A tale from the Squid and Teapot
“You disgust me!”
Ambrose Pinfarthing looked down at the mess that was his cousin, Linus, sprawled drunken and dishevelled upon the cottage floor. Vacant, bloodshot eyes stared out of a once handsome face, whose features were now puffed and blotchy.
It dawned upon Ambrose that he could not remember why Linus was living with him. In fact, he was sure that he had never even heard of him until a few months previously. He had certainly not invited him to stay.
“Get out,” he barked, giving Linus a shove with his foot. “You’re not welcome here. Get out and stay gone.”
The truth of the matter is that, some time ago, Trickster had selected the young man to be his human form on Hopeless; his meat-suit, as he called him. As Linus he had insinuated himself into island life, beguiling and charming all whom he met, while at the same time creating chaos and mischief wherever he could. Trickster’s downfall came when he cast a glamour over a young schoolmistress, Marjorie Toadsmoor, forcing her to fall obsessively in love with Linus, who still retained a tiny glimmer of humanity that Trickster had overlooked. Linus hated Trickster for what he was doing to Marjorie, but was powerless to resist. One night, while participating in a drinking competition in ‘The Crow’, he discovered that Trickster had no command over him while he was inebriated. Knowing that he needed to make Marjorie see sense, he drove her away, much to Trickster’s annoyance. Sadly, however, in her grief, Marjorie fell over a cliff to her death. Dredging the depths of despair, and forever cursed by Trickster, Linus retreated into a permanent alcoholic stupor.
Homeless and penniless now, and terrified of finding himself once more the captive of Trickster, Linus needed to find a free source of alcohol. He stumbled through the fading, early evening light of Hopeless town, the taunts of Trickster growing stronger in his mind as he gradually sobered up. Swaying slightly outside the Pallid Rock Orphanage, where Marjorie had so recently been a teacher, Linus regarded the building with tears in his eyes. Hanging above the front door was a single lantern, illuminating the front porch.
“Oh, Marjorie,” he sobbed, then a tiny movement, somewhere in the shadows, caught his eye.
He froze in his tracks. It could be a spoonwalker. Maybe more than one.
Linus did not like spoonwalkers. He had heard the stories of how their glowing eyes could drive a person mad. Whether that was true or no, it didn’t matter a jot. He just detested the creatures, the same way as other people hated spiders or frogs. As Trickster he had rescued a few spoonwalkers from capture, but that was something Linus himself would never have done.
Emerging, almost shyly, from the shadows was a white hare, which proceeded to sit upon the porch and regard Linus with dark, solemn eyes.
Just at that moment Seth Washpool and Ardal O’Stoat passed by, on their way to The Squid and Teapot.
“Seth, Ardal… look… what do you reckon this animal is? I’ve never seen nothing like it before,” said Linus, excitedly.
Seth and Ardal stopped and gazed at the spot at which Linus was pointing. Then they looked at each other and Seth shook his head sadly.
“Poor guy,” Linus heard him say as they walked away. “He hasn’t been the same since his girl died. Never sober any more, and now he’s seeing stuff.”
The hare loped down the road, occasionally turning her head to see if Linus was following. Curious, and having nothing better to do, he staggered after the mysterious creature. They passed Mrs Beaten, who looked sniffily at Linus and tutted audibly, but made no sign that she had seen the hare.
Doc Willoughby looked out of his surgery door.
“Evening Linus,” he said gruffly, “you need to cut down on the booze, son, or you’ll be seeing pink elephants before you know it.”
“A white hare,” said Linus, pointing.
“Whatever,” said the Doc, closing the door. “It’s all the same in the end.”
Philomena Bucket glanced out of a window of The Squid and Teapot and nearly dropped the tray that she was carrying. There was the white hare again, and Linus Pinfarthing was following her. People on the street took no notice of the hare, a creature which had never before been seen on the island, and tended to give Linus a wide berth.
