The Ravens of Chapel Rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The ravens,” I said.

Art by Clifford Cumber
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Messages in bottles

Hello, people (and others)!

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

Help me.

Please help me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am hungry.

I still hear their voices.

Help me.

Please.
Simon La Thangue

Send underwear. Urgent!
Fraser Hale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE!!!

My Dearest

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

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

Send supply-laden cargo ships! My address!

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

PS I have much monies!

Clifford Cumber

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

Cynthia

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

Not that I’m planning on going back.

Sabrina

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

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

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

Martin Pearson


Cat Treadwell

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

The Headless Lady

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

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

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


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


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

Art by Tom Brown

Dr Cornelius Porridge arrives on Hopeless, Maine

He knew he couldn’t run much further. His lungs burned with the effort and his teeth ached as he inhaled the dense, wet fog that seemingly blanketed every square inch of the island of Hopeless Maine. His legs felt like bags of wet sand as they carried him out of the thick woodland and to the edge of the granite cliffs that held back the Atlantic Ocean.

Realising he had nowhere to go he fell to his knees and looked down over the edge, towards the clamour of the water crashing against the rocks below. He couldn’t remember when he had started running or even how he had come to be on this cursed island. He just knew he had to get away.

The sound of branches being ripped from a tree focused his mind. He looked round to see the creature that was pursuing him. It was nearly eight feet tall, covered in furry, dark green and brown scales. Yellow eyes blazed at him hungrily as a blue, forked tongue licked saliva from its sharpened teeth.

“What do you want?” He shouted breathlessly at the beast. “Why do you constantly haunt my dreams?”

The beast’s eyes widened as it began to charge. He tried to get up and run, but it was no use. His legs refused to push against the ground. It was only when he looked down that he realised the ground was breaking away from the edge of the cliff. He scrambled forward, but it was too late. He instinctively reached out, succeeding only in grabbing a handful of dust, before falling towards the rocks below.

 

Doctor Cornelius Porridge woke with a start and stared, out of breath, at the ceiling. Blinking as sweat rolled from his forehead and into his eyes, he pushed the blanket down to the bottom of the bed and sat up. Despite it being the middle of January and no fire being lit, the sweat made his nightshirt cling to him as if it were a second skin. He looked around the room and realised he had been dreaming again.

He washed and dressed and as he was waxing his red moustache he looked at himself in the mirror and said, “How did you know it was a dream?” He stared at his unanswering reflection for several moments before putting on his greatcoat and top hat and letting himself out of the house.

 

When the steel tipped arrow thudded into his front door, missing his head by less than an inch, Porridge began to wonder if it was going to be one of those days. It wasn’t the first time someone had tried to kill him. In the six months since his return from a two year expedition in the Arctic and Northern Canada, there had been several attempts on his life. At first he thought the falling plant pot that had shattered by his feet had been blown off the high wall by the wind. Then there had been the horse drawn carriage that had lost control coming down Steep Hill in Lincoln. It was perfectly understandable that the driver had lost control. It was reckless of him to even attempt such a descent. It was strange however, that there was no sign of him when the horses had been steered away from him at the last moment.

It was only when he woke one morning face to face with the frothing mouth of a rabid llama that Porridge began to suspect foul play was afoot. Fortunately he was in the habit of keeping a loaded blunderbuss under his pillow for just such emergencies. It was as the beast began to chew the cud, getting ready no doubt for the first projectile of spittle, that Porridge grabbed his trusty weapon and let fly. The result had left a nasty mess on the curtains, but it was for the best he told Gertrude, his horrified maid.

Porridge pulled out the still quivering arrow and inspected the hole that it had made in his front door. “I wonder if his Lordship will lend me a fiver to get that fixed?” he mused. He turned around to look for the failed archer and noticed a group of people standing near the house. I wonder if they saw anything, Porridge wondered as he slowly walked over to the small crowd. As he drew near he could see that everyone had gathered around a woman prostrate on the floor.

“It was horrible,” cried the woman. “It was covered in green and brown scales and had yellow eyes like the devil himself.”

“Impossible,” said Porridge to himself. Shaking himself out of his reverie he stalked towards the prone woman. Kneeling down, he put his hand on her shoulder, “Did you say Green and brown scales?” asked Porridge. The woman looked at him and weakly nodded. “Yellow eyes?” the woman nodded again. “About eight feet tall?”

“You saw it too?” the woman asked. “It was horrible,” she re-affirmed.

“Impossible,” Porridge repeated as he released the woman and pushed his way back through the crowd. It was then, as he looked up towards his house, that he noticed the front door was open. He was certain he had closed it. He looked at the arrow in his hand. He had just locked the door when it had struck, narrowly missing his right ear. The door had definitely been closed. Also, it was a Tuesday. A fact in itself quite unremarkable, but Tuesday was Gertrude’s day off and she never came near the place if she didn’t have to. When he had left the house it had been empty, which could only mean one thing. Someone, or something, had gone in.

Porridge looked around in vain for a constable. “Typical,” he muttered. “Never one close by when you need one.”

He threw the arrow onto the floor and pulled a navy flintlock from inside his greatcoat. Gently pushing the front door open, Porridge stepped over the threshold and into the hallway.

“Who’s there?” he called, his voice croaking rather more than he would have liked. If it was a man he could dispatch him without any hesitation, but the thought of finally coming face to face with the beast that had been haunting him for the past six months had set his nerves on edge.

“I have a pistol,” he shouted. The affirmation engendering a firmness to his voice.

Porridge drew level with the door to the sitting room, it was ajar. He never left the doors inside open for fear of fire spreading. His mouth was dry and he could hear his heart pounding. Porridge had no doubt the creature was inside.

He drew breath and kicked the sitting room door open with a violence he hadn’t realised he could muster. The door crashed against a wooden bookcase. Porridge was showered with books as the bookcase wobbled in a most precarious way. A shadow darted from the window. Porridge instinctively threw out the hand containing the pistol towards the window and pulled the trigger.

A small hole appeared in the window as the small, lead ball flew into the street and shattered the glass of a nearby street lamp. Porridge’s attention was diverted from the window by a dull thud followed by a loud creak. He turned to look at the book case as he realised the massive oak structure and the several hundred volumes it contained was falling towards him.

His face paled as the realisation dawned on him that this was the end. Before he could draw breath the shadow fired towards him, hitting him like a cannonball in the midriff. Porridge slid into the hallway gasping for breath. As he managed to draw oxygen into his body he heard books falling, like leather raindrops, onto the floor. The books were followed by the crash of oak shelves as the bookcase shattered.

The sound in the sitting room faded into irrelevance compared to the sight unveiling itself in the hallway. A huge creature, a cross between a bear and a dragon, stood before him. Its yellow eyes glared at Porridge with complete puzzlement.

“I say old boy, what on earth do you think you’re playing at?” asked the creature, pushing the words through a gap between its two front fangs.

“W…what?” stammered Porridge.

“That firearm,” the creature pointed at the pistol. “You could have hurt someone.”

Porridge blinked as the creature flicked a thin, blue forked tongue at him.

“My pistol, I still have it,” said Porridge as he pointed it at the creature.

“It’s a single fire flintlock, so it won’t do any further harm unless you throw it.”

“What do you want?” gasped Porridge as he let the pistol fall to the floor.

“Well, a thank you would be nice.”

“Thank you?”

“You’re welcome. After all, I did just save your life in there,” the creature gestured in the direction of the sitting room.

“Save me? You’ve been trying to kill me for the last six months,” exclaimed Porridge as he struggled to sit up.

“Kill you? Nonsense. If it wasn’t for me you would have been dead six months ago.”

“What about the bookcase?” asked Porridge.

“You had far too many books on the top shelves,” said the creature. “When you kicked the door open with such force into the bookcase, even I wouldn’t have been able to stop it crashing over. Quite unnecessary if I may say so ”

“What about the arrow? That only just missed me.”

“Yes, it did, but it didn’t miss the Loxosceles reclusa on the door,”

“The what?”

“Loxosceles reclusa,” repeated the creature. “A brown recluse spider. Quite deadly and about to bite you. I don’t know how you didn’t see it. One bite and your bowels would become an unstoppable force of nature.”

“Oh,” said Porridge, not entirely convinced.

“What about the llama?”

“Alouitious?”

“Who?”

“Alouitious, the llama. I sent him to watch over you. Why did you shoot him?”

