“Marachlian drew me in with her first sentence. I had to know why this character saw monsters, and the more I read, the more I discovered a clever and beautiful metaphor about what it means to travel far from home, where people avert their eyes at your otherness rather than embrace you with open arms. Marachlian’s crisp prose and exquisite dialogue joined together to create a deeply emotional tale of diaspora and nostalgia for home.”
—Roshani Chokshi, New York Times bestselling author


The day Milagros moved to the U.S., she saw monsters.

From the stories her cousin Cecilia had told her about the bustling life in Brooklyn, Milagros had assumed there wouldn’t be any. Cecilia and Tía Yocelin had spent three flights and two uncomfortable layovers going on about other things: the streets, the markets, the shows. They liked to say they were from Brooklyn, not the U.S.

But they had never mentioned monsters.

Milagros realized now, watching the slimy green creature climb onto the suitcase of an oblivious Tía Yocelin, that it was because they couldn’t see. Or, rather, they could see, but not the way Milagros and her mamá could. 

But her mamá had stayed home, so now it was just Milagros.

She matched Cecilia’s excited pace through an airport that was surely as big as her entire island back in Venezuela, while her cousin listed the things they would do during Milagros’ first weekend here: sleep (hopefully a lot), unpack, get fro-yo, go shopping for new clothes so Milagros “wouldn’t start ninth grade in rags,” sleep some more. 

 Milagros nodded when Cecilia paused to breathe, which wasn’t often, waiting until they stopped by the elevator to scoop the small creature from Tía Yocelin’s suitcase and onto her own. The creature blinked two of its three eyes, then curled around the handle.

“What are you looking at?” Cecilia said. “Is something wrong with your suitcase?” She jiggled the handle, and the sudden movement made the monster flee. 

Milagros watched it walk-hover away on tiny wings that seemed too small to sustain it.

“No,” she said. “It’s fine.”

They wouldn’t take a cab home because cabs were too expensive, Tía Yocelin announced, loading both Cecilia and Milagros into a train that traveled outside. Milagros understood that was to be her first lesson: Things were more expensive here. But it was a lesson she had already learned.

The outside train—Cecilia had called it an air train—took them on a loop of the airport, as if to show Milagros the great expanse of what was to be her new home. 

It was too big.

The old white woman across from her gestured at the train window and let out a long string of English words that made absolutely no sense, all the while staring at Milagros like she expected something.

Cecilia leaned forward to answer. The woman smiled, said something else, and turned away with the vague expression of someone who wanted to act like nothing had happened. 

“What did she say?” Milagros asked Cecilia.

“She was telling you that it was a pretty incredible view.”

“And what did you tell her?”

“That you didn’t speak English.”

Milagros glanced at the woman, who was still pretending to not notice her, and felt the heat of shame rise up the back of her neck. She was glad when the ride was over and Tía Yocelin led them into a station that reminded her of the metro she’d used the few times she’d been to Caracas.

The next train they took was packed full. Tía Yocelin pressed Cecilia and Milagros into the corner between a railing and the sliding doors, the suitcases crowded between them. A man sitting down shot Milagros a look when her elbow accidentally poked him. 

She apologized, which somehow seemed to make him even angrier. 

A voice crackled overhead, so warped that she was sure she wouldn’t have understood it even if she knew English. No one seemed to pay it any mind. Then the train lurched to life.

A long, mournful sound, like metal against metal, whined over their heads.

“What’s that?” Milagros asked, hands over her ears.

“It’s the conductor speaking,” Tía Yocelin said.

“No, the other sound.”

Tía seemed to smile and frown at the same time, and patted Milagros on the head instead of answering. One of her rings caught on a strand of hair and pulled.

Here was another lesson: What Tía Yocelin did not like, she ignored. Like taxes or her stepson Gabriel or Milagros’ questions.

The journey was a game of stop and go that they seemed to be losing, especially Milagros, as the shifting crowd shoved the suitcases repeatedly against her.

She turned around in what little room she had. The darkness of the tunnel made the window into a faded mirror, her own brown face reflected back, just tiredness framed by flyaway hair. 

A blue light flashed outside at her eye level, there and then gone, as the train sped on. 

Milagros was used to catching sight of what people at home called “strangeness.” Her island had been full of creatures and oddities: small espíritus that didn’t so much haunt as worry about their house’s tidiness; wisps that attached themselves to plants and animals and went wherever they were taken; the oily black things that carried out the mal de ojo. 

She had lived with that strangeness enough to know how it made her feel—slightly too aware, like she was leaning over a precipice just for the view.

So she knew, as soon as the flash broke through the reflection of her face, that it wasn’t just a light. She knew that the creature at the airport had not been a one-time thing.

The train stopped at a station, people rushing to get out and almost taking Milagros and Cecilia with them. Tía Yocelin harrumphed at all of their backs.

