Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Present Tense, Part Two

Continuing the story begun below...

Home is the Hero

By Bill Willingham

Breakfast was long over by the time Ethan came through the door. The children were sitting on the living room rug, three frantic engines of twitchy need, staring at the presents, straining to get at them, like greyhounds in the starring gates, but kept at an enforced distance by their watchful mother. They’d already sung too many Christmas carols, after which Hannah had read them a seasonally applicable story from one of their books. She could’ve read their latest bank statement for all of the attention the kids paid her. The call of the presents was too strong for any story to distract them.
     Then Ethan walked in, injured, horribly disfigured, and dripping blood onto the tile floors of the entranceway.
     “Don’t get blood on my rugs,” Hannah said, mildly, almost off-handedly, hardly bothering to look up from her needlepoint. “Stay there, honey. I’ll come to you.”
     “About time daddy’s home,” Matthew said. “Can we open presents now?” Then he remembered to add, “Hi, daddy.”
     “Hi yourself, Sport,” Ethan said from the foyer. It was separated from the living room by a half wall surmounted by a narrow countertop, on which some of their family awards were displayed. One side of Ethan’s face was lacerated in multiple, nearly parallel gashes, leaving little actual flesh and muscle left on that side. White bone was exposed. His eye on that side was hanging loose, dangling over the remains of one cheek.
     Hannah finished a difficult stitch, put the needlepoint back in its basket and set the basket aside. She got up from her tan corduroy chair and skiff-skiffed into the entryway in her slippered feet. “Something tagged you pretty good,” she said. Then, once she got a full look at him she added, “Oh no, your favorite hoody is ripped.” The gray Pittsburg Steelers sweatshirt was hanging on his body in rags, wet and stained a deepening red by the many open wounds underneath. His blue jeans hadn’t fared much better. There were still flecks of snow on his shoulders and in his hair.
     “Yeah,” Ethan said, looking down almost embarrassed at the ruins of his clothes. “There was a monster loose on the Thirty, near Bridgeport. Big thing with lots of big, sharp claws. Had to fight it by hand.”
     That finally got the kids’ full attention.
     “You fought a big monster, daddy?” Daniel said. “What kind?” He was quickly on his feet and scampering around the sectional wall, closely followed by Matthew and Elizabeth.
     “Sort of a dragon, I guess,” Ethan said, “except that it had six heads and about thirty legs. Think of a hydra up front, with a cross between a snake’s body and a centipede’s body behind. But all of it kind of looking like a giant green crocodile, with the different heads spitting different nasty things all over the place.”
     “Who made it?” Elizabeth said.
     “I don’t know, but whoever did, and then let it get loose, should feel pretty bad right now. He may even get censured, because there were quite a few mortal casualties. Lots of wrecked cars too.”
     “Oh, that’s too bad,” Hannah said. “And on Christmas of all days.” She stood on her tiptoes next to Ethan, to get a close look at his facial wounds, tsk tsking at them. She took his dangling eye in one hand and carefully flicked bits of dust and grit off of it with the other. “I think we can save this.” She gently popped the thing back into his eye socket.
     “Good,” Ethan said. “Save you the effort of regrowing one.”
     “Wouldn’t have been much trouble,” Hannah said. “I got a good night’s sleep, despite the early interruptions, and ate an enormous breakfast. Energy to spare today, assuming we get the spend the rest of it quietly at home.”
     “Did you kill it, daddy?” Matthew said, tugging insistently at one of the scraps of his shredded sweatshirt.
     “The monster?” Ethan said. “Had to. Too bad, too, because it was pretty cool looking. You might get to see it on tonight’s news.”
     Hannah lightly ran a finger over his face, tracing the many lines of his lacerations, and where she touched him the wounds closed, leaving pink, healthy flesh and no scars behind. When she was done with his face she began tending to the rest of him. “All of these clothes are rags now,” she said. “Not even worth washing. Matthew, please go get a trash bag from under the sink – one of the heavy ones. Elizabeth, go fetch daddy’s bathrobe, and Daniel can get a wet sponge to wipe the blood up. And you need to strip, Mister Man,” she said, turning back to Ethan, “so I can find the less obvious wounds.”
     He did.

Copyright 2008 Bill Willingham. All rights reserved.

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