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.

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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

The Stroud Vendetta

Hopeless Maine Classifieds from the Stroud Book Festival….

For Sale!

186 spoons for sale. All conditions, many showing fine traceries of dried slime. $5 the lot. Please collect soon. Bring weapons to allow access to the door. Address as foll…

Old “sale” signs (business gone bust).

32 vials of the cure for all known diseases. Each vial will treat approx 10 people. £100 per vial, but for all 31 vials I would be happy to accept $2000 as, if one thinks about it, there are fundamental problems with only treating part of one’s Community. Sven Flowermountain 134 Elderberry Road.

Bloodthirsty socks.

Magnanimous vitriol. Would suit most homes.

Last night’s conversation with my Dad. 3 footprints. My book about dots. Job lot £8.50

Copious amount of luscious hairy coffee strands. Perfect for the balding gentleman, or pre-pubescent boy looking to visit the Squid and Teapot. Self adhesive, pungent and durable. Also could be used to fix minor structural cracks.

Irritating younger sibling.

A fish-headed kitchen wench.

 

 

Lonely Hearts!

Bubbly obesity sucking gob-stoppers 6 at a time until we POP into a lurve bubble to bounce into perennial Happy Ever After sunsets over frothy coffee seas – Antigani will squeeze forever the night potato of your heart.

Will mate with anything creature so the progeny of my horrible species can continue. GSOH optional.

Desperately seeking a Gloopy Maloopy to gimble and gyre with. And share hairy coffee (before we die) if after… Henrietta Gerbil.

Desperately seeking spoons! Spoonwalker would like to meet spoons. Lots of spoons. Must like long walks and… er… just long walks.

Small furry eyeball seeks monosyllabic wisdom tooth for occasional outings.

AH, YES! Looking for landscapes I can write filthy poetry about. Ah YES! Must have voluptuous features and curves made of innuendo and lust.

Parish Notices

The shrunken head craft workshop will begin four days hence at the ungodly hour. You are encouraged to bring along a head to shrink. Makes an ideal Christmas present! (Hang from the mantelpiece).

Fully qualified Spoon-o-mancer offers spoon readings. Unlock the secrets of your future. The answer lies in your cutlery drawer.

I have been observing you creatures for some time now – it’s all about the journey, right? I mean, you have to be careful around here – direction wise. You could run into the caretakers – Ruby Mace with her doggerel. You don’t want that, not for anything. It comes up right being you before you know it’s there…

Wanted – dead body to fill Parish council vacancy.

The community hedge between mucky meadow and the recreation pound has become uncooperative. Volunteers needed on Wednesday for 12 hours (free biscuits).

(The second half of this happy madness will go up next week…)

The Unquiet Gravy

These days, unlike much of North America, Hallowe’en is not widely celebrated on Hopeless. This is fairly understandable; there seems little point in masquerading as some shabby version of a supernatural creature when living on an island where encounters with ghosts, ghouls, werewolves, vampires and a host of nameless horrors are fairly commonplace. This, however, has not always been the case.

Hallowe’en, as a trick-and-treating, dressing-up and scaring the neighbours affair, kicked-off as a commercial  success in America in the 1930s. Although Hopeless was then no less of a haven for the weird and not particularly wonderful, the novelty value of the occasion was not wasted upon its inhabitants when the trader, Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs brought news of the festival to the island. (Joseph was now living on Hopeless, having very recently married Betty Butterow, the barmaid of the Squid and Teapot).  It must be said that much of the enthusiasm generated for the occasion had a great deal to do with the prospect of a feast, for Joseph had loaded his canoe to the gunnels with candies, fruit, pumpkins, corn, vegetables and one very skinny game bird.

