Sunday, March 29, 2009

Chapter Eight

A little boy cries near a well.

They hear him, of course, the monsters that sleepwalk through the cobblestone streets, and they shamble ever faster toward the center of town, toward the well.

The boy doesn’t care. The scuffling, dragging footsteps approach, but he remains seated. Let them come.

He’d been traveling for so long, trying so hard to return, only to find his village empty, his home shuttered, his family gone.

And he no longer knows what to do. For weeks he’d hoped, believed, wished that if he could only make it home, everything would be all right. The deserted, dusty roads, the few frightened refugees (who had no time for a little lost boy), the monsters, none of it would matter once he was in the arms of his father.

Only now there is nothing, no one, not even a candle in the window.

He’s come to the conclusion that because he left home, all of this, the lifeless town and the monsters and his missing family, is somehow his fault. If he’d only kept his promise and been brave and truthful and unselfish, none of this would have taken place. This, he believes, is his punishment.

It’s a very big burden for such a small child, and there is no one to comfort him and let him know that he’s wrong.

Broken shadows descend upon the town square. He recognizes a few of the faces (some were even schoolmates), but none of them belong to his father. Hope flickers painfully in his chest. Though he isn’t here, his father might still be alive.

They dreamily approach the well, drawn toward the boy’s tears, and place their groping, rotting hands about his face, on his eyes, in his mouth. He shudders and flinches, but they abruptly let him go.

The monsters stumble away, directionless and lost, until the boy hiccoughs a sob. Then, surprised by the sound, they return, poking and prodding at his face for a moment before losing interest.

More than anything, they hunger for flesh and blood. And though they’re drawn to the boy’s tearful cries, he means no more to them than a creaking door or a rustling tree. They have no use for a little puppet made of pine, and so Pinocchio, alone, is spared.