Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle
Artwork by Steve English
Episode 11 – Snott
As the Baron made his way out of the Manor and along one of the many pathways through the forest to the village of Snott, a bundle of soggy vacuum cleaner components in his cape, he had two companions. The one he knew about was Horatio Fleming McNaughtie – the cause of the carnage he now carried in the hope of repair. The other, unseen and unnoticed, was Eller Beck. She was following the Baron because the most momentous event she could recall had happened only recently and she wanted to have it (or something similar) happen again. It had happened when Horatio had passed through her. So, even though she loathed the pooch, she didn’t really want to be away from him in case there was the slightest chance she could feel something more.
As they walked through the forest, Eller put herself in Horatio’s way time and time again, but nothing happened. Well, nothing she noticed. There were a few moments when she felt that maybe the dog had seen her but, every time she thought that was the case, Horatio simply ran over to a post, a rock, a tree or just a patch of grass to have a sniff and a wee.
Reaching the divide in the main pathway that led to the three separate villages, Eller followed as the Baron took the right-hand fork, heading for Snott.
Usually, Eller tried to avoid looking at the Baron because he looked so… evil. When he tried to smile, people sometimes ran away and children ALWAYS cried. As she trailed behind the man and his dog, having given up trying to make Horatio pass through her, Eller noticed the Baron’s back for the first time. Sure, it was a little hunched and never really straight but, as they paused momentarily at the turn in the pathway, she noticed the Baron take a deep breath and, if anything, his shoulders hung lower.
Did the Baron hate going to the villages too she wondered? She did what had become second nature, because no one ever heard her, and started to voice her thoughts out loud. Looking at the Baron, she asked, ‘Do you find it hard to come to the villages as well?’
Eller looked at his profile. But this time, she didn’t just glance at him as she usually did, she looked at him properly, trying to hold back her natural reaction to retch. Then, moving a little ahead of him and walking backwards, she looked directly at his face. His sharp features dominated his face, along with his somewhat over-large set of teeth, all a little too pointed for comfort. His mono-brow almost seemed to have a mind of its own. But then, as she continued to stare, a look of revulsion on her own face, she caught sight of his eyes.
Without thinking, she found herself talking to him. ‘Why haven’t I ever looked at your eyes?’ Then, carrying on, without expecting a reply, ‘They’re so dark, almost black and yet I can still make out your pupils. What is it I see? Is it weariness? Are you tired? It’s so hard to tell with that pale skin of yours. No, I think it’s something else.’
As they carried on walking, they began to enter the village. It was heading towards full moon, so the enchantment was starting to have a strong grip on the villages and their occupants. She saw the Baron’s eyes dart from one tiny Snott to another. Soon they would be so small that they’d pretty much disappear.
Then, Eller realised what it was she saw in those darting, dark eyes. The Baron was sad, sad for the little Snotts, some of whom had shrunk so much that, if the village hadn’t also shrunk with them, it would have taken them a long time to return to their homes.
Several times the Baron hesitated close to a mother and her child as if trying to work out what to do. The young girl was crying, and the mother looked tired.
‘It couldn’t be?’ Eller found herself asking. ‘Is it possible you’re feeling sorry for them? That you actually want to help?’ The words, once out of her mouth, seemed preposterous. Who could ever imagine Baron Rott & Grott & Snott (to give him his full title) ever being anything other than evil? Just to look at him sent chills down people’s spines. Even folk inside their houses could tell when he was around. It was more than just his looks; he oozed evil. And yet, here he was, with sadness in his eyes at the plight of a little Snott child?
Hesitating one more time, the Baron turned towards the mother and child, and instantly the young girl screamed as if she was about to be eaten by an ogre! At that, the Baron quickly turned away and carried on towards the repair shop.
Eller found herself paying even more attention to the Baron. She still hated him, of course. Everyone did. They couldn’t tell how or why, but everyone believed he was responsible for their situation. You only had to look at him to see the evil almost rising off him like vapour. But Eller had seen something else – maybe it had been worth coming on this trip after all.
She saw it again as they passed a Rott villager who had just about wholly disintegrated, with all the bits that had fallen off wiggling around, useless. Then, once more, when they passed a Grott couple who had almost turned into pure slime. None of them was going to get back home to their own villages until after full moon and, somehow, she could tell he wanted to help them. But they wouldn’t be helped, at least not by him; even though he was one of the only ones who could help because he didn’t rot, turn to goo or shrink as full moon approached like all the villagers did.
Shortly after this revelation, they arrived at the Snott electrical repairs store to drop off the vacuum cleaner parts. The proprietor and his shop had shrunk to such an extent that they couldn’t get into the building. The proprietor’s badge was just visible, hovering above his head. It said S – FIXER, which was easy to understand.
It didn’t seem to matter whether the proprietor could be seen or not, as the conversation between the two of them had obviously happened so many times that it had become a kind of shorthand, and was over in a matter of seconds. From what Eller could make out, all that passed between them were a few short grunts, some money reluctantly pulled from the Baron’s cape, and the remains of the vacuum cleaner left outside the shop. Then, as they turned to walk back, the Baron picked up a near-identical vacuum cleaner that had been left behind the shop. Strangely enough, this one hadn’t shrunk, probably because it belonged to the Manor and not the village of Snott. This was clearly something that happened a lot.
The walk back to the Manor was no less thought-provoking as, now Eller knew what to look for, she started to notice even more the concern in the Baron’s eyes. To this day, Eller doesn’t understand why she reacted the way she did. But, rather than feeling sympathy for this man who obviously felt strongly for the pain of the villagers, Eller found herself erupting in anger at him. ‘You care so much about them, but you don’t care about me, do you?’ she found herself shouting, with sudden tears streaming down her face. ‘Here I am lost, alone, little more than a ghost with no one, not even a stupid mutt for company. Why can’t you see me?’
