The unspeakable thing in the night

You lie there awake, listening to the sounds on the roof. Something is on the roof, skidding over the slates. Back and forth it goes. They go. There is no sense in this scrabbling about around the chimneys, and yet you cannot be sure that there is nothing intelligent up there. 

All you can do is hope that it is a donkey, again. There is no imaginable way that a donkey could be on your roof because there are no means by which it might ascend. You know this. You have checked extensively. But there has been a donkey on the roof before – you saw it with your own eyes in the uncanny half light of an early summer morning. The donkey looked at you and you expected it to speak, giving some pronouncement to justify its position or identity. It said nothing. How it descended remains as mysterious to you as the means by which it found its way to your chimney pots. It declined to come down while you were watching, and everyone must succumb to the call of the privy in the end.

You really hope this sound comes from hooves on roof tiles. That the skidding is exactly the way a donkey would sound on a roof and that those aren’t slithering noises at all. But now you’ve thought about it you can’t quite let go of the idea that the sound from above is a slithering sound. The low grunt doesn’t dispel the possibility of night visiting tentacles. It does however raise the possibility that what you’ve got on the roof is a werewolf. You’d had your suspicions for a while about Amos next door, and he has a window that would make it easy to get out onto his roof, and from there to yours. You are fairly certain this is not the route the donkey used.

How dangerous is Amos if he really does turn into a werewolf? He’s not eating well, that’s for sure. The man is bone thin, which makes you think he’s maybe not that good at hunting and eating people. On the flip side he’s probably very hungry, and your roof connects with his, and here you are, all fleshy and nutritious.

The darkness around you feels heavy and oppressive, and you think about lighting your candle. It might be a comfort to be able to see what’s around you. Of course that still won’t help you with the thing on the roof. You briefly entertain the idea that it could be some sort of perfectly normal night bird doing perfectly normal night bird things up there. Then you hear it breathing slowly into the chimney, and the hairs rise on the back of your neck.

Please let it be a donkey.

The Black Tent

Philomena Bucket and Doctor John Dee stood hand in hand, gazing into the mist-filled mouth of the mysterious cavern that lay deep beneath the island of Hopeless, Maine.  Philomena was on a mission to unleash the magic which, apparently, resided within her. She had enlisted the aid of the sixteenth-century alchemist, Doctor Dee, who, until being hurled through time and space to the island, had been Court Astrologer to Queen Elizabeth. Exactly how this magic was to be released, however, neither had any idea; they were led here purely by Philomena’s intuition that this cavern was the place where her magical abilities were choosing to manifest.

The two looked around them in wonder. As soon as they had stepped through the misty cave mouth, they found themselves transported to somewhere deep within a rich, green forest, where dappled sunlight played through the leaf canopy, high overhead. The air was filled with birdsong and the scent of the wild garlic and bluebells, growing in profusion all about them.

“It must be Springtime here,” observed Dee. “What a delightful place this is.”

“Well, I’d bet anything that we’re not on Hopeless,” said Philomena. “Spring flowers? Birdsong? No, it is all too perfect. I wonder what we’re supposed to do, now that we’re here?”

“We could look in there,” said Doctor Dee, pointing to a ragged-looking black tent, that neither had previously noticed. It was squatting beneath the branches of an equally ragged-looking black tree.

“It must be there for a reason,” declared Dee, not particularly convincingly.

As they drew closer it became clear that, at some point, the tree had been struck by lightning, leaving its branches blackened and skeletal. The tent, which had obviously seen better days, was based upon a yurt-like design, but without any indication of the comfort that such structures usually provide. Doctor Dee unhitched the door flap and, with no little amount of trepidation, the two ventured in.

Philomena looked about her with a certain amount of disappointment. Daylight showed through the threadbare sides and roof of the tent, while the floor had no covering. Could it possibly have any relevance to her mission? She turned to ask John Dee his opinion.

“Do you think…” she began, but the sentence died on her lips as she watched Dee gradually fade away into nothingness. Her last sight of his semi-opaque form was to see him reaching out to her. She thought that she could hear him calling her name, but the sound came from far, far away. She tried to touch his outstretched arms, but they were as insubstantial as a sunbeam, and then he was gone. Philomena was not a woman who cried easily, but, feeling suddenly alone, she fell to her knees and wept.

