Monstrous Femme

One Chicago Night

Fall 2022

Viv walked home each night, always down the same pothole-laden road. The streetlights were either dim and yellowed with age, flickering on and off, or simply inoperable, and something was always rustling in the trash cans in front of Mr. McArthur’s picture-perfect home. The fall temps had set in and the nights were finally getting cold. After nine months of sweltering summer, the hoodie weather was a welcome reprieve from the disgusting Midwestern soup air. Tonight was just on the edge of being too cold and tomorrow would be colder still, but Viv wasn’t ready for the seasonal wardrobe change yet.

Goosebumps bloomed across her hollow clavicles, and the space between the top of her lace-up boots and the bottom of her pencil skirt was turning pink from exposure. But she wouldn’t shiver, on principle. You can never let them see you shudder. Even though no one was around, Viv couldn’t let go of her tough veneer. She’d taken so long to build it up and one slip could tear her right back down again. She was stronger than that, stronger than the October Chicago air, tougher than her homophobic boss, tougher than her “God-fearing” mother—the woman who tossed her out onto the streets on her fifteenth birthday for being an abomination. She was even tougher than that fucking canary, Roy Fife.

Shadows spidered across the road from the trees, cars, and litter, but they felt a little tighter tonight, more foreboding than usual, pushing in on her and lingering a while. Holding her keys between her fingers, their occasional clink worried her. Drawing more attention to herself while cold and alone was against every rule in her “stay safe” playbook, but the keys were her only line of defense against potential assassins. Viv walked two miles each night after she left the university library, locking up all the knowledge to spend some time in her own head while getting her daily exercise—double-dipping in a way. Looking at her, most wouldn’t think “academic” or “librarian.” She’d heard all of the insults and assumptions, but “college librarian” wasn’t one of them.

Her arms were covered in tattoos, symbols of the goth and punk bands of her youth: a HIM heartogram, an Alkaline Trio caske. Her thick-lined Siouxie and the Banshee eyes, blanket of unkempt dark frizz, and knee-high black boots always threw people off. She wasn’t prim or proper and she couldn’t get her wily hair into a bun even if she’d wanted to. Of course, folks never got close enough to read the Frankenstein quotes spiraling down her other arm, or to take note of the banned book earrings she wore each day. She was plenty literary, but also badass.

Anxious by nature, Viv’s brain was always in overdrive, playing a never-ending game of what-ifs, and she would often walk past her turn, adding another few minutes to her stroll. Tonight’s big questions involved her personhood, her importance on a larger scale. She couldn’t ever think about the sexy barista, or get wrapped up in the superficial stuff—it was always world-ending.

Having clawed her way to being considered human, being afforded some amalgam of rights just like everyone else, losing one was soul-crushing. She’d grown up with the illusion that her body was her own, knowing it wasn’t, not really, but even that illusion was now shattered. Her body relegated her to second-class status, regardless of her alignments and preferences. Feeling incomplete and inconsequential, Viv was angry. Some might disagree, but angry wasn’t her default setting, even if it had been bubbling under the surface since late June. She preferred happiness, craved it, but the world had other ideas—again.

There wasn’t much she could do about it, about anything: no immediate action she could take, no feel-good Band Aid to make it better. Viv hated feeling out of control, feeling like the entire house of cards could crumble sooner rather than later. They took this thing. What else will they come for? That’s why she loved the library so much: everything had its place. There was a whole system dictating it, a beautiful Dewey Decimal Classification. No matter the content or subject matter, every book had a home somewhere amid the shelves—even the books self-righteous parent groups tried to take away from their children. Unlike the world around her, the library made sense. It was a quiet space carved into the chaos of life, one that was so unlike the terrible world in which she lived.

Turning swiftly, Viv caught an almost imperceptible metallic clicking sound behind her, even and metered. She tensed. She was blocks past Mr. McArthur’s place and there wasn’t usually noise this far down the line. Wind, sure. Creaking fences, maybe. Car doors or clicking heels, from time to time. But there was never a persistent clinking sound lingering on the edge of her hearing. That didn’t happen. It was hard to make out the stationary objects and shadows on such a dark night, and Viv felt the hairs on her arms prickle with trepidation.

It’s fine. I’m okay.

Cautiously, she resumed her walk, noticing that she had gone too far once again, and feeling queasy at the prospect of being out in the night longer than necessary. But, to her credit, she wasn’t lost. She was just down the block from Roy Fife’s fucking Ranchero. As she walked, her stomach lurched from anxiety and she pressed a hand to the hood of that stupid car, stopping for a moment to throw up right on the Ranchero’s shiny hood. She idled long enough to wipe her mouth with her arm, then moved along. “Fuck him,” she said, kicking his tire for good measure. That asshole has bullied me forever. The thought of his smug face discovering the contents of her stomach splashed across the hood of his precious baby entertained her, at least momentarily.

