Mail? For me? How unusual... How peculiar... It is so rare for me to receive a letter in the post. Who might it be from? My dear friend Charles! Charles Manfred my dear pal. It has been so long since I have seen my old friend Charles, not since my school days, I wonder how he's been? He would like to have my company? How marvelous! I shall make the arrangements straight away! How delightful to see my old friend! I shall wrote back and invite him straightaway!
The coach ride was a little too bumpy and made me somewhat ill. Nevertheless I remained amicable to my driver and tipped well. He was most gracious for the extra money. The trek to the front door of my dear old friend's beautiful post Victorian manor was somewhat unexpected. I had no idea he had done so well with himself. Carved stones guided me along a path lined with luscious foliage, the likes of which I had not seen before. A fountain depicted maiden's splashing about blissfully, pouring water from vases onto one another. If it were real people one would be obliged to turn away embarrassed by their nudity. I admired instead since they were not. The pillars on his front entrance were double my height and solid granite. I was utterly impressed at the design and architecture of the manor. Tasteful, elegant and... Downright intimidating.
The doors flung open, he must have heard me. I could still recognize the old chap even though his head was full of gray hair and creases and wrinkles lined his face. His smile was dazzling and he greeted me most enthusiastically, shaking my hand vigorously and imploring me to step inside and warm up. It was rather chilly so I wouldn't have said no even if I were at the doorstep of some stranger instead of my dear old friend George Brighton's.
"Charles my boy, how have you been! Please come inside and warm yourself, I have a fire in the common room. What would you like to drink? Brandy? Scotch?"
His eccentric personality had only intensified over the years.
"I am fine George, a brandy would be most excellent."
He led me through the entryway and into the common room, equally as impressive as the rest of the house I had seen so far. Plush sofas positioned the perfect distance from the massive fireplace, just far enough to be toasty without being too warm, while a bar full of fine liquors from around the world adorned the walls.
"Please make yourself at home! Remove your shoes, find the cushiest cushion and relax, you must be quite drained from the ride. I hope it was alright, I was told they were the finest stagecoach company with the most skilled drivers."
I should hope not, however I did not want to spoil his mood and make him feel inadequate in his choice of drivers.
"Finest indeed George, I could hardly believe I was being pulled by a horse at all. I had no idea you had done so well with yourself, how ever did you afford such a grand and impressive estate if you don't mind my asking?"
He poured our glasses and brought me mine and we clinked our goblets together. The brandy warmed me up considerably as it went down.
"Cheers. I don't mind in the slightest. I discovered a most lucrative business opportunity."
"Please do tell."
He swirled his glass and took a sip.
"A fine cuisine business. The likes of which you have never experienced before. It attracted some very high paying customers. I'll be throwing a dinner party tomorrow night with some of my most wealthy and connected clients and we shall be sampling some of my finest dishes. I do the cooking all myself. I promise you will not disappointed."
"All the cooking yourself? For how many people?"
"Only eight not including you or me. Come my friend, I shall show you the rest of my humble abode."
He took large lanky strolls and beckoned me to follow which I did. He led me all throughout the house showing me the rooms and the art and the rugs, the staircase and second floor and the rooms and the art and the rugs in those rooms along with some vases. It was all exquisite but after, I don't know, dozens of rooms it became a fatigue on the senses. I let him know I was feeling a little tired and he showed me the way to my chambers, all the while merrily reminiscing about past parties and all the interesting people of the highest class that he had met over the years.
My room was on the eastern wing of the manor and was decorated in the same expensive taste as the rest of the house. He chatted a while longer and bid me goodnight after letting me know that his room was the double door room in the center and to not hesitate if should want anything.
Odd that there are no servants in a house so large.
I am not sure exactly what woke me. I blinked my eyes groggily and put my feet on the cold hardwood floor. I went to the door and fumbled for the knob, it being dark and I not used to the position. I tried to remember which direction the bathroom was but I must have gone the wrong way. The hallways stretched on and on and it would be awfully embarrassing to be seen in my pajamas, lost and confused. When suddenly, the faint sound of singing met my ears. George was singing some tune although I couldn't quite make out the words. A smell reached my nostrils and I was almost instantly hungry... It was the most delectable scent I had ever had the pleasure of smelling. If the food tasted anywhere near as good as it smells, well.... I fear it may ruin food for me forever because nothing would ever come close. Although why he was cooking so late at night perplexed me. It must be near midnight.
