About the Author…
from the author’s website: Alex Wilson writes fiction and comics in Carrboro, NC. His comic with Silvio dB The Time of Reflection won the Eagle Award in 2012.
His work has appeared/will appear in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Rambler, LCRW, Weird Tales, The Florida Review, Futurismic, Outlaw Territory II (Image Comics), ChiZine, Pif, and Dragon. Locus Magazine has called him a “promising new writer,” and Publishers Weekly also has nice things to say.
About the Narrator…
Nathaniel Lee is Escape Pod’s assistant editor and sometime contributor. His writing can be found at various online venues, including Daily Science Fiction, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and all of the EA podcasts. He lives somewhat unwillingly in North Carolina with his wife and son and their obligatory authorial cats.
By Alex Wilson
The cartoon butterflies were sleeping along the pushlight nursery wallpaper as Charlene fumbled with her cradle’s locking mechanism, using fingers too large and uncoordinated for anything so practical. She blinked away the fuzziness of the low light–clearing her eyes for less than a second–and fought against the calming scent of lavender wafting up through her mattress. She flexed the monster in her throat. She didn’t love the feeling, but would miss such control over at least this one part of her body.
She heard muffled voices in the next room, beyond the transparent gate of her cradle, beyond the sleeping butterflies. Her fathers were fighting again, and they’d forgotten to activate the night muffler to hide the sounds. This was a good thing, this night. Of course they usually didn’t check on her again after nine o’clock, but it usually wasn’t so important that she hear them coming if they did.
Six months ago, Charlene had averaged three hours, forty-four minutes to open her cradlelock on any given evening; tonight it took her only forty-seven minutes. She wasn’t ready to celebrate that her physical development might finally, slowly be catching up with that of her mind. She wasn’t sure what that meant yet. She had an idea that it wasn’t entirely good news.
Again, she flexed the monster. She was four years old, and this limited mastery of her throat was still her only material proficiency.
The lock clicked. The cradle gate swung gently open. The voices in the next room became louder and clearer.
“Calm down, Gary. There’s still hope.”
“Think you’ll still say that after we’ve been changing diapers another twenty years?”
Daddy Oliver was calling Daddy Gary by his given name. That meant he was upset. When they weren’t upset, they called each other Chum or Babe, terms of affection rather than identity. She’d figured out all this on her own, from watching, from listening, from reading. She understood that degrees of isolation and socialization weren’t the only indicators of potential, and sometimes her fathers did, too. But could observation, without interaction, adequately prepare her for life? Could she defeat the monster entirely on her own?
By eighteen months–mostly from whispers and entertainment screens and books her fathers left active where she could see them–Charlene had identified a few of the big ways she wasn’t like others her age. She was smarter and could better keep her outward displays of emotion in check. But, other than her relationship to the monster and a small amount of control over the power and timing of her breath exhalations, she was well behind her peers physically, as though her inner and outer development were incapable of progressing at the same time.
“. . . doesn’t make her disabled. God, I must’ve been twelve before _I_ could whistle, and even now, I can maybe hit half the notes she can. And she reads all the time.”
“For all we know, she just stares at the words until we swipe a new page for her. And I don’t know about ascribing too much to the whistling. Maybe she’s just doing that instead of crying.”
“Only you could look at these test scores and take it as all bad. Look at this! Factoring out reaction times and fine motor skills, her non-verbal reasoning alone could be–”
“Suddenly off the charts? Sure. And if you also factor out the Stroop test and ability to recognize her own name, she could be MENSA? God, what’s more likely? That she’s smarter than either of us, or that the doctors are as clueless as we are? And maybe, just maybe, those tests only apply to _normal_ girls and not whatever random input they might be lucky enough to get from her if they wait around long enough.”
“Jesus, Gary. Just don’t give up on her. That’s all I’m saying.”
Charlene tumbled out of the cradle. She dropped to the ocean-themed carpet below. It had a pattern like the water’s surface, and it responded to the low pushlight of the wallpaper with the appearance of waves pulsing at twenty second intervals. It was how she could count time, whenever she could measure by minutes or hours instead of days. The blue-green motif was intended to calm her constant fidgets, she supposed. But if she was right, and if she was successful, she would soon be able to communicate with her fathers in a way they understood. And one of the first things she would tell them is how the constant suggestion of moving water all around her encouraged much more frequent peeing, the consequences of which neither she nor her they particularly enjoyed.
