The Legend of Stern Ericsson
By Graeme Talboys
Ericsson’s field is given to grass now, sour and wiry. Even the passing geese refuse to stop off there on their journeys to wilder climes. Nothing but the thin, cold wind plays there, and its game is spiteful.
Few, now, know who Ericsson was. Some even doubt he existed at all. But he did. He dug the soil of that field in a daily battle, breaking the sod as it slowly broke his back. For many years he had risen daily to the task with the rising of the sun and worked until the sun was gone from the sky. He grew vegetables there in the strange soils on the haunted hill.
It left little space in his head for ought but the small compass of earth in all its forms and moods. Letters meant nothing to him yet he could read the history of the world in that patch of soil. Many say it drove him mad. Once placid, his eyes had, in latter years, begun to glow with dull and obsessive fire.
With gothic inevitability, it was the night of a full moon that others noticed his eyes had taken a different shine; the same night that he was first heard to mutter: “They are here. The night potatoes are here.”
Some put it down to drink which he consumed with a destructive steadiness. Others simply pointed to the fact that no matter how much he consumed, his walk was ever steady and his speech never slurred. And those who put it down to the strong ale soon abandoned the idea as he was heard muttering it over and over at all hours of the day long after he had stopped appearing in the tavern of an evening. And he had taken to carrying his large, sturdy fork wherever he went – a fearsome tool that had broken many acres and lifted many a vegetable.
In the end it was thought his long years of toil had broken his mind before it had broken his back. Until, that is, a child who was out after dark when he should have been abed and asleep came screaming into his parents’ kitchen with tales of angry potatoes, eyes aglow, scuttering along Ericsson’s field.
Roused, the village men turned out in force. Alas, too late. What heroic action had been fought, they could not tell other than by surmise. All they saw as they approached the field was Stern Ericsson silhouetted against the rising moon, laying about his person with his dread fork as he was assailed by the vengeful tribe of root vegetables, their eerie pale eyes aglow with vengeance for generations of their brethren.
By the time the villagers had reached the spot, the warrior horde of perennial nightshades had gone. As for Stern Ericsson, prone on the ground he had tilled for decades, it was a sight they would never forget – the horror and despair in his sightless eyes; his arms and legs planted in the ground, earth banked up around his corpse.
The winter that followed was hard on everyone. Ericsson’s harvest had upped and run and there was little appetite for potatoes that year. And for many years after. Even now they are an imported delicacy, a luxury only to be found in shipwrecks.
No one knows what made them turn, nor why they turned on Ericsson, but there his field now lies, the cold wind knifing its way through the rough grasses. And if you dare to venture along the lane at night, just as a moon is rising, you’ll see a mound in silhouette, the final resting place of Stern Ericsson.
From Lou Lou Pulford
“Where d’you want me t’put ‘em Ma’am?”
Perhaps there had been a misunderstanding. Another one. I had asked for vegetables. I had asked this very clearly and slowly, stretching my mouth around each syllable after the fashion of all well bred English women travelling abroad. Again it seemed my earnest attempts at meaningful communication had fallen foul of the islanders’ intellect. I do not mean to say that the locals here are backward in any way, simply that years of isolation for any community will lead eventually to the evolution of a very particular strain of intelligence… and it was the brick wall of this esoteric wit that my own frazzled faculties have been thrown up against since my arrival three days ago.
It was only a month or two ago that my dear friend Nimue Brown sat in my little soup kitchen in Lancaster nodding and smiling and making encouraging noises at my, obviously foolish, suggestion of a holiday to the island of Hopeless, Maine. Being a witch in my country is never easy, as women are not permitted to practice magic. I manage to hide my identity by running a little soup kitchen for the street orphans of Lancaster but it is a terrible strain and so when I heard about the plight of the poor orphans of Hopeless I decided to hitch my soup cauldron to the back of my broomstick and see if I could lend a culinary hand – nothing makes one forget the misery and futility of a poverty stricken life like a hearty bowl of home cooked soup.
It was now midnight (ish) on the third day since my arrival and, having spent a good amount of energy explaining why ‘bottom of the garden stew’ is not a nutritious diet for a growing child and the last of my good will reserves arguing that ‘just because it came out of the sea does not mean it can be called sea food’, I was now faced with a man bringing me armfuls of wriggling, root-flailing abominations insisting that these were potatoes.
‘Night Potatoes, Ma’am’ he sounded both exhausted and inexplicably pleased with himself.
‘Oh…but they are…um…moving?’ I thought I had made it quite clear that vegetables should on no account move of their own volition – much less glare at the cook with glowing eyes!
My benefactor leaned in conspiratorially ‘ better than them Gnii Ma’am… and the Spoon Walkers… and the Post Meridian Cucumber… and them After Eight Carrots..’
It was true; ever since the soup kitchen had opened its doors I had been inundated with a dauntless stream of locals proffering their contributions to the pot (along with various blessings, charms, curses, death threats…)
I sighed, better perhaps to humour this gentleman and his Night Potatoes than risk him return with some more frightful offering. ‘Very well, thankyou, thankyou so much I’m sure I shall find…something to do with them.’ I smiled gratefully and closed the door, leaving myself distressingly alone with a kitchen full of sinister spuds, who were now congregated around the stove, blinking menacingly at me with probable murderous intent. I rolled up my sleeves, picked up a rolling pin in one hand and a meat cleaver in the other and thought fondly of the onions of home, once again it was going to be a long Hopeless night but I was determined that at the end of all the screaming and the torment, all the carnage and the blood, there would be soup.