I enjoy protests. Political rallies, marches, even riots. Anything raucous and revelatory. That is perhaps an odd thing to say, but forgive me if I point out the obvious…that I am a monster, and hence, odd is my forte. Protests overrun the banks of normal social grace. They tear through barricades. They wash over groups. They are quite lovely to an island like me.
I have a talent, you must understand. It is perhaps not really a talent, but some kind of evolutionary adaptation; however, I think of it as a beautiful and inexplicable behavior that provides me with a truly unique trait. That is what talent is, if I am not mistaken.
I can be noticeable. I can seem so inviting that people will walk up to me in a crowd and ask me a question, though I stand between a bespectacled old woman with a shopping bag and a tailored businessman who obviously knows where he is going. I am the one they approach, because I am ultimately and perfectly approachable. I can also do the opposite. I can seem so stony as to be overlooked entirely. I do not know how it is done. I know that I must adopt a kind of stance, set my shoulders just so.
I call it my “aura” and I cloak others in it, or mask myself from view.
And so I go to the protest, wade into the middle of the tide, and take root. I become a sandbar, a rock. It moves around me easily, without a sign that it sees me as an impediment, and I am happy.
Freedom of speech is a curious thing. I do not fully grasp it. As near as I can tell, you believe in the right to say and do as you please, unless it harms another. If that is what freedom is, why don’t more people speak even their most extreme thoughts?
I am not a psychic. I do not read minds. What I can do is see with a precision it seems you do not share. Every tick and twitch is visible to me. When you hold back, when you lie, when you are uncertain, I can see it.
So as near as I can tell, a protest is a glorious confusion of people shouting to have the right to hold their silence with impunity.
Today I stand in this water and let it rush around me. There are all manner of exotics here: Stilt-walkers and musicians, masks and banners. For a moment, it is carnival, and I am overwhelmed with things to smell, see, and hear. But carnival was a trick all along. It is the death throw of desire before the starvation of Lent. It was the last gift of the aristocracy to placate the serfs. Carnival is insidious in its beauty.
I feel a kinship to it.
I also think it is important to note that wherever there are people, there is food. You will always find the enterprising businessman, selling questionable items that no one questions, because they would rather eat within the river than try to wade against the current. I have already consumed two sausages on sticks made mostly of pig offal, though seasoned well, if perhaps heavy-handedly. I have eaten cotton candy, two fruit drinks of different descriptions, popcorn with hydrogenated, salted fat, and that ever-present pastry of joy – the churro. I have also met several people I would love to eat, but alas, crowds do not usually react well to that sort of conspicuous consumption.
There are speeches about the right to a living wage, safe lending, and proper investment security. There are speeches about unions, fairness of trade, and even a diatribe against Federal deregulation. It is terribly interesting.
They are the 99 percent. Money, being an illusory representation of an assumed value, seems a strange cudgel. That a man may starve, even when across the street from a grocer, in my opinion, is contrary to the idea of civil society. And yet there are plenty of laws making certain that food rots on the shelf. This example is but a metaphor for a great many flaws in your world, but who am I to bite the hand that feeds?
As I am well-versed in the manners of predators, I understand a victim who does not wish to be one, but I also understand that my stomach is empty.
I walk away slowly, still taking it in, digesting, as it were. I make my way down a side street packed with wandering protestors carrying empty bottles, megaphones, and drums. I come to a courtyard at the front of a large office building. Its retaining walls had served as stands for the spectators during the speeches, but now they are emptying.
A woman screams. She is only a few yards from me, and her cry pierces my nerves. She is weeping when I spot her, her hands up in the air as if she is clawing at the sky. Another woman wearing a colored t-shirt and a whistle frantically attempts to calm her. An overlarge bag with a friendly bear print, a juice cup with a funny straw, a tiny sun visor tucked into a pocket, and the waves and gestures that sketch a portrait of the child that belonged to these items. A child who was now missing.
I close my eyes and listen.
I have very acute hearing. I can hear the hiss of a switchblade opening from the length of a football field, through a mass of steel and stone. But to pick one soft sob from all the noise is an even greater skill I call “filtering”. All the sounds hit me at once, and slowly, I pick their tangle apart. I banish the notes that do not harmonize, and I listen for the perfect chord.
I leave the distraught women to organize their tiny search and walk back the way I have come. I find the little girl quickly. She has climbed the elevated planting area of an offending bank and is wading through the detritus of the rage, scanning the crowd, and calling for her mother. Clever girl, to seek out high ground even though she is afraid.
She is about six, I think, though her eyes are very solemn. She looks at me as I manifest that supernatural approachability and frowns.
I have seen this before. Some children are not fooled. They know that there is something about me that is not right, and when they recognize this about me, their behavior is unpredictable. I have often been the cause of a standing wave of infantile weeping.
I approach her cautiously. “You are lost.”
Her eyes are huge, looking up at me almost accusingly. I am the witch from Hansel and Gretel, the giant from the beanstalk, the thief in the night.
“I know where your mother is.”
She looks away from me at the many people observing us. “I’m not s’posed to talk to strangers.”
This is a common phrase. I smile each time I hear it. It is a delightful and innocent paradox.
“She is over there,” I point.
She stares at my finger and the nail bed as if dissecting it. “I gotta wait for her here and maybe for the policeman.”
I blink. She is quite disciplined. “Shall I wait with you?”
Her frown deepens, and she looks around again. To my surprise, she drops her voice and leans forward so that her face is almost level with mine.
