A tale from The Squid and Teapot
As most will have gathered by now, Hopeless, Maine is not renowned for its good weather. For much of the year it can be challenging for residents to ascertain exactly which season they might be currently enjoying. Fog-bound, gale-swept winters drift into equally inclement springs, summers and falls, without missing a beat. Sometimes the fog has been known to relent and generously become no more than a semi-opaque sea-mist. While such interludes can never be called halcyon days, they are treasured. In fact, any weather pattern in which fog plays only a secondary role is a welcome distraction. So, when one morning the island woke up to a blanket of snow, the wonder and excitement of many of the islanders knew no bounds.
Being an island, lashed by waves and salt-laden air, the incidence of snow on Hopeless is rare. What makes this particular snowfall even more remarkable, however, is that occurred in mid-August.
Bartholomew Middlestreet stood upon the doorstep of The Squid and Teapot and scratched his head in amazement. The last time that it had snowed was on New Year’s Eve. That was unusual in itself, but its memory had lodged in Bartholomew’s mind for another reason. That had been the night of the bar-fight in The Squid, and he had watched a stranger to the island, the instigator of the brawl, walk out into the snow and not leave any trace of a footprint. Hopeless was an odd island, to be sure, he thought, but lately it had become downright peculiar.
The landlord’s definition of ‘peculiar’ might have been revised several degrees along the scale, had he been with Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, a few hours earlier. Although used to the various horrors who called the island home (if ‘home’ is not too cosy a term for the living nightmares within which most of them dwelt), Rhys particularly disliked Creepy Hollow. The place, in itself, was not awful. It was the possibility of running into the wraith of The Eggless Norseman, Lars Pedersen, that worried Rhys. As ghosts go, the old Viking was harmless enough, but his mad, glaring eyes and gaunt form, little more these days than fading tatters of protoplasm, gave Rhys bad dreams. However, his work had to be done, and every few weeks the residents of Creepy Hollow required his services.
The unseasonal fall of snow had surprised Rhys, but it provided a certain amount of welcome illumination. While used to wandering around in darkness, the Night-Soil Man was grateful that the extra light helped to speed him along.
Intent on getting his Creepy Hollow duties out of the way, Rhys failed to see the lone figure standing in the clearing until he was almost upon it. The thought occurred to him that several things about the tableau made little sense. Usually, his proximity to most other life-forms would cause a certain amount of gagging and nose-holding, but the person in front of him did neither; indeed, it was as if the Night-Soil Man was invisible. Stranger still was the fact that there were no footprints in the snow, other than his own.
Rhys stood perfectly still and watched the figure, which he assumed to be that of a man, standing with arms raised, beckoning skywards with his fingers, as if willing the snow to fall. Seconds, or maybe minutes passed – Rhys had no way of telling – then, with his arms still outstretched, the mysterious stranger began chanting and rocking gently to the rhythm of his own song. Occasionally he would stamp one foot upon the ground. Gradually his movements became more fluid and dance-like. With his back arched and knees bent, he began to turn, and as he turned, so the snowflakes swirled around him. Faster and faster he went until he was little more than a blur within the blizzard that raged around his spinning form. By now Rhys was crouched in the shelter of the trees, his hat pulled down low, and his jacket wrapped tightly around him, and barely able to accept the evidence of his eyes, which were growing heavy. He was becoming lost in the mesmeric thrall of the storm, which raged and howled like a pack of hungry wolves (although Rhys had no way of knowing this, never having seen or heard a wolf in his life). Human shapes and nameless creatures could be seen flickering within the churning tempest, capering and writhing around the dancer, who by now, was almost invisible. Then, as if switched off by some unseen hand, the blizzard abruptly died, and all was still. Nothing was left to be seen but an expanse of snow, unruffled except for the Night-Soil Man’s own footprints.
That night, in the bar of The Squid and Teapot, the talk was all about the freak snowstorm that had swept the island that morning. Not the slightest pile of slush or tiniest sliver of ice now remained, but that did nothing to ease the speculation, oiled as it was by copious pints of ‘Old Colonel’ and shots of the best spirits that the Gannicox Distillery could provide. The unseasonal weather had been blamed upon everything from the Kraken feeling out of sorts, to Les Demoiselles, the French Can-Can troupe, inadvertently doing some manner of rain dance, which had turned to snow.
“It’s a warning to us all. The lewd and sinful dancing that those French girls brought to the island will be our ruin,” mused Seth Washpool, adding, “or so Reverend Davies reckons.”
“There’s nothing wrong with them girls. That man thinks everything is a warning,” said Philomena Bucket impatiently, having little time for the clergy of any denomination.
“Well, whatever the cause, I can’t recall seeing anything like it before,” said Norbert Gannicox, “and never heard tell of such a thing, either.”
Bartholomew Middlestreet kept his own counsel. He had his own suspicions who, or what, might have been responsible.
“You must admit that strange things happen here all the while,” opined Linus Pinfathing. “Hopeless is a weird place on the best of days.”
Some of the others nodded sagely.
A small smile played upon Linus’ lips, as he could not help but add,
“And we certainly seem to be living in Trickster times.”
No one noticed Bartholomew’s glare at these words. He did not like, or trust, Linus.
“We certainly are,” he thought to himself . “We certainly are.”