Tag Archives: Drury

A Busy Day

By Martin Pearson

Drury was not in the best of moods. He considered himself to be neglected, deserted and generally abandoned. A small confluence of circumstances had apparently conspired to leave the skeletal hound feeling suddenly alone, and deprived of the company of his two best friends, Rhys Cranham and Philomena Bucket. As faithful companion to Rhys, the Night-Soil Man, he had spent many a happy hour wandering over the island of Hopeless, while Rhys serviced the outside privies, cesspools and, occasionally, earth closets of its inhabitants.  This week, however, Rhys had been too unwell to perform his duties. Struck down by influenza, the Night-Soil Man had taken to his bed in an effort to shake off the malaise. His illness had unfortunately coincided with Les Demoiselles dancing troupe moving into larger premises. While their move did not directly affect Rhys, Philomena felt it to be incumbent upon her to help both parties, as well as fulfilling her duties at The Squid and Teapot. In one stroke, therefore, Drury was deprived of both of his friends and main sources of entertainment.

Drury had not always been so dependent on others for company. For more years than anyone could remember he had been a presence on the island, minding his own business and invariably poking his bony nose into other people’s. True, he had frequently found companionship with several generations of Night-Soil Men, but he had formed a special bond with Rhys and, more recently, Philomena.

Doc Willoughby had refused to go within twenty yards of the House at Poo Corner, which surprised no one. Philomena was thankful, convinced that a visit from the Doc usually had the effect of prolonging an illness. She, on the other hand, had no such inhibitions. The peg adorning her nose was barely sufficient for the intended task, but it at least enabled her to bring Rhys the pots of soup, plates of starry-grabby pie and flasks of Gannicox Distillery’s finest spirit, that she considered essential for the completion of a full recovery.  

“I wonder if I could go through married life wearing a peg on me nose?” she thought, idly remembering how close she had come to marrying Rhys. That was in the days, not so long ago, when it seemed as though the Night-Soil Man would give up his job for her. He would have done so, too, had his apprentice, Naboth Scarhill, not met an untimely end. 

“Well, enough of this daydreaming,” said Philomena, aloud. “Dwelling on the past will achieve nothing.”

 Drury watched forlornly as she pocketed the peg and bustled away, back to the inn.

With the absence of anything better to do, Drury resorted, that afternoon, to his old habits of removing washing from lines and terrorising the occasional spoonwalker. Usually these activities would leave him feeling fulfilled. Today, however, they held no pleasure for him at all. He wandered listlessly over to the establishment known for years as Madame Evadne’s, lately renamed the School of Dance, in the hope that Philomena would be there. Several of the Washwell brothers were shifting furniture in through the big front door, with Mirielle D’Illay barking orders at them in French and English, but there was no sign of Philomena. Nor was she in The Squid and Teapot. Drury was puzzled.

It must be remembered that, even allowing for the fact that he may appear to be nothing more than a collection of bones, Drury is no ordinary dog; he has been around for a very long time. So when Philomena failed to appear by nightfall, he knew that something was amiss. Had Rhys Cranham been in any fit state to search for Philomena, Drury would have tugged at his jacket, in the best Rin Tin Tin style, and made him understand that something was wrong. As it was, Rhys was huddled under a pile of blankets, running a temperature and feeling extremely sorry for himself.

It had been Philomena’s habit to wander into the Gydynap Hills whenever she felt the need to clear her head. The extra workload of helping Les Demoiselles to move into new premises, worrying about Rhys and wondering how to organise Granny Bucket’s forthcoming deathday party, was beginning to take its toll. Despite being horribly busy, she just had to get away for an hour or two. More often than not, Drury would appear from nowhere and accompany her. It was ironic that he had decided to feel particularly unloved that day, and chosen to wreck washing lines on the other side of the island, just when she needed him most. Unaware of this, and deciding that her old friend must have been nobly watching over Rhys, she set off alone.

Night falls quickly on Hopeless at the best of times. In the winter it slips in like a thief, and steals away the daylight before you realise what has happened. Almost uniquely among the islanders, being out in the dark had never particularly bothered Philomena, especially since learning that powerful witch-blood flowed in her veins. In the past this, and the fact that Rhys had been secretly keeping an eye on her, had kept the less pleasant denizens of Hopeless at bay. Tonight, however, was different. Rhys was fitfully sleeping in his sick-bed and, because of her preoccupation with those other things, Philomena’s defences were down. That is why she did not sense the presence of the figure following her. At least, not until it was too late.

 Drury sniffed the air. Although he had just a gap where a dog’s nose would normally be, he was as adept as a bloodhound when it came to following a trail. That Philomena had gone to the Gydynaps was no surprise, but she might have taken any one of a dozen different footpaths. To Drury, however, her scent was as clear as if etched in luminous paint upon the grass. With the gap in his ribcage, where his heart used to be, brimming with hope, he raced through the night, confident of tracking down his friend. Then he came to an abrupt halt. The trail had stopped at an outcrop of rocks. Drury clawed frantically at the ground. There was no trace of Philomena. She had apparently disappeared into thin air.

To be continued…

His Late Master’s Voice

Memory of a hand, swollen about the fingers. A hand that offered food, that patted. 

The familiar smell of a body that meant home. Belonging. Comfort.

The way they both changed. He knows, and he doesn’t know because Drury thinks about things in his own way. Part of him is still a mud rolling puppy. All of him is still the dog he used to be. Sometimes he forgets about his bones. He recalls bodies as though they were still here, as though nothing has changed.

But also the wind whistles between his ribs sometimes and he knows this is not how it used to be. 

A machine that does not smell of person. A voice that does not belong in a machine. Whispery and distant, caught in wax – not that Drury understands the process. A voice that would make his heart hurt, if he still had one of those. He doesn’t know where it went.

When I was a little child

I went into the sea

Down I went

And down I went

One, two three

And all the hungry fishes

Came to look at me

And ate me up

And ate me up

One, two, three.

Now I’m in the water

Calling, follow me

Tender little girls and boys

One, two, three.

It’s just a nursery rhyme. Something said to amuse babies as they fall asleep. There’s nothing substantial here. Just the remains of a dog, listening with total adoration to the uneasy whispering of his late master’s voice.

The Unhappy Medium

Drury, the skeletal hound, was curled up contentedly on an old blanket in the corner of the Night-Soil Man’s cottage, affectionately known to all as ‘The House at Poo Corner’.

As far as Drury was concerned, all was right with the world.  To all intents and purposes Philomena Bucket had stopped wasting her time worrying about being a powerful witch, or getting married, and was once more ensconced behind the bar of The Squid and Teapot. Even better, Rhys Cranham was back in his rightful place, servicing the cess-pits and outdoor privies of the islanders of Hopeless Maine. All thoughts of marriage appeared to have left them both, at least for the time being. The status quo had been restored to Drury’s satisfaction.

