They say that monsters never call another creature "monster." After a lifetime of being told that one is uncanny, the word becomes tiresome. Why pass the insult along to one's brothers? But the question should really be "why not?"
Phineas J. Hartley Esq., the stag who wore a pocket watch tangled like bunting in his horns, was always asking peculiar questions like that. He would settle his greatcoat around his haunches, peer down at whomever happened to sit near him at the pub, and start right in with his queer talk about monstrosity and social contracts. It was well-known in town that Hartley was a monster, like the other animals uplifted during the War for Independence. There were the Sewing Mice grown during the Lowell Experiment, the Tactical Foxes, the Saurian Cavalry — and then there was Hartley. He was the only Fighting Stag who had decided to become an attorney when the war was over.
Though you'd never find a better man in the courtroom, Hartley did his neighbors the disservice of arguing his way through life, too.
"You'd be surprised how often a monster calls another man a monster," he said one summer evening, unpocketing his favorite topic. "And as I said before, why not?" At this, he drank his pint down to the bottom and pounded the bar for another.
"We dress like men. We do the jobs of men. And so why shouldn't we take on the prejudices and ignorance of men as well?" He shook his furred head, the watch swaying gently in his antlers. "That we call each other monsters is perhaps the most solid proof that we are, in fact, men."
A tailor who drank silently next to Hartley looked up. "Miss Whiskers is the best seamstress I ever knew. And she would surely never be so impertinent as to call anyone a monster."
"Do you think that your Miss Whiskers looks at herself in the glass at night and sees a woman? No, Sir. She sees herself through your eyes. She sees her sisters through your eyes, too. She does not even need to be in her darkest hour to call them nothing more than monsters in flounces."
Though the tailor's mouth was working as if he wanted to say something, or at least try to make a sound, Hartley was clearly finished with the conversation. He pulled a leather-bound volume from his satchel — a book called Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes. Depending on how drunk he got, he might begin quoting from it later on, entertaining the last remaining customers with a story about how humans were little more than animals until they learned the law of social contracts, and the discipline of democracy.
Hartley saw the men in the monsters around him, but he also had a strange kind of hope for them, too.
These incredible creatures who inspired my flash fiction today were created by Canadian artist L.D. Austin, who is a senior concept artist at Splash Damage. You can see more of L.D. Austin's work on her website. (Spotted on A Home For Creature Art)