Spartaculus Vs. Dinnermoestra
By: Steve Carr
In an abandoned tunnel deep under the 34th Street Herald Square subway station in New York City, Spartaculus lays inert. The fetid air blown in from air vents and grates above the tunnel, and through holes in the boards and fencing used to close it up even before it was used a hundred years before, sweeps trash and debris toward where Spartaculus lies. Used by hobos and the homeless from the moment the tunnel was left unused and forgotten by city officials, their trash, broken bottles, tin cans, and decaying corpses have become part of Spartaculus, forming his joints, fingers, and toes. Their unwashed stench became his; it swirls around him in rings of misty clouds.
Compressed inside the confines of the crumbling concrete and exposed rusted rebar of the old tunnel like compacted sausage, covered in an epidermis of mold, mildew and slime, black sewer rats swarm around his outstretched legs, forged from the carcasses of millions of exoskeletons of billions of dead cockroaches, beetles and spiders. He's as large as a prehistoric apatosaurus at 43 tons and measuring 88 feet from the soles of his sandals formed from the rotten clothes left behind by the underground dwellers to the rusted tin of cans of beans that rests on his head like an ancient gladiator's helmet.
The decayed and rotting leaves and twigs blown through the tunnel by errant breezes for all that time molded an oval-shape face with distinct features a Roman aquiline nose, tucked back ears, prominent cheekbones, a strong jawline, the outline of a mouth, and defined eye orbits none of them functioning, except his nose. The smell-sensitive bristles in the nostrils were formed by stringy tendrils of blue-green mold. He's blind, mute, and deaf, but the smallest odor activates his olfactory senses.
His muscles are composed of the remains of trash, debris, animal, and human remains, congealed, and hardened like pressurized coal forms a diamond. When his mouth-like hole opens for the first time, he inhales the damp and stagnate air that has never been touched by sunlight. The breath finds its way through the minute spaces between the compressed garbage to the area that is his chest. When his thorax expands, the concrete tunnel that has held him in like a cocoon, cracks apart, sending shutters through the earth above it.
In the subway station, the pedestrians on the train platform feel the tiled floor beneath their feet tremble. Initially, they glance at one another, some perplexed, some amused. Earth tremors in New York City aren't unheard of. There is nervous laughter and a few titters, that quickly evaporate as the train coming from the Bronx and is now headed a short distance south pulls up to the platform. The doors open and as passengers disembark, those on the platform push their way in. One man, Carl Shoney, the father of seven-year old Jessie, who he is holding by the hand, squeezes past those entering the train and walks out onto the platform. He's as excited as Jessie to reach the street and make their way to a good location to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade has already started, but the big balloons that Jessie wants to see don't usually begin to appear along the parade route for another fifteen minutes. They would have arrived earlier, but they had to stop by Jessie's Granny's house and drop off two of the pumpkin pies his wife had made. They missed the first train they planned on catching. Jessie's Granny just had to show them the 25 pound turkey that she had begun cooking in the back yard brick oven, fitted with a rotisserie mechanism, built especially for this Thanksgiving. Granny would soon be 80 and she wanted this Thanksgiving to be extra special.
Jessie names the huge bird, filled with fifteen pounds of an apple, walnut, and mushroom sweet and savory stuffing, Dinnermoestra, Dinner, for short.
Spartaculus raises up enough to bump his head against the ceiling of the tunnel he is buried in, sending the powerful tremor through the ground from the underground tunnel to the subway station. With the concrete shattered that had held him encased, his arms suddenly free to move, he pauses for a moment and then reaches up and lightly pushes the exposed dirt where he had just hit his head. Feeling the earth give just a little he shoves it hard.
The tracks carrying the train headed south lifts fifteen feet from the ground, causing the roof of the train to smash against the tunnel ceiling. The roof of the train crumples as it comes to an immediate stop, sending the passengers inside both upward and forward, either crushing them against the ceiling of the train, or sending them flying into the air and dropping them in mangled piles at the front of the cars.
