On a foggy morning on a hillside scattered with rocks and bushes, threaded through with lanes worn into the earth by wild animals, whose destinations and desires are of no consequence to the civilized folk who inhabit the nearby town, a thick wet fog settled down, hiding the meanderings of an unusual creature. A very unusual creature indeed. It was my intention to discover this creature, learn its ways and, if possible, befriend it.
Few recorded sightings exist of this reclusive beast, its knowledge of the hills and the forest which lies behind it allowing it to evade capture or any form of study. Rumors abound of its predatory and primal nature, but little evidence exists to support these theories.
From what little scientific study I have been able to perform in my short time tracking it I have learned little, but I have disproved many of the untruths banded about by the superstitious townsfolk. For example, it does not bound about on all fours, but appears to walk on two legs, supported by feet much like our own. Its footprints are to be found all across the hills as they seem to be a favored stomping ground for it. It does not eat raw human flesh, as there is no evidence of humans going missing in the area, and also it is clear from its leavings that its diet is quiet fibrous and I believe that it may be a herbivore.
I was accompanied, as I so often am, by my traveling companion, one Master Eamonn Eammes, whom performed for me the task of documentation of my works and investigations, translator of the non-European languages, both written and spoken, the Slavic tongues, in which I am woefully under educated. He is also me confidant, engineer and bodyguard. In turn I supply him with education in all fields of the natural sciences, introduction to social themes of locals as he was raised a recluse and is not accustomed to civilized society, and I also permit him to be associated with the name of Lewis van Strooth, for which I am proud to say I have built into that of a well-known and respected scientist, philosopher and free-thinker.
Our first order of business for the day was to install a number of devices to attract our prey. We had used a similar device on previous sojourns to trap animals of intrigue, but we had to make some alterations to the original design as we did not wish it to be used for capture on this occasion, merely to entice the animal so that we might induce into it a routine of traveling to each box. Our idea was that when the animal felt secure in its daily visits to the various sites that we placed the traps, or lures as the revised devices should be truly known, that we would then be able to document with ease and also familiarize the best with our scents. Not knowing the animals dietary needs we decided to place cooked and uncooked meats, cooked and uncooked vegetables, nuts, grains and a bowl of water.
We set up the first of our lures behind a bush which grew out of a rock protruding from the crest of the hill which was viewable from the town. During this task Eammes expressed his dissatisfaction with the bait.
“The beast will not be attracted to these cooked meats and vegetables, Lewis. I have observed this region, as you have for the last fortnight and neither of us have seen evidence of fire, be it in ashen leavings or in smoke on the skyline.” he said.
“Remember what I have thought you Eamonn, do not preclude experimentation with assumptions, and if indeed the animal may be curious and view these treats as delicacies.” I said. It is my view that Eammes’ grumblings were caused by the early rise which I insisted upon this morning.
We continued to place several lures around throughout the hills, but we didn’t venture into the forest because it is inhabited by wolves and bears, and we were unarmed, as Eammes carried most of the traps and equipment and couldn’t carry his gun or sword. I myself am a man of peace and would never harm a wild creature. I leave such un-pleasantries to the my more practical associate.
We spent the next days attempting to track the beasts movements, but without much luck. It would seem that our intrusion into its territory had not gone unnoticed and we would have to wait until the odour of our ramblings had settled down in the hills, and the familiarization process continued.
We were also familiarizing ourselves with the townsfolk, who at first had been warm and giving to us. This hospitality was based on the assumption that we were there to destroy the beast which they concluded from sightings of Eammes’ pistols, scabbard and assorted blades. Just as soon as we made it known that our interest was purely academic the food portions we received at the inn in which we resided returned to a more recognizable level, we had previously enjoyed hearty meals and the mead flowed less freely in the pub, there was fewer hands offering us a smoke. It couldn’t truly be described as coldness, but in comparison with the warm reception, it was definitely a few centigrade chillier.
There was one individual whose attitude differed that of the towns’. The towns medicine woman, an intelligent, well read and progressive lady, Miss Abigail Outhwaite, admired our respect for knowledge and discovery and became a regular companion on our evenings in the tavern.