Rhys looked down fondly at the bony old hound. It would soon be time to drag on his boots, strap on the lidded bucket and once more venture out into the darkness. Doubtless, Drury would accompany him, as he did on most nights. Rhys could not help wondering how things would have changed, had his and Philomena’s wedding plans come to fruition. The role of Night-Soil Man had taken up half of his life, first as apprentice to Shenandoah Nailsworthy, then, after Shenandoah’s death, as Night-Soil Man in his own right. Would he have coped with married life? He had no idea; it might have been a disaster. After leaving the Pallid Rock Orphanage, the night soil business was all that he had ever known. It was probably best not to dwell on the question. Happily, Philomena was still a good friend, leaving a couple of bottles of Old Colonel and a wedge of starry-grabby pie on his doorstep every evening.

Despite the all-pervading misery that seemed to seep into every nook and cranny of the island, The Squid and Teapot generally managed to maintain its reputation for good cheer. A visitor could always expect a warm welcome and, more often as not, entertainment, of a sort. Tonight the venerable Bell-Edison phonograph, which always added a frisson of excitement to proceedings, had been taken out to provide the music for Les Demoiselles de Hopeless, Maine, the troupe of Moulin Rouge dancers who had been shipwrecked on the island a year or so earlier. To the strains of Offenbach’s Infernal Galop (or ‘The Can-Can’ to most of us) the aforementioned young ladies performed their ever-popular routine to an appreciative audience. By a strange coincidence, whenever Les Demoiselles performed in the inn, some of those who rarely patronised the establishment found themselves with a pressing need to pay it a visit.

“Reverend Davies, we don’t often see you in here,” said Bartholomew Middlestreet, with no surprise in his voice whatsoever.

“Quite so,” said the Reverend importantly. “I’ve come to see Miss Bucket, if that is convenient.”

He failed to mention that he had already seen Philomena; she had been walking in the opposite direction.

“Sorry Reverend, she’s out at the moment and won’t be back for a while. She said she needed an hour or so to herself.”

“That’s a shame,” replied Davies unconvincingly. “I can’t wait an hour, but as long as I’m here I may as well have a small drink and watch the… er… cabaret.”

Philomena walked purposefully towards the Gydynap Hills. She was troubled and needed to be far away from other people for a while. Despite the hazards of venturing out into the night on Hopeless, Philomena never felt herself to be in danger. It seemed that the ghost of Granny Bucket was right – or maybe she was just lucky.

Granny, and Philomena’s friend, Doctor John Dee, had both impressed upon her that she possessed great magical ability. Unfortunately, Granny was no longer haunting her and John Dee had returned to Elizabethan England. This was bad enough, but to make things worse, her marriage to Rhys Cranham had been called off, following the violent death of his apprentice, Naboth Scarhill. Philomena felt horribly alone in the world and this feeling that her magic was growing more powerful by the day was not helping. She had never been comfortable having the dubious gift of ‘The Sight’, but now it was as if she had been given an even more burdensome gift, like that of some great wild animal, which she had no idea how to tame. If only Granny was here to help. Philomena sat down on the grass and wept in the misty darkness.

“Are you okay?”

Philomena had not heard the young woman approach.

“Oh, yes, I’m fine. Just being silly,” said Philomena, wiping her eyes.

“Do you want to talk about it? I can sit with you for a while. I’m Marigold. Marigold Burleigh.”

“Ah. You’ll be the nurse I heard tell of. Sit, by all means, but I don’t need to talk, honestly” replied Philomena.

She had no idea why she was being so cautious, but somewhere, deep inside Philomena, alarm bells were ringing.

Trickster could feel subtle changes happening to the meat-suit already. That was a pity. He was enjoying being female and they usually lasted longer than this. The other one, the young man Linus, had given him months of wear. On reflection, Linus had resisted and done his best to get rid of Trickster. He had rarely been sober; that probably had some bearing on things. Anyway, all that was in the past, and this girl was not going to hold together for very much longer; he needed someone new to possess.

“That’s fine,” said Marigold, sweetly, “but I’d quite like us to be friends. How about you and I go for a quiet walk in the moonlight? I’m sure we’ll be safe enough if we’re careful.”

She offered the crook of her arm to Philomena, who took it warily.

“Gotcha!” thought Trickster

To be continued…

The Last Enchantment

The dusty attics of The Squid and Teapot have long been used as a repository for anything salvaged and not immediately required by the islanders of Hopeless, Maine. Some things have been there for longer than anyone can remember. Until fairly recently the old sea-chest, squatting unobtrusively in a corner, had been regarded as a near useless relic, having been sealed for years and its stout lock stubbornly refusing to yield to even the most ardent attempts to open it. To all outward appearances the chest was unremarkable enough, apparently made of dark hardwood and bound with brass. This view, however, changed when Norbert Gannicox discovered an old tin box that had once belonged to his grandfather, Solomon. In the box was the chest’s missing key, along with a cryptic note asking for it to be kept in the distillery, safely away from The Squid and Teapot, and never to be used again. Human nature being what it is, Norbert and his friend, Bartholomew Middlestreet, the landlord of the inn, could not resist raising the lid, and only then was its shocking secret revealed.  Rather than discovering pirate gold, as they expected, they found themselves gazing at an iron ladder that descended vertiginously into a deep, dark shaft. They had stumbled upon a cunningly skeuomorphic construction, for the chest proved to be made entirely of stone and concealed nothing less than a cleverly disguised secret passage. Closer inspection, by Philomena Bucket (who descended the ladder with her skirt prudently tucked into her generously tailored underwear), showed that the shaft dropped from the attics to the cellars of the inn, and then linked up with a series of tunnels, known as the Underland. These tunnels eventually culminated in a mysterious and magical cavern, which seemed to provide a portal to whatever random spot, in time or space, that it chose to deposit you.

Following the violent death of Naboth Scarhill, the new Night-Soil Man, Philomena felt that her life had gone suddenly haywire. She did not want to believe that her friend Drury, the skeletal hound, had been responsible for ripping Naboth to pieces, but everything pointed to him as being the culprit. On top of this, Rhys Cranham had called off their wedding, saying that the island could not function without the services of a Night-Soil Man, and no one, other than him, had been trained to do the work. At the point when Philomena began to think that things could not possibly become more confusing or complicated, the ghost of Granny Bucket appeared and told her that she needed to speak to Doctor John Dee, the astrologer and alchemist. As far as anyone was aware, Dee had been swept back to Elizabethan England after his sojourn on Hopeless. The only possible way in which she could contact him was by visiting the Underland and hoping that it would take her to wherever Dee was. With this in mind, she raised the lid of the faux sea-chest with some trepidation, and prepared to descend once more into its depths.

