David Ian Paddy
On that day no boats would dock.
She was on her customary walk around the island. Leaving her home by the back through the alleyway, she passed under the fragile wooden bridges that connected the houses at the front to the small cabins behind that were wedged deep in the hill rock. The rain struck intermittently. Out of the alley and along the esplanade through the old village, she could look up to see the grand castle hotel, hovering on the rounded cliff’s edge above. Down the path, along the coast, she saw Sam Iestyn with his spaniel, and later Ruth Glain taking her youngest daughter to the shallow pools where the bullcods were trapped by the tide. Past the cape, near the farm, up the hill, where Voirrey the talking stoat roamed, she came back up on the overland through the central plain, as she did every day. The stone church steeple was silhouetted on the horizon, fading in the sky against the darkening clouds. Into the cemetery, there the Glains, here the Iestyns, there Genuweses, here Ajeans. Every family accounted for. Every member where they should be, as always.
Up there, by the rotting maple, one gravestone on its own, where there had never been one before. Where none was supposed to be. It was made of the same eighteenth-century stone as its neighbors. The name chiseled in: Tom Harris 1755-1778.
There had never been a Harris on the island.
Later, they decided no boats would dock that day.
+ + +
The island had been guillemots and puffins and seals in the harbor until 1610 when Marc Glain set off from the mainland with intent of owning an island. Though rock pilings and standing stones were littered on the central plain indicating that others had laid their plot here once before, Marc found no serious signs of settlement and declared the place his own. Over years he scuttled back and forth between the island and the mainland with supplies and people, and slowly they built a series of stone houses and shops at the base of the large cliff by the eastern coastal slide. The last of his friends who had agreed to join him in the expedition helped build the church near the center at the edge of the plain. And he made a home of a grand castle on the cliff’s edge, looking over the village. Years later it would become a hotel in which no visitors ever stayed.
The friends and family who had joined him—Glains, Iestyns, Genuweses and Ajeans—agreed this was Marc’s island. He was to be their leader, their chieftan, their prime minister. He was the one to establish the laws, the codes of conduct, the calendar. Though in principle they had given up the rights established on the mainland, once they had conceded to the principles of Marc’s benign dictatorship, they felt somehow more free. As the centuries wore on, Marc continued to rule by emblem, on the island’s stamps and coins. This was a bit of a sticking point for the authorities on the mainland who had never really consented to the notion that the island belong to Marc Glain. The deification of the man in legacy seemed, in earnest, treasonous to the crown, but the denizens of the isle were ready to fight for their independence, and the authorities of the mainland thought the people so few, and so harmless, they tended to regard the situation as a trifle, and was good for a giggle at the Christmas party.
+ + +
Mona Ajean walked faster than normal back from the cemetery, into the town, into the alley and under the bridges and into her home. Picking up the phone she contacted Heima Glain, head of the town council.
“Heima? Mona. We need to call a metyans, and we need to call it now.”
“Slow down, Mona. A meeting? What is it has you so het up?”
“The cemetery. A stone I’ve never seen afore.”
“What do you mean? A grave?”
“Yes, and it says upon it, ‘Tom Harris.’”
“Tom Harris? But none as such has lived on the island, you know it.”
“That’s why I call a meeting.”
“Probably a prank, some teenager up to foolery.”
“Heima, it’s an old stone, as old as the others. And it looks as though as it’s always been there.”
“Strange to be sure. Right then, I’ll call others.”
“This is about community. This is about belonging. About what is right, and what is us and ours.”
A large group huddled in front of the post office. Alain’s child, who always had her panda ears hat on, was seated on the concrete rail, while all the adults were stood with hands crossed and serious faces.
Tristan Genuwes approached the crowd but continued to walk past. Never fond of groups, he found this one especially oppressive. A solid rock of island folk, one mass with stern edifice making its singular decision for all.
