Alas, sinful nation,
People weighed down with iniquity,
Offspring of evildoers,
Sons who act corruptly!
They have abandoned the Lord,
They have despised the Holy One of Israel,
they have turned away from Him.
Despite my concerns over how my illness will cause me to behave in civilized company, I know I must return to England to fulfill my responsibilities. Despite my horrific behavior, I am bound by my Sherborne family honor in this matter, and I must trust that God and my self-control will restrain my new, unholy appetites. However, my quest has received a heavy blow with James’ death and the loss of our pack animals, for I alone cannot transport the supplies and what meager treasure I still possess back to anywhere approaching civilization. Thus it is clear that, although I speak only European languages, I must somehow convince the natives here to throw in their lot with mine. I must return to England by any means necessary; the weapons in the camp, diligently maintained by poor James, remain a viable final resort. I feel little compunction about threatening a few local tribesmen; for they are so primitive any touch of civilization, however brutal, must naturally improve their lot.
January 3, 18XX+1
I could not bring myself to chronicle my journey out of the hell that they call Africa. I shall simply say that, although my evil circumstances forced me to commit additional atrocities in my successful attempt to return to Egypt, I succumbed only twice, once each month, to the basest desires of my heart. This disease, if such suffering might truly fall into a category normally reserved for , waxes and wanes on a nearly perfect 30-day cycle; between bouts, when the disease ebbs, I find myself returning almost to my normal state, albeit with a new, unnatural interest in cranial development and human intelligence. I pray that I arrive home in a sane period, for in the stupor of the illness my body no longer responds to my mind and I become a walking corpse, intent only finding and consuming human brains. I have begun to hope that I may yet function in society, for with Charlotte’s aid, I believe we can disguise the reality of my affliction from those whose opinions inform all meaningful discourse.
Despite the surcease from my terrifying condition, I have little joyous news to chronicle. Although I obtained aid from the natives near the treasure cave, they refused, even to the point of death, to touch the treasure. I was obliged to employ extremely forceful persuasion to even obtain enough porters to transport my personal possessions, excluding the jewels and gold I had retained from my initial cache. Eventually I accepted their adamant refusal and acted as a porter myself, walking nearly the length of Africa pulling my travois of treasure; as we traversed difficult terrain, attrition occurred, leaving me with much fewer of the valuables I had come so far to obtain. After a number of weeks traveling thus, we came upon an outpost where, at great expense, I obtained a number of pack animals, at which time I released the majority of my unwilling porters, all save two, who served as guides and, to the extent possible, interpreters until their unfortunate demises.
When I arrived in Cairo, alone – having succumbed twice to the evil urges, I found myself without any companions – and utterly exhausted, I found that the hoard I had so carefully shepherded thousands of miles had been reduced to a tiny fraction of its previous glory. In total, I recovered only enough to cover my family’s debts and sustain us for another two years, after which time I know I must attempt another journey into this heart of darkness. Knowing the arduous nature of the journey, I shall equip and provision myself more carefully than in this first attempt. I have not given up hope, but in truth, the prospect of ever setting foot on this continent again fills my heart with dread.
However, until such a time as I must undertake another attempt to retrieve more treasure, I shall seek to husband our new resources diligently and raise the Sherbornes back to their rightful place in society. Tomorrow I set sail for England and my beloved Charlotte, for whom I would undergo any amount of suffering… though not, perhaps, even for my wife would I willingly contract the illness which even now turns my unwilling mind from important business matters to brains.
Continue reading.January 17, 18XX+1?
Two weeks into the sea voyage, I once again find myself becoming overwhelmed with the thought of brains. I have explained to the captain that during my exploration in Africa I contracted a terrible local malady that requires I quarantine myself periodically; but, though I lock myself into my room, I fear my walking corpse-self will find the key and ravage an innocent passenger. I cannot allow such an occurrence, not after all my previous travails; for to be caught in such an act (aside from resulting in my immediate imprisonment and almost certain execution) would surely mean the end of my family’s ambitions and leave us once again destitute and mocked by our former peers. To prevent this, the captain of the vessel has, although puzzled, agreed to lock me into my cabin for another week and to remove the key, providing my meals through a narrow hatch in the door. He cannot fathom why my illness would require such action, and I pray neither he nor any other human discovers the true reason for my self-imposed imprisonment.
