There are few people brave, or foolish, enough to wander abroad on the island of Hopeless, Maine, after darkness has fallen. Having said this, Philomena Bucket, who is neither particularly brave nor foolish, has done so with impunity, on several occasions. This probably has something to do with the fact that both Drury, the skeletal dog, and Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, have taken it upon themselves to be her personal protectors. Of course, Philomena has no knowledge of Rhys’ presence, as he always makes a point of keeping out of sight and well upwind of the object of his affection. On the night of this tale, however, Philomena was tucked up in her bed, safe in The Squid and Teapot, while Rhys, accompanied by Drury, was busily servicing the earth-closets and outdoor privies of a grateful clientele.
A lone figure stood in the misty moonlight, looking out over the ocean. Had anyone on the island been watching, they would have instantly recognised the long flowing robe and equally long flowing beard of Doctor John Dee, the Elizabethan alchemist lately deposited upon Hopeless. Dee had become popular with many of the islanders, never slow raise a tankard or two, and relate a few treasonous, and decidedly racy, tales regarding the daily goings-on in the court of Good Queen Bess. The old alchemist judged that from this vantage point of being several hundred years in the future, his head was safe enough from the royal wrath.
Dee’s mind, that night, was dwelling on other things. Earlier in the evening Norbert Gannicox had been regaling him with an account of the time that St Anthony’s Fire, otherwise known as ergot poisoning, had caused mass-hallucinations on the island (as related in the tale ‘Baking Bad’). Norbert laughed heartily as he described one of his own hallucinations that day. It had been that of a strange beast with no body, just a lion’s head with five goat-like legs radiating from it. Strangest of all was that the creature moved by its legs rotating, resembling a large, hairy Catherine wheel.
“A creature like that would have been weird, even for Hopeless,” chuckled Norbert. “The strange thing was, though, later on I could have sworn that I saw Percy Painswick pulling its hair. Can you share an hallucination? Funnily enough, that was the day old Perce disappeared. I never saw him again after that.”
Dee said nothing, a sudden chill running down his spine. He immediately recognised Norbert’s description, and was horribly certain that the distiller had not witnessed an hallucination at all. Even the most ergot-raddled brain could not have invented such a monster. What he had seen was the demon, Buer. A few months before, with the help of his friend and colleague, Edward Kelley, Dee had conducted an experiment intending to summon Buer, following a set of instructions in a book entitled ‘Pseudomonarchia Daemonum: The False Monarchy of Demons’. This had been written by a friend of Kelley’s, Johann Weyer, a Dutch physician and self-styled demonologist. The experiment had been a failure, but Weyer’s description of Buer had haunted John Dee. Until now he believed that the Dutchman was mistaken, and doubted that such an odd looking entity could exist. Norbert’s account proved, beyond all reasonable doubt, that others had seen Buer, and that he was at large on the island. Despite his fears, Dee felt compelled to try and summon the demon once more. Despite his advanced years, he still had a keen mind and an excellent memory; he could easily remember the ceremony.
Dee had scratched a Sigillum Dei on a flat rock. This was a replica of the magical diagram he had inscribed on the floor of his study, as described in the tale ‘The Obsidian Cliff’. Standing at its centre, this was his only sanctuary, should the demon be tempted to attack. With great solemnity, and a slightly nervous tone, John Dee incanted the arcane words necessary to summon Buer. During the silence that followed, a cold sweat broke out on his forehead. For what felt like an age, nothing happened, then the air grew still. Even the roar of the waves seemed to be muted.
“Why do you disturb my rest, John Dee?” The voice was silky smooth and charming… and speaking in Latin.
“Master Buer, is that you? I cannot see you,” said Dee, who fortunately, was fluent in the tongue.
“Then answer me, why do you disturb my rest?” as the words were forming, a great golden shape began to materialise in the mist, terrible to behold.
In truth, John Dee had no idea why he had summoned the demon. Edward Kelley was a magician, and yearned for power, but Dee had no such desires. His driving force, in all things, was curiosity. This, however, was not a sufficient reason to call forth one such as Buer. He had to think quickly.
“Oh mighty Buer,” stammered Dee. “I am lost in a distant time and an unfamiliar land, and have no idea how to return to my home. As one who effortlessly strides through time and space, I beseech you, instruct me in the manner of how this might be done.”
This was totally untrue, of course. Dee, almost uniquely, had enjoyed his stay on Hopeless, and had no real wish to return to sixteenth century England, with its many terrors. However, he had to say something, and hoped that Buer was not given to mind-reading.
“That is easy, John Dee, but there is a price for this information.”
“Of course there is,” said Dee resignedly. “Do you want my soul?”
“What ever would I do with your soul?” asked Buer, with some surprise in his voice. “Of course I don’t want your soul. What I need from you is more solid and far simpler; just a key.”
“Just a key? Any old key, or one in particular?”
Dee could have sworn that Buer rolled his eyes I disbelief.
“One key in particular will do nicely,” said the demon, sarcastically. Then he added, “and by that I mean the key to the tunnel that brought you to this island. By the way, as far as I am concerned that will not only pay for the information you require, but will compensate me for being disturbed. You have three days. The clock is ticking, John Dee.”
With these words, Buer melted into the mist, and Doctor Dee realised that there was no going back. He had to get that key, wherever it had been hidden, or face the consequences, and he shuddered to think what Buer’s consequences might entail.
“Is it done?” asked Durosimi O’Stoat.
Baur regarded him for a second or two before replying.
“Do you doubt my ability to carry out such a simple task?” he asked, somewhat sardonically. “Why, the old fool actually came looking for me, chanting some mumbo-jumbo that was supposed summon me from the pit, I suppose. It was almost laughable, but worked in our favour. He will bring me the key, and I will bring it to you. Then he will be on his way and my part of our bargain is complete.”
“Good!” said O’Stoat, “Then you will have your reward, as I promised… The Bucket woman will be yours, body and soul.”
To be continued…