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Predators’ Allies
by KJ Hannah Greenberg



Ksenia puller her upper lip toward her teeth to cover her incisors. Almost instantly, the small pool of moisture, which had trickled over her lower lip, evaporated. At the same time, the corners of her mouth, which met her cheeks, hardened.


A single stream of clear phlegm dribbled from her left nostril after both portals to her nose flared open. Ordinarily, they flared only when Vjenceslav forgot to put the toilet seat down.


Ksenia sucked in a breath. She tasted sour milk. She remembered that she had yet to use her toothbrush after throwing up her breakfast of cottage cheese and sliced peaches. Ksenia noted to herself that sucking on one of her ginger and peppermint lozenges could help, too.


Exhaling, Ksenia felt pain. Her mandibular ligaments, she was sure, were strung tighter than a violinist’s bow. Dr. Gooden, the family dentist, had warned her that her worsening TMJ might destroy her enamel faster than could her recycled stomach acid.


A gob of eye gunk fell from one of Ksenia’s tear ducts. That yellow-greenish speck proved that her liver was again swollen. Ksenia blew, with her lower lip, at the displaced detritus and felt her face tighten even more.


On her brow, horizontal creases amassed like infantry squadrons. While her best girlfriends had double chins, droopy eyelids, and sagging jowls, Ksenia had impossibly tight skin. She sighed from pain.


A few hairs fell forward, escaping their elastic binding. They wafted past Ksenia’s eyebrows and then settled on her nose. Another bead of nasal mucus dropped from one of her nostrils. She neither righted those hairs nor wiped away the slime as she was suddenly overcome by another wave of nausea. Ksenia almost made it to the toilet.


Elsewhere, at work, Vjenceslav was seeking means to rid Lake Michigan of Asian Carp. Regardless of whether those interlopers were Silver Carp or Bigheads, he had been hired to identify and mete out natural predators specific to carp or to find some other means to rid the water of them.


He was prohibited from using habitat degradation to kill the fish since poisoning the water would: kill other animal life; destroy the lake’s ecosystem, in general; and cause serious health problems for the residents of lakefront towns and cities such as Milwaukee, Chicago, and Gary. Furthermore, Vjenceslav couldn’t make use of species known to eat carp fry because those critters did not discern among carp and other fishes’ young. There would be trouble if the lake’s perch, trout, and bass also disappeared.


Vjenceslav weighed that he might be able to significantly reduce the number of carp while boosting regional tourism if he tried a different tactic. His research team had revealed that various Asian communities cherished carp flesh. Maybe Michigan, in partnership with Taipei, Beijing, Hanoi, Seoul, and other relevant centers, could create an ecotourism program in which Asians would come to the States to harvest the lake’s carp.


Campgrounds complete with dedicated grilling and cooking sites could be built, culinary competitions could be held, and licenses for limitless fishing exclusively of carp, could be given out for free. Vjenceslav’s program could make the infamous harvest of salmon in Kenai, Alaska look like a Little League effort.


There was just one problem with that way out; Vjenceslav and Ksenia did not live in the Midwest. In fact, they did not live in the United States. Rather, Vjenceslav was a member of a Zagreb civil engineering firm that specialized in constructing facilities in Europe, Russia, North America, Southeast Asia, and Australia for “unidentifiable” or otherwise “problematic” critters.


Because of the carp project, Vjenceslav was temporarily stationed in Muskegon, Michigan, but he did not want to permanently relocate to there. Whereas the city’s amenities, primarily its grocery stores and laundromats, bettered those of their hometown, Zadar, Vjenceslav and Ksenia could not figure out any quick and inexpensive means to meet Ksenia’s intense craving for white truffles spread thickly on Pogača bread.


Vjenceslav’s boss did not consider Ksena’s cravings to be part of any moving allowance, and the one American source Vjenceslav had found for Ksenia’s desired delicacy, Urbani Truffles of New York City, was charging more than fifteen dollars, not counting shipping, for little more than two ounces of not truffles, but truffle-flavored cookies. The pair had yet to find a supplier for truffle cream or truffle oil.


At least, Vjenceslav’s mother-in-law was shipping the wanted bread from Zadar. It was due to arrive, assuming it passed successfully through customs, in a few short weeks.


Vjenceslav sighed. It had been much easier for him when he had been assigned, a decade ago, the task of finding a chemical agent that would disrupt the lamellar part of the gills of a shiver of hidden megalodon sharks swarming the Caribbean Sea. When those giants died, he was touted as a hero from the Cayman Islands to Bogatá. At the time, he hadn’t been married, so Vjenceslav indulged in all manner of tropical “hospitality.” Elsewhere, his bosses drank Champaign. However, at a different locale, cloistered others fretted.


