Volume 1.6: 'The Little People'
"Surely you're not thinking of going up to the Warnke House? Not at this time of year? And not with an empty flask?
I don't care what your friends want to do. Has your mother told you nothing of the little people living there? Has she not raised you right? If you were my son, I'd have told you all about the Warnke place and what happened there. I'd have told you when you were old enough to go exploring up there; I'd have told you when you were old enough to listen.
You sit there, right on that kitchen chair Little James, and I'll tell you.
When I was a little boy, long before I got married to your grandmother – God rest her soul – and even longer before your mother was born, the Warnkes still lived at Warnke House. The family's patriarch, Piotr, was a jolly old fellow with a huge black beard who threw the most fantastic parties for everyone who neighboured the family estate. Anyone who could hold an instrument played there, so that every room was alive with music and song. The matriarch, Zuzia, was equally jolly: an eternal smile and a kind word for everyone. The town loved them and they loved the town.
It was only natural then that Warnke House attracted the little people.
The Warnkes were well used to the little people from the old country where they made their fortune but for us in our little town, they were astounding.
After the little folk arrived, there were stories of men being led astray after closing time at the tavern by strange lights deep in the forest and stories from their wives of housekeeping money mysterious disappearing at around the same time but, for all their mischief, the little folk never did anyone harm.
That was because Mother and Father Warnke knew how to keep them happy.
You see, the second of May every year was a special day for the little folk: a time of great celebration in their little world. For three days and three nights, they would sing tiny songs and dance tiny dances and get riotously drunk. You think you and your friends know how to get stewed? You've not seen anything until you've seen the little folk drink.
Piotr and Zuzia made sure there were a few barrels of good wine in the cellar on the second of May. Now...little people are only an inch tall and have big tufts of hair on their ears, but most strange of all were their little teeth – shaped like little saws! In the mornings, Piotr and Zuzia would come down to the cellar and find the tops neatly sawn off the wine barrels, but the barrels themselves were as dry as dust.
They were happy times, but they didn't last.
Piotr and Zuzia grew homesick for the old country and their extended family departed our little town one cool April day, leaving the estate in the stewardship of a barrister named Mr Rayle.
Ah, yes. Now, this bit of the story you might know something about. You might be just old enough to remember.
Mr Rayle was greedy and slothful and so tight with a penny that none ever slipped through his fingers. When he took charge of the Warnke House, he squeezed his money so damn tight you could hear it squeak. He locked up most of the rooms as tight as a drum; all the furniture got shrouded in dust sheets. The serving staff were all laid off and there were no more parties for the locals. Everything, he muttered in that blubbery way of his, everything was to be pared down to the bone. He often drummed his pork sausage fingers as he said it.
Soon, the second of May came round again and we townspeople held our breath. The wine cellars of the Warnkes were still there, barrels of hearty vintages stacked to the ceiling, but would Mr Rayle let the little people drink their fill?
No! On the night of the second of May, Mr Rayle woke up at midnight to the sound of a thousand little saw blades biting wood. He hurried out of bed, along the balcony and thundered down the stairs, one meaty footstep after another, convinced that thieves were breaking into the house. When he finally realised the noise was coming from the cellar, he went down there, gas lantern held high in one hand and a stout walking stick in the other.
The sight stunned him: hundreds of tiny mouse-sized creatures biting at the barrels!
Never one to fear an opponent whilst heavily armed, Mr Rayle waded in, thrashing left and right with his stick. The 'mice' squealed and ran, melting away into thin air whenever they hid in one of the cellar's deep shadows. Though he'd missed them all, the fat lawyer was well-pleased: he had done his duty.
The next morning, Mr Rayle went into town and bought dozens of the most brutal rat traps that money could buy. Hang the expense, he'd thought to himself, if it'll guarantee me a peaceful night's sleep.
And it did. Mr Rayle slept the whole night through, peacefully slumbering through the sound of strong springs triggering, through the shriek of the injured and through the wailing of the bereaved. When he woke the next morning, he was well-pleased again, though the rats had gnawed all of the traps into neat, one-inch pieces. There were no rat bodies either and Mr Rayle mopped his fat face with a handkerchief in confusion at that.
Still, there were plenty more traps to be bought in town.
The third night, the last night of the little people's revels, Mr Rayle was woken by the sound of sawing once again. He sprang out of bed, brim-full of eager anger, and snatched up the heavy stick that he'd intentionally left beside his bed.
A good man goes to war, Mr Rayle thought triumphantly as he rounded onto the landing with the momentum of a charging bull elephant.
But, you see, the sound of sawing was too loud to be coming from the cellar, which the warring barrister was too keen to realise. The noise was coming from the banister rails outside his room: dozens of tiny gnawing mouths.
Mr Rayle collided with the banister, fully expecting to bounce off, but instead he crashed straight through, out over thin air.
When the milkman came by the next morning, he found a very dead Mr Rayle and dozens of little bloody footprints leading to the ajar cellar door. Down there, he found nothing at all except a few pinches of sawdust.
So you see, my child, never call on the Warnke House with an empty bottle, especially on the second of May. Take something, anything at all. Don't mess with the little people, especially when they're sober."