Copyright 2015 by KJK Publishing
I’ve always loved the legend of Sawney Bean and everything related to it. Jack Ketchum’s Offseason is one of my favourite books and the original Hills Have Eyes was a movie I watched over and over growing up, the creators of both saying they based their stories on the Sawney Bean legend. My introduction to horror literature was the late Richard Laymon who always seemed to have mountain men, cave dwellers or some kind of mutant people in his books and this just furthered my love of that type of horror. This is my story about the Bean clan and what happened all those years ago. If you search online for Sawney Bean you will see that details are sketchy and there is a lot of debate. I have tried to keep my fictional story within the confines of what is most commonly thought to be the correct information regarding the myth/legend but hopefully filled in some gaps and explained some of the questions left unanswered. I hope you enjoy.
As this is the first work I have written of any length I would like to thank a few people for helping me make it this far. I’d like to thank Iain Rob Wright and George Lennox for being the two main inspirations to just go do something. Both are excellent self-published writers who have created fantastic works on their own and shown it can be done if you just put in the effort. I’d also like to thank Nev Murray for talking me into starting a blog which in turn tied in with the writing quite well and Chuck Anderson from Alucard Press for being the first publisher to accept my short stories and put them in an anthology, Richie Brown for designing the fantastic cover of this book and my Facebook page. Special thanks go to my gorgeous wife Pamela for putting up with and looking after me, and my mother and father for helping to make me the man I am today.
Oh. I always said if I ever wrote anything I would thank the man responsible for my love of horror literature, so thank you Richard Laymon! You were an unbelievable story teller and will always be missed.
Where to find me
Come say hello!
When I met Sarah I was only twelve years old and she was fourteen. My name is Alexander Sawney Bean but everyone just called me Sawney. I was playing deep in the woods. We were both pretty startled as it was rare to see anyone that deep in the woods. There was a moment of trepidation but I decided to approach her and see what she was doing. I didn’t speak a lot, so I didn’t have a lot of friends and I had seen Sarah around and assumed she was in the same boat as me. As I got closer I could see that she was trying to cook a rat over a tiny fire that she had somehow managed to build. She would have struggled to heat anything over it but what was more shocking was that she was trying to cook a rat that she had obviously skinned herself, judging by the dark blood stains on both of her arms.
“What are you doing?” I asked her.
“They don’t feed me,” she answered in return.
“Who doesn’t feed you?”
“My aunt and uncle, they said when I can act like a woman I’ll get a woman’s meal.”
I didn’t really know what she meant. She had always been skinny and frail but I just thought she was a skinny girl. Yet here she was, alone in the woods trying to cook a rat, seemingly out of desperation for something to eat.
She nodded for me to sit next to her. Before sitting I looked around and grabbed some kindling and twigs and set about getting the fire going a little better for her. “What exactly do you mean by act like a woman and… do you often eat rats?” I asked trying not to sound judgemental.
“I eat what I can,” she said. She offered no further comment.
With the fire now burning strong and bright, the rat started to cook. I have to admit the smell coming off it was not unpleasant and I hadn’t eaten for a good few hours. My mouth started to water. I didn’t really have a problem with the fact it was rat meat that was causing the smell. I knew from my grandfather that rats were supposed to be dirty animals but I didn’t quite see why. They seemed no different from any other animal to me and the meat certainly had a nice aroma to it.
We sat together while Sarah slowly turned the rat over the fire on a stick she had speared through it. She took her time and kept it far enough above the fire that it wouldn’t just cremate the outside of the meat. It was quiet in the woods and other than a very slight breeze rustling the trees there was no other sound. I realised that this was probably the first time I had sat with someone without feeling uncomfortable.
Although Sarah didn’t say much at all, she didn’t seem uncomfortable at my being there either. Maybe she was just indifferent to my presence or maybe she felt as comfortable around me as I did with her.
We sat in silence for a long time, the smell of the meat making my stomach growl. Sarah seemed to stare off into space a lot but I didn’t mind. It was just nice to sit with someone without being picked on for being poor or scrawny. I had always been poor. My dad had worked in a tavern but as his drinking had gotten worse no one would employ him as he drank more than he sold. My mum had worked in a brothel until one customer hadn’t had a good time with her and permanently disfigured her so she could never work again. Both of my parents drank more and more and talked less and less as the years went on. Now we barely even acknowledge each other.
Just as I was daydreaming about my life, Sarah waved the stick with the cooked rat inches from my face and nodded to it indicating I should take a bite. I could smell the cooked meat just under my nostrils and the meaty aroma smelled amazing. Without a second thought I leaned forward and sank my teeth in. As I bit down, the rat meat’s juices flood my mouth. She had cooked it perfectly. This definitely wasn’t Sarah’s first time cooking meat outdoors and I wondered if her parents had taught her before they died or if it was self-taught from a need for scavenging. As I chewed I looked over at Sarah and I’m sure I saw the slightest flicker of a smile touching the edges of her mouth. It was only there for a second and so faint I could have been mistaken but I’d still say now that sharing that first meal was the moment Sarah new she would be my life partner. I’m not quite sure I knew at that point but she did. I was just a silly boy and didn’t have a lot of thoughts about the future other than getting away from my parents. Even now, I think Sarah had been planning what she wanted out of life since her parents had died and she had been sent to live with her auntie and uncle who owned the local tavern. She had never liked it there but I wouldn’t find out much about this until later and even then she didn’t share a lot of the details.
Now although I met this skinny girl in the woods eating a rat, obviously due to her lack of feeding at home, she still shared it bite for bite with me until it was done. She may have had a cold exterior but she seemed to have a warm heart. I felt like I wanted to speak to her more, to ask her questions and tell her stuff about myself but I just sat there saying nothing, which she seemed happy with. I stole glances at her and although she appeared frail, there was intensity behind her eyes even when her mind seemed to be somewhere else.
Just as I was trying to look her over without being too obvious she jumped up from the fallen tree she sat against, jumped over it and hurried in the direction of the town.
“I have to be back now,” she said, her face expressionless. “I’ll be here tomorrow” she added, disappearing into the trees.
As I took my time walking home, having nowhere I really needed to be and knowing my parents wouldn’t notice if I came home or not, I thought about my meeting with Sarah. She was from memory the first girl I had ever spoken to. I had girls call me names before and pick on me but never actually speak to me in a conversational manner. I suppose that’s why I don’t say much. Why try and talk to someone who hates you for no good reason at all?
Sarah was different from all those girls. She might not have said much to me but she wasn’t mean and seemed to need a friend as much as I did. She was probably prettier than any other girls in town too but because she often looked so worried and stressed all the time people didn’t pay her the same attention as some of the other girls.
Everyone though she was weird but I knew there was more to it than that. People who have an easier route in life often think everything is straightforward for everyone else, but I knew better.
When I got home my mum was in the bedroom with one of Dad’s friends. She couldn’t charge any more but her old trade certainly kept her and my father in alcohol. I went straight to my room as Dad mumbled something at me but it was rare at that point for him to get up from where he sat. I spent the night thinking about Sarah and caught myself smiling a few times. I fell asleep thinking about meeting her in the woods tomorrow, hoping she would show up.
The next day I got up and knew I had a good few hours until it was time to meet Sarah. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself but thought I would like to do something nice, to show her I liked her, but had no idea what I could do. I wandered around town for a while lost for ideas when I suddenly remembered the caves my grandfather used to take me to. I had only been there a few times but it was my favourite place to go. He would always tell me not to tell my parents he had taken me there or they would kill him but it was our place anyway so I never said a word.
The cave was secluded and pretty high up but when the high tide came in it reached the cave entrance. The cave went up into the cliff wall so you could just go deeper in but grandfather would always tell me the importance of minding the tides, or risk getting trapped. Not that I was ever allowed to go on my own, but I was older now, my grandfather was dead and my parents didn’t care what I got up to.
The reason I thought about going to the caves again was there was always the most amazing shells and rocks washed into the opening. Some of them looked like jewels and I couldn’t think of anywhere I could get her something so special without money.