After a week and a half with no sign of the beast, we three, Miss Outhwaite, Mr.Eammes and myself were discussing our experiences so far.
“It seems that the lures have been a fruitless endeavour, would you agree, Lewis?” said Abigail.
“Not entirely, Abigail.” I said
“Come now, Van Strooth, we walked those damned hills morning and night with no evidence of the beasts activity, in fact there has been a marked decrease in footprints. The plan failed.” said Eammes.
Although I wanted to berate Eamonn for the ease with which he dismissed our endeavour, I decided to keep my own council in this moment, aware as I was of burgeoning feelings for Miss Outhwaite. I took a deep drink of my beer, allowing one of the others to find conversation. Eammes stared at me, surprised at my lack of comment, which I must admit is out of character for me.
“Gentlemen, the hour is late, and I have an early rise in the morning.” said Abigail.
“Your off, then?” said Eamonn.
“Goodnight, Miss Outhwaite” I said, rising, as a gentleman must.
“Yes, I will speak to you tomorrow, Eamonn.” she said, favouring him with a smile, a soft smile that reached her eyes. Eamonn blushed, and remained seated as she rose to leave.
“Goodnight, Mr. Van Strooth.” she said, and turned to walk past many admiring and respectful eyes, although none, I fancy, could know her as myself and Eamonn. I had detected a distance between her and the other townsfolk, perhaps because of her academic achievements. There is an understanding that comes between individuals of knowledge and learning that uneducated may never know.
I sat and made a point of not looking at Eamonn, allowing him to regain his composure. after a few moments of this could take no more.
“Well, out with it man, whats on your mind?” said Eammes
I turned my wandering gaze to him and noticed he still had his blush colour.
“I feel… no man can truly know his own mind, or that of another. It is discovery that intrigues my mind, old friend.” I said.
“And what would you like to discover at this moment?” said Eammes.
“You know, Eamonn, you have the admirable ability of asking the right questions. It is why I believe you have a future as a man of science.” I said.
“Thank you, Lewis, but that is no sort of answer, truly.” said Eammes.
“At the moment, I would like to discover whether or not another beer will overload my bladder. Thoughts?” I said, stretching languidly in my chair.
“Hmm, a most intriguing experiment, I propose that it will, as you have the bladder strength of a small scared puppy.” said Eammes, smiling happily that the conversation had moved on from where his mind had feared it would stray, to talk of his flushed goodbye to Miss Outhwaite.
“Pah! a man of science knows no fear! Get the beers in, friend, while I use the little scientists room.” I said, not rising to his jeer.
Laughing, Eammes rose, and the night was sure to be sent on a whimsical spin, though I often thought of such moments as opportunity to induce learning of the social workings of the community in a relaxed environment, unbeknownst to Eammes.
I awoke late the next morning to the sound of torrential rain skittering on the roof of our room. I opened the window, pushing wide the shutters outside, and dull grey light greeted me. The streets where nearly a stream in places, the day was to be wasted, we couldn’t get about the hills in this weather.
Eammes struggled to hide his satisfaction at this, and engaged himself in his own work. He was translating various texts from the orient, I am unsure which language or dialect, into English. He was doing this for pay, and took it quite seriously. Not wanting to interrupt his work and face his wrath, I elected to assist Miss Outhwaite in her work of the day, though I did not inform Eammes of this as I felt it would prey on his mind during the day.
I knocked on the door of Miss Outhwaite’s offices, and let myself in, un-eager as I was to stand in the rain, which was being blown harshly about the street.
“Who’s there?” called Miss Outhwaite, from a backroom.
I cleared my throat with a soft cough and replied “Its Lewis, is this a bad time?”
“Not at all,” she said, appearing through an opened door, “can I help you?”
She was wearing her working clothes, a white apron, tight-fitting gloves and mens trousers. Quite different from the long hemp dress she is normally adorned for our evenings in the pub.
“Well, in fact I was wondering If I could help you. The weather has dictated the order of the day, and has removed the option of hillside adventures. I am here offering my services as your assistant, if you feel I wouldn’t be a hindrance, that is.” I said.
