Behold the Garrohoth
by Kaalii Cargill
Matthew was hunting for monsters. He braved the long, shadowy corridor, pushed open the heavy oak door, and stood alone in the library. He approached the floor-to-ceiling shelves that sagged with books and papers, collected by his ancestors over ten generations.
As he had done since he was a small child, Matthew climbed onto the wooden ladder and propelled himself around the walls of books. He had long since learned that there was no order in the shelves, so he grabbed books randomly and dropped them to the floor. It had worked in the past.
With a satisfying trail of books in his wake, Matthew climbed down and began to read. He discarded two accounts of European history, a philosophical treatise by an ancient Egyptian, a cookbook from the West Indies, and a crumbling parchment with writing like bird tracks.
Then he found it: Professor Wallenstein’s Compendium of Curious Creatures: Beasts, Monsters And Other Things That Go Bump In The Night. It was an old book, but that was exactly what Matthew wanted. He was looking for an old monster.
He read aloud from Professor Wallenstein’s introduction:
The quiet, dark places of the world are home to creatures rarely seen by humankind. In the shadowy moistness, the creatures live lives long or short, brutish or mild, depending on their disposition. Once upon a time, when people remembered the turning of the seasons, and stood beneath diamond-studded skies to watch the moon, the creatures were known by name: Basilisks, Chimeras, Dragons, Giants, Griffins, Harpies, Jinn, Nagas, Ogres, and Trolls, to list but a few.
In days long gone, these monstrous denizens of the dark were cautiously welcomed into mid-winter rituals and initiation ceremonies, consulted for spells and potions, and generally respected for their mysterious, albeit sinister, wisdom. Something happened to change the ancient agreements, upsetting the balance so that, for time beyond counting, the only crossings have been accidental.
One of those who crossed from the shadows was a creature so ugly that even the Gods and Goddesses had turned away at its creation. Misshapen, bulbous features sagged over a bloated and scaly body. So terrible was the smell emanating from the monster that the Garrohoth, as it was called, was shunned. Which is why, perhaps, it found a way into the world of humans.
In a paradox typical of Fate, the Garrohoth looked out through gem-quality eyes the colour of emeralds. As if to balance the grotesquerie of its outward form, the eyes were exquisitely, profoundly beautiful. Yet, the most luminescent eyes in the world could only be seen by someone willing to brave the repulsive, malodorous exterior of the monster. The Garrohoth has never been invited to a winter solstice, never called on to scare away rats and other unwanted guests. Even other monsters turn their backs and walk away from the green-eyed one.
Matthew sat back and sighed deeply. That’s it! I’ll find a Garrohoth!
He didn’t tell his father. He had long since learned that his father only listened with half an ear, so engrossed was he with Work. Matthew didn’t mind; his father’s money would make it possible for him to join the scientists, paleontologists, and other adventurers who had paid Humphrey Magicore a small fortune for the privilege of going on his Expedition to the Underworld.
Matthew didn’t believe in the Underworld, but he thought they might visit some dark, quiet places. He asked for the trip for his fifteenth birthday.
“Why?” asked his father, looking puzzled.
“To dispel the fear of Death,” answered Matthew, reading from Humphrey Mangicore’s brochure. “You may have journeyed to every other region of Earth: — the mountain peaks, the Ocean depths, the rainforests, and the vast deserts; but there is one frontier you have yet to conquer.”
Matthew thought it overblown, but could see that his father was impressed.
“Death,” he announced grandly, “is the last frontier.”
“Nothing like a good adventure!” said Matthew’s father, patting him on the shoulder. “Unfortunately business keeps me at home.”
Matthew knew it was agoraphobia that kept his father at home, but he nodded and smiled and waited for permission to pack his bags.
Finally, his father reached for the cheque-book. “It’s a fine thing for a young man to look Death in the face before going to university,” he said, handing Matthew the cheque.
In all, twelve intrepid souls joined the expedition. They arrived in Greece in the middle of summer, and set about searching for the fabled entrance to the Underworld.
“It is unlikely to look like a door or a gate,” said Humphrey knowledgeably. No one asked him how he knew.
They searched by day. They searched by night. They searched in the crepuscular hours between day and night, but they found nothing that remotely resembled an entrance to the Underworld.
Matthew was the youngest member of the party, and a virgin. He was mindful of the advantage that might give him with a Unicorn, but he was unsure about Basilisks, Chimeras, Dragons, Giants, Griffins, Harpies, Jinn, Nagas, Ogres, or Trolls. And there was no literature at all about catching a Garrohoth.
Armed with his virginity and insatiable curiosity, Matthew investigated caves, grottos, and other dark, damp places, in search of footprints, spoor, and tell-tale signs of monsters: gnawed bones, dried blood, and golden scales. Several times, the expedition was delayed as he clambered over rocks, hid in bushes, and followed likely-looking prints into the foothills.
“Please stay close,” said Humphrey, rolling his eyes with exasperation. “It is unlikely that a boy will find what men cannot.”