“He was rabid.”

“Rabid?”

“He was frothing at the mouth.”

“He wasn’t rabid, he was just a messy eater.”

“He had red eyes,” added Porridge.

“Yes, he’d been crying. His girlfriend had just left him. I asked him to do me a favour, I thought it would take his mind off things and you shot him. Talk about having a bad day,” the creature shook its head and looked at Porridge. “He was very upset and he’s not too keen on coming back either. After everything that’s happened I can’t say I blame him to be honest.”

Porridge studied the creature for several seconds. “What about the plant pot?”

“Ah, yes. Sorry about that. I did whistle though. Stopped you in your tracks.”

“So you didn’t push it?”

“No, why would I push it? It was the wind.”

Porridge looked slightly crestfallen, but rallied when he remembered the runaway carriage.

“Well, what about the runaway carriage? There was no driver and you were nowhere to be seen.”

“Ah yes. The driver had lost control. I managed to throw him off and steer the carriage away from you at the last moment. The horses seemed quite spooked, I can’t imagine why.”

Porridge raised an eyebrow. “There was no one driving,” he insisted.

“I didn’t want you to see me so…I hid.”

“Where could you hide on an open carriage?”

“It was my defence instinct kicking in. When I want to hide I become…invisible.”

“This is ridiculous,” snorted Porridge.

“How else do you explain the horses turning at the last moment?”

Porridge considered the question as he stared at the creature.

“Do it now. Become invisible.”

“I can’t,” said the creature with an indignant tone. “I can only do it when I’m startled or under stress,” the creature could tell Porridge was still having trouble believing him and decided to push on. “Anyway, the driver was an idiot. He should never have been allowed to drive a carriage down such a steep hill.”

“He wasn’t allowed. The City Magistrates banned all carriages from using that street because of the sharp incline.”

“The City Magistrates you say,” the creature looked out of the window before settling his unnerving gaze straight at Porridge. “Tell me Doctor Porridge, do you know where you are right now?”

“I’m in the City of Lincoln. In my house. In the hallway to be precise.”

“Are you certain?”

“Quite certain. Where do you think we are?

“Well, I’m afraid we’re not in the City of Lincoln and we’re certainly not in your hallway.”

“Of course we’re in my hallway,” said Porridge, unaware he was angrier at the creature’s geographical repudiation than he was in fear of its physical presence or intent. “Where else do you think you are?”

The creature studied the prone figure for several seconds before reaching out a muscular, scaly paw. Porridge shuffled back, but the creature grabbed hold of his arm and hauled him to his feet as easily as if he were a kitten and walked into the sitting room. Porridge followed the creature as it cleared a path through the fallen books to the drinks cabinet. The creature poured brandy into two glasses and offered one to Porridge. He hesitated.

“Take it,” the creature said. “You may need it with what I’m about to tell you.”

Porridge took the glass and sat in a large leather chair, satisfied that if the creature had wanted him dead they wouldn’t be drinking brandy together.

“How did you get back?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t follow,” said Porridge, the question taking him by surprise.

“The island of Hopeless Maine. How did you get from there to here?”

Porridge shuffled uncomfortably in his chair. In the six months since his escape from that dark, mist shrouded island he had often wondered exactly how he had returned. He had spent two years surveying Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in a small, hydrogen filled dirigible. During his last flight he had been caught up in a huge storm which had caused considerable damage. He was already losing height when the gondola was hit by lightning and caught fire. It was only by luck, or so he had thought, that he found land. The island of Hopeless, Maine.

“I can’t remember,” he said after a short pause.

“Let me see if I can help restore your memory,” said the creature. “You were undoubtedly drawn to the island by the lighthouse on the North shore. You actually crashed by a small lake on the South side of the island. I was being held captive in that lake,” the creature’s face altered. Porridge wasn’t sure if it was a smile or indigestion.

“There are squid in that lake,” continued the creature, “Who now think you’re a deity.”

“I’m worshipped by a cephalopod?”

“Not just one, there’s a whole village down there. We all saw you come down in a ball of flame and they thought you were going to liberate them onto dry land. Whilst they were distracted I made my escape. If it hadn’t been for your, very timely, arrival I may have been next on the menu. I knew I owed you my life so, when I saw your balloon…”

“Dirigible.”

“…Dirigible burning on the shoreline, I had to help.”

“So it was you who dragged me from the shore line and into the woodland?”

“Yes, it was,” said the creature. “The squid were about to come ashore and they would have undoubtedly dragged you back in. They do come out of the water occasionally, usually to hunt, but tend not to venture too far. As soon as you were safe I had to leave as they were rather upset at my disappearance and may have tried something stupid. ”

Porridge realised he hadn’t touched the brandy and took a large gulp. “This is all very interesting,” he said, wiping his lips with the back of his hand, “and I’m very grateful, but how do you get into my dreams?”

It was the creatures turn to take a swig of brandy.

“I have the ability to project myself into people’s dreams.”

“Why would you want to?”

“As I said, after your fortuitous arrival helped me escape, I felt I owed you a debt. But every time I tried to say hello, you ran screaming. So I decided to project into your dreams. It was only when there that I realised you are as clumsy when dreaming as you are when you’re awake.”

The furrow on Porridge’s brow deepened.

“They say,” continued the creature, “that if you die in your dreams you will die in reality. I think I’ve saved your life seven times in all. You’re a full time occupation Doctor Porridge.”

“So…” said Porridge, trying to collect his thoughts, “when I was last asleep, you were there. When I fell off the cliff you saved me?”

“Sort of,” said the creature, putting his empty glass next to the decanter. “Except, you weren’t asleep. I caught you just before you hit the rocks and you fainted.”

“But I awoke with a start. My heart was pumping,” said Porridge, the words coming out slowly as the truth sank in.

“No,” said the creature. “As you fainted you re-entered a dream state. I projected myself in and that’s when I saw the spider. Unfortunately, when I fired my crossbow I became visible and a woman saw me. I managed to take the key from your greatcoat and hide in your sitting room,” the creature looked at the fallen bookcase. His attention turned to Porridge at the sound of glass shattering on the floor.

Porridge was slumped in the chair, his shoulders rounded and his face as white as the morning frost.

“So…” he leaned forward in the chair, “…what you’re saying is…I’m still on Hopeless Maine. That this is just a dream?”

“I’m afraid so.”

The remaining blood drained from Porridge’s face and he fainted.

 

Doctor Cornelius Porridge opened his eyes and looked around. He was in a log cabin which was dimly lit by a small oil lamp resting on a table in the corner of the room. The door opened and the creature from his nightmares walked in. Porridge felt no fear.

“Ah, I see you’re awake. No ill effects I presume?”

Porridge shook his head. His body ached as though he had fallen off a cliff. He smiled at the thought and looked at the creature.

“So, this is real then? I’m still on this cursed island?”

“I’m afraid so. Many have tried to leave. All have failed.

Porridge sat up on the edge of the bed and extended his hand.

“Doctor Cornelius Porridge,” he said. “At your service.”

The creature extended its huge arm and its paw engulfed Porridge’s hand.

“Barnaby,” said the creature. “Pleased to meet you at last.”

“Tell me,” said Porridge, “why were the squid holding you prisoner?”

Something akin to a smile spread across Barnaby’s face. “Well,” he said, “that’s a long story.”

 

Written by S. A. Sanderson- author of Out of Time

Based on the Fictional person Dr Cornelius Porridge

Art by Tom Brown

The Jacobean Manor House

Upon a whim and with a certain amount of desire to impress, multi-millionaire businessman and entrepreneur, Hiram P. Shortwood lll, had, via the good offices of Colonel Ruscombe-Green, purchased a genuine Jacobean Manor House. One small problem was that the manor, Oxlynch Hall, sat foursquare in the English countryside while Mr Shortwood resided some three thousand miles away in North America. Luckily his friend, architect and fellow freemason, the appropriately named Elias Archway, always had the scent of money in his nostrils and had secured the purchase using Ruscombe-Green as middle-man.  Archway insisted to his client that distance was not necessarily an impediment. He pointed out that many wealthy families were taking advantage of the apparent prosperity America was enjoying in the roaring twenties and were constructing country estates inspired by some of the grand buildings that they had seen in Europe. If Mr. Shortwood wanted to show his obvious superiority, rather than merely imitate, he could do worse than put a genuine English manor house on American soil. There was no earthly reason why Oxlynch Hall could not be dismantled, crated and transported successfully across the Atlantic. Such a thing had been done before with great success. By a stroke of remarkable luck Archway himself was in the process of developing what would become a fashionable new neighborhood in Connecticut and the perfect site for Mr Shortwood’s new home. The architect estimated that the whole process could be achieved for the not inconsiderable sum of $300,000. He could not help but reflect, however, that this cost would have been appreciably lower had it not been for the fact that in Connecticut a labourer could command as much as 5 or even 6 cents an hour in wages. On the other hand, it was indeed fortunate for Mr Shortwood that the power of the unions had waned somewhat during the 1920s, or the greed of the lower orders would have known no boundaries.

