Tyler Munro

The March Editor's Pick Writer is Tyler Munro

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by Tyler Munro

Molly sat on the rise and struggled to fit the valley full of bones into the span of her gaze, but it was impossible.

Even turning her face from side to side, there were more bones scattered in each direction, poking out from the soil and rock like they belonged to the earth.

She tore a clump of yellowing grass next to her, letting the blades scatter in the air and flow down into the valley. Some of it stuck to her palm and she wiped it clean across the front of her dress. She climbed to her feet. It was time for her to go. She wasn’t supposed to be here. Dad would be furious if he knew. More furious than the leather of his belt or her round could handle.

The valley was where The Monster left its dead.

She’d seen enough proof to know that The Monster existed. It was written in the bones: deep grooves, like the ones termites chewed into the trunks of grey trees, only bigger and broader, raking the surface of many of the bones she’d inspected. These deep grooves were none other than The Monster’s teeth marks and the teeth that had left them there were the very same teeth that had chomped her family in half. The Monster had gulped down her mother and her brother, and now there was nothing left of them for her to know. Not even memories. 

Molly crept back through the forest, where more leaves rested on the ground than in the trees. She made her way toward the cabin, her heart like a hummingbird trapped in a jar.

Dad hadn’t returned yet, which Molly had counted on. She was frantic with activity, hoping to make up for her absence from the cabin that morning, and made it seem as if she’d never left. She piled fresh logs into the woodstove, blowing short bursts of breath to excite the flames, to make it seem that the fire had not once been disrupted. Satisfied, she fixed herself a plate of the remaining smoked trout. Finally, her morning routine completed in mere moments, she climbed onto her unmade pallet and settled in, her favorite book—the book of maps—resting open in her lap.

The book was old, so old that, like a moth’s powdery wings, it seemed ready to fall apart in her fingers. That’s precisely why Molly liked it so much. The fact that it was old meant that it was true since true things persisted, time buffing and shining them and revealing them for what they always were to begin with. She leaned back against the log wall and gazed upon the pages of the world.

Her finger tapped the territory that was theirs.

It was pinkish red and vast and packed with plenty of names which she couldn’t read. One of the names curved like a rainbow from coast to coast. Dad called it “British Possession”.

Home was in the part of British Possession that was shaped like a barbed arrowhead, jabbing into the armpit of another territory that was pale green. Just then, her brows in knots, envisioning all the places on the map, Molly heard the angry sound of Dad’s pick-up truck climbing the gravel road and she closed the book of maps. She waited with her breaths, which grew shallower and quicker, and her heart, which did the same.

The door swung open and out fled the warm air. For a moment, there was nobody. Then there was Dad. He hauled in plastic bags of provisions, at least eight clutched in each of his big hands. Molly got up to help him, but he shouldered his way past her as if she weren’t even there.

Molly watched him put the groceries away, how his hand consumed a can as if it were as small as a battery to be lost in the landscape of his lettered palm, placing it delicately upon a shelf in the larder. Bags of dried beans, lentils, wild rice were all stacked in the same way and when he was done, he stood and seemed to briefly admire his efforts. It was strange and unlikely that this version of Dad could coexist with the other, more frightening version of Dad. The one who would kill The Monster and avenge the death of Molly’s mother and brother. But perhaps that version of Dad, the frightening one, had to exist because the one now, the one putting away the groceries, didn’t have it in him to kill The Monster.

Satisfied, Dad turned and for the first time fixed his eyes on Molly. To be ensnared in his gaze was unnerving, but Molly had learned that the best way to deal with it was to harden her eyebrows like her father, sharpen her eyes like his, squeeze her lips together like his, and point her face right back at his, like a notched arrow drawn and ready to fly. Sometimes this would make him smile, which would make her smile, too. But not this time.

“You were outside.”

Molly shook her head without thinking and he pounced on her. She felt him grab at her dress, and she looked down to see the fabric bunched up in his clenched fist, whorls of floral print on a field of white smudged with the grass stains that had betrayed her.

A strange growling sound clawed up Dad’s throat and pawed the still air. “Where did you go?”

Molly wanted to cry. She could have, too, but that would only upset Dad.

“Just outside,” she said, hoping to bide herself some time so that she could think up a likely excuse.

“Where?” He tugged at her dress and it climbed up her body so that the air could get at her skin and now she really did begin to cry. The lie came to her like a fish to a glittering lure in the dead of night.

“Only to the road,” she said, stifling her sobs. 

To go to the road was a terrible transgression, but a transgression far less terrible than admitting she’d found the bones. His grip gradually loosened and her dress crept back down her body. She was trembling. She rubbed away her eyes with the heels of her palms. Silence.

Molly couldn’t see him behind her eyelids. She heard him.

“It’s dangerous,” he said. 

She almost blurted out that The Monster wasn’t a risk during the day, that it only came out at night, with the moon as its witness, which he’d told her himself, but she stopped herself and took a breath deep enough to let another deception take flight upon the wind from her lungs.

“I wanted to watch the cars,” she said.

His hand enveloped her shoulder. It was warm and comforting.