Granny Bucket, John Dee and Durosimi O’Stoat had all recognised that Philomena was a natural witch, possessing within her a deep reservoir of powerful magic. Indeed, this disturbed Durosimi to such an extent that he had tried to destroy the barmaid, and when this failed, attempted to kill her fiancé, Rhys Cranham. This plan was thwarted as well, when the thought form he created, a creature resembling Drury, attacked the replacement Night-Soil Man, Naboth Scarhill.

Philomena did not believe herself to have any magical abilities, other than occasionally experiencing the dubious gift of ‘The Sight’. She was completely unaware of the power she now possessed. It did not occur to her, as she walked through the treacherous passages of the Underland, that the torches burning on the walls flared into life solely by her passing. Even when she ventured into the magical cavern, to find herself suddenly surrounded by the familiar sheer, black obsidian cliffs of John Dee’s scrying bowl, she never thought it odd. After all, what were the chances of her stepping into this capricious vortex and being taken to the exact spot where she needed to be?

Philomena recalled the previous occasion when she, Norbert and Bartholomew, had found themselves in the scrying bowl. They had been thrown, from there, into Doctor Dee’s study. This time, however, everything felt different. There was a stillness, then the obsidian walls became hazy. In the pale lavender mist that swirled around her, vague shapes formed, then, just as quickly, dissipated. Philomena wondered what this all meant. She looked up, expecting to see the aged, but still handsome face of the alchemist framed, like some benevolent god, in the air above her, but John Dee was nowhere to be seen.

The shapes lurking within the shifting mists gradually took on a more permanent appearance. With some surprise Philomena realised that she recognised this place; these were her beloved Gydynap Hills. Then she saw Drury. He was racing around excitedly, as if in pursuit of some invisible prey. She thought she glimpsed spoonwalkers, but they were shadowy and nebulous.  As she watched, a watery sun pierced the mist, then proceeded across the sky at an alarming rate. Then a full moon did the same. It was as if she was watching a speeded-up version of the day, which is exactly what was happening. Throughout all of this time, Drury continued his demented chase; it would have been enough to kill an ordinary dog, but as Drury had been dead for years, it meant nothing to him. He would happily chase spoonwalkers for days.

The scene dissolved around her once more, the hills giving way to a clinging, claustrophobic gloom. Philomena now found herself in a dimly-lit parlour, where a single, greasy candle bathed everything in dramatic chiaroscuro. An ominous shape, crouching in the middle of the room, exuded an evil air of dark malice, and was like none she had ever seen before. This was because it shifted continuously, as though being woven together, even as she watched. Its initial vague spideriness metamorphosed into a dozen indistinct incarnations, before assuming a strangely familiar form. Somewhere, lost in the shadows, a low voice was muttering an incantation which appeared to keep the creature at bay as it gradually took shape. Philomena was relieved that, although apparently plunged into the heart of the event, she was no more than a ghost, an invisible observer. Had this been otherwise, her gasp of astonishment would surely have been heard when the figure in front of her suddenly bore an uncanny resemblance to Drury… but not the Drury that she knew. This was a mad, slavering beast that raged against invisible bonds, desperate to attack its maker. An eerie red light glowed within its empty eye-sockets and stringy gouts of toxic drool hung from its fangs. Despite being aware that she was a disembodied onlooker, she quailed and cowered back into a corner. The darkness around her deepened and again the landscape was shifting. A moment later, she found herself standing in the lee of Chapel Rock, witnessing the last moments of Naboth Scarhill. Philomena turned away from the ghastly tableau in horror.

“I’ve seen enough,” she shouted, hoping to catch the attention of whatever agency was responsible for revealing these things to her. Immediately the darkness lifted, and she found herself standing once more in the mystic grotto, which now appeared to be no more than a simple cave.

As she walked back through the tunnels towards The Squid and Teapot, Philomena tried to evaluate the meaning of what she had seen. She knew now that Drury was innocent of Naboth’s untimely end. But why would anyone want the young Night-Soil Man dead? Then, with an awful feeling in the pit of her stomach, she realised what she had said. The Night-Soil Man! If the attack had occurred earlier in the week, the victim would have been Rhys Cranham. Rhys was meant to have died, not Naboth! With a sudden burst of clarity, the dreadful truth dawned upon her. She had no idea who was behind this, but they were obviously out to wreck her happiness. That was certainly not going to happen. Hurt and angry, Philomena clenched her fists, and the tunnel was filled with a cold green fire.

Katherine Dee looked around the cluttered study with sadness in her eyes. She had cared for her father throughout his final illness and the time had come to clear out his belongings from the house in Mortlake. She had already sold his books, but could not imagine that anyone would want the skeletons of various birds and animals, malformed foetuses and preserved reptiles that littered every surface. The obsidian bowl, sitting on the table, might have some value. Katherine was surprised to see that it still contained water. As she leant to pick the bowl up, she thought she detected a tiny figure within its depths, then immediately dismissed the thought as a trick of the light. She had never displayed any interest in her father’s work, regarding it as too close to heresy to be safe in these dangerous times. Anyway, she had no inclination to follow in his footsteps. With a sigh, Katherine lifted the bowl and poured the water away, and with it went the last enchantment Doctor John Dee.

A Day of Surprises

Philomena Bucket busied herself in the kitchen of The Squid and Teapot, attempting, with little success, to keep her mind focused on anything other than recent events. She reddened at the brazen way in which she had confronted Rhys Cranham a few days earlier, almost demanding that he forsake his work and way of life, and marry her. Although he had tentatively – and without any great enthusiasm –  agreed, she was convinced that the Night-Soil Man must really despise her. Whatever had possessed her to do such a thing? She could only think that all this talk of her being a powerful witch, with some impressive magic at her fingertips, must have gone to her head. Well, she was yet to see any evidence that she was any different from how she had always been, despite having had a year of her life stolen in that strange cavern, deep beneath the surface of the island. Far from feeling magical, Philomena regarded herself as being an abject failure, both in love and life, letting down all who came into contact with her.

Wrapped in these dark thoughts, she did not notice Drury, the skeletal hound, wander through the back door, until she heard his bony form clatter noisily down, and sprawl out upon the flagstones. However glum Philomena felt, Drury would always lighten her heart.

“Ah, get from under me feet, you great lazy lump,” she said, good naturedly. “Are there no spoonwalkers for you to be chasing today?”

Drury’s tail wagged, thumping the floor several times, but he made no effort to rise. Instead he regarded Philomena with a baleful eye, or would have, had he actually been in receipt of an eyeball.

“Well, you’re in luck. I’m almost finished here,” said Philomena. “Come on, let’s go for a walk up the Gydynaps.”

