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The children got into their beds on either side of the room. Uncle George pulled up a chair between them, a cigarette dangling from his lips, in spite of his sister’s request not to smoke in the house.

Lando and Keira waited patiently, secretly enjoying the smell of smoke, whilst George’s glass of port sat dangerously on the carpet, next to its bottle.

I told you I’d tell you a story, said George, and that I will do.

Keira readjusted the pillows beneath her head whilst her brother lay motionless, watching George’s every move.

It’s a story of justice, he continued. One of which I’m sure your mother would not approve.

Lando considered asking Uncle George whether he should refrain from telling the story if his mother would not approve, but dismissed the idea. He was a politically-influenced seven-year-old; his teachers had told him that everyone should have a right to speak, so he permitted his uncle to proceed.

Go on then, Uncle George, he said.

Very well, said George. It goes like this.

The Cannibals lived on the outskirts of Cambridge, near Cherry Hinton. The house was a twenty minute drive from the main station.

When Gabriel alighted the fourth train of his journey - Montpellier to Cambridge via Paris and London St Pancras - Catherine was waiting for him by the platform’s exit. She wore a brown cardigan and faded blue jeans, and her hair was pulled up and pinned in a bun.

It’s lovely to meet you, Mr Bulgille, she said. And to think, just two days ago we had never met.

It’s a pleasure to meet you, too, Mrs Cannibal, said Gabriel. I’m very excited to meet your family.

Please, she said, call me Catherine.

Gabriel had responded to Catherine’s advertisement three days previous, on a Tuesday. He had found it on a website for graduates looking to relocate. The ad said, ‘Resident Gardener wanted for Cambridgeshire property immediately. Gardening duties will be paired with French tutoring of my two children – they are eight and 10. Please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A day afterwards, Gabriel had met his potential employer over webcam. It all happened so quickly he had hardly had time to prepare, to practise concealing his reasons for wanting to leave his hometown of Montpellier. And when Catherine had appeared on the computer, her face thin and her posture deliberate, Gabriel felt immediately the pressure of her demandingness.

They had exchanged pleasantries briefly, efficiently, and then she told him what she expected of her employment of him. She didn’t once ask why he wanted to do the job, and Gabriel had realised within five minutes of their interview that he need not have bothered to devise this falsehood about the death of a family member, nor about how he wanted to leave because it was a constant reminder of them. Catherine did not care. Indeed, so indifferent had she appeared to his thoughts towards the job that even if the real reason behind his interest in it, his ignominious raison d'être, had been plastered across his forehead, Catherine would have failed to notice.

Truth be told, she had admitted halfway through their conversation, she was in a rush to hire. The desperation with which she wanted someone, anyone, and quickly, like a focused lens obscured everything else as background.

After twenty minutes, Catherine had asked him if he had any questions. He did. He had many. But he had tried desperately to keep them to himself. His mouth had twitched with excitement, urging his lips to ask Catherine what her children were like, but he had restrained them. The last time he’d been impatient, it had cost him the comfort of his hometown.

He had said instead, satisfying his curiosity against his better judgement – after all, he didn’t want to dissuade her of hiring him, Why do you want someone from France? Why not just get someone from nearby, who can come and go each day?

Catherine had looked unfazed by the question, like she had been expecting it. She blinked.

I find that people look after a place better when they live there, she had said. A gardener who comes and goes gardens only for money, but when they live where they work, when they’re lost to everything of the world but the grounds in which they operate, they garden for their life.

The pair broke through some trees and the house appeared in full view. It was a redbrick Victorian and its pebbled driveway looped around a bed of neglected purple chrysanthemums in front of the house. They were sinking to the floor, their heliotropic stride lost to ill-nourishment, and the flowerheads were covered in powdered mildew.

They need some work, said Catherine, nodding towards the dying flowers as they got out of the car.

Well, that’s why I’m here, said Gabriel, his eyes elsewhere, stripping away the house’s redbrick clothes.

Ah, here is my husband.

