The Latest Thing

by Lord Dunsany

I SAW an unclean-feeder by the banks of the river of Time. He crouched by orchards numerous with apples in a happy land of flowers; colossal barns stood near which the ancients had stored with grain, and the sun was golden on serene far hills behind the level lands. But his back was to all these things. He crouched and watched the river. And whatever the river chanced to send him down the unclean-feeder clutched at greedily with his arms, wading out into the water.

Now there were in those days, and indeed still are, certain uncleanly cities upon the river of Time; and from them fearfully nameless things came floating shapelessly by. And whenever the odor of these came down the river before them the unclean-feeder plunged into the dirty water and stood far out, expectant. And if he opened his mouth one saw these things on his lips.

Indeed from the upper reaches there came down sometimes the fallen rhododendron’s petal, sometimes a rose; but they were useless to the unclean-feeder, and when he saw them he growled.

A poet walked beside the river’s bank; his head was lifted and his look was afar; I think he saw the sea, and the hills of Fate from which the river ran. I saw the unclean-feeder standing voracious, up to his waist in that evil-smelling river.

“Look,” I said to the poet.

“The current will sweep him away,” the poet said.

“But those cities that poison the river,” I said to him.

He answered: “Whenever the centuries melt on the hills of Fate the river terribly floods.”

* * *

Source: Fifty-One Tales

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