When they started to move again, Milagros kept her eyes on the other side of the glass, hoping to catch sight of that blue flash one more time. For three more stops, the darkness was still. 

Then, there.

She stood on her tiptoes, watching the streak of blue light sweep down and back up. She imagined it was winding around the train before it came back into her field of vision—thicker, like it was learning to be solid again.

Milagros tapped on the glass.

Two things happened at once: the train stopped deep in the tunnel and, whether cause or effect, a pair of eyes blinked open in the darkness.

Two silver slit-pupil orbs, each the size of one of Milagros’ hands, blurred her reflection into unimportance. The space between the eyes was filled with a dimness that coalesced into fragments, then edges, then nothing again.

Milagros stared, and the monster in the darkness stared back.


* * *


Back in Venezuela, the waves had moods.

They were tugged ashore by creatures made of spindly wood pieces, sliding, crashing, lapping. On rainy days, when her mamá closed the stationery shop early, Milagros would climb up to the roof of their building and watch people watch the small monsters.

Not everyone could see, of course, but the creatures didn’t need to be seen to exist.

Her older sister Esperanza sat with her sometimes, holding a raincoat over both their heads, dreaming up a future that would never be reality. As she talked, Esperanza watched the waves without seeing much, catching glimpses out of the corner of her eyes, the truth hiding from her around the edges of the world. That was back when tourists still visited their island and Milagros still had a sister.


* * *


Only a few months in New York, and construction had swiftly moved up on the list of things Milagros deeply disliked.

Next to her, Cecilia balled her gum wrapper and threw it onto the tracks, startling a rat into scurrying away.

“This fucking 6 train,” she groaned.

Milagros had to agree. It was too hot to be waiting half an hour for a delayed 6, pushed right up to the yellow line of death by the impatient crowd behind them. 

She handed Cecilia their shared 7UP, gone lukewarm and flat. Her cousin took a sip and winced.

“Gross,” she said, but kept drinking. “Maybe we could walk home.”

Milagros took the 7UP. “It’s literally like a thousand degrees outside, and I think the protest about our consulate closing is still going on.”

“So what?”

Speakers crackled overhead. 



The noise of the train drowned what Milagros would have said, but not her thoughts. 

Tía Yocelin had left Venezuela with Cecilia before things had gotten too bad—before a dozen eggs cost a month’s salary, before people were robbed at gunpoint for baby formula, before everyone who still cared took to the streets to fight.

Cecilia hadn’t seen Esperanza come and go from their small apartment, a gas mask over her face and a sign in her hands, marching every day alongside thousands of others who had had enough. Cecilia hadn’t been there the night Esperanza hadn’t come back, or the following morning when the chill of reality had finally seeped into Milagros and her mamá. Cecilia hadn’t screamed at the condolences and reassurances from people who hadn’t done shit to help her sister or the country.

Her cousin had gained a stepdad and a stepbrother and safety while Milagros had lost a sister. It wasn’t Cecilia’s fault, but sometimes Milagros couldn’t help but blame her.

The train was already crowded when it arrived yet somehow people still packed themselves in, like sardinas en lata. Milagros let herself be carried forward, losing sight of Cecilia in the crush. 

For now, maybe it was better that way.

She was surrounded by too-tall people, with no clear view of the windows, but when she heard the long, mournful groans, she sighed in what almost felt like relief. She was already smiling when a man shifted and she caught sight of the blue flash on the other side of the Plexiglas.

“Buenas,” she whispered as the train sped through the tunnel.

The woman beside her turned, frowning, but the monster had heard, too. It opened its eyes.

She’d seen the subway monster a handful of times in as many months since that first meeting—a soft presence, like warmth and nostalgia, filling the spaces between bodies. It had turned to her every time, seeking something Milagros was afraid she didn’t have, but desperately wished she did.

It was unnerving, aligning with the monster so perfectly while the bustle of New York paused for a second, the world sliding out of sync before righting itself again.

The creatures at home—and the others she had seen here—had mostly ignored her, even when she had tried to communicate. She’d always assumed there was a language barrier, or the kind of prejudice that prevented understanding, but somehow this one was different. 

Now the creature approached, moving through the Plexiglas in a breath, arching above the tallest heads in a trail of fading blue light, those eyes clear and real. It stopped before Milagros, its shape—a head?—tilting almost like a question.

Milagros contorted herself to get an arm free from the press of oblivious bodies to touch it. 

Her fingers grazed through a not-quite-solid form, like warm, welcoming smoke. The monster let out a terrifying purr, pupils narrowing into thin lines swimming in what Milagros had thought was silver, but now could tell was the exact light blue of the water of Guacuco in the early morning.

At first, the monster didn’t pull away. It leaned in, flickering into almost-solid reality for a second, for too long.

A man screamed, the monster’s pupils rounding in fear. 

