12 Dec Man-Eater
“Man-Eater”Written by Craig Groshek Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by Jonathan Jones
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⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 6 minutes
Richard Mayes had done well for himself. He and his wife had raised three beautiful boys, and they owned the biggest farm for miles around. No one had so many horses and sheep as he did. Each day he watched over his hundreds of chickens, and his many herds of cattle. Each day there were more and more of them, and at first he was pleased. But before long, there were so many that he began to worry. He could not manage them all, and was forced to tend to them night and day. He often looked at them and thought, “If only I was so hungry that I could eat them up. Then life would be good again.”
That summer a plague broke out among Richard’s animals. Many of his cattle and sheep died. The chickens died, too, and some of his horses. Richard was grateful for this. “Surely I am blessed,” he thought. “What a miracle this plague has been.” But it did not seem that way for long.
As the days passed, more sheep and herds of cattle died. Then more chickens, and more horses. Richard was alarmed. He had not the room or the time to bury them all. Soon he was exhausted, and did nothing but lay in bed, watching summer turn to fall. One day, his wife came to his side.
“Richard,” she said calmly. “There is something I must tell you.”
“What is it?” he demanded. “Have the children died as well?”
“Of course not,” she replied. “You are going to be a father. I am pregnant again.”
The farmer was overjoyed. He had always wanted another child. He was so thrilled that he got out of bed and chopped wood that very same day. But soon he noticed a change in his wife that worried him. She ate constantly, and could not seem to stop. Night and day she devoured all of their canned food and dry meal, and drank all their syrup and honey. She left nothing for the others. But stranger still, she did not gain weight, but instead seemed to be starving.
“Please, wife, you must control yourself!” Richard pleaded. “You will starve us all if you do not stop eating!”
“I cannot stop!” she cried. “The baby, he twists and turns inside me, and hurts me when I stop eating.”
“What nonsense!” Richard cried. “You are just being selfish!”
“I am not!” his wife shrieked. “Not until I have eaten half a dozen chickens does he stop beating me. And he wants more each day, and leaves nothing for me.”
Time went on, and as winter turned to spring the plague moved on. Soon the animals were as numerous as ever – and just in time. The baby now demanded half a calf a day. Richard watched in horror as his wife butchered, fried, and devoured three of his cows each week. Even then the baby scratched and kicked, and twisted and turned, and the wife looked worse than ever.
Just as it seemed she might die, the wife gave birth to the baby boy. Soon thereafter she recovered her strength. The baby was as hungry as ever. But Richard was no longer concerned, because the plague had ended, and food was plentiful.
In just a few weeks the chickens again numbered in the hundreds. The cattle were so many no one could see them all as they stretched across the pastures. There were now dozens of horses, and more sheep than ever. This would have worried Richard again, had it not been for the baby.
As an infant, the boy ate three large chickens a day; and once old enough to walk, their largest sheep for breakfast and lunch, and a horse for dinner. Richard was horrified at this, but at least he had time to rest. “Surely I am blessed,” he thought. “What a miracle this boy has been.” But it did not seem that way for long.
As more days passed, the boy continued to grow, as did his appetite. At times he was so ravenous he seemed more like an animal than a boy, and more than once bit his mother’s hands as she fed him. Besides, the farmer and his wife found themselves cooking constantly for the boy, so that they could get nothing else done. But Richard had an idea.
“Wife,” he said one morning after breakfast. “Why bother cooking the meat at all? The boy eats so quickly, he would not notice if it were raw.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” his wife replied. “I am tired of feeding him. Take him to the pasture this afternoon, and see what he does.”
That same day at noon, Richard took the boy to where his many animals grazed, and let him go. In moments, the boy took off running and threw a small sheep to the ground. Then he tore open its throat with his bare hands and devoured it alive. The farmer watched in horror as his son rose from the bloody carcass with a crazed look in his eyes.
Things went on like that for many weeks. Richard would take his boy to the pastures, and the boy would consume all the animals he could catch. The boy devoured calves and colts as a hungry dog eats chickens. Richard was disgusted by this, but could not do without the boy, whose appetite allowed him to keep his livestock at a manageable number. So he let things go on this way for months.