January 19, 18XX+1
BRAINS Brains brains brains brains brainsbrains brains must find brains
must eat must find man must eat brains brains brains brains juicy tasty sweet gooey brains warm delicious brains brains brains trapped must escape find brains brains brains brains brains
hearing brains smelling brains must find eat brains
January 26, 18XX+1
Good Lord, what a week. I hardly imagined that I would have recorded my desires so blatantly, but I shall allow the entry to stand, for I believe that future generations must understand the reality of my affliction and the depth of my sacrifice for my family. Thank God, I did not escape to harm anybody, although since I emerged from confinement, my fellow passengers have given me wide berth. I feel their intensely curious gazes, but their good breeding holds and I explain myself to no man. The steward who provided my meals has expressed concern to the captain, but after I provided some small personal compensation to the captain for the trouble I caused, that good man sides with me entirely and has dismissed the steward’s fears and strictly ordered his silence. This experience bolsters my hope that I can, with some effort, function normally among my peers, for if I can emerge with a nearly unscathed reputation after a week’s insanity in such close quarters as those on this vessel, maintaining a façade of normality in the privacy of our estate should, with Charlotte’s aid, prove perfectly within my grasp.
January 31, 18XX+1
England at last! It seems a lifetime since I have seen her green shores and magnificent architecture, felt her cool breezes, smelled the damp, smoky smell of London’s manufactories, or heard the hue and hubbub of native Englishmen at work. My heart rejoices at the prospect of rejoining Charlotte and effecting the rescue of the Sherborne name.
— August 2009 —
Tristan Sherborne always hated the start of a new school year. He didn’t mind the school part so much as the other students part. This year he started his junior year at Somewheresville High School, and he knew what that meant: More time hanging out with the outcast clique – fine with him; since he
didn’t care for football, fantasy role-playing games, or the internal workings of computers, the other major school cliques didn’t appeal to him. He just wished he could make more normal friends, and maybe even find a girl who wasn’t totally airheaded and giggly. It seemed to Tristan that the girls with brains were “like parking spaces: either handicapped or taken,” as the joke went among his friends.
With a sigh, Tristan dragged himself out of bed, ceding defeat to the inevitable reality that school would start today and he would be there in his first period Advanced Algebra class, hoping for not too much homework the first night. He trudged heavily down the stairs and into the kitchen, where Mom had the traditional First Day of School Breakfast – bacon, eggs, and a special treat of toast topped with pig brains – waiting for him and Lottie, his just-slightly-younger twin sister. Lottie had already devoured her toast and brains, and had moved on to the desultory picking at her eggs stage of the meal. She hated eggs, but Mom said it was important that they cultivate an enjoyment of the same foods other families ate, so they would fit in better. Tristan didn’t mind eggs; they had a texture a little like what he imagined cooked brains would feel like, although why anybody would cook perfectly good brains, he couldn’t guess.
“You’re late,” Mom said as Tristan thumped down into his chair.
“I was hoping if I stayed in bed, school wouldn’t start.” He gulped down the toast and brains first, too, as Mom looked on slightly disapprovingly.
“You shouldn’t focus on the brains so much,” she admonished. “We need to try to be normal.” Tristan and Lottie exchanged a glance that clearly said, “What does she know about normal, anyway?” Mom turned away to start washing up the breakfast dishes as her two oldest children finished and began packing their lunches.
“I guess having a PB and brains sandwich for lunch is out of the question, then?” Tristan couldn’t help but heckle Mom a little bit. Sometimes she just gave Tristan and Lottie no credit whatsoever. After all, they’d made it to high school without giving the secret away; if they were going to accidentally spill the brains to some normal person, it would’ve happened a long time ago.
Mom didn’t deign to reply, but Lottie laughed. “I’d love to see your friends’ faces when you pulled that out of your lunch bag.”
“I could try to pass it off as, oh, caviar or something.”
