The Curse Of The Polar Icecream Vendor
by Joshua Blanc
I should've bought a hotdog, Doreen lamented after the fact. But it was too late now. Her sudden craving for icecream in the park yesterday had landed her in a whole world of trouble. And it was nothing like the world she lived in; it was some strange otherworld of trouble.|
There it was again, a rustling in the bushes. She selected another stone from the bucket beside her on the porch, took aim, and let it fly. She missed, and the stone joined a host of others accumulating on the lawn for the mower to find. She couldn't spend as much time outdoors as she did without becoming at least an adequate stone-thrower. But her quarry was a difficult one, better suited to the stone-throwing prowess of her best friend Carl.
More movement sent her reaching for another stone. This time it struck the unseen target with a thud. Breaking cover, the Polar Icecream Vendor took flight, yelling: "No fair! I sell you raspberry ripple and choco-bon-bon!" as he wheeled his cart down the driveway. The `ding-ding' of the bell disappeared, leaving birdsong and a gently swishing breeze. Doreen sighed, and stepped out into the afternoon sunshine.
Marriage. It was furthest from the mind of any sensible fifteen year-old, such as herself. Then again, she knew an awful lot of fifteen year-olds who weren't so sensible. She ducked under the stile and took the dirt path through the `back-forty.' The Vendor hadn't discovered this yet, but was bound to in time, when he grew sick of waiting for her by the mailbox, or... in it, she wouldn't doubt. The man was almost small enough, though what he lacked in height he made up for in girth. She suspected most of the excess mass was merely the padding of his `Eskimo suit.'
Marriage, she considered again. She didn't have time to worry about the advances of strange midgets in even stranger costumes. Not when there were people like Ben `Chooga-looga' Johnson to avoid. Ben's nickname had been chosen, quite cruelly, because of the snorting sounds he made, and of his sheer unstoppable momentum when he ran. Or walked. Or stood still and caught a bit of a breeze.
But Ben had developed a crush on her, and she lived in fear that the word might be taken literally. He always tried to walk her home from the bus-stop, and she was running out of excuses.
She'd reached the road by now, and her route, luckily, took her in the opposite direction to Ben's house. She heard twigs snapping behind her.
"Hey, Dors," said a voice.
Doreen started, but when a thin boy wearing board-shorts, a T-shirt, and a flop hat emerged from the scrub, she let out a sigh of relief.
"Hi Carl," she said.
"I was just heading over. What's up? You look a bit flustered."
"I thought maybe you were Ben Johnson, or that Icecream Vendor."
"He still giving you trouble?"
"He knows where I live now. I've been throwing rocks at him all afternoon. But you know how bad I am at it."
"You're not that bad, Dors. At least you don't `throw like a girl.'"
Doreen smiled, smoothed back her dark shoulder-length hair, and continued walking. Carl fell into step.
"Where you headed?"
"I'm going to see Granny Fjeldstadt. If anyone can help, she can."
Granny Fjeldstadt was Doreen's Grandmother, but she rarely visited, and was rarely paid visits. Not out of unkindness; far from it -- Doreen had vivid memories of her kindly visits when she was younger, and her stories about far off lands. But something had created a rift between Granny Fjeldstadt and Doreen's mother, and visits became few and fleeting. Not to mention awkward.
Granny ran a little shop out of her home. A `junk shop' her mother called it, but to Doreen it had always been a treasure shop. She smiled as she remembered her childhood excitement at visiting the place as she walked up the drive.
Granny's house didn't have a doorbell. Instead there was a large brass knocker in the shape of a troll's face. It used to scare her all those years ago, and even now she reached for it hesitantly. She knocked, and heard Granny's voice grumbling from inside.
"Yes, yes, I'm coming. Give an old creature a brea--" The door opened. "Doreen! What an unexpected pleasure!"
Smiling, Granny reached out a hand and cradled Doreen's face. There was considerable likeness in their impish features. Granny even wore her hair the same, although it was an elegant dark grey instead of black. Then she saw Carl, and smirked a little.
"Hello, young Granger. Not here to blow up any letter boxes, I hope?"
Carl looked down at his feet. "You're not still mad, I hope? It was six years ago."
"Well, let me see." Granny picked up a flat rock she kept in the garden beside the doorstep, and turned it over to regard the underside. "Nope," she said, and replaced the rock as she'd found it.
She gave Doreen a knowing wink, as Carl's expression turned to one of utter confusion.
"Oh, Granny, tell him," said Doreen.
Granny ushered Doreen inside, and as Carl wiped his feet on the mat, she said: "That's my question rock. Whenever I'm unsure about something, I ask it a question. Then, when I pick it up, if there's a snail under it, it means yes."
"I'm lucky there wasn't a snail under it, then."
