There are monsters everywhere. I don’t like to think about it. I don’t like to, but I do. I think about it a lot.
Like the first time I drove Sam back to the new house. I was nervous enough, anyway, that everything should go right. His mother had thrown so many obstacles in the way of this visit that everything had to go right. If it didn’t, she’s never let me see him again. My knuckles were white on the steering wheel.
I looked at him for a moment in the rear-view mirror. My boy. I was going to take good care of him. This could be a new beginning for us.
The radio broke in: “Police are reminding everyone to be careful following the escape of a repeat sexual offender from Dengie Prison. The man-“
I snapped the radio off, my head suddenly full of all sorts of unwelcome images: tearful press conferences, police searches through local woodland, Sam’s face all over the front of the newspapers, his mother blaming me.
Rain tapped on the windscreen. I couldn’t see much outside.
I peered out for my driveway, the new driveway, and pulled in. I pushed all the other stuff out of my head. I didn’t like to think of it for the fear of making it happen. Sam was, for the first time, my sole responsibility.
He was completely out of it. We’d had a long day.
He didn’t wake up when I heaved him out of the car seat, another new purchase. He didn’t wake when I had to juggle his weight to get the keys into the lock. He didn’t even wake when the man in the bushes pressed the gun against my head.
I don’t like rhododendrons. Dark, and fat-leaved they always look as if they are plotting something, hiding something.
He stepped out and pressed the gun against my right temple. I had a sense of something in my peripheral vision for a moment, but, with my hands full of Sam, there wasn’t much I could do.
“Open the door,” He smelled of sweat. Sour, acrid, full of hormones. “Don’t look at me, just open the door.”
I was calmer than I would have expected. Something primal, basic, had kicked in, and I was thinking of only one thing: protecting Sam. Sam who still hadn’t woken up.
As the key snagged in the lock I had a terrible thought. What if it was Sam he was after?
I pushed the door open, stepped into the hall, and stood very still.
“Can I take him through to the living room? My arms are getting tired.”
“Go slowly. No sudden moves.” His voice was hoarse, thick. I knew he was more frightened than I was. Because I wasn’t frightened. I knew what I had to do. Sam was my responsibility.
I went through the door to my right, thinking that he should probably turn on some lights. As long as the lights were off, I knew my way around, I had an advantage.
I probably had an advantage. I didn’t know how long he had been watching us.
I put Sam down on the sofa, and reached down behind one of the cushions as I did. It’s always best to be prepared. Especially with a youngster in the house.
My fingers found the point of the Stanley knife, and, whilst arranging Sam, I slid it up into my sleeve.
A knife wasn’t much good against a gun. Unless he didn’t know you had it. I was going to have to bide my time.
He kept pacing and looking out of the curtains. He wouldn’t let me make tea. Out in the kitchen with all of those knives…
Gnawing a fingernail he pointed at Sam with the gun.
“Does he always sleep this long?”
“I don’t know, he usually sleeps at his mum’s. He’s never come here before.”
And I’d lose him for good if she found out what had gone on this evening. Maybe I could get rid of the man before Sam woke up. Maybe it would be a little secret.
The telly didn’t help to calm him. He was too scared to pay much attention, always pacing and muttering, “Shit shit shit shit shit.”
Until the news came on. Then he was all ears.
It was about the child molester again, and he hurriedly switched it off. He caught me looking at him.
“What? That’s not me! I don’t do that kind of shit!” And again, pathetically: “I don’t do that kind of shit.”
He peered out of the curtain again when Sam started to stir. About time, I thought, for someone of his weight.
Sam’s eyes flickered open, and I could tell that he didn’t know where he was. This wasn’t the way I’d imagined him discovering his new house. He saw the man at the window with a gun, and let out an involuntary cry.
I slid the knife down into my hand. I couldn’t let him hurt Sam. Not after all we’d been through. Not when things were just coming together.
“It’s all right,” The man has his hands up, faux-harmless, “Just do what your dad says, and everything will be all right.”
Sam looked at me, questioning, his eyes wide with terror. I nodded.
He looked back at the man, struggling to take it all in.
He points at me.
“He’s not my dad.”
And that’s when I started to move towards the man, knife in my hand, very fast, just like I’d practised.
There are monsters everywhere. And sometimes it’s the duty of the big monsters to eat the little ones…