The Monster in the Woods
A monster lived in the deepest part of the woods. Sometimes people who hadn’t heard the stories would take the path through the woods and happen upon the monster. The monster didn’t understand people, so whenever it saw a person, it would move in for a better look. When people saw the monster coming toward them, they’d run away as fast as they could, and make excuses to avoid setting foot in those woods ever again.
One day a young woman walked into the woods, looking for a particular kind of berry that her grandmother used to pick for her. When she got to the deepest, shadiest part, she heard a noise. She saw something move, but the woods were so dark, she couldn’t tell what it was. A few minutes later, in a clearing, she found the berries she remembered from childhood. She took a small paper bag out of her pocket and picked berries until the bag was full.
Just as she filled the bag, she heard a rustling noise nearby, and in the light from the clearing, she thought it looked like a bear. “Don’t come near me, if you’re a bear!” she called out, unsure if bears understood English. “I’m trained in all the deathly arts!” That wasn’t quite true. In fact, she wasn’t even sure what the deathly arts might be, and she wasn’t trained in any. She just hoped her loud threat would scare the bear away.
But of course, there wasn’t a bear in the woods. It was the monster. The monster wasn’t used to people sticking around this long, and it was curious about the young woman, so it moved closer to the clearing. When the young woman saw it, she dropped her bag of berries in surprise and stared at the monster. Then she looked at the bag of berries by her feet. A few had fallen out when the bag fell, and they looked so delicious that she decided to be brave. She bent her knees and reached down to gather the loose berries and put them back in the bag.
As she picked up the last berry, she considered popping it into her mouth, but instead, she held it out toward the monster. “It’s a berry,” she said. “They’re really good, but you probably know that already if you live around here.” As the monster moved closer, eyeing the berry, she wondered if it understood her.
She said, “I haven’t had these berries since I was little, when my grandma used to come into the woods and pick them for me, but this morning, they were all I could think about.” She stopped speaking and handed the berry to the monster, which was now within arm’s reach.
The monster held the berry and looked at it. The woman took another berry out of the bag and put it in her mouth. The berry tasted just the way she remembered, but after all the years, it seemed even fresher and juicier. “Oh, they’re so good,” she said, smiling at the monster. “A little sour at first, but so good.”
The monster ate the berry and squawked at the sour flavor. Then the monster smiled.
“They’re good, right?” the girl asked. She gave the monster another berry, and sat down in the clearing. It was a beautiful afternoon and she wasn’t in a rush to get home. She patted the ground next to her and the monster sat down, too.
“I’ll share,” she said, “I mean, it’d be rude of me to run off with so many ripe ones, since you like them, too.”
They sat in the clearing, eating berries one by one. They made funny faces and weird noises whenever they hit an especially sour one.
Eventually, the bag was empty, and their bellies were full. The monster lay on its side in a ray of sunlight.
“You look soft,” the girl said. “Can I pet you?”
She held out her hand toward the monster and it didn’t shy away, so she patted it with gentle strokes. The monster made a noise that sounded happy, so she gave it a few more little pets.
“I think I’ll head home soon, but I’d like to come back sometime,” she told the monster.
She sang a little song that she had learned from her grandma, and she pet the monster until it fell asleep. Then the girl folded up the empty paper bag and put it in her pocket. She stood up, stretched her arms, and walked back the way she’d come.
The monster slept on, and for the first time ever, it slept the deep sleep of the loved.
Lisa Beebe lives in Los Angeles with a one-eyed dog named Stitch. She is working on her first YA novel.