In the sixth century an Irish monk, Saint Brendan, along with fourteen companions, boarded a small leather boat and sailed out beyond the setting sun, seeking Paradise in the far west. Latter day scholars and adventurers now believe that he reached the shores of North America. This would be about seven hundred years before the Vikings attempted the same journey in their sleek, ocean-going, dragon-headed longships. The adventures of the saint are well documented, describing the many fantastical islands encountered on his journey. It is said that Christopher Columbus studied the account carefully before embarking on his famous voyage of 1492.
According to some old documents currently in the possession of Rufus Lypiatt, landlord of the Squid and Teapot, knowledge of the voyage of St. Brendan inspired a group of disaffected young monks to leave their monastery in Britain and set off on their own journey of discovery in the mid-1800s. Unlike Brendan they sensibly elected not to risk the trip in a craft that was little more than a flimsy, over-sized ox-hide bucket. Instead they opted to take advantage of the comparative luxury of a new-fangled steam ship. In the event, the experience of being ten days in a cramped hold, filled with generally underprivileged and somewhat sweaty fellow passengers sharing minimal hygiene facilities, made it abundantly clear that the dubious comforts of an ox-hide bucket probably had something of an edge over travelling in steerage.
After landing in New York they made enquires about any mysterious islands that might be found along the more northerly parts of the eastern seaboard. Strangely, everyone they asked, without exception, pointed them towards Maine. And so it came to pass that, upon one grey and dismal afternoon, a small band of less-than-fragrant monks found their habits flapping immodestly as a chilly north-westerly breeze welcomed them to the barren shores of Hopeless.
The apparent weirdness of the island, not to mention its inhabitants, immediately suggested that Brendan may indeed have landed here. It seemed a good place to settle, not least because few boats ever seemed to visit the place, so there was little chance of getting off anytime soon. Although there didn’t appear to be many buildings in the immediate area, providence led them to an abandoned chapel built upon a rock, not far from the shore. Its only occupants were the great black ravens, so familiar on the island. While others may have drawn certain conclusions from the word ‘abandoned’ the monks decided that it would be a splendid place to establish the very first monastery on Hopeless. With a youthful fervour that would have warmed the heart of the most fanatical Jesuit, they set about the task of renovating the humble chapel, planning to improve it, both in size and splendour.
As the monks toiled they little realised that beneath the cold grey flagstones of the chapel floor reposed the earthly remains of its founder, one Obadiah Hyde, a strict puritan who had brought his scrawny frame and joyless views to the island some two centuries earlier. Unsurprisingly, he was never a popular man and after his demise the building fell into disrepair.
It is no exaggeration to say that Hyde had his demons. He really did. Their names were Quarhouse and Mavis and they tormented him night and day. Their given task was to drive him into loose ways and revel in the pleasures of the flesh. While, for most of us, this would have been a short, pleasant and fairly uncomplicated journey, old Obadiah was steadfast. When their best efforts to lure him into a lascivious lifestyle failed, Quarhouse and Mavis resorted to spite. They swung upon his clothing, poked him with sticks and entertained him with an endless stream of ‘knock knock’ jokes. When he tried to sleep they gibbered and chattered incessantly. Eventually the curmudgeonly old puritan was driven to madness by their ceaseless torment, leading him to throw himself into the sea. After several lengthy discussions and committee meetings the relieved islanders thought it only right to drag him out of the water. They made a few half-hearted attempts to make sure that he was sufficiently dead, then wasted no time in interring him safely beneath the chapel floor.
Hyde was enjoying a leisurely, two-hundred year holiday in one of the classier parts of purgatory. He was feeling particularly smug for having got to the sunbeds before the Lutherans had the opportunity to throw their towels over them. His unusually sunny disposition soon faded, however, when he heard the distant but unmistakable sound of hammering emanating from his beloved chapel. What could it mean? Peering through the Astral mists he was shocked to find the old place being messed around. And messed around by monks, of all people. The nerve of them!! It was time to go back.
In recent years the ghost of The Mad Parson of Chapel Rock has been regarded with some fondness among the extensive pantheon of restless spirits who hang around Hopeless. In those days, however, it’s safe to say that the monks didn’t feel any particular warmth towards him. If any one word summed up his early manifestations it would be ‘bloodcurdling’. He would rage and scream, throw things around, mutter intrusively about ‘bloody papists’ in the middle of their devotions and appear without warning, generally putting the frighteners on all who beheld him.
When they could take no more of his haunting and taunting the monks decided the only possible remedy was for the ghost to be exorcised and cast out into the cold night skies forever.
One might assume that, having entertained such austere views in his lifetime, Hyde might have approved of fresh air and excorcism but as soon as the incense censer was swung and prayers of banishment intoned, the old ghost began to feel horribly queasy. The room became hazy, while the strangest of sensations made his ectoplasm tingle and not in a pleasant way. Little by little his wraith began to fade. Suddenly, just as he thought his haunting days were over for good, the ectoplasm started returning to his extremities and he felt himself being ushered to safety, far away from the detrimental effects of incense and chanting. Looking down he was most surprised to find that his benefactors were none other than his personal demons, Quarhouse and Mavis.
“You’re not the enemy any more” Mavis explained, pointing towards the chanting monks. “They are.”
Quarhouse and Mavis did their work well, whispering temptingly into youthful ears and telling them of the joys of earthly pleasures.The monks, once so full of piety and good intentions, didn’t stand a chance. They were young men far from home and quickly learning that the penitent lifestyle wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. It took little demonic influence to lead them on to The Primrose Path of Dalliance, which soon became a well trodden freeway leading to the joys of The Squid and Teapot and, with increasing frequency, Madam Evadne’s lodging house for discerning gentlemen.
Time is the great healer and during the years that passed, as all traces of the renovations disappeared, the ravens returned to Chapel Rock. Its resident ghost, Obadiah Hyde, The Mad Parson was content in the certain knowledge that things were very much as they should be. Occasionally he even allowed himself to smile indulgently as he fluttered eerily through the decaying ruins. Death had definitely mellowed him.
Art by Tom Brown