“King Erysichthon ate. And ate. And then he ate some more. Nothing would fill him.”
“Achaeus, I’ve decided that I’d like a feasting hall.”
“Very well your grace, where would you like your new hall?”
“There!” King Erysichthon pointed to a small group of trees in front of him.
“Ahmmm…may I suggest, your grace, that in the vast swathes of land that you hold here on Thessaly, you might want to avoid placing you new hall in the sacred grove of Demeter.”
“Nonsense Achaeus, the old gal won’t mind. She can join me in there once it’s built. Get the men to cut the trees down right away.”
“Your grace, I really must…”
“Chop chop Achaeus, ha – get it – chop chop, I must write that one down. Witty aren’t I, Achaeus?”
“Very, your grace,” Achaeus sighed. This won’t end well, he thought to himself.
The men set to work chopping down the trees, and soon all had been felled save for one giant oak tree which was covered in wreaths; each one representing a prayer that had been granted by Demeter. The men refused to lay an axe on that tree, fearing the wrath of Demeter far more than the King.
“What do you mean they won’t chop it down?” Erysichthon was furious. How dare his men refuse his order. “Names, Achaeus, I want names. Who’s refused?”
“Erm…all of them your grace.”
“All of them?! Are they scared that little Demeter is going to come down and…and…give them a rotten apple? Hmm?”
“Maybe, your grace. A rotten apple…or send them to eternal damnation.”
“Give me an axe. I’ll show them. Find me an axe. An axe, Achaeus. Be quicker. You’re always dawdling.”
King Erysichthon marched down to the oak tree and, in front of his men, started to swing his axe. “Once I’ve finished chopping down this tree,” he shouted, “I’m going to use this axe on each and every one of you for refusing my order…”
“Your grace, the tree nymph.”
“…and I tell you what, it’ll be bloody blunt by then, and I won’t be sharpening it…”
“Your grace, you really must look at what you’re doing.”
“What’s that Achaeus? I can’t hear you over all of my axe swinging.”
“The tree nymph, your grace, you’re going to kill the tree nymph.”
“See Ninf. Who’s Ninf? You’re muttering again Achaeus. And who’s that screaming. What a ghastly noise.”
“YOU’RE KILLING THE TREE NYMPH.”
King Erysichthon slowed his swing, but it was too late, the damage was done. With her dying breath the tree nymph cursed King Erysichthon: “May you suffer unrelenting and insatiable hunger for the rest of your miserable life.”
“…did you catch that Achaeus? Something about me being unrelenting and insatiable. I suppose I am.”
“Yes, your grace, something along those lines.”
“Prepare me a feast Achaeus, after all that exercise I’ve worked up an appetite…oh and tell the men to come back for their beheadings tomorrow. There’s a good man.”
Meanwhile, Demeter (busy doing her godly duties) heard the curse of the tree nymph and then saw the devastation caused to her sacred grove. How dare that intolerable man spite her so. She called upon the hunger spirit and sent it to lay within King Erysichthon’s stomach. He would pay for his actions. And how!
King Erysichthon ate. And ate. And then he ate some more. Nothing would fill him. In fact, the more he ate, the hungrier he got. He devoured all of the cattle and wild animals on Thessaly. He tore his way through all of the fish in the rivers and lakes. He emptied the grain stores, and consumed all of the vegetables and fruit. Before long, the people of Thessaly were starving. Everything they produced was going straight to the King, who had a team of chefs working around the clock to try to keep his hunger at bay (at least his new feasting hall was getting some good use).
Eventually the money ran dry and Erysichthon was forced to sell his possessions to pay for his food: his first edition Harry Potter, his mint condition Millennium Falcon, his Captain America comics…and then his palace and lands. Soon, he had nothing left but the rags on his body. Everyone, even the loyal Achaeus (who quickly handed in his resignation letter when Erysichthon started to comment on how tasty he looked), deserted him. Everyone, that is, apart from Erysichthon’s daughter, Mestra, who loved her father despite his many, many flaws.
But even she wasn’t safe.
“My beautiful Mestra,” said Erysichthon.
“You know how I’ve been enjoying my food recently.”
“And we’ve ran out.”
“Well, I have some good news, because those kind men over there have offered me unlimited food for a whole week.”
“That’s wonderful papa.”
“Yes it is, isn’t it…there is one slight, little, minor drawback though.”
“What’s that papa?”
“You have to go with them as payment.”
“Oh…and what do they want with me?”
“Well…ahum, they’re slavers…but they’ve assured me that they’ll take good care of you. And it’s a chance for you to, you know, explore the world…get a little bit of life experience.”
The slavers approached Erysichthon and Mestra. “Off you go dear,” said Erysichthon. “Enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about me.”
Erysichthon quickly forgot about Mestra as he tucked into the slavers’ food. But the week was soon over, and Erysichthon was back to begging for food once more. He was at his wits end when Mestra appeared again.
“Mestra, my beautiful daughter, back so soon. What happened? Do you have any food? A chicken leg perhaps…or some cheese?”
“Hello papa,” she sounded angry. “I prayed to the Gods and they answered me. Poseidon came to my rescue and gave me the ability to shape shift. I escaped. I could be anywhere in the world right now…but then I saw you fighting for food with a stray dog and felt sorry for you. So here I am.”
“Shape shift you say?” A dastardly plan was already forming in Erysichthon’s head.
“Young sir, you look like you could do with a new stallion, and I have just the one.”
Erysichthon’s plan had been working splendidly. Each day he would march to the market with Mestra. She would then shape shift into a horse, or a deer, or a bird, or anything else that Erysichthon could sell to the unsuspecting townsfolk, and then Mestra would shape shift back, escape and return to her father (who would invariably be gorging himself on his ill-gotten gains).
Erysichthon waved off Mestra as her new owner rode away on her. Unbeknown to Erysichthon, she was about to be forced on a long journey across the country.
“Where is she?” Erysichthon fumed. She should have been back hours ago. He paced up and down. He had finished all of his food and needed to go back to the market. “Where is she?” he said again, and kicked the chair. The hunger was unbearable. On the floor he spotted a bone. He picked it up and gnawed at it. As he did, he bit into his finger and screamed out loud.
It hurt…but the taste of blood on his empty stomach felt so good. He put his finger in his mouth and sucked at it. And then, without realising what he was doing, he bit down with all his might. He felt his bone crunch. Never before had something felt so wrong, but so right. Erysichthon chewed his way through his finger and swallowed. Thank the Gods I have another nine, he thought to himself, before thrusting his fingers back in his mouth and working his way through them one by one.
He didn’t stop there. He couldn’t. The more he ate, the more he desired. Hands, feet, legs, arms. Soon he was chopping bits off himself and throwing them into his mouth. Ears, nose, organs. Finally his hunger was passing. Finally he could be at peace.
An eagle swooped into Erysichthon’s hovel and transformed into Mestra. She was late. Her ‘owner’ hadn’t let her out of his sight for hours and she’d had to bide her time.
“Papa?” she shouted. Normally he would be sat eating whilst simultaneously moaning about how hungry he was.
“Papa?” she tried again, but there was no response. She looked around, but there was no sign of her father. Perhaps he’d gone out. No. He never went out unless she was with him. Where could he be? She looked around, but found nothing other than what looked like an earlobe on the floor. How bizarre, she thought to herself.