Ted fought against the metal mountain as he climbed. The thick cloths and leather straps wound around his hands and feet grew snagged and tattered and worn as the level ground – covered only by a thinning blanket of dead grass and glittering permafrost – fell away beneath him. As he climbed upwards, the smoldering heap of rusting steel smoked in places. Red lines stained crags and eddies. Ted was unsure if the stains marring the mountain were rusted iron or ancient blood. Both had been offered over the years to appease The Monster. Yet, The Monster was never appeased, not fully. The Monster looked down on what was left of the world with a toothy smirk. The Monster’s giant lips frothed with blood. Tremors rising from deep inside the core of the earth told Ted that The Monster hungered. Wings creaked overhead and blocked the pale light of a dying sun as The Monster stretched.
“Why must you do it?” his mother asked him. She ran around the kitchen. The spotlights overhead and the yellow flowers on her wallpaper kept her cheerful, kept her smiling. She whisked something in a bowl. Scrambled eggs maybe? The beginnings of a cake? Cookies?
Ted did not know. He stared down at his hands. They were caked with dried blood.
His mother tsked. “Ted, you tell me right now, what is it you want to prove?”
He looked up to his mother and saw her. Really saw her. She was beautiful, radiant. Light streaked out of her eyes and warmed the chill in his soul, but he still felt cold. His brother was gone. His mother tried to remain happy, wore a permanent smile, but even as young as Ted was he understood this was her front, an act. He knew she was lonely. Since The Censors invaded she had been forced to sleep in a tiny twin bed. She no longer knew the embrace of her husband. She no longer knew what it felt like to be kissed with the exception of chaste brushes of indifferent lips against her cheek. The Censors wanted her pure. The Censors did not care if that false purity killed her soul.
“Mom, I just killed my brother. Dad made me do it. He said it was in the damn script!” Ted tugged at his crew cut hair. “I need answers!”
The laugh track erupted into a joyful cacophony of canned emotion.
“Why do you climb, boy?” The Monster asked. He had no name. He was simply The Monster. That was enough.
Ted lay sprawled out on a small metal platform. His hands and feet pulsed and wept with blisters and blood. “Because I have to know.”
“What do you want to know? How do you know I have the answers? How do you know, if I do have the answers, I will give them to you? What makes you think I can be trusted?”
Ted laughed. “It’s not about trust. It’s about truth.”
His father never came home from work. No “Honey, I’m home!” or tumble over furniture, no canned applause for his clumsy, over-stylized entrance. Instead, the house grew silent.
Ted looked at the fourth wall. The cameras had stopped rolling. The studio audience had been left deserted. A tumbleweed from the western that was filming on the set next door rolled across the linoleum kitchen floor.
“Why do you do it?” his mother asked again, softer this time. She fell over and shivered.
Ted wanted to rush over to her, to hold her, to cry over her. Instead, he sat at the kitchen table and ate his cereal, trapped by an unforgiving and unyielding script. His mother died as she slept: alone.
Ted spoke between clenched teeth. “I just want you to answer one question, you sick bastard. Who are you?”
The Monster smiled. “I think you know.”
“Why do you do this?”
“Just to see if it works.”
A shock of lava and smoke erupted near Ted. Some of it splashed down against his outstretched arm and left instant whelps and burns. “Well? Did it work?”
Sheets of typed paper were crumpled into a ball before being tossed into a trashcan littered by empty beer cans.