Welcome to Hopeless, Maine!

The Hopeless Vendetta started life as the newspaper for a fictional island. These days, the site is a mix of fiction, whimsy, and news about other Hopeless, Maine projects. 

Hopeless, Maine is a haunted island off the coast of America. It first put out its tentacles as a graphic novel series. The project now includes a live performance team – The Ominous Folk of Hopeless, Maine, a role play game, tarot deck, prose fiction, music, puppets, costumes and a film project. Check out the static pages for further information on those.

Songs from Hopeless, Maine

Music from the island!

Druid Life

One of the things that delights me about the whole Hopeless, Maine project I’m part of, is how much of a community has developed around it. Tom and I have always held space for other people to come and play with us, and this has led to many glorious things at this point.

In this video, are the Ominous Folk of Hopeless, Maine. That’s Tom and I plus James and Susie, and we’ve done a fair amount of gigging together over the last year. It’s been a wonderful expansion of the Hopeless project. We headed this way years ago after being asked to do an evening event at a book festival. It would be fair to say that graphic novels do not work well on stage. 

This song was written for us by Walter Sickert. Tom first ran into Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys more than ten…

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Shambling Stacks

Normally, Shambling Stacks are scavengers, feeding on whatever happens to be dead, or dying, on a beach. However, they are also highly territorial and likely to attack anyone they find beachcombing on their turf. They will also attack when hungry, and in times of extreme hunger will leave the beach and head inland to seek a meal. The Shambling Stack is well camouflaged on the beach – if it lies down it will blend in perfectly with other detritus. When it stands still it is hard to spot – especially at a distance. Stacks can be small and easily overlooked, but can grow to six or seven feet in height, at which point they are hard to miss! The Shambling Stack prefers to attack by creeping up behind people and falling down on them, digging in all of its many pointy parts before starting to feed. If provoked, ravenous or annoyed it may risk a more visible attack. It depends mostly on its scale and weight, and tends to be solitary – although the smaller ones will attack in groups. Hates fire. Oblivious to blades – best dealt with using heavy, blunt objects.

Thought Forms

Regular readers will recall that Durosimi O’Stoat was intent on harming Philomena Bucket, whom he believed to be a witch. He had come to the conclusion that she was a danger to him, and in possession of far greater powers than his own. This was only partly true, for Philomena had no idea of the extent of her abilities, or any wish to be in competition with anyone. It was only on the occasions when Durosimi had secretly attacked that the magic, smouldering within her, manifested itself, and then only as a form of self-defence. While Philomena suspected that O’Stoat had no great liking for her, she was completely unaware of the extent of the dark malice that festered in his heart. Indeed, so deep was his hatred that he decided that if he could not directly harm ‘That Bucket Woman’ (as he referred to Philomena), then he would weaken her by destroying everyone and everything she held dear, beginning with her fiancé, the Night-Soil Man.
 
Durosimi smiled to himself unpleasantly, reflecting on the ease with which he had ensnared Drury, the skeletal hound. It had taken little effort to conjure up a brace of phantom spoonwalkers, images that flickered tantalisingly in and out of the dog’s vision and keeping him endlessly occupied, chasing around the Gydynap Hills. As thought forms go, creating the spoonwalkers had demanded next to no work on Durosimi’s part. They were mere shadow-puppets, whose only function was to distract, requiring no outside agency, no deal to be struck, in order to give them shape and form. They had been the easy bit; the rest of his plan would ask much more of him. The next stage was to make a very different variety of thought form. While Durosimi was well able to give the creature shape, it needed something darker and infinitely older to provide the malevolent energy required to carry out his wishes. And there was the rub. Summoning such an entity was a relatively simple procedure; controlling it was another matter.  
 
Humans have been creating thought forms, of some description, for millennia. Most of these are unintentional, born from prayers, hopes and vague wishes, and therefore weak, shadowy and short-lived, their existence depending upon the strength of the intention that gives them existence. When a powerful magician, such as Durosimi, sets his mind to creating a thought form, however, he throws all of his emotions and energy into the effort. This he does in order to attract an eldritch, elemental essence, a sentient force which is forever prowling unseen, seeking animation through human passion.
 
