The Queer Quilting Bee

Here we have a two page spread from the next instalment of Hopeless Maine, the book that, all being well, will come out in 2020. Our two page spread theme for the next book will be people doing the make do and mend activities that keep life on the island going. Partly to tell a wider story about island life, and partly because we’re interested in promoting these things as a more sustainable way of being in this world.

Rather a long time ago, Tom’s then housemate asked him where the queer characters were in Hopeless. It led us to have a conversation about it – for most characters we just don’t see what’s going on in their love lives, so the queer folk of the island are often invisible. But, we know who they are, and when we get into the prose fiction there should be more space for this sort of thing.

In this image we have several ‘confirmed bachelors’ with all this implies. We have several asexual characters. There’s one character who worries about mis-gendering devices (one day I will finish the prose book she is in, and people will be able to read it…) At the moment we don’t know much about the two women in the foreground, but I think they’re a couple.

The other thing we’re going to do with the upcycling scenes is avoid grouping people in gender stereotypical ways. Where resources are scant, craft skills are essential for everyone, and the idea that some of these things are innately masculine or feminine is not going to be a thing.

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The Original

While attempting, without any great success, to map the island of Hopeless, Sophia O’Stoat believed that she had discovered her long lost cousin, Killigrew. It appeared that since his disappearance, over a year earlier, he had been living among the Commoners, who dwelt in the shadow of the Gydynap Hills. Sophia wasted no time in returning home and reporting back to his father – her uncle Caswell – who asked her to take him to the place where she had spotted Killigrew.

 

Like all who lived on the common, Corwen Nailsworthy was unused to receiving visitors. When a tall, gaunt stranger rapped at the apothocary’s door, the old man had no idea what to expect. He withered visibly beneath Caswell’s intense gaze.

“Is it right that you have my son, Killigrew,  here?”

Corwen immediately guessed to whom the stranger was referring. Both the newcomer and the girl who accompanied him bore an uncanny resemblance to the strange lad that he had nursed back to health. Corwen invited the pair in, offered them a cup of elderberry cordial, and told the tale of Killigrew’s rescue and long recovery.

“His memory is completely blank, poor fellow,” said Corwen. “I had no idea of his name until you told me, just then. We just call him the Night-Soil Man.”

Caswell raised a quizzical and decidedly annoyed eyebrow. He had heard of the night-soil collectors of his own country. This was a job far beneath the dignity of an O’Stoat.

“It’s his choice totally, sir,” said Corwen hurriedly, sensing trouble. “Nobody makes him do it.”

“Take me to him, please,” said Caswell curtly, not entirely trusting the old man.

 

Caswell could hardly believe that he was looking at his son. He had always regarded Killigrew as being somewhat effete, given to indolence and too much romanticism. The young man who stood before him was sturdy and muscular, not at all like an O’Stoat. Besides this, he smelt like a cesspool.

“Killigrew? Is that really you?’

The young man stared at his father blankly; there was no hint of recognition in his eyes.

“I don’t know. That’s what she called me earlier,” Killigrew pointed at Sophia, adding

“And who are you?”

Caswell placed his hand firmly on the young man’s head and closed his eyes in deep concentration. The two stood motionless for what seemed to be an eternity.

Slowly Caswell opened his eyes once more and removed his hand from Killigrew’s head, placing it instead on Corwen’s shoulder. The old apothecary stiffened uncomfortably.

“You spoke the truth. I can never thank you enough for saving my son – the O’Stoat family will be forever in your debt. And now I’d like to take him home, where he belongs.”

Corwen’s heart missed a beat. He had heard of the O’Stoats. Rumours of their mystical abilities had been whispered in every corner of  the island.

 

If Caswell had possessed a fatted calf it would have been slaughtered in Killigrew’s honour. As it was they had to make do with squid pie (this was, of course, some time before starry grabby pie had been invented). Sadly, despite his family’s efforts to restore his memory – which included no small amount of magical persuasion –  Killigrew did not recognise any of them or have any recollection of his past. Nothing worked. A stranger in his own home, Killigrew longed for the solitude he had enjoyed as the Commoners’ night soil collector. Eventually his family relented and decided to let him have his way. They built him a cottage, far away from any other habitation, next to an old and apparently bottomless sinkhole, where few dared to venture. With heavy hearts they gave him their blessing to carry on with his chosen life. If you care to look into the history of Hopeless – or read the tale ‘The House at Poo Corner’ – you will find that Killigrew O’Stoat is recorded as being the island’s very first Night Soil Man.

