The Gobbler

At first, he had been a stiff and solitary stain on the horizon, an indefinite mixture of dreary colors distinguished against an amicable sky. The usual business of midday kept the townsfolk preoccupied, flitting thither and yon, calling out gossip or egg prices or insults as was fitting. A single man traveling anywhere was not enough to incite interest. But perhaps it was the tot who hadn’t seen him before, who stopped and stared and pointed, whose mother impatiently grabbed the babe’s arm and refused to pay mind to his utterances but whose eyes happened to look up and see, who called out to no one in particular with no great alarm, “Aye, th’ Gobbler’s back,” who drew the townspeople out of their houses and businesses and into the street. The distant, lone blob of humanity became a conspicuous silhouette, and women wiped doughy hands on aprons and men roused themselves from steins and ledgers to walk outside and behold the impending scene.

Were the traveler’s identity questioned by any, such a thing ceased when, upon reaching the environs of the village, the man opened his mouth–and you may not think it a strange thing–at which motion the townspeople communally sighed and furrowed their brows. For his jaw did not stop at his neck or chest but fell upon the dirt; his cheeks gaped wider and wider, his jowls expanded–amazingly, his teeth seemed to retain their shape and location–until the great, dark cavity of his mouth completely obscured the rest of his body from the front, and it was certainly wide enough to conceal even three Gobblers standing together (for he was not a portly man, as will soon prove to be quite unlikely). He continued his approach, chin first, head and neck hunched so as to thrust the face and maw out before his nimble feet.

Having little ceremony about him, his manifestation prompted surprisingly little concern or reaction amongst the peoples; some began to return to their business, some, having stepped outside and found a friend or debtor or doctor accosted them and conversed accordingly. A great many did remain, leaning on doorposts or standing gawkily in the streets to bear witness to the events that followed. No one was particularly concerned. What was to be gobbled would be gobbled–it was as simple as that. Perhaps it was as accepted a part of life as childbirth or gnats or a lonely tree being struck by lightning. They were a most peculiar people, or so I have been told.

If you had been standing there, you would not have been as surprised as you are now reading this in your chair to find that the Gobbler did as his name suggested–he gobbled. Straight through the center of the town, keeping to the wide road, sometimes turning his head here or there but never pausing and never deviating from this route, the abyss that was his mouth took in anything that knocked into it or that he knocked into. Chickens, hoes leaning against walls, small children, a wheelbarrow, a pair of boots left out to dry–all things were consumed by the Gobbler. It was not quite eating, for his mouth never closed and his belly never swelled–one could not quite say where everything was funneled into from his mouth.

As he made his way, his eyes glowed–for what else does a Gobbler love but to gobble?–, but for wont of that feature, his impassivity was almost provocative. Leaves, a stray cat, apples that had tumbled off a cart. The Gobbler eagerly devoured all, occasionally picking out a special thing or two that caught his eye. A comely maid, quite accustomed to having all eyes on her but meeting none, failed to mind her steps and carelessly walked into the path–and was swept into the vapid maw of the Gobbler. “By Jove, that’s no way to regard a pretty girl,” cried out one of the town’s dandies. By way of response, the Gobbler turned his head slightly to scoop up a choice swine tied to a post by the way. “Alas, that would’a been good on a spit!” howled a very disappointed and very large man; the bib round his neck suggested another animal had recently met a similar fate. But the Gobbler paid no heed. A most amusing scene played before him: the tax collector, having guilefully finished his graft, was stuck in the middle of the road. His donkey, bearing the clinking burden of several purses of coins, did as asses do, and sat in the dirt, refusing to budge. The donkey seemed not to notice the approaching orifice, but the tax collector certainly did, wringing his hands and thrashing the impassive donkey with his whip. At the last moment, the tax collector leapt out of the road as the Gobbler continued his advance with an even pace, donkey and chest both falling into his mouth. As the tax collector wept, a passing priest joined his lamentation, sighing, “Ah, what that wealth could have been used for,” as he clutched his jeweled rosary and fidgeted with the sapphires on his fingers. But the Gobbler pronounced no dictum. He unsympathetically continued gobbling.

From one end of town to the other, his mouth stretched wide like a net, the Gobbler filled up with all manner of animate and inanimate things. As he came to the end of the village, all the people left on the streets turned towards the south, watching him leave. And then, sighing, they resumed (as much as they were able) whatever affairs they had been engaged in before this uncommon (and inconvenient, some might add) rove.

The Gobbler took leave of no one; he did not thank or ridicule or say anything at all, but with a now aimless gaze, he continued his journey, mouth agape, leaving the town and devouring his way through the bucolic countryside. Here and there a stray sheep or chicken wandered too close to the road, and it would fall into the Gobbler’s maw, or a self-confident tabby would attempt to cross the road, and though the Gobbler never seemed to slow down or speed up, the cat would always misjudge its own pace and, meowing, be consumed in turn. His enthusiasm for the task had waned, for his feet had slowed and his eyes had grown dull. But the Gobbler’s mind was soon excited with more than the careless frogs and drowsy flies he had been ingesting.

As the Gobbler mounted one steep hill (did he pant? did he puff?) he found himself met with a voluminous vista of night. Before him spread a sky of an abysmal indigo extending high and wide; and in the zenithal settings, the Gobbler beheld the whiteness of stars twinkling over him like pearls in Poseidon’s deep. Surely the Gobbler had seen stars before but had never until that moment desired one so strongly. He thought to himself–and if you have had this thought, I would very much like to know–, “Who has ever said that they have eaten a star?” His eyes drew together in vulgar fervor: “No one before–but I shall be the first!”

And the Gobbler’s heels kicked up the dust of the dry, country highway as his zeal hastened him towards the sprawling darkness and the spherular brightness. The dirt turned to mud as drool trickled from the sides of his mouth and down the front of his chin; soon both boots and jowl were quite dirty, but the Gobbler paid no heed to these happenings. His temper, heretofore placid and apathetic, was now ravenous and fixated. As his pace quickened, his body began to tremble, so eager was his anticipation. He drew closer and closer, until the moment where he crossed the crest of the horizon–and fell.

The Gobbler fell and kept falling, and as his shape amalgamated with the gloom, the last features to vanish were his two wide eyes, straining up to the countryside he had come from, reflecting the distant sunlight like two fine pieces of porcelain; one might have expected them to shatter, but instead they faded into nonexistence. With that, the whole of the Gobbler disappeared out of the sight of anyone in the world who might have been watching as the great jowls of Death closed, his awful, glistening teeth clicking together, the deep and shadowy darkness of his mouth now, and forever (at least as concerned the Gobbler), devoid of the light of the sky. And Death, who knew the Gobbler’s trade better than he did, politely patted his mouth with his napkin, pleased with his repast.


 

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