Gabriel looked up to see a stiff, lanky man walking towards him, swaying. It appeared he couldn’t bend his legs, instead he tilted one way and then the other, allowing his legs to swing forwards. And there was no smile on his face. It was blank, like a rock.

He stopped two meters in front of Gabriel and held out his hand.

Cameron, he said.

Nice to meet you, Gabriel replied.

The stony-faced husband looked like he was about to say something, but his wife cut him off.

Why don’t we show you around, Mr Bulgille, said Catherine, ushering him into the house.

Gabriel nearly returned his attention to Cameron, finding Catherine’s interjection impertinent, but the thought of slipping behind the curtains and into the heart of the house, closer to the children, sent blood from his head. He climbed to the front door, rolling his suitcases over the front steps, and reminded himself of the need to be patient, whilst Cameron stood and watched.

They congregated in the anteroom, a boxy little thing, thought Gabriel, with coat racks on the walls and shoe racks on the floor. And when Cameron had followed behind the new arrival, shutting the door behind him, the husband and wife slipped off their shoes and into some slippers.

Let’s show you to your room, Mr Bulgille, said Catherine. So you can dump your bags.

The stairs to the second floor were immediately through the door and they ascended them before Gabriel could glimpse the house’s ground floor.

The second floor, though, was like a maze. It’s corridor sneaked abruptly this way and that and it seemed to get narrower with each metre.

As they turned a third corner, Gabriel stopped by a doorless room. He peered into it, as much to settle his claustrophobia as to gain some insight into his employers.

It was a large library – unusually so - and Gabriel wondered whether all the rooms were like this, whether that was why the corridor was so narrow. Catherine had walked on, around the corner, but Cameron stopped behind him.

Are you a lawyer?

No, said Cameron. Why do you ask?

You have a lot of books on this … Dudley case?

Yes, he said, leaning over him and looking into the library. R versus Dudley and Stephens, 1884.

What’s it about? asked Gabriel.

It’s a fascination of mine, he said. Most of those books I wrote myself.

Oh. That’s very impressive.

Yes.

What is the case about?

Cameron adjusted his glasses and looked down cantankerously. Through his thick glasses, his eyes looked swollen.

It’s about the criminal defense of necessity, he said. The case ruled that even if the committal of a crime was necessary to survive, it was not a valid defence.

I see.

There was a moment’s silence between the pair, Cameron expectant and Gabriel unsure of how to proceed. Then from behind the corner, Catherine said, Come on. We haven’t got all evening.

Gabriel hurried towards her voice, suddenly uncomfortable. Catherine was pointing into a room.

This will be your bedroom, Mr Bulgille, she said.

Gabriel ducked under her outstretched arm and entered the room. It was dark but for the moonlight coming through the window.

Now, I forgot to say, Mr Bulgille. We appreciate that this was very last minute and that you didn’t have much time to get yourself here but we were expecting you at lunchtime. It is now nearly seven.

My apologies, he said.

That’s ok, said Catherine. But we take mistakes very seriously in this house and tardiness is certainly one of those mistakes.

It won’t happen again, he said.

No, said Cameron. It won’t.

Not to worry, said Catherine. Unfortunately, there won’t be time for dinner tonight, though. The cook won’t have time to prepare the meat. But the upside is there’s no rush anymore. Take some time to unpack and get settled into your new room and I’ll come back in ten minutes, or thereabouts, and we’ll finish the tour.

The couple turned on their heels and walked down the corridor, the sound of their footsteps disappearing around the next corner, and Gabriel sat on the foot of the bed and then reclined; his arms stretched out like a crucifix.

He had put nearly 1,300km between himself and Montpellier, between himself and his fictitious, deceased relative, between himself and the people that knew of his true character. Lying on his bed, he wondered whether his neighbour would be glad he was gone.

He had evaded justice and for that they would be displeased, but he had rid them of his stain on their present. For that, they were undoubtedly relieved. No longer would they have to watch out for their children, to escort them back from school and prevent them from playing on the weekends. Gabriel was gone. The pedophile had absconded.