 

You will recall from the tale entitled ‘Killigrew and Joliette’ that the Chevin brothers had viciously beaten Killigrew and left him for dead. You may well ask why they did not finish the job, once they learned he still lived. The answer is simple. By the time that everyone was aware of Killigrew’s reappearance he had firmly established the role of the Night Soil Man, going about his work under the cover of darkness, thereby guaranteeing his not having to meet other people. It is a life suited to the the most introverted, the most reclusive. The Night Soil Man, protected as he is by his malodorous calling, repels every terror walking the island – even the Chevins.

By Martin Pearson-Art by Tom Brown

Playing with Folklore

Some Hopeless Maine insights for you…

Druid Life

One of the things I like to do with the Hopeless Maine graphic novel series, is play with folklore. Here’s an example- the entirely traditional Mari Lwyds in a clearly non-traditional setting.

The Welsh Mari Lwyd tradition involves exactly the kit you see with horses skulls on poles and trailing costumes to cover the person holding the pole. You then go to houses and/or pubs for riddling fights.

When people migrate, they take their culture, folklore and beliefs with them. How that plays out can vary – it can mean that sometimes what the disaspora hold is an older form of the tradition than what develops elsewhere. People away from home can be more focused on keeping their traditions unchanged. Sometimes the opposite happens, and the tradition is influenced by what else is around, or evolves to suit the circumstances. Clearly, both trajectories are equally valid.

Playing with folklore in…

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Common People

A year had passed since Killigrew O’Stoat had disappeared. His family had long since given up scouring the island for him. The general feeling was that he had been taken by one of the nameless menaces that haunt Hopeless and the waters that surround it. That was, at least, the official view. In reality, the O’Stoats were convinced that his demise had more to do with the Chevin family taking issue with his romantic relationship with young Joliette Chevin (and of course, they were absolutely correct). The Chevins, at the same time, believed that Killigrew had bewitched Joliette and his actions had driven her to madness and death. There was also the matter of their child, Ophelia, whose parentage was kept secret from all but the immediate members of the family and passed off as being the youngest of the Chevins – and perceived to be something of a surprise to her ageing parents!

 

In the tale ‘The Sweaty Tapster’ it is told how a rag-tag band of sailors and convicts – in the shape of whores and petty thieves, originally bound for penal servitude in Virginia – discovered a small, tightly-knit community living at the foot of the Gydynap Hills, in the area known, these days, as Iron Mills Common. These people, who called themselves Commoners, conversed in a language approximating to Old English and were probably descended from the Saxon slaves of Norsemen who had settled on the island centuries before. The influx of lusty young newcomers ensured that, by the time the founding families arrived some hundred years later, the ancient language of the Commoners had all but disappeared and their gene pool was considerably less shallow than it had previously been.

In order to survive the Commoners had taken to beachcombing on a grand scale. A party of ten or twelve would venture out with a variety of baskets, buckets and barrels, carried on their backs, scouring the shoreline for anything deemed remotely useful or edible. So, when they came upon the crumpled form of Killigrew sprawled upon the rocks, there followed some discussion in which it was unanimously agreed that he was definitely not edible. Whether he would prove to be useful was another matter altogether.

Corwen Nailsworthy was the nearest that the Commoners had to a doctor. He was their self-appointed vintner, distiller and apothecary. His remedy for most ailments involved the administration of one concoction or another that relied upon the fruit or flowers of the elder tree. When the bruised and battered Killigrew was presented to him, however, he realised that his medical skills would be pushed to their limit. Bone-setting and bandaging would be only part of it. The young man had been so badly beaten that no one could possibly know what internal damage had been caused.

