david j. bothwell




"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you." –Friedrich Nietzsche


I don't understand; I've never had this sort of problem before. I stare at my computer screen, the only source of light in my barren study, and glare at my incomplete manuscript. The publisher wants this thing done by tomorrow evening, and here I am with the most inconvenient case of writer's block ever.           


The story is easy enough. Hero goes someplace they shouldn't be, hero finds monster, hero gets hunted by monster, fights monster, defeats monster. The end. It's a story designed to sell books, nothing special. The only problem is, I don't have the slightest idea of what the monster is. 


I stare at the screen again, and reread one of the lines I had been mulling over for the last couple hours.


As Mort leant down to examine the stone glowing so brightly through the polluted stream water, the sudden sound of splashing water drew his attention behind him. There, gliding through the water towards him was [monster description].


I slam my hands on my desk and groan. I know I can complete this thing in a few hours if I can just figure out what this thing is supposed to be. As I sit around thinking, the door opens behind me.


 "You coming to bed anytime soon, dear?" Standing in the doorway is my fiancé, Caitlyn. We met a few years ago, at a book signing for my most recent novel. She was a fan of mine, and I found myself enthralled by her bright green eyes and gentle face. She asked me out to coffee after the event, and I accepted. One thing led to another, and we got engaged, and I couldn't be happier. I smile and tell her I might be up for a while longer, and to go to bed without me.


"Alright then," she says, walking over to give me a kiss, and looking around the dark interior of my study.


"I honestly wish you would decorate this room sometime," she says, "Or at least turn on the lights, it's so gloomy-looking in here."


I like having the room empty. There are no distractions, and it helps me think. I explain as much to her.


She frowns, but accepts my answer, and leaves me to glare at my work, alone. The isolation does little to help my predicament, however, hour after hour passes as I gaze at the unchanging document on my screen. Finally, I realize that I am going to need some help if I ever want to finish. I let my gaze wander to the clock on my computer's screen: 3:00 am.


I consider who I might be able to contact for advice this late at night. I have a few friends who work night shifts, but none of them really like or read this sort of stuff. Caitlyn is familiar with my work, but there's no way she'd appreciate me waking her up to ask for advice. Finally, I decide to ask a friend who lives upstairs. Chances are he is still up at this hour, considering he's always asleep during the day. He is awake, and is in the study within minutes of my asking.


"So what did you need from me buddy?" Ash asks. Ash – short for Ashling – is a big man, handsome, with blonde hair and dull green eyes. He is constantly sleeping, although that has never seemed to affect him. He has been a close friend of mine since we were pretty young. He has also been a sort of counsel for me, helping me write almost every story I have ever published, including this one. I explain to him my predicament:


"Is that all," Ash guffaws, remarkably, not waking up Caitlyn, sleeping just two doors away. "Sure thing, I'll help you come up with this thing, but I'll expect a cut of the royalties in return."


I chuckle, and tell him I will pay him back for his help.


"Wonderful," he says, and sits down in the only other chair in the study. "Have you already considered making them something simple? Ghosts, for example."


I tell him I had.


I think they are too overused.


"How about some sort of magical curse? Witches, wizards, that sort of thing?"

I had used them last time.



I want to avoid religious themes in the work, and that includes demons.

"Okay, then what about some sort of shapeshifter or were-creature?" 

They didn't really fit the tone.

"Swamp creature?"



This goes on for another couple hours. Ash proposes some sort of monster – getting more and more creative as time goes on – and I shoot down the propositions. After what seems like hours of back-and-forth discussion, I am beginning to get rather frustrated, and I could tell that Ash is, too.


"Honestly, if none of my stuff is interesting you, then you must have some idea of what you want this ‘monster' to be." Ash says.


I tell him I really had no idea of what to write. I have been struggling to write in my old style more and more as of late, and I am lucky when I could get myself in the proper mindset to write horror. Ash stands up, and begins to walk towards the door to the kitchen.


"Honestly, you know what your problem is?" Ash says, walking out the door and into the room that serves as the apartment's combined living room-and-kitchen, me hot on his tail. "You've gotten too soft. I mean look at all this," he says, gesturing around him at the apartment. (When Caityln first moved in, she had begun a long process of redecorating the shabby apartment that I had been living in before meeting her.) The place has been benefitting greatly from her care, and now even looks like a proper home.


I ask Ash what he means by, "going soft." Sure, my living conditions were slightly better, but that hasn't really made me soft. I’ve never exactly been all that "hard" to begin with, and I tell him as much.


Ash rolls his eyes. "Remember when we lived in that ratty little hovel right after college?" He asks, pulling tissues from a box on top of the marble countertop. "You might not have done anything horrible, but just living there put such… dark ideas into your mind that it didn't matter." He continues to grab tissues, piling them into the garbage can. "Even this place was dingy enough to inspire you. Before she arrived, that is. Now, you need something else to light that old spark." As he says that, Ash pulls a box of matches from his pockets, strikes one, and throws it into the trash can of dry tissues and trash. It is ablaze in seconds.


"What the hell are you doing?" I cry, running to get the fire extinguisher before anything else catches fire. I grab the extinguisher and manage to stop the blaze before it burns anything else. The only problem is that my kitchen now smells like burnt garbage.


