On his way across Anderville Bridge, a traveler stumbled over an egg. Sunlight pierced its pitted, translucent surface.
The traveler turned the warm, grey, gelatinous egg around in his hands. His foot had dented it. There was something bony and sharp inside, so he held it up to the sun. In the center, the traveler saw a pointy chin and a crooked nose. A small mouth cracked open, yawning.
“Where are you going?” it said.
The bony face shifting around in the egg’s jelly reminded the traveler of dung worms slithering across dirty pans underneath lukewarm water. The traveler sucked air and held it in his lungs. Years of washing dishes in seedy taverns had hardened his nerves.
“I — I’m going to the next town for work,” the traveler said. The egg squirmed.
“I have a job for you,” it said. “If you are interested.”
“No,” the traveler replied. “I don’t know what kind of thing you are. But you seem dangerous. I’ll just check the next town.”
“You will not find work there.”
“Because you seem dangerous,” the egg said, grinning. “And nobody knows what kind of thing you are.”
The traveler fidgeted.
“I suppose that’s true, in a way,” he said. “Because they don’t know me. But you’re a disgusting egg. I’m a person.”
The egg sniggered.
“A person, all right. A greasy, disgusting person.” Its pointy nose twitched. “You’ve been fooling with trash. Digging for food. Haven’t you?”
The traveler frowned. The egg smiled.
“Who am I to judge? You’re trash. I’m fooling with you because I’m digging for food.” The egg yawned again. “Anyway, since you are the kind of trash that can walk, you might as well carry me to the next town. I’m tired of eating the sun.”
“The sun? But — what else do you eat?”
“People. Clean people! Not like you. Now take me to the next town before I lower my standards.”
The traveler shoved the egg under one arm and plodded on to Anderville. He’d never been, but he knew places like it. Just another rat hole.
From the top of a grassy hill the traveler sighed and surveyed Anderville. Like most castles, Castle Anderville was really just a big shack. The villagers lived in smaller “lean-to” shacks propped up against the castle. Everyone thought that the town would collapse if the peasants didn’t lean their shacks against the castle walls, but the opposite was true.
“Who dares approach the throne?” the King of Anderville demanded as the traveler approached the rocking chair. A paper lantern flickered overhead, dangling from the low ceiling.
“A traveler. I’m here to request an audience.”
The king wore a purple sackcloth bathrobe. His dripping wet hair was slicked over his bald spot.
“Really? Well — that’s flattering.” The king rocked back. He kicked his feet in the air, revealing a pair of smooth, pale calves. Then he rocked forward, flicking water into the traveler’s face. He arched a fuzzy eyebrow, causing his monocle to pop out.
“Hmmph. But. You appear to be poor. Dirty. Unshaven!” The monocle swung under the king’s frowning face like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. “Nope, sorry. Go away.”
“Wait,” the traveler said. “I found something valuable. I’ll sell it, if you let me work.”
Shadows danced on the particle-board walls. The King smelled of peppermint shaving cream.
“Well, now you’re talking. Let’s have a look-see. If you’ve got something, I’ll let cross-eyed Ordolf find something stupid for you to do.”
The traveler presented the egg. The king extended a pruned hand.
The king turned the egg beneath the paper lantern.
“Hmm. Mmmmhmmm, hmm — wait. N-no.”
The egg squirmed.
He hurled the egg at the wall. It split in half and translucent goop oozed, gathered and formed into a thick, grey slug. It curled, like a half-baked cinnamon roll.
“Bang pots. Pans. Go get — somebody,” the king said, rising. “Wake up everyone! Do somethi — ”
The slug torpedoed off the wall into the king’s shouting face and shivered down his throat. The traveler bolted out of the castle but when he returned with help, nothing was left of the king except an oily stain. The slug was gone.
“Welp. You seem smart enuff,” said cross-eyed Ordolf, plopping a chicken bone crown on the traveler’s head. “All hail the new King of Anderville!”
Anderville grew rich under the reign of the traveler. He ordered the villagers to harvest wild grapes and showed them how to make wine. What the town of Anderville couldn’t drink, they sold.
All the villagers agreed that the traveler was the wisest and cleanest king that Anderville had ever had. Years passed and the traveler lounged in his enormous bathtub, sipping wine. Word spread about the “Great Grape King.” Each time an attractive woman passed through Anderville, the traveler married her and extended the rickety castle. After the castle quadrupled in length the citizens of Anderville started calling it “Wife Castle.”
One night, the traveler was lounging in the tub with seven of his wives. They began to sing:
“Oh the big fish slicked all the li’l ol’ fish,
an’ the fish got squished in the big fish dish.
And the fish they drank and they ate and they kissed,
While the time ticked by on the watches on their wrists.”
“Jolly good,” the traveler said, clapping. He sipped wine, burped.
Under the water, something slimy slithered across the traveler’s thigh. He yelped and jumped out of the tub.
“Clumsy traveler,” the wives said in unison. Grey mucus bubbled from their nostrils. “Remember me?”
The wives’ eyes were ashen, swirling clouds. The king’s trembling wine bottle slipped from his pruned hand and smashed on the ground.
The seven wives yawned simultaneously. One extended a long forked tongue and licked the wooden floor. They began to chant:
“Garbage picker, garbage licker. Clumsy and so rude.
“Garbage picker, garbage licker. Brought me all this food.”
ALEX MUNKACSY is a writer and a photographer from Honolulu, Hawaii. Find him online at alexmunkacsy.com.