If anywhere on the island of Hopeless, Maine, could be regarded as being Philomena’s favourite place, it would be the Gydynap Hills. For many Hopelessians, the reputation of the Gydynaps engendered a certain amount of mystery, not to say terror. For Philomena, however, they always brought back memories of the Nargles Mountains, an area she knew well, a dozen or so miles west of the city of Cork, in her native Ireland.  This was the place to which she would come, whatever the weather, whatever her mood, and always feel better for the experience.  True, she had encountered a few strange characters while walking these hills, which led her to believe that the Gydynaps were home to a portal, of some description, that lead to who knows where, rather like the cavern beneath The Squid, but she never felt threatened. Anyway, with Drury by her side what harm could befall her?

The fog came down with alarming rapidity, even for the quixotic climate of Hopeless. Although Philomena and Drury had been walking side by side, they suddenly disappeared from each other’s vision. At least, Philomena could not see Drury. The dog, on the other hand, spotted Philomena in the thinning mist. She was running away from him, down the hill, back towards the town, and waving her arms above her head. Drury loved a game of chase, and if that is what Philomena wanted, then he was all for joining in.

Usually, it’s fair to say that Drury is nobody’s fool, but the day of our tale was far from being a usual day.

Philomena stood alone, wrapped in a cold blanket of fog. All around her was silent and still. Her world had become abruptly comprised of nothing but this chilly cocoon that seemed to be seeping into her very pores.. And then, almost imperceptibly, the whispering began. At first it was no more than the faintest suggestion of breath in her ears. Then came the taunts and the chuckling, barely audible, but all the worse for that. Philomena hugged her body, trying to force out the strange voices. Where was Drury? This was not supposed to be happening. She felt an icy hand clutch at her heart, squeezing and freezing her from the inside.

“Get a grip, for heaven’s sake,” she thought to herself. “You can beat this. You can beat this. You can beat this…”

Philomena kept repeating these four words, over and over to herself like a mantra, rocking back and forth as she did so. With outstretched arms and, still rocking, she began to turn, slowly, at first. Then the turning became spinning, ever faster and faster, and the mantra grew into a great, roaring song. Grey, grim rags of fog swirled all around her body, gathering speed until they were drawn up into a swirling vortex that rose above her head, dark and menacing, a filthy cloud which swelled until it burst into a mass of screeching, bat-like creatures that fled away into the now clear sky.

Philomena fell to her knees, sobbing and trembling, and wondering what had just occurred.  Shakily, she managed to stand up and steadied herself against a rock, breathing in deep draughts of air. She stood there for several minutes, regaining her composure and a steadier heartbeat, when Drury reappeared, not a little confused by the events of the last half-an-hour.

“And where the hell did you go. Fat lot of good as a guard dog you were!” Philomena cried, uncharacteristically angry at her canine friend. Anger, however, is not an emotion that Philomena can harbour for long, especially where Drury is concerned.

“I think you and I have been attacked by some enchantment, old friend,” she said quietly, patting the dog’s bony skull. “Sorry I shouted… but I’m damned if I know what was going on there. Come on, let’s get home.”

Durosimi O’Stoat stepped out from behind the rock where he had been hiding, visibly shaken by what he had just witnessed. When Doctor John Dee had let slip that he believed Philomena to have very powerful, but yet latent magical abilities, he was sceptical, but Durosimi resolved, there and then, to rid himself of any threat that this Bucket woman might pose. The deal he had struck with the dæmon, Buer, had backfired, thanks to the incompetence of Dee, and now it was up to himself to end matters. The fact that she had thrown off the fog so easily, a spell that had taken no little amount of time and effort to contrive, was beyond comprehension. It was supposed to wreck both her mind and body. Instead, she had spun around like some whirling dervish and cast it off as though it was no more than an old shawl. Durosimi rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He had obviously underestimated her powers. Well, if he could not harm her directly, maybe he could target someone close to her. He would have to make enquiries.

Philomena made no mention of her experience when she returned to The Squid and Teapot, just in time for evening opening. The usual procession of familiar faces filtered through the door, and as the night wore on she was kept busy, ferrying endless tankards of Old Colonel and platters of Starry-Grabby Pie to the tables. The atmosphere was one of warmth and conviviality. It came as a surprise, therefore, when the room fell silent. Philomena, dutifully washing-up, was curious as to what had happened, and came out of the kitchen, tea-towel in hand. Every pair of eyes in the bar was fixed upon the figure of Rhys Cranham. The Night-Soil Man was no more than a legend to some, rarely seen, and then only under the cover of darkness. Now, here he stood, scrubbed clean as a choirboy on Sunday morning, smelling of nothing but soap, and wearing an old, slightly ill-fitting, suit, courtesy of Bartholomew Middlestreet and retrieved from one of the attics of the inn.   

“I’ve been thinking about what you were saying the other day, Philomena, and you’re right,” he said, awkwardly. “Naboth Scarhill has been a good apprentice, and he reckons he’s ready to take on the job as the new Night-Soil Man right away.”

Rhys dropped down on to one knee.

“In view of that, Philomena Bucket, will you please do me the honour of becoming my wife?” 

The Scent of Change

For some months, following the disappearance of Philomena Bucket and Doctor Dee, Drury had been conspicuous by his absence. While this was a cause of celebration for some, there were others who missed the sight of the old rogue rattling around the island, chasing spoonwalkers, stealing washing from the line and causing general mayhem wherever he went. There were many who came to the conclusion that he had gone looking for Philomena, and to some degree they were correct; the truth was that he had been spending all of his time with Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man. Rhys and Drury had, under cover of darkness, scoured the island looking for the barmaid, becoming ever more despondent when, with each passing day, all hope of her being found grew less. The Night-Soil Man, by necessity, was a natural recluse and was rarely seen in daylight at the best of times. As days turned to weeks, and weeks to months, Drury never left his side, for these two, in their own, individual ways, loved Philomena more than any other creature on earth, and found some small crumbs of comfort in the company of each other.  

A year and one day passed by before Philomena was once more seen on Hopeless. While her return surprised everyone, no one was more bemused by the event than the lady herself, who thought that she had only been away for a few minutes. Although there was a certain amount of curiosity as to where she had been for all of that time, Philomena feigned amnesia. She instinctively sensed that it was best that few knew of the existence of the tunnels, coiling deep beneath The Squid and Teapot, and, at their heart, the mystical cavern that presented a different scene with each visit. Only Bartholomew Middlestreet and Norbert Gannicox were aware of their existence, but neither man suspected that Philomena had returned there, following the revelation that she was a vessel for a deep and ancient magic.

At the insistence of Bartholomew and his wife Ariadne, a celebration was to be held in Philomena’s honour the very next week. There was a great deal to organise, invitations to be sent out, and little time in which to do so. It occurred to Philomena that the one person she wished to be at the celebration would be unlikely to turn up, or, indeed, be welcomed by most. It saddened her that the noxious odour, which pervaded the air around the Night-Soil Man, excluded him from all aspects of island life. Nevertheless, next to Drury, he was Philomena’s best friend, having saved her life when she first came to the island, and she was determined to pay him a visit and, at least, let him know that she was alive and well.

