Attack of the Cumbrios

Posted By Peter Vilbig on Oct 9, 2011 in Culture, Disjecta Membra, LIfe | 0 comments

One of the earliest images extant of the cumbrio, at the corner of Prince and Lafayette in Soho.

The cumbrios first came among us some time ago, though the exact date of their arrival remains a puzzle even to the naturalists who have studied them. The reasons are simple: the cumbrios were initially quite shy, rarely showing their snouts in daylight or in crowded parts of the city; in addition, they looked very much like dogs. The adult male cumbrio has a tawny pelt, is about five feet long, and has a pointed nose (though not so pointed as a fox, for example). They are built low to the ground in a way that most dogs are not. In other words they look like a long, low-slung, and somewhat slender though powerfully muscled dog. If only.

We now recognize that the trouble with the cumbrios started soon enough. But at the time we only knew that the city was experiencing a series of disappearances. They were heartrending. A Stuyvesant student whose family had fought its way out of poverty, an ingénue who had won her first part in a Broadway production, a professor of nutrition. The only people getting any benefit out of this were the newscasters, but after the beloved weatherman for Channel 2, Olaf Kottfoder, (sometimes referred to as the Swedish tornado due to his amazingly pomaded swirling crest of silver hair) turned up missing, even the newscasters began to look worried. It would be some time before we realized that these disappearances were occurring because the cumbrios were really hungry.

Apparently the cumbrios arrived because the pickings were good. Wherever they had been before: well, not so good. Which raises an interesting point: wouldn’t these mammals, having sudden access to an unlimited nutrition source, grow fat and contented? Not so. The cumbrios were biologically a kind of wildcard: the more they ate, the more actively they consumed. This was a key feature of the cumbrios, their mad overreaching appetite, but sadly, that was not the half of it. For the feeding habits of the cumbrios underwent an important shift, and if we had only been smart enough, we would have understood then that like French aristocrats so gluttonous as to unable to be sated on anything less than pâté of hummingbird tongue, the cumbrios were soon killing us to satisfy a gourmandizing instinct.

It happened this way: within a few weeks of their arrival, the cumbrios stopped eating all their kill. The thumb and left foot of an Internet mogul were found outside a nightclub in the meatpacking district. A young schoolboy’s nose was found on Canal Street near a video game store. The left buttock of a socialite was discovered outside the parking garage of her Eastside townhouse. Manhattanites were soon waking to body parts strewn from Manhattan Valley to the Financial District. Admittedly, the police were ham-handed with their theory that a terrible axe murderer was on the loose. We should have been so lucky. But when bodies began to show up with a single vicious fang-like bite to the neck, producing, according to the coroner, almost instantaneous death through a traumatic puncturing of the thoracic vertebrae, the authorities finally admitted that the attacks might be the work of an animal (or of someone managing to pose as one). A more disturbing change in the style of the attacks soon followed that left officials reeling: victims were now being found, bodies largely intact, except for this startling and deeply disconcerting fact: their penises or vaginas had been torn away. We would later learn that the cumbrios had determined these to be the most delectable portions of the human anatomy.

Naturally, wild superstitions pulsed through the metropolis. The cumbrios were vampires or werewolves. Whole literatures were soon being published on these themes, revitalizing the moribund publishing industry. However, the first video recording of a cumbrio attack revealed the truth. The victim, a museum volunteer and baking student from Belarus, dressed in the shabby clothing of a Dostoyevsky hero, was walking on Bleecker Street near Bowery when a cumbrio trotted up to him. Amazingly, the cumbrio presented itself as a kind of super-emoting dog! Man’s best friend indeed!

In essence, the cumbrio seduced Kharchovay by calling up within him that most deeply buried desire that lies within the human being to connect with the animal within, to be a dog, yes, to bark like a dog. (This almost Svengali-like capacity to place the victim in a kind of trance was key to the cumbrios’ continuing success.) Soon the cumbrio jumped to its hind legs and placed its paws on Kharchovay’s chest. Kharchovay was leaning forward to complete the standard canine-human embrace, when, with a delicacy the police commissioner would later call almost human, the cumbrio killed the young lad almost instantly with a single thrashing bite of its powerful mandibles. Then, like the bears in Alaska that catch salmon only to slice open their bellies with a claw and solely eat the roe, the cumbrio neatly sliced Kharchovay’s jeans open and gracefully removed his penis, which the animal consumed by flipping it upward with a toss of the head and gobbling it down in much the same way that humans eat oysters.

Now that the true source of the attacks was known, people felt an odd relief. After all, the government would soon array its vast resources against the scourge, right? We wished. Yes, commissions were created. Yes, cable channels held panel discussions. Yes, unhinged harangues were delivered on C-Span. But the attacks continued. The various agencies complained about jurisdictional issues and argued that animal welfare laws had tied their hands. Soon political figures were casting blame on one another, while others darkly hinted that the politicians were benefiting in some mysterious way from the presence of the animals. The police grew demoralized, and the populace itself began to project a new psychological state hitherto unknown on our island, a state that can only be described, imperfectly, as glazed.

Though the cumbrios were no more intelligent than the average canine, the beasts soon took on a swagger, moving about the city with impunity. People stayed indoors, of course, whenever possible, but they needed to live, to get to work, to buy food; and as a result, the cumbrio continued to dwell among us, in its new ecosystem of Manhattan, where an odd sort of protection, hypo-legal in every sense, seemed to be afforded it. (Indeed, this may have explained the vast exodus of residents to nearby Brooklyn, where the cumbrio had not yet migrated—though who could believe that a trio of ancient bridges would confine the affliction for long to Manhattan.)

Well. We all know what’s happened. Time’s passed, as it always does. And while the pundocrats tell us that our ultimate reaction to the cumbrios is a testimony to human resilience and adaptability, we know this: the cumbrio has made itself master of our island. No thought, no decision, no action, can be taken that does not first take into account their violence and the ravaging effects of their attacks.

Yet as everyone knows, terror has its own expiration date. And as numerous commentators have pointed out, life distracts us from the very matters that most demand our attention. How true it is in the case of the cumbrios. For as many a wise person has noted in our dark days, who has the energy to attend to alarums, when we are occupied, as we now must be, with just getting through the day with genitals intact?

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