To feed on children—these days it took wheels. In old times a castle wreck or underground lair would let you sit pat and rake the piglets in at leisure. No more threat on the rounds than a sobbing crofter dad, pitchfork ready and sour turnips on his breath. Tough, sure, but edible with a marinade. So it had gone before, the heyday, but now the runts who bred the meat had grown to seven billion, and they had guns. Even the yokels. Especially the yokels. Firearms, and worse: napalm, missiles, flying robot death machines. Slaughter dreamt up just to take each other out, and no doubt sweet on any target. No monster could outshine that. Going low-key, that was the life now—roam the byways from stick to stick, places where you could vanish a brat without all the goddam fuss.

So the ogre mused from the confines of a 1977 Winnebago Chieftain. The owner of record was bleaching in the woods outside Sheboygan, Wisconsin, or at least the portions not grunted out in a public stall four hundred miles up the road. Happy memories, but he had vegetables to mince, butter to clarify, an oven to preheat. This was German-built and much too big for the layout of a frumpy motorhome. He had lost a cabinet to make the space. It cut down some on the prep area, the utility overall, but then so did the big box of chickenwire with a girl locked inside.

He looked to her as he diced up the mirepoix—a plump little blonde of seven or so with a home haircut, a ladybug clip, a pink hooded sweatshirt, flip-flops, and drawstring shorts. He gave her the laugh. A marvel of a sound—guttural slop with a whinnying fry between each bwawrgh and grawrgh. It put a rattle on the cage, and that got the salt flowing again. Less need to baste later on.

Mere sight had brought the tears at first. Any child could suss him out—that hulking frame, that snoutlike nose, those goggle-eyes, and a thick unibrow under black curls. But a backwood dad, he never did happen on a clue, there outside the hunting ground, be it a bait shop or Denny’s by the interstate. Not even as the spawn shied hard to a leg.

Don’t you worry, sweet Junella, the hayseed might say, that there’s just a big ugly man.

“Mama!” the girl cried. “Mama!” To shop a dollar aisle for kid clothes—parents so dull could never make out whimpers from miles off. Back to the onions and the celery.

More yuks would have come, clear through to soup and nuts, had the scent gone uncaught. Faint, imperceptible to a man, but it hit the ogre like a maggoty hog. All prep quit. The right hand dropped the Global G-16 chef’s knife, ten inch and whetted sharp enough to cut breath. He took the left off the Cook’s Illustrated, which had been spread to a recipe for schnitzel, and it fanned shut without hurry. A stare through a wall, though the nose did the work. The distance was hard to tell. Thirty miles, maybe. But there was something else to it—some immediacy, however thin the trace.

He was just thinking about the starter key in his pocket—time for escape—when he heard a wrenching groan. His eyes snapped to the windshield, and bent metal blocked the nighttime view. Something at work behind the hood—a sharp tug, a rocking in the springs as the RV settled out.

“Sorry about that!” A bass voice from the dark. “Can we talk for a minute?”

Whatever force had brought ogres into existence, though unnatural, did operate something like the usual biology. Apex predators tend not to be chummy with those who vie for the meat. Where bear met cat, hair would fly, and one or the other would fuck off and get to licking wounds. That it could be so gentle among ogres. For them everything was about a meal. And voice alone told that this was a brute among brutes—so deep a timbre that a human ear would puzzle at words. 

Their senses might be wanting, but humans did have a monkey ingenuity that was good for countermeasures. A ten-gauge pump-action shotty was hung up on the wall. Hollow-tip slugs were the load—custom shot that would carve out a fat gape of meat. Plenty of gun, but the ogre felt no less nervous once he took up the stock. He leapt at the door, and it sprang wide. The top hinge broke.

On sight of the weapon the newcomer hardly reacted at all, in wait by a slumping picnic bench in the derelict water park. The ogre kept an aim up as he had a look. He had never met a specimen of his kind who ran so large, and the other three had tasted just awful. The thing stood nine feet tall at least, eleven with decent posture, and he had a set of tusks in his mouth. Far too ogrish to pass for big and ugly. But those were not the most surprising details, nor that he had got so close. The unibrow was typical enough, and the snout, and the fierce eyes. There was never doubt of what he was. But the hair was shaven to a stubble—as close to bald as a straight razor could take that wire—and the clothes he had on were stranger yet. A robe of black linen. A bib atop the chest. On his wrist, a string of beads, twisted three times with a loop slung low. That was the hand that held the alternator. The cables, frayed to bare copper at the ends, hung lower yet. The right held a bottle—human liquor. And slung to his back, a bamboo tube with cord strung fast on both ends.

“Fuck off!” the ogre said, with all the growl that phlegm allowed.

This drew a smile, no more, and the ogre was astonished not to feel a death urge. That need was most of what he knew—part and parcel of the nonstop hunger. The smile was not snide or proud. The smile was not any thing besides a smile.

“I didn’t want to startle you,” the newcomer said, “but I didn’t want you speeding off, either, not before we spoke.” The alternator met the dirt.

“Just smelled you. Like you only just came in reach of my nose. How’d you get up so fast?”

