This is the 21st round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS<<link post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “U“.
Readers have two weeks from the date of publication to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
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The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the PG-rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Some readers might find a few of the stories disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, and if so, stop reading and move on.
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Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the third of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “U” as submitted by its author.
Unmaking a Monster
Copyright 2020 — (added after voting closes)
(3,685 words – approx. reading time: about 14 minutes based on 265 WPM)
“Congratulations on the TOTY,” Detective Clayton said as he surveyed the framed certificates on Vice-Principal Cander’s wall, stopping at a bronze apple positioned on the neat desk.
“Thank you,” Cander replied. “You are familiar with the Teacher of the Year Awards?”
“Yes, my ex-wife was, pardon me, is, a teacher. She was once nominated for the honor and it was quite a big deal around the house. But she didn’t make the final cut.”
“Yes, it was indeed an honor to be nominated and a great surprise to be selected,” Vice-Principal Cander acknowledged.
“So, if you don’t mind me asking, why did you go from teaching to administration, Mr. Cander?”
“My wife could give you 20,000 reasons,” Cander joked. “Once she discovered the pay difference, let’s just say she highly encouraged me to move up. But honestly, Detective, I miss the classroom.”
Seeming to come back from a faraway place in his mind, VP Cander asked, “Detective, did you have any other questions regarding…” Cander looked at his notes.
“Timmy Roundtree,” Detective Clayton finished.
“No, I don’t think so,” Detective Clayton said as he flipped through his notebook.
Clayton rose from his chair and VP Cander unfolded himself and leaned across the pinewood desk to shake hands. There was a metallic clink during the departing ritual.
“Michael Cander,” Detective Clayton announced in a new, more authoritarian, voice, “you are under arrest. Charged with the molestation of a minor.”
Vice-principal Cander laughed at first, shaking his head east to west. “Great joke; you got me. Did Mr. Davies from the science department put you up to this?” Cander half-smiled, half grimaced at even the tasteless insinuation, but Clayton’s eyes were shark-like in their intent.
Detective Clayton shimmied around the desk and secured Cander’s free hand; bringing them both to the small of Cander’s back in a kind of cop-and-robber do-si-do, smoothly handcuffing his suspect. Cander thought he smelled cheap wine oozing from his dance partner.
“You have the right to remain silent…” Detective Clayton began. This was the moment VP Cander stopped suspecting a prank and started to realize that this was real, but although real, it was playing out like a late-night cop-drama where the perp is always caught in the end and justice always gets served with the screenwriters providing a clever parting quote from the cops. The best Detective Clayton could do was, “You make me sick!”
This flick was topsy-turvy, Cander thought, bizarro world crazy; he had committed no crime, and now he was being escorted down the main hall of Oglethorpe Elementary School past a file of second grade students that waved at him. With Cander’s hands manacled behind him, he could not wave back. Towheaded Elijah Hamilton raised an expectant palm up to the passing VP in hopes of an obsequious high five. He was left hanging as the VP was escorted out the main door.
As he was being transported ‘downtown’, as Detective Clayton put it, VP Cander peppered the man in the shotgun seat with questions. He raced through the 5 W’s and the obligatory H, but only got a few scant details from the Detective.
He was seriously being charged with the crime of molestation of a minor. He learned that several officers were already on the way to his house with a warrant to search and seize any items that might contain evidence in this case.
A confiscated phone in Detective Clayton’s pocket sang out a throwback, the contact read ‘Deidra’, VP Cander’s wife. Her ring tone was a quick clip of Stand by Your Man, by Tammy Wynette. “That’s my wife,” Michael Cander sputtered. “I need to tell her what’s happening.”
“She probably already knows, Perv,” Detective Clayton smirked. “The Press is going to eat this up like Cosby’s puddin’ pops.” He held up his iPhone and snapped a selfie of himself and VP Cander in the frame, then mashed a few buttons. “Social media is a pedophile’s best and worst enemy,” Clayton remarked.
