by Andy Dudak
At first I think I’m hallucinating. Are they some trick of heat and light? Desert phantasms? Reflections?
No, they have finally come, as Coyote predicted.
There they stand in the blazing Sun, looking propped up and awkward, like cornhusk dolls posed by a boy imagining heroes: the Twins. The larger one is a muscle-bound twit with a vacant expression, the smaller one a gaunt fellow with the restless eyes of a peyote wastrel.
I rise mountainously from my lake. I take my time, letting my visitors absorb the sheer scale of me. Water drains off my craggy flesh in great cascades.
The Twins adopt silly heroic postures, unsure how to proceed but convinced they’re justified in coming to kill me. They have plenty of reasons to think so — there is no denying that I am a murderous fiend — but reason has never sullied the minds of these pretentious imbeciles.
Monster Slayer and Water Child. A laughable pair.
What they have is an idiot faith, unexamined and amounting to madness, in their purity of intention. And why shouldn’t they? These “heroes” are spoiled rotten.
I have a lot of time to think about such things, here in my isolated desert pool.
Coyote told me these two striplings are backed by a higher power, one whose intentions are not so muddy. This power’s hypothesis? According to Coyote, who is never completely reliable, I am the archetype of all monsters. If I die, all the others will follow. Coyote says I am the perfect form from which the degenerate ones proceed, the ideal they strive for. I am Monsterness.
If it’s true, and the Twins kill me, I suppose the other monsters will lose their shape, melting like winter frost on morning hardpan.
None of them — Horned Monster, the Bird Monsters, Monster Who Kicks People Off the Cliff — would have me to emulate anymore. They (the Hero Twins and their people) think this proves that I am evil. What they don’t realize is that all motives are selfish.
I’ve had centuries in the forlorn places of the world to figure this out.
Why are people kind to each other? Because such behavior results in a reward sensation, warm and vibrant, like the blooming sun of fermented corn in their bellies. If altruism didn’t make them feel like that, they wouldn’t be altruistic.
So why are the Hero Twins standing in my lake, waiting for me to make a move? Because playing heroes is fun. They’ll get plenty of women. Monster Slayer will be chief, and Water Child head shaman. Beyond these obvious rewards, they’ll get that private sensation no hero admits to. Even if I destroy them, they’ll have their reward: In the last moment before death, as I grind their puny bodies between my molars, they’ll adore themselves.
My mother named me Big Lonesome Monster, just before she abandoned me in the wilderness to die. I was the product of her brief masturbation with a bull’s horn. So much for my lineage.
Of course there are rumors that my father is the Sun. Coyote told me this, but he/she might have been lying.
When I told him/her about the bull’s horn, he/she said that both stories could be true. The Sun, Coyote said, impregnated my mother, using the bull’s horn as a sort of messenger. According to Coyote, the Sun gets a lot of His pleasure this way. There is even the rumor that all monsters are the issue of such scandals, a rash of which flared during the time when men and women lived apart, when females had to get inventive to satisfy themselves.
But Coyote says a lot of things. Coyote, that filthy thieving wandering hermaphroditic liar, is the closest thing I have to a friend. I tolerate him/her, because he/she is simple like me. We follow our appetites and make no apologies. We don’t pretend that our motives are anything but selfish. Well, Coyote does, now and then, but only for the amusement of playing a new role.
The reason I’m thinking about this now, as I stare down the so-called “Hero Twins” in my lake (and wonder again why they’re standing in that cold water, upside-down of all things, instead of right-side-up on the shore) is because they too were sired by the Sun.
Their mother, White Shell Woman or Changing Woman — whatever the trollop’s name is — was fertilized by messenger, by a sunbeam rather than a bull’s horn, if I’m to believe Coyote. A dazzling sunbeam: more poetical than a horn, I admit, but why should that damn me to monsterhood while the twins get a life of ease?
Did the Sun intend this disparity, or was it an accident of His novelty-seeking manhood? Maybe the twins know. They’ve just come from His house in the clouds over the Rainbow Bridge: He armed them for my murder. If He is my father…
I’ll try not to think of that. Anyway, maybe He’s just testing me. He tested the Twins before He accepted them. Tried to boil them alive, poison them, and impale them on crystal spikes, according to Coyote. Not to mention all the obstacles they had to overcome just to get to His house in the first place.