Upon entering the tent, John Dee was surprised to find that he was in his study, at home. Everything was as he had left it; his obsidian scrying bowl was still on the floor, where it had dropped when Philomena, Norbert and Bartholomew had first appeared. He turned to speak to Philomena, and was not a little shocked to find her disappearing before his very eyes. He reached out, at the same time anxiously calling her name. As he did so, the thought crossed his mind that, until now, he had always referred to her as Mistress Bucket. It was ironic that it was only when he was losing her that he felt familiar enough to call her Philomena.

“And who is Philomena? Some bawd or other, I do not doubt.”

Dee turned to see his wife standing in the doorway.  

“Jane, my precious, I… I was just contemplating writing a treatise upon Saint Philomena,” he stammered, crossing his fingers behind his back.

“I cannot say that I am familiar with her,” replied his wife, suspiciously. “Anyway, I came in to remind you that you have an appointment with Sir Francis Walsingham in an hour.”

An appointment with Walsingham? Dee suddenly remembered that he had been due to meet with the Queen’s spymaster on the very afternoon that he had been whisked away to Hopeless. It dawned upon him that, incredibly, those weeks of his life spent on that strange little island in the New World had apparently passed by in but a few minutes in Elizabethan England.

“Walsingham… yes Walsingham, indeed my love. I will make myself ready,” he said hurriedly, gathering his composure and relieved that he had somehow succeeded in getting away with inventing a Saint Philomena.  Incidentally, and apropos to nothing at all, it would be another three hundred years before the bones of the third-century Philomena of Corfu, patron saint of Infants, babies and youth, would be discovered, and the girl eventually canonised.

Philomena Bucket was feeling anything but saintly. She was angry; angry with herself for coming to this place, angry with John Dee for disappearing and angry beyond words because she could not find a way out. She wandered back along the path that she was certain they had taken, but there was no welcoming cave mouth to guide her back to The Squid and Teapot. She searched the forest all day, but to no avail. The light was fading and Philomena was tired and hungry. She realised that she needed to get back to the black tent, and shelter within its thin walls for the night. Her main concern was, however, that she would never find it again. She had walked miles, and in no particular direction. What were her chances of stumbling upon it once more? And then the realisation came upon her, that she was here to unearth her latent magical abilities, and doubtless, the forest, the tent and the lightning-tree all had a part to play if this was to be achieved. There was no point in being frightened, or resisting the inevitable. All she needed to do was to surrender to whatever it was that had created this illusion, for illusion it surely was, and hope for the best.   

No sooner had these thoughts formed in her mind than the lightning-tree came into view; the black-tent still sitting beneath its branches. Accepting whatever might befall, Philomena slipped inside its dark interior and closed the door-flap behind her. In the gloom she could see that a pitcher of water had been placed on the ground, next to a simple straw palliasse. Gratefully Philomena drank some water, then sank, exhausted, onto the little bed, desperately wishing that Drury was there to keep her company.

To be continued…

The front of Survivors, so far

Hello, again people (and others)

Here at Hopeless, Maine headquarters we are somewhat plague ridden but still wish to bring you all of the island news that is fit to shout into the ether.

Having finished drawing the page art for the final graphic novel volume, it was time to draw the cover for Hopeless, Maine-Survivors. The concept was Nimue’s (she even posed for it) The island is an ever changing place, but here Sal presents it as caught at a moment in time. This is the first time we haven’t drawn the cover first, but have let the finished (ish) book inform us of what the cover needed to be. Next, Nimue will make it amazing with the colours and we will unveil that at some point in the not too dim and distant future!

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

Tom

Back to the Underland

Actual key made by Matt at Arcane Armoury.

Regular readers of these tales will be aware of the circumstances which brought Doctor John Dee, the sixteenth century alchemist and Court Astrologer to Queen Elizabeth, to the island of Hopeless. You will, likewise, know why he was now frantically searching for a key to the Underland, a labyrinth of mysterious tunnels, the entrance to which lay far beneath The Squid and Teapot. In addition to this, an attentive reader will also have gathered that Durosimi O’Stoat, sensing the latent magical abilities of Philomena Bucket, had plotted to sacrifice her to Buer, who was generally believed to be a demon, but was, in fact, a Daemon, which, apparently, is not the same thing at all.

