by Layla Al-Bedawi
They say it arrived with the full moon, like the tide. No one was awake to see how exactly it appeared on the lakeshore overnight, whether it faded into visibility, or grew straight out of the ground, getting larger and larger until it reached the size of a shed, or whether someone, an ancient giant or a flock of mermaids, carried it out of the silty depths.
The curfew was strictly enforced even in those days. They found it the next morning; kids were among the first, carrying poles and nets, sent by parents to catch the day’s supper. White and opaque, it emitted a low, menacing hum that had the villagefolk clutching their clavicles, that made them reluctant to come very close and inspect the spherical object. It appeared dead, hollow. The wind, however, did not stir it, so they knew it to have a considerable weight. The noonday sun warmed it, and men were discussing whether they should cover it with a tarp, sensing somehow that the egg was drawing power from the celestial body, but no one owned a tarp large enough, and so the plan was abandoned. No better ideas at hand, the villagers went back to work. No one could afford to stand and gawk.
Children snuck back to the strange globe and whispered to each other about detecting minute movements within, dared each other to look closer. In the evening hours, their work done, the villagers drifted back to the lake one by one, tugged back by the hum that could now be heard all into the village. Still no one touched the egg, not even when the cracks appeared. Had it remained static much longer, they might have started praying to it.
It hatched with the sunset, not even a full day’s cycle after its mysterious manifestation. The rolling, doughy body, diseased green and segmented, crawled its way through town, leaving a trail of pungent slime in its wake. The men and women screamed, the children stood with mouths agape, scared but in awe at the one miracle they were allowed to witness during their lifetimes. Nobody ran. We think it was the hum, grown to a storm of rage now, that took over their bodies.
As soon as the shell cracked, everyone’s movements slowed to a crawl, and so even though the monstrous creature was slow, it caught up with every single villager it pursued. And it pursued all of them. It was very, very hungry. In violent slow motion, it broke every bone, ground flesh to a pulp between its dull mortar teeth. It had no eyes, finding its way by smell or sonar or else a dark, demonic telepathy that found everyone and spared no one. Cats ran, unaffected by the hum, but dogs fell to the ground, convulsing and foaming red at the mouth and ears, dead before their masters, but the creature didn’t care for them. It had come for a human feast. It was with us that it had its beef.
They say it saved its victims’ hair. The creature had been enormous at birth, but it had grown tenfold in the hours it took to devour the town. Out of the hair it made a bed for itself in the muddy bank of the lake. Electric green discharge from its ugly mouth clotted the strands into a gritty paste, in which it rolled and wiggled its fat body until it was covered in full. There it went still and waited for its new shell to harden. There it sleeps.
I never want to see you slip down to Midgut Lake again, no matter how the boys dare you, whatever reward they promise. No one knows how long the metamorphosis will take, or what the creature is turning into. It has been half a century now, and it has not stirred. I inspect the shell for cracks often. I wish I could pass the responsibility on to another. I feel that I’ve done enough, seen enough. But no one else will go near the boulder.
I know you’ve heard it, the low and rolling hum coming from beneath the earth, from inside your head. I know it is barely audible here in the town now, but I know one day it will grow to the sound of unimaginable, skull-cracking rage. I don’t know why it hates us, but I know it will not stop until we are all ground to blood and dust. I hope to be dead when it wakes. I find myself wishing I was already dead, that I had died the day the creature hatched. That I had never stuck my fishing hook deep in each ear so I could run when no one else could, filling my lungs with a phantom scream of terror and pain. I know the creature heard me, though.
Maybe it will come for me first. We have unfinished business.