"I'll let you in on a secret. There's always a snail under it; I glued an empty shell to the bottom. But who's to say I can't ignore it now and then?" At this she laughed, and headed through the entryway.
It was a cosy little place; clean, tidy, with a wooden hutch in the hall full of carved wooden dolls and things. On the walls were pictures of Iceland, her native home.
"Come on through to the kitchen and I'll make you some tea."
They did so, and gazed at the old-world decor as Granny fussed with the kettle.
"What can I do for you, Doreen, dear?"
"Well, Granny, it's a bit of a strange fix I'm in."
"Strange? Go ahead, I've heard 'em all in my time."
"I was in the park yesterday, and there was this icecream vendor--"
Granny whirled around so quickly that they both jumped.
"Not a Polar Icecream Vendor?" she said in an awed, hushed tone.
"You know of them?"
"Of course, child! Don't you remember the stories I used to tell you?"
"Well, sure. I remember the one about the gnomes, and the fairies at the bottom of the garden, but--"
"Tell me you didn't buy an icecream," said Granny, taking Doreen by the shoulders with a grip so firm it surprised her.
"Oh, Doreen... Didn't you heed my warnings?"
Doreen glanced over at Carl.
"Every year, on your Birthday, when I sent you your card and money."
"I don't remember any warnings."
"`Don't spend it on icecream' -- I wrote it the same every year."
"Oh, that. I'd wondered why you wrote it so often. I thought it was one of your little jokes."
"There's nothing funny about it, dear. So now the curse has found you too..."
"What do you mean `curse?' What do you mean `too?'"
"Come with me, both of you."
Granny made her way purposefully to a door opposite the kitchen. She opened it and switched on the lights in the room beyond. All three ventured into Granny's `Shop of Wonders,' which was dingy, and crammed full of shelves, tables, racks, and boxes of... well, junk, really. But it was such old and interesting junk that a person couldn't help ogling it all and asking what key pieces were.
"Wow," said Carl. "What's this thing?"
Granny gave a gilded wiry thing a cursory glance. "Nineteenth century rotating tie-rack," she said. "They didn't have motorised ones back then. People had to turn 'em themselves, or get their servants to do it -- which is more likely if they could afford a rotating tie-rack in the first place."
Granny led them on through the maze of oddities. "Tell me," she said. "What was the name of the icecream you picked?"
"It had a very odd name, now you mention it -- that's why I picked it. It was right on the bottom of the sign on the cart. Polar-mazoler-zing-zang-zolar-pop, that was it."
"Whoa," said Carl. "That was a mouthful."
"The icecream wasn't. It was terribly small to have such a long name. Over-hyped too. Certainly not worth the trouble it's caused me."
"Whoever orders it," said Granny, "and says the name correctly -- that's the important bit -- becomes the Icecream Vendor's bride-to-be."
"What if a bloke orders it?" said Carl.
Granny turned, and they stopped short so as not to run into her.
"Repeat what Doreen just said, if you can, young man."
"What, all of it? Rollerballolar... um..."
"There, see? Doesn't work. That's part of the enchantment. Most people will just say, `I'll have one'a them with the long name.'"
Carl shrugged, and Granny was off again. They hurried after her so as not to get lost in the junk-strewn room.
"What is this Polar Icecream Vendor?" said Doreen. "And what does he have to do with a curse?"
"I'll try to explain, child. You'll have to put aside a few preconceived ideas about reality first, mind."
"At the North Pole, when one of Saint Niklaus's elves becomes mentally unstable -- it does happen, you know -- and yes, he does exist, before you ask, young Granger!"
Carl shrugged again.
"When one of the elves goes crazy, they cast it out into the polar wastes, knowing full well there's nothing they can do for it. If it survives -- and you must remember they are used to the hardships of the cold wilderness in those forsaken lands -- it inevitably falls into the service of Saint Prick; the evil, half-twin of Saint Nick, who lives in a vast oogli--"
"Don't you mean `igloo?'" said Carl.
"No, I don't. An oogli, as I was about to explain, is an underground ice fortress, which houses the Polar Icecream factories."
Granny reached her destination -- another door, this one locked. She produced a key from a ribbon around her neck.
"The Polar Icecream Vendors spread out all over the world to peddle their wares so that Saint Prick can fund his Anti-Yuletide Disasters. Upon finding a wife, the crazed elves whisk them away and put them to work in the icecream factories."
The lock clicked. Granny grasped the doorknob.
"Assuming this is true," said Doreen, "how do you know about all this?"
Granny smiled. "Because I escaped." She flung open the door, and Doreen gasped.
The room beyond, small though it was, was crammed full of arcane objects. Eye-of-newt and hair-of-frog sprang to mind as Doreen's eyes fell on shelves of strange ingredients which lined the walls. In the centre was a tiered workbench covered with baubles and trinkets, including an astrolabe, some dusty books, and things she couldn't even begin to identify.
