Agog sits naked upon a hump, a fort as was, battlements now ghosts, where once a beacon burned in celebration or warning of some foreign foe, his bare arse nestled in a soft cushion of brambles and blackthorn, evicted sparrows having scattered, his thighs as hairy and filthy as his history.
Agog is the last of Albion’s giant race, and, being the last, both proud and melancholy under the burden of his loss. His towering ancestors are now still, now grime. His forebears lucky if they are bones. Though he had known them but briefly, his memory of them cuts deep. His Maw. Her vast, hanging breast. How it obliterated the sun, and was very tasty.
Agog looks down upon the moon-bathed eiderdown before him. The flat pelt of the Levels, broken only by the erection of the Tor. This hillock under him, once residence of chieftains, is his favourite place. It has been his perching spot for aeons as he watches generations come and go, the land flickering from season to season, ploughed brown changing to emerald green, twinkling with frost or shimmering with damp.
Agog sits atop of it, arms wrapped around his shins. Bony knees against his chest, scabbed and dusted by dry skin. Legs the envy of tree trunks. Balls like boulders. Feet like funeral barges. Toenails like the dulled shields of weary knights.
Agog hears his tummy rumble. It shouldn’t do. He’d eaten that cow for din-dins. Indigestion, methinks. Wind to the wind required. He lifts one buttock and lets rip. Better out than in. The fart floats like a wraith over hill and dale.
Agog couldn’t say the land comforted him, nor was he comforted by it. But it was his land. The certainty of that ran in his blood. Sometimes they conversed. Sometimes the land was uncommunicative. Sometimes a chatterbox.
Agog wonders if men ever have such conversation. They never seemed to. Men dig, and discover, and use, and move on, to discover more. Use more. They never pause. That’s the thing about men, he has noticed. Giants pause all the time. Their lives are one big pause, in fact.
Agog gives a sigh. Watches it ripple through the valley below. It rustles bushes for a full five minutes. When they have settled, he winks at a passing vixen, who looks startled and flits away to her cubs. He likes it when the moon gives life to the earth, when the hustle and bustle comes, gossipy and rummaging, and is sad when it is dampened at the rise of the sun, who always arrives officious and parent-like.
Agog likes hours like these, slow as a grandfather slug.
Agog likes being alone. It doesn’t worry him, he tells himself.
Agog likes his own company. It’s the only company he can get, aside from slithery things and the odd antlered beauty. Only a fool would crave what he can never have. The thought is as regular as the toll of a church bell o’clock. He’s even bored by the gloom of it, but can’t bat it aside. Maybe only a fool tries to.
Agog doesn’t think he is a fool, but it’s a debate he carries on his shoulders every day. To give up the craving, would that make him happier? He doesn’t know. But when he hears the hum coming from the other side of the forest, he can’t help himself. His back straightens and he sniffs the acorn and pine air. His optimism gets the better of him. His optimism is the one thing that the centuries have not worn down.
Agog rises to his feet. Squints. He can see it now. Its lights flickering between the black bars of trees on the fringe of the hill opposite, weaving along the course of the snaking road down into the dip where the pleasure boats glide, the cream teas are served, and the parking is situated. Without hesitation, he lumbers thunderously down the slope, sending rabbits packing.
Agog plants his feet in the path of the car. The headlights illuminate the corns and warts in bilious yellow, the cracked and crusted nails, the bristly hair of his ankles. Body. Face.
Agog sees the driver yank the steering wheel to the left and is spot-lit no more. The vehicle veers into darkness, skidding into a soft patch of spraying gravel and mud. The brakes abruptly stop it hitting a looming, brightly burned-out dry stone wall.
Agog straightens his spine, rubbing the small of his back. The run and a jump over that last five-bar gate took it out of him. He is breathless, but exhilarated. His scrotum shakes as he laughs and claps his hands, disturbing nocturnal wildlife for miles around.