“Would have gone quicker, but I got to this bridge, and I didn’t have change for the troll.” A silence followed, and at last the newcomer gave a shrug. “That was a joke.”

The ogre let the bead falter but the gun kept ready. “How’d you sneak up?”

“Sneak? Oh. Right. I took a bath. Not for sneaking, but just because that’s what I do. And someone at the monastery, he showed me this deodorant, mineral salt, no surfactants—”

“Could we start with bath? You took a bath? Why the hell would you? You’re an abomination that prowls the outer darkness, and you’re supposed to smell like diaper vomit!”

“Good nose! And you know, as for why I bathe, that’s pretty close to what brings me out. Drink?” The bottle rose. “Peace offering. Sake. Not top shelf, but it was what I had in stock.”

The ogre squinted down the barrel. “What’s your game, pal? We don’t mingle. We don’t even have names. The only reason we use language is because it helps us catch the prey off guard.”

The newcomer set the liquor on the table. “I do have a name,” he said. “I got it at my jukkai ceremony. I’m a Zen monk of the Rinzai lineage. My first teacher was a yokai from the Suicide Forest—an onibaba. She came overseas along with Joshu Sasaki. I think she was a curse, but she got curious about all the sitting. They’re an interesting bunch, those onibaba. We eat children, and so do they, but they get theirs straight from a pregnant lady.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“No! They tie the lady upside down—”

“Religion! Human religion! That’s what you’re talking about?”

“Truth—that might be the word. And truth is inhuman. Or nonspecific, say. At the monastery they can see as much. I’m tenzo there. It means I’m in charge of all the cooking and service in the dining hall. An ogre really does make a top-rate chef. It’s that palate. Big nose, smart tongue.”

“You cook for humans? So it’s what, a cannibal cult?”

“No! Of course not. I bake a lot of bread and stew a lot of lentils. Most of the monks are vegetarians. And even the ones who aren’t, well, there’s always ham.”

“Enough! What do you want? Why are you here, if it’s not over turf?”

“The problem of suffering. Once I smelled you down the road I knew you had a cookout in store. It’s a girl you’ve got in there, right? The register is a bit high for a little boy.”

The ogre clenched the anger back. One barrel might not take out the monk, nor both. He was that goddam big. But still, he had to front. “You think you’re going to take her from me?”

“Like I said: it’s the suffering. You’ve been tormenting her. With the laugh and maybe worse.”

“I kidnapped the hicklet fair and square! Go put an ad on Craigslist. It’s been a week since I ate child, and that’s where the vitamins are! Everything else is a snack!”

“Don’t I know it. Do I look like an elf? I’m not taking anything from you if I can help it. I just wanted to ask you a question—make you see, if I can. It’s a given that you eat children. To borrow from Joko Beck, that’s your work. And the humans protect their young from the likes of us. That’s their work. And it’s only right that in their view, that work, we’re monsters. Evil in the flesh.”


“Do you have to be a dick about it?”

The powder clap lit the dark clear to the rickety waterslides. Both triggers—sure was sure. Peppery white smoke put a clot to the air, too thick for seeing past. The ogre felt a tusk end strike his knee as it whirled on through. The sound had got the girl screaming in the RV. As the smoke washed clear, he was looking on a sprawled form, a head wound, and a fair outlet of black blood.

“Ouch,” the monk said through it.

Back into the Winnebago. The girl was pressed to the rearmost chickenwire, giving it all her lungs. The door would not close, so the ogre bent the leaf inward to block the way. The monk was too big for the jamb besides—time bought for reload. To a cabinet, near a window blind. He took out a Tupperware full of slugs. Six more rounds: maybe. Maybe. The girl kept on shrieking. But she fell to a gawp-eyed  silence as a hand shot through the glass and slats.

A yank took the ogre out, all four hundred pounds of him, and he was flung into a tumble. Empty-handed, once he came to a halt: the shotty had flown away. As he sat up, raw in spots and hurting all over, the monk came near, reaching past a shoulder. A blade slid out from the bamboo tube with a rasp and a note that rang clear. One of the monk’s eyes was shut in a bruise, and there was a deep cut on the cheek behind the broken tusk: all an elephant gun could do.

“Call this the sword of Manjushri,” the monk said. “It cleaves through delusion and ignorance.”

“Just looks like a sword to me,” the ogre thought to say on the sweep that took his head.

The monk knew that sight of all the blood—his own and the rest—would be a fright for the child, so he struck off the bottle top washed his face in sake. Getting in was tricky, so he peeled the rooftop from the Winnebago. The girl was crying, of course, but silently now—resigned, exhausted. She stared at the monk as he tore through the chickenwire. “It’ll be all right,” he said, taking her up. “I’m sorry you had to see all of that. The worst is over. Hush now.” He dandled her with a gentle pat and sang through a lullaby. The tears subsided, and in time the girl went to sleep.

Later, as he buried the little bones, clean inside and out, the ogre put his hands up in gassho and said the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo. He built up a cairn and let the smile come—a small rock pile, and then a large.