The Monster and the Boy


Today, the monster steps into the world. Today, unhooded, he is seen.

He has done this for many years now, ever since he began to understand the possibilities Halloween offers him. For one night, the town is transformed, becomes a wonderland of the ghoulish and grotesque. A town made for him.

When he was very young—before he became a monster—costumes were half-hearted, more comical than frightening. A girl might perch a witch’s hat on blonde curls and clutch a  broomstick for trick-or-treating. A boy might slick his hair back and wear ill-fitting plastic fangs. Now people go much further and this strange fascination for the macabre has spread, fungus-like. It isn’t just kids who dress up anymore. Now teenagers, students, twentysomethings and office workers spill out onto the streets costumed, making their way to parties or bars freshly festooned with spiderwebs and lurid splashes of fake blood.

On past Halloweens, the monster has watched ghastly-visaged zombies, flesh grey and peeling, squawking on phones. He’s seen Frankenstinian creations painted into a state of rot, a pallor right down to their cigarette-clutching fingertips.

The celebrity costumes don’t interest him, and often bewilder him. It’s the monsters he appreciates. They provide camouflage as he goes out, hunting for something he dare not name, even to himself.

The boy’s parents disapprove of Halloween. His father says it’s a money-making scam ripping off parents. His mother says horror shouldn’t be glamourized, that children see too much too young: “violence…and the other stuff.” Both agree the boy is too young to trick-or-treat at seven, though his twin cousins—a whole year younger—do it with their parents. His cousins told him it was amazing, that everyone looks scary but it’s fun being frightened, and you come home with pockets full of treats.

The boy lives in a town without magic. There is only school, home, and two after-school sports clubs a week. Every week. He knows there’s no Santa Claus or tooth fairy, since his parents don’t believe in superstitious nonsense. He knows there’s probably no such thing as monsters, but even the idea of people pretending thrills him. Pretending is a kind of magic, too.

It maddens him to think of that thrilling, frightening world happening tonight on the other side of these dull brick walls.

Late afternoon and the streets slowly fill with aliens, ghouls, werewolves, ghosts, vampires, and grotesques. Still, people still stare at the monster as he walks. Most try to do it discreetly, sideways glances followed by whispers and giggles, but others brazenly turn as he lurches past them. One young woman costumed to look like she’s been electrocuted shouts “incredible make up.” Some take photographs.

The monster ignores these minor attentions. On any other day it would be worse, he knows. They would flinch from him. Their mouths would gape. If he ran at them, they’d flee shrieking. Only today can he move freely through their world and be treated as if he were normal.

To be outside and hoodless is extraordinary. He can hear chatter and unmuffled street noise, see the whole panoply of the town through his unobscured peripheral vision. So many people. So much life. How he hungers. How he wants.

The boy plans his escape carefully.

Every day, his mother collects him from school at 3:30 p.m., and he is allowed supervised television until his father gets home at six. They eat between seven and eight, and then the boy does homework in his room or reads books while his parents watch television downstairs. That hour is his chance. He’ll slip out of the back door, through the garden, down the alleyway, and out onto the streets for his first Halloween.

It’s 4:30 p.m. now and the boy watches “She-Ra.” His mother likes it because she used to watch an old version when she was a girl. She sits with him but doesn’t actually watch. She hunches over her laptop sending millions of messages, sometimes laughing or sighing at something she’s read. It’s annoying, but tonight the boy doesn’t care. He isn’t watching either. He’s imagining and anticipating. Tonight, the boy will seek monsters.

The monster climbs the hill slowly, passing gawping couples and gaggles of teenagers. Up here, a cold breeze blows in from the hills and kisses his face. So beautiful to be under the sky, unshielded and unhidden.

He finds an empty space and looks over the town’s haphazard, blocky sprawl.  It rained earlier but the clouds are parting now so he can see the sun descending over the hills. Incredible to think that it’s one vast ball of fire—his enemy.

His enemy is beautiful.

Even through the cold air he feels its heat on his face. There will be pain later, but for now his heart is full. There are clouds on the horizon and they begin splashing red and purple, like the sky is a window being smeared by a clawing, bleeding hand.

The boy creeps down the stairs. Every creak terrifies. He doesn’t think he’s ever defied his parents like this before. Maybe in those squidgy lost years when he was still learning to speak and make memories.

He tiptoes through the kitchen, turns the key and steps out into chilly night. Everything’s more frightening than he’d imagined, the shadows in the garden bigger than they should be. Has he ever been alone, outside, in the dark before? No. But he won’t go back.

There are lights in the alley, but they’re far apart and weak, pools of meager light besieged by darkness. The boy looks to where the alley connects to the main road. There is more light there and faint sounds of laughter. The boy creeps to the road and skulks in shadows at its edge. He wants to see monsters but would prefer them not to see him.

Seven people pass, not one frightening. Just boring ordinary people in boring ordinary clothes. His heart leaps when he sees a dark, ragged shape. A vampire, perhaps, though he has a confused idea of what a vampire is, based on scraps of overheard information and children’s cartoons.

The vampire gets closer and the boy’s heart sinks. He knows the man beneath that splotchy makeup. That guy from the supermarket, the one with the big tattoo poking up from his chest into his neck. The boy can see the tattoo now. The man looks stupid and deeply unmagical—the boy has seen him selling dog food.

