Home > Tales of the Peculiar (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children 0.5)(2)

Tales of the Peculiar (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children 0.5)(2)
Author: Ransom Riggs

“No, they need a doctor!” said Farmer Sally.

“We aren’t sick,” the man said. “We’re hungry. Our supplies ran out over a week ago, and we haven’t had a bite to eat since then.”

Farmer Sally wondered why such wealthy people hadn’t simply bought food from fellow travelers on the road, but she was too polite to ask. Instead, she ordered some village boys to run and fetch bowls of swampweed soup and millet bread and what little goat-rump was left over from the festival—but when it was laid before the visitors, they turned the food away.

“I don’t mean to be rude,” said the man, “but we can’t eat this.”

“I know it’s a humble spread,” said Farmer Sally, “and you’re probably used to feasts fit for kings, but it’s all we have.”

“It isn’t that,” the man said. “Grains, vegetables, animal meat—our bodies simply can’t process them. And if we force ourselves to eat, it will only make us weaker.”

The villagers were confused. “If you can’t eat grains, vegetables, or animals,” asked Farmer Pullman, “then what can you eat?”

“People,” the man replied.

Everyone in the small house took a step back from the visitors.

“You mean to tell us you’re . . . cannibals?” said Farmer Hayworth.

“By nature, not by choice,” the man replied. “But, yes.”

He went on to reassure the shocked villagers that they were civilized cannibals and never killed innocent people. They, and others like them, had worked out an arrangement with the king by which they agreed never to kidnap and eat people against their will, and in turn they were allowed to purchase, at terrific expense, the severed limbs of accident victims and the bodies of hanged criminals. This composed the entirety of their diet. They were now on their way to the coast of Meek because it was the place in Britain that boasted both the highest rate of accidents and the most deaths by hanging, and so food was relatively abundant—if not exactly plentiful.

Even though cannibals in those days were wealthy, they nearly always went hungry; firmly law-abiding, they were doomed to live lives of perpetual undernourishment, forever tormented by an appetite they could rarely satisfy. And it seemed that the cannibals who had arrived in Swampmuck, already starving and many days from Meek, were now doomed to die.

Having learned all this, the people of any other village, peculiar or otherwise, would have shrugged their shoulders and let the cannibals starve. But the Swampmuckians were compassionate almost to a fault, and so no one was surprised when Farmer Hayworth took a step forward, hobbling on crutches, and said, “It just so happens that I lost my leg in an accident a few days ago. I tossed it into the swamp, but I’m sure I could find it again, if the eels haven’t eaten it yet.”

The cannibals’ eyes brightened.

“You would do that?” the cannibal woman said, brushing long hair back from a skeletal cheek.

“I admit it feels a little strange,” Hayworth said, “but we can’t just let you die.”

The other villagers agreed. Hayworth hobbled to the swamp and found his leg, fought off the eels that were nibbling at it, and brought it to the cannibals on a platter.

One of the cannibal men handed Hayworth a purse of money.

“What’s this?” asked Hayworth.

“Payment,” the cannibal man said. “The same amount the king charges us.”

“I can’t accept this,” said Hayworth, but when he tried to return the purse, the cannibal put his hands behind his back and smiled.

“It’s only fair,” the cannibal said. “You’ve saved our lives!”

The villagers turned away politely as the cannibals began to eat. Farmer Hayworth opened the purse, looked inside, and turned a bit pale. It was more money than he’d ever seen in his life.

The cannibals spent the next few days eating and recovering their strength, and when they were finally ready to set off again for the coast of Meek—this time with good directions—the villagers all gathered to wish them good-bye. When the cannibals saw Farmer Hayworth, they noticed he was walking without the aid of crutches.

“I don’t understand!” said one of the cannibal men, astounded. “I thought we ate your leg!”

“You did!” said Hayworth. “But when the peculiars of Swampmuck lose their limbs, they grow them back again.”2

The cannibal got a funny look on his face, seemed about to say more, then thought better of it. And he got on his horse and rode away with the others.

Weeks passed. Life in Swampmuck returned to normal for everyone but Farmer Hayworth. He was distracted, and during the day he could often be found leaning on his mucking stick, gazing out over the swamps. He was thinking about the purse of money, which he’d hidden in a hole. What should he do with it?

His friends all made suggestions.

“You could buy a wardrobe of beautiful clothes,” said Farmer Bettelheim.

“But what would I do with them?” Farmer Hayworth replied. “I work in the swamps all day; they would only get ruined.”

“You could buy a library of fine books,” suggested Farmer Hegel.

“But I can’t read,” replied Hayworth, “and neither can anyone in Swampmuck.”

Farmer Bachelard’s suggestion was silliest of all. “You should buy an elephant,” he said, “and use it to haul all your swampweed to market.”

“But it would eat all the swampweed before I could sell it!” said Hayworth, becoming exasperated. “If only I could do something about my house. The reeds do little to keep the wind out, and it gets drafty in the winter.”

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