Cricket!

You may recall that Colonel ‘Mad Jack’ Ruscombe-Green had decided that it would be a good thing to instruct the islanders of Hopeless in the gentlemanly sport of cricket. He and his former batman, and soon-to-be batsman, Bill Ebley, who now acted as his valet, had fashioned some rudimentary stumps, a brace of cricket bats and even some primitive leg-pads from the wood of their wrecked rowing boat. It must be said that to make a functional cricket bat from limited resources is no easy matter. Fortunately Ebley had a certain amount of skill as a carpenter and managed to construct something that would be tolerably comfortable when hitting a heavy ball, such as the one that Randall Middlestreet, a lad who, until recently, had lived at the orphanage, had kindly donated. This was a treasured baseball, one of the very few on the island. Randall had let the colonel use it on the condition that he and two or three of the other orphans would be allowed to play. This came as something of a relief to the colonel, who had sensed a decided lack of energy and enthusiasm from most of the islanders whom he had tried to recruit to the team. However, by stiffening his upper lip and thinking of England, he had managed to assemble a sufficient number of players by allowing women and girls to take part.
“I only hope the M.C.C. doesn’t get to hear about this,” he confided to Ebley. “ I’ll never be admitted into Lords again.”
Ebley turned this over in his mind.
“With respect sir, that’s a crock of old night-soil,” he said.
He had picked up the local patois very quickly.
“They’d be proud of you, sir, bringing cricket to this God-forsaken place.”
“Mmm.. perhaps so but, after all, women and girls playing… it’s just not cricket!”
After much discussion with the respective landlords it was decided that the teams would represent the island’s inns. ’The Squid and Teapot Xl’ (Capt. J. W. Ruscombe-Green) would play ‘The Crow Xl’ (Capt. W.D. Ebley) at Creepy Hollow, where there was a reasonably flat area upon which a twenty-two yard pitch could be accommodated. The only problem was that part of the boundary was perilously close to the cliff edge, though the colonel was doubtful that, excluding himself and Ebley, anyone in either team would be sufficient to the task of hitting the ball any appreciable distance.
At last the day of the match dawned. It was definitely not the sort of weather for cold beer and a cream teas, even if these things had been available. Beneath a forbidding iron-grey sky a thin, drizzly mist clung stubbornly around Creepy Hollow.
“More of a day for rugby, really.” Ebley mused .
The islanders who had been persuaded to either take part or spectate were not remotely put out, however. After all, this was Hopeless in its summer finery. It looked a lot like Hopeless in its winter finery but was a degree or two balmier.
‘The Crow’ were to go into bat first. Colonel Ruscombe-Green marshalled his fielders as though they were going into battle.
“Lypiatt, I want you to be wicket keeper. Mrs Lypiatt – may I call you Madrigal? Fine leg, I think”
“Steady on colonel…” said Sebastian Lypiatt, uncomfortably.
“That Night-Soil chap can be out on the boundary. A long way out. Shout and tell him, someone… and you, young Middlestreet, I want you at silly point.”
“Really?” Randall Middlestreet looked puzzled.
‘’Yes really,” snapped the colonel. He was not used to having his orders questioned.
It took some time for the chaos to subside and the game begin in earnest. That was when the colonel realised that he was a man short.
“Where the devil is young Middlestreet?”
“He’s done what you asked him to” said his friend, Elijah Camp, a gangly lad who was waiting to bowl. “He’s gone to Scilly Point. That’s a mile or more away.”
The colonel turned several shades of red but said nothing. They would have to make do with ten players.
‘The Crow’ XI had a dismal innings. This had less to do with the Squid’s superior bowling and fielding skills than with the fact that at least eight players managed to hit the stumps down themselves. Bill Ebley scored an unimpressive seven runs before slipping on something anonymous, moist and many legged which had the misfortune of wandering across the pitch at just the wrong moment. Their final score was all out for twelve runs.
The day was descending into farce and the colonel was entertaining serious regrets as he went in to bat for ‘The Squid’ XI. They had an easy score to beat and if he could hit a couple of sixes very quickly it would have the wretched business over and done with. Bill Ebley, however, had other ideas. He had always prided himself as being something of a spin-bowler since his schooldays and, to everyone’s surprise, the first ball he delivered sent the colonel’s stumps flying.
“The blighter tossed me one of his googlies” the colonel complained, getting back to the makeshift pavilion. Madrigal Lypiatt gave him a wry, sideways look, unsure if he was being rude or not.
Things were looking bad for the Squid. Ebley’s bowling prowess was destroying them, when by chance, Sebastian Lypiatt, their ninth man in hit a six, sending the ball into an jagged outcrop of rocks. There was a lull in play while several fielders rummaged around for it without success. Then, from just beyond the rocks a scrawny, ragged figure with a mop of white hair and a straggly beard, appeared holding the ball aloft. He tossed it expertly to the wicketkeeper and, in a thin and wavering voice, burst into song.

“Jolly Boating weather,
And a hay, harvest breeze.
Joy on the feather,
Shade off the trees”

“Good Lord” gasped the colonel in disbelief. “He’s singing the Eton Boating Song.” and could not help himself but summon his finest baritone and join in.

“Swing, swing together
With your backs between your knees.
Swing swing together
With your backs between your knees.

