Why Snail Has a Trail
As a thief, it’s rarely a good thing if everyone knows your name. Still, with magic on his side, what does Snail have to fear?
In the distant past, when animals wore human faces and magic lived in the soul, Snail was a powerful magician of great renown. Where other magicians made their livings performing healing spells or illusions to entertain crowds or hunting the great monsters that roamed the far reaches of the imagination, Snail had chosen a different path.
In the dead of night, a shadow might flit past a window, sending curtains fluttering in a breeze that didn’t exist. Or there might come the sound of a footfall on stone floor, or the flicker of candlelight when the house was asleep wrapped in shadows. If a person was brave or foolish enough to investigate, they would find nothing untoward, for Snail was fast and already gone. It was only when they looked closer, often in the light of day, that they would realise that while there was nothing untoward, there was also more nothing than there had been previously. And Snail’s pilfered hoard grew, and grew, and grew.
For Snail lived for the thrill of theft, of sneaking into places he was not allowed to go and relieving others of their belongings.
He took anything and everything he fancied, snatching anything that glittered and gleamed. His fingers itched when he saw lockets hanging around necks. His eyes grew sharp when he spotted rings and bangles. Ornate boxes, tapestries and paintings all drew him like a moth to a flame, and vanished in a puff of sandalwood smoke and gold dust.
Of course, he was aware of the risk he took. Not so much the guards or the traps – those were part of the thrill. No, Snail worried about something far more awful. He worried about people like him. His hoard was the greatest, none could compare. He collected items from all over, and whenever someone acquired something that might be better housed in Snail’s vast assemblage, it shortly thereafter appeared amongst his treasures. And if he had it, there was no doubt that others would want it, too. Snail couldn’t handle the thought that someone else might steal his treasure while he was away.
Luckily, he was an accomplished wizard and therefore he had no fear of anyone entering his house, for it was always with him. Snail enchanted his bag to carry his house and, most importantly, his hoard, and he slung it over his shoulder wherever he went.
One day, an announcement reached his ears. The princess of the kingdom had acquired a great and secret treasure, something seen only by herself. Even the mischievous Magpie, who followed Snail and whispered of all the shiny things she saw, had caught nary a glimpse of the fabled item. Some said it was a pendant, glittering with a thousand gemstones. Others, a powerful wand that gave its owner control over the stars above. There were whispers of bejewelled eggs and platinum sculptures, but Snail knew only one thing for certain.
The treasure was going to be his.
Snail waited until the new moon, when the ground was damp and springy from the last of the summer rains. Magpie roosted on a tree overhanging the palace walls, one dozy eye watching the guards go past, and Snail waited for the sun to set, leaning his bag against the wall.
Once night fell, Snail blew on his hands and, using that breath, cast a spell upon his fingers. They became sticky to the touch and, wrapping his cloak of shadows around himself, he easily scaled the walls. His body pressed close to the wall where it met the tall glass windows, and he removed his human face momentarily, allowing his flesh to thin and flatten until he could squeeze his whole body through the hair-fine crack between frame and stone.
He tiptoed through the palace halls until he reached the vaults, buried far below the soil. Snail could feel the weight of the earth above him, pressing down on his back and shoulders and slowing his steps. But as he walked, the stones beneath his feet began to ring with the telltale sound of metal underfoot, and when he glanced down a smile lit his face.
The floor glittered like silver.
Snail crept onwards until at last he reached a door. It was a plain door, simple burnished wood stained dark by age and polish, with no handle. A gentle touch, and it swung open soundlessly.
The quiet and the ease unnerved Snail, but he wasn’t one to let anything stand in the way of him acquiring treasure. There was only one pedestal in the room, carved from marble and inlaid with curlicues of platinum and diamond, with a heavy raw silk cloth laid over it. With three quick strides and a flick of his wrist, Snail flung the cloth over his shoulder, revealing a perfectly round silver coin. It was as thick as his finger and broad as his palm and perfectly smooth and unblemished.
All in all, it was a very boring treasure.
Still, Snail reasoned, there appeared to be some truth behind the rumours of powerful magic residing in the item – the sheer strength of it tingled on his tongue and crackled along his sinuses. It was heavier than it appeared when he picked it up, rolling it between his fingers thoughtfully. But before he could do much more than admire its sheen, footsteps sounded behind him, echoing down the stairs and approaching the silver floor.
A self-satisfied grin spread over Snail’s face, and he flicked the silver coin into the air and opened his house-bag. As the princess stepped daintily through the door, the coin flashed and disappeared into the bag. Snail gave a jaunty wave, then staggered. His bag was suddenly crushingly heavy, as if the weight of all his ill-gotten treasure had suddenly come to rest across his shoulders. He gasped, falling to his hands and knees and then onto his stomach. All he could see was the stone floor and the delicate tips of the princess’ shoes as she stopped in front of him.
Snail couldn’t even catch enough breath to ask what was going on. He tried to push himself up, tried to dash away and find somewhere safe to recover, but the weight of his house on his back was too much.
With a swish of skirts, the princess knelt before Snail.
“It was… a trap…?” He managed to squeeze the words out of lungs that felt flatter than the finest sheet of paper.
“What do you… want?”
Snail couldn’t see her face, but he could hear the wolfish smile in her voice. “Just to remind you that there’s always a better wizard. You’ll have to work had to get rid of that coin, you know.’
And with one slender hand, the princess took off his human face and left him there, pressed against the ground by the weight of his greed. Snail cursed and swore, and began digging through his house, looking for the cursed coin. He is still looking to this day, and he leaves a trail of silver in his wake as he tosses out his treasures, looking for the one that will free him from his pitiful state.