What Monsters Take and What They Leave Behind


Illustration by Ashwin Pandya

There’s a monster in the lake behind our house. Emma and I saw it. Well, we didn’t technically “see” it. We heard a deep growl coming from down there and there was this big dark shadow over the middle of the water. “Look Julie,” Emma cried. “It’s Lassie!”

Dad doesn’t want us going out on the lake when he isn’t watching us. I think he’s afraid Lassie will get us. He doesn’t want to lose any more girls to monsters. We already lost Mom to some monster named Brandon. I never even saw it happen. Emma and I were in school, but I heard my father on the phone with him once. He said, “No person with a heart could possibly steal a woman away from her husband and children.” Every person has a heart, so Brandon has to be a monster.

We only go to the lake on Saturdays or Sundays. That’s when Dad has the time to take us. He’s always busy in his office on weeknights and he says we have to focus on homework then. On school nights, Emma and I sit at the window, staring out at the lake. Lassie comes out when the sun starts to set. He prefers nights and shady days. I asked Dad why that was. “He probably has sensitive skin,” he answered. Emma wanted to throw a bottle of sunscreen in the water for him. I told her no, that it’s safer for us to swim during the day if he’s afraid of the sun.

Loch Ness Monsters also like pickles. I think I learned that during Monster Week on the Discovery Channel. When we go swimming, we sneak pickles from the fridge and sink them in the lake so Lassie isn’t hungry for us. You should never swim without at least three pickles. That is just enough to make us look too large for his stomach to handle. No one misses the pickles. Emma and I hate them and Dad only ever bought them for Mom. Why he never stopped, I don’t know.

The monster came for Mom almost a year ago. I never saw him, but I sometimes hear Dad talking about him on the phone. Brandon’s a hairy giant. He took Mom all the way across the country to a place in the mountains in California. Giants like mountains because they’re both tall. Dad says Brandon is bad, like Lassie, but sometimes he lets Mom send us things in the mail. She says she is happy but she misses us and maybe someday she’ll bring us out there to see her. Emma says she can’t wait. I don’t think it’ll happen though. I think Brandon sends those things to make us believe everything is fine. How could she be happy living with a monster?

I can’t blame Dad for losing Mom. I don’t think he really believed monsters were real before Brandon came along. He wasn’t equipped with the knowledge of monsters’ behaviors and how to keep them away.

After we lost Mom, I started reading books from the school library about all of the different monsters. Our house is surrounded by tree lines, which for all I know, hide all of the worst kinds of monsters in the darkness at night. I recruited Emma to monster-proof the house. I sprinkled garlic powder all over the carpets in the house to keep the vampires away. I read that giants like beans, so Emma started sneaking her green beans from dinner into her pockets and we put them in the yard. The beans would distract the giants and they would forget that they had come to take us away.

I don’t want to lose Emma to another Brandon. Dad played a song once about a Purple People Eater and I didn’t know what to do about that one until he explained that that monster only eats people who are purple. None of us are purple but one night, just to be safe, I gathered all of the purple clothes in the house and threw them away.

I never found anything to defend against lake monsters though. I once tried to lure Lassie out into the sunlight with a pickle on a string, hoping the rays would burn him up into dust, like vampires in the morning. Emma sat excitedly by my side. Dad asked what we were doing with a pickle and Emma responded, “Fishing for monsters!” He sighed and went back to reading his book. Lassie did not appear. There wasn’t even a ripple in the water. We threw the pickle in and went back up to the house with Dad.

Every attempt made to trap Lassie failed. We could not catch a lake monster. The water was dark below the surface. Even our own bodies disappeared in the lake when we swam. I never made it very deep either, but the water seems to go on forever. It’s impossible to know where Lassie is below the surface. Not even Mystery Inc. could solve the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster in their movie, and they could solve any mystery. Every day he remained was another day we were all at risk.

When it seemed like we would never figure out how to stop Lassie, I asked Mom. I wrote a letter hoping that Brandon would know something, that maybe monsters knew secrets about other monsters. Dad didn’t like us sending things back to Mom when we got stuff from her, so I kept it a secret from him, and from Emma. I found her address on an envelope in Dad’s study while he was busy making dinner. I took a new envelope and copied it on there. The tricky part was getting it to the mailbox without Dad seeing. Every morning he looks through the mail that he is going to send before taking it outside. I just had to slip it in the middle after he checked through them. When he went to the bathroom, I tucked it right in. Emma watched, giving me a questioning look and I just smiled back, letting her know it was our secret.

Things are looking up. I have recruited the help of another monster who seems less dangerous than the one we’re currently dealing with. Since it’s Saturday, Emma and I get ready to go back down to the lake with Dad. I pack my bag with a whole jar of pickles, ready to throw some in the water before jumping in myself. Emma packs her inflatable ring. Dad walks us down the hill, book in hand, and sits himself in the grass while we head straight for the water. We throw our pickles in and follow shortly after them.

The lake feels cold at first, but I warm up as time passes. The sky was cloudy in the morning and the warmth of the sun hasn’t reached below the lake’s surface. The phone starts ringing faintly from the house. Usually Dad ignores it while we are playing in the water. When the ringing ends, it picks back up again and he lets it ring. The third time, Dad gets up. “I’ll be back in a minute,” he says, “Be careful.” Emma and I stay in the water. It’s the first time we’re in the lake and he isn’t right there with us. Emma is excited and starts splashing me harder with water. I return fire and it becomes a full-blown water battle.

Suddenly, Emma starts sinking a little. Her tube is deflating rapidly. Lassie. He has her. He went for her greatest weakness first, the only thing keeping her afloat. As he pulls at her feet, she starts going under water and popping back up, fighting back. She screams for me and I jump out of the water. Running to my bag, I grab the pickles. Opening the jar is difficult. My hands are slimy and pruned from the dirty water. They keep slipping on the cold metal lid. I get the lid loose and throw the whole jar in the water. Lassie doesn’t give up when the pickles hit.

Emma is still going under, disappearing longer each time. Protecting Emma from the monsters was my only job. I yell for Dad. He yells back, “Your mom’s on the phone. What did you send…” He stops when he looks down at Emma struggling in the water. He drops the phone, stumbling back down the hill.

Emma’s head comes up for another breath just as Dad dives into the lake after her. She goes back under into the darkness. I think it’s the end. Lassie will get them both. Seconds feel like minutes while I kneel at the edge of the water waiting. Dad comes bursting out of the water, holding Emma. She’s coughing and rubbing at her eyes. Dirt covers her face. He sets her down on the grass, whispering to her. I stay where I am, confused. Why did Lassie let them go? Mom must have told Dad the secret over the phone just before he came down the hill. I stare out at the water and watch as the flattened plastic of Emma’s tube drifts further and further across the lake.

BECCA BLAUCH, 23, lives in her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. She earned her BFA at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College in 2015. She is currently completing her MFA at Chatham University. She has served at the nonfiction editor of Behrend’s Lake Effect for two years. Inklette will be her first publication.

ASHWIN PANDYA is a sketch-artist and illustrator, whose work has graced many book-covers. Acknowledged for his digital art as well as musical compositions, Ashwin Pandya can sketch given any situation, description or character. You can visit his website here.