Reverend Davies is with us

We have a longstanding habit of borrowing people’s faces – partly because creating individual background characters can be hard work. Partly because including people we like in the project is always a lot of fun.

Reverend Davies was not based on any real people. However, he’s going to be in the silent film as a character, and this means an actual person will be playing him. That will be John Bassett, who has also done a lot of work developing the script and sorting out practical stuff alongside Tom.

This wasn’t planned as a photo shoot. we just realised that real people who were featured in the art would be coming in, and then realised that as Mr Bassett was in the building, we could get him to pose with Reverend Davies…

Cometh The Hour…

Reverend Davies was not a happy man. This, in itself, was not particularly unusual, but the Reverend was a man with problems. Since Marjorie Toadsmoor had foolishly managed to get herself killed, some of the more physical aspects of her teaching role at the Pallid Rock Orphanage had undeniably suffered. Admittedly, her ghost was still there, and available to conduct lessons, but her obvious lack of physicality had a somewhat detrimental effect on maintaining class discipline. The same could be said of Miss Calder’s ghost, but at least her habit of allowing her face to become occasionally skeletal had the effect of concentrating (not to say terrifying) the average juvenile mind. If the place had to be run by ghosts, why couldn’t they be more like old Obadiah Hyde, the Mad Parson of Chapel Rock, who scared the life out of everyone, including the Reverend?
Another matter that worried Reverend Davies was the fact that he was perceived by many to be a spiritual leader, someone equipped to explain the mystery of what lay beyond the veil of death. It was embarrassing! Here he was, surrounded by ghosts who had no more idea of what happens next than he did. If the dead could not explain the afterlife, how could he be expected to?

Setting these thoughts to one side, the Reverend returned to his original problem of having to recruit help at the orphanage. The task of finding teaching staff had never been an easy one. There are a number of skills required for the education and control of the young which, like so many things, seem to be in short supply on Hopeless. Undeterred, however, Reverend Davies resolutely put on his hat and jacket and set off in search of someone – anyone – to fill the vacancy.

Passing The Squid and Teapot, it occurred to the Reverend that this very establishment could well be the answer to his prayers (this is, of course purely a figure of speech, as the Reverend was not given to a great deal of praying, except as a necessary public show of piety now and then). The Squid was always full of idlers propping up the bar, or gullible new arrivals to the island who might be persuaded to spend a few hours each day in the company of the young and impressionable.

Bartholomew Middlestreet was not Reverend Davies’ greatest fan, and when he saw the pastor’s cadaverous form sliding through the doorway, not particularly resplendent in a faded black frock coat and battered hat, he guessed that he was after something.
Instead of going to the bar, the Reverend stood in the centre of the room and eyed the clientele with the air of a recruiting sergeant, eager to hand the king’s shilling to some unwary yokel. The long-term patrons of the inn knew that look of old. It usually meant that the Rev, as he was unaffectionately known, was looking for help. Past experience told them that his concept of help usually called for hard work and little reward, so it was a good idea to avoid catching his eye at all costs.
Only one man seemed not to be studying his drink, his boots, or some invisible blemish on the wall, and Reverend Davies’ gimlet eye caught him with the pinpoint accuracy of a raptor. He was a slightly built character, with sharp features and closely cropped dark hair. He wore black, from head to toe, except for the unmistakeable rectangle of white collar that marked him out as a man of the cloth.
“Good afternoon Reverend,” he boomed, in surprisingly loud tones. “I hear that you’re looking for help at the orphanage.”
There was the faintest trace of an Irish lilt to his voice.
“Good Lord! How did you know that?” asked Reverend Davies, somewhat taken aback.
“The good lord had little to do with it, but there’s not much goes on in any community that isn’t common knowledge in the pub.”
The newcomer extended a hand,
“I’m Father Ignatius Stamage, new to this strange little island of yours, made truly welcome by mine host over there, Mr Middlestreet. I’d be happy to help.”

A small cloud of doubt passed through Reverend Davies’ mind. Although his own brand of religion was not hitched to any particular branch of the church, he was fairly sure that he was not, and never had been, a catholic. It could cause problems. The priest’s help would be very welcome, but what if the two men found that they had profound theological differences of opinion? What then?
It only took a few moments for Reverend Davies to remember that he had few, if indeed any, deeply held theological opinions worth disagreeing with, so this would certainly not be an obstacle to ecumenical harmony. What could possibly go wrong?
Summoning a strained grimace that he fondly believed to be a smile, the Reverend grasped the priest’s outstretched hand and shook it vigorously.
“Thank you Father,” he said, “the Pallid Rock Orphanage will be most pleased to welcome you.”

