The Mouth in the Wall

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Psst! Hey!  Sweet, little child, if you give me that loaf of bread you’re holding, then I’ll give you a chocolate cake,” a small voice suddenly whispered into his ear.

He jumped up from where he had been crouching. Turning around, he saw a small mouth in the wall he had just been leaning against. The mouth was hidden behind a trashcan in the far side of the alleyway shadows between the back-end of a bar and a brothel. His stomach growled. He had just stolen this loaf of bread and slipped into the alleyway to eat it. He had not eaten for days. And then the little mouth spoke again.

“Come on, sweet child, I promise,” annunciating its words carefully as if it were trying to be cast as a gentleman, “Give little-old-me the loaf and I’ll give you a whole chocolate cake.”

The little boy did not know why he did it. Perhaps it was pity. Maybe it was the lure of chocolate cake. For whatever reason, he reached out his hand with the loaf of bread on it. Almost like it sensed his intentions, the Mouth in the Wall opened wide and a viciously-pink tongue shot out, scooping the loaf into its maw. The bread disappeared into it, followed by brief chewing and a satisfied belch afterward.

“Thank you, my boy,” the Mouth in the Wall said, some of its charm slipping, “and here is your chocolate cake.”

The Mouth in the Wall opened up–the boy was sure that it was just a little bigger than it had been moments ago?–and a stunning, dripping chocolate cake came out carried by its viciously-pink tongue.

While he stuffed his mouth with fistfuls of the decadent chocolate cake, the boy’s mind raced with the potential here. His eyes gleamed and his desires expanded. The Mouth in the Wall grinned quietly in the background.

***

The boy fenced off the alleyway after he had bought the two adjacent buildings–the bar and the brothel–that formed it. Later he bought the whole neighbourhood. And, eventually, he built a palace over it all. The alleyway remained there, though. It even remained fenced off despite being in the palace’s great dungeons.

By now he was a young man, though. He paid the builders with gold and jewels like he paid for everything else. Princesses would court him from all the kingdoms while princes would try to work out the source of his wealth. He had thousands of slaves from the furthest reaches of the world and would hold great balls with the finest musicians and wine flowing like rivers in his crystal halls. Great art hung on his walls and statues were carved of him.

Rumours whispered of great vaults full of treasure deep in his dungeons. Some thieves even broke into these dungeons once, but all they found was the remains of the old city with two intact buildings–a bar and a brothel–and a fenced-off, shadowy alleyway.

The thieves slipped out emptyhanded, but their tale did little to quench the rumours that swirled around. The fact remained that he did bring forth chests full of gold, silver and jewels. The fact remained that lavish balls were thrown in his sparkling palace and guests of grace from all the kingdoms attended. The fact remained that all this kept happening and kept getting bigger and grander.

Other than his life of leisure and great indulgence, once every fortnight at midnight, he would take a number of slaves with him down into the dungeon. No one but the slaves noticed this, but no one else was watching at this time. At first, it was only one slave, but then it became two and then three. Each fortnight was one more trip with one more slave.

None of the slaves ever came back up. Only he ever returned, looking more tired than before. His eyes that had once gleamed were starting to go dull and cold. His face was getting gaunt and strained like he was feeding a hunger that could never be satisfied.

But he kept going down into the fenced-off alleyway in his dungeon, and the great balls kept being thrown in his palace overhead. The treasures kept flowing from his vaults to pay for all of this indulgence and nothing else seemed to matter, for the time.

***

“Gimme the fucking kid,” leered the slobbering Mouth in the Wall at the boy. The Mouth had gotten a lot bigger and cruder now. The boy too had changed and was now a man that was much older, married and had a daughter, “Gimme the goddam yummy and I’ll give you a fucking golden river of goddam jewels!”

The Mouth in the Wall had long since given up being nice, or, even any semblance of manners. It demanded its meals now. And, even though its gifts were much bigger, so was its appetite. It shrieked at him, slobber splattering everywhere and its viciously-pink tongue flicking out like a snake’s.

Oh, how that mouth’s screams haunted his nightmares. But, he had spent too much and, even with all his wealth, he had gotten into debt and needed this gold. He needed the Mouth in the Wall and he really, really needed some more gold to survive.

“Come on! You gotta gimme her to munch!” the leering Mouth in the Wall screamed at him, licking its lips gruesomely, “You can have all the shiny you want, but I will only eat her! Only her!”

He begged the vile Mouth in the Wall. He pleaded with it. He fell down onto his knees and sobbed before it, howling to the fates about this unfairness and injustice. But the Mouth in the Wall did not care. It only hungered for more. It only wanted to eat one single thing. And feeding it was the only way he would get what he needed…

Eventually, he got up, dried his tears and straightened his shirt. He walked out of the alleyway, closing the fence’s gate behind him with a large padlock. The key hung around his neck. The Mouth in the Wall was screaming behind him for her. He knew he would hear those screams in his sleep that night, if he fell asleep. He felt numb, but he kept reminding himself that he had no choice. The world was not fair. The Mouth in the Wall demanded it. Without feeding it what it wanted, he would lose everything.

He hoped his wife–the Queen–would not miss their daughter too much.

***

One day, long after the Queen had disappeared, the King went down to the dungeons and did not return. At first, the palace carried on running itself as slaves and servant went about their tasks. But, eventually, the absence of the master was noted. And about that time, the coffers ran out, the debts came knocking at the door and the bankers moved in while the staff moved out.

When the estate was liquidated, a progressive man bought the palace. He intended to knock it down with a view to building something more modern in its place. He had grand ambitions and great plans. He was going to conquere this world, and maybe the next one too.

Beforehand, though, he took a quiet stroll through its airy chambers. Like everyone else, he too had heard the stories of this place. Great frescos adorned its walls as chandeliers lit its countless chambers. Metals and crystal sparkled everywhere in luminous beauty. But, curious to a fault, the progressive man made his way down into the dungeon.

And there he found the fenced-off, shadowy alleyway, its padlocked gate slightly ajar.

He did not know why, but he felt like he had found something he should not have. Being a progressive man, though, he disregarded this thought and stepped into the alleyway. Nothing should fear him in this place. He owned everything he could see here.

But, there was nothing there. It was an empty little alleyway between two rundown buildings.

He blinked and looked around. No, there was something here. A small, yellowed note lay on the ground. Picking it up, he read it out loud, its words echoing strangely in that alleyway in the empty palace’s dungeon:

This is my final trade. I can give no more than myself to quench–for once and all!–its cursed hunger. It has haunted me for decades, but, eventually, I have realized that if you feed it, it only gets bigger. Remember that. Don’t feed it.

Psst! Hey! Sir, gentleman,” a small voice piped up behind the progressive man, causing to jump in fright, dropping the note and turning around–there was a small little mouth in the alleyway’s one wall, “Dear Sir, I wonder if I could trouble you for a loaf of bread? I’ll give you something in return? What do you want?”

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