"I'm trying to help you," Ash says, as he watches me scramble to stop the flame. "Maybe a little disaster will help you get back into the proper mood." As he says that, Ash runs over and snatches the fire extinguisher from my grasp.


"Ash, don't you dare try anything else," I say.


Ash shakes his head at me. "This is for your own good." With that, he begins to swing the red can at the glass cabinet door, destroying it and sending glass shards and assorted kitchenware scattering over the white-tiled floors, shattering the tiles into bits. I run at Ash, attempting to wrestle the extinguisher from his grasp, but he is too strong. He throws me aside, and snarls. Silently, he moves to the next cabinet, and repeats the process, this time reaching up again and shattering the glass cups inside.


 Ash marches to the next door, and prepares another strike at the defenseless glass. Making another attempt to snatch his weapon, I dive on him, grasping at the extinguisher. My efforts don't seem to faze him, however, and he doesn't even bother to throw me off as he winds back the dented metal cylinder. At that moment, the bedroom door swings open, halting his advance. In the doorway is Caitlyn, her mouth agape, staring in shock at the scene of destruction before her. She allows her gaze to wander around the room for several moments, eyes still straining with the weight of sleepiness, before her gaze finally falls on us, standing in the middle of the chaos.


Her gaze hardens. "Ash, what the hell is going on here?" she asks.


"It's nothing, dear," I say, interrupting Ash. "An unwanted guest, I'm dealing with it."


Caitlyn reels back slightly. "It doesn't look like nothing. Oh my God, look at this mess."


"There was a scuffle, dear," I explain. "I have it under control. I'll clean up and call the repairman in the morning. Go back to bed," I say.


"I…I…" Caitlyn stutters, trying to collect her thoughts, "Is everything okay? You said there was a fight. What happened?"


 "Some crazy person, Cait, I've handled it, we're fine, not a scratch." I say, which is true. Without another word, Caitlyn turns around and, probably hoping this is all a bad dream, walks back into her room. I don't remember ever introducing Caitlyn to Ash, but they must have met, considering she recognizes him.


Once the door is shut, I turn to Ash. "Get the hell out of my home, you're no longer welcomed here."


He pleads with me to relax, saying that he did all that to give me back my "spark."


I shake my head, the anger rising in my voice. "I want you out, now. Don't ever show your face around here again."


Ash closes his mouth in stunned silence, but he does not move. Instead, he just stands there for several minutes. Finally, a huge smile breaks out on his face. I know what's going on, he says. It's her, she's the reason you've gotten so soft. This was a mistake, I know what I really have to do.


He says no more, instead, he turns back and walks right to the counters, right past the shattered glass and scattered pots and pans and right up to the block where we held up all the knives. He draws up the largest knife he can find, a large carving knife we had bought last year. He turns around, and begins to walk towards the bedroom. I realize what he is going to do, and with a cry of, "Don't!" I step between Ash and the door.


There is nothing I could do. Ash didn't even give me a second's hesitation. Instead, he throws me aside, right onto the broken shards of glass, and continues right into the room. Groaning in pain, I claw my way up, and run to the bedroom.


"Ash, no!" I cry. "Don't touch her!"

I'm doing this for you buddy, for your career.


I burst into the room, but he is already there. Over there, on the side of the bed where she is sleeping. There, clutching the knife in his hand.


"No," I scream.


He smiles. I'm sorry, buddy.

Caitlyn's eyes snapped open, "Ash?"

The knife plunges down.

A scream.



The next thing I know, I'm standing over the bed. The bed where she once laid. The bed where her body now lays. The knife in my hands. The knife, blood-soaked. The blood, her blood. On my hands. Why is it on my hands? Why do I have the knife? I dropped the knife. I back away. My legs don't work anymore. I fall to the ground.


It wasn't me; it was Ash. Ash did it. Where's Ash? He was where I was just standing. I turn towards the doorway. There's no one there.


"Ash!" I scream. "You did this! Where are you? Ash!"


I'm right here, buddy.

"Where?" I look around. No Ash.

Oh buddy, you still don't get it, do you?


"Why?" I begin to sob. Why her? Why would he do this? Why does his voice keep coming from different directions?


Why? Tsk, tsk, buddy. You still don't get it. Don't you realize, I'm trying to help us? I've given us the perfect monster, and you want to kick me out? Oh, buddy, that's not how this works. No, you kept me suppressed, "under control" for so long, only calling on me and my genius when it suited you. Well guess what, buddy, I'm not doing that anymore. Now, it's my turn to lead, so buckle up Ashley, old friend, because we've got work to do.


As Mort leant down to examine the stone glowing so brightly through the dark, polluted stream water, the sudden sound of splashing water drew his attention behind him. There, gliding through the water towards him was Martha, his dear sister. Mort reached into the dark abyss of the stream, picking up the stone and holding it behind his back as he turned towards his sister. He weighed it in his hand. It was a poor club, but it would be enough for his purposes.

David J. Bothwell is a Junior History and English major at Cabrini University. He enjoys music, games, and sleeping.