“The sweetest sound to a person’s ear is the sound of their own name.” — Dale Carnegie
The monster almost tripped over the rim of the portal as he passed the bright and crackling electric edge. Bobbo scrunched his enormous body together and tried to squeeze through. His leathery hide had been scorched by the portal before; it wasn’t pleasant.
His arms were too long, that was the reason. He didn’t like them. But they were good for grabbing young children from their beds. He figured that was good. It was what he did at any rate. What all monsters did.
Well, not all monsters. Some monsters scared grannies out of their too-big-for-them knitted socks. And some fought knights, though Bobbo was pretty sure that hadn’t happened for a while.
He had never fought a knight, had never fought anyone. But he was the best child snatcher, thanks to his very long arms. And they were muscular too; his forearms were sinewy and thicker than his upper arms.
Bobbo managed, as he always did, to get his arms through the portal. They were so long that his paws dragged on the ground when he walked. He had to pick them up and move them like he moved his legs. It was quite tiresome, lifting those heavy things with each step. So, sometimes he let them drag. Now he rested them on the carpeted floor of the bedroom.
The room was warm and cozy, inviting. He liked children’s rooms so much more than his own cold and rocky world. His arms were in that warm place but the rest of him was still waiting to pass through the portal.
Lobbo and Jobbo never had these kinds of problems. They were less than four feet tall and a quarter as wide. He envied them their stature but more than anything he envied them their names. Or, rather, that other monsters knew and used their names.
Bobbo leaned forward and started the slow process of pushing and pulling the rest of his body through the magical doorway. Bit by bit he made progress.
He was tall, all the way from his rounded head, with its really-not-scary rounded teeth, to his long and wide, cumbersome feet. And while his upper torso was puny, he was, somehow, fat too. A huge belly spread out around his middle. How could he be fat and thin at the same time? But there it was. Generally, he was just misshapen.
Compared to other monsters at least. Most of them had muscular arms, thick, broad chests and narrow midsections. They all tormented him about how he had let himself go.
But he hadn’t. He had been born this way. Bobbo was as Bobbo was. Yet, no one called him Bobbo; no one had ever asked him his name. He was it and thing and get out of the way.
More than anything else Bobbo was alone.
And now — having passed completely through the portal without a misstep — he was alone in his favourite place, a child’s bedroom in the land of humans. The portal hummed and glowed behind him, waiting for his return.
Bobbo didn’t care for the adult humans, though he hadn’t seen too many. The ones he had were always trying to attack him. But he loved the children. Some of them feared him. He couldn’t blame them for that. Others were curious, maybe not old enough to know better. He snatched them all.
Not because he wanted to, no. He didn’t want to. And he had no idea what happened to them when he brought them back to his land. He didn’t want to know. It was better that way. But, if he didn’t bring them back, he would be punished.
Once, long, long ago — when he was still a little misshapen Bobbo — he had gone back through the portal without the child. A shiver passed through his lumpy back at the thought. He didn’t think he’d survive another such punishment. So he snatched, whether he was happy about it or not.
He crept across the carpet toward the bed, enjoying the feel of the fibers as they passed between his toes. The room was lit only by the light of the portal but it was enough; Bobbo had terrific vision, even in the dark. The little girl was sound asleep, and he hated to wake her. There was time so Bobbo stood there, watching her. A rare smile crossed his monstrous features.
Then he noticed something different about this child. The girl had both hands folded next to her head but there was something odd about the one on top. The bottom hand was like all the other child hands Bobbo had seen. But the top one had only little stubs where the fingers should be, as if they had never finished growing.
It startled him and he felt a pang deep inside that he had never felt before. Immediately his own hand, attached to that too large forearm, went to his round face. This child was different. Just like him.
How could he hurt her?
Sure, he’d only be snatching her. But then the other monsters would take her. Though he didn’t know what happened to the children, he wasn’t stupid. He pushed such thoughts aside when they arose. Now he found that he couldn’t.
Bobbo turned away from the bed and gazed with fear at the portal. He wouldn’t survive if he returned without her. But she wouldn’t survive if he returned with her. What was he going to do?
“Are you a monster?” a little voice asked from behind him then.
Bobbo turned. The little girl was rubbing sleep from her eyes with her different hand. She moved it without hesitation or self-consciousness. It was a part of her, after all, like Bobbo’s arms were a part of him.
“I am,” Bobbo said.
“Are you going to hurt me?” the girl asked, not alarmed, not yet.
“No,” Bobbo said, truthfully. He wouldn’t hurt her.
“What are you doing here?”
Bobbo couldn’t answer that question without alarming the child, so he ignored it and asked his own. “What happened to your hand?”
The girl thrust her arms under the blankets and pulled the sheets up around her chin. “Nothing,” she said. There was a pause and then she added. “I was born like this.”
“Me too,” Bobbo said.
“What do you mean? You look like a monster to me.”
“That’s nice of you to say. But I’m all misshapen.”
“That makes you a better monster,” the little girl said. “It’s scarier.”
“Are you scared of me?” Bobbo asked.
The girl thought about this a moment, tilting her head to one side. Then she shook it. “No.”
“Do the other kids make fun of you?” He nodded in the direction of her hand, now hidden under layers of cotton bedding. But it was unnecessary, she knew what he meant.
She nodded and Bobbo saw tears start to form at the corner of her eyes. He said, “I didn’t mean anything when I asked about your hand. I was just curious. I haven’t met anyone like me before. Anyone different.”
“It’s okay. It doesn’t bother me, my hand I mean. It’s always been like this. It’s just part of me. But it bothers other people.”
“Yeah,” Bobbo said, understanding completely.
Then the girl asked an innocent question, the most normal question to ask. But it was a question no one had ever asked Bobbo and it was the one he longed to hear more than anything.
“What’s your name?”
Something stung Bobbo in his eye once he comprehended what she had said. He wiped at it, figuring some insect had bitten him. But it was a tear; his first tear.
“Are you okay?” the little girl asked.
“I… I’m Bobbo.”
She giggled. “Bobbo,” she repeated. “That’s a cute name. It suits you.”
“Do you really think so?”
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Sally is a nice name; it suits you too.” Bobbo glanced over his shoulder at the portal. He sighed. There was no decision to be made. He knew what he had to do.
“Is that where you came from?” Sally asked.
“Yes. And I have to go back there now.”
“Can I come too?”
How could it be so easy? He wouldn’t even have to snatch her. She would walk, willingly, through the portal and his job would be done. All he had to do was say yes.
There was a long pause.
“No,” he said, finally. “It’s not safe for you there.” Another pause. “The other monsters are not like me.”
“That’s too bad. You’re really nice,” she said.
Bobbo felt another tear form. “Do you really think so?” She nodded. “Thank you.” And he meant it from the bottom of the heart he hadn’t known he had.
He turned to the portal and started toward it.
“Will you come back again?” Sally asked.
He stopped in front of the glowing doorway and looked through into his own world. It looked colder than ever. The chill raced up his back again.
“I hope so,” he said.
Then he started the slow process of squeezing his bulk back through the portal.