I hadn’t been in this room for years. I wasn’t sure how I found myself here. The large window overlooking a well-tended garden, split into distinct decorative plants and crop patches. The large tree in said garden, a swing hanging from it, shading that window and this room in a comforting pattern. To be honest, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the walls had a mural painted over them, of a forest full of Pokémon playing together. The bed in the corner almost swimming in stuffed toys, making you question how the individual using it actually slept there. Or sat on it, like I was currently doing. The desk across from the bed covered in loose doodles of monsters and heroes, always girls for some unknown reason. I felt safe, I felt happy, I felt nostalgia for something I missed dearly. But for what reason had I found myself in my childhood bedroom? There was a knock on the door. Gentle, quick, but patient. It couldn’t be her though. It wouldn’t make sense. With a nervous gulp, I called out. “Come in!”
My hand shot to my throat in surprise as the door opened. I didn’t sound like myself. Not the masculine voice I got used to with Peter. Or the feminine voice I enjoyed having as Lily. It made my throat hurt less to talk as her, okay? No, unlike those voices, this voice sounded young. Like a young girl. And as the door finished opening, I saw her standing there. Her brown hair cut in a pixie cut so it wouldn’t get in the way of her gardening. Her eyes warm and curious and kind. Her hands calloused by work, but ready to hold yours to comfort you and never let go. The smile she was giving me awakening something primal deep in my soul. I jumped off the bed and gave her the biggest hug I could, barely noticing I only came up to her waist. Or the swish I felt around my own waist, and my ears.
“Oof, hi there sweetheart, careful not to tackle me over.” Mom laughed as she returned the hug; I was crying. I didn’t care.
“I missed you so much Mom, I thought I’d never get to see you again,” I managed to get out in between sobs, before I felt Mom pat my head comfortingly. If I somehow died and found myself in Heaven against all odds, I didn’t care.
“Lily, sweetheart, I only went down to the shops.” Wait, what reason would Mom have for calling me this name? She said she’d have named me Lily if I had been born a girl.
“Mom, my name is Peter.” I looked up at her in confusion, her smile not disappearing for even a second.
“Oh Lily, did someone bully you at school again? You told me yourself you’d rather be Lily than Peter, and look.” She nudged me gently to the mirror, where I finally saw an explanation for my voice. I wasn’t looking at a 10 year old version of Peter, who had a goofy grin and longer hair and was messy from helping his Mom. No, this was a 10 year old version of Lily. Just lacking the horns, hair the same shade as Mom, and skin as well. A child version of the outfit I had chosen on me. “You put so much care into being you, the bright young woman I love. Don’t let bullies at school take that away from you, Lily.” Mom bent over and kissed the top of my head, giving me a shoulder rub and walking over to my desk to look at my drawings.
This felt nice. I always knew Mom gave good critique of my pictures. I missed drawing them. “Oh Lily, you’ve improved a lot in your drawings, sweetie. Staying on model with your favorite Miss Hellfire. I like the new outfit you gave her. And the way you did her flaming fists? I can picture them perfectly.” Mom put down the picture she had been looking over, giving me a head pat. “I’ll go get started on dinner now. Your favorite chicken cutlets and potato wedges. You just come down when I call for you, okay?” Mom walked to the door, and I nodded as she closed it. I heard her footsteps get further away, and just sat down in bed again, grabbing and cuddling a plushie at random.
