The way he’s leaving wouldn’t say much to someone just casually walking by. After all, it’s so casual, so calm, so commonplace.
People are passing by on foot and by car and if any number of those people were suddenly pulled to the side and shown the man’s picture, they’d probably just shrug and say, “Never seen him.”
It’s not that he’s terribly milquetoast or so average that no one pays attention. It’s not that at all.
His name is Nathaniel Henry Thompson. Age 36. Occupation – consultant at Valorant Industrial. He’s been there for four years, seven months, and twelve days. He owns a house on South Sycamore and drives a non-descript, dark blue Subaru Ascent with little Febreeze air fresheners clipped onto the air vents so that the interior smells like Hawaiian Breeze.
By any kind of standard, social metric, he’d be considered an attractive man.
He’s wearing a nice jacket that keeps him warm in the growing chill of the winter that’s settling in. His hair is medium length, well-kept, and I’d wager that even while others his age are noticing strands of gray, he’s yet to see a single one. His eyes are the kind of green like the right amount of sun piercing a pale leaf in spring. He’s fit, but clearly doesn’t “live at the gym” as people seem to say when they mean “works out enough to make people feel bad about how much they don’t”. He’s not quite six feet tall, and I get the feeling that he’d love more than anything to say “I’m six feet tall” instead of “almost six feet tall” just once before he dies, but people don’t hit a new growth spurt at age 37 so he’s more likely to die shorter than he is taller.
All the same, the rest of the world can swarm around him and not pay too much attention because he’s not rich or famous or some youtube personality that people might know. He’s just a guy. Some guy like so many others.
At least, that’s what he is to everyone walking around and driving past him.
Me, I look up at the window and I see the woman with a face that tells another story. I see a story in her eyes that no one else gets to hear and it’s not one that most people want to hear.
The kind of story that makes someone say, “You know, they tell women to yell ‘FIRE!’ because that way people will actually care.” The kind of story that, if you told it, and then pointed to ten random people, and he was one of them, you’d eliminate him from the pool by virtue of not “fitting the profile”.
A man is walking down a road and he suddenly stops.
Before the man is a gap in the road that goes on forever in both directions.
Across the gap, the road continues.
The gap is three feet across – that’s about one meter for everyone else in the world – and it’s about six feet deep. Roughly two meters for literally anyone who cares about making sense with measurements.
The average human stride is almost half the length of the gap and very few people who have the ability to walk, run, and jump would look at this gap and see anything insurmountable.
This man, however, stands stock still.
Another man arrives behind him and, unsure as to what’s happening or why, waits for a moment. After enough time has passed, he walks around the first man and easily hops across the gap. Looking back, he sees the first man is still just standing there.
The second man says, “Hey, buddy, just jump across.”
The first man says, “I can’t.”
The second man says, “Sure you can. It’s like…three feet. You could damn-near step across it.”
The first man says, “I don’t want to die by crocodile.”
The second man says, “What crocodiles?”
Bartholomew Wayne Jackson – who went by Jack because he hated both his first and middle name, but didn’t want to upset his family by changing his name – looked like the kind of man that would have “fit the profile”. The kind of man that looked like he could have easily hunched over and started loping about like an angry gorilla what with his muscled arms and nearly Cro-Magnon facial features. He looked like the kind of man that, at a glance, you might equate to orcish stock if orcs were real. And, of course, if we still lived in a world where the idea of an orc was synonymous with a monster.
Some people might look at the social transition and see a bunch of knee-jerk reflexes and needless sympathy for the devil.
Me, I think eventually humanity realizes that once we start equating a term with the word monster, it’s only so long before we realize that the same finger can point the opposite direction and that’s not a side of the bed that any of us want to wake up on.
I don’t see it as sympathy for the devil. I see it as the accumulation of fear when humanity realizes that it’s not so different, and so it needs to start changing the terms before we have to look in the mirror and actually see what’s reflected back.
Usually, a diatribe like that will net me a response like, “So that’s what you do, huh? You’re the fucking mirror? You can see the darkness in the heart of men?”
It’s a response of fear more than anything. After all, no one wants to be a monster but everyone wants to say they know how to spot one.
I don’t usually waste my time trying to explain too much. Once people have their minds made up, you’re just wasting time with fancy words. You’re just arguing semantics with someone who doesn’t even speak your language.
I can’t see into the heart of men, but I can spot a pattern. I can follow for long enough to see where the pattern goes. I can watch. I can wait. I understand the virtue of patience.
It’s sad to say it but, in this world where no one can stand still for ten minutes because they “haven’t had their coffee yet,” and everyone is multi-tasking so efficiently that they never get anything done, patience is almost a superpower.
I follow behind Nathaniel in a car that no one would pay attention to. If someone had to identify it to the cops, they’d likely say, “It was some kind of brownish color and I think it had some dents.”
