The nameless beastie

Hello people! (and others)

We have come to a terrible realization, which is to say, the island of Hopeless, Maine has no sinister mice (or similar). They find their way into nearly everything else Nimue has written and now that this terrible flaw, this gaping void (as it were) has been revealed to us, it must be rectified. Therefore- I drew this little chap on Monday and posted it around on social media and asked for what we might call it.

You all did not disappoint us, and gave many suggestions. We are now throwing the decision back to you, using this cunning poll thingie. The name with the most votes will be the species name for the nameless beastie. Here we go…

Next week, we will be asking you all for tales regarding this, as yet nameless thing!

 

Hoping as always this finds you well, inspired and thriving.

 

 

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Hopeless, Maine-sister communities

Hopeless, Maine can be a lonely sort of place.

Over time it has become cut off from the rest of the world and is beset with all manner of dire circumstance. (and there is no actual coffee, or, for that matter, tea) It may be a comfort for us to know that Hopeless has sister communities around the world. These are places that have similar problems, challenges and all manner of strangeness. It may be a comfort to us, but the residents of the island remain unaware of their counterparts. (and can not import actual coffee)

This first sister community is very closely related indeed, and the first that we discovered. I am speaking of Ragged Isle, the award-winning web series produced by Barry Dodd and company. It takes place on an island off the coast of Maine. They found us online in the early days and we are great friends and admirers. In fact, one panel of the graphic novel pictures a boy reading a book called “Ragged Isle” and there is a scene in the web series that shows a book called “Hopeless, Maine” Also- we are in the credits! The whole series can (and should!) be watched from beginning to end here. (and you will not have to endure the cliffhangers like we did when it was being produced) Additionally, Erik Moody (Deputy Dan, in the series) appears in a series of two page spreads in the next volume of Hopeless, Maine.

The next is Tantamount, which is being blogged by Meredith Debbonaire. (We are a great fan of her writing and she has contributed one of our favorite pieces to the Hopeless, Vendetta and has brought singing snails to the island.)  Tantamount, is another place where one can arrive, but it is difficult or impossible to leave. Also- it is strange and wonderful. Here is an example-

Headlines in Tantamount, January 1st
The Tantamount Herald
Surprise triumph of Heathens over Anglo-Saxon forces in History Battle: all time losses! Story on p2
Tantribune
Auspicious end to the year with ascendance of local choir, photos on p12
Oakshade Primary shock at first year in Battle: headteacher statement here!
The Tantamount Life
Journalist spots big cat on towpath – cat was wearing a cravat and bowler. Are cats no longer fashionable? p9″

You will now want to know more, and you can, by going here.

 

The last (and we are embarrassed to have just recently discovered it) is Night Vale. Night Vale can not be described, it must be experienced. (and we are well and truly hooked) You have probably known about it for years but if you are like us and needed direction, here they are. Go…here. (and for the love of all that is good, do not approach, look at, or even think about the dog park)

 

A note regarding the art here- this is a piece which will be the center bit of the cover art for the Hopeless, Maine RPG by Keith Healing, and also serve as The World card image for the impending Hopeless, Maine tarot deck which is by Laura Perry. We work with very cool people.

 

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

 

The Fishwife’s Fortune

There are villains and mermaids, sailors and shipwrecks, a larger than life Dame, an evil mortician. There are snake skirts and kelp forests, a bearded lady and even – quite unexpectedly – a creature that is half dog and half squid!

Yes, it’s Panto season on Hopeless, Maine! The Grand Ole Opry is putting on its annual performance of The Fishwife’s Fortune and this years version is just as silly and noisy and colourful as you would expect from the Gristlemain Players. 

The Grand Ole Opry stages its first in-house production since the theatre reopened after the regrettable discovery in the basement last year of the body of Calico Jones, which was covered by this periodical. This reviewer noted the similarities in historic cases at the venue where is seems every 10 years or so an amateur Thespian meets with an untimely curtain call.

However, It was clear from the start that cast and crew were determined to put that all behind them and make it one of Hopeless’s best-ever Pantos.

This reviewer was once more swept off his feet and whisked away to the mud hut on Spikers Moor and the heart-rending plight of wee Mell Mildew. We first see her toiling in the home of her wicked half-mother.

There were a few fluffed lines, the lighting was a bit dim, there was one unfortunate accident with one of the props (a cheese-wire fishing net) but the cast rose to the challenge admirably and we were spirited away to ancient Hopeless and the classic rags-to-riches story we know and love so well. It was truly an evening of music, glamour and glitz.