You may be asking yourselves, at this point, why Durosimi had gone to the trouble of dognapping an unsuspecting Drury, and having him chase phantom spoonwalkers around the Gydynaps. The truth is that the magician knew, full-well, that the dog was a trusted friend of both Philomena and the Night-Soil Man, and neither would suspect him of anything but loyalty. Durosimi also needed a scape-goat. If Philomena’s magic was half as potent as he suspected, and all went as it should, there would be little chance of her showing mercy to the perpetrator of his scheme. As far as he could see, nothing could go wrong. While the real Drury was happily pursing non-existent spoonwalkers, a vicious thought form, given flesh (or bone, in this instance) as a facsimile of the osseous hound, would carry out his orders.
 
Naboth Scarhill hefted the lidded bucket on to his back, and looked out at the foggy blackness spreading before him. Philomena had left a bottle of Old Colonel and a slice of cold starry-grabby pie on the doorstep. This had been something she had done every evening since moving into The Squid and Teapot. There was, she reasoned, no need to stop just because Rhys had retired in order to marry her.
“Well,” Naboth told himself, “this is it, my life is mapped out”.
At the tender age of sixteen years, Naboth had become the most recent Night-Soil Man of Hopeless, Maine. He felt the weight of responsibility heavy upon his young shoulders, but carried the burden happily, sensing the ghosts of previous generations of Night-Soil Men benevolently watching over him. Some of these names had become legendary, from the earliest incumbent, Killigrew O’Stoat, through to Shenandoah Nailsworthy, Rhys Cranham’s predecessor. Naboth hoped that, one day, he might be remembered with similar reverence. As I mentioned earlier, such small desires may often wander out into the world as thought forms; this is why you should always be careful what you wish for.
 
Philomena Bucket was beginning to feel worried. Tomorrow was to be her wedding day, and her best friend, Drury, had gone missing. She knew that he was unlikely to be in any real danger; after all he had lived – and died – many years before she arrived on the island, and would probably be there long after she was no more than a vague memory.  Despite this, there was a niggling worry, as real as toothache, that warned her that all was not well.  She was sure that the ghost of Granny Bucket, who had made it her business to haunt Philomena, would have shed some light upon the dog’s disappearance. However, for reasons known best to herself, Granny had not been in evidence since Philomena’s recent excursion to the Underland.
“Oh, get a grip on yourself, girl,” she told herself, sternly. “This is just a dose of pre-wedding nerves. Drury knows you expect him to be there tomorrow. He’ll turn up.”
 
A pale moon filtered through the fog hanging over Chapel Rock. Naboth really hoped that its ghostly guardian, the Mad Parson, Obadiah Hyde, was not in the mood for haunting tonight. Although Rhys had impressed upon him that, while any encounter with Obadiah invariably involved a great deal of supernatural screaming, the old boy had next to no substance, and was harmless. Nevertheless, the apparition still terrified Naboth. He knew that Rhys’ previous apprentice, Gruffyd Davies, had been so scared by the Mad Parson that he fell off Chapel Rock and into the ocean. (Fortunately, upon hitting the water, Gruffyd, who knew nothing of his ancestry, discovered that he was a Selkie, one of the seal-people, and swam off happily in his newly acquired pelt).
It was then that Naboth’s heart lifted a little. A familiar form loped into view.
“Drury,” called the ex-apprentice, “am I glad to see you! I could really do with some company tonight…”
 
The ordeal was over. Durosimi lay sprawled on his bed, his face grey and haggard, every muscle in his lean form aching.  It had been years since last he had invoked such an entity as this, and the battle of wills had left him weak; weak beyond measure. Once given form, it had taken every ounce of Durosimi’s physical and mental strength to prevent the creature that now resembled Drury from ripping him to pieces. But he prevailed, as he knew he must, to send this abomination out into the Hopeless night with the simple instruction: “Destroy the Night-Soil Man.”

