This story is by Denis Joseph and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Compostville is any little city anywhere in the world. This little habitat is usually found in the corner of a garden. Depending on its human caretaker (Henrietta for example), gardens can be beautiful with an abundance of flowers, fruit trees, trimmed lawns, chirpy birds. Or just a state of decay, neglected by Henry, for example, and his potty-prone dog Poo-Bah.
Which is why Henry willy-nilly is caretaker of the Compost Bin of banana skins, orange peels, scraps, egg shells and dried leaves; making for a bustling metropolis of creepy, crawly inhabitants complete with all their human feelings and emotions.
In Compostville, the population is centered in the Creature Blooming District. The CBD forms the core of life within Compostville with apartments, shopping malls, restaurants and bars; a library, radio station and a police station. (Yes, there is a bit of crime and wanton behaviour usually during Friday night binges).
The tendency to imitate the behaviour of the humans above ground is recorded in Darwin’s Origin of Species and the works of Gerald Durrell and Gary Larson — very popular reads at the library run by a large metamorphosised beetle called Franz K-K. Another colourful character is Freddy the Bull Frog, talk-back host of the radio station whose audience is limited to those who only boast receptive antennae.
The inhabitants lead a peaceful but fulfilling life. But as Nature is wont, the tranquillity of Compostville was not destined to last forever. The discovery of two half-eaten bodies by Grubby the homeless worm in a derelict part of the cemetery shocked the inhabitants.
However, when Constable Hilaris, the laughing wolf spider, arrived on the scene, Surprise! Surprise! no bodies were found, and he was reluctant to peek into any of the graves. Grubby received a right-royal bollicking from the Constable who warned him to stay clear of Mushroom Corner with its hallucinative properties.
But Grubby stood his ground (if worms can stand) claiming that the cannibalisation looked like the work of the Manti. “You should check with Pastor Knowgood. He’s the Head Manti,” said Grubby fearfully. “The females chomp their lovers, but there are devilish mutants in the congregation. They’ll eat anything that moves. And, do you know Constable,” added Grubby hoarsely, “The only hymn they sing is Amazing Grace Before Meals . And then they go on a feeding frenzy through the dark alleys of Compostville.”
Constable Hilaris returned to the Copse Station thinking it was just another absolute bull cook-up by Grubby to get attention. Besides, he couldn’t believe that the Pastor would be up to no good, notwithstanding his homonymic name.
However, that didn’t stop the chitter-chatter, and the mystery deepened when Loretta the cicada and Lizzy the skink reported that their loquacious neighbours — Howzzat the Cricket and Mousy the Click beetle—had disappeared. And Horrors Galore! They were Compostville’s undertakers! And Grubby had claimed that the mutilated bodies were found in the cemetery!
The hysteria received a boost on Freddy’s talk-back show. Whispered Lizzy, her voice choking in fear, “Found near the graves, under a crooked Cross of twigs. It’s a Sign, Freddy. A definite Sign. There’s monstrous evil lurking in the undergrowth in Compostville”.
Freddy the Frog dismissed the ‘disappearance’ as the natural cycle of life, but the posts went viral on Archie Arachnid’s social media website with imaginative doses of exaggeration. “There are Monsters in our midst. There’s whispered talk that they are the Monties. Scaly Pythons with slimy skins, flapping wings and forked tongues”.
“Fake News”, snorted Molly Monarch the flitting drone, who in her stop-and-fly travels about the garden had seen no sign of any lurking danger, much less of any Monties from the Flying Circus.
Yet an uneasy calm prevailed in the community. Although Molly had given the all-clear, folks were sceptical as she was rather flighty and seemed to have eyes only for Valentino the Horny Toad.
Until all hell broke loose with the discovery of Grubby’s mangled body in the last pew of Pastor Knowgood’s church. A grim-faced Constable Hilaris examined the scene and realised that something was indeed rotten in the hamlet of Compostville, and that a potential Witness to the Prosecution had been silenced. If these deaths were the work of predators, the Constable reasoned, his only hope was to catch them in the act. Ironically, it wasn’t long before all hell broke loose again.
