Belinda’s chair squeaked. The bell on her little table chimed, and all around the room monsters stood, shuffled their feet or flippers, and changed places. Her antennae fluttered, giving away her nerves. She closed her eye briefly and whispered, “Please.”
When she looked again, a wall of shaggy red fur sat opposite her. Silently, she continued her mantra. Please, be nice. Please, have a brain. Please, don’t mention…
“Orifices?” The red monster leaned forward, a wide smile appearing beneath his eyes. Had it been there a moment before? Or had the mouth just sprouted from the hair around it?
“Excuse me?” Belinda sat back in defeat. They’d all been like this. Her speed dating experience had almost convinced her to give up dating entirely.
“You know,” he continued. “What type, how many?”
“I usually prefer to start with something less intimate,” she said. “Where do you work, for instance.”
“I’m a biter.” He sat back, and a row of similar mouths appeared around his body. “It suits me, biting. Been at it for years, but…” He lowered his voice as more mouths sprouted all over him. “They can do more than bite.”
“Was that the bell?” Belinda looked around, praying their time had ended.
“I didn’t hear it.” A dozen of his mouths vanished and were replaced by spiraling ears.
“I’m pretty sure…” Belinda dragged it out. When the table chimed, she sighed her relief. “Well, it was nice meeting you.”
“Sure, how about…”
She looked pointedly around, leaning to one side and doing her best not to make eye contact even though he was now covered in eyes. When he shuffled off, Belinda sat back and scooted her purse closer to her feet. She might have to make a mad dash at this rate. Even at two minutes each, a monster could only take so many rotten dates.
Her next candidate trembled from his pointy head to his webbed toes. He was covered in slick-looking scales, and his skin stretched so tightly over his thin frame that she could count his bones. He sat gently, fidgeted for a moment, and then smiled.
A better start at least.
“Hi,” Belinda said.
“I’m George,” he held out long fingers tipped in tiny claws.
“I’m Belinda. Nice to meet you.” She smiled. He was the first of her dates so far to exchange names before diving right into the technical difficulties of monster physiology. Maybe George actually wanted to meet someone nice. Maybe he didn’t only care about…
“Isn’t really relevant,” she said. A fair question, but one she usually saved for a second or third date. After she decided she actually liked someone.
“Agreed. Sure.” George nodded his head and his gills riffled.
“I’m a secretary,” Belinda offered. Maybe she could steer things along a less physical line of conversation if she took the lead.
“Cool,” George said. He paused, fluttered his gills again, and then blurted, “Orifices?”
“I think I’m just going to go home,” she said.
“But this is only the sixth round.” George looked from side to side, shaking hard enough to rock their table. “It’s the scales, isn’t it? I knew this set was too hair-dominant for me.”
“It’s not the scales, George.” She reached for her purse with a fuzzy blue hand and managed to haul it into her lap. “I’ve just had enough for one night.”
Enough orifices, enough shallow monsters only interested in how they fit together. Belinda pushed her chair back, and George took the hint and wandered off. She’d just stood up when someone else slid into his chair.
“I was just leaving,” she said.
“Can I sit here for a minute and hide?”
Belinda turned back to the table. There had been a trace of fear in those words, and when she saw the creature sitting on the far side of her table, she could guess why. Pale skin over a human frame, long dark hair wound into a neat braid behind an ordinary face.
“What are you doing?” Belinda sat back down.
“I just need a break,” the human whispered. “Two minutes without someone asking me about my orifices.”
She certainly could understand that, but this girl had to be crazy coming in here at all.
“Are you sure you’re in the right place?” Belinda asked.
“I know, right? Like is that all anyone ever thinks about?”
“Tell me about it, but…” How could she put it tactfully?
All around them, monsters tapped their claws against the floor, showed their fangs and hissed with venomous tongues. A human could get hurt here. She could get dead if she wasn’t careful.
“That last guy was a biter,” the girl continued as if she wasn’t about to be on the menu. “And you’ll never guess what he told me.”
“They can do more than bite,” Belinda said, chuckling despite her terror for the girl. “Met him.”
“Oh my gosh, yes. What a piece of work.”
“It’s all tentacles and vents to them,” Belinda shook her head. “But…”
She struggled for the right words, for a way to warn without offending.
“Really, it can be dangerous for — ”
“Sure.” The girl shrugged and leaned forward. She stared at Belinda, and just for a second, something shifted beneath her skin. It might have been a shadow, a trick of the light, but the girl’s voice changed too, lowered. “I’m Stephanie. I work at the new mall.”
“Belinda.” She watched that pale skin, searching for another shadow. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m a secretary, and I think I’ve had enough of speed dating.”
“Can’t blame you there,” Stephanie said. “But it beats sitting home alone watching scare flicks.”
“I love scare flicks.” Belinda loved a mystery, too.
Stephanie’s human skin darkened. It moved as if her veins were snakes, writhing away beneath it. Her eyes lit up, giving nothing away. “Me too.”
The bell on the table chimed.
Stephanie smiled, almost human, and Belinda leaned forward.
“Can I get your number?”
This story took third place in our Monster Flash contest!
Frances writes speculative and anthropomorphic fiction. She’s been published in Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, and numerous anthologies. Her animal stories have won both the Leo and Coyotl awards. She lives in Washington State with her family, pets, and a multitude of house plants.