Mrs Beaten Creates a Stir

By Keith Errington. Mrs Beaten scribble above by Nimue.

Any casual passer-by describing Mrs Beaten is unlikely to reach for the word passionate.

Words such as stubborn, old-fashioned, maybe even mousey, might come to mind, but passion would be furthest from their thoughts. Of course, those first impressions would be formed in the minds of people who do not know Mrs Beaten well – which is to say almost everybody – as Mrs Beaten keeps herself to herself.  

But Mrs Beaten was passionate – she became fired up about manners, decency, cooking, respectability, neatness, deportment, and a whole range of other subjects that I am sure you will find covered elsewhere in those annals of Hopeless, Maine which include Mrs Beaten.

Then again, Mrs Beaten did not believe in unnecessary displays of emotion. And what’s more, she even considered most emotions to be unnecessary. And even though she experienced emotions from time to time, she usually kept any strong feelings bottled up inside herself. (And if we are to be thinking of words, then the word that springs to mind here, is repression.)

This did not mean that she was indecisive or inactive. On the contrary, she believed in taking action to remedy the faults in her world, whether that action be a sarcastic smile, a loud “tut tut” within earshot, or a stern letter to the Vendetta. Yes, Mrs Beaten was always ready to take rapid, affirmative and proportionate action, in an appropriately dignified manner.

Such actions were almost always planned. Often meticulously. For example, she dedicated a significant number of hours to the task of perfecting her sarcastic smile.

Usually this planning took place in Mrs Beaten’s favourite room – the kitchen. The kitchen was Mrs Beaten’s den, her operations room, her lair. It was here that she did her thinking and her planning, her writing and her recipe making, and of course her preparing of ingredients and her cooking. It was an utterly impressive and respectably large room, whose practicality and unique décor would remain completely unknown to the outside world whilst Mrs Beaten was alive. It seemingly contained every culinary implement, every piece of preparation equipment and every cooking method known to the Western world. Or at least every one that turned up on the Island of Hopeless Maine.

But on this particular day, this repository of appliances, devices, gadgets and utensils was found lacking. Something had caused an intense passion to rise up inside Mrs Beaten, like the steam in her old pressure cooker. It was a situation that would only be relieved by taking action.

Mrs Beaten realised that for what she had in mind, she would need something special, something large, something exactly the right shape, something that was…well…unique. Not something you could buy, even in a well-equipped general store. Someone would have to make the item in question, which, unfortunately, and inevitably, meant engaging with a workman about a delicate matter – not a task that Mrs Beaten relished.

— ◊ —

Shaw Dantry was known not only for his proficient carving ability, but also for his magnificent wood. A carpenter with decent wood was hard to find in Hopeless, Maine. If you looked around the island it wasn’t hard to see why. Hopeless trees were all misshapen, short, twisted, and rarely upright. They were generally full of knots, cracks and galls. And if you did manage to find a straight piece of wood, it would most often be riddled with worm, bugs or burrowers – or worse. So the fact that Dantry seemed to have a stock of good, straight, honest wood was a huge boon that stood him in good stead with his steady stream of customers. On top of that, his carving skills were more than adequate and so he found himself fashioning all sorts of items for people throughout the island.

Mrs Beaten knew she needed something large, long, hard and shaped for purpose. Something that would endure and last. So she paid a visit to Shaw Dantry to judge his wood for herself and to see if he could meet her needs.

Mrs Beaten started by insisting that she needed a discrete and private job, emphasising that no-one must know of it and Dantry should ensure that he was not observed at any point during the making of the item.

There then followed a brief period of misunderstanding – as the carpenter had somehow wrongly assumed the nature of the thing Mrs Beaten required. Mrs Beaten couldn’t for the life of her understand why the wretched man was winking and nudging her – what was wrong with him? She almost left at that point, but following some simple clarification, the woodcarver changed his attitude to one of complete professionalism and a price was agreed.

