Best Forgotten Monsters | Alex Dannemiller

There was enough room for one car in the garage. A single car. How the owner ever got in or out, I couldn’t say. I’d taken hole in the small ceiling corner away from the door. Kept myself wedged above the lumpy, yellow car. I became intimate with the decayed roof above me and the grain of the wood beams holding us up. Navigated their curving patterns under my cold fingertips. Could feel the sounds of the world outside vibrating through them. In the rain, the beams grew damp under the poorly shingled roof. And when a raccoon joined me inside for shelter, I tamed it. Trained it as my own. And kept it, and its babies, and fed on them. Twenty years I lived inside that forgotten garage. Never bothered. Though I was more afraid than the raccoons ever were. Aware of what the sounds we hid from could really mean.

When it happened, she had the grace to wait until night. A large flashlight in her hand blinded me when the garage door swung up. I hissed at the light and pressed against the ceiling.

“Get the fuck out of my garage.”

She held a bat to her shoulder, the light gleaming off its metal. She wore leather and pads. A helmet too. She was ready for a fight. How did she know I was here?

“You hear me?” She gagged. Something caught in her throat. “Oh god.” She moaned. She convulsed, bending over. The helmet flew to the ground. Her vomit followed. I smelled it instantly. Hot. Acidic. Oddly sweet. She gagged again, then shouted through spit and phlegm, a sour taste on her breath.

“God damn, that smell,” she said. “You gotta leave.”


“So, I came here.”

“And we’re glad you did.” Dr. Hubert wraps a warm arm around my shoulders. “We’ve helped a lot of undead here.”

“I wouldn’t say undead.”

“What do you go by?”

As we walk down the hall, we pass bouquets of fresh flowers set perfectly in the center of half tables. In the mirrors above them, I watch him clutch the naked air. He notices and smiles to himself. His sunbaked cheeks quiver as if they’ve never held such a pose.

“I apologize,” he says. “We haven’t had a vampire as old as yourself in some time.”

“I’m sure I look far worse than I feel.”

He leads me to a room where a vibrantly veined woman works on a computer. She turns as we enter. The bright floral pattern on her square glasses does not match the seriousness of her professional blazer and name tag. They greet each other. Dr. Hubert introduces me.

“I specialize in werewolves,” Dr. Lee says. “And a few similar therianthropes.”

“A vet,” I suggest.

Her smile is one of hospitality, not amusement. She leaves us alone in the room.

“There’s a shower back there.” Hubert gestures around a corner. I take the hint and wash myself. The water is not soothing. I imagine it burning my flesh into a paste. My attempts to reassure myself, that a place like this would know what minerals to leave out of the water, do little to stave off my anxiety. I move quickly, finishing much sooner than Hubert would prefer. When I emerge he seems disappointed at the results. He scoots back on the rolling stool.

“Too much water for me,” I say.

“There are better showers in the rooms anyway.”

He writes a name from my litany and what medical information I remember, which is little. When I mention the raccoons as my last nutrition, there’s the practiced neutral stare of a professional that tightens on his face. The interview takes no time at all.

Another doctor waits for me in the furnished room Hubert shows me to. A man larger than both of us, with a sturdy mass to his hands and thick skin that nearly hides everything beneath it. He shows me the coffin.

“It’s optional,” Dr. Karchk says. “We can take it out if you don’t want it.”

Of course, they don’t call it a coffin. Instead, it’s a “box bed.” The paneling inside is soft like rabbits’ ears and cushier than down pillows. It’s an excellent coffin.

“Some people get it wrong,” I say to them. “They think we want to feel the earth around us. So, the coffins are uncomfortable. Some even bare wood.”

“You like it then?” Dr. Karchk says.

I slip inside, swinging my legs over the edge as I close the lid. I smile at him from the darkness of the cracked open door and say, “very much so.”


Karchk works the night shifts. He says it’s what got him the job. He wasn’t particularly interested in nocturnals. It just so happened he was always up with them.

“Might as well help.”

He tells me this as we work on my posture. Twenty years in a shed added a bend to my spine. My sketched portrait seemed at first to be someone else. A monster perhaps. But the longer I stared into the eyes of the portrait the more I saw myself. Afraid. Twisted. Retreating into the corner with dead raccoons at my feet. But I’ve gained weight since I first arrived. As I bend and flex into our third yoga pose, I catch a whiff of myself and realize the smell only returns now with sweat. For the massive man he is, Karchk can twist in unusual ways.

I like Karchk because he understands what to take lightly. My being does not bother him as it does others. There is a ghoul in the cafeteria who calls me unholy. A troll in the bathroom screamed at the empty mirror. Goblins snicker to themselves behind my back. One called me Batty and asked if I could fly him to my “Covid cave.”