The carpet was soft enough to dampen the noise from her fall, but rough enough to make the skin on her bare legs hot and itchy as she attempted to drag herself to the play-fort in the corner. (She almost wished she had knee and elbow pads made from the same smooth and protective surface material of her diaper.) Each arm and leg eventually did her approximate bidding; she just couldn’t coordinate them to work in unison.
Daddy Oliver had built her fort out of synthetic cardboard shipping boxes. Charlene had torn out a “floor piece” of the fort and folded that synthboard panel up into a false wall deep inside her fort, against the actual wall of her bedroom. This had taken Charlene nine and a half nights.
But even that one-time task was easier than the repetitive practice of forming words with writing utensils. Each time she picked up a crayon, it was like learning to hold it anew. And pressing it to a writing surface didn’t yet resemble communication; the equal and opposite reaction from the surface was more likely to push the crayon out of her hand. At best she could make imprecise and meaningless dots and smudges before needing to pick up the crayon again. And touchscreens were even harder: programmed to intuit the most likely user intention based on gesture, the gap between the user interface’s interpretations and her finger movements only added to the broader gap between those movements and her actual intentions.
Cracking her cradlelock had been less technically challenging than writing longhand, but, using her tediously slow facility at freeing herself as a guideline, she guessed it would be another four months at least before she could write her first simple word with any practical speed or consistency. And that all assumed her motor skills would continue to develop through puberty, whenever–if ever–that would come. There were no guarantees that any part of her body, neither organ nor appendage, would be immune to obsolescence. Even her fathers suggested this when they thought she couldn’t hear or understand. She was something to be afraid of. Something new.
Just thirty-one minutes after escaping the cradle, Charlene pushed at the top of her secret synthboard panel deep inside her fort. Lucky. And luckier still that it popped loose on the sixth try. She reached behind to grab at the three prepared components, two of which she’d wrapped in freezer bags over the course of the last month. She knew she should make a few practice runs with the equipment before going against the monster. She knew her failure to do so had undermined her likelihood of survival. But the growing tightness in her vocal folds–the monster’s growing strength–made it worth the risk. If she was to escape the monster’s trap, she couldn’t take half a year to get good at it, as she had with escaping the cradle. She had to beat it tonight or it would have her forever.
“Congratulations, ‘Liver. We’ve created a monster.”
Charlene’s hand slipped on the synthboard while working the freezer bags toward her. The side of her chin banged against the floor. This was called “hyperbole.” It was the most difficult element of her fathers’ speech to identify, and often the most difficult to hear. Irony. Sarcasm. Exaggeration. Hyperbole. Maybe after tonight she’d try them out for herself. She could tell her fathers that it didn’t hurt when they said these things. That she knew they didn’t mean it.
“Listen to yourself. You know who you sound like.”
“Not the same thing.”
“Right. _Now_ you don’t sound like him at all.”
“Hate on yourself all you want, Gary. She’s still our daughter.”
“Doesn’t make me my father.”
Charlene’s first bagged component was a barely-serviceable endoscope, a bundle of optic fiber with a lens and light on one end and a backlit OLED on the other. She’d ripped it from a cheap microscope designed as a science-learning toy, after it fell apart in Charlene’s clumsy hands. It had taken a month to reattach the inkcell battery.
Months before that it had taken Charlene just as long to arrange block letters to form the word “tardiloquous” on the nursery floor. It was an uncommon and difficult derivative of “tardigrade,” meaning “slow in speech.” It only repeated one letter, and she could use the “zero” on a numbers block for the second “O.” If one word could demonstrate both an advanced grasp of language and an inability to speak it, she figured that was it.
Her fathers had allowed the completed blocks to sit on the carpet for two whole days before they put them away without noticing or at least acknowledging the word. Smaller words, arranged in weeks, then eventually mere days, also failed to impress her fathers or even get their attention. And she couldn’t form them into phrases fast enough between room cleans.
This would be the third time Charlene half-swallowed the endoscope’s lens to get a look at the monster. She’d rinsed the endoscope as best she could before each previous exploration. The last time, she’d used near-scalding water before placing it into the freezer bag. This weak sterilization attempt–adventuring out into the kitchen in the dead of night–had taken her only six nights, but she still had an itchy, minor burn on her forearm, thanks to the rush.