When the pair had left, Bartholomew Middlestreet banged on the kitchen door and called,
“It’s alright Philomena, you can come out now. They’ve gone.”
Hesitantly Philomena Bucket peeped around the door.
“Thank goodness for that,” she exclaimed, “I can’t abide priests or vicars at the best of times, but that one… well, the minute I opened me mouth he’d clock that I came from the Old Country, and next thing is, he’d be asking me when was the last time I went to confession.”
“And when was that?” Bartholomew asked, mischievously.
Philomena did not answer. She was staring out of the window, watching the two black-clad figures as they disappeared along the road.
“There’ll be trouble,” she said, shaking her head. “I can feel it in me bones. Mark my words, there’ll be trouble.”

Mrs Beaten’s bitter jam

Jam. For some, it is a dream based on little more than hearsay. For the fortunate few, jam is the memory of distant places now lost forever and the kind of luxury never to be hoped for again.

There are fruits on the island, but they tend to be bitter. You can make something sweet through the exacting process of malting barley, but this is more likely to go for brewing than to jam. Further, malted barley jam doesn’t keep that well, tending to ferment or mutate after a few days. Mugging bees does not result in enough honey for anything complicated. Jam batches are seldom, secretive and quickly eaten, if anyone dares to try, and they are never as good as the remembered jam of distant, brighter days.

Mrs Beaten makes jam because it is right and proper to have jam with afternoon tea. Even if you are obliged to use a mollusc in place of a scone – grains being in short supply. Mrs Beaten puts the jam on the mollusc first, and then the cream. The cream is also in very short supply. No one ever joins her for afternoon tea, as she has no friends and if she did, would hardly want them inside her house with their dirty shoes and unkempt hems. She fears these imaginary people would judge her, for replacing scones with molluscs and in fairness, she is right about this.

Her current batch of jam is made from beetroot. It is sweeter than the bitter apples of the previous batch. Yesterday she crept out at dawn and left a jar discreetly on the doorstep of a certain gentleman. She has no idea if he has found or understood the gift. But who else would make him beetroot jam? Absentmindedly, she smears a teaspoon of the stuff onto the back of her hand, and not onto the limp flesh of the shellfish.

Gazing down in horror at this debauched action, she wonders fleetingly what it would be like to smear jam onto someone else. Mrs Beaten crushes the idea at once. It will not do! She almost believes that other people will somehow know she has had this dreadful thought. All she can do is eat the jam quickly, in the hopes of hiding the evidence.

Chapters and creatures

The theme for chapter covers in Hopeless Maine: Optimists, is creatures.

In every book we use the chapter covers and two page spreads to widen the story a bit, in one way or another. There’s usually a sort of logic to it. The aim is always to give you a broader story than the script alone can tell. These stories don’t usually relate in a direct way to what’s going on in the other pages – although that won’t be true in the final book of the series.

For some comics, fan service means up-skirt views. That’s not you. We know mostly what you want are extra spoons and more creatures. Especially creatures with tentacles, and not infrequently, creatures with tentacles and spoons. We’re very happy to oblige.

Hopeless still life

Just a regular scene from ordinary life on Hopeless, Maine.

The spoonwalker was lovingly raised in Herr Döktor’s Laboratory, is currently living its best life with Gregg NcNeill, and has aspirations of becoming a film star.

Still life arrangement and photo by Gregg McNeill – you can find more about his fabulous Dark Box photography over here – https://www.darkboximages.com/

And you can visit Herr Döktor’s Laboratory here – http://www.xn--herrdktor-47a.com/

The Kindness of Spoonwalkers

Imagine that you are standing in a dimly-lit, locked shed, a tiny building tucked away and almost forgotten on the edge of the Gannicox Distillery. You could be forgiven for thinking that the stinking pile of rags you perceive, thrown haphazardly against a barrel of alcohol, had been discarded by some passing vagrant, who, with great good fortune, had chanced upon a more desirable set of clothing. Go closer… further investigation will reveal the blotched and worryingly unhealthy features of the once handsome Linus Pinfarthing. He is very, very drunk. Hunched motionless in front of Linus is a hare with pure white fur and blazing eyes. Linus believes this hare to be the vengeful spirit of his dead lover, Marjorie Toadsmoor, come to torment him. Linus is wrong, for the decidedly unvengeful ghost of Marjorie is quietly residing in a small monolith, recently deposited in the grounds of the Pallid Rock Orphanage, and the white hare is, in reality, Trickster, who is intent on destroying Linus.

