There’s a ghoul living at the bottom of the inlet. I’ve known this forever.
In the middle of the night, I creep from my bed and slide the window up. I walk down to the reservoir in the dark. There’s a metal footbridge that cuts across the mouth, with a pipe running beneath it. If I climb halfway down the bank, I can pull myself onto the pipe and crawl out to the middle. When the water gets high from rain or runoff, it’s close enough to trail my feet in.
In the dark, the ghoul comes drifting to the surface, milky-eyed, pale hair fanning in the current like a web. Its mouth is crumpled and full of teeth. I stare into its face until it sinks again and I see my own reflection.
If I were a different girl, it might look like something beautiful—a mermaid or a sleek, enchanting kelpie disguised as a boy. But my vision, my lurid story, is only the monster.
In the dark, I tell myself intricate tales of risk. I know the lurking danger, that it will grab me by the ankles and drag me down. I hold my feet there—imagine the blue-white color of its hands, the cloudy blindness of its eyes. When it rises to the surface, I always pull away.
From my seat under the bridge, I drop flowers, one by one. In the dark, they are just tiny white interruptions, drifting on the surface of something terrible and black. Then the current takes them and they sink.
In the daytime, I am small and oddly wizened, too pale and shrunken to be young. I go to school and think of ways to be better—conversations, smiles—but they never seem to work. I try to speak and my mouth is stuck shut with wanting.
Because hopeless devotion is colorless, I hide it well. I sit hunched behind the long desk in our school library, and wait.
He wears a red wool jacket with shiny leather sleeves and a gold football pin. It looks welcoming and warm, but it means Don’t Touch. When he looks at me, my heart gets quiet, like something is wrapped around my throat. I have to pinch myself hard so I can breathe.
He comes to the desk with a reluctant pile of books. When he hands me his laminated ID, I get red and tongue-tied, stricken with the idea of an accidental caress.
At night, I walk down to the bridge along a dry gravel road, and the dust sticks to my feet. When I look up, I see constellations no one has discovered yet. The Helicopter. The Scientist. The Soldier, the Politician, the Cheerleader. The distant planet, glittering and solitary, that’s him. The one elusive star. I wonder what he’s doing now. If he’s a normal person, he’ll be sleeping.
Because the night is deep and fragrant, I pick roses. They grow wild along the ditches, sprouting tangled, close to the ground. They are ragged with beetles, and the thorns are thin and sharp. I pick them anyway, not minding that my fingers bleed. There are so many things you don’t have to mind anymore, not when you have your own private monster.
Beneath the bridge, I have a wearying thought that I am the troll, sulking in the dark with my sallow face and my stringy hair, dangling my feet in the water, tearing the blooms apart. I drop petals off the bridge, play loves-me loves-me-not with a wilted daisy and wait to feel its hands.
There is no blinding horror in this, no pain. The ghoul is my missing piece, the thing that it is like me. Some fatal night, it will come, cold and intractable, and I will break the surface. Find myself down at the bottom. I look out at the star-pocked sky and smile, because I know in the warm, noiseless dark, in the water, in the night, that it will want me.