The third time Leanne saw the monster there was no question it had grown.
She had been driving by a large group of school children waiting to be led across the street by a man in orange clothing. A group of older boys--Leanne put them at fifth- or sixth grade--were horsing around on the sidewalk while they waited for the guard to round up stragglers.
Leanne’s own boys were nine and twelve and she was secretly much more at ease with them than she ever was with her teenage daughter. Ashley had always been emotional and far more difficult to raise than her other two monkeys.
It began to rain much harder and just as she was passing the intersection one of the boys came loose from the pack and jumped in front of her car, making her slam on the brakes and come up hard against the seatbelt. The boy laughed and slapped the hood with one gloved hand.
Looking at him through the water-filter of her windshield, the boy seemed timeless. Even, white teeth. Mischievous eyes. Nice clothes--soaked, but nice. Leanne liked him. He was a handsome example of affluent suburban spawn, and better yet, he was up to no good at a school intersection. Traditional as pumpkin pie in November.
Still jeering, the boy passed to her left to rejoin his buddies who were laughing with him and slapping each other on the back. After adjusting her wipers to take up for the heavier downfall, she takes one last look and is not disappointed. Mr. Grin grabs his crotch and flips her the bird as she continues by.
As Leanne neared the stop sign a mere block from the crosswalk behind her, she looked in the rear view mirror, maybe hoping for an encore. But they’ve forgotten her. And why not? She’s just another frazzled housefrau with a busy schedule. Someone’s mom.
With no cars behind her, she pulls to a stop at the four-way intersection and puts the car in park in order to root through her purse for a cigarette and lighter. She’d been a two-pack-a-day gal for at least a decade before her kids were born, but now she limits herself to one or two a day. While she looks for her fix, she grabs a tissue and a tube of lipstick. During the hunt her hand runs across her prescription bottle of clonazapam and she throws that in her lap as well.
Rolling down the window to smoke proves impossibly wet, given the downfall. “Better to take a pill,” she says out loud, slipping the cigarette back into place and throwing both pack and lighter in the passenger seat. Swallowing half a pill with what’s left of her coffee, she looks in the rear view mirror to check her makeup and it’s then that she sees it.
The monster is in the crosswalk with the group of kids she’s just passed. It’s third from the back of the line and Leanne can see the yellow polka dots covering it’s black body as well as she can see the motley-dressed children and the crossing guard in orange.
The guard is holding one hand out to stop traffic while he waves the kids through the crosswalk with the other. The monster is directly behind Mr. Grin and it looks towards Leanne’s car and smiles before miming biting the boy’s head. Taller than the boy by at least a foot, the multi-colored, furred-and-feathered monster seemed to ripple as it brought it’s sharp little teeth closer to the boy’s ear. It continued this biting charade for another beat and then added a wink to the smile. Leanne knew this pantomime was intended for her and her alone. But then, that would make sense wouldn’t it? This was her monster.
“To market, to market, to buy a fat pig,” Melinda chants softly to herself as she slowly drives her little brother’s matchbox ambulance up one skinny shin, across knees held tightly tucked under her chin, and down the other leg, ending with a little jump of the toy off her bare left foot. Over and over the little girl performs this ritual, never varying which leg the car goes up, never changing the little jump or the Mother Goose hoodoo.
Leanne looked over her shoulder to get the view through her back window but she couldn’t see the monster. She looked in the mirror again and gasped as for a brief moment the thing’s mouth had somehow stretched to completely encase the boy’s head. The boy waved a hand in front of where his face should have been; but he waved it casually, as if nothing more than a raindrop had landed on his nose. Leanne could see the boy’s fingers making marks through the monster’s rippling form.
Well this is certainly weird...
She continued to watch in her rear view mirror as the monster cavorted behind the boy.
“To market, to market, to buy a fat pig.” The ambulance makes its loop.
While Leanne watched in the mirror the monster swung suddenly away from Mr. Grin and ate the little girl behind him in one bite. Both monster and girl burst bright with color and then were gone.
