Catherine's Monster (Short Story)
Catherine shivered as her dad wheeled the family car past the brightly lit towers and pipes of the refinery. Ever since she’d been a little girl, she’d always been convinced that monsters lived there. She knew it was just the silly thoughts of the 2 year-old she’d been when they had moved to the area 10 years ago, still…
She’d never been inside and didn’t know anyone who had. Some of her classmates claimed that their parents worked there, but she never saw people inside, only vehicles in the parking lot and the occasional security patrol.
She stared at the chain link fence topped with razor wire and was suddenly seized by an idea. If she could get inside, she could figure it out once and for all. If she brought her phone with her, she could take pictures if she found anything.
Tomorrow was friday, her parents always went out on friday evenings, so she would do it then. Better to do it before she could talk herself out of the idea.
The next night, as expected, Catherine’s parents went out for their regular date night. They gave her the usual admonishments about behaving, and she replied (as she always did), that she would. They had no reason to disbelieve her as she had never been prone to trouble-making up to this point in her life.
After her parents left, she ate the pizza they’d brought home for her and then went up to her bedroom. Shrugging out of her school uniform, she pulled on a pair of black yoga pants and a black turtleneck.
Catherine rearranged the blankets and pillows on her bed and then stepped back into the hall.
“Perfect,” she thought, “it looks just like I’m asleep in bed.”
Catherine put her phone into her running case and then strapped it to her arm before slipping out the door and locking it behind her. She needed everything to look normal when her parents came home. Grabbing her bike, she pedaled down the road towards the refinery looming in the distance.
She ditched her bike in the bushes at a nearby intersection before making her way along the fence line around the refinery, making sure to stay in the shadows. After walking for a half hour, she found what she was looking for.
There, a place where the land sloped towards the refinery. Years of of rain water eroding the ground had washed away the dirt under the fence, leaving just enough space for her to slip underneath.
Catherine brushed the dirt off her clothes and then looked around to see where she was. Pools of orange light illuminated a square pond of some type in front of her. Beyond the pond and pools of light were the tall structures of the refinery.
She jogged around the edge of the pond and quickly slipped into the shadows between two steel towers as a truck with flashing red and orange lights drove along the inside of the fence. Catherine could see two figures inside and a bright white light playing along the fence.
“See, there it is!” Came a voice from the truck as the light reached the place where Catherine had snuck under the fence.
“It was probably a cat, or a coon” said a second voice.
“I’m telling you, it was a kid! Looked like a girl, maybe 12 or 13.”
The second voice laughed, “You expect me to believe that a preteen girl snuck into a refinery? In the middle of the night? To do what, go swimming?”
At this, a second bright light attached to the truck flashed on and swept out over the nearby pond. Catherine’s heart skipped a beat as the light briefly illuminated her hiding place but then slowed as the light immediately moved on.
“I’m telling you, I saw it on the camera. A little girl climbed under the fence!” The first voice didn’t sound quite as sure now.
“C’mon man, we’re missing the game” grumbled the second voice as the truck drove off with a spray of gravel.
As the tail lights of the truck receded, Catherine looked around her little hiding spot and saw a door to her left. Thinking this was as good a place as any to start her search, she tried the door and was surprised to find it unlocked. She quickly stepped inside, and as the door closed behind her, she heard a low rumble come from the bottom of the stairs in front of her. As she listened, she realized it sounded like laughter.
“Hello?” she called out, her voice echoing down the stairwell. “Is anyone there?” when no answer came back, she slowly began to descend the dimly lit stairwell.
At the bottom she found another door. This one was plastered with warning signs. The largest one read “WARNING DO NOT ENTER! YOU WILL DIE!” in giant letters. Catherine tried the door handle and, finding it unlocked, opened it and entered the room beyond. If it was really dangerous, they wouldn’t leave the door unlocked, she thought.
As she walked through the door, Catherine heard the rumbling again. Now that she was in the room beyond the door, she could hear that it actually was laughter. The whole room seemed to fill with the deep, rolling rumbles.
“Well, isn’t this a surprise” the voice rumbled through its laughter. “I figured anyone brave enough to come in search of me would be...older. You’re barely a hatchling. How old are you anyways, two?”
“I’m twelve.” Catherine’s voice surprised her. She hadn’t meant to speak, much less speak with that much authority.
“And I wasn’t looking for you” she continued. “I mean, I was, but I wasn’t.”
“Well,” chuckled the deep voice, “that clears it up.”
“Come closer, Twelve. I promise not to eat you.”
As she cautiously moved forward, Catherine said “I can’t see where I’m going. And my name isn’t Twelve, it’s Catherine.”
“Well then, Catherine” the voice had some trouble saying her name. “Let me fix that for you.”
Catherine jumped as a jet of flame came out of the corner and lit a torch in the corner. The flames illuminated a long scaly head with a mouth full of sharp teeth. Onyx eyes gleamed with mischief overtop of it all.
As firelight filled the room, Catherine could see that she was, in fact, talking to a giant dragon with deep green scales.
“I knew it!” she cried. “I knew there were monsters here!”
The dragon laughed a deep belly laugh that shook the entire room around them.