If your function in life is to watch and notice then you can’t let yourself be a spike on the seismograph. You have to be the calm line of honesty on the lie detector. You have to be the person that seven people met just recently and not a single one can remember exactly what you looked like beyond, “white guy, average build, I guess. I think he had stubble.”
The thing about patterns is that the most obvious ones are the most easily ignored. It’s the most easily ignored patterns that are the easiest to exploit.
Ask a man what his patterns are and he can tell you his daily routine. What he ate for breakfast and lunch. When he goes to the gym. When he goes grocery shopping. He has it all figured out. Pattern Man with a red cape of routine.
Nathaniel’s car gets about twenty-three miles to the gallon and his gas tank is 19.3 gallons. For all the patterns he thinks he knows, he still has no idea that today’s the day that he’s about to get gas because he’s so good at knowing himself that he doesn’t understand anything that matters – most of all himself.
Nathaniel has never met a gas station that didn’t draw him within even though there’s nothing inside he needs. He’s a man of compulsion. A man who does the same stupid things over and over again and never sees what he’s actually doing. He can’t see the pattern within the pattern. To himself, he’s a checkered floor of black and white and he knows how it all fits together.
Me, I see the grains of those tiles. The whorls. Where the edges mesh. Where they don’t fit quite right. I see how the square isn’t a real square because the whole layout has been shoved into a box with a one-degree deviation and a real square can’t have a deviation.
People underestimate how much can fit into a single degree. That’s where people fuck up. That’s how people die.
When the cops found the car of Bartholomew Wayne Jackson, it was sitting by the side of a highway. The battery was dead because the hazard lights had been on for too long. For all the people who might’ve normally said that they were part of his life, no one noticed he was gone on enough of a level to say much of anything. The exception, of course, was Sophia Lynn Carter – age 29, dark brown hair that came to the middle of her back, five foot six inches, lithe but not because she worked at it. She was a paralegal at the time and good at her job.
The cops told her that someone has to be missing for at least two days before they’re considered “actually missing”.
His parents assumed nothing.
His best friend, Daniel Alan Lewis, assumed even less.
At this moment, the official position is that he’s likely dead, but no one can actually prove it. No body was ever found. Evidence in the car led the cops to Alisha Eve Stevens, a friend of Sophia’s who, to this day, swears that the only time she’d ever seen the inside of his car was when he drove her home after a party not three days before the man disappeared.
Sophia and Alisha are no longer on speaking terms.
The best thing about a monster is their desire to hide. They put a cowl of kindness on so that they can look in the mirror and say, “Would a monster help a man change a tire? Would a monster ignore a man in medical distress? Would a monster ignore a man who looks like he’s being mugged?”
That’s how they survive. They wipe the blood off their hands with a towel made of superficial actions. They put on a sweet mask of smiles and generosity because everyone knows that you can’t donate to charity and also be the human equivalent of a dumpster fire.
That’s how monsters live in plain sight. They just need to figure out how to make their own dumpster fire look like it’s providing heat for freezing cancer patients and the whole world just tears up and claps and swoons.
Me, I hear the thumping in my trunk for miles while blood drips from my arm because it’s saturating the t-shirt I wrapped it in so that I don’t get too woozy while I’m driving. Nathaniel had a lot of fight in him, but he’s a man of simple patterns and I’m a man of complex analysis.
If you’d’ve asked Bartholomew Wayne Jackson if he thought he could be subdued, bound, transported, murdered, and discarded by a man who was fifty pounds his inferior, he would have laughed. If you showed him my picture and said, “Have you seen this man? He’s dangerous,” he would have laughed and said, “Is this some kind of fucking joke? My sister could hug that pussy to death.”
In weight lifting, there are two schools of thought. There’s lifting for size and there’s lifting for strength. Sure, they’re both part of the same world and one begets the other, but you generally train for one at the expense of the other because focus is everything.
Training for strength is about leveraging the body against the weight. Training for size is about leveraging the weight against the body. You could get into the specifics and talk for hours about other fancy phrases, but the core of each is simple and that’s why Richard Hawthorne is one hundred, thirty-two pounds and can deadlift six hundred pounds.
I’m not a powerlifter, but I understand leverage.
Leverage is an interesting word.
It can mean a lot more than “the mechanical benefit of one weight used to alter or control another”. It can mean the ability to control with facts that others do not wish to be known. It can mean playing on the false sympathy of monsters to subdue them. It can mean making sure that fear exists in a world where fear would be otherwise ignored.
The second man is confused. He says, “What crocodiles?”
The first man just tilts his head and says, “Those crocodiles.” He says it like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
The second man takes a step toward the gap, looks down and says, “Oh, shit. I didn’t even notice.”
Below the six-foot mark, the gap becomes a shallow length of water where, if someone were to simply look down, they would see crocodiles.