But what should have been 20 minutes started feeling like hours. I could see the shadows from the tree moving. And I could see a shadow inching closer from the door. It seemed to crawl under it before covering the door completely, slowly seeping inch by inch across the room. As I turned, concerned, towards the window, it shrunk, ever smaller, until it wasn’t there; the last light that came from it cut off, leaving the room in near complete darkness. The only light now came from under the door, a thin strip from the hallway. Attempting to hold tight on the plushie I had been holding only resulted in me grabbing my chest. The plushie was gone. They were all gone. The soft bed I had been sitting on with wooden ends now felt hard. The mural on the wall melted away, the color oozing down and onto the floor, joining the shadows, the outlines greying out and spreading to cover the walls completely. I heard tearing from my desk, and as I turned to it I could see all my drawings floating up and towards me, tearing up one by one into smaller and smaller pieces that then faded away. My breathing got heavier at the sight of the scene. My heart rate rose. It was beating so hard I could hear it. It was for a time the only sound in the room, along with my breathing, but then something joined them. The sound of footsteps. Not Mom’s quick, almost skipping-like caring footsteps of feet devoid of shoes. No. These footsteps were slow. Methodical. Almost mechanical. Loud and intimidating. The sound of formal shoes on hardwood floors, a sound you could hear in office building as someone was about to get fired. The light from below the door interrupted by a silhouette, only for a second as it burst open and the full visage of my father was visible.
I sat on the bed, rushing back, hoping to have my back against the wall and be as far away from the door as possible. “What in the name of Christ are you wearing, boy?” He spit boy out as if it was venom he sucked of a snake bite, and he was aiming it for the eyes of a rival he hated. He walked towards me and pulled me up by my arm. “Long hair, a skirt, you pretending to be a girl, Peter? You some kind of fucking sissy?” He threw me on the ground, hard. “I should have never left you with your mother, a Donnellan man acts a certain way. A certain way she couldn’t have taught you.” He now pulled me off the ground by my hair, as I tried reaching for his arm, grabbing at it, to try and make him stop. “But I’ll teach you now, boy. I’ll make a man out of you if it’s the last thing I do.” He slapped me across the cheek, hard enough to throw me towards the mirror in the room. As I flew over, I felt a strong tug on my hair, and a painful pull. A bruised 10 year old girl with ripped off hair was looking back at me in the mirror. And then she was 11. And then they were 12. And then he was 13. I was growing up before my very eyes, aging rapidly. With each passing year, the masculine features on me got more prominent. My chin was long and sharp enough to be a spear, completely covered in facial hair. My neck had an Adam’s apple on it that was larger than a golf ball. My hands were boney, leathery, and large enough to crush a man’s head. My shoulders ended up broad enough for six people to sit on them comfortably. And throughout all this, I was still wearing that outfit. That peach skirt and top combo. I started sobbing again.
“I don’t want to be a man, I don’t want to be a man, Dad please stop don’t make me like this, Dad, please, I don’t want to be a man!” I pleaded with him, as my voice got deeper and deeper and more growly, so much so I sounded like a bear roaring by my final plea.
“Tough shit, boy, because that’s all you’ll ever be!” Dad screamed at me, as I got overtaken by the hair, looking like some horrifying mixture of a minotaur and a feral bear.
I woke up screaming. Panting. Covered in a cold sweat. As I went to wipe it away from my forehead, I felt my horns. Right. My horns. I had a demon girl form. A cute demon girl form with skin like cherries, horns, and fists of fire. A demon girl form that could leap across buildings. A demon girl form Father would freak out about. I got out of my bed and went to the bathroom, stripping out of the clothes I had fallen asleep in and stepping under a lukewarm shower. I just needed the pressure of the water on me, and the comforting warmth. I didn’t need to wake up with a cold shower, and I didn’t need to scrub myself clean. I just needed to black out and zone out after that dream. You know how you’re supposed to start forgetting details about a dream the moment you wake up? Especially when you don’t have practice writing a dream diary? Well, I could remember every single detail. Every heart-wrenching second. Why couldn’t it have stayed as a nice dream with me and Mom? Why did it have to turn into a nightmare. Why did it have to turn into a body horror nightmare at that, with my father? Oh, wait.
The thing I shouted. The thing I shouted at the end of it. It was exactly what I yelled at Victor as I beat his face to a pulp. It was something I didn’t want to address yet. Something I wouldn’t address yet.
I don’t want to be a man. Not Father’s definition of a man. Not Victor’s definition of a man. And I didn’t want to risk having a dream like that again. I turned the shower off, dried myself, threw on some underwear and sat down at my desk, prepared to spend the whole night watching cartoons to avoid sleeping.