Let’s see. Well.
There was this one time I cast a spell to turn myself into a paragon but instead what happened is I conjured a beast that killed my friends and family.
So. Yeah. That’s a thing that happened.
Every once in a while the beast will show up again. It has a thousand canine heads and the breath of a thousand canines. Body of a leopard, tail of a snake. The usual. It didn’t used to know how to speak, but some of its heads have picked up language of one kind or another. I can hear them, sometimes. The dog heads. They probably learned it from watching television all day, which is what I imagine it doing when it’s not crouching outside my window, though I don’t know what stations I imagine it’s been watching. HGTV, maybe. Or TLC.
If you listen closely, I think you can hear some Mandarin. Also some Portuguese. Or maybe that’s just what it sounds like when two hundred or so dog heads are all talking in English at once. In a way it’s kind of cool. I mean. It proves something, right? Something like: People can grow. Or monsters can. Or whatever.
It creeps outside my apartment, usually at night. I’m not sure why. Every one I care for it’s already killed, and sometimes I wonder if it just doesn’t know what else to do with itself, and maybe it’s waiting for me to do something or to tell it where to go next, and I feel sorry for it. Not sorry enough to go out to it or to invite it in. I do have my limits, you know. There are boundaries, lines I won’t cross.
Anyway. These guys I met convinced me that what they had—and what they were willing to sell (for a not unreasonable price)—was the Hand of Raines, which I needed if I wanted to get rid of the Beast, which is how I ended up with this cardboard facsimile. Which, by the light of day, looks nothing at all like the Hand of Raines.
What can I say? It was dark and we were in an alley behind a bar in the East Village and I’d had a few drinks and maybe I’d had some other things, too, and I wouldn’t put it past those two guys to have thrown a few glamours my way to mess with my head during the transaction.
But, mostly it was dark and they’d come armed with some flashy pyrotechnics when I asked for a demonstration. Then, after I handed them their money, they bought me a drink, and then, before I finished my drink, they were gone.
The next night I went back looking for them but by that time the bar itself was gone, replaced with a Qwik Qopy Copy Center. So now, when I see the beast outside my window, I grab the fake Hand of Raines and wave it around in as threatening a manner as I can manage considering that what I’m waving around is an oversized cardboard hand. The first time, the beast cringed, the whole lot of it, all one-thousand dog heads in this rippling, undulating wave. It was a nifty effect. But then it figured out quicker than I had that the thing was a fake, and then sat on its haunches, if a creature like that has haunches, and took up its post again watching me through my window.
I wonder, sometimes, if it would have been worth it, the gruesome murder of my friends and family by this beast I summoned. Would it have been worth it if I had actually become a paragon, or at least paragon-ish? And I tell myself, Of course. Of course it would have been totally worth it, because what else can I say? The deed has been done and done poorly and now they’re gone and I’m all that’s left and not only am I not a paragon, I’m possibly even worse off than before. So the idea that I might have done all this and become a paragon and then surveyed the wreckage of my own ambition and then realized my life even as a paragon came up short is an idea I’m not willing to reckon with.
It’s one thing to fail in a spectacular and all-consuming fashion and quite another to get something completely right only to find out too late you’ve failed just the same.
Sometimes, I wonder if I should give the beast a name. I don’t know. Like, Kitty, you know, because of all the dog heads. Or Raymond, because, you know, everybody loves Raymond. Mostly, I feel like I should give the beast a name so that if people ask me about it, ask me what its name is, I can tell them, and then, when they ask me why, you know, like, Why Raymond?, I can make my little joke.
Not that it’ll matter. Not like anyone can really see the beast. Not until right before it devours them, I guess. Or if you’re not looking right at it, you can kind of see it, but even then, it’s not like you see this thousand-headed dog-beast, with all the drool and slobber and bad breath. With the leopard body, with the snake tail.
More it’s like you get this feeling, like you caught sight of something real nasty or real dangerous just out of the corner of your eye, and when you look to see what it is—a wild dog jumping for your throat, or some big guy about to punch you in your face, or whatever you think you’re about to see—nothing’s there.
It’s pretty unsettling, that feeling, but it’s not the beast.
Or it’s not the beast like I see the beast.
So. You know. Whatever name I give it, it doesn’t matter to anyone but me.
Story by Manuel Gonzales
Photo by Emily Raw
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