Read by Jim Cogan
There was a village terrorized by a giant. It could come at any hour, beating its chest to fall with greed upon the villagers’ crops. They constructed a ditch and palisades, but neither kept the beast out. It marched with ease across these protections, lifting itself upon the motte, and crashing through the wooden gates. Sometimes it set itself on a rampage through the village, eating livestock. Then, as these dwindled, it began to eat people. Some were chewed there and then. Others were dragged away, their piteous screams heard at night from beyond the forest.
These fitful, horrific visits exhausted all the villagers’ attempts at defence and resistance. The giant was too powerful. Food stocks were running dry, and the heavy loads of grief and fear undid them. It seemed a hopeless situation. Though the giant could be absent for weeks at a time, no one ventured from the village enclosure. The surrounding farmland fell to ruin. The irrigation systems dried up. The seasons were no longer measured in sowing and reaping, but in repeated slaughter.
One visitation, after the creature had had its bloody fill, a deaf-mute of the village was seen descending the walls by rope. He walked some way from the compound, and taking up an abandoned spade, began to dig.
The villagers shouted to him, but of course he could not hear. They waved and made signs to him, but he would not look. What more could they do? They dared not stray outside. So they left him to his fate. It will be his own fault, they said to one another. And what would really be the loss? He has no family. No friends. He was a poor village idiot at that, with an air more melancholy than entertaining. All the better then, for as feed for the giant, perhaps he would advert its grotesque hunger from another more sensible, useful soul.
The deaf-mute kept digging.
As the days went by, the villagers watched him from the ramparts. He neither returned home, nor acknowledged them. All he did was dig, and in the same spot.
‘What’s he doing?’ they would say. ‘That hole is too deep to be a grave now. And whom does he wish to bury?’
‘Himself, soon enough!’
‘Save your pity for those that wish to live.’
Starvation set in. The villagers began to boil their clothes in order to eat them. Children gnawed on wood to abate hunger. Many succumbed to eating dirt.
And still the deaf-mute continued to dig.
They eyed him saying, ‘He must be tilling the soil for food. But he is a fool, for whatever he plants the giant will eat. As for what he finds in the ground, such vegetation will only plump him up for the giant’s belly.’
Yet he continued to dig the hole. He ate the scraggly roots he found, worms, and other morsels pulled from the earth. The villagers began to envy him.
Then the giant returned.
It broke through the gates and made for the congregation cowering in the chapel. The bells rang out as the priest was pulled from the campanile ropes and swallowed whole. All told, twenty persons were eaten that day.
But as the giant was leaving the village, it caught sight of the deaf-mute digging his hole. It stopped, and as the villagers watched from the walls, it gave them to think it was capable of some order of contemplation. For it looked at the deaf-mute strangely. Then either from the perplexity or simple satiation, it moved on, leaving the deaf-mute, who had not looked up for one moment, but unerringly, strenuously kept shifting the earth from his hole.
‘He is making a well deep enough to hide in,’ said some of the villagers, ‘that is why the giant did not see him.’
‘The monster did see him,’ said another, ‘for its countenance changed. It was trying to understand. I swear it.’
‘That deaf-mute is a fool. He has no brain for any plan. He believes he can dig to the other seam of Earth, and thereby escape the monster. Let him dig his way to Tartarus! He’ll be there soon enough when the giant comes back.’
The deaf-mute seemed only to apply his effort more. The hole was very deep. The blacksmith, a man of noted avarice, suspected the deaf-mute was treasure hunting. Perhaps he intended to buy off the giant. Perhaps the deaf-mute had a secret. But surely no treasure could be buried so deep? And what did the giant care for gold?
The carpenter looked at the mountain of earth growing next to the hole. He laughed at the deaf-mute, supposing him to be building higher ground.
‘However tall he builds it,’ he told the woodsman, ‘the giant will climb it! He’ll not be safe if he raise that sod to God Himself. And if he totter from it and fall, he’ll be straight to the Devil anyway.’
The deaf-mute sweated unceasingly with his hole. Deeper and deeper, the extracted soil revealed different shades as he dug through the layers. Common opinion returned to its origin: the deaf-mute was, as everyone had always known, a simpleton, and his endeavour, whatever it was, was mere madness. He had, it was agreed, lost what little mind he had.
And the giant returned once more.
At its roar, the villagers ran for cover, under wheelbarrows, in the cesspit, wrapping themselves in foliage in an attempt to camouflage themselves. The creature raised its fists, pummelling its chest with the unholy thunder of an approaching army. Laying its huge hands on the village gates, which the inhabitants had once again pathetically repaired, the giant made to rip them from the walls, but at that very moment was distracted by the deaf-mute crawling from his hole. Flecked with mud, the remainder of his soiled clothing in tatters, the deaf-mute lurched towards the giant...and locked it in combat.
The villagers emerged from their hiding places, gathering at the ramparts to see what was going on. Agog, they witnessed the deaf-mute wrestling the beast.
They fought till sundown. As Helios’ brow fell beneath the horizon, the moon took its turn to illuminate the mortal contest, and not a villager said a word. Stunned, they held their breath, until at length and in an abrupt countermove, the deaf-mute twisted the giant’s head with a loud crack that blew all the forest birds from their perches.
Silence. Then cries and weeping. The villagers raised a cheer at last. In joy and relief they shouted out the name of the deaf-mute. He got back to his feet, covered in wounds and welts, exhausted and steaming in the cool night air. It was only then, as the moonlight caught the sweat on his powerful arms, his broad shoulders, his solid chest, his muscular hands, his sinewy thighs, that the villagers finally saw and understood what mighty strength the constant digging had given him. He picked up his spade, limped to the gates, and hammered to be let back in.
As time went by, and things renewed themselves, this tale was told over and over. Long after the event, when nearly all witnesses had been peacefully planted in the cemetery, it remained a shibboleth to those people. A piece of wisdom taught to all children. A warning to those that erred to presume. A fable, as we would see it now. The rhymes and reasons, ways and means of men, are not always what they seem. By strange and personal measures do we fortify ourselves against monsters.
(c) Joshan Esfandiari Martin, 2017
Joshan Esfandiari Martin was born in Brighton. He is a writer and film director. His website can be found at joshan.com.
As a writer, Jim Cogan creates far too much marketing copy and not enough short stories. Luckily, he is able to scratch that itch by reading other people’s stories aloud to a raucous audience. He has been named Liars’ League Most Valuable Player twice: as writer in 2015 and as actor in 2016.