In the room above the bakery, across from the post office, Tristan pulled down the shade and took a book from the shelves, On the Other Side, and slid under his bed covers. His father had passed it on to him, not long before he had fallen down the coastal slide, never to be seen again. Lost in rock, wrack or water remains unknown.
A hefty book, On the Other Side featured mostly photographs surrounded by small passages of writing. Tristan had loved it as a child because it was one of the few books in the house that consisted mostly of pictures, not like the obscure tomes his father preferred, the ones in a plethora of languages he did not understand. The photos were mostly of ancient standing stones that were spread across the fields of the islands of the North, mysterious messages left by strangers before they left for other lands. The book included the stones found on the middle plains of Marc Glain’s island: The pillars, the dancing circle, and the round stone like a doughnut with a hole in it like a peephole. Most look through the round stone and see the same as if they had not looked through the stone at all. The book claimed, however, that it was a window to the other side. In the negative space, a new world would appear.
“We have to tell the harbormaster to send a message to the mainland. No boats from offlanders can come in.”
Nearly all the island folk were gathered before the post office. Finisterre Ajean, with her panda ears, looked as bored as sin, but all the others listened to Mona as one.
“This could have been done by an outsider. Very likely that. We can take no chances of letting them back in until we know more. Until then, we must question our own.”
“Who did this?” said the crowd.
A month ago, after midnight, Tristan had gone for a walk, and he trekked to the plain, past the cemetery and into the center of the dancing circle of stones, the field bright from the stars and moon. From there he walked up to the round stone. He stared through the peephole, but he could see nothing out of the ordinary. And then he climbed up and stepped through.
On the other side, the starlit field, the same island, the same sea and harbor.
He hiked back down to the village, the shops naturally closed at night. The village was much as the one he had known his whole life, but when he looked in the windows, the shops sold different wares and the names on the stores resembled none he had ever known.
He went back to the field of standing stones and stepped back through the peephole. Back in the village, everything was as he had always known it to be. But instead of the dark of night, it was bright. Where the shops had been closed, they were now open. He could not tell how much time had passed. No one noticed that he had been gone, but no one ever much noticed Tristan.
Three weeks later he went back through the round stone and this time he visited the cemetery. Like the village on the other side, the church was the same, and the tombstones all had similar shapes, but the names, like the names on the stores, were not ones he recognized. They were not names like ours: Smith, Wright, Jones, Harris.
The following day, after crossing back, he walked to the church and the cemetery of his island. The church of the same shape, but the one he had attended every Sunday as a child. The gravestones the same shape as the other side, as the other side was the same as this. But here, the names he knew.
Except for one.
Tom Harris. From the other side.
Mona led the investigation, accompanied by two other islanders.
House by house they went, asking questions.
Everyone knows everyone else.
This is about community. This is about belonging.
Who knows what’s happened? A stone where there should not be. A name that should not be.
House by house they go, asking questions.
Everyone accounted for.
Except for Tristan Genuwes. The mystery boy who lives in the small room above the bakery. Who did not join the metyans like the others. Whose father had caused all that trouble all those years afore.
The boy was not at home, but later that day, Sanders Iestyn saw Tristan going up to the plain. Sanders, Mona and her fellow interrogators followed him. They began to shout. And more came behind them. The shouting grew. There was mention of the island carta and the rules of belonging. And the shouting grew, and as Tristan headed through the circle of dancing stones and on toward the window of the round stone, the crowd gathered speed and like hounds to fox, they pursued.
The next day, Mona Ajean was on her customary walk around the island. Through the alleyway, under the wooden bridges, along the esplanade through the old town, under the grand castle hotel. Past the cape, near the farm, up the hill, she came back up on the overland through the central plain, as she did every day. The stone church steeple was silhouetted against the darkening clouds. In the cemetery, Glains, Iestyns, Genuweses, Ajeans. Every family accounted for. Every member where they should be, as always.
No other graves, no other names.
In the harbor, boats from the mainland approached.