Gabriel closed his eyes and listened for the children. His new victims. He wanted to hear their laughter, to imagine what they looked like as they played. It would only be a matter of time before he met them, and only a little while longer until he would be alone with them. It was all just a matter of time. Lying on his new bed, he felt free and empowered, like an unleashed dog.

Ready? said Catherine, appearing in the open doorway.

Gabriel looked up from his hands.

Yes, he said.

Fantastic.

He followed his host around two more corners of the top floor. The corridor was getting narrower somehow with each bend and Gabriel had to turn and walk sideways.

This is little Nellie’s room, said Catherine, stepping into a bedroom. She’s not here – I imagine she’s with her brother – but I wanted you to see how the eight-year-old lives.

The room was filled with fake stoves and baking equipment. There were rolling pins and playdough that looked like pastry, even a metal peel with a long wooden handle. Gabriel could picture Nellie pottering around, singing even, seamlessly bringing fiction to life like only children could do. Children and him.

She loves to bake, said Catherine, responding to what she misperceived as curiosity across Gabriel’s brow.

Yes, he said. How adorable.

Gabriel briefly caught Nellie’s scent before Catherine’s womanly odor overcame it. It was intoxicating. Arresting, just for that moment.

The pair switched places and headed towards a door several meters away, Nellie’s scent still lingering in Gabriel’s mind.

When they peaked into the next room, he saw two children were playing.

A boy was clutching a model wooden ship whilst what Gabriel assumed was his sister Nellie laid out fake pies.

Quick, the boy said. We have to feed them.

What’s your rush? What’s your hurry? said Nellie.

The boy pushed the boat along the carpet until it collided with his bedpost. He made a crashing sound.

They’re dying, he said. Cospatrick’s exploded.

Nellie picked up a small basting brush and pretended to gloss the pies while the boy became more frantic. He moved his head from side to side and started throwing shards of wood in the air. Nellie brought the brush to her mouth and began to sing.

Well, pity a woman alone, with limited wind, and the worst pies in London! Ah, sir, times is hard, times is hard!

The boy started to look annoyed. His face went red and his knuckles white. Gabriel thought the spectacle picturesque, like it was a show put on just for him.

Children! said Catherine.

They stopped, froze even, and Gabriel subdued a flashing hatred for their mother.

Children, Catherine said. I want you to meet the new gardener. He’ll be helping you with your French.

Nellie and the boy dropped their playthings and walked towards their new instructor. Gabriel though how unaware they must be of his attraction to them.

It’s lovely to meet you, said the boy. My name is Todd. This is my sister, Nellie.

This is Mr Bulgille, said Catherine.

It’s lovely to meet you both, said Gabriel, the softness of Todd’s skin lingering on his mind.

Bonjour, said Nellie.

Do you know the story of Cospatrick, Mr Bulgille? said Todd. Our great uncle was one of the four survivors.

There’s no time for that, Todd, said Catherine. I’ve got to show Mr Bulgille the rest of the house.

When’s food, mummy? said Nellie.

Tomorrow, darling. Not long now.

Catherine left the room and called to Gabriel to follow her. He struggled to peel himself away. He never wanted to leave this room; he would have preferred to watch them forever.

They turned another corner and found themselves back at the top of the staircase.

As they descended, the blood returned to Gabriel’s head. They arrived back on the ground floor, turned back on themselves and walked around the stairs and behind the wall to which it was attached.

This is where your journey ends, said Catherine. And, indeed, where the magic happens.

They had arrived at a kitchen. It had several stoves and ovens built into the walls, a four foot food processor, a fridge twice Gabriel’s size and an island with a top made entirely of chopping board wood.

Standing with their backs to the ovens were a man and a women in tall, white hats and overalls. They both smiled.

This is Sawney, said Catherine. We call him Sawney the Scott. He’s from East Lothian.

Sawney exposed several missing teeth when he opened his mouth.

How do you do, he said.

And this here is Agnes, said Catherine. She’s from Mauritania.

