All There in the (Monster) Manual
For 2022, I’ve been wanting to write more ‘creature features’ and generally improve my short story writing. My partner got me a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual for my birthday so I came up with the idea of writing a story every week based on a different creature from that. Hope you enjoy!
This Week’s Inspiration: Hill Giant
When Edgar Smith wakes up to a giant destroying his barn and raiding his livestock he wishes he could say he’s surprised. The Great Depression has left folk, big and small, destitute and struggling to get by. But instead of calling in the army maybe there’s a better way to deal with the giant that could benefit the both of them.
1930s American Midwest
Edgar Smith usually rose with the dawn, living and working on his own farm demanded it. But that morning he was woken before the cock’s crow by a series of thunderous booms that shook the foundations of the house itself. Dust sifted from the ceiling above the bed Edgar shared with his wife, Wilma. Wiping his eyes, Edgar wished he could go back to sleep and pretend it was all a dream but he could still feel the tremors rattling the floorboards and shaking the bed. Instinctively he knew they had the rhythm of footsteps. Sighing, he rolled off the mattress and crossed to the window in his long underwear.
“What is it? What’s happening?” Wilma murmured, half-asleep.
Edgar pulled the curtains open. Dawn quickened in the eastern portion of the sky and across the farm Edgar saw a vast, dark shape. Human, but with a head like a boulder atop an enormous trunk of a body the size of a building. It circled the far side of their barn. Edgar sighed again.
“Dang it all, honey, we got a giant,” Edgar said.
Edgar rarely hurried, thinking each move he made through carefully before he made it. He got dressed, pulling his suspenders over his shoulders. Wilma boiled a pot of coffee in the kitchen. Fear and worry wrote themselves over her face.
“The good book says, there were giants in those days.” Edgar gave his wife a weak smile. “Probably be a whole spell less trouble if’n they’d stayed there.”
“Edgar, maybe you should call the sheriff and let him handle it,” Wilma said.
“Now what do you think old, fat, drunk Sheriff Bill James is going to do about a giant on our property?”
“He could call in the army.”
“The army isn’t going to trek all the way out here unless that giant starts causing some serious havoc. No, no, I’m just going to go out there and try to speak with him first. Get Henry up and at them chores, can’t believe that boy’s still asleep.”
Edgar put on his boots and coat, and tucked his hat down low over his ears. He stopped at the door and hesitated. His shotgun rested on pegs by the entryway. Grimly, he thought it over for a few moments. Edgar took the gun down and loaded it, slinging it under his arm as he left the house.
With a cacophony of smashing wood and screaming horses, the giant kicked Edgar’s old barn to pieces. The roof and walls collapsed. Thankfully, Edgar’s horses fled like rats from a haypile as the barn came apart. The giant turned and walked away to the nearest woods. He returned with a couple of trees pulled up in their entirety. Massive clumps of dirt fell from the tangled balls of their roots. The giant tossed the trees on top of the flattened barn with a couple of huge crunches.
Edgar circled his homestead and watched as the giant loped off toward his cattle pasture. The cows didn’t know how to react. Some fled, lowing in terror, but others looked merely puzzled by this turn of events. The giant wore a toga of some kind, made of rough material with thick red and white stripes like an old circus tent. It almost looked like a dress, but Edgar probably wouldn’t say that to the giant’s face. Obviously, the giant wanted some breakfast and must have been hungry. He collected three of Edgar’s cows and tucked them into the crook of his arm as they bleated and kicked. He returned, footsteps shaking the earth.
Edgar’s prize bull, Beater Jim, finally decided to get involved and dogged the giant’s heels. Edgar winced and wondered if he should intervene already. Thankfully, in spite of Beater Jim swinging his horns into the giant’s ankles, the giant ignored him and stepped over the pasture fence without crushing it. The giant returned to the destruction of Edgar’s barn.
Compared to the giant, the three cows he held looked like small rabbits. Crossing his legs and sitting beside the destroyed barn, the giant smothered and snapped the cow’s necks. Even at a distance, Edgar could hear the bone break and the sound turned his blood cold. The giant had a long, sharp stick, like a spear, and a bulky bag made from weathered material. Untying it, the giant removed from his belongings a crude knife. In the giant’s hand the knife looked small, but its blade was taller than a man and looked like scrap metal beaten into shape and then sharpened. The giant dug its knife into the first cow’s midsection and gutted it. Intestines and viscera sprung from the gash he made, and he flicked the pile of guts into the dirt.