 

By the time the recently dismantled Oxlynch Hall arrived in the port of New Haven in 1929, Mr Shortwood’s fortune – and indeed, Mr Shortwood himself- had also been dismantled, courtesy of the Wall  Street crash. Suddenly no one was interested in reassembling the manor house, least of all Elias Archway. The array of crates and mountains of stonework sat upon the quayside in the forlorn hope that a buyer might appear or, at least, the manor would remain undisturbed until the tide of fortune turned once more.

One could be forgiven for believing that several hundred tons of dressed stone and ornate woodwork would be safe from scavenging hands but in times of great hardship necessity gives birth not only to invention but also to ingenuity, which may take many guises. Scavenging was raised to an art-form as, bit by bit, the components of the building began to disappear, liberated by anyone who hated to see fine stonework go to waste. Parts of Oxlynch Hall now incongruously adorned barns, boundary walls and outhouses all over New England. Several otherwise undistinguished homes suddenly sported exquisite Jacobean oak panelling. Regrettably, some of the less aesthetically astute decided that firewood was firewood, Jacobean or not.

It took little under a year for the bulk of the wood and stone to disappear from the quayside until just a cairn of honey-coloured stone blocks and one unassuming oak door remained. These last items were bagged by a passing steamer, ‘The Daneway’,  which, according to its manifest, was bound for Portland, Maine. No one knows what purpose the captain had in mind for the remnants of the manor because he and his crew all abandoned ship for no apparent reason two days after leaving New Haven and, under the watchful gaze of a fat full moon, they perished to a man. ‘The Daneway’ itself floated free until it floundered on the fog-bound rocks off the island of Hopeless.

 

Young Isaac Lypiatt could hardly believe his luck when he spotted the wrecked steamer sitting on the rocks. It took little exploration to discover that, while no longer seaworthy, the ship was filled with a hold full of precious cargo that would doubtless find its way into the homes of every islander before the day was out. Besides this, the more industrious would find uses for the last plank and retrievable rivet they could salvage. It was a good day for Hopeless when bounty of this quality was delivered to its shores. Despite his elation, Isaac could not help but feel a little apprehensive however. He had seen a few wrecks in his twenty years, but in the past there had always been bodies to dispose of or survivors to help ashore. This time there were none. It was as if he had stumbled upon a ghost ship.

It did not take long for news of the wreck to get out and soon a steady procession, bearing bags and boxes, pushing carts and crates could be seen, each one keen to grab whatever they could. A disinterested watcher may have been surprised to see that few squabbles ensued. This was because most had long learned that the only way to survive on Hopeless, with its many dangers and privations, was through cooperation at such times. Among the salvagers was Sebastian Lypiatt, father of Isaac and landlord of The Squid and Teapot. Sebastian was a generous man and was not only looking for something for his family and the inn but also some items which might benefit young Randall Middlestreet, the Night Soil Man, who would doubtless be sleeping after a night of toil. The first thing to catch his eye was the Oxlynch Hall door, which no one else had laid claim to. It dawned on Sebastian that this would be an ideal way, with Isaac’s assistance, to stretcher a reasonable amount of salvage to Randall’s cottage.

By the time they had left Randall’s goods and returned to the wreck, still carrying the door, the Lypiatts found that the best of the booty had been taken. Gazing stoically around him Sebastian wondered if anything worth having was left. He wandered the ship, looking for inspiration and while standing in the captain’s cabin, he found it. Tucked away behind a curtain was a fine porcelain toilet bowl, complete with a cistern and pipework. What a  prize this would be for the Squid. Sebastian had already noticed the pile of stone blocks and these, along with the little door, would give him the means of creating an annexe to house an inside privy for the inn. It would take a little planning and hard work but with Isaac’s assistance he was certain that within a few weeks they would be the proud possessors of Hopeless Maine’s very first privy with a flushing mechanism.

As the month slipped by the excitement generated by the wreck gradually subsided and things settled down to what passes as normality on Hopeless. There had, happily, been few reports of vampire attacks or Spoonwalker sightings for a while. The Squid and Teapot continued to be the haven of conviviality that it had always been (not counting the regrettable period in the early years of the century when it suffered under the egregious stewardship of Tobias Thrupp) and all in all, life was as good as one could ever expect it to be. Work on the new privy had gone well and Sebastian was particularly proud of having installed a waste pipe that deposited its load several yards out into the ocean. The project was an immediate success and within hours of the newly installed wonder being open to the public and tastefully concealed behind the sturdy oak door, a steady stream of grateful customers were quick to test its efficacy.

 

The mood of the island always changes a little when a full moon is imminent. Admittedly, although a proportion of some of the more eccentric behaviour can be attributed to the effect that the moon, full or otherwise, has on certain individuals, it must be said that the islanders’ concerns are well-founded. There are always the usual worries regarding the likelihood of werewolf activity at such times and experience has shown that a full moon is often a harbinger of strange (or, more correctly, even stranger) occurrences on Hopeless. This next one was to be no exception.

 

Betty Butterow, the barmaid of The Squid and Teapot, had finished her work for the night and had just one more personal requirement to fulfil before retiring to her small room in the attic of the inn. Betty was grateful that Mr Lypiatt had thoughtfully provided an inside privy, especially on nights like this. Wandering outside to the old one was a life-threatening experience when the worst of the night-stalkers were at their most powerful. And there was no chance of accidentally having an embarrassing late-night encounter with the Night Soil Man, either, now that the pipeline was in place. So it was, with a light heart and a full bladder that Betty swung open the privy door and prepared herself for a few minutes of quiet contemplation.

The barmaid was a hardy soul but even she could not help but give a small scream of surprise when she beheld the vision before her. You cannot blame the poor girl, having been confronted with the alarming sight of a lady dressed in the attire of a seventeenth century English noblewoman sitting daintily on the porcelain throne. The apparition shimmered slightly, glowing with a pale and eerie luminescence. It was not so much the presence of the ghost that shocked Betty, who was the great-great granddaughter of Colleen O’Stoat and, like her ancestor, gifted with ‘The Sight’. What really upset the barmaid was the fact that this particular specimen had been decapitated and was holding her severed head in her lap.

To Betty’s horror the ghost slowly tilted its grisly trophy in order to look her squarely in the eye. The barmaid’s blood froze as an unearthly banshee scream erupted from the apparition’s long-dead lips and echoed through every inch of the inn.

“A privy!” it wailed. “A lady of high birth like me, nearly three hundred years dead and you have me haunting a bloody privy…AAAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!!!”

 

To be continued….