“¡Espera!” Milagros curled her fingers to grab the monster, but her hand caught on something sharp and twisted instead.

The creature flinched back into the tunnel’s darkness.

Enough people got out at the next stop that Cecilia found Milagros again, and they bumped shoulders as they held onto the same pole. The train was quiet now.

Cecilia sucked in air through her teeth. “Christ, what happened to your hand?”

Milagros watched the slow trickle of blood from the tips of her fingers. It didn’t hurt.


* * *


Érase una vez una niña de ojos oscuros 

  y un monstruo azul.

And when the girl was fifteen,

  it tried to eat her.


* * *


Smoky green wisps dangled from the fresh peonies on the table. Milagros didn’t know how to tell Mrs. Bleacher, owner of the flowers and the apartment they were in, that the expensive vase she’d placed between the chicken and the mashed potatoes was full of monsters. 

Two years in New York and sixteen years alive had taught her that people didn’t want to hear about things they didn’t already believe.

Mrs. Bleacher, with her designer lime-green suit and artfully placed ladybug pin, didn’t seem like she would be receptive to Milagros’ particular brand of weirdness. They had been sitting around the cooling food for thirty minutes and, so far, she had used the phrase “third-world quaintness” twice. That was twice more than Milagros preferred.

Sometimes she wished she’d never learned English.

There was no escaping, though. Tía Yocelin had been firm since Milagros moved in: coming to her social gatherings was not optional. There was church on Sundays and coffee with church friends every third Thursday of the month, and that was that.

“And, listen, I told them I wouldn’t host the fundraiser in those conditions, with no heating in the middle of winter,” Ms. Darby was saying, gesturing with her forkful of salad. “I know it’s for a good cause—but, really, no heating?”

Mrs. Bleacher and Tía Yocelin nodded in agreement. Ms. Johnson was in the process of drinking her wine, but Milagros had no doubt she would have nodded, too.

Next to Tía Yocelin, Gabriel rolled his eyes so forcefully that it almost made a sound. Cecilia snorted. The wisp fell on the mashed potatoes.

“It’s barbaric,” Ms. Johnson piped up. “This happened last month too, you know, when we were doing that thing with the orphanage on our block? The heating of the church always seems to mysteriously stop working when it’s most convenient for them.”

Church conspiracy theorists. Milagros stifled a smile.

Gabriel leaned toward her and Cecilia as the topic turned to timeshares at Mrs. Bleacher’s resort.

“There’s a thing at Judy’s today, wanna come?”

Judy’s was a diner on Myrtle and Gates that had just-okay food but incredible shakes. The lights of the d’s belly had burned out long before Milagros had started going there, but Judy, the owner, said it gave the diner character. 

“What thing?” Cecilia whispered, as much as was possible for her.

“Just like a get-together with some friends,” Gabriel said, as if that explained it. “At, like, eight.”

“College friends?” Cecilia wiggled both eyebrows at her stepbrother. “Is William going to be there?”

Gabriel pouted in a pretty good imitation of Tía Yocelin when she got fed up with him (which was quickly and often) and turned to Milagros instead.

“What about you? Wanna come just for the pleasure of hanging out with me?”

Milagros opened her mouth without really knowing what would come out, so nothing did.

It had been a pain to get to Mrs. Bleacher’s Upper East Side-adjacent apartment from their tiny Crown Heights two-bedroom, and getting to Judy’s would be even worse. She’d have to take the M15 bus down, probably, and either walk across the Williamsburg Bridge or wait roughly until she was eighty for the B39 to show up, and even then she’d have to take a third bus. It would be two hours, at the very least. Not to mention getting back home from the diner.

The prospect alone made her tired.

Cecilia chimed in to help, more or less: “She doesn’t do subways, dumbass.”

Tía Yocelin shot Gabriel a look, even though it had been Cecilia who had cursed.

Gabriel ignored it, something he’d gotten very good at in the years Milagros had known him.

“Still?” he asked.

Milagros clasped her hands together under the table, rubbing away the memory of the cold roof of the train under her palms.


“Maybe we could—”

“Milagros,” Mrs. Bleacher’s first-soprano voice cut through whatever Gabriel was going to say, and Milagros was almost thankful. “Have you talked to your family recently? How are they doing?”

With a polite smile, Milagros shrugged. “You know, kind of the same. Kind of worse.”

A nightmare, that’s what her mamá had said last time they’d talked. Like a ship sinking into fire instead of water.

Milagros had bit the inside of her cheek then, hard enough to draw blood, digging her nails into the soft flesh of her thighs. She had kept herself from screaming only by remembering how she had begged her mamá to come to the U.S. with them and gotten the same refusal again and again and again. Monica DelValle García de Cordova would die buried by the crumbling mess that was Venezuela and Milagros was expected to do nothing but stay safe miles away, under a roof that didn’t leak, enjoying uninterrupted electricity like it was a right.

