The Mysterious Demise of the Parktown Prawn

Acrylic on board, 2014. Illustration for a Sunday Times LifeStyle magazine article by Louis Greenberg on the strange fate of the monster insects that used to plague residents of the upmarket northern suburbs of Johannesburg. Some said it was the hadedas that wiped them out, but actually it was the snails.

Acrylic on board, 2014. Illustration for a Sunday Times LifeStyle magazine article by Louis Greenberg on the strange fate of the monster insects that used to plague residents of the upmarket northern suburbs of Johannesburg. Some said it was the hadedas that wiped them out, but actually it was the snails.

Here’s an excerpt:

‘What is the truth, Granma?’

‘Tell me why are we vanishing.’

I know the answer to this. It’s common wisdom, passed from newt to newt in every nursery. ‘Because of the hadedas, Granma. They followed us to the suburbs and will not stop until they have picked every last one of us out of the ground. We must hide from them and move – very carefully – only on the darkest nights.’

I finish my recitation and look into her face, expecting approval. Although I know nothing about the ways of the surface, about history, politics or genocide, I have said what was expected of me.

But Granma Vito bursts out with a joint-freezing hiss. ‘Wrong!’ she says. ‘So, so wrong. That is what you are forced to think. But the truth is,’ – now she turns with horrifying speed and stamps her massive rear leg onto the delicate snail shell – ‘it was them! The snails!’

She smashes the shell into small pieces, convulsively flicking the shards around her burrow, a manic, shrill tinge to her voice as she begins to mutter: ‘Them! All along! A ghastly revenge. They hid it in their blood. A biological agent that rendered us infertile. When last did you see an egg, when last did you … Them, all along. The hadedas … just a smokescreen. They are our –’

Then I hear it: a rustling scrape from up above, a pounding thud, a shearing scrape, and the rustle. A sound of threat I’ve never heard, that makes my body instinctively curl and tense, ready to leap, makes me push back into the walls in terror.

I let go a bloom of black odour.

It’s coming.

The scimitar-shaped thing thrusts down through the ceiling. It’s awesome, massive. Clods of earth rain into the burrow as my body stops.

The scimitar opens, clamps Granma Vito and pulls her up and away, into the glare above.

She’s dead already.

When it’s over, I hurry back to my tunnel and begin to moult again.

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