— ◊ —

As we have discussed many times, Hopeless, Maine is a bleak place; a difficult place to live, an easy place in which to die. Thus, its inhabitants often looked for respite of any kind, no matter how brief. This respite took many forms, music, social interaction, reading, entertainment, art and eradicating the thing, or the person, that was causing you the most stress that day. Art was practised by many islanders, and although there was no denying it was art, most of it was not terribly good art. Perhaps it pleased the person that had made it for a while, but it would not be to everyone’s taste, either thematically or technically. Art competitions were often won by works such as the painting that won the most recent event, “Three Blobs on a Muddy Background”, or the interactive sculpture from last year, “Tentacular Eviscerations”.

Occasionally, what was considered “good art” washed up from a shipwreck and was subsequently hung proudly in someone’s house or, as in the case of one particularly fine painting, in the Squid and Teapot. A few months ago, a quite spectacular item landed on the Southern beach – a magnificent sculpture. To be fair, it was mostly magnificent and spectacular in its size and the shockingly white material it had been carved in. It was really just an average copy of a true masterpiece, but even in a humble copy, the essence of the original shone through.

Nobody knows which mad individual actually managed to get the heavy piece off the shore, over the land and into town. But the fact is, somebody did. Its resting place was a small square off the main street which hitherto had been an unremarkable patch of dirt. The sculpture was generally considered a great asset to civic pride, with most feeling that the town had gained a level of civility it had previously lacked. The sculpture was visited and admired often, with even those passing down the adjacent street in a bit of a hurry, stopping to appreciate its fine lines for a few seconds before resuming their hustle.

But of course, art is very subjective. What one viewer appreciates, another may not. And one particular viewer did not approve. Oh no, not at all.

— ◊ —

Shaw Dantry took pride in both his appearance and his work. And although he was fast and efficient, he was also thorough, and made sure that every requirement was met and that every client was completely satisfied. And indeed, Mrs Beaten was very satisfied with the service that Dantry had provided. As she held it in her hands, stroking it gently, she marvelled at its smoothness, its beauty, its length, its girth and its hardness. It had a lovely feel – quite the biggest and best she had ever handled. She paid the man with an uncharacteristic flourish, and eagerly made her way back to her kitchen to make preparations.

At this point, I am sure you are wondering what it was that she had commissioned from the woodcarver. What was the secret item that had invoked such feelings in Mrs Beaten? Well, you could say it was merely a wooden spoon, but that would be like saying the Titanic was just a boat. It was, quite simply, the most enormous wooden spoon you have probably ever seen. The bowl of the spoon was bigger than any fruit bowl, the handle thicker than that of any broom, and its length was as long as you would ever need in a spoon.

Mrs Beaten rested the monstrous spoon against a wall next to the door and began to assemble ingredients. Within half an hour, she had mixed up some sort of concoction, which bizarrely, was of such a small amount that she could store it in the tiniest container she possessed – a smidgeon of a jar that may once have held the smallest portion of fish paste. There was a genuine dichotomy between the enormous spoon and the miniscule jar. Within that jar was something foul-smelling and exceedingly viscous. Mrs Beaten now waited until the small hours of the morning before putting her plan into action.

— ◊ —

The following day, the sculpture in the square had drawn a substantial crowd. Unusually, Mrs Beaten could be observed on the periphery. Anyone who knew her would realise that this was an Event. Mrs Beaten hated people. She could barely tolerate a single encounter, so a mass of humans was simply be abhorrent to her, and yet, here she was. And was that a faint smile of satisfaction on her face?

The sculpture, which we will now formally introduce as a copy of Michelangelo’s David, had a fresh addition. People were pointing and staring at the statue’s abdomen and groin. For there was a new wooden appendage present, where there had been none the previous day. A spoon. Beautifully carved and proportioned, it was fixed upright with the bowl down. The stem was fixed (glued maybe?) to the middle of the tummy, and the bowl of the spoon was precisely placed to hide that part of David that would have left you in no doubt of the subject’s maleness.

