I was young, probably 12 or 13. I was troubled by a past, violent and horrid, filled with abuse that I had largely shoved away into dark caverns within the pocks of my mind. Tunnels to horrors too mind-numbing to handle had been sealed up with bricks of denial and mortar of hate. I walked the world with a stranger in my skin, and I feared the moment of clarity that threatened to rise to the surface.
His name was X. I will say little about him beyond this. He was wild and funny, violent and jaded with a raucous sense of humor and a penchant for petty crime. He was my best friend, and we walked the streets of our tiny town, destroying things and setting fires. He was the perfect medicine for me back then, the only drug I could take to get away from the horror of my past. He never asked questions, and he forgave almost instantly.
That day, my sister had stayed home sick, and there was no one there to watch me get on the bus. I ran to X’s bus stop, and it took shockingly little convincing to pry him away from school. We rushed off into the wilderness by his house and hid until the bus was gone. Then we slipped out into the town.
It was a factory town, corn distribution or soy bean processing. I never bothered to check. My parents worked out of town and they were already gone. This tiny little blurb on the map didn’t care what their children were doing, and for that reason, the kids my age and older were involved in darkness. Drugs, violence, and drinking were the order of the youth. No one watched or cared as X and I walked the streets. We entered a house we knew unattended and stole their ice cream. We ate it behind the dumpster of a bar, with a spoon we had stolen, sharing bites. We had found a stash of change in that house as well, and the Double Dragon arcade game in the bar we hid behind was too tempting to deny.
We entered the pub, and the place looked abandoned, save four men sitting slumped in a booth, smoking and getting drunk. They did not see us slip into the gaming room. We started the game and fed the hungry machine pilfered quarters. X laughed a lot and cursed. We had learned how to manipulate the language of a man long ago, and X was a master of the trade. I heard the door bell chime and turned to see a college girl enter the bar. She was sexy, with a white skirt and high shoes. She wore a tight-fitting top that made me feel warm, and she carried a bag that didn’t look like a purse. I walked to the edge of the room and peered into the bar proper to see her sit at the bar and order a drink.
I was summoned back as X howled. I went back to the banality of the game and fought off the darkness that made me want to cry and roar all at once. The sight of the woman had harkened something within me. It had called out to a part of me that hid, shaking, behind a walled-up tunnel. I bit the inside of my mouth until it bled, and I watched the game.
Laughing, slurring voices, and I was back at the door, watching the girl dance with one of the men. She looked uncomfortable. She looked a bit scared. She tried to gently shove him away. He laughed and grabbed her ass, and I jerked my head away. I rushed back to the game and fought to lose myself in the graphics, the music, anything that would keep me from the door and the growing din of the main room.
But I did return. Railing against the walled-up cavern, a memory screamed. It pounded and howled, the mortar chipping and giving way. She let out a strained laugh out there with those men, and I fought against the urge to look again, even as I turned to step out of the door and into the bar.
They had her now, one man with each wrist. A third with a fist in her hair. She was dragged back, and I saw her high heel flip into the air and rattle upon a table top. There was something grisly about the way it swayed before falling to its side, and I called out to X without turning around.
He came scurrying up to me and gave a whimper when he saw what was happening. I was already pulling the two knives i carried everywhere from my pocket as he shook his head and backed toward the front door.
My words were unintelligible, grunts of intent locked up by suppressed emotion that kicked bricks from the walled-up recesses of my mind. I sighed out what could have been words, and X shook his head.
“No, man. No, no, no,” he whispered. “We got to get out of here.”
I growled back, stepping into the middle of the floor.
A friendship like ours did not demand loyalty. It was a venture of the present, and X was gone before I could see her eyes, frantic and calling for any sign of help. They had a belt in her mouth that one of them had ripped from his pants. As I watched, the man unfastened his pants as they laid her across a tabletop.
I did not scream. I wanted to. Every chord within my body was thrumming and roaring. I did not rush them, though my muscles begged for a dash to her side. My walk was the pounding of my heart. Rapid and deadly, my footfalls struck the floor like lightning striking the ground. I reached the first man, who was lining for a thrust, and I stabbed him in the kidney. I grabbed his shirt and pulled him down. When he hit the ground, I stabbed him in the chest. The man closest to me stared, shocked, and my other knife entered his knee. He swung his fist, but I was moving. I got kicked by a third guy, and I staggered back unfazed.