If the various communities of world have one thing in common, it is the desire to form a committee whenever the opportunity arises. There seems to be a universal belief that anything of the slightest importance which needs to be organised requires a group of people with vastly differing opinions to put it together. The Hopeless Hallowe’en committee was no exception. Arguments regarding the the distribution of the food, the venue or venues involved, even the exact specifications regarding the carving of the Jack O’Lanterns abounded for days. Hallowe’en was in danger of slipping by unnoticed while the committee debated the way in which it should be celebrated. At last Joseph, who was a patient man and had kept an inscrutable silence so far, banged the table with his moccasin and threatened to scupper his canoe, complete with cargo, if no decision could be made by supper time. This seemed to concentrate minds wonderfully and it was unanimously decided that all preparations for the celebrations should be put in the capable hands of the staff of the Squid and Teapot. It was a huge task and Joseph pretended not to notice the withering glance that Betty threw at him. Since marrying, the couple had set up home in a small cabin in Creepy Hollow. Joseph had the distinct impression that he might well be banished to the spare room for a night or two.

Both Betty and the Lypiatt family, who owned the inn, thought that the children of the orphanage might be recruited to carve the Jack O’Lanterns. Given the number of people to cater for, they reached the conclusion that the most economical use of the meat and vegetables would be to make a huge stew. The most mediocre of cooks will tell you –  and I speak with some authority here – that not only is a stew one of the simplest dishes to prepare but also, when allowed to cook slowly enough to enable the various flavours and textures to combine, can rival the nectar of the gods on a cold October evening. All that was required to create this culinary delight was a container large enough to hold all of the ingredients.

It was Gwilym Davies who came to the rescue. His family had settled on the island over a century before and Gwilym and his descendants on Hopeless were the remains of the Davies diaspora that had left North Wales all those years ago.

Gwilym’s great grandparents, Gruffyd and Bronwen had sailed from Liverpool with few possessions but the one thing they refused to leave behind was the huge copper cauldron that had been in the family for longer than anyone could remember.  As far as Gwilym was aware,  the cauldron had not been used during his lifetime and it seemed an ideal vessel for the job in hand.

One of The Squid’s outbuildings was selected to house the cauldron. So large was the container that it was deemed necessary to keep a fire burning steadily beneath it for at least twenty four hours in order for the flavours to properly mingle. In view of this, a couple of islanders were roped-in to tend to it. These took the shape of Daniel Rooksmoor, one of the boys from the orphanage and old Amos Gannicox. In his younger days Amos had been the ship’s carpenter on the ill-fated ‘The City of Portland’. After the ship capsized Amos had found himself stranded on Hopeless. Now, some fifty years later, on this most auspicious of occasions, he was awarded the task of stirring the stew. Meanwhile, Daniel, a burly fourteen-year-old, volunteered to feed the fire.

 

All seemed to be going well until it came to adding the meat. When the game-bird was plucked it looked too thin and bony to provide any sort of meaningful nourishment. It was a disappointment but by this time it was too late to do anything other than gut the carcass and throw it into the pot as it was, head, legs and all. At least a day of slow cooking would gently ease whatever flesh it once possessed from the bones.

By nightfall, on the last day of October, the air around The Squid and Teapot was rich with the aroma of stew. Folk started to drift towards the inn, bringing bowls and cutlery. It was rare for anyone on the island to give  their jealously guarded spoons an airing, for fear of theft by the Spoonwalkers, but tonight there was a devil-may-care attitude and caution was thrown to the wind. Lanterns, music, laughter and a certain amount of alcohol, all added to the atmosphere of the evening.

Daniel had gone to the woodshed for more fuel and Amos was alone with the cauldron when it suddenly bubbled with a strange glooping noise. The old man dug the wooden paddle, that served as a stirring-spoon, into the mixture and pushed it around. It was hard work – the paddle moved sluggishly, as if through treacle. The stew glooped again just as Daniel walked through the doorway, his arms loaded with logs.

“I don’t know what’s going on with this,” said Amos. “Give me a hand with the paddle, please lad.”

Daniel grasped the paddle and helped move it around. Maybe it was the firelight or something to do with the bottle of ‘Old Colonel’ he’d craftily consumed while supposedly looking for wood but the stew seemed to have taken on a strange hue. There was a certain luminous green quality lingering in its depths.

“Gloop”

This time the bubbles were fiercer and sent a fine spray of stew into the air, three generous drops of it landing on Daniel’s hand. The pair jumped back with some alarm, yelling in consternation and letting the paddle drop into the cauldron. Daniel licked the burning drops off his hand.