Intelligent opinions in the crowd were divided on whether this improved or devalued the sculpture, and indeed, whether it was “ART”. At the other end of the scale, many of the more philistine onlookers thought it was absolutely hilarious and most entertaining.

— ◊ —

The following week, a civic committee met and decided that the spoon should be removed. However, it turned out that the spoon and its glue were no respecter of the committee’s wishes, and try as they might, the spoon was not budging an inch. And so, it was reluctantly judged to be an official piece of Hopeless, Maine art and left alone.

— ◊ —

And so, for a while, Mrs Beaten was content. As far as she was concerned, the matter was dealt with and the pressure inside her had dissipated.

But then… she noticed the new hat that Mr Peremptory was wearing, and she could feel her pulse rising once again…

Skitterlings

We’ve been designing some new Hopeless, Maine creatures! These are primarily for the role play game, but could turn up other places, too. Skitterlings were initially designed by Dr Abbey.

Skitterlings inhabit caves and tunnels, and make distinctive rustling noises as they move about in the dark. They can see perfectly well in the dark or in light. They tend to frequent walls and ceilings as this makes it easier to attack anything else that happens to be in their tunnels. Skitterlings will cheerfully eat anything smaller than they are, and at full size they can be larger than people. They’re also very protective of objects in their tunnels. That means you can use them to protect your hidden treasures/secrets assuming you can get past them in the first place to drop something off. If you bring a sacrifice, it is entirely possible to leave them an object to protect while they are eating. However, there is no meal tempting enough to stop a Skitterling from protecting its stash. Which might of course be treasure, or a carefully hidden weapon, but might equally be a stick that fell in from a hole in the ground, or a rusty bucket someone abandoned while running away. A Skitterling is best fought off with bladed weapons, and may retreat if you don’t seem to be threatening its precious stash. And yes, they will fight to the death to protect the rusty bucket.

Tom here- This was my interpretation of Dr Abbey’s design sketch. So much fun because he thinks of things that I never would, but there was also enough ambiguity in the design that I had the opportunity to discover how some elements would work in “reality”.

Wedding Plans

The news that Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, had proposed marriage to Philomena Bucket, spread across the island with the well-documented rapidity of wildfire. On reflection, this is probably not the best image to employ, as wildfire has no chance of surviving the damp misery of Hopeless, Maine. However, as similes go, it somehow conveys a better sense of urgency than the ominous progress of the more appropriate and all-encompassing sea-fog.

It is fair to say that the fact of the popular barmaid of The Squid and Teapot conquering the heart of Rhys had caused no little amount of excitement.  In itself, this was not particularly remarkable, with Philomena being regarded as something of a beauty, despite – or possibly because of – her excessively pale, almost albino, features. The main aspect of the romance, which concentrated the minds and caught the attention of the islanders, was the break in tradition. As you will appreciate, the role of the Night-Soil Man has always been regarded as quasi-monastic, with the bearer of the lidded-bucket nobly standing apart from his fellow man, forever separated by dreadfully unsociable hours and an excessively unpleasant smell. Only once before in the history of the island had such a thing happened. Then, as now, most folk wished the happy couple well, but as might be expected, there were the inevitable naysayers, those who shook their heads and swore that no good would come of such disdain for the status-quo.

“No good will come of such disdain for the status-quo,” intoned Reverend Davies, idly swatting at something very small and tentacled that had unwisely settled on his trousers.

“I take it that you won’t be blessing the marriage, then?” enquired Doc Willoughby.

“I doubt they’ll even ask me,” said the Reverend. “The Bucket woman and I have little time for each other.”

Doc Willoughby leaned forward and said, in a lowered voice, “Durosimi O’Stoat maintains that she is a witch.”