Milagros didn’t mention any of that, though. She had found herself too often arguing the depth of the crimes in Venezuela with outsiders who thought they knew better, but never did.

“Yocelin, we should send something to your sister,” Ms. Darby piped up. “What do you think?”

Tía Yocelin glanced at Milagros, a brief understanding. Nothing would make it through Customs, where officers supposed to keep the country safe and regulated would seize any items their own families might need. Unless Tía Yocelin decided to travel to Venezuela—and she wouldn’t, not any more—there was no way to get Milagros’ mamá anything but scraps.

“She would love it,” Tía Yocelin said, a smile tight on her face. “Toilet paper, for instance. Or deodorant?”

Milagros took some of the mashed potatoes, startling the spindly sprite about to dip into the bowl. She swallowed her desperation along with the food and hoped both stayed down.


* * *


The sun was a merciless beast, burning Milagros’ exposed neck as she followed Gabriel and Cecilia down the sloping hill that was Second Avenue. Tía Yocelin had stayed behind with her church friends to get overpriced cafecitos, which Mrs. Bleacher had thought was “so quaint” and “adorable.”

“Ms. Johnson was checking me out,” Gabriel said, not for the first time. 

Cecilia didn’t even pause her texting to answer: “Whatever. What do you think she’s gonna do, dude. She’s sixty-something.”

“Sixty’s not that old,” Milagros added with a grin. “She can probably still get going.”

Gabriel seemed both thankful for her support and horrified by her actual words.

“Don’t encourage him, oh my God.” Cecilia glanced up briefly at the green light, then kept walking once cars stopped coming. “You think Ms. Johnson’s gonna go for a nineteen-year-old fetus who still thinks ramen is a gourmet meal?”

“Excuse me.” Gabriel turned to Milagros as if to say, Can you believe this shit?

Milagros could believe it.

She shrugged. “Think about this: Ms. Johnson probably has a chef that could make you better food.”

“You’re both trash,” he declared.

It felt good to laugh after the last three solid hours of careful politeness.

When they finally got to 86th Street, the arch of the subway station looming in front of them, Milagros let her cousins walk a little bit ahead, the now-familiar mantle of discomfort settling on her shoulders.

She stopped at the escalators.

“Have fun at Judy’s, guys.” Then, to Cecilia: “I’ll see you at home.”

Cecilia didn’t say anything, the disappointment that Milagros wouldn’t “just get over it” clear in the press of her lips. 

Gabriel didn’t know to give up. 

“What? No—c’mon! It’ll be fun. And this way Ceci will have someone to go home with her.”

Milagros knew not to turn to Cecilia for reassurance, but saw the ribbon of black smoke twirling across the ground toward her cousin’s sandaled feet, a thin monster seeking out the anger she wasn’t showing.

Gabriel stepped closer. “What do you have to be so afraid of still? It’s just the stupid subway.”

The words hit Milagros with almost physical pain. She’d be missing out, yet again; on the outside of her own life, yet again. It was one ride. Why couldn’t she do it?

But last time… 

…but it had been a year

Maybe it would be different. Maybe the tunnels would be empty.

Cecilia noticed the hesitation and pounced. The creature trying to coil around her ankle shivered and drifted away. 

“Come with us, Milagros. Please.” 

Milagros remembered saying “please,” too.

Please, no. What is happening?

Please, be careful.

Please, listen to me.

Then, to the police, to Tía Yocelin, to Cecilia: Please believe me.

It hadn’t worked a year ago, but it worked for Cecilia now. Milagros let it work.

“Okay,” she said, and stepped onto the escalator between her cousins.

“You’ll be fine.” Cecilia smiled, and she was wrong.

Gabriel let out a hoot.

Milagros was drenched in fear, in mistakes waiting to happen, and those that already had.

At the turnstile, she paused again, hesitating about five times in the space of a blink. Cecilia and Gabriel waited on the other side, and Milagros made herself swipe her card, $2.75 out of $13.25, even though her mouth tasted like copper.

The 86th Street station was one of the nicer ones, with mosaics, high ceilings, clean floors, and announcements that sounded like words and not incomprehensible gibberish. Even so, Milagros didn’t hear anything except the whine of the N train approaching, lights glaring from the turn of the tunnel.

Her heart hammered against the paper-thin skin of her chest, her lungs flattening with every beat.

She couldn’t do this.

She could.

Cecilia and Gabriel flanked her, thinking themselves more reassuring than they were. Their bodies were close and warm, but vulnerable. 

When the doors slid open, they stepped in as one, pushing against the current of people exiting. Milagros took a seat at Gabriel’s insistence, sitting between Cecilia and a guy in a tan coat using his legs as imaginary drums. She held herself stiff, tucked in as tight as she could so she wouldn’t touch Cecilia or anyone else. 