It occurred to the colonel that if the strange fellow was an old Etonian then there was a more than good chance he would be something of a cricketer. Here was his eleventh man.
“Who is that chap” he asked Elijah Camp
“That’s Crazy Wally. Lives in the ruins at Chapel Rock.’’
Before another word could be said Sebastian Lypiatt was bowled out, having scored the only six runs that the Squid XI had achieved.
The colonel decided to take the initiative.
“Wally, old boy, do you know anything about cricket?”
The word ‘Cricket’ seemed to unlock a hidden door in Wally’s mind and he surprised everyone by capering about and repeating the words ‘Razor Smith’. To most this would have been gibberish but the colonel instantly recognised the name of the legendary Surrey slow bowler from the pre-war years.
Thrusting a bat into Wally’s hand he ushered him to the recently vacated wicket.
“We need just seven runs to win. Give it your best, old bean.”
Bill Ebley felt a temporary pang of pity for the unkempt scarecrow standing at the wicket. He decided to make sure that his innings would have a quick and merciful end, then they could all go home.
No one was more surprised than Bill when the fast ball he delivered was met by an expertly wielded bat and despatched to the boundary with ease.
The colonel was delighted.
“Well played sir. Another run and we’re home and dry.”
Bill Ebley gritted his teeth and hoped it was beginner’s luck.
The next ball that he sent down the pitch, he claimed afterwards, was the best that he had ever bowled.
Crazy Wally went to meet it with the skill of a seasoned test cricketer, sending it in a high, elegant arc but heading straight for the sea.
What happened next has become the stuff of Hopeless legend, still spoken of in the taprooms of both ‘The Crow’ and the ‘The Squid and Teapot’ in hushed tones of near-reverence.
The players and small band of spectators watched in amazement when, as the baseball reached the apogee of its curving flight, the long and languid tentacle of a kraken reached over the cliff-edge and caught it before it could commence its descent into the sea. Holding the ball in a neat and suckered curl it wavered for a moment, then, with unerring aim, hurled it with immense force towards the wickets and reduced them to matchwood in an instant.
Wally discarded his bat and, open armed, staggered towards the waving tentacle.
“You have come to take me to poor Mozzarella, my lost darling. You have come to bring me home?”
No one stirred as the serpentine limb reached down and grabbed the ragged man, almost gently, around the waist and hoisted him aloft, like a trophy.
For an instant Wally was suspended in mid-air, beaming and waving to his audience. Then, with a flip of its tentacled arm the kraken took him away forever.
There was absolute silence for a few moments then everyone started talking at once, hardly daring to believe the spectacle that they had just witnessed.
The colonel and Ebley drew away from the small crowd and made their way back to their lodgings.
“We’ll call that one a tie,” said Ruscombe-Green. “I don’t think we’ll be needing a rematch,do you?”

 

Art by Clifford Cumber

The return of the Horrorscopes.

Hopeless Horrorscopes from Mystic Mary

Cancer: Your high risk activities for this month are roof repairs, window cleaning, hat making, and chasing goats after nightfall. Avoid doing these things and you’ll survive the month.

Leo: Your self confidence always gets you into trouble. No one likes your latest ideas anyway. Get over it, and stop trying to impress people so much. It won’t help you but the rest of us will feel better.

Virgo: Just because it floated ashore in a recent shipwreck doesn’t make it a good fashion choice.

Libra: It’s your reluctance to act that’s most likely to get you into trouble this month. If you wait for others to make the first move, it could be the last thing you don’t do.

Scorpio: It’s not a good time to plan changes. Ignore schemes from Leo friends, these will only get you into trouble. However, it is an auspicious month for dealing with problematic Librans in your life.

Sagittarius: Wear a big hat and extra layers of clothes and the odds are no one will notice.

Capricorn: Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Even if you are dead, if you’re reading this, it hasn’t been a total setback, has it?

Aquarius: The moon will be influencing you this month. Pay close attention to personal grooming and make sure to shave every few hours.

Pisces: Avoid encounters with the night soil man for your best chances of surviving the month.

Aries: Watch out for plans backfiring and angry chickens. But, you’ve got a more than fifty percent chance of survival, thanks to Uranus.

Taurus: Be careful where you put your feet and for the next few weeks, never put on shoes without checking to see who or what is already inside them.

Gemini: Expect awkward questions about personal hygiene this month. You’ll just have to try and stay down wind of everyone until the new moon brings some relief.

 

Words by Nimue Brown-art by Tom Brown

Jolly Boating Weather

With The Great War over, Colonel ‘Mad Jack’ Ruscombe-Green was finding civilian life a frightful bore. He and his batman, Private William Ebley, had been demobilised after the cessation of hostilities and while Ebley was content to spend his remaining days in London as the colonel’s valet, Mad Jack himself still ached for adventure.
When an invitation to yet another country-house party arrived by post the colonel’s immediate reaction was less than joyful. He knew that if he accepted he would be rubbing shoulders with the same dreary set of people, most of whom he despised. The prospect of a long-weekend in the company of minor aristocracy and various eccentrics made the memories of the trenches seem almost cheerful. However, this invitation had been from his old C.O. and he felt duty-bound to accept. Bill Ebley, on the other hand, relished these diversions and took little persuasion to pack the colonel’s bags and load the car.
The partygoers turned out to be as tedious as the colonel had predicted, save for one guest. An American gentleman of Norwegian descent named Frank Samuelsen was a breath of fresh air. Here was a fellow adventurer who revealed, in the course of conversation, that he and his late friend, George Harbo, had rowed the Atlantic some twenty-five years earlier. The story fired the colonel’s imagination. That would be just the ticket. Two months on the open ocean and then the vast continent of North America to explore. He took it for granted that Ebley would be his number two. After all, they had been through a great deal together.

Just a few weeks later the colonel was the proud owner of an eighteen-foot long oak rowboat. Following Samuelsen’s advice the craft had been fitted with a water-resistant cedar sheathing and kitted out with a compass, a sextant, a copy of the Nautical Almanac, oilskins and three spare sets of oars. And so it was that they set out from Falmouth with the eternal optimism of every explorer who ever lived. New York was just over three thousand nautical miles away. This would be a trip to remember.

Fifty five days later they were adrift and totally lost. The storm had raged for three days and nights, taking the little boat far off-course. Both men had suffered horribly from sea-sickness, their supplies had almost run out and the last set of oars were floating free somewhere miles away. The two adventurers were completely at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean and all hope had perished when they suddenly found themselves in the middle of a fog bank. It was as thick as either man had ever encountered. So thick, in fact, that they failed to see the reef that ripped the hole in their hull until they were upon it. With the sounds of splintering timbers and raging seas filling their ears the two were hurled onto the rocks and into the oblivion of unconsciousness.

