Andy’s returned to the salt and shingle of the Hollow Shore. There are whispering reeds that grow from from boggy earth, and honking v-shapes of Canada geese overhead. It’s winter; or, a new ice age. In the distance, out to sea, are icebergs. Glaucous gulls and arctic terns in the air, the water's surface breached by leopard seals.
The garden of his mother’s house leads directly down to the water's edge, through the marshes. He crunches through snow and over freezing pebbles, down to lapping waves that sigh and mutter.
There’s a narwhal pod out at sea. he can see them, tusks breaking the surface, and fine mist gusting up through their blowholes. Their backs are shiny with brine and glisten in the bright winter sunlight. He feels an unspecified sense of loss, then indescribable joy. Far out to sea, near the horizon, the Spike thrusts aggressively into the sky. Gulls and geese and terns form a halo above it.
His mother calls him, come back to the house, she has made tea, come out of the cold son, come out of the cold. He turns back to look at the house, that building that contains and constrains his childhood. But now it’s invisible, obscured by encroaching sea mists that gallop in at frightening speed, a freezing fog in which hellequins and theriantropes can be spotted chasing down the souls of the damned. Damn, it’s cold.
Now he notices another on the shingle. Looking out toward the narwhal pod is a harlequin. A pale face marred by scar tissue and a right eye weeping continually from old injuries. His multicoloured clothing is ragged and threadbare. He’s old but familiar, his eyes betray a wisdom that stretches back decades if not centuries. He sits upon a mound of albino bones.
They share poitin from the harlequin’s rusted hip-flask. It burns. The narwhal pod swims in an endless loop out at sea, tusks harpooning the surface as they spar with the leopard seals.
Squalls form and clouds gather and the mists thicken.
He sits with the harlequin in the narwhal garden, as freezing droplets begin to fall from the sky. Poitin burning their throats.
‘Magnesium burns,’ says the harlequin, pointing at the scars, as if explanation were required.
‘Andy, your tea is ready’. His mother’s voice, somewhere in the mist
Suddenly, a commotion out to sea, a leopard seal taking down a narwhal in a burst of blood. Then the screech of a glaucous gull.
Somewhere out there, on an island Andy can’t see but knows is there, lies the troll church. Andy wishes he were a winged navigator, flying high over this archipelago on which he finds himself marooned. He needs a boat, not a crippled and sad jester who drowns himself in liquor.
He turns to find his way back to his mother, away from the coast and through the marshes, to the rolling landscapes of the past.
But the mist is everywhere. He can’t get back.
The harlequin laughs, his breath carcinogenic.
He can’t get back.