The Adventure of Juliana and the House Monsters
“Juliana,” she said. “Give all of the monsters names, and then they can’t hurt you.”
Juliana named the monster under the bed Mr. Scaredy-cat, the one in the closet Mr. Snagglepuss, and her sister, Kaylee, helped Juliana name the one under the stairs Mr. Lurky. Kaylee was older and knew better words.
The problem was that Juliana had not named the goblin who lived in the dryer. She didn’t know he existed. She often wondered why her socks would go missing, especially the good ones, like the batman sock, and the Power Puff Girls sock, yet she did not fear the dryer. It was not dark or cluttered or mysterious at all. She believed monsters could only exist in the spaces her mind allowed them to.
On the Saturday Juliana disappeared, she was helping her mother with the laundry. Her father was at a conference in Lincoln, NE, which was somewhere in the middle, and her sister was preparing for her part as Cobweb in some school play. So, Juliana pulled the clothes from the front-loading drying with the pride of being the only person who–in her mind–had not abandoned her mother to thankless chores.
After Juliana finished carefully folding all the shirts and pants and underwear, she reached for the last sock. When she took the sock between her finger and thumb, intending to pluck it–as she had seen her mother do–the sock pulled back. Juliana had never been grateful for the piano lessons she was forced to practice for, and her teacher smelled like stale coffee and ashes from the fireplace, but her fingers had become strong enough for her to hold on to the sock, so that was something. To get a better grip, she used her whole hand to grab the sock, and yet it continued to pull. With her full focus on getting the last item from the dryer, Juliana did not stop to think that a sock pulling back was at all strange, or that something she couldn’t see might be more intent on getting the sock than she was. After one last tug, Juliana saw her hand disappear into the back of the dryer, and then her arm. She released her grip on the sock too late, and the momentum from the invisible force behind the dryer pulled her all the way through.
Juliana’s head hit the ground before the rest of her did. She only knew the extent of the fall when she scrambled to a sitting position, and the gush of warm blood blurred her vision of the great grey goblin standing in front of her. She put her hands over her mouth to keep from screaming.
“Shh!” the goblin said. “They can’t hear you!”
Juliana didn’t know who “they” were, but nodded and pulled her hands away from her mouth.
“Use this on your head,” the goblin said, handing her the hard-earned sock.
Juliana took the sock, being very careful not to touch the grey hand offering it. She wiped the blood from her eye and then held the sock to her temple. She tried not to panic and scream or, worse, have an asthma attack, as she looked around the room. Behind her was a large dryer, much larger than the one in her house. She could see her mother’s legs when they walked into the laundry room. “Juliana?” Her mother’s voice had that underwater muffle Juliana had tried to replicate five summers in a row. Juliana wanted to yell back, but the goblin shook his head and put a grey, scaly finger to his lips.
Juliana wanted to believe this creature meant her no harm, but perhaps he wanted her to be quiet only because didn’t want to share his meal. Who knew what dryer goblins ate? She might have said socks, but she spotted her batman sock in the patchy coat the goblin wore. And he looked mean enough. Thick, eyebrow-less meaty folds hung above his black eyes, and similar folds surrounded his mouth, chin and cheeks. She hadn’t seen yet what kind of teeth he had. Mrs. Ellison told her if an animal had sharp teeth, it ate meat. If it had flat teeth, it ate plants. Juliana felt proud to have remembered that lesson at such a crucial time, but not being able to see which kind of teeth the goblin had made the knowledge useless.
The goblin waited and Juliana watched. He was listening, though he had no perceivable ears on his bald head. “They’re gone,” he said.
“Who are they?” she asked.
“You tripped the alarm when you came in here,” the goblin said. “You’re human. You shouldn’t be here.”
“What are you talking about?” Juliana asked. “This place shouldn’t be here.”
“That’s ridiculous,” the goblin said. “As you can plainly see, this place is here. Now be quiet while I try and get you back to where you came from.” The goblin shook his head, which made his entire body sway back and forth. He reached for Juliana with both hands and she jumped out of his reach. “I’m trying to help you,” he said, reaching for her again. Juliana took a running leap at the dryer opening and smacked her face and shoulders into the invisible barrier. “I suppose that saves me some trouble.”
Juliana’s eyes filled with tears. She couldn’t determine the cause. It could have been the new aches in her body mixed with the old ache in her head, or the fact that she was stuck inside the world of her dryer, or that a goblin was standing over her, trying to decide what to do with her.