Watched by Humphrey’s three muscular assistants, Matthew did stay close, trapped with the other disappointed adventurers. He became resigned to going to university without having looked Death in the face. And without finding a Garrohoth.
On the last morning, while the assistants loaded luggage and specimen boxes onto the ship bound for home, Matthew wandered in the garden of a sea-side villa. It was one of Humphrey’s estates, and pleasant enough, if one liked well-ordered garden beds and clipped hedges. Pleasant, that is, except for the pungent smell of blood-and-bone fertiliser. Matthew wrinkled his nose and decided to board the ship.
A flash of green caught his eye, a trick of the light on the leaves. He looked again. Then the luminescence became eyes the colour of emeralds. Matthew moved closer, walking as if gravity had been suspended. He carefully parted the leaves. There, looking at him, was a Garrohoth. The smell was overwhelming.
Matthew held his nose and stared at the monster. It really was the ugliest thing he’d ever seen. Then he did something no one — God, human, or monster — had ever done before. He reached out to touch the Garrohoth’s nose. At least, Matthew assumed the misshapen lump was a nose; it seemed to have air holes.
The creature’s skin was surprisingly clean and soft. Instantly Matthew was struck by a tide of warmth flowing through his body, like stepping into a steaming bath. His muscles relaxed and he found himself smiling into a huge, emerald eye. Golden-flecked with bronze and a little silver, he thought dreamily to himself as he stroked the soft nose. The smell had become more like well-tilled earth.
“Matthew,” called Humphrey, impatiently. “Where are you, boy?”
“I have to go,” Matthew whispered to his newfound friend.
The emerald eye blinked. Suddenly Matthew had the strangest thought. I want to take him with me.
He knew that only minutes before he would have thought it impossible. He had simply wanted to find one of the creatures, to prove that he could. Something very odd was happening. He pulled back from the soft nose and looked intently at the eye. It was still watching him.
“Who are you?” he asked.
And was scared witless when a rumbling voice answered, “True naming is a gift to be bestowed, not something for the asking.”
“Oh, of course. I knew that,” stammered Matthew, backing away.
“Never mind. You are the first even to ask in a long time,” said the voice.
Matthew thought he could hear sadness, and moved closer again. “I’m sorry. Are you lonely?” he asked.
“I’m lonely for the skies at midnight. For the breezes off the mountain ranges. For lightning and thunder. For life,” answered the rumbling voice.
“Oh,” said Matthew, not knowing what else to say.
“Where are you, boy?” called Humphrey from the driveway.
Matthew had never liked the way adults spoke to him. Even his Tutors ordered him about as if they knew what was best for him. And he hated being called ‘boy’. Now that he’d left his father’s house on this adventure, he was not about to be spoken to in that tone of voice ever again... even if he hadn’t yet looked into the face of Death.
He moved closer to the creature. There was a strange humming sound. Matthew giggled; the Garrohoth was purring. It sounded like a poorly-tuned motor. Matthew scratched the creature behind its scaly ears, and thought of Kong in the escape from Skull Mountain. As he had no chloroform, he imagined marching up to Humphrey and calmly asking for a cabin for another passenger. A nudge from the Garrohoth brought him back to reality. It whispered something in its gravelly voice.
In the darkest hour before dawn, a lumbering shadow left the bushes, waddled down to the docks, and climbed into the hold of the ship, where it curled into a surprisingly small lump under an old canvas sail. A sailor on guard duty saw the monster, but put it down to cheap rum. He closed his eyes, said a hasty prayer to Neptune, and looked the other way.
There were some complaints about the smell from the hold, but the sea breeze blew strongly, and the adventurers settled down to commiserate with each other about their failed expedition..
As the ship berthed, Matthew helped the Garrohoth into the huge basket allocated to each intrepid explorer for their scientific paraphernalia, books, specimens, and other souvenirs. If the burly assistants grumbled at the weight of it, they did so out of earshot of Humphrey Magicore.
Predictably, Matthew’s father did not come outside to meet him, so he had the servants leave the basket by the front steps, and went to find him. He was in his office, the curtains drawn against the vastness of Outside.
“Oh, you’re home.” Matthew’s father looked up from the book open on the table before him. “Was it a success?”
“Yes, thank you, Father.”
“Well, did old Manticore find his Underworld?”
“No, but we saw many interesting things.”
“Never mind. You can look upon Death another day. Did you bring home any souvenirs?”
Matthew handed his father the likeness of the Garrohoth he had whittled on the journey home.
“What an odd-looking creature,” said his father, placing the carving on the table. “Does it bring luck?”
“I hope so,” said Matthew.
He returned after dark to lead the Garrohoth to a clump of rhododendrons by the ornamental lake. He visited every day, sitting in companionable silence with the purring creature. The Garrohoth seldom spoke, but when it did, Matthew’s imagination lit up and anything seemed possible. Then he returned to school.
In class, he drew pictures of the Garrohoth until his teachers confiscated his drawing pad. At night, he lay awake wondering if the creature missed him. By term break, he was bursting with eagerness to go home. His father, busy as ever, didn’t seem to notice that Matthew spent all day by the lake.