Bill Ebley was used to waking up in odd places. His duties as batman to the colonel, and then, after the war, his valet, had deposited him in some strange surroundings but none to equal these. The room was conventional enough but he could have sworn that the trio of strange ornaments on the dressing table seemed to be moving ever so slightly. They were rum, that was for sure; they looked like socks with big glowing eyes, loads of tentacles and spoons for legs. It must be something to do with this Dadaism thing that he had heard about during the war. Blooming madness, in his opinion.
Blooming madness blossomed into full-flowered madness a minute or so later when the three ornaments decided to scamper across the dressing table and disappear through a hole in the skirting board. Ebley, never a man to knowingly panic under fire, screamed involuntarily. A second later a burly, middle-aged man dashed into the room.
“ You alright, guv’nor?”
Ebley was ghostly white.
‘What was that?” He gasped, then after a short pause. “You’re English! Am I in England? Or dead, maybe?”
“ Neither, my friend. You’re on an island off the coast of Maine, and I’m Sebastian Lypiatt, landlord of The Squid and Teapot.”
Sebastian revealed to Ebley that he had been discovered on the rocks by a foraging party and brought to the inn, which, incidentally, was occasionally plagued by creatures called Spoonwalkers.  When the valet enquired about the well-being of Colonel Ruscombe-Green he was met with a blank stare and told that no one else had been found.
“We’ll organise a search,” promised Sebastian. “We’re used to folks going missing on Hopeless.”
He didn’t mention that the chances of anyone actually being found were not so much slim as positively emaciated.

If Bill Ebley was taken aback by the creatures who shared his billet, Colonel Ruscombe-Green had been frog-marched to edge of reason, allowed to peep into the abyss and encouraged to wave at the demons. It took all of his mental resources to come to terms with his new reality. He found himself in a vast subterranean cavern, illuminated by a thin, sickly-green light. The air was filled with shrieks and screams, human beyond a doubt, that sounded like souls in torment. Just a few paces away from him an  assortment of ghastly, cadaverous creatures wandered, apparently aimlessly, around the cavern. They might have been people once but, except for a slight physical resemblance, all traces of their humanity had gone. They were sniffing the air and drooling like rabid dogs. Occasionally one would drift into the shadows and its leaving would invariably precede a heart-rending cry of abject agony and misery. If this was not Hell then where was it? And what were these monsters?
As if in answer one of them came up to him, drool hanging from its slavering chops. Had Ruscombe-Green known it, this was the very individual who had dragged him to the cavern, having found him unconscious on the rocks.
“Get back you Blighter …”
The creature, unsurprisingly indifferent to mild epithets, extended a bony arm and prodded him with a finger that was badly in need of a manicure. Then it drew back slightly, sniffing the air. It bared its teeth.
The colonel soon realised why it had recoiled. He tried not to gag as the air was filled with the foulest reek. Suddenly the cavern was alive with firelight and leaping shadows. A lone figure, smelling to high heaven, burst upon the scene brandishing a flaming torch.
“You heard what the gentleman said, now get away.”
The other creatures quailed against the cavern walls, as far away from the light and stench as they were able.
Reluctant to let go its prize, the aforementioned Blighter shielded its eyes and tried to grab the colonel’s arm, only to find itself much closer to the torch than, on reflection, it might have considered as being healthy.
Its skin and flesh was as dry as tinder and within seconds its body was engulfed in flames. Despite the revulsion the creature had instilled into both men, neither was prepared for the full horror of the writhing conflagration before them; its screams, as the flames consumed it, were unearthly and terrible to hear. The cavern, now filled with light, quickly emptied as the other fiends scuttled into the darkest depths like cockroaches.
“Quick, follow me,”
As they made their way out into the cold night air, the Colonel noticed that his malodorous rescuer had a tightly-lidded bucket strapped to his back.

“The fact is,” said the Night-soil man, “I’m safe enough around most things on the island. Nothing much will come near me. It’s the stink, see.”
The Colonel nodded in agreement. He didn’t dare risk opening his mouth.
“I saw that devil drag you in. Sorry I couldn’t have been quicker.”
The other man shrugged and waved reassuringly.
“I’ll get you to The Squid. Seb’ll get you right.”
Although he had no idea what the Night-Soil man meant, and despite the smell, the Colonel was grateful for whatever help he was about to get.

Some hours later, after Ruscombe-Green and his valet had apprised each other fully on their adventures of the day, the colonel said,
“You know, this is a damn rum place but these chaps have been good to us. We should reward them somehow.”
“Reward them sir?” Ebley looked confused. “With what? All we have are the clothes we’re standing up in and a boat that’s been reduced to not much more than matchwood.”
“So we have.” said the colonel. “But, one never knows, we might be able to salvage something from that.”
He paused, then a look of sudden inspiration spread across his face. Ebley had seen that look before; it usually meant work of some description.
“By Jove, I’ve just had a cracking idea. We’ll give our new friends the gift of civilization.”
Ebley gave him another confused look. The colonel looked triumphant.
“We’ll jolly well teach them how to play cricket”
And that, dear reader, is a tale for another day.

Art by Clifford Cumber

Devious Devices

Here’s a fine tale from the Hopeless Maine RPG developer – enjoy!

The Hopeless Traveller

I was sat in my favourite armchair one evening last week, reading the Vendetta and enjoying a brandy – from the last shipwreck, you remember? Lovely stuff. Anyway, there I was, glass in hand, God in his Heaven and all right with the World when I became aware of a soft clicking. Now I don’t own a clock and this noise seemed to be moving around, so I sat as quiet as I could. You know how it is when you are straining to hear something, every sense becomes heightened and damn if didn’t see something move near the top of the curtain, just out of the corner of my eye. 