I didn’t have that long left until I met her and I didn’t want to be late so I ran all the way from town, down past the harbour and out to the beach. I made my way along the beach to the part where no one went as the sand wasn’t as fine and it was covered in seaweed. You had to climb from here along the rock face of the cliff but it wasn’t a great height. The rocks were just massive and jagged below you and I’m sure if you were to fall you’d be seriously injured, if not dead. The foot holds were more than sufficient to climb along but it just wasn’t somewhere people would ever think to go.
My Grandfather had been a seaman and spotted the hole in the cliff wall one day when returning from sea. He spent a long time trying to find a way round to the front of the cliff and when he finally found his way in he said that after all those years he had never met another person while there nor found any trace of anyone else in his secret place.
I managed to get up to the cave easier than I remembered, finding it to be a good bit bigger than on my last visit, time and tide having taken their toll on the rock. I searched around the cave for a while, not going too far in, knowing the water only brought the debris in so far and after a bit of searching I came across the smoothest stone you’ve ever seen. It was like marble, bright red in colour. I had never seen anything like it before. After inspecting it for a while I slipped it into my pocket and made my way back down to the beach. It took me about twenty minutes and then I was bound for the woods on the other side of town.
Upon my arrival at the clearing where I first met Sarah the day before, I found it empty. My heart sank a little as I climbed over the fallen tree, but just as the feeling of sadness sank into my chest I saw her emerge from the trees at the other side. She was, once again, holding a rat. I wondered how she got so good at catching them, but thought it best not to ask. I set about starting us a fire while she watched me.
Just before she sat I noticed a red stain on the front of her dress. It was the same dress she had worn the day before. I again thought it would be better not to comment but did wonder if our new friendship would have any chance of growing or surviving if we didn’t speak. Was it even a friendship?
Sarah approached and sat down opposite me. She expertly skinned the rat with a little knife she had in her pocket then skewered it on a stick and took to the process of slowly cooking it over our open fire. In a manner much the same as the day before, she stared into space while slowly turning the rat to make sure it was evenly cooked. I wanted to ask her what was on her mind, but worried it may scare her off or make her decide never to talk to me again and I didn’t want that.
Remembering I had the red stone in my pocket I quickly produced it and thrust my hand toward her.
“Here,” I mumbled, not making eye contact with her.
Without saying a word, she reached out her hand and took the stone from me and inspected it. She turned it over in her fingers and spent quite some time inspecting it closely. Like yesterday I could have sworn that she had the slightest smile at the edges of her mouth but it was too fleeting to be sure.
She reached out with the stone to return it.
“No. I got it for you,” I told her.
“Thanks,” was the only word she uttered that day before we again shared the meal of rat meat. As we ate this time I forgot it was even a rat we were eating, but on my way home I did think I would take her some food from my house tomorrow. We rarely had much food at home but Mum would still put something in the pantry from time to time and I was always resourceful when there was nothing available.
When I got home that night, the living room had been smashed to pieces and Dad lay sprawled out on the floor. I went to their room to see if Mum was there and she was on the bed, passed out, naked with a man, in much the same state with blood covering his knuckles. I left them to it and went to my room. The sooner I could get away from this house the better.
The two nights since I met Sarah felt much longer than normal and I knew it was the anticipation of seeing her again the next day that made me restless. I dreamed of us both running away together, where we would live, what we would do for work, how many children we would have, but it all seemed silly. We had met twice for short periods of time and barely spoken to each other. I wondered if it was really just because she was the first person who wasn’t mean to me, but it was more than that. When we were just sitting quietly it felt comfortable. There was no real need to say anything. Part of me wanted to get to know her more and get closer, but another part of me suggested that just spending time by her side was enough.
The next morning, I made some sandwiches. The bread was stale and the jam was runny but there wasn’t enough in the house for me to become choosy. The man who had apparently beaten Dad up the previous night, was now cuddled up to him on the couch and Mum lay on the floor at their feet now wrapped in a blanket. I left quickly, deciding I’d just get on my way to the clearing and wait for Sarah.
I arrived to find her sitting where I’d left her yesterday. This time she wasn’t staring into space. She was staring straight at me, wild eyed and fierce, even though she was so little. She made no move to go for me, and I approached slowly. As I got closer I could see red marks on her neck and arms.
When I got even closer I could see it was blood.
“Are you okay?” I asked, still hesitant in my approach .
“Yes,” was her reply.
I stood there looking at her and nodded towards the marks on her arms. The silence seemed to last an eternity then she finally said, “They hurt me.”
I knew what that meant and I had my suspicions upon seeing the blood on her dress the day before, but I was unprepared to have a conversation about it. I had heard stories about girls from town who had been seen or caught doing things with older men and there were more than a few stories about the old priest, but I had never thought I would find myself sitting, talking to a girl about something that happened to her. All the other girls I had heard about were older but Sarah was so little, yet she didn’t look scared or hurt. She looked like she could take on the world. I noticed that between her fingers, she fidgeted with the red stone I had given her.
“What are you going to do?” was the only thing I could think to ask.
“It’s done. They’re gone.”
“What do you mean they are gone?”
“I killed them. Last night. Well, this morning actually. I only ever planned to make my uncle stop hurting me but my aunt started helping him so… I waited until they were asleep, until I could hear they were settled, until their breathing got really slow and then I slit both their throats. It was easier than I expected.”
I felt like the world paused, like it literally stopped moving. I realised I was holding my breath the whole time she was talking.
“You killed them? You’ll be hung!” I felt dizzy and sick.
“No. I’m leaving. I only came here today to see if you wanted to come.”
I was a little taken aback. I knew how much I liked her, but we had only met twice and here she was, telling me she had murdered her aunt and uncle. I know they might have deserved it but the fact she came back here and risked getting caught just to ask me to come along was no small matter. She must have felt the same connection I did… or was it that she just needed someone to come along? She didn’t seem to be the type to need anyone, though.
“Where would we go?” I asked
“I don’t know.”
“What was your plan?”
“I didn’t have one, just to kill them, then leave. I just didn’t want them to hurt me anymore.”
I wondered at this point if Sarah was maybe a little slow in the head, but it was hard to tell, as she said so little and I really didn’t know her.
What could I say? I knew if I decided to go I wouldn’t be missed. My parents barely even knew I was there anymore and no one was going to miss Sarah. People would probably be more worried about the tavern not opening so the bodies would be discovered pretty quickly but maybe everyone would assume whoever murdered the innkeepers had taken Sarah. I doubted anyone would suspect her of committing the double murder when she was such a tiny, frail creature. We would have a good chance at a head start but where would we go?
We sat in silence for a long time. I looked her over and the fire in her eyes didn’t die down. She was fourteen years old and I kept expecting her to break down crying or descend into panic, but there was nothing. She remained as passive as could be, apart from that determination in her eyes. I could tell this was a girl who had lived in her head for a while now and I suspected she might stay there but I knew there was nothing left in this town for me and I knew whatever happened that I felt good anytime I was around Sarah. I knew I was going with her… but where could we possibly go and not be found?
We spent a long time that day just sitting in the woods saying nothing. I’m not too sure what Sarah was thinking about but all I could think about was where we would go and how we would survive. I kept going over it in my head and thinking that we both pretty much provided for ourselves anyway and the more I thought about it the less it seemed we would be leaving behind, but we were both young and it did worry me. I had no idea how we would find somewhere to stay or how we would travel.
Sarah locked her eyes on mine and studied me for a long time. “So you’ll come?” she asked.
“Yes. I’ll go with you. Do you have any idea at all where we will go or how we will live?” I asked her, still feeling worried although my mind was already made up.
“Well I think we should hide out for a while. I don’t know where, but I think it’s best if we aren’t seen around town.”
We went back to silence. As always at this time of year the woods were quiet. It felt like we were the only two people in the world but it didn’t feel the same as the last two days where I didn’t have a care in the world. Today I felt like I had the weight of the world weighing me down. There was still nowhere else I would rather have been than with Sarah but now I worried she might get caught and strung up by the neck, or that if I was found with her, I might even get the blame.
I started thinking of places I had been that were quiet. I thought of various towns I had visited and all the places around our town that no one really goes, then it came to me, the cave. We could hide out there for a bit and no one would ever find us, but how long we could stay there I didn’t know.