Art by Clifford Cumber

The Burn

A midnight stroll, paddling. The water is strange here, but I am stranger. It hisses from me as I wet my ankles, as it rises past my calves, vapour twisting into odd shapes that silently howl and disappear. I am almost up to my waist, but I am yet alight, flames submerged in elemental paradox. Small wisp-like things pretending to be fish play about down there, darting from the heat.
It is dark, but I don’t fear it. I provide my own light. This little bay all to myself, illuminated. I drag fingers through the shallows, little more than bone already, creepers of muscle. I look up at the moon with sockets almost vacant. My companion. My challenger. Does it seem different, here? Or have I merely spent so long inspecting its surface that I have begun to create the things I see?
And now, that familiar prickling on the vertebrae. I turn back towards the cliff-face.
Again, there is someone watching.
I washed up on this shore. I awoke to something slithering across my hand. It had burrowed away before I saw it.
I was cold. Naked. The clothes had burned from my back like they always did. I turned over and shivered on the sand, remembering the night. Hoping they had survived, the stupid mischievous lot of them.
The mast had been burning. The crew were running about. Someone screaming. And I was overboard.
I scrunched sand in my fist.
Stupid.
They tried to turf me out, once. The inhabitants here. I hesitate to say native, as I’m not sure anyone is. Gathered on the shore, tools and shovels, pointless anger. Or fear. Who knows the difference? They had their reasons.
Some of the mob waved at me with their implements and said “Begone or we’ll force you!”
I turned, opened my lipless mouth, and flame-tongued said, “Try.”
They haven’t come back.
It’s fortunate they don’t know where I sleep, during the day.
I took to swimming quite quickly.
By night, for one such as I, the perils of this island’s waters bear little danger. Things like eyes watched me pass in the dark. Some tried to do more than that. Tentacles and other, more indistinguishable appendages coiled around me, not quite touching because of the warmth, even down here, but probing nonetheless.
To their surprise, I had moved closer, right up to those maws, between the grasp of those mighty claws, looking into pupils the size of my torso. They had considered me, found me unappetising, and I turned away with a skull’s grin, feeling disappointment.
I became bored of those depths with similar swiftness.
“What are you doing?”
The words startle me. An answering flare of firelight. I turn towards the beach, and she is standing there. She blinks a little at my appearance, the light, but doesn’t move otherwise. This is rare.
I ask, “What do you mean?”
“It’s a pretty clear question.”
I hesitate, clearing a throat which isn’t really there. “Nothing.”
She tilts her head, frowns a little. “Sounds boring.”
“You shouldn’t be here.”
She frowns. “Why not? My beach too. Besides, you’re one to talk, standing there like yourself.”
She vexes me. I turn away, sighing out my frustration. It makes a little puff of embers that float into the night. “Are you just here to torment me, then?”
“Sorry. I’ve seen you here before is all. Just standing.”
“So you’re the one who’s been watching me.”
“Sometimes,” she says. “Hard to say whether it’s always been me of course, round here. Lots of beasties to do the watching, and some of them aren’t as polite as me.”
I turn back to her. “And you came down here anyway?”
“Yep.”
“What if I was one of the ‘impolite’ ones. What if I ate you, or something?”
She shakes her head, “Nah, could see you weren’t like that.”
“How could you tell?”
“You looked too lonely.”
Weeks on that vessel. Walking the same deck during the day, hiding myself away at night. Through sufficient palm-greasing and careful negotiations, I had secured my rather unorthodox arrangement. I was sure the sailors thought me eccentric. This suited me. They left me alone.
It was still dangerous, the safety of the crew and any fellow passengers a constant worry while I had the planned the venture. That was why I chose a smaller vessel, not a liner. I would not be culpable for disaster. In the end it was a necessary risk. I needed space to lose myself, somewhere where I could endure the burn without endangering a soul. I had a fantasy of losing myself in those great American plains.
Every dusk my cabin would glow with flickering light, lowering myself into the bathtub that had been installed within, a tried and tested method back in Islington. I endured the sniggering and raising of eyebrows with ease.
If only they had known how important it was.
I found only one marker of civilisation after I awoke. One small derelict house overlooking the bay, at the cliff-top. Things skittered from my shambling, much of what I found already damp and useless. But there had been clothing, at least.
Sure that this meant others existed here, I set out in search of sustenance. I found both. When I asked where I was, the people gave me knowing looks and grim smiles. “You’ll be from the sea then. Welcome to Hopeless.”
Somewhat fed, and no wiser about this place that had saved my life without asking, I saw the sun sinking, noticed my flesh begin to steam. I hurried away to the bay.
She comes again, often. Jessenia. Sometimes I am sat, hip-bones grating uncomfortably on rock. Sometimes I wander, footsteps searing the sand and the flotsam. Sometimes, like that night before, I wade out into the waves.
Talking is not always what we do. Just to exist with another while in my state is a painful luxury, a previously impossible thing. But this place is full of them.
She asks me. “Do you never talk to anyone?”
“No.”
“You can’t be,” she gestures, “like this all the time though.”
“No, I’m not. It’s just easier that way. People have become confusing things, best avoided.”
She snorts, “You don’t have to be on fire for that to be true.”
I smile at that, in my fashion. And somehow, she knows, and returns the favour.
The truth is, I don’t know how I feel. My intentions of isolation have borne unexpected fruit. Rather than bring me peace, it has given me time to stir things within myself. Fear of harm, the shame of being the other, and perhaps a little resentful bitterness, that they do not also burn. I could walk through their houses at night, leave them as charcoal.
I say as much.
“But you don’t,” is all she replies.
They decided to play a trick.
Returning to my cabin one night, already feeling the heat beneath my skin, I found my bathtub vanished away somewhere. I remember letting out an involuntary guttural sound, like a lost animal. And then I heard the laughter. Heads around the door, looking in.
I railed at them, but this only heightened their amusement. I felt myself grow hot, with embarrassment but also the promise of my curse. I grew desperate, pleading with them. They laughed in my face, a pampered baby.
Their expressions changed when the steam rose from my skin, when patches of it began to fry, then fall away as the flames built.
I have thought about them many times. I have changed my opinion just as many, but I still come back to the same thought.
I wish them to have lived.
“Why do you come here?” I ask of her one night. The critters wicker and rattle around us, kept away, I presume, by my light. “You must sleep, surely?”
She shrugs, “It’s not of much use to me if I’m honest.”
“Don’t you have things to do in the day? In town?”
“Nah. Never been there.”
“Why not?”
She grins, but it’s lopsided.
I found a cave. I wished not to exist somewhere obvious, or somewhere vulnerable to my nightly form. I would hide myself away. This choice proved to be shrewd, considering the locals’ views on me. I managed to fit a cot into the dankness, a small stove and some lamps, purchased from the town. I acquired some money, doing small jobs where I could, to keep my cupboards stocked.
I had no need of a clock or watch. After sleeping away most days, I would always be woken with enough time to vacate my new home. Thus I existed for weeks, only attracting unwanted attention with my strolls.
Until her.
Talking with her makes me feel human. I had convinced myself long ago that the word no longer applied. So I decided, a wavering hermit, to take another step.
“You know…” I begin, and falter. A man wreathed in his own fire. It is somewhere between senseless and farcical. “We could talk sometime… when I’m not…like this.”
She smiles gently. “That wouldn’t be very easy for me.” Even in the midst of the burn I must look downhearted. “It doesn’t bother me.”
I reach up, trace the line of my jaw, bone rasping on bone, tap fingers over my teeth in tuneless rhythm. “You’d be the first.”
“There’s always a first. If there wasn’t, there’d never be a second. That’s maths that is.” She cocks a brow.
“You’re odd.”
“Bang on lad.”
I am walking, waiting for her to appear. For once I see her first. She is standing up on the cliff, watching something. I dim myself, bringing my flames to a lull. It is a skill I learnt quickly but never usually exploit. Around the rocks of the cliff’s base I skulk.
She stands, the moon shining full on her, still watching, perhaps waiting. I’ve never noticed before, but up there on the headland she almost seems to be pierced by that lunar light. Shot through by moons-shine.
A time passes, and then she abruptly turns and disappears, obviously descending some unseen slope hidden from me. As her face turns my way, for that moment, I think I see the light reflect off her cheeks.
I return to sea and hide beneath, feeling strangely ashamed.
“That’s where you’ve been.”
I am emerging from the water, feeling like enough time had passed, that she may have gone away. I dip my skull, thankful at least for the lack of expression.
“What is it?” She asks, like some parent or teacher. She’s learned my pauses by now, the slight movements of bone and muscle remnants among the inferno. It is both strange and wonderful to be read when one is like this.
“I saw you earlier.”
She blinks, looks down. Where my stomach would be lurches. She sighs. “I was hoping to see him.”
“Who?”
Her smile is broken.
Above all, I deserve this.
People do things in a crack of time. They peel away part of themselves with an action, a dire flaw in their judgement. They clutch a certain logic which they revere as the only possible key. They destroy all else.
I have done such things. I have persecuted what I did not understand.
I hung a boy who didn’t deserve it. I was young and callous and filled with self-importance, a lack of understanding, no desire for it. I had found him poaching.
While he kicked and struggled for breath I locked eyes with someone in the crowd. A woman, staring at me with such hatred that it seemed like her eyes would boil me where I stood.
That night my home burnt as I slept.
I watch another boy now, younger than the one I put to death. He walks in file with a dozen others, all clad in the same drab colours, body and soul.
I catch the attention of a man who follows the procession. “That boy there,” I point, “What’s his history?”
The man frowns over spectacles. “A very fine way of asking such a gloomy question.”
“Please.”
He sighs, glances away to make sure someone else is still leading the children. “About, hmm, twelve years ago now, there was a shipwreck. Another shipwreck. We found a woman, washed up. Pregnant. She was barely alive when we found her, but she clung on until we were able to deliver her child, right there on the beach. And now there he walks.”
I stare at the retreating back. “Which beach?”
I am selfish, another truth. Here I stand, lamenting my grotesque and awkward existence, while others more deserving are robbed of the time they could have spent with those dearest. The reflection of my crime is not unnoticed.
Jessenia is waiting as I emerge from my cave that night. I feel myself studied. “You know, don’t you?”
I nod. “Yes.”
She nods too, says nothing more.
I say, “I’m sorry.”
She smiles weakly, turns away. “Don’t be. I’ve had twelve years to feel sorry, for myself. I don’t need anyone else’s apologies.”
There is a silence.
“I will try my best, to see he is cared for.”
She looks back at me. “You would?”
“Maybe, circumstances allowing,” I raise an en-flamed hand, “I could do it myself, one day.” Her eyes are beginning to shine in the moonlight. “Or, I can stay away-”
“No,” she shakes her head, bites her lip as one tear falls. “Thank you.”
“You should know,” I begin, unsure of myself, “I have done… terrible things. There is a reason for my curse. You may want me apart from him.”
She comes closer. “I know the person I’ve been speaking to. Whoever this man was, he must have been burnt away.”
I let out a breath I didn’t realise I had been holding. It gusts out as heat and fireflies. I start for a moment in shock, realising Jessenia is close enough to be set alight, but she is not.
She is moving towards me, fearless. I have not had someone so close to me in the night for many years. The flames move around her, through her. She does not heed them, has no need to. For the briefest moments they brush away silvery skin to show bone.
Jessenia puts her arms around my waist, her head to my chest, and again I find myself holding my breath. Carefully, as if she may break, I encircle her with my own.
Maybe, just maybe, I can find a way.
This lovely haunting tale was written by Tam Caddick, a new writer you should be keeping an eye on.  In fact, you can, right here.
Art by Tom Brown