Agog hears the driver shouting that she’d seen something in the middle of the road, had swerved to avoid hitting it. She asks the man if he’d seen it too. He says he hadn’t. Of course he hadn’t! There was nothing! She’d taken her eyes off the road! She hadn’t been concentrating, woman! He called her Woman. She was one, after all. Woman said there was. There really was something in front of her! Man, standing in the road now, looks all around and asks her where it is now, then, eh, eh? Where is it? Woman can only repeat that it was there. Woman saw it!
Agog, invisible, nods in agreement. Creaks to a crouch, scratching at the pattern of tyre marks on the tarmac with his index finger, then scratching his armpit and thereafter feeling obliged to smell his fingers, which were sour.
Agog frowns, and finds his face sagging as he listens to the duo argue. One see. One not see. One blind. The other mad. He could roll the dice as many times as he liked, but the number would always be the same. She had sensed him, even glimpsed him. A beautiful occurrence. A rare occurrence! He could add up the number of times that had happened on the fingers of one hand. Sensed? Yes, sometimes! A tremble at his presence? Yes, often! Seen?—almost never. But now her doubts had set in and the shutters had come down. She perceives him not—only shadows.
Agog’s heart plummets. He wants to beg her to stay, to be with him, just for a minute, a moment, but the only sound that comes out of him is the lowing of a bull. The words of giants are unheard by small people. They are deaf as well as blind. He should know that by now. But a giant can dream . . . can’t he?
Agog hears Man say, those brake pads will probably need replacing now. Man says, that’s going to be a trip to the repair shop I can do without. Woman says it’s not her fault. Man asks whether it was his, then? Answers question himself: No, it wasn’t! Getting back into the car, in the passenger seat now, Woman tells him, thank you for a lovely night out. The giant looks down through their sun roof as she clips on her seat belt. Both do. The ignition starts and they are gone, and so is he. Destined to be a figment.
Agog, abandoned to darkness as his shoulders droop, sighs again. He looks at his hands, front and back. Centuries ingrained there. Remembers washing off the mud of the Somme in the stagnant pool of a shell crater. Gone to war to defend his country, just like the little ones. They’d lied about their ages; he couldn’t count his in numbers that small. Remembers marching beside those khaki battalions—towering over them—but not one of the soldiers looking up at him. He’d looked down to see them, though, with their eyes fixed forward, at the enemy, seeing death, but not seeing the glorious giant in their midst, whose footfalls smashed the enemy gun emplacements harder than any cannon fire. He had done his bit. He was unseen, but he was with them. What more could he have done?
Agog didn’t know then, and doesn’t know now. He only knows that an invisible existence is hard to bear. He could have touched them . . . that was it. Looked into their eyes. Shared their pain, at least that. Or did he want them to share his?
Agog trudges back to his vantage point, swatting bats from his penumbra, splashing through a stream as he recalls the trenches and the victory parades. Swimming home alongside ships full of Tommies, as he had once swum beside Merlin’s fleet to Ireland when another enemy threatened, but Merlin, for all his supernatural powers, saw him not. Though once mistook the wake for that of a whale. On their return from rugged Eire, Agog had lifted up and placed those Saracen stones atop the henge on Salisbury Plain, the wizard taking all the credit. Claiming levitation by his magical arts to be the cause, his juddery arms outstretched to make a drama of it. Once primed, the engine of the stones kept the forces of evil at bay—though Agog had a hand in it too. Not wishing to brag. It was his job, and purpose in life. His vocation, if you will. The protection of his native Isles from invaders. As had been that of all his kind before him.
Agog often wondered why, hand-in-hand with that duty thrust upon him, there’d come a curse. A curse to be forever outside the reach of human eyes and minds. To be beyond all human grasp, let alone tenderness. To be huge, yet nothing.
Agog had grown accustomed to that role, nevertheless, though it never gave him peace. At a low ebb, he once asked the rooks if he was created by The Devil. The rooks never replied. A god, then? They choked on their laugher, and have done ever since.
Agog had accrued hundreds of years unseen and unloved. And, while it is true that giant’s years and human years pass differently, the unhappiness of that condition can be imagined by most. No co-ogre shared his star-lit bed. No small man, nor small woman, had ever whispered in his ear, or combed his beard with the spine of a narwhal, or lovingly extracted his ear wax.