By now a crowd, hearing the commotion, had gathered outside the doorway just in time to see Amos fall over and Daniel reel back against the wall, holding his head.

The bubbling noises from the cauldron were louder and more frequent by now. A green steam arose from the surface of the stew and hung ominously in the air above it.

“Get back” screamed Daniel, grabbing Amos by the collar of his jacket and dragging him out of the building, the crowd falling back to let them pass.

The cauldron began to groan as if possessed by some demon and its sides appeared to pulsate in the dancing firelight.

The crowd drew back, everyone well aware that something unpleasant was about to happen. This was, after all, Hopeless on Hallowe’en. Of course something unpleasant was about to happen.

Then it did.

The cauldron groaned once more, a heart-rending, guttural cry that became a drawn-out moan, then a roar. With a blinding flash the cauldron exploded into a thousand copper shards, embedding themselves into the walls and ceiling of the outbuilding. Many of the spectators standing close by were temporarily blinded by the sudden burst of light. Very few saw the creature that arose from the ruins of the stew which, by now, was seeping into the earthen floor. Even by Hopeless standards it was odd. There was something reminiscent of a bird of prey about it, but huge and with glowing eyes, as big as turnips. Its wings might have been leather but looked like massive cabbage leaves and its talons were uncannily like parsnips. With a beak and wattles that glowed, as if made of copper, it rose into the air

with a deafening squawk, then flapped, slow and silent as a heron, into the night sky,  towards the mysterious Gydynap hills.

Daniel Rooksmoor stood alone over the unmoving form of Amos Gannicox. The three livid red scars on his hand marked where the drops had landed and he had changed, for all to see. His skin was deathly pale and he looked older, far older, than his years. There was a light in his eyes that spoke of madness; the madness of prophets and poets. The madness which has little time for the mediocrity of daily life.

Wordlessly he walked away from the throng, into the darkness, following the flight of the Cauldron Bird. He was oblivious to danger and careless of any creature that might be abroad on this most haunted of nights. Those who saw him leave fell to silence. No one moved to stop him.

 

Despite the facts that Gwilym Davies was stoic about the loss of his cauldron, Amos had made a full recovery and there appeared to have been no fatalities, Joseph was wracked with guilt. He was convinced that the responsibility for everything that befell that night was all his own. He felt especially bad about Daniel Rooksmoor and resolved to find the boy and bring him back. Joseph  knew this was something that he had to do alone. There was no changing his mind and so, with a heavy-heart, Betty Butterow watched the love of her life leave their cabin to head deep inland, where loomed the mysterious and forbidding Gydynap hills…

 

To be continued…

art by Tom Brown

Horrorscope guidance for Citizens of Hopeless

Scorpio: If you’ve made your peace with what’s haunting you, this month will be only slightly depressing. Things look grim all the way to midwinter. Expect your shoes to let you down repeatedly.

Sagittarius: Your good luck in beachcombing may lead to horror and dismay.

Capricorn: For the next two weeks, you are at great risk of being struck by lightning and/or falling into your own privy.

Aquarius: Those of you who survived last month can expect things to be mercifully quiet until the gibbous moon, after which it’s just going to be one disaster after another.

Pisces: Being generous will only get you taken advantage of. Say not to everything until at least next week, and make sure all the locks on your doors are sound.

Aries: A small injury will fester and you’ll have to decide whether to trust to witchcraft or take your life into your hands with a visit to Doc Willoughby – it will be kill or cure.

Taurus: Nothing has gone well for you recently. The next new moon offers chances to shine, but they could so easily turn into dreadful humiliations.

Gemini: You can’t hide under the bed forever. You will eventually have to face up to your ghastly misjudgements and deal with the consequences.

Cancer:  Watch out for aerial bombardments, ill-considered axe use, and goats falling off roofs.

Leo: You’ve finally hit on a brilliant plan, but no one will believe you, or take it seriously.

Virgo: those aren’t mice making noise in your attic. Get help.

Libra: The stars have aligned to give you excellent prospects this month for any acts of revenge or score settling you have in mind.