I crept quietly back towards the staircase. The aroma grew more intense the nearer I went, much to my pleasure. George's merry singing continued blissfully ignorant of my presence. I didn't want him to notice me in my pajamas but I was far too enticed by that delicious scent to give in to reason and return to bed. I had even forgotten all about needing to use the restroom. I was at the common room which connected to the dining room which then connected to the kitchen. I would have to get very close if I wanted a view of the dish being prepared. I had to walk on tip toes not only because of the noisy, but also beautiful hardwood floors but also because of the freezing touch on my bare feet. I had forgotten my slippers, not having expected to be wandering about.
The singing... Oh George hadn't changed a bit. Always cheerful and the best of company. Always the entertainer with his stories and antics. Even though he might have been somewhat of a goof he still kept remarkably high grades and always had a sense of responsibility and maturity when he wasn't acting out.
I was just outside the door of the kitchen. The kitchen was large enough for a full staff although George was the only one who used it according to him. A skew of ingredients were scattered about, I could detect thyme, cloves, garlic, pepper and lemon. He had strewn the pots and the pans and the mixing bowls all through out rather carelessly and was pulling on his oven mitts. The oven was large enough to fit at least three large turkeys in! My goodness! So lavish and exuberant with only himself living in the entire manor. He had his parties apparently but it must be awfully lonesome all by oneself in a place so large. I would guess that the loneliness would be amplified by all the empty space. Which I would guess is the reason he tries to fill as much of it as he could with furniture and "art". Poor old chap.
The tray he brought out of the oven filled the room with more delicious smells than I could have imagined. My mouth was salivating. The meat looked so tender that it could be cut with a spoon. Not that you would have any reason to do so. He looked so proud of his dish but why would cook all that food for just himself? And so late? How peculiar...
George's whistling suddenly stopped. His back was to me so he couldn't have seen me.
"It's extremely bad taste to be watching someone without their consent or knowledge Charles."
I was startled by his voice breaking the relative silence.
"My apologies friend. I woke up and was trying to find the restroom when I smelled whatever it is that you are cooking and was overcome with curiosity to find out what was producing such delightful aromas."
George turned to me and chuckled slightly and set the tray on the counter top.
"Patience my friend! All in good time. In the meantime, before you discover my secret recipe and ruin me, please have some restraint over your senses and improve your sense of direction. The restroom is the third room down the hall away from the stairs from your room on the left."
He seemed in good humor and yet there was an iciness to his voice that gave me the distinct impression he was annoyed at my observation of his cooking.
He picked his tray up and eyed me although still smiling. I took the hint that he was waiting for me to leave before he would continue. I nodded my head to him and said goodnight before returning to my room.
It took me an hour or so to finally drift off into slumber but my eyes finally succumbed to the weight of exhaustion and sealed shut for the night.
The morning light shone through the curtains and woke me gently. The stillness and quietness of the room was unusual for me having being accustomed to the noises of bustling city life outside my building everyday. The bed was far softer than I was used to and left me a little stiff although I slept like a rock. I put on some clothes and washed my face. The cold water worked better than coffee at waking me up.
I went downstairs and could hear the noise of George shuffling about in the kitchen, the clanging of pots and pans upon the counter tops.
"Charles me dear boy! How did you sleep? Well I hope?"
He seemed to have no thoughts about last night. If he did it certainly didn't show. He was
Bustling about, eggs were cooking along with strips of sizzling bacon and simmering hashed browns. It smelled as delightful as it looked.
"Yes yes George, I slept just fine thank you for asking. About last night, I didn't-"
"Think nothing of it old chap, I had forgotten about it entirely. You were just lost. I should have explained better on the tour. Please have a seat in the dining room, I'll be right in breakfast. I'm sure you must be starved."