The weeks turned into months and thanks to Corwen, Killigrew’s body mended. His memory, however, had deserted him completely. He had no clue as to who he was, where he lived or what had happened. Furthermore, he had little desire to uncover his previous existence, convinced that he would not like the things he might find.

 

To begin with Killigrew was happy to stay among the Commoners  and hide from his past. As the time slipped by, however, he grew increasingly reclusive, eschewing the company of others. Although grateful to Corwen for bringing him back to health, Killigrew had no wish to interact with those around him any more than was necessary.

 

Despite his wishes, Killigrew was forced to relent a little. In order for any small community to thrive, every living soul has to contribute in some way. There can be no passengers, no hangers-on. Reluctantly Killigrew made it known that he was content to do anything and would happily embrace the most menial of tasks as long as he was allowed the solitude that he so craved. As it happened, there was one menial task above all others that no one had the slightest desire to fulfil. That is how Killigrew found himself collecting human waste – or the ‘night‐soil’, as the Commoners called it – and each morning ferrying it far away from the settlement, where time and nature might hopefully transform it into a usable compost. Strangely, Killigrew came to love his job. Nobody bothered him but in gratitude for his services, they left gifts of food on the doorstep of the little hovel he had constructed, on the edge of the common.

                       **********

Sophia O’Stoat, being an adventurous young lady, had made it her business to explore and map as much as the island as she was able. This was especially problematic, as certain vital landmarks had the annoying habit of disappearing, then turning up in odd spots where they had absolutely no business to lurk. Fortunately the larger, less portable places tended to stay more or less where they were expected to be. It was while she was surveying the area around the reliably immobile Gydynap Hills that Sophia spotted a once-familiar figure ambling over the edge of the common. She rubbed her eyes in astonishment. If it was not her long-lost favourite cousin Killigrew, then it was his double… but the smell! What on earth was he doing?

“Killigrew, is that you?”

The young man took no notice. She tried again.

“Killigrew. It’s me Sophia.”

Killigrew stopped and looked at the pretty girl who seemed to be calling to him. There was something vaguely familiar about her – and those names – where had he heard them before? He shrugged, turned and walked on; the bucket strapped to his back was too heavy to allow him to linger.

“Killigrew…” Sophia’s voice trailed off as she watched the unmistakable shape of her cousin disappear into the mist…

 

To be continued…

Story by Martin Pearson-Art by Tom and Nimue Brown

Tales from Tantamount.

We have *very* exciting news for you today. (Unless you are reading this in the past or the future, in which case the news is equally exciting, but your “today” will be different from ours)

Meredith Debonnaire is nearly ready to release Tales from Tantamount. She talks about it-here.

We would be guilty of a great understatement if we were just to say that we were massively chuffed about this. Meredith is one of our favourite writers and also one of our favourite humans. Additionally,  Tales fromTantamount is mad and glorious and fiendishly clever.  Tantamount is twinned with Hopeless, Maine for obvious reasons. You will also recall her “Finding Hopeless, Maine” earlier on the Vendetta (again, temporal confusion is always a possibility) Nimue and I did the cover art for this earlier in the year, and it was not a job, so much as fan art really, because we are hardcore fans, make no mistake about it.

In short-SQUEEE!!!!!

The Tragedy of Killigrew and Joliette

 “Never was a story more or less true,      Than this of Joliette and her Killigrew.”

There is strong evidence that, even in those very early years following the founding families settling on this island, relations between the various clans were not always cordial. Having said this, I am not talking about enmities on a par with those famously expressed by the Hatfields against the McCoys, the Pazzi against the Medici or the Campbells against the MacDonalds, where the body-counts were distressingly high. The occasional fallings-out on Hopeless were, more often than not, minor squabbles concerning ownership of various items of flotsam or jetsam, usually followed by the injured parties muttering under their breath, stamping their feet and making fists in their pockets. It is fair to say that the Jones and Frog families tried to maintain, at least, a veneer of civility with their neighbors but the Chevins and O’Stoats were destined to clash from the outset.