I spent the next few minutes telling Sarah about the cave and how my grandfather would take me there. I explained how no one ever came there but that we would be trapped each night when the tide came in. Sarah thought this was absolutely perfect so our plan was made.
I remembered I had some sandwiches I made us but didn’t think that would be enough. I mentioned it to Sarah and she said we could get some water from a stream not far from where we were and that we would make do until tomorrow then we could sort out more food. Sarah had packed a little bag before leaving home, having no plans to ever return there and I couldn’t think of one thing I might fetch from my house so we made our way to the stream and filled a canteen Sarah had brought with her, then we made our way around the edge of town and down to the beach.
When we reached the cave entrance we both sat and caught our breath. I watched Sarah looking around the cave, eyes wide and mouth slightly open. I could tell she was impressed by the size of it. The cave led away from the opening upwards and you could only see so far before the darkness took over. The breeze coming in from the sea cooled us both and I watched as Sarah lay back and took in a deep breath before releasing a sigh.
I thought her day must have been so much more traumatic than mine and she seemed to be dealing with it so well. I had only to hear the tale of what happened and make the decision to go on the run with her, which wasn’t really much of a decision at all for me. She had actually lived through all the horror that lead her to commit murder and here she was only a few hours later, her whole life changed forever and she was now finally getting a chance to rest and take a breath.
I sat looking out at the sea, the sun was going down and the view from the mouth of the cave was breath-taking. My mind was racing but never settling on any particular thought, it just felt jumbled but I can’t say I was surprised, my life had just changed forever. Obviously at this stage I still had time to change my mind and go back but I knew that wasn’t going to happen. What did my new future hold for me though? Did this mean we were together? Were we just friends on the run? Did she only want someone to help her get away, then she would ditch me? I just didn’t know but I did know the fact that Sarah had done so little planning that she probably wouldn’t have given any thought to my part in all of this. Maybe she just thought that I would want to run away too or maybe she really did like me.
By the time I turned around Sarah was snuggled up into a little ball on her side, the day haven taken its toll on her. I could hear the sea already hitting off the bottom of the cliff and I knew the tide came in fast so I gently lifted her and carried her deeper into the cave.
I had only ever been a little further into the cave than the mouth on one occasion. I don’t think my grandfather ever cared too much about what was further in. “Just more cave, boy,” he had told me when I pestered him. After a lot of nagging he finally agreed to take me a little further in one time and we explored. He was right. It was just more cave. The entrance led uphill for a while and eventually opened out into a large cavern within the cliff. My grandfather never let us go down into the cavern and it was hard to see the other sides due to its vastness, even with our lanterns but it had looked to me like there may have been other openings along the walls. My grandfather wouldn’t let us go in that far though. I knew all this meant nothing as it would be more of the same but it would allow for some exploring if we were stuck here for a few days and at least there was no one to stop me this time.
I stayed close to the entrance of the cavern as there was no light and found a patch of ground that didn’t have too much debris on it and cleared away what lay there. I softly lowered Sarah to the floor and lay her bag under her head as a makeshift pillow. She curled straight back into a ball and wrapped her arms around herself. I built us a fire with some difficulty; even as my eyes adjusted to the gloom, it was so dark that I couldn’t even see my own hand in front of my face. I managed though and every so often I turned and observed Sarah in the fire light. Her face looked troubled even in sleep and I worried what the future held for us.
I awoke with a start wondering where I was but quickly remembered. I turned to look for Sarah in the dim light of the fire embers but I couldn’t see her.
“Sarah?” I asked but got no reply.
“Sarah,” I said louder, causing my voice to echo through the cavern.
Still there was no reply. Where could she have gone to? I got up and searched around.
“Sarah” I said louder, thinking there was no one else here but us anyway.
“Sawney” her reply came from one of the unexplored cave entrances along the wall. I couldn’t see her but I could hear her footsteps coming closer.
“Where did you go?” I asked.
“I had to pee.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling my face heat up and not knowing what else to say.
“I’m hungry,” she added.
“Yeah, me too, I had made us some sandwiches for earlier that I still have, they’ll be a bit soggy but they should still be okay.”
I took the sandwiches from my bag and returned to her. She sat next to the glowing embers and I wondered if she was cold or just trying to get some light. There was no real way to tell what time it was from inside the cavern but I could still hear the sound of the waves washing in and out of the cave mouth so I knew the tide was still high, meaning it had to be night time.
I passed her a sandwich and sat opposite her and got the fire burning again. There was firewood everywhere in the cave. It must have been debris washed into the cave a long time ago when the tides were higher because it was all bone dry and I didn’t think the waves came up into the cavern these days, but I didn’t know for sure.
“I haven’t had jam since my parents were alive,” Sarah said.
“Why did you end up living with your aunt and uncle?” I asked.
“My mum and dad were murdered coming back from Edinburgh. The highwaymen cut both their throats to steal what little belongings they had. I had already been staying with my aunt and uncle while my parents were away. They were always nice to me before my parents died.”
I didn’t know whether to continue asking questions while Sarah was talking or if that was enough for today but then she continued.
“My uncle, he did things to me.”
Sarah had said enough with that one statement. I had already suspected that’s what had happened but I think she just wanted to say it aloud. Perhaps to justify her actions that morning.
“Thank you,” she said quietly.
“For what?” I asked her.
“For coming with me, I don’t have any friends and I didn’t want to go by myself. I think being with you over the last two days somehow made up my mind of what I had to do but I hoped you would come with me.”
“But I barely said ten words to you,” I said, wondering how I could possibly have influenced her decision and wondering if this meant I was in some way accountable for the deaths. I quickly decided I wouldn’t much care if I was.
“I know you didn’t, but there’s something between us. Can’t you feel it?”
I knew exactly what she meant but was surprised to hear the words coming out of her mouth. I still didn’t really know what this meant for us but the thought that she felt something too made my heart swell.
“Yes,” was all I could think to reply, there was so much I’d have liked to have said, but I couldn’t find the words.
The fire burned brighter as the fresh kindling caught afire properly. I was sure I had seen Sarah do one of those little almost smiles, where it just touches the edge of her lips. She said no more, but crawled over to my side, gave me the softest kiss on the cheek and lay down with her head on my lap. I could still feel that kiss lingering on my cheek long after she had drifted to sleep. I wasn’t sure what life had in store for us or how long we even had left but I knew right then that I would do my utmost to spend as much of that time with her as possible.
Over the next few days not an awful lot changed. Initially the plan was to move on but after Sarah saw that no one came near here she decided we should stay for a while. The main problem we faced was finding food. Neither of us could fish and the part of the beach we were at would have probably been useless and not only that but we didn’t really want to stand around in plain sight, even if there was a minimal risk of being seen.
Sarah had told me her dad taught her how to hunt, trap and prepare meat but again we couldn’t just go back and forth to the woods. We didn’t even know if her aunt and uncle’s bodies had been found. Our tummies grumbled and we knew that food was our main priority.
Knowing no-one was looking for me I went out to collect some supplies after only one day in hiding but I couldn’t risk carrying too much in case I looked suspicious. I went home to grab some clothes for myself and no one even noticed I hadn’t come home the night before. I filled a bag with the meagre supplies I could find from the cupboards. It wasn’t much but it would have to do. I found a few candles and packed some clothes. On the way back to the cave I managed to steal a few items of clothing from old Mrs Smith’s house. I knew she worked in the bakery all day and her daughter, although younger than Sarah, was about the same size.
I arrived back at the cave and although I thought it wasn’t much, Sarah seemed to be delighted by what I brought. The blanket would mean we didn’t have to lie on the cold stone floor and at least we had a little food. We were both able to change out of our dirty clothes as well. Sarah went into one of the caves at the other end of the cavern and came back in one of the two dresses I had managed to get her. It was a very old brown dress that had seen better days but probably the better of the two.
“I love it!” Sarah said doing a quick twirl.
I felt proud to be able to be the man to provide her with a new dress even if it was stolen. She approached me and gave me another light kiss on the cheek before rummaging through the bag. The first thing she took out was the old brush I had brought and spent some time getting the knots out of her hair. She actually looked the best she had since I met her and that was after sleeping rough in a cave. It gave me some idea of the extent of torment she had been living through before this.
