I can’t say I’m anything to be anyone to be saying a thing about it, but I’s heard it enough, I have, as much as any. But it was, gah, it was over yonder ways near Bristhlewaight or Skinnamarok or what’s-the-town. What’s that town, Geoff, north the forest up there yonder? Place where they strung up Michael Timms? Ensthley? Round bout Ensthley, thereaways, was the town. Round bout these areas they call it Ben-Jessay, after the milliner, you know him. Anyways it was in this town that it happened.
Och, it was 609, 610. 610, would you say, Geoff? It was before they built the bridge anyway, that’s for sure. Maybe around 608, that area. And so there was the ferry that they had back in those times to, you understand, to get them cross the river. And the ferry, so I believe, was on a kind of a schedule, you know the type. Because they couldn’t be, you see, just taking people whenever they please. There’s taxes, and these ferries were dear as a virgin to maintain. So’s this ferry, after all, runs only Tuesdays and Fridays, or so they say. So the story goes.
And it was a storming Tuesday night, a thick and evil night over Ben-Jessay and nought but no one hadn’t already been gathered together under the sheets in their homes. Which were scanty, mind you. Straw roofs they had back then. So the whole household would have to be cuddling all together under one blanket. But that was family back then, you understand. It was quite a different thing entirely.
And on this night there came upon the gates of that town a three knocks. On the great wood gates a one Knock. And then another Knock. And a final Knock. Cut it out, Geoff, I’m trying to tell her the story. So you get the three knocks. And everyone in the town hears it, and falls silent as the grave. Not a person stirring. Who could be out on a night so cursed? Who could be slinkin’ about the forest but a daemon, to be sure? And so they waited. And again came the one Knock. And then another Knock. And a final Knock. Geoff. I swear by my sainted Mother if you- And everyone was afeared, you see, paralyzed!
But then a little boy called out into the rainy night: “Oi, Thomas the Gatekeeper! Let the snoppypuss in the gate, can’t you see it’s raining!” And everyone started laughing at their fear and sure as a cur Thomas the Gatekeeper rushed out in his nightie to open the gate. It heaved open like the gates of Los, and standing behind them was a bedrecked little mammal of a man, standing hand in hand with two children and a great sack over his shoulder. Now these two children, adorable as they must have been, were wearing two masks. One was…now here I have to remember.
I’m sorry. But a moment.
Ah yes, one with a white face and black rims about the eyes and mouth, the other with a white face and a black line through the middle. Right here, see, down my nose, splitting the whole thing in two. Now this man, he goes right on up through the town to the church, where he sets up a bed on the pew and -and here’s my personal favorite part of the story- has the kids sleep in the organ pipes! Imagine that, if you can, these kids so wee that they slide right down plop into the tubes. That part’s been with me since I was a baby. The two children in the pipes.
So the townsfolk find it strange and all, but you have to consider the times. In those days, who knows, everything and anything was happening. There was no normal back in those days, you understand, stragglers and wanderers dressed only in nature, just going from town to town. You understand. And so they let the man and the children sleep there and then in the church, all agreeing to discuss the matter on the morrow.
But lo that very night an evil spirit was in the wind, and Barney the Billager was outside back round the back of his house taking care of a bit of the business, you understand? What? Peeing, I’m talking about, Jaysis. Anyways, there’s old Barney out there all by his lonesome when there comes a Tap. Then another Tap. And finally one last Tap. All slow like, on his shoulder. Now Barney, like any true Fustian, doesn’t like being touched while taking care of the business, so he swings round and who does he see standing there in front of him in the dark of night but the stranger and the two children. Masks and all. Now Barney’s about to let out such a stream of curses as you’ve never heard, but there he sees the two kids so he puts in the stopper and says hello-like. You understand. Salutations and such.
And the bugger, that is the stranger, he was a grizzly sight to behold up close, and when he spoke was like the breath of Dunderoth reborn. “Barney,” says he, and Barney, hearing the voice, gets the fear in him strongly, “you see these two wee ones I got here?” And Barney nods aye. And the man he snatches one up and pushes him to Barney and says “I’m sorry for askin’ it. But I want you to murder this littlun.”
Imagine that, if you can. And Barney seeing behind the mask the eyes so young and terrified.
And of course Barney says no and makes to walk away. But then the stranger says to him, in that same voice so great and fearful, “Barney, if you refuse, I shall kill them both. Would you want to kill this littlun?” And he points to the other child.
Now Barney, in such a state, knowing full well that this man is not to be tested, indeed hearing the very truth of the man’s words in his voice, quick as a clam twists the first wee one’s head clean off. And it was done. And the stranger gathered up the remains, thanked Barney, and preceded to enter each house, one after the other, to give each townsman and townswoman the same choice.
What’s that? Oh right. Was the bag. The bag he had with ‘im. Was filled with children, kidnapped from all across the land. There was Greteslish children, tall Nabinian children, Freet, Blanc and Gallows children. Some say he even had a little Etruscan girl. And he would tell each man and woman to choose, and needless to say they were all good folk, and none of them wanted to see two children dead, and so they all done the horrible deed set before them. And none of them dreamed to argue.
And then he was gone. For good, you see, and that’s the legend of Terrible Thomas. But what we do know, what we know for a fact, is that never again was a child born to Ben-Jessay. There was never another murder, never another marriage, and certainly never another child. The town simply waited and died, one by one. And now it is nought but a field over yonder ways.
Save one. One child was born one year after Thomas’ visit. And nought but no one knows where he be.