Not this time.

The train lurched into motion, but Milagros didn’t even sway. Her breath went in and out in short bursts, her eyes fixed on the ad running across the top of the train, “IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING.” 

That hadn’t worked out so well for her.

Only when the train stopped at the next station did she shudder a full breath out. Then back in.

She was distantly aware that Gabriel was talking to Cecilia, pausing only during the announcements. Milagros told herself that she was strong and brave and maybe she had made it all up. Those last words she heard in the voice of “Doctor” Pedrano, the psychology school dropout that Tía Yocelin had forced her to see, back when Milagros hadn’t been able to pretend to be okay. 

It was different now.

The train headed downtown, stopping at every station, strangers’ voices rising indistinctly all around, a melody plucked from the fine thread of her fear until it snapped.

When the monster appeared, she wasn’t surprised.

She watched those eyes, the darkness behind them, and did not move. Its mouth gaped open into nothingness and Milagros felt the pull at her center, something so visceral it burned. 

She knew then that a year had been nothing. One year, and she would still let herself be eaten. She wanted it. Giving up would have been so easy.

But she remembered the speed of the train from above, the blood. She remembered, days later, the body the police had found.

A hand closed around her wrist in the present—not the same hand from her memories, though for too long a moment she wasn’t sure. She stared at those five fingers around her wrist, terror and bile rising in her throat. 

When she screamed, it was into unnatural silence. 

Cecilia stared at her in alarm, snatching her hand away from Milagros. 

“You were shaking,” Cecilia said, as if to offer an excuse.

The blue flash of the monster danced in her periphery, a taunting and an invitation, a reminder.

Milagros hadn’t realized she had gotten up, was standing, but she was glad for the space between her and her cousins, for the safety it afforded them. She had been stupid to think this would be okay, and the fear in their faces was the price she paid for it. 

Fear, not for her, but of her.

The train ground to a halt, and Milagros stepped into the platform with barely restrained panic sizzling along her spine. Neither of her cousins followed her, but she didn’t let herself slump to the concrete floor until the doors were closed again and the train was gone.

Before, when it was all too much for Milagros to handle, she would focus on the oddities, the strangeness slipping in and out of the world. She would pause and notice a wisp, a leaf bending too far, a wind slightly warmer than it should have been.

Now, instead, she counted.

Two arms, two hands, ten fingers touching metal, speeding, slipping in the dark—no. Two arms, two hands, ten fingers touching concrete, the fingers on the right hand colder, slimier than the rest. Fifteen breaths in, fifteen breaths out in between—

“That is so unsanitary.”

The voice wasn’t a number and, in that moment, it was not welcome. 

Milagros tracked from cuffed boots up dark jeans and a long, tan coat that covered most of the guy standing in front of her. And his face. She stared transfixed by the white patch in his hair and how it seemed to blend into his forehead, and his left eye, which was half brown and half blue, like someone had dipped a paint brush in water.

Her mind paused on something about him.

“I mean your hands, of course,” he said, eyes narrowed. “Can you stop staring?”

Milagros startled, her gaze falling to the floor and then up again, to his right, fully brown eye. Back to the floor.

Two hands, ten fingers.

“I’m sorry.”

The guy crouched down, hands on his thighs, presumably for balance and not just to remind Milagros that hers were still on the floor. Hands on thighs, hands tapping out a rhythm.

“You were in the train,” Milagros thought out loud, shame sneaking into her voice.

He had seen her lose it. 

“I’ll forgive you because you’re clearly freaking the fuck out, but please stop touching the floor. Just—here, sanitize.” He held out a bottle of Purell and squeezed far too much onto Milagros’ open hand. 

She tried to rub the mysterious floor slime away.

“Thank you.”


No. Maybe.

“I’m okay,” she answered.

He tilted his head to the left, so her gaze went back to that two-toned eye. 

“You seemed pretty scared in there.” He nodded toward the now-empty tracks. “Had you never seen her before?”

The question was an electric current all the way from her sanitized fingers to the base of her skull. 


His eyes widened. “Uh, parlez-vous français?”

She blinked, surprise quickly becoming frustration. 

“What?” she snapped, this time in the correct language.

What?” He said it so loudly it echoed. He turned his head enough for Milagros to see the plastic device fitted behind his ear. He tapped it once and leveled her with an amused gaze. “You’ll need to speak louder.”

Milagros wasn’t sure if embarrassment or annoyance was winning out. She took a deep breath. “What did you say before—had I never seen what?”

“The dragon. In the train. I thought that’s why you’d screamed, unless I was wrong? Would honestly not be the first time. You’d be surprised—or maybe not—with how many people scream for no reason on the train. Especially tourists.”

The pause in the conversation when he stopped talking was almost as loud as his shouting earlier.

Milagros scrambled back up, except that standing didn’t really make a difference.