We sat that night at the cave entrance, again looking out over the rocks below to the sea and watching the sun go down. Sarah snaked her arm around my back and snuggled in against me. I felt her warmth spread through my body and cuddled her into me.
“Don’t leave me,” she whispered in my ear, squeezing me tighter.
“I won’t,” I whispered back, holding her tight.
The next morning when I woke Sarah was gone again. I doubted she would be far away or take long to return so I set about getting our fire going again. It was warm enough in the cavern through the day but there was no light so we still needed the fire. The tunnel to the cavern lead up away from the cave entrance so the light didn’t even shine into it, without the fire it was total darkness.
I sat for a while waiting then decided after calling out a few times to walk down to the cave mouth. I found Sarah staring out to sea with her arms wrapped around her knees. As I approached her, before I had said a word she asked “Do you want babies?”
“What?” I asked in return.
“Babies, do you want them?”
“I’ve never really thought about it,” I had to admit.
“I do. I want a big family. I’ve always wanted a big family. I was an only child and always wished I had lots of brothers and sisters to play with but I always thought I would have lots of children and grandchildren. Do you think we will still be able to?”
We, I thought to myself. She meant us. She wanted us to have a family. I was a little taken aback. We hadn’t even known each other a few days ago. Sure, we were now on the run because Sarah had murdered her aunt and uncle, and I had already decided to give up my old life for her but babies were a whole other thing.
Sarah was quiet after telling me her wish and I wasn’t sure if she was waiting for me to say something or had just finished speaking. I thought to myself about how we would raise a baby and where we would go.
“We would need to get somewhere to live first and I will need to find work.”
She turned to look at me and for the first time I got to see her face with a smile on it.
“That means yes,” she said, sounding like a little girl, one side of her mouth turning into a grin. She jumped up, ran over and hugged me.
I wasn’t sure that I had agreed and hoped she meant a few years into the future but seeing her this happy made me feel like I’d never felt before. Here was a girl who never smiled and I seemed to be able to bring some happiness to her life, even if only briefly. I hoped with more time I could give her some kind of normality but everything had happened so fast and I was unprepared. I would just have to take everything a day at a time.
No one was likely to let two kids rent a house and I wouldn’t be able to get a job that paid enough to keep us. I didn’t like the idea of being a thief and for the time being our cave seemed to be our only option, but in itself that posed problems. I could only really go out to steal whatever we needed after dark but this only gave us a brief window of opportunity, because we had to be back in before the sea level rose too high.
I had a lot to think about. But in those early days our survival and setting up a sustainable living arrangement was our main priority.
The next few months got easier the longer we stayed. We learned the times of the tides. We explored the caves together. They went on for miles, twisting and turning, some going up and some going down, but my grandfather had been right, it was just more cave. We did find a few different sources of water though. They came in useful and we still had Sarah’s canteen to fill up.
Outside the cave I learned a few more tricks to get food and clothes and as time passed by our home filled up with possessions like the home of any other new couple. Admittedly it was stuff we had stolen or mainly I had stolen as Sarah rarely left the cave but how else would we have survived? A man has to look after his family and Sarah was my family now.
Sarah’s mood changed a lot and it was hard to judge how she was going to be on any given day. Sometimes we would spend days together where we could have been any other happy couple on holiday together or at the funfair. We would laugh and joke and talk about the future and about what paths our life together may take. Other days it was as if she wasn’t even in the cave with me. She would stare into space and be almost unresponsive to me. I’d try talking to her but she would give me one word answers. I knew these were the days when she was thinking about her past but I had never seen someone’s character change so completely. It was almost like living with two different people, but I loved her no less. I just lived for the good days when we could talk and laugh and even kiss.
We had spoken about having babies and a family but we had never done more than kiss on the lips. We were young and life had given us other things to think about but as time passed by I found myself wanting more and more to get even closer to her. We now had a fairly comfortable set up where we rarely wanted for much but I did wonder if we would find life quite as easy having a young child to care for. I worried what would happen if the child got unwell and we couldn’t take it to the doctors and what would happen if I couldn’t deliver the baby when Sarah went into labour? It wasn’t quite as easy as just having a baby but she was talking about it more and more.
As time passed we spoke less and less but if we did speak it was only ever about the one subject. I still worried if it was the right thing to do but Sarah knew what she wanted no matter if it was a good or bad day for her. I didn’t know whether Sarah’s life would get easier with time, with the memories fading and the horrors being forgotten but I knew if we had a little baby that she would shower it with love. I knew I wanted to have a family with Sarah but our situation was far from perfect. The more I thought about the families in town though I wondered if anyone’s situation is really all that perfect.
The longer we were in the cave the more it started to feel like home. We had both had better home lives when we were younger but they had been gone a long time ago. Sarah was always doing little things to make the cave feel homelier. We had candles everywhere now providing us with a good bit of light and a section of the cavern floor was covered by shawls and other materials creating a comfortable area for relaxing and sleeping. We had got into a little routine where I would go out to steal whatever we needed and she would keep our cave as clean and tidy as you can keep a cave, getting rid of any food scraps and washing our pots and pans. I became adept at sneaking around town unseen and Sarah didn’t ever need to leave the cave. She discovered that one of the caves leading off from the far wall took her deeper into the cliff and eventually to a massive vertical drop. From the sound when you threw something over the edge, the drop was hundreds of feet so that’s where discarded anything we didn’t need, knowing it was deep enough that we wouldn’t need to worry about being surrounded by rotting food. She would wash everything in one of the little internal waterfalls.
Our new home really was everything we could have ever needed. Living out of town suited us both, neither of us having much time for other people. I had noticed Sarah went to the cave mouth less often and I knew she hadn’t left the cave since we got here. She felt safe and protected, deep in the cliff face where no one knew. Some days I would ask her to come down to the entrance and sit with me for a while. Sometimes she would and other days she didn’t want to leave the cavern.
Every time I started to get really worried about Sarah she would seem to snap back to her old self again as if she knew how much I needed to see her. I still loved her on the bad days but it just didn’t feel like she was really there and it could get lonely. On those days it was almost like her spirit had left the shell of her body behind.
I left one morning, heading to a nearby town, having decided that I would mix up my routine to lessen the chance of being caught. I hadn’t realised how long it would take me to get to there and back. When I did return, everything would be changed forever.
I don’t know why, but as I crawled into the cave mouth I had a feeling that something was wrong. I could hear Sarah’s singing coming down from the cavern, soft and sweet, which was a good sign as she had been so withdrawn over the previous few days.
I made my way up into the cavern, my mouth starting to water as my nostrils filled with the smell of whatever meat she was cooking us over the fire. I could see the flickering of candle and firelight in the cavern as I approached. Then I heard it, a noise that could only have been one thing.
I rushed the rest of the distance into the cavern and came around the wall to see Sarah
sitting cross-legged with a tiny baby in front of her. She had something cooking over the fire in the frying pan as she looked up at me with the biggest smile I’ve seen since I met her.
“I saved her,” she said smiling.
“Whose baby is this?” was the only thing I could think to ask.
She nodded towards a body lying just into the shadows. I couldn’t make much out but he looked like he was lying at an awkward angle and I didn’t think he was likely to be getting up again. My heart raced as a multitude of questions ran through my mind. Who was this man? Why was he here and why did Sarah have a baby? What had I missed in my few extra hours away, after months without incident?
The next thirty minutes were spent with Sarah telling me how she had seen the man on the beach below and how he was hurting the baby and she just couldn’t watch any longer and how she had gone to confront him and he attacked her. The story was obviously a stream of lies, but I had no way of finding out what had actually happened. Nor how she had managed to get a body probably more than twice her weight up the cliff face, but she had managed somehow. All she would talk about though is how we would have to look after the baby because it would need us to survive. I never believed a word of her story but found it pointless to argue with her. I had no idea where the man and child had come from but assumed they must have wandered onto the secluded beach and been seen by her. I was surprised she would have been close enough to the cave entrance to see them but she wasn’t going to give me any answers.
I had known she had wanted a baby but I had no idea she would have killed for it. I don’t know why I was surprised, as she had killed her aunt and uncle but that had been in self-defence, or a response to their abuses, at least. Had this man tried to harm her or had he been murdered for his baby? Had he perhaps just scared her by being there and her mind being so fragile, she had felt she was protecting herself? And now being left with a baby was just a happy or unhappy coincidence depending on how you look at it.
