Scilly Point

As has been mentioned previously in ‘The Vendetta’, towards the close of the nineteenth century, two Norwegian-born Americans, Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo, successfully rowed across the Atlantic. Setting off from New York they made landfall on The Isles of Scilly, just fifty five days later.

Although the achievement was not widely reported, the news eventually reached Hopeless, Maine some fifteen years after the event, via a large piece of flotsam. This was washed ashore in the shape of a tea chest, in which a few old newspapers had been unsuccessfully used to protect some rather expensive crockery.

 

There are several families living on Hopeless who are able to trace their ancestry back for more than nine centuries. These are the descendants of British slaves, transported here when Vikings settled on the island. At some point, in the last two hundred years, one such family, who had for generations been known as Mearthelinga, updated their name to Marling. While the name Marling is far easier to pronounce and spell than Mearthelinga, Mr. Cyril Marling always regretted his ancestors’ decision. Instead of some proud Anglo-Saxon moniker that might have shaped his destiny in a completely different way, he had been gifted, instead, with a name that reminded him of a fish. Admittedly, a marlin tends to be a large and somewhat formidable creature but when all is said and done, it is still a fish. Then there was the matter of his first name….

Throughout his life Mr. Marling had found that to be called ‘Cyril’ had always been something of a bully-magnet. It somehow indicated its bearer to be mild-mannered, studious and bespectacled, although Cyril Marling was none of these things. And so, when his sons were born, he turned a deaf ear to his wife’s protestations and decided that they would be given names to live up to. His boys would proudly bear the appellations of great explorers, then maybe they could make their mark upon the world.  Sadly, like so many others on Hopeless, Mr and Mrs Marling disappeared under mysterious circumstances before they had chance to see their boys grow up.

It was, therefore, the dismal fate of little Humboldt Marling and his younger brother, Magellan, to one day find their young selves languishing in the boys’ dormitory of the Pallid Rock Orphanage.

 

Unsurprisingly, the Marling boys fared no better with the bullies than had their father. What Cyril had failed to realise was that bullies the world over will latch on to whatever is available in order to bestow pain and derision upon their victims – and let’s face it, the names Humboldt and Magellan are quite substantial somethings upon which to latch. It is little wonder, therefore, that the boys looked only to each other for companionship, eventually becoming painfully and resolutely reclusive. As soon as they were old enough to take care of themselves they fled the orphanage and sought shelter as far away from its grim walls as was possible.

 

Due to the aforementioned phenomena of disappearing adults, Hopeless has many abandoned buildings littering its coastline, all in various states of disrepair. The Marling brothers’ chosen abode was an elderly, tumbledown, shack that squatted precariously on a headland, overlooking a sheltered cove. Although its best days were far behind it, the shack looked reasonably habitable if you held your head to one side and squinted. Once they had evicted the puddle rats that had taken up residence and boarded up the windows, the old place felt almost comfortable.

 

The boys were in their teens when the tea-chest arrived on their shore. With a great deal of excitement they prised open its top, only be disappointed with the contents. They had hoped for food, or at least something to barter at The Squid and Teapot. The landlord, Sebastian Lypiatt, could always be relied upon to give them a good deal but today not even Sebastian could have helped. The tea-chest contained nothing but old, crumpled-up newspapers and the ruined pieces of china that those inky pages were supposed to have saved from breaking. Despondent, the boys smashed up the chest for firewood and put aside the paper to help ignite it when the winter came.

 

Winter did come with a vengeance, at the close of 1911. The two were glad of the driftwood and kindling that they had gathered. It crackled and spat in their leaky little stove but served to keep them warm during that chilly December.

It was one morning, just after Christmas, that Humboldt was making firelighters from his supply of old newspapers, when he spotted the article concerning the Atlantic oarsmen, Samuelsen and Harbo. He read with wonder about the two intrepid adventurers who had taken a rowing boat from New York to somewhere called the Isles of Scilly, in England. Humboldt had no idea how far away England was, or how difficult such a venture might be but his imagination was immediately fired with an unquenchable enthusiasm. It took little effort to infect his brother with a similar passion and there and then the two resolved to emulate the feat of Samuelsen and Harbo and leave Hopeless forever, living up to the explorers’ names that their parents had bestowed upon them.

 

“Of course,” said Humboldt,  “we’ll have to wait until spring but that’s fine as there will be many preparations to be made. We will need provisions for the voyage. I guess at least one change of underwear each as well. The weather might get bad so probably some rudimentary shelter for us on the boat…”  His voice trailed off and his face fell. In his haste he had forgotten the, not inconsiderable, matter of not actually having a boat in which to make the trip. Then he brightened.

“April is four months away. That’ll be plenty if time for us to get hold of a boat.”

 

It seems to me, in unearthing these tales, that on Hopeless, Maine the old adage about being careful what you wish for is worryingly apt. I may be being fanciful here but I sometimes get the idea that the island – or something connected to it – is listening, making notes and taking a certain malevolent glee in granting wishes.

