The Luminary Bestiary

The other night, I dreamed that I woke up in an owl’s nest. It was dark, and the moon bore down like an enormous and glowing eye. I cowered in a pile of feathers and bones and broken bits of eggshell. The other owlets were huge – seven feet tall or more – all down and fuzz and beak and claw. Or perhaps I was tiny. There was no way of knowing.

(What is large, after all? What is small. Is it not our way of saying that the world only exists in relationship with our consciousness? Is it not merely a subtle self-aggrandizement?)

Their eyes blinked in the hovering moonlight. They glowed. They rustled their underdeveloped wings and opened their razor mouths. They cocked their prehistoric heads to the right and the left. They leered their faces toward my own, and squeaked.

Am I owl? I asked my dreaming self. Or am I lunch?

I didn’t know. And I woke for real before I knew the answer. I lay in bed for a long time, looking for the moon in a sea of stars. And I fell asleep listening to the far-off hooting of owls.

The next morning, I told my dream to my son.

“I had that same dream,” he said.

“Really?” I asked. “The exact same one?”

“Well,” he clarified, “not exactly the same. In mine I woke up in a dragon’s lair. And I couldn’t tell if I was a prisoner or dinner or treasure or a dragon. And then I decided.”

“Which were you?”

“Treasure. Or a dragon. I can’t decide.”

I would have told him that he was already both, but he had already run outside to play. And meanwhile, I had monsters on the brain.

People have asked me – quite often in the last few weeks – about two particular characters in my book: the Dragon and the Nybbas. Specifically, I’ve been asked about the genesis of these characters, and how they took root in my mind, and the process of their own becoming. And I’m never really sure what to say to these questions. The dragon, of course, is, well dragony. With fire and wings and scales and a foul disposition. However he is also old. And broken. And cowardly and infirm and lacking in hope and heartless. I do not mean heartless here to mean cruel or vicious. I mean simply that his heart is not in his body. And that is problematic.

The Nybbass, on the other hand, shifts its shape to suit its purposes, but it’s primary form is in mirrors. It lives on distortions, reflecting a reality that is mostly true, with enough omissions to skew belief or poison that which once was good. Mirrors, of course, can do that all on their own dang selves, but the Nybbas makes it worse.

The thing is, though, that I can’t really tell how these creatures have taken root in the landscape of my imagination. I can only say that the world in my head is densely populated with monsters. They creep around the edges of stories, asking politely to be let in. (And sometimes, not so politely.) There is a six-legged feathery monster with eyes like dinner plates and razor sharp teeth that prefers to live in bone dry forests, where the dying trees are slowly succumbing to bug infestations. There is the leather-winged cat that wipes out entire species of migratory birds and are likely responsible for cow-mutilations around the country. There is a dragon the size of a thimble and a troll that lives in my basement and a man eating worm that crinkles the lawn in my back yard. There is a beast made of river-muck with tin cans for eyes and a mouth full of teeth made from broken glass that sklurks in the creek behind my house and ripples its gassy path from wetland to footbridge to fishing hole. There is a ghost dog in the field that howls at the moon every Tuesday night at eleven.

My mind is thick with monsters.

And I think it always will be.