I’m starting a new project: putting together a family cookbook, one recipe at a time. This recipe is one that my husband grew up with. My family cooked something similar, but I prefer his family’s version. It’s called Monsters because it puffs up in strange ways when it’s cooking. I like to experiment with this recipe. It’s pretty forgiving. When we cook it for our family now, we double it and cook it in two cake pans side by side in the oven at the same time.
Eglantine wandered into the poorly lit store that she’d never noticed before. It was squeezed between a coffee shop filled with scruffy people and a grocery store that had closed nearly a decade ago. She would normally never even look twice at anything along this street, but her car had a flat tire and her phone died, so she needed to find a way to call a tow truck.
There was no one at the counter. Eglantine looked around and couldn’t find a bell to ring either. “Hello? Is anybody there?” she said. She looked around. It certainly was a strange store. I was so dimly lit that it was difficult to see what was on the shelves from here.
“Can I help you?” a low, crackly voice asked. Eglantine nearly jumped in surprise. She hadn’t heard anyone come in.
She turned and faced the young man standing behind the counter. He was tall and thin and pale with dark hair and a bit of an overbite. He seemed harmless. Eglantine smiled. “Do you have a phone I could use? My battery died and my car has a flat tire.”
“Just a moment.” The young man reached under the counter and picked up an old-fashioned phone that he set down at her elbow.
“Is that a rotary dial? I haven’t seen one of those since I was a little girl.” She smiled and carefully dialed the number. She arranged to meet the tow truck driver in front of the grocery store in twenty minutes.
Task done, Eglantine looked around the store again. “What do you sell here?”
“Sweets for monsters,” the young man said. He looked completely serious. Eglantine looked at his black clothing and pale appearance. The store must cater to teenagers who liked dressing up as vampires and such.
Eglantine had always had a bit of a sweet tooth. She didn’t mind playing along with the theme, as long as the candy tasted good. “What would you recommend?”
“What kind of monster are you?” the young man asked.
Well, that was hardly helpful. “Does it matter?”
The young man looked confused. “Of course it does.” He waved towards a dark shelf that looked like most of the others. “Just look at the lollipops. Vampires like blood pops, werewolves like meat pops, and zombies like brain pops.”
Those were terrible flavor names. And they didn’t really hint at what the flavors really tasted like. Kids and their strange obsessions. “What’s your bestseller?” Eglantine asked.
The young man pointed to a box on the counter filled with bland looking packaged bars of some type. “This far from Halloween we sell a lot of spectral energy bars.”
Ugh. Protein bars. “Do they taste good?”
The young man blinked. “They don’t taste like anything.”
Eglantine laughed. “I believe it.” She checked her watch. The tow truck driver would be here in a few minutes. If she was going to buy herself a treat, she’d need to decide on something soon. “So, what do you think I would like?”
“If you like jam, we have a new shipment in,” the young man said.
“Sure,” she said. “I’ll get a baguette on the way home and have toast and jam and hot cocoa.” She smiled. She could already see herself curled in her favorite chair watching the weather channel and enjoying her treat. “Pick out two. Surprise me,” she said.
“All right.” The young man walked around the counter to a nearby shelf and picked up two little jars. He put them into a little plain paper bag with handles and set it on the counter. He rang up the purchase on an old-fashioned register. “How will you be paying?”
“Cash.” She handed him a bill that would comfortably cover the cost. “Keep the change,” she said. “Thanks for the help.”
She hurried over to her car. Just as she arrived, the tow truck pulled up. In all the hassle of dealing with the tow truck and the repair shop, she forgot all about the jam until she was driving home that evening. “Oh, I need to stop at the bakery.” She was able to just make the turn in time.
Before going into the bakery, she decided to peek at the jars the young man had picked out. Lizard Scale Jelly and Banana Peel and Parsley Jam? What did they really taste like? They sounded terrible. Well, if they tasted bad, at least the jars were cute. She could put them on her desk and use them to hold paperclips and stamps. Really, teenagers these days were so strange.
Melvo lived under Jason’s bed. He was pretty lucky. Most monsters under beds were lonely and lived on a diet of dust bunnies and half-finished homework. But Jason was different. When Melvo first moved in under the bed, Jason quickly made him feel welcome.
Jason had grinned. Instead of yelling or turning on the lights and banishing him back to the shadowlands, Jason offered him an odd sock. “Hi, I’m Jason,” he said. “I always wanted a monster under my bed.” The sock was soft, and covered in pictures of cartoon bats and ghosts.
“Are you sure I can eat this?” Melvo asked. “This is a very nice sock.”
“I have lots of socks,” Jason said. “What’s your name?”
“Melvo,” Melvo said. He bit into the sock, and it tasted better than any dust bunny he’d ever eaten. Melvo smiled, and then remembered that monster smiles are scary. He frowned and looked down.
“What’s wrong?” Jason asked.
“Aren’t you scared of me?” Melvo asked.
“Of course not,” Jason said. “Monsters aren’t scary. I know lots of nice monsters. We have a mummy visiting from Egypt next week, and my uncle is a vampire. There’s a werewolf next door, but he thinks we don’t know about that.”
“Okay,” Melvo said. “So does that mean we’re friends?”
And they were. They talked in the evenings, while Jason recopied his homework so that Melvo could eat freshly done, high-grade completed homework. On holidays, Jason shared his socks and told him all about their traditions.