 

Humboldt and Magellan were thrilled but not particularly surprised, when, on one foggy morning in early April, an unmanned rowing boat appeared in their cove. There was a heavy yellow tarpaulin and a coil of rope neatly stowed under one of its seats and two pairs of oars lying along its length. Where it came from was a mystery that the boys had no wish to solve. Here was their passage to England, which lay somewhere to the east. By rowing in the direction of the rising sun they would be certain to reach their destination. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Before leaving, Humboldt fashioned a rough sign, which he hammered into the ground. Their cove, which had never been specifically named, had now become ‘Scilly Point’ in honour of their intended destination, and Scilly Point has been its name ever since.

 

Things did not go quite as planned for our brave explorers. The Atlantic ocean, which they had only ever glimpsed through a foggy haze, was far rougher and less predictable than either had expected. After only only a few days out they had become hopelessly lost, totally at the mercy of the wind and waves and surrounded by sea-ice. Had they known it, they were wildly off course and floundering about four hundred miles south of Newfoundland. Things were not looking good. The boys huddled together in the bottom of their little rowing boat, frightened and exhausted in the darkness,and fearing the worst.

 

At the orphanage, Reverend Crackstone had often told the children that righteous souls need not fear death, but when the time came, the Angel Gabriel himself would ferry them to heaven in a great chariot of fire. In view of this, Humboldt and Magellan felt no surprise when the stygian darkness that had surrounded them was banished by a great beam of light, brighter than either had ever seen. They felt a certain degree of apprehension, however, when Gabriel hailed them in a nasal, Liverpudlian accent,

“Ahoy there, you young buggers. Are you coming aboard or do you want to stay there all night?”

They peered out, only to be dazzled by the beam of a spotlight. A boat had pulled up close by – a tender from a cruise liner – and rough hands pulled the two to safety. Within half an hour they were huddled aboard the liner, wrapped in blankets and drinking hot cocoa, which neither had tasted before. It was then that an important-looking man in an impressive nautical uniform came up to them. To their relief he smiled.

“ It is not every day that one has the privilege of rescuing such brave young adventurers from death,” he said, kindly. The gilding on the peak of his cap glittered in the cheerful lights of the upper-deck where a small orchestra was playing popular tunes of the day.

“Don’t worry, chaps, we’ll have you safely back on American soil in a couple of days,” he said reassuringly. The sailor turned to leave, then checked himself, stopping abruptly.

“I do beg your pardon, you must think me very rude,” he said apologetically. “Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Captain Edward Smith of The White Star Line. It gives me great pleasure to officially welcome you aboard my ship, the R.M.S. Titanic.”

Art by Tom Brown

 

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Mrs Beaten and the giant oceanic gnii

Mrs Beaten is strangely quiet. She hasn’t put up a single judgmental poster in more than a week. Has she fallen ill? Was she kidnapped? Or does it have something to do with the giant oceanic gnii?

Has she been silenced in favour of more exciting news? Would you be perfectly happy if that were true?

Back when Hopeless, Maine had an economy, and seaweed was not the primary content of everyone’s diets, the wealth of the island was due to giant oceanic gnii. Hopeless was on the migratory route of these amazing creatures. As a consequence traps were laid and a refinery built, and the oil and the money rolled in.

The giant oceanic gnii stopped coming after a while. Some thought they had become extinct, others that the clever beasties had simply learned to avoid the nets. Either way, no one has seen a giant gnii in a long time.

And yet this image is clear evidence that one has been by – there’s no other way of getting that sort of a view, and the tentacles and lamps are highly suggestive.

If you’ve seen the giant oceanic gnii and want to send in a report, please do!

The Blind Poet continued

In anticipation with the misty aura precipitation falling on the wet cobbled streets,
footsteps echo, echo.
The blind poet’s back straightens; shoulders awkwardly flex, fingers and fist clench with intense momentary anxiety around the long black cane. Will it ever be the same?
Ten years is a long time to wait, sit, think and debate with fading colours of her midnight black hair.
From the homeland he remembers too painfully a saying –
No man is an island
Except for the Isle of Man.
Will he know how to talk to her?
Can smiles run together?
A grin starts to fill his wet stubble skin, and then within seconds the echoes vanish.
No trace, no return, no smiles.
Silence
Damp, cold, empty, nothing.
She could light up a room on arrival,
turn a glance to a gaze, thousand yards of staring bearing all beauty can behold
with confidence many never possess.
He was hooked, drawn in and now many full moons later gutted,
sitting alone in the mist and rain on the harbour side of Hopeless Maine.

 

 

Words by Gary Death

Art by Tom and Nimue Brown.