She noticed a shadow shift in the corner of her vision, but didn’t know if what she saw was real or imagined. Her nerves were on high alert tonight. Securing her keys once again and holding her head high, Viv turned left, needing to loop around to get back home. Just a few more blocks, that’s all.

As she turned, another shadow shifted. It was still about a block back, but seemed larger than a small critter, though slow. It hadn’t gained ground. It wasn’t running. “It’s nothing. I’m fine.” Viv needed to reassure herself aloud, even if making more noise wasn’t necessarily advisable when something was lurking on the street, seemingly loping along behind her.

Her alarm bells were ringing. If she ran, whatever was in the shadows might notice. So she continued at her normal pace, hoping the whole thing was just an overreaction fueled by her aggravated mental state. But, as she continued her stroll, the clicking sound followed, echoing behind her—click, click, click—and she could feel the shadows, dark and menacing, creeping closer. Refusing to turn around, to let whatever fucking shadow monster following her know it was grating on her nerves, quickening her heartbeat, freaking her the fuck out, she focused on setting one foot in front of the other and getting home. Two more blocks.

Viv could see the dimly lit window of her tiny cottage, packed in between all of the larger, newer homes on her block. Keys in hand, she unlocked the door and looked over her shoulder one more time. Something was there, down the block, dark and menacing, but no longer moving. It was like being stuck in an unwanted game of Red Light, Green Light or Mother May I, the shadow simply waiting for its turn to move. “You may not,” she said before heading inside.

She opened the door and tossed her keys into a half-empty candle jar on the bookshelf, locking everything behind her—deadbolt too. But what good are locks against creatures of the night?

Heading over to close the blinds, she lingered a moment to watch for movement. Slowly but surely, the shadow floated down the street. The clicking noise grew louder as it moved, inching nearer as seconds passed. Beating hard in her ears, the noise stopped as the figure reached its destination—reached her.

It came to the window, a thin pane of glass the only thing between the specter and Viv. The thing seemed curious, moving what should be a head and tilting it to the left, like a dog trying to please its master. It had no distinguishable face, no features, just inky blackness and deep swirling pools where eyes should be. But it seemed sentient and somewhat tangible. Viv shivered in response to the unsettling monstrosity.

”Fuck you,” she said before shutting the blinds right in its featureless face. Viv held her breath, waiting for something terrible to happen, but there was just silence. The shadow was still there, peering at the closed blinds; Viv could feel an inky threat just outside. It wanted in, but Viv had no plans of letting that happen. The darkness could stay in the cold where it belonged.

After a few minutes, the clicking began again, but instead of getting louder, it retreated. Click, click, click. After a few seconds, the sound vanished. Viv was tempted to look out the window, burning with curiosity, but she’d pushed things past her limit already. Why tempt a monster, right?

She sat down on the worn plaid couch she bought off of the ancient woman who owned the house before she did—for the fair price of $20, no less. Old with stained cushions and a slight sag in the middle, it molded to her form almost instantly.

Viv took a deep breath. In for seven, hold it, exhale. She repeated the process until her heart was no longer thumping hard against the inside of her chest. “I’m fine. I’m home. I’m safe. Safe enough. For now.” Viv flipped on her TV, needing to zone out for a little while.

She should have been frenzied, terrified, after having stared into the face of something dark and probably malevolent, but she’d been doing that her whole life. Her own mother was just as much of a monster as whatever the hell had followed her home. This creature can’t do more damage than what’s already been done.

She settled on The Golden Girls, her go-to show, and she let the soothing sounds of Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia wash over her until she drifted off to a dreamless sleep, hoping she’d get to be a sassy old lady sitting around eating cheesecake with her strong female friends one day.


Viv awoke, startled for no apparent reason, just as the sun was ready to cross the threshold and bring an end to her strange, upsetting night. But she was alive and unharmed, and some days, that was the best she could hope for. There would be a tomorrow and that was a start.

She crept to the window, her old wooden floors creaking and betraying her attempt at sneakiness. Holding one blind slightly away from the rest, she pressed her face closer to peer out onto the street. It was there: a smoky apparition, hovering somewhat still. When the sun crested the horizon, bringing with it the pink skies of early morning, the figure dissipated, breaking into wisps of dark smoke and blowing away with the wind, leaving no remnant, no evidence of its existence.

Viv unlocked her door and stepped out into the sunlight, blinking from its brightness. She wasn’t sure what the figure was, if it had been real, or if it would be back when night fell. It might follow her home again after work, or perhaps reconstitute right across the street.

Even without it there, Viv felt coated in fear. She just wanted to live and love, but half the country didn’t think folks like her deserved it, and didn’t believe in not picking a team. In retrospect, the dark being who followed her home and loitered outside her window was probably the least of her worries.