“Okay, so I hear you saying you think we made a mistake. It’s perfectly natural to doubt–”
“A mistake? No, using that meth-head surrogate would’ve been a mistake. What we did was a crime against laws not worth putting into writing because no one ever thought anyone would be so stupid.”
Hyperbole. Exaggeration. Daddy Gary didn’t mean it. The sooner she could ask him to clarify, the sooner he would say so in certain terms.
“God, I can’t even talk to you.”
“If only that were true.”
Charlene lay on her belly, tilting her chin up and forward, and sticking her feet out the fort’s entranceway. It afforded her the least amount of involuntary movement. There was just enough pushlight coming through the cracks between the synthboard boxes that she could keep time on the patch of carpet where the floor panel used to be.
She tore open the endoscope’s bag (eleven minutes), and shoved it into her throat (seven and a half minutes). It was a simple motion and it only took twenty-two failed attempts before she got the device past her teeth and squirming tongue. On the twenty-third try, she was able to pull her hand away quickly enough and not let those fat fingers of hers knock it out of place again.
Charlene gagged twice before managing the mild convulsions. She flexed and held the monster in front of the lens. As her tongue continued to try and wrap itself around the endoscope, she got the night’s first glimpse of the monster in the backlit OLED.
“I think we made the best choice we could’ve, given the info we had.”
“Thank you, _doctor_. And now she’s what? The worst of both of us? God, do you even care?”
When flexed, the monster was a porous flap of gray meat spidering out across her throat passage at the vocal folds. Charlene didn’t entirely trust the color representation of the toy-grade OLED, but she could believe the monster was gray. It looked nothing like the few pictures she’d found and descriptions she’d heard of cysts and other, more common, throat ailments. It was thin enough for her to wonder where exactly the muscles were hidden. For all the control she had over the sizes and shapes of the holes through which the monster graciously allowed air, perhaps the whole thing was a muscle, strangling her from the inside instead of visibly, the way a normal girl might be strangled.
When unflexed, the monster disappeared from view, even though she could feel it pressing flat against the point of the “V” where her vocal folds met. It didn’t restrict her breathing, but the way it smothered the surface of the throat had to be what prevented her from controlling the rapid changes in air pressure down there, which was how other children–children who couldn’t whistle as she could–generated normal speech.
It wasn’t until after the last specialist visit that Charlene learned to flex and reveal the monster. From what the doctors had said in front of her, she later guessed that the unflexed monster was indistinguishable from normal tissue, hidden from bodyscans as though designed to do so. They thought her inability to speak was a problem of emotional development. Perhaps she should have let herself cry more. She’d been trying to be less of a burden.
Still, Charlene believed her vocal cords were normal and functioning beneath the monster. She _had_ to believe she was a normal and functioning girl underneath. Or at least she could be so, once her body finished developing. But she was also sure that the monster was hardening–its muscles strengthening–and if she waited too long to stop it, she was convinced it would prevent her from _ever_ using them, and ever speaking to her fathers in a language they could understand.
“Leave the dishes.”
“No, I’ll do them.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I said I’ll do them. Jesus.”
The second bagged component was a sliver of shaving mirror, attached at an angle to the hollow casing of a steel pencil. She’d patterned it after a professional dental mirror. She’d broken both her fathers’ shaving mirrors before identifying a fragment small and safe enough to use.
Though the edges were sharper than she would have liked and it was the most difficult to assemble originally, this component was the easiest of the three to position once she got it out of the bag (twelve minutes) and beyond her lips (five minutes). She inserted it past her teeth, and let the mirror-end simply slide toward the back of her mouth. She remembered the proper position by the specific discomfort of the placement: tickling but not quite triggering her gag reflex. Just six small nudges and it nestled into the right spot.
“Have you calmed down?”
“You don’t look calm.”
“Would you rather I _be_ calm or _look_ calm?”
The third and final component was a small laser, about the size of her fist. It was the heart of a kitchen toaster-slicer with the protective casing and mirrors removed. Charlene had spent three days disconnecting a wire without permanently damaging the machine. Then she waited until her fathers tossed the whole thing in the disposal before stealing it away into her fort. It had been the longest, most physically exhausting night of her life. Until tonight.