Standing on the pathway, outside the Night-Soil Man’s cottage, Philomena slipped a clothes –peg on to her nose, hoping to negate, to some extent, the inevitable reek that would doubtless assail her nostrils when Rhys came to the door. She took a deep breath and tapped lightly on the open window.

Rhys, exhausted from his night’s work, was fast asleep. Drury, on the other hand, was only dozing, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before, as Edgar Allan Poe would certainly have said, had he been there. Despite this, the dog’s phantom ears were always ready to detect the slightest noise. The tapping on the window caused him to raise his head. For some reason the House at Poo Corner, as the Night-Soil Man’s home was known, had recently become attractive to a particularly decrepit member of the Corvidae family, a fact which pleased Drury not at all. He was in no mood for the annoying tapping that invariably announced the presence of that ghastly, grim and ancient raven, and decided to put a stop to things once and for all.

“Nevermore!” he thought to himself, as he threw his bony old body against the window, which, as I mentioned earlier, was fortunately open.

Instead of finding himself lying on top of an angry pile of black feathers, as he had planned, Drury looked down into the pale face of Philomena Bucket. For a split second he failed to register exactly who it was that he had careered into. Then he went berserk.

Philomena felt the dog’s wet tongue slobbering excitedly all over her face, before realising that his fundamental lack of saliva glands, and indeed, a tongue, made this impossible. Could this extra-sensitivity be part of the newly-released magic? She had no chance to consider the matter further, however, as Drury danced around her, barking happily, in a state of high excitement.

Rhys, bleary eyed and sporting a long, striped nightshirt, appeared in the doorway.

“What is all that noi…”  he stopped abruptly and did a double take.

“Philomena, is that really you? Not your ghost?”

“Yes it is me, you great daft thing!” she laughed. “Have you missed me?”

Rhys did not answer. He had no need to; his face said it all.

 “There is going to be a party thrown for me,” she said. “I really want you to be there. Please Rhys.”

“You know that’s impossible,” he replied, sadly.

“No, it isn’t,” said Philomena. “Don’t ask me where I’ve been, but while I was away I learned a great deal. Some of it was even useful.” She paused, briefly, then asked, almost shyly, “do you still have an apprentice?”

Rhys nodded, wondering why she wanted to know. Following the disappearance of his previous apprentice, Gruffyd Davies, who had been revealed to be a selkie, one of the seal-people, Rhys had felt compelled to return, somewhat embarrassed, to the orphanage and ask Miss Calder for another volunteer. The life of a Night-Soil Man can be unpredictable, and sometimes brief, so the presence of an apprentice is crucial, if the line is to remain unbroken.

“Yes, young Naboth Scarhill is shaping up nicely. In another year or so he should be spot-on.”

“I’ve just lost one year of my life, Rhys. I can’t afford to waste another,” said Philomena.

Rhys looked puzzled, “Sorry, you’ve lost me,” he said.

“No, I haven’t. I’ve found you. Give this up, Rhys. If you love me, as I think you do, give up being the Night-Soil Man.”

 “But I…”

“Bartholomew’s grandfather, Randall Middlestreet, did all those years ago. You could too.”

Rhys looked at Philomena for what seemed like an age, digesting her words.

“I could too,” he said, slowly and deliberately.

Drury, who had been quiet all this time, had been around humans long enough to know exactly what was being said. These were the two people whom he loved most in the world, but now they had each other; how could there be any room for him in their plans? If a beating heart had dwelt in his old ribcage, it would have sunk at that moment. Quietly, sadly, he turned around and made to leave.

“Drury,” Philomena called, “don’t go. If Rhys and I live together, there will always be a place for you in our home.”

The dog turned and wagged his bony tail. There was a definite scent of change in the air. A change for the better. Suddenly, it felt good again to be alive.

A Little Touch of Drury in the Night

Durosimi O’Stoat stared gloomily through his window; outside, Drury, the osseous hound, was rattling happily along, having spent a rewarding couple of hours chasing spoonwalkers.

“Blasted dog!” muttered Durosimi to himself. “He gets on my nerves. He’s always hanging around and causing trouble.”

While no one could reasonably argue with Durosimi’s assessment of Drury, on this occasion the dog could not be held totally responsible for the black mood currently spoiling his evening. For that he squarely – and quite unjustly – blamed the sixteenth-century visitor to Hopeless, Doctor John Dee.

You may remember that, in order to get Dee’s attention, Durosimi had attempted to abduct Philomena Bucket. This had failed dismally and, to make matters worse, he had no memory of exactly what had happened. One minute he was confronting Philomena, and the next thing he knew was that several hours had slipped by, and he was propped up against his own front door. It was obvious to Durosimi that some sort of sorcery had been employed and, as far as he knew, the only person capable of such a feat would be John Dee. Despite Dee having protested, on several earlier occasions, that he was not a magician, Durosimi chose to disbelieve him. What he did not know was that any magic being wielded in the Town Hall, on the night of the Beltane Extravaganza, was exclusively Philomena’s, and his threat had been the spur that had brought it to full and spectacular fruition. It was to Philomena’s great surprise when she successfully repelled his advances and sent him hurtling along the length of the Town Hall. The force stunned him so completely that he could not even remember struggling to his feet and staggering home afterwards.

It was almost dusk, and John Dee was sitting on a bench outside The Squid and Teapot, gazing up at the soft, pallid lights of the gnii, fluttering high above. Drury clattered up to him, his bony tail wagging furiously. How times change. Just a few weeks earlier, when they first met, Dee was convinced that he was looking at a Hell-Hound, come to drag him and his heresies into the fiery depths of the Underworld. Now he knew that Drury was no more than a regular, friendly dog, albeit one who refused to recognise that he had died many years earlier.

“God’s wounds, I’ll miss these evenings, when I go home again, Drury,” Dee said sadly. “Deep in my bones, I can feel that my own time is trying to drag me back.”

Drury cocked his head, apparently listening intently as the elderly Elizabethan poured out his woes.

“You have no idea of the pressure I’m under,” confided Dee. “Do you know, I had to make an astrological chart to forecast the most propitious time for the Queen’s coronation. Can you imagine what would have happened if I had got wrong? It would have been the Tower, for me, for sure. Oh… I could put up with the fog, the eyes in the sky and those things with tentacles, if I could only stay. But I suppose there is my wife and children; I should take them into account…”

Despite being in his sixties, Dee had married the much-younger Jane Fromond some ten years earlier, and now had eight children to support. They would certainly miss him if he remained on Hopeless.

Drury snuffled and leaned against Dee’s legs. Did he have any idea of what was being said? Your guess is as good as mine, but if nothing else, he was a good listener.

“But enough of my rambling,” said Dee, stoically. “Come on, old friend, let us go into the inn, where I might be persuaded to immerse my sorrows in some of Master Middlestreet’s finest ales.”

