There was a man on the bench next to him. Short and fat, with huge eyebrows and a mustache to match. There was something in his eyes. Maybe their very aspect, blue, tiny, pig-like. He was watching Lucy and Sinttaal didn’t need to use his powers to know what the man was thinking about. Just another sinner in the city. Sinttaal knew his kind, many had been executed during his reign. It was delightful to follow the trail of his thoughts, all the chemical reactions, the electrical impulses. Beneath his thick skull there was a world of wonder where time was crawling. The idea of reading a mind was improper. It was more like watching a little light traveling from one point to another, trying to guess which path will it take. With just a little concentration, the light could be deviated to a desired direction. Control.
Just a little nudge in the right direction and he could make people fall in love. Find the right answers. Turn housewives into prostitutes, priests into murderers and accountants into rock stars.
Some minds were easier to dominate, others were like a pinball machine. He could only approximate where the thought would end. What action it will transform into.
Like this one. The man had the desires but not the courage to act on them. Just another wimp with the wrong kind of pornography. The city was crawling with them. They could not unleash their desires upon a world that feared and treated them with revulsion. So they compensated through surrogates. Watching children on playgrounds. Watching hardcore materials on the computer while their bored and boring wives were sleeping. Sinttaal realized he had awoken into a world devoid of any real dangers. So many of them were well fed, protected and safe that they could only turn such surrogates to get their adrenaline kick.
Catching the thread of thoughts, he shifted its direction. The man suddenly stood up. There were tears forming in his eyes. He would go. Home. And probably beat his wife, as always, a way to compensate for his unfulfilled desires. That, however, was no longer Sinttaal’s concern.
He walked slowly towards the far corner of the playground. Lucy was drawing curved lines on the snowman’s body with her tiny fingers in a pattern of decorative waves. He stopped, a couple of steps behind her, and watched.
She was short and small for her age, lost in an over sized, fur-lined red padded coat which made her look like a miniature Santa Claus. The tip of the same-colored fur cap was hanging out from her left pocket.
She stopped and stared at her work. It was exactly what she’d wanted, except for the carrot issue.
When Sinttaal touched her shoulder she turned around, startled.
“What are you doing”? he asked.
The answer came naturally, even with a hint of the teacher-like tone children use when confronted with absurd adult questions.
Sinttaal smiled. She was more interesting than he had expected. He looked at her, but only at the exterior. Her mind was the one he sought, he was sure of it, and he couldn’t deny himself the pleasures of conversation by reading her thoughts. The surface was equally enchanting: dark blue eyes, an oval face, surrounded by a cascade of blonde curls, doll-like features, inhumanly perfect. A beautiful child.
She looked at the snowman, and Sinttaal unwillingly caught the thread of a passing thought. “Replacement for the father she never met”. He frowned for a second. “Why should such minor dramas mean anything? How many of them happened during my sleep?” The thought was nothing to the little girl, a glimpse of later reasoning, nothing more. The greatest current tragedy was an unfinished work, a snowman without a nose .
Sinttaal pulled a carrot out of his pocket and handed it to her. He waited while she admired her now finished masterpiece.
“What is your name?”
“Lucy Davenport. And what is yours?”
Sinttaal didn’t answer. He looked at the snowman.
“It’s very beautiful”
“He doesn’t have a name yet, just like you” the little girl said.
“Do you want to know a secret, Lucy?”
He almost burst into laughter, seeing her pricking her ears up in honest curiosity.
“Come with me. We’ll sit on the bench and I will tell you”
“No, I’m sorry but I can’t leave him alone” she explained, pointing to the snowman who was a bit taller than her. She had climbed on the body to place the head part and then carefully repaired the damage.
“We all have to be alone every now and then, Lucy, even him. But that is not why you don’t want to come and sit with me on the bench”
He pressed his finger against her lips.
“I…I never lie!” she protested, rather sulky. “It’s just that the others might come back”
“The other children?”
“Yes, and they will break him. They always do that”
Sinttaal felt the anger burning again inside him. He imagined calling each and every brat back on the playground and making them eat one another alive. It was a calming thought, knowing it was well within his possibilities to actually do it.
“They will not come back, I promise”
“All right, but it won’t take long, right?”
She wrapped her tiny hand around two of his fingers and led him to the bench.
“So tell me!”
Sinttaal looked at her. ”She really doesn’t know what mistrust is!” For a moment he was tempted to ask: “Does your mother never tell you not to talk to strangers?” But he knew it would be useless and would only destroy a little part of her innocence. Nothing bad was going to happen to her anyway, so why bother?
“Lucy, do you know why it’s a bad thing to lie?”
After a couple of seconds she answered victoriously:
“Because mommy said so”
This was the best answer for all complicated questions.
“Dear mommy, who hits you after having a few extra drinks, imagining that this is the best way to compensate for a paternal figure…the figure of the man who left her for another woman, tired of her. But not of you, little Lucy. You are his only regret”
“That is nonsense, Lucy!”
“My mommy is no nonsense” she replied. Furious and dignified.
The sudden anger in her voice surprised him for a second.
“That’s right, Lucy, and I’m sorry. What I want you to understand is that I never lie either. And I am no nonsense”
He lay back on the bench, stretching his legs.
“You see, I am very old, much older than I look. And I need your help. This place has changed a lot since I’ve left. And I think you can be the best help I can get”
“Mommy says I’m good for nothing…sometimes” she mumbled.
Sinttaal allowed himself another moment of inner contemplation: of the mommy and an entire parade of tortures only for her. It was better like this, to let the anger take control for a mere second and then suppress it. Unleashed all at once, it would have consumed him, along with most of the town.
“Well, I don’t think that, Lucy! I think you are a wonderful little girl and I think you are the only one who could help me”
“I’ll try” she promised.
“Good…and because you are such a good little girl I have a gift for you. Look!”
She was speechless: from the far corner of the playground, her snowman was slowly rolling towards them. It stopped in front of her, as if trying to bend over and kiss her forehead, though its body made it impossible.
“Look!” she cried joyfully. “He’s alive! He’s…”
A second later there was white mixed with red, as the blood from her slashed throat hit the snow on the pavement. Sinttaal wiped the blade clean against his sleeve.
“You reminded me of her, little Lucy. The girl who smiled while the world around was being torn asunder. Now wait there, little one. Soon, the Messenger of the Gods will appear. The blond woman will come to take you. And I will wrestle you from her arms and then Death will forget you as it did me. I need you, Lucy, to help me recreate that moment when I remembered what it was like to be happy. But this time, the world will not end. And I will become king once again, with you as my princess and daughter”
The night had set itself upon the city. And mommy was still out there, with her potion. Sinttaal smiled.