The Revenge of the Storyteller
Can the clever spider ever be caught in its own web? Can the clever man ever be entangled in his own machinations? The magician is never caught up in his own artifice, for the magician is detached, the magician is an actor, just as we are all actors. But, upon whose stage do we perform, and for whose audience do we knowingly implement our craft? Beware of the man whose craft is well hidden.
Once there lived a storyteller on The Isle of Man. He was a great storyteller and was renowned throughout the island for his fantastic stories. The people would sit and listen to his stories and sometimes forget even to breathe, lest they miss a single syllable from the lips of the Storyteller. The people would sit in awe and listen until they fell asleep with their mouth hanging open until sparrows would begin building tiny sparrow nests inside their mouth. But from whence these stories came, no one seemed to know, for it seemed that the Storyteller lived a strange and fantastic life conducive to such a life of storytelling. The people would observe the Storyteller wandering along old and forgotten paths and they would stop to watch and see what the Storyteller would do. The people would observe the Storyteller eating meals inside of modest inns along the seaside lane and they would watch him through the glass to see if he might see them and even utter a word. Some people even claimed that the strange stories of the Storyteller came to the Storyteller as tiny messages from the mouth of birds. The people gathered together in dusty inns and slobbered the dusty ales as they tried to imagine where the Storyteller could be. And that is when I decided to follow him to learn his secret because I was convinced that behind such fantastic and incredible stories there must be a secret.
And so I did begin to follow the Storyteller, and I began to watch his movements. And where the Storyteller went, the people followed. Word of mouth pushed the news of the Storyteller across the island like wildfire. And when the Storyteller sat down on his stool that he always brought, the people went silent and waited to hear what he might say. Sometimes the Storyteller would talk about the local folklore and what new things were to be learned. Other times, the Storyteller would bring news from distant parts of the world where most of the people were wont to travel. And sometimes the Storyteller told frightening stories where the people were afraid even to cover their ears rather than miss the words spoken so eloquently by the Storyteller. I was not one of these persons, for I was brave and listened carefully.
One day, while walking along the seawall in Peel, I spotted the Storyteller up ahead of me. He was just turning onto Queen Street leading up into the village. I picked up my pace while trying not to trip on the slippery and dangerous cobblestone. He was walking alone and seemed to be lost in some or another thought, for he walked slowly and without determination. It was said that the Storyteller wandered aimlessly, but I did not believe that.
He disappeared around the corner of an old brick house, and I could see the still-swinging flower pot that he brushed against. When I reached that spot and looked ahead, he was no longer in sight. His gait was slow and methodical, so there was no way he could have outrun me for he had no reason to suspect that he was being followed. Walking close to the closely- built houses that were misshapen and crammed together along the narrow street, I walked along Orry Lane, stopping frequently to listen for sounds, for it was unnaturally quiet while only a mangy stray dog prowled about looking for rats and garbage to investigate. Finally I saw him again. He was walking down a crooked street toward the quay. It was his green tunic that caught my attention. I stopped and watched to see what he would do.
Just before reaching the quay he entered a tall, brick house, mysteriously leaning over the narrow street like a vicious hawk, and closed the door. I wondered if perhaps he lived there. The door was familiar to me. It was painted blood red and was studded with thick, heavy nails, and I had always been suspicious of that house, so it would not have surprised me in the least if this was his true home.
I watched the house all afternoon, but no one ever came out, and no one went in. And then the weather began to change and a cold wind came up from the sea while clouds formed over the village like a creeping sickness. I could wait no longer. It was then that I hurried to the house and stood by the door and listened. No sounds could be heard from within. As the first drops of rain began to fall from the sky, the door suddenly opened, and an old man with a stooped and deformed body pushed past me and continued to walk down toward the quay. As he turned, and just before he went around the corner, I saw a scrap of parchment fall from his coat. I ran to pick it up and quickly read it. It said:
“The Storyteller never forgets his story.”
And when I turned the parchment over, it said:
“Do you hear footsteps?”
My anger rose up within me, and I may have cursed. The Storyteller had tricked me! Slowly I walked down to the quay as a persistent, cold drizzle chilled me to the very bone.
The quay was just a thin channel of water sliced out of the sea around which mostly old houses and decaying structures stood to accept the infrequent wares from Glasgow and Ireland, and sometimes parts forbidden and unknown.