Counting Crows

For this tale we re-visit Hopeless as it was in the days when young Randall Middlestreet was the island’s Night-Soil Man…

It was almost midnight when Clarence Coaley and his younger brother, Cuthbert slipped out of the orphanage. Since Reverend Crackstone’s disappearance the place had become intolerable. Crackstone had been strict in the extreme – some would say even brutal – but with his going no one bothered preventing the bullies from having their own way any more. It had reached the point where the need to escape far outweighed the risks of wandering the island during the hours of darkness. Besides, Clarence knew of a secret cave; he was sure it would be the perfect place for them to hide.


Although Hopeless is not a particularly large island, there are plenty of places where anyone intent on staying hidden can do so with very little effort. What serves to concentrate the mind, however, is the need to avoid being eaten, maimed, driven mad or transformed into something rather disgusting. It is a safe bet that if you have found a dark and secluded place you are probably not alone. On this island, dark and secluded places are a favourite haunt of the sort of creatures someone might reasonably expect to encounter in their darkest nightmares.


A grey and sickly dawn was trying listlessly to illuminate the mouth of the cave, when Clarence heard, coming from somewhere outside, the ominous clanking of cutlery on the move. Alarm bells immediately rang in his head. Peering out, it did not overtax his powers of deduction when several pairs of ghastly green orbs appeared not more than a dozen yards away. This was a spoonwalker raiding party, returning home after a hard night of larceny.

By now both boys were wide awake and wasted no time in removing themselves out of the situation, leaving behind the few belongings they had brought from the orphanage. Unfortunately we will never know the spoonwalkers’ thoughts on discovering, on the floor of their lair, a bag containing a cold starry-grabby pie, two changes of underwear and a risque magazine.


Randall Middlestreet had almost completed his round. This was his favourite part of the day, with his work done and a chance to sit down and watch the sun, yet again, fail to fight its way through the fog. Suddenly, a movement, about a hundred yards or so to his left, grabbed the Night-Soil Man’s attention. Two figures – boys, by the look of them – emerged from a cleft in the rocks and appeared to be heading towards the Gydynaps. Randall guessed that they had run away from the orphanage. Why they would want to go clambering up the hills so early in the morning, however, was beyond him. He pondered whether or no to follow but thought better of it. At this hour the night-stalkers would be safely tucked up in their beds, so they would be no problem. The boys will be fine, Randall told himself. He yawned, hoisted up his bucket and struck out for home.


The Gydynap Hills had always been out-of-bounds for the children of the orphanage. It was not that they were any more dangerous than any other part of the island, or even forbidden because of their reputation for weirdness. If the truth is to be told, it would have been terribly inconvenient and too much trouble if the adults in charge of the orphanage had been required to traipse around the Gydynaps looking for stray orphans. This of course made the hills very attractive to absconders such as Clarence and Cuthbert.


Had it been visible, the sun would have been seen to be high in the sky when the boys spotted the cabin. The pair were tired, hungry and beginning to regret their decision to leave the relative security of the orphanage. They could hardly believe their luck; it would surely take an ice-cold heart to turn away two frightened little waifs. This is what they believed, at least but they were deluding themselves. They were, in fact, a pair of sweaty, sly-looking, lanky adolescents sprouting hair and acne who would probably have elicited about as much sympathy as a brace of diseased puddle rats.


Clarence knocked on the cabin door, timidly at first. When no response was forthcoming he banged harder. The door swung open invitingly, revealing a cosy-looking room inside.

The boys wandered in and immediately felt at home. There was a pot of coffee on the stove and a table laid for two. Despite this, no one appeared to be in.

It did not take long for the brothers to set about exploring, hoping to find something to eat.

It was with a gasp of delight that Clarence discovered small larder that contained a greater variety of food than he had ever seen. The provender supplied by the orphanage was bland and spare but here was stored all sorts of wonderful things. On a cold, stone shelf sat the most mouthwatering array of cheese, butter and cold meats. Yet another shelf held a ceramic crock filled with soft, white bread. Further investigation revealed biscuits, candy, a baking tray laden with fresh cakes and a big bottle of soda-pop. This was marvellous!

As has often been said, the island exists on that which the sea provides, by and large. These were the sort of delights that few on Hopeless would ever dream of tasting.

Meanwhile Cuthbert, who was slightly less worldly than his brother, had his interest whetted by a small desk near the window. It was strewn with paints, brushes, charcoal and various drawing implements, all tools of an artist’s trade.

‘So, this is who owns the cabin,’ said Cuthbert to himself.

On the desk was a watercolour sketchbook. Cuthbert opened it to the first page, which depicted a decrepit looking crow; it had ragged feathers and sad eyes. The caption above it said: ‘One for sorrow’.

On the following page the decrepit crow was joined by a younger, jauntier looking bird. This page was headed with the words ‘Two for joy’.

“Put that down and help me get some of this grub out,” yelled Clarence.

Cuthbert reluctantly left the book and joined his brother.

“This isn’t right,” he said.

Clarence snorted derisively.

“They’ve got plenty and we’re hungry.Seems fair to me.”

