by Paul Alex Gray
The first time I see the monster is on a walk along the beach.
'I know it’s there, but you have to not look at it,' says Dad. 'You gotta try not to look at it.'
He’s walking ahead of me, taking shuffling steps here, small leaps there. When the water rises up he skitters away. The waves pound out beyond. They’re not huge but the surf is rough. Deceptive. It churns white and pulls and I know that it’s lined with rips.
'What is it?' I ask, dashing to keep up.
'You’ll be fine if you just ignore it,' says Dad.
I catch up with him and grab on to his hand. I keep my eyes ahead but I can just make out something of the monster behind us. It’s there on the corner of the world, drifting along the sea, a shifting black orb in the sky.
I come to think it speaks a kind of language. When it orbits above I hear strange words rend from twisted, clanking, broken metal.
'Don’t listen to it,' whispers Dad from the couch.
'Does it really speak?' I ask.
'Make sure I teach you the techniques,' says Dad. 'I’ll do it tonight.'
His skin looks pale, and he reeks. I’ve lost track of how many day’s worth of stubble line his face. He cries a lot, when he’s not sleeping or drinking or whispering in the bathroom alone.
'I’m going out,' I say. 'I’ll see you later.'
He leaps up on the couch, eyes wide but glazed. He searches around frantically among the blankets.
'Where is it? Where is it!'
'What Dad? Where’s what?'
'The key,' he gasps. 'You’ll need the key to get out.'
He sits and leans his head against the couch. A rumbling hum shakes the window. We look outside and I see the monster drifting over the roofs and power lines. It begins to blot out the sun as the walls tremble.
It’s a quiet affair. He’s pushed so many away over the years. My uncle Daniel comes and that’s it.
Daniel says he’ll take us for dinner. He goes over to the car and tells me to meet him there. I nod, and stand by the freshly piled earth and I think that I should feel guilty.
I’ve got to go back to his apartment tonight. Everything needs to be cleared up and out by the weekend. The last time I had been there it was a mess. I had come to check on him, begrudgingly on a Sunday evening. There was no food and he’d insisted on showing me these books he’d been writing in.
'Back on the beach. See I wrote it,' he had said, pointing to scribbles I couldn’t begin to read. 'Every step. Every footprint. They’re still there. Washed away, I know, but they’re still there.'
I nodded, unable to say a single word.
'If you trace it all the way back, you might be able to send it away. Here, take the books.'
I’d ordered takeout and made him eat most of it. He’d fallen asleep on the couch and I’d left to get the last bus.
It begins to rain. I breathe in the dampness, gazing out to the distant woods. The monster spins and drifts above. A dark ball of wreckage grown larger and smoother by its own gravitational force.
I turn away and walk to Dan’s car, trying to ignore the glint and crunch of its words.
Paul Alex Gray enjoys writing speculative fiction that cuts a jagged line to a magical real world. His work has been published in Spelk, 365 Tomorrows, The Wild Hunt and others. Growing up in Australia, Paul traveled the world and now lives in Canada with his wife and two children. Visit Paul at www.paulalexgray.com
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