Having completely destroyed our proud educational facilities, the angry monster again turns to face us. It seems everyone senses this at once, as the arguments suddenly quiet, except one fool named Tom angrily whispering with his finger pointed at the sky. His voice raising in the vacuum of sound, competing with the slowing storm for an audience.
“The whole world thinks divorce is normal now. Thanks Henry number eight”, he is nearly shouting now. He dramatically pauses to wave at the sky and roll his eyes in the last bit of light.
“I’m sorry about your parents,” was the simple reply.
A thunderous crunch pulverizes the gymnasium exit we had just been through, shaking the earth in our direction. Everyone screams and runs perpendicular to the field, seeking refuge in nature from the cold furnace behind this monster’s eyes.
It reaches forward to grasp at the chilly night air. And us. It makes a clicking with it’s teeth, as though to torment. It works.
Reaching a fence, several begin to climb, but Heather says we should run in a different direction. “Okay, you guys. I saw this on a movie. We should get out of the path of this thing”, she says. The rain has stopped, and a slight gust forces everyone to begin hugging themselves. The few climbing stop and turn to face the others in the crowd.
We all look at each-other and seem to quietly agree. “So I guess we go this way”, someone says, and everyone begins climbing over the roots in this hilly part of the forest.
“Wait,” Justin says. The twins begin pulling the pieces of their destroyed gadget out and bury them in the dirt. Having done so they grab a broken branch and dig it into the dirt. Everyone instinctively begins to pile dirt around it, no one really knowing or understanding why.
Rita then pulls off her arm band and puts it on one of the branches. Like a bee hive we all move forward and begin draping it with various articles and possessions. We all stand back to admire our decoy.
The beast seems to be getting close again, slow as it is, roaring a manifestation of everything wrong in the world.
We all begin climbing up the hill, helping each-other up and pulling others to the high ground.
From here we see the other side of the fence to be a sharp drop, and reflect for a moment about how it’s good we went another way.
We quietly jog, stumble, run and scurry as frightened woodland creatures to the far side of the valley where the school used to be, looking from this distance like a bonfire.
My ankle and knee on one side feel raw from the run, and my hip on the other side also. My lungs, as I’m sure everyone’s do, feel worn. I begin to feel like I’m going to hyperventilate, but try to keep up.
We pause for a rest, feeling a little more safe. We turn around while leaning on our knees, a few again rolling down into the dirt, and some pacing nervously while eying the beast. From this vantage we can see the outline of it, angrily thrashing and stomping on our decoy. “That thing has wrath issues.” Mike says. We all nod solemnly.
Almost on cue, it turns it’s head suddenly in our direction, casting an eerie glow like search lights. If it could make human sounds, it would sound something like ‘Huh?’ Slowly it repositions itself and begins stomping in our direction, again.
“This is stupid,” Becky says with an obvious tone, her hands backward on her hips. She pauses as we all listen to the methodical crunching of it’s hoof things or whatever against the seeming underbrush that is our doomed forest compared to it’s mass. “At least it’s slow enough for us to stay ahead of it… I think it might be”
“Becky,” Heather sternly warns her.
Becky flicks her curly hair. “I was going to say ‘slow'”, she says defensively.
It roars at her, feeling her insult it seems. It’s form glimmering in the light of the burning school. It’s eyes are pale, neon stars of an evil age. One can easily imagine and fear some kind of radiation being cast from those eyes, causing one to want to crouch down and hide. Another reason to shiver.
It’s mighty feet now move in micro steps, taking special delight as it crushes the ancient vegetation beneath it, rubbing it’s nose and face with it’s tongue. In a very real sense, it almost seems like a toddler, smiling with glee as it ruffles leaves.
“Someone needs to stop that thing. Those trees provide oxygen we need to breath,” Tom says.
“Suggestions?” I ask. We all look around confused. No one has any answers, and it’s getting closer. Standing on this hill it can easily see us, even in the tall grass, and we can all feel this weird doom as we imagine running in any direction and having this thing follow us.
“We can’t go into town, that thing will follow us. And our parents will get hurt,” Jessica says, to which Rita begins to cover her face and tear up.
In the last fading bit of twilight, we all witness a small, blond head bobbing through the grass on an intercept course. Some insane little boy thinks this is time to play soldier.
“That kid is going to get squished,” Mike says.
“Someone needs to stop him,” Jessica agrees.
We all begin shouting at him. Making funnels with our hands, jumping and wildly gesturing. Screaming.
Having arrived exactly in it’s path, he turns to wave at us with a great smile. And I feel for sure like I’m going to pass out.