I softly put the glass down, rolled up the paper and advanced on the curtain with the grace and stealth of a Leopard. Don’t scoff – a Leopard, I tell you. Anyway, the ticking got a little louder and…

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The Bounder

The Honourable Walter Leigh-Botham was the sort of chap for whom the terms ‘cad’ and ‘bounder’ had been expressly coined. He had been expelled from Eton for excessive bullying (even by the sadistic standards of the English public school system*) and, after his father had pulled several strings to get him into Oxford, had managed to get himself thrown out within a matter of months for successfully managing to seduce both the Professor of Divinity’s wife and daughter, though, to his credit, not at the same time. In truth, other than the various pleasures of the flesh, the only thing Walter ever truly excelled in was cricket. By 1914, in Walter’s twentieth year, war with Germany seemed inevitable. It was, in his estimation, an ideal time to get out of England, not least because he had an impressive pile of gambling debts and several paternity suits to his young name. Being ever resourceful and, it must be said, oozing with charm, he managed to persuade the captain of a merchant ship to give him a passage across the Atlantic free of charge, spinning a tale about a dying grandmother in Maine. Walter had absolutely no idea where, on the American continent, Maine was actually located but, by chance, he had happened to overhear a conversation in a quayside inn concerning a merchant ship bound in that direction. Not one to break the habits of a lifetime, Walter repaid the captain’s kindness by assisting many of the crew to gamble away their wages and viciously depleting their rum ration. By the end of the voyage everyone on board, including the ship’s cat, had really had more than enough of his shenanigans and shortly before they reached Portland they bundled him into the very barrel he had been instrumental in emptying and dropped him, not too gently, overboard.
Scilly Point, on the coast of Hopeless, had earned its unusual name some years earlier, although there were a handful of people who believed that ‘Silly Point’ would have been a far more appropriate moniker, and with good reason. A couple of local lads, hearing the news that two Norwegians had successfully rowed from New York to the Isles of Scilly, thought they could emulate the achievement. Sadly they couldn’t and were never heard of again.
Walter had no idea of this fascinating morsel of information when his barrel came ashore there. After a few hours bobbing  around on the Atlantic he would not have particularly cared either, having developed a pallor which was a decidedly delicate and interesting shade of green.
Scrambling unsteadily out of his barrel and over the rocks, he could not help but wonder where on earth he might be, as a small procession of blancmange-like creatures, shapeless and tentacled, crossed his path. He struggled on for some time, studiously trying to avoid anything that vaguely resembled a life-form in case it attacked him in some way. He was not wholly successful and was relieved when, through the mists, loomed the welcoming shape of The Squid and Teapot.
Sebastian Lypiatt, the landlord of the inn, though helpful to the latest arrival on the island, was more than a little suspicious of him. Having been a merchant seaman himself and shipwrecked here some ten years earlier, something in Walter’s tale of being an innocent passenger who had been shanghaied, robbed then viciously cast adrift by a sadistic captain and his rascally crew, did not ring true. He was relieved, therefore, when after a few days the young man decided to leave and find lodgings at Madame Evadne’s, an establishment with facilities far more likely to cater for his every need.
By the early years of the twentieth century Madame Evadne’s Lodging House for Discerning Gentlemen had become noticeably sleazier while expanding its business interests considerably. It had taken to providing gaming tables and alcohol as well as its more traditional pursuits for clients of both genders. This was an environment in which Walter felt truly at home and he settled back into his old ways with ease. His skill in knowing how to swindle the clients, water the drinks and run a crooked card table endeared him to Mozzarella Slad, the current Madame. She was a villainous woman whose underhand ways would have had Madame Evadne spinning in her grave. The once cheerfully vulgar bordello became a dark swamp of depravity and the following two dissipated years of Walter’s life saw him lose the few shreds of decency that he had left. Anyone who crossed him became fair game; his degenerate soul plumbed depths of evil that even made Madame Mozzarella gasp with a mixture of admiration and disgust.  He was, however, becoming a liability and bad for business. It was inevitable, therefore, that one day she would decide that enough was enough and when that day dawned she resolved to be rid of him forever.
The bright full moon was sailing high in a midnight sky when she eventually challenged him. The bordello was rowdy as ever and Walter, paunchy and bleary-eyed, stepped outside for a moment to clear the fetid air from his lungs. The bottle of spirits in his hand was half-full, a situation he intended to remedy before the hour was over. He didn’t hear Mozzarella creep up behind until she was almost upon him. It was only by luck that he turned in time, for the rock with which she intended to crush his skull only caught him on the shoulder. He lunged and, catching her arm, spun her into the courtyard to crash against a statue erected in the likeness and memory of Madame Evadne. For a split second he was sure that the statue opened its eyes and smiled, not particularly pleasantly, at him. He shook his head and looked again, but no, she was as she had always been. This pause had given Mozzarella just enough time to scramble to her feet and run, screeching into the night. In an instant he was in pursuit, angrily dashing across the headland, a red rage driving him on.
It was at the foot of Chapel Rock that Walter eventually caught up with Mozzarella. In a blind and all-consuming fury he threw her to the stony ground. Wrapping his hands tightly around her throat he felt something close to elation as the life was violently squeezed out of her. When it was done he knelt on the ground, exhausted. His face was florid, his breathing laboured and his heart banging against his ribcage.
Suddenly aware of something slithering over the headland towards him, he stiffened. At first he thought it was a serpent but upon seeing that its length was punctuated with an array of suckers, realised with horror that this must be the tentacle of some huge sea-creature. As if in confirmation, an identical arm stretched up over the cliffside and waved in the air above him. The tentacle that crept over the ground now wrapped itself tightly around the body of the dead Mozzarella and hoisted her on to her feet, like a marionette. So terribly fascinated was Walter by this gruesome puppet show that he did not notice, until too late, that the other arm had slyly descended. It entwined itself around his torso and effortlessly lifted him off his feet. As the two monstrous arms drew together he found himself face-to-face with Mozzarella, her dead eyes protruding from a horribly contorted face. The pair were drawn up, their bodies as close as if they were dancing, then dance they did. The monster shook them like rag dolls. Mozzarella’s head flopped against Walter’s face. Her flesh was still warm and the saliva that lingered on her open mouth slavered against his cheek. Walter screamed. Only the ravens roosting on the rock could hear his increasingly manic wails as the grotesque dance continued. Then, when Walter thought things could get no worse, a thin green mist quietly writhed up from the ruins of the chapel, a mist that began to take the shape of a man. It circled, slowly at first, around the strange tableau. Suddenly the scrawny, almost transparent form and grimacing face of the Mad Parson of Chapel Rock, Obidiah Hyde, was everywhere, screaming at Walter.
“Repent, sinner, for Hell is waiting.”
An ice cold chill gripped Walter’s heart as the wraith passed through him. The macabre dance and the howling ghost filled his brain, weaving deranged patterns in his mind.  This is all there is and ever has been, thought Walter, gradually forgetting who and where he was. The last thing he saw as he fell to the ground, crashing into unconsciousness, was the lifeless body of Mozzarella being tossed high, high into the night air. For one tiny moment that lasted an eternity she was a grisly silhouette painted upon the face of the full moon, then she fell; tossed like a discarded toy into the sea. Walter dimly wondered who she was and how she had arrived there.
Hours later, in a grey dawn, Walter awoke. All memories of his old life had been erased. His hair was white and he looked older, far, far older than his twenty two years. Crawling over to the ruined chapel he discovered a small vestry which would provide shelter from the elements. Rocking back and forth on his haunches, he giggled to himself as from its perch on the ruined roof of the chapel a raven dropped a teaspoon, which clattered and bounced on the flagstones. The man who had been Walter Leigh-Botham picked it up and vaguely remembered.
“ Spoon” he said, inspecting it intently.
This must be home.