It was late evening on a Friday when Constable Hilaris received an urgent vibration through the underground grapevine that murder most foul had taken place at the Gastropod Bar. He dropped everything and scuttled off.
At the Gastropod Bar, Constable Hilaris pattered into a scene of deathly quiet with patrons frozen in silence at their tables and atop their bar stools. ‘Sticky’ Insect Hops Cassidy, the jovial barman, had a worried look on his face and pointed a crooked feeler at Thelma alone at a table weeping, if snails could weep.
Constable Hilaris trotted towards the emotionally-shattered snail, who let out a low wail. In Compostville emotion is telepathic, and the wail reverberated around the leaf-and-banana skin walls.
In the eerie atmosphere lit by the tail-lights of scores of glow-worms, the Constable approached Thelma, murmuring quietly so as not to trigger another wailing spasm; after all, he was a big, beefy brown spider who had even scared the wits out of Henrietta who lived in the big house, and who was 38,469 times larger than Hilaris. ‘Women’ he muttered to himself, as he paused a few inches from Thelma who slithered slowly into a pair of his outstretched legs-turned-arms for comfort.
“She’s a Monster, a horrible Monster,” whispered Thelma fearfully.” She chomped my Harry… chomped off his head…arrh. And then she spat it out! It was horrible”. Constable Hilaris listened patiently as the story unfolded.
“We thought we’d have a night out in town,” she sniffed. “We called up Uber and they sent a slow crock-coach for our pub crawl”.
“And your first port of call was the Gastropod Bar,” interrupted Constable Hilaris.
“Yes,” nodded Thelma grimly. “That was when Harry caught sight of Christina Mantis preening herself on a bar stool, in a shiny green skirt that barely covered her sleek long legs, a bewitching slow burn in her liquid-green eyes. That was enough to galvanise Harry into top gear,” snarled Thelma, her tone changing from grief to contempt.
“And then what happened, Thelma?” coaxed Constable Hilaris, opening out his ‘notepad’ to a blank leaf.
“I’m not sure, Constable. To be honest, I was distracted by that gorgeous bullet-headed Marciano the Slug, and one thing led to another…” she blushed. “And since Harry was otherwise mesmerised with Christina, I thought I’ll show that damn creep” she hissed.
‘Creep indeed’, thought Constable Hilaris, tapping in shorthand code onto the leaf, which was something he learnt while watching a secretary-bird in action from a distance.
Thelma finished wrestling with her conscience and sighed loudly. “Marc and I had a little hanky-panky on the moss behind the brown bark, when Hops Cassidy let out a blood-curdling chirp of horror. I must admit that I was rather slow off the Marc…when I caught sight of my Harry lying prone next to Christina with half his head and a tentacle missing. It was horrible. She’s a Monster, Constable. A man-eater. And Harry is not even her @#$% husband” said Thelma, her voice rising to a screech.
Something suddenly clicked in the mind of Constable Hilaris and he fell flat on his back and smacked his forehead repeatedly with all his eight arms (or legs) and growled. “@#$% That Grubby was right. This is hellish stuff. It was a Mantis all along and a praying one too. I should have realised that the clincher clue was the singing of Amazing Grace Before Meals at Pastor Knowgood’s satanic church. I felt all along he was up to no good.”
Struggling to his feet (or arms),
Constable Hilaris approached Christina and intoned in his best Monty Python imitation: “Christina Mantis, Irish Stew.”
Christina’s last words before she was led away by Constable Hilaris were haughty. “I could have done with some salt. That Harry has no taste.” Thelma shrivelled visibly as she wondered if that last statement was directed to her.
As they left the Bar, Christina turned to the Constable and held him in a Medusa-look that would have petrified a writhing prey and hissed sensuously, “After that Harry, I could really do with some dessert.”
The Constable laughed nervously and set off with his prisoner, taking a short cut to the Copse Station through Side Track Alley. Suddenly he felt a tug on his lower right hind leg. And then another tug on his lower left hind leg. Immobilised, he felt something land on his back with a soft plop and a sharp pain blossomed in the nape of his neck.
In the stillness of the night in Side Track Alley, the choral hymn of Amazing Grace Before Meals reached a crescendo.