The dragon. In the train.

The guy looked up from his crouch, a crease between his mismatched eyes. “Did you not see it? Dude, not again—”

“I saw it.” The words were quiet, but to Milagros they felt like three distinct gunshots. She repeated, louder, for his benefit: “I. Saw. It.”

“Her,” he corrected, smiling. “Okay. Good. This would have been so awkward otherwise.”

“Have you?” The wrong words sputtered out of her. “I mean, of course you have. Otherwise why would you have said—you called it a dragon?”

He stood up like his body was made not of muscles and bones, but of something more fluid, like wishes and secrets.

“I called her a dragon,” he repeated. “I know it’s hard sometimes to see her fully—most people think she’s like a serpent. If you’d seen her before, why were you so scared?”

People. He knew other people who could see. Here. In Brooklyn. Milagros’ mind raced with a thousand questions she needed to ask all at once, so many she couldn’t get any of them out. 

But something about what he’d said, about the way he’d said it, snagged her suspicions and ripped.

“Who wouldn’t be scared?” She said it as a question, but did not allow an answer. “It was trying to take me again.”

His eyebrows shot up. “Again?”

Milagros took a step back, suddenly feeling like she had exposed too much, too fast, too soon. The memory of Cecilia’s and Gabriel’s faces in the train moments ago, watching her in fear, still burned behind her eyelids. And they knew her. They might not have been able to see the monster, but they could have at least believed her. 

Her mamá would have, if Milagros had dared to call, to worry her, but she hadn’t. She wouldn’t.

She meant to leave the station, but the allure of finding someone here who could see what she saw, who might understand, kept her in place.

Milagros didn’t—couldn’t—say anything, but knew the moment it clicked for him.

“You’re that girl? The one they found on the top of the train last year? No way.” He stared much like she had been before, fascination stark across his face. “Are you?”

It struck her then, his surprise, his admiration.

It struck her, his lack of disbelief.

Milagros was glad that he barreled through without waiting for her reply.

“Wow. Wow. The girl on top of the train. You know, my aunt swore up and down that it’d been the dragon when the news broke. Up and down. She’s never gonna let anyone hear the end of it after this. Was it incredible?”

His words were sparklers set afire, but to Milagros they felt like scorching iron, searing and branding something deep in her gut.

She exploded.

Incredible? To blink and be on top of a moving train? To feel yourself slipping off?” She was shaking for the second time today, but she didn’t care. She didn’t care. “You think it was incredible when I made my fingers raw trying to hold on? Or when I fell off the back of the train? Yes, what an honor! The best part was th—” She stopped, choking on her own rage. She couldn’t say it. 

A year and she still could not say it.

For the first time in this uneven conversation, he was the one looking stricken. Milagros almost hit him, but she balled up her hands and reined it in. She’d gotten really good at reining in her entire self this past year.

“I’m sorry—”

She did not let him finish. “Are you?”

He seemed to weigh her question and find it wanting. “The dragon is very important to us. We consider her favor to be a blessing.”

Milagros had not felt blessed a year ago; she did not feel blessed now. She felt like someone had taken her familiar places and made them into jagged edges and dark corners. She felt robbed. Lonely.

“I don’t want any blessings,” she spat.

He shifted slightly. He’d clearly expected Milagros to be delighted about what he had to say, and instead found something else, something he did not like.

“I followed you out because I assumed you needed help adjusting after seeing the dragon. I didn’t realize you had already adjusted and decided to be wrong about it.”

For a moment, she couldn’t even formulate words to match her disdain for his opinion and general existence. “What do you even know?”

He scoffed. “No, of course. You’re the only person in the whole world to ever be afraid of something you don’t understand. What was I thinking? Maman avait raison, je dois cesser d’essayer.”

Milagros did not know what that meant, but she did not fucking like it.

He shook his head, whatever else he might have said swallowed by the noise of an incoming train. No tingling awareness came with it and for that, at least, Milagros was grateful.

“You can’t be afraid forever, you know,” the guy said, putting something in her hand before getting on the train. 

She didn’t know why she’d accepted it or why, after the train had left, she slipped the small card in her pocket instead of throwing it away.


* * *


Tía Yocelin had waited a week and two days before calling Milagros to the kitchen, marroncito in hand, to discuss her “ataque de nervios” in the subway. 

Two barely-there wisps had been softly swinging from the branch of eucalyptus hanging by the stove behind her, and it had been easier to watch them instead of watching Tía Yocelin and her disappointment. 

The wisps stayed in the kitchen, but the disappointment clung to Milagros and stuck.

Later, when Cecilia knocked on her bedroom door, Milagros did not answer. The soft whine of old hinges accompanied her cousin’s steps anyway, followed by her sigh.

“Don’t be angry, Milagros.” The bed dipped under Cecilia’s weight, but Milagros held herself still so she wouldn’t roll into her cousin.

