Many said that he was begot by the devil himself. Others muttered about a lupine litter of half-human cubs. All knew that he was cast out of the village years ago; that he raised himself from infancy to maturity in isolated, wretched gloom within the depths of a cave on the fringes of Kane Rock. Great Peter was how they christened him.
Few had seen him and fewer still in daylight hours. But all swore that his size would dwarf any man. That his ugliness could curdle blood. Some took pity on him over the years, stitching giant garments, visiting his cave in secret and leaving them at the entrance; cobbling shoes and tossing them into his bleak habitat.
Though his cave was littered with many hundreds of animal bones; though its entrance was dogged by the stench of putrefaction; though many were plagued by the thought of him in their nightmares, Great Peter never once harmed a human soul. Until.
The incident hinged upon a single shoe. A tiny wooden clog that a young man named Seamus Bragg claimed to have stolen from Great Peter’s cave whilst the miscreation was abroad; innocently hunting, obeying his gut. A rough thing it was, that clog. Not more than six inches long – a hollowed out hunk of Yew bark. Though, clearly, a tiny shoe.
“What a meagre thing he must be, to own such a feeble shoe! Great Peter? He’s had us duped all the while!” said the cocksure Seamus, poisoned with liquor and shrieking through a haze of miasma in the damp Inn.
“We should strike him out of our lands for good, that rotted demi-man.” And some of the men, in their drunken arrogance, joined with Seamus and his sentiment. They set out on the road, to the outer rim of the village, beyond the bent oaks, along the plains and the winter-bruised grasslands and up to Kane Rock to take Great Peter by force.
I know this because I was one of those men.
I can still feel the heat of my torch as I held it above me. I hear, still, the taunts we vomited; I feel them on my own now-leaden tongue. I can see, still, Seamus in my mind’s eye. Stepping forward with his own torch, brandishing it near the entrance of the cave and shouting profane threats; holding the tiny shoe aloft and calling:
“Come out, pathetic wretch, for we mean to show you for the grubby little worm that you are!” As he said this, Seamus began lighting chunks of wood that lay about him. He threw them into the cave. And we all followed suit – casting rocks, sticks, bones, into the darkness. All the while, Seamus advanced a little further towards the cave’s opening.
A muffled, rumbling cry came. A shocking shriek of pain. A groan of woeful despondency from within.
What happened next was so quick and brutal that I have to slow down time in my mind to recall it. But I see it with such horrid clarity and I cannot help but sob whenever the memory is formed. I see it. And I see him clearly.
How he emerged from the filth he lived in; rattled by contact of stones and sticks and blazing wood, crying in a dull, low moan, for peace. He stood, silhouetted, in the makeshift doorway. A few panic-fuelled stones made contact with his gargantuan body. He dragged himself forward, into the torchlight.
A great behemoth of a man. A walking, land-living leviathan. His skin, a dusty grey, revealing the pulsing, blue veins beneath. And his face! Oh, that piteous, enormous face.
Using his singular, trunk-like arms to drag himself, he lunged forward with an awful, bone-shattering cry and took Seamus up in his great hand.
With a single gesture, he smashed Seamus’s body onto the rocky ground below. The rest of us, stunned into silence, but unable to move, simply stared as Peter calmed himself, looked at what he had done and gave a single, heart-wrenching sob. He tore the garment, made by some caring hand of the townsfolk, from his bulge of body and threw it over the corpse.
And then Great Peter retreated back into his cave, never to be seen nor heard of again. Dragging one tiny, withered leg behind him.