It was late in the night when the raiding party arrived. They tottered up to the darkened shed and, wielding their spoons like crowbars, managed to prise out some nails securing one of the wooden planks that formed the wall of the building. The wood was old and rotten here and there, and broke off, leaving a gap of a foot or so; more than enough space for the half-dozen spoonwalkers to scurry through on their cutlery stilts. Why they had chosen to break into an old shed is a mystery, unless it was the smell of alcohol that had attracted them (we know, from past experience, that these enigmatic creatures are partial to a drop of the hard stuff when they can get it). Whatever their reasons, they were looking for something to steal, and nothing was going to stop them… and then they saw the hare.

In the not too distant past many believed spoonwalkers to be mythical, but these days no one on the island would dispute that they are very real indeed, and not to be crossed. Very little is known, however, about their social habits, except that they are inveterate thieves.
When they spotted the hare they were naturally curious, for no such creature had existed on the island, at least in living memory. Her fiery eyes concerned them not one bit; their own luminescent, ghastly green gaze could outstare and out-menace any rival, and it was clear that the hare was filled to the brim with commination.
The spoonwalkers cast their baleful gazes towards Linus, the object of the hare’s malice, probably wondering if there was likely to be anything in it for them when she had finished with him.
Linus regarded the raiding party blearily; as much as he despised spoonwalkers, he was far too drunk to try and avoid them, or even move. The creature, who appeared to be leading the raiders, stared with potentially lethal eyes at the young man, then froze. If spoonwalkers can be said to do a double-take, then this one did, almost falling off his stilts. His companions looked on with some amazement, never having seen old Septimus (or whatever his name was) act in such a way. Then they saw what he had noticed. The pale, blotchy face lying beneath a bundle of rags was known to them.
You may recall that in the tale ‘The Trapper’, Zeke Tyndale had captured and caged several spoonwalkers, with the intention of escaping the island and selling them to a freak-show in New York. At the time, Linus was possessed by Trickster (who referred to him as his ‘meat-suit’); while being many despicable things, Trickster regarded himself as the protector of helpless creatures, and was enraged to see anything caged and humiliated in such a fashion. Tyndale was duly punished and the spoonwalkers freed.
You will have guessed by now that the spoonwalker raiding-party was made up of those very ones, and before them they saw the face of their saviour, obviously being threatened by this long-eared monstrosity with white fur. Luckily for Linus, Trickster was unable to communicate that he had been the one who had saved them, and caught the full blast of a dozen glowing green eyes.

While Trickster is able to possess the body and mind of any creature, there is always a tiny place of refuge in which a small spark of the host’s true nature hides. Although Trickster was impervious to the malignant gaze of the spoonwalkers, the hare was not and madness gripped her. She reared on to her hind legs, boxed the air, then darted through the gap left by the broken plank. Trickster tried to escape but found himself trapped within the body of the white hare as she careered madly through the foggy night, in a headlong flight towards the rocky cliffs and restless ocean.

Spoonwalkers are never welcome visitors, and Norbert Gannicox had watched in some dismay as they broke into the little shed on the edge of his property. He was fairly sure that there was nothing of value in there, but he did not want them nesting anywhere near the distillery. Not wishing to tackle them alone, Norbert went to The Squid and Teapot for reinforcements; even a raiding party of spoonwalkers would be reluctant to attack a band of men armed with a selection of blunt instruments.
When Norbert, accompanied by Bartholomew Middlestreet, Seth Washpool and Ardle O’Stoat, each fortified with several pints of ‘Old Colonel’, burst into the shed, bracing themselves for a fight, there were no spoonwalkers to be seen, just a gap in the wall and the dishevelled and noisome pile of rags that was Linus Pinfarthing, barely alive and horribly intoxicated. In his hand was a solitary silver dessert spoon. None of the rescuers knew why it was there, and would not have believed it, even if Linus been able to tell them how he was saved, apparently by the kindness of spoonwalkers.

The virtue of cleanliness

“There will be no unseemly wriggling,” Mrs Beaten asserts.

