There are few who can claim to have been kidnapped by a dead relative, albeit one aided and abetted by Spoonwalkers but Julian Thrupp had achieved just that. Even on the island of Hopelesss, Maine, this is a comparatively rare occurrence and of those selected for the privilege, none had yet returned. Fortunately, Julian was totally unaware of this nugget of information as he sat huddled in the corner of a dark cavern. Ignorance is indeed bliss, for had Julian realised that the very caves in which he was sitting were infested by all sorts of ghouls, ghosts and vampires, the abject terror he was now experiencing may have escalated sufficiently to reduce his already fragile mind to something possessing all of the mental agility of a semolina pudding. Luckily for Julian it was still daylight outside and Night-Stalkers are not called that because of their propensity for wandering around and enjoying the sunshine. Even a ghoul has to rest occasionally.
Julian had been dragged to the caverns by a horde of tiny men wearing metallic boots; at least, that is what he believed. To begin with he had been temporarily blinded by the flash that occurred when he reached for the wraith of his cousin, Tobias. The rest was something of a whirlwind adventure, and now he appreciated how a spider feels, being whisked up into a Hoover Company vacuum cleaner, a trick that Mrs Bellpitch, his arachnophobic housekeeper, was wonderfully adept at performing.
Once his sight had been restored Julian was only able to hear his captors; he had made a point of squeezing his eyes tightly shut, for fear of what he might see. This probably saved his sanity, as a malevolent glance from even a single Spoonwalker can incite madness.
Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs squatted on his haunches and examined the ground carefully for signs. He had no idea what manner of signs he was supposed to be seeing but it seemed to satisfy his six companions. It annoyed him slightly that there was a general assumption that, being a full-blood Passamaquoddy Indian, he would have an instinctive ability to follow the faintest of tracks over rocky terrain. He had been a trader for all of his adult life and had little knowledge of, or interest in, a skill that would pay few dividends when haggling with the proprietors of the various Speakeasies that he supplied. Today, however, that did not matter. He was content to play the role of the Noble Savage, bring honour to his people and hopefully impress the rest of the search party, especially Betty Butterow.
He suddenly remembered something that he had seen in a Tom Mix motion picture, while once visiting The Strand Theatre in Portland. To the accompaniment of dramatic organ music, an Indian tracker – or at least the actor playing him – had pressed his ear to the ground and was apparently able to ascertain all sorts of vital information from whatever it was that he heard. It was worth a try. Getting down on all-fours, Joseph planted his ear to the cold rock. There was absolutely nothing to hear. There was, however, a teaspoon lying close by, hiding in a small cluster of diseased-looking grass and not visible to the others. Joseph nonchalantly slid his hand over the spoon, as if to steady himself. This was a clue worth following up.
“They went that way, “ he said, pointing his finger to a spot vaguely south of them.
Everyone looked at the direction in which he pointed and while they were distracted he quietly slipped the spoon into the buckskin bag slung over his shoulder.
There was a general murmur of appreciation and marvelling at his skills as a tracker. Joseph, who was usually as honest a man as you might wish to find, blushed a little but consoled himself with the knowledge that this small deception pleased his companions immensely; far more than if he had just said “Ooh look, I’ve found a spoon!” All he needed to do now was to keep his eyes open. There were bound to be more.
He was not wrong. He surreptitiously gathered up each discarded teaspoon along the way and continued the deception that he was following the faintest of tracks. All went well until they reached the crossroads. Joseph scanned the ground but it was worryingly cutlery-free. He had to admit defeat.
“The trail grows cold here,” he announced. “I think maybe that this is where the Spoonwalkers split up. I can’t tell which party took Julian.”
After some hurried deliberations it was decided that they should split into three groups. Joseph and Betty would take the east, towards the sea and where Joseph’s canoe was moored; Ebley and Dorian the south, where the caverns lay, while Isaac and Sebastian would go west, towards the far shore. The Reverend Crackstone, almost seventy and not as agile as the others, would return to the Squid on the offchance that Julian had found his way back unaided.
Joseph and Betty stood on the rocks by the little sheltered cove where the trader had left his canoe. Human logic would play no part in deducing where the Spoonwalkers might have left the Englishman, so for want of a better plan they agreed to hunt for Julian among the network of inlets and shallows that marked the eastern shore. This was as good a place as any to begin.
Joseph was feeling pangs of guilt for deceiving the girl he had grown to love.
“I need to confess something that I have been concealing from you…”
“I could say the same” Betty smiled. “There is something you need to know about me – but you first.”
Sheepishly the Indian reached into the buckskin bag and pulled out a handful of teaspoons.