“Have you even had caviar? I’m sure it’s nothing like brains.” Lottie didn’t like exotic foods much, but she did like having an opinion on everything, even things she didn’t know anything about.
Tristan appealed to a higher authority. “Mom, have you had caviar? Is it like brains?”
“No,” Mom said, disappointing both of them, “But how about if you start getting ready for school instead of bickering about brains? I don’t want to have to drive you on your first day and the bus is going to be here in 15 minutes.”
In the end, Tristan reflected, Mom always got her way.
Advanced Algebra was as advertised – boring but not too difficult for Tristan – but Spanish looked like it might have potential. Tristan secretly dreamed of working for the CIA and conducting covert missions in exotic locations, although he would certainly never have admitted that goal, even to his twin sister. Tristan excelled at languages and, this year, had begun taking college courses in Spanish, French, and German while serving as a teacher’s assistant in his high school Spanish class one period a day. High school Spanish students made Tristan cringe as they butchered a beautiful language, but he patiently worked with his peers in Spanish 3 to correct accents and explain the vagaries of irregular verbs.
Squatting next to Kim’s desk, patiently engaging in a simple conversation about Kim’s summer activities, Tristan looked into her azul eyes and wondered if she even knew he existed outside of class. Her long, straight hair, clipped back by some means invisible to Tristan, fell in a golden cascade across her shoulders and down her back. His stomach clenched and he tried to focus on her words – “Fui a Maui por dos semanas. Fui a bucear y vi pescados.” – rather than her smooth, buttery voice.
“¿Sí? ¿Qué pescados usted vio?” Keep it formal, he thought, hoping to come off as smart and nice, but not overly fawning. Certainly not like Austin, Kim’s long-term boyfriend. What an idiot. He hardly knew how to scratch his name on paper, but his prowess at any sport ensured his status as the school’s highest-ranking jock. As captain of the cheer squad, Kim naturally caught his eye; most of the students had placidly accepted the inevitability of their becoming a couple. Tristan wondered if there was anything to Kim besides her lustrous beauty. He hoped so, and her decent Spanish seemed to suggest brains behind the beauty, but with Austin constantly chaperoning his girl around, Tristan knew he should just look elsewhere for this year’s pre-ex girlfriend.
“OK, class, stop what you’re doing and look up here for a moment.” Señora Alvarez called the class back to attention, ending Tristan’s useless mental calculations. He stood up and moved to the back of the classroom, waiting for his next assignment. Probably, given his luck, he’d have to work with Stinky Jones, whose grasp of Spanish extended to “¿Donde está el baño?” and no farther.
Class ended not long after, and to Tristan’s relief, he helped neither Stinky nor Kim. Shoving through the hallways of sheeplike students, Tristan caught sight of a sign advertising the first Tolo event and glumly admitted to himself that no girl would ever ask him to even the most informal, casual dance. Maybe he could convince Lottie to invite him and they could go as a pair of neurons or something.
That afternoon, loaded heavily with six classes’ worth of textbooks and enough homework to occupy even the most diligent worker, Tristan caught a city bus to Somewheresville Community College. The college classes had already started several weeks earlier, so this routine had become familiar. The shabby bus, shuddering along, sparks flying from its electrical connection as they passed through intersections and populated with a mix of people ranging from bored-looking commuters to homeless people just looking for a warm, dry place to rest for as long as possible. Then into the heart of the city, its inhabitants actively avoiding one another’s gazes, their eyes sliding quickly away as they hurried on their important errands.
Tristan leaned his forehead against the window, arms wrapped around his bulging backpack. How it all came back, the feelings of always carrying a secret, hiding his true self from even his best friends. Nobody understood him; normal people couldn’t even begin to imagine the Sherborne affliction and Mom and Dad – well, what could they know of Tristan’s emotional struggles? He was pretty sure they had never even been teenaged, let alone felt the depths of misery and loneliness that engulfed him once again as he sat on this bus, surrounded by normal everyday people. All Dad’s super-secret research into viruses and scientific causes for their debility didn’t make it any better. There was no cure, no changing their natures. Tristan heaved another sigh, feeling utterly alone. That didn’t help, either. He was pretty sure he would spend the rest of his life miserable.
