I stood in front of the door, trying to keep my knees from knocking together. Remember, Harry, just be polite and open, I told myself inside my head. Sure, you don’t want to ruin things with this girl by offending her family, but you’re a nice enough guy. Just stay polite, and it will all be fine.
For a second, I heard nothing, and then the strangest sounds started radiating out from the other side of the door. If I had to describe them, I’d say that they most resembled a live octopus being slowly pressed through a pasta roller. It was loud, rather wet, and decidedly unpleasant.
“Kiji, back! No, I said back! Kiji, we have visitors, you have to behave!” I perked up. I knew that voice!
A moment later, my girlfriend opened up the door. “Hi, Jules,” I greeted her, stepping up and giving her a brief hug. She grinned back at me, showing off that little smirk I loved so much.
Jules was, in a word, amazing. I’d met her four months previously, and had instantly fallen head over heels for her. From her occasional biting sarcasm to her sweet smiles, how she always gave anyone her full attention, as though they were the most important person in the world – I knew instantly that I was hooked. And somehow, I managed to be charming and kind enough to catch her eye as well.
But now came the next challenge: meeting her parents. And I was praying that I was up to the task.
“Come on in, Harry,” Jules told me, pulling open the door. “Just watch out for Kiji. He can be a bit.. enthusiastic, let’s say, when he meets strangers for the first time.”
I was expecting a large dog, perhaps. But when I stepped around the door and inside, that was most definitely not what I saw. What Kiji was, I just can’t say.
Instead, let me say what I did see:
I saw tentacles, covered in rubbery suction cups.
I saw scales, metallic and glinting in the soft glow of the wall sconces.
I saw at least three eyes, big and yellow and baleful as they glared back at me with deep-seated reptilian anger.
I saw scything claws digging into the carpet underfoot.
I saw what looked disturbingly like a proboscis.
In short, I saw the worst monster of my life, like something had crawled out of my assembled nightmares.
The thing hissed at me as I stood there, frozen in shock. But to my amazement, Jules reached past me, towards it! “Jules, what are you doing?” I yelped in surprise and fear.
My lovely girlfriend was scratching the thing, behind the crest that covered its third eye! And somehow, she wasn’t getting disemboweled. The creature was still panting heavily (was that its breathing?), but it didn’t look as angry when it glanced up at her. “Oh, don’t mind Kiji,” she said, as if this was a totally normal occurrence. “He’s not great at accepting in new people, but he’ll like you! Let him smell my hand.”
Ever so gingerly, I extended my hand towards the monster, where it was immediately wrapped in a tentacle. When I withdrew it, I found my fingers coated in a thin sheen of slime. “What the hell is that thing?” I asked, trying in vain to find a place to wipe off my fingers.
“You know, I’m not quite sure!”
I looked up at the booming voice, and my still-slimy hand was immediately grabbed in one of the heartiest handshakes I’ve ever experienced. “Mr. O’Hara, and good to meet you, Harry!” the man boomed, as he attempted to unscrew my arm. “My little Juliet has told me so many nice things about you!”
“Er, great,” I said, finally managing to tug my hand free and wondering if my shoulder socket would ever work again. “About, um, Kiji…”
“Ah, yes. I found him in the woods a few years ago,” Mr. O’Hara bellowed. “He’s an ugly bugger, to be sure, but he was half-frozen, and I guess I’m just a big softie at heart!” He reached over and grabbed at the monster, sinking his hands deep into its squishy, fleshy side as he made cooing noises.
I glanced at Jules, praying that this was some sort of elaborate joke, but she was just smiling back at me. “Come on, let’s get you washed up for dinner,” she told me, tugging at my hand and leading me into the house. “We’ve got meatloaf and broccoli, you’ll like it.”
As we went around the corner, I spared one last look behind me. Mr. O’Hara was down on the floor, and had wrestled the monster onto what, on a normal creature, might possibly be called its back. He was rubbing it fiercely, and the long tentacles seemed to be coiling and uncoiling rhythmically. It was making a low sound, somewhere in between a purr and a death gurgle.
This was definitely going to be an interesting night…