The Monster Hidden Within

I think people like to hear stories about monsters. In a way, as strange as it might sound at first, the idea of monsters soothes them. Monsters provide the comforting notion that it is not “us” who cause others harm, but “them”. They divide the humans from the “something else”, and draw a line between what is considered the behaviour of a person and what is not.

We make these monsters ugly or beyond our comprehension. They are designed to be repulsive to us. That is why I believe some of the scariest actions are those performed by people. I’m talking about everyday people who we pass on the street: a man who is walking his dog might look like he had nothing to hide, so to discover that he has a sinister secret would shock us and scare us. How can he act completely normal if he has done something so terrible? But then, that’s the point of monsters, because we’re supposed to know what they’re capable of from the moment we lay eyes on them.

People are frightening because they do not always register on our “monster scale”. That guy who was walking his dog could have picked you out as his victim, and as long as he was able to hide it, nobody else would ever need to know …

Oh, we label certain people monsters, but until we know what they have done we have no idea that they might be monsters. They look like you or I. We cannot discern their monstrous actions because they do not appear like the monsters in the stories we’ve been told.

Donald was this kind of a monster. He liked to go on walks; he even had a dog. I met him on a dating website and I didn’t notice anything that might suggest there was anything sinister about him until he’d ensnared me. Until the trap was set, and until I walked right into it. I can assure you, the fact that I am able to tell you this tale does not offer me much comfort.

Our first date was like any first date should be. It was merry, dignified and just the right amount of silly. We both seemed nervous, although I am skeptical whether Donald actually feels anything: the fact that I could not tell he was acting is a compliment to his skills, and it makes me very concerned for other you.

I know you’re out there somewhere, laughing at his jokes, sipping your wine around a smile that says I think I’ve finally found the one. Trust me, you haven’t. But you won’t keep looking.

We drank and chatted happily. When the bill came, he politely accepted my offer to split the bill with no arguments, which has always been a winner for me. I think it shows a lack of respect if the guy refuses to let you pay for your half, and I’ve never had a second date with anyone who has argued with me about it. So of course, when he agreed, it sealed the deal. I was going to see him again.

You will, too.

The second date was better than the first. It was my choice to select the venue, and we went to a cheaper restaurant – a choice that was largely influenced by the weight of my purse. Afterwards, we went back to his place and I was in awe at the glamour of it. Donald is rich, and it does knock the wind out of you a little to see how much he likes to show it off. You can’t help but feel a little bad – the stuff he has doesn’t matter (or rather, it shouldn’t), and I realised with shame that when I took him back to mine it wasn’t going to live up to the splendour that he was used to. We kissed and I left.

A week later, we met again to go to the cinema. I had an expectation that something was going to happen, but Donald claimed to have a prior engagement that meant we would not be able to go anywhere together. He took me to the apartment complex where I live, complimented the building more than was necessary, and then went home. Whether there really was something he needed to do is debatable.

I’m aware this may be sounding very familiar to you. If so, then I’m sure you’ll also know what’s coming next.

On our fourth date, Donald invited me to his home. He apologised for rushing off at the end of our last date and expressed his wishes that he could have stayed with me for longer. After a conversation that was engineered to sway me to agree, he asked me if I would like to sleep over at his that night. I needed no persuasion: by that point, I felt as though I had been the one waiting for him to be comfortable with the idea of being intimate with me.

That may well have been the case. Oh, he’s passionate, I’m sure you know that, but as I already said, he’s a good actor. He knows just what to do, just what to say, and just how to act to manipulate anyone to do anything. You’ll keep coming back to him and he’ll keep entertaining you until he decides to take the next step. It could be weeks; it could be months. Even if you’re very good, I doubt you’ll get much more than that.

I had about a month and a half. That’s good, I think. At least, it’s good compared to the woman who came before me: she only got a couple of weeks after their fourth date. If you’re wondering, then yes, every date went the same way as mine did. The same way as yours went, I have no doubt.

Then I turned up one day at his place for a romantic evening watching a private movie to discover that the front door was unlocked and he wasn’t anywhere to be seen. There was a note on the kitchen table that told me to make myself comfortable and start the wine without him, so I did. I got through two glasses before he appeared.

He didn’t look like the man I had been dating. Donald had always been a lively, enthusiastic looking man who had taken pride in his appearance: and it had been a good appearance, too. Those wavy golden locks had caught my attention right from the beginning, and his bright blue eyes had practically twinkled in the candlelight.