I have no idea how well any of the founding families knew each other prior to landing on Hopeless but I cannot imagine how the Chevins and O’Stoats were even able to tolerate being on the same boat that brought them here, if, indeed they were. They were chalk and cheese (not that you’re likely to find either very often on Hopeless). The Chevins, in those days were known to be tightly-buttoned, disapproving and fundamentalist in all of their beliefs, whereas the O’Stoats were as wild as their name suggests. They were rumoured to have descended from a long and noble line of witches, necromancers and heaven knows who else, which will surprise no one familiar with the history of Hopeless. Despite this, however, these disparate factions managed to maintain, at least for a while, a semblance of amiability. Then love got in the way and ruined everything.

Killigrew O’Stoat and Joliette Chevin were, as Shakespeare would have said, star-cross’d lovers. Their first meeting was far from auspicious, however. Killigrew was beachcombing at the time, with his cousin, Sophia. Night was drawing in and Sophia was becoming increasingly nervous.

“It’s time we were getting home, Killy,” said Sophia. “It’s dangerous out here when it gets dark.”

Not wishing to leave immediately, Killigrew pointed to where a faint gleam was emanating from a nearby building.

“But Soph’ – what’s that light from yonder broken window?”

“It’s probably one of the Chevins squeezing gnii to extract the oil,” replied Sophia. “They always glow a bit just before they die. The gnii, that is. Not the Chevins.”

You must remember that these events occurred a before the gnii oil distillery was constructed. There was nothing, at the time, robust enough to process the large, oceanic gnii. Experiments in extracting oil from the small but plentiful island gnii (gniis vulgaris) were primitive, not to say brutal, requiring something of a hands-on approach  As neither Killigrew nor Sophia had witnessed the far from pleasant spectacle of gnii being manually squeezed for their oil, the two, perversely, decided to get a closer look. They were thwarted, however when a girl’s face peered out through the cracked glass. She did not look happy.

“Clear off” she yelled

Sophia and Killigrew were so surprised at her unpleasant attitude that they stood rooted to the spot. The window flew open and the girl looked unaccountably angry.

“ This is Chevin property,” she shouted. “Now go away!” (This last directive may not have been the exact term she used).

It was then that her eyes met Killigrew’s and her anger melted, like snow on the water.

“We should leave, you know what the Chevins can be  like,” said Sophia, anxiously but Killigrew did not hear her. It was if an invisible thread was drawing him towards the girl at the window. It was love at first sight for both.

“I’m Joliette,” she said dreamily.

“And I’m Killigrew,” he answered, “but you can call me Killy.”

Joliette raised her eyebrows in disapproval.

“Killy? You have to be joking. Although a skunk cabbage by any other name would smell as vile, I’ll stick to Killigrew.”

And stick to Killigrew she did. The two became inseparable. Despite family differences, the elders of the both the Chevin and O’Stoat families gave every appearance of being surprisingly sanguine about the blossoming romance, even when the pair announced that they wished to marry – but others objected. Joliette’s three older brothers decided that enough was enough and that they did not want an O’Stoat heathen as a brother-in-law.

It was a moonless night when they fell upon Killigrew, beating him to within an inch of his life. Not satisfied with this, the Chevin brothers dragged his bruised and broken body to the shore for the ocean – or worse – to dispose of; they were intent on finishing their sister’s paramour once and for all. It was late when the three slunk home in silence, each deep in his own thoughts.

In the days and weeks that followed it appeared to all that Killigrew O’Stoat had simply disappeared from the face of the earth – or, at least, from the island of Hopeless, Maine. His family sent out search parties but to no avail. Distraught though they were, their grief was as nothing compared to that of Joliette. To make matters worse, soon after his disappearance she found that she was expecting his child. Filled with shame, her family at once ensured that Joliette’s movements were confined to their own property and kept her pregnancy a secret. When the child – a daughter, whom they named Ophelia – was eventually born she was passed off as being ‘a lovely surprise from God’ for Joliette’s mother. A surprise indeed, for the older Chevins were generally considered to be well past participating in what many coyly described as ‘that sort of thing’ and were subsequently viewed as being dangerously racy by some of their more straightlaced neighbours.

Joliette never recovered from Killigrew’s sudden disappearance. She took to wandering the headland, a mad look in her eye, searching for her lost lover. On many an occasion she could be heard lamenting,

“Killigrew, Killigrew, where the hell are you, Killigrew?”

