Ursula the Monster

Mr. Parson’s Pawn Shop accepts trade-ins, so Ursula removes her right arm and places it on the glass countertop. It feels good to be rid of it, an arm that so many have stroked and grabbed and bruised and licked. A bit of blood squirts from the arm and onto the apron of Mr. Parson himself. He sniffs and spits into an iron urn next to the register. Ursula points to a wall of body parts, at the arm of a lizard creature, three rows up and two to the right, with sharp green and yellow scales, elongated webbed fingers. I’ll take that one.

But Ursula is not satisfied. This Halloween, it is not enough to just be one monster.

Ursula removes her left arm and exchanges it for a vampire’s with pale, ashy skin, blood-caked fingernails. Her left leg she exchanges for the stub of a swamp thing, her right leg for the hairy thigh and hoof of a Minotaur, her chest for the gaping wound of a zombie’s torso.

Ursula’s face slips off easily, as if it never fit just right, as if something had dislodged and warped it long ago, as if it were a gold-plated cathedral door rusting on its hinges. This feels best of all—removing this face so many have kissed and hit and gazed and glared at. Her mouth muscles spring and squirt as she garbles the word werewolf and points with her vampire nails to a hairy face with a snout, sharp teeth clinging to a residue of flesh, fur jutting out from the forehead and down the back some three feet. Mr. Parson does not need to adjust the face. It locks into place and smiles as Ursula smiles, raises Ursula’s new furry eyebrows, its lips forming words that Ursula says: I’ll bring it all back tomorrow. 

That night the streets are filled with Halloween-as-per-usual, perfumes and vodka and sugar sweat, soaking Ursula as she strides through the crowd, through bars and parties, enjoying the new flavor of stares. Go ahead and look.

She scratches her clawed vampire nails down the bare back of a superhero who tries plopping something into her drink, sticks her lizard finger into the good eye of a pirate who looks at her funny, twists her hoof into the calf muscle of a sexy Red Riding Hood who elbows her way to the front of the line in the ladies’ restroom. She stamps her swamp stump on the toes of a ballerina who twirls her off the dance floor and into a gathering of movie characters, vintage get-ups, and costumes of the vaguely ironic. They laugh until she barks at them, clawing out strips of their shirts and flesh, painting her new nails a vibrant blood red.

But it’s not enough. Outside, just for fun, Ursula dumps a princess’s bag of candy into the empty zombie wound of her chest, letting the sweets seep into her rotting organs and telling the princess to go digging. I dare you. The princess is not a child, same age and taller than Ursula in fact, but is all pink and sequins and fluff and not sexy at all. She cries and wipes her arm across her tears. Ursula feels for just a moment that maybe she went too far, pulling a handful of candy out of her chest and shoving it with a sorry back into the princess’s bag.

But then, there it is.

The smell. Ursula sniffs the air with her werewolf nose and smells a familiar scent. The princess lifts her arm again to wipe a new gush of tears, and there it is, it is Ursula’s arm, the one with the soft blond hair and freckles, her right arm that had squirted blood onto Mr. Parson’s apron. Ursula sniffs the air again. On the street corner, a gypsy lifts Ursula’s left leg to stub out a cigarette, the leg with Ursula’s birthmark on the thigh. Outside the CVS, Cleopatra and Buffalo Bill wrap Ursula’s left arm and right leg around each other, the arm with three long scars on the wrist, the leg with the stretch marks curving down to her knee.

Ursula sniffs the air again.

Across the street, Ursula sees her own face on the wooly body of a werewolf, her blond hair spilling into the spiny matte of the wolf’s chest. Her face with the wolf eyes, staring, her lips the color of pomegranate juice, curling. That face, her face, looks comfortable for once, like it fits easily, every broken piece sliding securely into a place. That body smells familiar too, her own fur matching the fur of it, the gentle highlight of purple in the darker hairs that you’d miss if you didn’t pay very close attention.

Ursula slashes her vampire nails at a nearby circus clown who screams at the sight of his own blood, catching the attention of her face on the werewolf, the fur of the body prickling to attention when it sees Ursula, what used to be her eyebrows curving in concern.

Ursula smiles at herself.

You look good, Ursula growls and nods, turning toward the thick of the crowd, letting the old smell of herself dissolve into the fray as she licks her claws clean.

Originally published in Orca Literary, Summer 2022 (Literary Speculative issue). Reprinted here by permission of the author.