“I didn’t mean that,” said Cuthbert. “This is more than weird. People don’t eat as well as this on Hopeless. There’s something strange going on here.”

“Worry about it after we’ve eaten,” said Clarence, tucking into a large hunk of bread, thick with butter.

Cuthbert felt uneasy but told himself he was being a fool.

“Pass the butter…” he said.


Randall Middlestreet had not slept well; his conscience had been giving him a bad time. Despite reminding himself that the two boys were not his problem, a nagging voice in his head told him otherwise and gave him no rest.

“You should have stopped them – or at least followed,” it admonished.

In the end, Randall made a deal with his conscience. He would deviate from his planned route that evening and go to the Gydynaps to check on them, before he did anything else.


By the time Randall had reached the summit, the first shades of night were drawing in. He had searched every cave and hollow on the way up without success. The boys were nowhere to be found.

“Maybe they returned to the orphanage,” he thought but without much hope that this was, indeed, the case. Having once been an orphan himself, he knew that there was little incentive to return. He lit his lantern and turned to make his way back down the hill, when he noticed the cabin. It was almost hidden between the rocks, just a few yards from the track.

Randall wandered over, hoping the boys had sought shelter there. If they had it would have been cold comfort. The front door was hanging off its hinges and the windows were broken. Grass was growing through the floorboards.

Randall raised his lantern and cast his eyes around the tiny room. There was no sign of them here; only broken, rotting furniture, shattered crockery and puddle rat droppings. Then something caught his eye.  Lying on the ground, amid all of the filth and decay, was a book. It had no sign of mould or water damage and looked as though it had been placed there that very day. Randall leant down and examined a few of the pages, which seemed to be filled with paintings of crows. There was little in it to interest him. He flipped through to the last page. Seven crows stood in a line. The first was old and decrepit. Then his eye was drawn to the two birds on the far right of the page. They were smaller than the others, cowering, with their wings wrapping around each other as if in terror. There was a caption at the head of the page. Randall did not read much these days. He held up his lantern, struggling to make out the words.

‘Seven for a secret never to be told’

Art by Tom Brown

The Blind Poet

The Blind Poet
Hopeless, Maine
If only you could see it.
Through the mist bursts forth the ferry’s bow.
No flicker of a smile, without hesitation or concern he steps confidently ashore.
The Blind Poet has arrived.
Carving visual thoughts through orange glowing streets he pauses to reflect on heady days of old.
The gambling, the addiction all now conflicting into each stride taken in this new location.
The black cane, the stick a weapon or an aid to defend or project for safety or status.
All of these are debatable.
He trusts no-one.

Once well-read ‘til his eyes swelled and bled, those secrets kept deep within his head – tilts to listen for footsteps on the wet cobbled stones….he waits for news.
Memory holds many chambers of hope, love, regrets and pain.
He knows that her beauty will never be seen again.
But maybe…
The voice a touch can rekindle a flame on this misty evening in Hopeless, Maine.

Galleries of oil paintings, landscapes of old forest trees.
Sitting viewing, holding hands.
All spin through his ageing head.
The good days the easy times.
Thoughts of warmth wrap themselves around him tonight in the lampposts’ glow.
A seagull cry breaks the silence and thoughts of the past.
Echoes of steps drawing nearer and nearer fill the quay side street.

Words by Gary Death

Art by Tom and Nimue Brown.

To be continued.

 

Bog-Oak and Brass

You will recall that the Necromancer, T’Abram Spitch, had conjured the ghost of Lars Pedersen, in the mistaken belief that, during his lifetime, The Woeful Dane had hidden a horde of silver somewhere upon the island. Although the wraith was helpless to resist T’Abram’s commands, the fact that no such treasure existed gave him the freedom to lead the necromancer to a place where something entirely different had been buried; something that had been there for many centuries and was never meant to be released again.


T’Abram Spitch was tired beyond belief. For more than a week he had toiled, moving rocks and boulders in an attempt to find the Viking treasure. The ground was hard and unforgiving, reluctant to yield to the simple tools that he had stolen from the people who lived in the shadow of the Gydynap Hills. At last, after much toil, many blisters and the occasional profanity, the necromancer had unearthed his prize. Standing in a crater of his own making, deeper than he was tall, T’Abram surveyed the fruit of his labour. It was a medium-sized chest of bog oak, bound with bands of brass.

If T’Abram had thought that his work was over, he was very much mistaken. The apparently easy task of cracking open the chest proved to be a greater problem than he had anticipated. Despite attacking the box with every pilfered tool at his disposal, it remained stubbornly sealed. A succession of blows with a hammer, a pick-axe and, in frustrated desperation, his boot, left no mark upon the wood or brass. Despondent at the end of a disappointing day, he covered the hole with foliage and returned to his lodgings, at the strangely named inn, ‘The Swætan Tæppere’ (‘The Sweaty Tapster’).