Eventually, she wandered out once too often and was never seen again.

Ophelia Chevin was eight years old when she discovered she had the gift of ‘The Sight’. Such an ability was unheard of in the Chevin family – it was more of an O’Stoat trait – and she was urged to mention it to no one. Being an obedient child, Ophelia made the  promise and kept it. The truth was not revealed until years after her death, when her journals were found, as related in the tale ‘The Eggless Norseman of Creepy Hollow’.

Only a handful of the Chevins knew the facts  of the matter and the family blamed Killigrew and by extension, all of the O’Stoats, for Joliette’s demise, claiming that he had bewitched her. The O’Stoats, though unaware of the truth, suspected that the Chevins were behind Killigrew’s disappearance. Hatred grew like weeds and nothing has since been right between the two families.

These should, perhaps, have been the last words concerning the tragedy of Killigrew and Joliette… but the decidedly weird island of Hopeless, Maine had other plans.

To be continued…

By Martin Pearson-art by Tom and Nimue Brown

 

The Fog Song

The fog by night is darker, deeper, shrouding everything,

No stars shine through, no moonlight glimmers,

All sounds are muted colours dim, there is no hope here,

No hope at all, only cold and damp malevolence.

 

Dawn comes queasy grey to light another joyless morning,

Cold light without colour lacks the power to warm my heart,

I’d dream of something better but I don’t know how to picture it,

There is no hope here, no hope at all.

 

The world is bleak with apathy, too willing to accept it all,

The empty listless life, the sunless mournful days and night terrors,

Fear becomes your companion, familiar and cruel,

There is no hope here, only poison in this world.

 

The chill within my bones has been with me most of my life,

If I ever knew true warmth I forgot about it long ago,

There is no salvation and no heroic rescue,

When the monsters are inside you, there’s no hope at all.

 

(The Hopeless Fog Song features in the opening to The Gathering. It does have a tune and I have sung it in public. The image is from Hopeless Maine Victims, out this summer.  Any conclusions you may wish to draw from the juxtaposition are entirely up to you… )

Dutchman’s Gold

Philomena Bucket wrapped her woolen shawl tightly around her shoulders; despite the chilly air she smiled quietly to herself. She had lived on Hopeless for almost a year and – somewhat uniquely – had fallen in love with the island. Certainly, compared to most places it was dangerous, inhospitable and lacking in the most basic of amenities. On the other hand, it was somewhere where she, an albino, attracted no second glances, no derision. Here she had a home, work, friends and the occasional company of a small, fun-loving dog. Admittedly the dog had been dead for some years and these days was no more than a skeleton but Drury had become as good a companion as anyone could wish to have. For Philomena, living on Hopeless was many times better than the life she had previously known.

 

One of Philomena’s greatest pleasures was to walk, as she was today, in the Gydynap hills. With their sudden fogs and air of mystery the Gydynaps reminded her of the Nargles Mountains, an area she knew well, a dozen or so miles west of the city of Cork, in her native Ireland. Somehow, she felt safer in the Gydynaps than anywhere else on the island. Whenever Philomena chose to go for a walk, Drury would invariably appear, as if by magic and rattle joyously along beside her, sniffing the air and making a great show of marking his territory (but – for obvious reasons – failing).

 

The inhabitants of Hopeless are not renowned for their love of walking. A healthy respect for the various dangers, mixed with no small measure of apathy, ensures that few wish to venture an inch further than necessary from their own front door. In view of this, it was a rare day, indeed, that Philomena met anyone else walking the hills. The day of this tale, however, was rare beyond her wildest imaginings.

 

Philomena was by no means timid but her heart missed a beat when Drury suddenly stopped in mid-gambol and growled. Had he been  in receipt of ears to push back and hackles to rise he could not have expressed his guarding instincts any more clearly. Someone, or more likely something, was around; Drury was giving every sign that all was not right and Philomena was uneasy.

