A Tale from The Squid and Teapot
“Hey fella. What’s this critter called?”
Linus Pinfarthing stopped in his tracks and turned around slowly. Only one quizzically raised, and somewhat affronted, eyebrow betrayed his annoyance.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said what’s this critter called. Ain’t seen nothin’ like these things before.”
The newcomer, who was dressed in furs and buckskin, was holding up a cage in which an angry spoonwalker tottered around helplessly.
“That sir is a spoonwalker. How did he get to be in there?”
If the other man noticed the ice in Linus’ voice, he chose to ignore it.
“Well, I lured him there. Got me a few more, back in the cave.”
“Indeed? And you are…?”
“Zeke Tyndale, trapper and fur trader. Please to meet you mister.”
Tyndale offered his free hand which Linus reluctantly grasped. He held it for a few seconds, as if deciding whether to shake or no.
For reasons he could not explain, Tyndale shuddered, feeling as if his soul was being laid bare. Then Linus smiled, shook the proffered hand warmly, and said,
“Linus Pinfarthing at your service, sir. My dear fellow, I would love to see the rest of your collection.”
“Happy to,” said Tyndale. “Follow me.”
As the two men walked, Tyndale surprised himself by blurting out his life story to his new companion. He told how he had been a successful trapper, and had plied his trade right across the continent. Upon a whim he decided to try his luck in the far north-east, where, he was assured, he would find plenty of pelts, just waiting to be caught. Unfortunately, his small boat had run aground upon the rocks around Hopeless. Being a practical man, he had set up camp and decided to see if there was any game worth trapping on the island.
“Lucky I’ve still got all my traps and snares,” he confided, “but I ain’t seen nothin’ worth skinnin’ yet, ‘cept some things that look like cats…”
“That would be Dust Cats. You would do well to avoid them,” said Linus gravely. “Besides which, you would never catch one.”
“That sounds like a challenge to me,” laughed Tyndale.
The trapper’s camp was surprisingly orderly, all things considered. He had salvaged the contents of his boat and stacked them neatly against a rock, covering everything with a badly stained tarpaulin. A circular fire-pit sat in front of the mouth of the small cave, which currently served as Tyndale’s temporary abode.
“Home sweet home,” he said, gesturing for Linus to sit on a nearby rock. “Coffee?”
“No thank you,” said Linus, ignoring the invitation to sit. “I am most keen, however, to see your little collection of spoonwalkers.”
Tyndale beamed, happy to display his prowess as a trapper, and strode into the cave, beckoning for Linus to follow.
The cave was small, barely half-a-dozen paces from side to side, and illuminated by the glow of a single hurricane lamp. Tyndale’s bedding lay in an untidy heap.
He carried the cage, and its irate occupant, over to the far corner, where Linus could see, in the dim light, several similar traps, each holding a dejected spoonwalker.
“These critters are goin’ to make my fortune,” declared the trapper proudly. “When I get off this island, I’ll take them to New York. Folks there have never seen nothin’ like these. They’ll give me a blank cheque to get their hands on them. Then no more trappin’ for me. I’m going to be a millionaire!”
“And how do the spoonwalkers feel about this?” asked Linus.
“Why, they’ll be fine and dandy about it, I reckon,” Tyndale guffawed.
“Do you know, Mr Tyndale…”
“Call me Zeke.”
“… Mr Tyndale, there are few things more disgusting to me than to see a creature – even creatures such as these – caged for the pleasure and greed of thoughtless humans.”
“Well, that’s as maybe, Mr Pinfarthin’,” said Tyndale brusquely, “but trappin’ is my trade and what I can’t skin I’ll damn’ well sell… and believe me, these little guys will sell on the mainland, no problem.”
“I think not, Mr Tyndale. Maybe you should be caged instead. Or would you prefer to be skinned?”
Linus unlatched the cages and watched the spoonwalkers scuttle away on their cutlery stilts.
“Now you look here, young fella…”
“Young fellow? No, you look, Mr Tyndale…”
Suddenly, the light of the hurricane lamp was dimmed as the cave filled with a swirling, smoke-like dark mist, which seemed to emanate from the body of Linus Pinfarthing. His form was changing, and the affable young man who had walked into the cave had lost all substance. Tyndale cringed as the space was filled with nightmare visions of blood and sacrifice, through which he occasionally glimpsed animal and bird forms. Then, as swiftly as the mist had formed, it dispelled. Pinfarthing was gone. The trapper stood up, wondering what had happened, convinced he had been hallucinating.
Then he saw the hare.
It was sitting in the mouth of the cave, motionless, and looking straight at him. Now, here was a meal and a pelt he could not refuse.
Stealthily, he unhitched his hunting knife from its sheath, never taking his eyes from the hare. Just one throw is all that it would take…
“I gave you a chance,” said the Hare in a voice as deep and dark as the earth itself. “I gave you the opportunity to change your ways.”
Then the hare stretched and grew, and with growing, altered his shape into that of a coyote.
“Do you not know me, even now?” asked Coyote, shaking himself.
By now Tyndale was on his knees, trembling, as he watched Coyote turn black, and shrink once more, growing the feathers and wings of a great raven that tossed its head, and held the orb of the sun within its beak. It was a light that grew in intensity, almost blinding the trapper. Then, in the fierce unearthly glow, it seemed that all three beasts were there before him.
“Fear us now,” chorused the voices of Hare, Coyote and Raven. “We are The Trickster. We are The Guizer. We are The Eldest. We are The First and The Last.”
Tyndale screamed and squeezed his eyes tightly shut, hoping the three would be gone when he opened them again. Seconds passed like hours, or maybe they were hours.
Squatting on the floor of the cave, gibbering and shuddering, he heard the ominous rustle of wings, the padding of light feet on stone and the distant howl of a prairie wolf. He knew that there were no wolves on this island. What was happening to him? Tyndale opened his eyes once more. He was alone, and all of his world, and everything he would ever again know, was held within the cave.
“It’s beyond even my knowledge,” said Doc Willoughby, modestly. “I have never seen anything like this.”
Linus Pinfarthing looked on sympathetically.
“The poor fellow must have suffered some great trauma,” he opined. “You could almost believe he was somehow caged inside himself.”
“Yes, I agree,” said the Doc, nodding. “You may have something there, Linus.”
No one knew exactly how long the wretched figure had been sitting, rocking and whispering to himself in that cave. It was fortunate that Linus had happened upon him a few days earlier. They had tried to leave food and drink, but he appeared to want neither. He was existing on nothing but air, it seemed.
Zeke Tyndale looked through the bars of his cage and saw the thousands of creatures that he had trapped and slaughtered in his lifetime. They clamoured to break the bars down, to drag him away and rip him to pieces. He wished that they would, for death would be a welcome respite. However, Hare, Coyote and Raven, who guarded him day and night, had other plans. He knew that it was their intention that he would live, trapped in this cage for as long as it pleased them, and that would be a long, long time.