Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things.
Recently, Steven C. Davis put together a podcast of music that, for him, evokes the island of Hopeless Maine. We listened in when the show went out live and were delighted by the eclectic mix of material and the number of bands and songs we already knew and liked. Some of whom had written Hopeless Maine songs. There were also some excellent new-to-us moments.
For further delight and delectation, Keith Errington is also in the mix reading some of his highly entertaining Hopeless Maine material.
It gave us a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings.
We’ll be going to Steve’s real-world event in May, which we are decidedly excited about. This is a man who clearly gets the island, and with whom we are clearly going to be able to do some really interesting things.
The island of Hopeless, Maine has more than its fair share of unusual life-forms. While you might find a certain amount of pleasure in spotting a gentle flock of Gnii, weaving through the night sky, there is little joy to be derived from an encounter with most of the island’s other fauna, or indeed, flora. Not all of the more exotic entities mentioned in the Tales from the Squid and Teapot, however, are indigenous to Hopeless. Indeed, over the years the tales have revealed a surprising amount of creatures, generally believed to exist only in mythology and folklore, to have found their way to the island. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to revisit a few.
Tucked away, high on a shelf behind the bar of The Squid and Teapot, Bartholomew Middlestreet keeps an old, leather-bound journal detailing the visits of these demons and monsters. These accounts have obviously been recorded by several different hands, the years having faded some of the ink to sepia. Fortunately there are plenty of blank pages left for any new arrival to be noted, for the island seems to be a draw for the various weird, but not-particularly wonderful, denizens of earth, sea and sky. Bartholomew has mentioned on several occasions that is a great pity that the journal, unlike the tales, does not benefit from the splendid illustrations supplied by Mr Tom Brown and Mr Clifford Cumber.
Aboo-dom-k’n Sir Fromebridge Whitminster was eaten by a juvenile aboo-dom-k’n, as was mentioned in his Obituary, and more recently, in the tale The Man in Grey. Aboo-dom-k’n, also known as Apotamkin, features in the legends of the Maliseet and Passamaquoddy people. It is generally described as being a giant fanged sea-serpent with long red hair, given to lurking in the Passamaquoddy Bay, with the intention of dragging the unwary into the water and eating them.
Manchachicoj In the tale ‘The Stowaway’ a strange, hideous half-blood demon is brought to the island from Buenos Aires, on a ship called the Annie C Maguire. Manchachicoj hails from the Northwest region of Argentina and was described as being small and deformed, but also seductive, elegant and romantic, which probably explains how he was able to mate with various mermaids and produce some extremely ugly progeny. Manchachicoj’s escape from the Annie C Maguire caused her to capsize when she struck the ledge at Portland Head Light, on Christmas Eve 1886. If you don’t believe me, look it up!
Pamola According to the Penobscot people, Pamola is a bird-spirit who inhabits Katahdin, the tallest Mountain in Maine, and is apparently responsible for making cold weather. He is usually described as having the head of a moose, the body of a man and the wings and feet of an eagle. In the tale that bears his name, Pamola takes the simpler form of a huge bird of prey, having previously been created from bits of vegetables cooked up in an ancient Welsh cauldron, as told in the tale The Unquiet Gravy.
Buer Buer is a most fearsome-looking demon. He has no body, as such, but has a lion’s head, from which radiate five hairy goat legs, which give him the ability to move in all directions. He features in the tale Bog Oak and Brass, where you will find a wonderful, not to say terrifying, depiction of him. He also makes a brief guest appearance towards the end of Baking Bad. In the 16th century grimoire, Pseudomonarchia Daemonum (which means the False Monarchy of Demons), Buer is described as a Great President of Hell, with fifty legions of demons under his command. He usually appears when the sun is in Sagittarius. Editions of this book are still available to purchase, both in paperback and hardback, should you be interested!
Selkie While neither demons nor monsters, at least as far as I am aware, seal, or selkie, folk are certainly as strange as any that you might wish to find. Originating in the folklore of the Northern Isles of Scotland, the Faroes and Iceland, the diaspora of the inhabitants of those islands took their legends across the Atlantic with them, rendering the coast of Maine rich with stories of the seal people. The most common theme is that of a man taking, and eventually losing, a seal wife for whom the lure of the sea is too great to ignore. In the early Tales of the Squid and Teapot, we meet with the eponymous Betty Butterow, who learns, at the age of fifteen, of her selkie heritage. Betty features in many later tales, and a prequel, called People from the Sea, hints at her origins.
