Friday 17 August 2012


Grok the Monster began with two problems in his life. First, he happened to be born on the day when his father, Grog, had just won a lottery against gigantic odds, and become the first Monster ever to be granted the honour of eating ten humans alive in a sitting. This meant that Grog had celebrated the lottery win in such style that he now lay, prostrated, with a hangover, not to mention a medium-grade tummyache. And Gleg, Grog’s wife, had to lay Grok alone, which was actually no hardship because she had a sneaking – no, make that well-founded – suspicion that menfolk were more hindrance than help where childbirth was concerned.

All the same, Grok had, for a Monster, a relatively genteel upbringing. He grew as fast as his peers, played with them as rough and hard as any other young Monster (until his horns became hard and sharp enough to cause potential injuries), and then went to school, where he did fairly well at Advanced Skullcrushing, excelled at Flaying and at Disembowelment, and only passed Humane Homicide due to the efforts of a sympathetic teacher. After leaving school without the grades needed to go to college (his mother had planned on him getting a degree in Humaniculture, that up and coming science, but alas, that was not to be), he was lucky enough to become apprenticed to a Sanctified Slaughterer, and it seemed to everyone that the course of his life was set. His parents, in between bouts of dipsomania and secret male-hating, took time off to heave a sigh of relief.

Said sigh was, it would turn out, tragically premature.

Her name was Glikka, and she was the sweetest little Monstress anyone would wish to see. Her skin was daintily pebbled as the Indian rhinoceros’, her teeth like those gracing the elegant jaws of a Great White Shark, her eyes…ah, her eyes; how shall mere words do justice to them? I can only state that they might have done a Colossal Squid proud. And she made the heart of the apprentice Sanctified Slaughterer glad indeed.

She was clever too, for in addition to her superb good looks she had a brain as keen as the sharpest sword that ever clove human neck from shoulder. She could answer any question put to her; aye, it was even said that she could prove that the world was a sphere, and not, as any self-respecting Monster well knew, a flat crumpled sheet of earth rimmed by the World Ocean, around which curled the ravenous Cosmic Monster. The Monster was distracted by the stars that came floating down from the sky, stars it grabbed and swallowed as they fell, but one day it would notice the world and swallow it whole, and then would be darkness and horror and death. Yes, every Monsterchild was taught the truth about the world in childhood, and most never thought to question the teachings of childhood in later life. But, obviously, Glikka was different.

She entered Grok’s life in this way: he had gone to the stockyards to collect a fresh batch of newly-arrived humans from the farms, for Sanctimonious Slaughter for the Sanctified Festival of Blood. Glikka, at the head of a small delegation of Monsters, had been picketing the stockyards, condemning human farming as both cruel and degrading to both Monster and human. Grok had been amused when Glikka ran up to him as he was leaving the yard at the head of his train of chained humans.

“Monster!” she had shouted. “Stop! Think of what you’re doing!” And this had been so very, very like bad literature that he had burst into laughter, had Grok. But then she had begun talking to him – earnestly, not ranting – and he had stopped to listen. Or, rather, he had pretended to listen as his eyes roved over her delectable features and pillar-like figure. And by the time she had finished talking, he had lost his heart.

That was a time of great disgrace for Grok’s parents. Never, in the history of Monsterland, had a Monster ever quit an honoured position as a Slaughterer, even if only an apprentice. Grok’s parents whined and begged and pleaded and even (in the case of his father, in a righteous rage) threatened. But Grok only shook his horns, gnashed his tusks, and insisted on sticking to his decision through the three-week notice period. Even while gently slitting human throats or stripping the intestines out of still-quivering human cadavers, he never for one moment ceased or desisted from his decision to leave it all behind him, forever.

As for Glikka, she was delighted. She made – unwisely – no attempt to keep her delight to herself. Instead, she boasted among her friends of how she’d “turned” even a Slaughterer to the “righteous path”, a claim that had brought Grok to the unwelcome attention of certain persons in high places. These persons held a Top Secret meeting, in a lonely old mansion on the frontiers of Monsterland, where they could be assured of a measure of secrecy.

“This…creature,” stated the High Priest of the Most Holy and Sacred Religion, “must be stopped. Unless we do something, people will begin laughing at us!”

“Yes,” murmured the Assistant High Priest, obsequiously bobbing his scabrous and spine-encrusted head. “This Glikka, by causing the defection of the apprentice Grok from his Sanctified duty, is guilty of sin against the Religion.”

“Glikka?” snorted the High Priest. “I’m talking about the Grok of course. Who cares about a mere female? Soon enough she’ll come to her senses, get mated and lay babies. But we must stop this Grok before others begin thinking that the Religion will allow renegade Monsters to mock at the Holy Offices.”

“So what can we do?” asked the Assistant, making a ritual gesture of apology. “Should we arrange for the arrest and trial of this Grok?”

“Do not, I beg of you,” replied the High Priest, “further reveal such abysmal stupidity, for it would compel my reconsidering your fitness for the position of my successor. Try Grok for what? What has he done? There is no law forbidding any Monster from demitting a Holy Office. Nobody ever thought such a perverted action was possible. If we attempt to create such a law now, my opponents in the Grand Council will seize on it as an attempt to restrict Monster freedoms, as creeping tyranny, and as an effort to close the stable door after the horse has most definitely bolted.”