Agog had never once laid eyes upon a she-giant with whom to mate—for, in all his travels, he’d found none existed, outside of graves. Nevertheless, he found himself aroused by observing morsels in the act, their mousy ruttings intoxicating. As they were intoxicated, generally, themselves. On these occasions he took to the icy waterfalls of the Highlands to dampen his ardour. When he washed—once a decade, whether he need to or not—he saw his reflection, and occasionally it made him ponder those who looked like him and had been lost. The only other, now, gazed back at him, disappearing in concentric circles as his fist struck the surface of the pool.
Agog, in his time, had trodden the battlefields of Agincourt and Waterloo. Saved the day at both, or given a substantial contribution. Not that he liked to be big-headed about it. Though his head was—hard to avoid the fact—big. Waist deep in the English Channel, he had punched holes out of the hulls of the Spanish Armada, though Drake put the success down to—surprise!—himself. So be it. History was written by men, for men. It would be nice to be acknowledged once in a while, but Agog didn’t dwell on it. He’d discovered time and again that the little fellows always had a natural explanation, even when the cause of things was an unnatural one. He learned more of men every day, and yet understood them little, still. And they understood him even less. In fairness, could he expect it any other way? He should be happy that once in a blue moon the bonkers, or gifted, or both, perceived, or thought they perceived, something of him, if only through a glass, a curdled glass of milk, dimly.
Agog, up on his green hill, thinks again of the woman in the car, the half-seer, and how she might have made a giant-wife, if three times taller. If she had been, he’d wrestle her like a shot. Respite to his woes.
Agog’s kinfolk, you see, had been keen wrestlers. His father, Gogmagog, rolling him as a nipper in the moss and flint of Dartmoor, throwing him into the sponge of a bog. He’d learned to tangle and untangle under his father’s might. He also learned, through bedtime stories told in the caves they populated, the origin of his race. How the king of a far-off land had thirty-three unruly and disobedient daughters, and married them off to thirty-three husbands to keep them under control. But the thirty-three daughters baulked at this, and plied the thirty-three husbands with drink, and cut their throats while they snoozed, for which misdemeanour the king put them on a raft and set them out to sea. How, after floating for many weeks, the fierce murderesses landed on a wild and deserted island in the far north west, which they named Albion (after Albina, the eldest, their leader), and there set about playing mothers and fathers with demons—never a good idea. The result of which hanky-panky was born a race of prodigious giants. These first true patriots took it as their purpose to protect the nation of their birth from all comers. And did so, successfully, for many generations, though at a cost. For, by the time Agog was born, they numbered, in all the country, only twenty-four. And, if the rest was a story, he knew that at least to be true. Because he had counted them. And knew their death throes, for he had witnessed them with his own eyes.
Agog shuddered as he remembered that fateful day, at the age of no more than five, when he overheard Gogmagog, as chieftain, tell the elders, all gathered in a circle, their beards reaching the ground, that Brutus and his followers, the descendants of the survivors of the fall of Troy, had been spotted coming up the River Dart.
Agog had never heard so much as a tremor in his father’s voice, but now he heard fear. And felt it too.
Agog pleaded with him afterwards, saying he wanted to go with the twenty-four to fight, but Gogmagog held his son back with a hairy outstretched arm and roared in his face like a lion. Tears on his cheeks, the boy-giant did as his father demanded, cowering behind a rock, only able to watch as his clan fell upon Brutus’s troops at Tottenesse, where they first landed, almost wiping out the entire camp in one brutal swoop. But the tide turned as quickly as the grey clouds turned black, and the sprightly Trojans, superior in numbers and armour, hurled back mercilessly with spear and dart at the creatures that loomed over them. The strength of the giants was no match for the skill of the Trojans, and all, male and female alike, were slaughtered, except one, the hugest, who was reserved alive, and overcome by many hands.
Agog takes in a sharp gasp of night air, the picture in his brain never less than shocking when resurrected—that of his father hobbled by chains, dragged with ship ropes, severely wounded in the leg, half-throttled. The “one detestable Gogmagog!” as the soldiers round him jeered—twelve cubits in stature (or twenty, as they later said, as anglers are wont to puff up their catch), and of such strength he could, at one shake, uproot an oak and brandish it as if a hazel wand.