Fire and Brimstone

The story so far…

Julian Thrupp, a country solicitor from England, had come to Hopeless with a travelling companion, Dorian Bowbridge. The purpose of Julian’s visit was to try and find what had become of a long lost relative, Tobias, who had disappeared some twenty two years earlier. While conversing late into the night with Reverend Crackstone, Julian had been visited by the wraith of Tobias, who then abducted him, aided and abetted by an army of Spoonwalkers. A search party, comprising of  Dorian Bowbridge; Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs; Betty Butterow; Sebastian and Isaac Lypiatt; Bill Ebley and Reverend Crackstone, set out rescue the solicitor. After the party split up, Ebley and Bowbridge found themselves in the Night-Stalker infested caverns that honeycombed the island. Normally such creatures would sleep during daylight hours but because they responded to the sun, or more correctly, its absence, today was different. This particular day happened to be the twenty-ninth of June 1927 and North America was enjoying the spectacle of a total eclipse of the sun…

 

In the darkness of the eclipse Betty Butterow and Isaac Lypiatt were frantically trying to dislodge the suckered tendrils that had wrapped themselves around Joseph. The Indian was completely hog-tied and unable to resist as he was drawn inexorably toward the narrow slit in the rocks which was obviously the creature’s lair.

Sebastian had his own problems as the remaining tentacle had wound itself around his leg and was squeezing with a ferocity that would have made a boa constrictor proud.

“It will only be dark for five minutes or so, once the light returns this thing will slither back into its hole” Sebastian shouted, adding, under his breath, “I hope!”

He was hitting the offending tentacle with a rock but this only resulted in making the creature tighten its grip.

 

Ebley and Bowbridge had found a pale and terrified Julian Thrupp cowering in a corner, luckily no more than a few hundred yards inside the caverns. He was slightly delirious and it took no little effort to get him to his feet and begin the climb out. They had not walked for more than thirty seconds, however, when a restless, metallic rustling filled the air and the deep darkness behind them lessened as the cavern became unpleasantly illuminated with the dull and greenish glow of a hundred pairs of hostile eyes.

The three men froze.

“Spoonwalkers!” Ebley hissed. “Whatever you do, don’t look into their eyes. They’ll drive you mad.”

“But what’s that behind them…?” Bowbridge asked, anxiously, as his torchlight caught some other shapes in its beam.

Ebley groaned. This could not be good news. He pulled off his jacket.

“Give me your shotgun” he said to Bowbridge.

“What for? I’m perfectly capable of shooting anything hostile myself,” the young man replied, indignantly.

“For God’s sake, man, give me the gun.”

This time Bowbridge didn’t argue but handed it over. To his surprise Ebley did not fire it but wrapped his jacket around the barrel, tied by the arms to secure it in place.

“What the…?”

To Bowbridge’s horror Ebley struck a match and set fire to the jacket.

“That’s a Purdey shotgun. You can’t do that. Do you have any idea how much I paid…”

“More than your life’s worth?” interrupted  Ebley, angrily. “Look!”

The cavern danced with shadows as the flames from the burning jacket grew stronger. The pale, almost fishlike forms of the Spoonwalker army, mounted on their cutlery stilts were almost comical but the malevolence that flowed from them was tangible. They were anything but funny. Even less amusing were the horrors now crowding in their wake: grey faced ghouls with red, sunken eyes and slavering mouths, smelling the sweetness of the new flesh that trespassed so wantonly in their caves.

“Move” shouted Ebley to the other two, who hurried as best they could towards the entrance. Suddenly plain Bill Ebley was once more Corporal Ebley of The King’s Own Regiment, saving his comrades from certain death. He followed the others but walked backwards, waving the flaming jacket like a standard and keeping the enemy at bay. The improvised torch burned brightly for a few minutes but all too soon there was little of it left; it was touch and go that they would get out in time. To make matters worse the ornate stock of the shotgun was becoming uncomfortably hot to the touch, almost too much to bear. All seemed lost. The entrance should have been visible by now and the Spoonwalkers and ghouls were showing no sign of giving up. They were clearly frightened of the fire but seemed determined to destroy the three trespassers.

The last tatters of Ebley’s jacket spluttered some feeble flames then died. He caught the glint of the Spoonwalkers eyes and knew the game was up.

“This is it,” he thought. He wished that he had said goodbye to his wife and daughter properly that morning. Why hadn’t he told them how much he loved them… but who was he thinking about? He could not remember. His mind was wavering in and out of consciousness, not caring anymore about anything. All that mattered was the faint green glow that was filling his head….

“Come on, Ebley, we’re almost there.” It was Bowbridge’s voice that dragged him back from these thoughts and the very edge of reason.

Looking about him Ebley could see that they were close to the cave entrance and daylight. With the reappearance of the sun the grey figures ceased to be a threat and silently receded once more into the shadows. The Spoonwalkers, however, were a different matter. They, seemingly, had no fear of daylight and advanced upon him menacingly.

The shotgun barrel was blackened and the stock still hot in his hands. Ebley had no idea if it was still in working order or even likely to blow up in his face. There was no time to worry about such things.  Instinctively he raised the gun and aimed at the advancing creatures.

The report of the rifle was deafening in the confines of the cave. The cartridge ripped through the tide of Spoonwalkers and created pandemonium. This was something new. They squealed and fell back, unsure of what had occurred. Cutlery lay scattered on the floor of the cave. Bowbridge tossed Ebley his cartridge belt.

“Give ‘em another round,” he shouted.

Ebley loaded up and fired again. The horde retreated further into the depths of the cavern.

“One more for luck” he said and sent a shot echoing into the darkness. The result was unexpected. A torrent of stones began to rain from the roof of the far cavern, sealing off all means of immediate escape for the Spoonwalkers. Doubtless there were other ways out but for now, at least, the party was safe.

They emerged, blinking, into the daylight, now fully restored following the eclipse. Sebastian Lypiatt was massaging a sore leg while Isaac and Betty were struggling to help Joseph, bruised and shaken but otherwise unharmed, to his feet.

Ebley made to hand the shotgun back to Dorian Bowbridge but the young man shook his head.