I had a lot to think about, but after a long day and an unwelcome surprise I could think about nothing else apart from food and sleep. I ate some of the meat she had cooked and fell asleep watching her rocking back and forth, whispering to the baby.
It wasn’t until the next morning that I thought about where she had got the meat we had eaten for dinner the night before. It took me a while to get her to tell me, but when she did I couldn’t have been more shocked. It was him, the body, the man she killed. She had cooked part of him. Even when I heard the words I still couldn’t register what she was saying to me. It was only after I checked the body and saw where she had cut away the flesh that I knew she was telling me the truth. I couldn’t believe what she had done. It was just wrong. I don’t think I could have eaten it if I had known what it was, but I must admit, I had enjoyed it at the time, and a whole day later, it just didn’t make me feel sick physically, I just carried the disbelief that Sarah was capable of such a thing.
Sarah was quiet for most of the day, but that evening, when the baby had fallen asleep, she came to me and apologised for what she had done, but explained she couldn’t see why it was so wrong.
“He’s already dead and we haven’t eaten meat for so long,” she said.
“What even made you think to cook him, though?”
A shrug of the shoulders was all I got. Sarah could often be dismissive like that and it normally meant the end of the conversation. There would be no reasoning with her. She would just stop answering. I got rid of the body the next morning, dropping it down the massive pit Sarah had discovered, knowing it would never be found without someone having to pass by us first and even then who would ever go down so far?
Over the next few weeks I split my time between going out and stealing some things we would need to care for the baby and sitting watching Sarah with the child. If anyone had seen Sarah with the infant, they would have thought it was her baby, so content were they both. Maybe the baby’s mother had died during the birth… and we didn’t even know for sure the man with the baby was the father, and now he was gone too. The baby was better off with us anyway. At least it had two parents who would love and protect it. She would be better off here away from the evil of others.
Sarah was a natural mother, even on days where she wasn’t herself she would just sit with the baby in her arms rocking back and forward, humming to her softly. We had gone back to speaking less again but every night Sarah told me how much she loved our little family before snuggling into me for warmth. I knew nothing would take away my love for Sarah but I wondered how I would feel if she killed again.
I had heard people talking around town after her aunt and uncle’s deaths. Speculation ran rife that another tavern owner or innkeeper might have murdered them in the hope that the closure would drum up more business for their own establishment, but as far as I could tell no one had been arrested. I heard people make mention of the missing girl, commenting that she would turn up dead which reassured me somewhat; at least Sarah wasn’t a suspect.
Sarah killing the baby’s father was different, though. I knew nothing about this man and his child but it turned out neither did anyone else. He must have just arrived in town as no one was talking about his disappearance. I’m sure someone somewhere was missing him, but no one was talking about it in town. We seemed to have gotten away with it.
Our lives started to settle down again and what had become our own special normality returned. I again started thinking about how our cave wasn’t so different from a normal home and again began to believe we were just a typical family. Sarah had called the baby Lily which I wasn’t keen on at first, but it had started to grow on me and strangely seemed to suit her. Someone had given her a name at birth but that name was lost now.
Sarah never stopped being a remarkable mother and would put the child before herself in any given situation, but her mental state continued to deteriorate. She spoke very rarely, even to Lily, but she would often hum a peaceful lullaby to sooth her. I occasionally heard her ranting to herself but when I tried to speak to her she would fall silent again.
I still had to make trips into town but tried to keep them as short as possible, hating to leave Lily and Sarah alone. The longer we stayed at the cave the easier I found it managing our lives, but I wasn’t much of a hunter so it was rare we would have meat with our dinner. The occasions we did always brought a smile to Sarah’s face. I often wondered if it reminded her of the first time we met and shared the rat or if she just really enjoyed and missed eating meat.
For all the time Sarah and I had lived at the cave we never once had sex. Sarah wanted a baby, but we were both young and scared and had no idea how we would survive in a cave, then she had ended up with a baby anyway. I think that distracted her for a while but I was woken up one night with Sarah straddling me and thrusting up on down on me. I was shocked, to say the least, but the sensation quickly overtook any other feelings I was having. It was over before long. Sarah had led the way to a new world of sensations, of a heat like no other, hidden flesh and a sharing of each other’s bodies. But it was perfunctory and all she had wanted was another baby, not the sensations that had captivated me.
I’m not sure how many times it had taken but I was awoken by Sarah lowering herself onto me each night until her monthly blood came no more and she knew she was pregnant. She never approached me once for sex or any other intimacies while I was awake. To her it was purely how you got a baby; there was nothing loving about it even though I knew she still cared for me in her own way. We had a second child on the way and we had been living in the cave less than a year. I wondered sometimes if I had made the right decision coming with Sarah but I never truly thought about leaving. Just daydreaming about where my life might have led, but I doubted it would have been to anywhere good.
Once Sarah was pregnant the sex stopped and when I tried to approach her she would just push me away and growl under her breath. I didn’t try for long before giving up as I didn’t want to hinder the relationship we had. I know you may be thinking we didn’t talk at all and we didn’t have sex but it wasn’t that kind of relationship. Sarah had extracted herself from a world she didn’t want to be a part of and I was her comfort and protection. She loved me for that and I have never doubted it. She had dealt with everything in her own way and I made sure that I was everything else she needed, taking care of the things she wasn’t capable of. All I ever wanted to do was protect and love her and I couldn’t hold it against her that she was fragile and the world had broken her so completely. I don’t think killing her aunt and uncle brought her the closure she needed. She was haunted by the memories of what had happened to her and nothing would change that.
Sarah had always been a tiny girl ever since I met her and being pregnant didn’t change that, she just ended up all belly and the rest of her unchanged. We were already as prepared to care for a baby as we could be, so it wasn’t too much trouble preparing for another.
The scariest thing about the second baby was the fact that I had to deliver it. In hindsight it wasn’t that difficult but it was terrifying at the time.
I spent a lot of time watching Sarah with the babies and that was her happiness, her new life, they were all-consuming for her. She could sit for hours and hours just looking at them, humming, sometimes just sitting quietly, staring into space but never more than an arm’s length from the babies.
I got to name our second child as Sarah hadn’t spoken in some time. I picked the name Isla which she seemed to be happy with. Isla couldn’t have been more than two months old when Sarah started having sex with me during the night again. I really didn’t think another baby was going to make our lives any easier but I could not bring myself to stop her even once. Ever since the first time it happened I craved sex with her. I craved the close contact. It never was a gentle, caring act, but it’s not like I had a long list of sexual encounters to compare it to. Like the last time though, as soon as she missed her period it stopped. Just like that. She had again taken what she needed from me.
The next twelve years passed by like that. It would take a lifetime to tell you every detail of my life but those next twelve years, as abnormal as they may seem to you, passed by relatively trouble-free. To anyone living in a normal house, working a respectable job and having a run of the mill life, it may seem like a hardship what I put myself through, but I have almost nothing but fond memories of that time.
We did run into a few problems over the period but who doesn’t? The gent I found in the cave when Sarah stole the baby wasn’t the last person she would kill, we suffered some really bad winters which made leaving and entering the cave almost impossible but after the first year I planned better. Our family grew year after year, which meant there were many hardships along the way, but from what I understand that is the case for most families.
By the time Sarah was twenty-six and I was twenty-four we had nine children, six of our own and three Sarah had acquired by means unknown to me. Whatever she had done we had never been caught or hunted but she was still averse to leaving the cave, so I was at a loss to how she managed this.
We had seven girls and two boys. Sarah had really bad luck with boys, having lost two at birth and the two that survived the birth almost killed her at delivery. She was a strong girl even for someone so small, and she always recovered remarkably well. She spent every waking moment with the children and they loved her with every beat of their hearts. No matter how much I spoke to the children, most of them never really picked up language the way normal children did. I don’t think there was anything wrong with their ability to learn but I think the lack of ever hearing a conversation was a major obstacle to their development and part of me still believes that they wanted to be like their mummy, and probably never really tried. Why would they need to talk when mummy doesn’t? The only two that could put jumbled sentences together were the two boys Hawk and Wolf. I had named all the children apart from Lily and had decided the boys needed good, strong names and with the fact that they were far bigger than any of the girls when born, I just felt that the names of beasts suited them.
