Photo credit goes to *LB of Life on the Bike and other Fab Things
Der Schlund des Grauens
A short story by Lynda Swink and inspired by the photograph above.
There in the ground the hoary maw quietly waited. For generations it had lain there, watching through squinty eyes, waiting for a meal to pass by. When the hapless little things scurried past, it scooped them in. Beetles and spiders, voles and mice, even the toads and snakes were all good, but recently, it was the hairless pink things that he relished!
Growing in the ground offered Grauen Schlund comfort and protection on all sides. Yet, the very thing that gave him his safety had more recently made him a victim of circumstance too.
His troubles began when the developers moved in and razed all the other trees. Suddenly everything was open, and more light hurt his eyes, causing him to squint. Then there was the appearance of the festering warts on the land. Giant boxy things that reeked of false scents, and belched out strange noises night and day, but loudest during the day. There was always something going on inside. And with them came the mono grasses, and the grass eaters. The grass eaters came once a week to denude the small meadow that surrounded him, and unable to pull himself under the ground meant that he got nipped too. Painful it was.
The Martins had finally moved into their newly constructed home, and they just loved the big back yard. Soon, they’d planted a huge and sweeping lawn that ran all the way back to an old and gnarled pepper tree. They considered the tree to be the best feature of the property, and had picked this corner lot specifically because of it.
When the style of their home had been decided, and all the particular finishes planned, the developers had told the young couple they would be bulldozing the tree the following week, and could begin the construction straight away. Alarmed at that thought, the Martins insisted the tree had to stay! The developers argued that it would have to be removed. Their reasoning being, that would be difficult to work around and would increase construction time and expense. To which the young couple replied, that the extra time and expense would be acceptable if it saved the tree.
After all, they told them, they had met as children under just such a tree, and they had future plans for it that included children, and the building of a new tree house just for them. It would be a safe place where they could play in its shade and make memories to last a lifetime; and couldn’t they see the romance in such a decision?
The developers acquiesced and the tree stayed put.
Now the Grauen Schlund had no notion of how it’s life had been spared, nor did it realize that it was part of the greater structure that gave it shade from the parching sun in summer. It just was. It existed. It ate. It reacted. Of course when the major changes came about, such as the loss of the wild meadow and the other trees, well, that wasn’t hard to miss even for his dull senses. Very recently there had been more disturbances, they were much closer, that in fact, were happening right above him. Uncomfortable it made him.
As planned, the first of the children the Martens had wanted arrived. And at the appropriate time, the tree house was planned. The style and construction of the tree house were supplied from memory. It was being built to last, but more importantly, it was constructed to be safe.
Which was why it was quite disconcerting over the years, that each of the children in turn had come in with stubbed toes and crying about the nasty thing that lived in the ground underneath the tree. The stories were quite detailed, and astonishing in the fact that each of their three children told the same wild tale:
“There was a monster that lived under the tree out back. It had sharp teeth and squinty eyes, and if you accidentally stepped on it, then it bit your big toe causing you to trip and fall!”
Sometime after the disturbance above him, Grauen Schlund began to notice the new, soft pink things that liked to scurry by him there in the shade. They were hairless, stubby and thick, with five little nubs on the forward end. His interest was piqued. Watching for days he waited for one of the hairless creatures to come close enough for a nibble, and then it happened. Biting down on the largest of the forward protrusions, he found them soft, juicy and quite delicious! He was hooked.
Immediately after his sampling there was an earthquake, and a loud caterwauling in the air above him. It seemed he hadn’t realized that the soft hairless creatures were in fact a smaller portion of something much larger! This was a disturbing thought.
Suddenly, a round, red, and equally hairless creature appeared before his gaze. It’s orbs were huge and had moisture running out of them, and the big shock was that the deafening sound was coming out of a large hole in the middle of it. He froze in place, afraid to move for fear the angry behemoth would eat him, but it didn’t. Oddly, it got up and ran away. Relieved he was.
Each time one of her children had suffered a stubbed toe mother cleaned and bandaged the offended appendage. Then, while comforting them and wiping their faces with a cool wash cloth, she rocked them in her lap till the crying subsided.
And each and every time, the parents tried to talk sense to the children, telling them there was no such thing as monsters. They advised them to wear shoes when they played out back under the tree, and to be more careful around the old tree root.
“After all, you know it is there and can simply avoid it, can’t you?“
As time passed Grauen Schlund would begin to realize that the behemoths came from the inside of the festering warts. The behemoths came in varying sizes, but it was the smaller ones that had the hairless and soft appendages he had come to love. Apparently, as they grew their appendages calloused over and became too big to get a hold of. Whenever he could nab one he found them dry and tasteless.
Standing at the kitchen sink father witnessed the littlest of his three children take a hard fall under the tree. She had been running when it seemed her foot had suddenly stuck in place and she fell hard into the grass. Seeing that she didn’t get right up, he began running out the door in fear that she had broken something. When he tried to help her up he found her foot stuck in the hole of the old root. Carefully he grabbed her ankle and tried to gently pull. She was stuck firmly. He tried turning her foot sideways and pulling, but he still could not get her foot loose.
Now he was panicking! He began calling for the wife and barked orders for her to bring out a stick of butter.
She came out, looked at him and blinked. “Did you say butter?”
He screamed: “Get that stick of butter now!”
Running back to the kitchen she returned with the butter. He snatched it away from her and began vigorously rubbing it onto the little girl’s foot. The more he worked the more she screamed, “It’s biting me, it’s biting me!”
That’s when he thought he saw it. It was the smallest of movements at the corner of its eye.
Eye? Com’on now don’t you start panicking too, he told himself. Tree roots don’t have eyes… but this one does, he thought. Now he watched in horror as the huge hole seemed to shrink, just a little, not enough to even notice if you weren’t looking closely.
Terrified, he pulled again, and the mouth tightened just a bit more. His anger sparked, primal and white-hot. He glared into the eyes of the root and began a litany of curses that the wife nor the children had ever heard before, and certainly not from their father!
At first he threatened, and then he cajoled the root, but nothing worked. In desperation he made a final threat,
“If you don’t let her go I will get out the chainsaw, cut you right out of the ground, and you will die!”
Now the Grauen Schlund was a very primal thing. It didn’t understand a word the father said, it simply understood that a rather large and wild creature was attempting to take away its dinner. Give up the catch? Certainly not!
Angrily, Grauen Schlund, responded by clamping down a bit harder. It was only when the wife returned carrying a noisy, smoking thing, with spinning teeth that ripped and tore as it bit him, that he hissed and let go.
In the same moment the father gave a final yank and extracted the daughter’s foot. The little girl’s mother turned off the chainsaw, dropped it, and scooping up her child she ran for the house.
The father got up, walked to the garage, and came out with a wheelbarrow and a bag of cement. Pouring the entire bag into the bottom, he calmly added water to its contents. Once it was the right consistency, he grabbed onto the handles and carefully rolled the mixture over to the tree.
Methodically, he began pouring and stuffing the wet mixture deep down into the hole. He was nearly done, when he saw the eyes open wide and imagined he heard a rasping cough. Creepy, he thought, as he smoothed over the surface of his work.