Agog watched aghast from his hiding place as they put their captive to the test, as befits a leader, even a leader of monsters; releasing him so that the largest of their own breed, a barrel-chested warrior named Corineus—giant-sized, though born of man and woman—could wrestle him. Sport, you see. Brutus declaring that whosoever came off the conqueror shall be proclaimed ruler of all the western land.
Agog, though but a chubby child, knew his father would have been a fool to believe for a moment that they told the truth, or that he could win his freedom. Sport, you see.
Agog watched the proud chieftain raise his chin to the sky and pray to his gods, and the Trojans laughed. He dared not blink as the two enormous bodies crashed into each other, shaking the very ground under their feet, causing the walls of nearby buildings to crack. The twisting, strangling and pounding seemed to last forever, and, though he was bigger than any of the human whelps cheering, Agog felt little and lost. The lad heard three loud cracks, as if of branches snapping. Gogmagog had broken the Trojan’s ribs in a bear hug. Enraged, Corineus lifted Gogmagog onto his shoulders, ran to the cliff edge, and threw. As his son stifled a cry that may have rocked the heavens, Gogmagog fell headlong and shattered into the sea, staining the ocean red. And from that day hence it was called Langoemagog, which is to say “Giant’s Leap”, at which place, from time to time, the frothy waves lapping the shore, even now, turn the colour of blood.
Agog heard Brutus give orders to his men to spread out and kill any giants they came across. Soon they came upon Agog himself, and he was sure they would do him in, but to his astonishment they saw him not, even though he was right under their Trojan noses. The boy realised his dad had asked the gods to make his son invisible. To save him. But why had Gogmagog not used his prayer to save himself? It was a question to which Agog could find no answer, to this day. Perhaps the gods were fickle. Devious. Mean. Perhaps they had their reasons. He’d like to ask them outright, but he didn’t know their names. (He didn’t even know the name of the king of rats.)
Agog, back then, that scar of an afternoon, had wept for his mother, who’d cradled him after he oozed from her womb like a pip from an orange. He’d wept for Partholón and Pantagruel, and Sasnol, and Kruunuvuör, and Rodochra, and Villeumauhh, and Ckrót. But none did he weep for more than Gogmagog, whose loss was a bottomless hole in the world, and cleft him like an axe.
Agog thinks he knew from that moment, even though it took him a while to prove it, that he was alone. But sometimes he found that, though his race was gone, eradicated, extinct, expunged from this world, they were not entirely forgotten. For morsel-men told stories too.
Agog had blinked when he watched the parade at the coronation of The Virgin Queen, and saw the tall, unstable effigies of two giants lumbering towards him, as if striding from dream sleep. They had passed level with his slack-jawed face, though they dwarfed the cheering crowd. He had heard them called “Gogmagot the Albion!” and “Corineus the Briton!” But even the ignorance, that day, served to warm the cockles of his heart.
Agog, later, saw the same two figures, knocked up in pasteboard and wickerwork, grace many a Lord Mayor’s show, year on year, becoming known as “Gog and Magog”—splitting his father in two—two names better than none, he supposed. Better than surf the hue of a slit gizzard washing up on crab-ridden rock pools. These “two valiant giants who had defended our realm” (as was). Legend said that Brutus, founder of London, his New Troy, had brought two giants to serve as porters at the palace gates. But Agog knew legend to be wrong. Even so, he felt a prickly sort of pride when the twins of those guardian statues stood at the Guildhall enjoying all the esteem of the Municipality’s gratitude, and there remained—a hop and a skip from the Griffin holding the City’s coat of arms—until one of Hitler’s bombs dropped on their heads. Kaput.
Agog had looked skyward at the sound of doodlebugs, had seen the ants scatter into their holes, seen the buildings burn, heard the sirens blotting out the wailing of mothers and patriotic songs. He had fought to protect Albion, as he always fought, swatting bombs from populated areas. Smashing a low-flying Fokker to smithereens. Good show.