Life felt almost normal to me after everything we had been through but things really started to change when Lily was around thirteen or fourteen. We weren’t great at keeping track of the passing days, so ages were always something of a guess. Up until this point, each year was almost a repeat of the previous year with the addition of an extra child. The thing that really changed everything for me was the night I was awoken once again being bounced up and down upon, which was nothing new by now but as my eyes adjusted I was aghast to see it was Lily who was on top of me. My sleepy mind took a few seconds to try and put together what was happening and then I noticed Sarah sitting just off to the side. She knelt there watching, with a smile on her face. I couldn’t believe it, but again the feeling of being in the warmth and wetness was too much for me to show any level of restraint. When Lily had taken from me what she needed, she slid off my body and returned to her mother in the darkness.
I spent a lot of time questioning myself the next day over what had happened and I reasoned to myself Lily wasn’t technically my daughter but it still felt wrong. That very night though, the same thing happened. It was exactly like it was with Sarah, except it was Lily and she was a little gentler and more loving, which did not make me want to put a stop to it. It also meant I was able to engage in sex at a point of the year when Sarah wasn’t bothering with me. I never fully came to terms with what was happening but I knew the bond between Lily and Sarah was extremely strong. Clearly Lily was just trying to be like her mummy and wanted her own baby. The boys were still a little young, so I was the only option. Sarah was, it seemed, happy with the situation although we never did discuss it.
It didn’t take long before Lily was pregnant too, meaning we had our first grandchild on the way who was also really my son but I kept thinking to myself that we had removed ourselves from society and everything was completely about family. There was no one to judge us and for all the niggling feelings I had, life in our little cave continued on.
The following year I was awoken in the same situation again but this time it was my birth daughter Isla who was on top of me. This instantly felt wrong even in my sleepy state so I pushed her off with me. The result wasn’t good. Isla flew into a rage, growling and shouting and attempting to say something to me with no success. Sarah took Isla away and calmed her but over the next few days they both looked at me with angry and hurt expressions, and took away the little communication I had with them.
That was a time of absolute turmoil. I knew what they both wanted from me was wrong but they were my life, my everything and no one else in the world knew we existed after all this time. Who would judge us? Who would even know? Was keeping my family happy more important than worrying about all those people I didn’t know? I could tell that Isla just felt hurt and she couldn’t understand why it was okay for her sister Lily and not for her. I knew that deep down Sarah must understand but I had no way of judging how much of her old self was left in her head. She hadn’t spoken for so long and although she looked after a large family it wasn’t in the traditional way. There was a savagery about her and I often watched her wondering if she was more like an animal now than a person. I don’t mean this in an unkind way but animals can look after themselves and their children and other than that Sarah didn’t have many traits you would associate with human behaviours.
I think having the necessity of having to blend in whilst in the towns I visited for supplies was what kept me tied to the real world and ordinary society, but the others didn’t have that anchor. Sarah had completely left society behind and the children had never known it in the first place.
Our children growing up meant that the living conditions in our cave were further from luxurious than ever. As I said earlier, exact ages were hard to know for sure, but I had a notion of what ages they all were. Lily was about 15, Isla around 13, Hawk was 12, Annie 11, Wolf 10, Susie 8, Karry 6, Moon 3 and Star 2. I had become more creative with the names of our children thinking that I was almost the only person that really cared as I was the only one who used them, even Hawk and Wolf never used names to communicate.
It was a large family Sarah and I had grown and for all that there was no conversation in the cave, we were extremely close. The cave was the whole world for everyone apart from me. It’s amazing the ways in which people can be close without words. We get caught up in what others say or how things are worded when it doesn’t really matter. Often intentions and actions don’t marry up with the words said. What we had together was honest. When anyone was angry with anyone else, everyone knew, it didn’t take an argument or a falling out and equally it didn’t take lengthy heartfelt apologies to make up. We just managed. In truth a lot of what we did seemed so much easier than the way other people conducted themselves, which was something that was never far from my mind. Was the way we had chosen to live wrong, or did everyone else have it wrong? I couldn’t decide.
The boys had grown much quicker than the girls and even at a young age you could see they were going to be strong men, they were naturally muscled and seemed to grow as quickly in times of little food as when we had plenty. The lifestyle seemed to work for them. They were boisterous and adventurous and were forever disappearing into the caves and climbing. I didn’t worry about them too much as they had done it from such a young age they had become incredibly skilful, clambering around in the darkness.
The girls were homelier, spending time with Mum and the younger children and always moving things around in the cave so that I couldn’t find anything. Our children all seemed to get on very well the majority of the time, but the boys took an obvious lead. I never once in all my years saw them lay a hand on their sisters in anger. It was just understood that they were in charge when I wasn’t there. I felt confident they could protect the family, but knew that it would be too dangerous for them to leave the cave as they would never blend into normal society. I need not have worried, they were always more interested in going deeper into the caves than leaving, anyway.
Within a few days of pushing Isla off of me, we started having intercourse regularly and for all my misgivings about it, she was more tender and loving than both her mother and sister. It was a different experience altogether. Like the others, after a few weeks she missed her period but unlike her mother and Lily, she would still come to me when everyone else was sleeping. Sometimes we would have sex and sometimes she would just cuddle in. I don’t know if it was that being pregnant she sought protection or what was different, but Lily had sought her mother out and clung to her every move once pregnant. Isla, however, had taken to me and our bond seemed to grow stronger the more time we spent together.
Another few years passed by with no real hardships. More children and grandchildren arrived but Sarah never stole another child, which I was glad of. I don’t know if it was impatience at the start that had forced her to such an act but our family was ever expanding and the roles were starting to change. Our two boys were 13 and 15 now and both had developed strong, muscular bodies. They had taken to hunting for food and they were now the main providers for our little family. I was always worried about this though, and my worry proved to be right. After they had been doing it for a few months they returned with a body. They had been caught but they made good of the situation. I knew my boys were strong and could handle themselves and I was unable to make them stay in the cave anyway.
As time went on, the cave took on a smell more than it did at the start too. Although Sara still washed herself on occasion most of the kids rarely ever did. I had tried at the start, taking them to one of the waterfalls to force them to cleanse themselves, but after many a fight about it, it just didn’t seem worth the trouble.
I think I knew that our journey could only end badly as I watched over my primitive family and wondered where our future lay. We had our own little part of the world and I had, at that point, lived in the cave longer than I had ever lived in a normal house.
That year we had our worst winter since moving into the cave, we all survived, but there were many points when I thought we may lose some of the children. The boys were remarkable, stealing us extra blankets and clothes along with the food they took, but this once again led to them returning with a body. This time I wasn’t so sure they had been caught, I got the feeling that this kill had been more than that. I’m not ashamed to say we used this body for meat. People will do extreme things in order to survive, and it wasn’t the first time we had eaten flesh. My family’s survival was the only thing I was concerned with.
I’m sure to this day that I was the only member of the family whose mind was at all troubled about eating this man. But it made me question if our behaviour wasn’t how human beings were meant to behave. In the towns and cities, are they merely sheep, too timid to deviate from the herd. My family and I had no need for the herd, and we were certainly beyond its acceptance anyway.
On the occasions when I went into town I started to hear rumours and whispered stories about the wild man who had been seen roaming in the woods. I knew this must have been one of my boys but I also knew people didn’t believe the story. It was like when people told stories of the bogey man or the ghost that haunts the old castle. A tale to pass on but no one gave it much thought. It did bring me more worry though, as if it happened too often the story would find some merit and then we could be in trouble.
I explained as best as I could to the boys and they seemed to understand. They might not have been possessed of the greatest intelligence, but they had good instincts and neither wanted to bring trouble to the family. The body we cooked and shared that winter wouldn’t be our last but the boys were definitely more careful than they had been before.