“Keep it,” he said. “You’ve earned it. Besides…” he added with a rueful grin, “I’d be embarrassed to use any gun in public that looked like that.”

It was true. It would take no small amount of renovation to return the weapon to its former glory.

Ebley thanked him but knew it was never likely to be fired again. He would hang it over the fireplace as a reminder of his adventures in the caverns. The colonel would, doubtless, have approved.

 

A few days later Joseph ferried the two Englishmen back to the mainland, chastened, and not a little humbled, by their adventures on the island.

Betty Butterow, in her Selkie guise, had swum alongside the canoe, much to Joseph’s great delight. He felt quietly privileged that he alone was party to his lover’s secret.

As always, upon her return the Selkie retreated to her favourite rock where she basked awhile until she was able to shed her sealskin and become Betty once more.

The girl did not see the figure hiding among the rocks, watching as she transformed into her human form. Betty was quite naked and folding the sloughed off seal skin when a harsh, screeching voice startled her.

“Shapeshifter! Witch! You will not leave this place alive.”

She turned to see Reverend Crackstone, apoplectic with rage, brandishing his bible at her.

“How blind I have been,” he ranted. “I suspected on the day you were born that there was evil blood in your veins. I should have strangled you at birth, but no, I was weak and hoped I was wrong. Then last week, on the day of the eclipse, I didn’t go straight back to the Squid as I said I would. I followed you and saw you with the indian. Oh yes, I saw everything. He might not mind having a shapeshifter as his whore but you, witch, are an abomination in the sight of the Lord.”

Betty said nothing, listening patiently as the elderly parson continued his diatribe, his anger, by now, making him almost incoherent. She was well aware that he had never liked her. It was if twenty two long years of scarcely concealed hatred was boiling within him, like a volcano waiting to erupt.

He started throwing stones at her, wildly at first. She shied to get away from the onslaught but he was relentless, getting ever nearer and becoming totally insane with self-righteous fury.

Standing on a vantage point that was just above her, Crackstone picked up a large rock and hefted it above his head, intending to crush Betty’s skull.

Dimly, in her mind, she marvelled that he had the strength to do this.

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live..” he roared, resisting the temptation to follow it with ‘Exodus 22:18’ which, under other circumstances, he would have helpfully added.

It was then that the air seemed to hum as a huge shadow was cast across them. It was as though a second eclipse was about to take place.

The reverend’s stare became wide and fearful; Betty thought at first that the parson was smiling, then realised that what she saw was not a smile but a rictus of horror that transformed his face into a mask of sheer terror.

Two massive tentacles, grey-green and stippled with barnacles, rose from behind her and slipped themselves around Crackstone’s body, his arms still held aloft, holding the rock. Betty watched with horrified fascination as more suckered, tendril-like, appendages appeared, wrapping around the parson until he was completely enveloped by them. They writhed and slithered, twisting flesh and crushing bone, eventually rending and breaking the man into little more than so much jelly. Betty could not look and dared to turn her face towards whatever it was that had saved her.

Rising from the boiling waters, high as any hill, a huge cephalopod met her gaze with a sentient, mournful eye. She knew it meant her no harm.

A sonorous voice, deep and wild as the ocean, spoke softly in her head.

“The sea protects her own, Selkie. The sea protects her own”

Then it was gone, taking whatever was left of Reverend Crackstone with it. The waters churned as the mighty creature retreated. Only the harmless splash of the rock that was meant to kill her marked where it had been.

 

People disappear on Hopeless all of the time. It was assumed that Reverend Crackstone had been hastened on his journey to meet his maker by something unpleasant; either that or he fell into the sea, as no trace of him was ever found.

He was mourned by his wife and two sons but few others. Only Betty Butterow knew the truth. She wondered if she had encountered the mighty kraken itself. If this was so, she had no intention of telling anyone. After all, the sea protects her own.

Art by Clifford Cumber

Hopeless, Maine Horrorscopes

Hopeless Maine Horrorscopes

Virgo: September may have been the cruelest month for you. You will survive it, but you may wish you hadn’t.

Libra: You love balance, which is unfortunate because the next few weeks will see your life spinning out of control. You have an above average risk of dying in an improbable, work-related accident.

Scorpio: This month, an illicit love affair from your past may come back to haunt you. Quite possibly in a literal sort of way.

Sagittarius:  This month is all about love and money for you. Beware of anyone offering you gold, as their designs on your body may not be what you had hoped for. Turn down invitations to mysterious gatherings and offers of hairy coffee.

Capricorn: You are made of bad ideas at the moment, and are the single biggest threat to your own life until after the full moon. Then your immediate family and neighbors become your biggest death threat.

Aquarius: Now is a singularly bad time to do any serious digging. Best ignore what other people have gone to the trouble of burying, even if it is in your garden.

Pisces: You should learn a new skill this month. How to stitch wounds, detect poisonings and how to undertake an exorcism would all work well for you.

Aries: Don’t get too excited. If it looks promising now, it’s just lulling you into a false sense of security.

Taurus: The stars have aligned really badly for you this month. You may start to feel there’s just no point to anything – and you’d be right!

Gemini: Beware of falling trees, tall, dark haired men who lack for hats, and surprise chickens.

Cancer: Shipwreck foraging will lead to splinters in your hands, and these will go nasty and swell up and possibly kill you, and if not you, your social life.

Leo: Keep asking the awkward questions and you will eventually get to the truth, although you aren’t going to like the truth in the slightest.

 

Words by Nimue Brown

The Game of Spoons

There are few who can claim to have been kidnapped by a dead relative, albeit one aided and abetted by Spoonwalkers but Julian Thrupp had achieved just that. Even on the island of Hopelesss, Maine, this is a comparatively rare occurrence and of those selected for the privilege, none had yet returned. Fortunately, Julian was totally unaware of this nugget of information as he sat huddled in the corner of a dark cavern. Ignorance is indeed bliss, for had Julian realised that the very caves in which he was sitting were infested by all sorts of ghouls, ghosts and vampires, the abject terror he was now experiencing may have escalated sufficiently to reduce his already fragile mind to something possessing all of the mental agility of a semolina pudding. Luckily for Julian it was still daylight outside and Night-Stalkers are not called that because of their propensity for wandering around and enjoying the sunshine. Even a ghoul has to rest occasionally.

Julian had been dragged to the caverns by a horde of tiny men wearing metallic boots; at least, that is what he believed. To begin with he had been temporarily blinded by the flash that occurred when he reached for the wraith of his cousin, Tobias. The rest was something of a whirlwind adventure, and now he appreciated how a spider feels, being whisked up into a Hoover Company vacuum cleaner, a trick that Mrs Bellpitch, his arachnophobic housekeeper, was wonderfully adept at performing.

Once his sight had been restored Julian was only able to hear his captors; he  had made a point of squeezing his eyes tightly shut, for fear of what he might see. This probably saved his sanity, as a malevolent glance from even a single Spoonwalker can incite madness.

 

Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs squatted on his haunches and examined the ground carefully for signs. He had no idea what manner of signs he was supposed to be seeing but it seemed to satisfy his six companions. It annoyed him slightly that there was a general assumption that, being a full-blood Passamaquoddy Indian, he would have an instinctive ability to follow the faintest of tracks over rocky terrain. He had been a trader for all of his adult life and had little knowledge of, or interest in, a skill that would pay few dividends when haggling with the proprietors of the various Speakeasies that he supplied. Today, however, that did not matter. He was content to play the role of the Noble Savage, bring honour to his people and hopefully impress the rest of the search party, especially Betty Butterow.

He suddenly remembered something that he had seen in a Tom Mix motion picture, while once visiting The Strand Theatre in Portland. To the accompaniment of dramatic organ music, an Indian tracker – or at least the actor playing him – had pressed his ear to the ground and was apparently able to ascertain all sorts of vital information from whatever it was that he heard. It was worth a try. Getting down on all-fours, Joseph planted his ear to the cold rock. There was absolutely nothing to hear. There was, however, a teaspoon lying close by, hiding in a small cluster of diseased-looking grass and not visible to the others. Joseph nonchalantly slid his hand over the spoon, as if to steady himself. This was a clue worth following up.

“They went that way, “ he said, pointing his finger to a spot vaguely south of them.

Everyone looked at the direction in which he pointed and while they were distracted he quietly slipped the spoon into the buckskin bag slung over his shoulder.

