Feeding Day

You hate feeding day. You hate the mausoleum where the old people live, its irregular stone blocks stuck together without plaster (which would have been eaten away generations past, anyway), the effusions of fungal growth that seep through their gaps. You hate the garden, the lawn and the statues and the sculpted shrubbery, this exuberant, tortured display that can't distract from the mausoleum, low and ugly and rotting, squatting in the middle; and you hate the cobbled path that snakes through the garden, hate the turns that make you circle the garden over and over again because you are not allowed to step on the immaculate grass.

Past the mausoleum's open entrance — you have to duck not to scrape your head against the slimy irregular stone — is a steep stair, inside a deep pit, and at the bottom of the pit the oozing mass of the old people. They are your ancestors, the founders of the family and prior lords of the mansion. None of you now living — living as people, at any rate — know how many there are, how many generations deep the pit. By the time members of your family are ready to join them, to slosh down the wet gullet of the pit, they are decades past language, past recollection. This is what perpetuity looks like: a bottomless, lapping mass, a wet, hungry tumour. Everything around you rots, no matter how perfectly cut the shrubberies and how exactly even the grass. You, too, are rotting, and this is where it ends, at the bottom of the pit, which you, the garden, the family, the mansion, and the forest outside are merely circling at different speeds.

You upturn your bowl and look away. Moments later you hear a splash as the food hits the pool's surface, followed by gurgling and bubbling sounds as it is engulfed and absorbed. You wonder if the old people fight over their food, if there's some trace of individuality, some shadow of competitiveness or just the pure pettiness which your family so exemplifies, that still abides in the ooze. You shake the bowl to get the last bits loose and retreat. It's not wise to remain near the pool when it eats; the mass seethes and shakes, shooting out pseudopods and tendrils of slime, grabbing and pulling. One might reach out, wrap around your ankle, and drag you in. This is not the same as joining them, like the elders of the family do at the end, this is just getting eaten. Noöne talks about it, but you know it has happened. You have lost cousins like that. It's the worst death you can imagine, and you've imagined many.

You walk back holding the empty bowl. It would be very easy to take a shortcut through the grass. There's noöne watching; noöne would know, not as long as you didn't make a habit of it, or as long as you took care to cut at different points so as to not beat a path into the grasses. But you don't, and you hate yourself for it. If you can't bring yourself even to this meagre act of rebellion, don't you deserve all of this — deserve to despise and be despised by everything around you?

As you walk that hateful path you note fingers of the fungus straining through it at points. The fungus is some kind of an extension of the old people, or an effect of their presence, their hunger reaching out. You hated cleaning day even more than you hate feeding day, but it's been years, and you have nieces and nephews now who sweep the stones, scrub the cracks, and rake the leaves. Your aunts and uncles take care of the garden, cut the grass and nip the shrubs, and your grandparents polish the statues. Their parents and parents' parents seldom come at all, the lord of the manor and their siblings no more than once a year. They are the ones who might still remember some of the names of those now in the pit; and they, you suppose, the ones who would most like to forget the eternity that awaits them at its bottom.