Reaching for the pack of cigarettes in the passenger seat, Leanne put the car into drive and pulled away. She found a city park up the street and steered into a spot under a large tree. Rolling down the window, she lit her cigarette and dug through her purse for her pills.
Eat 'em like potato chips! she thought wryly to herself as she twisted the lid off the vial with one hand and poured another half of a pill onto her lap. One more half of a pseudo-valium wasn’t much in light of what she’d just seen but she had to pick her own kids up from school in twenty-five minutes and driving them home safely while pretending there was nothing amiss with mom was going to be a big order, considering. She could take another (maybe three) when she got home. And a large plastic tumbler of vodka tonic to chase it down.
Begging off her next appointment via cell phone, she scooted the driver’s seat back in its tracks, kicked her heels off, and lit up. The arm with the cigarette stuck out the open window, where her suit jacket was occasionally adorned with spots of weeping rain from the tree leaves above.
The first half-clonnie was kicking in. More to follow! she thought, and on the heels of that, At least I’ll get stronger tranques in the asylum...
As she smoked, Leanne reflected on everything that had happened since she'd met the strange little girl with the special notebook. That had been two days ago.
Since her encounter with the girl, Leanne had seen the monster three times. And as much as she kept telling herself it was just a mental glitch, there was still a niggling doubt that what she was seeing was real. As the second half of the clonazepam slowly kicked in, Leanne combed over the details:
Sighting #1: Yesterday morning, at the home of Dana Peterson, she had seen her monster reflected in one of the many mirrors Dana uses for décor in her sitting room. With five remaining appointments that day to pick up items for the PTA’s auction, Leanne had gladly accepted Dana’s offer of coffee. She had been admiring the frame on one of the mirrors when she saw the monster’s reflection sitting on a stack of cushions under the bay window. It was the size of an overfed housecat. Leanne turned from the mirror to look but it wasn’t there. Before she had time to think, Dana came from the kitchen bearing a large tray of small pastries and a silver tureen of coffee.
Leanne spent the next twenty minutes fighting the temptation to investigate and forcing herself to make small talk with her friend.
Sighting #2: Much later that afternoon, after Leanne had made her other stops and delivered all the donations to the school where they would be cataloged and stored until needed, she swung by the drugstore to pick up a birthday card for Carson, the nephew she sees only once a year. She’d been looking through the rather limpid selection of birthday sentiment when something colorful (and familiar) flashed above her. She looked up and could see the monster reflected in one of those convex mirrors that stores sometimes hang in their aisles to discourage shoplifters.
According to its reflection, the monster was directly behind her, sitting on the floor near the paperback racks and magazines. It was now the size of a large dog, although no one but Leanne could see. It had an impossibly enormous black spider clamped between its tiny pink teeth and every time the spider struggled, the monster would clamp down just a little bit harder. Viscous, white fluid ran down its face as it leered at Leanne. Blindly and in a panic she grabbed a Sympathy card from the rack and ran from the store without paying.
Sighting #3: Monster eats little girl in crosswalk. Recently.
But really I saw it before, didn’t I?
“I saw it last week when it was still only a harmless drawing,” she said to the Chuck Norris bobble-head her boys had put on the car’s dash for a joke.
I saw it because I made it.
She remembered how the rich oil paint colors had popped off the black paper and how wonderful it felt to cast off her grown up facade and become absorbed in the simplicity of creating again. She remembered how she’d added the sharp pink teeth and yellow claws as an afterthought, a perfect finishing touch.
Time. Leanne checked her face in the mirror once more before starting the car. She wasn’t beautiful in the classic sense: she wasn’t young, and she wasn’t innocent. Her face was plainly that of a woman in her early forties; it had been used to laugh and cry, and usage leaves its marks, but she was still holding her own. Satisfied with what she saw, Leanne headed for the school.
As she drove, Leanne thought more about that strange little girl and her book of drawings.
Melinda Darcy was seven years old. She was the daughter of Gene Darcy, the co-chairperson of the PTA, and a regular contributor of worthless crap to the organization’s auction. Last year Mrs. Darcy had donated a child’s wooden school desk from the fifties era. She’d said it was a “whimsical antique”.
