Of Monsters and Madmen
by K. C. Gray
Table of Contents|
Chapters: 1, 2, 3
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
Chapter One: He
And He paused, right at the threshold of the door, watching the officers while they watched him. His eyes flitted over the scene, and she could believe he’d possibly feel trapped, like a rabbit huddled against a wall, ready to be torn to shreds. And while he might feel that way, he could never be the prey in any situation.
So far, He hadn’t done anything to hurt her, and she didn’t want the situation to change. She paced past him, hoping to pull his attention back to the exhibit, to the thing that had brought him clear across the world.
As she walked into the stark white room, full of paintings with colors that lifted off of canvases in comparison, her eyes instantly fixed on a life-sized stone statue of He in the center of the room. His right hand pressed into the pocket of his pants, and his left hand gripping a crumbling Earth. There wasn’t a bit of color on it, but still, it drew her in.
Not a single sign of a chisel, or any tool that might have been used in its creation, stood out among the perfectly recreated image: three-piece suit, duster, and fedora. Even the eyes on the statue held his blank stare. The artist had taken a great deal of care in the details.
He came into view, taking calculated steps around his double, the statue that stood his exact height. “It’s well crafted.”
“It really is,” she replied, her eyes still comparing the two, looking for any discrepancy. And, once again, her attention drifted to the crumbling Earth. Would he take offense to this depiction?
After circling the statue, he stood next to her, taking in the front view. He didn’t look angry, but he never looked “anything,”; she had no clue what he thought. Perhaps curiosity would allow him to see the image and not the insult.
She took a look around wanting to find something else to draw him to, but every single painting, every photo, and every sculpture had been influenced by He. A single bark of laughter escaped her lips.
His golden eyes searched her, searched for meaning, she imagined.
“Sorry. It’s just... Did you really come all of this way to view an exhibit of yourself?”
“Yes. Is that strange?”
“Yeah.” Her smile formed without consent. “And vain.” She chastised herself for the quick, thoughtless comment. But one corner of his mouth twitched up for a second. She breathed a sigh of relief.
The blankness of his stare chilled her, filled her with uncertainty about what he wanted with her, why he’d invite her to come here at all. She forced a quick smile and made her way to a large painting on the wall.
A mosaic of He, with his back to the audience, stood feet apart with his left hand raised high. The mosaic consisted of tiny squares depicting horrifying scenes: a child hunched in bed, blanket surrounding him, and underneath the bed, two red eyes peered out; a husband stabbing a wife in the corner of a kitchen; public orgies; children abused; women and men raped; slaves beaten. Thousands of these pictures came together, all depicting just about every sin man could and had committed.
And in front of the mosaic, Tampa blazed. Buildings torn apart with pieces floating up into the air, people screaming and running away. The bright reds and oranges of the fire contrasted with the dark tone of the rest of the painting.
He stepped up beside her, taking in every fraction of the picture. Every time she’d ever heard of him, of the things he’d done, the crimes, the deaths, a chill would creep up her spine. How could someone, something this powerful exist? What cruel twist of fate left humans to his will and whim?
“Why would you do this?” she asked before she could stop herself.
He took in a long breath, allowing his body to sway slightly, before exhaling. “There was once a time when I allowed myself to get involved with human affairs. Civil War, WWII, but then came Vietnam. I went to Tampa to speak to the army about helping, about being their secret weapon and taking out enemy combatants. But then I realized it was a ploy to occupy more land.
“The army disagreed, and in an attempt to study me, to try to replicate me, they shot me full of tranquilizer darts. My mind dulled, and my subconscious, self-preservation, took over.”
She took in the painting, again, seeing context slowly shift her interpretation. “That’s quite a lot of damage for self-preservation.”
“This is nothing compared to my wrath.”
And she took him in, again. This skinny man, almost too skinny, being portrayed as the devil in human flesh her entire life. How would her view of him change if she had proper context? What other details had been lost to fear?
“What are you?” she asked.
He shrugged and moved on to the next painting. “I’ve been alive a long time, since before apes lost their tails and became man. Much of my life before mankind, before the emergence of language and intelligence, is merely fleeting images.”
“How can you look like a man if you were around before man?”
“So you haven’t always looked like this?”
“No. Although, I can’t really tell you what I looked like before. Mirrors weren’t around back then, and vanity not a priority. No need to find a still lake for grooming.”
Her focus tore away from the room, from the murmurs up front from the officers. She allowed her eyes to grace every part of him, to wonder and speculate about his previous form.
