Tales of the Peculiar, p.1Part #0.50 of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs
TALES of the PECULIAR
Edited and annotated by Millard Nullings
Illustrated by Andrew Davidson
Copyright © 2016 by Syndrigast Publications
Printed in a nomad’s tent in the desert of Lop, known to some as the Great Lop Depression, extending eastward along the foot of the Kuruk-Tagh to the formerly terminal Tarim Basin in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, an almost perfectly horizontal expanse.
Bound at great expense in a facility deep underground, the entrance to which, between Fish Street Hill and Pudding Lane, London, you should not attempt to locate, for your own safety.
Vigilantly proofread by the two heads and five eyes of Patricia Panopticot.
“Caesar non supra grammaticos.”
Please don’t copy, steal, or dog-ear the pages of this book. Please don’t use this book as a coaster or a doorstop. Please don’t read the third story in this collection aloud backward. The publisher cannot be held responsible for what may occur.
To Alma LeFay Peregrine, who taught me to love tales
Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto.
A Peculiar Copyright
Note to the Reader
The Splendid Cannibals
The Fork-Tongued Princess
The First Ymbryne
The Woman Who Befriended Ghosts
The Pigeons of Saint Paul’s
The Girl Who Could Tame Nightmares
The Boy Who Could Hold Back the Sea
The Tale of Cuthbert
About the Author
The book you hold in your hands is meant for peculiar eyes only. If by chance you are not among the ranks of the anomalous—in other words, if you don’t find yourself floating out of bed in the middle of the night because you forgot to tie yourself to the mattress, sprouting flames from the palms of your hands at inopportune times, or chewing food with the mouth in the back of your head—then please put this book back where you found it at once and forget this ever happened. Don’t worry, you won’t be missing anything. I’m sure you’d only find the stories contained herein strange, distressing, and altogether not to your liking. And anyway, they’re none of your business.
Very peculiarly yours,
IF YOU ARE OF THE PECULIAR PERSUASION—and if you’ve read this far, I sincerely hope that you are—then this is a book that likely needs no introduction. These tales were a formative and beloved part of your upbringing, and you came of age reading them and hearing them read aloud with such frequency that you can recite your favorites word for word. If, however, you are among those unfortunates who have only just discovered their peculiarity, or who grew up in circumstances where no peculiar literature was available, I offer this brief primer.
TALES of the PECULIAR is a collection of our most beloved folklore. Passed down from generation to generation since time immemorial, each story is part history, part fairy tale, and part moral lesson aimed at young peculiars. These tales hail from various parts of the globe, from oral as well as written traditions, and have gone through striking transformations over the years. They have survived as long as they have because they are loved for their merits as stories, but they are more than that, too. They are also the bearers of secret knowledge. Encoded within their pages are the locations of hidden loops, the secret identities of certain important peculiars, and other information that could aid a peculiar’s survival in this hostile world. I should know: the Tales are the reason I’m alive to write these words now. They preserved not only my life, but those of my friends and our beloved ymbryne. I, Millard Nullings, am a living testament to the enduring usefulness of these stories, though they were written many years ago.
That’s why I’ve devoted myself to their preservation and dissemination, and taken it upon myself to edit and annotate this special edition of the Tales. It is by no means exhaustive or complete—the edition I grew up reading was a famously unwieldy three-volume set that weighed, collectively, more than my friend Bronwyn—but the stories contained here represent my very favorites, and I have taken the liberty of annotating them with historical and contextual insights so that peculiars everywhere may benefit from my wisdom. It’s also my hope that this edition, being more portable than previous ones, will be an easy companion on your travels and adventures, and may prove itself as useful to you as it once did to me.
So please enjoy these Tales—before a crackling fire on a chilly night, ideally, a snoring grimbear at your feet—but remember, too, their sensitive nature, and if you must read them aloud (which I highly recommend) make certain your audience is peculiar.
—Millard Nullings, Esq., EdD, MBCh
The Splendid Cannibals
The peculiars in the village of Swampmuck lived very modestly. They were farmers, and though they didn’t own fancy things and lived in flimsy houses made of reeds, they were healthy and joyful and wanted for little. Food grew bountifully in their gardens, clean water ran in the streams, and even their humble homes seemed like luxuries because the weather in Swampmuck was so fair, and the villagers were so devoted to their work that many, after a long day of mucking, would simply lie down and sleep in their swamps.
Harvest was their favorite time of year. Working round the clock, they gathered the best weeds that had grown in the swamp that season, bundled them onto donkey carts, and drove their bounty to the market town of Chipping Whippet, a five days’ ride, to sell what they could. It was difficult work. The swampweed was rough and tore their hands. The donkeys were ill-tempered and apt to bite. The road to market was pitted with holes and plagued by thieves. There were often grievous accidents, such as when Farmer Pullman, in a fit of overzealous harvesting, accidentally scythed off his neighbor’s leg. The neighbor, Farmer Hayworth, was understandably upset, but the villagers were such agreeable people that all was soon forgiven. The money they earned at market was paltry but enough to buy necessities and some rations of goat-rump besides, and with that rare treat as their centerpiece they threw a raucous festival that went on for days.