* For our American readers, in Britain most people attend state run schools and enjoy a free education. The affluent send their offspring to public schools. Despite the name these are not available to the public, being very expensive private schools, not to be confused with actual private schools which are still fee-paying but not as exclusive. I hope that clears things up.

Art by Tom Brown

The spoon whisperers

We require cutlery; we require a spoon smith. This is not something we like to acknowledge of course. We like to think that our spoon’s cradle of life is the cutlery drawer and beyond its mundane journey from there to our breakfast table no one likes to ponder where the spoon goes or why it suddenly ceases to be a part of our lives any longer. The spoon has gone to sleep, we tell the children, it has moved on to pastures new, to the great spoon caddy in the sky… but inwardly we shudder when our hand gropes the naked crevice of the empty wooden slot where the spoons once lived and when we hear the creak, creak, creaking of the spoon smith’s cart, after dark, we crack open the kitchen door just a chink and whisper ‘yes, dammit, yes we need spoons, for the love of life be quick about it’. Then for a little while we can breathe easy and forget and not bother to wonder, where the spoons all wander. 

 

You can see them yourself, every morning on the shore line, Dyson Blythe and his wife Birgitta and they are not by any means the only scavengers down there. Of course it is metal they gather up into those great ragged sacks of theirs, metal to melt down in that furnace they have at the cottage by the caves, metal to be poured into all those careful clay moulds, metal to be cooled into spoons that will hold our bottom of the garden stew and stir our hairy coffee. We try very hard not to notice the carcasses in various states of decay, the unidentifiable vegetable matter and all the strange and suspicious looking artefacts that also make their way into those great grey sacks because surely, surely, there is enough metal washed up upon a shoreline as extensive as this to meet the spoon demands of our small and un-extravagant populous.  

 

There was great joy when they first came, of course there was. We listened with curiosity and delight to the tappity-tap of metal on metal and the claret glow, night and day, from the windows of the little cottage by the caves spoke only of spoons that would soon fill our pantries and stir our cauldrons. We smiled when we passed them in the street or on the strand, their hands and arms were stained black to the elbows from their work at the forge, but we didn’t mind their oddness, amongst our own they hardly stood out at all and, besides, soon there would be spoons, and when the brightly painted cart, intricately carved with green and golden fleur-de-lis came tinkling down the high road with its bounty gleaming like twists of moonlight captured like candy in a cane, we knew only joy.

Of course there were some doubters who said the flier de los looked more like tentacles, who proclaimed the skills of the smithsonions unholy; their blackened hands a mark, not of their work, but of a pact with demons, still more who whispered that well meaning strangers would bring mishap upon us all. But it wasn’t until the twins were born that anyone gave their muttering a second thought.

Sebastopher and Tarrington Blythe were born on a Tuesday, ruddy and Bonny with full heads of bouncing copper curls like flame and their parents pressed into each chubby red hand a pair of beautiful silver spoons, the stock of their trade. So the boys lay in their cradles, tapping their silver spoons together and although they grew bigger and began to sit and crawl and, eventually to walk, still all they did was tap tap tap their spoons. Nothing could induce the boys to speak or play or to put the spoons down for even a moment but their parents did not worry overmuch, the skill each brother now had with his spoons meant that they could drum a multitude of meanings into their rhythms and Dyson and Birgitta grew extremely proud of their children’s inventiveness and skill as they lay awake at night listening to the twins conversing in their strange musical language.

And if occasionally they heard, from the dark beyond the yard outside, something drumming its own song in response, they must only have shook their heads and thought it merely the wind in the trees. And if occasionally they saw, through the chink in the curtains, soft glowing lights like rows of luminous eyes peering in from the night, they must have shrugged their shoulders and supposed it only foxfire or marsh gas. Such is the blind foolishness of every doting parent.