She slowly, gently wiggled both herself and the laser into premeasured places inside the fort, limiting her movement and maximizing the likelihood than any movement she _would_ make would be small and, given time to correct her many mistakes, deliberate. She opened her mouth as wide as she thought she could hold it, and approximately aimed the laser toward the center of the mirror at the cusp of her throat. The laser would take ten seconds or so to slice through and gently toast a bagel positioned a few millimeters from the beam’s source. At a distance of about thirty centimeters, and with the impurities in the mirror, she hoped it would diffract enough that it would require at least a few extra seconds’ concentration to do more than heat up its target. Charlene counted on this, that she would have time to adjust the position of the beam before she cut into the wrong thing.
Lying on her belly, Charlene stared forward at the endoscope’s OLED. She hadn’t the coordination or the skill or the even the best tools to defeat the monster. All she had, all she ever had, was endless time alone. She’d done nothing but prepare for this battle for a significant percentage of her life. If she failed tonight, it was because she’d already failed a day or a week or many months ago.
She reached for the laser’s power button. This would take a while.
“Look, yes, fine. I’d do it again. Okay?”
“Do what, Gary?”
“Have a child with you. Ours. From both of our DNA. Charlene. Yes. Knowing the risks.”
“I suppose you think that makes you less of an ass?”
“I was hoping.”
Almost half her lifetime ago, Charlene had seen an older girl at a support group for parents of cloned dependents. Like Charlene and a few of the other kids at the meeting, this girl had seemed physically undeveloped. Her hair was thin and patchy. She had little apparent control over her motor skills.
Still, Charlene had thought this girl interesting because she had whistled softly throughout the adults’ discussion. At first it had seemed random, as uncontrolled as most of the things Charlene’s body did. Then Charlene realized the girl’s lips weren’t pursed or otherwise positioned to whistle, at least in the ways Charlene understood whistling worked. And when the girl caught Charlene’s eyes and began to whistle louder, even generating two or three notes at once, Charlene got the impression that this girl was trying to get her attention.
Later Charlene learned just how impossible it was for the typical human whistle to produce double-stops in the _mouth_, much less in the throat. And when still later she learned to flex her own monster and to whistle with just as much complexity, she wished she could go back to that meeting and find out whether this older girl, too, had a monster and two fathers who argued behind muffled doors. And were there others?
Charlene wondered whether her (or their?) ability to hit two or more notes simultaneously meant she could eventually create complex chords. She could imagine using this to communicate with others like herself: individual notes as an alphabet, musical chords and dissonance as words or phrases. She could imagine it might be her responsibility to invent a language, if there were more children out there like them, and if that older girl hadn’t started already on developing such a language. How wonderful it would be to talk to someone, no matter how much time or effort it took. How wonderful to be part of something. Maybe they weren’t even human. Evolution–at least as she understood it–didn’t work that way. It was more random and much slower than that. But maybe they were better than human, and that was the point of all of this. Something new in theirs fathers’ eyes. Foreign, which didn’t have to mean “grotesque.”
But Charlene didn’t know the older girl’s name or the likelihood she would ever see her again. Could she ask her fathers after tonight? Would her fathers even remember that meeting, one of so many they attended? For that matter, would there no longer be a point in meeting that girl, after tonight? After Charlene destroyed her own monster once and for all?
Charlene had to work with what she had. Her vocal cords might be trapped beneath the monster, but at least she would still get to keep them. On her present course, as a whistler, her normalcy was obsolete, as useless as the human tailbone or the wings of a flightless bird. It was trapped there to tease her with what she wouldn’t have. At best her vocal cords would stay that way, dormant, and the most she could hope for was to become a part of that whistling world instead of the world of her fathers, unless she did something about it.
She did it.
She switched on the laser.
“You mind? I’m reading.”
“You can’t read in bed?”
“I’ll be there in a minute, Babe.”
“Will you check on that thing we created first?”
“The . . . You’re right. I shouldn’t have said those things. I was tired. God, I just shouldn’t have.”
“Don’t cry, babe. It’s okay.”
“Thank you for saying so. Will you?”
Charlene seared the monster near its base. Lucky. Lucky so far. She kept it flexed, in the path of the laser beam, almost colorless and blinding, it was so white and bright. It illuminated her throat in ways the fiber optics and OLED never could and, to add to the confusion, created dozens of new shadows to further tax her focus.