Melvo told him about dust bunnies. He tried to describe the taste of a good sock. He told him about the shadowlands where there was nothing to do but sleep and wait and dream.
“What do you dream about?” Jason asked.
“Finding a home,” Melvo said.
“Is that a good dream?” Jason asked.
“It’s the best dream. I found a home and I’m happier than I’ve ever been,” Melvo said. And he was very happy.
Then one day, Jason told him his family was moving. “You have to come too, Melvo,” he said.
“How?” Melvo asked. “I know how to find your room, but if you move you’ll be somewhere else.”
Jason thought for a moment. Then he smiled. “I’ll put a box under the bed. Climb inside. I’ll close it while it’s still dark and not open it until we get to the new house. Then I’ll open it under the bed. That way you won’t have to go to the shadowlands until after you know where my new room is so you can find it again.”
“That might work,” Melvo said.
So, when the time came, Melvo climbed into the little box, and Jason sealed it shut. After a long wait, the box moved. There were noises and voices and the box swayed.
“The box is really light,” he heard Jason say. “What if he isn’t in here?”
And then he heard the scrabble of fingernails on the outside of the box. There was the ripping sound of tape pulled back, just a little. The corner of the box lifted. For just a moment, he saw Jason’s face, framed by a brilliant blue sky, and then he was pulled back into the shadowlands.
The new family in Jason’s old house didn’t like monsters under the bed. So Melvo hid, and ate dust bunnies. Some nights he paced under the bed until the floorboards creaked so that the lights would go on and he could be sent back to the shadowlands early. He missed Jason.
And then, one evening, as he woke in the shadowlands, he saw a little dot of light. He’d never seen anything like it. Instead of following the well-worn path to Jason’s old room, he raced towards the little light.
It led him down a new path, and just before he caught it, he tipped over the edge into a new room. And when he looked up at the bed, he knew where he was. “Jason?” he whispered.
“Melvo!” Jason said. “I’m so happy to see you. I didn’t know if that would work.”
“What did you do?”
Jason smiled. “I wished on a star. Have I told you about stars yet? They’re pretty amazing.” And Jason told him about stars and gave him a sock with pictures of angry pumpkins. And Melvo was happy.
This story was originally posted on June 23, 2017. I like writing about monsters that are like us except for a few things that are very different. The fun is deciding what will be different and what will be the same.
It was monster Papa’s turn to make dinner. He loved to make dinner. It required thought and creativity, and it was very relaxing. If only all chores were this great.
“What’s for dinner, Dad?” little monster asked.
“Candle wax and string,” monster Papa said.
Little monster cheered. He sat down on the stool at the counter. “Can I watch?”
Monster Papa smiled. “Of course you can.” He pulled out a large tin can and started throwing in the ingredients. String, candle wax, toenails…”
“Why toenails?” little monster asked.
“So that you’re always on your toes. What’s that over there?” Monster Papa looked to the left. Little monster turned to look and monster Papa poured a bag of candy into the can.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t quick enough. Little monster leaned forward to look into the pan. “What was that?”
“What was what?” monster Papa asked.
“What did you add to dinner?”
Monster Papa started squeezing lemons into the mix. “Lemons, so that you’re not afraid to move forward when things go sour.”
“No, before that,” little monster said. “What was it? What was in the bag?” Little monster kneeled up on his chair and tried to lean over the counter and look into the tin can.
“It’s a surprise,” monster Papa said.
“It’s not something gross is it?” little monster asked.
“Of course not,” monster Papa said. “Well maybe a little.”
“Tell me, tell me, tell me, please?” little monster clasped his paws together under his chin. “Please, please, please.”
“Stop using your best manners, or I’ll tell your mother,” monster Papa said.
Little monster made a scary face. “What did you put into dinner?”
“Fine,” monster Papa said. “I’ll tell you. It was hot peppers, so that you’ll have biting wit.”
“You just put that in,” little monster said.
“Okay, I’ll tell you. Listen closely, because I’ll only say this once. It was…” monster Papa mumbled the last word.
“It doesn’t count if I can’t hear it,” little monster said.
“Oh look, the peppers are working already, and you haven’t eaten them yet. That’s amazing.” Monster Papa covered the tin can with foil. “Time to put this in the oven.”
“If you tell me I’ll shred the newspapers into tiny pieces and scatter them all over the living room,” little monster said.
“That would be nice,” monster Papa said. “We could turn on the fan and pretend it’s a blizzard.”
“So will you tell me?”
Monster Papa sighed. “Fine. I added candy.”
Little monster scowled. “Ewwww. Why?”
“So that you grow up sweet,” monster Papa said.
“I don’t want to be sweet.” Little monster stomped his feet. “Who wants to be sweet?”
“It will help you appreciate the scary moments,” monster Papa said. “It’s important to have balance. Besides, it’s sweet to say I love you, and I say that all the time. It’s okay to be sweet sometimes.”
“Fine,” little monster said. “But I’m not eating it. Not if there’s candy inside.”
“Tell you what. Eat three pieces of candy, and you can pick the rest out.” Monster Papa set time on the oven.
“You can have them, Papa,” little monster said.
Monster Papa made a face. “I guess it’s good for me, right? Well, go tell Mama that our casserole surprise will be ready soon.”
“Okay. I love you, Papa,” little monster said.
“I love you too, my little monster.”