Do spoonwalkers write poetry?

It washed up in a bottle on the beach here at ‘Morrigan’s Bay’ and was not easy to decipher, being sloppily scrawled with many ink blots. Reminiscent of Vogon Poetry, it alludes to both Hopkins and Leer in a most amateur and offensive way, showing little grasp of the works it clumsily references. It is almost as if some spoon obsessed creature with tentacles has stumbled across the tatters of a beach-washed poetry book and this is its sad attempt at mimicry. I am not sure whether to feel pity or repulsion…

The Runcible’s Lament

The Demitasse and Bouillon set to sea

In a vessel of pea green glass

The runcilble sighed to be left behind

And he called it a terrible farce

No ducks here to sieve,

To quinces to give

Only caviar, soup, and tea

And many strange

ephemera of spoons

With holes in for company

He sighed at his own

Pied beauty alone

Reflected grotesque

In his bowl

And prayed for the end

That fate would soon send

Some demon to feast on his soul.

 

 

Words by Lou Pulford

Art by Tom Brown

The Ravens of Chapel Rock

Wildlife, or at least the varieties not in receipt of tentacles, is not particularly plentiful on this island of Hopeless. Whatever position any particular species finds itself in, while clinging precariously to the food chain, it can be confident that something, somewhere will regard it as being no more than lunch. Although humans are far from being exempt from this aspect of island life (and death) their innate deviousness gives them a definite edge in the survival stakes. The only other creatures to rival, and indeed surpass, them in this respect are the small colony of ravens that live on Chapel Rock.

In the late 1600s the Reverend Obadiah Hyde managed to browbeat a few of the more God-fearing unfortunates who had found themselves shipwrecked with him to build a simple chapel. Being the pious puritan that he was, he offered them the prospect of an eternity of fiery damnation as an alternative. After his strange and unlamented demise the place quickly fell into disrepair. The ravens, being naturally theatrical creatures, had a fine sense of the dramatic and decided that this would be a splendidly Gothic place to set up a permanent home. They only briefly deserted the area when, about two hundred years later, some young monks thought it would be a good idea to give the ruins a new lease of life as an abbey. When that came to nothing the ravens returned and since then have enjoyed a fairly uninterrupted existence.

As far as anyone knows they were roosting on the island long before any human set foot upon it. The gradual trickle of people coming to Hopeless, whether by design or accident (but usually accident) has had no detrimental impact upon these birds at all. One reason is that virtually every culture that has washed-up here has brought with it a wealth of lore and superstition surrounding ravens, often endowing them with a supernatural, almost god-like, presence. This, coupled with the simple fact that they are not particularly edible, even to the unfussy palate of the average islander, has probably secured their continued success.

Any student of natural history will tell you that the average lifespan of a raven in the wild is about twenty-one years. The ravens of Chapel Rock, however, seem to enjoy greater longevity than this, often surpassing that of a human. Several factors have been attributed to this but the most likely, in my opinion, is the addition of the occasional spoonwalker to their diet. Anyone in need of a spoon or two need only go to the base of the rock to find various bits and pieces of cutlery discarded by their late owners.

Back in the first half of the nineteenth century, in the years before the attempted renovation of the chapel, one of the ravens, which had a distinctive white tail-feather, took to visiting the other inn on the island every night. Here it waited to be fed scraps of meat and the odd beakful of beer. In return it would utter a few words that it had picked up from the locals. It did this for many years and became something of a novelty. In its honour the landlord proudly renamed (and misnamed) his drinking establishment “The Crow”.

I would love to be able to tell you that this bird was the inspiration for Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem but sadly there is no record of Mr Poe ever visiting the island, as much as the place would have undoubtedly fascinated him. At the time  he would have been newly married and his young wife – his very young wife – would not have liked Hopeless one bit. At thirteen years old she would have been more interested in skipping-ropes than spoonwalkers.

I was asked recently who actually owns the island. There was no doubt in my mind.

“The ravens,” I said.

Art by Clifford Cumber

Messages in bottles

Hello, people (and others)!

Two days ago, I posted this image and asked our community (Via the electronic ether) what message they would put in a bottle on Hopeless, Maine. Here are the (bloody amazing, funny, wonderful) results of this.