Edgar decided he’d waited long enough and started across the field toward the barn and the cross-legged giant. The giant quickly gutted the other two cows. His movements were unhesitating, smooth, clearly used to living off the land. He ignored Edgar’s approach. Instead, he took his giant-sized spear and one of the cows. The spear had been carved to a sharp point and then hardened by fire. It wasn’t much of a spear in the giant’s giant hands, more like one of those sticks trash collectors used to pick up bits of paper in the city or at ballparks. Working the point through their rear ends and then out through the breast, the giant impaled all three cows. Clearly he intended on building a fire and roasting the cows over it, Edgar saw. The ruins of the barn should make good kindling with all its dry wood and the hay stored inside.
“Howdy there!” Edgar yelled, raising his voice as much as he could.
The giant ignored Edgar. Only a flicker of discontent betrayed that he’d noticed the farmer at all. Up close, the giant truly was immense. Enormous, elephantine. Brobnagian. Hairs as thick as electrical wires covered his arms and legs, and the tops of his feet. Like all giants, to human sensibilities he was tremendously ugly. His skin course, pitted and hairy. Small, piggish eyes under a heavy brow. Edgar had heard the vision of giants was relatively poor and they struggled to tell one human’s features apart from another. By comparison, the giant’s ears were huge even against his massive skull and they stuck out like jug handles. Their hearing was supposed to be good enough to pick up human voices even at a conversational level. His nose was a misshapen lump in the middle of his face, above a fat, wide, fishlike mouth.
The giant removed a chunk of stone from his bag. A flint, Edgar realised. The giant cleaned his knife and then scraped it across the flint, attempting to make a spark. The noise was ear splitting.
“I say, howdy, excuse me, my name’s Edgar Smith! Those are my cows you’ve got there, and that is, was, my barn!”
The gutted innards of the three cows sat in three steaming piles in the early morning light. Behind the giant, in the east the sun rose fully into the sky. A confused but committed rooster crowed from time to time at the dawn. The giant continued to scrape at his flint, producing bright flashes but failing to catch the hay sticking from the ruined barn.
“Is that supposed to be for me?” The giant finally acknowledged Edgar, and nodded toward the shotgun tucked under Edgar’s arm.
“Not precisely,” Edgar said. “Truth be told, I thought I might use it to catch your attention if you wouldn’t speak to me.”
“You’ve got my attention now, what of it?” The giant said.
“Out of curiosity, what would you have done if I’d attacked you with this little ol’ shotgun?”
“I’d have taken it from you. And thrown it away.”
“I can see how that might have gotten us off to the wrong foot.”
“Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?”
The giant’s voice was like thunder. Not thunder directly overhead perhaps, not yet. But thunder in the distance, bouncing off canyon walls and stony hills. An impressively powerful set of lungs, no doubt he could have been a good deal louder if he chose.
“No, as I was saying to you though, those cows are mine. My livelihood you might say.”
The giant scraped his knife across the flint with a sound that made Edgar’s tongue stick to the roof of his mouth. Sparks rained down on the kindling of Edgar’s barn and caught. The giant lowered itself over the barn, face illuminated by the embers, and started to blow. A gale came from the giant’s thick lips and cast up thick smatters of hay. Fire caught and started to blaze. Soon it covered the ruins of Edgar’s old barn. Heat from the bonfire was intense enough that Edgar had to shield his face and step away. The giant lifted the three cows, impaled on his stick, and warmed them over the fire.
“You were saying?”
“I was saying that those are my cattle, and if you’d come to me and asked then maybe we could have come to some sort of arrangement. It would have been good of you to ask.”
Colour flushed the giant’s cheeks but he didn’t respond. Slamming the butt end of his spear into the ground, he cast up a huge gout of dirt. That left the cattle, impaled, dangling over the growing fire. Standing, the giant removed a cup from his bag. It appeared to be part of a broken water tower, the wooden barrel that would have stood on top of the tower. He walked across the farm to a stream that crossed Edgar’s property and filled the barrel with water.
Edgar was aware of Wilma, and likely Henry too, watching from the house. Call in the army, she’d said. It would do no good. Giants wandered the country from the northern wilds of Alaska and Canada, and down to Mexico, and everywhere in between. Giants were big, no doubt about it. Hard to miss. But people forgot just how big America was. Out on the boundaries, giants could disappear easily into woodlands or wastelands. Places jeeps and soldiers or tanks would struggle to follow. Planes and zeppelins could only go so far. At signs of that kind of trouble, any giant would gather what he could and leave.
