A Vagrant Enters the Lower Strangling Literary Festival

“Well, everything seems to be in order.” The Rev. Simon Abernathy said as he observed the various tables dotted around the village hall; awaiting their respective authors.

“Yes, I think we’re ready to welcome people.” Dave said.

Lower Strangling had never held a Literary Festival before, in fact it was never considered. But the economic setback from the numerous COVID lockdowns was so great that the money made from the Village Fete in July was not enough to cover it. So, other ways to make money had to be considered.

It was Dave who put the idea of a Literary Festival forward to the village council. Initially the idea was rejected. After all, they didn’t have a connection to books and literature like Hay-On-Wye had, and Upper Strangling up the road seemed a more likely place to hold one. But eventually they went with it, as it seemed more original than a charity bake sale. Also, this was Lower Strangling. Anything they did was guaranteed to bring in loads of people.

And so, here Dave and Simon were, in the village hall waiting for the authors and visitors to arrive.

A whole range of authors had been signed on to attend. An amalgamation of local smaller authors and more famous ones; including legendary fantasy writer Tristan Vimes.

“When are the authors arriving?” Dave asked.

“Sometime between now and 10:00, I believe.” Simon said.

“Ok.” Dave said.

Just then, as if on cue, a man with scruffy black hair, unkempt stubble, and a long black coat entered the village hall and walked towards Simon and Dave.

“Ah. I wasn’t expecting vagrants to turn up.” Simon said.

“We’ve never had a homeless person here before, have we?” Dave said.

“No. The Stranglings aren’t really a place homeless people congregate.” Simon said, before walking up to the vagrant in question.

“Hello, sir.” Simon said politely. “We are delighted you’ve come to visit us this morning, but you’re not allowed in here I’m afraid.”

“Hmm?” The man said, vaguely bemused.

“If you’d like to go to the vestry, I’ll be with you shortly and I can contact a local homeless shelter for you to go to.” Simon said.

“Oh no, I’m Tristan Vimes.” The man said to Simon, realising what was going on.

“Ha, ha. Yes. Very funny.” Simon said. “Now then, I’ll show you to the vestry.”

“No, really. I am Tristan Vimes.” The man said. “I’m here for the Literary Festival.”

Simon laughed again.

“I’m serious.” Tristan said. “Would it help if I got my books out of my car to show you?”

Simon laughed once more, not really listening to the man.

“Simon, I think he is Tristan Vimes.” Dave said.

“No he isn’t. Look at him, he’s clearly homeless.” Simon said. “I admit he’s very funny, but he’s still homeless.”

Just then, a women entered the village hall with a suitcase.

“Hi,” the woman said, “Felicity Addaman, I’m here for the Literary Festival.”

“See. That is an author, this is a vagrant.” Simon said.

“Simon, I think he actually is Tristan Vimes.” Dave said. “Maybe you should let him unpack his car and set up his stall.”

“Yes. Listen to him.” Tristan said.

“You can’t honestly think this man is a successful fantasy novelist.” Simon said. “He probably doesn’t even have a C in GCSE English.”

“Actually, I have an A*.” Tristan said. “It’s on my website.”

“A likely story.” Simon said. “Now please, go to the vestry and I’ll join you in a moment.”

Tristan sighed.

“Fine.” He said, before leaving to go to the vestry.

“Now then, if you’d like to follow me, Felicity.” Simon said before showing Felicity to her table.

“That may have been Tristan.” Felicity said. “He’s not like other people.”

“Not you as well.” Simon said. “Now please, come.”

Simon showed Felicity to her table and then went to the vestry to help the vagrant.

But when Simon got to the vestry, the vagrant had gone. Upon realising this, Simon went back to the hall.

“The vagrant seems to have gone.” Simon said once he’d got back. “I’m sure he won’t bother us again.”

“But what if that person was Tristan Vimes?” Dave said.

“Trust me, he wasn’t.” Simon said. “If you don’t believe me now, you’ll believe me when he enters the village hall later on with a more professional appearance.”

“Fine.” Dave said.

After a while, all the other authors had arrived and set up their stalls. Every genre was represented, non-fiction was too.

Even Micheal Richard James, the New York History professor who wrote the definitive history of Lower Strangling and had lived in the village during the 80’s had flown over from the States in order to sell his iconic book; Lower Strangling: the definitive history of Christ’s settlement and the final resting place of the Holy Grail.

There was something for everyone.

However, there was just one problem; a table was still empty. Tristan Vimes had not arrived.

“Do you still think that person you shunned wasn’t Tristan Vimes?” Dave said.

“Yes. I’m sure Tristan is just running a bit late.” Simon said. “Rye is a long way away.”

“Hmm.” Dave said.

When the Festival officially begun, the village hall was packed. All the authors had sold at least a few of their books. Everything had gone without a hitch as was expected.

But Tristan’s table was still empty, and people were beginning to notice.

“Has Tristan had to cancel?” The woman said. “We only came here because Susie wanted to see him.”

“No he is still coming.” Simon said. “He’s just running a bit late that’s all.”

“Or, he was the first to arrive and the organisers turned him away because they thought he was homeless.” Dave whispered to Simon.

“Best not to dwell on it.” Simon whispered back.

“It was bad enough that H. P. Granger was cancelled because she was murdered by those activists.” The woman said before leaving the village hall with her disappointed daughter.

Despite the lack of Tristan, the crowds still came to the festival, bought books, listened to talks, and generally enjoyed themselves.

But then, all of a sudden, they left. The village hall was empty two hours before the festival was due to end for the day.

“Oh, that’s odd.” Simon said. “The festival isn’t due to end until five. Where’s everybody gone?”

“They’ve probably had their fill.” Dave said. “But oh well, there’s always tomorrow.”

“There’s still two hours to go.” Simon said. “I’m sure people will come flooding back in once Tristan finally shows himself.”

“You still think that’s going to happen?” Micheal said to Simon.

“Yes. Anything is possible.” Simon said.

Eventually the clock struck five and no one had turned up. Simon, Dave and the other authors left the village hall and locked up for the night, ready to do it all over again the next morning.

“No idea why everything suddenly died two hours before the festival ended.” Simon said.

“No, neither do I.” Dave said.

And so the two men bade each other goodnight and went home.

Meanwhile, two miles away at the Golden Pheasant in Upper Strangling, legendary fantasy author Tristan Vimes was still signing books for the large queue of people in front of him… and he was only halfway through.

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