Agog’s next sigh is extensive. He rubs snot from his nose. Briefly examines its moonlit snail-trail on the back of his paw. Looks at the journeys mapped out by the blue, subterranean veins. All those long, lolloping walks from the low chalk hills of Cambridge to the dragon-steeds of Uffington or Cherhill. Thumbing his nose at barbarians across the Channel. Beating his chest atop the white cliffs of Dover.
Agog’s mind inevitably drifts back to the time those first two figures were destroyed by fire. The time he had to fend off an enemy as invisible as he was. A foe more deadly than anyone or any thing of flesh and blood. His mind conjures the scene. He cannot steer the stubborn bullock away from it. Though he wants to, badly.
Agog had found the city of Londinium much as a child finds a discarded, much loved plaything in a gutter. And gutter it was; not a gilded palace of wealth and promise but a huddled tramp of a town, full of vinaigrettes and nosegays. His visits to towns and villages in their devastation had prepared him somewhat—but not enough. The air was a filthy, poisonous miasma. His misbegotten muckiness matched it in a way, his dirty frame as soiled as the stockings of the wretches hauling sedan chairs. In another way, even invisible, and safe from small man’s pestilence and pock marks, he felt he did not belong. The place was too material for his liking. He too lumpenly ethereal to fit. The pall of a black cloak covered all. Half-frightened, he’d slid around from street to fetid street, rubbing shoulders with snotty beggars and snooty how-d’ye-do’s. He’d peeked through windows and seen beds buckling with a Kelpie’s stroke. Whether the occupant was making life or losing it was anyone’s guess. His own big-bastard bulk, lathered at the best of times in slime and grit, could only roll from alley to rancid alley like a stinking foetus seeking timely exit from its prison.
Agog had thought the place a long-handled profanity. Not to put too fine a point on it. But he had work to do. Not that he knew how to do it. This was not something in the handbook of giants. This was hideously, and irredeemably, new.
Agog wandered down avenues of doors marked with red crosses. Thought to himself, the paint must be getting scarce. While he squatted to shit, he saw bundles carried out onto the cobbles. The big bundles one thing, the tiny ones another. Carts soughed under the weight of them. The bonfires didn’t go hungry. Nor did the pits. London was all pits. Amongst them, plague doctors roamed with their snouts in drains, examining tongues and wallets. But even those with diplomas and spectacles were blindfolded when it came to the giant standing amongst them. Dogs barked at him, and cats hissed and arched their backs, but then they always did. He was no phantom to animals. But now sheep ran from his approach with stricken eyes, and pigs ignored his outstretched hand with squeals fit for the abattoir. Here he could smell all the friends of fear.
Agog lolled drunkenly from the over-imbibing of death. Stepped over daisy-chains of children. He had faced every heathen that threatened these shores, but now he was flummoxed. This, he could not comprehend. Was this his fate, then? . . . To be witness to the death of the incumbent race of Britain, now, as well as its former?
Agog closed his eyes tightly, not sure his heart or soul could withstand another such purge. His shoulders fell back against a dwelling. Catching his breath, he heard another’s, faintly, from inside. The sound was unlike a human voice, more resembling the whistle of a bird. Perhaps a marvellous bird, he thought. It seemed to beckon him. And he heard weeping, too. A weeping that reminded him of his own the day his father died. The mouth of the front door lay ajar, to let good air in, and bad air out.
Agog was curious. By narrowing his shoulders and crawling on all fours, he could just about squeeze along the coffin-tight passage, having to twist like a well-fed python to slither up the stairs to one landing, then the next. Groaning and panting, he lay on his side to insert his frame through the door to the attic bedroom. Luckily the rest of him followed with some shuffling of hips. Still on his hands and knees, brushing a powdery layer of daub from his scalp, he felt the harsh smoke of chair legs and banister rails in his nostrils. The family, entirely oblivious to his ungainly entrance, were trying to burn the fever out. Draw it like pus from a sore. But the whole child was a sore.
Agog could see that now, as he crouched in the corner, wedging himself between a crooked wardrobe and the wall, knuckles pressed to the floor. He watched the sweat-sodden blankets stripped off to burn. Before they were replaced with clean, he glimpsed the skeleton-doll, halfway to a tombstone angel, the bag of sticks within a scratch of being an epitaph.
