Of Jason Eckhardt and The Gathering

Hello people! (and others)

I shall tell you a brief story and then we will move on to other things if you are willing. (Your unwillingness would be expressed by not reading any further, I suppose, but you will be rewarded by sticking with me for a bit) I met the esteemed Mr. Eckhardt many years ago when I still lived in Maine. He and I were both (as it turns out) illustrators for the same Lovecraftian publications and I had been an admirer of his work for ages. We met (on a Thanksgiving, as I recall, many years ago) and became fast friends. He is one of the best pen and ink illustrators I have ever encountered, and his work suits the eerie and weird to an uncanny degree. When it came time to have a new masthead for Hopeless, Maine, I knew the chap I wanted to do the job, and, bless him, he said “yes”. Here is Jason’s design for the masthead for Hopeless, Maine in all its glory.

As you can see, it’s perfect and better even than we had hoped.

As Jason had designed this, we thought we had better send him a copy. (the very least we could do) and the following is his response and review of Hopeless, Maine- The Gathering. To my delight, all of the things I was hoping were there to find, he did find. His review follows.

“I’m prejudiced—I admit it.  I have been an admirer of the artwork of Tom Brown for many years now, and I don’t care who knows it.  But even that fore-knowledge didn’t prepare me for the depth and weird beauty of “Hopeless, Maine—The Gathering”, the graphic novel/ saga Brown co-created with wife Nimue Brown.  “Hopeless, Maine” is really an omnibus of three volumes following the adventures of the girl Salamandra in the fog-shrouded town of the title.  But this is no town you will find in the Maine Atlas, nossuh.  Rather it is as if some characters escaped from the manga universe took a wrong turn on US Route 1 and ended up in Edward Gorey’s backyard.  There is a perennial fog covering the town of Hopeless (on an island?  Or one of the many scrawny peninsulas of the Maine coast?), and it seems to hold the inhabitants there in a perpetual state of dusk and gloom.  In a word, hopeless.

    But there is a spark in young Salamandra that won’t be extinguished.  She begins as an orphan in a large, empty house littered with dismembered toys, cobwebs, and unfinished magical experiments left by her absent parents.  A kindly local witch, Miss Nightshade, takes Salamandra to the local orphanage.  There she befriends a crow and a boy, Owen, and acquires what is possibly the worst “invisible friend” in literature (who, through the brilliant irony of Tom and Nimue, is made the most doe-eyed and manga-esque waif of them all).  Meanwhile, things—some like bits of seaweed, some like jumbles of bones or brass fittings—float by in the thick, yellow-grey murk, sprouting eyes that regard both the characters and the reader alike with a terrible blandness.  There is also a tree of bottles.  None of these things is explained—they simply are—which is much of their outré charm.

    There is more, much more to this book than this, but I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.  Reading the Hopeless saga is a continuous revelation of beauty and strangeness.  It is a story that requires constant attention, but rewards that attention a hundred-fold.  Clearly, Tom and Nimue had a clear vision of their story and its heroine, and remained faithful to that vision throughout.  If I have any criticism of “Hopeless, Maine—The Gathering”, it is with some of the type.  The text in the “Prelude” is rather small for my old eyes, and title-headings are similarly insignificant.  This makes the jump from chapter to chapter a little disorienting at times.

    But these are quibbles.  “Hopeless, Maine—The Gathering” is your ticket to become wonderfully lost in the weird world of this most unusual of Downeast towns, all in one volume.  Don’t pass it by.”

 

There you have it! We mostly use the Vendetta as a source of entertainment, and not to (directly) promote the books, but we thought this was well worth sharing.

I hope this finds you well, inspired, and thriving.

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People from the sea

In the early hours of May 8th, 1884 the passenger ship ‘The City of Portland’, bound from Boston to St.John, New Brunswick, came to grief on North West Ledge, by Owl’s Head, off the coast of Maine. Happily, thanks to the cool-headedness of the captain and crew, there was no loss of life. In worsening weather conditions most of the passengers were safely ferried to the steamer, Rockland, but in the confusion the ship’s carpenter, Amos Gannicox, found himself adrift upon the open ocean, along with five very different companions. Sitting in the bows of the lifeboat was the recently ordained missionary, the Reverend Malachi Crackstone. Next to him was Tobias Thrupp, a solicitor’s clerk from England, a man given to long spells of moody silence, while huddled in the rear of the little craft  were Jethro and Maybelle Bussage and their eight year old son, Elmer.

A small life-raft is not the most comfortable place in an angry sea. The six bedraggled survivors were relieved, therefore, when, through the mist, they spotted land. Although the dark rocks looked forbidding they were as welcome a sight as any golden beach or tropical paradise.

There had been little time to grab any personal belongings before ‘The City of Portland” capsized but Amos had managed to salvage his beloved tool chest. The assortment of saws, planes, chisels, files and numerous, esoteric-looking gadgets of the carpenter’s trade contained therein were his pride and joy. On reaching land, however, the chest became an encumbrance and it was only with the aid of the young parson was he able to carry it over the rocky terrain. The Bussage child, Elmer, walked with them while his parents and Thrupp went on ahead, scanning the horizon for any sign of human habitation.

