Every year at Entropy, we do a holiday poem exchange. Below, you’ll find a prose poem I wrote in 2017 for Dennis Sweeney, shared here with his permission. This piece meant a lot to me, as it was one of the first purely creative works (not a review or supplement) I had written in a long time. It showed me that, in spite of the depression and the self-doubt and the mental fatigue, I could still write creatively, and in doing so, it played a big role in encouraging me to spend more time in 2018 writing fiction. It’s a collision between two behemoths of English literature—you’ll need to read to figure out exactly which two. Thank you, Dennis, for making me feel like a writer again. It was the best gift I could have asked for.
The Slaying of the Grendelgrinch
The interior wall of a bubble trapped in a column of water. Follow the curve. There, collected at the bottom like a mound of dew. Push in. It’s a little town, isn’t it? See the lights strung up between the houses? Can you hear the singing?
You may have heard this story before. That’s all the Whos of Whoville, gathered for their Giftmas feast. Except the question of the season isn’t Who, it’s What. As in: What made that noise? What snatched up the Carpenter girl when she was wandering among the Giftmas tree lot? What left nothing behind but a yellow sock, a butterfly clip, and a pelvic bone? And What are we going to do about it?
Those aren’t songs of peace and joy. They’re battle-hymns, passed down from the ancestral Whats of Whatville who fought tooth and nail to establish this colony on the bottom curve of the great rising bubble. And those aren’t fairy lights among the houses; they’re torches. Fire, the ancient enemy of my enemy. The same fire that roasted the Giftmas Beast will now spread out from the village square in fine, incandescent lines like spectral imaging of a shy girl’s blushing cheek. It will spread into the dark wood and the cave warrens where monsters dwell. Because tonight, the Whats of Whatville aim to catch themselves a Grendel.
The evening snow blankets everything. Except in the dark wood, where it clumps in the branches of the trees, causing them to creak and crack and moan; or in the cave warrens, where it forms an insulating barrier, a cozy seal for the things that sigh upon their beds of bones; or in the Giftmas tree lot, where it gathers in the blue-green fir of the proud pines, causing them to droop and sag. But on the edge of the lot, just past the small dirt mound whence they exhumed the remains of the Carpenter girl, the tracks are clear. Grinch tracks.
The song changes. The question is no longer What; it’s How, as in: How to slay a Grendelgrinch? The Mayor of Howville delivers a long, booming oratory to the assembled Hows. The beast must be routed with fire. Its heart (two sizes too small) must be dug out and immolated to prevent it rising again. This Grinch has been a nuisance for far too long; it’s not enough to simply chase it back to its warren in the mountains. It must be destroyed, the nest razed, eggs scrambled, earth salted. Yesno? “Yesno!” answers the booming voice of the mob.
The Mayor of Howville sends a runner to rouse the great How hero Beartrap Jones, who emerges from his longhouse clad in sun-colored metal. Across his back is slung a blade crafted from the spindle-leg of a flea, the great beast the hero slew bested in the famed wrestling match. Royal blood and godly ichor pulse in his veins, commixed with stranger stuff.
The crowd falls silent as Beartrap Jones expounds his plan to trap the Grendelgrinch. The singing of the Hows, their merry, piping voices, is a thing the monster cannot stand. As they march into the dark wood, their torches spilling red upon the snow-laden branches, they begin to sing their Giftmas carols, hoping to draw out the beast. Their tiny voices echo off the bubble’s distant vault, their reflected torches glittering like stars.
The Hows reach the mountain. But when they search the Grinch’s cave, they find it empty. Where does the beast hide? Where do these cramped tunnels lead as they quest down, down, down like roots, deep into the mountain’s belly? And to Where does this bubble rise as it climbs up, up, vertiginously up?
Among the bones that form the Grendelgrinch’s nest, the Mayor of Whereville unearths the skull of a small girl and a tattered, half-digested red ribbon. The Wheres of Whereville call for blood. As Beartrap Jones follows the Grinch’s spoor trail down, down, deep into the belly of the mountain, the Wheres of Whereville torch the nest and, when they’ve finished, most of the mountainside. The torchlight pours down the tunnels like a river of molten gold.
Down at the mountain’s root, Beartrap Jones discovers a cool, dark, subterranean lake. And there, by its shores, he fights the cornered Grendelgrinch. He unsheathes his flea-sword, and it sings for the monster’s flesh. The Grendel’s claws glance off the hero’s sun-colored armor, spitting out brief sparks that illuminate the dark cavern. The hero’s spindlesword pierces the beast’s heart once, twice, thrice. It falls into the water, gravely wounded, and Beartrap Jones strips off his armor and dives in after it to retrieve the fell creature’s shriveled heart.
But alas! The bards of Whereville sing lamentations for Beartrap Jones! For he dives to his death. As he swims down, down, down, until the molten torchlight cannot penetrate, until he sits suspended in liquid cold as ice, the Grendelgrinch rises from the dark, red eyes smoldering like coals, a twisted grin on its bloodstained lips. At the bottom of the lake, it has secreted a bottle containing a life-sapping poison. This poison now coats the Grinch’s claws as they lash out and find the hero’s unclad belly. And now—the gods cry out for the loss of their own son!—the poison finds the hero’s heart. A last song escapes his lips, unheard in the dark water, as he buries his spindlesword in the creature’s heart.
The hero’s battle-song forms a bubble. Trapped in a column of dark water, it rises up, up, vertiginously up. The mountain burns; beast and hero share a watery grave. And the question on everybody’s lips is: When? When will this bubble burst?