The performances would surely not have shamed the stage of a mainland theatre. It was impossible at times to believe that we were in modern age and the events on stage took on a reality of their own.

Appearing in his 45th panto as the Dame and directing the performance (as usual)  is local showbiz legend, magician and raconteur, Wilbur Gristlemain. Wilbur brings his wicked wit and cheeky smile to the role of the Ur-hag, who grants wee Mell her most heartfelt wishes.

There really is something for everyone in this show and the gags come thick and fast – much like the very lifelike swarm of horseflies that take Mell’s neglectful family off to the pit in act two when she is first granted a wish by the Dame. This particular set-piece was without doubt a show stopper of epic proportions, the screams of the cast were wonderfully authentic sounding.

In fact it’s hard to single out the best performance. Jenny Greenteeth shines in the title role of Mell, displaying a confidence and maturity beyond her years. In his wonderfully over-the-top role as the mortician, Nahum Drabdoyle had me guffawing from the off – whilst Cressida Jowlfeather took the stage by storm as the villain of the piece (her outrageous headdress and face-paint matched by an equally outrageous performance where she only speaks in tongues). The entire supporting cast were enchanting and delivered one captivating scene after another.

As usual the music is provided by The fishermen of Gro, singing their haunting shanties. There was also plenty of ripe, traditional, panto banter intended to (hopefully) go straight over the heads of the younger audience, including an hilarious skit involving the spring fertility doll, an octopus and the old blind fisherman seeking a new bride… (you get the gist).

Remarkable, too, that this incredibly talented cast has not had the luxury of day-in-day-out rehearsals. When interviewed afterwords in the makeshift dressing room they all said that is was if they already knew their lines and always had known them and that they felt that they were almost in a dream when performing – a testament to the magisterial direction of Wilbur Gristlemain who has assembled a stellar array of local talent.

Gristlemain himself provided the most insightful comment on the Panto when I caught him ducking out of the back door. ‘The story is telling itself, the actors are just the vessels for it and the story will never end. It’s part of what roots us all to this island.’ Then the veteran performer went on his way into the evening, not without a touch of mystery about him.

All-in-all a truly remarkable achievement. Tickets available from the box office of The Grand Ole Opry.

Written by Charles Cutting-art by Tom Brown

Ghosts

The new year was less than an hour old when Betty Butterow, her work at The Squid and Teapot finished, had almost reached the cabin that she shared with her husband, Joseph, in Creepy Hollow. With the exception of the Night Soil Man, there are few who voluntarily venture far afield on Hopeless after darkness has fallen. This is true even in the middle of the year, when the last few strands of daylight are reluctant to leave the sky; to be abroad on a dark and moonless midwinter night was unheard of. However, Betty,  you will remember, was a selkie, a seal-woman, and had enjoyed the protection of the mighty Kraken itself when Reverend Crackstone had tried to kill her. Since that day few creatures, on sea or land, would have dared cause her harm.

 

A thunderous clip-clop, like that of huge but tired hooves, underpinned by a series of sharp and really quite irritating barks, stopped the barmaid in her tracks. These were not noises one heard on Hopeless very often. A flurry of smouldering paper fluttered by, though there was no breeze tonight. Betty’s heart suddenly began to beat faster, not with fear but with excitement. She knew what this was: a spectacle she had heard of but never actually witnessed. Then she saw them. Filling the heavens with clatter and disapproving sighs came the wraiths of six elderly spinsters, arthritically plodding across the night sky on three flatulent mules. At their feet yapped a brace of ghostly Springer Spaniels. This was The Mild Hunt of legend, eternally doomed to chase some fiery, fugitive pamphlets across the skies over Hopeless.

They could only be so close to her home on such a night for one reason; the old stories told of them often being spotted in the winter months visiting the somewhat deranged ghost of Lars Pedersen, the famous Eggless Norseman of Creepy Hollow.

Betty kept very still and watched the ghostly cavalcade circle down to earth. In the air above her they had appeared to be colossal, filling the canopy of the heavens from horizon to horizon. Now, however, as they clattered to the ground, landing in awkward disarray, they assumed normal dimensions. The cacophonous chorus of yaps, brays, noisy expulsions of equine nether winds and several exclamations of “Dearie me” was enough to disturb the weary wraith of Lars Pedersen. Betty held her breath as he gradually manifested, as if through a doorway unseen. She was not a little surprised by the old phantom’s appearance. It occurred to her that he was fading away. After haunting the area for almost a thousand years Lars had become little more than an outline, as faint as breath on a chilly night. Despite this, she could see how gaunt and wild-eyed he was.