It was not long before they came upon a small stone cottage. A girl, no more than two years old, was playing outside. As the party drew near, a pale, worried looking woman came out of the doorway and gathered the child up, into her arms.

“Amelia, you need to come in now… ,” she eyed the strangers warily.

“My dear madam, you have nothing to fear from us,” Reverend Crackstone’s tone was one of reassurance. “We are castaways, looking for shelter. We mean no harm.”

The woman was obviously agitated and reluctant to let them in but seeing that Crackstone was a man of the cloth, she felt somewhat happier and relented, all the time apologising for the poor state of her home.

The inside of the cottage was clean but in dire need of repair and sparsely furnished. The castaways, however, were only too glad to find somewhere dry and warm in which to rest. Amos found a pack of coffee that he had managed to rescue and soon the inviting aroma of strong coffee filled the air in the tiny room for the first time in many a long year.

The woman, who introduced herself as Harriet Butterow, told them of a nearby inn, The Squid and Teapot, which habitually welcomed strangers. It appeared that until such times as they could support themselves, the landlord, one Bartholomew Middlestreet, a kind and generous man, offered board and lodgings in exchange for any skills their customers might offer in return.

This was music to their ears and the little band wasted no time in making their way to the shelter of the curiously named Squid and Teapot and into the care of the kindly Mr Middlestreet.


A few days later Amos decided to pay a call on Harriet to thank her for her hospitality. He sensed that there was no Mr Butterow in evidence. The least he could do to repay the lady’s kindness would be to offer some help in repairing the cottage. It was an offer that Harriet was quick to agree to but if Amos had entertained any hopes of something of a more romantic relationship evolving from their arrangement, he was to be sadly disappointed.

Over the coming days Harriet unfolded her strange history to the ever-attentive carpenter.

Until five years ago she had been living with her maternal grandmother, Colleen O’Stoat, a fierce old lady with a dark reputation. When Colleen died there was no real funeral, for even her own family had disowned her. It had been Colleen’s wish that, upon her death, her body be put into a small open boat and given to the wild ocean. In the absence of other mourners, Rhys Cranham, the Night Soil Man, carried the corpse to the shore and gently laid the old lady to rest in a rickety and somewhat decrepit rowing boat that had been lying, half submerged for years, in the inky waters that filled the inlet beneath Tragedy Ridge. This is how, early on one spring morning, Harriet was left to cast her grandmother out to sea, back towards the land of her birth.


Despite its apparent unseaworthiness, the tiny craft was borne easily upon the waves, drifting eastwards, unharmed, until it became but a speck upon the pale sun that was beginning to rise out of the ocean. As a tearful Harriet turned to leave, a movement in the nearby rocks made her freeze in her tracks. She held her breath; strange and perilous terrors were known to inhabit these waters.

Of all the creatures that might emerge from the waves, the last thing Harriet expected to see was a man. This particular specimen, though lean and muscular, looked totally exhausted. He was also completely naked. Harriet blushed and lowered her eyes to the ground. The naked newcomer staggered unsteadily towards her, arms outstretched, then, with a groan collapsed at her feet.

Putting her embarrassment to one side, the young woman persuaded the stranger to get up and with a great effort of will from both of them, managed to stagger back to her cottage.

With rest and recuperation, plus some dutiful nursing from Harriet Butterow, the man from the sea soon recovered. His modesty was not fully retrieved, however, until the landlord of The Squid and Teapot kindly contributed some odds and ends of clothing and a fine pair of boots.

Within a very short space the two inevitably, became lovers. Strangely, in all their time together, he uttered not a single word. She never learned his name or heard him speak her own. That was her great sorrow.

For two years they lived this way. Sometimes he would disappear for days, only to return home laden down with mussels and lobsters and enough fish to feed them for a week. Their life together was simple and contented, though Harriet, in the back of her mind, was only too aware that this happiness would soon end.

In the winter of 1881 there was a great storm that blasted the island for days. As it raged, the man from the sea seemed to become more restless, like the ocean itself. He would sit upon the rocks, seemingly unaffected by the the howling winds and lashing rain, and gaze, with melancholic eyes, out into the tempest. Harriet knew that she was losing him and felt helpless to stop it.

A few nights after the storm had passed Harriet was awoken by an eerie, almost unearthly sound. Recognising the cries as being the call of harbor seals, she lay in the darkness, a sense of dread clutching at her heart. She could tell by his breathing that her lover was awake too. His body was as tense as a coiled spring. The mournful barking of the seals filled the air again, plaintive and urgent. With tears in her eyes, Harriet felt him arise from their bed. Moonlight poured through the open door of the cottage as he slipped silently out of her life and into the night.

Quickly throwing on some clothing Harriet followed from a distance, stumbling over the uneven ground.