“Why aren’t they interested?” she thought to herself, then, from the deepest recesses of her memory, the answer came to her.
Years ago, when she was a child in Ireland, Granny Bucket had told her the legend of the white hare, the spirit of a pure-hearted maiden driven to suicide by a faithless lover. It was said that she had returned in this form to haunt the scoundrel, and bring him nothing but misery and death.
The white hare was said to be visible to only the deceiver and those with the dubious gift of ‘The Sight’ (which Granny Bucket was generally regarded to possess). So keen on vengeance was the ghostly creature that she would make sure that none would harm the man who wronged her, in order that she could continue to heap misery upon him until such times as it suited her to cause his death.
“So, if the hare is with Linus,” Philomena reasoned to herself, “then she must be Marjorie… and I can see her!”
Pennies slowly dropped in Philomena’s mind; for the first time in her life it dawned upon her that, like Granny Bucket, she had The Sight.
“But I don’t want it,” she said aloud, but no one heard.
Without knowing why, Linus followed the hare to the outskirts of the town. She eventually led him to a small outbuilding, unobtrusively hidden behind the Gannicox Distillery. Linus found that the lock on the door had rusted away; it was easy to get inside. When his eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, Linus discovered that the shed was dry and warm, there was even a forgotten, and quite huge, barrel of liquor at his disposal. The truth was that the building had not been used for years, not since old Ebenezer Gannicox had drowned there in a vat of moonshine. None of this would have mattered to Linus; he had a roof over his head and the means to keep Trickster at bay.
“Thank you,” he said to the hare, whose white fur glowed eerily from the far side of the darkened room. To his surprise the hare answered, and the voice that he heard was Marjorie’s.
“Don’t thank me, you faithless wretch. This is your punishment for treating me the way you have. No one will come to rescue you, I’ll see to that. It is just you and me now, day and night. And don’t think you can escape… madness then death is your only future, Linus Pinfarthing. This is the curse of the White Hare.”
With that, the soft eyes of the hare blazed red and the gentle face took on a terrible aspect.
“Just the two of us, forever,” she said.
A week or so had passed since Marjorie’s death and Philomena finally felt that she was able to visit the cliffs where her friend had fallen, and place a few flowers on the spot. She wished that she could have found something better than the pitiful bouquet of straggly weeds, but it was the best that anyone could have provided on Hopeless.
Philomena was nothing, if not conscientious, and made sure that she fulfilled her afternoon duties at The Squid before going to pay her respects to Marjorie. It had been a busy day and, laying her flowers on the ground, she sat with her back to the rocks, enjoying the peace. She had not planned to stay there very long, and certainly had not intended to go to sleep, but sleep she did.
Philomena woke with a start. It was bitterly cold and a thick fog had rolled in from the sea. She wrapped her shawl around her when she noticed, from the corner of her eye,a flickering light.
Then a voice, almost inaudible, whispered on the breeze.
“Philomena… thank you.”
“Marjorie… is that you?”
“Can you… can you see me?”
Philomena squinted into the fog, where the flickering light danced before her. Little by little it attained the hazy, but unmistakable, shape of Marjorie Toadsmoor.
Recovering from her initial shock, Philomena (who had become quite accustomed to bumping into the various supernatural entities inhabiting the island) and the ghost of Marjorie fell into conversation.
“But surely, you were the white hare that I spotted, come to punish Linus. How…?
Philomena’s question hung in the air.
“I know nothing of a hare,” came the ghost’s whispered reply. “But I could never cause Linus harm. I understand now why he said those things.”
“Then, if you’re not the white hare, what is going on?”
Trickster settled down for the night, never taking his eyes off the drunkard leaning against the large barrel. This was such a delicious joke, pretending to be the vengeful spirit of a dead girl. It was the best fetch that Trickster had played for a long time. He – or, for now, she – was enjoying the guise of a white hare. It was a good look.
(Author’s note: A Fetch (a) A trick or stratagem
(b) A disembodied spirit)