It was half past seven on the three hundred and fourth day of the year when I realized my children were gone. I stood there with the door open, the almost empty bowl of Halloween candy on my hip. On my front porch stood an angelic girl dressed like the devil and an adorable little dragon boy. These monsters were not my children.
I remembered fondly placing red pointed ears on my daughter’s head, moving her blonde curls aside. I secured the scaly tail to the belt around my son’s waist, ensuring it wouldn’t twist around his legs. I ushered them out the door to threaten their tricks and collect their treats. Not knowing they would never return.
I spent the next few hours fending off the tiny nightmares of others. Placating miniature vampires with blood red lollipops, providing the appropriate yelps of fear at teeny tiny ghosts. When sticky fingers grabbed handfuls of candy I was grateful these nightmares were not my children. I counted the hours until my babies returned. But what came back was something different altogether.
They looked enough like my children. They strolled past me into the house and flopped down on the couch like my children. They dumped their pillowcases bulging with sugary booty into piles on the floor like my kids. But I knew these imposters were not my kin.
Sure, they were a boy and a girl and I had one of each. But my children would never raise their voices. My kids always went to bed on time. Who were these monstrous imps I was forced to bribe to sleep with promises of a candy breakfast, lunch and dinner for the foreseeable future? Of course they could wear their costumes to bed, I said, anything to get rid of these kids who were not my children. So I snuck in after they were snoring. I eased the pointed ears from the devil girl’s head, smoothly pulled the tail from around the dragon boy’s waist. There they were, my peaceful sleeping children returned to me.
The next morning at breakfast, my daughter plopped down behind her cereal bowl and screamed for pancakes. I saw pointed ears emerge amongst her bed head curls. My son saw the milk carton and refused to eat anything made from animals. I saw the scales of a tail flash behind his chair. The monsters were back and my sweet children were nowhere to be seen.
I did the best I could. I placated them with candy for lunch and pushed them out the door and onto the school bus. I locked the door behind me and breathed a sigh of relief. Alone with my thoughts, I cleaned the house from top to bottom. I scoured the bedrooms for any sign of monsters, devils or dragons. Not a hint of horn or a single scale. When the afternoon arrived, I threw open the door to welcome my babies back into the fold, but saw only the devil’s smug grin and a toothy sneer. The monsters had returned. It seemed they liked it here.
Time passed and still the monsters stayed. Somehow I survived. First fending them off with sugar and chocolate like they demanded back in October. Later, the offerings grew into requests for new clothes and the latest video games. Snarky attitude spread like a contagious disease, infecting the entire house. What was I to do? Hand over the treats or be tricked. I missed my children. I thought about running. I fantasized about sneaking away in the dead of night, leaving the spoils of my life to them. My monsters.
But it was the nights that kept me going. In the hours before sunrise I saw glimmers of what I treasured. It gave me hope. Like I had on that first fall night, I snuck into their rooms. I tiptoed to the devil girl’s bed and reached out a hand to touch her hair, now colored bright pink. As I stroked the curls, her face smiled in her sleep. There! There she was, my baby girl. Then I crept among the graveyard of dirty clothes to the dragon boy’s room. I gently tucked the blanket around his exposed feet that hung off the bed. In that moment, he heaved a contented sigh. See? There he was, my beautiful son. My children were gone, but I was learning to love my monsters.
Years passed and my monsters grew up. The devil girl became a woman and started her own company manufacturing eco-friendly hair dye. The dragon boy became a man who never managed to keep his feet warm so he invented electric blanket socks. I will always miss my children. Now I miss my monsters too. But sometimes they come back to visit.
It was half past seven on the three hundred and fourth day of the year when my monsters realized their children were gone.
“What do you expect?” I grinned, an almost empty bowl of Halloween candy on my hip. “They’re teenagers.”