When he returned to school, he began to top the class in every subject, and wrote short stories full of wonder and magic for the school magazine
“Remarkable improvement,” said his teachers. “A prodigious talent.”
Then Matthew lost his virginity. It was after the school dance, when he and his friends climbed out of the dormitory window to meet the girls from the College over the hill. He spent the night in a haystack with Mollie Carpenter, and, ever afterwards, the smell of hay aroused sweet memories.
He might have been dreaming of Mollie’s lips all the way home for the winter term break, but he ran straight to the rhododendrons when he arrived. Matthew walked around the lake twice before he accepted that the Garrohoth had gone.
Heart sinking, he began to search further afield. He walked all day, and then by the light of the moon, round and round, through the rose garden, past the maze, and into the orchard. Through the maze, to the paddocks, and back again. The Garrohoth had disappeared.
Despondently, Matthew returned to the house and climbed the stairs to his bedroom. His cases had been unpacked, his bedclothes turned down, and a lamp lit for the dark. He lay on his four-poster bed, wondering about monsters and virginity.
He searched every day after that, alert to any flicker of green amongst the leaves. Sometimes he imagined a smell on the breeze, but it dissolved as soon as he turned his head. By the time he returned to school, he began to wonder if he had imagined the Garrohoth. He saw Mollie at the station, and remembered how sweet she smelled.
At eighteen, he went to university. When he graduated and began work as a doctor, he became known for his intelligence and sensitivity, and his ability to see beneath the appearance of things to their very core. As well as a successful medical practice, he had a modest career as a writer, penning tales that took people beyond the everyday into a world of possibility.
“It’s as if he sees things others don’t,” said his fans.
Matthew married well, and he and Sally had three children. His work often kept him away from his family, but their photographs sat on his desk and travelled with him to conferences around the world. When he was nearly forty, his father died.
By that time, Matthew had become familiar with the face of Death, and he took his father’s demise stoically. He opened the curtains and windows of the ancestral home, inviting light into dark corners and musty rooms. He moved in with Sally and the children, happily renovating and decorating every corner of the house. His son and the two girls slid down the banisters, climbed the great oaks, and chased each other through the corridors.
Time passed, and Matthew forgot about the Garrohoth. He no longer wrote.
One spring day, he found himself at home, unaccountably restless. He roamed through the house, remembering the gloomy walls of childhood. When he pushed open the heavy door of the library, he found Christopher on the ladder, a line of books on the floor behind him. Christopher screwed up his face as if expecting a scolding.
“What are you looking for?” asked Matthew, picking up one of the books.
“Monsters,” said Christopher.
“Let’s go for a walk,” said Matthew, lifting Wallenstein’s Compendium down from a shelf.
As they walked down the neatly-clipped hedgerows to the lake, Matthew looked at his son. The lad had grown. “When I was the age you are now, I wanted more than anything to find a monster.”
“Did you find one?” asked Christopher, eyes wide.
Matthew nodded. “I think so. It’s strange, but sometimes it feels like I made it all up. I went to Greece and found a Garrohoth. It came home with me, but then I lost it.”
“What’s a Garrohoth?” asked Christopher. “And how did you lose it?”
Matthew told the story as they sat on a wooden seat by the lake.
“Wow,” said Christopher, looking around for a flash of green in the leaves.
That night, while his mother and father slept, Christopher walked barefoot to the rhododendron garden. The moon glinted on the still surface of the lake, and a night bird called from the orchard. Christopher walked slowly though the winding paths between the rhododendrons, moving his hand before him to clear away spider webs. It was very quiet.
In his big bed in the house, Matthew dreamed of emerald eyes and soft, warm skin.
The next morning, Christopher took his father by the hand and led him down the old, stone steps to the cellar.
“What are we doing?” asked Matthew. “There’s only spiders and cobwebs down here now.” Although, for a moment, he smelled the earthy tang of the potatoes and pumpkins that had been stored there when he was a child.
“Come on,” said Christopher, pulling him into the shadows.
The earthy smell grew stronger. Matthew stopped on the bottom step.
“You found the Garrohoth.”
“It found me,” said Christopher. “It’s been waiting for you.”
“It was too cold by the lake in winter, so it came inside. It fell asleep, and you never came to wake it.”
Matthew saw the glint of emerald-green in the light from the stairwell. He reached out to stroke the soft nose. The Garrohoth began to purr.
“Sounds like the old lawn mower,” said Christopher, happily.
Matthew and Christopher spent an inordinate amount of time in the cellar after that.
“Christopher and I need a den,” he told his wife. She looked approving and called it “male bonding.”
They cleaned the light-wells, carried down couches and bookcases, and made themselves a living room beneath the house. If there were sometimes peculiar smells and odd noises emanating from the cellar, people presumed it was due to faulty plumbing. Matthew and Christopher just smiled if anyone mentioned it, and went off together to see if they could fix it.
Copyright © 2008 by Kaalii Cargill