There’s something strange going on in my street.
An eerie hush – a curious silence. The school lies empty. The noise of children’s laughter has evaporated, doubtless whisked away to sunnier climes on the low planes overhead.
The weather had been particularly ill of late. Grey days turning into dark nights, punctuated fleetingly by vicious deluges of rain and flurries of snow. We’re high up, here. High enough that clouds could threaten with barely a gap, frequently racing to the ground on marauding runs as dense, freezing fog. Breath forms its own clouds on the air as it escapes, hanging on for as long as it can before admitting defeat and evaporating into perfect nothingness.
It is against this grey, silent backdrop that something strange happens.
One man, determined to bring joy to the lives of young and old alike, forges on, undeterred by the silence, fog or cold.
Ill-advised ancient machinery combines with even more ill-advised hand-painted images of famous cartoon characters. Well-meaning daubs, not deterred by the weight of talent or artistic merit – nor any struggle for meaning beyond implying an audience – are warped and twisted into nightmarish caricatures of faces. Faces that hang on the outskirts of consciousness from a technicolour past long forgotten.
A ghostly sound accompanies his approach.
Drifting through the thick grey, tearing ever closer. The demonic chimes. They are reminiscent of dozens of nursery rhymes half-remembered, clashing violently in a frenzied recital that seems to mean nothing. Yet their very tone can only mean one thing – and one thing alone. For it is a summoning ritual. A call.
The ice cream man cometh.
In but an instant, as if driven out by the very forces of Heaven itself, the apparition flashes by my window. The chimes rise to fever-pitch for just a moment, before echoing away behind the roar of an engine struggling against the incline of the road.
His hunt for life continues, driving as though chasing that one patch of blue among a sea of grey in the skies ahead. Constantly seeking around corners and over hills, as if searching for the one elusive patch of Yorkshire where summer is eternal, children play on the green, the rain is an unknown, and February is but a distant memory.
Alas, it is clearly not to be found here.
And so, with the speed of 40 horses, and maybe more, he presses on – his quest never quite complete, his goal seemingly always out of reach.
Speculation becomes rife. Will he find his patch of eternal sun? Is the hellish vision of his vehicle simply a ruse – an ancient system to deflect unwanted attention while also attracting prey? Will he ever sell many ice creams at that speed?
And yet the time for questions had long since passed. The form melts into the fog, yet the sound remains. The chimes, hanging part way between cheer and insanity, lingers dreadfully. A ghostly echo. The only sign of the banshee that flashed through, carrying its precious cargo of dairy-based products.
Days become weeks and seasons turn. The sun has returned, tentatively, but the ice cream man remains absent. Instead I feel compelled to wait.
Wait for the next fog to descend upon the hills. The next rolling daytime darkness that blots out the sun and the sky. The next time I can hear that call, floating on the wind.