The laughter of children fills the air, lighter than the spring breeze and devoid of pretense; the purest form of joy expressed through innocents. Children embody the spirit of wonderment unfettered by the weight of awareness. Awareness only breeds fear, and worry, and anxiety, self-loathing, and regret, but most of all regret. Will savors this moment trying to separate his daughter Alicia's spirited play from the pain of the failure that it reminded him of.
Divorce was a double-edged sword and lately, Will felt like he was getting both ends of it, and his time with his daughter somehow felt tainted by this. The sight of her reminded him of Michelle and the family they once shared, the family that was now broken, shattered into fragments of memories with edges that cut too deep when touched.
It pained him to look at Alicia, who ran through the poles of the jungle-gym oblivious to the world crashing in around them. What kind of life was she to have now; "quality time" with him every other weekend, splitting holidays and birthdays, strangers pretending to be her mom and dad. How could she ever truly understand the concept of family in this setting.
But it was too late, Michelle had already lawyered-up and shut him out. He didn’t understand how it had come to this. Everything seemed to be going fine. They were moving along a steady path of routine when he was sideswiped by this decision. She said that it had been coming for a long time, that she hadn’t been happy, but he hadn’t see it coming, what a fool.
"Daddy watch me!" Alicia yelled out before she slid down the slide, her face a mixture of terror and delight.
"Wow, you’re so brave, that was very good honey," he said with exaggerated enthusiasm. She gathered herself up and ran toward the ladder to climb up for a second go.
The park was mostly empty this time of day except for a few random parent-child combos, but there was one man who caught his eye. He was a short and stocky man in his mid forties, balding and dressed down in sweat pants and a Star Wars T-shirt. The guy looked normal for the most part, except that he didn’t seem to be there with a child of his own.
The number of people in the park was small today and it made it easy to determine which parent was with which child. The process of elimination had accounted for everyone accept the man. He had already been there when Will arrived, and just sat there staring at the children. Will particularly disliked the way that he was watching Alicia, with the intensity of a stalking cat, his beady eyes focused and followed.
Will debated whether or not he should say something to the man, and decided that it was best to just keep an eye on him for now. Michelle would think this was typical of him, always avoiding confrontation. She never had much faith in his prowess of as a man. He could hear her voice in his head, “go yell at him you coward, be a man and tell that pervert off”.
Once before he had known the feeling of complete helplessness when it came to Alicia. When she was two, she had fallen down some stairs. Will had been at the top of them with her before she went over. He remembered how she fell just out of his reach. It was as though time slowed down and he could see it happen, frame by frame, but was unable to move through it, like he was held captive by some force. She snapped her arm on the landing; the disgusting cracking sound still resonated in his mind. He could see the shock and disbelief at the existence of such pain in her eyes, and he felt completely insignificant in that moment. It reminded him of how quickly things could go bad in an instant and how truly helpless he was to stop it.
Presently, Alicia was running and fell. She began to whine, nursing her knee. Will was about to go to her, when he noticed the man stood up and began to purposefully walk towards her. This guy can’t seriously be that brazen, Will thought and broke into a quick stride in Alicia's direction, but the man was much closer and got there first.
He paused over Alicia with a terrible grin that gave his face the character of a demon, almost cannibalistic in its features. "HEY!" Will yelled as he approached, and the man looked in his direction. The sight of Will coming at him didn't seem to detour him from his plans and he swept Alicia up in his arms as easily as scooping up a doll, and began to casually walk in the opposite direction.
She was shocked and cried, "Daddy! Dad!" But she didn't squirm or fight, just reached out towards Will with her arms, her face pleading. Tears were streaking her cheeks and the man marched on. Will was sprinting now and quickly caught up with them. The ground felt absent beneath his feat.
"Hey! Put her down right fucking now!" He shouted at the man with a slight tremble in his voice, but the man looked right past him with those beady eyes and demonic grin, without altering his casual pace as though he was on a Sunday stroll. "Can’t you fucking hear me! I said let her go now!" The bravado that he felt during the initial sprint had begun to deflate now that he was faced with the man. The confident indifference of this monster towards him made him feel about as big as an insect, and yet he had to be present, be dominant, for Alicia.
Will reached out and tried to pull her free from the man's thick arms, but his hold was too tight and he shrugged Will off with insulting ease. This caused Will to stumble back a step. His adrenaline was pumping hard now, he could feel it throbbing through the veins in his neck. His vision zeroed in on Alicia's crying face, the fear so real at the sight of her seemingly helpless father, her only and most trusted protector.
Michelle was right, he was weak, he was pathetic. There he stood faced with the eternal loss of the only thing left in this world that he loved, and he couldn't stop it. Helpless. The urge to cry welled up in his throat and he swallowed it down. The man noticed this and gave him a subtle smirk and a wink. Then he marched on seemingly fueled by Will's self-doubt. In the corner of his eye, he spotted a baseball-sized rock on the ground and grabbed it. He could feel its jagged weight in his hand, the perfect density to strike with. He ran up behind the man and swung it with all his might connecting with the back of the guy’s skull. His swing had been awkward and off-center, only glancing the edge of him with a dull thud. The man let out a sullen grunt but continued to walk unabated; the glimmer in his terrible smile bright as ever.
Will drew back again and delivered a second blow into the guy's temple, splitting the skin above his eye. A wound opened up gushing blood down the side of the man's face but he marched on with glee. "Daddy please!" Alicia cried trying to wiggle herself free now. The rock trembled in Will's hand and he almost collapsed. The man's shark-like grin seemed to glare even brighter against the vibrant red streaks of blood covering his face.
From somewhere deep within, Will let out a vicious war cry and hit the man. This time he connected directly between the man's eyes, shattering the bridge of his nose with a spurt of blood that misted in the air. The man swayed back but never lost his grin.
Will raised the rock and brought it down on him again, and again, and again. Finally, the man dropped to one knee, his face a mangled mess of hamburger meat and bone. He turned his head towards Will, still smiling and slurped the blood from his sinuses with a throaty chuckle that grew deeper in his belly to vicious hearty laughter.
Will was exhausted and sweat poured over his eyes, stinging with saltiness. He raised the rock high above his head and brought it down with all his might directly into the sweet spot between the man's eyes, crushing the bridge of his nose into a sunken cavern that revealed the sinus cavity. The man’s eyes rolled back dead into his skull, and his body went limp and toppled over like a collapsing tower. Alicia was free. Will wrenched her body loose from the dead man’s heavy arms and coddled her against his chest. They both wept.
Written by MartinVang