I stared at the cows, and the cows stared back. They showed no sign of letting me pass. And then it dawned on me that they must have been sent as emissaries to stop me returning to the prog rock bewilderment home where Primrose tended to ghouls. The cows were trying to save me from becoming a ghoul myself, and urging me, in their quiet, cow-like way, to turn around, and to return in the direction of the horrible cave!
I span around and pranced off with renewed vigour in my step and a sense that I had a mission to fulfil. Someone, or something, must have sent those cows, and whoever or whatever it was emboldened me now. Soon I reached the blasted heath, and I unwrapped myself from the flag and fashioned it into a sail, and as if on cue a howling wind was dinning in my ears and the wind caught my impromptu sail and I was blown across that hideous heath in a matter of minutes. I laughed as I thought of the robbers and sprites that haunted the heath, lying in wait for innocent travellers, and how astonished they must have been as I sped past them at inhuman speed. I was back in the village before the shops shut up for the afternoon.
Thus I was able to exchange my bee suit for more suitable garb at a tailorâ€™s. While I waited for the pins to be removed one by one from my newly-boiled shirt, I quizzed the tailor about the events of the past few weeks, since the terrors of Saint Eustaceâ€™s Day. He was forthright with replies to my jabbered questions, explaining in vast but pointless detail that the crow-attacks had been but a prelude. A prelude to what?, I demanded. He removed the final pin from my new shirt and handed it to me, and as he did so I saw that his face was suddenly stricken with terror. He was staring at something behind my left shoulder. I turned, and came face to face with Christopher Plummer.
Gone were the appurtenances of the secret agent he had pretended to be. Now he stood in the full splendour of his alien weirdness, with several extra eyes gleaming on the end of stalks. I realised with sudden clarity the world-shaking import of the message the thousand cows had been sent to give me. Not only must I return to the horrible cave, but I had to take Christopher Plummer with me, and somehow stop him ever getting out again. I put on my shirt.
That was just two hours ago, since when I feel as if I have lived a hundred lifetimes. I can barely credit that I am sitting, now, in the reading room of a paddle steamer, heading up river to my home, where all I hold dear awaits me. I will be faintly embarrassed to be given the heroâ€™s welcome I know is my due, to fight my way past streamers and bunting to get to my garden gate. There will be music and balloons and streamers and bunting. And tonight, in the tavern, I will be pleaded with to tell, over and over again, the tale of how I outwitted the fiendish intergalactic hellhound known as Christopher Plummer.
Freshly fitted out in my new suit, I skipped past the being and out of the tailorâ€™s shop. Clearly, if he was no longer adopting his secret agent disguise, he had an agenda different from his previous visit. The stricken pallor of the tailor hinted at what that was. I hid in a culvert and waited for Christopher Plummer to leave the shop. When he did so, I was not surprised to see the tailor tripping in his wake, like an organ grinderâ€™s monkey. I followed them at a distance, past the swimming pool and the gas board offices, until they stopped at the gate to the allotments. After that, it was simple. I knew that Christopher Plummer would drop his guard as he communed with hollyhocks, that the energy he needed to exchange swirling thought-patterns with the plants would leave him temporarily exhausted. As soon as I saw them clamber over the gate, I hared back to the pie shop and, finding it shut, hammered on the door like a maniac. Luckily, the fop had not yet left the premises. When he let me in, in his world-weary manner, I apprised him of the situation with a rapid-fire blizzard of babble. It had no effect. He was the most infuriating pie shop fop I have ever come across. Judging that I had little time left, I pushed him aside, grabbed hold of his pie-trolley, broke the wheel-locking mechanism with my bare hands, stuffed into the pockets of my new trousers a huge amount of pastry box ribbon, and ran back outside, pushing the pie-trolley ahead of me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the cows looming over by the market square, and I knew then that I was doing the right thing.
At the allotments, it was childâ€™s play to overpower the enervated Christopher Plummer. I had him tied up with pastry box ribbon on the pie-trolley in the blink of an eye. Pausing only to force a draught of Wainwrightâ€™s Invigorating Syrup down the tailorâ€™s throat, I bore off with my captor towards the horrible cave.
Yes, I went back. I had to. I could do no other. And there, at the gaping mouth of the horrible cave, I gave the pie-trolley a mighty push, and Christopher Plummer was sent helplessly into the darkness.
Before I left, I found my signboard and touched up the wording with an indelible marker pen, and I planted hollyhocks all around, and only then did I head off to catch the paddle steamer to take me home. Later tonight, after the celebrations, I will sleep like a baby, for I must be up and about at dawn tomorrow, to investigate the terrible pond.
Blimey: just goes to show, you can’t be too careful these days.
Mind you I’ve always been suspicious of Christopher Plummer (the thespian one, though it presumably applies to both) since observing, during an interminable amateur performance of ‘The Sound of Music’, that his name was an anagram of Sepulchre Mirth-Romp. Needless to say (before the libel-lawyers start to get excited) Mirth-Romp himself was not involved in that interminable amateur performance, unless in some impenetrable disguise.
But how many Days are consecrated in the name of St Eustace? At least two, in this great saga, three weeks apart; unless of course our hero was lied to by his calendrical informants in the Prog-Rock Bewilderment Establishment.
Or perhaps there are two Saints Eustace, the one a bona-fide fresh-air shaman, and the other a spectral emanation originating in some nameless galaxy, remote beyond our understanding.
R : Your last paragraph is the correct interpretation of the wily Saint Eustace. Further revelations about the saint and his doppelganger will follow. (I wanted to put an umlaut over that o, but am not entirely sure how to do so in this comment box, so just imagine one. Somehow an imaginary umlaut suits a doppelganger.)
Sepulchre Mirth-Romp… brilliant!
I’d be tempted to put the umlaut over the ‘a’ … but it could be argued that one of the many benefits of imaginary accents is that they are not location-specific.
Interesting, is it not, that one doesn’t often read about, nor knowingly encounter, a trippelganger?
I’d like to recommend the word ‘umptupleganger’, with or without imaginary accents, for a future Hooting Yarn.