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A monster lives in the alley beside my house. It hides below the fire escape ladder, sleeps beneath dumpsters. It is thin and long and smells like cooked vinegar, popping, sizzling. When I visit it sniffs me, walks around me, then lays at my feet and mewls. I counted seventeen ribs under its paper skin. I fed it scraps and dog food and those ribs sank below its stomach. It cooed when I fed it.

Mom would snort at my bruises. She would sit in the kitchen chewing tobacco while dad shouted. The monster would finger brush my hair and nuzzle my cheek.

Sometimes loud people stumbled into the alley, beers in brown bags. The monster curved its spine and opened its mouth wide, tongue spilling out, and the people ran. Only I was allowed there. The alley was ours, our place to hide and listen.

One day dad followed me and saw the monster. The monster scared him, and he shouted and hit it. The monster wrapped its fingers around dad’s neck, twisted, cracked, and killed dad. It ate his body in two long slurps, shivered and cooed.

I told mom that he’d fallen asleep in the alley. Twist, crack, slurp slurp.

The monster liked people food. It grew longer, its head brushing the fourth story, its arms wrapping twice around me. Bringing other people into the alley was easy; I wore mom’s feathery coat and waved. Men went with me, hand in hand, to feed the monster.

Then one man hurt me, stuck a knife in my stomach before the monster pulled him apart. My blood steamed on the snow, but the hole was cold and prickling. The monster held me to its chest, mewling. Rocking as mom used to, in my first memories. I tried to pet its cheek but my arm fell.

It dug inside its chest and took out inky meat. The monster pressed the meat against my mouth, cooing slowly. A piece of its heart. It was chewy and moldy, and swallowing hurt, but I did. Then I fell away, asleep or dead, until the monster finished.

It was going to make me like it.

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