“I’ll gladly toss you into a hole,” I said.

This sent his compatriots howling. They ganged up on him, slamming their fists on his head in turns. I should not engage with them, Karchk says. Their bigotry will not be resolved by my wit nor any bigotry of my own.

“Then what will do it?”

“That’s not a question for me.”


I take to watching the werewolves play their games in the field out back under the bright stadium lights. Every so often a troll will break up their snapping piles. It seems to be as much to keep them from fighting as it does to keep them from fucking. The full moon will be gone soon, and I’ll have nothing to watch. Dr. Lee isn’t around much at night, but Hubert seems to fill the role of assistant for her work. Out on the field he is a lazy coach, only paying attention for the moment it takes to snap a photograph. He seems content to allow the troll to toss some of the werewolves around while he plays on his phone. A few of them whimper in pain before Hubert shouts at the troll.

“I don’t think he likes his job,” I tell Karchk. Karchk likes to watch the apparitions float through the halls. The best spot for this is the staircase, where he can watch them glide down from the second floor and disappear through the mezzanine. He keeps time with an old wristwatch missing the lower band. He tucks it in his pocket and pats the railing between us.

“That’s his problem,” he says. “You’ve got problems of your own.”

“What is my greatest?”

“You’re, still, here.”

When the ghosts pass through you there is a sudden chill, like someone touching you with cold hands. I feel it now as a child’s grinning face emerges from my chest. The body quickly follows. Then the child floats down through the floor below.

“Where should I be? With them?”

“I look at my watch and I think: when am I out of here? Every night. I’m waiting to go home. But here you are, wanting to stay.”

“What’s out there for me?”

He turns and leans against the railing.

“A life,” he says. “This isn’t it. Look,” he stands up. “Why am I telling you this? You’ve lived for four, five-hundred years? You know what’s out there. You know what you could have. You don’t need me, who will die before I’m ninety, telling you about life. You should know better than this melodrama act. You’re depressed. You need to realize that as a first step.”

The ghosts are unphased by our conversation. Our voices pass through them as anything else. They procession up and down the mezzanine, through the stairs, through the halls and walls, desks, lights, us, all without noticing. It is peaceful. Graceful as Karchk at yoga. His warmth radiating from his flesh makes it hard to deny his truth.

“What is waiting for you?” I say.

This confuses him.

“Out there, when you leave here,” I say. “At your home.”

He leans against the wall behind us. A painting to his right shows a sunrise breaching over a mountain. It is a spiritless, neutral painting meant to be impervious to offense. And to most I’m sure it is. There is some consideration in Karchk’s answer. Or perhaps the ghosts have dulled him into reverie.

“Peace,” he says at last. “And alcohol.”


My first rideshare takes me to the park where I sit under a perpetually dying streetlamp and listen to the frogs croaking by a pond. The interruption of the night brings its own life. I understand what Karchk has been telling me. Psychology is not unfamiliar to me. I was at first anxious to leave the hospital even to come here. Yet, after a time has passed I am relieved. Being alone again without Karchk or Hubert or the other patients to bother me is of course satisfying. I do not think I could have spent twenty years in a garage if I didn’t find hermitage and solitude comfortable. But Karchk’s latest pressing question is what kept me there in the first place.

“To address it sometimes we need to understand what it is in the first place. Otherwise, you might not realize it’s happening again. Then you’re in a cycle.”

Is it happening again? What is it? It. Happening. Again? The frogs seem to mimic my thoughts. Their croaks carrying their unique syllables while reflecting my rhythm. Frogs. Cold blooded things. It must be some time since I hunted. I’ve had no real desire for it. Though I can tell once my strength returns, I may. Was that it? Did I hunt, and harm, and kill things more than an animal? Am I a murderer? Again? Still? I only remember the mundane, a life half hidden from public scrutiny, but trauma and violence have ways of hiding themselves in the mind, especially a mind locked in a garage. And who among the old-aged doesn’t have gaps replacing decades?

I ask Karchk about my history. Had he found anything criminal? Unsavory? No, not really. I am as blank as a mirror. This troubles me more. It seems, almost, too convenient. Is it not impossible to lack history when you have lived so long? Karchk shrugs.

“We work with ghosts, vampires, and werewolves,” he says. “What’s impossible? Not everyone is famous or has a record. Sometimes you just exist. Isn’t that OK?”

My second rideshare takes me through the city. We do not stop. I watch the bright lights pass by the window. I slip farther and farther down into the seat until I lay there with the patterns flashing across the ceiling. They are enchanting and nauseating. Bright bursts of light and life. There is a promise of more. As if the city will continue on forever. The car will drive on and on with me inside watching everything pass by in light. Our motion never ceasing. By the time we return to the hospital I am dizzy and gaze longingly at the driver’s neck as he helps me to the wheelchair that takes me inside. And later, I lay ashamed in the coffin.


