The footprint problem
I was woken just after 6.00 one morning by a hammering on my back door.
I quickly threw on some clothes and ran downstairs.
“What on earth are you doing here so early?” I asked Alun as I let him in, “The boatman hasn’t even been yet.”
“There’s a footprint, Jed.”
“A footprint. In the wet sand on the North shore. I was walking to meet the boatman when I saw it.”
“Are you sure it’s not one of yours?” I asked, “perhaps you made it yesterday.” Alun could sometimes get confused. He once spent an entire week convinced he was being followed, before he realised it was his shadow.
“Do you think I’m a fool Jed. Of course it wasn’t mine, do you think I wouldn’t recognise my own foot? Besides, it was fresh Jed, the tide had just been in, it’s less than two hours old. Someone’s creeping around our island at 4.00 in the morning Jed. And whoever it is they’re still here.”
“Perhaps it was the boatman?” I suggested. “Or another visitor from the mainland.”
“The boatman doesn’t arrive ‘til 6.15 Jed, I was on the way to meet him remember? And we don’t get any other visitors.”
“Mary Beard visited once,” I said, “perhaps she snuck back for another look at our historic documents.”
“Professor Mary Beard is an internationally renowned scholar of classical history. She is not the sort to go creeping around islands unannounced in the middle of the night. Besides, it was a bare footprint, someone with neither shoe nor sock to his name. It can’t be anyone from any of the civilised lands, they all wear sensible footwear. Even the residents of Nudist Island wear shoes. It must be a savage. A barbarian from a bygone time Jed, untroubled by our western norms or customs.
At Alun’s insistence I followed him to the North shore, where, sure enough, was a fresh set of barefoot prints,
“To think, Jed, while we were asleep in our beds unbeknownst to us a naked savage was roaming freely across our land.”
“We don’t know he’s naked, just barefoot. Besides, it could be a woman.”
“With feet that size? It would have to be a female yeti Jed.”
“Perhaps he came from one of the other islands,” I suggested. “Or the mainland.”
“But there’s no sign of a boat. It can only mean one thing Jed – whoever it is must be living here.”
It is difficult to describe my emotions at this juncture. Fear certainly featured, but also excitement. When you’ve lived on a two-person island for as long as I have the discovery of a third person is an indescribable thrill. It opened up an entire new world of possibilities.
“We must find him Jed. Maybe he’s a Man-Friday figure we could enlighten with our culture: school him in mainland-speak, teach him to play snooker, cook sausages, give him a full introduction to the arts.”
“But where is he?”
“He could be anywhere Jed. These islands have never been properly explored. Our ancestors were always too busy and neither of us has ever been bothered. There could be a secret cave, or similar hidey-hole.”
“Or the empty house.”
“We’ll try there Jed, but savages don’t live in empty houses. They live in caves or mud huts.”
We spent the whole of the day searching the island for savages, but found no trace of any living person, not even another unexplained prints. There were no secret caves, no overlooked hidey-holes and all of the beds in the empty house were unslept in. The author of the footprint remained a mystery.
“There’s only one thing we can do Jed, we’ll have to spend the night watching the beach to see if the savage re-appears.”
Reluctantly I agreed. Alun needs much less sleep than I do and regularly spends all-night vigils in order to investigate his latest theory, like the time he was convinced that someone was stealing pebbles from the South Shore (the culprit turned out to be the tide). However, given the nature of this mystery I agreed to stay up with him.
We found a convenient spot on the cliff overlooking the North Shore. The 90% full moon beautifully illuminated the beach and we sat in peaceful silence awaiting any sign of life other than the distant shuffling of geep and elephants. We watched the tide come in and eventually, slowly retreat, as we fought off sleeps attempt to close off our minds and senses. Our eyes remained open and observant, but to no avail, nobody appeared; neither noble savage nor eminent Cambridge historian.
We walked down to the beach the next morn for confirmation. There were no fresh prints. We spent the whole of the next day looking for the mystery man, but again the entire venture was in vain. We went through the empty house again, had a double check that our own beds were unslept in, and proceeded once more to investigate every nook and crevice of the island.
“There’s only one thing we can do Jed,” Alun said at the end of another fruitless day, “we’ll have to spend the night watching the beach to see if the savage re-appears.”
“Oh not again Alun. I can’t go without another night’s sleep. I’m not like you. I like my dreams.”
“Okay, Jed, I’ll let you go to bed, you can sleep through the solution to the island’s greatest ever mystery. Just like your grandfather did when he slept through Sherlock Holmes’ last case.”
“It was a lousy film, Alun. Even you were nodding off towards the end.”
Reluctantly I left Alun alone that night, watching the waves weave their way up and down the shores of the island’s fate as I went to my bed, ignorant of who or what may be lurking outside as I slept.
The next morning I was woken early by a hand slapping me on my shoulder.
“Holy shit!” I exclaimed, “who the fuck is that?”
“It’s me Jed,” said Alun. “You’re sleepwalking. Look, we’re on the North shore.”
Sure enough, I had woken, still standing up, totally naked, at the very scene of the mysterious footprint.
I looked at the wet sand itching it’s way between my toes, and the line of familiar footprints stretching along the path I had slept along.
“Well that’s that mystery solved, I guess.” I said, trying to hide my disappointment.
“It is Jed. And now I hope you understand my concern at your consistent refusal to wear pyjamas. Imagine if Mary Beard was creeping secretly onto the island in the middle of the night – what a shock you’d have given her.”
With these wise words revolving in my head I returned to the warmth and comfort of my bed.