The necromancer lay in his bed, exhausted but unable to sleep, troubled by thoughts of failure. It must have been a very precious treasure indeed for the Viking to have gone to such lengths to secure it. He racked his brain to think of ways of opening the chest. Being a man who had studied widely, T’Abram was aware that gunpowder might do the trick. As a student he had been required to read Friar Roger Bacon’s ‘Opus Maius’ and although written some three centuries earlier, the book was precise in its instructions as to how the explosive might be made.

“What was it that Bacon had written about the composition of gunpowder?” T’Abram asked himself, out loud.

“Ah yes… I remember. Willow charcoal, sulphur and… something else… saltpeter! That was it. That is the answer.”

He sat up in bed, elated. Gunpowder will definitely blast the box open. Then his mood changed abruptly when the realisation dawned upon him that he had no means of procuring any of these ingredients. He flopped back down and buried his face in the hard pillow, totally defeated. At last, just before dawn, sleep overcame him and with sleep came clarity.


The answer had to be magic!

Only magic could have sealed the chest so securely and only magic could open it.

What a fool he had been.

Suddenly his eye was drawn to the staff, resting against the wall in the corner of the room. The sigils carved along its length had once more started to glow, as they did when he conjured the wraith of Lars Pedersen.

So, magic it was to be, then. It was time to finish the work that he had started.


The brass-bound chest lay where he had left it. It looked innocent enough but T’Abram knew that it must contain something more than mere silver: he dare not imagine the vast wealth that lay within those dark, wooden walls.


Although a chilly, freshening wind blew from the sea, T’Abram was sweating profusely. It had been no easy task to drag the chest out of the crater; the effort of will and concentration needed to precisely incant the spells required to open it left him weak.

An audible groan emanated from the box as each uttered cantrip gradually loosened the tightly bound bonds that had served to constrict it for countless centuries. The sigils on his staff burned now with a new intensity.

He hoped it was his tired eyes playing tricks but T’Abram was convinced that the rock-hard bog-oak heaved and shifted like mere cloth as the spells gradually took effect. Suddenly, with a great sigh, the chest gave a final shudder and the bands of brass burst with a huge bang. They spun off in all directions, one narrowly missing the necromancer’s head and burying itself in a nearby tree. Filled now with a mixture of excitement and apprehension, T’Abram peered into the depths of the newly-opened chest to see what manner of treasure – if treasure it was – he had unlocked.


There appeared to be something wrapped in a fleece of some description. Or maybe the fleece was the treasure? From the dimmest recesses of his mind T’Abram dredged up the memory of an ancient tale that he had heard as a child. It told of a hero who set out to find a fleece made of pure gold. Could this be it? Had he discovered the legendary Golden Fleece? His heart raced. Gingerly he reached into the chest.

Having spent much of his adult life consorting with the spirits of the dead, T’Abram Spitch was confident that there was nothing left in the world that could surprise him. It just shows how wrong you can be. Life is nothing, if not full of surprises, even for a magician.

The moment his fingers brushed, what he fondly imagined to be, the fleece, it suddenly acquired a pair of lurid, glowing eyes that glared at T’Abram with something that fell far short of affection. He recoiled with horror and with a whimper jumped back a full and athletic six feet.

With a series of guttral groans the ‘fleece’ began to move, to expand and blink in the daylight. Through a tangle of hair a face appeared, not quite human but not quite bestial either. It looked somewhat bemused. The glowing orbs of eyes regarded the necromancer fiercely. To T’Abram’s horror a pair of hairy legs appeared over the side of the chest and gaining leverage, eased the creature out to freedom. T’Abram remembered his own legs and retreated to what he hoped was a place of safety.


Discovering that his treasure was an, apparently, living creature of some description had come as a shock. This, however, was as nothing compared to the revelation that followed. The beast that stood before the startled necromancer was terrifying… and weird, to say the very least.


Imagine, if you will, a lion. That was easy, wasn’t it? It gets a bit trickier now, though. Imagine that the lion has some almost human characteristics to its face. And that it has five – yes FIVE – totally leonine legs, except that these legs did not end in paws but in hooves. Cloven hooves. Oh, and there was one other thing… this lion-like creature – which for ease of description I will call a demon – has no body, just a head from which its five legs radiate like the spokes of a wheel. You can surely see why T’Abram was feeling somewhat unsettled by all of this. Things are to get even stranger, however. The demon was at least a dozen feet tall, dwarfing both the necromancer and the bog-oak chest in which it had been impossibly imprisoned. T’Abram stood stock still, processing the details of the figure that stood before him, by now on the opposite side of the crater. The necromancer was forcing his brain to accept its strangeness as something perfectly normal. Then the demon moved and T’Abram Spitch screamed.

It advanced towards him, propelling itself like a wheel but as its legs went round the head was a hub that stayed perfectly still, never taking its eyes off the hapless magician.