“Call it reparations,” the giant said, returning to the fire. “We were here hundreds of years ahead of you. Your kind chased us out of the old country, we came here. We were fine among those you call the red man and then you turned up, claiming it all for yourselves, and cast us out again.”
“I don’t know about all that. I’d only ask you if you’re still hungry not to take my black bull over there in the field, Beater Jim,” Edgar said. “He’s a breeding stud. Him, or my horses, I’d be much obliged.”
The giant turned the cattle over the fire as if on a spit, the flames now blazing with heat. He seemed to consider the farmer’s words. Edgar could smell the cows’ burning hide. The beginnings of roasting beef.
“You must have been hungry,” Edgar said.
“Depression was hard on a lot of folk. You struggling to find work?”
“I used to have a job,” the giant said. “Up north, with a lumber company. Did the work of a hundred men, uprooting trees and stripping them down. All I asked for was a place to sleep, and food. But when your human stock market crashed, suddenly the banks wanted money and all I could do wasn’t good enough. Since then, anyone who wants to hire anyone only wants to hire other humans.”
“That’s hard, like I say, was tough on a lot of folk. Tough here, too.”
“I guess so.”
“I still hadn’t gotten your name, like I say, my name’s Edgar Smith.”
“Names are for other giants, not for humans. You wouldn’t say it right.”
“Alright then, I’ll just call you ‘Giant’. You tell me, Giant, you ain’t no stranger to honest work, it’s just that it’s been denied you for too long?”
The giant shifted uncomfortably. “I suppose so. I’ve been moving around, taking what I can. I don’t take too much or else, well, you humans come after me.”
“You figured, you’re bigger than me, you could take my cows because you needed them and there ain’t much I can do about it. But the banks are bigger than both of us, and have taken from both of us. That don’t seem right, does it?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Are you a godly man, Giant?”
“There was a preacher at the logging camp. He tried to teach me to read,” the giant said. “I can recognise the difference between letters just fine! Not my fault you make all your reading so small.”
“Well, the good book says some things about stealing.”
The cows continued to roast over the enormous fire. The giant looked ashamed but didn’t know what to do about it, and kept turning them.
“Giants aren’t subject to human laws,” the giant said. “Nor are they protected by them.”
“You’ve got me there, but I ain’t talking about human laws. I was talking about His. Besides which, I’m not so concerned about law as I am with courtesy, and common feeling between all thinking folk.”
“I’m sorry, I’ve been walking around, I didn’t know where to turn.”
“Well, you have your breakfast, I won’t negotiate with a man, or a giant, with an empty stomach making his decisions for him. Then we can talk.”
The giant continued to turn the cattle over the fire until the smell of beef permeated the whole area. Edgar sat back from the heat and flames, his shotgun beside him. The giant looked less than enthusiastic about the meal but he removed the cows from the fire. Lips blew a cooling breeze over the smoking carcasses. Teeth the size of tombstones bit down and peeled meat from solid frames. Bones crunched and popped like rifle fire. The giant chewed, swallowed, and ate all three quickly. Fragments of skulls and thick ivory he spat into the fire.
“What can I do for you, to pay you back for your cattle?” The giant asked.
“Well, firstly there’s a stone in the field over yonder. Soil is good for crops but I’ve had to sow around it. Would be much obliged if you were to clear it.”
The stone itself was an enormous boulder with jagged edges that must have weighed as much as a house. Picked up by unimaginable glacial forces in antediluvian times from hundreds of miles away and deposited on the earth that would become Edgar’s farm. No army of men, no vehicle that Edgar knew of, could have shifted it.
The giant dug around the stone with his bare hands so he could get a grip. Muscles bulged in the giant’s hairy arms as he took it in both hands, twisted, and lifted. Bowed over, he staggered to the woods at the edge of Edgar’s property. He dumped the ancient stone among the trees, leaving a crater in the dirt where it had been.
“That’s one,” the giant said, slightly out of breath. “What else?”
“I’ve always wanted a dam for the stream down the end of the property, to water the cattle,” Edgar said. “You could help me with that?”
Building the dam took longer, but was quite a bit more helpful than simply moving that stone. The giant knelt over the stream and again with bare hands he widened its banks. He scooped up huge fistfuls of wet soil, dumping it off to the side. At a distance, in his washed out toga, the giant looked like a child playing in the dirt. What he did, however, much faster than any earthmoving equipment or gang of workers could do, was he created an open pool for Edgar’s dam. Then, using crushed rocks, tree trunks, and mud, he created the dam itself. The stream began to fill the pond dug out by the giant’s hands.