Help me.

Please help me.

Our boat has sunk and I have washed up on some god forgotten land.

I know not of my crew, I hear their voices weeping in the dark dank fog that encompasses this shore but in the two weeks since I awoke on this crag I have seen or met none.

Maybe they are phantoms of the men that they once were, here to torment me until I succumb to the same fate that befell my crew mates.

Maybe they are like me, lost in the fog, waiting for the light to come.

There is an abundance of seaweed that I have come to rely on for sustenance. In my delusion I swear that the weed moves along the shoreline but when I am hungry it is always at my feet. Occasionally I will bite down on what can only feel is some kind of leech in my mouth but I swallow before I realise what I am eating.

I have screamed and screamed but nobody has come. I was beginning to think that this craggy isle was deserted but I swear to you and to the god I hold dear that I sometimes see flickering lights above me, like fires or torches at the top of the cliff. Waiting for me to perish.

I have tried to end my existence by just swimming out to sea and sticking to my doom but in my previous half dozen attempts, I have been gently pushed back to shore by what feels like the very weed that sustains me.

The fog is getting thicker. I have not seen my own skin in days. My breath feels wet.

I am hungry.

I still hear their voices.

Help me.

Please.
Simon La Thangue

Send underwear. Urgent!
Fraser Hale

Grandmother says a bottle will get you off this island better than any boat, though neither works for long. She means gin. It killed mother and Nelly but somehow all it does to Grandmother is pickle her. It makes her harder, more bitter, and helps her to forget where she is. Better to whisper down a well than try to get a message to the mainland, she says. She isn’t even certain there is a mainland any more.

But I‘m going to try anyhow. The sea scares me, and the fog. So I’m rolling this message up and putting in one of Grandmother’s empties. I will throw it into the waves in my stead. It may still smell of sloe gin.

We need … something new. Something solid and rooted to the ground. A window to the outside to let in new colours and a wind that will blow away all these ghosts. Hopeless has been left alone too long. It’s gone sour … it’s gone wrong … every angle too sharp or too open … all its truths undermined. We don’t need to leave, we just need the possibility of doing so. A bridge to the world. A way for what we’ve lost to come back.
If you find this [here damp has reduced the remaining message to a dark wash of ink swirls]
Mark Lawrence

Message in a bottle: Dear Tax, revenue and customs, my new address is Geezo’s Bight, Hopeless Maine, The Middle Of Nowhere. Good luck recovering the £3,000,000 I owe you for my (now bankrupt) hamster-wheel-powered taxi service. Take consolation from the fact that avoiding my liability is the only up-side of living here! Yours Faithfully etc etc.
Charles Cutting

SOS. Have run out of spoons. Pls send c/o Hopeless, Maine. P. S. No sporks. Thk u.
Clifford Cumber

Send Champagne, or failing that a small quantity of explosives. What cannot be sent directly can at least be obtained locally with the right tools.”
Stephen Mosley

This is Charles Oliver. An unseasonal wind has arisen and blown us far off course. Do not trust the Henstridge sisters, they be foul wyches.
Dickon Springate‏

OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE!!!

My Dearest

I am Nigerian Prince, King of Smallish island of Variable size, I seek you most trusted beloved for discreet partnership and Trade.

I hvae 1,000,000 pounds US stirling and strange-awful-betentacled things in jars, souls, human sacrifice. too exchange for goods, linens, building materiels, a good time, alcohol, armaments, particularly ones using fire, holy water.

Send supply-laden cargo ships! My address!

The Non-Functioning Lighthouse,
Spiked-Rock Shore,
Hull-Tearington,
Hopeless, Maine 666.

PS I have much monies!

Clifford Cumber

“Get in the bottle”, they said.
“It will be fun”, they said.
Now I lie in here, hopelessly stuck on the foggy shore of a forgotten island *sigh*…

Cynthia

I had to get out of there; I needed the quiet. Although, going from living in a town surrounded by people to being trapped in the middle of nowhere is quite the adjustment. For now, this place is my new home. This desolate island just between a sea of infinite darkness and the path from where I came. Pretty sure there’s a sea monster skulking around somewhere under the murky, green depths, too.