For the islanders of Hopeless, the novelty of having a sixteenth-century alchemist wandering around had worn off after the first couple of weeks. Much to his relief, these days Doctor Dee was greeted like any other regular patron of the inn. He settled himself in the snug, ordered a tankard of Old Colonel, and fell into conversation with Norbert Gannicox.

Drury ambled off to the kitchen, where Philomena had just taken a batch of Starry-Grabby pies out of the oven.

“I’m going to take one of these over to Rhys Cranham,” she said, putting a steaming pie into a basket, where it kept two bottles of ale company. “Coming?”

Drury did not need to be asked twice. Joining the Night-Soil man on his rounds was one of the dog’s favourite pastimes, second only to chasing spoonwalkers.

As they made their way to The House at Poo Corner (The official residence of every Night-Soil Man), Philomena allowed herself to voice her concerns to Drury, confident that her secrets would be safe with him.

“This magic business is a worry,” she said. “I have no idea what I’m doing. It seems that I’m last in a long line of witches. Me! Would you believe it, Drury?”

Drury would believe anything that Philomena told him. In his eyes she could say or do no wrong.

“It’s this ‘last-in-line’ bit that troubles me, really,” she said. “After all, if I’ve got a bit of magic floating about inside me, then it’s my choice what I do with it. But, whether I choose to use magic or not, it seems wrong that after a thousand years or more it should have to stop with me. That’s a terrible responsibility to burden a girl with.”

Philomena stopped and looked at her bony companion, who immediately sat obediently at her feet.

“I don’t know if I’d be happy to settle down and have a family,” she said to him. “What do you think, Drury?”

As if in reply, the dog stood up and shook himself.

They walked on in silence, Philomena lost in her own thoughts. Arriving at the Night-Soil Man’s cottage, she lay the basket carefully on the doorstep.

“Ah Rhys,” she said quietly to herself, “I wonder what our futures might have been, if you were anything other than a Night-Soil Man.”

The faithful hound, mindful of the dangers that may be lurking in the darkness, dutifully accompanied Philomena back to The Squid. No sooner had she crossed the threshold of the inn than Drury turned around and raced back to Poo Corner, eager to join Rhys before the Night-Soil Man left on his rounds.

Rhys was already at his door, loading the contents of the basket into his knapsack.

“Who could ask for more than a fresh-baked Starry-Grabby pie and a couple of bottles of Old Colonel?” he asked, with a smile.

“Drury,” Rhys added earnestly, “You and I both think that Philomena Bucket is nothing short of wonderful – agreed? Maybe it’s high time for me to look for another apprentice, seeing that my first one turned into a seal! Perhaps one day I could follow in the footsteps of Randall Middlestreet, the only Night-Soil Man to retire and raise a family. I wonder if Philomena would say ‘Yes’? What do you reckon, old fellow?”

Drury wagged his tail and barked enthusiastically. He knew the answer to that, for certain.

A Beltane Extravaganza

Readers of these tales, and indeed, any article found in ‘The Vendetta’, would quite rightly come to the conclusion that Hopeless is a somewhat dismal and deprived sort of place, subject to all manner of horrors and privations. Having said this, it ought not to be forgotten that when you or I make such judgements, we do so through the lens of our current era, with its relative comforts and sophistication. For Doctor John Dee, however, the sixteenth-century alchemist recently deposited on the island, Hopeless, Maine revealed itself to be a land of comparative freedom and great wonders.

Although having lived a life of privilege as the Court Astronomer to Queen Elizabeth, John Dee walked as much in terror of torture and an agonising death as anyone else in Tudor England; maybe more so, as his interest in the occult was well known. He had narrowly avoided the flames when accused of heresy in the reign of Queen Mary, Elizabeth’s predecessor. So, while Hopeless can be inhospitable, nightmarish and terribly dangerous, the chances of being persecuted by someone for entertaining beliefs contrary to their own, are extremely remote. Well… on reflection, a bit remote, at least.

It was generally agreed that Doctor Dee’s stay on the island was probably going to come to an abrupt end at any moment, for although it was likely that he would be returned to his own era within minutes of his having left, history was not going to sit around forever twiddling its thumbs while Dee took an extended vacation in the future. Perusal of some dusty encyclopaedias, found in one of the attics of The Squid and Teapot, had made it fairly clear that the old alchemist had a lot of things still to accomplish in his remaining years (not that anyone told him this. He would be far too interested in wanting to know what the future held, and not all of it was particularly pleasant).  It was decided, therefore, to organise a festival, of sorts, as a send-off; something special to for the doctor to remember after he had returned home.  Inevitably, the task of putting together such a programme of events fell upon Philomena Bucket, aided, abetted and generally hindered by her faithful friend Drury, the Osseous Hound.

While Hopeless is not rich in resources, the islanders take full advantage of any bounty that the ocean might provide. Nothing goes to waste, and whatever is not immediately required often ends up being stored in The Squid and Teapot. The most prized of these items, to be produced only on the most prestigious of occasions, is the much-cherished Edison-Bell phonograph, and its attendant collection of wax cylinders. This entertaining piece of technology was, Philomena decided, to be the centre-piece of the festival, bringing with it the possibility of dance, song and no small amount of debauchery, if past experience was anything to go by. As the abysmal Hopeless winter had already shuffled itself seamlessly into a similarly abysmal Hopeless spring, and the month of May was looming, she decided to call the event ‘The Beltane Extravaganza’, which, she hoped, would appeal to Doctor Dee’s heretical nature.

At last the great day arrived and, thanks to Philomena’s efforts, everything was ready. The Town Hall was decorated, every spare chair on the island was commandeered, barrels of ‘Old Colonel’ and ‘Gannicox Spirit’ had been rolled into place and a variety of tables, while not actually groaning, complained quietly beneath platters piled high with steaming slices of Starry-Grabby pie. On walls and in alcoves tallow candles and oil-lanterns twinkled; for a few hours, the island of Hopeless, Maine seemed to shrug off its aura of gloom.

Norbert Gannicox, as Master of Ceremonies, introduced the various performers, starting with the Pallid Orphanage choir, who sang an Elizabethan madrigal, especially learned for the occasion. This was sung under the direction of the usually unflappable wraith, Miss Calder, who almost ruined the evening before it began, by inadvertently allowing her face to lapse into its skull-like aspect every time one of the children hit a bum-note. Act after act followed, some using music provided by the phonograph to back their efforts at singing or dancing. People tended to do their party-pieces; Seth Washpool sang a medley of Hopeless sea-shanties, accompanying himself on the spoons and Bartholomew and Ariadne Middlestreet sang ‘Barnacle Bill the Sailor.’