Betty watched for a while longer. The ladies seemed to be fussing around the old Viking. The mules had calmed down and the spaniels were sniffing anything and everything of interest. One wandered over to where Betty was hiding and licked her hand. It was a cold but not unpleasant sensation. It barked at her.

“Shoo” she hissed.

The dog refused to leave and continued barking.

Betty expected the ladies of The Mild Hunt to react to her presence but all they did was to admonish the dogs for their ceaseless noise.

It dawned on Betty that maybe the spaniels could see her when the other ghosts could not. This would make sense; rather like the way in which mortal dogs are said to be able to see things beyond human vision. Emboldened by this thought, the barmaid wandered into the clearing where the ghostly gathering had assembled. Not one of them saw her but the spaniels continued barking. The ladies were obviously speaking to Lars but their speech had become distant and indistinct to Betty’s ears. Uncanny though the tableau was, the spectacle of a group of elderly people talking, even ghostly ones, was not terribly exciting. Betty was almost relieved when the ladies of The Mild Hunt mounted their steeds, gathered themselves together and once more returned to their endless quest across the skies. The wispy shade of the Norseman waved briefly, then turned to leave, pushing open the portal that only he could see. Betty, never one to deny her curiosity full rein, followed, making sure to keep one foot in the world she knew.

If the ghostly spectacle of The Mild Hunt had been memorable, the sight that greeted her eyes now would be indelibly etched upon her mind forever. Incredibly, the land on the other side of the door was bathed in golden sunshine. The grass was green and lush, affording the half dozen goats grazing upon it rich pasture. Chickens and geese busied themselves noisily, while beneath an ancient spreading oak tree, a spotted pig basked contentedly.

On the near horizon purple hills rose up to meet the few fluffy white clouds that graced an otherwise clear blue sky. Birds sang and the scent of summer flowers filled the air. Although there was no sign of the warriors’ feasting hall or drunken revels of myth, Betty knew she was looking at Lars Pedersen’s private, very peaceful, Valhalla.

It suddenly occurred to the barmaid that the shape of the hills was somehow familiar. Then the realisation struck her. They were the Gydynaps! And if that were so…

The rest of the landscape gradually fell into place. Sunlight sparkled on the chuckling waters of nearby Tragedy Creek, while in the other direction ravens circled around the landmark she recognised as being Chapel Rock – minus the ruined chapel of course; Lars did not know about its existence. It was clear that Lars Pedersen was living an afterlife on Hopeless, Maine, but not a Hopeless that any living soul would recognise. Betty looked in wonder. Was this Hopeless as it was, as Lars knew it, or as it might have been? Or even might one day be? The thoughts raced madly in Betty’s head as she drank in the sounds and smells of this idyllic land,  aching to be part of it. In silence, Lars Pedersen himself drifted into her field of vision and stood smiling before her. No one would ever refer to this Lars as The Woeful Dane, a nickname his ghost had acquired over the years. She saw him now as young and strong, his long golden hair and full beard plaited and his twinkling blue eyes bright and mischievous. With a slight bow, he held out his hand to her, invitingly. A delicious mist filled her mind, blanking out all thoughts and memories of the Hopeless she knew. Her life at The Squid and Teapot and even recollections of her soul-mate, Joseph became no more than a distant dream. Betty extended her arm towards the handsome Norseman, more than willing to accept his invitation. Just one step is all it would take to transport her to this wonderful new home – just one step.

“Betty. Is that you?”

A voice dragged her out of her reverie. She lurched back, realising how close she had come to leaving this harsh but love-filled life forever. The vision of Lars faded and the portal to his Summerland suddenly snapped shut.

The voice – and it must be admitted – overwhelming stench of the Night Soil Man, had brought her back to the Hopeless she knew so well.

“Are you okay, Bet’?”

Randall Middlestreet looked worried.

Although she had possibly glimpsed Heaven, Betty knew that this version of Hopeless was where she belonged for as long as she was alive. This was home.

She smiled and blew the Night Soil Man a kiss.

“Never better, Randall” she said.“Never better.”