Nobody saw it happen. One late afternoon, creeping into evening with long green shadows under a sickly yellow sky, the four year old twins were sitting in the yard, under the twisted shade of the polymorphous rose tree. Their wide black eyes stared into the miasmatic gloaming and through the silence of their unspoken words their spoons rattled a furious rhythm, a cacophony which rang and echoed off the cave rocks that surrounded the little cottage. Rang and echoed off the cave rocks, and the trees and the hills for miles around and surely, surely, that was merely the echo of the children’s song and surely, surely, the lights that gathered that evening in the sliding fog around the cottage by the caves were merely foxfire and marsh gas.

Hard at work in the forge, their mother wiped the sweat from her brow, their father laid down his tongs and they listened to the silence that had opened like a gallows trap door. They ran into the yard, calling for their boys “Sebastopher! Tarrington!” But the yard and all the land around was silent. The lights, the spoons, the boys, the song, all gone, all gone.

Now the spoon cart comes only at night, we open the door, just a chink, just a crack, those are without doubt tentacles carved into the wood. We bolt the doors and fasten tight the shutters, that is no fox fire and marsh gas, that is not the wind in trees. And we always tell the children, “stop it, stop it at once, do not drum your spoon upon the table like that child,” because we do not like to think and we do not wish to know, where the spoons all go.

 

This word-magic is from the (frankly amazing) Lou Lou Pulford. (we are fans of her!) You can read more on her enchanting tea soaked, ententacled site- here.

 

Art by Tom Brown

Moonshine!

Norbert Gannicox had taken a vow of sobriety. As you may recall from an earlier tale, the circumstances surrounding his father’s demise were somewhat macabre and had quite put him off alcohol for life. So, while he was happy to fulfil his role as the main distiller and supplier of moonshine on Hopeless, he carefully avoided imbibing anything stronger than coffee (This was sometime before the hairy variety was discovered. Even if it had been available I don’t believe he would have gone anywhere near it.)
As has been stated many times, resources can be scarce on this island and Norbert was finding difficulty in sourcing sufficient quantities of raw materials to provide the mash for his brew. Things were looking grim for the business until one day an article in The Vendetta caught his eye. Apparently there was an abundance – an infestation, one could say  – of the dreaded Night Potatoes. Norbert reasoned that, as vodka is made from ordinary potatoes, any brew distilled from Night Potatoes must be at least as good, or possibly better. It was worth a try.
It is not difficult to gather Night Potatoes. By finding one, and popping it into a sack, you may be certain that others will soon appear to rescue it. This is not a task for the faint-hearted or the lone collector however, for a vengeful Night Potato will fight back with some vigour, as their first victim, Stern Ericsson, found to his cost. Fortunately Norbert had come prepared and with the aid of a few friends several sacks were soon heaving with their wriggling and indignant forms.
Ignoring the protests coming from the sacks, once back at the distillery Norbert consulted one of Ebenezer’s notebooks. The handwriting was neat and the instructions precise:

Potatoes are ideally left unpeeled and, if desired, a small amount of malted barley may be added. The potatoes, whether whole or chopped, should  be  initially boiled to gelatinise the potato starch. When this is done, add more water to form a mash and then cool to approximately 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Add some milled malted barley to the mash. The potato starch will then be converted to fermentable sugars.

Norbert could see no problem here. True, these were no common potatoes but, in the scheme of things, a vegetable was a vegetable, whether it cursed and ran around or not. The time had come for action.

I won’t go into the harrowing details of Norbert’s process of preparing the mash. Maine is famous for its lobsters and doubtless many of us have quailed to hear one scream when it is cooked. Imagine the heart-rending cacophony made by a sackful of sentient potatoes, each one reluctant to enter the boiling water. Therefore, if only to appease my own sensibilities, I will fast-forward to the time when the whole process had been completed.

Norbert had purposely avoided mentioning the unconventional ingredients of this current batch of alcohol to his customers as he thought that it might be inclined to deter some from drinking it. In the event the very first batch of Night Potato Moonshine was to be delivered to Madame Evadne’s Lodging House for Discerning Gentlemen, a famous bordello (just down the road from The Squid and Teapot, as it happens).
Since Madame Evadne’s death a century or more earlier, a succession of capable ladies, retired, or at least semi-retired, from their erstwhile profession, had fulfilled the role that she had so successfully created; she was a  concierge, administrator, book-keeper, businesswoman and bouncer all rolled into one.
The latest of this long line of matriarchs was one Nellie Bagpath, a fearsome and formidable figure who ruled her charges and their clients with an iron fist in a velvet glove (sometimes literally, especially if enough money changed hands).
As soon as the delivery had been made and Norbert was safely on his way home, Mistress Nellie, as she liked to be addressed, thought it expedient to sample the brew before the clients got to it. She helped herself to a generous tot, and then another one or two, just to be certain that the Lodging House had received a fair deal. She decided that it had, but one can never be too careful about these things, so to be on the safe side she had another couple of tots to make absolutely sure.
Unusually for Mistress Nellie she took to her bed early that night. She was feeling a little under the weather and decided that the place could run itself.
“I’m not at all well,” she told her second-in-command, Alicia Ozleworth, in slurred tones. “Not well at all, but I am most definitely not under the affluence of incahol.”

It was turning-out time at The Squid and Teapot and Sir Fromebridge Whitminster, actor/ manager and raconteur had begun the short stagger back to his home. He was singing quietly to himself, having enjoyed several pints of ‘Old Dogwater’, when his rendition of a song that seemed to be totally comprised of the words  ‘Tum-te, Tum-te,Tum, Dee Dum Dee’, was brought to a halt when he saw a strange apparition wandering in the moonlight. The figure was that of a woman of matronly build and mature years. She was dressed in a flowing, full-length white nightdress and thick, pink woollen bed socks. With arms outstretched and eyes glowing with an eerie luminosity she lurched towards him. Ever the gentleman, Sir Fromebridge swept off his fedora and made a deep bow.
“Good evening, dear lady,” he said in his best Shakespearean voice. “May I be of some assistance, perchance?”
The apparition passed by as though he were invisible, which was probably just as well as the deep bow had put his back out and he was the one in urgent need of assistance.
“I am the Potato Lady of the Night ” she moaned as she drifted by.
“Ah. Jolly good” he replied in agonised tones. “I say, could you possibly…?
But, alas, she couldn’t, as she was out of earshot and he was stuck.