Their smug heroic pretense infuriates me. Disgusting enough when fertilized by actual bravery, but in their case a loathsome farce! Every step of the way they’ve been spirited through, ferried across, and bailed out of their troubles, by a veritable menagerie of guides and allies: Spider Woman, Little Wind, Rainbow, even Coyote (he/she was bored), and countless others.
Old Age warns them to stay off her path — walk beside it, she suggests, the simplest thing in the world — and what do they do? Forget! And what does Old Age do? That hag: she forgives them! Makes them young again! Not that it mattered. Spider Woman had already given them medicine feathers, chants, and other crafty trinkets to make them virtually invincible.
I can’t wait to devour the well-armed pups, feel them squirming and shrieking inside me, never mind the hero-fantasies they’ll enjoy in their final moments.
Here they are, the brats: passengers, passive observers on “their” quest. Even now, they’ve been armed by the Sun to slay me. And the Sun Himself is probably standing by, ready to help should they manage to foul things up. Yes! There He is! In the lake with the Twins, blazingly round and perfect!
I’ll swallow them all! I’ll drink the whole lake down and them with it!
I’ve worked myself into a fury now, and the desert trembles in sympathy. I imbibe the lake in one violent gulp. No small task, but I’m Big Lonesome Monster! Down it goes, into my cavernous belly, graveyard for so many thousands of Navajos. But I can’t hold all that water for long. Anyway, they should be dead by now. I’ll spit the lake up and enjoy the vision of their floating corpses.
Up you come, fathoms!
There they are. The waves settle, and I see them clearly. Still alive, the Twins stand tall, upside-down, proudly brandishing their weapons. Probably some charm of that bitch Spider Woman’s! And the Sun is shining bright as ever: I hoped He would be extinguished by the deep dark of my stomach. I want to see Him a black, dead disk.
So, they are strong. I’ll swallow them again. No one could survive a second time.
I squat in the desert, boiling the lake and my enemies deep in my gut. The desert is brilliant, the sands bristle with spears of light, and the horizons shiver. Doubt grips me. I concentrate.
I vomit the lake a second time.
The waves settle, and there they are again, alive as before.
I swallow the lake a third time.
I beat my swollen belly, red-fisted, mad. It echoes with its cargo of water like a Hopi drum, resounding, an irregular beat of rage. Several times — four, to be exact — I think I feel their bodies breaking, but maybe it’s my own bones and guts. My stomach is numb now. Whether with the freeze of lake water, or the punishment of my fists, I don’t know.
Up they come again. I panic: they’re unharmed.
I drink a fourth time, not blind to the significance of the number. In Coyote’s stories, everything happens in fours.
Now I’m desperate. A voice (my own? Coyote’s?) tells me to look up! Look up! Something important will be made clear! Something vital!
The heat. The bright day. A nearby pair of shadows…
I ignore the voice. I’m eager to commit my latest crime against the world, even as something Coyote once told me flutters through my mind and gives me pause: he/she, in a gleeful manner, confided that monsters everywhere are subject to a peculiar weakness. He/she boasted that he/she had seen this confirmed all over the world — in the northwest, where he/she went about as a raven, in lands across the seas where he/she took the guise of a monkey, or a spider, or men with names like Hermes and Loki.
Incredible now that I recall these details, but not the weakness in question.
Anyway, the son/daughter of a bitch was probably lying, just to rile me up. That was the first time I tried to kill him/her. We have something of a tumultuous friendship.
I bury my doubt — something I’m quite adept at — and take up a great spear I once used to skewer sixteen Apache warriors (four times four is sixteen) and roast them over their burning camp before swallowing them in one slurping, sucking gulp.
Four times four is sixteen. Does that mean I’m part of the universe Coyote describes? The Universe of Fours? Am I subject to Its laws? I always considered myself above that system. Arrogant, I know, but I’m so big!
Again the voice tells me to look up. But a strange impetus — or lack of one — prevents me. Not laziness exactly, but a cousin of it.
I stab myself, my scream of pain rolling out across the desert to the four mountains of the four directions.
A fountain of water and blood and stomach acid geysers forth, flashing in the Sun (how is He shining on it from above when he’s plainly in the water with the Twins?), hissing, steaming as it hits the sun-cooked desert floor.
