You may remember that Durosimi O’Stoat’s failed experiment had sent young Freya Draycott hurtling back a thousand years in time, to a green and fertile Hopeless, where a peaceful Danish settlement flourished, and a loving family greeted her with open arms. No one, including Durosimi, had any inkling of where the child might be, but to save face he had fashioned a tableau of thought-forms to give the impression that, on returning to the orphanage, Freya had been lifted into the sky by a huge raptor.
Miss Calder, whose ghostly presence was crucial to the smooth running of the Pallid Rock Orphanage, was incensed regarding the disappearance of Freya. Although the orphan had certainly appeared to have been transported into the heavens by a bird of prey, Miss Calder was convinced that, somehow, Durosimi had a hand in matters, and her preternatural senses smelt a rat, or, in this instance, an O’Stoat. Her eyes were bright to the point of incandescence as she relayed the events of the day to her friends, Philomena Bucket and the ghost of Marjorie Toadsmoor, who both listened, appalled. Marjorie, one of the first women to be admitted to Oxford University, had helped at the orphanage both before and after her untimely death; it seemed the most natural thing in the world to do. At least, it seemed the most natural thing to do on the decidedly strange island of Hopeless, Maine.
Unlike Marjorie, Philomena was not familiar with the word ‘refulgent’. This is a pity, as it would have been useful later that day, when trying describe, to Ariadne Middlestreet, the strange light that had glowed in Miss Calder’s eyes. Whether Ariadne would have been aware of the meaning of the word is, of course, another matter.
“If the O’Stoats are involved – especially Durosimi – you’d be well advised to let things be,” said Ariadne, earnestly. “If Miss Calder wants to take him on, that’s up to her. After all, he can hardly kill her, can he? Whatever other horrors he could inflict on her, though, is anybody’s guess.”
“Yes, you’re right,” agreed Philomena, adding, “but you couldn’t help but love little Freya. I hope that she’s okay, wherever she is.”
Ariadne said nothing. If an overgrown hawk had really snatched the girl, she didn’t give a lot for her chances.
You or I, or indeed, Durosimi O’Stoat, might not know where to start in ascertaining Freya’s whereabouts. Not so, Miss Calder. For all of her attachment to the orphanage, she is, after all, a ghost and, by definition, inhabits a liminal landscape beyond our imagining, where the portal between life and death is a two-way door. It is a realm outside time and space as we know it. This is how she realised that Freya was still alive, for it was clear that the child’s shade had never walked those paths. It took a millennium of listening – a millennium condensed into mere seconds – for her to hear the voice of Helga, the vǫlva, the wise woman of the Danish settlement, welcoming Freya to her village.
It must be remembered that the role of the vǫlva, in Viking society, was much more than that of being a healer and herbalist; she was both revered and feared as a powerful shaman, intimate with the ways of the spirit-world. And so it was, while in a deep shamanic trance, that Helga sensed the presence of Miss Calder, probing the centuries with silver tendrils of esoteric energy, in her search for Freya. Spirit reached out to spirit and, without speech or language, Helga assured Miss Calder that the child was safe, well and very happy.
Miss Calder wasted no time in informing Reverend Davies of Freya’s fate. She was still angry, but grateful that no apparent harm had befallen the child. For his part, the Reverend had been adamant that he had no idea that Durosimi would use the girl in such a way, but that he would remonstrate with the man at the first opportunity. Being somewhat fearful of Durosimi, he effected this by asking Doc Willoughby to “have a quiet word with O’Stoat”. The Doc, having scant desire to stir up trouble for himself, did little more than drop the issue into general conversation.
“I hear from Reverend Davies that young Freya has been deposited in the distant past,” Doc Willoughby told Durosimi. “Back to the Viking era, or so it appears.”
“Is that a fact?” replied Durosimi, seemingly unconcerned. “I don’t think you can put the blame squarely on my shoulders, Willoughby. After all, you were the one who brought her to me.”
“True… but I distinctly saw that huge bird take her away, and so did Reverend Davies and Miss Calder,” said the Doc, defensively. “It must have somehow dropped her through some wormhole to an earlier age. Obviously this is nothing to do with either of us.”
“Indeed,” agreed Durosimi. “These things happen.”
It was an hour later, after the Doc had left, that Durosimi allowed himself to think about the implications of that which he had done. He was not concerned about the orphan. There were more than enough of those already on Hopeless. Presumably the goat, his first subject, had been sent to that era as well. He was not too worried about that, either. What did give him pause for thought, however, was the half-dozen spoonwalkers that he had trapped and experimented with, while waiting for Freya to be delivered from the orphanage. It was safe to assume that they, too, had been transported to the Danish settlement. As far as he was aware, Hopeless at that time was free of the eternal fog and attendant horrors that haunted it now. It would seem, therefore, that those half-dozen spoonwalkers were, paradoxically, their own ancestors. If this was the case, and looking at things another way, had they not been sent there, no antecedents would have been in evidence to spawn future generations. This confusing state of affairs left Durosimi to conclude that spoonwalkers only existed on Hopeless today because he had sent six of the little nuisances back in time.
“I need a drink,” he thought to himself, massaging his head in an effort to make sense of things.
Meanwhile, and a thousand years earlier, Freya had been getting to grips with a new language, and doing well. Her skills were such that she fully understood when her adopted parents spoke in hushed tones about Lars Pedersen, the spoon-whittler. It seems that when he found that his stock of spoons and collection of gulls eggs had been stolen, he blamed a group of strange little demons that tottered around on stilts.
“Old Lars is definitely going crazy,” said Bendt to his wife, Sigrid. “Demons on stilts, indeed!”
Freya watched as Lars wandered blindly down the dusty road, as if in a trance. She knew all about spoonwalkers, and, like all of the orphans, was all too familiar with the legend of the ghostly Eggless Norseman of Creepy Hollow. Lars was not a ghost yet, she observed, but by the looks of him it would not be too long before he was. For one so young, Freya had a wise head on her shoulders, and decided that it would probably be best to keep this information to herself. After all, who would believe her? No, they would probably think that she was as crazy as Lars.