“It’s dangerous.”

Stoically, she marched to her pallet, pulling up her dress to reveal her round, and she bent over as she had many times before. She watched her hands, a stranger’s hands, fingers spread apart on top of the bedsheets. Molly heard the belt slide free from the braces stitched upon his jeans and snap together in his hands.

The belt hurt as it bit into her round, and she knew that it would soon be over and that all would be fine and her secret would be safe.

Molly wriggled free from her bedsheets. She wiped her bangs from her clammy forehead and watched the dim glow coming through the grill of the woodstove door. It pushed the darkness into the corners and hidden places of the cabin, throwing up big, ominous shadows that seemed not to belong to the objects that casted them. She watched and waited until the knot of excitement in her gut loosened, until she was certain that Dad was definitely gone.

Like every other evening, Dad left as soon as the moon showed its sibylline face in the navy blue sky, his two-bit axe slung over a shoulder, closing the door gently so as not to disturb her, as if he actually believed she’d been deep asleep and not laying there counting her breaths until he was gone. He never muttered goodbye or a kind word to give her hope, even though each night he left her might be his last.

Before, Molly would’ve stayed in the cabin, watching helplessly through the window until that moment she’d glimpse him, clothes torn from fighting with The Monster, trudging with his head downturned, dragging that terrible axe behind him. Then, she’d jump into bed, pretending to be asleep.

Not anymore. The thought of lying in bed, awaiting his return, just wouldn’t do. Molly had begun to venture into the night. Always cautiously, for brief moments, emboldening herself until the day that, just like Dad, she might join in the hunt.

She climbed from bed, slipped on her dress, her stockings, the wool sweater that laughed in the face of the coldest winds, and stepped outside, closing the door gently behind her, just as Dad had.

Her ears grappled with the silence of the night but then the silence popped with sound. There were crickets, the wind flicking the remaining autumn leaves, frayed and dying, a hollow call of a distant owl, things shifting beyond her vision—animals, she assumed, though she couldn’t be certain. She shivered and hugged herself.

Molly took one last look behind her at the window, flickering with the woodstove’s dull firelight. It was safe and welcoming. She turned and began to walk then run the familiar path she’d secretly taken many times before, plummeting down a fall of rocks, across a ridge thick with juniper and birch, up the rise, where thickets of tall grass clustered to the clearing that overlooked the bones.

All she knew was the darkness until she made it there and saw the white of the bones stretched out like one of the silver valleys on the face of the moon. She was panting, her limbs on fire, her heart calling all the way up to her ears. She became still, wrapping her arms around the trunk of an oak tree thick as Dad’s waist, peering across the plains of death and trying her best to hear something.

In time, Molly’s body quieted and she calmed, reassuring herself that she was indistinguishable from the oak tree, which meant nothing could see her. The silence, the slowing of her heart and the whispery sound of her exhaled breaths brought her into a kind of trance. She was warm and growing warmer, heavy as she found herself sliding into the oak’s tangle of roots.

The sound was terrible.

Molly awoke to it not remembering where she was. She’d never been out this long. All at once the forest seemed to heave and let out a scream. Deer yelped and rabbits cried. Hordes of birds took to the air, squawking. The upper boughs of the trees where they’d rested trembled. A moose, normally untouchable in the hierarchy of the forest, trotted across the rickety plain of bones, faltering as he made for the darkness. The wolves, too, bayed in the distance. Molly could hear the desperation in their shallow, high-pitched wails and imagined them nipping at one another as they fled.

Sound rushed from the valley and into a vacuum of total silence. All that Molly could hear, to reassure her that she hadn’t gone deaf, was the sound of her heart and her breath and the barely-audible smack of her eyelids shutting together as she blinked. She leaned against the tree, watching the bones. She expected The Monster to be there, her father maybe, too. She squinted, rubbed her eyes, then took up courage and began to carefully crawl away from the refuge of her oak to a tree that leaned over the lip of the rise, bowing toward the valley of bones. The sound of her body scraping along the forest floor was deafening. She stopped.

Footsteps. Measured and careful.

She turned from her belly to her back, pushing herself upright. A dark silhouette picked its way through the trees toward her. Its gait was slow and long.


The moonlight struck it as it broke through the trees. Not Dad. She scrambled to her feet and ran. The harder she pumped her little legs, branches snapping beneath her feet, the closer it seemed to get. She could feel its cold breath on the back of her neck, hear the sound of its padded footsteps as it loped through the trees behind her, always on her heels. Like a shadow.

Molly knew better than to look at it. Another glimpse of the thing and she might give up. Her eyes picked out familiar sights, stands of ferns, the smooth trunk of a beech that seemed to glow as brightly as the moon, a cascade of rocks. She couldn’t find the footpath up to the cabin so she climbed. Something wet grasped her heel. She shrieked, kicking it back into the darkness. She could hear the booming sound of its heart now, beating over hers as if to drown it out.

She’d gained flat ground, her legs trembling beneath her. The glow from the cabin window peeked through the brush. She raced toward it. It grew larger in her sight. She was there. Her hand clasped the doorknob. The door swung open and she leapt inside, closing and locking it behind her. She threw her back to it and braced her legs against the floor.

