Dimitri tolerated the crown.
It was too sparkly, and the duct tape itched his stone scalp, but he put up with it because the new homeowners were young. “Just Married.” Right now, everything was the first: first house, first lawn, first time shoveling snow off the porch where they’d shared their first “official” kiss.
But it wouldn’t last. Soon enough, the husband would stop whistling as he carried sagging trash bags to the curb. The wife would stop blowing him kisses as he left for work. There would be under-the-breath muttering, leading to “discussions” in false-calm tones, which would eventually erupt into yelling contests over who left the damn toilet seat up and who should’ve had dinner ready because it wasn’t like she was doing anything else all day.
Dimitri had seen it many times. “First” got tarnished fast. Cute got old. Fun got to be too much work. When that day came, the crown would go.
And he was right — at the end of the month, the wife came and peeled the itchy thing off. The words “HAPPY NEW YEAR” flashed like white diamonds as she carried the plastic decoration away. Dimitri watched her go, his sharp teeth locked in a grin.
That night, for the first time in weeks, ice-wind howled across his smooth concrete contours, unobstructed by tackiness. Freezing rain washed sticky residue away, and Dimitri was free.
Two days later, he saw the wife approaching again, a paper Kroger bag in her hand. The bag crinkled as she pulled out two feathery, cloud-white wings. She slipped them on over Dimitri’s pointed ones. Another crinkle, and she withdrew a heart-shaped candy tin. Silver words curled across the red lid: “Be Mine.” She taped the tin to Dimitri’s right front paw.
His jaw tightened, grey teeth grinding. The bag crinkled.
Out came a thick white shape — part-cottony, part-plastic — bearing a word Dimitri did not recognize: “HUGGIES.” Understanding arrived quickly enough as she began to feed the cloth-plastic in between his back legs.
Dimitri’s jaw clenched tighter. A tooth cracked.
The wife secured the diaper and stood back, giggling. Then she turned and walked away.
A month passed. An entire month of feathery, heart-shaped, incontinence-implying indignities. The neighborhood boys pointed at Dimitri. They laughed at him. One of them actually patted Dimitri’s swaddled backside.
When the wife finally returned to strip off the foulness, it took fine-tuned control not to nip her.
Dimitri spent the next three days hoping vainly for snow, sleet, bird crap — anything to make him feel clean again. On the fourth day, the wife reappeared.
Carrying a bag.
The months that followed were the longest in Dimitri’s existence. There was a shamrock necklace, and a sign that read, “Kiss Me, I’m IRISH!” There were fuzzy purple bunny ears and plastic eggs. There were hats, aprons, beards and, at one point, over twenty fluttering American flags, their miniature poles cruelly jammed in his every orifice.
By mid-summer, Dimitri realized that the couple had gone off-calendar, inventing new holidays on a whim.
He endured all of August wearing a grass hula skirt and two dandelion-yellow leis. Gaudy, star-shaped sunglasses rested on his snout, staining the world sepia.
Two doors down, a white-painted cement goose sat naked and bare. It mocked him.
September found Dimitri in a backpack and a baseball cap, rainbow piles of crayons littered at his feet. The bright-colored wax-sticks grew soft each day in the afternoon haze. Eventually, they wilted and puddled. Dimitri stared straight ahead, stone-faced, while the husband scraped the Crayola mess away.
Across the street, the neighbors were decorating. Dimitri watched them set fat orange gourds along the porch railing. He watched the neighbors hang black plastic tarantulas and tape a green-skinned paper witch to the front door.
Dimitri watched, and he knew.
Of all the holidays, only one belonged to things that stalked the night. Creatures that shrank from the sun and bayed at the silver-white face of the moon. Creatures like him.
This was his month.
The next time the wife approached, Dimitri didn’t feel the usual hot surge in his belly. For once, his teeth weren’t aching to bite. Instead, he eyed the brown bag curiously… almost hopefully.
He wondered if she’d bought him a cape — something slippery and black, with slits to show off his majestic wings. Or perhaps a tasteful gold medallion, strung on blood-colored ribbon. Or maybe, just maybe, a pair of mini-light bulbs to make his eyes burn bright.
Dimitri’s cold heart quickened at the thought.
The bag crinkled.
A pile of long, straw-colored hair emerged, tied in a perfect bow. The wife taped the wig to Dimitri’s head. She wedged a pair of fake, puckering lips into Dimitri’s rigid mouth, and painted — actually painted — his curved claws a glittery, bubble-gum pink. Then she hung a sign around his neck:
“I Was Born This Way!”
The wife called her husband over. “Look, Babe — it’s Lady Gaga!”
They both stood back, laughing madly.
It was the hair-bow that broke the gargoyle’s back. That night, with the full moon above his only silent witness, Dimitri spat out the lips. He stretched his large bat wings, shook his dragon’s head, and climbed off his pedestal.
The cat door was a tight fit. The kitchen tiles were ice-smooth and the carpeted stairs were soft. The bedroom was dark as he slipped inside and set to work.
When Dimitri finally returned to his perch, the moon was low. Sharp pink claws were smeared garish red, and a demon smile sat upon his cold grey lips.
It was nearly daybreak when the screaming started. Female shrieks, piercing the sleepy neighborhood as the wife took in the horror lying beside her:
Her husband’s snoring cave of a mouth, sloppily outlined in Covergirl red. Bunny ears on his head, hula skirt hugging his waist, and a message painted on his curly-haired chest in bubble-gum pink: “Kiss Me, I’m IRISH!”
Dimitri’s smile widened at the memory.
He wondered if she’d spotted the flag yet.
Gretchen Bassier has a BA in Psychology from the University of Michigan. She works in healthcare, and her socks are often mismatched.
This story is sponsored by
Debi Blood‘s exciting new young adult fantasy novel, The Glendale Witch.