“I can’t track,” he admitted. “I just followed a trail of discarded spoons.”
Betty laughed. Joseph had the distinct impression that she already knew.
“Now my turn. Stay where you are, say nothing and watch,” she said and unfurled something resembling a grey rug that had been stowed in her knapsack, then started to strip off her clothes.
The two had secretly been lovers for some months and Betty had long stopped being shy in front of him but this was a new departure. Joseph looked around nervously, hoping no one was there to see.
When she was completely naked and her clothes safely stowed in the canoe, Betty draped the rug over her shoulders and stepped daintily over the rocks and into the sea. She shuddered as the icy cold water lashed around her legs.
Joseph found it disconcerting as he watched her descend deeper into the angry water. His instinct was to pull her back from this foolishness but trusting what she said he did as she had asked.
Betty had disappeared beneath the waves for longer than he liked. Deciding something had gone very wrong the Indian cursed himself for not having acted earlier and resolved to go in after her. He had only waded into the water for a few feet, however, when the surface was broken by a harbor seal. Joseph had seen this creature before on several occasions. It had often swum with his canoe during his trips to and from the island. The seal nuzzled his legs, then swam towards the canoe, obviously inviting him to follow. Then the truth dawned upon him and took his breath away. Joseph knew of shape-shifters but had not knowingly met one, that is until now. He had never suspected that Betty was a seal-woman and his secret guardian. Joseph knelt in the icy water and wrapped his arms around the seal’s strong body, buried his face in her fur and breathed in her musky, salty tang. For reasons he could not explain tears welled in his eyes. So many things suddenly now made sense.
Bill Ebley picked up a discarded teaspoon and his heart dropped. He and Dorian Bowbridge were standing in the yawning gash that marked the entrance to the caverns. They peered into the dark depths with some trepidation. Ebley recalled Colonel Ruscombe-Green’s experience when they first landed on the island. He had been dragged into the caverns by a ghoul and only escaped with his life when Elmer Bussage, the Night Soil Man at the time, arrived waving a flaming brand, keeping the Night-Stalkers at bay. Ebley related the events to Bowbridge, who tipped back his pith helmet thoughtfully.
“We could take some combustible material into the caves with us,” he suggested, “but do we have the means to light it?”
Ebley fumbled in his jacket pocket and produced a box of matches.
“As long as we find Mr Thrupp while it’s still daylight we should be fine. Just in case though, I’ve still got a few of the lucifers left that Joseph brought over.” ‘Lucifer’ was soldier slang for a match and still very much a part of Ebley’s vocabulary.
“Splendid- and I have an electric torch in my knapsack which we can use to find our way,” declared Bowbridge, then added, “but what will we use as fuel for the flames?”
Ebley looked about him. All was barren rock as far as the eye could see.
“We’ll have to make the best of what we’ve got. I hope you packed some spare clothing.”
Bowbridge looked aghast at the thought of them burning their clothing.
“Let’s get this over with,” he said, slipping his shotgun from his shoulder. With that the two men made their way into the dark heart of the caverns.
The Lypiatts had drawn a total blank. There had been no sign of Julian Thrupp on the western shore and if he was somewhere out on the ocean they had no way of getting to him. The sea-fog was rolling inland and getting thicker by the minute. Sebastian decided that their best course of action would be to return to the crossroads and wait for the others.
They had been there for little more than fifteen minutes before Joseph and Betty arrived. They too had been defeated by the sea fog.
Sebastian looked at Joseph. The man looked soaked to the skin, as if he had fallen out of his canoe.
“Did you find any more spoons along the way?” He asked
“No. You?” Joseph was not one to waste words.
Sebastian shook his head.
“It looks as though they’ve taken him to the caverns.”
The Indian’s face was grim, but he said nothing.
Suddenly Betty blurted out,
“Does anyone else think it’s getting dark?”
The four of them cast their eyes towards the skies.
“What’s the date today?” asked Joseph uneasily.
Betty knew that tone to his voice and it
“June the twenty-ninth. Why?”
“It’s been in all of the papers on the mainland. Today there will be a total eclipse of the sun. For a while there will be absolute darkness” replied Joseph, “which means…”
The four looked at each other. It was Isaac who broke the silence.
“Even in the deepest caverns the Night-Stalkers will wake; they will know that there is no sunlight. It’s happened before… Bill and Mr Bowbridge are in a lot of trouble!”
“So are we,” said Betty. Just a few yards away, some unseen creature effortlessly shifted the large rock that concealed its lair. The friends stood aghast as three long and many-suckered tentacles slithered ominously towards them in the dying light…
To be continued…
Art by Tom Brown