The following days, nights, weeks swirled together like a hurricane of horror. Michael Cander’s life became a series of proceedings, affidavits, depositions, arraignment, motions granted and motions denied. Cander made bail after his wife, Deidra, secured a second mortgage on the house and drained their joint savings account.
An eternity later, the Cander family pulled into their suburban driveway; Michael crushed the brakes on Greta, the family Volvo. Painted in sloppy red sego script across their garage door were the words Pedo Scum. Scarlet letters, Michael thought. Eight-year old Cassandra asked her daddy what it meant while Deidra cried into her hands.
Adding insult to graffiti, Michael’s caseworker arrived the next day as he was whitewashing the blood stain paint from the garage door. “This is real fun,” Michael greeted his guest as she exited the dark government sedan. “Ain’t everyday a guy gets to whitewash his fence,” Michael said in his best Twain twang.
Court appointed Defense Attorney, Samantha Tyson, didn’t bite right away. Then she tugged at the seams of her slacks and knelt down by the bucket and picked up a rag and asked in a sincere southern voice, “Say, Tom, can I whitewash a little?”
They both laughed a little. For former Vice-Principal Michael Cander it was his first moment of levity since he realized the pedophile charges were not a prank from the science teacher.
“I see you’ve retained your sense of humor in all this,” Samantha remarked, surprised.
“I believe I need to hold tightly onto whatever I have left,” Michael replied, scrubbing at the smeared red paint. On cue, his wife, with little Cassandra waving from the rear window, backed out of the driveway in ol’ Greta and drove west towards Texas. “She needs some space,” Michael sighed, “going to stay with her mother in Dallas.”
Michael held it together then quickly changed the subject. “You know your American literature, I see,” he said, like a teacher praising an astute pupil.
“I had a good Lit teacher,” Samantha replied. “They make a difference.”
“How rude of me. Would you like a cup of coffee?” Michael asked. Samantha nodded and he led her into the house and back to the kitchen. He paused for a moment, standing next to an empty Formica counter where a Keurig had once stood. “Is instant okay?”
Sipping her coffee, Samantha began, “Unfortunately, I’m not here for the book-of-the month club; I brought you some court-ordered jewelry—your ankle monitor.” She peeled the Velcro flap back on a black nylon satchel.
Samantha explained its purpose and limitations as she keyed the device and clamped it around Michael’s ankle. “I’m sorry, but this was a condition of your bond,” she stated to the desiccated man.
When Samantha asked how it felt, referring mostly to the fit, Michael replied, “Feels like an albatross around my ankle.”
“I just hope we can prove you kept your crossbow bolt in your pants,” Samantha half-smiled.
“That’s just it, Ms. Tyson…”
“Call me Sam,” she interrupted.
“It’s almost impossible to disprove an untruth. A person can make any outrageous claim, and if there is no clear contradictory evidence, then it is considered by many to be truth. Their truth is my hell. It’s a place I can’t crawl out of and now I can’t even go for a walk. ” Michael’s frustration was building.
“Who’s the artist?” Sam asked, deescalating Michael by reminding him of better times and perhaps a grain of hope.
Michael followed her eyes to the refrigerator where a Halloween rendering of a green Frankenstein was pinned to the door by a Jack-o-lantern magnet.
“Casandra,” he sighed. “She drew it for me at school.” The construction paper curled at the bottom, obscuring the word ‘for’ but boldly spelling out ‘Daddy’ just below the creature’s bolted neck. “It’s so easy to make a monster,” Michael said. “Even a child can do it.” He sighed, “It’s harder to unmake one.”
“I’m sorry,” Sam said, getting up and placing her mug in the sink. “I’ll call you when I get some more news about your case.”
“I don’t have a phone anymore,” Michael reminded her. “Every dollar counts, ya’ know. Plus, I didn’t like getting death threats in the middle of the night from my own neighbors.” Michael made a perfect bitter smile Sam thought, as she backed out of the driveway and headed east.