You think she is probably right in that regard and that wriggling – unseemly or otherwise – would be quite beyond you now. She has secured your entire person with a speed and efficiency that you are still trying to come to terms with.

“Filthy, disgusting beast,” she says.

You aren’t quite sure how to take this. Two people previously in your life have labelled you in this way. In your sister’s case, it had everything to do with a summer of failed attempts at taxidermy, resulting in distinct uncleanliness. But there was also that gentleman, late one night in a drunken haze, whose tone suggested delight rather than horror.

When a woman breaks into your room at night and swiftly binds you, it might be fair to assume that her intentions are both deviant and decadent. However, with Mrs Beaten it is notoriously difficult to tell.

She goes on to verbally chastise you for the appalling state of your collars, the lack of smooth gleaming whiteness in your shirts, and your generally slovenliness. You suppose she means to humiliate. You wonder what she knows, or guesses about your feelings on the matter. Would she stop at once if she knew? Or would she think up fresh torments? Her face is inscrutable.

She pulls out of your field of vision, and you hear her rummaging about, violating your privacy. You shudder. And then she leaves, and you are cold, and unable to escape and have no idea when she might come back or what she will do. Your mind skitters with dreads both named and nameless. It comes as a surprise to you that you manage to sleep like this.

You wake, sore and stretching, wondering if it was all just a terrible dream. The ropes are gone, if they ever existed at all. The whole scene seems so unlikely in the reassuring light of day that you almost persuade yourself it didn’t happen. But when you open your armoire, the truth is undeniable. Every shirt, freshly lauded to the point of almost shining, ruthlessly ironed to crisp perfection. You stare at them in silent horror.

Coming Home

“I am so bored! Being dead is dreadfully tedious, Philomena.”
Marjorie Toadsmoor, Hopeless Maine’s most recent resident to join the ranks of the island’s ghosts, sat on a rock and gazed miserably at her friend.
Philomena frowned.
“I wish I could make it easier for you,” she said. “Maybe I could visit more often.”
“No… it’s too dangerous,” said Marjorie. “There are too many horrible things lurking around at night. You would be as dead as I am in no time at all.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” replied Philomena, breezily. “After all, I’ve never had any problem being out after dark.”
“But you have a guardian, a protector.”
“Old Drury? He wanders off as much as he’s with me.”
Marjorie flickered disconcertingly in the evening mist.
“I didn’t mean Drury. Mr Cranham, the Night-Soil Man is always looking out for you.”
“Rhys?” Philomena gave a little laugh. “No, you’re wrong, he’s far too busy… and why would he?”
“Oh, Philomena,” said the ghost wearily, “don’t you know? Look over there, out towards Scilly Point. He’s there now, not fifty yards away, making sure that you’re alright.”
Philomena turned and looked at the spot to which Marjorie had referred. All she could see was an unusual rock formation looming in the fog. Then, to her surprise, the unusual rock formation jumped up and banged its foot on the ground, in an effort to ward off a sudden twinge of cramp.
“Does he always follow me?” asked Philomena, taken aback.
“Whenever you visit,” replied Marjorie. “I think he worries about you.”
Philomena fell silent and was glad that the misty darkness concealed the fact that she was blushing.
Although Philomena was grateful that Rhys was there to protect her, she was aware that while he was guarding her he was not doing his work. If she went wandering around in the dark too often, he would get nothing done.
The thoughts of what might happen to Hopeless without the services of the Night-Soil Man made her shudder.
“Don’t worry, Marjorie,” she said reassuringly to her ghostly friend. “I’ll think of something before tomorrow.”

Regular readers will be aware that Marjorie had died, partly from grief but mainly by being blown over by a freak gust of wind, when she thought that she had been rejected by her lover, Linus Pinfarthing. Linus was currently in a permanent state of alcoholic stupefaction, and being tormented by Trickster, who had taken the guise of a white hare, which Linus erroneously believed to be the vengeful spirit of Marjorie.

The following night Miss Calder, who oversaw the smooth running of the Pallid Rock Orphanage, came to visit Marjorie. Being abroad after dark held few terrors for her, having been deceased, and a wraith herself, for some time. Good-natured and charming as she was, Miss Calder had an annoying propensity for absent-mindedly allowing her face to become skeletal when deep in thought. This was an unfortunate trait, and regarded by many as being somewhat unsociable, not to say horrific.