He seemed to have no idea she was there and continued, like one in a trance, towards the shoreline, his naked flesh ivory in the moonlight. Without looking back he paused by the edge of the ocean and searching among the rocks, retrieved a package which he carefully unfurled and slung over his shoulders. Only then did he turn; he must have seen her for he faltered, as if his intention was to go back. Suddenly, the siren-song of the harbor seals rent the air once more and the spell was broken. The last Harriet saw of her silent lover was a flash of white as he dived beneath the waves. A second or two later the unmistakable head of a seal bobbed to the surface, stopped for an instant to look at her, then disappeared forever.

“It wasn’t until then did I know what he truly was, Mr Gannicox,” said Harriet. “Granny O’Stoat had told me tales of the seal people but I never really believed her. But I do now. He was a Selkie, to be sure.”

Amos said nothing. It sounded all very improbable. After all was said and done, they were within sight of a new century, a modern age where such fairy-tales had little place. The woman was obviously deranged. That was still no reason for her lover to desert her, he reflected.

“It was only after he left I found I was pregnant,” Harriet confided, unaware of the carpenter’s scepticism. “Do you think Amelia is similarly cursed? When she’s older I’ll forbid her to go anywhere near the ocean. It scares me, sir. I’m terrified she’ll go and never come back”

Amos made some soothing comments and wondered why a grown woman should believe in such things.


Night was falling as he made his way back to the Squid and Teapot. Somewhere, far away in the vast Atlantic ocean, a seal called to its mate.

Amos smiled to himself.

‘’Selkies indeed!’’

Art by Tom Brown

Daphne’s first Dustcat

By Robin Collins

Hopeless Maine has one morgue. It is an old and musty edifice those walls are often scoured by winds from the sea or home to glowing colonies of wandering moss crabs. The morgue stands a lonely and depressing sight on its cold hill. Whoever built it had ugly little dwarves carved into the guttering like gargoyles, vomiting cold rainwater out of their slimy mouths whilst increasing anyone’s likelihood of cheering up to an inevitable low.

Interestingly or sinisterly depending on your view there is a little girl called Daphne, who lives in the morgue. She spends her days among the dead bodies laid on the stone shelves talking to them, and going up to the roof where she can look out to sea and dream of being a vampire mermaid sucking blood out of sailors.

Daphne had always been the only living human in the morgue. She was proud of being the only living human in the morgue. Those who brought the cadavers up never seemed to think perhaps this little girl needed a proper home. Her love of the colour black and her intense stare anyway made them glad that she didn’t live with them.

Daphne though had never been brought presents for her birthday. She didn’t know about birthdays, but would she have noticed when she was staring out to sea dreaming of being a vampire mermaid?

The present was left in a wooden crate just outside the morgue doors. Daphne sniffed it and then saw somebody had handwritten a little note for her with much thought and kindness evident in the writing. But Daphne did not read. She ate the note because it looked like it could be eaten. Then she opened the crate because there might be food in it. I have not mentioned this but Daphne was often delivered food by the caring people from Hopeless Maine because they were afraid of what she might do if she did not have her fish pie.

Out of the container suddenly emerged all covered in fur and with claws and green eye… a dustcat. The dustcat’s mouth opened and out wriggled its grey fleshy dust sucking tube. It stuck to Daphne’s face with a wet sucking noise. She was initially surprised and about to pull her little axe out she carried wherever she went to kill the dustcat, but she began to laugh. This was fun and she was smiling. The dustcat finding no dust on her face then flew up above her head resembling a ragged clot of fur and meow. It sat on her hair. Daphne was laughing now so much she was starting to hurt her ribs. When she’d finished laughing the dustcat had already gone inside the morgue and found a lot of high quality dust. Daphne watched as the creature went about the gloomy, morbidly introspective interior, its green eyes glittering and its dust sucking tube making dust sucking sounds.

‘I will name you…’ she stopped and thought for a moment. ‘…Darkness,’ she said happily.

This was her first present and her first dustcat.

Art by Tom Brown

A Marriage on the Rocks

I owe my readers something of an apology. Without any explanation, I have, in recent tales, referred to Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs as being the husband of Betty Butterow, the barmaid of The Squid and Teapot.

“When did that happen?” you might well ask. Regular visitors will know that a great affection grew between the two and romance blossomed. My grandmother might have said that they were ‘courting’, however, given the intensity of their relationship, she would more likely have tutted and said that they were ‘carrying-on.’ I remember ‘carrying on’ as being a disapproving and euphemistic verdict passed on those conducting any liaison not compatible with her own rigid moral compass. In granny’s view Joseph and Betty’s moral compass would have been spinning around madly with no hope of ever finding north, either true or magnetic. Happily unaware of this, the couple joyously carried on ‘carrying-on’ with great gusto and enthusiasm at every opportunity until, at last, the day dawned when they both decided that it seemed only sensible to make their carrying-on respectable and official with the exchange of marriage vows.

The word ‘wedding’ conjures up visions of flouncy dresses that resemble fluffy white confections; blizzards of confetti and lucky horseshoes made of cardboard; giggling bridesmaids and awkward pageboys; a best man delivering an embarrassing speech and the wrong person catching a tossed bouquet.

