Regular readers of the ‘Vendetta’ will recall that some years ago we reported the discovery of an ancient burial site in the garden of Mr Jasper Fingle. At the time there was a certain amount of shock expressed in some quarters that the island had been host to settlers much earlier than previously suspected. For some of us, however, this came as no surprise at all. Jasper Fingle lives very near to the area of the island known as Creepy Hollow. It was given this name years ago, not long after the arrival of the Founding Families in the early nineteenth century – and with good reason.
The Legend of the Eggless Norseman of Creepy Hollow, sometimes called the Woeful Dane, has irrevocably intertwined itself with the history of one of our oldest families, the Chevins. Young Ophelia Chevin discovered that she had the dubious gift of ‘The Sight’ when she was only eight years old. Unsurprisingly her imaginary friends were more numerous and a good deal more useful than those of most children. While others enjoyed the insubstantial companionship of mute entities whose function was to be merely there to listen, or take the blame for various misdemeanours, Ophelia’s were kept fully occupied. They not only played games with her but helpfully did many of her chores and made sure that anyone who had been foolish enough to upset her were soon to regret their actions.
The most unusual of these companions was a large and generously bearded wraith who wandered abroad with a pronounced limp and a mad look in his glowing eyes. Although somewhat alarming to behold, he harmed no one but spent his haunting hours frantically searching for his stolen gull eggs. It seems that he had lived on the island centuries before and the details of his tragic demise were related to Ophelia by the ghost himself during his more lucid moments. It is a well-known fact, as any self-respecting psychic medium will tell you, that there are no language barriers in the afterlife. Even the English spirits can manage to communicate reasonably well with anyone, although generally they prefer to speak, and sometimes wail, extremely loudly and slowly in their own tongue, certain in the knowledge that they will be understood.
It was not until she reached adulthood that Ophelia recorded the ghostly account in her journal, now a treasured document still in the keeping of one of her many descendants. I am privileged to have been allowed to peruse this document and relate to you the strange tale of The Eggless Norseman of Creepy Hollow.
In those far off days the cliffs around the island were home to various colonies of sea birds. They would gather in their tens of thousands, squabbling, feeding, breeding – and most important of all, laying eggs. Like the inhabitants of St. Kilda in the Outer Hebrides, the early settlers became skilled in scaling the slippery cliff-faces, slick with algae and guano, to retrieve the precious eggs which had become, along with the occasional careless gull, the mainstay of their diet.
Old Lars Pedersen was lame and therefore had no skills as a rock climber or egg-thief. He was, however, an accomplished wood carver. He would barter his plates, bowls and spoons for furs, cloth and, more than anything else, gull eggs. The workmanship and art that went into these simple utensils was huge. His spoons, especially, were greatly prized. And rightly so, for the eggs for which he traded them had been hard won (and often hard boiled).
When, one morning, Lars awoke to discover that his stock of spoons and all of his eggs had completely disappeared he felt as puzzled as he was distressed. His home was well furnished, he had a fine bronze torque, a beautiful copper mirror and many valuable pieces of jewellery that he had hoarded since his seafaring days. To steal only eggs and spoons and nothing else made no sense. Ever practical, Lars shrugged off the intrusion and set himself the task of replacing supplies of both. After a day or two of dedicated carving and oiling his bartering skills with copious amounts of mead he soon replenished his empty shelves with freckled eggs of various hues. Just a few nights later these too disappeared. Those versed in Old Norse profanities may well have recognised a few of the choice comments he made about the incident. Yet another theft was the proverbial straw that broke the pack-mule’s back. He decided there and then to stay awake and catch the thief in the act. For three long nights he lay beneath his furs feigning sleep but there was no sign of the burglar. On the fourth night, just as he began to think that the thefts had stopped for good, he heard an ominous scraping and shuffling noise. At first he could see no sign of movement in the darkened room. Despite this, the scraping and shuffling carried on, occasionally accompanied by some high-pitched, excited chattering. Still no one was visible in the gloom.
“I am bewitched” he thought to himself uneasily.
Suddenly a pale shaft of moonlight shone through the smoke-hole of the hut, directly illuminating the strangest creature Lars had ever beheld. He described it as somewhat resembling one of the fish-egg pouches often seen washed up by the tide; the type sometimes called ‘Mermaid’s Purse’. This creature was larger, though.
“About the length of your hand,” he told Ophelia.
Several sets of tendrils extended from its body. Strangest of all was the fact that the creature was actually entwining some of these tendrils around four spoons and using them as stilts. And by the intricate runic carvings along the handle they were his own spoons, no less! As his eyes became more accustomed to the moonlight Lars spotted other shapes in the dimly-lit space. There must have been eight or ten of them, each wearing spoon-stilts and carrying more eggs in their tentacular grasp. Lars could not help but let out a little cry of surprise. As one, every creature’s eyes suddenly turned towards his prone body, and now they glowed horribly with a fierce green luminescence. He couldn’t move. It was as if their baleful and malevolent gaze had frozen him to the spot. He watched in terror as the weird band thieves scurried stiffly out of his hut, gibbering and squeaking. The wooden eating utensils tapped the ground with an ominous rhythm as they conducted their own version of an egg and spoon race.
It wasn’t until the last creature had disappeared into the night that the use returned to the Dane’s body. Although his limbs were able to move once more he was rooted to the floor, unable to remove the image of those terrible green eyes from his rapidly disintegrating mind.
Soon, all reason had drained from him. In the confused jumble that now filled his head all that made any sense was the memory of those eyes. They burned into his soul and took on the hue and shape of gull eggs. Pale and speckled, sometimes they would be a delicate blue, sometimes brown but eventually, always reverting to those dreadful lurid, luminous green orbs. Eggs and eyes became indistinguishable, portals to a ghastly quagmire that sucked him down ever further into a dark morass of madness.
“ My eggs” he croaked, trying to rise to his feet and failing miserably. His last actions were to reach out, clutching at thin air in a vain attempt to regain his lost eggs.
He was found at daylight lying cold and dead on the floor of his hut, a look of terror on his face and his eyes wide and staring at something that lurked beyond human vision.
For almost eight hundred long years his troubled phantom has haunted the place that has since become known as Creepy Hollow. He has witnessed the coming of the mysterious fog that seems to permanently surround the island. As the fog rolled in so the sea bird colonies deserted the rocks forever and with their passing the little Danish settlement disappeared, unable to sustain itself without their bounty.
Is it the body of Lars that Jasper Fingle discovered? We’ll probably never know. What we do know, however, is that those strange, misshapen thieves took a liking to spoons. They were a vast improvement on the twigs and bits of driftwood they had previously utilised. With these, they were able to climb and hunt much more efficiently.
Should you be on the island and in the vicinity of Creepy Hollow it would be fruitless to go looking for the Woeful Dane. These days he has become less substantial, and as his shade gradually fades so does his madness. If anyone should stumble on the wraith unexpectedly he would make a feeble attempt at the wild-eyed lunacy they might expect but it would be obvìous that his heart – if he had one – was just not in it. I have it on excellent authority that occasionally the ladies of the Mild Hunt have been seen to call by and whip him up a protoplasmic three-egg omelette but their spaniels invariably overdo the yapping and begging, and this, along with the pungent nether-winds of their famously flatulent mules, quite frankly, spoils the meal entirely for him. I don’t believe he’ll be seen at all before long. But don’t concern yourselves. There are more than enough ghosts and night-walkers on the island to furnish our nightmares forever.
Art by Tom Brown