Only then was he dimly aware of it as he watched his blood drip steadily onto the ground by his feet, staining the green grass red. Then he yelled out in pain.

The wolfhound was by his side. ‘Stay here, I’ll get something for it.’

The wolfhound left for the cottage and passed penguin as he entered inside. Penguin was sat on the stoop and watched as the wolfhound returned from with a roll of bandages.

‘Did I hear something?’ Penguin asked.

‘No, no, nothing at all,’ replied the wolfhound.

‘Is everything going okay?’ Penguin asked.

‘Oh yes,’ replied the wolfhound, flashing a sharp-toothed smile, ‘everything is going as planned.’

Monster hadn’t moved. He still held the saw by its handle, the teeth of its blade still dug deep into his flesh. He felt the wolfhound take the saw from him, carefully easing it out of his arm and drawing a well of blood that splashed the wood they were working on. The wolfhound put the bloodstained saw to one side and wrapped monster’s wounded arm in bandages.

‘You cry out in alarm like that and your friend doesn’t come running to make sure you are all right? He doesn’t seem to be very concerned about you.’

Monster saw and heard as though through a fog; and background to it all was that one word, repeated and repeated.

‘Did you see all that blood?’ the wolfhound asked, ‘It was very red. I wonder how much you would have to spill before your friend even noticed. But look at me here, caring for you, tending to you. I care for you more than you realise. I want to see you as you really are, not as how some penguin wants you to be just to suit his own needs. I want you to be the monster that you are. And you trust me, don’t you? We’re friends, aren’t we? True friends. See how I help you.’

The wolfhound used his dextrous fingers to tie a knot in the bandages tightly at monster’s wrist. ‘That’s sealed it,’ the wolfhound said.

‘Yes,’ monster said, without even realising he had said it. He felt weak after having lost so much blood.

‘With me I would let you be who you really are. We wouldn’t be stuck in these woodlands. We would go wherever we wanted and do whatever we wanted. With your strength and my cunning we could do as we pleased. Whatever you pleased. But you won’t be able to do that while you are servant to a penguin. He will never let you be yourself. You will always be that little mouse trapped inside your monster’s body. With me though, you will be a monster through and through because that’s what you are.’

The wolfhound bent down to the ground and ran his finger over the blood-spattered ground. His fingertip glistened red with the monster’s blood and he wiped it on the monster’s lips. The monster tasted the blood, his own blood re-entering his body. He recognised the taste.

‘Blood has been spilled,’ the wolfhound said. ‘Now let it flow like a river. Remember what you are. You are a monster.’

Nightfall came and the woodlands slipped into darkness. The monster had not slept for days, but felt as though he hadn’t been woken for years. He moved through the cottage, the one word screaming inside his head.

The monster entered the bathroom where penguin lay stretched out in the bathtub. The ice cubes had melted and turned to water that dripped out over the side of the tub in tranquil waves. Penguin was asleep.

The wood creaked under the monster’s huge feet as he approached the bathtub, stirring and waking penguin. Penguin rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked upon his visitor. When he made out the shape of the monster in the moonlight love fluttered across his face and his big wide eyes regarded his friend with trust and penguin smiled a sleepy smile.

The monster reached out his big monstrous hands and touched them upon penguin. Penguin did not pull back, but remained silent and calm. He rubbed his head against monster’s arm and felt the bandage there. He looked at the wound and saw blood seeping through and felt the monster’s hands gripping him tighter. Penguin looked up at the monster, his eyes wide and his brow furrowed, and the monster pressed his fingers into him, digging into him, deeper and deeper, spilling inky blood.

Penguin gasped as the monster’s fingers tore into him. The monster ripped penguin apart with his bare hands, ripping skin from flesh and flesh from bone. He ripped penguin apart until there was nothing left but his beak, spiralling at the centre of the violent storm of the bath water that now ran dark with blood.

A wind blew and all was silent. The voice had stopped, that one word gone. Monster’s head was clear. He knew what he had done as soon as he had done it. Here lay his friend, his one and only ever true friend, destroyed by his own hands. Here was the one person who had accepted him. Here was the one person who only ever had a smile for him. And here was that person no more.

Monster took his hands from the water. They were stained with his friend. His fingers dripped blood at the claws and burnt ice-cold with penguin’s blood.

He could see his reflection once more in the shimmering darkness of the bloody water. He saw what he was. He was indeed a monster. He always would be. And he had done what monster’s do. And he hated himself completely.

He cried then. A long, low moaning that took everything that was once inside him, rising up into a piercing scream, the very sound of his heart ripping into a thousand pieces.

The noise awoke the wolfhound from dreams of plots and schemes. He awoke in the darkness and heard footsteps approach. He jumped out of bed, still dressed in his nightgown and cap. He took up the lamp that lay by his bedside. He listened as the footsteps stopped and the door to the bedroom opened. The wolfhound lit the lamp and light sputtered out of the darkness.

There stood the monster.

The wolfhound backed away and would have fallen over the bed if the monster hadn’t grabbed him by the arm. The wolfhound was about to speak when he felt the monster’s other claw gouge into his chest until it was all the way inside. When it withdrew it held the wolfhound’s still beating heart in its blood-soaked fist. The wolfhound stammered, but could not speak, and with his final fading vision before death, the wolfhound watched as the monster put the heart into his mouth and swallowed it whole.

The monster prised the lamp from the wolfhound’s lifeless fingers and held it high over his head. Then he smashed the glass down onto the floor. The flame licked at the wood, spreading throughout the small wooden cottage. The flames rose up the monster’s body and engulfed him. It wasn’t long before everything and everyone had burnt to the ground and was nothing.

Now the woodlands are empty again. The flowers have grown back and grow where the small wooden cottage once stood. People don’t enter the woodlands. They say it is haunted. The high trees sway in the heat of the breeze, but sometimes in between their rustling you can still hear the anguished cry of the monster of the woods.