What’s scary about human monsters is that they don’t always behave monstrously — at least not right away. We’ve seen it in countless other incidents involving what everyone assumed was a normal person. News reports about the mayhem these monsters inflict always seem to end with the requisite quote from a neighbor or co-worker: “He seemed like a nice guy. Kinda quiet.”

I’m a big fan of 1950s sci-fi films; the other genre of horror movie is just too much to take. Besides, if you’ve seen one psychopath in a goalie mask hunting down a debutante, you’ve seen them all.

In the 1958 film “I Married A Monster From Outer Space,” an unsuspecting woman enters into a marriage only to discover that her newlywed husband’s body has been usurped by, well, a monster from outer space.

The thing is, no one expects to fall for a monster, but we know it happens. We’ve just seen it for ourselves in the example of James Mammone III of Canton, Ohio, who murdered his former mother-in-law and his own children, 5 and 3.

It goes without saying that if Marcia Eakin had even an inkling that the man she married would morph into a monster; that he would some day commit unspeakable acts that defy comprehension, she would have chosen differently.

Can't see it coming

What’s scary about human monsters is that they don’t always behave monstrously — at least not right away. We’ve seen it in countless other incidents involving what everyone assumed was a normal person. News reports about the mayhem these monsters inflict always seem to end with the requisite quote from a neighbor or co-worker: “He seemed like a nice guy. Kinda quiet.”

We’d like to think that we can see a monster coming. But just as it is with Satan, the sight of a monster doesn’t always cause us to run screaming.

Sometimes we actually run into the fire because monsters are masters in the art of seduction. They implicitly understand the very normal human desire to be loved, needed and appreciated.

Last week, after two years of denials, former Sen. John Edwards finally admitted what almost everyone else had figured out: He fathered a child with another woman, even as his wife, Elizabeth, was fighting terminal cancer.

It isn’t so much his cheating that makes Edwards a monster but the circumstances under which he did it. In confessing his infidelity, he offered what may be the single worst qualifier in recorded history: He cheated only while his wife was in remission.

Shame and shadow

Let’s not kid ourselves. We all have shadows. The writer Samuel Johnson noted, “Our thoughts would shame Hell.”

We are civilized only because we choose to be. We’re all perfectly capable of inhuman behavior, which is why we spend so much of our time beating back the darkness.

The difference is that at some point, monsters stop fighting it. While they’re able to erect a facade of a loving husband, involved parent, good friend, no one can keep the plates spinning forever. Sooner or later, something cracks, and their lives, and the lives of those who trusted them the most, crash in a heap.

In the case of Mammone, it was the unfathomable notion that his wife intended to live her life without him.

A lawyer by profession, Elizabeth Edwards is a trained skeptic. But love has a way of fooling even the most erudite and cynical among us. In a 2009 interview, Mrs. Edwards was asked if she believed her husband’s repeated, vehement denials that he fathered a child with someone else. She was quoted as saying, “I have to believe it. Because if I don’t, it means I’m married to a monster.”

She wouldn’t be the first.

Charita Goshay writes for The Repository in Canton, Ohio. Contact her at charita.goshay@cantonrep.com. This column is the opinion of the writer and not of the newspaper.