“Are you sick?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You look sick.”
She scowls in consternation. “Did you awk-you-pie and get heat stroke?”
“I do not get heat stroke.”
She sits down and puts her elbows on her knees. Her T-shirt says “Where’s my bailout?”
“Do you get colds?”
She scans the crowds of flowing freedom fighters. “That’s nice. But if you don’t get sick, then you don’t get ice cream.”
I modify my expression. “You only get ice cream when you are sick?”
She nods, draws her knees up to her chest as if fending off terror, and wraps her arms around them. Her headband, forehead, and eyes peep over at me.
“That is most unfortunate,” I say.
“Mommy says it’s bad for you, unless you’re sick, because then the corpuscles need it to fight off sickness.”
Fat, sugar, and protein, added to a cooling liquid. It is true that ice cream does seem to be an ideal food for the human immune system.
“Do you eat chicken soup? I have heard that is also quite good for sickness.”
“We don’t eat chicken.”
Her head switches back and forth, and her face vanishes behind knees of despair. “We are veg-uh-tree-uns.”
A condition as vile and immediately reproachable to me as extreme body piercing. If I wanted metal in my teeth, I’d invest in further orthodontia.
“That is also quite unfortunate.”
“Is it good?”
I shrug, though she cannot see. Sometimes it is in the voice. “I like it.”
“What’s your favorite kind?”
I watch her closely. She is hiding from circumstance, not me. No one nearby appears to think anything is amiss. They believe me to be her guardian.
I consider the question.
I avoid dishonesty. I am not sure why. I suppose I have no reason to lie. If an agent of the NSA came to me and asked, “Are you human?” I would say, “No.” Because there is something about horrible honesty that makes it completely detestable to a rational human mind, as you yourself can attest.
“My favorite is people meat.”
Her head shoots up. Her scowl twists back to life. “People meat?”
“Yes.” I do not smile. Smiling would make it seem silly, a bad joke.
She drops her knees. “You can’t eat people!”
“You cannot, but I can.”
“Because I am not a person.”
This seems to cripple her brain for some time. Almost a block away, I can hear the frantic crowd calling her name. They fear the worst, though they do not know she is in the safest and most dangerous of hands all at once.
“But Mommy says we can’t eat animals because they’re like…they got souls and stuff, and people have souls, so you can’t eat them.”
“What gave them souls?”
“God, maybe?” she says dubiously.
“Then God should have made them less delicious.”
The frown twitches and wiggles, and I can see that I have her. Finally, the fear vanishes, and she begins to giggle. “You can’t eat people!”
“Because they’re people!”
“People made of meat.”
Her laugh jolts to a halt. She manages a hard swallow. “Do you eat kids?”
“No,” I say honestly. It does not make sense to consume offspring until they are mature. Though, I imagine, to some like me, she was just a cut of veal on two legs.
“But kids are people. People made of meat.”
“True. Do you think I should start eating children?”
“No!” she commands with a fierce shake of her head.
“Are you delicious?”
“No, trust me! I’m not at all.”
“I will take your advice, then.”
She laughs. “Are you kinda like a vampire or something?”
“I am not a vampire,” I grumble. I dislike the word for all the myth-riddled sludge it drags behind it.
“Well, you look like you could be.”
I lean close to her. Children often like gruesome and disgusting things. I attribute this to the fact that their brains are half-developed.
“Would you like to see my fangs?”
She nods vigorously. Planting her palms on the cement, she leans forward to get a better look. I reach up with a quick thumb and snap off my fake smile.
She gasps. “Wow, those are cool!”
I replace the veneer. “They are very sharp.”
“And those are for eating people?”
She blinks a few times and screws up her face. “You eat them alive?”
“No.” I lean against the wall and put my elbow on it. Her mother is just around the corner, and I should make my escape, but she is sweet and precocious. I want to leave her with a positive feeling. “But I do kill them when they are alive.”
She leans over me and pats my shoulder. “That’s silly. Of course they’re alive when you kill them. But you know, killing is bad.”
I consider her words. “Only if you are a person.”
“Nope. Killing is bad for monsters too.”
She seems to think it over carefully. “Well…because…” she pokes my elbow. “You can feel that, right?”
“So can I.”
“It’s the same, see?”
She sighs heavily and shakes her head. “Monsters are hopeless.”
“It is an incurable condition.”
Her mother is at the edge of the swarming masses now, pushing her way through and shouting at the top of her lungs. I turn back to the little girl and drop my voice.
“I’ll bet if you start crying right now, your mom will get you ice cream.”
I point, but she does not leap down and run at the hysterical woman. She just purses her lips.
“I can’t make myself cry.”
She turns and takes in my face carefully, as if memorizing my features and their peculiarly off arrangement. “You’re weird.”
I smile. “The next time you are afraid, just remember the time you were alone with the weird monster who eats people.”
Her eyes sparkle. I wave to her mother, and with a face that tells her I have heard the whole situation and am aware that the girl was hers, I exert all my appeal.
“Oh, my God, Casey, you scared me to death!” the woman sobs. She throws herself at the girl as I back away and pulls her off her pedestal. “Good girl finding a place to wait. Thank you, sir, for staying by her. What happened to you? How did you get lost?” and like all human mothers everywhere, she does not let her daughter answer. The girl is put into a steel grip and dragged bodily away.
The child looks over her shoulder at me and smiles. “Monsters aren’t real!”
“We are the one percent,” I murmur as I watch them disappear.