He was quite right about that. I had not eaten since before had I embarked on my journey. I took a seat on the plush seats at the dining table. Unlike some of the other décor in the house I found the dining table and chairs to be some of the more refined and tasteful in the house as opposed to some of the more lavish and well... Bold one could say, other choices found in most of the other rooms. The hardwood, mahogany I believe, curved nicely to the contour of my back and the arm rests were just wide enough and just high enough to be of the most perfect comfort level while the devilishly comfortable cushions reminded one of a cloud. The table was beautiful in its simplicity. It looked like one solid piece. I couldn't make out any places where the nails would come together connecting the legs and top.
George strolled in briskly with a smile on his face carrying two plates full of food and set one of them in front of me. He took a seat at the far end of the table.
"Don't just stare at it, dig in while it's still hot!"
I was more than willing to oblige.
After breakfast, George and I walked the grounds. The gardens were barren. Only the skeletons of foliage and trees remained given the time of year. Nevertheless, the grounds were impressive and would have been quite beautiful had it been spring or summer time. George and I talked about all sorts of things. Politics, the recent advances in medicine and science and new inventions... Even though George had dropped at out of medical school after two years, he still liked to keep up to date on the latest techniques and procedures and the latest sedatives and anesthetics. The conversation eventually turned to what I had been up in my years. I related my tales of operations and surgical emergencies I had been faced with. One of the worst being a young lad who had gotten his hand caught in a textile machine. It was dreadful. It pulled his whole arm through. There was hardly anything but a mangled hunk of flesh and sinew and bone where a limb had once been. I had no choice but to amputate at the shoulder. Unbeknownst to me before the operation, the boy had been a hemophiliac. He didn't have a chance even before the operation. Poor chap. I think about him often.
George took up a morbid fascination with the story and asked me all sorts of questions which I found to be slightly disturbing but I satiated his interest nevertheless. I fully understand the curiosity of morbid ideas and thoughts. The more you ignore them... Well, they don't disappear from one's mind very easily.
We returned inside and warmed ourselves by the fire. The crackling of the logs was pleasing to the ears and the heat warmed the bones. George poured us both a crystal glass of whiskey. Most definitely the finest I had ever tasted. Sweet and mellow with hints of vanilla and oak.
"George my friend, I feel as if I've been rambling on and on this whole time about my exploits and I've hardly heard a word about yours. Tell me about this recipe you've concocted and turned a fortune on. How did it begin? How did you market and make the money to afford this wonderful dwelling?"
George sat a bit without saying a word, swirling his whiskey in his glass and staring at the fire. His mood changed abruptly when he started speaking.
"So many questions old pal! I don't want to bore you with all those tedious details. It was really nothing. The simplest ideas are often the most brilliant if I do say so myself."
"Nonsense! There's no way you can't have a great story to go along with great success."
He gave me a peculiar sort of look. I couldn't quite place what was behind his eyes.
"Well," he began slowly, "You know me and my eccentricities were well known in college and so were my tastes in food. Call me spoiled for growing up privileged and having access to the finest dishes. Anyhow, I experimented one day and showed the results to a pal of mine and he fell in love with it and begged me to make more. One thing led to another and soon I had lines of people wanting to try some. Of course, delicate foods do not come cheap and so only the most esteemed and wealthy of the students were able to afford a taste. And you know wealthy people, they love their gossip. News spread quickly within the elite circles of social class and I was making more money than I would be if I were a doctor so I dropped out and continued my sales and here we are today."
"Simply amazing. The truest example of independent ingenuity. You should write a book. Or have someone else write one."
He chuckled, "I never was the writer. Half of my essays and reports I bought from others and just reworded them!"
"You devil, you really are a dastardly chump. But a rich one! And yet, with a house this big, you keep no servants or even groundskeepers. Why so?"
"Quite simple really. The costs of keeping good trustworthy servants is far too high. I learned the hard way not to pay bottom dollar. I returned home one day to find nearly half my belongings gone! I found the bastard though..."
"And what happened to him?"
He paused. The faintest twitch of a smile flared at the corner of his mouth.