There had also been the case when Vjenceslav had been charged with rounding up the herd of hippocentaurs that had descended from Mt. Pelion to Volos, a Greek city of intermittent importance and a hot spot for monsters such as Scylla and Charybdis (the Pagasetic Gulf is a favored breeding ground for those species.)


The trouble with the horsemen was that they dined on living humans, eating the fatty and fleshy bits, but throwing the bones into the ocean. More than once, the hippocentaurs had made chow out of research teams, and, more than once, they had disrupted the delicate mating rituals of the local sea monsters. Moreso, the situation was complicated by the presence of the badgers, hedgehogs, boars, ferrets, and foxes that lived on the mountain. They had to be preserved while the invaders were terminated.


In the end, Vjenceslav hired members of several of Athens’ polyamory societies to bait the hippocentaurs with hemlock-spiced wine. Although a few additional research stations were ravaged as were several people on Vjenceslav’s staff, eventually, the man-horses again ascended the mountain. That time, too, Vjenceslav indulged in physical manifestations of gratitude offered to him by the natives. His supervisors, similarly, partied with vials of caviar, and, similarly, sequestered forces vexed darkly.


Shortly after the Volos Project, Vjenceslav met Ksenia. She was enrolled in the same folk dance class as he. Almost always, after completing an assignment, Vjenceslav returned home to enjoy his bonus vacation time. It was during one of those holidays that he, Ksenia, and nearly two dozen other young people were brought together by kolo and furlana lessons.


Weekly, Ksenia invited Vjenceslav to join her for a beer after class. She confided that she liked the brews of Zmajska pivovara best, but time and again, he demurred, saying he was too tired to join her. One night, however, Vjenceslav agreed to accompany Ksenia to a bar, telling her that his favorite sip was rogačica, that is, carob brandy. Despite their differences in drink preferences, they fell in love.


While Vjenceslav traveled the world to tame brutes, Ksenia sat in cafés, sipping wee cups of Turkish coffee and composing poems. A beatnik, like herself, needed to create verse to express her protests. Her chief tools were her budding indignation and her five year-old laptop. At worst, if she tried to write while uninspired, which was most of the time; she kept time to whatever music was blasting from her earbuds, drank cuppa after cuppa, and chewed on breads spread with thick, creamy cheese. No self-respecting nonconformist would record their ideas on mere paper or in the privacy of their home.


Increasingly loathing the geographic distance that his work put between him and Ksenia, and, alternatively, being restrained by fidelity to miss his usual triumph-related carnal fruit harvests, Vjenceslav proposed.  Ksenia accepted. Their friends and parents cried briefly and then got busy planning the nuptials. In hidden chambers, though, shadowy beings plotted.


For two weeks after the wedding, the pair boated along the Adriatic coast. Theirs was a pampered journey as their small ship came equipped with a cook, a skipper, and a maid. By the end of their honeymoon, Ksenia was pregnant.


Vjenceslav was a fan of hump and bump, but Ksenia preferred interactions that were more refined. She insisted that they slow their interfaces down as they would have an entire lifetime in which to engage in them. What’s more, any man as intellectually endowed, emotionally fine-tuned, and attractive as Vjenceslav ought to have no trouble complying.


Hence, when Vjenceslav, initially, was assigned the Lake Michigan carp problem, Ksenia chose to remain in Croatia. She’d stay home and cultivate both their baby and her beatnik roots.


Vjenceslav objected. Ksenia could be both a critical consumer of worldly ways and a vanguard for truth’s binding value from any port. She could gestate anywhere. She could not keep his bed warm, however, if they were thousands of kilometers apart. Besides, it was unlikely, given her radiance, that she would suffer a cold bed if left behind; he, alone, had vowed loyalty – Ksenia had merely: muttered something about being fairly dependable, given Vjenceslav his ring, and kissed him so passionately that he forgot about that caveat until weeks after they had celebrated their nuptials.


Reluctantly, the new bride agreed to entirely alter her life. In hindsight, she often told herself, she ought to have remained in Zadar.  Her days and nights in Muskegon were filled with little more than watching her nails grow. As well, just two months after her and Vjenceslav’s arrival, her pregnancy symptoms worsened. Had the chichevache not come knocking on her door, she figured that she would have expired from a combination of hyperemesis gravidarum and boredom.


