The grubby note pinned to the cottage door contained just five words:
‘Look at the Gydynaps – Randall.’
Joseph frowned. It was unlike Randall Middlestreet, the Night-Soil Man to leave messages, however brief. Wondering what it might mean, the Passamaquoddy trader, yawning and scratching, made his way to the front of the cabin to get a better view of the hills. At first he could see nothing strange, then he noticed it; a thin wisp of blue smoke was curling its way into the foggy air.
This was unusual. For Randall to have seen the fire, it must have been burning through the night – and the Gydynaps was not a place for camping. The hills were strange, even by the standards of Hopeless. Someone could be in trouble up there and Joseph, being the man he was, decided it was his duty to investigate.
As it happened, others had seen the smoke and had had similar thoughts. Bill Ebley and Solomon Gannicox were standing outside the Squid and Teapot when they spotted Joseph. Bill waved a greeting and the pair waited for their friend to catch up before going on.
Joseph was quietly relieved that the others were there. Any expedition on this island – especially into the hills – could be hazardous and there were few men he trusted more than Solomon and Bill.
The three walked in silence for much of the time, aware that their every move was being scrutinized. By and large the watchers were invisible, their presence felt rather than seen. Then there were the ever-present eyes, hovering in the misty morning skies. These, while somewhat disconcerting, were deemed to be harmless. They were a phenomena of Hopeless known to everyone yet rarely mentioned. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement throughout the island that the eyes in the sky were to be ignored, as if by acknowledging their presence it would somehow cause them to be something more than the passive observers that they apparently were.
At last the trio reached the summit of the hills without incident. The plume of smoke was thicker here. It reached up from behind a ridge, where, Joseph remembered, there was a small cave hidden in the folds of rock.
Warily they made their way towards the smoke.
Standing perfectly still and warming himself before a small fire, was a slight figure – a young man – dressed in what appeared to be a long, white nightshirt.
Joseph could hardly believe his eyes.
“Daniel… is that really you?”
“Joseph?” the young man was obviously surprised. “How can this be?”
Bill Ebley looked at Joseph.
“Is that Daniel Rooksmoor?” he asked, half whispering. “I thought he was taken by that bird thing.”
All of the island remembered the Hallowe’en party, when Daniel Rooksmoor had wandered up into the Gydynaps and been taken away by Pamola, the bird-demon.
Daniel looked at the three men with some wonder.
“I imagined you all long dead,” he said. “I have been the guest in the kingdom of Pamola for untold years. From that lofty place I have watched this earth and all in it, wither and die.”
Bill looked at Solomon and twiddled his index finger next to his right temple, the worldwide sign denoting that someone is not in full receipt of their senses.
The distiller gave a small smile and raised his eyebrows in agreement.
Daniel saw this mummery and became angry.
“Daniel,” said Joseph, gently, “You have been gone but a few months. You are back on Hopeless now. Oh, Daniel, it’s good to see you. I thought you were dead.”
The boy was not placated.
“You all mock me. I have seen things beyond your understanding. You must believe me. It will be people like you who will grow deaf and blind to the plight of the world, who will let the greed of a few destroy it. There will be cruelty and bloodshed that would cause you to quake. I have seen the future and it is bleak – bleaker than you can ever imagine.”
Solomon Gannicox was losing his patience with the boy’s rambling.
“Come back with us Daniel, it’s not safe up here.”
“No. Never. It must be the will of Pamola that I have been returned to this time and place. I will not budge until I learn why. Go now and leave me in peace.”
Joseph made his way towards the boy.
“Daniel, you’re not well. I’m begging you, come with us…”
He reached to put a reassuring hand on the boy’s shoulder and it was then that something happened that neither of the three islanders would ever speak of again, even among themselves.
Daniel Rooksmoor fell to dust before their eyes.