Well, you can forget all of that. This is Hopeless, Maine and none of these things have any place in this tale. Remember also, Betty was a Selkie, a seal-woman and Selkies have their own ways of getting wed.

Every wedding needs a celebrant. This one was no exception. Neither Betty nor Joseph would have tolerated having their vows sanctified by a beaming minister or one of the stern, hard-faced Jesuits that Joseph had encountered in his youth. Instead, both decided that the one person who would understand them best (and not bat an eyelid at Betty’s shape-shifting predilection) would be a shaman from Joseph’s tribe, the Passamaquoddy. And so it was that the two lovers found themselves crossing the choppy channel to the mainland (he paddled, she swam) to exchange their vows on a windy outcrop overlooking the ocean on the rocky coast of Maine. The shaman had made it clear to Joseph that he was disinclined to travel. Perilous expeditions into the spirit world were one thing; going to Hopeless was a completely different teapot of squid that the elderly medicine-man had absolutely no intention of experiencing.

There are many legends surrounding selkies. Some say that the man who steals her skin possesses her. I have no idea if this is true. Even if it were, Joseph had no wish to possess Betty and, frankly, I would be amazed if any man ever could. Having said this, when a Selkie woman chooses to marry a landsman, it is customary for her to entrust her husband with her sealskin. This, you must understand, is purely symbolic, for without her skin she is unable to become a seal, something neither of them would have wished. So, having ceremoniously handed the still wet pelt to Joseph, Betty immediately took it back. After all, she needed to return home that evening and swimming was vastly more exhilarating and comfortable than riding in a cramped canoe that was loaded down with Passamaquoddy wedding gifts.

Joseph had regarded himself to be part of the Hopeless community for some time and the island was the only home Betty had ever known, so there was never any question that they might live anywhere else. They set up house in a cabin in Creepy Hollow, just a short distance and generally upwind of the Night-Soil Man’s cottage. It was a place close to Joseph’s heart, for it was there, some fifteen years earlier, that he and the apprentice, Randall Middlestreet, had disposed of the Wendigo, the creature that had killed Josephs’s mother and also his first wife. Randall not only took on the mantle of the Night-Soil Man that day but also became Joseph’s blood-brother.

Beneath the bar in The Squid and Teapot sits a battered leather journal. Within its covers are the histories and genealogies of many of the island’s dwellers. It is also the book in which many of these tales are recorded. If you could only look through its yellowing pages you would see that the story of Betty and Joseph is far from over.

Art by Tom Brown

Visiting artists.

Hello people! (and others)

This is going to be a mostly-art Vendetta, and though I have titled it “Visiting artists” they are really both residents. Firstly, you have heard us saying wonderful things about our publisher-Sloth Comics, I assume. (If not, I will just say this is the best company I have worked with in my entire comics career) Well, how many other comics creators get to say that they have a fan art made by their publisher? This is now a thing that we get to say, and to show you. Here is the (utterly adorable) Salamandra-Sloth (she does magic very slowly, I expect) by Nicolas Rossert. He can not really be said to be a visitor only, as we have a long publishing relationship ahead, among many other things.

The second visiting artist who has become a resident is Mr. CliffCumber. He is originally from the UK, now residing in the US. (Just the opposite of me) We found him on Twitter and managed to drag him to the island (I do not specifically recall any kicking or screaming) He is now a regular artist for the Tales from the Squid and Teapot column, and has agreed to do some art for the Hopeless, Maine Tabletop role-playing game also. We consider him to be creative family, and he brings his own vision to the island but shows in every piece that he understands it on a very deep level. Here are two pieces from him. The first is a continuation of the adventures of a certain librarian on the island (We first saw her examining werewolf markings on a vase) The second is Sal (Salamandra) in her(flying) boat. I *may* be going to have to steal that lamp design on the back…

As always, I hope this finds you well, inspired and thriving.

Spoonwalker Blues

Pinned up behind the bar of the Squid and Teapot is a yellowing scrap of paper upon which are the written a few verses of a song. There would be nothing remarkable about this other than the fact that the lyrics are specifically about Spoonwalkers. That in itself is, as far as I am aware, almost unique (you may recall that, although he had no idea of their identity, W.S. Gilbert referred to them in his song ‘Why is the cutlery moving?’).

What makes these verses especially interesting, however, is not the subject matter but just three letters and a date written carelessly at the bottom of the sheet: RLJ 1936.

Looking through the guest-book of The Squid and Teapot (which is not a particularly time-consuming activity) it seems that no one with those initials appears to have stayed at the inn during the year in question. One entry that does stand out, however, is that of ‘J Shines and friend’.

Could ‘J. Shines’ be Johnny Shines, a musician and travelling companion of the blues singer, Robert Leroy Johnson? Although usually associated with the southern states of America, it is well documented that Johnson and Shines performed as far north as New York, Chicago and even Canada. Excitingly, if ‘RLJ’ is  Robert Johnson it is proof that he came to Hopeless in the last couple of years of his short life. Sadly, however, the why and how of his visit may never be known but it would be safe to assume that the two men would have shared a room to save money.