After a while, Richard did not bother to stay with the boy, but began to leave him out in the fields all day long. And each night, when the farmer retrieved him, he swore his boy had grown larger, and more like an animal. He noticed, too, after a month or so, that the boy was not just eating the meat of the animals anymore, but their bones as well. So there was no way to tell how many the boy had eaten. But the boy was growing, of that there was no doubt.
Several months passed. Winter came and the animals would no longer breed, and yet the boy continued to eat them, as many as ever. Soon the big flocks of chickens were gone, and the extra herds of cattle. There were but a few sheep left, and half a dozen horses. The boy had eaten all the others. Richard was scared. The boy was so large then that he could not live in the house, but slept in an empty barn.
“Oh, what have we brought upon ourselves?” the farmer cried. “The boy is no blessing. He is a curse! What will he do after he has eaten everything we have?” It did not take long to find out.
In another week, all of the animals were gone – eaten by the boy, bones and all. There were no more sheep or horses. There were no more cattle or chickens. The farmer’s wealth was gone, and his family was starving. Everyone was terribly angry. So they all marched to the barn, where the boy lived, and found him sleeping. They kicked him angrily.
“Look what you have done!” the wife screamed. “You have eaten everything we own!”
The boy – now grown to the size of a moose – woke from his slumber, and groaned.
“Mother,” the boy growled. “I am hungry. Fetch me a horse to eat.”
“I will not!” she screamed, and kicked him again. “We have no more horses. You have devoured them all!”
“Fetch me a cow then,” the boy said to his brothers. “I am hungry.”
“We will not,” the boy’s brothers screamed. “We have no more cows. You ate them up, every last one.” At this the boy stood and hissed at them all.
“I am starving,” the boy moaned. “What is there to eat?”
“There is nothing left here,” Richard cried. “Go, and find food elsewhere.”
The boy did as he was told. That same day began wandering the countryside, devouring every animal he could find.
Within days, Richard received word from his neighbors that something terrible had happened.
“Someone has taken all of my livestock,” his neighbor cried. “And they have taken our only daughter!”
Richard knew it was his boy that had done it, but was too ashamed to admit it.
“Perhaps a wolf has eaten your cows,” Richard said. “As for your daughter, I am sure she is hiding under her bed, or playing in the fields. Go and look.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” his neighbor replied. “I will check the fields and return with news.”
The neighbor did not return in several hours. So Richard sent his oldest son to find him. But night came, and still his son had not returned.
In the morning, Richard sent his second oldest son to find the others, and at noon, his third boy rode off as well. By dinner that night, not one of them had returned. Finally, the farmer’s wife offered to go and look for her sons.
“I cannot sleep another wink,” she said, “until I know my boys are home.” Her husband protested, but could not change her mind. So she rode off as well, and left him there alone.
Many hours passed, and darkness fell again. Richard’s wife was not home yet, and there was still no sign of his sons, or his neighbor. He was quite worried, but exhausted, too, and after some time drifted off to sleep.
He was awakened in the night by a sound at his bedside. He shot up in bed immediately, and held his breath. It was very dark indeed, and he could not see at all. But he heard the floor creak beside him, and was scared. There was something there. He felt its hot, stinking breath on his neck as it leaned in. Richard gripped his sheets tightly. His teeth chattered.
Just then a deep, growling voice came from beside him. “I am ever so hungry,” it rasped. “What is there to eat?” Richard was so scared he could hardly speak.
“Nothing,” Richard said. “Go, and find food elsewhere.”
For a moment it was quiet. Then the thing leaned in closer. “You lie,” the thing moaned. Richard could smell the rotting flesh in its teeth, and hear the floor creaking under its weight. Richard swallowed hard, and reached for his pistol on the nightstand.
The thing leaned in closer. Richard could feel its teeth against his throat. “Father,” the thing whispered, “you smell delicious.”
Craig Groshek Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by Jonathan Jones