The morning in question, after cleaning up her vomit that had splattered around their toilet, Ksenia heard a knock at the door. For the first time in days, she laughed. Her life was becoming one cliché after another.


The young married looked at the peephole, but saw nothing. Cautiously, while keeping the chain attached, she opened the door. A scrawny, cow-like beast looked up at her from the hallway. It addressed her in Ruthenian. When Ksenia failed to reply, the beast switched to Croatian. Simply, it informed Ksenia, it had arrived at her threshold to devour her. It fed, the creature told her, on good and virtuous women.


Ksenia felt more ill winds gurgle up from her stomach. She chocked back a reflex. It would be impolite to vomit on a visitor. Needing to temporalize, she invited the beast in for tea.


The monster appreciated the Pampa-tea Smirko tisane that Ksenia prepared for it and was grateful that its host had bothered to pour the hot mix into a large bowl from which it could easily drink. Accordingly refreshed, the freakish thing again told Ksenia of its intention to gulp her down.


Ksenia shook her head and pointed to her belly. While the chichevache was sipping a relaxant, Ksenia was sipping an anti-nausea drink consisting of red raspberry leaf, peppermint, and ginger root. She had twice left her guest alone in order to puke up the limited contents of her stomach.


The chichevache shrugged. There were no rules against also swallowing unborn humans.


Ksenia scolded; the baby was not Vjenceslav’s. All Croatians knew that chichevaches were only permitted to eat honorable women.


The monster bellowed. Tea did nothing to fill its belly, and it was, as evidenced by its protruding ribs, very hungry. Nonetheless, it was a principled brute.


The next day, Vjenceslav, too, received a visitor. An enormous bicorn knocked on the door of his temporary office. At the time, Vjenceslav was in the midst of a conference call with the Japanese minister of trade and with that man’s American counterpart.


Both officials hear Vjenceslav scream; while on the phone, he had opened his door and had encountered a two horned panther with a human face. His visitor was plump and salivating.


To no avail, Vjenceslav tried to shut the door on her. She pushed into his office, bit through his media system’s wires, and then snorted. She salivated a little more, too.


Like the chichevache, the bicorn had been part of the legion sent to disrupt the work of the hunters of strange and frightening creatures. Ksenia had not mentioned the incident with the chichevache, so Vjenceslav had neither anticipated his unwelcomed guest nor prepared himself to “properly” greet it.


“But I’m not henpecked,” Vjenceslav protested.


“And I don’t follow the rules,” answered the beast. Not even bloodstains were left by the time she had satisfied herself.


Whereas Vjenceslav’s company made no profit on the Lake Michigan containment problem, the carp invasion was successfully curbed by the ecotourism idea that Vjenceslav had been touting in the phone call that preceded his demise.


Taxes from Asian carp hunters’ tourist visa were routed to The United States National Tourism Office with agreed upon kickbacks being channeled to tourism offices in, respectively: Taiwan, China, Vietnam, and South Korea. On both sides of the world, a certain per cent of those funds were deposited in private accounts held by ranking officials.


As for Ksenia, she took up the cause of chichevaches, the world over. Their plight was more interesting, than were the various forms of human suffering against which she had earlier voiced disapproval. Until she delivered her spawn she spent long hours, once more, in Zadar’s coffee house. What she did and for whom she did it, thereafter, is another story.


Meanwhile, the seven lean and seven fat cows, which had been alluded to in the world’s main monotheistic religions, were venerated in houses of worship - the chichevache and the bicorn had been sighted around the globe. Ironically, women’s attendance at religious services dropped because female attendees were getting eaten. It was suggested that Hindu adherents were safe from that scourge, nevertheless, since those evil critters knew that such coreligionists eschewed animal products, especially bovine-sourced comestibles and leather.


Most eerie was that the majority of the globe’s eradication experts, namely people like Vjenceslav, had been preyed on and that formerly secreted, horrific creatures, again, surfaced. A renaissance of cryptids conquered city after city.


Months into that incursion, the American President picked up the receiver of his turquoise-studded phone. His call was answered in a faraway galaxy. He was inviting tourists from the Horseshoe Nebula, plus sentient lobsters from Jupiter to harvest all of the unwanted Earthly fauna.


Unfortunately, neither the president nor his Russian comrade thought ahead about what to do with the subsequent invasive species. That’s why, today, in our underground communities, Vjenceslav is lauded as a martyr and Ksenia is regarded as a villain of the worst kind.



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