Now for a leap of faith; if Johnson was on the island could it not be that his famous ‘Crossroads’ was actually penned here on Hopeless? There is a school of thought that the blues singer sold his soul to the devil on a crossroads in Mississippi – but Hopeless is a far better candidate for diabolic dealings, surely. if Johnson was here in 1936 and stood on the crossroads that lead to the caverns just as the sun was setting, who knows what he might have experienced? There are demonic forms enough on this island to make him think that the devil was after him. All this is speculation of course; the blues song pinned up behind the bar may be nothing to do with Robert Johnson at all. What do you think?

 

Spoonwalker Blues

 

Woke up this mornin’

Got them Spoonwalkers on my mind.

Woke up this mornin’ baby,

Had them Spoonwalkers on my mind.

They been in my kitchen

Takin’ all that they can find.

 

Soup and puddin’s off the menu.

Stir my coffee with my thumb.

Soup and puddin’s off the menu.

I’m stirring coffee with my thumb.

Since them Spoonwalkers been here

I been living like a bum.

 

Got no eggs for breakfast,

Got no butter on my bread.

No, I got no eggs for breakfast,

Got no butter on my bread.

How I hate them ol’ Spoonwalkers

And now they gotten in my head.

 

So I went down to the doctor

He say “Get some walkin’ shoes.”

Yeah, I went down to the doctor,

Told me “Get some walkin’ shoes.”

He say “Walk away from Hopeless, boy,

You gotta lose them Spoonwalker blues.”

 

RLJ  1936

Art by Tom Brown

Blue Funk

By Jim Snee

 

Wardel Prism walked away from the Squid and Teapot in what can only be described as a blue funk. That is to say that the usual clammy Hopeless fog had, in these small hours of the morning, thickened into a proper clinging wet funk, and Wardel was busily and loudly cursing the air blue.

In truth, he was not usually a happy individual, his sullen moods seemingly well fitted to the twisted frame that had earned him the name “Wonky Popeye” amongst his peers. But at that particular moment he was as far from happy as he had ever felt. At seventeen he was used to a rollercoaster of hormones, but now they were overflowing into disappointment, frustration, anger and self-loathing.

It had been going so well. Bumpa Sallow was everything Wardel had ever dreamed of in a woman; three foot tall, beautiful and old enough to be his mother. And she had been enjoying the evening. They had smiled and laughed over their drinks. They had gone back to her hovel and kissed in the doorway. They had even got on the bed and Wardel had started trying to unlock the mystery of dress fastenings.

And then it had changed.

What had he done wrong?

She said it wasn’t him, but in his mind he knew he’d done something wrong. And so he had apologised and left. All the excitement, joy and (dare he say it) love, had come crashing down in a horrible cold silence.

He swore as he walked out of her weed infested garden.

He swore as he headed down the road in a direction that he could only think of as ‘away’.

He swore at the funk and the twittering, whispering voices within it. To him it seemed like the taunting of the other boys, who already claimed his excessively muscular right arm was proof of a solitary love life. They would tell him he wasn’t a real man and that a real man would have gone through with it, would have ‘persuaded her’. Now Wardel knew what they meant by persuaded, and it made him even more angry.

“Has it ever occurred to anyone that I don’t want to do that?” he shouted to night. “Why does everyone think we men have to force ourselves on women? What kind of lunatic would enjoy that?”

The twittering voices fell silent.

Something formless shambled out of the funk and carefully placed a small silver object in Wardel’s hand.

It was a spoon.

Then, it shambled silently away.

“Oh.” said Wardel. “Thank you… so it’s not just me then…”

Art by Tom Brown

Thanksgiving

Here on Hopeless Thanksgiving has never been as popular as it is on the mainland. There are valid reasons for this as most islanders, or their ancestors, came here unwillingly, more often than not as the result of a shipwreck and few have seen little reason to give thanks for anything. Another contributing factor to the general indifference to the holiday is that most of the variety of foods associated with it are scarce, to say the least. Despite these factors, however, following a disastrous Hallowe’en party (related in the tale ‘The Unquiet Gravy’) Betty Butterow was determined that Thanksgiving that year should not only be celebrated but celebrated properly.

Having made up her mind to do this  Betty compiled a shopping list and sent her husband, Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs, to the city of Portland with strict instructions to bring back only the best of everything. Joseph, originally a trader from the Passamaquoddy tribe, was one of the few people who regularly went back and forth to the mainland, often bartering moonshine for whatever was needed on Hopeless. When, at last, he returned from this latest trip, Joseph’s  canoe lay low in the water, laden down with enough sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, dressed turkeys, corn, pumpkins and a host of other comestibles, to provide the makings of a real Thanksgiving feast.

