The following are the jounal entries of Mr. Justin Smythe, a gentleman hobby farmer living outside the lovely theatre community of Stratford, Ontario where a widely-known Shakespearean festival is held each year. Mr. Smythe’s life proceeds quietly as he tends his cattle and occasionally takes walks in 30 acres he has set aside on his property for Christmas tree cultivation. Evergreens are the best shelter from the sun to spur on the growth of mushrooms, which are harvested in October.
October 10, 2000: I hate mushroom pickers. They come onto the property and create nothing but trouble. They litter. They toss away beer cans and candy wrappers. They pop up in unexpected places. Often they discard matches and cigarette butts, posing a fire hazard. Some even walk around with rifles taking shots at imaginary targets, scaring the bejeepers out of me. They don’t realize I’m working on the property. They tear down “No Trespassing” signs faster than I can put them up. But today, I met a couple that was a complete surprise to me.
Mushroom pickers are usually of mid-European birth, with thick accents. They’re the only ones who know what they’re doing. Mushrooms can be dangerous. Eat the wrong ones and they’ll kill you. I sure don’t know anything about them, but apparently my property is ideal for their propagation. Every year around this time I have to fend off unwelcome visitors by the car-load.
George and Hannah are completely the opposite of what I’m used to encountering. They’re young, attractive and articulate. I think they might be brother and sister. They look so similar and they don’t interact like husband and wife. They own a little shop in town and serve baked goods as well as light meals to tourists and theatre-goers attending the main festival and other events.
They asked if I would be willing to let them grow mushrooms at the farm. I couldn’t resist. They were so charming. They offered to pay for the privilege, but I said there was no need. It will be nice to see them around from time to time. Hopefully we can get together and chat some more.
October 15, 2001: I stopped in at George and Hannah’s bakery shop today to see how they’re doing. It’s a really cute little establishment named Tarts and Torts, with gingerbread trimming on the outside and delicious baked goods on the inside. But that’s not what really got my attention. It was the pies. Hannah is a genius. I like all varieties – peach, coconut, lemon meringue, apple, cherry, pumpkin, strawberry, rhubarb. I don’t even have a favorite. They’re all special.
The fruity insides were so succulent. That’s only half the story. The pastry was superb. Talk about light and flaky. Hannah’s pies melt in your mouth. I tried three varieties and could barely resist a fourth. Eating any more would have been rude. It was after the lunch hour rush and George and Hannah were able to sit with me for a while. I learned a little more about them. I was right. They are brother and sister. Apparently their family has a long and illustrious history of owning bakery shops. They’ll tell me more about it next time, they swear. I’ll have to be content for now.
October 8, 2002: George and Hannah came by today. They’ve just been out in the fields gathering in their latest crop. Strangely, I don’t even know where they’ve located their plot. Mushrooms can normally be hard to spot. You might have to turn over a fallen log or two. But theirs seem to be well-nigh invisible. I suppose that’s good. If I can’t see them, neither can the nuisance mushroom-pickers who keep sneaking back onto the farm, despite my best efforts.
Hannah brought the ingredients to cook a meal here. It was delicious. She says she wants me to feel comfortable eating her special recipes. After dinner, George started to talk some more about their family history. It seems that branches of their family just so happened to be in the right place at the right time going way back. There were hints of ancestors serving cake and crumpets to the likes of Shakespeare. This is too delightful to leave alone. I’ll ask more next time.
October 15, 2003: Hannah and George brought their traveling feast to my home again tonight. What an incredible evening. The two of them can trace their history back a thousand years to the Black Forest in Germany. Jumping ahead several generations, there was service with the courts of the French kings, Louis fourteenth through sixteenth. When the revolution came in the second half of the 1700s, and most of the nobility of France had their heads chopped off, thousands of servants, couriers and cooks were thrown out of work. To earn money to feed themselves, royalist chefs opened restaurants in Paris. Ever since, French cooking has been at the forefront of great cuisine. George and Hannah’s ancestors de-camped to England, which proved to be a wise move.
I listen to the two of them with rapt attention. They both get so caught up in what they are saying that it’s almost as if they were actually there. I can hardly wait to hear the next installment.
October 9, 2005: Apparently George and Hannah’s family wasn’t always on the right side of the law. They had more than their fair share of black sheep. After locating to England, there were long-ago great-great aunts and uncles that chopped people up and served the body parts in meat pies. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sweeney Todd apprenticed to some of these skeletons in the closet.
George had some extra insight into this matter. He said that sometimes the septic system can leach into the gene pool. With the passage of time and provided with some extra forbearance and forgiveness by the rest of society, offspring can land on their feet again if they strive hard.
