This flash was originally published in The Bitter Oleander (April 2017)
There once lived a King who sat in his velvet robes in his velvet chair and everyone who was near him told him how smartly he sat, how wisely he decided on what to eat for dinner, how kindly he smiled, and how everything he did was just perfect. His hands rested on the arms of his very large chair but all of his subjects imagined instead that his hands were summoning them forward, as if to gently persuade the waft of compliments his way. Please continue, his invisible hands would say, please continue.
At the bottom of the river, beneath the castle where he lived, snakes were forming from bacteria; first they would be clumps of dirt but then the dirt would begin to wriggle and soon a large scaly head would emerge out of the water and then it would climb onto the grassy knoll next to the castle. There was a group of the King’s subjects who were responsible for the very specific task of killing these creatures. But with every transformation of dirt to beast, the beast would grow stronger and more adept at escaping the soldiers’ knives.
One day one of these snake-beasts sped up the knoll and just as it was about to head for the castle door at the other end of the moat, it snuck instead back into the slimy water by slithering down the side of the bridge. It stayed there in the water for many days, the soldiers unable to get at it. After the twentieth day, the soldiers had fought off many more of these beasts and successfully, easily, killed them. By that time, they had forgotten about the beast under the bridge, resting just under the palace door. The soldiers soon began to carry pocket flasks, thinking that they didn’t need to be so careful now. One or two soldiers would remember the beast still in the water and would occasionally bring it up, but their comments would be thrown aside with mockery. “If it was going to do something, it would have done it by now,” they would say. “These beasts are not that smart.”
Meanwhile the beast under the water grew in size and ferocity, all in stealth, feeding off the gunk at the bottom of the river. It ate aluminum, dull knives, rotten meat, and moldy algae that was half-poisoned with pollution. Never before had a beast been able to survive this long underwater.
The King was being bathed by ten naked women when he heard the first shout. Someone must have opened the castle door, for the King had always specifically ordered that the door be kept shut, so that he wouldn’t hear any of the killing or any other extraneous noise. His eyes bulged out in fear, his long beard trembled, and the little hairs on his arms chilled and raised up, alert. “What is happening?”
A soldier rushed in, panting. “Everything’s fine, Your Highness.”
The King felt his breath in his chest and felt dizzy after being led out of the bathtub. “I do not want to know. I will assume that you are dealing with it.” The women dried him down.
“Yes, Your Highness. We have experienced a small setback with a beast. Please rest up. It seems that everything is under control now. I’m sure that shock must have frightened you and I do apologize, Your Kind Highness.” The soldier’s eyes were red with veins and his face wet with perspiration. More shouting could be heard as he shut the door gently behind him.
“I would like you to dress me now and I would like to lie down.” The ladies dressed the King in silk purple robes and he lay down on his velvet bed.
Along the bridge of the moat lay two hundred gouged bodies, some hung over the bridge’s wall, some lay in pieces—a head here, an arm there, a torso. Collapsing piles of bloodied men. The Beast was now in the main entrance hall, its head reaching up to the ceiling of the castle, its sharp teeth sleek with blood and its nose pointed toward the King’s door. Men rushed around it but their knives were absurdly tiny in comparison to the Beast’s size. All a man would have to do was stand in front of it to be butchered.
The King had had his women serve him a potion of poppy juice to drown out the escalating noise, and so as he lay there, dreaming of tulips, he was unconscious of the fact that the Beast had broken through his door in anger. The King perked up when he smelled something divine. He turned his head to the side in dreamy wonder as this fantastic creature leapt up to the gargantuan bed, the King laughing with delight as the Beast broke his skin.