Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth!
For the LORD has spoken:
“I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.”
Oh, God, what have I done? What have I become? Why has my pious and honest attempt to return my family to its rightful place been accursed with such horror? Worst of all, I enjoyed my depravity, wallowed shamelessly in brains, drank deeply and greedily of the cup offered by the Prince of Darkness.
My last entry, alas, precedes a period of darkness that I can scarce begin to acknowledge, and which I am loath even now to chronicle. Yet, for posterity, and should I fail in my return journey, I must put pen to paper with full and complete frankness, withholding no detail. I cannot but hope that God, in His infinite mercy, will forgive my sins and, perhaps, redeem me from the evil that even now festers and grows in my heart with every passing moment.
I must be resolute, unwavering in my resolve to fully and faithfully chronicle every event of my journey, whether cheerful or fateful. Here, then, is my confession, written as plainly as I may speak it.
Continue reading. After I awoke from my long sleep, I felt myself emptied, no longer caring for the treasure – which remained, bulging through the saddle bags, some of the otherwise scant evidence that my donkeys had ever existed. That burning desire for redemption for my family had been utterly replaced by another, darker desire that I continue to struggle against to this moment. I lusted after brains, and not any brains, but I longed for – this is terrible to write, but I know I must; I steel myself and confess – I longed for human brains. Within moments of awakening, I consumed all that remained of the donkeys’ brains but remained they did not satiate my compelling drive to smash human skulls and scoop out the brains and only the brains. The rest of the human body held no fascination for me; I am neither a monster nor have I gone native, to begin desiring human flesh. What am I, though, to desire to consume any part of a fellow man’s body? Yet doubt blossoms in my mind, however, that I truly committed the heinous crime that it may appear I committed, for what are the natives if not some lower creature to be utilized by more sophisticated, civilized Europeans?
Setting the thorny moral discussion aside, I must progress with my tale or fail utterly. Even now I long to stop, to forget, to bury the truth, but a true man faces his character open-eyed and unafraid.
My clothes, I might add, had been reduced to tatters and shreds over the long days or weeks of my sleep. Although no crawling thing touched my person, many insects made meals of my fine leather boots and gloves, not to mention my remaining articles of clothing. What had not been consumed by vile, creeping insects had begun already to rot and mildew in the extreme, endless dripping of the jungle. Even my skin had begun to show signs of mildew, and though I vigorously scrubbed, the fungus tenaciously clung to my skin until I sliced the skin away. Such fungus has plagued others on similar travels and I knew from their accounts that to allow the invader to infest my skin would only make my predicament worse on some future day. Modern medicine has yet to find a treatment for such malaise, so was forced to I resort to the only means of removing it that I could devise. My knife had not dulled over my convalescence, but even so, I found the pain much less terrible than when blades previously pierced my skin by accident. In addition, I seemed to bleed somewhat less than I had anticipated, a welcome surprise given my already-weakened state. One of my toes had become so overtaken with the fungus that I had to remove it entirely and bandage it with rags as best I could devise. After removing the horrible growths and bandaging my wounds, I was again overcome with hunger, not for food, which had all vanished from the packs, but for more unconventional fare.
I do not regard myself as a weak-willed cringing man who succumbs to his every desire. The trials of my family and the rigors of my long African sojourn have been a refining fire to my character, such that I now rule my passions rather than allowing them to dictate my every decision.
At least, I had believed such prior to the long sleep. Some vestige of that steel character remains to me, however, and I struggled against the inhuman desire to kill and consume any other creature’s brain material. Instead, I arose from the carnage of the donkeys and gathered what treasure I myself could carry, intending to obtain more beasts or even human laborers to convey my newly found wealth to a more civilized part of the world. My satchel and all the saddle bags had been nearly destroyed by the jungle, but I contrived a kind of travois to drag behind, loaded as heavily as I could bear. Despite my best efforts, the vast majority of my initial treasure remained in heaps where the saddle bags had fallen from the donkeys’ ravaged carcasses. I hoped to find James still waiting – his loyalty remained unequalled among all my prior servants, and he had sworn to await me however long I might take in recovering the treasure – and to return with him to retrieve still more of my hoard.
Before resuming my journey, I paused to give my respects to the remains of my little monkey companion. I confess that, in addition to bidding him farewell, I wondered if his body might retain some of its brains. Surely, I told myself, consuming the flesh of a dead animal is less heinous than killing a man for the same purpose. But my justification was unnecessary, for when I found the limb upon which I had placed Nagali’s remains, I found nothing. No evidence of Nagali remained, not even hair or bones or any physical remnant; the jungle had completely erased all evidence of his existence, as it was already doing to the donkeys. I felt again the keen loss of my small friend, whom I had come to accept in our caravan nearly as much as any of the human beings.