I often imagined that our existence must have been similar to the cave men of days gone by but I knew it would have been much harder for them. They couldn’t just slip into town to steal supplies and they probably faced a lot more dangers than my sons and I did and on a more regular basis, too. I did wonder if cave men ate each other and imagined they must have. Any source of food when you’re in a pinch is better than none. Part of me wondered how we had made it this long without being discovered but I knew that most people didn’t see what was right in front of their face, besides, for the most part, the family had remained unseen this long.
Every time we ate another human I cared less about the person and only had the niggling worries I always had that this person going missing would be what got us all caught and put an end to my family. I knew there would be no prison. My children were wild, feral almost and would never be accepted by normal society. They would be killed and I couldn’t have that. Yet if the townsfolk found us I had no idea how I would be able to protect my family.
As the years continued to pass by, and with the body count rising, it was surprising that no one came any closer to finding out about us. The tales in the towns changed; it seemed that the tavern owners were the ones under suspicion. The boys were more cunning than I had ever imagined, targeting people staying in the taverns from out of town, I imagine knowing they were less likely to be thoroughly searched for than a missing local. There had been investigations into some of the missing people and as they had mainly all disappeared while staying in taverns, the suspicions began to grow that they were maybe murdering their customers and stealing their belongings.
My family grew wilder as they aged. It seemed the more of them there were, the more they regressed into a feral state. Not all of them changed so much. Some of the younger children were born with deformities. Almost all the children and grandchildren were mine but I knew a few were sired by Hawk and Wolf. Although both boys outsized me by a good bit and were our main hunters, I remained at the head of our little clan. They never once challenged me in all their years.
Isla, although unable to have conversations with me, stayed the most normal of the girls. She seemed to lack the savagery of the others but she was the only one. I think most of our girls, including the stolen ones, took after their mother but Isla always stuck close to me. We had become closer as the years moved by, her mother taking to do with the younger children and Isla becoming more like a wife than Sarah had ever been. There are many things I could question about my life and I have done in the past but all I can say is I’m happy, my family is happy and that’s all I care about. Living a normal life, I could never have had as many children and I doubted all the ones I had would have survived. Death among infants was common and here I was with a family now with 18 members including myself and Sarah and we were surprisingly well off in my eyes, not in monetary terms, but I didn’t feel having it would better our situation.
I now didn’t really know which children were mine and which were my grandkids I loved them all the children and grandchildren the same, no matter who among my sons and I could claim paternity. Isla and of course Sarah shared a special bond with me, but other than that they were all my children. I did worry about the defects some of the children had but again in our little world I wondered how much they would impact the kids lives. They would be well looked after, never ridiculed, loved unconditionally and have lots of other kids to play with. It again seemed like we had taken away problems that we could have faced had we tried to fit in with everyone else.
The day my sons brought back the body of a boy wearing some very fine clothes and with money in his pockets I knew that my family had entered a new chapter. Moreover, I felt that this chapter fell towards the end of our story. Most of the missing people were travelling types, hawkers and traders who didn’t have anyone nearby to miss them. This boy however would certainly be missed. I sat all night at the cave entrance while the others feasted on the boy’s body. I ate nothing, I couldn’t, as my stomach turned over on itself. Wolf brought some meat out to me, but I waved him away. He looked hurt. He knew I was unhappy but couldn’t work out why. He had no understanding of money or wealth and no way of really knowing how different this meal was from the others.
The next few days I spent sneaking around town in the shadows listening to what the townsfolk had to say about the missing boy. Everyone in town was talking about it. There were missing pamphlets and notices everywhere. Missing travellers were one thing, but when the son of a very wealthy Lord and Lady went missing, something would have to be done about it.
Slipping back to the cave, I could think of nothing else beyond the prospect of my family being discovered. I couldn’t speak to them about it, for how could they, beyond perhaps Sarah, understand my concerns? Without a safe location prepared in advance, I could not move them from the cave without almost certainly being discovered. We were trapped.
Isla detected a change in my mood and stayed by my side. Although we couldn’t discuss matters her warmth pressed against me was still soothing. I worried about her most. She could almost step into the normal world and make someone a fine wife. It seemed a shame that she would suffer the same fate as I expected befell me and the others. She wasn’t like them, but she still couldn’t talk and would never leave her family, so what was the good in thinking about it?
I tried to tell myself I was the master of this family and it was my responsibility to keep them safe, but I never intended my family to get so big, or to stay at the cave for so long. When we came here I was so young and only wanted to be with Sarah. I had just taken every day as it had come since then and here I was, responsible for so many lives and with no means to improve our safety now that it seemed like trouble was on the horizon.
The more I thought about it the more I knew we had to stay where we were. It was our home and I couldn’t think of anywhere else in this world where we would fit in. I knew what we had done was wrong, killing others for food, but I still kept going back to all the rules of the modern world and wondering if any of them really made sense. We were still animals after all and all the rules were made up by Kings and councils that had no understanding of the average man and his needs. Whether I planned my life out or not here, I was with my family and here I would stay. If the townsfolk were coming for us, then they better be well prepared.
Over the next few days all was quiet. I kept watch at the mouth of the cave and sat sharpening long sticks I collected. The boys had seen what I was doing and joined me. I think they both knew something was coming too. We had moved most of our possessions deeper into the caves, hoping that if anyone came as far as the main cavern and saw it was empty, they would just leave.
The girls never left the cave anyway and the boys took more care than ever when going out to forage. They both knew to stay well clear of town and I tried my very best to explain the dangers of killing anyone else. I’m sure they understood but they didn’t have the same sense of consequence that society instils in us.
Although I lived in a constant anxious state now, worrying every waking minute that an armed mob would storm the cave, that day did not arrive. I avoided town for a while, but I knew I had to return to learn more and determine how immediate our danger was.
On my first trip back into town, I had never been more nervous or cautious. There were far less people talking about the missing boy but I still heard odd pieces of conversation about him. It turned out a lot of money had been offered to find him but no one knew much about what had happened. The worrying thing this time was that more and more people were whispering about the wild man that was sometimes seen in the woods but the most frightening thing I heard that day was when one woman was whispering about ‘the wild family’ who lived in a cave at the beach.
I lay that night with Isla wishing I could speak to her about our problems. It had never really bothered me that my family were limited in communication, but with my worries growing all the time, I wished I could share my worries and plan ahead but it just wasn’t an option.
I had a restless night and the next day decided that we needed to move much further into the caves. Over the years we had learned to navigate our way around the miles of tunnels that went deep into the land but we had never really needed to go far. Things had changed now though, and the benefit of going deep into the warren was obvious. We gathered our belongings, the women carried the younger children and we left behind what had been our home for longer than I could remember now. It might not have seemed like a home to most but it was where we had raised our children and I had many happy memories.
I knew lots of families lost their homes but living deep within a cave was a whole different story. There was no sunlight whatsoever and the air was different. There was a constant dampness and it was always cold. We had plenty of clothes to keep us warm but depending on where we were in the tunnels dictated whether we could have a fire or not but there were several massive caverns where you could burn a fire all day, but still breathe as the smoke drifted away through the tunnels.
It was in one such cavern that we eventually settled. It was two hours from the cave mouth and I knew there was no way that anyone would come this far in. I took the boys back with me to the cave entrance and cleared away any sign that we had ever been there.
I sat alone that night in our new home, looking around at the firelight flickering on the walls. Everything was quiet apart from some sounds coming from the area the woman had set up for the babies. It took me a long time to fall asleep but I knew I had moved my family away from any immediate danger.
When I woke the next morning I took the boys with me to bring back more food. I didn’t want us leaving the cave too often. I though the boys and I all going at once, to get more supplies in one run, was the best idea.
Although it took a while, the three of us got into town, got our supplies and made our way back to the cave, the day proved uneventful. Looking at my boys made me feel proud. They might not have been the cleverest lads around in a conventional sense, but they were seasoned hunters, extremely strong and fast, while making no noise at all. And most importantly, they had a fierce love for their family. I knew that a lot of children turned out a lot worse when brought up in better circumstances so I was proud of the job that Sarah and I had done, especially considering how fragile her mind was.
As we picked our way down the path to the beach my mind wandered to the early days with Sarah and how she had deteriorated. It left me wondering what parts of a person it is that we fall in love with. Sarah had lost the power of speech quickly and over the years had went through periods of withdrawal and others of being more outgoing within our family. I was never able to work out what provoked these changes, even after all those years, but I knew I had never stopped loving her. I would kill every man in town to protect her, if that is what it took.