The Lypiatt family, who owned The Squid and Teapot, were as enthusiastic as Betty to make this an occasion to remember. They filled the ground floors of the inn with chairs and tables; dining tables, kitchen tables, gateleg-tables, card tables, trestle-tables – you get the idea, I’m sure – begged and borrowed from all over the north of the island and beyond. Bill Ebley donated several crates of ‘Old Colonel’ from his brewery, while his brother-in-law, Solomon Gannicox, sent a firkin of his popular and famous ‘Gannicox Special Distillation’. Almost uniquely on Hopeless, this promised to be a night that nothing could mar – and fortunately the full moon was not due until the following Saturday, so there was no possibility of Lady Margaret D’Avening suddenly manifesting in the privy and upsetting the unwary.

The evening of Thursday the twenty-sixth of November arrived and the guests who poured into The Squid and Teapot gasped at the sight that greeted their eyes. Never before on Hopeless had such extravagance been seen. Each table, laden with the most mouth-watering delights, was graced by a number of candles, thrust into either old wine bottles or candlesticks. The effect was quite magical, creating a constellation of flickering lights that sent shadows soaring up honey-gold walls, gilding the simple cutlery and twinkling in the delighted eyes of young and old alike.

Those familiar with these tales and conversant with the ill-fortune that often besets the islanders will doubtlessly be expecting some dreadful tragedy to occur. I am happy to report that on this occasion nothing untoward happened. Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs breathed a huge sigh of relief at the end of the evening. He had, quite erroneously, felt responsible for the shambles that was the Hallowe’en party; this success seemed to put things right. It had been no mean feat haggling for the party food and then transporting it to the island. The result, however, made everything worthwhile. He sat back in his chair a contented man. He was even happier

when, after the guests had left, Sebastian Lypiatt urged everyone helping to get home to bed and leave the clearing up until the next day.

It was in the early hours of the following morning and Randall Middlestreet, the Night-Soil-Man was more than half-way through his round when he reached The Squid and Teapot. Since the installation of the new privy, some six years previously, he had found no reason to call there but tonight, however, was the exception; this was pleasure rather than work. Betty Butterow had made up a small hamper of Thanksgiving food for him, along with two bottles of ‘Old Colonel’, leaving instructions for Randall to collect it from the porch. This was a rare treat. The unsociable nature of his calling usually excluded the Night-Soil Man from celebrations on the island. This did not trouble Randall particularly; he was introverted by nature and was happy not to attend but the promise of sumptuous food and strong beer… well, that was a different story.

Randall, having collected his hamper was just leaving the porch when he heard a faint, clinking noise. This carried on for a while then the clinks were joined by a volley of high-pitched, argumentative squeaks, all coming from within the building. It sounded as though the Squid was being burgled and Randall hazarded a guess as to whom the culprits might be. Spoonwalkers, no less! He slipped into the darkest shadows, beneath the wall, making sure he was well downwind of the doorway.

A minute or so elapsed before the diminutive burglars appeared. There were half-a-dozen of them, each laden down with as much food as they could carry. Some were sporting extra spoons, stolen from the uncleared tables. Randall grinned to himself in the darkness; despite their evil reputation and madness-inducing gaze there was no denying their comical aspect.  His grin grew even broader when two more appeared, carefully carrying a glass filled with ‘Gannicox Special Distillation’. They gently lowered the glass to the ground and then the eight Spoonwalkers stood examining it with some curiosity. One cautiously dipped a spoon into the clear liquid and took a large sip. Randall nearly gave himself away and only managed, with difficulty, to stifle a laugh when the Spoonwalker almost toppled off its cutlery stilts in a fit of coughing. The others fell back, obviously worried at their colleague’s reaction but were reassured when, once recovered, the inquisitive creature felt emboldened enough to sample another sip of the powerful brew. This time, fully prepared for the taste, the Spoonwalker drank with gusto, then, just to be sure, helped itself to several more mouthfuls. It did not take long for the others to join in and soon the contents of the glass were completely gone.

Spoonwalkers, although adept at all sorts of criminal activity, are not known for their drinking habits. To be frank, this particular raiding-party had no head for booze at all. They were soon giggling and staggering around in the time-honoured fashion of drunks everywhere. Then something peculiar happened. One of them started to dance. Randall could not believe his eyes. It was definitely a dance, with a regular set of steps and gestures. To add even more to this most bizarre of scenes the other Spoonwalkers began to make a humming noise, a noise which could be loosely construed as being faintly melodic as, one by one, they all joined in the dance. Randall found a stub of pencil and a scrap of paper to record what he was witnessing. I have taken the liberty of paraphrasing his words slightly, here, in the hope that the ‘Spoonwalk’ might become a recognised dance on the island. Foot and arm movements are suggested in the lyric but feel free to improvise.

(Any resemblance to a certain other dance is purely coincidental. Honestly).



It’s  just a hop to the left.
And then a step to the right.
Put your spoons where they fit
Pull your tentacles tight.
But it’s those glowing eyes
That really drive you insane.
Let’s do the spoonwalk again.
Let’s do the spoonwalk again.