When ‘Les Demoiselles de Hopeless, Maine’ burst on to the stage Doctor Dee almost dropped his tankard of Old Colonel. The phonograph blasted out Offenbach’s ‘Infernal Gallop’ (more often known as ‘The Can-Can’ to most of us) and the five French girls, shipwrecked on the island just a few months earlier, went into their routine with unquenchable enthusiasm. Dee watched goggle-eyed and amazed as they high-kicked, whooped and wiggled their frilly-drawered derrieres in time to the music, much to the delight of the audience. The world that he knew had seen nothing like this, and would not for several hundred years to come. The room had grown suddenly warm and Dee flopped down in his chair, mopping his brow and fanning himself with his cap.

There was only one thing that could possibly follow Les Demoiselles and that was the song that had become Hopeless’ very own anthem. Philomena dutifully fixed the wax cylinder in place on the phonograph, and lowered the circular brass reproducer, with its sapphire needle, on to its surface.  There was an expectant hush, then the unmistakable nasal strains of a strangulated Irish tenor came through the speaker…

“In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty…”

Drury’s tail began to wag and a collective smile spread over the faces of the audience. Doctor Dee had heard Philomena singing this, so was well prepared to lurch into the chorus with everyone else, and soon the strains of ‘Alive, alive-o’ were echoing around the room. Just one onlooker failed to join in, or even tap his foot. Durosimi O’Stoat regarded his fellow islanders with nothing short of contempt as they swayed and smiled as they sang.

“What small-minded fools,” he thought. “They have John Dee, one of the history’s greatest occultists, in their midst, and all they can do is try to entertain him with some idiot song about a fishmonger. The sooner I get him back to his own time, and I go with him, the better. All that I need to obtain his full attention is a little bit of leverage in the shape of that Bucket woman, who seems to have beguiled him, for some reason. Now where is she…?”

 The islanders filtered out of the building, many still singing and everyone happy. The evening had been a definite success. Philomena smiled to herself and reflected that, if Doctor Dee was to be suddenly whisked back to Tudor times, he would at least take with him a happy memory of the island. As she watched the last few stragglers leave she decided it would be a good idea to stay an extra half-hour and make sure that the precious phonograph and its cylinders were packed away properly. Ever economical, she doused most of the candles and worked quietly and methodically. Suddenly a movement in the shadows caught her eye.

“Who’s there?” she asked, wishing that Drury had still been with her. As soon as the concert was over he had clattered off to the House at Poo Corner, where Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man would be preparing to start his round.

A lone figure stepped into the dim pool of light cast by a single candle. It was Durosimi O’Stoat.

“Miss Bucket… a word with you, if I might.”

The Visitor

Rhys Cranham had no problem with being around ghosts. In his role of Hopeless Maine’s Night-Soil Man, he encountered them regularly. Most were harmless, but others, such as Obadiah Hyde, the Mad Parson of Chapel Rock, certainly were not, and so Rhys made a point of avoiding Obadiah and his ilk whenever possible. Uniquely, among those of the spirit world, Miss Calder was inclined to be flirtatious. Rhys often wondered if this was more out of pity than anything else, as she would have known full-well that the life of a Night-Soil Man is lonely and loveless. This made him feel uncomfortable for all sorts of reasons, for, much to his own surprise, he found that he was not without feelings for her. This, in turn, gave him a dreadful guilt complex, as there was a definite frisson between Philomena Bucket and himself, and for a brief time, after she arrived on the island, it seemed as though romance was a possibility; or it was, until a hearty dose of sea-water swilled out the grains lodged in Philomena’s nose, and her sense of smell returned. It was at that point that Cupid almost dropped his bow in an attempt to make a hurried exit.
Yes, Rhys was fairly sure that he had met every ghost on the island, at one time or another, and could name each of them. That was why the apparition of a middle-aged man, currently wandering through the walls of his cottage, surprised him quite as much as it did. The Night-Soil man had fallen asleep in his armchair following his nightly rounds, and had been enjoying a pleasant dream that involved his swimming in an ocean of ‘Old Colonel’ ale. He awoke, bleary and with no small measure of disappointment. It took a few seconds of blinking and yawning before he registered the presence of his spectral visitor.
The ghost said nothing, but fluttered before him, beckoning and pointing to the closed door, through which he slipped like smoke. Seemingly unable to resist, Rhys rose to his feet, picked up his candle-lantern, and followed him. It was the early hours of the morning and the island slept. You could tell that it was sleeping by the way that the Gydynap Hills rose and fell slightly, filling the air with the sound of contented snoring. Occasionally a small flock of gnii would fly overhead, making the distinctive gnii, gnii sound, after which they were named. As ever, a thick mist shrouded the island, but the dimly phosphorescent spectre hovered in front of him like a beacon.
It was when they passed The Squid and Teapot that Rhys sensed that something was not right. The old place looked very much same, illuminated as it was by the candle-lantern, but Rhys could not remember the paintwork to be quite so neglected, while some of the window panes looked grimy and cracked.
“I’m surprised Bartholomew has allowed it to get into this state,” he thought to himself, as he wandered around the building. No sooner had the thought entered his head than he was forced to stop dead in his tracks. Something was definitely not right… and then he spotted it, or, to put things more precisely, he didn’t spot it at all. Where the flushing privy had stood, just a few hours ago, there was now an empty space, bordered by the blank, grey, back wall of the inn.
Rhys could not believe his eyes. Even in the unlikely event of Bartholomew wanting to demolish the privy, which had always been his pride and joy, and envy of the landlord of ‘The Crow’, there would have been some disturbed ground, some debris strewn around, but the whole area looked as though nothing had ever been standing there.
“Then I must be dreaming,” Rhys decided, and looked down at his hands.
You may not know this, but the Night-Soil Man had long been a lucid dreamer. He had, on many occasions, been fully aware that he was dreaming and was, from that happy position, able to direct events in a most satisfactory way. (Most Night-Soil men have learned to cultivate this ability, allowing them the companionship in dreams that they lacked in their waking lives).
Like anyone with a similar skill, however, Rhys knew that there were some anomalies that even the most lucid of dreamers was subject to, and the state of one’s hands was one of those anomalies. If you looked at them twice they would be different; they might have too many, or too few, fingers. They might turn into crab-like claws, or resemble several pairs of scissors, There was never any guarantee what you might see. On this occasion Rhys’ hands looked perfectly normal, but the mystery of the disappearing privy troubled him, so he racked his brain for other signs that he was in a dream.
“Text!” he said to himself. “That’s another one, text.”
He recalled that writing was rarely readable in a dream, and certainly never looked the same twice. He scanned around, looking for some words to test his theory.
The faded sign outside the inn proudly, though not unsurprisingly, proclaimed ‘The Squid and Teapot’. To give the legend on the sign some credence, it sat above a painting which depicted a cephalopod caressing a spouted utensil which did, indeed, closely resemble a teapot.
Rhys closed his eyes for a moment, then squinted at the sign again. Nothing had changed, the words were the same.
While all of this was going on, the ghost was becoming impatient, tapping his feet and drumming his fingers against folded arms, until gradually he began to fade away, as though his work was done, leaving a mystified Rhys standing alone in the deserted street. He shrugged and walked back through the town, towards his cottage. It was a strange journey, for although everything was familiar, the buildings appeared to sport small changes here and there, making the Night-Soil Man feel distinctly uneasy.
If Rhys felt that the differences in the town were unsettling, his heart almost stopped when he reached the cottage at Poo Corner. His cobbled pathway was gone, the front door was now a different colour and, like The Squid, the whole place looked neglected and unloved. Rhys cautiously entered and, in the glow of his lantern, the room sprang to life, sending shadows dancing over the bare walls.
The small parlour was sparsely furnished and bore little resemblance to Rhys’ cosy home. Slumped in the only armchair was the figure of a man. He was fully dressed and, although Rhys’ sense of smell was accustomed to the stench of night-soil, he was aware that he was in the presence of another Night-Soil Man; or, he would have been, had the poor fellow been alive. The man in the chair felt cold and stiff to the touch. Then a chill ran down Rhys’ spine as he recognised him; he found himself looking at the earthly remains of his ghostly visitor.
Suddenly, the silence was broken by a noise in the corner, It was a dry, rattling sound which Rhys immediately recognised.
“Drury!” he exclaimed, relieved to see the familiar skeletal form of his old friend getting to his feet.
“Dear old Drury, am I glad to see you.”
If Drury had possessed hackles, they would have risen. He tucked his head in to his shoulders and gave a low, menacing growl.
“Hey, what’s wrong old fella?”
The dog bared his teeth (inasmuch as you can bare teeth which are completely visible at all times) and the low growl became a full throated roar.
Rhys barely had time to raise his arms in defence as Drury leapt towards his throat.