Not that I’m planning on going back.

Sabrina

To whomever finds this message, They won’t let me leave, I try and they won’t let me leave, The chattering is infernal Stay away, I beg of you, stay away. Capt Hubert , HMS Persephone
Adrian TrevelyanIn 1939 Mr Ross Parker and Mr Hughie Charles were walking along a beach on the south coast of England when they found a bottle containing the following message. After reading it the two gentlemen were inspired to dash off and write a song…

From J. Nailsworthy, Hopeless, Maine.
A whale was beached here a month ago and we’ve been living off it ever since. Here’s my lament:

Whale meat again,
Don’t know where,
Don’t know when
We might get fresh meat again before next May.
We’ll keep smiling through,
But we’d love Irish stew,
Or something cordon bleu,
Not whale-meat grey.

Martin Pearson


Cat Treadwell

Help! Please come rescue us! We’re mired on Tentacle Point – bring your ship straight in (the rocks aren’t nearly as dangerous as they look, I promise) and save us from the awful creatures here! We will dismemb be eternally grateful for your delici valuable aid.”
Laura Perry

The Headless Lady

Betty Butterow, the barmaid of the Squid and Teapot had, you may recall, unexpectedly discovered a ghostly headless lady in the inn’s shiny new toilet annexe. Shrieking in banshee fashion at her great  misfortune of having been reduced to haunting a privy, the apparition had managed to wake the whole inn. Fortunately there were no paying guests that night so it was only the Lypiatt family – Sebastian, Madrigal  and their son Isaac –  who were disturbed and they wasted no time in coming to investigate the cause of the blood-curdling wail emanating from the privy. Upon their arrival the ghost decided to sulk and disappeared back into the stones which, at one time, had formed a diminutive portion of her previous home, Oxlynch Hall.
It became apparent that the Headless Lady only deigned to manifest herself when the moon was full. This tended to create a degree of consternation with some customers who found themselves sharing a seat with her and more worryingly, finding her disembodied head resting weightlessly on their lap. It was the sort of thing likely to put anyone off the task in hand!
Fortunately for the ghost, Betty Butterow was the caring type who made it her business to give a welcome to everyone who visited the Squid. Having inherited the dubious gift of The Sight from her great-great grandmother, Colleen O’Stoat, she reasoned, therefore, that it was no more than her duty to make contact with the spirit and try to win her trust and friendship. And so, little by little, she did and in doing so unearthed her tragic story.

After the siege of Gloucester in 1643, when Royalist attempts to capture the city were thwarted, the Parliamentarians were keen to clear the county of Royalists and their sympathisers for good.
Sir Rupert D’Avening, master of Oxlynch Hall, was on the other side of the Severn in Wales, rallying support for the crown, when his home was sacked by the Parliamentary forces. The small garrison that he had left to guard both the manor, his wife and the tiny hamlet of Oxlynch stood little chance against the well-armed and dedicated Roundheads, who were spurred on at every step by one Obadiah Hyde. Hyde was a puritan rector of the worst sort. He preached Hell-fire from his pulpit and famously tried to fell the churchyard yew tree one Christmas when parishioners began to cut greenery for, what he regarded as being, ungodly, festive uses. Unsurprisingly, when he learned that Oxlynch was to be rid of its Royalist – and even worse – Catholic masters, he was delighted and became intent, to the point of madness, on contributing personally to their downfall.
While the Roundhead invaders were content to drive out the servants and ransack the manor for anything of value, the fanatical Hyde had another agenda.

