Chapter 1

I shall not relate, the whys and wherefores of why I came to the town of Puffin Point on Serendipity Island. Suffice to say that I left behind a life that held only grief and heartache and memories I would rather not have. All that I wanted was to get away. I cared not about the to, only that it was away. Thus it was that I came across a small shop I had never seen before in a side street near Covent Garden. It was small and pokey, with faded photographs of pleasant looking landscapes in a window emblazoned with the single word “Escapes” in gold and black, and underneath, “Theobold Thanatos, Prop.” Lacking better occupation for my time, I entered; my entrance announced by a frail tinkle of bells. After a few moments, a man appeared, rubbing his hands together. He wore an old-fashioned frock coat and a frayed and faded top hat, crammed onto a mass of greying black curls that threatened to escape at any moment. Disconcertingly blue eyes peered at me from behind wire-framed spectacles. His face lit up as though welcoming a long-lost friend and smiled a most disarming smile that somehow dispelled the trepidation I had felt on first entering.

“Aha,” he cackled, “Mr Cussons, I’ve been expecting you.” I was somewhat taken aback as I had not yet spoken, much less said my name, and I was certain I had not met this gentleman before.

“I, I, I…” I sputtered, “How did you know my name?” I asked. His grin grew even wider as he ran his finger down the pages of a heavy and rather old-looking appointment book on the desk. “Ah yes, here we are, Edwin Cussons, Thursday, 2pm. We find it pays to anticipate our customers’ requirements. I understand that you want to get away from it all?” I tried to gather my wits and form a more coherent sentence. His anticipation of my name had thrown me, yet I felt a curious inclination to trust this stranger.

“Erm, well, yes.” I said, for want of a better answer. “I just need to get away from London, preferably a long way and somewhere with a more pleasing climate.” He nodded, causing the top hat to tilt alarmingly as though about to fall. He pushed it back up with one finger while leafing through another book.

“Aye sir, ‘tis often the case,” he said, looking satisfied with the page he had found. “Very often the case. And in your case, Mr Cussons, I can strongly recommend the Island of Serendipity.” He looked me up and down, as though appraising me. “Yes, definitely the Island of Serendipity. I am never wrong about these things.” He pulled a folder out from a drawer and removed some forms from it, starting to fill them in.

“Serendipity?” I asked, “I have not heard of that one. Where is it?” He looked up at me sharply, an expression of warning on his face.

“Does it matter where?” He asked. “I thought the idea was to get away, never mind where to.” I acquiesced with a shrug.

“I take your point,” I said. He smiled again and scribbled some more notes on his form.

“Very wise sir, very wise,” he said with a grin, “As I said, I am never wrong. Right you are sir, that’s all sorted for you. There remains only the matter of payment, which will be one hundred guineas.” I coughed in surprise, for the amount seemed excessive, even if it was well within my means. I started to protest, but he silenced me with a warning finger. “You just pop along to the bank while I prepare all the paperwork, and we can have you on your way within a couple of days.” He turned back to his paperwork, gesturing me towards the door with a wave of his hand.

Fortunately, my bank was not far away, so I was able to obtain the necessary monies, and an additional fifty guineas for my self within about 15 minutes. I returned to the shop, curious, but with a sense of anticipation. Part of me wondered why I was taking this chance, with so many unknowns, but other parts urged me on, anxious to be away from this city and all the memories it held for me. Mr Thanatos was there, waiting, with a handsome leather binder under his arm with “Island of Serendipity, Edwin Cussons” tooled in gold on the front. He opened it and turned it to face me, handing me a pen. “Just sign here, and here, and here, “ he said, pointing to various places on the form. I did so and he blotted the ink, and then whisked the form away, closing the folder again. “That will be one hundred guineas,” he said, holding a hand out. Mutely, I handed over the money, which he pocketed without bothering to count.

“There you go,” he cackled again, handing me the folder. “There is all the paperwork you need. Now, all you need to do is get the train to Southampton, and report to Dock Gate 4 before noon on Saturday. Pier four, a ship called the Bellerophon. Don’t be late.” With that, he waved me away and disappeared through a curtain into the back of the shop. I stood there for a moment, feeling vaguely foolish. In the folder I found a train ticket, a booking for the Friday night in a Southampton hotel, and a very plain boarding pass with my name on it, together with the name of the ship and the name of the island. I shrugged, tucked the folder under my arm and headed out of the door. As I saw it, what did I have to lose?

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