Our Bellies Full at Last

by Margret Wiggins

We should have believed her when she slithered out of the marshes to warn us. Her scales were iridescent in the high afternoon sun. Instead, we laughed and threw stones at her elongated snout. Rocks showered down and connected with her eyes and they rolled back into their sockets, the white undersides flashing before correcting themselves to reveal the dark oval slit of a pupil. Her forked tongue flicked. Fools, she hissed.

We watched her serpentine back into the water from which she came. Her squat, powerful legs unearthed the dirt as her claws scraped at the mud, leaving deep trenches in her wake. Water drops sprayed high into the air and landed on our cheeks as she submerged herself with a slap of her tail.

We threw more rocks into the water in response. How ridiculous, we said. This creature thinks she knows our crops, our land better than us? It is our calloused hands that plant seeds into the ground, not her whetted claws. It’s our sweat that drips into the earth from our toil.

You will not survive here, she cautioned.

She is not the first beast to try and trick us from our shore. We did not listen to the eagle or the nest of snakes or the fearsome stag. And we will not listen to this crocodilian.

Five days later, we find layers of maggots squirming in the previously sealed preservative jars. Three day after that, swarms of flies devour the dried meat hanging in the shed. We beat them off with sticks but more appear, bigger and thicker and hungrier. We start to ration what little has already been harvested from the crops.

The blight is coming, she said.

We tell ourselves it is unrelated.

On the twelfth day after she visited us, the grain fields go up in flames in the middle of the night. We wake to the wheat crackling, the corn blackening to hard lumps, the oats and barley nothing more than soot.

Your crops will vanish. We whisper the beast’s words back to one another. You will not survive here. We wail into the scorched night, raging against the smoldering fields. Smoke fills our lungs and coats our tongues with bitterness and ash.

We have grown used to the bounty our land produces—to the stock of beaver and rabbit and duck. But with each passing day we find more and more animal carcasses. We do not know why they are dropping dead, how it’s possible that the flesh spoils and festers before we can carve up the meat. It has all been taken away from us for reasons we do not understand nor deserve.

That reptile warned us of this blight. She crawled out of her watery den to speak of the future. In turn, she’ll know the answer to our survival.

The tall reeds sway in an even beat from the slow exhale of her nostrils. We approach in a semicircle, moving only with the motion of the sedges. She must have gorged herself on enough fish and kelp before the river turned putrid. Bloated decaying eels and frogs, empty turtle shells bob at the surface like carnival prizes. Maybe she eats those, too, we say. We’d not put it past her to feast on what is rotted.

Tell us how to fix this, we demand, ankle-deep in the bog’s water, with torches held high above our heads to cast menacing shadows against our faces.

I cannot help you, she says.

Liar we say.

Knee-deep, we command her to tell us why our land is dying. The flames illuminate her horned spine. Waist-deep, when she will not give us the answers we seek, we cast nets into the rancid water and drag her writhing body onto the shore.

As we tie more ropes around her massive jaws she begs, please. She says, please, I do not know how to end this. We shake our heads, knowing that if given the chance she’d use her massive, sharp teeth to drag us by the arms and rip off our limbs as we thrash and drown and bleed out into the murky water. No, no we cannot let her go.

If this is our last game to catch on this soil, we will make it last.

She shrieks when we find her nest of four large speckled eggs. The ropes hold steady against her thick muzzle as her flailing body twists against its constraints. We tuck the eggs into a sack, saving them to be cracked and cooked tomorrow morning. Warm blood pools at our feet as a knife plunges into the side of her exposed underbelly, sawing sideways through her tough, raw skin.

We pluck her scales and savor them like communion wafers. We let them dissolve on our tongues, delicious as peach slices in June.

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