The Brain Eater

from Another Forty Fables by Adam Acidophilus

In a land where the skies were clear and blue, and the trees were many pleasing shades of green, and rivers ran burbling from the mountains to the valleys, and fish flipped and deer skipped, and the heron and merganser paddled and flew, and people reaped this bounty – there lived a young and energetic lad.

“Will you have a smoked woodcock with that organic sourdough?” his old mother would ask him every morning. “Or would you rather a salmon, glazed in acacia honey?”

“I want an ipod®,” he would say. “I want an ipod® and internet access. And a bike.” And he would sit there, motionless and sulking.

“Hush thee now,” his old father would chuckle. “What need have we of ipods®? Why, does not the music of the river and the heron’s call suffice?”

“No,” the lad would say. “And I also want a house with designer furniture – and carpets and china and servants – and carriages that don’t need horses. And cutlery.”

His parents were distraught. “Leather is for boots,” they told him, “not for armchairs or wall coverings.”

“Face it! We are skint!” the lad would persist. “And our minds have been softened by all this countryside. We are missing out – I think we should move.”

“Move?” his parents would gasp.

“Aye, move,” the lad would repeat. “A man such as I – young and full of ambition – might do better if he travelled! Why, I’m sure I would do better if I moved to an adjacent land.”

“But there is only one adjacent land,” his parents would remind him. “And it is known as the Land of the Brain Eater! Who knows what horrible fate might await thee there? Why, ’tis said that any traveller travelling down there do get his brain eaten – and anyway who else will help us with all this bounty-reaping?”

Heedless, the lad set off, with nothing but his ignorance and greed, some cheese and some apples and a pickled swan.

“Bounty!” he cursed. “Brain Eaters indeed! Have they never heard of science? Have they never heard of technology and under-floor heating?”

The food kept him going through the mountains for some days; then he crossed over the peaks and entered the adjacent country.

“Hmm,” said the lad. “I like the look of this – no trees and no annoying woodland fauna, and no blue sky, and the rivers have all been weeded.”

And he was still remarking to himself upon the efficiency of this land, when he encountered on the path a small, yet well nourished, mythic creature.

“Why, if it isn’t a stranger!” said the creature, waving a magic spoon. “May I welcome you to my domain?”

“And good morning to you!” said the lad. “And what is your name?”

“Um, I forget,” the creature remarked. “But I can assure you it is not the Brain Eater, for there is no such thing as the Brain Eater – and if there was he is not here at the moment anyway.”

“Then tell me stranger,” chuckled the lad. “Do you know where might I find employment and commence to make my fortune?”

The creature gurgled, licking its lips. “By a stroke of luck, I am looking for an assistant this very day! The job, though easy, is handsomely paid – requiring only that you sit down, with this kerchief about your eyes, and do not flinch if your ears hurt.”

The lad readily accepted this challenge – and was on his way minutes later, with three gold pieces in his pocket.

“Goodbye!” he called to the mythic creature. “Perhaps we shall meet again!”

“Delicious,” replied the creature. “See you soon.”

By sundown the lad had arrived at a town. “And good evening to you,” he told the innkeeper. “Your very best room for a traveller what has just arrived!”

“Just arrived?” asked the innkeeper, a knot in his throat. “Just arrived by the mountain pass? Might I ask if you encountered – the Brain Eater?”

“Why of course not!” laughed the lad – slapping down an all-too-familiar coin. “For there is no such thing as the Brain Eater – and if there was he is not here at the moment anyway.”

“No!” said the innkeeper. “No! No! No! Not another young and energetic lad! Take heed, poor traveller, and keep this money for yourself. One spoonful! One spoonful! Is all we can afford! Travel on, spend wisely, and flee from the Land of the Brain Eater!”

Well the lad – who was a little dizzy from his travels – made no remark and found his way to his bed; and slept a little longer than was his usual habit. And in the morning, when he left, the people of the town all watched him in silence. He knew there was something he was supposed to do, but he couldn’t quite remember what it was. As he was leaving the town he encountered again the mythic creature.

“Leaving so soon?” the mythic creature asked. “Why, I thought you were here to make your fortune? Don’t you find that the wages in this district are sufficient?”

“Um, I don’t know,” said the lad. “I thought I’d try for a mixed profile of varied employment experiences.”

The mythic creature jangled its spoons persuasively. “A lad such as you might earn a pretty sum! With a brain as big as yours! You could buy yourself a house on one day’s pay! Take a seat, rest a while, wrap this kerchief round your eyes, and remember: do not flinch when your ears hurt!”

So the lad sat down and – a little while later – moved into a dilapidated barn.

“What a fine mansion this is!” he remarked to the creature. “Look at that lovely straw effect carpet. Thanks for the job! We must do business again! You must come over one evening – for dinner.”

And the mythic creature did, night after night – and enjoyed, every time, a magnificent feast.

In the following weeks the young and energetic lad bought a fine suit made of hessian and string; and fine furniture of a box-like construction, with writing on it; and a carriage of the latest type that required no wheels and was pulled by two horses, of a rare breed that ate anything – and barked.

And he only had to work for a minute a day – for the creature continued to employ him – and his purse was heavy and his head was surprisingly light.

And he spent all his fortune in the shops of the town – on planks and buckets and old rope. “You know, I collect this stuff,” the lad would say. “Have you anything old and rusty with an hole in it?”

And the townsfolk took his money – for they were reluctant participants in a tragedy not of their own making.

“Is that the ’64 or the ’65?”

“It is beer,” the innkeeper would tell him (handing the lad another glass of air).

So successful was the lad, that he sat at a desk and committed his story to paper. And in these pages he berated his parents for their lack of vision, and peasants for their lack of taste, and innkeepers for not working as hard as he did – and children and babies and badgers for everything else.

“When I arrived in this land, I had nothing,” he wrote. “But I worked and I worked every day. If you worked as hard as what I have did then you also will have this things what I have got.”

But alas, his paper was pigskin, and his desk was the rest of the pig, and it went out in the rain and when it came back the book had vanished.

And when he’d done with the lad, the mythic creature – who was, it should be noted, the Brain Eater – announced that he’d bought him a house with a bigger garden. And it led him away to a corner of the country that was peppered with bogs and potholes, where the lad survived for many years – telling people to keep off his estate.

Moral: This actually happened to a friend of mine.

© Adam Acidophilus 2011