"He was... Punished to the fullest extent of the law."
The conversation grew quiet again after that and we just sipped our whiskey until it was nearly supper time.
"If you would excuse me Charles, I must prepare our supper. I must concentrate when I cook so if you do not mind, there are plenty of things to occupy yourself. There are billiards upstairs and all sorts of literature."
"I do understand fully. I shall find something to entertain myself with or perhaps even a nap."
I left George in the kitchen but did not make my way upstairs. Instead I stayed in the library downstairs and kept a close ear for any noises from the kitchen while reading a selection from the multitude of literature to choose from. I heard the usual clamor of utensils, plates and mixing and whatnot but the noise suddenly stopped. I thought perhaps he must be waiting while the food cooked but I did not smell anything broiling in the oven nor roasting over flame. I rose from my lounge chair and set the book down, keeping the pages open to save my place.
I made my way to the kitchen and saw that George was no where in sight. I called out to him but received no response. You can imagine the confusion I was experiencing. He had vanished without a trace. I then realized the pantry door was slightly ajar and as I was about to open it a little further, the door burst open and there stood George. There was some sort of hidden door behind him with steps that led down. The shock and fright at the sudden appearance of my friend quickly dissipated into a different sort of shock and fright. And disgust.
"Oh dear... Oh dear Charles... This was not supposed to happen..."
"Good God! What... What is- Is that an- an-"
I cannot fully describe it, I wasn't sure if I even believed myself so I have no reason to think anyone else would believe me.
"Oh dear... I'm so sorry you had to see that my friend..."
And with that he hit me rather hard on the head with the tray he was carrying. It didn't quite knock me out. I fell to the ground and the breath was yanked from my chest with the impact. I was covered in blood but I wasn't sure if it was my own or the blood from the human arms that were on the tray I was hit with and now lay on the floor beside me. The fingers stretched out to me and I couldn't help but entertain the macabre thought that they were waving at me. George tip toed to me being careful not to step in the blood and gore on the ground and clucked his tongue at me shaking his head.
I lashed out at him with my arm but I was far too disoriented and seeing doubles and must have missed him by a foot. I succeeded in only smearing more blood on my shirt sleeves. It seeped through and I felt it upon my skin still warm. How could it possibly be still warm? I didn't have the chance to think too much more on it before George slammed his heel into my face, knocking my head against the hard tiled floor. I was out cold.
My head was still spinning as I regained consciousness. When I opened my eyes, my head went wild with the thoughts rushing through it but the two that stood out the most were the immediate regret of having opened my eyes and the second was wondering who else is down here with me? I was chained to the wall behind me with my arms behind my back, my legs manacled as well. Even though I could not touch, I could sense a large knot had formed on my head where I had been hit.
Directly in front of me was an ice room filled with various dismembered body parts; legs, arms, torsos with the entrails dangling out. The ice was spattered with red and the scent of blood was carried to my nostrils on icy wisps of stale air. I was accustomed to the sight of severed limbs and copious amounts of blood but not in this fashion. I thought I was going to be sick but I restrained. Several bladed instruments lined the walls on racks and on tables just outside the ice room lied surgical instruments. Scalpels and bone saws and forceps... But far worse than the ice room and the instruments of torture was the realization that there were others down here with me still very much alive.
Chains jingled and I could hear moans, groans and cries. It was difficult to make out much in the dim light but I could see pitiful specimens of near emaciated humans chained in a similar fashion as I. With the exception of the ones missing body parts including one who was missing both his arms. Blood still poured from the stumps even though they seemed to be somewhat stitched up. There were seven others that I counted. The one nearest me startled me and made me jump when he spoke.
"You'll be dead before me."
His voice was raspy and as stale as the air that filled the room. My eyes had adjusted to the light and I could see some sort of horrible deformity on his left arm. Like someone had scooped his bicep out with a giant spoon. He was also missing a foot.
"What? What are you talking about?"
"I can tell. You'll be dead before me."
"There must be some sort of mistake, there-"
"There ain't no mistake! Does this look like a mistake to you?!"