* * *
The divorce papers came in the mail, just like a post card from Cancun or a bill from the electric company. The mailbox was the farthest distance Michael could venture before the ankle monitor reported a federal infraction. The daily mail, however mundane and unsolicited, was his sustenance, his savior, his unraveling thread connection to the old world and perhaps a lifeline to the new. Michael waited daily for letters from his lawyers, reinstatement notices from the school district, or drawings from Casandra. A tall, lanky man, he bowed to the mailbox every afternoon at 4:00 PM.
Mostly, the letters were awful. There was the foreclosure notice, several red-striped bank statements, the ‘let’s wait and see’ letter from the school superintendent, and a half-dozen rejection letters from other school districts he had applied to.
While waiting for the daily mail one afternoon, Michael watched as a Mercedes stopped in front of his house. A tall woman in a short dress got out and opened her trunk. She removed a sign and a rubber hammer. The woman looked odd as she mightily swung the hammer, pounding a ‘For Sale’ sign into Michael’s lawn. When he confronted the realtor, expecting an address mistake, she assured him that a Ms. Cander-Simpson in Dallas had contacted her about the property and had put it on the market. “As a matter of fact, I’ve got some buyers coming out tomorrow. Do you think you could cut the grass and tidy up a bit, hon?” She smiled, wearing too much lipstick.
The following day, Defense Attorney Samantha Tyson stopped by. There was coffee and small talk in the kitchen, then Sam got to the point. “As you know, the grand jury met today.” Michael looked deep into her eyes to divine the results. “Your case has been…” The doorbell rang.
“Hold that thought,” Michael said, pointing his index finger toward Sam while moving toward the front door.
In a very expensive and form-fitting pantsuit, the realtor from yesterday smiled broadly revealing lipstick-stained teeth. Behind her was a couple, the man wiry, tattooed and unshaven, wearing a white tank top like the poster child of spousal abuse; the woman plump and plain, with dirty hair. The man pushed past the real estate agent and walked into the living room. “Oooo-weee!” he proclaimed, spinning around. “Ain’t this somethin’?” He picked up the bronze ‘Teacher of the Year’ apple from off the fireplace mantle, tossed it up and caught it, and then put it back down on a coffee table. “I like it. Beats the hell out of that trailer park. How much did you say they’s asking?”
“Not for sale, mister,” Michael said, moving the bronze apple back to the mantle. The man frowned at the realtor, who frowned at Michael. She opened a leather portfolio and pointed to some numbers.
“Chicken feed,” the wiry man replied. “We’ve come into a butt-load of cash here lately. Got me a Gofundme account. ” He winked at Michael as Sam came into the living room.
“Michael,” Samantha announced with authority and a dash of disdain, “allow me to introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Roundtree, the people that brought the molestation charges against you. They are Timmy Roundtree’s parents.”
“This would be a great place to raise a special needs child, such as ours,” Mr. Roundtree grinned, his plump wife nodded.
“But why?” Michael looked first to Sam, then to the Roundtrees.
“You arrogant bastard,” Roundtree spat. “You telling me you don’t remember what you did to my boy, what you did to me?”
“I know what I didn’t do. I didn’t touch or fondle anyone, ever.”
“Oh, that,” Roundtree waved dismissively. “Hadn’t you heard, the judge dropped those charges?”
“It’s true,” Sam interjected. “That’s what I’ve come to tell you. Insufficient evidence.”
The realtor stood there like a store manikin in her green pantsuit, not sure what she had gotten herself into.
Relief and confusion lined Michael’s face. “So, it’s over?” He looked at Samantha who was smiling the answer back to him.
“No, hell, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings,” Roundtree declared.
“You, you son of a bitch,” Michael flew across the room and pulled the smaller man up by his collar. “You knew I was innocent all along. Why did you do this…”
There was a metallic click and Roundtree grinned with yellow teeth. “Easy there Teach. I’ll gut you like a fish.” Michael looked down and saw that Roundtree was holding an unfolded knife to his abdomen. “Maybe you’ll think twiced next time, before you go calling social services on folks less fortunate,” Roundtree whispered, as Michael relaxed his grip.