In a strange moment of bravado she said, “Show me your teeth.”
The goblin opened his mouth and Juliana saw what true darkness and clutter looked like. Here was another thing that shouldn’t exist. A whole universe of lost things were jammed in the goblin’s mouth. How did he speak?
“As you can plainly see,” he said. “I do not eat little girls. Neither do the ones you call Mr. Scaredy-cat, Mr. Snagglepuss and Mr. Lurky.”
“How do you know about them?” she asked.
“Because they live with me in this house.”
Juliana’s heart jumped. “What are you going to do with me?” she asked.
“Well, I am clearly not going to get anything useful from your dryer today. It’s unlikely your mother will continue with the laundry until she’s found you. I suppose you ought to come with me and we can figure all this out.”
“Will I be safe?”
The goblin looked at her sideways. “It’s unlikely. A child like you is never really safe. But what choice do you have?”
Juliana saw his point and followed him. She couldn’t see a door, but she learned two things since tumbling from her dryer. One, her eyes were useless, and two, she was probably dreaming and anything could happen. The goblin put his hands on the wall and pushed and an opening appeared.
“Say as little as possible,” the goblin said. “At least until I’ve told the others.”
Told the others what? she wondered, but she took his advice. A child like her was very likely to follow the advice of someone bigger and stranger. While Juliana had Head-in-the-Clouds Syndrome, as her mother termed it, she was not incautious. She felt the goblin misjudged her.
They walked from the opening through a dim room that was full of lamps. Juliana had to dance around the floor to avoid tripping over, knocking over or crushing one of them. The goblin seemed to float over the lamps, not touching any of them, in spite of his size. Before they reached the next wall, Juliana began to hear voices.
“I don’t know why they’d be here. As if anyone in this house would bring our child here after what she’s done.” Juliana knew they were talking about her. What had she done? The goblin pushed on the wall again and she found herself hiding from the people the voices belonged to.
“They can see you,” the goblin said.
Juliana ducked from behind the goblin and ran to the corner of what looked like a kitchen. Three creatures stood or sat around a small table in the middle. One looked like a normal black house cat, but his mouth turned inward in a pathetic way. Another was a tall, hairy monster that looked like a cross between a giraffe and an orangutan, but his neck and mouth were severely distorted. His teeth were sharp and straight stuck out in all directions, disallowing the monster from close his mouth properly. The third looked like a free-standing shadow, one that had been removed from the ground or a wall. He had no mouth or eyes or anything. Juliana found herself feeling sorry for all of them.
“Juliana, meet the ones you have named Mr. Snagglepuss, Mr. Scaredy-cat and Mr. Lurky. Gentlemen, this is our child.”
“How the hell’d she get in here?” Mr. Snagglepuss asked.
Before Mr. Snagglepuss could rise, the goblin pushed him back into his seat. “She’s here by mistake, my mistake, so she’s our guest until we can figure out how to get her home.”
A low hiss came from Mr. Lurky. The goblin shook his head and body again. “No, we won’t do that.” Juliana felt great relief in not knowing what “that” was.
“Has any child ever gotten out of here alive?” the cat lisped. Juliana could see now what was wrong with him. He had no teeth.
“Not that I know of,” the goblin said. “Yet this is fairly unprecedented.”
“There has to be something,” Juliana said. “Ruby slippers, a cape, a scarf, something!” She clapped her hands over her mouth, sorry she had spoken against the goblin’s advice. The other creatures glared at her.
“I warned you. Now, please be quiet and let us figure this out.”
“Ruby slippers…” Mr. Snagglepuss chuckled.
Juliana hated when her parents said stuff like this to her, like she was useless or stupid. She crossed her arms and slumped in her spot, now more angry than afraid. Who cared what happened? If she couldn’t get back in some fantastical way, she’d wake up eventually.
Another hiss came from Mr. Lurky.
“Now, that’s an idea. We’d all have to help get her there, but it’s worth a try.”
“I ain’t doin’ nothin’ ‘til she’s undone her filthy crimes,” Mr. Snagglepuss said.
“I agree,” Mr. Scaredy-cat said.
Mr. Lurky hissed, but Juliana could guess what he said.
“So, that’s settled. Juliana, please come here.” Juliana stayed in the corner. “I said please,” the goblin said.
