When the sun sets, the whole neighborhood glows red and I taste blood around my teeth. Maybe I’m not flossing enough. I can’t afford to go to the dentist; I can’t pay someone else to clean up my mess.…
I’ve had an obsession with monsters for a long time. My whole life, actually. A few years ago, I decided to write a short story collection around the theme of monsters. Specifically, I’ve been circling the question of how we define what a monster is or isn’t. Monsters, in my experience, don’t always look the part. They sneak up on you. They change shape. So, just about every short story I’ve written in the past six years has been created with this idea in mind, and “At the Center” is no exception.
I’ve had an ever-growing list of monsters to draw from. I collect monsters like some people collect shot glasses. The Minotaur was always there, but I didn’t know what to do with him or where he belonged. Then I read Amelia Gray’s short story “Labyrinth” in The New Yorker. I’d been a fan of Gray’s for a long time, drawn to the visceral and sometimes brutal language of her work. There was something about that story that stuck with me. I was inspired to place my Minotaur in a mundane environment I was both familiar with and that was capable of dark and sinister things: the suburbs.
In my reading of the original Minotaur myth, the monster is the product of pride, sexual manipulation, and sacrifice. Exploring toxic men in a system of homogenization and duty felt like the perfect place to build a house for a tragic Minotaur figure. I wanted to ground the slow transformation of our main character into the new Minotaur in his visceral, sensory experiences. He’s a man who is alienated from his life, his home, and now his body.
Adapting and reimagining well-known stories and myths can be tricky. You want to honor the heart of the original, but you also need to make it your own. You have to mine its meaning and find the resonance in our world today. This story is not meant as a close retelling of the myth. Our main character is both Theseus and the Minotaur, Stan and Mike are King Minos and the Gods. But you’d be hard-pressed to find an exact comparison. Fidelity to the original is not important because I do not live in ancient Greece. I’m interested in where the Minotaur might live if he existed today.
I now have this collection of monster stories. It’s finished, out in the world, trying to find its purpose. I don’t know yet where my next obsession will lead my writing. But the good news and bad news is: this world has plenty of monsters to go around.
CHELSEA SUTTON writes weird fiction, plays, and films. She was a 2016 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow and is a member of the Clarion UCSD 2020/21 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. Her short story collection, Curious Monsters, was the runner-up for the 2018 Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writers Residency Prize. Her writing has appeared in Bourbon Penn, The Texas Observer, Exposition Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Luna Station Quarterly, and Pithead Chapel, and is forthcoming in Blood Orange Review, Sequestrum, and F(r)iction. She was a 2018 Sewanee Writers’ Conference Playwright Fellow and a Humanitas PlayLA award winner. Her plays have been finalists for the O’Neill Playwrights, PlayPenn, and Seven Devils conferences, the Ingram New Works Lab, the Stanley Drama, Woodward/Newman Drama, Reva Shiner Comedy, and International UNIMA Young Writer awards, and a semifinalist for the Bay Area Playwrights Festival. MFA UC Riverside. Chelseasutton.com.