“What are you talking about?” Michael demanded. “I never called social services on anyone. That’s not my place. We have school counselors that make those calls…school counselors,” Michael stopped, his mind rewinded four years in an instant. He stepped back and shook his head. “Mrs. Fuqua, the school counselor. Maybe I mentioned to her that Timmy looked…” he searched for the word, “dirty.”
“Thass right, coming back to you, huh? They sent the Services out to the trailer and treated us like white trash. Made Timmy get his head shaved for lice and made Sara here clean the place bottom to top,” Sara Roundtree nodded in agreement. “And I spent a month in the can when they found my chemistry set in the guestroom. You ruint me, Cander, but worst of all, you ruint my reputation, but now I’ve got your balls in a vice.”
“Get out!” Michael shouted. The realtor did not need a second command. She opened the door and ran out, the Roundtrees followed. Mr. Roundtree laughed like a jackal, Sara was silent.
Michael turned from locking the front door as Sam reached up and massaged his shoulders. “You need to relax, Michael.” He sat back down at the table like a puppet with snipped strings. Sam leaned in and showed him the ankle monitor key. “Let’s get that damn thing off,” she said with a smirk.
* * *
“I can’t do it, Michael,” Sam said, closing her briefcase. “I’m a Defense Attorney, going after the Roundtrees is for Prosecution.”
“But you know my case better than anyone, and,” Michael paused, “I trust you.”
“You may trust me, but do you really know me?” Sam smiled, fixing her eyes on Michael’s.
“Remember you, of course I remember you. We’ve been in this thing together now for over five months.” Then his eyes lit up. “Eight, no nine years ago. My second year teaching at the high school. Samantha…”
“Underwood,” Sam offered. “My maiden name before I married Jeff Tyson, my high school sweetheart. He joined the Marines after graduation and never came back.”
“I’m so sorry,” Michael said. “I remember hearing about Jeff, but I never put two and two together.”
It’s okay,” Sam said. “You were an ELA teacher, not math. I never forgot you. We loved the way you told those stories: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Bronte.
When I saw this case pop up on the docket, I knew I would be defending an innocent man. Not always the case in my profession. But if we are really going to do this, you’ve got to be prepared to tell your own story, again and again and again, until the world hears it and believes it.”
“First,” she continued, “I’ll sue for slander, libel, and defamation of character. The Roundtrees made a bundle when they posted a sob story of Timmy on social media, using a Gofundme page. We’ll fight fire with fire; lies with the truth.”
“Wow, that shy girl with braces in the first row, second seat sure gets fired up quick these days,” Michael noted. “But I’m not doing this for money or revenge; I’m not John Wick. I’m doing this to get my good name back.”
* * *
With Sam’s help, Michael quickly learned the basics of social media and blogging. He used his skills as a writer to detail his story and others like it. Within a few weeks it had visits and likes from people all around the world. It seems that Michael’s story, although tragic, was not unique.
Michael named his new site ‘Fakenstein’, My Quest to Unmake a Monster.” As his viewership grew, Michael used his platform to call out so-called ‘fence-sitters’, employers whose policy is to automatically lay off or terminate anyone charged with unsubstantiated child abuse accusations. His blog railed against a hypocritical system that touts innocence until proven guilty, yet seeks to irreparably destroy a person’s livelihood before a defense can be mounted.
Michael became an advocate for transparency in these cases. He urged the accused to step out of the shadows of suspicion into the spotlight of truth. It became news, it became vogue, it became a cause equal to the annihilation of child abuse. Michael’s face was plastered black and white in the NY Times and full color on FOX. He was teaching again and he reveled in his opportunity to educate an audience. He felt day by day, hour by hour, he was stitching his soul back together into a new reality.