“Well, he’s a fine one to talk,” said Davies. “The O’Stoats have always been card-carrying heathens. But the Bucket woman has been a disruptive influence from the day she first set foot on this island, and by bewitching the Night-Soil Man – for mark my words, if what you say is correct, that is exactly what she has done – she has shattered one of the great traditions upon which our society is based.”

“That’s a bit strong,” said the Doc, “after all, it isn’t the first time it has happened. Wasn’t it Bartholomew’s grandfather, Randall Middlestreet, who gave up his calling in order to become a family-man?”

Doc Willoughby had no great affection for Philomena, but had even less for the concept of traditional values.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” snapped Reverend Davies irritably. “Anyway, I didn’t come here to talk about any of this rubbish. My haemorrhoids have been playing up. I need you to take a look…”

In the attics of The Squid and Teapot, Ariadne Middlestreet and Philomena were ransacking boxes and chests, looking for some suitable wedding-apparel.

“I am far more romantic than Bartholomew,” said Ariadne, wistfully. “I waited so long for him to pop the question, in the end I had to do the proposing myself. Would you believe it? Oh, how I wanted to have the perfect wedding, but he wasn’t bothered. Do you know what he said when I told him I wanted to be married in something long and flowing?”

Philomena shook her head.

“He said, ‘Oh, that’s fine. We can stand in the river. It shouldn’t be too high at this time of year’. That man cannot take anything seriously.”

Philomena laughed.

“I don’t think I’ll have that trouble with Rhys,” she said. “He’s finally come to realise that he doesn’t have to be a Night-Soil Man for all of his life.”

“And he does scrub-up well,” said Ariadne with a grin.

To all intents and purposes, Durosimi O’Stoat had little interest in the mundane goings-on of Hopeless, and usually chose to stand aloof from the other islanders. This changed when Doc Willoughby mentioned, during the course of conversation, that the Night-Soil Man intended marrying Philomena Bucket. Durosimi’s interest was immediately whetted. He had long been plotting to dispose of the barmaid, whom he believed to be a powerful witch and an enemy. Having witnessed her abilities first-hand, however, he accepted that he had no chance of defeating her… but the Night-Soil Man could yet prove to be her Achilles Heel. 

Durosimi reflected on this as he stared through the windows of his cheerless living-room, watching ribbons of grey mist swirl through the dark, stunted trees. He had yet to decide how he would destroy the Night-Soil Man, along with Philomena’s happiness. What he must not do is give her any indication of his responsibility for her lover’s demise, for if she was as powerful as he suspected, then he could expect no mercy. He would have to protect himself, and only when grief and anger had reduced her to her lowest ebb, would he feel safe enough to show his hand and strike. In the meantime, blame for the Night-Soil Man’s death must be fixed squarely upon another’s shoulders; some unsuspecting fool who would be unaware of what was happening, and unable to avoid her wrath.

A sudden thought slipped into Durosimi’s head, and an unpleasant, thin smile creased his face. Oh, it was so delicious. This would really hurt the witch, and the spell would not be too difficult to achieve. He could destroy, with just one stroke, both her lover and her best friend.

“Now, what is the name of that infernal hound?“ he thought. “Ah, yes… DRURY!”

SINNERS

Hello again people (and others)

I’m going to talk about a graphic novel cover again, but I’m also going to talk about the art mischief we got up to with this whole volume.

When Nimue and I pondered what to do for the cover of the Outland edition of Hopeless, Maine -Sinners, we thought of the book as a whole and the visual theme we played with. In Sinners, we borrowed (ahem) from famous iconic paintings and bent them to our fell purpose. Or , looking at it another way, we payed tribute to some of our favourite art and artists from history. So, for example, here is the original painting by John Everett Millais-

…and here is what we did to it, with Mellisandra standing (floating) in for Ophelia.

Pre Raphaelite artists certainly predominated for this sort of treatment but there was also a chapter cover titled Foggy Night.

So, for the wraparound cover for the new hardcover edition we went back to the pre raphaelites. We needed an image that could be tuned to our theme, and that might be recognisable as a source of inspiration. We chose The Magic Circle by Waterhouse-

and turned it into….this.

with Simon in the background, naturally, as Sal with creatures is the theme for the Outland editions.

