The Past is a Grotesque Animal

The Past is a Grotesque Animal

A Story by Elle Thompson

A meditative journey through the author's past and the insides of a wretched beast.


Some evening this past week I lay in bed and dreamed of sleep. I counted the peeling glow-in-the-dark stars that dot my ceiling, stuck there by some clever, teenage version of older sibling. It was half-past ten and I was halfway there when I heard a rumble. I passed my hand over my stomach, but it wasn't that. It grew louder and I grew concerned. It was coming from beneath me. I hesitated, but crawled out of bed. I crouched and peered into the darkness, not knowing what I would find. Mysterious shapes danced before my eyes as they adjusted and focussed. After a moment I could make out eyes. Yes, two eyes, round, luminescent, yellow/green eyes. And teeth, white, dagger-shaped teeth. I hardly had a moment between realizing what I was seeing and being swallowed whole. 

It, whatever it was, lunged at me, unhinged its jaw and I was gone in a single, swift gulp. 

The next few moments were warm and dark. It was difficult to breath and I wondered vaguely if I was dead or alive, but when I could not determine the answer I gave up trying. I started to walk, considering briefly that walking may be a sign of life. But I banished the thought, zombies walk, reflections walk, toy soldiers walk. 

The darkness consumed every step and I made no progress. What I was moving toward ultimately would depend on whether I was dead of alive. If I was alive, I was walking toward air. If I was dead . . . 

Under my feet the ground was unfamiliar and spongy. When I listened in between my own sloshy footfalls I could distinguish a faint dripping sound in the distance. After a while I stopped and heard something more, beyond the splashes. 

There were voices. I was not alone in the depths of this creature. I called out, but the only reply I received was my own voice, coming back to me as an echo. So I continued walking. I walked for hours, it seemed, but I was beginning to detect details as I drew closer. There were two speakers, they were young, one male, the other female. I called into the darkness a second time. No answer, not even an echo. As I came closer to the source of the voice I heard laughter and cheering and I saw a light. After years of darkness, I saw a light! It was some distance away, but I was more confident now, so I sprinted toward it. I could feel my heart pounding and the air rushing in and out of my lungs, and I wondered if running was a sign of life. Headless chickens run, though, and refrigerators run and noses run, so I banished the thought. 

When I finally arrived at the light it was a television, one of those thick, wood-paneled sets from "the good ol' days," with one row of buttons and a knob for the volume. It was a relic, but it was lit up like Christmas, resplendent with an array of neon, pixel clumps which darted and weaved across its ancient screen. And there, bathed in its multicolor glow, were my older brother and sister. They were transfixed, black, plastic controllers clutched in their tiny hands. I sat behind them on the ratty, gray couch, watching through half-opened eyes. I couldn't have been more than four. 

I was stunned, it was all so uncanny: the threadbare gray carpet, the hand-me-down pajamas, my sister's tousled kiddy afro. I took a step forward, desperately in need of verification. I reached for the armrest of that frayed sofa and immediately dropped off the edge of a previously unseen precipice. 

As I fell I recall looking back at the television and my siblings as they faded from view. I fell for days, I felt the weight of time as it slipped by me. I shut my eyes and listened to the warm air rushing around me. When I opened my eyes again I was falling past an enormous, fleshy furnace. The heat was incredible there, and I watched the flames as they flickered in and out of it until the furnace was out of view. 

After that it was cold, and dark as I fell and I was almost certain that I was dead. I could hear a sort of rhythmic rush within the walls of the animal I was traveling through: breathing. It was out of step with my own, slow and labored. Just as I was beginning to fall in love with this steady, sluggish sound my body crashed against the ground.

The fall was over. I had reached the bottom. I surveyed my surroundings. The ground here was hard and solid, like stone. I was so startled by the sudden landing, and overwhelmed by the oppressive darkness that I decided to proceed on hands and knees. I crawled for a few minutes until I stumbled across the cold, metal frame of a bicycle. Suddenly I was aware of light filtering down toward me through tree tops high above me. The ground was covered by a thick layer of dry, brown leaves. This bike had a long, brown scuff mark on the white leather seat, and it was a sort of light, girly purple. In the background I heard the frantic sobbing of a ten year old me who had had enough. I remember this bike. I remember what it did to me. After a moment I reached down and uprighted the bike. I was instantly transported to an empty, endless country road, on either side there were fields, which were overgrown and full of black-eyed susans and queen anne's lace. I mounted the bike, it was just the right height. I started to pedal, I appreciated the coolness of the air on my face as I picked up speed. The sun was setting on my left, throwing a warm, gold tint over everything. I fixed my eyes on the horizon before me and continued to pedal. When I reached a certain speed the bicycles tires were ground off by the road and the remaining spokes threw sparks. By then the sun had set entirely and those sparks leapt forty feet in front of me in the darkness, like thin, sparkling ribbons, but I kept pedaling. 

I didn't stop pedaling until I could no longer feel the handle bars. I was breathing heavy from the effort, and I wondered faintly if breathing was a sign of life. Wine breathes though, so I banished the thought. 

Suddenly the darkness was covered by gleaming white walls. I was home. It was dark outside but the light in the dining room was on. There was a familiar tension in the air, I remembered this. The tension was because of the ambulance, which we had been waiting for for centuries. I saw the route from the hospital to our house in my mind, it seemed so simple to me. I don't remember the sirens, but in the belly of that great beast I heard them and it was like someone had opened a window and released all that tension, and the tension flew away like a cluster of over-inflated crimson balloons, off to explode into pieces in the atmosphere. 

After a moment's hesitation I followed the tension, out of the window and up into the sky. The stars were bright that night, but I sailed right past them. In that new place, just beyond the stars, I could look back at everything: failure and success, joy and sorrow. And it was beautiful, and at that moment I knew I was alive, because I had survived, I had regrets and I had triumphs. 

Just as I was once again becoming accustomed to the darkness light began to creep into the edges of it. That light felt like home, so I accepted it, and I reached for it. It took time, but I began to recognize this light. It was sunlight, shining through my bedroom window. I was home, I had conquered the beast.

© 2012 Elle Thompson

Author's Note

Elle Thompson
I wrote this for an extra credit project at school, I am quite fond of it. We were told to take a journey, and to "be as creative as possible" this is not what she had in mind, but I received full credit. This is very different from what I usually write and I'm not sure where the idea came from, if you want to know more about the significance of some of the imagery send me a message, I won't get into it here.

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Added on September 14, 2012
Last Updated on September 14, 2012
Tags: Monster under the bed, life story, darkness, light, stomach, swallowed, bicycle, freedom


Elle Thompson
Elle Thompson


I have been writing for ten years, I wrote for the local newspaper for two years, I have been published a couple times in the local library's poetry anthology and I have taken a number of classes in w.. more..