“You want some brains on toast, love?” Mrs. Bennett asked.
My head shot up from the Old English sheepdog, whose ears I’d been massaging.
“What?” I replied.
I knew that English fare didn’t have a great reputation and that times were tight, but had the folk in this tiny town resorted to eating one of the body’s most treasured organs?
Mrs. Bennett held a small pot in my direction. I wasn’t sure if I should look inside.
“Beans?” She asked. “Beans on toast?”
In the firelight I could see the orange mush of what might be construed as either beans or brains, especially when as delirious as I was, but she had set my mind straight: They were beans.
“An English delicacy, Mrs. Bennett, I would love some, thank you,” I said cringing at my failed attempt to not be condescending.
I was actually starving. The flight overseas had been long and the train to the cozy B&B in Cornwall followed. In truth, I might have eaten brains on toast if that were on the menu, but I was relieved that my bread would hold a more savory item.
After my fourth “cuppa tea,” I finally convinced Mrs. Bennett that it was time for bed. I had lots of exploring to do tomorrow, what with beaches and castles to visit. Besides I couldn’t keep my eyes open another second.
She was reluctant to let me go but finally she agreed, after forcing me to eat just one more custard cream.
Very full, I ascended the rickety old stairs up to the snug attic I had rented.
“Best keep the curtains closed an’ the winders shut,” she warned.
I nodded my agreement, as Mrs. Bennett had a deep look of fear in her eyes that was unusual to the Cornish. She’d grown up in a rough part of London, I justified. It was a city thing.
I intended to do as I was told as I was spooked already, what with the wind whistling through each pane of glass like lost ghosts, but I chalked it up mostly to being exhausted.
The attic was dark and cold. I used an oil lamp to help me climb into bed, which snuffed out of its own accord, as I drifted off into a dark dream.
At three a.m. I awoke abruptly, falling. My face smashed onto the floor. I was instantly aware that I had been punted out, shoved by someone or something. I scrambled up quickly and flung open the curtains for light from the moon to see if there was an intruder, but all I saw was a wagging tail.
“Salty?” I whispered.
The dog snuck out from behind the bed.
“Did you hoof me out?” I asked, but Salty ignored me and ran to the window. He put his paws up on one of them and drew up to a tall stand, peering outside, curiously entranced.
I walked over and looked through the windows also, snuggling into Salty’s soft fur. There was such raw beauty out there. The ocean was wildly ravaging the cliff – each furious wave smashing the rock and throwing its white crust up to be licked by a silver lunar shimmer.
I took a deep breath. Suddenly I felt so alive, like I’d consumed something that gave me great power, exuberance, energy and joy – a feeling of being unstoppable, free and completely connected with everything and everyone.
I opened the other window so as to inhale the scent of the ocean breeze, but Salty snarled, then snapped at me and ran off with a whimper. I stared after him – what a strange dog.
But when I looked back, I saw them. At first I couldn’t believe it. Was I imagining things? They were coming in the hundreds, crawling up over the cliff like silverfish.
Coming into view, their forms seemed similar to humans, but a bit off. There was something odd about them, their movements perhaps. They had longer arms and glowing eyes. They appeared to be naked but had no organs to define them as male or female. They also had no hair. Their bodies had a soft silky sheen that slipped quickly towards the cottage.
As they drew closer I saw talons where there would be hands and claw-like teeth – protruding and sharp.
They had a way of jumping through time, jumping forward as if they had slithered a long distance within a fraction of a second.
Before long they had climbed up the side of the cottage and were suddenly scrambling onto the mini terrace outside. Overwhelmed, I tried to slam the window shut, but body parts got caught in the frame and there was no stopping them.
They glared with eyes that that seemed to communicate feelings and thoughts with shots of light, in different hues, that flew out and bent towards each other: receiving and transmitting.
Their tempers turned violent as I tried to hold them back. My hands received deep scratches and lashes. I was even bitten on my arms by their very sharp teeth.
I made the decision to run, but Mrs. Bennett was standing behind me holding a baseball bat.
“Best be movin’ outta the way, love,” she cautioned.
I ducked just in time as Mrs. Bennett’s bat swooshed at a body, that had crept up behind me, knocking its head off completely. The Silken flesh fell back as its airborne noggin bounced off a wall and back toward Mrs. Bennett’s feet. She whacked the skull so hard that it spilt in two and the teeth fell right off. She then swiped it to the side ready for another go.
Mrs. Bennett did this to ten more bodies before she whistled loudly at which point, Salty came bounding back up and chased the rest of the intruders out. They seemed terrified of the dog.
She was in no mood to answer my questions, as I had broken her rules.
“I’m really sorry,” I tried to explain.
“Well now you know,” she said collecting her loot in a laundry hamper.
Salty dragged the headless beings back to the window. I instinctively followed and climbed through helping to throw them off the terrace. This place had a strange effect on me.
As they dropped to the ground, the corpses were ravaged by hundreds of their own kind. It was a cannibalistic gore-fest, ripe with gushing vermillion – illuminated perfectly by the brightest moon I had ever seen. I had to turn away and move inside as I felt a need arise, one of wanting more. I closed the window and pulled the curtain shut.
I could feel that we were safe inside. If it weren’t for Mrs. Bennett, I thought, those things might have eaten me, but instead I felt invigorated and so did Salty.
I followed him out and down into the kitchen, where old Mrs. Bennett was shucking brains from skulls.
“Like some brains on toast, love?” she asked.
I nodded slowly, suddenly aware of why I felt so good. Those “beans” had been brains and they seemed to have a magical property, like a super-drug.
“Sure,” I said, “I think I’d like that.”
“We’ll have ’em buttered this time,” she winked.
“Lovely,” I said, “I’ll make the tea.”