Saddened at the loss of brains – no, not brains. Saddened at the loss of any physical evidence of my little friend, I steeled myself and began my arduous journey back to James and the camp. I cannot recall how much time my outbound journey occupied, but pulling the travois of treasure to the camp took me many weeks. I was obliged to stop often to use my knife for clearing the dense undergrowth that obscured every inch of my outgoing path. I had cut markers into the trunks of trees to mark the way back, but I found myself increasingly disregarding the marks and taking a direct path, as if some unknown force drew me inexorably forward. Walking proved more difficult than before my illness, and I found myself shuffling or staggering when before I had stepped boldly. I attributed this to my weakened state and I expect to restore my strength when I have truly recovered from this malady. Oddly, despite the many weeks I seemed to have slept, I felt little desire for sustenance during these travails; I longed only, I confess, for the inhuman satisfaction of consuming brains, but refused to consider indulging myself in that evil pursuit. Instead I ate little of anything and pushed on through the jungle, my load of gold feeling heavier with every mile.
My new sixth sense led me on a much straighter path to the site of our camp, and there I found evidence that James remained in residence despite my long absence. All of my possessions remained in the camp, for I had taken all the beasts of burden in my eagerness to obtain as much wealth as I could find, and James consistently maintained my personal belongings perfectly scrupulously against the ravages of the jungle and its inhabitants. James greeted my arrival with a
mixture of astonishment and horror at my ragged, bloodied appearance. Over my return journey, my skin slowly returned to a semblance of its normal pinkish color, but I remained wounded from my self-inflicted injuries; in addition, innumerable branches and limbs had scratched me, leaving bloody nail-like scratches on my exposed skin.
James immediately began to attend my needs, all the while maintaining an extremely curious demeanor, but, like a good trained servant, he never questioned his master. I felt no desire to explain my failure, the loss of the donkeys and Nagali, or my subsequent illness, to my guide. He provided me with provisions, clean food and water; undamaged clothes; and a return to a modicum of civilization. I fell into a deep sleep protected at last from the elements by walls, albeit canvas ones. When I awoke, the urge for to kill and consume another human renewed its claim upon my mind and drove me, unthinking, out into the camp. There I found loyal James preparing breakfast: Bacon, salted kippers, and porridge, another homelike touch I should, in the past, have appreciated and acknowledged.
I can scarce bear to commit the description of my transgression to paper, but true confession and repentance brings grace. Thus I forge ahead.
My mind, when I saw James bent over the cooking fire, became a blank haze. I have not thought clearly since my illness, and I fear some enduring damage may have resulted, but this haze is unlike any I have heard of or experienced. Another, darker, more sinister force seemed to take over my limbs; my mind ceased to function, as if I had lost consciousness, save for one thought: Brains. Nothing beyond the desire to eat the juicy, squishy, still-warm grey matter of another man occupied my mind; no human sentiment, no conscience, no question. Brains and brains alone filled my thoughts. My feet moved of their own accord, shuffling in an awkward walk completely unlike my usual gait. My arms extended, marionette-like, to leave hands dangling like dead weights at the end of my wrists. From my mouth issued a most terrible mumbling, muttering, repeating ad infinitum the only thought in my mind: “Brains. Brains. Brains.”
James, alerted by my moaning, dropped my porridge into the fire and ran to assist me, fear and concern writ large across his face. Alas, this last good deed remains to his credit, and I confidently believe that, if Negroes go to heaven, God has welcomed him to paradise already for that action alone. My hand smashed his skull like cracking an egg; in delight my body threw itself upon him, peeling back skull fragments like so much egg shell, hands bathed in the blood of an innocent, greedily scooping the warm, gelatinous brain and shoveling handfuls into my mouth. The fresh brains of a man far exceeded the old, tough, half-rotted brains of the donkeys as the sun exceeds the moon. They tasted like nectar of the gods, like no other food I have ever consumed: Salty yet sweet, soft and yielding, delicious beyond compare and description.
May God forgive me and have mercy on my soul. Even now the memory causes my mouth to water and my hands, once more under my control, to begin shaking with desire. Though I loathe the action, yet I fear that, given ample opportunity, I would exhibit the same symptoms with the same result. What can this mean? Surely the natives’ claim of a curse cannot be credited, and yet no illness in my ken causes these strange and horrifying symptoms. Would to God that James had fled or abandoned camp, that I could have been spared the horror of watching my own body brutally butcher and consume a helpless, trusting man, however low of station. No man deserves James’ fate; yet I fear that James may have suffered the lesser evil, while I live on, the knowledge of this demon residing quiescent and waiting in my breast eating at me for perhaps every day of my life.
How can I return now to redeem my family’s fortune? What meaning has such a gesture when the redeemer is flawed beyond redemption himself? Must I expose my darling wife to the danger? Surely my heart would stop in my chest before I caused her harm, and yet… I fear that demon’s power. However, the thought of never returning, of Charlotte’s waiting day after day, fearing me dead or worse; of my former companions thinking me a failure; of my family’s good name sliding into obscurity and Charlotte living destitute and alone – I cannot bear these thoughts. I must find a way to remain the man I am, to retain my steel will even under the onslaught of desire and mindlessness, that I may return home with what treasure I may carry to spare Charlotte that pain.