A smile appeared across Sawney’s face, one that suggested he knew something Gabriel did not.

He said, We call her …

Ah, interrupted Catherine. That’s enough. We don’t need that sticking.

Sawney shrugged and Agnes looked at Gabriel and curtseyed, holding eye-contact with him.

Her eyes were white and lifeless, like they were nulled to the horrors of obscenity.

Right, said Catherine. We have an early start tomorrow, Mr Bulgille, to get you acquainted with the grounds. How about a quick nightcap and then a good night’s rest?

Gabriel remembered the closeness of his room to the children’s and felt the blood rush from his head again. The sooner he could settle into his new role, the sooner he could get acquainted with the children. It would take time, of course, but it would be worth it. That first moment alone with the children was not far off.

Yes, ok, he said.

His employer disappeared back into the kitchen and Gabriel adjusted his crotch. When Catherine returned, she was holding two small glasses filled with what smelled like scotch.

Shall we sit down? she said, offering him the glass from her left hand and gesturing to the living room with her right.

As she sat down, she said, So, tell me a little about your life back in Montpellier?

Gabriel held his drink on the English arm of the sofa and tried not to sink into the cushions. Its receptiveness was unsettling, like it was trying to swallow him.

My life back in Montpellier? he said.

Yes.

He took a sip of his drink as Cameron appeared, as if from nowhere, and sat opposite him.

There’s not much to tell, he said.

Nothing at all? said Catherine.

Gabriel’s drink was sweet, not at all like Scotch.

What is this? he said, holding up the glass.

It’s delicious, isn’t it? said Catherine.

It’s odd. But yes, it is delicious.

It’s from the U.S. It’s very expensive. We save it for special occasions like this, when we’re welcoming a new employee.

Catherine raised her glass and smiled at him.

I’m not even drinking it myself, she said. I’m just drinking plain old scotch.

And then, as if someone had pressed a button, everything happened at once. Gabriel’s body went limp; his vision went blurry; he couldn’t control his tongue. He felt himself sink further into the sofa.

When he tried to speak, he heard only slurred words come out of his mouth. And he heard them from outside of himself, like he was a sylph drifting above his own body.

He thought he heard his employers start to whisper to each other but he was unsure. He thought maybe he was losing his hearing, too.

He couldn’t tell anymore.

He was disorientated. Discombobulated. Discomforted.

Something was wrong, catastrophically wrong. This wasn’t inebriation. It was nothing like being drunk. It was all-encompassing. Blinding and deafening.

No degree of alcohol could make him feel this way, let alone several sips of one drink.

He tried to speak again but he couldn’t move his tongue at all. It hung out of his mouth like an enervated dog. Spittle dribbled from his lips.

Something was very wrong, he thought.

And then someone grabbed his face. They put their hand over his mouth and squashed his face together, turning his lips vertical. A sibilance of words were exchanged but Gabriel could decipher nothing of their meaning.

The pair of hands let go and then pried his eyes open. All he could see were blurry outlines of faces, of two people staring at him.

The light started to fade as his eyelids were drawn together. Gabriel had the distinct feeling that he would never open them again. But just before they closed for good, before he lost consciousness, he heard a voice, clear as anything.

Let’s take him to the kitchen, said Catherine Cannibal.’

Lando looked over at his five-year-old sister and she was asleep. He didn’t know when she had dozed off. It could have been a while ago. She must have been bored by the story.

He looked towards Uncle George.

He was taking a sip of his port, a freshly-lit cigarette in between his left index and middle finger. There was a red stain down his white cashmere jumper that Lando had failed to notice before.

Uncle George looked at Lando and there was a pregnant moment of silence. Lando was waiting for him to explain.

Right, said George, I’ll be off then.

Lando didn’t respond. He was too scared to admit he didn’t know the meanings of words. He watched George get up and leave, and switch the light off as he escaped the children’s bedroom.

Lando lay in the darkness for a while, unable to get to sleep.

He had not the slightest clue what a pedophile was. And a cannibal, that was an even greater mystery.

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