[This isn’t even remotely close to what I sat down to write this morning. I’m not asking you to accept the conclusion, because I don’t. It’s just what flowed today. I want to give it a trigger warning, but I feel like I shouldn’t. That’s your warning. I’m going to consider this draft the final product and never look at it again.]

Our story begins with a man walking down a sidewalk in a semi-busy city. The man doesn’t like city life. Buildings towering around him make him feel small. But he doesn’t like the countryside, because wide open spaces also make him feel small.

He also feels alone in the countryside, so few people. But he feels alone in the city too. Most places and people make the man feel small and alone.

So he walks down the sidewalk alone, until his aloneness is interrupted by a child running into his leg. Before our man can pay the child any mind, the child’s mother is there, pulling the child away.

She says, “Stay away from that man,” glaring at our man as though he were the personification of something sinful.

Our man watched after them, confused, as the woman hurried her child away.

She’s only being a good mother. Protective and with good reason. You never know who you can trust.

These are the sorts of thoughts our man uses to rationalize people’s behavior toward him. But not more than several seconds after their encounter with our man, the child is approached by a different man.

A man with candy and smiles, kneeling to the child’s level. “What’s your name, little guy?” the man asks.

“Jimmy,” the child says, licking on his newly acquired sucker.

Their conversation continues, the other man sharing niceties and greetings with the mother, before returning his attention to the child.

To our man, this other man’s interest seems fully invested in the child, a complete lack of interest for the mother. The other man answers her continued friendly chatter with distant nods and snake-smiles at the child.

If it isn’t clear by their interaction, let it be made clear here. This other man is as much a stranger to both mother and child as our man.

The semi-busy sidewalk lessens to not busy at all. Empty, apart from our man, the other man, the woman, and the child.

Our man had stayed behind to watch this interaction, aware of what this woman’s instincts had missed, a silent protector. And he stays until the woman and child separate from the other man, going on about their day.

They leave the other man with waves and smiles, which the other man returns before returning to his full height, considerably taller than our man, and lets the crooked smile fall from his face.

He locks eyes with our man. Cold and soulless. Our man imagines they are black. He knows this other man’s, this monster’s, eyes. He has seen them before, near countless times. Socketed in the skulls of other monsters.

Our man doesn’t break, doesn’t look away. The monster does, walking in the direction opposite the woman and child. Our man pursues the monster. He doesn’t know why. He does, but he doesn’t want to think on it at the moment.

So our man follows the monster, onto a busy street, through several busier streets, stalking it like he’s done this before.

He hasn’t.

But his pursuit is interrupted by a third man and his words, “Hey, man. You holding?”

Our man, surprised, looks at his empty hands—yes, he is that innocent—before realizing he was being solicited for drugs. Again.

A pedophile and a drug dealer. An all around creep. That’s what the world thinks he is. Like they smell something on him that won’t wash off. Though for all appearances, he is a normal man.

He pushes past the drug seeker, returning his attention to the monster.

“Damn it.”

The monster is gone. Still, our man looks until looking is pointless, then looks a little longer, then goes home.

To a quiet one bedroom apartment, ground level, with a basement. And it is to the basement he heads first. Wherein he finds precisely what he expects to find, and not what many jokes made at his expense suggest.

A mostly empty basement, not a woman chained to the wall or anything of the like to be seen.

Our man takes down a lone box from the only shelf and withdraws from it a handgun. One he had purchased for self defense. That is what he has always told himself at least.

But the only person he had ever pointed it at was himself. Holding the gun was enough to make him consider doing so now. But he had gone for his gun for different reasons today. He’d never considered using it on another person, and he still isn’t considering such a thing.

His intent is to hunt a monster.

“Why?” he asks himself as he loads the gun.

Because seeing a monster prey on a child had been the breaking point in a long life of looking in monster’s eyes. More often than anywhere else, he’d seen those eyes at family gatherings.

The dead soulless eyes of awful men. Rapists, at least two he knew for certain. A murderer, at least one he had strong reason to suspect.

But, at those family reunions, there are also sad, dead eyes like his own.

Might all men be monsters? Our man wonders. Just with the decency to keep the monster at bay. And how does one choose who to trust?

People like to think they are clever, but their instincts are shit. In our man’s experience, people only believe the story you don’t tell them.

So our man comes from a family of black sheep. And he is a black sheep among black sheep. Being a monster runs in his blood, but what separates monsters from men is in their actions.

But why this monster? Why now?

Our man is tired of being paired in with monsters. All he’d ever done is try to be. He knows rapists. Suspects he’d been raped himself, though he can’t remember.

He was very young and the memories don’t flow freely. All he has is a memory of a shower and flickers that don’t make sense. Actions that don’t add up to a caring adult, but instead to a monster whose care he had been entrusted to.

So he thinks he’s been raped. And people he loves have been raped. And a monster is out there putting innocent children at risk of being hurt. That’s more than reason enough. And for once, he can do something about it.

That’s what he thinks.

After checking the safety, he clumsily puts the gun he’d been staring at into the back waistband of his jeans. Then our man heads out onto the streets, hoping random chance will take him where he needs to be. Night has already fallen and he wanders.

Wanders until the sun comes up, and nothing happens.

He never saw the monster again, except as a suggestion on the news the following day.

A little boy, abducted. A little boy who looks familiar. A little boy who is never seen again.

Alive, at least. So you aren’t left with something so pitiful as hope, that little boy is dead.

Dead like our man is on the inside, only more severe. Both are permanent, but the boy’s death is all that matters.

And that’s where our man’s story ends. He never tried to make a difference again.

If it seems unsatisfactory, that’s because it is. This is a story about life. A story that wanted to believe the world could be changed by one man. But it can’t. Not by our man at least.

Men don’t change the world. Monsters do.