There was a general murmur of appreciation and marvelling at his skills as a tracker. Joseph, who was usually as honest a man as you might wish to find, blushed a little but consoled himself with the knowledge that this small deception pleased his companions immensely; far more than if he had just said “Ooh look, I’ve found a spoon!” All he needed to do now was to keep his eyes open. There were bound to be more.

He was not wrong. He surreptitiously gathered up each discarded teaspoon along the way and continued the deception that he was following the faintest of tracks. All went well until they reached the crossroads. Joseph scanned the ground but it was worryingly cutlery-free. He had to admit defeat.

“The trail grows cold here,” he announced. “I think maybe that this is where the Spoonwalkers split up. I can’t tell which party took Julian.”

After some hurried deliberations it was decided that they should split into three groups. Joseph and Betty would take the  east, towards the sea and where Joseph’s canoe was moored; Ebley and Dorian the south, where the caverns lay, while Isaac and Sebastian would go west, towards the far shore. The Reverend Crackstone, almost seventy and not as agile as the others, would return to the Squid on the offchance that Julian had found his way back unaided.

 

Joseph and Betty stood on the rocks by the little sheltered cove where the trader had left his canoe. Human logic would play no part in deducing where the Spoonwalkers might have left the Englishman, so for want of a better plan they agreed to hunt for Julian among the network of inlets and shallows that marked the eastern shore. This was as good a place as any to begin.

Joseph was feeling pangs of guilt for deceiving the girl he had grown to love.

“I need to confess something that I have been concealing from you…”

“I could say the same” Betty smiled. “There is something you need to know about me – but you first.”

Sheepishly the Indian reached into the buckskin bag and pulled out a handful of teaspoons.

“I can’t track,” he admitted. “I just followed a trail of discarded spoons.”

Betty laughed. Joseph had the distinct impression that she already knew.

“Now my turn. Stay where you are, say nothing and watch,” she said and unfurled something resembling a grey rug that had been stowed in her knapsack, then started to strip off her clothes.

The two had secretly been lovers for some months and Betty had long stopped being shy in front of him but this was a new departure. Joseph looked around nervously, hoping no one was there to see.

When she was completely naked and her clothes safely stowed in the canoe, Betty draped the rug over her shoulders and stepped daintily over the rocks and into the sea. She shuddered as the icy cold water lashed around her legs.

Joseph found it disconcerting as he watched her descend deeper into the angry water. His instinct was to pull her back from this foolishness but trusting what she said he did as she had asked.

Betty had disappeared beneath the waves for longer than he liked. Deciding something had gone very wrong the Indian cursed himself for not having acted earlier and resolved to go in after her. He had only waded into the water for a few feet, however, when the surface was broken by a harbor seal. Joseph had seen this creature before on several occasions. It had often swum with his canoe during his trips to and from the island. The seal nuzzled his legs, then swam towards the canoe, obviously inviting him to follow. Then the truth dawned upon him and took his breath away. Joseph knew of shape-shifters but had not knowingly met one, that is until now. He had never suspected that Betty was a seal-woman and his secret guardian. Joseph knelt in the icy water and wrapped his arms around the seal’s strong body, buried his face in her fur and breathed in her musky, salty tang. For reasons he could not explain tears welled in his eyes. So many things suddenly now made sense.

 

Bill Ebley picked up a discarded teaspoon and his heart dropped. He and Dorian Bowbridge were standing in the yawning gash that marked the entrance to the caverns. They peered into the dark depths with some trepidation. Ebley recalled Colonel Ruscombe-Green’s experience when they first landed on the island. He had been dragged into the caverns by a ghoul and only escaped with his life when Elmer Bussage, the Night Soil Man at the time, arrived waving a flaming brand, keeping the Night-Stalkers at bay. Ebley related the events to Bowbridge, who tipped back his pith helmet thoughtfully.

“We could take some combustible material into the caves with us,” he suggested, “but do we have the means to light it?”

Ebley fumbled in his jacket pocket and produced a box of matches.

“As long as we find Mr Thrupp while it’s still daylight we should be fine. Just in case though, I’ve still got a few of the lucifers left that Joseph brought over.” ‘Lucifer’ was soldier slang for a match  and still very much a part of Ebley’s vocabulary.

“Splendid- and I have an electric torch in my knapsack which we can use to find our way,” declared Bowbridge, then added, “but what will we use as fuel for the flames?”

Ebley looked about him. All was barren rock as far as the eye could see.

“We’ll have to make the best of what we’ve got. I hope you packed some spare clothing.”

Bowbridge looked aghast at the thought of them burning their clothing.

“Let’s get this over with,” he said, slipping his shotgun from his shoulder. With that the two men made their way into the dark heart of the caverns.

 

The Lypiatts had drawn a total blank. There had been no sign of Julian Thrupp on the western shore and if he was somewhere out on the ocean they had no way of getting to him. The sea-fog was rolling inland and getting thicker by the minute. Sebastian decided that their best course of action would be to return to the crossroads and wait for the others.

They had been there for little more than fifteen minutes before Joseph and Betty arrived. They too had been defeated by the sea fog.

Sebastian looked at Joseph. The man looked soaked to the skin, as if he had fallen out of his canoe.

“Did you find any more spoons along the way?” He asked

“No. You?” Joseph was not one to waste words.

Sebastian shook his head.

“It looks as though they’ve  taken him to the caverns.”

The Indian’s face was grim, but he said nothing.

Suddenly Betty blurted out,

“Does anyone else think it’s getting dark?”

The four of them cast their eyes towards the skies.

“What’s the date today?” asked Joseph uneasily.

Betty knew that tone to his voice and it

worried her.

“June the twenty-ninth. Why?”

“It’s been in all of the papers on the mainland. Today there will be a total eclipse of the sun. For a while there will be absolute darkness” replied Joseph, “which means…”

The four looked at each other. It was Isaac who broke the silence.

“Even in the deepest caverns the Night-Stalkers will wake; they will know that there is no sunlight. It’s happened before… Bill and Mr Bowbridge are in a lot of trouble!”

“So are we,” said Betty. Just a few yards away, some unseen creature effortlessly shifted the large rock that concealed its lair. The friends stood aghast as three long and many-suckered tentacles slithered ominously towards them in the dying light…

 

To be continued…

Art by Tom Brown

Visitors

Almost two years had elapsed since Colonel Ruscombe-Green had left Hopeless, seeking adventure on the North American continent. He had been as good as his word and regularly corresponded with his friend and former batman, then later, valet, Bill Ebley via the Passamaquoddy trader, Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs. The five hundred dollars that Ruscombe-Green had donated to the island had long ago run out and Joseph, with no extra cargo to ferry, was once more visiting Hopeless just twice a year. Any letters between Ebley and the Colonel, therefore, were wildly out of date before they were received but it mattered little. The two had faced a lot together and were loathe to lose all contact with each other.

Ebley was surprised that the latest missive, dated just three months earlier, had an English postmark and the king’s head on the stamps. This was quite unexpected and Ebley opened the letter with some trepidation, wondering what events were serious enough to have led the colonel to return to Britain.

 

My Dear Ebley,

I trust Mrs Ebley, young Mildred and your good self are in the very best of health. I was delighted to hear that you had become a parent. Not before time, either, may I say. I am sure you will make an excellent father.  My heartiest congratulations to you both. No doubt by the time you read this letter Mildred will be almost a year old and leading you a merry dance.

You were probably surprised to read the postmark on the envelope. I currently find myself deep in the English countryside, somewhat strangely at the behest of an American millionaire. While in Connecticut last year, a fellow Mason – an architect who went by the unlikely name of Archway – introduced me to a somewhat eccentric cove who has dreams of living in a genuine English manor house. He is after somewhere that can be totally dismantled and shipped in crates and on pallets to the port of New Haven, Connecticut. Personally, I think the man has more money than sense but he gave me the job of finding such a place and is paying me handsomely for my trouble. After no little amount of research I discovered a suitable candidate in the Cotswolds, a fairly modest Jacobean Manor called Oxlynch Hall. The current owners had been assailed by death duty and forced to sell. In order that the transfer of deeds etc. may be facilitated with the minimum of difficulty, I am working with a local firm of solicitors, Bowbridge, Bisley and Thrupp. As I will be residing within the area for the foreseeable future all correspondence for me may now be directed through them.