This time, he looked tired, frustrated, and dark. The colour in his eyes had faded, as though a part of him had died. I passed him a glass of wine and asked him what was wrong.

‘She’s dead,’ he had told me, and I had stopped in my tracks, about to pour myself a third glass. I put the bottle down slowly, moving across the sofa to cuddle him. He was sitting awkwardly, holding the glass out in front of himself as though he had no idea that it was there. I wondered who he was referring to – grandmother, mother, sister, friend – and whispering words of comfort in his ear. It didn’t seem to help.

‘She’s dead,’ he said again, still in the same flat tone.

‘Do you want to be alone?’ I asked him, reaching for my coat. He shook his head.

‘No. I need someone,’ he had answered, and then he had put on the movie.

Not wishing to pry, I had told him that he could tell me anything he wanted to about this woman, and then I had fallen silent, aware that he may not want to talk about it. In all honesty, I had not known what I was expected to say: we had not been dating long enough for me to feel as though I knew what the right thing to say to him was. He told me nothing and we sat in silence for the duration of the movie, barely moving.

At some point afterwards, I fell asleep in his arms. That was my big mistake, and one that I had been warned against – one that I’m warning you against now. When I woke, I was chained to a wall in a room I had never seen before.

I pulled at the chains. At first, I thought it was a game. He had spoken about bondage before and I was more than into it, although we had not yet got around to it. Only then did the letter that I had found hidden away in the silk nightgown after our fourth date come back to me. I had discarded it and abandoned it to the back of my mind, laughing myself silly at the hilarity of it. You will too, although you will regret it later on, just as deeply as I do.

He began to come down to bring me food infrequently, perhaps once a day, perhaps less. I was always hungry when he brought it. The first few times, he did not speak. I begged him to let me out, I pleaded with him to explain this madness, but his face remained blank and his lips sealed in a thin, almost judgemental line. I felt like he believed I belonged there, in that damp cellar.

When he got a little too close and I nearly bit him, then he spoke to me. He pulled back and frowned, then pointed to a set of chains that were hanging on the opposite wall. There was nothing in them but a loose bit of cloth that was stuck in one of the cuffs, and I had done all I could do to avoid looking at them until that moment.

‘She died,’ he said. ‘You’re alive.’

I wanted to add for now, but I refrained. I wondered how many women he had kept down here: she – the woman before me who he was referring to – had not been certain. Again I begged for release, for him to see sense, and when he left I prayed to anyone who would listen to save me from this nightmare. I have no reason to believe that anyone will answer, because nobody answered her when she prayed.

Shouting did not help me. I had not heard anyone shouting when I had been in his house, although I am sure that there must have been someone there trying to get themselves heard. He began to get angry as I became more determined to escape, until as I had been warned he became violent, lashing out at me.

It began with his fists, leaving me with bruises across my face and neck. Then, when he found that his fists no longer satisfied him, he used a plank of wood on the other side of the cellar. Around that time, he must have found you, because he took the silk nightgown I had become accustomed to off me and washed it. My thoughts of communicating with you seemed dashed, until he returned it and hung it on a hook above me, just within my reach. From what I understand of his garbled conversations with himself, the first woman – whoever she had been – had worn it all the time. He likes to keep it close to his prize.

I knew then that there was not much time. My body felt weak and once I died, I knew that you would be the one to take my place. I followed the pattern of the woman before me, and of the woman before her, who had warned her of what she had warned me and I am warning you. I pried the biro from where it was hidden in the wall and wrote this letter for you on a piece of cloth ripped from my clothing. I did not damage the silk nightgown that he had dressed me in; I stuffed this letter into the pocket of the nightgown as deep as I could get it and I now leave it for you to find.

I know that you won’t listen to me, which is a shame. Of course, I understand why. I didn’t listen when I was told, and I learnt the hard way. You’ll be the same. I only hope that one day, somebody will be strong enough to break free of his spell and do the right thing. That, whoever they are, they’ll run as fast as they can to the nearest police station and tell the first officer they can find about what this man does. All of the information they’ll need to prove what he’s done will be available to them in the form of a letter, just like this one. Donald will finally be stopped.

So I leave this warning for you, just as the woman before me left one. And I leave you the biro too, so that when you are in my position, and my body has surrendered, you too will warn the next woman of this inhuman monster.

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