Armel Dagorn was born in France in 1985 and has been living in Cork, Ireland, for the past few years. His stories
appear or are forthcoming in magazines such as Southword, Paper Darts and Wordlegs. He has a little place at
Balthazar was first a small, waxy-looking man, with stubble on his chin like a fat spider’s knotty legs. He had ribs poking out his sides an even lesser man might have climbed like a ladder up to his shoulder, had that lesser man wished to whisper something in Balthazar’s ear.
Balthazar was small because he didn’t eat much, and he didn’t eat much because everything he ever ate tasted too bland, lingered, unexciting to his palate and unchallenging to his jaws. Then one day he found a little fish on the corner of his plate, a half-an-inch long scaly thing, head and tail and all. He looked around, a bit confused, wondering what to do, and saw others picked up their own little fish and put them whole in their mouths, then chewed noisily. Balthazar copied them and his eyes opened wide when the little bones cracked in his mouth. Crackle, crackety crack! Ah! That meal changed Balthazar.
His diet now included bony fish at all meals. Soon, small ones weren’t enough, and he started getting bigger and bigger fish, fish he fried before swallowing whole. But he missed meat, so he started experimenting. The mice problem he’d had for months became a mice blessing, and he caught them humanely to then cook them and break their bones with his teeth. Ratti al dente. Soon he caught birds too, and scared many a dinner party by snatching chicken carcasses and stuffing them down his mouth. Crackety crack! By then he’d put on weight, and meaty jowls framed his features like brackets. But the hunger didn’t stop, and he grew tired of every new find, and he started devouring kittens and puppies but quickly found them lacking in taste and substance. So he moved on to babies, but it wasn’t much better: they tasted like talcum-powdered chicken and their bones weren’t even as snappy as a healthy puppy’s. The baby snatching didn’t sit too well with his neighbours, who already thought his behaviour distasteful. Balthazar was chased out of town by pitchfork-wielding, torch-carrying, self-righteous mobs.
In the country he had his pick of animals to choose from to fill his ever-expanding stomach, and a few sheep and sheep dogs disappeared before he got bored of them. Cows and horses it was then, and he gulped them down in one go, and they mooed and neighed in his mouth before being crushed by his jaw.
Countrymen might be slower to anger than city dwellers, but their wrath once kindled burnt no less and soon Balthazar was forced to go, out on a boat, away from the old world he knew so well.
Balthazar thought it might be for the best, as he’d roamed the old country and hadn’t found food that would put his palate at rest. He was happy for a while, peaceful on his boat, and he ate dolphins he baited with smaller fish, and he ate them in one go, and he could feel the bait fish’s bones inside the dolphin’s rib cage, crackle and crack, like a gastronome’s version of matryoshka dolls.
Sometimes luck ran out and all he caught was jellyfish, vile, spineless baby food that reminded him of his skinny youth. On good days he caught whales and he ate them—of course not in one go (he wasn’t that big yet), but in a fair two or three bites—and he thought of an elderly relative of his who used to bore family reunions with his antebellum tales of living between the walls of a whale’s stomach, and he smiled at his little cetacean revenge.
When he landed it was in a new world, and he gave up for a while feeding on the animal kingdom, and munched on a few houses he came by. The substance was nice, though the taste wasn’t great, plastery, and the wooden ribs sometimes splintered in his gums. He took to eating houses being built, as they were more bone and less powdery flesh, and the little bones of carpenters inside the wooden bones of their own creatures reminded him of his marine dolls.
Once again his diet angered the locals and they ousted him with firearms, little lead bullets that pricked and tickled his sensitive skin, and he ran to the forest.
There he snacked on centenarian sequoias, wild-tasting wood, like a primitive recipe of the delicate house ribs he’d recently taken to eating, and he took to eating stones too, which satisfied his appetite for something concrete, but there was still something missing, and he ate boulders, and he saw a tall mountain and climbed on top of it, and he opened his mouth wide, wide open and laid it around the snow-topped rim and went down, down with his mouth around the ground, and he sucked in, and the mountain disappeared in his mouth and the forest, the new world disappeared and the ocean and the old world disappeared in a big final crack, and finally Balthazar had eaten everything, and he lay there satisfied, big as the world, round, floating in space.
And while he napped, replete, out of the pores of his skin seeped little creatures, mucky, scared little things from his young hungry days when he didn’t always take the time to chew, and they limped around and whispered in awe in the shadow of Balthazar’s nose, looking up to its summit, and they preyed on each other and they reproduced, and they prayed to an ungraspable greater being, because what else could they do.
And so it went on.