Interestingly, while in conversation with the junior partner, Julian Thrupp, I mentioned that I had spent some years on Hopeless. To my surprise he knew of the place and was convinced that he has, or had, a relative living on the island. While this seems doubtful, I seemed to have fired his imagination for Thrupp now seems quite determined to visit Hopeless, despite my dire warnings that the place is not entirely safe (I didn’t go into any great detail or, by now, I doubtless would be writing to you from a padded cell). His one concession to my concerns was, for safety reasons, to travel with a companion. In this he will be joined by the senior partner’s young nephew, Dorian Bowbridge. I do not doubt that Joseph will provide their means of ingress to the island and in view of this will be probably making a special trip, outside of his normal routine. I will grateful if you will alert Sebastian at ‘The Squid’ of their forthcoming arrival, which is most likely to be in the summer of 1927. Tell Betty not to flirt too much with young Bowbridge or I will become extremely jealous.

I hope all goes well for you and your little family, my dear chap. You are all always in my thoughts.

 

Yours Sincerely

 

J W Ruscombe-Green (Col.)

 

The brace of Englishmen who arrived on the island cut strange figures indeed. The older man, Thrupp, stepped from the canoe unsteadily. With his city suit, bowler hat and briefcase the solicitor looked as though he was bound for Wall Street rather than a wild Atlantic island. His companion, on the other hand, appeared to have chosen apparel inspired by an H. Rider Haggard novel. Resplendent in a military-style pith helmet, complete with tinted goggles, a khaki safari suit, cravat and riding boots he cut a dashing, if eccentric, figure. The whole Big Game Hunter look was completed with a rifle slung casually over his shoulder. This was no ordinary weapon though; it was a horribly expensive James Purdey 12 bore shotgun, with a beautiful stock of close-grained French walnut, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Sadly, no one on Hopeless would have been remotely impressed with this extravagant accessory, mainly because there was no big game to hunt on the island. Unless, of course, you counted the kraken, which was bigger – much bigger – than most folks’ concept of big. It was a creature comfortably able to bat off a Howitzer shell as if it were a mosquito and would not even notice a hundred shotgun cartridges.

A bemused Joseph led the two gentlemen to the Squid and Teapot where they were welcomed by Sebastian Lypiatt. After being shown to their rooms the duo decided to get down to business straight away and made enquiries about Thrupp’s long lost relative. Although honest to a fault, Sebastian was reluctant to be drawn on the subject, having been the last person to see Tobias Thrupp alive. The circumstances of their brief relationship, some twenty two years previously, consisted of Sebastian, a relative newcomer to Hopeless, forcibly ejecting the odious Tobias from Madame Evadne’s, an establishment in which he had long caused nothing but misery and no small amount of terror. Thrupp’s fate, thereafter, was something of a mystery. He had not, however, been a particularly popular man and little effort had been expended in searching for him. These days few people even remembered the man.

 

While mortal men may have fallible memories, there are those on Hopeless who do not. The creatures known as Spoonwalkers see all and forget nothing. I cannot pretend to know their lifecycle or longevity but, in the way that ants are said to possess a group consciousness, I truly believe that Spoonwalkers are similar.They are certainly more than small and inconvenient creatures that steal cutlery. When necessity dictates they will act in unison to further their own dubious ends. Are they telepathic? I think so.

 

There was a distinct rustle of activity on Hopeless after nightfall, as if dozens, maybe hundreds of creatures moved unseen in the darkness. Tiny scrapes of metal, taps of wood, squeaks, cackles and whispers filled the deserted streets as a diminutive and unseen army made its way through the town, past the old graveyard and the bridge, towards the vast, haunted caverns that are said to honeycomb the island. Even Randall Middlestreet, the Night Soil Man, stayed far away from their relentless march, well aware that his usual defences would not keep such a horde at bay.

 

Tobias Thrupp had spent his final years captive in those caverns, eventually bled to a husk and feasted upon by ghouls and vampires, until his body was gone and only his wraith remained. Even then there was no respite from the torment, as nameless creatures of the deepest pit harrowed his very soul. This night he wandered the dark bowels of island wailing and screeching in anguish, writhing beneath the relentless agony. In what was left of the shredded remnants of his consciousness he wondered dimly if he was in Hell. There was no one around to tell him that this was not so. He was still very much in the caverns of Hopeless, Maine. That was where the Spoonwalkers found him.

 

Maybe it was their glowing, madness inducing eyes that drew him out. Maybe not. Whatever the catalyst, some strange, wordless force dragged the sorry wraith into the purple night on an eerie tide of malevolent Spoonwalkers, chattering and swarming around his faintly iridescent shade. On they marched through the town and over the headland to the cove where the lights of The Squid and Teapot shone their welcome to the weary traveller. Tobias Thrupp knew this place well; he had once been its landlord. Although dim embers of recognition glowed in his tortured soul, something else began tugging at him, something stronger than memory. As one, the Spoonwalkers ceased their march and the wraith drifted free of them and into the building. The pull was stronger now. There was no resisting it even if he was able to.

 

Julian Thrupp and Reverend Crackstone were up late. They sat in the snug of the otherwise sleeping inn enjoying a pipe or two of the excellent tobacco that Thrupp had thoughtfully brought and savouring a few glasses of Gannicox Special Distillation. Young Bowbridge had retired early, eagerly looking forward to exploring the island the following day.

Crackstone had sought Thrupp out for two reasons; first and foremost he desired news of his beloved Cotswolds. Newly ordained, he had left England almost forty five years earlier, to teach for a year in the University of New Brunswick. When his ship, ‘The City of Portland’ capsized he and just four others found themselves washed-up on Hopeless. He decided that this was God’s will and here he must remain. Little did he know that all of the other passengers on the ship were rescued without further incident and were quickly able to pick up the threads of their old lives.

Crackstone’s other reason for speaking to Thrupp was to apprise him, in very plain terms, of the character of his relative. The reverend thought it only fair; doubtless rumour of Sebastian’s part in Tobias’ downfall would eventually come to light and the parson wanted to set the record straight before then. He remembered well the grief Tobias Thrupp had caused and the way in which he had allowed The Squid and Teapot to descend into squalor.

Before he had chance to broach the subject, however, there was a disturbance outside, sounds of clinking and shuffling, squeals and whispers. Crackstone had heard this before and a chill ran down his spine. Suddenly the temperature in the room seemed to plummet. Julian Thrupp screamed and pointed to the corner, where a faint, flickering luminescence had appeared. Before either man could move a muscle the uncanny light had taken an almost human form, though pale and semi-opaque, guttering like a spent candle.

“Good Lord,” uttered Crackstone, in recognition, “Tobias Thrupp!”

The wraith seemed to reach out to its relative, mouthing wordlessly.

“He wants my help” Julian said, his voice shaking.

“No, pay no heed,” warned the reverend. “This is some devilish trick. This island is full of such evil.”

The wraith was beckoning now, as if urging Julian to follow.

“I must see what it wants.” insisted the solicitor and lunged towards the spectre.

As he did so the room seemed to explode with light. Crackstone was knocked back, his chair toppling to the ground. Then, without warning, the room was returned to normality. The reverend sat on the floor, dazed, looking around in confusion.

Julian Thrupp was gone.

 

Sebastian and his son, Isaac, were on the scene immediately, closely followed by Dorian Bowbridge, now sporting a full-length, crimson silk dressing gown.

Crackstone told them as much as he could remember and described the disturbance outside that had seemed to have precipitated the manifestation.

Isaac and Sebastian looked at each other.

“Spoonwalkers!” They said the word together.

Dorian looked confused. Their explanation did little to lessen his bewilderment.

After a certain amount of soul searching they decided that there was little they could safely do before daylight, which was still some hours away.

 

It was early light when the four men gathered outside The Squid and Teapot. Standing next to the Lypiatts was Crackstone, who carried a bible. Next to him was Bowbridge, ready with his shotgun. As they walked through the mist, others joined them. Word moves quickly on Hopeless. Bill Ebley, who had survived the Battle of the Somme, answered the call, as did Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs. By some unaccountable coincidence Betty Butterow came from the same direction and skipped along by his side.

The seven stood on the headland as dawn broke over Hopeless, etching them in silhouette against the skyline. They looked magnificent.

 

To be continued…

Art by Clifford Cumber

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.