This island is rife with ghosts and demons, vampires and all sorts of nameless creatures, slithering, creeping and wandering around on pilfered cutlery. These are the stuff of nightmares but when they saw Mistress Nellie in this new guise, every last one of them gave her a wide berth.

Someone else who enjoyed the disdain of the Hopeless horrors was Shenandoah Nailsworthy, the Night-Soil Man. This is not an image you‘ll want to dwell upon, but he was half-way through his rounds and had just settled down to eat his sandwiches.
Shenandoah is not a man who surprises easily but the sight of a woman with luminous eyes wandering the cliff tops in her nightdress and pink woolly bed socks was not all that common. Even less common was the fact that she came right up to him and planted a kiss upon his grizzled cheek.
“I am the Potato Lady of the Night” she intoned.
“Well heck”, he said. This was as close to swearing as Shenandoah ever got.
“Heck!  I’ve heard of women like you but never met one. You must have a really nasty head cold. Would you like a sandwich?”
He lifted one from the lunchbox sitting on his bucket lid.
It was too late. She had gone, wailing into darkness.

Whether by accident or instinct, the Potato Lady of the Night made her way to the gates of the Gannicox Distillery. Norbert was in bed and dreaming fitfully of screaming potatoes and old men floating in barrels. It was a relief to be woken by a relentless banging on the door.  Blearily he went downstairs.
“Who’s there?” he called.
“I am the Potato Lady of the Night”
“Well I haven’t asked for a delivery, especially this late. Come back in the morning.”
The banging continued and Norbert decided that discretion was the better part of valour and let her in.
“Mistress Nellie?” he gasped. “Are you okay?”
She drifted by him as if he didn’t exist and made her way to the storage sheds.
Puzzled and still half-asleep Norbert followed.
She made her way to the large vat that contained the Night Potato moonshine and turned on the tap.
“Come out my brothers and sisters, be free, be free once more” she wailed as the precious liquid splashed on to shed floor.
Norbert was rendered helpless and speechless as the alcohol flowed around his feet.
The woman that had been Mistress Nellie turned to face him, though face is maybe not the right word. Her features had become grotesque and shapeless, a gnarled and knobbly thing, not unlike the shape of a very large potato with bulging eyes that shone with a sickly yellow glow.
“I am the Potato Lady of the Night” she said again, then for some reason added “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Despair seemed like a good idea. Snapping out of his paralysis Norbert screamed and ran away as fast as he could. He ran over the hills, careless of the dangers of  the night-creatures and the dreadful reek of the Night-Soil Man, who had his second surprise of the night when Norbert fell over his bucket. Eventually he found himself outside Madame Evadne’s where the usual activities were well underway He knew what he must do. Racing in, he went to the cellars and found the cask of moonshine. Rolling it outside he knocked out the bung and let the contents empty into the gutter.
Alicia Ozleworth, Mistress Nellie’s deputy, watched from the doorway, not a little horrified at his actions. Norbert explained all and promised to fully refund the cost of the liquor.
Exhausted, he made his way home through the darkened streets. Suddenly he was stopped in his tracks by an anguished voice
“Excuse me, old chap, could you possibly give me a hand…?”

Needless to say Mistress Nellie Bagpath was never seen in the flesh again, though a couple of people reported spotting a strange, potato-like wraith in pink bed socks, wailing over the headland. It did not get a lot of attention. That sort of thing is hardly newsworthy here. What was newsworthy, however, was a rare but timely delivery from the mainland supplying the Gannicox Distillery with several casks of cereal and Alicia Ozleworth becoming the new boss – or Mother Superior as she called herself – at Madame Evadne’s. Sir Fromebridge, as you may know, is sadly no longer with us, but something tells me that although he’s dead, we’re unlikely to have seen the last of him. After all, this is Hopeless, Maine.

 

Art by Tom Brown

New Hopeless, Maine illuminator!

Dear people (and others) It is my great pleasure to introduce you to a new visual artist who has recently washed ashore on our bleak (but seldom dull) island. He was found drawing (stunning) pictures of our dear Professor Elemental, and… I pounced! (with success) He is with us now as a guest artist (probably taking up residence near the coast for the views and fresh tentacles)  His name is Clifford Cumber, and he describes himself thusly,

“Cliff Cumber draws occasionally for people he likes very much, when he can fit it into a life filled with almost-teen children, and when his wife deems his mental state sufficiently stable to use sharp objects. He is formerly of Great Britain, now resident in Maryland, and while that sounds made up, it’s actually a real state in America. Honest. Follow him on the twitters, @cgcumber.”

As you can see, he is a modest (and busy) sort of chap.

Without further ado, here is his image of Obediah from a recent episode of Tales from the Squid and Teapot.


The Distiller

Though not rich in natural resources, Hopeless has always scraped by on the bounty that the sea delivers, whether it is the occasional whale carcass or the flotsam washed up from the frequent shipwrecks.

Ebenezer Gannicox was well known as a beachcomber (or, more correctly on Hopeless, a rockcomber) so when he suddenly went missing from home no one really worried too much. He had done this before on several occasions, embarking upon what he described as a foraging mission. Ebenezer was a wiry little man and a distiller of some distinction who relied upon the sea to provide some of the raw materials necessary for his trade. The casks of malted barley, blackstrap molasses and other such luxuries carefully stored in his sheds attested to his success as a forager. It has also been suggested that he was possibly adept as a wrecker too, but this has never been mentioned in polite and civilized company (though it does get talked about quite frequently in the bar-room of ‘The Crow’)

.

