How many days had Happenstance been trapped in this nightmare? As he picked the husks of roasted seeds from between his teeth, shivering by the dwindling fire that was greedily consuming the last of his charcoal, he pondered the bizarre, violent and grotesque events that had led him to this terrible ending. It started, as so many unfortunate events do, with a distinctly un-neighbourly dispute with a distinctly noisome neighbour.
The pig-man Jonathan Shanks was dead and Jeremy had blood on his hands, as well as on his trousers and in his pockets, but it was what happened afterwards that had really introduced the cat to the pigeons. There are some lines that no man should ever cross and Jeremy had waltzed across them with an impish smile carved into his face and a pocketful of freshly frazzled pork.
Two weeks earlier, life had been so simple. In the forest to the north, Jeremy’s science machine throbbed and hummed, a symbol of his intellectual superiority. Like all of the things that he had constructed, symbolic or otherwise, the machine’s main purpose was to emphasise the superiority of the gentleman scientist to his shack-dwelling neighbour, the irritable and demanding Mr Shanks. The oaf's repeated requests for a meat supper had driven Jeremy away from his usual campsite and he now determined to explore the southern regions of the land, gathering wood and grass along the way, so as to ensure a fire could be constructed swiftly as soon as the dark of night approached.
And so it was that he doffed his straw hat (another mark of his superiority to the pig-man, with his uncivilised naked cranium) and took his leave, having first planted a dozen pinecones at the front of Shanks’ dwelling. Let him chop through the trees that grow as he sets off in search of food every morning, Jeremy sniggered, as petty and spiteful a fellow as there has ever been.
The grasslands eventually fell away into a spikey sea, which turned Jeremy back, retracing his steps across the verdant land of birds and bees. It was peaceful and his mind felt less oppressed than on the borders of that shadowed forest, which was undoubtedly home to hideous night-crawling terrors.
His backpack stuffed to the brim with dry grass and twigs, Jeremy decided to spend the night on the open plains. Half-heartedly, he pursued a rabbit but it hopped into a hole. He briefly considered holding a rabbit above the burrow, to lure the creature out, but decided he’d keep the carrots for himself and leave the rabbits to their underground idylls.
Evening arrived unexpectedly early, like a quarterly water bill, and upon hearing an ill-favoured scuttling from within the gloaming, Jeremy immediately constructed and lit a fire. He should probably have checked his surroundings first because within the pool of light, he could now see a spider nest, gleaming white as bone. They come out at night, to feast, and their favourite flavour is ‘gentleman’.
As the last stains of the sun were washed from the world by the spotless velvet of night, Jeremy prayed to Christopher Cogsworth, the mechanical god he had dreamed of as a child, hoping that His divine machinations along with the danger of the flickering flame would keep the spiders at bay. No chance.
The silk of the pod split apart as liquorice-stick legs scratched away at its innards, and then four of the ‘orrible spiders flopped onto the floor. They were swollen scabs with legs, hideous and hungry, but not necessarily hungry for Jeremyflesh. Three of them ran into the darkness, hunting some other unfortunate, but one remained. What happened next is the stuff of legend, best remembered in poetic form, but I shall chronicle it the only way I know how – by describing the events in plain detail.
Jeremy fled in circles around the fire, pursued by the spider, and he didn’t stop running until the sun rose. His two legs carried him faster than the critter’s eight, but the fire occasionally dwindled, forcing him to rush toward it and throw on a stack of twigs. Whenever he did so, the jaws of death gnashed at his rear, but he dodged away, and returned to his mad circling.
Around and around for an entire night.
As soon as morning came, he broke out of his holding pattern and ran, screaming, back to his science machine. The spider didn’t pursue him for long.
It was then, as he passed the house of Shanks, that he performed the most malicious act of his life to date. Irritable, exhausted and bored of his seedy diet, Jeremy set fire to all of the trees that he had planted around the pig’s home, hoping to watch the hovel burn. It wasn’t to be though. Whether through some black magic or careful application of the teachings of Frank Lloyd Wright, the pighouse stood secure among the raging flames. The same could not be said for the forest.
The fire had spread more efficiently than freshly churned butter across a toasted muffin and the every tree was reduced to a skeleton of its former self. Jeremy stepped onto the brittle forest floor, from which smoke still rose as if the interior of the world itself was smouldering beneath his feet. He walked for what seemed like miles and the devastation did not end. He had burned down a continent.
Occasionally, among the dead trees, which collapsed into charcoal and dust when he touched them, Jeremy would find feathers, a roasted bird, a dead rabbit. Thumper meat. Bambi meat. An apocalyptic array of tender remains and a despicable proof of the destructive nature of the idling classes. Jeremy couldn’t bring himself to take the bounty of flesh that his pyromania had harvested, but he was yet to see the worst of it.
At first he thought it was a corkscrew sticking out of a spam-cake, but why would such a thing be lying discarded in the middle of a burning forest? The corkscrew was a curly tail and the cake was an arse. It was Jonathan Shanks’ arse, the tail still intact, and it was all that remained of him. The rest had been reduced to bubbling fat and the lingering scent of crispy bacon.
Jeremy gingerly collected the hindquarters of hog and stashed them in his backpack. He didn’t know why. Perhaps they were simply too macabre to abandon?
And so it is that our tale, like Shanks’ tail, comes spiralling to its horrific mid-point. Stumbling through that mausoleum-forest, Happenstance discovered its edge, the place where the dead trees no longer clawed at his shoulders. The land became moist and dank, eventually becoming a spongy swamp. Almost as soon as he had entered it, the brave adventurer was almost struck down by a giant tentacle that sprouted from the ground.
He escaped with his life but severely wounded and as he ran from this new threat, he accidentally squashed a frog, grabbing its legs in the hope that they would help to fill his seed-lined stomach.
He collided with the pig-man. Oh Cog-God, it knows, his mind shrieked, threatening to snap. But the creature, though horrified, was merely reacting to his stench and appearance. It knew nothing of his past and nor did its companions. This monstrosity, you see, was not alone. Jeremy had come across an entire village of the creatures, and they looked at him warily and with some disgust. Then one stepped forward, braver than the rest, and asked that same question that Jonathan Shanks had uttered so many times: “YOU HAS MEAT?”
Jeremy’s hand trembled as it reached into his backpack. He couldn’t, could he? An involuntary bark of laughter erupted from his throat as he retrieved the roasted arse. Nervous sweat drenched his body as he offered it to the creature, and when it took it, chewed it, savoured it, swallowed it and then pledged its allegiance to him, Jeremy’s mind snapped.
He had made a cannibal of the creature and now it would follow him until, one day soon, they both died, without warning, without comfort and without grace.
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