We rounded the corner to the sand and in our path stepped six young men. They were probably aged between thirteen and about seventeen as I could best tell and each carried a weapon. I knew instantly that the young lads had been searching about the caves after hearing all the talk in town, but I’m not sure that they actually expected to find us there. Judging by the looks of shock on their faces, I think they had doubts we even existed in the first place. Looking at us however, there was no mistaking who we were, me and the boys with our milk white flesh, bodies hardened from years of climbing, hunting and foraging and we were far dirtier than your average field worker. They knew immediately that we were not of their world, that we were that much-rumoured ‘wild family’.
My boys stood on either side of me, solid, like two columns of granite, not moving a muscle because I was their clan leader and they awaited my orders. I couldn’t bring myself to have them attack these young lads. They were just boys and far by that, one of my boys could be injured badly or killed. I could not allow if it could be avoided. Without saying a word one of the bigger boys lunged at Wolf and thrust his spear straight at his chest. Wolf merely turned his body, leaning back and let the spear pass by him, grabbing hold of it and pulling hard. The boy came flying towards him. Wolf snapped the boy’s neck with ease and dropped him at his feet. That set the group off and they all attacked at once. As they came towards us I saw a blur out of the side of my eyes as Wolf and Hawk leapt further than any man should be able to, landing behind the attackers, they grabbed one each and then performed an act that shocked me to my core. They both sunk their teeth into the boys’ necks and each ripped out a massive chunk of flesh, which they chewed upon as they quickly dispatched the remaining three. I rubbed my eyes and looked at the carnage that had been wrought in mere seconds and then at my blood-covered boy’s who stood, shoulders and chest heaving as they chewed upon the meat of their opponents.
It took us a long time to get the bodies buried and cover our tracks. Six boys going missing wasn’t going to go unnoticed. We kept two of the bodies and I thought it would be a hardship bringing them so far into the caves but the boys just simply carried a body each over their shoulders and marched on as though their burden was merely a piece of cloth. By the time we got back and fed everyone I had never felt so exhausted. I tried to think back to how high and far Wolf and Hawk had jumped and knew it shouldn’t have been possible, then the image of them biting into the boys’ necks sprung to mind. At length I feel asleep, and a fitful sleep it was..
The next day I went to the cave mouth alone and saw footprints in the sand. An ill omen, as my sons and I used branches to brush over our tracks behind us. Someone had made these in the very short period of time before the tide came in the night before or had been here earlier this morning. Either way it was bad. I went straight back into the caves and checked on our stock. We had fresh water and enough food available, thanks to the previous day’s exertions, to be able to survive in the cave for weeks without having to leave. I did my best to convey to my sons that they were not to leave the tunnels, that it was no longer safe for them to leave the caves at all.
A few months passed by and we hadn’t been found by the town folk but I had no doubt they were still looking for us. Karry, Annie and Susie had babies – our first births in this part of the cave.
The meat in our diet had lessened and we had all lost weight, were all extremely white and for some reason we all started to lose our hair. I wasn’t sure what caused this but thought it was probably either linked to our diet or lack of sunlight. As the weeks passed patches of some of the girls’ skin turned dry and scaly, while others took on an almost slimy quality, their skin thin and damp, almost transparent.
I knew we couldn’t go back up to the surface and there was less chance than ever to move my family somewhere else. I made my mind up that I would take one last trip to town to see what I could learn and have a last attempt at formulating a plan that would keep my family safe. I decided to wait a few more weeks in case anyone kept watch on the cave mouth.
The weeks passed by slowly and as they did, I watched my family change. It was as if they were adapting to suit their surroundings. Here we were buried in the earth and my girls were taking on qualities of worms and lizards. The most heart-breaking of all was Isla. The others acted as if they didn’t notice what was happening. Either that or they just didn’t care but Isla was different. She was always the most human of the lot and was taking it hard. She cried a lot and very rarely left my side but there was nothing I could do to stop what was happening to her. I’m not sure if it was because she was the oldest, but she was changing quicker than the others. As she became less like herself my heart broke completely and I distanced myself from the others spending every waking minute with her. I wondered if it was something in the water we drank but I just didn’t know.
I awoke one morning to find her missing along with some of the others. I roamed the caves for hours on end and never found her but I knew what had happened. She had either changed so far that she didn’t want to be seen or she had changed so much that she was no longer herself and had wandered, lost to me forever. I had never heard of anything like this in my life, but being so young when I moved here, there were lots of things I didn’t understand. I wondered if this was what happened to people if they had no sunlight at all. Similar to the way our eye-sight changed, allowing us to see better in the all-consuming darkness of our home. But why wasn’t it happening to us all? Myself, Wolf, Hawk, Sarah and the younger children seemed to have no signs of any change. As I wandered the caves, sometimes I heard what sounded like bare feet scuffing quickly against rock, and stones skittering across the floor but I still never managed to find any of the missing girls.
After a time, the younger girls began to change. It turned out that when they were around seven signs of change would present themselves, but it would happen over a much longer period than it did to the older girls. I considered if we were any better off down here now that our numbers were dwindling anyway. Would we have been better standing our ground and fighting? In the end, I still didn’t think so.
I had taken to spending most of my time roaming the tunnels now in the hope of one day seeing Isla again. I missed her most of all and not having her to lie with in difficult times made everything much more difficult to bear. The closeness, the warmth of her flesh against mine, told me with a certainty that everyone needs someone. A few of the girls who changed slowly had started coming to me in the night, wanting their own babies and, although I took no pleasure in it, I gave each of them what they needed hoping that my family would once again flourish. The new babies however were born with their skin already pink or scaly and their eyes were completely black ovals. There was something about them that made them seem like they were born for this life but I wondered what they would be like when grown.
Some days I wondered if I should slit all their throats in their sleep and put an end to it all, but how could I? They were my family and I loved them, no matter what we had become and I wasn’t sure I could take my own life before seeing Isla one more time, just to know she was alive.
One morning after waking up before everyone else, I raised a fire and put some food out for the others to eat when they woke. I walked deeper into the caves than I had ever been before. After an hour or so of walking I stopped for a rest and sat on a rock, leaned my torch against another and had a drink of water. As I sat daydreaming about what my life may have been I heard a skittering on the roof of the cave across the other side of a large trench. I looked up, straining my eyes to discover the source of the noise and then I saw her. Isla. I knew it was her straight away. I could tell by the way she tilted her head to look at me. Her body had changed further and there was no way any normal human being could cling to the rocks, hanging almost completely upside down the way she was, but it was definitely her. We held each other’s gaze for a long time and I wept, I wiped my eyes and she was gone. I stayed where I was for a while, hoping that she would return, but she never did.
I went back to the cavern to join what remained of my family.
There are less of us now, but I feel in my heart that my girls who have changed and moved on to their new lives will always be part of our family. They may be different now but we are all different, and beyond judgment.
I lie here tonight wondering what the future holds in store for my family and I can only hope we manage to keep on going. I don’t know if we will all die out in the coming years or if descendants of the Bean clan will live on in this very cave for generations to come. There is no way of knowing. I’ve done my best to keep my family safe and that’s all any man can do.
Sawney Bean 1708
So you made it to the end of The Tale of Sawney Bean. This was my first work of any real length as I mentioned at the start, and as you will have gathered is a completely fictional story based around the legend/myth of our lead character. I had a lot of wild ideas about what could happen in this book but it would have taken it too far away from what’s commonly believed and so I had to rein myself in. I hope you enjoyed my novella. I appreciate you taking the time to read it. If you have a minute to spare please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads. You wouldn’t believe how much it helps.
The legend of Sawney Bean has long been discussed and adapted into other stories. There has been discussion on which parts of the tale are fact and which parts are fiction. This is the story from the mans mouth himself. Sawney Beans journey from a twelve year old lad into the leader of the most notorious cannibal family to ever live. He tells the tale of how he met his wife and how they ended up raising a massive inbred clan in a secluded cave not far from the very people they were killing for food. Hear Sawney's side of the story and the true facts of what actually happened. Was he a cold blooded cannibal or just another man trying to do his best for his family?