To be continued…

An Afternoon Stroll

Drury, the skeletal hound, was enjoying a particularly productive day. Mrs Beaten was mysteriously missing two pairs of unmentionables from her washing line, Reverend Davies was wondering where his scarf had gone and a diminutive cephalopod was suffering severe heart palpitations, having been tossed in the air several times – and all this before his afternoon walk with Philomena Bucket. Could life, or more correctly, afterlife, really get any better?
It had long been Philomena’s practice to take a walk between the busier times at The Squid and Teapot. Having cooked a batch of Starry-Grabby pies that morning, and washed-up after the lunchtime trade, she felt that she had earned her hour or so of leisure time. There are those who would argue that battling through the inclement, not to say downright hostile, weather that plagued Hopeless, Maine, along with the island’s many hazards, hardly constituted leisure. Philomena, however, was a hardy soul, and usually never happier than when striding the Gydynap Hills with Drury beside her, but for some reason, today she felt differently. The daylight hours of December are scant for all of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, but on Hopeless, where the sun is perpetually fighting a losing battle, winter days rarely struggle to be any more than a dismal twilight. Philomena was not particularly bothered by this, but an air of foreboding, and the promise of returning to the cheer of The Squid seemed especially attractive.

Drury liked it when Philomena sang to him. Sometimes it would be a traditional Irish ballad, a music-hall ditty or, more often than not, just scraps of a half-remembered song that she had heard somewhere or other along the way; Drury did not care, and had no interest in its origins. He just loved to hear her soft, lilting voice. It made him feel warm inside, or it certainly would have, had he actually possessed an inside. Today she was singing ‘Shortenin’ Bread’. As to the meaning of the words, Philomena had no more idea than did Drury. She thought it must be a nonsense song; after all, if mamma’s little baby did indeed indulge in the pastime of shortening bread, which apparently he or she loved to do, it would be hazardous in the extreme. As far as Philomena was aware, the only way to shorten bread is with a bread knife and no one in their right mind would let a baby loose with such an implement.

She was pondering these thoughts, and in the middle of singing the chorus for the forty-fifth time (in fact, the chorus, which consists solely of the words ‘Mamma’s little baby loves shortenin’ bread’ was the only bit of the song that Philomena knew), when she was suddenly stopped in her tracks by the sight of a brace of spoonwalkers, tottering along in front of her and carrying between them something that looked remarkably like a bottle of ‘Old Colonel’ ale. Drury let out a low growl, and would have given chase, but Philomena placed a hand on his bony back, and commanded him to stay (it says much for their relationship that she could actually do this. Drury has long been thought to be untameable).
Although the dog had been successfully looking after himself since long before Philomena, or, come to that, her beloved old granny, was born, the barmaid wanted to go home and would not have felt comfortable leaving Drury alone and up on the hills after dark, chasing these vicious little cutlery thieves .
The pair watched the spoonwalkers creep unsteadily into a cleft in the rocks. This, in itself, would not be deemed unusual, but the pale yellow light that issued from within the hill was decidedly other than normal.
Throwing caution to the wind, Philomena, with Drury at her side, tiptoed to a spot near to which the spoonwalkers had disappeared. Upon closer inspection the cleft was larger than it had at first appeared, being as high as Philomena was tall, and just about wide enough for her, or a particularly thin man, to squeeze through. While she had no wish to enter the cave herself, Philomena could not help but notice that a particularly thin man had, indeed, already accomplished the feat, and was squatting on the ground, surrounded by a band of, apparently adoring, spoonwalkers. His eyes looked huge and glowed with a ghastly luminescence in the pale candlelight.
“It’s Linus!” gasped Philomena, with surprise.
Linus Pinfarthing had not been seen on the island for months. Following the death of Marjorie Toadsmoor he had become a drunkard and, as such, his disappearance was generally attributed to his having fallen off a cliff and into the sea. No one really knew the full extent of his story, related in these very tales, of how he had been possessed by the Trickster, then later saved by a band of grateful spoonwalkers that he had once rescued from the clutches of the trapper, Zeke Tyndale.
Philomena watched, fascinated, as the cadaverous figure clambered to its feet and swayed dangerously in the greasy light of tallow candles. A chilling rictus, that might easily have denoted pleasure or pain, masked his face, and he began to dance clumsily, with the spoonwalkers milling around his feet on their cutlery stilts.
She wondered what to do. Should she tell someone; raise a rescue-party to take him back to the town? The sad truth is that the friendship of spoonwalkers – which, as far as I am aware, no other human being had previously enjoyed – does not make one invulnerable to the fatal madness induced by their gaze; it was clear to Philomena that Linus was well beyond the reach of reason. Into whatever strange landscape his mind had retreated, that was his home now. There could be no escape until his wasted body gave up entirely, and by the look of him, that day would not be too far away.
Philomena had never harboured any great affection for Linus, but to see him now, reduced to the shadow that he was, brought a lump to her throat.
“Come on old friend,” she said to Drury, hurriedly turning her back on the tableau inside the cave, “it’s high time we were getting back.”