"Does Mum know about all this?"
"Of course. Why do you think we hardly speak?"
Doreen looked at her, stunned.
"Dear child, I've been doing my damnedest to protect your mother and yourself from the curse of the Polar Icecream Vendor ever since you were born. Your mother never believed a word of my stories, so when she found out about the lengths to which I'd gone for your sake, well... here we are. Now you know. And with any luck, we can break the curse once and for all."
"Hang on a minute and let me find it."
Granny rummaged among the objects strewn on the workbench, and Doreen turned to Carl, who was tapping on one of the glass jars with interest.
"What do you make of this? You've been awfully quiet."
"To tell you the truth, Dors, I'd always thought your Granny was a bit peculiar -- no offence, Granny."
Granny chuckled and waved a dismissive hand.
"But you have to admit, her story, outlandish though it may be, does explain a lot of things. Like why an icecream vendor from the North Pole is here in southern Canada."
"A-ha!" said Granny, and she produced an article somewhat resembling an hour-glass. But instead of glass and sand there was a curious transparent lump held in the centre of the frame by eight metal spikes.
"What is it?" said Doreen.
"This, my dear, is enchanted polar ice."
"Why hasn't it melted?"
"Because it's enchanted, of course. It was given to me by Saint Niklaus himself, after my escape from the icecream factories. I had no hope of surviving the wilds of the frozen north -- it was by merest luck that the elves took me in. This lump of ice, I was told, would put an end to the curse. The problem is, I don't know how. I suppose I should've asked, but I was too overwhelmed at the time."
"You actually met Santa Claus?"
"Oh yes. Marvellous fellow. A true visionary, even if he is a bit grumpy."
Doreen turned the lump of enchanted ice in her hands. She touched it -- it was cold like ice should be.
"Perhaps you have to feed it to him?"
"I'd thought of that, dear, but for the life of me I've not been able to crack it or melt it even the slightest bit. I've been through all these dusty tomes you see here, and found no reference to it whatever. Your guess is as good as mine."
Doreen now regarded its shape. It was roughly oval, and tapered at both ends.
"Perhaps we're meant to lob it at him. He doesn't seem to like being pelted with rocks."
"Who on earth does?"
"I mean, he seems particularly distressed by it."
"Then I suppose it's worth a try."
Just now there came a knocking at the front door. It continued frantically when no one was forthcoming to open it.
"Now who could that be?" said Granny, and off she hurried through the maze of junk.
Doreen, still clutching the precious ice, and Carl quickly followed.
"Yes, yes," said Granny, "the knocker will wear out if you keep on much longer."
She opened the door, and a woman dressed in business clothes was standing on the front step. Her head was turned away; she seemed to be gazing down the road.
"Linda, dear..." said Granny.
Doreen recognised the woman at once. It was her mother.
"I hope this is some kind of joke," said Linda, flustered.
"What is it, Mum?" said Doreen.
"Doreen, what are you doing here?"
"Never mind that," said Granny. "Dark things are afoot. Now tell me what all this commotion's about."
"I hardly believe it," she said. "But as I pulled into my driveway I saw..."
"An icecream vendor?" said Doreen, getting sick of the interplay.
"You know my feelings on this subject," said Linda. "Tell me, is it anything to do with you?"
"In all likelihood, it's everything to do with me," said Granny. "But it's no joke, I assure you. It's come for Doreen, and all because I never put a stop to this when I should have, all those years ago."
Doreen found it hard to read her Mum's face. But she didn't have to try for long, for the sound of an icecream vendor's bell came jangling up the lane. The little man in his bundle of furs, barely able to see over the top of his cart, came wheeling along at a run and swerved into Granny's driveway. With a shout of "A-ha!" he trundled towards Linda's parked Chrysler.
"Heavens above," said Granny, in an awed whisper. "It's him... the same Polar Icecream Vendor that dragged me off to the Pole when I was but a girl."
"You're certain?" said Doreen.
"I've never been more so... He must've been seeking me out all this time."
"And instead of you, he found me."
"Nonsense!" said Linda, wheeling on Granny with an accusing finger.
"Let me show you something. Both of you."
"What about me?" said Carl.
"If you must, young man."
Granny went to the hutch in the hall, and opened one of the topmost drawers. She brought out a picture, black and white, in a tarnished frame. It was of a girl, about fifteen, and she looked remarkably familiar.
"She looks just like me," said Doreen, and she looked at her mother, who looked, in surprise, at her.
"What'd I tell you?" said Granny. "This is a picture of me."
"That's uncanny..." said Linda. "How come I--?"