So…there you have it. Find a copy of Sinners to see what other terrible things we have done, or wait for the Outland campaign for the hardcover edition.

We hope, as always, this finds you well, inspired and thriving.

Making friends with Goblins

The goblins of Hopeless, Maine, are makers. Arguably the most capable of all makers. Their creations may not appear as striking as Balthazar Lemon’s lighthouse, or Lilly May’s demon infested blunderbusses, but goblins are able to do something that other makers are not: They make life.

Goblins are made by other goblins – usually out of found items. Once a goblin has been made in its entirety, and certain rituals have taken place, the new goblin becomes fully alive and self aware. Goblins tend to show up having a pretty good idea how to get on with being a goblin, and are independent thinkers from their first moment.

With regards to the life-giving ritual, it is difficult to describe because each one takes its own form, depending on the whim of the goblin-maker. One thing is clear – that to make a goblin, one must also be a goblin. Humans attempting to replicate the process do not achieve the same results. 

The choice of materials for a new goblin is mostly a question of taste rather than practicality. A bucket makes a perfectly good head. So does a rock, or a pumpkin. Rocks can be tied in place to create eyes. How do those eyes then see? How do goblins have mouths? These are uneasy questions, for which the most likely answer is ‘because it would be silly not to’. For some time now there has been a fashion for using chicken feet as both feet and hands, and goblins are always fond of bones. String is always a source of excitement to a goblin-maker as it allows you to get so much done.

One of the reasons that very few people notice goblins, is that their random assemblages are easy to disguise. A goblin who is not moving looks like a pile of inconsequential stuff, and you may easily overlook it. Your own pile of random stuff might even have been organised into life while you weren’t paying attention. Untidy houses can attract goblins looking for usable materials. Whether this is a curse or a blessing is open to debate.

It is difficult to say how long goblins live. Broken parts are replaced. Bits of goblins are repurposed. Sometimes goblins trade limbs, because they can. New goblins are made when previous goblins disappear. Do the goblins know what they are or how they function? Probably not. Do they sit awake at night wondering about the implications of having swapped their bucket head for a really good shell? Yes, they do.

Gossip and Single-Malt

Doc Willoughby rolled the whisky around his palate appreciatively. This was the real thing, right enough. He could only wonder how Durosimi had come by the stuff and, more to the point, why he was sharing it. Their last meeting had not ended on a particularly cordial note, to say the least, with the Doc being sent away with a flea in his ear for being too ethical when it came to the matter of hurling various unwitting participants back in time. (My apologies to any reader who has just choked on their coffee. I appreciate that it stretches credulity when the words ‘Doc Willoughby’ and ‘too ethical’ appear in the same sentence).

“More whisky, Willoughby?” asked Durosimi, proffering the half-empty bottle.

Despite his concerns, the Doc was not going to refuse. Opportunities of this variety did not arise every day.

“So, what is the gossip in The Squid, lately?” queried Durosimi.

The day was becoming ever more peculiar. Between Durosimi’s unheard of generosity with his precious single-malt, and this sudden interest in the goings-on of the island, Doc could only think that the old scoundrel was going soft in the head. But so what? Where was the harm in humouring the man? Anyway, the world had become fuzzy and warm and, in soft-focus, even Durosimi did not look quite so forbidding.

“Well, that old charlatan John Dee seems to have sloped off. Back to his own time, I wouldn’t wonder. Good riddance too. Couldn’t stand the man,” said the Doc.

“No, neither could I,” said Durosimi, truthfully. “Anything else?”

“Oh yes – the Night-Soil Man, you know, what’s-his-name, has proposed marriage to that blasted Bucket woman. Never much liked her, either.”

“Really?” exclaimed Durosimi, suddenly interested and surreptitiously replenishing the Doc’s glass. “Tell me more.”