“Fine.” Juliana tromped over to the table, looking at no one but the goblin. “What is it you all think I did.”
“Ain’t no thinkin’,” Mr. Snagglepuss said. “The way it is. You took something from all of us, save our friend here,” he indicated to the goblin, “And we want it back.”
“What would I want? From any of you? What did I take?”
“You took their dignity. You gave them names,” the goblin said. “To be fair, you aren’t the only child that gave her house monsters names, but you are in the unique position of both needing our help and being able to take back the names.”
“Fine! I take them back. You are not Mr. Snagglepuss, you aren’t Mr. Scaredy-cat, and you aren’t Mr. Lurky. Be whoever you want to be. Can I go now?”
“It’s not that simple,” the goblin said. “To take them back, you will have to go to the Hall of Registry and find the names and erase them.”
“Stinkin’ Hall’s right in the middle of town. How do you suppose we get her there?” Mr. Snagglepuss asked.
“She has to rename herself,” the goblin said. “It’s the only solution I can see.”
The monsters all looked at her. She didn’t know what they expected. How could she rename herself to look like a monster? Her monsters were all…wrong. Except the goblin. “I suppose,” she said. “Miss Bell-banger? I’m Miss Bell-banger.” She was thinking of the hunchback in that movie she saw a long time ago. In moments, her skin began to stretch, her back began to curve, her face grew, and one eye drooped away from another. Her arms became large club-like things, while her legs became shorter but stronger.
“That’ll do it for me,” Mr. Snagglepuss said. “Let’s get to the Hall. I’ll be back to normal before sundown.”
Since Juliana’s clothes were ripped during her monsterification, she borrowed something from the goblin. He had several older coats, no doubt from her house’s previous owners. Each fit well, but she liked the hand-knit socks the best.
“I wasn’t always stealing from dryers,” the goblin said. “I used to take from clothes lines after dark. The socks smelled much better back then. Like sunshine and cool breezes.” Juliana felt the first pang of missing home. Her mother line-dried their clothes when they still lived in the little house on Van Buren Street, before her father was promoted, and before her mother got the job transcribing medical records. It was a simpler life. The other kids made fun of her clothes and her home-made lunches, but her family was happier.
After Juliana put on the coat, she walked with the other monsters out of the house and into a place that stretched her mind to its limits. She could now see what she did to her monsters. The other monsters were large and walked with proud gaits. They had mouths full of sharp teeth that closed and smiled and glared and leered at her misshapen form. Some laughed at her, like the kids used to do in kindergarten, but most just ignored all of them, except the goblin. The outside monsters complimented the goblin on his new coat, which he had, apparently, nearly finished.
“Just one more sock to go,” the goblin said.
When the group reached the hall, it was lunch time, and Juliana heard her stomach growl. “Impressive,” Mr. Snagglepuss said. Juliana smiled.
The goblin walked ahead of all of them and reached the information desk. “We’d like to go to the renaming wing, please,” he said.
The monster at the desk gave him a pass and looked over the group. He looked suspicious, but said, “Here’s a day pass for you and your friends. Nothing comes out of there that didn’t go in.” Juliana wondered if he meant them. What would happen when she erased the names?
The goblin nodded, took the pass and ushered them in the direction the desk clerk pointed. “You’re going to have to make a run for it when we come out. Juliana and I can distract the clerk, but that won’t buy the rest of you much time.” All nodded and proceeded forward.
“What will happen after they change back?” Juliana asked the goblin. “Won’t they get in trouble?”
“Once they are back home, the memories of what they have been will vanish. That means you and I will have to get you the rest of the way alone.”
“Oh,” Juliana said. She couldn’t say she was disappointed. She felt badly when she looked at her monsters, and would be happy to see them gone.
The hall of renaming looked as disorganized as the inside of the goblin’s mouth. “How are we going to find your names?” she asked.
“By the address, of course,” the goblin said. Of course, as if she could have known that. The goblin went directly to the center of the room, or just to the left of it, and began reading through the sections, “Denver, Castle Rock, Monument, Colorado Springs, ah hah! Pueblo. Now…” he began mumbling again as he passed through various drawers and said, “Ah hah!” again in a way that made Juliana jump. The goblin reached into one of the drawers and pulled out a piece of paper. He left a space for the paper to return to when they were done.
