The monster doesn’t know how it came to be in the quarry. Like everything else, it supposes, it must have been dropped in like a wishing penny. This explanation is enough for the monster. It considers itself a chronicler of a sort, but it does not have much taste for autobiography.
The people in the town don’t know that the monster is there. The new generation has forgotten how deep the quarry was dug, forgotten even why it was abandoned to the elements and left to flood with groundwater and rain. To them it’s just a rectangular pond, as black and limitless as the night sky. A log floats in the middle that the stronger swimmers try to balance on. Once there was a swing, but the rope broke and the heavy rubber tire tied to it sank to the bottom to live with the monster.
Naturally, the townspeople know that the quarry could hide something. One of the science teachers at the high school likes to joke with new students. She tells them the quarry is even deeper than the Marianas Trench.
“Anything could be down there,” she intones to the class, whispering so it sounds like she’s disclosing to them something they shouldn’t know. A few less perceptive students have fallen for it over the years. She always reluctantly explains the truth to them. “There’s nothing at the bottom of that quarry but granite blocks and construction equipment,” she says, and returns to her lecture.
But her truth is no better than her lie. The construction equipment was hoisted out when the quarry was abandoned (small companies don’t have the benefit of disposable machinery) and with it came the last of the granite blocks. No, the only things at the bottom of the quarry are secrets. The monster is the biggest secret of all, since no one in town knows they are keeping it.
Only particular kinds of secrets are dropped in the quarry: only things people want forgotten, secrets never meant to be re-exposed. Secrets people want the darkness to destroy so thoroughly that the town can live as if they never happened. Sometimes the monster wonders if it was meant to be one of those secrets. For the most part the monster is too content to wonder much at itself.
The monster does not think of itself as a monster. That name sits waiting above the waterline, but on the flat granite floor of the quarry—in the monster’s home—it considers itself a caretaker; an ally to the townspeople. After all, who else could keep all of the secrets safe and sinless at the bottom of the quarry? The skinny fish that populate the water? The bugs, the tadpoles, or the turtles? No, only the monster is qualified. Only the monster knows where all of the secrets sit, buried like treasure by the darkness. At any moment the monster can stretch out one of its thin, spectral arms and touch them. Can touch:
A large photograph set in a frame that was once gilded. The couple in it, freshly married, bleached by the water until both the bride and the groom were ghosts.
The contents of a cardboard box (long disintegrated), full of a child’s toys, bright and colorful like precious stones.
A rifle, older than the monster but newer to the quarry, its iron barrel jammed into the sediment. It was still hot when it entered the water.
A sedan, rolled in with the headlights still on. The granite brick that held down the gas pedal had been mined from the quarry and the monster was happy to welcome it home. Though the front of the car had crumpled on impact, the rest remained intact, even though schools of small fish now swim through its open windows.
Though the monster tends carefully to these secrets and others like them, it does not give them too great consideration. To the monster these secrets seem incidental. The bodies are what the monster guards like crown jewels.
There are only two, their entrance separated by years (the monster doesn’t know how many; the monster cannot count). The first, a boy, did not mean to do what he did. A clear day, sun as bright as the future. School in session somewhere else, far out of his mind. The boy and his friend alone at the quarry instead, their absence a victory, their stolen beers the trophies they use to commemorate it. A dare. A climb. The high stoney precipice of yellow granite, topped thinly by small pine trees. A leaping yell, a writhing dive into the quarry’s open mouth. A long held breath as the ripples evened out and the thunder of his jump disappeared.
The other, the woman, different. Wrong season, winter, water skinned with patches of ice. Wrong weather, wind, rain, clouds spitting down at the rest of the world. Wrong clothes, a nightgown and a winter coat, pockets and fists weighed down by stones collected from the lip of the quarry. The monster near the surface, confident in its solitude, its great green eye wrinkled with veins and barely hidden by the darkness. The woman exhales, opens her mouth, and takes one hard step off the cliff and into the water.
Both of them, to the monster, were luminescent in the darkness. Living comets, singular lights trailed by a stream of bubbles as they spun and tumbled their way through the water at a weightless pace that ignored time. They still sit at the bottom, waving in the darkness like pond fronds in the wind.
The monster guards these things because it knows something the townspeople do not. The monster knows that the water is getting warmer. The roof of its black, bottomless world is sinking. The monster knows that the quarry is drying up.
For now the townspeople and their children swim in the sunny months, their bare plump legs dangling into the water. They swim and they drink and they sing at the edge of the water, barbecuing in the sunlight, making love in moonlight when they believe no one is around to see (at the end the love is thrown into the water: another secret).
But someday, the monster knows, the quarry will dry. Then the secrets—the secrets the town forgot it was keeping—will draw fresh clean gasps of new air. Meanwhile the monster will do its best to smile, will close its great green eye, and will die with its many slender arms spread wide like an open hand.
Lucas Olson is an undergraduate English major studying at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Beorh Weekly and Sugared Water.
Asked what have been some of his best hiding places, he responded, “In the woods, just deep enough that you can’t hear the cars, where it’s easier to imagine trolls living under the boulders and witches building hovels out of fallen logs and abandoned appliances. A place where real life isn’t quite as loud, or quite as important.”
Art — kAt Philbin is an artist based in Los Angeles, CA. She draws inspiration from fairy tales and personal mythologies to create her delicate illustrations with many, many tiny pen lines. See more of her artwork at www.katphilbin.com.
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