Size / / /

In a little workshop

downtown, in a room

without windows, a man

sits at a workbench, making


He is just a man, not a monster

himself, but fear is his family

business. His ancestors invented

the cyclops, the werewolf,

and the vampire. He has watched

with dismay as these fine old

commodities are slowly drained

of their power, swallowed

by culture, sapped of their strange,

dark potency. Sea monsters

and wolves and apes with straight

razors—his ancestors conjured

all these things. It often seems

to him that all the best ideas

were taken before he was born.

In his early days this monster-
maker did his best

with the possibilities left to him,

creating escaped lunatics

with hooks for hands, psychotic

dentists with chrome drills, and spirits

who appear when you say

the right forbidden phrase

while looking at a mirror

in a darkened room. But in his old

age he has begun to lose

focus, his sense for appropriate

subjects has begun to

slip and fade. He makes monsters

where monsters shouldn't be made.

He is the reason clowns so often seem

sinister, the reason mannequins and dolls

can be so unsettling, the reason a child's


sitting unattended in a front yard can be an image

suffused with dread. If he goes on

this way, who knows what other objects

will attain an aura of menace?

Imagine fearing a dessert spoon, or a spool

of thread, or a plain white candle. Imagine

looking at your sandals and seeing monsters,

or turning back the covers on your bed

and being shocked almost to death

by the exquisite horror

of a clean

linen sheet.

Imagine the day when he can't think

of anything to make monstrous

beyond the perimeter of his own body,

and he becomes a monster himself,

and leaves his windowless workshop

to knock on our doors

at odd hours, to call our homes

in the middle of the night,

to whisper the secret words

passed down by his ancestors,

the words that will finally

make monsters

of us all.

Tim Pratt won a Hugo Award for his short fiction (and lost a Nebula and a World Fantasy Award), and his stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Year's Best Fantasy, and other nice places. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife Heather Shaw and son River. For more information about him and his work, see his website. To contact him, send him email at
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8 Apr 2024

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