The Giant Inside
When the doctor asked Greg Swain if he was coughing anything up, he replied, 'Nothing important.'
It wasn't strictly true.
That morning, before coming to see the doctor about an entirely unrelated matter (his piles, it was. Or maybe something to do with his prostate. Either way, something round the back end of him) Greg Swain had coughed up a fingernail. The fingernail alone would have been enough to disturb a man, perhaps, but the tip of an actual human finger to which the nail was attached made him feel queasy. It was at this point in the morning that Greg thought perhaps he might be in a bit more trouble that would be covered in a ten minute appointment with the doctor to check out his prostate. Or piles.
Who knows? You don't ask, do you? Not that kind of thing, and not to a man. Nope. Certain things men don't talk about often. Rear ends, bereavements, ladies' football.
Lady footballers' rear ends...well, then, maybe.
There's usual a caveat around somewhere.
Greg Swain's problems were in the earlier stages when he first went to the doctor back in August. By late September he had lost his puff.
Short of breath. He wondered if perhaps he had COPD, or maybe even CANCER. He weighed himself, though, and found that he wasn't losing weight, but putting it on.
His appetite, if anything, was on the up. He ate like a teenager again, even though he was in his late fifties (his sixtieth birthday would be in October). He became a midnight snack artist. He'd munch on magnificent creations in the dark hours when sleep was fitful. Peanut butter and salad cream sandwiches. Marmite salad. Sugared sausage rolls (the little cocktail ones). It didn't seem to matter what he ate, as long as he got fed.
Appetite didn't increase with CANCER. Couldn't be cancer. Must be some kind of illness that wasn't, in fact, cancer.
October came around. The leaves were falling and the wind was picking up. One big autumn gust and the last of the leaves would probably be gone. Early autumn's last effort to hold onto summer was pretty much over. The sun still shone on Greg's sixtieth birthday, but the warmth was gone.
He lived alone. Had done since the death of his wife on his fiftieth birthday. It had spoiled the day for him ever since, but for some reason he didn't feel maudlin on the morning of his big 6-0. A strange sense of expectation, perhaps. Like something amazing waited just over the horizon. Or, maybe, it was just the fever that woke him up on his last birthday.
Fever or not, he got up and ate, because he was always hungry.
His illness progressed quickly in the days running up to his birthday. He continued to put on weight. His appetite became legendary. He coughed up no more important parts, but he ate them. Indeed he did. He began on his own fingertips one day. Out of a morbid kind of interest, driven by his insatiable new hunger. Just a little nibble, he thought. Just a fingernail, perhaps - but before he knew it he was munching away on not just a tip of a finger, but three fingers at once, chomping down hard on the reluctant bone at first, until he gave up and worked on the sinew and cartilage at the joint. His approach to dissecting himself for consumption became more refined the more he ate.
On his birthday, he had but a leg, his torso, and of course his head, remaining. And still he was putting on weight.
Like Ouroboros, he ate himself. The worm at the end of the world, perhaps.
He ate himself nearly all up. All that remained would be his birthday feast.
Sixty years old, sixty candles. No desire for cake, though. Just flesh. His own.
He put his candles on the rest of his body, using his teeth and his immense mouth (his mouth had become as large as his appetite over the last two or three months). His maw was now fit for purpose, at last. He was still short on breath, but it wasn't cancer. No, of course it wasn't.
It was the giant inside.
If you eat yourself, you have two options, and two options only.
The first is to disappear. To eat and eat and eat until there is nothing at all left, and your mouth goes last, turning in on itself with nothing more than a satisfied 'pop', or perhaps a burp.
The second is that you become twice as large as when you began.
And Greg Swain, it seemed, was feeding a giant.
Candles burning merrily away, Greg sent out a great huff, extinguishing sixty bright candles in one go. He was short on breath, yes, but he had a big, big mouth.
With a strange kind of gusto, Greg began his last meal. Breakfast on his birthday was himself. It was the only food he needed or wanted. The cupboards had been barren for nearly a month. Since he'd had that first meal, really.
Bit difficult to push a trolley around the supermarket when you've eaten all of your arms.
Greg's massive teeth, grey like graveyard headstones and just as blunt, made short work of his remaining leg. He crunched up the bone with ease, the flesh burst and blood popped but his clever tongue slurped greedily at the threadbare carpet on his living room floor until every last drop of Greggy goodness was gone, down into the belly of the beast.
He barely paused for the second course. He began, as man might, faced with the prospect of eating himself, with the most undesirable of his parts. He feasted on his genitals and buttocks and anus and all the detritus and dust (it had been ten years to the day since he'd last had his oats, as old folk used to say) from those nether parts.
His gall rose as he ate, but then he got his second wind. The good parts came next. His kidneys, liver...giblets, if you will. All popped into his mouth and squished satisfyingly. He even gave a happy burp when he ate his heart. His neck, full of cartilage at the throat, proved absolutely delicious...the cartilage similar in texture to pickled pig's feet.
And, at the last, his own head.
His mouth, massive and preposterous now, unhinged at the jaw, swung over the top of his pate (threadbare as his carpet) and with a final sigh, Greg Swain was gone. Utterly, completely gone.
But in that space where his mouth had been, as though stepping through thin air, a foot appeared. A great big fat foot that smelled of baby. As it should, because it was a baby's foot, followed, soon after, by a baby's chubby fatty leg (with a small birthmark shaped like a bird in flight on the back of his knee), chubby baby bum...well, you get the picture. Babies are, by and large, fatties. This one was no different to an ordinary baby. Except for its stature. In all dimensions a baby, except for size. A giant baby.
