Monster, MonsterAugust 17, 2014
“Monster, monster,” a homeless man cried all night. In the day, he shouts at people, “Keep away.”
I am there at a pharmacy where outside the man squats in tattered tan trousers atop a flat, overworked cardboard mat. I’m too intimated and won’t ask him questions, but three identical kids do interrogate him.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m a monster.”
He thinks he’s been coy afterward because of the reply. Bloody, un-brushed teeth flash from inside a nettle of black whiskers.
The mother of the children calls off her offspring.
The family had a dog, too, and now that is gone. The animal never barked but I did spot a small mutt on a leash. I watched it tangle itself in the tether. That same leash now lies loose on the concrete sidewalk.
“Where’s Princess?” the mother asks her kids.
They tell her simultaneously, “I don’t know.”
“She belongs to you,” the mother reminds her children. “You’re suppose to take care of your animals.”
“I’m a monster,” shouts the homeless man.
The family has moved away from him and into the parking lot – and the homeless man did not address specifically them – but he sounded as if he was next to us. I paused near the fleeing family when the man’s voice sounded as if it came from the very ground beneath us.
“The bum got her,” explains the smallest of the family. He is a thin boy. His hair is also lightest. And in this guise of simple innocence, he states, “He told me his name was Mister Gobblings.”
The middle child, an equanimous brunette girl, shouts back a question for the homeless man.
“Are you a troll?”
The shocked mother quizzes the littlest kid, “You talked to him?”
The woman does not wait for an answer and instead flails at the oldest, another girl. “Were you watching your brother?”
“I was with her,” states the tallest and darkest of the children. A sharp thumb spears in the direction of her smaller sister.
Both feel the same responsibility for their little brother – a disappointment in themselves is plain on their transparent faces. Their mother acts the opposite and she looks ridiculous in her outrage.
“Well, we’re lucky the homeless man didn’t eat your little brother, too.”
The oldest child begs, “Mom…”
Her mother answers, “You heard what he calls himself.”
“Mister Gobblings,” repeats the youngest.
The homeless man yells again, “I’m a monster.”
The words make me jump.
My own shock disorients me.
Once I have recomposed enough of my awareness, I recognize I eavesdrop on the family’s conversation in the pharmacy parking lot. I avert my attention. The woman’s voice lingers in the air and I recall I heard her call for help.
She uses a mobile phone, I saw so before I turned away my face. The rest of her summons occurs out of my range of hearing. Also vanished from my sight, I assume the woman goes away and takes her children somewhere safe and middle class.
“I’m a monster,” shouts the homeless man.
I do not look at him but I do feel certain he does not tell me again. I think he would say the same to me over and over, except other customers enter the pharmacy. Three immature men and an older teenaged girl stop walking before any pass the homeless man.
“What did you say?” growls a gruff young fellow.
Another boy among the three asks the transient, “What’s your name?”
Curious, I approach the encounter. Cautious, I stay quiet and shield my body behind the youngsters. Fast food has ensued me these teenagers provide plenty of cover, even at their early ages. Unfortunately, their extra padding insulates sound and the conversation within their circle remains mostly incomprehensible. The only words I do hear is when the homeless calls himself, “Mister Gobblings.”
The older kids chuckle, I clearly hear them laugh. I watch the older girl who stands between two of the three boys. There were two guys on her left before I glanced at her bouncing bottom, then I look back and I see that she jogs in place with nobody opposite her last male companion on her right.
She screams, “Who are you?”
The homeless man stays hidden from me. I assume the young woman was shouting at him until I hear his reply. The echo of his voice comes from behind me, from further away than a city block but not far.
The remaining adolescent couple drifts apart and plainly show the self-deprecating transient has gone. They have vanished, too, when cops arrive.
“He’s over there,” I tell the police and point east. “You can hear him calling – it’s a warning. His name is Mister Gobblings.”
“You heard that?” one of two trim female officers asks me after she and her partner exit their squad car. A smile drifts unto her flush cheeks. She clarifies, “I mean, did you hear that from somebody?”
“I heard him say his name,” I tell both police officers.
The second professional woman comments, “Uh-uh, everybody knows you’re not suppose to ask him his name.”
She snickers then her amusement infects the first cop I spoke with.
“I’m just trying to be helpful,” I plea. “I don’t want to get involved, not really.”
“I didn’t make the phone call. I didn’t see anything that’s probably not on camera – look, it’s a pharmacy.”
My gesture toward the roof of the building goes ignored. The first officer tells me, “Sorry. Mister Gobblings is a hoax, an urban myth.”
“Everybody knows about him. You don’t ask him his name.”
The second brusque lady claims, “If he tells you his name, you’re marked for life.”
Disoriented, I claim, “But the teenagers…”
The second officer interrupts me and states, “That explains everything.”
“He’s gone now,” opines the first.
They both then wish me, “Good day, sir,” and they go into the pharmacy. Outside, I only stammer, “I never asked his name, I only overheard him say…”
Gnawing for more? Read more from Mr. Binger and the originally author Matthew Sawyer at Smashwords…