Hopeless has never been unduly troubled by the rule of law, especially those laws which seem, to many, totally irrelevant to the smooth running of society. After all, when the overriding priorities of your daily life are avoiding being eaten, avoiding being driven insane and avoiding having your cutlery stolen, all else fades into insignificance. So whether the offence is deliberately luring ships onto the rocks, or the manufacture of moonshine, poitin or pocheen (call it what you will), no one worries too much. To be fair, the amount of time and effort required to do either of these things will put most people off. They are far too preoccupied with the straightforward business of avoiding being eaten, avoiding being driven insane and avoiding having their cutlery stolen.

While wrecking is generally approved of as a necessary resource, there are inevitably naysayers who will list reasons why the distillation and consumption of moonshine should be banned. Some will invoke law, others religion. A few will offer the excuse that it may cause blindness but this only ever happens when the equipment used has been contaminated, or the methanol has not been removed from the brew, or you put a stick in the cup when you’re drinking it. (It seems that if you want someone to stop doing something you don’t approve of, tell them that they will go blind. This is a strategy famously employed by priests and headmasters for generations.)

 

After six months had gone by questions began to be asked as to Ebenezer’s whereabouts. His son, Norbert, scoured the coastline but there was no sign of him anywhere. It was as though he had vanished off the face of the earth, which was not an unknown occurrence on this most perilous of islands. The general consensus, however, was that Ebenezer was too wily a character to put himself in danger.  But when more months passed and the search had to be abandoned, Norbert and his mother resigned themselves to the fact that the old man had foraged one time too many.

Over the years Ebenezer had stockpiled an impressive supply of moonshine. It was stored in casks of all sizes, courtesy of the aforementioned shipwrecks. There were pins, firkins, kilderkins, hogsheads, butts and tuns, each containing gallon upon gallon of  the Gannicox Special Distillation, as it was called. This was fortunate, as Norbert was reluctant to take on his father’s role and become the island’s chief distiller. Instead he decided to become a distributor.

For the next five years he made his way diligently through Ebenezer’s stockpile. He delivered it in jugs, in bottles or sometimes in a firkin strapped onto his back. Each container bore the legend ‘Gannicox Special Distillation. 80% alcohol by volume. Keep out of the reach of children and Spoonwalkers’

Eventually, he came to the last cask – a huge two-hundred and forty gallon tun which sat in the darkest corner of the shed. Norbert estimated that while this would keep his customers happy for the rest of the year, the time had come for him to learn the distiller’s art if he wanted to remain in work.

For the next few weeks things went well. Norbert became adept at distilling and wondered why he had shied away from it for so long. At the same time he drew moonshine from the tun to fulfil his customers’ needs until one day the unthinkable happened; when he turned on the tap no liquor came out. No end of kicking and shaking would move the cask, so there was obviously still plenty of liquid inside. The only explanation was that something was causing a blockage. Norbert prayed that it was not a rat.

Deciding that the only way forward was to remove the top of the cask, he armed himself with a lighted candle, a crowbar and a step-ladder. To his surprise, however, it had already been loosened. The chances of the blockage being a rat seemed greater than ever. Norbert steeled himself, prised up the lid and peeped inside.

Nothing could have prepared him for the sight that greeted him. Old Ebenezer’s face peered up through the clear well of alcohol which had preserved  him perfectly. He looked happy enough, under the circumstances, but his eyes glowed with a greenish luminescence.  His big toe had become firmly wedged in bung hole, serving to stop the flow through the tap. Then Norbert noticed presence of spoons. A shudder passed through him. He could make out several lying on the floor of the cask.

Thinking things through, it seemed obvious to Norbert  that Ebenezer had stumbled upon a quantity of spoonwalkers nesting in the dark corner behind the casks. Everything pointed to it. They had probably been helping themselves to the moonshine for years. It was well known that to have eye contact with spoonwalkers for any length of time would invoke madness, and the glow in the old man’s eyes said as much. Had he climbed into the cask of his own volition or had they somehow managed to push him in? Norbert shuddered again and hastily replaced the lid.

 

Family loyalty prevailed over business interests and Norbert decided not to sell any more of the moonshine from the cask which had preserved his father so well. It occurred to him that it would be a fitting tribute to the old man if things were left pretty much as they were and the cask, complete with alcohol and Ebenezer, be ceremoniously buried on the cliff top, overlooking the coast where he did so much of his foraging. Unfortunately, that was not to be quite the way things turned out. When rolling it to the chosen spot the cask hit a small rock and bounced out of control, making its way over the cliff and into the sea. The last report of its progress had it  bobbing away on the Atlantic swell to a destination unknown. When it eventually made landfall someone, somewhere had an extremely nasty surprise.

Art by Tom Brown

Werewolf Mark Making

Werewolf Mark Making

By Nimue Brown

Proper artists don’t seem to talk about drawing and painting so much these days, as about ‘mark making’ (https://www.thoughtco.com/how-does-mark-making-affect-your-paintings-2577630)

Being improper artists, Tom and I like to draw and paint things. Sometimes I colour stuff in.

We got thinking about mark making when exploring the idea of an arts and crafts movement on the island of Hopeless, Maine.

We give you…. Werewolf mark making

Werewolf mark making is much sought after by some collectors on the island, although many people find it more gruesome than is strictly speaking necessary. As you can see from the above image, the slash of claws and splatter of blood on an object indicates an attack. Indeed, werewolf mark making items invariably come from the scenes of violent deaths. In the absence of survivors, the exact way in which the marks were made remains purely speculative.

It may be that the item has been held up defensively, but to no avail. Perhaps it was hit accidentally by a poorly aimed paw. Either way, it raises a philosophical conundrum for the potential collector: Can it truly be called art if the werewolf was not consciously making it as an artistic statement? It’s important to focus on the big issues in cases such as these.

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.