1814: When Grandmother was Young
by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson
The milk was groaning. We could all hear it around town. The town, back then, consisted of a small hut made of turf and Raprup’s general store, where one could buy Black Death, wormy meal, Black Death, sugar, Black Death, pepper, Black Death, and of course black death, so one could forget one could only buy wormy meal, sugar and pepper.
Anyway, as I began, the milk was beginning to make itself heard. Sometimes we ran out of milk before it began groaning, and sometimes it escaped. I can remember this one time, back in 1798... but enough of that. Let’s talk about the milk, as it was at the time this particular story takes place:
Milk was collected from all the farms around, and put in this huge vat in the middle of town, right between my little hut and Raprup’s store. We also contributed with what little milk we could squeeze out of Sissy the cow. This was then stirred in to keep it from lumping up, so it would be easier to scoop up and drink.
As summer wore on, it often became necessary to thin it a bit with water, and stir more vigorously each day, to keep the green film from forming on top. Sometimes the film was blue. I am pretty sure it looked at me while I was stirring in it.
Anyway, the milk was groaning. The reason for this was that I had mysteriously fallen sick, and being the only man around, and being the strongest one, and being oldest, apart from all the women of course. You see, in those days, a man automatically had 20 years on any woman, no matter how old she was after he survived his 14th winter.
And since I was sick and in charge of stirring the milk, the milk had begun groaning. That was usually a bad sign. As I mentioned before, the milk had escaped once or twice before, always after a period of groaning.
“Are you still ill?” asked my cousin Tiffy.
I nodded to her, and she said she would fetch me some milk. It would make me feel better. Somehow I doubted it would, but she went out before I could stop her, with a pail to fetch milk in.
Back in these days, when the milk had been in the vat for almost the whole summer, some people opted to drink cow piss instead. First the women washed their hair out of it, to make it shine, then it was used to soften wool and leather, finally, if the milk was beginning to grow hairs, it would be drunk.
“If it does not kill you, it only makes you better,” they said. Needless to say, there were very few people around, but those who were, were pretty damned healthy.
I decided to get from my cot and go outside, into the clean, wholesome air outside, where I could more rapidly escape my cousin when she returned with the milk. Even in my sorry state, I was pretty sure I could outrun her.
I saw her lean over the walls of the big milk vat, dunking her pail into the semi-fluid gelatinous mass that the milk had now become. To my horror I could see numerous tentacles sprout out from the milk as she did this, and they came her way.
I shouted to her to look out, but she merely turned toward me and waved. The tentacles wrapped around her, and dragged her into the vat. This was exactly what had happened the last time the milk was not properly stirred. Only that time it was a girl from another farm, and I never knew her.
I ran toward the vat, hoping to catch hold of my cousin, and maybe drag her out of there, but I was too late. I saw the soles of her moccasins disappear into the white, hairy muck. I can swear I heard the milk laugh at me.
I made the sign of the lord over the muck, reciting as I did the name of Our Heavenly Lord. But there was no effect. The muck just raised one tentacle to make an obscure sign toward me. I do not know what it meant, but I am sure it was very offensive.
I backed away from the vat, fearing it might rise against me. Since invoking divine help had not worked, I feared that I was eternally damned, forsaken by the Lord. But I felt I needed to do something, as it was not in my nature to just give up without a fight.
Right across was Rip Raprup’s store. Maybe he had something to offer that would be of any help in my predicament.
Mr. Raprup greeted me with a smile, and offered me a glass of Black Death before business. I accepted it, feeling that I needed a good, stiff drink. But as I raised the glass to my lips, and idea came to me: the very smell of this vile liquid being offered to me was the very opposite of the sour, putrid foetor of the milk. So perhaps it would kill it?
I ran out with the glass in my hand, being followed close by the stunned shopkeeper. He kept shouting at me, but I could never understand Danish, so I just ignored him. When I reached the vat, I dumped the entire contents of my glass into it, and waited for an effect. Any effect.
For the longest time, nothing happened, and the only thing I heard was the enraged and surprised voice of the Danish merchant. He was probably asking me why I threw all the Black Death into the vat. He was probably asking me to pay for it. Bloody expensive stuff, that Black Death.
After several minutes of standing around, staring numbly into the face of the enraged Danish merchant, I was about to have enough. The milk was not reacting, so I thought I had successfully killed it. So I went and sought my stirring stick, which I kept by the side of the door. I kicked the dog away, as it was busying itself urinating on it, and brought it to the vat.
I thought that if I thinned the liquid a bit, maybe my cousin would float to the top. And with that I stuck it in. The stick had to be pushed hard to sink it into the slimy, gelatinous muck, and I did my best, but it was like it was pushing back. I lay on it with my whole weight, striving to sink the stick far enough in to properly stir up all the milk’s many caked layers.
I had been at it for a drink-long time, when suddenly a tentacle manifested itself from out of the muck, grabbed the middle of the stick, and tore it away from me. I was so surprised I almost fell into the vat. Jumping back, I saw a huge hump arise from the vat, one tentacle sticking from it, holding my stirring stick into the air. The whole apparition gargled at me, before throwing the stick in my general direction.
And I ran away, hiding myself behind my house, and watched from there. The great beast — whatever was left of milk in the vat — rose up from it, formed legs, and stepped out of it, groaning evilly as it did. It then proceeded to walk away.
It stubbed what I guess was its toe on Raprup’s store, got a bit enraged, spawning tentacles as it did, to pick up the entire wooden structure, and the proceeded to fling it far into the sky, where it disappeared beyond the mountains.
Then the monster strode away drunkenly, until it disappeared out of my sight. I have neither seen nor heard from it since.
Copyright © 2006 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson