Daphne finds the Mirror

There was a door at the back of the morgue Daphne had never opened before. That day she opened it she found herself staring down a cold dank passage that seemed sunk in the earth. She’d never been afraid of the dark. The morgue was a gloomy place and even outside it the daylight was reluctant to go beyond the same washed out layers of grey. Daphne knew the dark was her friend, but this dark beyond in the dank passage she could sense was not her friend. But she’d opened the door now. Down she trod sometimes looking behind herself to see the vague greyish outline of the doorway becoming more and more distant. The passage was cold with a kind of suffocating deathliness. Daphne came into a chamber at the end. Up in its walls were small slits in the stone letting in meagre light, but enough to see the great stone plinth in the middle of the chamber upon which lay a wooden box. Who put this down here? She thought as she looked at the wooden box. As her fingers went over its surface she had the strange feeling that it was carved with uncanny signs and sigils that slithered and scarred its grain. Daphne thought they were probably like those funny old markings she saw in other places in the morgue and sometimes outside. In the air at that moment she heard demonic whisperings and sibilant imprecations as if they were telling her to put the wooden box down. She told them firmly to mind their own business; this was her morgue and not theirs. When she opened the box she found wrapped up in musty corpse-cold silk a peculiar object. After a moment of holding it by its carved ivory handle that was attached to its roughly oval flattened head she realised what it was: a looking glass or mirror like she’d seen once at a fancy shop down in the town.

But what was a mirror doing hidden away like this? More demonic susurrations flurried about her though this time they were threatening not annoying. They tugged at her hair and clawed at her shabby dress. Daphne had enough of this. Wrapping the mirror up in its silk she walked out the chamber, and carried on until she was at the door again. When she’d shut that heavy stiff hinged door she stood there catching her breath and listening to her heart beating. She looked at the mirror again. Her hands ran over its face and then knew it was like a frozen lake of ice that reflected no light only swallowed it endlessly into its black abyss. No use to her though, what would she need this bauble for? There was something about the mirror though that seemed to be tugging at the cracks of her soul. The more she held it the perfection and flawlessness of its design seemed to get at her. Daphne frowned feeling that if this was a person they were not welcome any longer to stay in her morgue.

‘This is my morgue do you hear?’ she said aloud, though of course she realised the mirror didn’t hear because it was a mirror. Or at least it seemed so.

To make this clear she walked to the morgue doors and pulled one ajar. Outside she looked at the mirror again. A wan shaft of light caught on its yellowed ivory handle and mirthlessly showed the crooked undecipherable signs cut into it by a long forgotten and heathen hand. Daphne looked into the mirror as out of its ice-bound crevasse a strange flickering grew like a lonely candle coming closer and closer. She found herself gazing not at her reflection but of another girl with sparkling blue eyes, skin white enough to be almost bluish, sharp cheek bones and yellow hair. In that moment Daphne understood what the demons had been trying to tell her: But too late. She felt a sudden cold searing flash of pain in her hand holding the mirror. The blue eyed and yellow haired girl smiled. Then her face was gone. Daphne dropped the mirror on the ground and ran back inside the morgue.

‘Thank you for setting me free again you are very kind, do you want to freeze the world with me forever and forever in the fimbulwinter?’ the girl was there smiling and smiling.

Written by Robin Collins
Art by Tom Brown
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An Ill Wind

In the month of March, 1888, one of the most severe blizzards in the recorded history of the United States raged along the east coast of the country, causing devastation from Chesapeake Bay to Maine. The storm claimed the lives of more than four hundred people. At least twenty-five percent of these casualties were seamen, lost to the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean. This is not surprising, taking into consideration that an estimated two hundred ships were either wrecked or grounded over a period of two days.

Where there are shipwrecks, there are, invariably, spoils to be had. Regular readers of ‘The  Vendetta’ will doubtless guess that some of these spoils found their way to the grateful shores of that somewhat strange and foggy island, Hopeless, Maine.

 

Harriet Butterow and Petunia Middlestreet stood knee-deep in icy-cold water. They were anxious to drag a large wooden crate ashore. Neither woman had any clue as to what the crate may have contained but it did not really matter. What could not be eaten, or modified for personal use, could be bartered. On this impoverished island nothing was ever wasted. Try as they might, however, the crate was reluctant to move.

The two young women had a lot in common; Harriet was a single mother and Petunia a widow. Besides having had a friendship which started in childhood, they also shared the bond of motherhood. Both had young daughters who, for today, were in the care of Petunia’s elderly father-in-law, the kindly Bartholomew Middlestreet, landlord of The Squid and Teapot. Harriet and Petunia were secure in the knowledge that their daughters, Amelia Butterow and Lilac Middlestreet, were in safe but albeit, somewhat arthritic, hands.

Like many islanders, it was news of the several shipwrecks littering the coastline that had the pair braving the bitingly cold March morning and looking to salvage as much of the precious wreckage as possible. After the long winter, supplies of everything were low on Hopeless and while the loss of so many lives was deeply regrettable, the islanders could only marvel at their good fortune when they saw the extent of the bounty that the storm had provided. All that was needed now was to bring it safely ashore – a task easier said than done.

It sometimes feels that Tragedy is a trickster always waiting in the wings and never missing an opportunity to show its face; sadly, that face is one that the people of Hopeless are more than familiar with. Even so, none are really ever prepared for it to appear.

The sea had seemed unexpectedly calm that morning, especially after the raging nor’ easterlies that had angered it over the previous few days. Anyone who has lived or worked on the water will tell you that a change of wind direction can achieve that in just a few hours. And that same person would also caution you to be wary; wary of both a capricious sea and all that it contained.

 

Amos Gannicox smiled to himself as he waved to Harriet. He had been on the island for almost four years now and had every intention of winning her heart completely before another year had passed. He was a patient man and felt sure that his patience would pay off before too long. He was well aware that Harriet still harboured hopes that Amelia’s father – who she genuinely believed to be a Selkie – would return to her, but almost seven years had passed since he had left and this seemed most unlikely.

Lost in his own thoughts Amos was brought back to reality by a sudden scream. No – two screams.

An icy hand gripped his heart. A few seconds ago two young women had stood in the water, laughing and care-free. Now they were gone. Look as he might, there was no sign of either. All that remained was the crate which they had been trying to shift. Amos scanned the shoreline frantically. This could not be – he had only taken his gaze off the object of his affections for a few seconds. Panic stricken he ran towards the spot where they had been standing. Others were running too, frantically shouting the women’s names but it was soon obvious that searching would be futile. They had disappeared completely. The ocean, or something dwelling within it, had claimed them.

 

Bartholomew Middlestreet was devastated. Although the shadow of death always stalked the island, he never imagined that his daughter-in-law would be taken before he was and now it fell upon his old shoulders to tell two little girls that they had become orphans. Lilac, at three years old seemed too young to understand but Amelia Butterow, aged six, took it badly. So badly, in fact, that she was literally dumbstruck. The truth is that the girl never uttered another word for the remainder of her days. It is a strange coincidence for, as regular readers will recall, her father,who was of the seal-people, a Selkie, was never heard to speak either.

 

Bartholomew was resolved to look after the girls himself; he had no intention of either of them going to the orphanage. The running of The Squid and Teapot would have to be left to Tobias Thrupp. Tobias, shipwrecked at the same time as Amos Gannicox, had been living there for four years and had done little enough, so far, to pay for his keep.

 

Ten years slipped by; ten years that saw The Squid and Teapot decline in every way. Bartholmew Middlestreet devoted himself wholly to the well-being and education of the girls, oblivious to everything else, including the fact that Thrupp was dragging his beloved inn into certain ruin. Then, one day in the final year of the century, a strange thing happened. Bartholomew, Lilac and Amelia disappeared without a trace. And no one noticed!

 

Whether Bartholomew died of natural causes, or by Thrupp’s hand, is unclear, but die he certainly did. One can only surmise as to the cause. What is known, however, is that a corpse left outside for a night on the headland is unlikely to still be there by daybreak. The age-old problem of disposing of the body is no problem at all on Hopeless.

As the old man had been absent from the inn for so long, ownership of The Squid passed seamlessly to Thrupp. The girls, too, had not been seen for years and were all but forgotten. Such disappearances, while unfortunate, are not uncommon on this island.

 

In unearthing and relating these tales for you it sometimes feels as though I am putting together a vast and complex jigsaw puzzle, filling intriguing gaps in the picture as each new piece comes to hand. Like any jigsaw, this one has areas filled with light and clarity; it also contains great sweeps of darkness. The rest of this tale is, I fear, one such piece, darker and more dreadful than any other I know, or, indeed, ever wish to know.

 

To be continued…

Art by Tom Brown

A Message from the Hopeless, Maine tourist board

Hopeless, Maine: the holiday destination for the discerning traveller!

 

Hopeless, Maine, an obscure island off the coast of Americanistan, is the to-die-for destination of the discerning traveller in search of something different this year. Beyond the fjords we know, its chancy inlets and perpetually gloomy interior offers fathomless delights to those willing to take the plunge. Travel options to the crepuscular island (Population: unknown) are unusual, to say the least.  Shipwrecks are by far the popular choice, closely followed by aeronautical accidents, catastrophic navigational disagreements, and near-death experiences. Laying at the heart of a Bemuseder Triangle of other imaginary islands and lost worlds, HM has drawn wayward travellers to its ineluctable shores for millennia – monks on immrama, Vikings with chronic wanderlust, bards in pursuit of elusive muse figures, female explorers out to find somewhere not claimed by a bloody man, lost aviators blown hither by the winds of fate, and casual daydreamers slipping into the Mariana Trench of its page-like folds.  Making landfall (a bit tricky – with its murky pools, bogs, and rickety bridges it’s a health-and-safety disaster) the traveller will find the island charmingly unaccommodating to the needs of the visitor. There seem to be no shops, jolly cafés, gift shops, galleries or museums to while away the day and fritter away your currency (absurd forms of barter seems to be the current accepted mechanism of exchange). Instead, the traveller is forced to draw upon their own genius in exploring the island and finding what delights they can. There is a haunted orphanage, a dodgy-looking lighthouse, and the Bridge of Bottles (a must-see attraction!). The island seems to be a graveyard for Gothic architecture – perhaps this is where it goes when it dies? There are plenty of dangerous looking railings to impale yourself upon, or for the extreme sport enthusiast a brisk jog around the island, running the gauntlet of the lashing tentacles that threaten to scupper the careless perambulator, will keep you on your toes. Swimming is not advised under any circumstances. The visitor may find the inhabitants a tad brusque or inward on first acquaintance. Many seem lost in their own particular neurotic loop. But fear not! You’ll soon be feeling at home. After staggering around the purgatorial pleasure gardens of Hopeless, starving, raving, and ragged, it won’t be long before you’ll fit right in. Which is just as well, dear traveller, because this island is no mere ‘top destination’ for the terminally-bored, it is a terminus of the very definite kind. Once you arrive on Hopeless, Maine … well, let’s just say you’ll be enjoying it for a long time to come.   

Eldritch Bunting

 

Hello, people (and others) I am pleased to comment on the above. We have been after the esteemed Kevan Manwaring to contribute to the Vendetta for some time, but as he is an academic, author, bard, teacher, artist, poet and writer of books (fiction and nonfiction) he has understandably had a rather full plate. We were most pleased to find this arrive via the ether this week! The timing was exquisite as we also happened to have a tourist information poster from Cliff Cumber (One of our favorite artists at all-ever) So we have combined the two in order to entice you to come and visit Hopeless, Maine (Your chances of leaving are slim, but don’t let that stop you…)

It also allows us to talk about Timequake ! This is an event in Manchester in March 2018 which will have many steampunk (and similar) environments, events and oddities all under one roof. (I’ve not heard of or attended anything like this before) We are pleased to say we will be part of it *and* that we will be stationed at al actual Hopeless, Maine tourist information booth (next to the tea museum as I understand it) There are rumours of twelve foot tentacles. It would be a great understatement to say that we are excited about this. There will be photos, no doubt.

 

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

The Puddle Rat

Randall Middlestreet, the Night-Soil Man, rarely felt comfortable when his work took him into the vicinity of Chapel Rock. It wasn’t that the ghost of Obadiah Hyde, The Mad Parson, was at all dangerous. It was just that the old wraith had developed an annoying habit of manifesting unexpectedly, then screaming around the place like a banshee with toothache. It was all most unsettling, especially on the occasions when the bucket on Randall’s back was particularly full; a sudden, startled reaction could create all sorts of unwelcome consequences.

On this night, however, Randall had other things to worry about.

Standing  before him on the narrow pathway was an unfamiliar creature. Although it was, admittedly, small of stature, it filled him with unease. Besides the beady eyes, long nails, yellow teeth and scrawny body (which reminded him strangely of the late and decidedly unlamented Reverend Crackstone), it was the beast’s audacity that unnerved him. Even the largest, most fearsome denizen of the island would invariably quail and flee before the Night-Soil Man’s unremitting stench. This diminutive creature, however, squared-up to Randall with the confident air of an anosmic prize-fighter.

“What the hell are you?” Randall asked, querulously.

“A puddle rat, of course, thou turpitudinous turdsmith”

Randall jumped in surprise to hear a reply, causing his bucket to lurch alarmingly. The voice was surprisingly deep and hollow, not to mention human.

“You can speak?”

Randall suspected that he had been badly insulted but chose to let it go.

“Zounds fellow, of course it cannot. I told thou, ‘tis a swiving puddle rat, thou arse-brained nincompoop.”

Randall was fairly certain now that he had been insulted. He turned to see who the voice belonged to.

Although the unexpected presence of the puddle rat had taken him aback, it was nothing compared with the vision before him. This time he jumped so much the lid almost flew off his bucket.

There, glimmering in the moonlight stood the unmistakable shade of Obadiah Hyde.

This night was becoming increasingly bizarre. To encounter a strange creature for the first time was odd enough but to be addressed – not to say harangued – by the ghost of a man two-and-a-half centuries dead was disturbing, to say the very least. Randall had never been drawn into conversation by a ghost before and was by no means sure as how to proceed. As it happened, he had no need to.

“They are vermin of the worst sort,” said the wraith. “In truth, I will vouchsafe that they offend me even more than papists and adulterers.”

Randall had absolutely no idea what Hyde was talking about but at least the parson’s appetite for insulting him seemed to have quelled.

Suddenly, from the general direction of the puddle rat, a faint rumbling could be heard. This, while growing in intensity, gradually changed pitch. The puddle rat’s eyes bulged slightly and an expression of intense concentration came over its pointed features.

A look of alarm spread over the ghostly parson’s luminous visage.

“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, that wretched creature is about to fa…”

Before he could get the last syllable out a great explosion shook the air and a smell, far more obnoxious than anything Randall had ever encountered in his twenty years as Night-Soil Man, hung almost palpably in the cold moonlight.

“Do they all do that?” choked Randall, his hand over his mouth.

“I cannot speak for those who live in other parts of the island,” said the ghost, mournfully. “But ‘tis my belief that ‘tis the nature of their diet that causeth such raucous nether-winds. They are, in truth, verminous scavengers and feast upon that which the ravens drop.”

Hyde gestured towards the topmost part of the ruined chapel where the ravens roosted.

“Spoonwalkers. Or, at least, the bits of them that the birds discard.”

By now Randall’s eyes were watering but at least he understood why the creature had no fear of him. Nothing the Night-Soil Man carried could compare with the ferocity of that smell.

Randall turned to speak to Hyde but the ghost had vanished, back to purgatory or wherever it was he spent his time when not haunting the rock. The puddle rat, too,  had decided to leave.

“I don’t blame it,” said Randall to himself.

“Now I know why I get left alone.”

Art by Tom Brown

Of dustcats, lullabys and singing snails

Hello people! (and others)

We have begun a thing.  We are making and publishing tiny books. Our first one (Lullaby for a Dustcat) took about two months from concept to having it out there among you. This is *Very* exciting for us because it creates a more immediate relationship with the book, as an act of creativity, and with all of you. (Yes, we love our publisher, Sloth, who brings out the graphic novels, but one a year is the limit there) So, Nimue and I will be making more of these. Probably three annually.

They really are tiny books. A6 size, which means that they can be sent instead of greeting cards in the same sort of envelope. They are very young-human friendly too.

This has also been made possible by Nimue’s Patreon people.  One level is that of Dustcat and she writes letters to them. (as though they were actual Dustcats) This poem/lullaby is one of those. Also- one of the illustrations and part of the border motif features the singing snail, which was brought to the island by Meredith Debonnaire who is one of our favourite writers and she is the one who brought singing snails to the Island. (Or as a way of getting to the island…) If you would like one of these tiny (but adorable) books you can do so by going here.

 

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

Dreams of New Delhi

Occasionally, when the weather is clement and the their carers are in a beneficent frame of mind, the youngsters from the orphanage go foraging along the coast. This was as true in the past as it is today, an activity providing not only a modicum of fresh air and exercise but also the chance of replenishing the orphanage resources with whatever the sea has provided.
It was on one such expedition, in the latter part of the nineteen twenties, that the Reverend Malachi Crackstone and a group of boys discovered a sealed box washed up on the shore. The box had been addressed to a priest living somewhere on the mainland.  Since the addressee was a man of God, and therefore unlikely to be the recipient of anything that might be remotely inappropriate for young eyes, the Reverend could see no harm in allowing the lads to open the package unsupervised. Secure in the knowledge that their continued innocence was ensured, he left them to their explorations while he went across the rocks to help the girls’ group, who were cheerfully eviscerating a recently deceased porpoise.                                                                                                              
The contents, at first, proved to be something of a disappointment. There was a birthday card from someone called ‘Cousin Roy’ and a batch of out-of-date religious magazines. Closer inspection, however, unearthed a real treasure that warmed the cockles of their adolescent hearts. Hidden among the copies of ‘The Catholic Educational Review’ was a slim but risqué publication called ‘Dawn’. A brief description of the contents emblazoned upon the cover helpfully described the magazine as being concerned with ‘the erotic intersection of eugenics, nudism and figure studies’. While ‘Cousin Roy’ may have been sending this to a Man of the Cloth, there was a conspicuous absence of cloth on the young ladies who graced the pages, which were certainly not aimed at those of a pious persuasion.
The lads were gazing with wonder and appreciation at the revelations concealed

between the covers of ‘Dawn’ when the Reverend made his way back to them.       
“What are you boys so interested in?” he asked, suspiciously.
The children of the orphanage had been taught never to lie to their elders.
“It’s an educational magazine sir.”

Clarence Coaley was a quick-witted fourteen year old whose answer was nothing but truthful.
The other boys stayed silent. They had no wish for the real truth to come out. As far as Reverend Crackstone was concerned the boys had found a copy of National Geographic; this he had surmised when he heard Clarence say that they were studying pictures of New Delhi. This was wonderful. Some of the newspapers that Colonel Ruscombe-Green had sent from the mainland, via the trader, Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs, told of the planned creation of this exciting new capital of India. The city was even now under construction and  still some years off completion. The Reverend had often dreamed of visiting India himself one day, his father having been a young army officer there at the time of the mutiny.

Clarence reasoned to his young colleagues that what he had said wasn’t exactly a lie; if the Reverend had misunderstood, it was not his fault. After all, a caption next to one of the young ladies said that her name was Eleanor. In all probability she was known to her friends as Ellie and she definitely had no clothes on.


The interests of the young never ceased to amaze Reverend Crackstone. It did his old heart good to see how Clarence quickly and carefully placed the magazine inside the collection of Catholic Educational Reviews for safe keeping.
“Make sure you study that magazine properly,” he advised. “You’ll see places that you never even dreamed existed. But don’t stay awake looking at it half the night, you’ll ruin your eyesight.”

 

All would have been well, had Clarence been inclined to be less possessive. He was loathe to let anyone else look at the magazine, which he increasingly regarded as being his own property. With a fraternal indifference that would have met the approval of Cain himself, Clarence’s younger brother, Cuthbert, anonymously spilled the proverbial beans to Reverend Crackstone with a single, damning note, placed on the parson’s desk within a week of the discovery. Clarence’s brief infatuation with the comely Eleanor was brought to an abrupt end, therefore, when Crackstone, full of biblical wrath, fell upon the boys’ dormitory like Lord Byron’s wolf upon the fold. The affronted parson had little difficulty in locating the offending publication among Clarence’s few possessions. Not being one to subscribe to the philosophy of sparing the rod, he wasted no time in deftly meting out no small amount of punishment. Although almost seventy years old, he was still able to wield a fierce and unforgiving cane, designed to drive all impure thoughts from the unfortunate youth.

If he achieved nothing else, Crackstone managed to secure Clarence’s undying enmity. Following the magazine incident, a week would barely go by that the reverend failed to beat the boy for some misdemeanour, real or supposed. This he administered with a self-righteous rigour that verged upon madness.

 

During the summer of that year some visitors arrived on the island, which was, in itself, a rare event. When one of them was dragged away by an army of spoonwalkers a rescue expedition was mounted and Crackstone, who had briefly enjoyed a friendship of sorts with the missing stranger, volunteered to be part of it. Clarence was glad to have a day free of the parson’s puritanical zeal and took the opportunity to slip away and do a spot of beachcombing on his own, fostering the forlorn hope that he might stumble upon another saucy magazine.

By mid-afternoon Clarence was weary, crestfallen and empty-handed. As the day had worn on it had become increasingly obvious that the chances of his happening upon another such find was miniscule.

‘Just another hour and I’ll call it a day,’ he thought to himself. Suddenly he froze. A movement in the nearby rocks caught his eye. As a lifelong inhabitant of Hopeless, Clarence had learned to be constantly wary of the unwelcome attentions of its various denizens. This particular specimen, however, was of the human variety and crouched over a rock as if spying on something, or someone, by the shore. It took a moment for Clarence to register that the faded black suit was somehow familiar. Then it dawned upon him. Those pale hands resting on the rocks like albino crabs and the dusty, ill-fitting trousers flapping over scrawny buttocks could only belong to Reverend Crackstone!

If the beatings Clarence had received had been meant to purge his soul of whatever demon was lurking within, then they had failed. The thoughts that bubbled up in his mind now were darker and bleaker than any he had yet had. The sight of Crackstone, absorbed in something unseen and totally oblivious to Clarence’s presence was too much for the orphan to bear. He picked up a hefty stone and stealthily crept towards his hated enemy, intent on murder.

Clarence was seconds away from dashing the parson’s brains out when a surprising thing occurred. Crackstone stood up, ranting and raving at someone on the shore. The words ‘whore’ and ‘abomination’ were unfamiliar to the boy but he guessed them not to be too complementary. Still shouting, the parson picked up a large rock and hoisted it above his head with surprising ease.

 

Was the day growing darker?

Clarence gasped as the sky behind Crackstone became swallowed up by a vast shape that emerged from the ocean and blotted out the sickly, fog-bound sun. The creature resembled a huge octopus with long, suckered tentacles that writhed terrifyingly in the air above it. As the boy watched, fascinated but frozen to the spot, one of the tentacles wrapped itself around the body of the parson. The elderly man’s voice became muffled as more of the serpentine arms completely enveloped him, then he fell silent as they tightened and twisted, wringing his, thankfully hidden, body like an old rag. Clarence fell back in horror, not certain what he was witnessing. It was only when the remains of Reverend Crackstone were hoisted high into the air did he summon the courage crawl to the cliff edge.

Strange and vast though the sea-creature was, Clarence’s eye was drawn to the tiny figure on the shore before it. He recognised her at once. Betty Butterow, the barmaid of The Squid and Teapot had long been a favourite topic of conversation for the older boys in the orphanage. Long limbed and beautiful, she had fuelled their erotic fantasies as no other girl on the island could, despite her advanced age of twenty two years. And here she was, naked before his very eyes. What a story he would have to tell the other lads. That old hypocrite, Crackstone, had been spying upon Betty, whose revealed charms far surpassed those of the monochrome nude Ellie in the confiscated magazine, and now he was dead, killed by a sea monster who appeared to be protecting the barmaid.

With his bragging rights ensured, Clarence could not wait to get back to the orphanage.

It was then that his eyes met the deep and solemn gaze of the sea-creature.  Clarence suddenly felt helpless, like a kite on a string that was being inexorably drawn in. There was nothing in his world now but those eyes. They held no malice but no pity either. The Kraken – for Kraken it was – reached deep inside the boy and read his every thought. Clarence screamed, though no sound came from his lips. Then there was darkness.

 

When he awoke, Clarence found himself alone upon the headland. He had no idea how he had arrived there; his only recollection was having left the orphanage earlier that day. Everything else was a blank. He could only imagine that he had fallen into a faint for some reason.

It was getting late but, being midsummer, darkness was still an hour or so away. He was in so much trouble and needed to get back to the orphanage quickly.

He shuddered at the consequences of staying out too late.

Crackstone was going to have his hide for this.

Art by Tom Brown

Tales of the Sinimus

Hello people! (and others)

Last week we asked you to help choose the name of this wee sleekit (probably not timorous or cowering) beastie, and you have come through for us. It is scientifically known as a Sinimus, and commonly known as a Puddle Rat. Then I went on the social media ether and asked you for tales and anecdotes regarding the most recently discovered fauna of the island. You came through yet again. Or, at least these people did! There may be more tales of the Simus to come, so watch this space…

 

“The Sinimus, or rather hosts of the little blighters, are the bane of bakers across Hopeless, Maine. They have a tendency toward scones, you see. They don’t just eat them, but gnaw them hollow from the underside and then wear them like shells. Due to their teeny feet and scratchy nails, many a Hopeless baker has woken in the night to the sound of enthused scratching only to enter their kitchen to the sight of a host of scuttling scones by candlelight. For Hopeless, inanimate objects becoming anything but is a relatively normal occurrence. But there’s something about the way the scones chitter that makes them truly disturbing.”

Craig Hallam

“They’s fast; I seen one race down a weasel, eviscerate it with one kick o them clawfoots, then drag th’ twitchin’ carcass back ta its den, fulla blind, hairless, and carnivorous spawn. Their sharp li’l teeths makes short work of a body, leavin’ behind nuthin but fur, feathers, an mebbe gizzard-stones. If the stayed small, it wouldn’t be such a thing…but my ole Gram told me bout some what gets biggah an biggah. An ole bull Puddle Rat’s clawfoots can take a badger, ole boar coon, dog…er child. They done a big stermination on em, back in ’69. Some fellers got a little excited an used dynamite an a home-made flame-throwah fashioned out of an ole Indian tank, burnt down two houses, a toolshid, the Mayah’s cah, an Gino’s Pettin Zoo. No great loss, cos all he had was some chickens, an incontinent three-legged sheep, and somethin’ he called “Gordie Th Whatzit”, ayuh. Was able to salvage enough roast chicken an mutton foah a BBQ but Gordie? Ole Gordie dissapeahed.

Huh? Oh, yeah, they wasn’t to many confirmed Puddle Rats kilt, but they mostly stayed outta sight after that. Ain’t seen one in yeeahs.”

Cardiff Piltdown

Ever seen their mating ritual: The Scone Dance?

Attenborough tried but the footage wasn’t usable, distorted by arcane symbols.”

Anth Hodson-Curran

 

Upon seeing a puddle rat.

Beneath the leaden sky

I sat to take in the cool Hopeless evening

The waves whispered

The air was still

Vainly I tried to draw the stillness within

Something stirred.

A puddle rat

Ears twitching and alert, nose sniffing the air

Long shanked and nimble

It watched me

Reared on its hind legs, tail swishing

Its eyes gleamed

Such natural candour

That cares nothing for form or outward appearing

A mirror to my soul

In your dark eye

Writhe unquiet spirits in constant turmoil

My long denied demons

And for your dark eye

That sees true and shows unguardedly its seeing

People call you wicked.–

Jim Snee

 

The Sweaty Tapster

 

Almost a century before the arrival of the island’s founding families, a British convict ship, bound for Virginia, was caught up in a violent storm and blown several hundreds of miles off-course. Fortunately, though some might have said otherwise, the ship ran safely aground on the fog-bound rocks that generously punctuate the coastline around Hopeless, Maine. Although the captain, guards and crew tried valiantly to contain their captive charges, it soon became obvious that any hope of rescue was unlikely and either the convicts would have to be released, or left to drown in chains when the ship eventually broke-up completely. So, having absolutely no idea where on earth they were, the collection of shipwreckees struck an uneasy truce and made their way warily inland.


It must be remembered that those felons transported to the Americas and later, Australia, were not, by and large, hardened, dangerous criminals. Such people were swiftly despatched at the end of a rope. More often than not, the unfortunates who found themselves banished to the colonies had been forced into petty crime and prostitution by the simple requirement to survive in a time of great need.


Over the following days and weeks partnerships developed and little clumps of like-minded people found themselves drifting away from the original company. Some built shelters from rocks and driftwood, while others took advantage of the ready made dwellings that they found, mysteriously abandoned and in varìous states of disrepair.

Other survivors, it must be said, disappeared without a trace. There was a nervous but optimistic assumption by the rest of the company that they had simply gone their own way without a word of farewell. Anyone remotely familiar with the viscious nature of the fauna – and indeed, some of the flora – of Hopeless would recognise this as a perfect example of the triumph of hope over experience.