That very year, just after the festival had ended and the villagers were about to return to their toil in the swamps, three visitors arrived. Swampmuck rarely had visitors of any kind, as it was not the sort of place people wanted to visit, and it had certainly never had visitors like these: two men and a lady dressed head to toe in lush brocaded silk, riding on the backs of three fine Arabian horses. But though the visitors were obviously rich, they looked emaciated and swayed weakly in their bejeweled saddles.
The villagers gathered around them curiously, marveling at their beautiful clothes and horses.
“Don’t get too close!” Farmer Sally warned. “They look as if they might be sick.”
“We’re on a journey to the coast of Meek,”1 explained one of the visitors, a man who seemed to be the only one strong enough to speak. “We were accosted by bandits some weeks ago and, though we were able to outrun them, we got badly lost. We’ve been turning circles ever since, looking for the old Roman Road.”
“You’re nowhere near the Roman Road,” said Farmer Sally.
“Or the coast of Meek,” said Farmer Pullman.
“How far is it?” the visitor asked.
“Six days’ ride,” answered Farmer Sally.
At that, the silk-robed lady slumped in her saddle and fell to the ground.
The villagers, moved to compassion despite their concerns about disease, brought the fallen lady and her companions into the nearest house. They were given water and made comfortable in beds of straw, and a dozen villagers crowded around them offering help.
“Give them space!” said Farmer Pullman. “They’re exhausted; they need rest!”
“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.”
“You could use the money to paper the walls,” said Farmer Anderson.
“Don’t be an idiot,” Farmer Sally piped up. “Just buy a new house!”
And that’s exactly what Hayworth did: he built a house made of wood, the first ever constructed in Swampmuck. It was small but sturdy and kept out the wind, and it even had a door that swung open and shut on hinges. Farmer Hayworth was very proud, and his house was the envy of the entire village.
Some days later, another group of visitors arrived. There were four of them, three men and a woman, and because they were dressed in fine clothes and rode on Arabian horses, the villagers knew right away who they were—law-abiding cannibals from the coast of Meek.3 These cannibals, however, did not appear to be starving.
Again the villagers gathered round to marvel at them. The cannibal woman, who wore a shirt spun with gold thread, pants buttoned with pearls, and boots trimmed with fox fur, said: “Friends of ours came to your village some weeks ago, and you showed them great kindness. Because we are not a people accustomed to kindness, we have come to thank you in person.”
And the cannibals got down from their horses and bowed to the villagers, then went about shaking the villagers’ hands. The villagers were amazed at the softness of the cannibals’ skin.
“One more thing before we go!” said the cannibal woman. “We heard you have a unique talent. Is it true you regrow lost limbs?”
The villagers told them it was true.
“In that case,” the woman said, “we have a modest proposal for you. The limbs we eat on the coast of Meek are rarely fresh, and we’re tired of rotten food. Would you sell us some of yours? We would pay handsomely, of course.”
She opened her saddlepack to reveal a wad of money and jewels. The villagers goggled at the money, but they felt uncertain and turned away to wh
“We can’t sell our limbs,” Farmer Pullman reasoned. “I need my legs for walking!”
“Then only sell your arms,” said Farmer Bachelard.
“But we need our arms for swamp-mucking!” said Farmer Hayworth.
“If we’re being paid for our arms, we won’t need to grow swampweed anymore,” said Farmer Anderson. “We hardly earn anything from farming, anyway.”
“It doesn’t seem right, selling ourselves that way,” said Farmer Hayworth.
“Easy for you to say!” said Farmer Bettelheim. “You’ve got a house made of wood!”
And so the villagers made a deal with the cannibals: those who were right-handed would sell their left arms, and those who were left-handed would sell their right arms, and they’d keep on selling them as they grew back. That way they’d have a steady source of income and would never again have to spend all day mucking or endure a difficult harvest. Everyone seemed pleased with the arrangement except Farmer Hayworth, who rather enjoyed swamp-mucking, and was sorry to see the village give up its traditional trade, even if it wasn’t very profitable compared to selling one’s limbs to cannibals.
But there was nothing Farmer Hayworth could do, and he watched helplessly as all his neighbors gave up farming, let their swamps go fallow, and hacked their arms off. (Their peculiarity was such that it didn’t hurt much, and the limbs came off rather easily, like a lizard’s tail.) They used the money they earned to buy food from the market at Chipping Whippet—goat-rump became a dish eaten daily rather than annually—and to build houses made of wood, like Farmer Hayworth’s. Everyone wanted a door that swung on hinges, of course. Then Farmer Pullman built a house with two floors, and soon everyone wanted a house with two floors. Then Farmer Sally built a house with two floors and a gabled roof, and soon everyone wanted houses with two floors and a gabled roof. Every time the villagers’ arms regrew and were hacked off and sold again, they would use the money to add to their houses. Finally the houses grew so big that there was hardly any room between them, and the village square, once wide and open, was reduced to a narrow alley.
Tales of the Peculiar by Ransom Riggs / Fantasy / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes