"Profiles Of Your Nightmares" is a collection of interviews whose purpose is to highlight the complex and robust stories of those thoughts that plague us at night.
Shadow Monster arrived fifteen minutes late for our lunch date, hurrying between tables, apologizing to bumped patrons, and generally turning heads the entire way. I was fine waiting by myself because it meant I didn't miss this spectacle. Mr. Monster was used to getting this kind of attention everywhere he went, but seeing people gasp and cower with fear was a new sight for me.
He sat down quickly and apologized one more time before placing his order to the waiter: eggs over easy with rye toast, butter and jam on the side. The waiter wrote everything down twice because his hand was shaking so badly.
It was clear to me the sort of power Mr. Monster had over people that he may not be fully aware about. He was humble that way. He didn't even bring an entourage with him that day, choosing to forego his posse in order to "really focus" on me and this assignment. His black shirt and black pants hung effortlessly about his frame, flowing gently in the breeze coming in from the front door fleeing customers had left wide open. I asked him where he bought his outfit, but he said the store didn't have a name. He was able to tell me it was a demon cloud/magma dust blend.
The disappearance of customers simply meant it was a quieter space for us to chat.
And chat we did.
Something you may not know about Mr. Monster, who prefers to be called "Shady" by close friends and family, is his ability to talk about a multitude of subjects. He says this is because he's "thousands of years young," but it might just be a testament to his uncanny way of really, truly listening to people.
"You can learn a lot about folks by actually paying attention to their dreams before you interrupt them with their greatest sorrows," he said, while taking a heaping bite of eggs. "Y'know, they use a local cheddar here? Top notch. It really makes a difference."
"That's what people don't see in him," said Mr. Monster's mother in a teleportal interview later that week. "He's such a kind boy and loves getting to know people. But he remembers everything about them, even if he hasn't disturbed them in years! He's caring that way."
Mrs. Monster continued to describe his childhood. Shady was the victim of bullying issues on various playgrounds and parks. For some reason, other children didn't want to interact or play with him but resorted to insults and taunts.
I could hardly believe her words; the monster in front of me, though minding his own business, was clearly making every living being in the establishment quake with fear. But who am I to question people's pasts?
"It was really too bad," said Smoke Devil, Mr. Monster's best friend for the past five millennia. "Seeing him get pushed around like that was really hard, but, and he'll tell you this too, it truly turned Shadow into the man you see today. Those early experiences taught him some valuable lessons. He probably wouldn't be as successful as he is, honestly, if he hadn't had to deal with those bullies."
Back at the cafe, Mr. Monster tossed his dirty napkin onto his finished plate, fully satisfied.
"This was nice," he said, noticing the quiet surrounding him since everyone else in the place had left. "I hardly ever come out in the daytime."
I asked him why, which made him ponder for a moment and take on a thoughtful grin.
That was something else people may not know: Mr. Monster is very good at thinking things through.
"Probably because… I'm a people pleaser. I know when I'm not wanted."
I paid the bill, leaving behind the entire contents of my wallet to help out the terrified waiter who fled earlier, because I felt so inspired after our chat that I wanted to do something nice for him. And maybe because no one did nice things for the Shadow Monster, or because I had actually listened to him for a change (as opposed to the usual reaction he received: blind panic), but he actually started to tear up. Or, from what I could tell, an area of mist appeared where his eyes might be if he had a face, or vision.
"For that," he whispered, "no more naked marathon nightmares for you."
With that we parted ways, each of us heading in opposite directions once on the sidewalk: me toward my train downtown, him back to Hell. I think we learned something from each other that day.
Everybody has a rich history, even if their job is to torment living souls periodically by forcing them to face their worst fears, insecurities or sorrows in the deep of night. They, maybe, have the richest history of all.