It was then that Eller noticed the Baron looking not exactly at her, but towards and slightly above her. For a moment, her heart leapt, but then she realised what was happening, her badge had started to shine. Somehow, her badge had managed to find her and was slowly dancing around her as if it couldn’t quite work out exactly where she was. The Baron had seen her badge, but he hadn’t seen her. All he would notice was a random badge that said LOST on it.
She’d heard people talk about her badge many times before. Because it didn’t start with an R, G or S, no one thought it belonged to anyone in the villages or the Manor. People in the Manor had badges that started with RGS because they somehow belonged to the whole place, to Rott, Grott & Snott, but her badge just said LOST. Over the years, there had been several theories as to what this badge might mean, but now everyone seemed to think it was just a lost badge that turned up in random places. She had tried to move it to show people it was more than just a lost badge, but its connection to her was so weak, it never really did anything other than wiggle and drift around.
The Baron’s badge was also starting to show: RGS – IBEBH. Of course, no one knew what that meant and, again, there were many theories about what it could stand for – most of which wouldn’t bear repeating in polite company! Oh, and Horatio’s badge was also appearing: RGS – TBT – H. She had no idea what the TBT stood for, but she was pretty sure the H stood for Hideous or Horrible.
Within half an hour they were back at the Manor and Eller’s mood hadn’t lifted. In fact, it had got worse. She wasn’t to know, but the enchantment of Rott, Grott and Snott, always became much stronger at full moon. It reached its peak at midnight, and then deflated, like a balloon having all the air let out of it, shortly after. And, like a deflated balloon, everyone seemed slightly out of shape for the next day or so! What Eller didn’t realise was that she was so cross, and disliked the Baron so much, because that was his enchantment – to be despised and hated. Worse still, it was about to reach its peak.
Frustration soon developed into anger which twisted itself into fury and a determination to ‘show him’, to ‘get him back’. If she had spent any time trying to work out precisely what it was she wanted to pay him back for, she might have realised it wasn’t him but the enchantment. But, alas, filled with irrational hate and thoughts of petty revenge, Eller decided that, if there was anything she could do, now was the time to do it – to get the Baron and his miserable mutt back! The problem was working out exactly what she could do when she usually couldn’t touch, move or grab anything. Still, as her anger grew, Eller came up with an idea that, on the face of it, seemed simple but was actually quite hard – for her.
You see, there were fleeting times when Eller could touch things and move them. And, as you could probably guess, those times were very much more likely to happen around a full moon. Full moon was due tonight and, with only a few hours to go until it hit its peak at midnight, Eller hatched her spiteful plot of undeserved revenge.
The Baron loved his dog Horatio and made it a habit to give him one treat every day as night-time arrived. These treats came from a particular store that Roseberry always kept stocked up. The Baron and Roseberry thought that this stock of special treats was well hidden. But, because Eller could walk through walls, she had long since worked out where the stash of biscuits was kept. Maybe tonight, just before dusk became night, she would be able to touch something. It had happened before. It hadn’t lasted longer than a few moments but, if it worked tonight – if maybe her anger and frustration amped up her enchantment – then perhaps she could steal those secret snacks.
She knew it was petty, but at least it was something to satisfy her growing, unreasonable temper. What she didn’t realise was that her rage had started because she’d let it. When she should have been forgiving, understanding and kind, she allowed anger to grow and fester inside her instead. And, as it grew, it became more than just rage – it became the power she needed to act – but what good can come from actions fermented in anger?
When it came to it, the whole thing worked so well it surprised Eller to the point of shock. The stash of special biscuits was near a rubbish shoot where she could quickly get rid of them if only she were able to touch the tin. All Eller needed to do was open the lid, lift the tin up and tip the contents down the shoot – job done! In theory, it should have been impossible as Eller usually couldn’t touch a thing. Still, somehow, her rage combined with the nearing full moon and lateness of the hour must have been enough. Or was there something else at work? We’ll never know.
What we do know is that, in only a few moments, Eller had emptied the tin. She didn’t manage to get the lid back on, but somehow that gave her a wicked sense of satisfaction at the thought of the Baron fearing they’d been robbed! No sooner had she finished, than the Baron came into the kitchen as the night finally closed in. The mutt trotted behind him, eyes strangely glowing with a slightly manic look as he followed the Baron to the tin.
It went better than Eller could ever have imagined. The first thing the Baron noticed was the missing lid. She saw his panic, the grabbing of the tin and realisation that it was empty. She hadn’t anticipated the look of fear that swept across his face. She was surprised by the way he gingerly turned to face the dog, who somehow seemed to have grown in the encroaching darkness.
The Baron forced a smile onto his face. It was probably the most revolting thing Eller had ever seen. ‘Who’s a good boy?’ he asked, keeping his hands back from the dog and not taking his eyes off him.
By this time, Horatio had started to realise something was wrong – but he wasn’t angry, he didn’t growl – although his eyes did seem to be turning green once again. Instead, he eased slowly up to the Baron (who had either shrunk, or the dog had grown) and sniffed in his general direction. A short derisory snort followed, covering the Baron with clear mucus. Then, with green eyes starting to blaze, Horatio turned and ran from the room, followed a moment later by a mortified Baron screaming after him, ‘Horatio, Horatio. NO!!’
She’d thought that seeing the Baron unhappy would give her a sense of fairness, that she was somehow paying him back. But this wasn’t working because, instead of feeling better, Eller felt a slowly rising crest of panic swell inside her. The panic started to replace the rage, which strangely seemed to be laughing at her, while a little voice in her head started shrieking, ‘What have I done?’