Halfway to the escalator that would take them up to ground level, the floor beneath Carl and Jessie's feet is strongly jolted by the impact concussion. Like many of the other pedestrians on the platform, Jessie falls but Carl manages to remain standing, but is shaken by the occurrence.
Chunks of the station ceiling rain down on the pedestrians adding to the shrieks and cries that already fill the station.
The lights in the station go out for just a moment, flooding the station and tunnel in complete darkness and bringing the escalator to a standstill. In that moment there is complete silence as the crowd holds its breath, awaiting sudden death, and then the emergency lights come on and the outcry of pain and fear resumes. The escalator to the ground level remains motionless, those on it surge forward, rushing to the top.
Carl grabs his son, throws him over his shoulder, and fights his way through the panicked crowd attempting to escape the horrors happening in the subway by getting up the escalator stairs by any physical means necessary. That includes trampling on the backs of the fallen.
With the other terrified, bruised and bleeding subway disaster survivors, father and son escape the subway as they rush out onto the sidewalks crowded with parade-watchers who seem oblivious to what is happening under their feet. It's a warm day for late November and it takes a moment for Carl's eyes to adjust to the bright morning sunlight. He sets Jesse down.
"Are you okay, son?"
"Yes, Dad. Spartaculus is causing all that."
Carl gazes thoughtfully into his sons' eyes. "Spartaculus?"
"I told you about him. The dreams I had where something I named Spartaculus rises up from the city subway tunnels and stomps his way all the way to the Bronx."
Carl recalls his son mentioning them, during breakfast, over bowls of cereal. "What happens next, in your dreams, I mean?"
"I don't know. I always wake up." The boy's face reddens. He stares down at his shoes. "I have to get mom to help me change my sheets."
In the bowels of the earth, the fragmented remains of the old tunnel pile up around the rising Spartaculus who claws and digs at the dirt that separates him from the subway tunnel only a short distance away. In no time he reaches where the destroyed subway platform is and having dug a hole large enough under the twisted tracks, he pokes his head up and blindly looks around, inhaling the scents of dirt and death, and then he pushes up further, squeezing his shoulders through the hole.
A hairline crack appears in the concrete of 34th Street, under the feet of the marching bands and beneath the floats, as the earth shudders. The parade comes to a stop. The first balloon of the parade, Snoopy, is held afloat, shifting back and forth in the strong breeze by a dozen men and women on the street, several who are standing astride the crack, gripping the cables attached to the balloon. The onlookers on the sidewalks, who can't see the crack, look at one another, perplexed by the parade coming to a standstill. When the ground begins to shake beneath their feet, and finally able to see the crack as it splits open, swallowing trumpet players, dancing clowns, the float for the Broadway production of Hamilton, along with four of the men holding onto Snoopy's cables, they scream and shout in hysterics. They begin to run in all directions.
Spartaculus's hands are the first of him to be seen as he grips onto the edges of the cracked open street, separating it even further, and then sticks his gigantic head up and peers around before he begins to emerge entirely from the depths beneath the street. In one hand he holds like a spear, a train track rail. Covering his chest is a breastplate of rusted tin cans. Rotten clothing from the deceased homeless covers his loins. He rises entirely from the crack and with one foot planted on each side of the split-open street he looks northward and takes in a deep breath of an aroma only he can smell.
"That's Spartaculus," Jessie screams. "We have to get home before he gets to the Bronx."
"But the subway is destroyed and there is no other " Carl replies as he suddenly sees Snoopy drifting northward. He grabs his son and runs after one of the cables that is scraping along on the street. "Hold on to my neck and wrap your legs around me, Jessie," he tells his son, and with Jessie gripping on, Carl catches the cable and climbs it up to the balloon. There he scrambles onto Snoopy's back.
Carried by the strong prevailing northward breeze, father and son ride Snoopy to the Bronx, staying ahead of Spartaculus who a short distance behind them is.