“Here are the names.” The goblin handed them to her. The names were in crayon, a child’s scrawl, and the first was barely legible, but each name was certainly strong enough to damage these monsters’ lives. “Now, all you need to do is fetch the eraser.”
Juliana knew the response would be condescending, but she didn’t know any way to avoid the question. “How do I ‘fetch’ the eraser?”
“It’s inside you, of course.”
“Of course,” she said. “But how do I get it.”
“You reach in–”
“Of course,” Julianna finished. She was growing tired and more hungry by the minute, and reasoned that, since this was a dream, she could do anything she wanted. She opened her mouth and reached inside. She was surprised to find that, like the goblin, everything past her teeth was just…gone. She imagined what a magical crayon eraser would look like and when her hand knocked against what felt like the shape in her imagination, she took the eraser between her fingers, like she had with the sock, and pulled it out of her mouth.
She was expecting at least some shock and awe, but the monsters only stared at the paper, waiting. The first name on the list was Mr. Scaredy-cat. He had been the reason she couldn’t step out of bed during the night for the first two years she slept in a her new house. The fear had caused several accidents, and a good deal of embarrassment and disapproval from her father. She was too old to be having accidents, and far too old to believe in monsters under the bed. Juliana’s mother gave her the gift of naming so she could function and now she had to erase that.
“Will I forget, too?” Juliana asked.
“I don’t know,” the goblin said. “But is it fair to keep my friend like this because you’re afraid?”
Juliana wanted to say yes. Her fear was real, and it was legitimate, but it was also a childhood fear that was almost gone. Plus, none of the monsters had tried to harm her in any way, even though she had made them cripples. They deserved their freedom. Juliana took the eraser and rubbed Mr. Scaredy-cat off the list. The small, toothless cat immediately grew ten times his size into something that looked like the impressive outside monsters.
“Thank you,” he said. His voice went from simpering and lispy to a deep, sincere baritone. Juliana smiled. He wasn’t scary at all.
Mr. Snagglepuss was next on the list. Juliana had similar memories with the closet. She kept the closet closed with a chair up against the handle. She named Mr. Snagglepuss so she could invite friends for sleepovers. She erased a little harder this time, thinking about how Aimee Trisdale had drawn on her face with a permanent marker during one of those sleepovers, and that Kelcee Grant poured orange soda on the carpet, which took three hours to clean up. Mr. Snagglepuss’s naming had not been worth it. As with her bed monster, once his name was off the list, her closet monster grew. He looked fairly similar to his old wretched self, but his fur was shinier, his neck longer and straighter, and all his teeth fit in his mouth. He chomped down twice, trying out his jaw, and Juliana laughed.
“I’m very sorry,” she said.
The closet monster touched her cheek. “Youthful stupidity. We all had it. You made it right. I thank you.”
Mr. Lurky was the last name, and Juliana felt truly ashamed of his name. She wanted to find her sister’s old Polaroid camera in the worst way. She didn’t even know if it could take pictures any more, but she was too afraid to go under the stairs to get it. With a quick naming, she had the camera in her hands, as new, and she used it to take pictures of her dog, Sam. She passed out the pictures to indifferent family and friends, and, hurt by their reactions, she never used the camera again. Juliana erased Mr. Lurky’s name, and the shadow became a man-like creature. His bat-like ears and tentacled hands not-withstanding, he looked like a dapper gentleman from one of her mother’s black and white movies. He did not speak, but nodded his gratitude. She figured she deserved less.
“All right, you three,” the goblin said as he placed the blank page back in the drawer. “Wait for my signal and then get out of here.”
The goblin took Juliana to the front desk and the monster there continued to look at them with some form of disapproval. Juliana wondered if it was her. She knew, even without looking in a mirror, that her self-naming made her into one of the miseries she created in her fear. Yet her name had not been on the list. She had not wondered before now how she might get back to looking like a girl again. What if this was not a dream at all? Juliana began breathing heavy. “I-need-my-inhaler,” she said. But she knew it was in another world and another time. Her panic deepened as she gasped for air.
The desk monster knelt beside her, along with the goblin. “Breath deep,” the desk monster said. “How could this happen?”
“She saw her name in the naming room for the first time. I tried to stop her, but she insisted on coming.” The door slammed beside them and she saw her monsters running down the street, back toward the house. She made one last attempt at a deep breath and passed out.