“I’m not crazy.” Milagros said, for what felt like the hundredth time in the last few hours.

Cecilia’s discomfort was almost a living thing in the silence. “Mom’s just worried, you know? We all are. Gabriel, too.”

“You might have left the island too young, but your mom knows better.” The pressure built up right at the border of Milagros’ eyes, at the base of her throat. “She knows.”

Cecilia sighed. Again. “It’s just Dr. Pedrano. You’ve talked to him before.”

Milagros curled into herself, arms folded over her head, turning away so at least she wouldn’t have to see the genuine worry on her cousin’s face. That was the second worst part: the concern. The first was that no one believed her.

Almost no one.

Milagros waited, holding back the tears and pain until Cecilia got tired of being understanding and left. Even after she was alone, it was hard to let out what she had been trying so hard to keep in. The tears rolled down the side of her face and onto the pillow, but the pain had nowhere to go.

For a while, she counted.

It wasn’t until she’d run out of things to count and the tears had dried on her cheeks that she pulled the crumpled and re-flattened card from under her pillow.

Marc Loya





She’d already stalked his Instagram account, first in anger, then out of curiosity, then with a sort of inexplicable giddiness. He had posted photo upon photo of every corner of New York: a fountain in Central Park, the lions from the New York Public Library, a bench from somewhere called Anne’s Garden, a street cat, an old couple sitting in front of a Shake Shack, a bodega on a corner in the Bronx.

Everywhere. Anywhere.

Milagros had scrolled a year back in his posts, careful not to like anything accidentally, when she realized what she was seeing. It was a blur sitting on the cat’s back, or a vagueness around the end of the bench. Just a small detail hidden in every photo.

The strangeness, captured. A secret displayed for the world to never notice.

But she’d noticed. He’d noticed.

It had, on some level that worried her, soothed her.

And so here she was, fingers poised over the phone, his number already typed in, about to regret her decisions.

You’re photographing them

His reply was almost immediate.

What do you think?

Have you always been able to
 see them?

Do you always talk to people
without introducing yourself?

YOU do.



Since I was a baby. My mom
likes to say I saw a faery
before I saw her face, but
that honestly seems like a lie.

You think they’re fairies?

I don’t like your tone.

You don’t know my tone.

I don’t like your implied tone.
I do think they’re faeries.
Some people call them /others/,
but that seems kinda shitty.

We call them the strangeness.
Did you know your dragon
 killed a man?

Tell me.

I wasn’t the only person
taken outside of the train
half a year ago.
There was a man, too.


Milagros paused, started a new sentence only to delete it. She stared at the screen, waiting for him to say something so she could pretend she had nothing else to add. 

She couldn’t do it anymore. She typed.

He tried to help me. I was
 scared and he was trying to
 calm me down.
He had a family.
Not with him on the train. Just
 in general.

What happened to him?

He was found dead on the
 tracks that same day.

You think the dragon did it?

I know.
It wasn’t part of the news story.
No one believed me when I
 told them. No one does.

I do.

Do you believe me that the
 monster in the subway is evil?

Do you think she did it on


Milagros didn’t respond.

* * *

Milagros Honora Cordova García was not reckless, despite what her current situation might suggest.

Maybe it was past midnight, and maybe she was sitting in a deserted Brooklyn train station. Maybe the wooden bench was uncomfortable and the walls smelled of things she would rather not identify. Maybe she would die.

But it wouldn’t be because she hadn’t thought it through.

Do you think she did it on purpose?

She watched the tunnel stretching into the distance at both ends, the only illumination coming from the few lights mounted on the curving walls.

To signal stairs and exits.

To mark repair boxes.

To make it easier to see.

Milagros had heard every explanation from Tía Yocelin and “Doctor” Pedrano, both quoting Google like it was a Bible, and these the verses to prove that her mind was conjuring monsters from the ordinary.

They couldn’t prove it. Because she wasn’t.

A train burst from the tunnel with a vengeance, as if in warning. It stopped for no one to get out and no one to get in, then sped away.

Twenty minutes until the next one.

Milagros jumped down onto the tracks, water—or what she hoped was just water—splashing up her jeans, critters scratching and squeaking while they scurried away. 

Those first few steps into the tunnel were slow, caught between one painful hesitation and the next. Milagros hadn’t even reached the first light embedded in the wall when that far-off awareness tickled between her shoulder blades. 

For a moment, she froze.

For a moment, the doubts drowned her. What was she doing, ankle-deep in who knew what, risking death by train to meet something that had already killed at least one man?

Do you think she did it on purpose?

Milagros took one more step, two.

The heaviness of the monster suddenly filled up the space, electricity sparking along its edges like a herald that brought nothing.

“¿Dónde estás?” The words burst out, raw with frustration and fear. “You been calling me, haven’t you? I’m here. I’m here, where are you?”