For what seemed an age the skeletal dog stayed stock-still, growling ferociously at, what appeared to be, nothing in particular. All around them the mist began to thicken and swirl. Philomena blinked and rubbed her eyes. Her long-sight had never been particularly good but this poor visibility seemed to be playing tricks with her vision. As the mist thinned a little, she could just make out a figure emerging through a narrow cleft in the rocks that Philomena could have sworn had not been  there a moment earlier. Drury dropped down on to where his belly would have been and whimpered quietly.

“Howdy ma’am,” the stranger hailed her with a cheery wave.

He was a lanky, ginger-bearded individual, dressed in worn buckskins and a hat with an excessively floppy brim.

“Good afternoon to you sir,” replied Philomena primly.

” I sure didn’t figure on findin’ no ladies up here in the mountains,” drawled the stranger. “You must be a long way from home.”

“A mile or so, sir,” conceded Philomena, softening a little as Drury became visibly more relaxed. The bony dog was always an infallible judge of character and their new companion seemed to meet his approval.

“By the by, I ain’t nobody’s idea of a sir. I’m just plain old Hank.”

The man who called himself Hank squatted down on the ground and opened his knapsack, from which he produced a leather tobacco pouch and a stubby pipe.

“Share a pipe, ma’am?”

Philomena smiled and shook her head.

Hank eyed her, unsure of what to say next. Philomena’s presence was confusing him. He drew on his pipe and said, warily,

“Guess you’re looking for the Dutchman’s Gold Mine, same as me.”

It was Philomena’s turn to be confused.

“No… I’m just out for a walk with Drury, here.”

At the mention of his name Drury clambered to his feet with a series of osseous rattles. Hank involuntarily screamed as he witnessed a pile of bleached bones become suddenly animated.

“Jumpin’ Jehosohat,” he exclaimed. “What in tarnation is THAT?”

“That,” Philomena replied coldly, “is my good and faithful friend Drury – and I would be obliged if you referred to him with a little more respect in future.”

As if to show his utter disdain for Hank, Drury immediately flopped down and sank into a deep and snore-filled slumber.

Hank’s face dropped.

“Then what them Apaches say is true,” he wailed. “There really is a gateway to Hell in the Superstition Mountains.”

“Hell?” said Philomena in surprise. “You’re not in Hell, you’re in Hopeless, Maine.”

“Maine???” Hank’s face whitened noticeably beneath his tan. “Jumpin’ Jehosophat, that’s more than two thousand miles from Arizona.”

Philomena wondered to herself who Jehosophat might be and why he was so addicted to jumping.

“Believe me,” she ventured, “Hopeless is strange – but surely preferable to Hell. Nothing much surprises me about this place any more.”

Hank contemplated what she had said. He had had some strange adventures in his time but this was, by far, the strangest. Stoically, he finished his smoke and lay the pipe on the ground by his side. It did not take a great deal of persuasion on Philomena’s part for Hank to tell her his story.

“There’s a legend that this foreign guy discovered a gold mine in the Superstition Mountains, east of Phoenix. They call it the Dutchman’s gold mine. Folks have been searchin’ for it for years and some of ’em seem to have disappeared into thin air. I rolled up there a day or two ago and thought I’d try my hand at gettin’ rich. Instead I end up in… where did you say?

“Hopeless,” said Philomena, helpfully. “But I don’t think that the others have come here. I’m sure someone would have mentioned it. Maybe you can go back the way you came.”

“Maybe, but I… jumpin’ Jehosophat, what in tarnation is that?”

While they were talking, a spoonwalker had sidled up beside them and picked up the pipe, studying it with curiosity.

“Dagnabbit! What is that thing?”

The sudden commotion had woken Drury. He instinctively leapt for the spoonwalker. who fled the scene with surprising speed and agility, racing along on its cutlery stilts and still clutching Hank’s pipe. It made a beeline for the cleft in the wall, with Drury in hot pursuit.

Philomena watched in horror as her beloved companion hurled himself at the fleeing spoonwalker, just as it disappeared into the opening.

With a crack that echoed around the hills, the cleft snapped shut. Half a second later Drury crashed into the rock face with a force that would have killed an ordinary dog. Happily for Drury, that particular ship had sailed long ago. Instead, he picked himself up from the stony ground, gave a shake and staggered unsteadily over to where Philomena and Hank were sitting.

