The Creation of Penelope Pine
by Allison Mulder
When Penelope first answered the knock at the front door--expecting Dad--the monster
didn't bother acting human, let alone maternal.
It rhino-charged into her front hallway, slathering and bellowing, an amalgamation of
every frightful thing Dad had ever woven into his bedtime tales of terror. Gnashing, dripping
fangs, and lashing scorpion tail, and hands that were huge, stubby fusions of paws and lobster
Pen fell back scrambling on the hall floor, and she knew if she kept staring at the
monster, she would wet herself. So instead, she stared over its bulk to all she'd ever known of her
mother: the picture on the wall, framed and lovely like not much else in the house aside from a
few of Dad's writing awards. The woman at the beach, head ducked, hair gleaming, a burnt-gold
curtain between the camera and the sun. As she crab-scuttled away from the door and the
monster, Pen's eyes didn't leave the framed woman's tanned shoulders or the mole on her arm.
"Mom--" she sobbed. A reflex.
The monster stilled. Tipped its head to one side. Looked briefly at the picture before
leaning close to Pen's face. "Yes?"
The smooth, feminine voice was like something off a radio commercial for wholesome
breakfast cereal or prompt pediatric care. From the monster's mouth, sliding between fangs, that
voice made Pen's gut bottom out. The voice and its eyes, the intelligence there. It heard Pen and
chose to misunderstand her.
For what possible reason?
Pen screamed for the first time--knowing no one would hear her across the empty,
swept-grass hills surrounding the house. She rolled to hands and knees. She crawled down the
hall fast enough to sear her legs with rug-burn, and the monster tutted disapprovingly.
"Sweetheart, you learned to walk a long time ago. You need to walk on two--" The
monster seemed to realize that it was, itself, walking on all fours. It rose heavily onto its
haunches, front paws tucked close to its torso like a squirrel's. "Walk upright like a person,
And at that point Pen fainted.
She woke much later, tucked into her bed.
The monster's humming drifted in from the hallway, along with the clatter and clang of
pots and bowls being thrown around in the kitchen, and the acrid smell of something burning.
"Lunch will be a little late," the monster called. "Sandwiches okay?"
Pen didn't move.
Her dresser covered all but a thin slice of her window, and moving it would attract the
monster's attention. Her room was too far from either door. Even if she got outside, help was too
far away to sprint to, and the monster was bound to catch her.
Pen clenched her covers, heart racing, and when her door creaked open, she jerked the
sheets over her head.
No way this works in real life. Face flushed, she waited for claws to rend the fabric and
pierce her skin.
Instead, the bed creaked as the monster settled onto its edge, the weight of it pressing
against Pen's side.
"Oh, honey, are you feeling sick?"
A plate clinked against Pen's bedside table.
"I'll just leave your sandwich here. Feel better."
And the monster left Pen's room.
With a shuddering breath, Pen threw off her covers and stared at the lopsided PB&J.
It looked and smelled normal. The corner tasted fine, no hint of poison or sludge or a
curse tucked between the bread.
"I'll come get your plate in a minute," the monster called.
Pen dove back into bed and downed the sandwich in four bites, finishing just as the
monster's looming presence returned to her doorway.
Staring at her floor, Pen handed the creature her empty plate.
"Thanks," she said, the words sticky with peanut butter she was too scared to taste.
The monster fumbled with the dish, claws clicking and scraping.
"You're welcome, sweetie."
It left, humming more lightly than before.
And Pen knew what she had to do.
The monster had stopped growling the moment it decided Pen was its daughter. It wanted
Pen to call it Mother, so she would, even though she knew neither of them believed it. If playing
along meant safety, then Pen would become a perfect pretender.
Not forever. Just until help arrived.
Flawless, frantic pretending, for as long as it took until Dad got home to save her.