I stared into the water. Several small boats and a medium sized Cog ship were moored while their crew loaded or sat drinking in smoky ale houses along the wharf. The men that worked the sea were coarse, hard men, and when there was an opportunity for a pint or two they were only too willing. Suddenly I spotted the Storyteller standing on the wharf next to the Cog ship. He was speaking to the captain. I watched while trying to avoid being seen. The men soon shook hands, and after a slight nod, the Storyteller walked away and disappeared around a corner amongst the crooked streets and drab, crouching houses.
“What to do?” I wondered. To be sure, I did not want to lose him in the disorder of the maze-like streets of Peel. I reasoned that he would surely come back and that he was on a private errand . . . so I waited. The rain was coming down now just hard enough to be annoying, so I backed up and hid beneath the eaves of an old house to keep the rain off me, and I watched for the Storyteller to emerge. But in truth, I was getting tired and wanted nothing more than to get home to a hot meal. My wife would be waiting for me, and I did not want her to become frightened for my safety, for I always came home when I said I would be there and I could never bear the guilt of disappointing her. It was at that moment that I heard the sound of footsteps. Someone was coming down Orry Lane and I could hear the measured footfalls through the sound of the rain.
I waited to see who it was that would step out of the lane, but no one emerged even though I could still hear the sound of footfalls, and they were getting louder. “How could this be?” I mumbled. Finally I stepped out from beneath the house and quickly looked around the corner, but there was no one in sight! And still I heard footsteps, but now they were moving away from me. I stood in the middle of the street and stared in disbelief. The rain continued to fall and now I was sodden. In desperation I turned and ran down to the quay. The captain was there; he was overseeing the loading of several strange barrels as he looked over his shoulder cautiously. And now I was tired and I was angry.
“Who was that man I saw you speaking to just now?” I demanded to know. “What did he say to you?”
The captain looked at me with indifference. He had no time to spare for me. Reaching into his raincoat, he took out a piece of parchment and handed it to me, and I took it from him as he said. “This is for you.”
I read the note which was written in the same crabbed style as the last one. “Beware of crows,” it read. I looked up to the captain, but he had already forgotten me and was busy with his task.
Yes, the Storyteller was trying to terrorize me I realized. Right then I decided to teach him a lesson he would not forget. Back into the city I started walking again along a narrow and slippery cobbled lane and I could smell the odor of antiquity as it came up through the stones like a raw vapor. That is the moment I heard the sound of footsteps again. They were behind me now. And each time I would stop suddenly, the footsteps would stop too, after a single step. After that I started to run, and I did not look back.
When I was almost home I stopped to rest because I was exhausted and needed to catch my breath. The streets were deserted. This was strange to me, but I reasoned that it was because of the cold, dampness brought on by the rain. Next to a storm drain I stopped and breathed heavily. I looked out to sea over the rooftops and saw that a dark storm cloud was moving in. The storm cloud was almost utterly black, noxious, and I saw it coming with a sense of foreboding. The blackness of the cloud was turning and dissipating, roiling and churning in and out of existence like a living mass of unformed horror struggling to emerge from an unknown wasteland. It continued to grow, and as I watched, it threatened to burst upon the city like a cruel pestilence. Added to this sense of dread was the complete emptiness I felt, for not a single person was anywhere to be seen. The people of this city were hardy I knew, and a little cold and inclement weather would never force them inside. And then I heard the sound of footsteps again and I turned to look just in time to see a mangy dog sniffing a curious pool of dark water. Taking one last look at the black mass moving in over the city, I struggled to my feet again and walked toward home.
As I walked through the narrow streets the rain began to come down harder, and with the rain came a strange bitterness, the bitterness before a storm. The further I walked the greater became my fatigue until I felt exhaustion overtaking me. I stopped to rest in the middle of the street for I was soaked to the skin and had no more reason to try and hide. Turning again to face the sea, I saw that the black cloud was almost directly over the city and that it was becoming darker and even more menacing, for what I took to be a cloud, was not a cloud . . .it was a sea of crows!
Like the ominous sound of distant thunder, the mass of crows was strange and frightening. I covered my ears, but I could still hear them and their evil cackling. And then all the light in the city disappeared as the sea of crows came directly overhead and blotted out the sky. Terror froze my will and all I could do was look up in horror. The sea of crows circled above like a slowly turning vortex of darkness, as if hell itself were turning above the city. I had to escape the sea of crows. I had to get inside!