His eyes met hers, and while she wanted to look away, she couldn’t. The corners of his eyes rose just a bit, for only a second. She suddenly wanted to get to know him, to understand as much as possible, to not have her opinions formed by the ignorance of others.
“What?” he asked.
“Well...” Forcing her eyes away, to another corner of the room, she couldn’t decide on what to ask, on what she wanted to know the most. Maybe he’d tire of her questions and decide she wasn’t worthy of holding his secrets. But her curiosity grew, once again. “What’s your name?”
“I haven’t one,” he replied. He continued swiftly through the exhibit, pausing long enough to allow his eyes to rest on every inch of each display. “I’ve been known as many things over the millenniums. Geb, Gun, Ah Cun Can, Shiva—”
“Which ones did you answer to?” she asked, feeling like he could have gone on all night.
“Since I have no name, I’ve answered to them all. Names are only symbolic, pointing to a specific being. If that’s what the people at the time used to identify me, why not?”
She trailed behind him, more focused on him than any of the artwork. “You shouldn’t answer to a name that doesn’t fit you.” But maybe she was wrong, maybe she was so eager, so taken by this figure that his true persona, his true nature was exactly what was shown in those documentaries, in the art surrounding her. “Do you think of yourself as a Shiva? A destroyer?”
“I have destroyed things, yes.”
She paused, and he moved on to yet another display. What was that quote from Maya Angelou? “If a person tells you they are a snake, believe them.”
“Y-you say that like it’s...”
“Like it’s no big deal. Don’t you feel bad about those lives, gone?”
Hands in his pocket, the back lean still happening, he thought for a moment. “Have you ever mixed the food together on your plate, before? Taken chicken and green beans and mashed potatoes all in one bite.”
“Uh...” her stomach grumbled since she’d missed lunch. “Yeah, I guess.”
“All of the flavors are there, but they blend together, becoming a brand new flavor. After millenniums, that is the state of my emotions. Anger, sadness, fear, joy, all of it’s there, but a new mixture, an amalgamation.”
“So you do feel sad?”
His gold eyes drifted to her, taking in every bit of her face. “If I could go back and change the past, I would.”
“Why don’t you talk about this stuff? Let everyone know. Then maybe people wouldn’t run from you.”
Another twitch of his lips. “While I may be invited on a show,” he moved on to the next display, “the government wouldn’t let it air. Nothing is ever what it seems.”
They continued on in quiet, letting the world’s image of He sink in, surround them with overt amounts of violence, anger, hatred.
Completing the round of the room, they headed towards the exit, towards the sea of officers waiting for some form of violence that would only be spurred by them.
“Thank you,” He said, “for joining me.”
“It was interesting. Definitely not what I expected.” Her mind spun, taking in the fact that she no longer worried about what she said, she no longer worried that his anger could be flicked on like a light.
As they walked into the gift area, the officers backed out, like a continuously receding wave. The two attendants no longer stood behind the desk. They must have been swept down the street, past the human barricade.
He grabbed her dry-cleaning and draped it over her arm, again.
She hadn’t even noticed the items still in her hands. Why was she even carrying the cup of coffee, now cold? And she wondered why no one had called or sent a single text. The whole world had to be watching.
Taking a look at the phone, she realized that she never turned it back on after it fell, after He put every tiny piece back together again. She needed to free her hands, dump the cold coffee and warm salad, and see how many messages she’d received in an hour’s time.
He stood at the door, holding it open, duster and fedora back on as though they’d never left.
“Thank you,” she said while she walked past him, back out into fresh air and sun. She smiled, looking up at the helicopter and the officers who still kept their distance. If they only took the time to speak to him, to see that he wasn’t a monster, a creature hell-bent on destruction like they’d all been taught, then perhaps a bubble wouldn’t have surrounded He. Maybe then he would have found a more interesting person to keep him company.
She walked to a black trashcan, sitting on the sidewalk next to the curb, and dumped her trash. After turning on her cellphone, it beeped and vibrated in succession, so much that she would have thought a call was coming through.
“What is your name?” He asked, suddenly appearing beside her.
“Tessa,” He repeated.
The vibrations and beeps ceased. She unlocked it, opening up to the home screen where over one-hundred texts awaited. Everyone would be crowding her with questions, wanting to know everything, and she’d do her best to explain his unexpectedly calm nature.
“Would you...” — He paused, waiting until she looked up from her phone — “Would you travel with me.”
The dry-cleaning almost fell, and she quickened her hands to readjust it. Traveling with him sounded like an adventure, a way to see the world and a way to know this magnificent being better from firsthand experience rather than hearsay. But, although she hated it, she had to go back to work. “I have bills to pay.”