The bus jerked into motion again and Tristan suddenly realized he had just missed his stop. As the Community College sign slid out of sight, he reflected on how unfair life really was. What had he done to deserve this fate? Now he’d even be late to his French class, and all the older students would look at him with their knowing, judging eyes, blaming him for interrupting yet again.
Kim sat in her 2009 yellow Ford Mustang and wiped away the tears that blurred her view of her home, a 6,000 square foot home in the gated hillside community of Sweet River Village. She didn’t want her parents to know she had been crying, and certainly she didn’t want to show them what their endless fighting was doing to her. It was bad enough that her youngest sister, Evie, had recently started wetting the bed again even though she was in fifth grade. Their in-between sister, Leslie, simply pretended everything would be fine, that mother and father still loved each other and their family wasn’t falling apart. Kim knew better, but didn’t try to force the issue. It’d be clear soon enough what would happen, and although secretly she hoped Leslie was right, she sternly told herself that it wasn’t mature to live in a dream world.
“Be realistic, Kim,” she said aloud into the silence of her car. “Don’t be stupid. You’re getting out of here next year whether or not mother and father are together. Just get through this year.” She had a good scholarship to MIT lined up already and fully intended to get out of this nowhweresville as soon as humanly possible, preferably never to return. She wouldn’t miss mother or father, that’s for sure, but the girls had grown closer as their parents slowly, inexorably drifted apart. Kim would miss Leslie and Evie.
Unfolding herself from the car, Kim stretched her long, shapely legs. Practice tonight had really taken it out of her, but she was glad she’d visited the gym daily all summer. It had paid off in her ability to jump higher, lift other girls, and dance energetically for hours without fatigue. Kim loved exercise enough to get up early for a five mile run before school, the only time she spent with her father, who had run the Boston Marathon every year since before Kim was born.
She dragged her backpack from the passenger seat and hefted it. Plenty of homework; that Spanish was going to take forever, but nothing else seemed like it would be a problem. She might even be able to get in a short bout of weight lifting down in the exercise room before bed if she worked fast.
That plan went out the window the instant she walked in the door as Evie threw herself into Kim’s arms, wailing.
“Ssshhhh,” Kim whispered, kneeling to cuddle her sister’s bony, shaking form. “What is it? What’s wrong?” Stupid question, really, but what else could she say? It wouldn’t be honest to say that everything would be all right, much as Kim wished it would be so.
“Mama…” Evie choked back another sob, gasping for air.
“Just breathe, OK? I’m here. I’ll take care of it.” Again, Kim internally grimaced. She couldn’t fix anything, and certainly not her parents’ dysfunctional relationship. In her arms, Evie blinked and took several deep, shuddering breaths. Kim felt her steeling herself, gathering her strength. Nobody could accuse the girls in their family of weakness, that’s for sure.
“Mama’s upstairs. In the bath tub. She’s not moving.” Evie looked at her trustingly. “Can you wake her up? Nancy had to leave early and I don’t want to be alone.”
Kim went very still, her heart plummeting well below her toes. Willing herself to stay calm, she stood up. “I’ll go wake Mother, and don’t worry” – as much for herself as for Evie, this time – “you won’t be alone. I’m here now. You have homework, right?” Evie nodded. “Could you get started on it while I go wake Mother?”
“Okay. But I need some help.” Those big, trusting eyes turned Kim’s lost heart to ice for fear she’d fail her kid sister.
“I’ll help you, but I need to wake Mother first. Do what you can and I’ll come help when I can.” With a gentle shove Kim started Evie down the hallway to the fifth grader’s bedroom; as Evie walked away, it was all Kim could do to keep from dashing upstairs as fast as she could. She didn’t want Evie becoming alarmed, but Kim hurried as fast as she could as soon as Evie closed her door, fumbling for her cell phone as she dashed through the hallway to the master bedroom suite.
When she burst into the master bathroom, Kim’s worst fears were confirmed. Empty bottles of hard liquor surrounded her mother, who was slumped deep in the tub, and an empty bottle of Tylenol had tipped and rolled into a corner. Kim’s fingers had already automatically dialed 911 by the time she took the scene in.
