Matthew Di Paoli
Overcoming the Monster
I. Anticipation and Call
I’ve heard that across town there’s a monster. No one’s willing to deal with him yet. They say he has eyes like motorcycle headlights and big green horns and a belly full of blood. I don’t really see why any of this is falling on me. My live-in girlfriend says it’s because I give an aura of reassurance. She also says that’s why people ask me for directions all the time.
Our town is circular. On the outer crust we have shops: malt shops, hardware shops, wig shops, the usual stuff. In the middle rung we have churches. On the inside is where we live. The houses are mostly the same, except for the roofs; each roof is designed to reflect the personality of the homeowner. Our roof is made of straw and linoleum.
The other town is where the monster lives. Not too many people live in that town besides the monster, except for my friend, Jerry. Jerry runs errands for the monster here and there. He mostly picks up branches for the monster’s lair, and he told me that sometimes he has to shoot doves with a bow and arrow and serve them to the monster in a clear plastic recycling bag. All in all it doesn’t seem like a bad gig. I’ve considered it over my law firm.
The other town is a square. On the outside are long skeletal trees that bloom bloody red flowers in the summer and then smell weird for a few months. The inner rung is where the post office is located, so if you want to mail a package you have to go there, and it’s a real hassle. They don’t even have pens. There’s actually a sign that says: “We don’t have pens,” as if their absence isn’t enough.
The monster lives in the middle of the square in a very large, very roomy tree house that we all refer to as the “murder hut.” It’s one of those folksy things where you don’t really know how it got its name. It’s really a pretty nice place if you stop and look at it. He even has indoor plumbing. I always wanted to live in a tree house.
“What if one day we build our own tree house and live up there and have our own roof that doesn’t smell like hay?”
“Grow up,” my live-in girlfriend says to me, sipping her coffee. “Only monsters live in tree houses. You’re going to be late for work.”
When I get to the firm, there are about fifty people waiting outside, holding up signs and chanting my name. The senior partner, Harold, walks over to my desk.
“They want you to kill the monster,” says Harold.
I crane my neck to look out the window. “I’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s not really a good time,” I say.
“This is good for you. It’s a real opportunity.”
“To tell you the truth, Harold, I’m not much of a killer. I’m more of a listener. If you wanted me to go and listen to the monster for a while, I’d be able to take care of that.”
“Every person has one chance in his life to be a hero. Mine’s already gone,” says Harold. He gets this look like he’s thousands of miles away in a memory off the coast of Portugal.
“If you think it’s best,” I say.
He returns to a pinpointed laser focus. “I do. I really do. You’ll want to buy a spear or something.”
II. The Dream Stage
I visit the hardware store on the outer crust.
“Do you have any spears?” I ask the cashier.
“Yeah, like—” I make a sort of stabbing motion above my head. “Like for whales or, I don’t know what they use against mountain lions, but I’d be happy with something that could slay a mountain lion.”
“Well, this is mostly a hardware store,” he says, looking behind me, searching for assistance. “Hey Tim, you know if we got any hunting spears?”
Tim is a strong, bald man who surfaces from some kind of basement storage cellar. He has played football some time in his life, that much is clear.
“Spears, huh?” says Tim, thinking so violently it almost ripples his skin. “Closest thing we got is a pitchfork. You could kill something with a pitchfork probably.”
“I’ll take that.”
I imagine the monster’s eyes as I stab him. I imagine his whole life has led him to this moment. He is destined to be hunted and die a horrible screaming death at the hands of an associate attorney.
I hold the pitchfork like giant scissors, away from my body, afraid I will fall and impale myself. Electric, lusty bloody blossoms cover the ground along the other town’s perimeter. There is nothing around except for a black bench, so I sit on it to rest. It’s a short rest, and it does not keep my feet from aching.
On my way to the monster’s tree house, I run into Jerry. He’s carrying a bag of doves.
“How’s things?” asks Jerry.
I show him the pitchfork.
“Oh, they finally got you, huh?”
“Yeah, I mean. What’s he like anyway?”
“Oh, about 6’2”, 220. He’s really good at bocce of all things. You believe that?”
“That’s weird. Anything else you can tell me about him?”
“Well, he’s about as strong as I’d say—” he makes a calculation in his head, “forty or fifty men. I’ve heard he’s immortal, but that might be one of those things that people say.”
“Huh, like immortal he’ll never die if he’s left alone or like god immortal, like he can’t die because he’s some kind of mythical creature?”
Jerry puts the bag of doves down on the dirt. “You know, I never really asked him that. It just never came up.”
“Okay, well, thanks anyway. I’ll see you, Jerry.”
He slings the dove sack over his back. “Not if I see you first!”
The staircase to the monster’s tree house is long and zigzagged. It is lit with fireflies that someone, presumably the monster, has embedded into the wood, so the banisters flick on and off in living yellow. I used to catch the things and let them go as a kid.
The staircase leads up to a sort of peach pit cocoon, where I can see the monster’s jagged outline against the track lighting. I think the cocoon is made of bamboo or birch. It’s hard to see with the impending darkness, but it really is a very finely crafted lair.
I climb the staircase, pitchfork in hand. I hear a Tom Jones song emanating faintly from inside the tree house, and I know something truly grim awaits me. There is no door, so I enter. The trunk of the tree juts up from the floor and sprawls out against the thatched roof. I see stacks of vintage luggage, an old Tuscan-style lamp with tassels, and a beautiful bed with only two pillows, not seven like on my bed. My live-in girlfriend collects pillows fanatically.
The monster sits in the corner of the room, reading The Girl on the Train.
“I heard that was pretty good,” I say.
“It’s okay,” says the monster. He’s hairless. His eyes are bigger than mine, but not motorcycle headlights to be sure.
“Is your belly full of blood?” I ask.
“Touché.” I always hated people who say that, and now here I am.
“You’re here to kill me?”
“How’d you know?”
“Jerry stopped by,” the monster points to the bag of doves in the corner by the wood-burning stove. “He says hi.”
“I bet that thing makes great pizza.”
“It’s all about the ingredients,” says the monster, putting his book down. His green horns begin to ooze a viscous substance, and suddenly he’s looming over me. Jerry was wrong. He’s at least 6’3”.
V. The Thrilling Escape from Death, and Death of the Monster
I taste the monster’s breath in my mouth. It’s self-defense when I strike. I make an incision in his belly as if to remove something. His horns shrivel and retract. A dimly lit persistence in his eyes tells me he wants to live.
I look away, drive the pitchfork through. It makes a squishing sound like a wet mop. His skin-heavy body crumples to the floor, and I notice what lovely carpeting he has. Guilt isn’t exactly the right word. I feel removed, bare, breathless.
I am less powerful now. There’s nothing left to anticipate. I can’t even imagine returning to town, accepting their celebration, sex like a teacup carnival ride, full of awareness and protracted vomit.
So, I’ll stay. The monster’s blood leaks onto my beautiful new carpet. I lock eyes with him as he passes easily into the next life. My tree house flickers with body and wing. I am a circle living in a square inside a cocoon that never hatches.
Matthew Di Paoli received his BA at Boston College where he won the Dever Fellowship and the Cardinal Cushing Award for Creative Writing. He has also been nominated for the 2014 Pushcart Prize and won the Prism Review Short Story Contest. Matthew earned his MFA in Fiction at Columbia University. He has been published in Post Road, Neon, Litro, CURA, Squalorly, Carte Blanche, Black Denim Lit, and Gigantic literary magazines among others. He is the author of Killstanbul with El Balazo Press, is shopping a second novel entitled Holliday, and is teaching Writing and Literature at Monroe College.