Suddenly I sprang forth and reached for the door knob on the house along the street with the largest door. It was locked tight. I pounded on the door in hope that someone would let me in, but no one answered. I pounded harder and harder, but still no one came to open the door. Into the street I ran to an adjacent house. I pounded and called for help, but no one was home. Into the street I shouted for help.
And then, like a bolt of black lightening, a crow shot down from the mass and attacked me with a wild vengeance. I flailed my arms in an attempt to fight off the crow and knocked it out of the sky. Without waiting for another attack, I ran down the street to get away. I ran and ran but they were all around me, scratching, clawing, and tearing my flesh as they tried to get at my eyes. Caw . . . caw they screeched, until I ran into a narrow lane between two streets where the houses leaned overhead like great jaws. The crows could not get at me for they could not take flight in the narrow passage. I was safe. Gasping for air, I sat down and tried to regain my wits and my strength. I could still hear the crows, but now they were overhead, circling the sky above me.
Fearing to come out of the protection of the narrow lane, and not knowing what else to do, I went forward, to what end I knew not, for I had never known about this forgotten lane. Yes, even though the city had been laid out with all the obscure twisting and turnings of a fishing village, I did not know about them all, and I was surprised by my own ignorance. The rain came down on me very lightly and in the close, dead space between the leaning houses, I had a feeling of hopeless dread. Where there should have been open windows and crying children, now there was only the faint sound of rain and the sound of my own footfalls. After several twists in the lane I knew that I was coming to the end, for I could see the bright light of the day just ahead of me. The crows had not followed, and open sky replaced the gloom of the bothersome drizzle. When I was almost at the opening I heard the sound of voices . . . but no, it was a single voice.
Not normally shy about encountering strange people or unexpected conditions, I was nevertheless reticent about what I heard, so I stopped and listened before turning the corner. I could hear the voice of a man talking, but he seemed to be addressing someone or something, for his cadence was serious and ornate and not one of a casual conversation. His voice was somewhat familiar, but I could not identify it right away. He was talking:
“. . . and so he followed me all day, and I could not escape from his odious presence. I walked carefully and tried to lose him in the narrow lanes, but he was always behind me, always following my every move like a malevolent shadow. I don’t know why he would not leave me in peace, for I had done him no harm. I tried to scare him away, but this man was no ordinary man and all my attempts to dissuade him only made him more eager, more voracious, and more determined to get to me . . .”
A chill went up my back and I tried to get closer to hear, and to see what was happening. Closer and closer to the edge I crept; so careful not to be seen or heard, so careful was I, so inexplicably unobtrusive was I that soon I was at the very corner, only a few feet away from the speaker. He continued:
“. . . and so I decided to teach this man a lesson he would never forget, a lesson that would destroy . . .”
What was this! What was I hearing? I had missed something. Clearly I had missed part of the story. I needed to get closer. Ever so carefully I inched forward and stretched my neck out until my ear was the only thing there and that I would still be hidden and not seen. Finally my ear came around the corner and I could hear him speaking clearly. He was clearly agitated.
“. . . I sent warnings. I sent visions and horrible images, but he would not relent. In truth, I did not want to harm this man, but I knew that in the end I had to. At first I terrorized him with footsteps and followed his every step, and I hoped that this would be enough to scare him. But it didn’t, and in fact only made his continued presence more alarming. That is when I sent crows to terrorize him, and in truth I conjured a sea of crows to find him and to attack him viscously, but not to kill him, no, never to kill him. It was only after the sea of crows failed to drive him away that I resolved to do my worst. Yes, I conjured up from the depths the most frightening and hideous monster that I have ever conjured . . . and I set it against him. But he thought he was so clever. He thought he was my match, but nothing could be further than the frightening truth. He had no idea what was maligned against him, and so he continued to follow me. He followed until he thought he was so safe, for he was clever indeed. He got so close to me that I could smell him. I knew he was there for the sound of his breathing was like a storm. And then I saw his ear . . .”
Oh, my God! I turned and ran as fast as I could. I fell down in the street and got back up again bleeding, but I ran and I ran to get away. So frightened was I that I could not think straight. Only to get away, I only could think to get away from the terrible monster that was set against me. I did not deserve to die for I had not harmed this man.
Suddenly I thought I heard a noise and I turned fearing the worst, but there was nothing there, no monster, only another damp, slippery cobbled lane. With all the remaining strength I had left, I resolved to die in earnest, and that I would lead the creature far away from my home, and were I to die, I would do so by my own terms.
