Monsters: An Excerpt from The Book of Paul
by Richard LongYou tell your children not to be afraid. You tell them everything will be all right. You tell them Mommy and Daddy will always be there. You tell them lies.
Paul looked out the filthy window and watched the little girl playing in the filthier street below. Hopscotch. He didn’t think kids played hopscotch anymore. Not in this neighborhood. Hip-hopscotch, maybe.
“Hhmph! What do you think about that?”
Paul watched the little black girl toss her pebble or cigarette butt or whatever it was to square number five, then expertly hop, hop, hop her way safely to the square and back. She was dressed in a clean, fresh, red-gingham dress with matching red bows in her neatly braided pigtails. She looked so fresh and clean and happy that he wondered what she was doing on this shithole street.
The girl was playing all by herself. Hop, hop, hop. Hop, hop, hop. She was completely absorbed in her hopping and scotching and Paul was equally absorbed watching every skip and shuffle. No one walked by and only a single taxi ruffled the otherworldly calm.
of her soft voice. Was she singing? He pressed his ear against the glass and listened. Sure enough, she was singing. Paul smiled and closed his eyes and let the sound pour into his ear like a rich, fragrant wine.
“One, two, buckle my shoe. Three, four, shut the door…”
He listened with his eyes closed. Her soft sweet voice rose higher and higher until…the singing suddenly stopped. Paul’s eyes snapped open. The girl was gone. He craned his neck quickly to the left and saw her being pulled roughly down the street. The puller was a large, light-skinned black man, tugging on her hand/arm every two seconds like he was dragging a dog by its leash. At first, he guessed that the man was her father, a commodity as rare in this part of town as a fresh-scrubbed girl playing hopscotch. Then he wondered if he wasn’t her father after all. Maybe he was one of those kinds of men, one of those monsters that would take a sweet, pure thing to a dark, dirty place and…
And do whatever a monster like that wanted to do. Paul pressed his face against the glass and caught a last fleeting glance of the big brown man and the tiny red-checkered girl. He watched the way he yanked on her arm, how he shook his finger, how he stooped down to slap her face and finally concluded that he was indeed her one and only Daddy dear. Who else would dare to act that way in public?
“Kids!” Paul huffed. “The kids these days!”
He laughed loud enough to rattle the windows. Then his face hardened by degrees as he pictured the yanking daddy and the formerly happy girl. Hmmm, maybe he was one of those prowling monsters after all. Paul shuddered at the thought of what a man like that would do. He imagined the scene unfolding step by step, grunting as the vision became more and more precise. “Hhmph!” he snorted after a particularly gruesome imagining. “What kind of a bug could get inside your brain and make you do a thing like that?”
“Monsters! Monsters!” he shouted, rambling back into the wasteland of his labyrinthine apartments, twisting and turning through the maze of lightless hallways as if being led by a seeing-eye dog. He walked and turned and walked some more, comforted as always by the darkness. Finally, he came to a halt and pushed hard against a wall.
His hidden sanctuary opened like Ali Baba’s cave, glowing with the treasures it contained. He stepped inside and saw the figure resting (well, not exactly resting) between the flickering candles. At the sound of his footsteps, the body on the altar twitched frantically. Paul moved closer, rubbing a smooth fingertip across the wet, trembling skin and raised it to his lips. It tasted like fear. He gazed down at the man, his eyes moving slowly from his ashen face to the rusty nails holding him so firmly in place. The warm, dark blood shining on the wooden altar made him think about the red-gingham bunny again.
“Monsters,” he said, more softly this time, wishing he weren’t so busy. As much as he would enjoy it, there simply wasn’t enough time to clean up this mess, prepare for his guests and track her down. Well, not her, precisely. Her angry tugging dad. Not that Paul had any trouble killing little girls, you understand. It just wasn’t his thing. Given a choice, he would much rather kill her father. And make her watch.
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