She could feel her internal temperature rise, either from the heat or the nervousness. She could feel her body wanting, struggling to move. The sizzle inside of her began to drown out most other sound except for the laser’s whir. Never so close to her head and with nothing else to mitigate it, the toaster laser had never seemed so loud. She was sensitive to the growing dryness in her throat, even as the area around the incision dampened with blood where the laser’s heat failed to seal the wound. Where _Charlene_ failed to seal the wound.
The incisions stung, but the pain was more bearable than she’d expected. To Charlene, this was further evidence that the monster was not a part of her, and didn’t belong inside her. It smelled like cooking meat, and, after everything, that’s all it was and ever would be.
“I said I’m going.”
Charlene heard her father’s footsteps and then the door open. She tried to remain still. Just a few more seconds (minutes? hours?) and she would completely sever the monster. And then she’d need a few additional to finish heating and closing the wound. And then? Infection–and how right or wrong she was about everything in the world–would be all she had left to worry about.
She became aware at how long she’d been staring at the backlit OLED. She tried to glance away and blink the strain out of her eyes. Then she had to blink again when she saw the nursery light spilling through the cracks in the synthboard.
Charlene imagined what she must look like, lying on her stomach and legs stuck out of her fort. Would Daddy Gary think she was dead? She didn’t dare move with the laser firing down her throat.
She remained motionless. The monster bled. Her throat bled. The pain was real now. The monster dangled from less and less flesh. Stinging sweat replaced the strain in her eyes.
“Char, are you okay?”
She risked jerking her foot–luckily, successfully–very slightly to tell him, yes, she was okay. She hoped it would be enough. Nothing she could get her body to do was ever enough.
“Answer me, Charlene.”
Her given name. It didn’t always mean anger with her as it did between her fathers. But it wasn’t helping.
Less than a millimeter of tissue now held the monster to her. She was sure of it. It dangled from the roof of her throat. The bleeding obscured her view, but she was so close that she should have just been able to reach in and yank it off, had she smaller hands and any semblance of control over them.
The floorboards bent beneath her belly, beneath the carpet, as her father was surely stepping toward the fort.
“You stuck in there? Come on out, buddy.”
And then the monster fell. It fell loose in her throat. She felt herself convulse in a choke as it pressed against the side of her windpipe.
She was almost free, but the monster wasn’t finished with her. It wanted to strangle her or drown her in her own blood. Before anything else, she needed to refocus the laser to cauterize the incision. But she had no monster left to flex, nothing to reposition in front of the laser. She tried to tilt her neck, but her movements were too big and unpredictable. She couldn’t even find the beam on the OLED. The laser was missing the mirror entirely.
Two hands grabbed her feet. Daddy Gary yanked her out of the fort, gently but quickly.
Charlene grasped at the laser, bumping it onto its side, as her father dragged her backwards. He flipped her over. The monster sank deeper into her windpipe.
When her face cleared the fort’s entrance, Charlene met her father’s wide eyes.
“The hell is that in your mouth?! Oliver, get in here!”
She coughed and gagged up blood as her father retracted the mirror-stick and endoscope from her throat. She felt a slight cut on the roof of her mouth. Then she couldn’t cough anymore. The monster was stuck somewhere deep, and it wasn’t going to let her go.
“Oh Jesus. Is that blood? Ollie! Ambulance! Call an ambulance! I think she swallowed something sharp!”
In a swift move, he stood Charlene upright and squatted behind her. He reached around her abdomen. With the heel of his palm he pressed inward and upward. Then he repeated the thrust, less gently.
It wasn’t working. The monster had won. Charlene managed to crudely shake her head, but her father was unlikely to recognize it as anything but one of her random spasms.
Her father picked her up again. She no longer knew where the monster was inside her body (inside a lung?), but she burned with the realization that she’d lost. She’d never be free. The monster would rather they both die than let her go.
Daddy Gary sat, his legs out ahead of him, and then he lay her face down over his knee. He gave her a gentle whack on the back. Then a harder one.
Charlene stared at the floor, at her bent and broken instruments. The sliver of mirror was no longer attached to the steel pencil. Had that adhesive failed inside her throat, she wouldn’t even have made it this far.