With less than a second to spare before the demon was upon him, T’Abram had the presence of mind to raise his staff. It crackled and hissed as a bolt of magical energy pulsed through it and caught the demon full in the face. The force of the bolt not only stopped the creature in its tracks but also sent T’Abram sprawling back into the crater. It took but seconds for the demon to recover and before the necromancer could do anything, he found himself caught beneath a single cloven-hoof that threatened to crush his ribcage. The demon glared down at him, a cold fire in its eyes. T’Abram felt his mind becoming blurred and his body numb. Feebly he reached for his staff and aimed it once more at his attacker. It spat no fire this time but just emitted a lacklustre glow. The demon smiled at him. This was not a pleasant smile but a horrible, drooling, leer that wordlessly indicated that the game was up and all resistance would be futile. The demon reached down and caught the staff in its grinning maw and effortlessly chewed it up completely. The  necromancer could only watch, aghast, as it raised a hoof, ready to deliver the death blow. Then something strange happened. The whole of its grotesque body began to glow. The five legs began to spin, slowly at first, then speeding to a fiery blur like a Catherine Wheel, spitting sparks of every colour. Meanwhile the ghastly head in their centre had become an incandescent core and no longer recognisable as a face.


The landlord of The Swætan Tæppere was standing at his back door when the explosion struck. Although it came from the far west of the island the reverberations shook the inn to its foundations, rattling the windows and sending tiles skidding from the roof. A plume of brightly coloured flame could be seen, bursting a hundred feet or more into the air.

“Magicians!” he exclaimed in disgust.

“I knew he’d be trouble.”


The explosion had shaken the whole of the island. Unsurprisingly, as soon as the initial panic was over, people started to drift towards the area. They were surprised to find that, while the flames had been worryingly high, the hole that was left behind was more than impressive. Bottomless would be an understatement, for one could reasonably expect a bottomless hole on an island to have water where the absent bottom should be; this one did not. It was an abyss, dark and uninviting. There was, in its unfathomable depths, a suggestion of something of an iridescent nature, a mere pinpoint that swirled and churned; something more to be experienced via the hairs on the back of the neck rather than being seen. No one spoke a word or made a sound but as one, retreated back to their homes. Frightened parents told their children that child-eating monsters lurked by that hole. These were stories designed to keep them away; to keep them safe. It is ironic that the truth was far scarier than any nursery tale.


It was a full two hundred and fifty years, following the demise of T’Abram Spitch, that the founding families arrived. By then The Swætan Tæppere had become The Squid and Teapot and within a generation the island’s first Night-Soil Man, Killigrew O’Stoat, had set up in business. The job suited a young man who was as painfully introverted as Killigrew. When he discovered the abyss, which he assumed was a sinkhole, he was delighted. Here was somewhere to safely dispose of the night-soil.With the addition of a simple cottage this would be the perfect base for his trade. And so, that is how Killigrew and the generations of Night-Soil Men who followed after, became custodians of the mysterious and unfathomable abyss, the grave of T’Abram Spitch.

Art by Tom Brown

The Necromancer

There are some who maintain that Hopeless, Maine, has not always been as fog-bound as it is today. It is thought that there have been odd, brief periods in its history, when the island has enjoyed a reasonable climate and played host to all manner of flora and fauna. It was, presumably, in one of those gentler times that the Vikings settled here.
Many of these early settlers became adept at gathering the eggs of the gulls that lived and bred, in their thousands, in colonies on the cliffs. In the tale ‘The Eggless Norseman of Creepy Hollow’, it was revealed how one settler, a spoon-whittler named Lars Pedersen, was driven to madness and death by the spoonwalkers who stole, not only his spoons but also his precious horde of eggs. As a result his wraith, locally referred to as The Woeful Dane, was frequently seen roaming the area searching for the pilfered eggs.
All that we know of Lars’ demise and subsequent haunting is thanks to young Ophelia Chevin, a child of one of the founding families, who had been blessed with the dubious gift of ‘The Sight.’ Ophelia faithfully recorded the information in her journal, having had several amiable conversations with the ghost.
Prior to these revelations, those who witnessed this apparition roaming the island had no idea that he was merely looking for eggs. Over the years various theories evolved regarding the reason for The Woeful Dane’s ceaseless quest and unsurprisingly, favourite among these theories was that he was looking for a lost horde of Viking silver that he had buried somewhere, carelessly omitting to mark the spot.
Four long centuries had passed since Lars had died and the legend of lost Viking silver was firmly established as fact. Many a brave – and some would say foolhardy – adventurer perished looking for it. Life on this island is hazardous enough without wandering around at all hours, digging in vain for something which has never existed. Despite the high casualty rate, people continued to risk life and limb, seduced by the promise of untold riches. T’Abram Spitch was one such person.

