The Hooligan

by C.S.E. Cooney

For Will Houlihan

Once a blue moon
The Hooligan walks
Ever alone, ever at dusk
His antlers like branches, his beard of moss
His long legs like — what? How do I know?
Only impudent people interrupt, that's what grandma says
And anyway, Mister Rudeypants, for your information
I saw him just last month
In the salt marsh

The first to espy him
(This is documented.
You can Google it.
All the most reputable cryptozoologists concur.)
Were two young boys...
No, I don't know their ages!
How old are you? Like, one billion, you fossil?
Now where was I?

This was down Route 1 a ways
An open field
Where cows graze by day (yes we still have cows
In these parts, jeez, may I continue please?)
The boys had escaped their bedtimes
Through the window — barefoot!
I know! And in March too!
Their moms would've been beside themselves
If they knew.

You can't see the Hooligan
If you're a well-behaved child.
Those are the rules.

So down in the pasture
Hopscotching the manure, they ran
Each determined to track him
This monster of Legend
With his long legs like Shelob's
Or maybe like tree roots
Or pythons, or Doc Ock
(On certain aspects they couldn't agree
They were kids, it was dusk
Don't snort at me!
As if you could've seen any clearer!)

And then he was there
Before them
Eyes like yellow lanterns
Unblinking, maybe benign?
Or was that by design
To lure you in
Thinking this big bone-gnashing gentleman
To be kindly?
How those great antlers burst
From his brow like saplings from a tombstone
And how — oh how! —
He grinned.

My brother dropped his stuffed bunny
And I my flashlight
He grabbed my hand
We ran
Hearts careening in our chests like
Hideously uneven footsteps

I remember my mouth was cellar-door dry
My brother was laughing —
That high, shrieking way he has
When he's happy
Don't give me that look.
You think he should've been crying?
Mister, you don't know my brother.

So these two boys
(Well, I guess my ploy is up
I guess I gave myself away)
We returned next day
Found only footprints
Like craters, these ginormous pockmarks
As if meteors had walked here
Nobody believed us

We've seen him, oh
Six or seven times since then
It's gotten so we feel a tingle
The day before a spotting
We hear he's been lurking
Near the Pawcatuck River Bridge
(Though I don't see how
He'd be too big to fit)

My brother says next time? He's gonna
Jump down from above
Ride the Hooligan's humped shoulders
Whooping like a cowboy
And then, when they've galloped far and clear
He'll lean down, whisper in the monster's ear:

"Give me my bunny, you bad old Hooligan!
It wasn't where I dropped it.
I know you have it!
You picked it up and put it in your giant pack
With Billy's flashlight, and all the other toys
You stole from kids you scared silly.
So hand over my bunny now —
Or I'll cut off your head
With this Swiss Army Knife
My daddy gave me for my birthday."

He'll do it, my brother tells me
Or die trying
Some things are worth any risk
One of them is this.

I think I'll stay well back
Pointing my Polaroid app
In their direction.

C.S.E. Cooney lives and writes in a well-appointed Rhode Island garret, right across the street from a Victorian Strolling Park. She is the author of How To Flirt in Faerieland and Other Wild Rhymes and Jack o' the Hills. Her novella "Martyr's Gem" is live at GigaNotoSaurus, and a short story titled "10 Cigars" will appear in Strange Horizons later this summer.

She says, "if a Miller's Daughter pulled me from a pond, I'd make a pretty impressive bone-phantom-pipe-organ, I think. Or maybe a didgeridoo..."

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