I stab again and again. More fountains. This time I’ll get them. They’ll be floating face down in the water, full of holes like me! And the Sun: His light will drain out through His spear wounds. Will it pool like blood, that light?
I lie in my now-gory lake, and I can’t believe it: they’re still alive! I’m weak, pierced by four wounds from this absurd battle with myself. I can’t drink the lake a fifth time. Does that mean I’m subject to the Law of Fours, or is it a coincidence?
But I’m still strong enough to lunge forward and snatch them from the depths, and throttle them.
First I hurl my four lightning bolt spears. Four is all I’ve ever had. I never thought to make more. They miss, or get extinguished by the water. When the waves settle and the steam dissipates, there stand my enemies, smilingly unperturbed.
I focus on the fact that there are three of them. Three enemies. What does that say for Coyote’s numerology? Ha!
“You think you’ve won?” I demand, my voice rolling across the desert in the four directions. I consider enlightening them, wiping those smug grins off their faces before I annihilate them. Would they comprehend the nature of their heroism? They’ve never had to think for themselves.
Monster Slayer puffs up like a ridiculous bird, filling his chest with hot air for a dramatic reply. He pauses, blinking. I grin as Water Child leans over and whispers something in his ear.
“You have slaughtered thousands of my people!” Monster Slayer proclaims. “You are ab-abhorrent!”
He doesn’t understand. Neither does Water Child, who merely possesses a more complete armory of his peoples’ delusions. My fury escalates. If they had come in a spirit of practicality, it would be different. I am a danger to them, after all. Logic dictates I must be dealt with. I would still fight back, of course, but with respect. How I’ve pined for that, to be matched against mental and spiritual equals! But the knowledge I have for them would shatter them. A good portion of their pathetic culture would go up in smoke, and that would be a slow, cold revenge. Now my blood boils even as it drains away.
I plunge into the lake, grasping, flailing, screaming with the bloodlust that is my real name. But the Twins and their Father (our Father?) escape me. They break up, vanish into the void of the lake, only to reconstitute after I give up and the water settles.
Another charm of Spider Woman’s?
“Look up!” cries Coyote. His/her voice is definitely in my ears, not my mind, this time. He/she is throwing his/her voice, probably from some distant hilltop. It’s one of his/her oldest tricks. I look up, if only to catch a glimpse of him/her — I know it cannot help my plight.
At first I take no notice of the Sun in the sky. Where is Coyote? I see a fleeting shape on a distant ridge — hard to track, with the Sun blinding me — and then it’s gone.
The revelation comes moments later:
The Sun is in the sky.
And on the opposite shore of my lake stand the Hero Twins.
Now I understand, even as the first lightning bolt pierces my chest, courtesy of the Sun. I laugh bitterly as I’m flung backwards, scattering the lake and its beguiling reflections in an explosion of sudden steam.
Reflections: that was the weakness Coyote teased me about. The defining characteristic of my race, he/she jeered, is that we can’t distinguish reflection from reality. Now I remember, but too late.
The moisture dissipates in the four directions. The Twins cheer.
I manage a laugh. Weak as I was, Papa had to make the first blow for them. Now He makes a second, again in my chest.
The Twins hang back, eyeing the Sun for His signal to attack. Monster Slayer’s expression of simultaneous fear and self-righteous bravado is insufferable.
My lust to kill has never been stronger, but I cannot move. The Sun’s bolts have pinned me to the desert floor. I’m impotent, made safe for the Twins, like a bird lamed by a cat and given to her kittens for sport.
They advance haltingly, overeager, cringing, exultant. They load their brand new bows with lightning bolts.
“Do it!” bellows the Sun impatiently. “Get it over with!”
I look directly into His brilliance, beyond it, into His face. He tries to stare me down, but in the end looks away. And I know Coyote was right.
The Twins’ bolts hiss forward, dragging with them the tumult of summer thunder. With the Sun’s bolts they make up four. In the instant before they strike, I understand the totality of the Law of Fours, a law that even I am not big enough to break.
I did have a fourth enemy. And, now, he at least dies.
ANDY DUDAK’s fiction has appeared in M-Brane, Anotherealm, and Schlock Magazine. He has worked as an editor, writer, screenplay analyst, and illustrator. His graphic novel The Assemblers is available on Amazon. He currently lives in Beijing.