Even with the giant’s muscle, the dam had taken a couple of hours to build properly. Edgar supervised with satisfaction. Back across the farm, the ruins of the barn burnt down to embers and ashes.
“Is there anything else I can help with?” The giant asked.
“I think that more than makes up for the cows,” Edgar said. “But, you know, some damn fool came along and kicked down my barn. I surely could use a hand building it back.”
The giant looked ashen. “I’m sorry, you know, other humans, they hadn’t wanted to talk to me at all. If I came in, stomping and taking whatever I wanted, they would leave me alone.”
“Don’t worry about it, it was an old barn. But I sure would appreciate someone making up for all the feed and tools in there I lost. Someone who knows lumber and such.”
For the rest of the day, the giant gathered wood. Using his primitive knife, he stripped bark and shaped tree trunks into planks like a man whittling. A pile of fresh, bleeding lumber gathered off to the side of where the old barn had been.
Come suppertime, Edgar gave the giant two more cows from his herd. The giant gutted, cooked and ate them. The giant had already helped Edgar round his horses back up and they were tied up near the homestead. Edger returned to the house for dinner as well.
“What are you going to do, Edgar?” Wilma asked, as their boy Henry gawked across the table.
“It’s okay, he’s doing some odd jobs for us. He’s an honest man, giant, he just needs someone to give a fair chance.”
“That’s all well and good, Edgar, but we only have so many head of cattle. You can’t afford to be giving them away on odd jobs.”
“Something will come up, I’ll talk to some of the other farms around here and see if there’s some work they could find for him.”
“Edgar, you’ve got a heart as big as that giant, but this just ain’t a country for men with big hearts no more.”
Edgar went to bed that night still turning over solutions in his head. But Wilma was right. His was a small farm, as were all the farms in these parts. No place for such a big giant.
The next morning, Henry took the Ford into town for supplies. He returned with a crate of beans and flour and such, with a newspaper lying on top to tell them about the latest goings on in the world. Edgar was in the kitchen, having breakfast. Wilma boiled a fresh pot of coffee. The giant had eaten another two cows for breakfast and Edgar’s herd was already looking thinner. He continued to work on lumber for Edgar’s new barn.
“I told some folk down at the store about the giant,” Henry said. “But no one could think of any jobs they wanted him to do.”
“We’ve got to do something to help,” Edgar said. “If we don’t help one another then who will? The factory owners? The banks?”
Edgar took the newspaper from the top of the crate Henry had brought in, and unfurled it. Ink stained his fingers. His eyes scanned the front page and started to widen as an idea lit his features.
After breakfast, the farmer walked out to where the giant was working, tapping the paper against his thigh. The giant lay propped on one elbow, concentrating on his task as he whittled another tree trunk into planks of lumber. In his togalike dress, the giant risked exposure. Edgar had done his best to avoid peeking under the hem, for his own sanity.
“Morning, boss,” the giant said. “Something more I can do for you today?”
“Not for me, but maybe for you. Maybe a piece of work that would suit you better, to the west of here,” Edgar said. “You heard of the Boulder Dam project?”
The giant shook his monstrous head, his jug handle ears listening. Edgar unfolded the paper and read from it.
“President Eisenhower has announced construction to begin on the Boulder Dam project, on the Colorado River on the border of Nevada and Arizona. They’re recruiting workers, building a whole city for them to live at while they build the dam. They say it’s going to be over seven hundred foot high, and create a reservoir over two hundred square miles.”
Edgar looked up, far overhead, to meet the giant’s gaze. The giant listened solemnly but with rising excitement as he realised the same possibilities that Edgar had seen.
“Sounds like a job for a giant to me,” Edgar said.
Sean: In case you’re unaware, the Boulder Dam is today known as the Hoover Dam and is truly a giant of an engineering marvel. I’ve seen it twice, once by bus and once by air while traveling to the Grand Canyon from out of Vegas. It’s just one of those structures that really impresses upon you just what human ingenuity and hard work can achieve. I like to think they wouldn’t have necessarily turned down some giant help if offered, though.
I like this as kind of a downtempo story about approaching others and problems with kindness, remembering we’re all in things together. Except for the bloodsucking bankers. I wouldn’t expect all my creatures to be as kindly or to be dealt with as peacefully though.
Keep your eyes on the website for more in this series, I fully intend to release one every week across 2022 – totally free. And for more updates you can find me on Facebook and Twitter.
Pingback: Two Heads Are Better Than One | Sean E. Britten
Pingback: Halfway Through a Year of All There in the (Monster) Manual! | Sean E. Britten
Pingback: Beans | Sean E. Britten