He lingers long enough for his fingers to shake and feet ache from the cold. Soon his father will go to his room to check on him. He dare not stay longer.

He’s walking back down the alley, legs heavy with disappointment, when he sees the shape coming from the other end, backlit. It moves strangely, too slowly. As if weighed down or dragging something. (A dead child, a dead child.)

Two images crush in on him, making it hard to breathe. The first is the shape, its hands lunging for his throat. The second is his father, angry and shouting.

He watches the shape’s slow, pained gait. It doesn’t look like pretend. The boy doesn’t want to see a monster anymore.

As panic surges, he counts the lights between himself and his garden gate, and then between the gate and the shape. He can get home before it can get to him, he’s a good runner.

The shape freezes at the sound of his racing feet. It doesn’t run, to the boy’s sharp relief.

He’s almost at his gate when his front foot hits a puddle and he skids. He falls and lands face forward, hard enough to smash the air out of his lungs. His hands hurt where they grabbed stone to break his fall. He looks up and the shape is lumbering towards him, vast against the streetlights. He tries to scramble to his feet but too late, the monster is here and it’s making a terrible noise but the boy is only dimly aware of that, because all he can see is its face, its face.

The monster has no face. No, not true, there is a face, but it’s wrong, like someone stabbed holes into an old, melted candle. There’s one tiny eye, silver and blind, and one huge eye reflecting the streetlights. There’s a rip that moves, and that’s the mouth.

The boy screams for his mother and the monster’s hands jerk towards him. The boy scrambles, finds a foothold and pushes himself off it, but then his skull bangs and everything goes wobbly black.

The monster looks down at the boy, then stoops. It’s dark, so the monster isn’t sure if that’s mud on the boy’s face or blood. He gently touches the face with a finger, then lifts it towards the streetlight. The red tinge terrifies him.

He should run. He did nothing wrong; he knows that. He was only taking a shortcut home through the back alleys he roamed during his own boyhood.

Then that boy had run and fallen. He’d tried to help, but the boy screamed. He’d only wanted to reassure him he meant no harm, but then the boy had run into that wall.

It didn’t matter that he’d done nothing wrong. If anyone found him with a bleeding child, alone in an alleyway…there would be no explanation that would be enough, even if he could get the right words out of his mouth, even if someone understood them.


But there’s a boy here, lying unconscious and bleeding. He might be badly hurt, might be in danger.

The monster was a boy in danger once. Fire climbed every wall. Nobody came to help until it was almost too late.

He lifts the boy, pain shooting through his scarred arms, and carries him to the nearest streetlight. He props him up carefully and digs a bottle of water out of his satchel. He pours it over the boy’s face to see how bad the cut is.

The boy spasms and opens confused eyes which widen with instant terror.

The monster’s own fear screams inside him. He knows his voice—that sibilant slur—will only frighten the boy more. And so he pours all his gentleness, all his human soul, into his good eye, trying to radiate the truth.

Magic happens.

In the thin streetlight the boy’s eyes recognize, understand, and soften.

“You’re helping me,” he says, wonder in his voice.

The monster doesn’t dare answer. In his heart emotions fight. The beauty of being seen, the fear of being caught, relief that the boy is okay.

“You’re not a real monster.”

“Yes I am.” How the monster hates the mushy hiss of his own voice.

“No, I don’t think so. You’re not.”

Why does the monster say what he says next? “This isn’t a mask.”

“I know.” The boy reaches up hesitantly, touches the monster’s cheek, and smiles as if he just discovered something surprising and wonderful.

It hurts to talk so the monster never wastes words. “Are you okay? Where’s your home?”

The boy hauls himself slowly but steadily to his feet and points to his gate.

The monster nods, tries to smile, and walks away.

Nobody has touched his face in 35 years, except healthcare workers. The salt on his cheeks makes them sting: the sun has made his face raw again. Even a little sunlight makes the old scars flare angrily. Tomorrow he’ll look more like a monster than ever. But by then it won’t matter, he’ll have returned to his usual ghost life, haunting his own small home. When he must go outside, he’ll be hooded.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps he just found what he was hunting for.

If a boy can see the man in the monster, maybe others can too.

Perhaps tomorrow he’ll be brave. Perhaps tomorrow he’ll step outside unhooded on an ordinary day, looking for others who can truly see.


Jaime Gill is a British-born writer living in Cambodia. His fiction and journalism have been published by Litro, The Guardian, BBC, Beyond Words, voidspace, Wanderlust, In Parentheses, and Write Launch. He consults for non-profits across Asia while working haphazardly on a novel, script, and far too many stories, several of which have been long/shortlisted for awards by titles including The Masters Review, the Bridport Prize and the Plaza Prizes. “The Monster and the Boy” will also appear in Literally Stories. Find him at or www.instagramcom/mrjaimegill.

Hiokit Lao is a 29-year-old self-taught artist from NYC. Through surreal, abstract, and vibrant pieces, she aims to create meaningful art that instills hope and positivity. Employing different techniques, she creates pieces that offer dual perspectives, presenting dichotomous yet harmonious narratives based on the viewer’s orientation. When the canvas is inverted, a different narrative surfaces—a testament to the multifaceted nature of culture and perception.