The Distiller

Though not rich in natural resources, Hopeless has always scraped by on the bounty that the sea delivers, whether it is the occasional whale carcass or the flotsam washed up from the frequent shipwrecks.

Ebenezer Gannicox was well known as a beachcomber (or, more correctly on Hopeless, a rockcomber) so when he suddenly went missing from home no one really worried too much. He had done this before on several occasions, embarking upon what he described as a foraging mission. Ebenezer was a wiry little man and a distiller of some distinction who relied upon the sea to provide some of the raw materials necessary for his trade. The casks of malted barley, blackstrap molasses and other such luxuries carefully stored in his sheds attested to his success as a forager. It has also been suggested that he was possibly adept as a wrecker too, but this has never been mentioned in polite and civilized company (though it does get talked about quite frequently in the bar-room of ‘The Crow’)

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Hopeless has never been unduly troubled by the rule of law, especially those laws which seem, to many, totally irrelevant to the smooth running of society. After all, when the overriding priorities of your daily life are avoiding being eaten, avoiding being driven insane and avoiding having your cutlery stolen, all else fades into insignificance. So whether the offence is deliberately luring ships onto the rocks, or the manufacture of moonshine, poitin or pocheen (call it what you will), no one worries too much. To be fair, the amount of time and effort required to do either of these things will put most people off. They are far too preoccupied with the straightforward business of avoiding being eaten, avoiding being driven insane and avoiding having their cutlery stolen.

While wrecking is generally approved of as a necessary resource, there are inevitably naysayers who will list reasons why the distillation and consumption of moonshine should be banned. Some will invoke law, others religion. A few will offer the excuse that it may cause blindness but this only ever happens when the equipment used has been contaminated, or the methanol has not been removed from the brew, or you put a stick in the cup when you’re drinking it. (It seems that if you want someone to stop doing something you don’t approve of, tell them that they will go blind. This is a strategy famously employed by priests and headmasters for generations.)

 

After six months had gone by questions began to be asked as to Ebenezer’s whereabouts. His son, Norbert, scoured the coastline but there was no sign of him anywhere. It was as though he had vanished off the face of the earth, which was not an unknown occurrence on this most perilous of islands. The general consensus, however, was that Ebenezer was too wily a character to put himself in danger.  But when more months passed and the search had to be abandoned, Norbert and his mother resigned themselves to the fact that the old man had foraged one time too many.

Over the years Ebenezer had stockpiled an impressive supply of moonshine. It was stored in casks of all sizes, courtesy of the aforementioned shipwrecks. There were pins, firkins, kilderkins, hogsheads, butts and tuns, each containing gallon upon gallon of  the Gannicox Special Distillation, as it was called. This was fortunate, as Norbert was reluctant to take on his father’s role and become the island’s chief distiller. Instead he decided to become a distributor.

For the next five years he made his way diligently through Ebenezer’s stockpile. He delivered it in jugs, in bottles or sometimes in a firkin strapped onto his back. Each container bore the legend ‘Gannicox Special Distillation. 80% alcohol by volume. Keep out of the reach of children and Spoonwalkers’

Eventually, he came to the last cask – a huge two-hundred and forty gallon tun which sat in the darkest corner of the shed. Norbert estimated that while this would keep his customers happy for the rest of the year, the time had come for him to learn the distiller’s art if he wanted to remain in work.

For the next few weeks things went well. Norbert became adept at distilling and wondered why he had shied away from it for so long. At the same time he drew moonshine from the tun to fulfil his customers’ needs until one day the unthinkable happened; when he turned on the tap no liquor came out. No end of kicking and shaking would move the cask, so there was obviously still plenty of liquid inside. The only explanation was that something was causing a blockage. Norbert prayed that it was not a rat.

Deciding that the only way forward was to remove the top of the cask, he armed himself with a lighted candle, a crowbar and a step-ladder. To his surprise, however, it had already been loosened. The chances of the blockage being a rat seemed greater than ever. Norbert steeled himself, prised up the lid and peeped inside.

Nothing could have prepared him for the sight that greeted him. Old Ebenezer’s face peered up through the clear well of alcohol which had preserved  him perfectly. He looked happy enough, under the circumstances, but his eyes glowed with a greenish luminescence.  His big toe had become firmly wedged in bung hole, serving to stop the flow through the tap. Then Norbert noticed presence of spoons. A shudder passed through him. He could make out several lying on the floor of the cask.

Thinking things through, it seemed obvious to Norbert  that Ebenezer had stumbled upon a quantity of spoonwalkers nesting in the dark corner behind the casks. Everything pointed to it. They had probably been helping themselves to the moonshine for years. It was well known that to have eye contact with spoonwalkers for any length of time would invoke madness, and the glow in the old man’s eyes said as much. Had he climbed into the cask of his own volition or had they somehow managed to push him in? Norbert shuddered again and hastily replaced the lid.

 

Family loyalty prevailed over business interests and Norbert decided not to sell any more of the moonshine from the cask which had preserved his father so well. It occurred to him that it would be a fitting tribute to the old man if things were left pretty much as they were and the cask, complete with alcohol and Ebenezer, be ceremoniously buried on the cliff top, overlooking the coast where he did so much of his foraging. Unfortunately, that was not to be quite the way things turned out. When rolling it to the chosen spot the cask hit a small rock and bounced out of control, making its way over the cliff and into the sea. The last report of its progress had it  bobbing away on the Atlantic swell to a destination unknown. When it eventually made landfall someone, somewhere had an extremely nasty surprise.

Art by Tom Brown

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