“Of course I know where it is,” exclaimed Philomena, in response to Doctor Dee’s request for help. She reached into her pinafore pocket and fished out a heavy, ornate, iron key.

“Bartholomew gave it to me to look after, until such times as he could decide where the best place to hide it might be,” she said.

“Ah… then give it to me, my very soul depends upon it,” said Dee, making a sudden lunge, only for Philomena to deftly step aside and his hand grasp nothing but thin air.

“And so does mine, it would seem,” said Philomena. “Do you know that this is all a plot by Durosimi? He has made a deal with Buer to hand him the key, and in exchange, Buer gets me. Body and soul, apparently.”

John Dee paled visibly.

“Then I cannot possibly go through with this,” he stated, a tremor in his voice. “If I must sacrifice myself to save you, Mistress Bucket, then I will gladly, though all the devils in Hell torment me. My time, however, is short, for Buer gave me but three days to find the key.”

“Nobody is being sacrificed,” said Philomena, gently. “I’ve spoken to Buer, and he is on our side. I need your assistance, though Doctor. I want you to help me find my magic powers; it is our only chance against Durosimi.”

“But, as I have said many times before,” replied Dee, “I have no magical abilities. How do you think I can I help you?”

“Well,” began Philomena, “whatever you choose to believe, you are the nearest to a magician that I’ve ever met. You are a scryer, an alchemist, an astrologer and quite the cleverest person on the island. If you cannot help me, then nobody can.”

“Very well, but I wish Edward Kelley was here. He would know what to do,” said John Dee, remembering how his old friend and colleague had frequently claimed to possess all manner of magical skills. In truth, Kelley had been something of a charlatan, far more adept at self-aggrandisement and the art of bluffing than John Dee could ever be. The Queen’s Astrologer was so convinced of his friend’s occult claims that, upon learning that ‘The Angels’ had confided to Kelley that it would be right and proper for him to occasionally share a bed with Mistress Dee, the good doctor accepted the idea without a murmur. Had Philomena known this, she might have revised her opinion, somewhat.

“I have every faith in you, Doctor,” said Philomena. “And if I am not mistaken Durosimi has given us a clue as to what we need to do. He is keen to get hold of this key, and as far as I know the tunnels all lead to the cavern where you first dropped into Hopeless. That seems to be some sort of magical hub. Something tells me we need to go there.”

“Then we should trust your intuition, Mistress Bucket,” said Dee. “I told you once that the magic lies deep within you, and when once awakened, will find its way to the fore, and nothing, or no one,  including yourself, will prevent it from doing so.”

“Then it needs to get a move on,” said Philomena, “and we need to get to The Squid as soon as we can. I’ve a lot to learn and there’s not a lot of time left before Durosimi expects to get the key and dispose of me.”

Tucked away in the corner of one of the attics of The Squid and Teapot is an old sea-chest; at least, that is what you are led to believe. It is, in reality, part of the brickwork of the inn, cleverly constructed to look like a sea-chest. Once the heavy padlock is undone and its lid is opened, a long, vertical iron ladder is revealed; it runs from the very top of the building to the cellars. On either side of the ladder, at its base, stand two doors. One leads to the cellars, the other to the cavernous tunnels, descending two hundred feet beneath the foundations.

Carrying candle lanterns, it was down this ladder and into the depths beneath the island that Philomena and John Dee ventured.  With their lanterns held high, they passed through the great, cathedral-like cavern, where Norbert Gannicox had once lit rush-lights, and down into the tunnels beyond, not stopping until they reached their goal. Philomena could remember when she had visited this place – wreathed as it was in what she called ‘Good Old Hopeless Fog.’ That was the day that they had first met Doctor Dee. The fog was still here, as was the comforting appearance of daylight beyond, but she was wiser, this time around. Philomena was well aware that this was no route to the shore, for there was no knowing what lay behind the foggy mouth of the cavern. Her first foray into its depths had drawn her, along with Norbert Gannicox and Bartholomew Middlestreet, into a great arena, enclosed on all sides by sheer walls of smooth, black obsidian. This, as it turned out, was actually Doctor Dee’s scrying bowl. After a brief visit to the astrologer’s study they, and John Dee himself, had been spat out into a helter-skelter ride through history.

Now, with their senses heightened, the pair could almost taste the raw magic emanating from within the recesses of the cavern. Instinctively they joined hands, drew a deep breath, and stepped into the fog.

To be continued…

Head dwelling Spoonwalker.

Hello, people! (and others)

We, at Hopeless, Maine headquarters (There is joke here somewhere, given the title…) are excited to announce the the very maker of the official headwear of the Bishop of Squid, one Tracey Abrahams by name, is in the process of creating a Spoonwalker hat! She has fallen under the influence of the island and plans severa; projects based on the strange fauna of the island. If you’d like to see more of her work (Probably to include updates on the Hopeless, Maine based projects, please visit here.

If you would like a spoonwalker hat of your very own, you can message Tracey via her Instagram page and start a (strange) conversation!

Here are the progress shots you were waiting for!

Pandæmonium

Since coming to Hopeless, Philomena Bucket was of the firm impression that there was nothing left to surprise her anymore.  She had witnessed so many oddities, so many weird and not particularly wonderful occurrences on the island, she convinced herself that the part of her brain designated to register surprise had been rendered permanently numb by overuse. It was, therefore, something of a surprise to her to find that she had, against all odds, been taken by surprise.

I do not think that many of us, when finding ourselves mysteriously transported from the chilly, foggy island of Hopeless to the sumptuous, if somewhat stuffy, environs of a London Gentleman’s’ Club, heavy with the scent of deep, leather armchairs, good brandy, expensive cigar smoke and freshly ironed copies of ‘The Times’, could honestly claim to say that the experience had failed to raise the odd eyebrow, or cause us to ponder for a moment. Personally, put in such a position, I would have quickly dissolved into a gibbering wreck, and been sent to inhabit a small space liberally lined with several rolls of rubber wallpaper. Philomena Bucket, however, was made of sterner stuff, and allowed the novelty of the moment to do no more than extract a slightly startled, “Jaisus, Mary and Joseph!” from her lips.

The lean, bespectacled figure, sprawled languidly in the leather armchair, had introduced himself simply as Buer. The name meant nothing to Philomena; happily, for her, she had never seen him in his more terrifying form, with five legs, each tipped with a cloven hoof, radiating from the head of a lion.

“Where am I?” she asked, looking around the unfamiliar surroundings.

“You are in Pandæmonium,” replied Buer. “This is my home… or at least the home that I share with my many brothers, for we are legion.”

“Is Pandæmonium a place?” queried Philomena. “I always thought it was an unholy noise.”

“Oh, it is definitely unholy,” smiled Buer, “But it roughly translates as ‘The Home of all Daemons’.”

“And you are… a demon?” asked Philomena. If there was alarm in her voice she was determined that Buer would not hear it.

 “That need not concern you, for now, Philomena,” said Buer. “I mean you no harm. But tell me, why is Durosimi O’Stoat lying to me, and offering you up to me as a sacrifice?”

The look on Philomena’s face told Buer that she had no idea as to what he was referring. He decided to enlighten her.

“Durosimi is using me to persuade John Dee that he must find the key to the Underland. You, my dear, are the payment I receive when he delivers it.  Apparently, in Durosimi’s words, you will be mine, ‘Body and soul’.”

Philomena shuddered. Her naturally pale face grew chalk white. Buer raised a reassuring hand.

“Don’t worry, I have no interest in you, other than to warn you of Durosimi’s intentions.  I think that obtaining the key is of less importance to him than getting rid of you. Do you know why that might be?”

Philomena shook her head. Although she did not like, or trust, Durosimi, she could not say why. She barely knew the man.

Buer raised himself from the armchair, and walked over to where Philomena was standing. Her body tensed and she became frozen to the spot as he took her face in his hands and stared deeply into her eyes. She could feel his gaze sweeping through her like a searchlight. After what felt like an eternity Buer straightened his arms and regarded her with interest.

“He fears you! Durosimi fears you and does not truly know why. How unutterably delicious,” Buer laughed. “And you have no idea why, either, do you?”

“This is all news to me,” said Philomena. Just an hour previously she had thought that there were no surprises left in her life; now she was currently juggling more than she could cope with.

“I wonder why it is,” pondered Buer, “that men seek to destroy that which they do not understand? Tell me, Philomena, are you familiar with the term ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’?”

Philomena shook her head dumbly, unsure of where this might be leading.

“Then allow me to lighten your darkness,” continued Buer. “In the late fifteenth century there lived, in the city of Florence, a Dominican friar, named Girolamo Savonarola. Savonarola feared beauty, for he considered art, books, mirrors, cosmetics, perfumes, indeed, almost anything that made life bearable, to be sinful.  That would have been fine, had he kept his opinions to himself. Unfortunately, he managed to persuade the citizens of Florence that, in allowing anything remotely beautiful to exist, they would be damning themselves for eternity. Rubbish of course, but they were driven by fear, and on Shrove Tuesday, in the year 1497, they built a great fire and destroyed every worthwhile thing of beauty that they could lay their hands on… and that was unforgiveable.”

“But what has that got to do with Durosimi O’Stoat?” asked Philomena.

“Because he is no better than Girolamo Savonarola,” replied Buer. “I have seen into his mind. He fears you, and because of that he wishes to destroy you.”

“Ah, go on… why would anyone be scared of me,” laughed Philomena, nervously.  Before she could say another word, Buer held up a beautifully manicured hand to silence her.

“Because you are powerful. Far more powerful than Durosimi O’Stoat could ever be.”

Philomena said nothing. Both John Dee and the ghost of Granny Bucket had told her the same thing, and it made her feel uncomfortable. She wanted to change the subject.

“So, what happened to old Girolamo?” she asked, quietly congratulating herself that she had remembered the friar’s name.

“I hated what he had caused,” said Buer, “so all it took was for me to murmur some chosen words into a few sanctimonious ears, and little more than a year after The Bonfire of the Vanities, Friar Girolamo, along with two of his closest supporters, were fuel on their own bonfires.” He gave Philomena a long, hard look. “When O’Stoat learns that I have no appetite to consume your body or soul, he will, most likely, try to turn the islanders against you. Before that happens, I will deal with him as I did the friar.”

“No,” cried Philomena, horrified. “I can’t have that on my conscience. Anyway, you said that you’re a demon. Surely, you approve of people being evil?”

“My dear young lady,” smiled Buer, “that is a very mediaeval attitude, if you don’t mind me saying. Anyway – I did not say that I am a demon, they are completely different to my race. I am a Daemon. Any ancient Greek schoolboy would tell you that I am no more, or less, than a supernatural spirit. While I admit, I can rarely be described as being on the side of the angels – if indeed, such creatures exist – I am certainly not on the side of evil. I will punish as I see fit and somewhat enjoy terrifying the pious when I don some of my various, less comely, forms; but no, on balance, few would call me evil.”

From seemingly nowhere, a mist arose and began to swirl around the room. A startled Philomena looked about her, and the vision of the elegant daemon in Pandæmonium began to fade; she was once more in the kitchen of The Squid and Teapot, staring into a bowl of water, which glowed golden as sunlight. Philomena’s heart missed a beat as, alarmingly, the terrifying image of an angry lion’s head with blazing red eyes appeared upon its surface.

“If you do not wish for my help, then learn your craft, and learn it quickly, Philomena Bucket”

It was the voice of Buer that spoke in her head.

Suddenly the spell was broken by an agitated John Dee, bursting into the kitchen.

“I’m giving up scrying, it does not work for me anymore. Mistress Bucket,” he blurted, twirling his beard in anguish. “I am in dire danger and know not how to extricate myself if I cannot find the key to the Underland. Please, Mistress Bucket – I implore you – I desperately need your help!”

To be continued…  

Dustcat, Baby

Here for your delight and delectation is a little bit of dustcat footage, shot by Martin Hayward Harris – maker of this puppet. Tom is working the puppet.

Try singing about ‘dustcats’ to the tune of ‘Loveshack’. dustcats baby, dustcats baby…funky little cat.

If you would like to meet this puppet in person, and get a photo of you with it, then come along to our Stroud event!

Scrying

The five-legged, lion-headed demon, Baur, had given Doctor John Dee just three days to unearth the key which opened the passage to the Underland, far beneath The Squid and Teapot. Dee immediately decided that the only way that this might be achieved was with the use of a scrying mirror. While he would be the first to admit that he had no talent as a magician, he was more than adept at the art of scrying. Back home, in sixteenth-century England, he had possessed a shallow obsidian bowl, which, when filled with water, did the job admirably. Now, however, on Hopeless, Maine, he would need to improvise.

A niggling thought occurred to Doctor Dee, as he wandered into the kitchen of The Squid and Teapot. Baur was powerful, there could be no doubt about that. He had been seen all over the known world; nothing barred his way. ‘How is it, then’ Dee asked himself, ’that one who commands so much power needs a simple brass key to access the tunnel?’ Surely, the demon could wish himself anywhere.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sight of Philomena Bucket scrabbling about beneath the table.

“Has something gone astray, Mistress Bucket?” he asked.

“I dropped a teaspoon,” replied Philomena. “It’s not that important really, but if there’s a spoon on the floor, it’ll be bound to attract them spoonwalkers in. I swear the little devils can smell lost cutlery.”

With some difficulty Dee got on to his hands and knees and helped her with the search.

“If I had a pint of Old Colonel for every spoon that’s gone missing, I’d be permanently drunk,” said Philomena.

“Then allow me to locate them for you,” replied Dee, an idea forming in his mind. “Furnish me with a dark bowl and some clean water and together we will find them. You and I will go a-scrying.”

“Scrying?” queried Philomena. “I thought that was for looking into the future.”

“Not solely,” said Dee. “You have to concentrate, state your intentions, and the surface of the water, or mirror, if you’re using one, will show you that which you ask for. You need to be careful though, especially when looking into the future. There you will be shown a possible future, for although the ultimate destination is inevitable and decided by destiny, the journey may take one of several paths.”

An hour later Philomena found herself watching, fascinated, as John Dee located the whereabouts of more than a dozen missing spoons. Several were scattered around the inn, but more than a half had been taken to a spoonwalker’s nest, up in the Gydynap Hills.

“There will be no getting those back,” said Philomena. “Leastways, not if you want to hang on to your sanity.”  

She had heard enough tales of islanders being driven mad by prolonged exposure to a spoonwalker’s gaze to doubt the truth of this.

 “May I borrow this for the morning,” asked Dee, flourishing the now empty bowl.

“Of course,” smiled Philomena. “Pottery bowls are something we have plenty of.”

She watched Doctor Dee amble off to his room, clutching the bowl under his arm.

What was it that he had said?  Concentrate, state your intentions, and the surface of the water will show you that which you ask for. That did not sound too difficult. And the doctor had told her more than once that she possessed some magical ability.

Philomena took another bowl from the shelf and filled it with water. Then she lit a candle and tried to remember what Dee had done, how he had sat, what movements he had made. Despite her best efforts, nothing seemed to work and the dark surface of the water remained stubbornly devoid of any image. Philomena shrugged, and was about to give up, when the memory of Granny Bucket’s ghost, sitting on the bottom of her bed, came flooding back to her. Granny had been most dismissive about Philomena being in thrall to John Dee.

“Who cares what Doctor Dee says? Know yourself, girl,” these were Granny’s exact words. Well, maybe it was time to practise her so-called magical powers.

Philomena blew out the candle, settled once more in front of the scrying bowl, told it in no uncertain terms what her intentions were, and concentrated hard. There was no mysterious chanting or hand-waving involved, as Dee had done, no calling upon the spirits of the scrying bowl. Just Philomena and her ferocious desire to make this work. And work it did…

The water in the bowl grew cloudy, with a thin mist hovering above it. Minutes ticked by, then as the mists began to clear Philomena could just make out a figure on the water’s surface. With a shock she realised that she was seeing herself standing in front of, what looked like, a golden disc. The disc became brighter, and gradually grew until it filled the surface of the bowl; she had become no more than a tiny dot at its centre. Then she noticed that the disc itself was changing, and a face, with leonine features, now glared out of the bowl with blazing red, demonic eyes. Philomena could not tear her own eyes away from that stare and she found herself being drawn, as if into the bowl itself.  For an instant the whole world took on a vast golden glow. When it eventually faded, and Philomena had rubbed her eyes, she looked around at her surroundings. It was more than a little surprising to see that she was now standing in a lavishly furnished room. In a corner, sitting quietly in a deep, leather armchair, was a smartly dressed, somewhat languid middle-aged man. Seeing Philomena, he arose, smiled faintly and extended a pale hand.

“Ah, there you are Miss Bucket. I’ve been expecting you. May I call you Philomena?”

“Um… I suppose,” replied Philomena, hesitantly. She had no idea where she was, or even if she was still alive.  

“Am I supposed to know who you are?” she asked.

“I doubt it very much,” said her host, “But you may have heard of me… please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Baur…”

To be continued…

Final Pages

Hello people, (and others)

I write this, having drawn the final pages of the conclusion of the Hopeless, Maine graphic novel series. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to describe all of the thoughts and feelings that arise when I type the above.

(edit. I have re-read what I have written. It’s maybe twelve percent of the thoughts and feelings. I’ll try again later and more)

Hopeless, Maine is sort of my life’s work so far. It actually started in a way, when I was in my late twenties with another indie comics series which I will not tell you the name of because you might look it up. Then when I was at a personal low point and living in a transitional homeless shelter, I decided to see if I could bring the project back to life, or hang onto the bits I liked and reincarnate it. Salamandra came to me at that point and the whole story started reforming around her. Fast forward some years to me reading Nimue’s work on line and having the absolute certainty that this was the right writer to tell the story. If you know us at all you will have heard me tell the story of how I asked Nimue to write it and she demurred and I thought I had offended her with my silly comics writing job and it was just because she did not know if she could write comics. Well, as you might have guessed, we worked that out. We worked out a lot of other things too, because I moved here to the UK to marry her. (And she is still far and away my favourite author and…lots of other things!) So, Hopeless, Maine has been a huge part of our life and a big part of how we got together in the first place.

There have been a lot of challenges and times when I wondered if I would live long enough to finish the series. There have been times when, honestly I wondered if I should. Drawing comics is a very time consuming way to not really make a living for most of us in the industry. So much of my life in the intervening years has been spent behind a drawing board and not doing other things, like..living. I think I have been a bit of a workaholic but it’s difficult to tease out the necessity from the choices. I do know though, that though i’m glad and proud to have finished it trough all of the doubts and publishing complications, I’m also really glad to say that this is the last traditional graphic novel I will ever draw. I’m an illustrator now, with a life and so many things that I want to do and people I want to spend time with. Adventures, love…that sort of thing!

Hopeless, Maine will continue so don’t worry about that. (If you were worrying about that) The next instalment is already written and we will be playing with illustration formats. (it will be lavish) We will be doing more Hopeless, Maine music and performance and there is the RPG and the film to produce and more ways for our tentacles to spread. There is just a better chance you will get to actually see me out in the world now, really.

Thank you so VERY much to everyone who has been with us on this very strange journey so far, and we hope you will stay with us for the next chapters.

And here is a picture of Nimue having coloured the final two page spread for the series!

The Summoning

There are few people brave, or foolish, enough to wander abroad on the island of Hopeless, Maine, after darkness has fallen. Having said this, Philomena Bucket, who is neither particularly brave nor foolish, has done so with impunity, on several occasions. This probably has something to do with the fact that both Drury, the skeletal dog, and Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, have taken it upon themselves to be her personal protectors. Of course, Philomena has no knowledge of Rhys’ presence, as he always makes a point of keeping out of sight and well upwind of the object of his affection. On the night of this tale, however, Philomena was tucked up in her bed, safe in The Squid and Teapot, while Rhys, accompanied by Drury, was busily servicing the earth-closets and outdoor privies of a grateful clientele.

A lone figure stood in the misty moonlight, looking out over the ocean. Had anyone on the island been watching, they would have instantly recognised the long flowing robe and equally long flowing beard of Doctor John Dee, the Elizabethan alchemist lately deposited upon Hopeless. Dee had become popular with many of the islanders, never slow raise a tankard or two, and relate a few treasonous, and decidedly racy, tales regarding the daily goings-on in the court of Good Queen Bess. The old alchemist judged that from this vantage point of being several hundred years in the future, his head was safe enough from the royal wrath.

Dee’s mind, that night, was dwelling on other things. Earlier in the evening Norbert Gannicox had been regaling him with an account of the time that St Anthony’s Fire, otherwise known as ergot poisoning, had caused mass-hallucinations on the island (as related in the tale ‘Baking Bad’). Norbert laughed heartily as he described one of his own hallucinations that day. It had been that of a strange beast with no body, just a lion’s head with five goat-like legs radiating from it. Strangest of all was that the creature moved by its legs rotating, resembling a large, hairy Catherine wheel.

“A creature like that would have been weird, even for Hopeless,” chuckled Norbert. “The strange thing was, though, later on I could have sworn that I saw Percy Painswick pulling its hair. Can you share an hallucination?  Funnily enough, that was the day old Perce disappeared. I never saw him again after that.”

Dee said nothing, a sudden chill running down his spine. He immediately recognised Norbert’s description, and was horribly certain that the distiller had not witnessed an hallucination at all. Even the most ergot-raddled brain could not have invented such a monster. What he had seen was the demon, Buer. A few months before, with the help of his friend and colleague, Edward Kelley, Dee had conducted an experiment intending to summon Buer, following a set of instructions in a book entitled ‘Pseudomonarchia Daemonum: The False Monarchy of Demons’. This had been written by a friend of Kelley’s, Johann Weyer, a Dutch physician and self-styled demonologist. The experiment had been a failure, but Weyer’s description of Buer had haunted John Dee. Until now he believed that the Dutchman was mistaken, and doubted that such an odd looking entity could exist. Norbert’s account proved, beyond all reasonable doubt, that others had seen Buer, and that he was at large on the island. Despite his fears, Dee felt compelled to try and summon the demon once more. Despite his advanced years, he still had a keen mind and an excellent memory; he could easily remember the ceremony.

Dee had scratched a Sigillum Dei on a flat rock. This was a replica of the magical diagram he had inscribed on the floor of his study, as described in the tale ‘The Obsidian Cliff’. Standing at its centre, this was his only sanctuary, should the demon be tempted to attack. With great solemnity, and a slightly nervous tone, John Dee incanted the arcane words necessary to summon Buer. During the silence that followed, a cold sweat broke out on his forehead. For what felt like an age, nothing happened, then the air grew still. Even the roar of the waves seemed to be muted.

“Why do you disturb my rest, John Dee?” The voice was silky smooth and charming… and speaking in Latin.

“Master Buer, is that you? I cannot see you,” said Dee, who fortunately, was fluent in the tongue.

“Then answer me, why do you disturb my rest?” as the words were forming, a great golden shape began to materialise in the mist, terrible to behold.

In truth, John Dee had no idea why he had summoned the demon. Edward Kelley was a magician, and yearned for power, but Dee had no such desires. His driving force, in all things, was curiosity. This, however, was not a sufficient reason to call forth one such as Buer. He had to think quickly.

“Oh mighty Buer,” stammered Dee. “I am lost in a distant time and an unfamiliar land, and have no idea how to return to my home. As one who effortlessly strides through time and space, I beseech you, instruct me in the manner of how this might be done.”

This was totally untrue, of course. Dee, almost uniquely, had enjoyed his stay on Hopeless, and had no real wish to return to sixteenth century England, with its many terrors. However, he had to say something, and hoped that Buer was not given to mind-reading.

“That is easy, John Dee, but there is a price for this information.”

“Of course there is,” said Dee resignedly. “Do you want my soul?”

“What ever would I do with your soul?” asked Buer, with some surprise in his voice. “Of course I don’t want your soul. What I need from you is more solid and far simpler; just a key.”  

“Just a key? Any old key, or one in particular?”

Dee could have sworn that Buer rolled his eyes I disbelief.

“One key in particular will do nicely,” said the demon, sarcastically. Then he added, “and by that I mean the key to the tunnel that brought you to this island. By the way, as far as I am concerned that will not only pay for the information you require, but will compensate me for being disturbed. You have three days. The clock is ticking, John Dee.”

With these words, Buer melted into the mist, and Doctor Dee realised that there was no going back. He had to get that key, wherever it had been hidden, or face the consequences, and he shuddered to think what Buer’s consequences might entail.

“Is it done?” asked Durosimi O’Stoat.

Baur regarded him for a second or two before replying.

“Do you doubt my ability to carry out such a simple task?” he asked, somewhat sardonically. “Why, the old fool actually came looking for me, chanting some mumbo-jumbo that was supposed summon me from the pit, I suppose. It was almost laughable, but worked in our favour. He will bring me the key, and I will bring it to you. Then he will be on his way and my part of our bargain is complete.”

“Good!” said O’Stoat, “Then you will have your reward, as I promised… The Bucket woman will be yours, body and soul.”

To be continued…

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.