The monster came at dusk, or sometimes at dawn, but always with its back to the sun, casting long shadows over the narrow roads and the clusters of small buildings—shops, homes, and barns—that made up the village of Rutoog. It, the monster, was neither a giant rat nor a giant spider, but it might’ve been with its pointed nose, long teeth, and sharp talons, not to mention, its deafening screech and its eight giant-furry legs. It need only to dull the smallest corner of the sun and the villagers would run helter-skelter for whatever protection they might find.
Curiously, the monster didn’t target the young or the old, the sick or the dying. First, it impaled Cyrus, a muscled youth with soft blue eyes and bronze skin, with a talon through the heart. Then, Lassima, the charming daughter of Dragu a prosperous goat herder, was crushed under one of the beast’s many feet. Her long limbs snapped like twigs. Soon the list of dead and maimed ran in the dozens and it became clear to all that the monster, the people had named Grimdharma, was feeding off the healthiest and most beautiful of the villagers. Sometimes Grimdharma would hover over the frightened villagers, side-step an old man or a maimed woman, to pluck a strongly-built young man with a headful of thick dark hair or a shapely brown-eyed girl with milky skin from the ground and bite off their head.
The attacks and the destruction dispirited the villagers who had always been a very proud people. They’d worked hard—making exquisite and detailed ceramics; breeding the best grapes for their prized wines; their goats yielded the softest cashmere and the sweetest milk. Their work and diet had made them healthy, strong, beautiful creatures, and their penchant for quality craftsmanship cultivated a cultural aesthetic that celebrated symmetry and youthfulness. The Grimdharma changed all of this.
Health and beauty were dangerous traits and those that possessed them died or lost them painfully. Those that remained spoke of curses and betrayal—was it their Gods? Their enemies? The Gods of their enemies? They pointed fingers and later knives at each other.
The knives were more helpful.
Ritual scarring protected the survivors from Grimdharma’s attacks, and soon its visits were less and less frequent. The result sealed Rutoog’s rejection of an aesthetic it had once held so dear—beauty, youthfulness, and symmetry were evil and needed to be rooted out.
Yes, some had resisted scarring their young children. Kalces, a young woman, who’d lost her foot to Grimdharma, refused to scar her newborn baby, and despite taking precautions to hide her baby in the attic of her childhood home, Grimdharma tore the roof from the house and snapped the child’s neck with a flick of its talon before swallowing it whole. Afterward, no one resisted the scarring.
Rutoog’s blight spread outward as it bore deeper into the community’s psyche. Disheartened and embittered the villagers let their buildings fall into disrepair, they worked cheerlessly, without the regular care or attention they’d dedicated to their craft. Their wines turned to vinegar and the sweet goat’s milk soured in the udder. Their hearts corroded.
When Grimdharma reappeared one sunless day some years later, the once fearful villagers fell to their knees. “You have spared us, Grimdharma” they cried, with tears of joy falling from their eyes. “Thank you, great Saviour. Thank you.”
Some brave venerators even dared to reach out and touch the coarse hairs of Grimdharma’s furry legs. But Grimdharma only sniffed at them and moved on.
Jason Heit is currently working on a collection of connected stories. He lives and writes in Saskatchewan.