If he had been a man given to celebration, which he most certainly was not, the parson might have thought that it was his birthday when he burst into the bedchamber of Lady Margaret D’Avening. It was with a mixture of disgust and glee that he discovered her to be flimsily clad and enthusiastically entertaining a young Royalist colonel who, having suspected little chance of intrusion, had foolishly hung his sword at the bottom of the four-poster bed. Confident in his own righteousness and without hesitation, Hyde grabbed the blade and ran the young man through the heart. Frozen with horror, Lady Margaret could only watch as the parson wrenched the sword from her lover’s twitching body. Roughly he caught her by the hair and dragged her from the bed; she felt herself being pushed on to her knees. There was a deranged look in Hyde’s eyes as he denounced her as being the Devil’s Whore, then, reminding himself that he was the instrument of a vengeful God, brought the sword swiftly down upon her pale neck. Popery, adultery and fornication were high on Hyde’s list of unforgivable sins and he had no compunction whatsoever about parting the lady’s head from the rest of her.
Decapitation is a bloody messy business. I mean that quite literally. Lady Margaret’s blood liberally sprayed the walls and door of her bedchamber and left no small amount on her attacker, either. Although he had witnessed and thoroughly approved of public beheadings many times, Hyde was totally unprepared for the close-up, physical reality of his abhorrent act and he fled the room, wild-eyed and even more entrenched in the slough of his own insanity than he had been previously.


For almost three hundred years the Ghost of Lady Margaret D’Avening haunted the bedchamber in which she died. Much to her dismay, the wraith of the soldier who had so recently enjoyed a brief spell as her lover, having no particular attachment to Oxlynch Hall, declined to join her and wasted no time in ‘going to the light’ as he put it.
As the years passed Lady Margaret’s apparition grew weaker and so she confined her energy to only appearing when the moon was full and she was at her most powerful. When she found her home being dismantled and shipped abroad she retreated into the stonework, which, along with her chamber door, was kept on its own pallet. After the little of what remained was eventually moved, she emerged briefly to try and find out exactly where she was and what was happening. Unfortunately she did this in full view of the captain and crew of the ‘Daneway’, who immediately abandoned ship and for their trouble, perished to a man in the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean.


Over the following months Betty Butterow and the ghost of Lady Margaret D’Avening became close friends. Inter-dimensional relationships are generally frowned upon in the wider community, so you must understand that this is a fairly unique situation that is only likely to happen  somewhere like Hopeless (other magically tolerant islands such as Hy Brasil or Tír na nÓg spring to mind but never having visited either, I am in no position to comment).
It occurred to the wise and beautiful barmaid that if Lady Margaret could disappear into the stonework of her chamber then it followed that, should a stone, or stones, be placed in a different spot she ought to be able to manifest herself in that particular location. The ghost thought this over and agreed it was worth a try. The prospect of spending the next however many years witnessing the patrons of the Squid and Teapot easing bowel and bladder, unsurprisingly, held little charm for her.
It took a certain amount of badgering, not to say mild flirting, by Betty to persuade the landlord, Sebastian Lypiatt, to prise out one of the more modestly sized  stones and place it in an unoccupied guest room. Sebastian was not particularly inclined to start ripping apart his prized privy but if it kept his favourite barmaid happy, so be it. Besides this, he was becoming more than fed-up being told how chilly the privy was feeling every time the moon was full.
Much to the delight of both Betty and Lady Margaret this seemed to work, though the ghost’s disembodied head steadfastly refused to leave the privy, for some reason known best to itself. This mattered little, as the Lady Margaret was in receipt of all of her faculties, head or no head. The physical aspect of an apparition is, after all, only there for the benefit of anyone lucky, or more probably, unlucky enough to see it.
Over the following months and years the block of stone was moved around the inn and its grounds, allowing the headless lady to haunt the premises properly, though she was careful not to drive business away. There was an exception to this rule, however. When a particularly troublesome guest had outstayed their welcome they would find, one night, when the moon was fat and full, that a medium sized and unassuming stone had mysteriously appeared in the corner of their room. Strange to relate, such guests rarely visited again.
In case you wondered, following Oliver Cromwell’s death and the growing certainty that the monarchy would once more be restored, Obadiah Hyde fled England’s shores in fear for his life. With a small party of like-minded and equally cheerless companions he decided to travel to the New World and be the founding father of his own austere community. It was something of a surprise for him, therefore, when he was shipwrecked on Hopeless and scuppered by two small but persistent demons when he tried to achieve his goal. This story is related in the tale ‘Chapel Rock.’

Art by Tom Brown

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.