They were not there. My enemy was an old one, a face I had been fighting for years. He leered back at me with a demon’s smile, drool hanging from his mouth, his fingers curled into claws. When they came for me, I squirmed away. I stabbed out with my knives, hitting targets I cannot remember, drawing founts of blood as I screamed. I felt blood everywhere. My mouth, my face, my fists were filthy with it, my clothes soaked with it. I saw their mouths, open and gaping, but I could not hear their screams. Only mine existed. Only my terror was being played out. I had spent 13 years as a victim, and to the choir of my own screams, my vengeance had come.
More blood. More screaming. I remember being hit, but I couldn’t tell you how hard. I remember being afraid, but I can’t say that it stained me. My overwhelming emotion was rage, but beating behind it all was a pulse of righteousness. Horror was coming to evil. I was that horror. Vengeance was coming for the rapist. I was that vengeance. When they limped and crawled out of the bar, I wept openly. I struggled to the side of the woman, and I slumped against the table. She could only tremble, and when I grabbed her up in my 13-year-old arms, she sagged against me.
I carried her out. I never should have been able to. She was too heavy; I was too small. But I carried her out of her nightmare and to her car. I set her down by the door, and she grabbed it frantically and slammed it shut behind her. She stared at me as I walked circles around her car.
His face kept rising before me. The one enemy, the ancient enemy, the enemy that had been looming over me for years. He rose before me and I screamed at him. He was coated in blood, and he drifted back, back to the tunnel and the walled-up sections I would not uncover for over a decade. He fled from me, and I kept walking circles around her car, a beaten path in the gravel that held back anyone who would hurt her. She pulled out, her back wheels wild and unhindered by caution. She hit the road with a squeal and was gone. I sat where her car had been, and I don’t remember getting up. I don’t remember walking to X’s house. I don’t remember him letting me in.
I remember the shower, because I wept in it until the water went cold. I remember pulling his brother’s clothes on and grabbing the garbage bag that carried my blood-soaked clothing.
I remember the cop car that pulled in front of me as I walked home. The cop reached across the cab and opened the passenger door. I slipped in, dropping the bag on the ground outside.
“You’re early,” he said. “The bus doesn’t come to drop you off for about 45 more minutes.”
I grunted out a response. I can’t tell you what I said.
“Funny thing happened up the road a piece. See this girl, real pretty thing, got in an accident in the next town over. She was driving as fast as her car would allow, and she swerved off the road and into a ditch.”
I looked up at him. The tears came so fast they seemed already to have been there.
“She was fine. Nothing wrong with her but a bruise, but she was covered in blood. We got to talking to her and she told us a story you might have heard already. She said she was in the bar up the street from here, and four men tried to rape her. They almost had her, too, except something showed up that saved her. She called it a Beautiful Monster, said it was the most terrible thing she had ever seen, and she claimed she would love it for the rest of her life.”
I wept, as things in walled-up tunnels pulled close to hear tell of the time a rapist was defeated. They moaned back there, their ears pressed against the stone, their tears healing them if but a bit.
“Went to the emergency room up a ways and found four guys that fit the description she gave. One was nearly dead, two more critically wounded. The last one sits in jail right now. They have a lot of stories to tell about what happened to them, but none of them jive. I have been drifting the roads here looking for anything that might fit the description of a Beautiful Monster,” he said, “that is when I found you.”
“I’m no monster,” I said, through a throat that wanted to close up and tears that warped the words. “He was.”
The cop didn’t ask any more questions. He drove me home, after getting my bag for me and setting it in my lap. We rode in silence until we got to my house. When we arrived, I started to get out, and the cop stopped me.
“Me and my buddies have a bet going as to what that monster looks like,” the cop said. “I guess none of us will ever know. But we sure are grateful.”
I walked up the short flight of steps to my house and climbed the long one to my room. I can’t remember if I wept, but I think I did. I can’t remember what my mother said to me when she found my clothes, but I would guess, nothing at all.
That was the day I fought off five demons, four real and one long gone. That was the day I saved a girl who needed saving. That was the day I became a beautiful monster.