November October 20, 2006: I was invited to dinner by my best friends again yesterday. The meal was outstanding. Dessert was ambrosia. George even opened the liqueur cabinet. Hot blueberry pie topped with vanilla ice cream followed by Columbian coffee and the sweetly-tart taste of Grand Marnier. Then Frangelica, Kahlua and Chambord, one tiny shot after another, accumulating to a dizzying but delirious crescendo. They danced over the palate with the taste of hazelnut, cocoa, oranges and black raspberries. Slipping into a pleasurable haze, I summoned the nerve to ask George and Hannah a rather personal question about their parents. How did they meet?
George told me their father had signed up for an art class in order to improve his skill at decorating wedding cakes. Much to his surprise and initial consternation, he found himself in a life drawing class. The nude model at the room’s center was a gorgeous young woman that he would eventually woo and make his wife. That was their mother. Hannah listened to this story with an amused look in her eye. At the conclusion, she turned to me and said, “Don’t you believe a word of it.” I don’t know what to think, nor do I really care. The evening crossed over into magical.
October 10, 2007: After giving thanks once again for Hannah’s cooking skills, I prevailed on the two of them to tell me some more about their relatives’ histories. Hannah volunteered some of the names that had gone along with the various establishments over the years. When the family first came to North America, they set up shop in Austin Texas. A la Mode at the Alamo was less than totally successful, since the ethnic population was largely Spanish rather than French. Then another branch of the family, locating next to a burlesque theatre in New York, chose the name Cupcakes and Muffins for their little operation. That drew some stares by passers-by.
October 15, 2008: I love this story. I know that I’m living vicariously through George and Hannah, but who wouldn’t? Back in the tie-dyed hippie days of free love in the 1960’s, George and Hannah’s grandparents owned a coffee shop in San Francisco. It was frequented by the likes of Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg. The phrase “flower power” was a later creation. In earlier times, it was Flour Power, based on the name of the neighborhood’s most successful cafe.
Still, I can’t get over the feeling that George and Hannah are intimately acquainted with the times they are describing. They both get far-away looks in their eyes and it’s as if I am no longer in the room with them. They positively glow then suddenly snap back into the present.
November 1, 2010: I’m going to ask them when they come over tonight. I can’t put this off any longer. It’s so incredible and amazing. I think I know their secret. Neither of them has aged at all over the past ten years. This isn’t just a matter of two exceptional people with good bone structures growing older gracefully. When you look at them closely, they really haven’t altered.
After scanning the key sections of Justin Smythe’s diary, George tossed it into his satchel. He’d deal with it later at a more convenient time, by burning it or running the pages through a shredder or making sure that it was deeply buried somewhere. He knew the routine by now.
In fact, he and Hannah had been dealing with this problem for centuries. Ever since the day their father died. Poppa had been killed in a freak logging accident. He was a woodsman and one of his arboreal victims, in a non-sentient but nevertheless effective gesture of payback, fell on him.
Soon after, George and Hannah returned to the little log cabin deep in the woods. What was most surprising was that much of the inventory was still there. The vicious elderly lady that had formerly owned the place may have been long dead, but many of the materials she used in her cooking were secure and well sealed. This is what launched them on their careers.
But it was the garden out back that was most astonishing. In profuse abundance was a type of mushroom they had never seen before. Bulbous, spongy and spore-filled, its properties were at first a mystery. After considerable experimentation, however, astonishing results came to light. For one thing, with care, this particular form of morel could change color, alternating from ebony to almost clear seemingly dependent on the mood of its gardener. Furthermore, once attached to a certain caregiver, it could disguise itself from everyone else.
Its edible properties varied greatly. Dried out, shaved and sprinkled lightly on flour, for example, it would put a sparkling gleam in the eye of anyone who ate it. In this form, George and Hannah found it most useful to serve to actors and actresses. Cooked and mixed with cream or broth in soup or stew, it radiated suffusing warmth that provided a heady feeling of well-being.
Eaten raw and in moderation on a day-to-day basis, it could prolong existence indefinitely and stop aging at whatever point in life the diner happened to be. That’s where George and Hannah were, locked in place at ages 22 and 20 respectively. Sautéed and served in a smothering heap on top of steak, it could lead to paralysis and death. Hannah knew exactly how much to serve and in what form to achieve the desired result. Justin didn’t stand a chance.
Justin was too close to knowing the truth. George could see it in his eyes. The diary confirmed it. He and Hannah could only disguise themselves so long. Their lack of aging was an impediment to staying in any one place. That’s why they kept on the move around the globe.
They could have semi-normal lives for ten to 15 years at the maximum. In each little block of time, they liked to enjoy themselves and play their own private jokes. They would even mix up their names, never straying too far from their roots, but sometimes having fun with the gender.
They liked Justin. But there was really no alternative. It was time, once again, for Hansel and Gretel to kill their supplier and move on.
Fable-telling with a lighter touch can be found in The Monkey, the Croc and the T-Rex.