Leanne had gone to the Darcy residence to pick up this year’s donation--an honest-to-gawd doll lamp so thick with dust its bilge-yellow wig appeared to be graying in unlikely streaks.
“It’s hideous, isn’t it?” a child’s voice broke the silence Leanne had been sitting in ever since Mrs. Darcy excused herself to go speak with the Darcy’s Spanish maid--something about an important matter that just couldn’t wait. Leanne knew this was Mrs. Darcy's way of showing off her Spanish or her wealth, and from the sounds of the halting falsetto stuttering from the next room, Leanne hoped it was for the latter.
“It’s ugly,” the girl repeated, “Just like all of Mommy’s things. She’s such a cow. A stupid, fat pig. You should see her room all full of dusty, ridiculous knick-knacks. Knick-knack, patty-whack-off give the dog a BONER!” The little girl howled with laughter and then abruptly stopped. Her eyes narrowed in an obese face so pale and sickly-toned it matched exactly the yellow dress beneath. She was clutching a blue notebook with one filthy hand.
Leanne looked around nervously before addressing the child. “Yes it really is awful, isn’t it? But you shouldn’t make fun of your mother. It isn’t nice.”
“You’d make fun of her too if you knew what a stupid cow she is. My monsters all want to eat her, but night after night I tell them NO. They get hungry but I won’t let them.”
Mrs. Darcy’s voice could now be heard outside the house. Leanne leaned toward the girl and asked, “What monsters?”
“The monsters in my book, of course,” Melinda said. “You’re a funny lady. My monsters want you to do something for them and if you don’t, they’ll want to eat you too.”
“And will you let them?”
Giggling now, “I might.”
“What do they want me to do, deep-fry your brains in monkey fat and serve it up with a side of ice cream?”
The little girl squealed her delight and with the air of a conspirator said, “No silly, they want you to draw a monster.”
She handed Leanne the notebook. “All my monsters live together. They want to have a baby. They want you to draw their baby in the book so it can be like them. They can’t have Momma to eat so they want you to draw a baby for them instead. I only have one page left in my book and that’s where the baby goes.”
“But I’ve never drawn a monster,” Leanne said.
“Anyone can draw a perfect monster, because that monster’s just in your head waiting to be real and however you draw it, it will be exactly how it’s supposed to look.”
Well--I can’t argue with that logic. Leanne picked up the yellow cylinder of oil paint the little girl had pushed her way and began to draw a monster on the last black page of Melinda’s book.
When she was done, Leanne looked up from her picture to ask the little girl if it was a good enough “baby,” but when she saw Melinda’s face the question dropped. The girl’s face had been transformed. She was staring at Leanne with far-away eyes gone glassy as if she were in a trance, and in that moment she didn’t look fat or snotty at all; she looked empowered and capable of anything. She looked wicked.
The transformation of Melinda’s unfortunate face to something a tad more radiant was fascinating.
Melinda excused herself from the room when her mother returned. She’d left the notebook among a scatter of paints on the coffee table, its pages open to reveal the newest addition. The girl stopped half way up the stairs and said something without turning around.
To Leanne it sounded like, “They told me you would do it.”
“To. Market. To. Market. To. Buy. A. Fat. Pig.”
Later that evening, a distraught Mr. And Mrs. Bowlie call the police to report their six-year old daughter missing. She never came home from school.
“Home again, home again, Jiggity-JIG!” and with that Melinda pops the toy ambulance into her mouth, rolls to her side, and has a violent seizure that beats her now oh-so pretty, pony-tailed head against the dusty floor of her mother’s bedroom. The notebook has been hurled away and it lies open not far from the girl’s bucking body. The pages turn rapidly, as if caught in a draft, and the drawings ripple and swell.
Across town Keith O’Brian has slipped in the bathroom and hit his head rather hard on the commode after a flash of color skirted out from under the shower curtain and bit his foot. Knocked unconscious, he begins to drown in the blood pouring from his ruined mouth.
Such a shame--he had nice teeth...
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