He lunged at me as far as the chains would allow trying to make me take a closer look at his arm. I could see the stitch work, the wound still looked fresh. I turned my head away.
Just then I heard a noise from above. It must be the hidden entrance I saw earlier opening up. Footsteps grew and echoed around the room and George's outline came into view. He stopped just outside of the light but I could see a glint off of something in his hand which I could only assume was a knife. I am not so sure as to why I felt so little fear. It was replaced with a feeling more like a deep confusion but also a fascination at the extraordinary situation I found myself in.
"Charles my friend... I'm so sorry I left that pantry door ajar. If I had been in your shoes I would have felt the same curiosity to open it and investigate as you had. My carelessness got you here."
He took a step forward so I could see him. His normal cheeky and charming smiling face was gone and what remained was a stone cold solemness with the ever so slight hint of madness behind his steely eyes.
"George, what in God's name have you done? What are you doing to these people?"
I had already figured out what was going on but could not help myself from asking the obvious question.
"I suppose this is the answer to all your questions earlier. You are a friend of mine Charles so what I am going to tell you is for your ears only. I don't want you repeating it to anyone. Do you understand me?"
"George have you lost your mind?"
He snickered and paced back and forth.
"Who am I kidding, its not like any of these chaps can really cover their ears up given their current state. Not that I would trust any of them to honorably and truly cover up without trying to hear a word or two. But I do trust you Charles. Give me a moment and I'll explain."
He came towards the man nearest me who began shrieking as George waved the knife at him. I screamed and yelled but of course it was no good.
He took the knife to the poor man's ear and sliced it clean off and dropped it on the ground. It made a sick squelching sound as it hit the hard ground. He cried and screamed and I cried and screamed with him while George's face remained calmly placid. The horror went on for several minutes although it felt agonizingly longer as he calmly hacked off all the other men's ears, each one screaming and crying and begging for mercy but receiving none. My own voice was hoarse from screaming and tears streaked my face. The carnage was unlike anything I had ever borne witness to.
When he was finished he made his way over to me keeping his calm and putting on a slight smile.
"I never use the ears anyways. It's all cartilage. I tried a few times to boil them hoping they would get soft without being too chewy and succeeded once but they were far too bland to be any good for anything. I was hoping for a similar effect as shark fin has in soup but it just wasn't so."
He added, "I wouldn't want you to think I was wasting any food, I do hate those who waste good food."
I was in far too much shock to do anything but stare at him with my mouth agape.
"I'm sure you have many questions although I'm sure your main ones have been answered by now, I'd hope so at least, you always were the clever one," he paused and took a deep breath before continuing, "I'm not sure where I got the idea for it exactly. I think it was because I had grown bored of the exotic foods I had been eating because I knew full well that so many other privileged folks such as myself had such easy access to these so called 'rare delicacies' so I wanted to come up with something that no civilized person had ever tried before."
He was waving the knife about and I couldn't help but follow it with my eyes. George must have noticed because he apologized and set it down. He said he got carried away with all the excitement and didn't want to set me on edge. Some of the other men had began yelling and cursing at George but a quick glance from him quieted them.
"Anyways, it all began when I passed by a homeless fellow whilst walking through town one night when the thought passed into my head of who would miss him? I invited him to the house I was renting while in school and offered him a warm meal. He was so excited at this act of kindness. I prepared him the meal which he scarfed down like an animal, eating with his hands and belching... the sight of it! Anyhow, I bashed him on the head and began carving him like I would with a side of beef. I learned much from the chefs my father employed."
"You're a barbarian! Sick and depraved lunatic!"
I could not contain myself any longer. I had listened through his story without batting an eye but the shock must have worn off and the realization had set in. He was eating people all this time... The humanity! It would have been one thing entirely if he was just killing them, for some reason that seemed so much more acceptable than cannibalism but here I am being told that my old friend has been killing and eating people. For years!
"Charles, please. Let's remain civilized. I experimented with the flavors and different methods to keep the meat tender which is when I began selling the batches. And my God did it just spread like wildfire! I could charge any price I wanted and they would come back for more. The dinner guests I am having over tonight... They paid the highest dollar and have come from various places in the world. Even Japan! Can you imagine that Charles?"