I tell Karchk that I am afraid of society. But not in the way of philosophers and academics. Nor of the persecuted, poor, or prosperous. The closest would be mathematicians. Or futurists, a new term for me.

“The progress,” I say. “The inevitable, unending growth. It feels uncomfortable to me.”

“Uncomfortable how? Can you describe it?”

“A pressing on my chest. The stricture of anxiety and fear.”

“We’ll prescribe you something.”

And then I’m emitted from the hospital. My halfway home is in the suburbs on the west side of the city where I can feel sunset. My hosts are former zombies, now cultists, a cat, and a small demon lives in the basement. The first few weeks they leave me to myself. I adjust to the schedule of teaching English to children in China over the computer. They do not mind my absence from the webcam. I believe some of them prefer my judgement stay hidden from them. As I crawl into my coffin, the demon cackles from down the hall. It seems to find dawn most exciting.

Not long into my stay do troubles arise. One of my housemates has been opening my packages and stealing the possums I order. I am not sure which. I am kept from searching their rooms because they’ve not invited me in. From the doorway I try to find evidence, bending like Karchk doing yoga. I try to enamor the house cat into doing the work for me. Instead, it brings me back socks, or scurries off with morsels of its own.

I sit and wait for the package by the door, wrapped in blankets, shaded goggles, every inch of me covered in thick fabric. It is hot underneath, and the mountain spring smell of the detergent makes me slightly faint. Already I can feel how tired I will be tomorrow. The children will disapprove of my low energy. They will chide me for staying up late. Ask me why I am such a fool. Their English will be perfect. I am worried they will all stop using me as a tutor and I will not be able to afford leaving this place.

What would Karchk say about my waiting to catch a thief? Would he think it foolish? Suggest I talk to my housemates about my concerns? Am I suffering another complex? Since leaving the hospital I have not heard from Karchk. Which is a relief, in a way, from the pressure of telling lies where I claim to live as happily as expected, with comforting roommates and an enriching job, and that I don’t worry so much about the progress of humanity nor persecution, retribution, nor death. I have no hunger to hunt. Nor do I consider the garages and cold dens I pass while stalking the night. And I am taking my pills. I am doing well. I practice reciting it in my head, testing cadences.

The van pulls up at 10:45 am. The driver is quick and careless, tossing boxes around in the truck. I listen to his soft whistles. The strain as he lifts the box of possums. He is careless with it too, despite each package’s warnings of fragility. As he pads up the driveway, I lean in close to the door. I hear his whimsical jaunt. The hard thud of his rubber soles. I feel his approaching heat, smell the sweat through his clothes, hear the pulsing of his heart. It is enough to draw me against the door. There, through the cheap wood, the warmth of the sun. The box falls to the ground. Then he’s gone. Back on the truck and driving away.

Inside the box I can hear them, scratching, rummaging, stirred from their slumber by the driver’s handling. I wait, of course, and think perhaps that no one will come. Then they do. From the roof a gentle padding. A leap. Four paws landing on the box. The cat purrs as it circles. Without a breath it tears at the cardboard. Claws and teeth destroy tape and layers of foam. The possums squeal and hiss and cry as the cat strikes. It takes two of them. By sunset the ones left behind are still terrified. I take them to my room and feast on an injured one, its blood tainted by the wound.


I do not bother telling anyone why I leave, nor where to find me next. I am at first certain this will draw unwanted following. Perhaps they’ll send the police to track me down. Or maybe, realistically, they’ll not even care. The ride share driver takes me to the wharf. From there I take the ferry. I follow one mode of transportation to another and stow away in motels as daylight burns. Across two states. Three. Another two. And by then I am nearing the west coast and can taste the salt in the air. For a vampire such a trip is religious. Callings to the edges of the world are felt at the speed of decades. Their slow buildups are the aches of lifetimes. I am not sure what number this makes for me.

At the edge of the rocky sea cliffs, I feel the sprays of black ocean float on the air. The pure darkness of the horizon strikes with painful sentimentality. If I could fall into it. Curl within its boundless frame. Let myself stretch across the sky and sea. The release would be as easing as cracking my knuckles or popping my neck. A great loosening within my being. My wingspan flexing. I would go home. If it were there. I would retreat into space itself.

Instead, I spend the rest of the night climbing the cliffs, looking for a cave before dawn. 

Alex Dannemiller’s work of all sorts has appeared in Literary Orphans, Propeller, and Portland Review. He currently teaches writing at Portland State University, curates the community resource Literary Portland (LitPDX), and is a co-editor of Old Pal.