Abandoning all thought of self preservation, we all begin scrambling in his direction. Screaming some more, gesturing and generally losing our minds.
As we reach the bottom of the hill and are within a dozen yards or meters of him, the monster suddenly takes a giant step forward, instantly closing the gap between it and the child.
The beast glowers at the child, who appears to be just nine or eleven. It lowers down to face him eye to eye and roars at him, shaking the earth like a sonic boom cracking our reality into pieces.
To which this kid, merely stretches his hands to each side, and begins to sing. We all stop to witness this unreal spectacle.
The beast seems to be captivated by the words, and sways just a little bit, barely discernible.
For what seems like a short eternity, the delicate yet clear voice rings through the thick darkness enveloping the valley. Although, even at this distance no one can hear exactly the words.
Finally, in accordance with prescribed music theory, he brings his song to a slow and steady close. This it seems, breaks the reverie the beast is under. It leans even further in, bathing the kid in light, and casting a long shadow in our direction. Truly from this vantage it seems he is a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming diesel engine carrier. I greatly fear for him, but I feel locked in place, dreading what comes next.
Only the beast huffs at him like a grumpy, old man. Then impossibly, it’s massive head veers up and away from him while pivoting it’s body in the same direction. It’s tail passing close enough over his head to cause a breeze to tousle his hair.
Then quite suddenly, it was gone.
I stumble forward to see for myself if the kid had not been stepped on or something, and we all rush forward to surround him and pat him on the back, thanking him profusely. Whatever he did it worked, and he saved our lives. He smiles and holds out his hand.
Everyone starts laughing. “He wants a tip!”
We all begin searching through our pockets, and in mine I find my missing Uncle’s favorite coin. The coin he prized, minted in celebration of the St Louis World Fair, given to him as a gift. It is said in family lore he had been searching for it the day he disappeared.
Later my grandfather, who became a private investigator after the disappearance of both his sons, was able to return the coin. I had lifted it from it’s place in front of my Uncle’s picture on Mom’s credenza, seeking a family connection and in a strange way seeking protection of some kind.
A numbness takes hold of me, and I extend the coin and place it in the child’s hand, to which he smiles greatly.
I cannot believe I just gave away a family heirloom, and in shock I watch him wander away into the field. Everyone pats me on the shoulder and shakes my hand, and everyone begins walking back to the ruined husk of what was the school.
“Watch,” someone says. “They’re going to say it was a micro burst, or something lame like that.”
“Like the time a tornado dropped the school bus on the warehouse.”
“Or swamp gas,” someone else adds.
“A geomagnetic storm,” another says.
Everyone chortles and jokes about this being like a snow day.
I quietly find my bike, miraculously avoided by the oversized lizard that just trampled pretty much everything else, and solemnly say goodbye to my friends. We each promise to talk and compare notes soon.
“You should write this down and get rich quick,” Heather jokes after faux hugging my hand. “Oh my goodness, your hands are so cold!” she exclaims. She tries to warm my hands by rubbing them. “Are you okay?”
I nod my head quietly. “I’m just tired, this was an exciting time for such a short life,” I say.
Heather nods while watching intently, obviously worried. “You call me if you want to talk, okay? Say ‘hi’ to your Mom.”
“I will.” I get on my bike and ride back across the bridge into town, finally letting the water gush out of my eyes.
Tomasa is waiting by the road and seems relieved to see me. She waves and covers her mouth. “Hello, Tomasa. Thank you for being such a good neighbor,” I say in a random moment of gratitude for being alive. She nods and hugs herself, turning back to face the school.
“Everyone’s okay. Nobody got hurt,” I assure her.
Back I go to home, and lay my bike against the water hose coiled on the garage wall. With heavy feet and a heavier heart I get up the porch stairs. The screen door to the kitchen opens with a twangy metal sound, and I stop in front of the credenza.
“Is that you?” Mom says jumping from her chair in the living room. On the blurry television screen behind her an aerial view of the path of destruction can be seen. “Oh my, what happened!?” she says rushing over to me. I turn and look at my Uncle’s photograph, and … in a moment of crazy, see my Uncle’s prized coin laying in front of him like a national treasure.
Mom snatches me up in her arms and begins crying, asking again what happened and saying some other stuff I cannot hear. I stare at the coin, and see myself again placing it in that kid’s hand. I know I gave it to him.
I look at the photo of my Uncle, exactly the same age as the boy in the field, sitting in a wicker chair much too large for him. In his hand holding his favorite coin, given to him that very day, smiling ear to ear. His gaze alive and watchful. Forever laughing.
Copyright 2021 Matt Schmidt