By the time the baby emerged from the space where Greg Swain's mouth had once been, coming out breach - feet first - from the birth canal, and landed with a slightly wobbly thump on that old carpet, it was a fully seven feet from toe to crown.
The baby's pulse could be observed easily through both posterior and anterior fontanelles.
In fact, in the quiet living room of Greg Swain's old and slightly neglected house, with little traffic on the street, its heart could be heard, beating fast and heavy through its back and reverberating against the old floorboards.
And, as the baby began to grow, having taken all its nourishment in its unnatural womb, the heartbeat slowed, as any child's would. It did not cry, or defecate, or pass water. It had no need of such functions, because it was not a natural child.
The baby grew fast.
In the moments immediately after birth, it already filled the room. Soon, the walls cracked and bowed and burst, showering the child with brick and plaster, but its skin was like a rhino's hide and the splintered bricks caused it no discomfort.
Ceiling gave way as it grew taller and tried to stand. Floorboards beneath cracked with a soft, worm-ridden sigh of old wood, under the child's weight.
Soon after, the child was no longer a child but a teenage giant and the walls and ceiling and roof and assorted pipes and wires that make a house could no longer hold him.
He stepped, naked, immense, powerful, into that quiet street. Three minutes or thereabouts had passed since Greg had ceased and the giant had become.
It had no words, because there wasn't a school built that could house a giant.
It didn't understand the world it was born into. The crunchy things underfoot (cars), the tasty things that filled his belly and made fuel for his long stride (people) or the warm tickles from the strands of hair that ran close to the ground (electricity wires).
It howled. The world was wrong. When giants strode the earth, they played with dragons. When a giant cried, it made a river. When a giant finally died, after a thousand or more years, its body became an island, a mountain.
It roared and screamed. Tears poured from the child-giant's deep eyes onto his cheeks (plump and full of people bits) and down to the ground where they soon filled the street and overwhelmed the drains.
The last of its kind, or the first, it did not understand. It was wrong. Wrong.
With a massive foot it stomped and thumped itself on the thighs with hands that were becoming larger and stronger with each passing moment. It grew, of course, and it strode across the land. It left destruction, terror, fear, horror, awe.
Footprints, too. Great footprints strewn with the carcasses of crushed cars and gnawed people. The giant trailed electricity pylons. His feet were dusty with crushed brickwork and there was a girder from an old warehouse between his toes.
Greg Swain's angry giant child sat down on the city of London, entirely crushing the grand old buildings and the gaudy glass phallus of the Gherkin, sending debris flying as far as the home counties. Something pointed and very large actually cause the giant some discomfort, unlike the bullets and missiles that peppered its flesh sporadically. Sporadically, because it would swat the annoying stinging things from the earth or the sky. It would be still for a time, and then more would amass.
And still he grew. Naked and shining like a child in the morning light, then darker with October's slow sun and pubescent hair upon his body. By the time night fell and all was dark except the moon and some small fires about the ruins of London, someone, somewhere in the world, decided it would be a good idea to fire a bigger missile, because the little ones weren't working.
Competition gets out of hand. That's what it does. Bigger, then bigger still, then, when they didn't have any larger bombs, they sent more. Pretty much all of them.
And, at the end, a giant, big as England had once been, skinned burned black but otherwise unscathed, remained. He towered over a ruined world. Black clouds pregnant with poisoned rain and dead vegetation drifted in the dark hot air.
Life, small and insignificant, skittered about beneath the giant's notice. Unimportant and largely forgotten.
In the ashes, dragons rose. The giant smiled and chased them across a dead Europe like a child might chase a beautiful butterfly.
Anger was forgotten, confusion didn't matter. Just a giant on a spinning planet, chasing dragons. The seasons went on. The sun shone above the black clouds until the clouds, too, cleared.
The giant grew older and slower. When he passed - no longer a child, but ancient, bowed under his own weight, with aching joints and the numerous pains of the old - trees grew up in the shallow impressions left by his feet. Life emerged from the shadows when he moved on. Birds, cats, rodents lived in the thick hair upon his slow moving feet.
Nothing but the world and a giant turning into a mountain. Dragons roosted in that mountain's highest places. Dogs on a master's grave.
And the sun shone on, the world turned, and mountains pushed their way toward the sky. Seas rose and sank. Creatures both deep and shallow died and birthed and ate.
Ouroboros, eating his own tail. Greg Swain eating his own entrails on the threadbare carpet of an old neglected house. Giants, chasing dragons in the light of a dying sun.
I don't know if anyone will make it to the end of the story, or bother to read this, but this, like the story above, is a kind of therapy. Same as the blog. Same as most (not all) of my writing.
I think the story is about depression and the anger that can come with it. It might, however, be about inner peace. I kind of wanted to leave it with the reader. I think I still do. So I'm going to say no more about the story, but talk a little while about short stories.
I've had a fair few short stories published by now. I began writing shorts, and still do. I like the form. The thing is, for a writer starting out on the 'traditional' publishing route, it's a great way to get out there, get a publishing history, and hopefully, if you wish, open some doors. I don't think I'd have a novel published now (let alone double figures) if I hadn't paid my dues by writing shorts.
I don't get my shorts published in the pro markets - it's a terribly hard market to crack, and I haven't managed so far. But I do generally get some form of payment, whether it's shared royalties, or a contributor's copy with a couple of quid on the side. The thing is, the shorts aren't money makers - the novels do that. To start, they were a way to break into publishing. Now, I write them for fun. I've probably written over 50 shorts, not as many as 100. So, I figure I can spare this one.
Shortly, I'll do a second post on short stories, and where you can find mine. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed the story.
Oh, and, love you!