“I do so miss your help at the orphanage,” said Miss Calder. “The children miss you as well.”
“Those days are gone forever,” wailed Marjorie mournfully. The sound was enough to freeze the blood of any who chose to be abroad at that time.
“Possibly not…” replied Miss Calder enigmatically. “I have been talking to Miss Bucket. She has a plan… I won‘t say too much at the moment, I don’t want you to get your hopes up, but cross fingers.”
“I would if I could,” said Marjorie, “but they keep slipping through each other.”

Philomena reflected, with wry amusement, that most of her friends these days were ghosts. Besides Marjorie and Miss Calder, Philomena liked to engage in an occasional chat with Lady Margaret D’Avening, The Headless White Lady, who haunted the flushing privy of The Squid and Teapot. The Tudor mansion that Lady Margaret had originally haunted had been sold, disassembled and sent to Connecticut, where a millionaire planned to rebuild it on his estate. Sadly, the carefully numbered pallets of Cotswold stone had never been collected from the quay at Newhaven and little by little they had been ‘liberated’ by those requiring repairs to their walls and outhouses, until the last few remaining blocks were taken by an enterprising sea-captain, who promptly lost his ship, his crew and his life on the rocks around Hopeless, Maine. The stone blocks, and the flushing privy from the captain’s cabin, were salvaged and made a handsome addition to the ground-plan of The Squid and Teapot. What no one appreciated at the time was that the ghost of Lady Margaret had taken refuge in one of the blocks and was forever doomed to haunt its immediate proximity.
In the course of conversation Philomena learned from Lady Margaret that she had enjoyed several jaunts away from The Squid by the simple expedient of having someone deposit a block, which had been carefully prised from the privy wall, at various parts of the island.
“If it works for Lady Margaret, then why not Marjorie?” reasoned Philomena.

There was a certain amount of trial and error involved in getting Philomena’s plan to work. It had to be established which bits of rock, scattered around the scene of Marjorie’s demise, she was able to inhabit. Try as she might, the ghost found herself unable to get into anything smaller in size than she had been in life. It must be remembered that Cotswold stone is Oolitic limestone, which is far more porous than the dense granite rocks around Hopeless, and therefore an easier space for a ghost to occupy.
The problem was not insurmountable, and a note pinned to Rhys Cranham’s door was enough to have the Night-Soil Man wheeling the designated rock across the island to the orphanage, where Miss Calder waited expectantly; she was always very happy to see Rhys, much to his dismay (I think it was the inter-dimensional complications of a relationship with a wraith, not to mention the occasional skeletal-face thing, that put him off).
Under cover of darkness, so as not to upset the children with his trademark odour, Rhys set the stone into the ground, where it sat like a small monolith, just outside the orphanage.
Almost shyly, the following night, Marjorie drifted out of her new abode and looked about her, gratefully. It would take a while for her to learn how to become visible in daylight and, like Miss Calder, be able to wander around the orphanage, and maybe even the island one day. That, for now did not matter; the ghost of Marjorie Toadsmoor had come home.

A Hopeless Love Song

Starfish love song

The tide brings us back here once more
Starcrossed starfish lovers
Cast up on the shore
Amidst things that are broken
And washed up and drowned
Battered unwanted and strewn all around
I find you aren’t quite out of reach
Here we are, yet again on this beach.

How can we go forward,
Sweetest love of my heart
Five arms, and five directions
Anatomy keeps us apart.

When we’re apart I dream of you
I’d call out your name if I could
A starfish can’t shout we just mumble
And none of it does any good.

I’d give you my bony ossicles
I’d take all your arms in my arms
We could extrude our stomachs together
Oh darling one show me your charms.

I’d bring you the pearls of these waters
The bright shining lumps of sea glass
Fragments of bones horns of gramophones
A bite from a dead sailor’s ass.

Sometimes we cling to a boulder
The sea comes in and goes out
Sometimes we are torn from each other
To languish in fear and doubt.

Love is the tide that we swim in
That drops us so often on land
Fate brings us back to each other
As we slowly dry out in the sand.

The tide brings us back here once more
Starcrossed starfish lovers
Cast up on the shore
Amidst things that are broken
And washed up and drowned
Battered unwanted and strewn all around
I find you aren’t quite out of reach
Here we are, yet again on this beach.

(It has a tune, but I haven’t recorded it yet. All being well it will be in Hopeless Maine’s Ominous Folk show next year. Starfish doodles also by me.)

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