“I’m hardly a monster, little Catherine. I, and my type, live all around you and only a few of you even know we exist. We’ve been here longer than you can even imagine.”
“If you’re all around us, how come we never see you?” Catherine asked.
“We’ve learned how to hide amongst the things you build. Some of us live in places like this where our...talents...can stay hidden.”
“You mean that whole fire thing?”
“That’s the one. Others live in natural places of fire where we can eat to our heart’s content.”
“So, um…” Catherine stumbled over her next question before choosing a different one; “what do I call you anyways?”
“You can’t say my name in english, but why don’t you call me Bob.” The name sounded like a gong ringing through the room, the hard consonants bookending the open vowel.
“Okay...Bob.” Catherine continued, “what exactly do dragons eat?”
The dragon’s lips curled back in a way that was both menacing and welcoming at the same time. “Anything that burns, my dear. Here I get all of my sustenance from this liquid you call oil. Of course, I feel a little bit bad about consuming my distant cousins, but it’s not like they really care anymore, do they?”
“Well, now” Bob continued, “what should we do about the little fact that you know about me now?”
Catherine took a half-step back. “Umm...not eat me?”
“Why would I do that? You’re not even a snack!” Bob’s laugh made the room shake again. “No, little one, you probably taste awful anyways, all bones and flesh. There’s not enough fat on you to light a candle, much less whet my appetite.”
“No,” Bob rumbled. “What I think we’ll do is get out of here. I’m getting bored of this...oil.”
“You’re taking me with you?” Catherine’s voice rose to a squeak.
“Well, only as far as wherever it is you live. I doubt you’d survive in the volcano I’m thinking of for my next home. I’ve been there before and I’m pretty sure none of my siblings know about it.”
“Okay, but how do you plan on getting out of here?” Catherine looked around at the concrete box that formed the room around them.
“Oh, I’ve got my ways, but you’ll have to come with me if you want to live.”
Catherine laughed. “They say that in a movie my dad made us watch.” Her voice shifted into a lower range with an ambiguous accent of some type; “Come vith me if you vant to live.”
She quickly stifled her laugh when she saw that Bob didn’t get the joke. “Okay, so how do I come with you? It’s not like I can ride a dragon, can I?”
“Come here” Catherine saw what looked like a giant tent unfolding towards her. She suddenly realized that Bob was extending a wing towards her so that she could climb up onto his back.
As she scrambled up the wing and onto Bob’s scaly back, he explained the plan to her. Catherine ducked her head under the fringe around his neck as he unfurled the other wing and craned his neck towards the sky.
There was a sudden burst of heat and Catherine felt the impact of chunks of concrete hitting the fringe that protected her. Bob didn’t seem to mind though as he suddenly leapt up and took to the sky. Catherine peaked out from under the fringe in time to see pieces of the refinery falling away as Bob winged away from the remains of the refinery.
“Aren’t they going to notice that part of the refinery is missing?” Catherine asked as they flew through the night.
“Oh, they’ll just decide that someone made a mistake and call it an ‘unexplained explosion’ or something like that.” Bob’s voice came back to her on the wind.
She was grateful for the protection that Bob’s fringe gave her as she heard the wind whistling along his scales. As Bob wheeled around the now-burning refinery, Catherine looked down and saw her town from the air for the first time.
She suddenly realized that her parents were likely home and the burning refinery on the horizon would give her the perfect distraction to get back into her bedroom without them seeing. She gave Bob directions, and soon enough he touched down silently in the back yard. Catherine was surprised at this move, given just how big he was. The only sound was the rustle of branches as the wind from the landing reached the trees.
“So, what happens now?” Catherine asked as she slid down along Bob’s front leg.
“You go into your house, and I move along to my next house.” Bob’s voice was little more than a whisper, though it still rumbled like the sound of thunder.
“Will you ever come back? Will I get to see you again? I mean, dragon’s actually exist...this is awesome!” Catherine’s words spilled over each other in her excitement.
Bob’s onyx eye looked down at her and winked. “Sorry sweetheart, nobody believes in us anyways. That’s why we hide out, because you all think we’re myths and legends.”
“Look,” Catherine’s hand went to her running case and she pulled out her phone. “Can I at least take a picture?”
“Sure,” Bob chuckled, “Nobody will believe you anyways.”
Catherine snapped the picture, and then let Bob lift her up on his head to her bedroom window. She climbed across the window sill and then turned to face the dragon so that they were eye to eye for the first time.
“It was nice to meet you,” Bob rumbled. “If I’m ever back in this part of the world, I’ll check in on you from time to time.”
He turned from the window before Catherine could say anything else, and she watched as he silently winged his way into the dark sky, headed away from the burning refinery on the opposite horizon.
Catherine plugged her phone in and slipped under the blankets before quickly falling asleep.
The next morning, Catherine made her way down to the kitchen where she was greeted by the smell of bacon and pancakes.
“Good Morning, honey” her mom said as she sat at the kitchen island and began to load her plate with the breakfast on trays in front of her.
“Did the explosion wake you last night?”
“What explosion, mom?” Catherine hoped that her face looked innocent enough.
“The refinery on the edge of town had a big explosion last night, it totally destroyed a big part of it.”
Catherine turned her head down towards her plate.
“No Mom, I must have slept right through it.”