by Jordan Hall
See the child. He is pale, thin, halfseen in his diminution. His hair flashes white, betrays his Aryan blood.
He is alone, the parents gone in the morning. It is nothing to him. He revels in their tedious wake. Eats milk and cream. Breaks and steals property and rubs himself in oils strange. He sleeps ’til near the sun’s noonhigh meridian, his whited hair splintered and splayed like some infernal broomhead. At night he carnivals with dervish fervor, watches plays of mindless violence. He is wild and drunken, bestial, howling into the darkling primordial. There is no echo. He is a changeling.
It is not long before the robbers come. The leader is squat and wears a gold tooth. Bestride him is another with crazed eyes and a figure gaunt like a starved and preyless mantis. Their coats are ashen and their boots trudge black against the snow. The squat signals to the redclay hovel before them, assuming its vacancy. This’s it, he says. The mantis nods. It is the hermitage of the kid.
Their first tries are stillborn. The kid has drawn the curtains and mounted straw men in the windowframes, at night animating their persons with guyropes so that shades dance in the illumined curtain. Some days later he lights firebits in a scullery bowl to ape the scream of gunfire. Each time the gangsome slanks off until at last they bivouac and learn his orphanage but do not learn his taste for violence. He hears their plans.
Come back tonight round nine. Kids’s afraid of the dark.
They are apocalyptically stupid.
The evening sun drops, blossoms blood into the gloaming. He goes to church, believes in nothing, only meets a man with a shovel. This same man now begins to descant on about his son who has prodigalized himself or something, and here his granddaughter sings in the choir but the kid cannot be said to give a damn. The choir is a bansheeing racket. All he now cares for is what use he can make of this old anchorite and though he had once feared the man with the shovel he now knows his error. The man with the shovel will deliver him in the end. All history swells to it.
He returns to the hovel and draws his plans and executes them. When he is finished he is hungry like a dog after congress. He eats melted cheese.
At the foretold hour the clock tolls and the robbers beset him with reckless punctuality, careening toward their final hidden doom like wraiths returning to the locus of their death. Gladeyed and grinfaced they taunt him.
We know ye in there and that ye all alone.
Its Santy Claus and his little elf.
The kid shoots the one in the left interior adductor a half inch below the genitals. The other in the foreplate of his skull. He uses pellets because he is a troll.
With haste the mantis makes for the basement but the kid has iced the entrystep and he slips, each stair cracking his bones like pool balls until he heels into the door. Inside is darkness. He reaches for a light but catches on some unseen contrapment. A rattle issues from above. He looks up and a flatiron swats across his face and he drops to the floor. When he wakes he tries the basement stair but finds it tarred and he must barefoot it and steps down on a casing nail that splits wide the small of his foot and the blood and the tar mix and the tar sieves into the wound.
Opposite his partner’s position the squat has received like treatment. The kid’s heated the front doorknob and when the squat reaches for it he burns his hand, cries and plunges his open fist into the snowdrift. The snow hisses and the scorched flesh of his palm remains strewn in the snow when he pulls back. The wound is purplish and charred bleeding and all about his hand bubbles like the exploding heads of miniature jellyfish. Far worse yet and branded in stark relief upon his palm is the letter M from which he discerns his doom, the mark of Mephistopheles and stigmata of the Antichrist. He shall find no deliverance amongst such dread company. He opens the backdoor and a blowtorch sets fire to his scalp.
At length the robbers convene in the front vestibule with the feet of the mantis sharded in ornamenting and the squat halfplumaged like some molested pigeon. The kid stands above them on the landing. He is laughing. He was baptized in blood and blood alone and now stands half finished conducting the selfsame sacrament upon these wretched initiates.
Ye guys give up? he queries.
Or ye thirsty fer more?
They are parched. They sprint up the stair like giddy Sunday schoolers to the pulpit, bludgeoned by loaded cans of paint swung from the handrail upon their skulls. Each by each they fall and lay crucified against the wooden slats, hand to hand, married in their mutual atrocity. Again they storm the stair, this time gaining the head. They trip on a planted wire but the mantis reaches out and claws the kid’s foot. Suddenly he spies a small and hirsute fugitive meddling about the attic step which he clutches and places on his combatant’s face. The mantis shrieks and the kid flees to the attic and the spider scurries to the squat’s chest where the mantis lowers a crowbar across his heart.
The kid can smell his reckoning now. The moon is risen full. He exits the attic window across a suspended cable to a wigwam in the trees. The robbers have gained him again and attempt the crossing but the kid won’t give and exhibits a pair of hedgeshears. From what deep well was spawned this genius? Does he not mete out apposite verdicts? With the wise indifference of a middle-aged cow he cuts through the cable and the fools go tumbling downward back upon the hovel face like misstepped trapeze folk. Again the kid implores them and runs to a neighboring shanty, stealing through the basement. Inside is flooded, seems to have been flooded for all time. He runs up the stair and swings wide the door clear into the arms of his forsworn antagonists.
They lift the kid by his blood-dimmed sweater and hang him on a coatrack. Madness on their faces. The mantis gone moronic. The squat’s tonsured head like some wardfled lobotomite.
What are we goin to do to em?
We goin to burn his head with a blowtorch.
Smash’n his face with an iron.
First thing I aim is to bite off each his’n fingers.
The squat grabs his hands, they are chafed to the raw and cold. The hands of some atavistic creature of darkness. He opens his mouth with the gold tooth since vanquished and draws the kid’s fingers toward his stinking maw when the man with the shovel flashes from behind and wrecks down that eponymic instrument straight upon the squat’s bald head with seraphimic fury. Again he heaves up and strikes the mantis flush like so, a prophecy consummated, the rites all ended, all time vindicated in that absolute judgment. In a moment the sheriff arrives and the robbers are packed in cars and driven off to whatever godforsaken destiny next awaits them.
The kid watches from the window and catches the squat’s eye and waves. A grin cuts across his djinnish face and he laughs. The great gloom of the world is for him an hysterical vaudeville. He laughs again. He laughs so hard he pisses himself, shits himself, his trousers are a bog teemed with alien fish and toad. He vomits from the stench. He laughs like the untold billions before him who laughed in the endless desert and from dark high places and crawling up out of seaweed water. Son of Man, child of God.