The fire department got there first. Kim had tried to call her father, but had to settle for leaving a voice mail at his work and on his cell phone. Father was probably entertaining other big muckety-muck executives while his wife slipped into deeper into unconsciousness. Then the police arrived, full of questions, and then at last the ambulance. By then, the firefighters had established that Marilyn Benson was alive. She survived, .
Father arrived home earlier than usual, not long after 8:30 that evening. The police detectives still hung around, and they had plenty of questions for father. Kim, on her way to finally help Evie with her homework, gave him a disgusted glance as she caught Father glancing in the mirror to check his hair before facing the cops. Heaven forbid her father would look anything but perfect, even if it was only Somewheresville’s Finest.
Leslie lay on Evie’s bed reading a trashy romance novel. Its lurid cover showed a scantily clad, inhumanly well-endowed woman swooning in the arms of a tan, oiled, and impossibly muscular man.
“You’re not old enough for that,” Kim commented as she entered. Evie immediately began jumping up and down, alternating squealing with whining as she nonverbally begged Kim for the love and attention that she so craved.
“Whatever,” her 15-year-old sister replied. “You’re not my mom.” Kim’s jaw tightened; soon they might not have a mother, if things went badly in the next few hours.
“Fine,” Kim replied. “But I’m not responsible if Father catches you with it.” Leslie deigned only to snort in reply, her disdain fully evident. Kim took no offence; she knew her middle sister was just trying in her own way to escape from the uncontrollable downward spiral that was life in the Benson household.
Kneeling beside Evie’s child-sized desk, Kim asked, “So what are we working on tonight?” Evie picked up a much-chewed pencil and silently pointed to a map of the United States. “States and capitols?”
“Let’s see how many you remember from last year.” Kim picked up the sheet. It would be a long evening for the eldest Benson daughter, who had yet to even touch her stack of homework. No working out tonight, although Kim would go for an extra-long run tomorrow. She’d need the release by the end of the evening.
The next morning, with only three hours’ sleep, Kim rose for her run, leaving before her father could join her. She wanted to run alone, fast, perhaps not stopping until she had escaped the chaos. Not long into the run, though, she felt hot tears beginning to trickle down her cheeks, her nose clogging. Nobody understood her; she was alone, her true life and self hidden from all her so-called friends at school. Who could she tell about yesterday evening? Who would understand her mother’s betrayal of their trust, her father’s indifference, her sisters each attempting to cope as best they knew how, and how Kim was caught in the middle of it all?
Nobody else at school had horrible family secrets like this. Austin’s family was perfectly normal, so much so that sometimes Kim wanted to vomit. Austin was the all-American boy, tall, sturdy, not too smart, and exactly who everybody thought a cheerleader like Kim should date. She had obliged the general school population by caving in to Austin’s repeated requests for her to accompany him to a movie and dinner – because he was that
creative – and it became easier to just keep up the pretense than to get rid of him. At least at school Kim could maintain a semblance of normalcy. Sometimes she really wished she could tell Austin about her parents; she didn’t waste her time, because she knew he would shrug and start talking about the latest football scores.
Drawing deep breaths of the cold morning air, feeling it fill her lungs and watching it plume out as she ran, Kim tried to stop thinking. Each step brought greater peace as she moved farther and farther from the house in Sweet River Village. On this run, she controlled everything, and it felt so good to go… and go… and go. Her father’s obsession with running was one of the few things Kim could understand about him. The miles rolled by beneath Kim’s strong legs and she finally started to feel calm again after last night’s fiasco.
Three miles out, Kim turned around and started home. Longer would be better, but she had to get home to rouse Leslie and Evie. Maybe she could see if Nancy would come mornings as well as afternoons. It would sure help to have somebody else taking care of Evie, at least. Within a few blocks of her home, she saw her father’s brand new Mercedes-Benz CLK550 Cabriolet backing out of the driveway. He wouldn’t even be there when Kim got her sister sum. Typical. Just another day in the Benson household.