The Second Stroud Vendetta

Further classified ads created during the Strange Soiree – part of 2017’s Stroud Book Festival

Lost

A Myrtle Turdle was mislaid over 100 years ago but sadly missed by nobody. It has been researched (sometimes) and Fossils of its sweat have been documented in the museum!!! If found, well…. Arc-The-Ologist

Wiped tears accompanied by distant guilt. Must be genuine find.

Lindreygood demon child is missing. Has skin of grey, its eyes seem shut for reasons that shall remain unknown for the safety of the island. If found, give it a shiny object and report where it is to Scarlet Mandle in Mandle’s Home for Strange Creatures.

Pot of colours containing a sparkling rainbow that erupts when caught by a smile. Must not be opened after dusk. Otherwise will be leapt up by darkness forever.

All of my dustcats have escaped before I had a chance to sell them. If someone could return them to me, I would be most grateful. Walden Pond Frog.

One Diaphanous Eagle (rare) answers to the name of ‘Shadow’ ironically.

Lost – spleen. Great sentimental (and physiological) value. Greatly missed.

Lost: My purple, four legged baby. Last seen catching flies outside the cafeteria. I was inside, imbibing a fairy. Bebagoozing was wearing a hideous pink jumpsuit, his choice. He was rather wonderful bat-like ears and a tongue of extraordinary retractable length. Contact Flozmiz.

Lost: The end of my knitting.

 

Found

A shrieking armchair with a smell of ghostly camembert cheese.

3 bad jokes, 6 farts in a jar, 10 sneezes and a feather.

Found – a spleen – recently vented. If you have lost yours please enquire at The Squid and Teapot.

One portion of tentacle – slightly singed – prone to twitching on Wednesdays. Musty colour, please re-unite.

A sack of pot holes. Very nearly new, I would guess.

Foundered Hopes. (All is lost)

Found: A small clump of demon weed, each stem contains wispy mouths requesting that it be smoked. Bring paper, glue, thick gloves, scissors and a sense of humour to The Squid and Teapot tomorrow at 8pm.

Found: Part of a shadowcat – still alive, shaped like part of a shadowcat. Please take it from me!!!

 

Wanted

Amalgam fillings: 10yrs old at least please.

Swindling sticks – extendable preferred.

A bozo for the scuttle. Consider it as a gift. JK

A goat, or goatlike creature. Must respond to verbal commands.

People will to join a ‘hive’ and embark on a community capable of collective intelligence. All food and lodgings are supplied. No money is involved, buy you will enjoy the part you will play in the hive mind which will be capable of the most amazing acts of human achievement and selflessness.

Final line to a limerick – must rhyme with Alan.

Lift wanted to The Pebble, 13 past Tuesday. No wheels or slow coaches please. If return trip likely please turn around. Box No J.

A woman/man/being that has: crazy ideas that perplex me. Humour that’s not fudged but has an edge of ice. Eyes that sparkle and glow in the night. Extra toes on both feet. A heat carton of strawberry macaroon. A desire to dress colourfully inside out.

Pamola

Hopeless Maine’s very first and much-anticipated Hallowe’en party had been a disaster. The ancient cauldron in which the stew was cooking had exploded into a thousand pieces and, as if by magic, a huge and slightly comical bird had risen, squawking from its ruins. More worrying, by far, were the actions of Daniel Rooksmoor, the orphan who had been given the task of feeding the fire beneath the cauldron. Daniel had ingested three drops of the ill-fated stew (the remainder having seeped into the ground) and a profound change had come over him. Looking suddenly older and with a wild light in his eyes, the orphan had followed the Cauldron Bird’s flight and like one in a trance, wandered out towards the mysterious Gydynap Hills.

Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs was wracked by guilt. He had inspired the islanders to hold the event and now felt responsible for Daniel’s disappearance. He quickly resolved that he should go into the hills himself in the hopes of persuading the boy to return to the orphanage.

 

Hallowe’en is not an ideal night to begin such a quest, especially on Hopeless, but Joseph, wary of the dangers, felt that he had no choice.

He was not a little surprised, therefore, when he reached the highest point of the hills without a single problem; dawn, however, was still some hours away and there was plenty of time for trouble to manifest. He had expected it earlier when, on several occasions, he thought that he had spotted someone – or more likely something – following him from a distance. In the event nothing too awful had happened so maybe, he reasoned, it was his own uneasiness making him see things that were not there.

 

Besides his beloved Betty Butterow, only one other person had watched Joseph head for the hills. This was Randall Middlestreet, the Night-Soil man. He was half-way through his rounds when he caught sight the Passamaquoddy trader. Randall could not but help wonder what was going on; the hills were no place for a lone walker at night.

It is both the gift and the curse of the Night-Soil Man to repel most creatures, human or otherwise, and it took but an instant for him to make the decision to abandon the rest of his shift, follow Joseph and try to keep him safe. A Night-Soil man has few friends but Joseph, Betty and the Lypiatt family had always been kind to him. Randall would die before allowing harm to befall any of them.