Agog stared at bed and boy while skinny parents floated downstairs like mourners already. Only the two of them remained in the room. He could have left, but something kept him there.
Agog, of all creatures, knew what it was to be alone.
Agog, hardly moving, nestled as the hours passed, and tried to rest, but failed, even though his eyes were heavy with their burden. Time crunched like a millstone. Candles came and went. The coughing abated, but not for long. Soft flannels were applied to a fluttering birdcage of ribs. The grown-ups glided away again, hiding tears behind their hands, and presently he heard a cry from the street, accompanied by the tolling of a hand bell. Not a rag and bone merchant, the crier wanted what was inside the rags.
Agog shut his eyes. The giant thought of his bleak, green hillock, far away, but did not want to go. Even sitting, pig-skinned, he filled the room, pink feet like furniture. Knees touching the ceiling. Shins forming a V, with stiff arms an eleven between them, the way a cat sits. Or a boy watching a wrestling-match from behind a rock while the gods titter up their sleeves. When he could bear his thoughts no longer, he opened his tortoise lids and watched a rat circumnavigate the wainscoting.
“That’s a wee one, that is.”
Agog gave a snort of alarm at the sound. The sprat could barely turn his head, but had done. Did the little one know that someone was in the room?
Agog poked his nose from the shadows. The lad’s eyes were closed. The fragile body motionless. Agog moved his sausage lips carefully, in words as deep and groaning as a shipwreck.
“Poor egg . . . ”
“I’m not an egg, or poor,” came the croak. The boy lifted himself half-up. “My father wouldn’t take kindly to hear you say that.”
Agog couldn’t even manage a snort a second time. His heart raced. The boy could see him. Not sense, not dimly comprehend, not intuit, but—See him! Not only that, could hear him too!
Agog found himself robbed of speech. Now, when it was required above all else, his lips would not part. Noble daddy, he thought, was this what morsels talked about when they talked of miracles? Agog always thought they meant mackerels, but now felt too light-headed to rustle up a sentence in reply. Luckily, he didn’t have to.
“Have you come to take me?” The boy’s voice struggled to climb above a reedy whisper, just as his eyes fought to stay open. “You do not resemble an angel.”
“Don’t insult me, whippersnapper.”
The boy folded upwards, a gargantuan task—even in the eyes of a gargantuan. Half a nod to the crust on a plate at his bedside.
“You can have my bread if you wish.”
Agog did not know if the boy thought him famished. He frowned. The boy reached over, tore off a chunk and threw it weakly in the giant’s direction, but it did not reach, and he fell back, defeated, into his pillow.
Agog thought him like a trout gasping on dry land. It wasn’t that he wasn’t hungry. He was always hungry. It didn’t seem the right thing to do. Fill his cheeks.
“I do not want thy bread, cousin.”
The boy squirmed back onto his elbows. Eyes becoming slits as he assessed the grubby giant in his bedroom. (A first, it is safe to presume.)
Agog saw his buboes. The rings of roses.
“I will not eat thee.”
The boy chuckled thinly. “You would not eat a primrose.”
“Is that what you are?”
In cruel imitation of laughter, the boy’s broken bellows piped like a curlew. Soon he found the balm of silence, but with it, sadness.
“They keep me indoors. I cannot see the sun.”
The giant shrugged. “It is the same sun you saw when last outside. The sun is not partial to change. He is boring like that. I prefer the moon.”
“The moon is my darling. Danger.Thrillin’. Makes heart quick.”
“You feel something.”
In the thoughtful pause the boy took, Agog wondered what the young one considered of the matter. Perhaps he considered nothing. Perhaps he had other considerations on his mind.
“Yes?” Agog said, reasoning he was the only one present.
“Will the moon light my way when I go?”
Agog wasn’t certain, but he was kind. “You can trust the moon.”
The boy must have thought him foolish, though.
“You fat thing!” he giggled.
“You wood louse!” Agog threw back, smiling.
“You rat dropping!”