T’Abram  found himself on the shores of Hopeless following a shipwreck. Anyone who knows anything about the island will recognise that this is by no means unusual. The ever-present fog that clings to Hopeless like a cold, damp mantle has claimed, over the years, many a good ship and an untold number of lives. On the plus side it has served to bestow a reasonable supply of salvageable goods and some occasionally interesting castaways. T’Abram Spitch was nothing, if not interesting. I have no idea where, exactly, in the world he came from but what I do know is that he claimed to be a magician. I am not talking about someone pulling a spoonwalker out of a hat or inviting you to pick a card. T’Abram Spitch was a fully-paid up, practising necromancer who had fled his native shores to avoid persecution and a toe-curlingly unpleasant death.
It must be remembered that even those with saintly ambitions, lofty aspersions, devilish plans for world domination or the power to invoke the spirits of the dead are all subject to human failings; strange, unbidden thoughts; annoying tunes popping into the head and the occasional urge to speak in silly voices. It is what makes us who we are. And T’Abram Spitch, despite his billowing robes, flowing beard and sigil-carved staff was no different from the rest of us. T’Abram had, besides an ample supply of annoying tunes and silly voices at his disposal, a host of secret desires. Chief among these was a lust for great riches.

The necromancer had been on Hopeless for just a few weeks when the rumour of a long-lost Viking horde came to his notice. Since his being shipwrecked he had looked bedraggled and despondent, a shadow of his former self. It was as though the words ‘Treasure’ and ‘Silver’ immediately cast a glamour over him and the veil of despair slipped away at their mere mention. His eyes glittered like stars as he visualized himself unearthing such wealth. Though many had searched for centuries to no avail, T’Abram was certain that he, above all others, was destined to find the Viking silver. His ability to conjure and command the spirits of the dead would surely be the key to his success.

In those days it was even rarer for people to wander abroad during the hours of darkness than it is now. There was no Night Soil Man patrolling the headland, standing downwind and keeping a benevolent eye on the unwary traveller. The only inn on the island, The Sweaty Tapster, would bar its doors and pull down the shutters to keep out unwelcome night-walkers. This is why no one was there on that moonless night to see T’Abram Spitch on the bleak headland, robes wildly flapping in the wind, as he prepared to conjure the spirit of Lars Pedersen, the legendary Woeful Dane.

Those who have read the tale ‘Ghosts’ will be aware that Lars Pedersen, the ghost and Lars Pedersen, the tenant of his own private Valhalla, were two very different entities. When he stepped into our dimension Lars was the gaunt, mad-eyed wraith who had struck fear into the hearts of so many. Lars, at home, as it were, was far removed from that. He was enjoying an eternity of wine, women, song and sunshine. This version of Lars was young, strong, handsome and as full of life as someone who has been dead for centuries can be. He would pick his hours of haunting with care, especially avoiding Valpurgis (May-eve) and Midsumarblot (the 21st of June). These were especially popular events in the spirit calendar and tended to attract more ghosts than Lars wanted to associate with. There were also other occasions that The Woeful Dane made a point of staying in his feasting-hall; these were the nights of the dark of the moon, when the waning moon has vanished and the new moon is yet to appear. These two or three days in the lunar calendar always attracts the worst kind of wraith. These are the ones who tear through the night, screaming and wailing. They frighten children, tear at the flesh and make fun of other spirits who, for example, might be going about their legitimate business searching for lost eggs. These were certainly not the type that a gentle ghost, such as Lars, would wish to encounter. No, Lars Pedersen stayed at home during the dark of the moon. Or, at least, that was his intention.
There can be few things more annoying than being pulled by some unseen force from one’s feasting-hall just as the party is getting started. This is exactly what happened to Lars. One minute he was happily swilling back mead, with a wench on either arm and a roasted boar on the table. The next, he was whisked away to some dark, chilly rock and suddenly transformed into the gaunt madman of legend, The Woeful Dane. To say that he was miffed would be an understatement.

Although he had called up a score of spirits during his career, T’Abram had never encountered one like Lars before. The Viking’s madness had struck after being caught in the malevolent gaze of a spoonwalker raiding party. As a result his dead eyes now bulged horribly and shone with a ghastly green light.
From Lars’ point of view, the necromancer cut an equally unsettling figure. If was plain to see that T’Abram had adopted the deranged wizard look with some enthusiasm. The pointed hat, star-spangled robe and long, bristling beard was almost comical in appearance. What was deadly serious, however, was the staff that he wielded. It was the source of all of his power. Everything else about him was pure theatre. It was this staff, carved with powerful sigils and now glowing with an unearthly light, that had drawn Lars from his feasting-hall and held him powerless before the necromancer.
In the tale ‘The Eggless Norseman of Creepy Hollow’ I mentioned that, for ghosts, there exists no language barrier. They converse with each other and understand all human – and probably animal – speech. So when T’Abram commanded Lars to find and reveal his long-lost treasure the old Viking understood every word. Unfortunately, as the long-lost treasure did not actually exist, he had absolutely no idea what the necromancer wanted. This served to weaken the hold that the glowing staff held over him, allowing Lars to use a little bit of artistic licence in leading T’Abram to his heart’s desire. It also gave him the chance to get his own back for being rudely removed from, what had promised to be, an agreeably pleasant evening of Valhallic debauchery. Lars knew where something was buried. It was not treasure but it would do nicely.