While he had taken care to keep well downwind of Joseph, the reek of the Night-Soil Man had kept all but the most olfactory-challenged beasts at bay. There had been few incidents for Randall to attend to; happily the creatures showing any interest in pursuing Joseph tended to be small and could be efficiently  despatched with a well-aimed boot. It was fortunate that the nastier predators, the night-stalkers, would not be up here on the empty hills but busy hunting their prey in the dark streets below, where flesh and blood was in plentiful supply.

 

Joseph had run out of ideas. He had walked for hours and found no trace of Daniel. His best plan now was to find somewhere to rest, light a fire and wait until sunrise. A dozen or so yards to his rear, Randall did the same, minus the fire.

 

It was just before dawn when the wind changed direction. Joseph had been dozing fitfully for a hour or more. He was jerked awake when his nostrils twitched involuntarily at the intrusion of a sudden and decidedly unpleasant aroma. Joseph smiled; there was only one person, as far as he was aware, who could announce their presence in such a way.

“Randall…?” he called, not looking back.

He heard the Night-Soil man stir, then begin to wander over.  The stench became stronger. Joseph tried not to gag; he knew that after a minute or two the smell would become tolerable.

“Hi Joe. I was just passin’. What’s going on?”

Joseph smiled to himself again upon hearing Randall’s white lie. He immediately guessed the real reason for the Night-Soil Man being there. In truth, Joseph was glad of the company and soon found himself telling Randall the whole sorry tale of the Hallowe’en party and how Daniel followed the Cauldron Bird to the hills.

“I’ll happily help, as long as you can bear my company,” Randall offered.

Joseph assured the Night-Soil Man that he was very welcome to join him. Indeed, the combination of familiarity and fresh breeze had diluted Randall’s smell considerably.

As a watery sun battled through the ever-present mist, the pair made their way deeper into the hills. Neither mentioned the several disembodied eyes, watching from the sky above them. They had both witnessed these before, of course. Everyone on Hopeless had, but there was an almost superstitious tendency to pretend they were not there. Here, however, high above the rest of the island, they were hard to ignore.

It was Randall who spotted Daniel first. He was about fifty yards away, kneeling before a large boulder. The boy was gently rocking back and forth, his arms outstretched; they could hear him chanting.

“Pamola, O Great One, come to me… Pamola, O Great One, come to me…”

 

Joseph stiffened, scarcely believing what he was hearing. This was unexpected.

He put his hand on Randall’s shoulder, a wordless command to remain still.

The two men watched for some minutes as Daniel continued to rock and chant. The chanting became more and more intense, gradually mingling with what seemed to be the roar of distant thunder. Little by little the noise grew louder, as if something was drawing near, responding to the boy’s call. Although Joseph knew the name of Pamola, even he was unprepared for what happened next. A huge bird of prey alighted upon the boulder in front of Daniel. There was some resemblance to the Cauldron Bird but the strange creature had metamorphosed into something very much bigger and far more terrible. If once it had appeared comical, that aspect was no more. There were no signs of vegetable talons or cabbage-leaf wings. This creature was wrought as if out of brass and leather; it was god-like and not in a sweet and gentle messianic way. It was quite obvious that this was something from a savage and distant past that would have little time for changing water into wine, healing the sick and suchlike.

Daniel leaned back and spread his arms wide, as though in welcome.

The bird screeched, making both men cover their ears. It hopped clumsily on to the ground and flapped its mighty wings, raising a dust storm. Joseph and Randall could only watch, helpless, as Pamola mantled Daniel with its wings, as a hawk would do when devouring its prey. They could only guess at what was happening. Suddenly, with some more dust-storm inducing flaps, the great bird rose into the misty air, leaving no trace of the boy behind.

The two observers remained in silence for some minutes, watching as Pamola gradually disappeared from sight, heading across the channel to the mainland.

It was only when he was certain that the bird was many miles away did Joseph dare to speak its name and give Randall an explanation.

“ A neighbouring tribe, the Penobscot, has a legend,” Joseph said. “Pamola – it means ‘he curses on the mountain’ – is an evil spirit who is said to reside on Mount Katahdin. It is called The Greatest of Mountains, yet it is feared by all of the Indians of Maine, even today. Pamola will kill and injure unless he is appeased by a sacrifice every now and then. He can be capricious, though. There are tales of him giving favour by taking a hunter to his own lands and lavishing upon him all that he might desire. I’d like to think that such a thing has happened to Daniel, but I fear that is unlikely. Daniel Rooksmoor is gone, Randall and we have been cursed – or maybe privileged – to have witnessed all of this.”

The Night-Soil man said little as they walked down from the hills. He had much to think about. Ancient Welsh cauldrons and Native American demons were strange bedfellows. But this was Hopeless, Maine, where strange was all too commonplace. Randall yawned and suddenly realised how tired he was feeling. He needed to sleep. Somehow, though, he did not imagine he would find sleep particularly easy to come by for some time.

Art by Cliff Cumber

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.