“Well,” began Doc, “when she first came to the island I treated her for anosmia. That’s a loss of the sense of smell.”

“I know what anosmia is,” said Durosimi, stiffly.

“Of course… as I was saying, she’d lost her sense of smell, and it seems that within a few yards of leaving the sinking ship in which she had stowed away, something nasty grabbed her with its tentacles and she was within an inch of becoming lunch.”

The Doc took a generous swig of his whisky, dropping all pretence of savouring it.

“How did she escape?” asked Durosimi, tipping the remnants of the bottle into the other man’s glass. “Did she use magic?”

“Magic? What makes you think she’d use magic? That’s ridiculous!” slurred the Doc.

Intoxication had made him bold to the point of foolishness. Durosimi quietly counted to ten and smiled thinly.

“Just a thought,” he replied. “Do go on.”

“Where was I? Oh yes, it looked as though she was done for, when young what’s-his-name, the Night-Soil Man, rescues her. The creature who was attacking her couldn’t stand his reek, and because of her anosmia, the Bucket-woman didn’t know that the wretched fellow stunk like a cess-pool. Of course,” continued Doc, “it was inevitable. He was her knight in shining armour, so the silly girl falls head-over-heels in love with him. All would have been well, but not long after that she got a nose-full of sea water, which flushed out the seeds that had been blocking her olfactory system. That’s the …”

“I know what it means,” said Durosimi, impatiently holding up his hand.

“So, naturally, once she found how awful he smelt, the romance was off.”

“But now it’s back on again?” asked Durosimi.

“Seems so,” said the Doc.

Durosimi said nothing for a moment or two, staring pensively out of the window, then he turned his head sharply and said,

“Doc, I think you should go. We’re both busy men and I have wasted enough of your time.”

“But I haven’t told you about Norbert Gannicox’s verruca, yet.”

“No… but we’ll have to save that one for another day. I look forward to it. Now let me show you out…”

With that, the Doc was unceremoniously bundled out through the door. Durosimi watched him swaying unsteadily down the cobbled pathway, and singing ‘Sweet Betsy from Pike,’ at the top of his voice, almost in tune.  He had just got to the first chorus of too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay when Durosimi decided that enough was enough and strode back into the house, slamming the door behind him.

Regular readers will remember that Durosimi O’Stoat, having learned that Philomena Bucket had somehow acquired magical powers which were possibly greater than his own, felt threatened, and plotted to get rid of her, once and for all. When, during the previous year, he confronted Philomena in the town hall, she had all but killed him, blasting him from one end of the room to the other. Strangely, she seemed to have no idea or memory of what she had done. Soon after, and to Durosimi’s relief she, and Doctor John Dee, disappeared, seemingly off the face of the earth. He thought – indeed, hoped –  that maybe Dee had whisked her back to Elizabethan England, where, with any luck, she would be burned as a witch. For a whole year there was no sign of either of them, then Philomena returned, apparently more powerful than ever, and able to throw off his strongest spells. It occurred to Durosimi that if he could not hurt the witch – as he now thought of Philomena – then he could at least weaken her, maybe even destroy her, by attacking those she held most dear. He smiled to himself, reflecting how love and grief are two sides of the same coin; there is an inevitability that today’s love will become tomorrow’s grief.

“And grieve she will,” he thought to himself. “That old fool Willoughby has told me all that I need to know. She must be using her magic to mask the stench of the Night-Soil Man – there is no other way she could possibly countenance marrying him. Well, she won’t be needing to do that for much longer. His days are numbered…”

The recently promoted ex-apprentice, Naboth Scarhill, read the note again, his chest swelling with pride. The scrap of paper only contained a handful of words, but they meant a lot.

My dear Naboth, thank you so much for agreeing to take over the role of Night-Soil Man from Rhys. You cannot know how much this means to me. Rhys has told me how highly he regards your work, and that you will one day become as great and renowned as any who have wielded the lidded-bucket and long-handled shovel.

Thank you again,

Your grateful friend

Philomena.

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.