Art by Tom Brown

(Cross referenced with ‘Ghost Writers in the Sky’ and ‘The Eggless Norseman of Creepy Hollow’)

Horroscopes for the coming year

What do the heavens have in store for you next year? With strange alignments in the skies over Hopeless Maine, you can set yourself whatever goals you like, but don’t expect anything to turn out the way you hoped or intended. This will be a particularly bad year for hurricanes, whirlpools, collapsing buildings, and goats.

Capricorn: There has never been a better time to invest in protective gear or to try and figure out who of your so-called friends are plotting against you. Avoid anything that claims to be cheering, and never leave a drink unattended.

Aquarius: Give up on those romantic ideas and aspirations, you’re just setting yourself up for a bucket full of extra pain and social embarrassment. Avoid romantic gestures and gift giving unless you’re comfortable with horrific outcomes and being blamed for everything.

Pisces: Let no one over your threshold until spring and you’ll survive. Stay well away from pies, crab pots and community art ventures and you’ll have a reassuringly mediocre year. Be warned though, the smallest mistake could spell disaster or at the very least, terrible indigestion.

Aries: Full moons will be dangerous for you, with little going to plan. It seems like everyone wants to find fault, or pick a fight and you’ll feel sorry for yourself. If only you could see how it’s all your fault, you might be able to change things. You bring this stuff upon yourself.

Taurus: New business ventures will fail miserably, especially after the spring tides. You have no idea what anyone else wants of how to get them onside, and you’d be far better off if you stopped deluding yourself about your social skills. The thing you do that you think is charming and endearing really, really isn’t.

Gemini: Oh dear.

Cancer: You’ll feel like everyone is trying to take advantage of you. Expect exploitation, manipulation, unreturned loans, debts of all sorts unpaid, and unreasonable demands upon your time, and on your chickens. It won’t get better no matter what you do.

Leo: Looking fabulous has never seemed more important to you. However, those fashion choices may have things living in them already – mice, crabs, diseases, hideous demonic beings…  Sooner or later there will be horrible bite marks and seeping pus.

Virgo: things you thought you had got away with will resurface and people around you will get suspicious. If your dreadful secrets are only about having eaten all the biscuits, it will merely be a depressing year. Otherwise, you can expect any skeletons in the family closet to come out, some of them bearing grudges.

Libra: Keep a close eye on your obsessions, compulsions and urges. If they become more unnatural than usual, seek help. Just because you think you’re being reasonable doesn’t mean sinister forces aren’t controlling your every move.

Scorpio: Give away any old clothes you don’t need. Call in favours. Now is a good time to make demands and to remind people of whatever hold it is you have over them. Repay old insults. This is not the year for being nice to people and you can be sure they won’t be nice to you.

Sagittarius: You may feel that it’s down to you to save the day and put everything right. You’re only fooling yourself. You can’t fix anything and you’ll probably just make things worse. Better not to bother, really.

The Thirst Noel

Regular readers may recall that on Christmas eve in 1886, the very year that I tell of, ‘The Annie C. Maguire’, a three-masted barque, capsized off the coast of Maine. Happily her captain and crew were saved by the keeper of the Portland lighthouse. Unbeknown, however, to the ship’s  captain, Mr O’Neill, there was a stowaway on board. This was Manchachicoj, a hideous  Argentinian demon from the Salamanca Caves, who had been hiding in one of the many barrels of salt-beef stowed in the hold. The reason for the barque coming to grief as it did was entirely due to  Manchachicoj  industriously banging a hole in the ship’s side in order to answer the beguiling call of a siren (whom, uniquely in the history of sirens, he successfully managed to seduce). This and the subsequent damage caused when the floundering craft hit a reef, allowed some of the barrels to float free. These were accompanied by several firkins of the finest Argentinian wine, carefully procured by Captain O’Neill while ‘The Annie C Maguire’ sat anchored in Buenos Aires.

 

Imagine, if you will, the average Christmas on Hopeless, Maine. Tidings of comfort and joy are in short supply, as is everything else. The general lack of seasonal cheer ensures that any stockings optimistically hung up over the fireplace are certain to remain empty. There will be no great feast, no Bacchanalia. Most will find that it is a day like any other dismal day. For some islanders, however, during one Christmas long ago, all of this changed. Unsurprisingly for Hopeless, the change was not exactly for the better.

 

Amos Gannicox, a former ship’s carpenter, looked with satisfaction at the fine wooden cabin and workshop he had constructed from the pieces of wreckage and driftwood salvaged from around the island. He was now able to bid a grateful farewell to The Squid and Teapot, an establishment that had provided his lodgings for two years, ever since his arrival on Hopeless. In exchange, Amos  had happily used his art as a master carpenter to greatly enhance the appearance of the inn.