This world of ours is old beyond our imagining; a thousand or more cultures may have risen and fell long before we began recording history. It would be arrogant in the extreme to believe that only within the sphere of our knowledge did anyone set foot on Hopeless. The Vikings were certainly not the first settlers on the island. Lars knew this; he knew that buried deep beneath the rocks was something that so offended some of the island’s very earliest inhabitants that they bound it with spells and cast it deep into the earth. It was something that really ought to stay buried.
T’Abram followed the wraith with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. They wound through the scrubby trees and rocks until, in a clearing, Lars stopped, and pointed to the ground. The necromancer immediately set to and started removing the stones and earth. Lars’ work, it seems, was done; he was dismissed. The ghost was relieved. He really did not want to be around when this particular ‘Treasure’ was finally unearthed.
The work was long and hard, even with the tools that T’Abram had slyly taken from the people who dwelt in the shadow of the Gydynap Hills. At last, after many days, his shovel hit something that was not made of rock. His heart missed a beat. Could this be it at last – the long-lost Viking horde?

To be continued…

Art by Tom Brown

Mrs Beaten does not like to be over familiar

It has come to my attention that Mr Frampton Jones, of the Hopeless Vendetta, has immaculate shirts. I feel uncomfortably over-familiar in using his first name thusly (we are hardly on intimate terms!) but with so many islanders being properly ‘Mr Jones’ it becomes exceeding difficult to clarify to whom one is referring. While trying to find food for purchase last week, I was involved in a most confusing conversation in which at least three farmers called Mr Jones were involved, and as a consequence I entirely failed to find any meat for the table.

While I do not like to speak ill of others, I cannot help but feel that my neighbour, Miss Tenacity Jones was making mock of me. I have previously been compelled to discourage her familiar way of talking about people, and now she refers to all of her relations as Mr or Mrs Jones, with scant regard to their apparent gender, and it is most unhelpful of her.

Mr Frampton Jones, of The Hopeless Vendetta has beautiful shirts. His shoes are invariably shined, his bowler hat neatly brushed. It lifts my spirits to think that I may not be alone in seeking civilization on this vile island.

Daphne and the Fallen Stars

Daphne was down at the sea shore again. She was staring out to the greenish-blue-grey wash of the unsteady sea. So many thoughts were being washed around her head. They were about her mother and father whose lives had been lost out there in that monstrous wild of water. They were on a ship that sank. Daphne knelt down in the tidal grit and began to find bits of flotsam and shells. She gathered them with ritual obsession and her hands worked with the flotsam and shells as if putting together a puzzle only she knew. She finally stopped and looked at what she’d done. It was a ship. Or rather The Ship which her parents and many others had gone down with when it sank before she has any clear memories; this ship was so much part of who she was Daphne could not think of herself as Daphne without knowing she was Daphne from the Ship.

But she heard somebody else walking on the shore and her mind went away from the Ship. He had a large shabby frock coat on with many stains and weathering that it’s original colour was obscured. A battered bicorn hat sagged on his head. The man was staring out to sea with the wind in his grey beard.

After a while she decided to go over to him.

‘Who are you?’ she asked.

‘Cuthbert Thorrock’ he replied with a throaty voice.

‘I’ve not seen you here before’

‘Have you been watching the stars? They’re falling out the sky’ he answered her as if swapping news on the weather.

‘When did you see that?’

‘It’s been happening more and more, the stars aren’t staying up there anymore and they’re coming down here, watch out young lady you might be crossing paths with one!’ he turned his eyes towards her and they were full of the sea waves and clouds. He coughed loudly and spat into the shore grit.

Cuthbert Thorrock said no more, and Daphne stood with him a little longer looking out to sea. His big frame hardened with the life he’d had felt oddly reassuring to have next to her, perhaps this was what a father was like: dependable and under a big old coat with a smell of the world.

‘What’s your name young lady?’ he said after the silence.

‘Daphne’

‘Ah’ he said, and then he shifted and began to walk away again. His steps crunched over the shore with weight.

She took herself back up the narrow path onto the land. There was a rock not far away where she saw somebody was sitting. As she walked closer she saw it was a woman in a long black dress with long black hair under a neat lace snood. Daphne thought perhaps she’d come from a funereal and was stopping at the morgue on the way back, like people did.

‘Good day young lady have you seen any of my sisters?’ the woman spoke before she’d even reached her. She turned and her face was pale and beautifully shaped as if glass. She smiled at Daphne and she knew she should not have gone over. Behind her the sea tides hissed. Stars were falling.–

Words by Robin Collins-Art by Tom Brown

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.