“As I was saying,” said Philomena. “This is a strange place – and it looks as though you’re stuck with it.”

She took Hank gently by the arm and walked the bewildered newcomer down the hill. Drury, fully recovered by now, ran on in front, his bony tail wagging happily.

“And you’re sure this ain’t Hell?” asked Hank, casting a wary eye at the pale woman and her dead dog.

“Not for me,” said Philomena. “Not for me.”

 

Author’s note: In the mid nineteenth century, Jacob Waltz, a German immigrant claimed to have discovered a mother lode of gold in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona. He revealed the location of the mine on his death-bed to a boarding-house keeper, Julia Thomas, who, reportedly, later made a living by selling treasure maps for $7 each. Despite this, the mine was never discovered. This is just one of the several legends surrounding the ‘Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine’ (the words ‘Dutch’ and ‘Deutsch’ being commonly confused in the U.S. at that time).

What is not a legend is that many of those who have searched for the mine have disappeared without a trace.

Interestingly, the Apache Indians of the region have long believed that deep in the Superstition Mountains there exists a portal which gives access to the lower world, their version of hell.

By Martin Pearson-art by Tom and Nimue Brown

Hopeless Mechanics

What is the relationship between Hopeless Maine and the rest of reality? It’s a question I’ve been asking on and off for about fourteen years, and neither Tom nor I has known the answer…. until now!

It came to us as we were discussing the stories Keith Errington has written for the island, and how his 19th century is so very different from the 19th century Martin Pearson depicts in his Squid and Teapot tales. At this point, the question of what gets to be ‘canon’ and what isn’t becomes really important. There are a lot of people playing with the island in different ways. Some of these explorations will be published, some will start to look more official than others.

Generally, when people get themselves and their stories to the island, it’s all fine. Hopeless talks to them – we’ve had to steer Martin away from important plot points he’d found without any input from us. Keith’s adventures took him into a space that no one has seen yet but that we’d already depicted for the next graphic novel. This happens a lot, and is why we’ve never felt much need to steer people around what they can and can’t do on the island. The island itself takes care of all that.

What’s tricky is where people launch from – their off-island reality. There’s no two ways about it, you don’t all come to Hopeless, Maine from the same time and place. The answer, clearly is to accept that and run with it.

My other fiction is full of unstable and shifting realities. I have decided they are all compatible, and the result goes like this…

Hopeless, Maine is a rare fixed point of stability in an unstable and shifting multiverse. It is thus easier to get in than get out, because if you try to get back and don’t connect with where you came from, there is resistance. Hopeless is, in its own funny way, pretty stable and there is consensus about what happens to new arrivals. And there is no consensus about where and when they came from and how historically accurate, or steampunk or other their starting point was, because they’ve all come from different points in that unstable and shifting universe.

It amuses me greatly to think of Hopeless as something solid and reliable.

The Lighthouse

Following the coming of the founding families to Hopeless, one of the earliest structures to be erected was the lighthouse. To begin with this was a simple affair, no more than a fiery beacon on a pole to warn any passing ships of the treacherous rocks that lurk beneath the tide-line. As a navigational aid, however, it was by no means infallible and did nothing to prevent the disaster which deposited Mr Hamish Stevenson on the shores of the island.

There was a certain irony in Stevenson being shipwrecked. You see, Hamish was a nephew of Robert Stevenson, the brilliant engineer responsible for many of the lighthouses that still stand sentinel around the rocky shores of Britain. Young Stevenson, who had worked closely with his Uncle Robert, had been entrusted with the task of accompanying the transportation of a Fresnel lens, complete with the mercury bath that it would float upon, to the soon-to-be-renovated Portland Head Light.

The small matter of a shipwreck did little to bruise Hamish’s unquenchable enthusiasm for his work. Encouraged by the fact that both the lens and the mercury bath had miraculously been undamaged by the disaster, he immediately decided that Hopeless, Maine needed a proper lighthouse and he, a Stevenson born and bred, was the man for the job. And so – with no small amount of help – Hamish built a lighthouse. Maybe his was not as elegant or stylish as those of the elder Stevenson but Hamish was proud to call the Hopeless lighthouse his own. The job was done and done well. Bob’s your uncle, you might say (or, at least, he was Hamish’s uncle).