From his earliest days on the island, Amos  found that he was frequently visited by Elmer Bussage, a youngster who loved to watch him at work. Indeed, Elmer far preferred the company of the carpenter to that of his own mother and father. You will recall that the Bussage family, along with the Reverend Malachi Crackstone and Tobias Thrupp, were companions in the liferaft that had brought Amos to Hopeless.

There could be no doubt that the Bussages’ parenting skills were decidedly lacklustre, by any standards. While most newcomers to Hopeless  generally made an effort to earn their keep, Jethro and Maybelle Bussage had other ideas. They preferred to beg, scavenge and steal to get by. They made just two exceptions to this lack of industry; the first was on the occasions when Maybelle, with the full approval of her husband, competed with Madame Evadne’s Lodging House for the dubious attentions of various discerning gentlemen. The second exception was Jethro’s indisputable and frequently used talent for distilling moonshine, which they both consumed with an untamed enthusiasm. All in all, they were not the best role models for a boy of ten years old.

 

Amos gazed out at the worsening weather with some trepidation. It looked as though Christmas would be blown in on an ice storm this year. Little Elmer was sitting happily in front of the wood-burning stove that Amos had ingeniously created from a disused water tank. There was no point in sending the boy home in this weather. The carpenter threw another piece of driftwood into the stove and turned up the gnii-oil lamp. There was little chance that Jethro and Maybelle would be worrying too much about their son anyway, he reflected. The lad was far safer with him.

 

The Bussages had not, indeed, given their son a second thought since he had left that morning. He always came back eventually. Besides, it was Christmas Eve and some interesting looking barrels – one very large and two much smaller – had washed up almost on their doorstep and demanded immediate attention. Who said there was no Santa Claus?

In view of the impending inclement weather it would have been sensible for Jethro and Maybelle to attend to some pressing and basic practicalities. These they neglected, instead making their priority the task of getting the barrels under cover before the oncoming storm carried them away again. This  was easier said than done. The firkins, the five-gallon barrels, were heavy enough to carry but the tun was beyond carrying and had to be rolled. It was unwieldy to manoeuvre and wanted to go anywhere but to the place where it was supposed to be. Eventually, however, after much sweat and profanity, the job was done.

It was with no little excitement and exertion that Jethro prised the lid off the tun. Once opened, he viewed the contents with mixed feelings. He knew a bit about salt-beef and its preparation. There was no doubt that this was top quality, for there was no evidence of hide, bone or offal. As a boy he had often watched his uncle, who had been a butcher in a victualling yard. He recalled that the flesh was cut roughly into four-pound pieces and rubbed generously with a mixture of salt and saltpeter. This was followed by a lengthy process of further salting until, eventually, the meat was barrelled and floated in brine.

Jethro held his breath as he drew the first piece of beef from the tun. If the brine had leaked the meat would be rotten. He prodded the cut with his finger. It was firm to the touch. He breathed a sigh of relief. For the first time in over two years there was the real promise of a sumptuous Christmas dinner in store.

Maybelle, meanwhile, was exploring the firkins.

“Please let it be brandy.”

This was as close as Maybelle ever got to praying. Had she tried harder, who knows, the contents may have been miraculously transformed. In the event the wine in the firkin would have no truck with Christmas miracles and stubbornly refused to change.

The Bussages were only slightly disappointed.

“It’s all fine,” said Jethro reassuringly. “We can drink this one straight away and the other I’ll distill. We’ll have brandy yet – after all, brandy is no more than distilled red wine. Oh, what a Christmas this will be!”

 

The weather deteriorated as the day wore on. Before long a full blown ice-storm had developed. It raged for four long days, all over the Christmas period, before there was any sign of it abating. Even then the numbing cold and bitter winds were sufficient to quell any thoughts of moving far from warmth and shelter.

 

Amos had prepared well for the winter. Over the year he had stockpiled the meat from the dead whale that he had found beached. This he had dried and salted. Seaweed was fairly plentiful and nutritious and not unpalatable, once a taste for it was developed. Best of all was the huge tub of beef that had washed up that very day. This was a gift from the sea that he would be very happy to share with his neighbours once the storm had passed.