"Shut up George! Please, for the love of Christ enough!"
He grew very stern all of a sudden.
"I am entrusting you with information that not a soul on this planet knows now you will be silent!"
I had not forgotten about my current situation and most certainly not about the knife he had been brandishing.
"Like I was saying Charles, I've now attracted international patrons and I owe it all to one thing."
"And what is that?" I dared to ask, afraid of the answer I would receive.
"Freshness. I keep them alive and not only that, I feed them-"
He broke off into an insane laughter, a cackling that shivers straight up my spine. It took him a moment to regain himself before continuing.
"I feed them scraps. Of themselves! HAHAHA! It's delightful! I carve off a piece like this fellows arm, and keep them without food so long that they'll eat anything! Even themselves! Of course I don't skimp out and I prepare their food with every ounce of craftsmanship I reserve for my guests. And they eat it with relish and gusto! By letting them feast heavily before preparation after their body has been starved, it increases the fat content and enhances the flavor considerably."
I said calmly, "George, what you are talking about is offensive to everything that a civilized human being stands for. You're sick, that's all George. A man of your esteem, why we could get you treatment of the highest caliber, we-"
"We will do no such thing my good friend! In fact, I am disappointed that a man of your taste cannot see the elegance in what I am doing. I am treating hundreds, possibly even thousands of people by now, privileged people, to a delicacy the likes of which they could never experience if it were not for me. And should we not? We are the elite members of society Charles and what good is that if we do not establish our elitism in the way man has always done so. By the consumption of those beneath him."
I cried out in terror at the words he was speaking. Monstrous, unfathomable... And I to witness it first hand!
"This was not supposed to happen my friend. You were supposed to meet my guests tonight. We could have discussed all sorts of things. Contemporary art and literature, medicine, science... But alas it was not meant to be. This is the debut night for my international crowd so the meal must be top notch, at a higher standard than I have ever achieved before and these.. These miscreants simply will not do tonight. I must treat my guests to something far more exquisite."
It dawned on me what he meant before he finished. I struggled against the chains to no avail. I screamed but no one was there to listen. No one but George.
"I'm sorry again Charles for my carelessness. All of this because of a door left ajar. Goodbye my friend. If it is any consolation, you will be thoroughly enjoyed."
He grabbed a pick ax from the far wall and dragged it towards me. Christ! The sound it made! He heaved it over his head as I called out for him. I tried to appeal to him as a friend but to no use. The pick ax crashed through my skull and I was conscious for a full 10 seconds with the point of the ax buried in my skull, before my brain stopped sending a conscious signal through my body and only the involuntary twitches of death remained.
All the preparations had tired me dreadfully but it was worth it. The guests were happy, so happy! And the conversation was of the highest intellect and class. They were unaccustomed to not being treated by servants but actually seemed impressed and humbled that I was willing to serve them their beverage and food needs! But the main dish is yet to come. I can smell it... Finally ready! I mustn't wait, it has to be served immediately while the juices are still flowing unlike most dishes which you let settle. Ah, here it is, they will be most delighted! It is by far my best accomplishment yet. I can tell just by the look and smell of it! I've really outdone myself! Look at their faces, so intrigued by the pleasant aroma they have never smelled before... First a toast before we dig in!
Cling cling cling cling!
"Ahem. Thank you thank you all for joining me this evening. I hope you have found the appetizers and wines to be of the highest class and only for the most refined of tastes such as yourselves. Now before we begin our main dish, I would like to thank a dear friend of mine who inspired this meal we are about to eat. Unfortunately he was unable to join us but he would be quite happy to know that his contribution to this meal will be greatly appreciated by only the best of company and finest of taste buds. Now, fill your bellies as full as you can make them my friends! I assure you, you've never tasted anything... Quite... Like... This."
Look at how they fill their faces. So content. The flavor makes even the most reserved of them have to exercise their self control to keep from devouring the meal like starved dogs... Everything is perfect. Everyone is happy.