let's meet up in uncanny valley

Submitted into Contest #228 in response to: Write a story in which a character cooks up something to impress someone.... view prompt

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Contemporary Speculative Urban Fantasy

At work, you text me the link to a headline: Decatur Town Square Moth Man.

And you say he’s here!!!

And I read the article, and it’s a Decatur in Texas, not ours in Georgia. 

But you so seldom text me at work now that I reply only wow!!

When I scroll through our older messages, it’s just you saying wanna come over and me saying sure over and over, and sometimes, you send articles about whatever cryptid caught your eye this month. Sasquatch stuff in October. Now, November, Mothman. 

The article says that a person named Turner is involved in every case of a “Moth Man” appearance. That’s your name.

Bell dings above the door, new customer craving a peppermint latte or whatever, and I stuff my phone into my jeans. Phone buzzes with a text minutes later: wanna come over 

***

Black night with stars like spilled salt. Our limbs tangle in your bed. I can’t tell if you’re asleep. I can’t tell if I’m asleep. Helicopter flies so close that the window panes shake. You giggle. I whisper what the hell. I guess that means we’re both awake. 

“Do you wanna… come over for dinner next week?” I ask. 

From you, silence. Then, “Sure.” You say this with closed eyes. We’ve known each other for a year, and you’ve never seen my apartment. 

***

As our twenties dwindle down, I’ve noticed my male friends’ pretentions. They all picked one thing, it seems: music, film, food, politics. They lead personal PR campaigns, braiding their identities to their chosen topic. They have opinions, well-informed ones, on Aphex Twin and Joe Biden, which I’ve heard in great detail at dinner parties. I’m a bit jealous. My love and knowledge are scattered. I don’t know much about any one thing. 

I’m glad you chose food. I’m a direct beneficiary. At your house, I’ve tucked into juicy garlic-buttered steaks, bread proofed for days, salads coated gently with olive oil and black pepper. You take pride in your work. 

Over dinners, you talk about cryptids only sometimes. This obsession, I think, isn’t a new pretention carefully curated in adulthood. It stems from your kid-self, nerdy with abandon, so it comes out only when you feel comfortable, which you don’t always feel with me. 

A year ago, we agreed we wouldn’t date. Our best arrangement. But, that means there’s always walls. 

When you do dinner, I do dishes. Every time I scrub off those red streaks of sauce, I think about how deliciously stuffed my stomach is, and then, how at my apartment, you wouldn’t feel so well-fed. I keep my cupboards pretty empty. 

***

At work next Wednesday, I worry. It’s the day you’ll come over for ravioli, breaded and soaked with sauce, tossed with peas and spinach, red wine on the side. You have high standards. What if you don’t like it?

At home, I chop and saute, steaming the kitchen with smells of bread crumbs fried in butter. Pasta water, saltier than the sea, bubbles over with an angry hiss. I drink one glass of wine -- still plenty left in the bottle -- and wait for you to come. I spear one ravioli into my mouth, and damn, it’s good. 

I worry you’ll think my apartment is weird. I worry I haven’t made enough food. I don’t want you to leave here hungry. 

I wait and wait. Then, a text: hey im so sorry they’re making me stay late at work. i dont think i can come over tonight :(

Well, that’s fine. Whatever. Not my circus, not my monkeys, not my boyfriend, not my problem. I’m not hungry, but I do drink, glass after wineglass. 

My stomach blooms with warmth. I must go outside! I crave the night’s cold fingers on my cheek. 

I walk and walk, through the apartment complex, over balding grass and broken bottles. I’m on the sidewalk, squinting under yellow street lamps. I try my best to walk straight. Then, I’m on a back road, poorly lit. When I stop, I sway. 

Then, I see him. Taller than two of me, so very muscled, standing still. Grey fur coats his limbs and torso. Two wings, ghostly white and long as minivans, hang from his back. No neck, only red glowing eyes. 

“Mothman!” I exclaim, as if running into an old friend. I’ve heard so much about him. He stares.

I rock on the balls of my feet. I feel awkward. What do I say?

“Wanna come over?” 

***

In my apartment, Mothman bends in half against the kitchen ceiling. He stands, unblinking, unmoving. I slide the now-cold bowl of ravioli his way: “Hungry?” 