The second man says, “You know, the odds of you not clearing the jump is next to nothing.”
The first man says, “But if I don’t, then I die by crocodile.”
When I pull out the gag from Nathaniel Henry Thompson’s mouth, it’s a wet mess of cloth and saliva and snot. He’s all sobs and apologies.
Bartholomew was the same way.
Everyone tries to barter.
“Take whatever you want.”
“I have money.”
“I know a guy who can get you whatever you want.”
“Name your price.”
Once that wears thin, it’s the threats.
“I’ll fucking kill you.”
“I’ll kill everyone you love.”
“I’ll get out of here, just wait.”
“Someone will come for me and then you’re fucked.”
Once that wears thin, they get quiet.
Not a lot to say once fear and anger lead to the same dead-end alley. No one has much courage when their hands are tied and their legs are strapped to a folding metal chair and someone takes a hammer to their ankles so that, even if they did break free, they’re not getting anywhere.
Me, I just sit there and listen. I love this part. I love the man who didn’t see the crocodiles. The man who saw a gap and just knew the risk was nil.
I tell him the story. I tell him about two men on a road. I tell him about a gap and a jump and a man who’s afraid of crocodiles and I watch him sit there and try to understand what I’m saying even though they never really do.
I let them cry and beg and tell me, “You have it all wrong. I never did anything. I didn’t do shit! You fucking lunatic! I’ll fucking cut your fucking balls off and oowwowwowwwowowo” because their last words are just a bunch of soft vowels when I shove the gag back in and duct tape it to their face.
I like to take my time and I like to notice how none of them ever scream “FIRE!”.
When they’re about to die, I tell them, “You should have paid attention to the crocodiles.”
I know it doesn’t matter. It never really does. No one ever listens. Everyone hears, but no one ever listens. Everyone is so busy multi-tasking that no one ever gets shit done.
It takes a while before anyone really cares about Nathaniel Henry Thompson. After all, you have to be missing for at least two days before you’re really missing.
His family wasn’t too worried. His best friend, Timothy James Wilson, worried even less.
Sophia Lynn Carter, for what is now the seventh time in three years, is lamenting a loss that she shouldn’t need to shed a tear over.
But victims are like that, I suppose. They look through the pain and torture and they tell the cops things like, “He was a good man,” and “he never hurt me.”
The detectives keep trying to say it must be her, even though she’s never anywhere close. There’s never evidence to place her anywhere except where a concrete alibi was born, raised, and then attended college. It’s like pinning a murder on someone who lives in a different fucking country.
In a way, she’s becoming the celebrity she always wanted to be all those years ago even if it’s not in quite the way she wanted.
I see her from her window and I watch her cry for a man that only ever meant to take. Meant to hurt. Meant to wound. A man that saw a gap and never stopped to see what was at the bottom. A man who jumped when he should have known better.
I hate this part. The part where caring isn’t quite enough. The part where no words can make her feel any better. The part where I can’t tell her that I saved her. I pulled her from the fire of life.
People only see the virtue in the dead. An alcoholic father was stone sober. The abusive mother was struggling with Crohn’s disease. The rapist uncle was such a philanthropist.
Everyone gets their superhero cape in the shape of a tombstone or an urn.
Everyone is absolved by the living because monsters aren’t allowed to be called monsters anymore. After all, look what happened to orcs.
I know eventually, there’ll be another. Some new asshole with a shiny car and a bank account that says, “I can buy a house in Maui.” A monster that hides his intentions behind a bouquet of flowers and a note that says, “Always yours, forever. I love you more than all the stars in the sky.”
Another man that thinks he’s the one. He’s so different. After all, he’s seen her in the papers but he isn’t afraid. He’s there to wipe her tears when she lies and says she’s afraid to love him because she’s afraid of what might happen if he gets too close.
Me, I see the patterns. I hide there in the one degree that they never see. I watch and I wait because in a world where no one can remember what channel anything is on anymore because everything and nothing is a channel where nothing and everything is playing at full volume in high definition for a world with multi-tasking aspirations and kaleidoscope vision – I’m mindful and I’m calm and I’m focused and I’m patient.
I’m so very patient.
I’m her protector, after all.
I’m her friend, even if she wouldn’t remember that time we met. That day where I saw the color of her eyes shine with a happiness that I would kill to protect. That day when she said only five words to me that might as well have been five thousand. Five words that sprawl across my life like wallpaper just as much as they fill my journals and decorate my walls in a way that no one will ever really understand.
After all, I’m the one that loves her.
Really loves her.
Truly loves her.
Loves her so much I can’t help but keep her safe until she understands how much the world could really give her if she’d only just see what I see.
I’m the man that reminds these pieces of shit that the gap isn’t very big, but they’d do well to mind the fucking crocodiles.