Reid had always felt different. Not by choice. At the age of two, he related more to numbers and trajectories than songs and doodles. When he grew older, he took his father’s advice and started to mirror what he had observed in others. He got quite good at that. He learnt to behave like the well-liked ones, even if he never quite understood their specious acts.
Still, Reid was different. There was an air about him, the others could always tell. And so he was to lead a quiet life like an invisible, insignificant dust speck. One where no one even knew his name. In fact, he was not sure if anyone ever saw him at all. Between classes and recesses, he existed like coarse sand shoved aside for castles, kicked down to make way.
No one knew who he was, what he liked, and what he hated. Reid was now nine years and two days old. He liked yellow cereal, chain puzzles, old films that flicker, and black crows. He hated many things, like smiling, greeting, and waving. Most other things, in fact. But he never told anyone that, because he was never asked.
Even so, the boy eventually found belonging. The group was one that was different all right, and he snugged tight in it. He never told anyone, because this was a group that he knew no one could and would understand. He knew that it was to be his secret, for what is misunderstood is easily denied.
To start with, there were just two of them: Reid and Dab. The latter was five years, three months and four days old. In many ways, Dab was special too. For starters, it could not even pretend to be human. In fact, it was clear that it had come from somewhere else. It did not talk much, so Reid never knew where. A fact, accepted though unverifiable, was that it was possibly the last of the species.
Dab had two little feelers for eyes and a body slightly smaller than a full-grown Terrier. Huge olive scales covered most of its back. The least of its unprotected skin was where its limbs popped from, when it did not feel like gliding along the floors. It looked quite terrifying really, so it tried its very best to avoid making any contact with people. After all, man was a race known to fear things that appeared too different.
Even so, Dab could never keep away from the draw of emotions. Anger, bitterness, and sadness lured him like a siren’s call. All of these emotions happened to exactly encapsulate Reid.
Reid had good reason to feel that way, being the child who did not understand much at all. He was the extra seat taken. He was the other pair of shoes that no one questioned. He was the forgotten child, even by the ones whom you think must remember him, having brought him into this world – yet taught him nothing.
Sometimes, Dad would steal into his room in the middle of the night. His shirt always smelled of alcohol and sometimes, sick. That was how Reid knew it was him without opening his eyes. Without fail, he would slur something incomprehensible right before he slammed the door behind him.
Most days, Dad stayed in the living room and waited for Mum. Reid always knew when his mother came home. Because that was when the screaming would start. They would yell about money, sometimes about the child they had.
Glass broke. It could be the kitchen mugs. Perhaps, one of late Grandma’s antiques. Or the already shattered television screen. Then someone would push the rocking chair over, and something would slam onto the cracked paintings on the walls. Reid would find out exactly whom and what the very next day. He would then head past the mess and walk on to school. He, like his parents, would pretend nothing had happened at all.
This day, he simply pulled the quilt up to his knees. Tired, he chose to imagine his answers behind closed doors. Each passing moment left him feeling angrier, more bitter and sad. His eyes set on his bedroom door, as though sheer willpower could radiate force sufficient enough to keep it closed. It hardly ever opened. Still, he felt fear that chaos would catch up to him.
That was the moment he met Dab. It instinctively slid through the drawers and onto his bed. The creature coiled around Reid’s arm, then slithered up to his neck. He looked at the eccentric creature gliding on his skin. It looked back at him with reflective sad eyes and a soft whimper.
Its company brought some sort of strange comfort. It was stranger how quickly he got used to its presence. After all, he could never get used to the habitual chaos that sometimes reached him through the doors. As with how they turned to parents when having nightmares of monsters, he sought solace in monsters while having parents for nightmares.
The screaming never failed to jolt him awake as it did every day till he grew older. But he no longer stared at the door, wishing it would keep him safe. He stopped staring at the teachers in school, wishing they somehow knew. Never again did he gaze at the patrolling police officers, hoping they would take a second look at him.
He knew he would always find comfort in his lair, knowing it was and will always be Dab and him. He found consolation in a genuine friendship that no one else would ever come close to having. And so as the boy grows older and older, he never stopped believing in monsters, because he simply cannot believe in anything else.