“I would be glad of the help, honoured to have a Van Strooth on the premises” she said, with a smile. She handed me an Apron and a pair of gloves that where hanging on a coat rack and while I donned them she said “And where is Eammon, you haven’t sent him up the hills I presume?”
“Not at all, he is busy with his own work. Part of the reason I am here is so as not to be in his way while he works.” I said.
We made our selves busy, brewing medicines for Miss Outhwaites patients. A forester was sick from eating the wrong mushrooms, we found him an antidote, a new mother could produce naught but sour milk, we made a substitute for her child, we helped with headaches and fevers and a whole host of other ailments.
At the end of the working day, we sat in Miss Outhwaites back office, in soft leather armchairs, soothed by the sound of the rain which peppered a steady beat on the window. I smoked my pipe, and she hardly protested at all.
“A good days labour, Abigail?” I said.
“It was indeed, Lewis.” she said.
There was a small comfortable silence while we each contemplated the trials of the day.
“I can’t stop thinking about that Shelby woman.” said Abigail.
“Which one is that?” I said.
“The one with the tiny infant.”
“Oh, yes,” I continued to puff on my pipe. “What is it about her exactly that you can’t stop thinking about?”
“Well, I was just thinking, that a hundred years ago, if a woman had presented with such symptoms as her that they would be branded as a witch or a demon, and hung to dry after a dip in the lake.” she said.
“Well we have certainly come a long way in the intervening years, though there is still places that practice justice in such a manner.” I said.
“You are a well-travelled man, aren’t you Lewis?” she said.
“I would say so, yes.” I said.
“Have you.. have you ever seen evidence of the occult or some indescribable force at work?” she said.
“You are talking about a supernatural occurrence of some sort?” I said.
“Yes, that is the word I am looking for. Have you ever seen such a thing?” she said.
“I have seen events which afterwards were described as being supernatural, I have heard of people practicing the occult, and I have been given cause to contemplate the movements and will of an indescribable force, but I draw no conclusions from these experiences. Once gravity was an indescribable force, now we know otherwise, once whole civilisations sacrificed animals and even people to a god in the hope that he would bring good crops, now we see the folly in this. It is my belief that in years to come many of our daily practices will be considered foolish, and so, I would not subscribe to ancient practices or belief systems.” I said.
Miss Outhwaite made no reply, and she looked out the window and I could not see her face to read her thoughts.
I returned to my shared room to find it in complete disarray. My scientific apparatuses were strewn about the room, some smashed and others bent along with sheets of paper, clothes and the bed sheets. The beds were tossed and the mattresses sliced. The windows were open and there where pools of water where the rain had blown in.
I composed myself and went down stairs to find the landlord, Mr O Rourke.
“Mr O Rourke, have you seen Mr Eammes?” I said.
“I haven’t seen him this day, sir, no sir, not at all.” he said.
“You haven’t seen him leave, no?” I said.
“No sir, not at all.” he said.
Have you seen anyone going to my room?” I said.
“Not seen a body sir, its been a quiet day on account of the rain” he said.
“Very well. I am leaving for the evening, Mr O’Rourke, and if you see Mr Eammes before you see me, please tell him that I have opened a tab at the bar for tonight and I wish for him to wait for me there.” I said.
“Of course sir, will that be all?” he said.
“Yes. Goodbye” I said.
Not knowing who had interfered with my room, and it being obvious that O Rourke wasnt going to be of any help, I elected to first find Eammes. My first port of call was to Abigail’s offices which I found empty.
I felt lost and abandoned and had no clear thought in my mind as to what to do, so I sat down in a sheltered nook and rolled a cigarette. As I raised my match to light it, turning away from the street to shelter the flame from the wind, a sheet of paper plied itself to the back of my head. I removed it and read Eammes’ handwriting.
Another day gone by, another night sleep stumbled through. When will these days end? He knows not my feelings, my thoughts, my cares, and he cares for none of them. The arrogant self-centered fool. His skewed and sheltered view of the world is tiring me. His blindness to the wonders and possibilities that are possible in this world and the next….
At this point the writing became illegible having been diluted by the rain.