The Walls of Uruk
by A D Jameson
I awoke not in the Uruk I knew, but in an Uruk infiltrated by giant slugs. They rested giddy and smooth under the gillyflowers, blue-veined and tumored, as though they had always been there, as though they had always belonged.
Initially it didn’t seem like much of a jam. We’d surpassed snail infestations, and if these large sluggards were heftier than those little gems, what of it? Ghastly gastropods of magnitude, periwinkles of power, extraordinary examples of the terrestrial genre Limax, as big as tall outdoors, they demanded an adjective appropriate to their style. They were larger than lunchboxes, bigger than pickpockets, more sizable than bulls—but surely we’d uncover new cures, a means to erase them, by echoing the old. We girdled our swords and bum-rushed the trespassing bulky bully mollusks.
But in less than one hour our lithe scorn gave way to soft moans: the giant slugs were unfazed. They giggled at the hits of our cruelest sword stabs, techniques I’d seen dispatch gibbons, giraffes, Gila monsters. Vinegar knives couldn’t bury them. The giant slugs were gifted with a thick, gingham skin, more resilient than gingerbread and gilded in a sludgy rosin that swiftly corroded our finest steel. Slurs had even less effect. Was our city inept? It sagged. The giant slugs fouled sluices and vital waterways; they obstructed any amigo running errands.
Rumors gushed: my father the king would make earl whoever outwitted the oversized amoebae. (Earls were entitled to highly-prized heaping tithes of licorice rice cakes.) The big names hatched plans, colluding to use an ooze or an oiled Uzi. One general argued for hitting the slugs dead center with a big bomb, a giant explosive designed to leave the putrid things puking. Another favored infecting these rivaling new arrivals with Wild River Virus, retrieved long ago by divers and since then kept incubated in their livers. “It’s wickedly potent,” the soldier intoned. “Rest assured, there will be no survivors.” But my father dismissed these overeager suggestions; he ruled out these measures as too extreme.
I stayed up late to eavesdrop, concealed underneath the massive war table, my shins curled below my knees, listening to these grizzled veterans hash it out. Slowly, unknowingly, they surrendered, old souls grunting ugh, refusing to accept the gaunt slog inevitably before us, all a-bustle but butting their heads like Slue-Foot Sue, sure to come to the same sad conclusion. They debated solutions till glassy-eyed. “Let’s lob at them our glass grenades,” one hawkish commander suggested. But he granted, under duress, that if the creatures’ skins didn’t break, then the shattering glass would get into all of our nice things. “What if we hired those nomadic giants to come in and carry them off?” went another pro’s position. But the negative answer came swiftly: the giants, a fiery clan, were engrossed in their own political struggles, slugging succession claims out.
During this furious fruitless business, the execrable giant slugs couldn’t be made to budge. Their thick, bulging presence annoyed us. Any act, however pleasant, soured when conducted in their shadow. Basil sodas turned to Tab. Teens who before had so eagerly nipped at one another’s lips refused to neck. Younger children who’d delighted in spying on necking siblings sulked and tied knots in their parents’ cabana packs.
More hideous peaks followed; negative energy gathered and rammed our gates. The giant slugs slowly tore our city asunder. The sight of their thick gluey feelers distressed the robins in Warka’s historic orchard; thus ulcered, the songbirds starved and fell from their perches, their signature red breasts belly-up. Without the robins around, our hedge maze was overrun by crickets, which ate all our herbs. Without our herbs, time dragged; we couldn’t bother to make guacamole or grate melting cheese. Our unused nachos rotted. Without nachos our shins looked chubby, our idle hands ached, and we succumbed to stupid tantrums. And yet we found no assassin or ally or avatar to boss around and order out giant slugs.
Stuck in a last ditch, seeing his resort’s demise, his go-to locale’s transformation into a ghost town, my father pitted his ultimate Hail Mary scheme against those obscene pituitary cases: a hecatomb. Atari, he assured us, had asserted once to him that this sacrificial expenditure would never go unanswered, but—guaranteed—would secure her righteous wrath, directed against invaders, multiplied a hundredfold for every moocow slaughtered.
Despite my mother’s protest, we dispersed our herd throughout Uruk, heifer and maverick alike, every springer and stirk. At every corner, a child, hand aquiver, laid a silver knife to the neck of a docile ruminant, our beloved unsuspecting cud-chewing Bessies and Mabels, the animals most sacred to Atari. All shushed.
At last the signal went up. My father shouted “Shazam!” and clapped, the executive order motivating the mass execution.
One hundred jets of bovine blood, torrents of flaming beef gore, sloshed into streets, overflowing the gutters, a torrid rainfall—but to no avail. When the bloodlust cleared, the giant slugs still sat still, silent, reproving and unmoved.
After that we had no choice but to flee, to strike out toward a fortune unknown in the distant icy south. To stay risked the taint of economic failure. Spitting our disgust and cursing, we crammed our camions with jars of terra cotta, and tied sacks of damask to our few remaining mules. (The majority of our pack had flown on the first day of the incursion.) The robins’ cremains we left behind in urns, an urgent warning to any who’d dock at what was no longer Mighty Uruk of the Proud Walls, but the City of Giant Slugs.
Beaten-down goons in strapless broken clogs, we got ready to go. Mounted, we mobilized and gloomily moved out, trudging the paved path that twisted away from our once-neat, once-comfortable home.
Where the asphalt ended, we rounded a pebbly bend. My decrepit mule, bloodshot and weak-ankled, stumbled. I turned back too late for a final look at the walls.