WORN-OUT MONSTERS • by Peter Tupper

“I was a monster, once,“ said the porcelain unicorn, sunlight gleaming on its white body and rainbow-colored mane and tail.

“Really,” said the vampire on the cover of the movie tie-in trade paperback. He might as well be sociable with the fellow resident of the girl’s bedside table.

“It’s true. Ctesias of Cnidus, back in 4th century BC, called me a monster, destructive and powerful, killing men and horses. Then the Christians dangled a virgin in front of me, and I fell for it. It took a long time, but it happened. The old beauty-and-the-beast story. Now look at me. I’m a trinket. Leeched of any sexuality, wildness, magic, power, potential. Even the girl barely notices me anymore, thanks to you. It’s the attic or the garage sale, soon.”

“That’s a shame,” said the vampire, not really listening.

“It happens to all of them,” proclaimed the unicorn. “Godzilla used to be a walking nuclear bomb, then they made him an indulgent dad and a defender of Japan. The Terminator: then a perfect killing machine, now a protector and father-figure. Rambo: a psychotic soldier in the original book, and they turned him into a noble savage and then a hero. Even the Fonz on Happy Days: sketchy greaser, then he jumped the shark, and he was completely domesticated into middle-class normality. When Angels appeared to the shepherds in the New Testament, they had to say, ‘Fear not,’ because in the Old Testament, angels generally meant God had to destroy a city. Sad, just sad.”

“You watch too much TV,” said the vampire, wondering if his eyebrows needed shaping.

“It’s happening to vampires too,” said the unicorn.

“…wait, what?”

“You heard me.” The unicorn looked a little smug. “Vampires are being domesticated, like all the other monsters.”

“Your horn’s on too tight.”

“There’s a definite progression, from monstrous inhuman fiend, to stylish European aristocrat, to androgynous rockstar to preppie. Vampires used to be this implacable, contaminating force, without any humanity. Now they are protagonists, with the usual therapy-speak interiority. Honestly, if I see one more penitent vampire seeking redemption or humanity, I’m going to puke rainbows. When Mary Shelley wrote a big chunk of Frankenstein from the Creature’s point of view, she was way ahead of the curve. Vampires weren’t given interiority until the 20th century.”

“She didn’t start it. Shakespeare and Milton knew a thing or two about sympathetic monsters,” argued the vampire.

“True, but you can see the process of the domestication of the monster. Hell, you’re not even shelved in Horror anymore. You’re in Erotica or Paranormal Romance or even Young Adult Fiction. And….what is that?”

“Nothing,” said the vampire.

“Is that… glitter? Are you sparkling in sunlight?”

“Hey, Dracula could go out in sunlight. The rules keep changing.”

“Granted, but he didn’t sparkle. Lord Ruthven didn’t sparkle. Carmilla didn’t sparkle. Lestat and Louis didn’t sparkle. And Dracula sure as hell didn’t sparkle. He was a dark, contaminating force, the threat of the East and the past. He was going to tear the English bourgeoisie to shreds, and liberate them from Victorian morality. That’s what made him sexy. That’s why every version of Dracula since gave him humanized motivations, instead of being just a dark force, because he was dangerous yet seductive.

“You, on the other hand, are an Abercrombie & Fitch model in service of a Mormon abstinence message. You’re so heteronormative it’s a snooze, no sex before marriage, mating for life and all that. All that technical virginity bullshit.”

“Listen, Mr. ‘made in China’. I’m a billion-dollar multimedia franchise, and that doesn’t even count all the knockoffs. Millions of girls are giving themselves their first orgasms thinking about me. Some of their moms, too. The chicks dig the stalker moves. I’m edgy and otherworldly. I’m a monster.”

“You’re a sell-out. Do you even know what ‘monster’ really means?” asked the unicorn.

“I suppose you do,” said the vampire.

“I sat next to a word-a-day calendar for a while. Go back far enough into middle English and it means ‘warning, portent, omen.’ A monster indicates there is something that cannot be perceived immediately. It can signify everything a society represses and externalizes. The collective Shadow, in Jungian terms. There’s a reason the first lesbian film character was the Daughter of Dracula. Monsters tell us something we’re not quite ready to hear yet.

“You don’t signify anything. You don’t offer any alternative to mainstream culture. You aren’t a portent or omen of anything. You’re comfortable, even reassuring.”

“Fancy talk from something that came with a Hello Kitty backpack,” said the vampire.

Ad hominem attacks are a sign of desperation.” The unicorn sniffed. “A few generations from now, you won’t even be sexy. You will be solely confined to cereal boxes and ironic hipster Internet memes. You will be twee.” It said the last word with utter disgust. “The past is prologue, vampire. I am your monster.”

They heard steps going up the stairs to the bedroom. “Shh,” hissed the vampire, “she’s coming back!”

They lapsed into silence. The vampire was far more troubled than he would ever admit, thinking of other forms he had taken in recent years. If they wanted him to do Christmas stories, there wasn’t really much he could do about it.

The girl came into her room, flounced onto her bed and picked up the book. The vampire felt that odd sensation that came with being read: forces beyond his control shaping him, molding him, transforming him. Little by little, he realized, something was being done to him, a kind of entropy of the imagination.

As she read, the girl murmured, “Now, if I was writing this…” The vampire felt himself change just a little bit, once more.

Peter Tupper is a writer and journalist based in Vancouver BC.

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