15th December

The Return of Simon Stoblichties

Even in December a few tourists still came to see the shrine of Simon Stoblichties. For thirty-seven years the hermit had perched on his platform atop the blasted tree on the peat bog moor, and during those years, and ever since, the village had thrived. The hotels and restaurants did particularly well, especially in the summer months, but there was also a healthy trade in books, postcards and wee figurines of Simon standing in a loincloth, arms outstretched in the teeth of a gale.

Mrs Kincardigan kept one of the souvenir shops. As she was opening up she saw a man staggering down the street who looked very much like the figurines she sold. He had no shoes, was leaning on a staff and was attired in matted sheepskins. His hair was like six crows’ nests jammed together and his beard was nearly tripping him.

Now I’ve seen it all, Mrs Kincardigan thought. A tribute band’s one thing, but this is taking a liberty.

The stranger tottered over and asked for directions to the shrine. ‘I’ve been gone a long time,’ he quavered. ‘That way, am I right?’

‘Straight along the road,’ Mrs Kincardigan said. ‘There’s no shuttle bus today. When you get to the car park, follow the path another quarter-mile.’

‘And is my old tree still standing?’

Really, she thought. ‘It fell over,’ she said. ‘There are bits of it in the museum. The new one looks just the same though.’

He gazed at her through rheumy eyes, as if his mind were elsewhere.

‘He wouldn’t be impressed, you know,’ she said. ‘He couldn’t abide flattery. If you want my opinion, you’re insulting the memory of a good man.’

Now he stared at her with what was presumably meant to be incomprehension.

‘But –’

‘But me no buts,’ Mrs Kincardigan said. ‘He died long before I even had this shop. Shame on you.’

She turned on her heel and went in, then moved quickly to a side window to watch him lurch off with his exaggerated limp. She’d a good mind to report him. He almost certainly wouldn’t spend any money.

Honour without profit? A mug’s game. They’d never catch her at it.

Reader: Matthew Zajac
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
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