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The Petrivores

A long time ago, when children were taken seriously, a boy called Cyril was tossing and turning in his bed. It was a hot summer night, and he wasn’t able to sleep at all. His sister Miranda and his little brother Benjamin suffered from the heat as well, and when the sun sent its first rays through the window in the early morning, he got out of bed and whispered, ‘Are you awake?’
‘Yes,’ answered the others, ‘we couldn’t sleep at all.’
‘How about going down to the lake?’
‘Good idea!’ his brother and sister replied and jumped out of bed. They got dressed in an instant, opened the window and quietly sneaked out of the house.
At the lake they hid amongst the reeds and watched the birds. A few yards from them a heron stood motionlessly and scanned the lake’s surface for fish while a few cygnets waddled into the water.
The lake was so large that it was impossible to see the opposite side, but at the horizon there was a black stretch of land which the children called the Dark Island. That morning they saw a ship sailing towards them from the island, and as it approached them the children ducked their heads.
A few men went ashore and looked at their watches. They were dressed in dark suits and had glassy eyes with pupils that didn’t move at all.
‘They better be here soon,’ one of them said. ‘It’s two minutes to eight!’
Then a couple of men appeared. The children recognised their neighbours, although they barely knew them; they had seen them coming home to their families in the evenings or mowing the lawn at the weekends. They went aboard the ship as if they were in trance, and after the last one had embarked, one of the dark men said, ‘Peterson and Williams are getting too old and sick to work for us. They became awfully slow, and I think we have to look for two younger men.’
The children were frightened by the dark men, and Benjamin was shivering like a leaf in the wind. He was close to tears, and suddenly he screamed, ‘I’m scared!’
Cyril shushed him, but he thought it was too late. The dark men must have heard him!
They breathlessly huddled together, but nothing happened; although Benjamin’s scream had been quite loud, the men didn’t seem to pay attention. Then a mouse rushed through Miranda’s legs; she shrieked and jumped up, and now they were sure they were in trouble!
But the dark men didn’t even turn their heads, and although one of them looked in Miranda’s direction, he seemed to look right through her.
‘I don’t believe it!’ Cyril said to the others and stood up. ‘They can’t hear us, and they can’t see us!’

When they returned to the house, they climbed in through the window and went to bed again. Fortunately their parents were still asleep and hadn’t noticed they were gone.
Later that day the whole family went to the seaside. It was one of the hottest days of the year, and the children hardly got out of the water at all. They stayed there until the early evening when their mother decided it was time for dinner. Cyril, Miranda, Benjamin and their father didn’t want to leave but finally had to give in.
Nobody was really hungry, and Cyril messed around with the food on his plate when he saw his little brother freezing. He turned around and noticed that two of the dark men had entered the room!
Benjamin was too frightened to do or say anything, and Miranda tried to act normal. Their parents didn’t pay any attention at all and looked through the men just as the men looked through the children.
‘He’s perfect,’ said one of the dark men to the other and pointed at Cyril’s father. ‘He’s young and healthy, and he has a family. He’ll make an excellent slave for us!’
‘Dead right,’ agreed the other. ‘We’ll get him tomorrow!’
With that they left, and Miranda put down her fork and looked at her father.
‘Daddy,’ she said, ‘have you ever seen the Dark Island in the middle of the lake?’
‘The Dark Island,’ her father sighed and leaned back in his chair. ‘There’s no such thing,’ he smiled, ‘but when we were children, we used to fantasise about it as well. We believed it to be the home of the petrivores, men in dark suits with a glassy stare who went out to kidnap our fathers. They would spread gold dust from a briefcase and cast a spell on the whole family so the fathers would do slave work for them without being missed by anyone, and they’d only bring them back in the evenings. Of course the petrivores would be invisible to adults, just as children are invisible to them.’
He ran his fingers through Miranda’s hair. ‘Children have such a vivid imagination’, he said to his wife. ‘I wonder what happens to it when one grows up!’
‘And is there anything that could break that spell?’ Cyril asked.
‘Not really,’ his father answered. ‘The only way to get rid of the petrivores is to scare them - if they believe they’re being seen by an adult, they run like hell!’
‘But as you don’t see them...’ Cyril pondered.
‘... there’s nothing that could save us from them,’ his father finished the sentence and petted Cyril’s head.

After dinner Cyril took Miranda and Benjamin to the cellar where he stored the toys he didn’t play with any more. ‘I know I have a briefcase somewhere - Uncle Francis gave it to me when he got a new one.’
‘What would you need a briefcase for?’ Miranda asked him.
‘I know how to save Daddy from the petrivores,’ he answered as he looked through his boxes. ‘Here it is!’
He produced an old worn-out briefcase and smiled at the others. ‘This will do the trick!’

None of the children slept that night, and at break of dawn they got dressed, stuck some glitter on the briefcase and went to the lake again.
‘Couldn’t we wait for them at the house?’ Miranda asked.
‘We don’t know how and where they get in, and once they have the opportunity to spread their gold dust, nothing could save Daddy. We mustn’t take any chances!’
Soon enough the ship from the Dark Island arrived, and the two petrivores who had checked out their father the previous day headed off to their house. The children followed them to the front door which the petrivores opened with a master key.
‘I’m scared,’ Benjamin whispered. ‘I don’t want to go up with them.’
‘That’s all right,’ his brother said and hugged him. ‘You just wait here until we’re finished with them, and then you can see them being scared!’
The petrivores went upstairs to the parents’ bedroom, stood in front of them and opened their briefcase. By that time Cyril and Miranda stood beside them and shouted, ‘Daddy, Daddy, you can’t see us!’
Their father rubbed his eyes and yawned. ‘Of course I can see you,’ he replied, ‘standing in front of the bed with that briefcase. But don’t you think it’s a bit early to play petrivore?’
The petrivores were petrified. They didn’t know the children were there, and naturally they thought that the father was talking to them.
‘He sees us!’ one of them screamed. ‘Let’s go!’
Like a flash they headed for the door, and as they tried to get through it at the same time, they both got stuck in it.
Cyril and Miranda pushed them; with a lot of noise they somersaulted down the stairs, and Benjamin couldn’t stop laughing when he saw the petrivores running back to their ship.

Unfortunately the petrivores are still out there to take the fathers away from their families - but believe me, they never came back to this house again!

© 6243 RT (2002 CE) by Frank L. Ludwig