“Then,” queried one of the less prominent Priests, “what can we do? It would seem that you have ruled out all options open to us but…oh, I see.”

“Precisely,” the High Priest nodded, his drooping antennae trailing across his ritual vestments. “We must get rid of him, and in such a fashion that his fate should ring out through the ages as a reminder of what awaits those who would raise themselves against the powers of Monsterland.”

They came for Grok as he left the Slaughterhouse after his last full day of work, four hulking Monsters of the Kraytin clan, huge, heavily muscled, with little capacity for thought in their minuscule heads, but possessed both of a rigid adherence to orders and a mindless appetite for violence. They wore the uniform of Gang monsters: black breeches with red trim, with green and yellow hierarchy-stripes prominently displayed. Nobody who didn’t know who they actually were would have guessed them to be the High Priest’s personal bodyguards. But, of course, everyone had seen them around him and knew them for who they were. That was precisely the point.

“You,” said the first one, grabbing Grok by the shoulder. “Come.”

Now Grok had not had a good day. Over and over, for the last several days, he had been tortured by doubts about the rightness of his decision; and common sense had been telling him that he was being a fool to throw his future away over a mere Monstress, even if she were the love of his life. After all, how could he ever support her, assuming he did win her appendage in matehood? It was a dilemma – his sanguinary and disreputable employment, in her eyes…or her. As he had left, the Sanctified Slaughterer had again advised him to give up his crazy idea and attend work the next morning – and again he had refused him.

So, Grok was not quite his usual somewhat placid self when the disguised bodyguard grabbed his shoulder. In fact, if truth be told, Grok was not too unhappy at being grabbed by the shoulder. No, to be even more precise, Grok was delighted at the prospect of being able to work off his anger, and the shoulder-grabber provided him with just that opportunity.

Over the somewhat regrettable (and, by everyone involved but Grok, regretted) violence of the next few moments, it would be mere kindness to draw a veil. Suffice it to say that while the four bodyguards were still scraping themselves off the pavement and wondering which building had collapsed on their heads, Grok went storming off to his Glikka. He finally found her in the midst of her admiring circle of Monsters and Monstresses, who were hanging on to her words with open-mouthed awe and wet-eyed admiration.

“Glikka,” Grok interrupted her in mid-declamation, “I need to talk to you – urgently.”

The Monstress blinked at him. “I suppose you are aware that what I am talking about here is important?” She turned back to her circle. “As I was saying, the essential purpose behind the existence of social tensions is the struggle for power. Material power is more important than wealth, any day. It’s power that the rulers seek, and the use of it. As for the rest of us, this power will of course be ineffective once we realise its source and its purpose, and…”

“Never mind all that,” Grok broke in. “The High Priest’s bodyguards just tried to murder me!”

Glikka frowned, a manoeuvre which made her forehead crumple cutely over her eyes, quite concealing them. “I see you’re evidently uninjured, so, since the outcome was evidently happy for you, I don’t see why you are so rudely interrupting me in my discussion.”

“Don’t you understand? This means that the High Priest’s Religious Council has decided to destroy me, probably as an example. They won’t be deterred simply because I fought them and won once. We must go away at once!”

“We? Why do you say ‘we’?”

Grok would have torn his hair out had he possessed any. “They’ll be after you too, won’t they? Unless you think you’re too insignificant for them to bother with, surely you must see the danger you’re in?”

Glikka paled slightly, to a sickly mauve. “But then, where should we go? Where can we flee?”

“Why…” It was Grok’s turn to frown. “Out into the wide round world beyond Monsterland, of course; the world you’ve described so often, where the planets are as grains of sand turning round and round as they race around the sun, which is no deity, but a mere ball of hot gas. Into the wide world beyond Monsterland must we go, and there seek safety and adventures, amongst unknown peoples and strange ideas.” He allowed his chest to swell triumphantly. “It will be the culmination of all your beliefs and thoughts,” he trumpeted, “and the negation of the High Priest’s lies!”

Glikka had paled now to a lavender so pale that it was almost invisible. “But,” she said, her voice squeaking, “if we go out of Monsterland, we shall come to the edge of the world, and the Cosmic Monster shall surely see us and eat us.”

Grok stared. “But those things you said…”

“They were just tales to impress people,” Glikka whimpered. “Just tales, and everyone knew they were tales. Except you, you brainless idiot!”

Grok looked at her for a long time, and then walked quietly away.

I’m glad to see you back,” the Sanctified Slaughterer said. “I never really doubted you’d be back, of course. But you’re the best apprentice I ever had, and I’d have been sorry to lose you.”

Grok grunted. “I’m glad to be back.”

“Someone from the High Priest’s office was here just now asking if you had rejoined work,” the Slaughterer continued, deftly gutting a human carcass. “When I told him you had, he went away looking thoughtful. I don’t suppose you know what that was all about?”

“No.” Grok picked up an axe and began to sharpen it. “Any work in particular you’d want me to do?”

“Yes. Get those chains and go over to the stockyard. I have an order pending for forty head of humans. Prime quality only, none to be over twenty years old, and disease-free. You know what to do.”

“Yes.” Grok dropped the axe with a clang, and picked up the chains. His immense arm muscles bulged as he wrapped them round his wrist.

“Well, get a move on then,” the Slaughterer said. “You can have some fun with them on the way back; I don’t care. But get them over.”

“Gladly,” Grok said, and jangled the chains in reply.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2011/12

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