At her father’s third whack, the monster came up into Charlene’s mouth. It caught between her teeth and tongue. She could feel her mouth working, wanting to re-swallow it on instinct. She forced a coughed instead, then a successful spit, and with a wet sound the monster collapsed to the carpet, smothering the _Sign Language for Toddlers_ OLED book cover of his tablet, which Daddy Gary must have brought into the room with him. If only she could touch and swipe the pages and point at the words that would tell him how sorry she felt. How thankful. How loved.
Outside her throat, bloody and naked and piled on the floor, the monster looked like the throwaway stuff her fathers would trim off their chicken before the marinade. It wasn’t her. It didn’t even look like it was _from_ her. It wasn’t a part of this family, and it never belonged inside of her.
Charlene’s father exhaled forcefully, as though he, too, hadn’t been able to breathe for the last few seconds. He tried to nudge her, to turn her around on his lap, presumably to get a look at her face. She resisted.
She held fast–successfully held!–to her father’s leg, not wanting to let go just yet. She tasted the blood collecting in her mouth, and decided that that bitterness was preferable to letting it drain into her lungs. Maybe the blood and the monster made the incision look worse than it was. Maybe, if she held on until the ambulance arrived, she would live long enough to speak to her fathers. She did feel safe now. Safe from the monster and safe from other whistlers who might be out there, who would have preferred she speak their language instead of the language of her fathers.
“Ambulance is on the way,” Daddy Oliver said behind them. And then, just as urgently: “Do I smell something _burning_?”
Charlene looked up, back at her fort. The laser. She’d forgotten. One of the pieces of synthboard had the words “fire resistant” printed in small letters somewhere. She was pretty sure it meant something not as good as “fireproof,” but that was one of those things she couldn’t figure out entirely on her own. She didn’t want to let go, but she had to.
She scrambled off her father’s lap. She missed the entrance. She crushed the fort with her body. The collapsing synthboard made it impossible for her to reach in and shut off the laser, but her attempt was enough to get Daddy Oliver to see the light.
“What the hell?”
He reached in, found the component and switched off the laser.
“This some kind of sick toy?”
“I’ve never seen it before.”
“Think it’s that thing my sister got her.”
“Yeah? Well I told you it was inappropriate.”
Charlene coughed up another spurt of blood. She scrambled back into Daddy Gary’s lap. Less than twenty seconds, but only because both fathers helped.
She knew her throat would take days to heal. Everything would still take days, at least. Even then, _if_ she could avoid infection and _if_ she hadn’t cut too much out of her throat, there was still no guarantee she’d ever be able to move or speak like a normal person. But she gave the latter a try anyway. She knew exactly what to do. She’d studied and planned for this moment longer than for any other.
Tentatively pushing air out through her tender and scarred vocal folds, Charlene tried vibrating them until it sounded less like wind and more like a human groan. She pushed more forcefully and eventually got a sound like an “Ah.”
As her fathers waited for the ambulance, they stared, one leaning over the other’s shoulder, both half-crying and half-gaping at their daughter’s ability to make a non-whistling sound. Daddy Oliver wrapped a blanket around Charlene, and she welcomed the extra touch, though she was sweating and unsure of whether she was hot or cold. Both, maybe. The uncertainty about herself and her future was exhilarating.
Charlene next tried blocking the airflow through her mouth. She waited until her fidgeting tongue rested momentarily against her front upper teeth. Then, eventually, she managed to force the tongue to snap down as she made the “ah” sound again. Twelve seconds, maybe? The result, she hoped, would sound like “Da.”
“Jesus. Did you hear her?”
“Yeah, she was totally talking to me.”
Charlene wanted to smile. Maybe that would be her next project. Right now she would have to start over, to say “Da” a second time for her second father. But they were worth the challenge, and generating human speech wasn’t nearly as complex as she’d worried it would be.
As Charlene waited for her tongue to find its position again, she wondered whether she would miss her whistling ability, the one thing she was actually good at. And if she was right about other whistlers being out there? How would she speak to them?
Her tongue rested again against her upper teeth. She prepared to snap it down. If there were indeed other whistlers, and they were indeed smarter than her fathers and other “regular” people, why should _Charlene_ be the one to have to figure out how to communicate with _them_?
She could do anything she wanted now. She wasn’t her fathers’ monster anymore. She could even stop crying, if she wanted to.