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Neanderdad was three monsters that day.  That was more than usual.  Playing one monster during the course of the day was actually quite normal.  In fact, even two monsters was quote common for Neanderdad, for what child doesn’t like to be safely frightened?  But three monsters were a lot.  And in the end, three monsters were too many.

The first monster was a Fort Monster.  The children hid in the fort they had built with pillows and a chair.  Neanderdad the Fort Monster menaced them from the carpet beyond—the carpet being the magical barrier that blocked him from tearing the flimsy affair down with one swipe of a meaty paw.  Occasionally, when Neanderdad had growled off away from the fort, one or both of his offspring would peek out from the fort to confirm his separation then dash out into the open to grab something of value, like perhaps a cherished toy.  Neanderdad would then turn suddenly, ‘notice’ them, roar loudly and chase them.  The children would scream in imaginary fear and run back to safety.  Neanderdad would stop at the flimsy walls of the fort.  It was covered in magic monster repellant, of course.  Then he would howl in frustration at missing the chance to eat them.  The children would laugh uproariously and taunt him from the safety of their keep.

“You can’t get us!” jeered the boy.

“Too slow.  Wayyyyyy too slow,” said the girl.

Then he would howl again as they laughed.  That was how the game was played .  And all enjoyed it, for it was simple good fun.

The second monster Neanderdad played was called the Smiling Bad Guy.   This monster was designed by Neanderdad to teach a critical lesson about strangers.  It was fun with a purpose.   Though, perhaps, the children did not recognize this reality.  To play, the children would sit on a place of safety like their parent’s big bed.  The Smiling Bad Guy would then circle the safe zone and try to convince them to leave their safe haven.  As this monster’s name implied, Neanderdad’s Smiling Bad Guy would wink and joke and charm; anything to convince one of he children to leave the bed.  Sometimes, Neanderdad would even make extravagant promises.

“Candy?” he would offer.

“NOOOOO!” the children would scream.

“Television?” he would then entice with the ultimate prize.

“NOOOOOO!” the children would yell.

Then Neanderdad would laugh evilly and the children would laugh back bravely, awaiting their chance to reject his next offer.  Sometimes, Neanderdad would proclaim the game over, or announce that it was time for a snack, or in some other way dissemble.  At first, these ruses had succeeded in getting one of the children to take his hand or leave the bed island.  But they had learned not to believe these tricks.  For if they took the bait, Neanderdad would grab the victim and carried them around the room, chortling loudly.   So the Smiling Bad Guy had to be extra manipulative today.

“Mom Calling” he said slyly.  “Go see her?”

Then he earnestly offered his hand.  The girl took him up on his offer and when her foot hit the floor, the Smiling Bad Guy laughed evilly and carried her away.  Unfortunately, this actually, truly scared the girl a little.  She demanded that they end the game, an unhappy whine creeping into her voice, so Neanderdad relented.   He felt a little guilty about using this last ploy, but it was necessary.   His offspring needed to realize that the most appealing offers were often the falsest.  And unlike the Fort Monster, Smiling Bad Guys really existed.   Neanderdad wanted his children prepared.  The game eventually ended when their Mother came in to announce that lunch was ready.

The third monster was the Real Monster.  It was the one that the children were never meant to see.  This monster was most unexpected and, to the children, it was also the most frightening.

Neanderdad and his offspring were in the backyard playing baseball when this monster made his appearance.  Neanderdad was pitching.  A flip-flop-wearing girl was supporting him in the field.  The hyper-focused boy was batting.

Neanderdad unleashed his patented, underhand, floating-pitch-of-fury and the boy tattooed a line-drive shot right at the girl.  The girl reached to catch it and missed, and the ball smacked loudly against the bare skin of her upper foot.

There was a brief moment where the girl’s surprised face simply stared at the foot.  There was a brief moment for everybody to contemplate what was coming.  Then there was a sudden wail of pain from the girl.

“Daddeeeeeeeeeee!”  She cried.

Neanderdad rushed forward to console his daughter and rub the sore foot.  In fact, he was so intent on the girl, that he failed to see the strange, suddenly-psychotic boy approach.  Apparently annoyed that his game of baseball had been disrupted by injury, the boy stepped forward with the plastic baseball bat to express this emotion.

“Stop crying,” the boy demanded angrily.   He then swung at the girl with the bat, catching her a glancing blow behind the ear.  That was when the third monster appeared.

Neanderdad, enraged by this bizarre, dangerous attack, and in full-blown defense-of-child mode, reacted aggressively.  He snarled loudly, snatched the bat away from his son, grabbed the boy roughly by his shoulders, and then moved him bodily away from his now shrieking sister.

“No!” Neanderdad roared at his son as he pushed him back far enough to protect the girl.

Then there was a moment when everything was quiet.  The girl stopped crying and stared in surprise, absently holding her ear and foot.  The boy looked into the angry face of his yelling father and his own petulant countenance melted into fearfulness.   Then everybody was crying.  Well, both of the children were crying.  The girl wailed more loudly about her injuries.  The boy broke into scared sobs and pulled away from this new monster and sprinted for his mother, in tears.  Neanderdad did not cry, but he felt like it.

And then, before there could be any resolution of the situation, the boy’s mother carried the boy away to the bath.  The boy clutched at her fiercely.   Over her shoulder, the boy watched Neanderdad distrustfully, tear marks still lining the dirt on the boys face.  The girl got up to follow them, physically recoiling from his attempts to minister to her bruises, as if he’d yelled at her too.  She even called to her brother in a concerned voice, the fact that the boy had tried to brain her with a plastic bat apparently forgotten.

So Neanderdad the Real Monster, dumfounded at the turn of events, shuffled inside and slumped into the very chair where the children had made their fort earlier in the day.   There he sat as bath sounds filtered to him from across the house.   He was deeply ashamed of this new monster and he covered his eyes with his hands and rested his suddenly aching head.  He sat this way, pondering what had gone wrong and how me might have reacted differently, for some time..

It was a shuffling sound that broke this spell.  Somebody was moving around in the room around him.  Neanderdad uncovered his eyes and looked to see what it was.  There, naked from his bath, hair still damp, sat the boy on the carpet.  The boy was drawing on a magnetic drawing board and then erasing.   He didn’t look at Neanderdad, but knew that he was being watched.  Neanderdad the Real Monster pulled himself out of the chair and sat down next to his son.  The boy didn’t look up, but turned his shoulder every so slightly away.  Still, he didn’t retreat.

“Sorry,” Neanderdad then said.

“You grabbed my arm,” the boy said, still drawing on the board.  Still he did not make eye contact.

Neanderdad apologized again.  He tried to explain that he had reacted to the boy trying to hit the girl.  That he had gotten scared.  But even he didn’t like how it sounded. Still, he did get the boy to know in understanding about the bat attack.  Then the boy spoke again.

“You really scared me,” the boy said.

Then the boy finally looked into Neanderdad’s eyes.  Neanderdad met the boy’s gaze with a kind smile, which eventually earned Neanderdad an impish grin in return.  Then, Neanderdad the Monster was no more and Neanderdad the Father picked up his son and gently carried him back to the boy’s room so they could find his pajamas.