By a happy coincidence, the recent completion of the nearby Gnii distillery meant that there would be an ample supply of fuel to keep the light burning. All that was required now was to find a willing volunteer to be its keeper.

There was no shortage of applicants. Eventually the role of Hopeless’ first lighthouse keeper was given to Egbert Tinkley, a man who had spent twenty years before the mast, prior to his being shipwrecked with Hamish. Egbert was a wiry man with twinkling blue eyes and an impressive salt-and-pepper beard. In his seaman’s cap, roll-neck sweater (that perfectly matched his beard) and turned down sea-boots he looked every-inch a lighthouse keeper and embraced his role with vim and vigour, endlessly polishing the brass and cleaning the lens as it perched and rotated gently and quietly on its mercury bath.

When not involved with maintaining his beloved light, Egbert would occasionally venture into Hopeless town to obtain whatever provisions might be available. He would invariably stop and chat to anyone who would listen but as the weeks passed into months people began to notice some less-than-subtle changes in him. His blue eyes no longer twinkled but instead, stared, unblinking and glassy. His conversations became fewer, at least with other people, although he could be frequently heard having, sometimes, violent arguments with himself. He would wander the streets with squids tucked into the tops of his boots and his cap on backwards. Some of the islanders began to get somewhat concerned about Egbert, but put it to the back of their collective minds and attributed his behaviour to no more than colourful eccentricity. After all, the light never failed to be lit exactly one hour before sunset each evening and that was all that mattered.

It was only when Arabella O’Stoat called by the lighthouse with some squid tarts did anyone realise the extent of Egberts eccentricity. The lower floors of the building were a mess, the walls daubed with paint and papers and sea-charts strewn all around. There were heaps of pebbles and seaweed covering the floors, while a combination of dead gulls, driftwood and useless flotsam covered every flat surface. Only the lantern remained pristine and it was here that she found Egbert. He was humming to himself and delicately cleaning the lens with a mixture of vinegar and water (an excellent solution for achieving smear-free glass).

“Are you alright, Egbert?” asked Arabella warily.

“I can fly, you know,” the keeper replied, for no apparent reason. “Just like a seagull, when the mood takes me.”

“Of course you can,” said Arabella soothingly. “Why don’t we go down to the kitchen and have a nice cup of tea?”

“It’s not called the kitchen, it’s the galley,” yelled Egbert, suddenly angry. “I can fly there. Watch me.”

With that he scrambled outside, on to the gallery that ran around the lantern.

“Watch me,” he cried, standing on the top rail.

Arabella could only look on, horrified, as he launched himself into the air.

Over the following months and years a succession of lighthouse keepers went quietly mad attending to their duties, though it must be said, none as fatally as Egbert. It was generally felt that the building was cursed; surely, even on Hopeless, it was too much of a coincidence that every shred of reason chose to leave the keepers who tended the light.

After a while the brass became dull through neglect, the clockwork mechanism that rotated the light lay still and the lamp was lit no more. No one wanted to ascend the steps to the lantern and the lighthouse became derelict.

The madness suffered by the Egbert Tinkley and his successors is no great mystery, though on Hopeless the lighthouse curse is still spoken of in hushed tones. It is often suspected that lighthouse keepers are all a little mad. It is not just the loneliness of the work, as many believe, but the proximity of mercury. Like hatters, who used mercurous nitrate to cure felt, lighthouse keepers suffered prolonged exposure to mercury vapour – and like hatters, they often went mad.

The lighthouse still stands, though these days the lantern is long gone and its stonework bleached by the weather and ravaged by time. Ravens roost in its highest reaches, while spoonwalkers and puddle rats make uneasy neighbours on the lower levels. On a stormy night, when the wild wind howls off the ocean and screeches through the ruined walls, those unwise enough to be out at such a time have reported  that it sounds like the manic shrieks of souls in torment. Of course, this is purely the product of an over-active imagination … isn’t it?

By Martin Pearson-art by Tom Brown

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.