Three careful knocks broke the sound of her panting. She stepped away. Three more careful knocks.


Dad had trained her to shoot and kill. 

Dad had taught her to couch the twelve gauge Winchester pump-action shotgun in her arms, to point it at her target. He told her that the stock of the gun should be tight against her shoulder, otherwise it might kick and bruise her. He said that she should imagine the gun as part of her body, another arm, or leg, something with blood pumping through it.

The gun doesn’t fire, he said, but you do.

When her finger squeezed the trigger, before the crashing sound that made her ears ring, she slammed her eyes shut and kept them that way until his hand was on her shoulder.

“Look,” he said.

When she did, the poor tree was torn in half, wood chips spilling from it like guts. She looked back at him and he was pleased. Then he kneeled next to her. Even on his knees she was only half his height. He brought his terrible head down to hers, those big eyes of his like a dog’s, sad and dark. The breath came out of him with difficulty.

“If The Monster ever comes inside, you must do to him what you did to that tree,” he said, a long, thick digit trembling in the direction of the maimed hardwood.

He’d taught her to shoot, just in case. In case of what, Molly didn’t know. It hadn’t occurred to her to ever ask him. She’d always assumed that Dad would kill The Monster during one of his hunts. She’d always assumed that Dad would be there.

The knocking stopped. She could hear The Monster’s breaths, deep and slow against the outside surface of the door, as if it were resting its cheek there, petting it longingly with one of its claws. Molly knew she could not wait for Dad to return. She struggled against the thought that The Monster had killed him and it made her angry. She stomped across the cabin. She fell to her knees, blindly groping beneath Dad’s bed. Her fingers clasped the cold metal of the gun, then the flimsy carton of buckshot.

She broke the barrel and fed it six shells, planting one of her mud-scraped knees before the other. When she pointed at the door, she let out a long, even breath and dropped her brows, focusing her eyes. She felt the fire alive in her. She thought of what Dad had taught her, what she already knew, and squeezed. The cabin lit up with a brief flash. The door was shredded. She pumped the gun and it spit out a shell. She did it again. She fired until the door was gone and reloaded.

The thing was making wet, moaning sounds outside. She shuffled to the threshold and fired into the darkness, toward the dying sounds. She reloaded again. Stepping outside, she saw a heap stretched out upon the ground, the cold earth sticky with its gummy blood. Its ribs swelled as it took in air and contracted again as it steadily wheezed out. An arm rested under its head and stretched out. Its back was to her. Molly carefully kicked at it. It was still. She circled, gun pointed at it from her hip. When she got to the other side, she dropped the gun.

It was Dad.

She fell to her knees and held his head. The fur that had covered him blew away in the wind. The scales glittered as they fell from his chest like a great fish’s, collecting on the ground before him. His face was long and it sagged. His eyes were empty and he was gone. She cried, pressing her face to his. He twitched. His lips came up like a dogs, and he snarled, showing his great, big teeth, which began to fall out, one after another, like nail clippings on the floor. She dropped him.

Molly had nothing left but herself, and she knew that for a little girl, for anyone, that was not enough. She went inside and grabbed her book of maps. She cleaned her eyes and ventured down the gravel path to the road. The road shimmered with moonlight. It was like a river, almost. She stepped out onto the two white lines that guided the road and waited for two white orbs of light, headlights, to appear in the distance. They stopped. Someone stepped out of the car.

“Are you okay?”

She clutched the book of maps to her chest, trembling.

The man approached, bent over, a hand stretched out.

“Where are you parents?”

He dropped to a knee. Now his face was across from hers. His hand reached to her shoulder, never touching, and his eyes were wide. Somewhere in his eyes, floating in the blackness of his pupils, as in the bottom of a well, were reflections of her in double. Her face, in double. Her anguish, in double.

“There’s blood…” he murmured. He raced back to the car. For what, Molly couldn’t say. He was talking to someone, though nobody else seemed to be in the car with him.

“Do you know where your home is?” said the man.

“I don’t have one,” she said, and she thought about the bones. The field filled with them—bones of nameless beasts and birds, bones of her mother and brother, and now, to join them in their restless sleep, the bones of her father. She thought she should lead the man by the hand to the bones, to show them to him, perhaps even to show him Dad, but then the man would no doubt glimpse The Monster and Molly didn’t want for that to happen. He took her hand in his, cool and soft, like a newly turned over pillow on a hot summer night, and let her inside his car.

“We’re going to go to a safe place now,” he said, eyes stuck to the road.

A safe place. The words reminded her of the burning woodstove in the cabin. She turned to watch him, this strange man who smelled like crushed mint leaves. He flashed her a smile and she found herself nodding off. In her head, The Monster waited. It exhaled into the swirl of her inner ear. It spoke. It reassured her that it would always be there, that it would die with her.

Tyler Munro is a Toronto-based writer. He graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from the New School and is currently working on Deadbeat, a novel about canoes, whiskey, and the ghosts of fur traders.