Awakened by an imminent threat that wasn't Granny's carving knife, Dinnermoestra Dinner turns her body over on the rotisserie rod that is impaled through her body and through the stuffing that has replaced her innards. Recently basted by Granny with butter, honey, and orange juice, she drips aromatic fluids into the fire that snaps and crackles at the bottom of the oven. Where Granny has inserted sage and thyme under Dinner's skin, their scents arise from her caramel-colored crispy skin like seasoned fog. Dinner pauses for a moment to consider her entire life: going from pecking at food all day until she was so fat she could hardly walk to having her head chopped off and her feathers plucked, and now being cooked until her meat is so tender and moist it almost falls off her bones. It wasn't much of a life. The old lady who kept opening the oven door seemed kindly. "Pretty bird," the old woman kept calling her. In the short time Dinner had known the woman, she had become very fond of her, and no threat, whatever the threat was that was coming this way, meant anyone any good. The old woman would need protection from whatever was coming.
Dinner uses all her power to bounce up and down on the rod until it becomes dislodged at one end, allowing her to swing it sideways. From there she pounds against the door with her drumsticks, until the old woman opens it. Granny stares in with an astonished expression on her face as Dinner slides off the rod, then pitches herself out of the oven, and runs across the backyard, leaving the scent of streaming herbs in her wake.
Carl and Jessie arrive astride Snoopy just in time to see Dinner run out into the street. Spartaculus wasn't far behind. He had swatted away Army helicopters, bullets, and fighter jet missiles as if they were merely annoying insects as he stomped on, smashed and flattened cars, buildings, and people, the fifteen miles to the street Granny lived on. He was never far behind Snoopy's tail-end. He kept his head tilted back, his nose pointed upward, following a scent.
Granny runs out of the backyard, her ladle, and a pot of boiling butter in her hands. She's met by Carl and his son, who together had climbed down one of the cables, and rush to meet her before she puts herself in harm’s way.
Snoopy drifts on northward as Dinner stands with her drumsticks planted firmly on the concrete as Spartaculus comes to a stop a few feet in front of her. He inhales through his nose, drawing Dinner's sumptuously delicious scent into his expanded nostrils. In the only words that any of the onlookers hear him speak, that weren't really words, but guttural grunts that mimicked language, he uttered "Mmmmm, good." He raises his train track spear, and then brings it down, attempting to skewer Dinner with it.
Moving faster than she did even as a fully alive turkey, she dodges his spear, stops, and spits out a glob of sizzling hot stuffing that hits him in his right eye as accurately as an arrow hitting a bullseye.
He staggers back and waits a moment for the stuffing to stop scalding his slimy epidermis, and then again attempts to lance her with his spear.
She dodges it and spits again. Hitting him in the other eye.
"That's one badass turkey!" Carl exclaims.
Granny slaps her hands over her grandson's ears. "Shame on you, Carl. You know better than to use that kind of language around this impressionable boy."
The battle between Spartaculus and Dinner goes on all day. People who live on the street come out to see what is going on and then go back inside to have their Thanksgiving dinner. Without a turkey or stuffing for dinner, Granny brings out plates of mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato casserole, green beans, and cranberry relish out to her son, grandson, and her daughter-in-law who had arrived with a basket of dinner rolls. They set on a blanket in the front yard and watch the back and forth between the colossus and the wily turkey.
As the sun sets and the family have finished off one of the pies, it looks as if Spartaculus and Dinner have reached a stalemate. They stand facing each other for some time, seeming to be carrying on a silent conversation. As Granny, Carl, his wife, and Jessie look on, the giant heap of trash and the succulent turkey turn west and walk away, the smelly giant holding the turkey's crispy wing.
No one watching knew where the two were headed. But Spartaculus and Dinnermoestra knew. There was a pig in Pittsburgh whose life was in peril of becoming someone's Christmas ham.