Once upon a time, there lived a completely unremarkable young girl.
One day, she fell ill. And on that day, as she lay on the couch with a sore throat and a fever, watching inappropriate daytime television, she was visited by a Mysterious Ogre, who gave her a gift.
The gift, the Ogre explained, was a small, invisible pet that the girl would carry with her for the rest of her life.
This pet would demand constant care, and could be tamed only with a magical serum smelling strangely of band-aids. The serum could not be swallowed or inhaled or ingested in any other way; instead, the girl would have to use different method to deliver the serum to the new pet in her body many times a day, every day — she’d have to use needles.
If she gave the pet too much serum, she would become sick, or faint, or die. If she gave the pet too little serum, she would become sick, or faint, or die. The pet would need different amounts of the serum each and every day, and it was up to the girl to determine the precise amount. No matter what, she would never get it right.
To check on the pet’s well-being, she would have to draw blood from her own fingers each day, and drop the blood into a special machine. For each drop, the special machine would give the girl a cryptic message, and she could use that message to help feed and care for her pet.
“Will the pet care for me back?” the girl asked the Ogre. “Will it keep me company?”
“Nah,” he replied.
“Can anyone babysit the pet for me?” the girl asked. “What if I want to go to a sleepover alone, or take a special vacation?”
“Others can support you,” he replied, “But no one else can ever take over. This pet is only yours.”
He explained that, as the pet grew older, it would become more temperamental, and could spread to other parts of her body, nibbling at her kidneys, her nerves, her skin — even her heart.
Our young heroine began to freak the hell out, and the Ogre raised a finger.
“I promise you this,” he said. “One day very soon, you will be relieved of this pet’s care. I can’t tell you when, or how, but I do know it will happen in your lifetime, likely within the next 10 years.”
Shaken, the girl accepted her fate as the owner of The Most Terrible Pet On Earth. And she moved forward with the support of friends and family. Sometimes, the pet would rear its ugly little head, misbehaving in horrifying and inexplicable ways. Other times, the little monster would sleep soundly for months at a stretch.
Weeks passed. Then months. Years and decades.
One day, the girl felt the pet had simply become too much. She was tired of figuring out how much serum to give it and when. She wanted to be like her other friends, the ones who only had normal pets like cats and dogs and pygmy goats. She wanted to find that Ogre, hand him the leash of the terrible beast he’d given to her so many years ago, and run away.
So, she visited a magical invisible world, accessible only through glowing screens. She looked around, and was surprised to find another person who owned a pet that was just as terrible as her own. Then she found another. And another. Soon, she’d surrounded herself with people just like herself — and all of their terrible pets.
Together, they formed a colony on an electronic island, lit by the glow of computer screens, connected by wires and populated by tiny blue birds. They all knew that each member of the colony was still responsible for the care of his or her individual pet, but somehow, the care became a little easier. They shared tips on feeding and caring for each other’s pets, and stayed up late trading stories of heartache and happiness.
Through it all, they often recalled those words the Ogre whispered to each one of them during his first visit: “One day very soon, you will be relieved of this pet’s care.”
Today, the girl, her pet, and all the other people and their pets still live on the island. They welcome new people and their evil pets every day, and grow stronger by the week. It’s a strange community indeed, but together, they thrive. Together, they wait to live happily ever after.