Behind the scenes, Sam worked as quickly as the sluggish, overburdened judicial system would allow. She filed suits and countersuits against the Roundtree party and was finally granted an intimate gathering after threatening felony charges of child exploitation.
Almost an empty house now, Michael volunteered his home as a neutral meeting place for the Roundtrees and their defense council. The Roundtree’s lawyer was good. He insisted that little Timmy come along and that he bring his anatomically correct doll with him in a subtle attempt to infuriate and frustrate Michael Cander. But Samantha was prepared. She stacked piles of glowing affidavits and depositions from noted businessmen, scholars, clergy and politicians, all riding the new bandwagon and attesting to Michael’s unequalled morality and piety.
When all the evidence was laid out on the coffee-stained table, the scales of lady justice weighed heavily in the favor of Michael and Samantha. The former prosecution could only provide a half-ass police report from Detective Clayton, since fired from the force, and an overtly coached video of Timmy pointing to various body parts of an anatomically correct doll as Detective Clayton questioned the frightened child.
“If we take this to court,” Sam explained to Roundtree in simple terms, “we’ll own your ass, and you will probably do Federal time for a long list of violations…” she let this sink in.
Roundtree looked at his lawyer who no longer looked like the fighter on his TV commercial, complete with rolled up sleeves. The attorney shook his head in defeat.
“Okay, Teach, what do you want from me?” Roundtree pulled out a huge checkbook like a cartoon tycoon and looked up at Michael expectantly. “I know when I’m licked,” he said, “give me a number and we can get our separate ways.”
“Keep your filthy money,” Michael growled, grabbing the smaller man’s wrist.
“Well, what the hell do you want, Perv, another shot at my kid, or maybe my wife this time?” The plain and plump Rebecca Roundtree actually flushed at the prospect.
“I’ve got nothing else to give you, man. Please don’t send me back to prison, that won’t do either of us any good,” Roundtree pleaded.
“I want…I want…I want my good name back!” Michael’s anger had turned to tears.
Samantha slid a notepad to Roundtree. He looked at it like he had been presented with a dead mouse. “What?” is all he could muster.
Samantha restated: “Mr. Michael Joseph Cander has only two requests to make this travesty,” she looked at Roundtree, “bad mistake…,” she downsized, “right again,” she finished.
“What the hell do you mean; you want your good name back?” Roundtree screeched.
“Write it! You dumbass, just write the man’s name,” Sam seemed more than a bit annoyed that she could not go for the jugular, but kept to Michael’s script.
Roundtree thought for a minute, then realized, like a penned possum, he might have been given an out. He carefully printed out Michael’s full name and last position as Vice Principal of Oglethorpe Elementary School onto the offered notepad. Then he slid it to Michael.
Michael looked at his former title and full name in chicken scratch scrawl. He shook his head, no.
Timmy got up and walked to the refrigerator. He marveled at the crayon colored Frankenstein attached to the door. Carefully, he tore and peeled the bottom portion off the construction paper. He folded it once, then took it to his frustrated father.
“What, what do you want now?” Roundtree asked, annoyed.
The boy handed him a ragged strip of construction paper, then sat back down. Roundtree almost threw it away, then unfolded it. It read “Daddy” in green crayon. Roundtree looked at Michael and then passed him the new title.
Michael read the word and wept. His good name had been restored, the most important title a man could ever attain.
As the Roundtree party left his home Michael was able to meet eye-to-eye with each of them. He shook hands with Ivan Roundtree, squeezing only a bit harder than necessary.
He thanked Sara Roundtree and whispered, “If you need help…or escape,” then placed his right hand to his ear like an old-fashion phone.
As young Timmy departed with his strange, half-clothed doll, the large, lanky man folded downward beside him into a kneeling position and shook the small boy’s hand. Michael looked Timmy straight in the eye as the remaining Roundtrees and attorneys walked to their cars.
The boy smiled and Michael winked at the frail lad; then Michael put a finger to his lips and whispered, “Shhhhhhhhh.”
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click this LINK and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
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