The echo of her own questions came back as the only answer, water dripping off the curving tunnel and onto her face. It didn’t matter. In the silence, it did not matter.

Milagros opened her mouth and screamed. 

No words, just one long, awful screech of fury, tinted with the knowledge of how her life had been warped by one event, how much of her now hinged on this fear. And then—

The eyes blinked open in front of her, the shape blurry through her unshed tears. Milagros was somehow two years younger again, a girl catching her first glimpse of something familiar in a new country.

The monster’s body flickered behind the eyes, arching up then dipping down, some parts made of shimmering light and others solid and too real. Marc had called it—…her—a dragon, and now Milagros saw what he meant.

“¿Por qué yo?”

She didn’t know what she expected in answer. The dragon had never spoken, not in words, nothing apart from awful, pain-filled sounds, but Milagros waited anyway, breath held in.

Lower lids made of night slid slowly up then back down, the dragon rising at such an angle that Milagros could see dark teeth against the shifting brilliance of the head.

“There was a man that day,” Milagros whispered. “There was a man. He grabbed me. He was trying to calm me down and he grabbed me, and then he was found dead.”

The dragon’s eyes were impassive, her body softly curling down the length of the tunnel.

Seconds and minutes and hours and days of guilt clasped like a collar around Milagros’ throat, almost choking her, but she forced out the words: “Did we kill him?”

The dragon moved past Milagros and curved back around, a warm ribbon loosely wrapping around a small girl, settling on shoulders that needed comfort.

Milagros stepped into that warmth, but it was not enough.

“I need to know.”

The dragon leaned her horned head against Milagros, like a feather on hair. She talked, not in words but memories trickling out of her ancient core like new rain. 

Milagros felt the sprouting of new feelings: Contentment twined with indifference. The idea of a face, someone reaching out, an almost-forgotten home. Tiredness stretching out to become everything, sleepless years in the darkness. Stark surprise, the shock of the known in an unknown place.

Then, quickly: delight, hands, noise, so much noise, fast, excitement, searching, searching, finding, pulling, chaos and fear and regret.

A loss.

Sadness. A deep, unmistakable loneliness.

The dragon’s touch had been barely a touch at all, but when it pulled away Milagros doubled over with the sudden loss. 

It took a long while for thoughts to come back, even longer for the words to match them.

The hurricane of her mind settled itself around the ruins of what she used to believe. 

The dragon had thought Milagros felt like home.

“Yo soy como tu hogar?”

At the words, the monster leaned back in.

Milagros stepped back so fast that she almost tripped, her foot sinking into a puddle that soaked all the way up her socks. 


The dragon didn’t really nod, but pressed her large head against Milagros’ open palms, which felt like an understanding.

Maybe it was the relief that distracted her, so that when she finally noticed the fast-approaching train, it was too late. Milagros was paralyzed, legs shaking with the need to move but unable to fight the gravity of her own panic.

She threw herself to the side, toward a small, slippery ledge covered with cables. She’d barely grabbed at hope when the light of the train blinded her. Fear overwhelmed anything else, and through the thrum of her blood in her ears, she heard a savage, thundering roar—

She remembered a home of old houses and beaches, the soft, ever-changing clouds against a blue sky, a sun that was relentless but welcomed. She was free then, free to graze the water and curl on the sand, free to wrap herself around treetops and rest, safe in the reverence of those who could see.

She remembered the curiosity that came with the whispers of travelers, the rumors of far-off places with cold fluff that fell from the sky. She remembered a woman’s face, a man, a child. Then an offering of salt. Then the journey.

She remembered the new crevices and sounds, cities filled with people filled with dreams. She remembered the machine, the trap.

Long, interminable trips in the darkness, where there was no rest and no time.

She snagged on something now—not a memory, but something sharp and hard and ugly, a lure set by strangers with their lies to pin her here forever. She pulled until her mind bled, until it gave. Until it dissolved, and her anger with it—Milagros staggered back, light flooding in as her eyes opened. She blinked.

Her hands were pressed against cold Plexiglas, her face reflected back at her. When the doors of the train opened, she stared out into the station like she was the ghost.

She hadn’t moved past the yellow platform edge when the doors slid closed, the train speeding away behind her with such force that she swayed.

She was not dead.

Milagros looked back into the empty tunnel, searching for an explanation and a friend, but neither had stayed behind.

“I miss our home, too. Ya no tienes que estar sola.” There was no one there to hear her words, but she said them nonetheless. Maybe they would get to the dragon somehow.

The night outside was alive with wild, wonderful things, and Milagros felt the strangeness inside her answering.

When she finally got back home, she lay awake on her bed with her eyes wide open. 

Above her building, under the calm, moonless night sky, the dragon slept at last.

{ Edited by Sharyn November. }
This new voice is sponsored by David Levithan.