Sunday, February 12, 2006


[read part one here]

When the sun achieves its apogee, the entire bazaar closes down for a two-hour siesta. The men go home to their wives, who have lunch simmering in cauldrons, cool drinks in condensation-beaded pitchers and, in some cases, freshly cut flowers on the checkered oilcloths covering their tables. When Bosch the Foreman blew through a conch shell to signal the beginning of siesta, Gannon rolled down the awning over his booth's façade and headed toward his home. Hours hence, Gannon's wife, who had been waiting anxiously in the kitchen with a freshly cut flower in her hair, reported to Mather the Magistrate that Gannon had not come home for siesta. The stew in the cauldron cooled and congealed; the pitcher sweated and left a circular puddle on the checkered oilcloth; the flower wilted in the fierce meridian sun, and Gannon has not been seen since.

These are the facts, insofar as we can perceive them. Lewellyn the Archivist consulted his annals and confirmed that there had not been a disappearance in our town since Fellrath the Librarian suddenly stopped coming to work and was never seen again. And this was not even a true disappearance, for Fellrath was a solitary, troubled man who disdained our town's local literature, much of which was penned by myself (Bartleby the Amanuensis, by way of late introduction); my brother, Zephyr the Belletrist; and by our own late father, Echo. Our literature consists chiefly of uplifting, instructive allegories about community solidarity and the virtues of a simple, moralistic way of life. Fellrath favored esoteric foreign volumes filled with conspiracy, betrayal, and frank depictions of carnality, or else books leaden with undercurrents of philosophy and mysticism. So no one was too surprised when he turned up missing.

Of course, in a town as hermetic as ours, crime is rare and disappearance even rarer, so the citizenry immediately worked itself into a lather of rumor. Some maintained that Gannon kept a mistress in the island village, our nearest neighbor. Several hours journey by rowed skiff, the only accounts we possess of the island were supplied by long-dead explorers and adventurers (and this information is regarded warily, since men who forego the pleasures of hearth and home for profligate, frivolous escapades can hardly be trusted in their judgments). Nevertheless, it has been recorded that the island is composed of an evergreen weald girded by vast, frozen plains. Its residents bundle in fur-lined parkas and fish with braided vine fibers through holes in the ice, for sustenance and sport. It is also said that exotic, unspeakable creatures move through their snow-burdened air, and examples of these are on display in Murphe the Taxidermist's curious little shop, though more level-headed citizens maintain that creatures such as these could not possibly exist – that Murphe is committing blasphemy by cobbling fantastic beasts from the carcasses of commonplace animals such as bats, felines, deer and fish. The island blackens our horizon, constantly emitting a thick smoke of unknown provenance.

The island denizens' artic environment is as alien and repellent to us as our tropical milieu must be to them, and perhaps this has been a factor in our failure to form a search party and locate Gannon's supposed mistress for questioning. His wife gainsays the mistress theory altogether, averring that even if Gannon did keep a mistress, which she was loathe to believe, he would not have gone to her during siesta (when his absence would immediately alert his wife to some malfeasance) unless he planned to not return. This, too, she found unlikely, because whatever Gannon's husbandly shortcomings may have been, he was ferociously dedicated to his daughter and would never abandon her. Most of the town's more incisive thinkers agreed that this was so.

Some believed that Gannon fell prey to violent crime; was dragged into a dark alley by a gang of roving bandits. Occam's razor, which holds that the simplest explanation is the correct one, as we choose to interpret it, has long held sway in our town – indeed, is engraved on the sundial in the town square. So even though violent crime is practically unheard of here, a mugging was still the simplest explanation. Of course, it was soon rendered invalid by the subsequent disappearances.

In the deep hours of the night, as the men hunched over whiskey sours under the tavern's murky oil-lamps, and the women sat sewing in flickering, fire-lit circles, darker, stranger rumors circulated. Much was made of Talwick the Haberdasher's account of Gannon's insubstantiality on the day he vanished, of his watery shimmer. And everyone muttered obscurely about the circled notice in the paper, the (alleged) stellate nimbus about Gannon's head, and the (ostensible) remoteness noticed by his apprentice. But Talwick was a known drunkard, a slave not only to spirits, but to graver vices as well: opium, and a green concoction of wormwood essence and alcohol. It was rumored that he smuggled hogsheads of the stuff into town by way of the underground cove just south of the harbor, possibly from the frozen isle. So his account was generally dismissed as the raving of madman and given little credence. Neither was the apprentice trustworthy, for the obtuse perceptions of a child are not capable of tracing out the acute nuances of a man, and often the import of meaningless tics is amplified in the young mind. But what of Lathel the Baker's deposition? A life-long teetotaler, known in the community as a rational and honorable man, not one among us would dare to call his testimony into question. But the only clue he offered was a notice in the paper about a missing cat, a notice that Gannon had circled in blue ink.

Or had he? The notice was circled and it was Gannon's paper, but Lathel admits he did not actually see Gannon circle the item, or even hold a pen, and that it was possible someone who had a perfectly mundane reason for circling the item passed along the paper to Gannon. He quickly corrected himself for using the word "mundane" and evoking its counter-insinuations, making embarrassed gestures with his hands.

And so this clue, like numerous others, remains unverified; can be attributed to neither grave import nor red herring, though it must be one or the other. Some still debate the various testimonies with an unease that swells as the pieces refuse to cohere; others have tried to put them out of mind, and all the while soft thunder and heat lightning gambol intransigently above the old mansion. Thick smoke sparkling with tiny lights rises from the frozen isle. Grubs and beetles writhe obscenely in the moist loam under each rock, where there was once only cool dead grass, and people are disappearing.



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