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Excerpt from Monsters

Angel, Excerpt 2

Illustration by Kyle Danley

I open my eyes. The spiders are back. So is their web. They carry on as though they never left. Maybe they never did.

The first spider asks, “Have you ever seen a fly in a spider’s web, and wondered why it chose to go left into the web, instead of right to continue life?”

The second spider asks, “Was that just bad luck on the fly’s part, and good luck on the spider’s?”

The third spider asks, “Or did the fly receive advice?”

“How would I know?” I think.

The first spider smiles. “Why would someone cross a street at the corner instead of in the middle?”

“Because it’s safer,” I say.

“And why did Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard at the theater choose that particular time to step away for a drink? Bad luck?” The second spider asks.

“No, bad advice from an angel,” I say.

The spiders laugh. The third says, “Or perhaps good advice. The right advice. Like the advice you gave the woman crossing the street. Like the advice you gave J.C.”

“What are you telling me?”

“Do you remember that German general you advised?” asks the first spider.

“I was thinking of him this morning.”

“Do you know what ever happened to him?” asks the second.

“I didn’t pay attention,” I answer.

“He was blown up a few weeks after you were with him. His new driver accidentally drove into a minefield,” says the third. The first spider asks, “Do you remember the last advice you gave him?”

I respond, “If I recall, he was thinking about bringing on a new assistant. I suggested he do it.”

The second spider says, “Yes, very good.”

The third spider asks: “And what was this new assistant’s primary duty?”

“I think he was supposed to be a driv—. Wait! I don’t understand!”

The first spider says, “It may help if we ask about some of your other assignments.”

The second spider asks, “Do you mind?”

I hesitate.

The third spider says, “It will help answer the question that caused you to come to us.”

I nod.

“Do you remember a young woman from South Dakota you advised during the 1918 flu epidemic?” asks the first spider.

“I do! I remember her well because she was quite the heroine. She was nineteen or twenty years old. One of the nearest neighbors to her family’s farm got sick, then that whole family came down with it. No one could take care of them, so she volunteered.”

“Do you remember the advice you gave her?” asks the second spider.

“Very much so. I was there when she made that decision to help the neighbors. There wasn’t any question she was going to do it, but she still got scared, as anyone would in the face of death. I helped her to be strong in her decision. One of my proudest moments, I think. Remarkable young woman. I often wondered what ever happened to her. She had great things ahead of her.”

“She caught the flu and died,” says the third spider.

“I don’t. . . .”

“Or there was a nice teen-aged boy who gave his mother a birthday gift,” says the first spider.

“A hand-made coupon book with tabs she could tear off to redeem for chores,” says the second.

I say, “I vaguely remember. I think I suggested he add a coupon for cleaning out the eaves at their house.”

The third spider adds, “Yes, you did, and his mother cashed in that coupon a couple of months later. The boy fell off the ladder and died.”

“God damn it.”

I wait for the response that never comes.

The first spider says, “There was another nice young boy you advised. He had very low self-esteem.”

“You convinced him to go out for football, told him that no one would laugh at him,” says the second.

I exclaim, “Don’t tell me people laughed at him and he killed himself.”

The third spider responds, “No, he died of complications from heatstroke on the third day of practice.”

The first spider says, “Or there was a man with faulty wiring in his house.”

“Oh, no!” I respond.

The second spider says, “You convinced him to fix it himself.”

I shake my head. “I think I see where this is going. He burned himself up, right?”

The third spider answers, “No. He was outside working on it, and his neighbor’s dog got loose and bit him in the face. He died of a heart attack on the way to the hospital.”

“And there was a woman you convinced to fly to visit her mother. The plane crashed,” says the first spider.

The second spider adds, “The man you convinced to do his dishes that night instead of the next morning, who dropped a glass full of water, then slipped and fell and cracked open his head on the kitchen floor.”

The third spider also adds, “The woman you convinced to take walks for her health, who was then struck and killed by a runaway car driven by a man you’d suggested was healthy enough to drive who had a stroke behind the wheel. Both died.”

“I am a completely incompetent guardian angel.”