No reaction. I offer him wine, a chair, some water. Nothing. I ask him questions, casual and personal. I tell him things about myself. I demonstrate my collection of books, the two half-rotten cacti on my windowsill. He remains stiff and silent. 

Frustration builds in me like heartburn. Why can’t he just relax? Why can’t anyone ever feel at home in my home? 

It bursts from me: “Look, I’m sorry you don’t feel comfortable here! I’m sorry I have weird and off-putting vibes, and I’m sure you just wanna go home. I just -- whatever. Nevermind.” 

My most impressive skill is how well I can still read when I’m drunk. I plop onto the couch, feet on the cushion, and pull out the one-pound ratty novel I’ve been chewing through for weeks. I’m so invested in the story. At work, I wish to be at home, so I could read more. My eyes strain, though. The apartment is not well-lit. 

I bought a reading light last week with ten LEDs built in -- that’s 100 lumens! It’s called the Moonbeam, and you shouldn’t look at it directly. Blinding. I click it on. 

As I read, I hear shuffling. Mothman comes closer. He sits cross-legged on the couch, still unblinking. Oh right -- the light. It has his full attention. He is as much moth as man. 

So we sit. I read. He watches the light. My heart unclenches its fists. I feel something like affection. I look at Mothman: “You know what, I’m kinda hungry.” 

***

I’ve warmed up two buttery plates of ravioli. The cheese strings long, the peas burst, the bread crumbs crunch so wonderfully. We munch. He’s already through his plate. 

“Do you want more?” 

I bring him seconds, thirds. I hear his little teeth gnash, his throat gulp. Poor guy -- I guess no one feeds him. Everyone just runs away. Why? He’s such a cutie. 

Then, I remember all you’ve told me. The first Mothman sightings followed by the Silver Bridge collapse. 46 people dead. Mothman in Moscow, then the 1999 apartment bombings. Mothman spotted by a postal worker in Decatur, Texas, then her near-missed certainly-fatal wreck. 

“Hey, Mothman,” I ask, pulse pounding, “What brings you ‘round these parts?”

He wipes breadcrumbs off his lips. He points to my TV. I flip it on: two anxious reporters chatter about a highway fire. No casualties so far, but drivers are advised to avoid those roads. The fire is spreading, uncontrollable. It’s creeping towards a gas station. I know that gas station. 

I check my phone. A text I missed from you, 45 minutes ago: hey i just got off but i actually am gonna make it over to yours. phones about to die, but see u soon :) 

Heart in my mouth, I listen to the reporters. The fire would’ve begun right when you left work. You would take that highway to get here. Depending on when your phone died, you might not know it happened. Are you driving right into the inferno?

I call and call. No answer. I pace, anxious thoughts multiplying in my brain like roaches. Why why why did I invite you over tonight? What if you’re dead because of me? Tears bite my eyes, and I sit to keep from sobbing. Mothman eats more ravioli.

***

I guess I fell asleep, right there at the dinner table. Doorbell wakes me up. It’s you, in my doorway, very alive, just with blackened sleepless eyes. 

“Sorry it took me so long to get here,” you say. “The road was closed, and then my phone was dead, and I had to go some backwards way, and then there was traffic --”

I hug you tight, squeezing your sentence to an end. 

“Woah, woah, okay,” you say, pulling back. Right, not my boyfriend. 

“Did you end up making dinner?” you ask. “I haven’t eaten since like lunch.”

I look in the kitchen, at the bowl empty of ravioli, the bottle drained of wine. I shake my head. 

“That’s okay,” you say. “I’m kinda tired anyway. Let’s just watch TV.” 

We sit on the couch, and I flip the channel from news to some old black-and-white film, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies. We watch in silence, and I try to not notice your stomach growling with hunger. 

December 15, 2023 17:39

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1 comment

Marty B
23:57 Dec 20, 2023

Great story! 'Not my circus, not my monkeys, not my boyfriend, not my problem.' But it is her problem, a big hairy problem because she cares deeply about a boy who is not whole, just a list of interests. She needs to find her own cryptid- a real Man with emotions, and communications skills. They may exist somewhere, maybe in a dark alley late at night. Even Mothman might be better then her not-a-boyfriend, because at least he visits, he eats her food and pays attention. I hope Mothman visits again! Thanks!

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