With my new determination came an overwhelming sense of power, for the fear was now gone and was replaced with purpose. And if I died that very day, I would do so with honor, and the Storyteller would never make me crawl. But then suddenly, as this new thought had only just emerged, a ferocious gust of wind came upon me from behind and knocked me to the street. I got up slowly and the wind knocked me down again. Blood trickled down my face, but I did not feel the pain.
When I saw the creature I veritably shook with fear. So horrible, so loathsome was his form that I cannot even describe it without horror. The creature was tall and walked with great difficulty as if his very nature were so foreign to our world that it had not the ability to function. Teeth . . . or should I say, slavering jaws, opened and closed across his malformed head. His skin was pale and pock-marked like the sores of a victim of the plague. Long arms ended with vice like mandibles of a mythical sea creature from the blackest deep. It lumbered in my direction as if it were drawn to my presence. There was no escape from this sinister creature, of this I was certain. He came toward me with purpose and his fiery eyes glared with evil intent. I ran for my life, but I knew that this creature would never relent. And now my fear quickly turned to disgust, now my fear had turned to icy anger for revenge. That is the moment I resolved to kill the Storyteller, for he had destroyed my life.
One step ahead of the creature I stayed as I stumbled through the narrow streets of the desolate city of Peel. I knew where the Storyteller lived and I decided to go there and wait for him. The drizzle started again as I leaned against an old house and waited. Every few moments I looked for the creature, for I knew that he would be close behind. In this tense moment I thought about my wife and how worried she would be by now, but I could not go home without closure to this ordeal or I would bring the horror to my very door. I looked up to the sky to see the vast sea of crows circling above as they scoured the city looking for me. The air was cold and my lack of sleep had made me tired and I fell into a strange torpor where I was walking along the seawall with my beautiful wife. Suddenly my eyes popped open, for I had fallen asleep. I looked up just in time to see the Storyteller leaving his house. He was locking his door. And when I turned the other way I caught sight of the creature. He had found me again!
The Storyteller was so confident, so proud, and I watched him walk away with such disgust, but I had to be careful lest he sense my presence. He drew his cloak together and took out a drab looking umbrella and opened it up. Then he walked away from his house in the direction of the wharf. He and I were the only two persons remaining in the deserted city, for the people had sheltered themselves away behind closes doors. A slight feeling of nausea came upon me as I stepped out from my hiding place and set about after him, for I knew what I must do.
I found him once again talking to the sea captain of the Cog ship who was preparing to leave the harbor and was attending to the rigging. The Storyteller took something out of his cloak and handed it to the captain who put it in his jacket mechanically. A few more words were exchanged and then the Storyteller walked away pleased with what he had done. And now he was walking toward the seawall that surrounded the Castle. I looked out to the Castle and saw that the sea of crows was circling it overhead like a storm cloud and I could hear the distant sound of their hideous cawing as they circled and circled like a whirlwind. With my head down to look as unobtrusive as possible, I stepped onto the quay and began to follow.
He had no idea of his danger. He had no idea he was being followed, and that in fact, I was only a few paces behind him. My heart was full of malice, but I did not stop to ponder the significance, and that my actions would haunt me forever.
I saw him standing on the seawall. He was looking out to sea as if he were expecting something or someone. The wind blew his long hair in all directions and his cloak flapped against the strong sea breeze.
And then I stepped out from where I had hidden myself behind the Castle fortification. Slowly I went directly up to him without him even noticing. When I was almost upon him, he turned around to face me. The blood drained from his face when he saw me. The fear was apparent on his face. He looked at me like he was looking at a monster, but before he could utter a word I struck, bludgeoning him across the face with a closed fist. He went down hard on the stone abutment and tried to get up again. I reached down and took him up violently, striking him in the face again and again. My eyes were on fire and my hands held him like the steel claws of a vulture. He fought back with all his strength and managed to break free for a moment.
“Let me finish, let me finish my story,” he shouted before being struck again. “Let me finish . . .”
But I had my strong hands on his throat and I squeezed with a tremendous, maniacal force until he went limp. His eyes glazed and his struggling ceased, but I continued to choke the horrible Storyteller until I was certain he was dead before casting his limp body over the surging seawall.
Cheering erupted. Shouts of wonder and exclamation could be heard from all directions. The Storyteller stood up with a smile and slowly collected a handful of coins that lay on the table before him. He acknowledged the adoration of the crowd with a nod. And then, with a knowing wink, the Storyteller walked away and disappeared into the bustling city of Peel and walked back to his house on the quay with the blood red door.