The boy laughed, and so did the giant. But when coughing rent the room like stabs of forked lightning, what smile was left was scraped from the giant’s face.
Agog turned when he heard the bedroom door open, allowing in the parents swathed in their premature grief. He felt guilty, the invisible spectator to their woes, though visible all too clearly to the reason for them.
“How can I care for him? I am his mother. It is my duty, husband. O perfect one, know that you were longed for and loved, if but for a little while.” The wan she-person placed down the arm thin as a corn stalk and walked to the far corner of the room, not knowing she spoke now directly into the giant’s countenance, which was inches from her own: “O Lord, take me instead, I beg of thee.”
“Shsh, quiet,” whispered the master of the house, now at her shoulder. “It is God’s choice, not ours. God must choose.”
“And chooses those without sin?” hissed the wife bitterly.
“If he must. All we can do is pray.”
“To what? One who is invisible?”
“Hush, woman. We can only do what we must.”
Agog watched them turn their backs on him, return to the bed, and read from the Book of Job, proffering all the lies of tenderness therein. At nightfall their son roused, briefly, with slight but enthusiastic animation.
“Mother, I fancied a book I might write. Or poem. Which has the most words? Book or poem?” He looked at the giant directly. “I have much in my head. Wild imaginings. But my ink pot is almost empty.” The man in the periwig and frayed cuffs rushed about franticly to fetch the youngster paper and ink. But no sooner had he wrapped the child’s pale fingers around the quill, than the tousled head sagged. The pen rolled from the writing-tray to the floor.
“Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. Shed tears of joy, wife. For he has gone to a better place.”
Agog shed tears. Unstoppable ones. He couldn’t help it. They were neither bidden nor habitual. They formed a pool on the floorboards. The boy’s father said the water had not been there a moment earlier, and so was inexplicable. He made the sign of the cross.
Agog, in his rage, hit the wall with his fists. “Hark!” the boy’s father shouted; “The knocking of spirits!” And people gathered. Servants and passers-by and neighbours. And the giant struggled to get out, past them, for he wanted to look upon the little corpse no longer. And even then, some said they felt a presence, and thereafter it was said, on many lips, the house was haunted.
Agog was alone once more. The flea was dead. The night air was no medicine. In his rage, he strode through the city of coughs and blisters and coffin carpenters blowing into fingerless gloves, making his hibernaculum in a bakery in Pudding Lane, alternating between sobbing and stuffing his belly with loaves. Upturning a candle in the process. Fire bloomed. Blossomed.
Agog could not have known the consequence, but, due to his action, the plague was seared away, cauterized like a wound. Smoke rose from the roofs at his back as he fled. An inferno wracked the sky, but he’d had enough of London. He ran, and a giant covers ground pretty quickly.
Agog was back in the West while the embers were still warm. In rugged Curnow with its horizontal trees and constantly peckish gulls. Cornwall—named after Corineus, the very captain under Brutus who had been given that foot and ankle of Britannia as a prize after killing his late, brave father.
Agog, though, had first breathed air in that place, long before the first king of Britain planted his feet there, and the reign of Great Giants ended, and the lineage of Troy took their hold. It was his family plot. Where the salt in his hair and sea spray on his eyelids meant home.
Agog saw London rebuilt and replenished. Gog and Magog reinstalled in the Guildhall. Resurrected. The legend, lie, intact. Stories being the real protectors.
But it stayed with him, that one day out of thousands. The time a piccolo voice spoke to him, he answered, and a small boy listened. The pup had had a story to tell that no-one would read. A picture to paint that no-one would see. A song to sing that no-one would hear. But he had seen wonder, if just for a minute. He had seen the unknown thing that evaded the eyes of others. That others could not—or would not—open their spirits to believe in. He had seen the impossible, if only for a heartbeat, if only for a gasp, if only for a breath.
Agog, in his dreams, sometimes kneels at the boy’s bedside again, and, leaning over, offers the chap his thumb, that grimy thumb with the black and broken nail, the thumb that had poked and delved where it’s best not to know, and the beautiful child grasps it, and clings to it, and closes his eyes.
Agog, for all his sobs, when he dreams that, does not want to wake.