"You, Linda, dear, took after your father -- God rest him -- and in more ways than one. Ornery wasn't the word..."
The tinkling bell reminded everyone that the Vendor was just outside. Doreen reached the door first.
"Wait," said Carl. "What are you going to do?"
"Hiff this at him." Doreen shook the ice from its mount. Even in her hand it refused to melt.
"Are you mad? If we're right about this enchanted ice of yours, he'll take one look at it and scarper."
"Give it to me. I'll sneak around while you three keep it occupied, and bean it when it's not looking. Besides, who has the better throw?"
Granny's expression looked doubtful, but Doreen handed Carl the ice and went outside.
"Beloved!" cried the Icecream Vendor.
"Oh shut up, you! Why don't you go back to the North Pole where you belong?"
The Vendor was just to the rear of Linda's car, grinning from ear to ear -- although his ears, if he had them, were hidden beneath his furry hood.
"First we must wed, then we both shall go!" Here he laughed -- tittered -- like a demented... well, elfin icecream vendor.
"You're already `wed,' you little creep!" called Granny.
Doreen saw that Granny and Linda were both out on the step now. She cast a quick glance at Carl, who was edging his way around the Chrysler.
The Icecream Vendor's jaw slackened, and he squinted at Granny.
"No icecream for you!" he shouted back.
It was Granny's turn to look dumbfounded. From the corner of her eye, Doreen saw Carl pull his arm back ready to throw. She took a step forward so as to draw the Vendor's attention.
"Listen up, you little pip-squeak--"
There was a sudden movement, and the Icecream Vendor shrieked. At the same time, he reached out a hand and Carl just... stopped. In mid throw, he froze like a statue -- still clutching the ice.
"A trick! A trick!" the Vendor cried, dancing about with comical fury that only a demented Christmas elf could muster.
"Granny?" said Doreen.
"Oh dear," said Granny. "Did I forget to mention the magic powers? I do believe I did."
"Marry me, first," said the Vendor, ceasing his fit in an instant.
Doreen saw a flash of light. The ice, held skyward by Carl's motionless fingers, caught a stray ray of sunlight and illuminated the sign on the Icecream Vendor's cart. It flashed directly on the word: Polarmazolerzingzangzolarpop, at the bottom of the sign. Doreen pursed her lips.
"All right, then," she said.
"What?" said Granny and Linda in unison.
The Icecream Vendor grinned again.
"But first, I think I'd like another icecream. One of those Polar- mazoler-zing-zang-zolar-pops again, please."
"Of course, of course," said the Vendor, and opened up his cart. He groped around in it and brought out a simple-looking icecream bar in a yellow wrapper.
Doreen opened her purse and took out exact change.
"No-no, it's free, it's free."
"I wouldn't hear of it." Doreen put the money on the cart and snatched up the icecream.
The puzzled Vendor scooped the money into the little change box. When he'd finished, Doreen handed back the icecream bar.
"Wha--?" said the Vendor, shrinking away from it.
"I bought it for you. It's a wedding-present."
The Vendor took it gingerly between stubby thumb and forefinger.
"Thank you, beloved... thank--"
"Aren't you going to eat it? Here." She took it back and unwrapped it.
The Vendor's eyes widened at the sight of the white, steaming-cold icecream.
"No, no, please, no!"
Doreen thrust the icecream towards him, then there was a blinding flash as Carl came back to life and the enchanted ice continued its journey. The ice struck the Vendor, shattered, and by the time Doreen had processed what happened, the Icecream Vendor was gone.
"What on earth?" said Doreen's mum, as she and Granny ran up to her. "Are you okay, dear?"
"Yes, fine thanks."
"Did I get him?" said Carl, after shaking his head clear.
"I think so."
"My dear, what was all that about the icecream?" said Granny.
"Well, it's icecream from the North Pole, right?"
"So I figured it must be made of polar ice."
"Well, I never..."
"I'm just glad it's over," said Linda.
"Hey, he left his cart behind," said Carl. Before anyone could object, he had the lid open and was gawking at the contents.
"Be careful now, young Granger. Who knows what kind of magic might be lurking within."
"Magic, eh? Well I know one thing there's plenty of in here. Icecream. Hey, hang on... Look at this, Dors."
Doreen peered into the freezer. There were a range of different icecream bars and popsicles arranged in neat stacks inside. But lying sideways on top was one that didn't fit with any of the others. It was in a roundish wrapper with a picture of a polar icecream vendor on it.
"You don't suppose..." said Doreen.
Carl unwrapped it, and found it was a clever caricature bar consisting of several colours and flavours. It bore an uncanny resemblance to the crazed little elf they'd just seen vanish in a puff of prismatic light.
Carl took a bite. He chewed. He swallowed.
"Tastes pretty good. Want a bite?"