By Jeremy Maxwell
Audio recorded live during gutwrench. issue 7 release event.
The monster is laid out on the front steps like the end of the world, like the party was yesterday and here he is, Mephistopheles, askew against the bricks and forcing everyone to go around. It smells like sulfur and piss on the stoop, puke on his shirt and spilled beer soaking into his hair. He won’t know how he got here, but this is where he’ll find himself, if he ever wakes up. The morning is soggy and hot and the monster smells worse by the minute.
The little girl stands there looking down at him for a long time. The other kids are coming, she’s going to have to make a decision soon. She looks over her shoulder, hoping they’re still out of sight and knowing they won’t be for long. She bends down and wrinkles her nose.
She pokes the monster on the shoulder, one, two, three times, poke, poke, poke. “Mister,” she says. “Mister, wake up.” He doesn’t move or twitch but the dark spot on his pants becomes a patch, grows darker, starts to spread. The smell gets worse and she scrunches up her nose till it hurts. “Ah, jeez,” she says, and leans in all the way. She takes him by the shoulder and shakes, saying mister and shaking and shaking until he stirs.
His mouth falls open and he begins to groan. It is deep and low and wide, the sound of gravel kicked up on the road.
” ,” he says. The sound starts small and swells to fill the stoop, fighting the smell for the space. One eye pops open wide but the other is crusted over with sweat or sleep or beer and doesn’t budge. He lays there making the sound, staring out at her through one half-blind busted eye.
“You,” the monster says.
“Mister, you got to get up,” the little girl says and lets go of his arm. “You got to get up right now.” She looks over her shoulder again and there they are, Tommy and Tina and the rest of them, trying to cross the street. “Mister, please get up,” she pleads, and behind his broken, leaking eye, the monster begins to move.
* * *
There used to be a bathroom here but all that’s left is a piece of shattered mirror on the wall and a hole in the floor where the toilet used to sit. The monster pisses into the hole with his pants pooled around his ankles while the little girl stands in the other room. Somewhere down there are flies and a few of them swarm up to investigate his pants, his feet, the puddles on the floor. He makes the sound again and kicks at the flies as he pulls up his pants.
“Mister, you got to learn some more words,” the little girl says as he stumbles through the doorway and staggers past. The counter is lined with liquor bottles in varying stages of emptiness and he turns them up one by one until he finds one several fingers deep and collapses into the only chair in the room. It is plastic and weak in the legs and flops over sideways, spilling the monster into the floor.
“,” the monster roars, and the little girl shakes her head and glances back toward the door. She shouldn’t be here, she’ll catch a beating for sure if anyone finds out, from Tommy or Tina or maybe even her mom, it just depends who finds out first. You never go into the monster’s lair, they’ll say. It’s where he keeps his power. Even if she knows better, she knows it won’t do no good to argue. They’ll beat her up for sure if she does that. His other eye is open now and he watches her watch the exit. “Good,” he says, flopping over onto his back and clutching the bottle to his chest. “GTFO.”
“That doesn’t spell anything, mister,” the little girl says, “but at least you’re trying now.” She looks down at him and wrinkles her nose. “Don’t you got anymore pants?” He stares up at her through both bleary eyes and then scrunches up his face and laughs. It starts small and slow and like all else the monster does, swells to fill the room. She’s not sure why but she’s just a little girl so she laughs with him, the two of them roaring there together in the empty house.
They’re still laughing when the knock comes at the door.
* * *
The sound is tiny and she knows it’s Tina even if she can’t say how. She quits laughing and then he hears it too and the silence that follows is as loud as the laughter ever was. It presses in around them and the knock comes at the door again. The monster sits up and drinks from the bottle, throat working against nothing even after whatever he’s drinking is gone. The tiny knock returns and the monster throws the empty bottle at the door. He’s making the sound again and she wants to cower there in the room, she wants to run for the door but the bottle bursts against it and she backs toward the bathroom as glass sprays at them both.
The tiny knock goes away and the monster climbs to his feet. She does cower then, in the doorway of the decrepit toilet, the monster’s lair, the monster’s lair, where have you gone, oh what have you done you stupid little girl. She cowers there still when he snatches open the front door and lurches out onto the stoop. She can see past him and across the road where Tommy and Tina and the rest of them are gathered, but they aren’t all kids, there are policemen there too, looking and pointing at them from the other side of the road, the other side of the world.
“Tommy’s gonna kill me,” she wails and there in the dilapidated doorway the little girl begins to cry. The sound starts small and slow and swells like the monster’s to fill the room, bigger and bigger till there is nothing else. The monster turns on the stoop and leans hard back into the house as the policemen rush across the road.
“Look here, little girl,” the monster says, holding the doorframe with one hand and pointing at his crotch with the other. She knows better than to look but her eyes are wide with terror and there is nothing else to see. “Look,” he roars again, and she does, and there’s nothing there to see, he’s just pointing at his pants. He turns away from her and heaves himself off the stoop, pitches himself toward the crowd. He’s making the sound again but she can barely hear it for her own sound bouncing off the broken walls.
He throws himself at the first policeman and then ducks as the group of them tries to grab his arms, his hair, his soggy pants or puke-stained shirt. The monster dodges and jukes and his clumsiness might as well have belonged to somebody else because his eyes burn with a clarity the little girl has never seen, not in her own eyes or her mom’s or even Tommy’s or Tina’s when they are working her over. He stops there at the bottom of the steps and looks back at her, across the stoop and the empty room and the upturned plastic chair. She is still cowering and wailing in the doorway of the bathroom and the dark spot on her pants becomes a patch, grows darker, starts to spread.
The monster turns back to the nearest policeman and kicks him square in the nuts. It is full and strong and has the weight of a full-grown man behind it. The policeman crumples to the ground and the monster doesn’t dodge or juke, just lets the rest of them reach in and grasp, his pants, his hands, his throat. He just stares and laughs at the little girl as she cowers deep inside the doorway of the abandoned house. She stops crying then, runs forward to the stoop where the smell of sulfur fills the space. She wrinkles up her nose and laughs.
Facedown in the street the monster laughs with her, he laughs until they pick him up and throw him in the back of a car, cuffed at the hands and the waist and the feet. The little girl leans out onto the stoop as Tommy and Tina and the rest of them come running up the steps. She stops laughing and grabs onto the doorframe with both hands.
“What the fuck is wrong with you,” Tommy yells as he reaches for her arms, her throat, for anything. Her leg is already swinging back before he has time to stop, and when she connects with his nuts he goes flying, off the stoop, off the steps, into the street facedown and the sound he makes is so familiar, so full of outrage and despair, it’s not just the monster laughing, not even just the two of them, the monster and the little girl. It’s the policemen, it’s Tina and the rest of them, the whole world laughing at Tommy, laughing as he makes the sound.