“Consider them paid.”
His eyes sparkled for a second. “I’ve been around a while and have collected quite a bit. Even money. Since Tampa, no bank will allow me an account, and I have no real use for it, anyway.”
“I’d guess not, having your own house atop a hill.”
“Come with me for one year, and I’ll pay all of your bills.”
She clutched the dry-cleaning to her chest and glanced around the immediate area: empty. Right now, she’d be a curiosity, an oddity. According to the rest of the world, she’d have been the only person to survive an encounter with He since Tampa. But if she left with him, would the world’s view of her change? Would they see her as corrupted? His minion? Would they fear her so much they’d give her a wide berth on the streets?
Another possibility unveiled in her mind. She could be the bridge He seemed to need to the rest of humanity. Their travels wouldn’t be filled with death or destruction, but fun and energy. Perception could shift, and she’d be at the heart of it.
Plus, she’d never traveled out of the state before, but here, He’d wrapped up an opportunity and lay it at her feet. She would’ve had only one reason to turn him down, but that reason quickly melted away as she spoke with him and he treated her with politeness and respect.
Drumming her fingers against her hand, she wondered if he expected more than just a traveling companion. He may have been holed up for sixty years, avoiding the public eye, but that didn’t mean he was always alone in the mansion.
“I won’t have sex with you,” she stated.
Right above the bridge of his nose, between his brows, two creases briefly formed before melting back into a smooth forehead. “I never asked you to.”
“Okay. Well, I want to make sure we’re clear on that.”
And right there, she dropped the dry-cleaning, left her old life behind on a curb.
They walked down the street, back to the area where she first bumped into him. The police ahead of them backed up, matching their pace.
He moved over to a four-door car, as tan as his outfit, and opened the passenger door. She had to smile, not only at the gesture, but at the fact that even an ancient being used a vehicle.
She slid into the leather seat, and he shut the door. He had kept it clean, shiny, not even speck of dust floating through the air.
As he positioned himself behind the stirring wheel, she focused on her phone, ready to read the shock and awe from those she cared about the most. She pulled up the series of texts from her mom.
“He” is downtown right now! Not too far from your work.
Are you getting my texts? You’re probably busy.
Wait! Is that you! RUN!
She sighed, slightly beating herself up for allowing her mom to worry. She flicked her thumb, causing the screen to roll all the way down to the bottom of the text.
Don’t go with him. You’ll get caught in crossfire.
Her mom’s last text was sent over twenty minutes ago, and no doubt, with them not coming now, her mom was probably on the edge of the couch, thankful that her daughter was still alive.
She flicked the call button and prepared herself for a barrage of questions she couldn’t yet answer.
Her mom picked up before the first ring could finish. “What the hell are you thinking?” her mother hissed. “Don’t you know who you’re with?”
“Then why, Tess? Explain this to me?”
“We’re just going to go travel a little bit. I’ve never left Illinois.”
“Come home, and you and I can go on a cruise.”
“Mom, it’s okay.”
“Don’t tell me it’s okay when you’re in the car with that monster.”
She glanced up at him, wondering if he could hear her mom’s frantic words. But he didn’t seem to notice. His hands stayed firm on the stirring wheel while he guided the car through the streets.
For the first time since getting in the car, her attention went towards the world outside. The moving blockade quickened its motion backwards, trying to clear the road before them. Instead of continuing on towards the blockade, He turned left, onto an empty street.
“Tess,” her mother said. “he’s dangerous. He took out all of Tampa.”
“But that wasn’t his fault. Look, now isn’t the time to talk. I just wanted to let you know that I’m okay.”
“Wasn’t his fault?” It was just like her mother to dismiss her other statements to focus only on one.
“No. But it’s not my place to tell him his business. I’m okay, and that’s the important thing.”
Her mother’s huffs grew louder.
“Mom, it’ll be okay!”
“You don’t know that! You can’t know that! Even if destroying Tampa wasn’t his fault, it still happened. No matter what, death and destruction surrounds him.”
Tessa rolled her eyes at the tag line of his latest documentary. “I’ll talk to you later, Mom.”
“Tonight! I’ll call you tonight!”
Her mom grew quiet, and while Tessa didn’t want to leave her worried, she couldn’t sit on the phone. Especially in quiet.
A single cry choked out of her mom. “Be careful.”
“I will. And I’ll call you later.” She hung up before her mom could say anything else, before her excitement could morph into her mother’s worry. This adventure could change her life forever, and she wanted to hold on to that belief.
Copyright © 2017 by K. C. Gray