 

While Christmas on Hopeless was nothing like the ones of his earlier life, Amos was content enough. He had good friends, simple needs and a snug cabin. What more could a man ask?  He looked fondly at Elmer, curled up in front of the stove, guarding the wooden boat that the carpenter had made for him. Amos was glad that he had resolved to have Elmer stay throughout the storm. He knew the Bussages well enough to have little doubt that Christmas with them would have been less than merry for the boy.

 

By New Year’s Eve the weather conditions had improved considerably and islanders could be seen to emerge from their homes in a fashion somewhat reminiscent of bears coming out of hibernation. At such times a degree of camaraderie prevails and neighbours, who rarely take the time to say ‘Good morning’ to each other, will rally round and often go to great lengths to ensure each other’s well-being.

It did not take long for someone to notice that the Bussages had not come out to join them. Their door was firmly closed and opaque sheets of ice veneered their windows, giving the appearance that the house had not been heated for days. Something was obviously wrong and although Jethro and Maybelle were never likely to win the title of ‘Hopeless Maine’s Good Neighbors of the Year’ there was a genuine concern for their well-being.

It was the young parson, Reverend Crackstone, who took the initiative and made the decision to force the door and Amos, who possessed the best toolkit on the island, was sent for. He left Elmer with a neighbour and made haste to the cottage.

The door had little inclination to open. The ice that had set around the frame proved to be as efficient in preventing ingress as the stoutest padlock. It took almost an hour of chipping and levering, seasoned with a few robust oaths, before the door would budge. Even as it broke free of the ice, something still prevented it from opening. Eventually, after much pushing, Crackstone and Amos managed to move the obstruction just enough to gain entry.

The sight that greeted their eyes was not a pretty one. It had been Jethro and Maybelle themselves obstructing the door and they were very dead. Swollen and blackened tongues lolled horribly from their gaping mouths . Blood on their fingers and scratches on the wood gave testament that they had desperately clawed at the door to get out but to no avail. The two firkins lay empty on the floor and much of the meat in the tun had been consumed.

“ Make sure the boy is kept away” yelled Crackstone to anyone who was within earshot.

“ He can’t see his parents like this.”

Both men agreed that there was no great mystery surrounding the Bussages’ deaths. Crackstone summed up the scene in no time.

“Greed, sloth, gluttony and avarice are the killers here, I’m afraid,” he observed. “The wages of sin is indeed death.” Then added, helpfully, for Amos’s benefit, “Romans 6:23.”

“It looks to me more like the result of too much salt beef and no water in the house” said Amos. “They tried to quench their thirst with red wine, which only made things worse.”

“Exactly!” snapped back Crackstone,”Had they had the wit to provide themselves with wholesome provender this would not have happened. Did they think to share? No! It is the Lord’s judgement upon them for the deadly sins of greed, sloth, gluttony and avarice, I tell you.”

Amos said nothing but gathered up his tools and returned to his own home, where Elmer was waiting for him.

 

The carpenter would dearly have loved to adopt Elmer but Reverend Crackstone and the trustees of the orphanage would have none of it. The boy needed to be with others of his own age, they said. Besides, he had promise. He was just the sort of lad they needed to one day play a vital role in the life of the island.

Amos was puzzled. He could not comprehend at all exactly what was meant by this but in the end was forced to accept their decision.

“I’ll visit you soon” he promised the tearful Elmer.

He tousled the boy’s hair and as he turned to leave, spotted a figure on a nearby hill, watching the proceedings. Amos noticed Crackstone make some gesture of greeting and the figure waved back; there was something odd about this, not least the figure’s shape. Then all became clear as it turned and stood in silhouette. It was a man – a Night Soil Man with a large bucket strapped to his back.

 

Nothing is wasted on Hopeless but the Bussages left little of value for their neighbours to use. No one seemed to have any use for Jethro’s still, or the now empty barrels, so, on a whim, Amos took them, though he had no idea how the still worked.

 

This is a Christmas tale and traditionally such tales have happy endings and promises of hope. The legacy of the Christmas of 1886 – The Thirst Noel as it was irreverently dubbed – took many years to be realised. Those who frequently peruse The Vendetta will be well aware of the emergence of the Gannicox Distillery. They will also know that this achievement will be somewhat overshadowed by the heroic but dreadful fate of Elmer Bussage, The Night Soil Man.  Sadly, there can be little expectation of hope on an island called Hopeless. The very best we can ever look forward to is a bittersweet conclusion. Merry Christmas.

Art by Tom Brown

(References: People from the Sea; The Wendigo; The Distiller)

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.

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

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.