Twenty or so of those with a more adventurous disposition took themselves to the far north of the island. In the shadow of a range of hills that they later learned were known as the Gydynaps, they were surprised to discover a small, friendly and somewhat inbred community that appeared to have resided there for generations. Even more surprising was the fact that these people conversed in something approximating to Old English.

Those interested in the history of the island have spent many hours scratching their heads over the origins of this little community. The general school of thought is that they were descendants of Saxon slaves brought over by the Norsemen who settled on Hopeless a thousand years ago, or more. There is no indication that pre-Norman Conquest Britons ever knowingly ventured this far west. Such a voyage – to all intents and purposes to the very edge of the world – would have been either founded upon foolishness or desperation, or, more than likely, a combination of both.

Unsurprisingly, it was here that the remains of the convict ship diaspora, a rag-tag band of whores, petty-thieves and sailors, decided to stay. While most of the sailors hoped for rescue eventually, the convicts were happy to call this place home. There were some empty buildings and even an inn, of sorts, although the beer was inclined to be flat, warm and cloudy. On the upside, they had at last found something to remind them of England!

A short distance from the inn was a church. This will come as no surprise to anyone who grew up in a village where the juxtaposition of religious disapproval and earthly delights is all too common. After all, robustly assuaging the thirst and then sanctimoniously staggering into church to purge the soul has a certain logic.

This church, however, was long deserted (organised religion has always had a tenuous hold on Hopeless. Even Saint Brendan gave up trying while he was here). Anyway, for whatever reason, the place had not heard a hymn or a prayer for decades.

It seemed as good a place as any for the small band of ‘ladies of the night’ to call home and resume business – and the sailors, being sailors, tended to agree. On an island where money has little meaning, it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to find a suitable reimbursement for the various services transacted but somehow both parties concerned managed to reach a agreeable arrangement.

Over the next few years the newcomers became fully integrated with the descendants of the earliest visitors, whose language gradually became diluted and transformed.  Although it is now many years since anyone spoke in that tongue its legacy may still be found in various landmarks, place-names and surnames north of the Gydynaps. Indeed, the very name of these hills gives every indication that they were once sacred.The word appears to be derived from the Old English ‘Gydenu’, relating to the presence of a god or, more likely, a goddess. Given the reputation for mystery that the hills still have, this is hardly surprising.

Another example worth mentioning is the family name of Negelsleag which eventually mutated into Nailsworthy, a name regular readers will recognise as being that of our current and much-loved  (from a distance) Night Soil Man. Being the last of his line, it is sad to reflect that when Shenandoah dies this ancient moniker will die with him.

Similarly, the way in which archaic words evolve is generally believed to have given rise to the origin of The Squid and Teapot. Many hundreds of years ago an ale-house would often have been identified by a nearby landmark, the owner’s name or even a description of the landlord. The rough tavern, beloved by those living north of the Gydynaps, was no exception and had, for many years, been fondly known as The Swætan Tæppere, or, roughly, The Sweaty Tapster (or innkeeper), doubtless a homage to a risible but unfortunate characteristic of one of its long-dead landlords.

The newcomers found this name alien, unpronounceable and somewhat uninviting so, in time The Swætan Tæppere became jocularly known The Squid and Teapot and the name stuck. (Another, no less interesting but somewhat disappointing theory is that the inn was so named after someone discovered a small cephalopod comfortably ensconsed in a kitchen vessel of the spouted variety, generally used for the concoction of herbal infusions).

Over the years the building was added to, spreading outwards and upwards, until it became the imposing tavern that it is today.

As for the deserted church that was reincarnated as a bordello, ever since that time it has been home to a number of young – and not so young – ladies, all of whom have been happy to make whatever sacrifices necessary in order to enjoy the shelter and security that its stout walls provide. Many years would pass before the establishment was granted a whiff of respectability by the enterprising and philanthropic lady who called herself Madame Evadne, a pioneer who, euphemistically, marketed it as being a lodging house for discerning gentlemen, which in all fairness, it was and still is. But that, dear reader, as I have often said before, is a tale for another day.

Art by Cliff Cumber

The nameless beastie

Hello people! (and others)

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Hopeless, Maine-sister communities

Hopeless, Maine can be a lonely sort of place.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.