The monster first came when Steph was six, hiding under her bed and growling. It was only there at night, and Steph never saw it, and even though the noises were scary, Steph somehow knew it wouldn’t hurt her.
“What is your name?” she asked the monster one night, leaning down and whispering. The monster didn’t answer.
But still she asked, every night, until one night the monster did answer. “I don’t have a name,” it hissed, and Steph frowned.
“How can you not have a name?” she asked, confused, but the monster didn’t answer. “We’ll have to find you a name,” Steph said decidedly. “Are you a girl?”
“Yes,” came the voice, and Steph smiled.
“Good,” she said forcefully. “Boys are stupid.”
By the time Steph was ten, the monster was the closest friend she had, but she still hadn’t found a name. She’d looked in all the books she could read, but although she wrote them all down and read them to the monster, none of them were right.
But still, they talked, and Steph read to the monster from her books, and her parents thought she was talking to herself.
“What is life?” the monster asked, her voice raspy and hoarse from under the bed.
Steph thought about it for a minute before answering. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know the definition. But I can look it up in the big dictionary in the morning, and tell you tomorrow night?”
She came back the next night with the definition written down on a scrap of paper. “There were two definitions,” she said, curled up on her bed, quilt wrapped around her. “1. The condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.” The monster made a strange noise, and Steph laughed. “I had to look up some of those words too,” she said, “I can explain it?” And she did, and the monster was quiet.
“The second definition was shorter,” Steph said, squinting at the paper. “2. The existence of an individual human being or animal.”
The monster didn’t speak for quite some time.
“Have you gone to sleep?” Steph whispered.
“No,” the monster said, but her voice was barely there.
“Are you okay?” asked Steph.
“Do you think I have life?” asked the monster.
Steph thought about it. “Yes,” she said finally, “of course. You exist, don’t you? So you’re alive. And you have life.”
The monster didn’t say anything, but as Steph drifted off into sleep, she thought that the sounds the monster was making seemed much happier than usual.
When Steph was fourteen, she knew that not everyone had a monster under the bed. She didn’t care. The monster was still her best friend. And she still hadn’t found the right name.
When Steph was fifteen, her school friends were talking about boys. Steph didn’t understand the fascination. Neither did the monster. They talked about the stars and the planets and life and animals.
When Steph was sixteen, she went to a sleepover at her friend’s house. She was given their spare bed, and without the noises under her bed, she didn’t get a wink of sleep.
When Steph was seventeen, she got accepted into university, a university far across the country. That night, she went to bed early. Her monster was there.
“Monster?” she asked tentatively. She still hadn’t found the right name.
“I’m going to uni,” Steph said. “I’m moving away.”
The monster was silent.
“Will you come with me?” Steph asked.
“If you find my name,” said the monster, but she sounded sad.
“I will,” Steph promised, but she didn’t think the monster believed her.
The summer before Steph left for university, she turned eighteen. And that night, she dreamed of her monster, sitting on the bed beside her, and she turned and put her mouth near Sophie’s ear, and whispered a name.
“Freya,” Steph gasped, waking with a jolt, and the monster said it with her, joy in her voice. “Freya.”
The next day, Steph woke up, and instead of a monster under her bed, there was a girl standing beside the bed. A human girl.