“You’re in a lot of trouble, kid,” the desk monster said as she opened her eyes. She and the desk monster were alone in a room filled with boxes and papers.
“What did I do now?” she asked.
“You violated code 61.4.C-3. Any monster who has been named must not bring the namer to our world in order to get the naming reversed.”
“I didn’t bring a human into this world, sir,” Juliana said.
“You think I don’t know a human when I see one. I’m only ashamed that I missed it. At least I was able to stop you all in time. Your friends are safely in my custody.”
“Where?” she asked.
“Does it matter?” the desk monster asked. It mattered. Juliana racked her brain for a solution. “Now, you’re going to re-name your monsters and leave this place forever.”
“You know a way to get me home?” she asked.
“I do,” he said. She looked through her new eyes, at what had not been seen before and knew this monster was lying. Her monsters would help her. She just needed to get to them. Think!
“I’ll rename them, then,” she said. She opened her mouth and as quickly as possible yelled, “I’m Juliana Lopez, and you’re Mr. Nobody!”
Juliana began to shrink and the desk monster faded as he made his way toward her. She wriggled out of her handcuffs before the monster could reach her and grabbed his keys from his waist-belt before he disappeared.
Juliana believed she had only moments before she would be discovered, if backup was not already coming. She opened the door to her room and looked down a hall full of closed doors.
“Monsters,” she yelled, “Where are you?”
She heard a small noise come from the end of the hall, and as she ran it became louder. “We’re here!”
Juliana shoved every key on the ring into the lock until one of them fit. “Come with me,” she said. “And be quiet.” Even the goblin assented.
They stopped at the end of the hall and everything was quiet. “How did he get you all in that room?” she asked.
“The desk monster replicated himself into ten monsters and ran out into the street to get us,” the bed monster said. “Where did he go?”
“I named him,” Juliana said. “I didn’t know what else to do. It was him or us.”
“We don’t have time to think about right ’n’ wrong,” the closet monster said. “We have to get home.”
“The way should be clear,” Juliana said. “But you’ll have to hide me.”
“What about getting you back?” the goblin asked.
“You guys first,” Juliana said.
“All right,” said the goblin. “Climb onto the bed monster’s back. His fur will hide you. Everybody, act naturally.”
The walk home reminded Juliana of the time she walked home in the dark from school when her sister ditched her. Every monster on the street looked like one of those shadows or the wiry trees from that night. But, she reasoned, she wasn’t hurt then and she wouldn’t be hurt now. She had to toughen up or this could end faster than it began. When the monsters reached their home, they lost all composure and dashed inside, including her bed monster, whose entrance knocked her off his back.
When the door closed, Juliana forgot, and found herself in a room full of strange monsters. She opened her mouth to scream and one of the monsters, the smallest, put his tentacled hands over her mouth. “She doesn’t remember,” he said.
“We can’t get her to the capital now. Take her to one of the out-rooms,” the large, long-necked hairy monster said.
“Why would it work now when it didn’t work before?” the tentacled monster asked.
“Because we have to try.” The biggest monster leaned down and picked her up. “You can trust me,” he said. He had a lovely, comforting voice. Juliana remained still as he took her up the stairs.
“The closet’s the best thing,” the long-necked one said.
“What if she can’t go back?” asked the tentacled man.
“Then we’ll keep her here and keep her safe,” said a large, blobby goblin as he walked up behind all of them and opened the closet door. “Thank you, my dear,” said the goblin, “For helping my friends. I’m ever so sorry you can’t remember what you did.”
Juliana had stopped feeling afraid on the stairs, but now she began to feel affection for these odd creatures. They were monsters, but somehow they loved and respected her. She almost wanted to stay. “I don’t want to go back and be afraid any more,” she said.
“Then don’t,” the goblin replied.
He put her in the closet and closed the door. Juliana closed her eyes, and when she opened them, she was in her own closet. She could see from the light under the door that she was home. She felt happy and sad all at once.
Juliana stepped out of the closet and looked in her room. It seemed brighter than ever before. Her mother stopped midway through passing by her door. “Where on earth have you been?” her mother asked. “And what on earth are you wearing?” Juliana looked down and saw she still wore the old coat made of knit socks. “And what happened to your head?” Her mother touched the nearly-closed cut on Juliana’s temple.
Juliana touched the coat and her head. “It’s a long story,” Juliana said.