The Wendigo A malevolent, flesh-eating spirit found in the folklore of the First Nations, the Wendigo found its way to Hopeless, Maine following the Passamaquoddy trader, Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs. In the tale, simply entitled The W-ndigo, young Randall Middlestreet, the most famous Night-Soil Man (due to the fact that, to date, he is the only one to retire and raise a family) finds himself promoted from his role as an apprentice in a most bloodthirsty and traumatic manner. The W-ndigo has been described as resembling a gaunt skeleton, recently disinterred from the grave, and giving off the odour of death and corruption. The illustration accompanying the tale is the stuff of nightmares. (Also, it is best not to name them so as not to draw their attention)
Kraken A huge creature of cephalopod-like appearance, the Kraken first appears in Scandinavian legends as a sea-monster lurking in the waters off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. Stories of the Kraken travelled across the North Atlantic with the Vikings, and later sailors from the Nordic countries. We first catch sight of this awesome creature in the less-than-likely setting of a cricket match. Unsurprisingly, the tale is called Cricket!
We took Mrs Beaten’s Literary Salon to the recent Steampunk event in Gloucester. Poet Algernon Lear (Craig Hallam) was coaxed/threatened into performing and survived a set in which bloomers were thrown at him, hecklers demanded dancing girls and critiqued his work, and Reverend Davies found his metaphors improper!
This was also the first time we’ve had John Bassett performing in public as Reverend Davies, which was really exciting.
We’ll be exploring possibilities for taking Hopeless Players to events, putting on small entertainments with whoever is able to be there on the day. If you’re comfortable improvising within a team and fancy becoming a Hopeless Player now and then, do please let us know.
Equally, if you fancy having some of this chaos – or other forms of chaos that we can provide – at an event, do say!
Since being relocated to The Squid and Teapot, via his hat, the ghost of Father Ignatius Stamage had been a model of discretion. Any who were not aware of his presence would regard the fleeting shadow, which they might catch out of the corner of their eye, as no more than a trick of the light. It was an arrangement that suited all concerned. Bartholomew Middlestreet, the inn’s landlord, smiled wryly to himself as he contemplated how his old friend, the late lamented actor/manager, Sir Fromebridge Whitminster, might have conducted himself, had he been haunting the place; he had not been renowned for his discretion. Bartholomew imagined that the ghost of Sir Fromebridge would be no less louche or raffish than he had been in life. It was a pity that the old boy had been taken from them by the sea monster, aboo-dom-k’n; he had certainly added some colour to Hopeless. It was while entertaining these thoughts that it occurred to Bartholomew that there were some odds and ends of Sir Fromebridge’s property stored away in one of the attics. Could his wraith be invoked to haunt his favourite scarf? Would he be able to, after so many years? More to the point, should The Squid be host to any more ghosts? Not wishing to make this decision on his own, Bartholomew decided to ask the opinion of his wife, Ariadne, who generally had the last word in most matters. “Shouldn’t you ask him if he wants to haunt The Squid?” she enquired. “And how do we do that?” asked Bartholomew, perplexed. Philomena Bucket, who could not help but overhear the conversation, volunteered, with some hesitancy, “Well, I’ll have a go. I have a little bit of experience in those matters. I used to help me old granny when she did her séances back in Dublin. She was always convinced that I had ‘The Sight’, but I’m not so sure.” “You will never stop surprising me,” said Ariadne, warming to the possibility of attending a séance. “What do we need to make it happen?” “Not much,” replied Philomena. “Just an open mind, I suppose.”
The following night, after the inn had closed, Bartholomew, Ariadne, Philomena and Norbert Gannicox sat holding hands in candlelight around a circular table; in its centre sat coiled an extremely long and colourful scarf. If the others had expected to see Philomena displaying the histrionics generally associated with conjuring the spirits of the dead, they were disappointed. She asked, in calm and unhurried tones, “Are you with us, Sir Fromebridge Whitminster?” There was a minute of silence, then the sound of something being knocked over. “Blast!” said a disembodied voice, “Who put that there.” “Is that you, Sir Fromebridge?” asked Philomnena, hardly daring to believe that she had succeeded so easily. “Yes, yes, hold on a mo, m’dear, I’ll soon be with you.” The room grew suddenly colder. Then, close to Philomena’s shoulder, a form started to materialise. The apparition before them was not sporting the expected floppy fedora, scarf and greatcoat, but was instead clad, from head to foot, in an immaculate grey costume. He wore a tricorn hat, a powdered wig, a long riding cloak and riding boots. “It’s not him,” hissed Bartholomew. “Oh, I can assure you it is indeed I, Bartholomew dear boy. How good it is to see you again.” In the dim light it was difficult to see the ghost’s features, but the voice was unmistakably that of Fromebridge Whitminster. The ghost made a deep, theatrical bow. “Now, what may I do for you, dear friends?” “Um… we wondered if you’d fancy haunting The Squid and Teapot?” blurted Philomena. The ghost made another bow, even more theatrical this time. “My dear young lady, I would be delighted to… especially with such charming company as your good self and Mrs Middlestreet. Unfortunately, however, it is beyond my power. I am somewhat otherwise engaged. I have to honour what one might call a Faustian Pact.” Sir Fromebridge went on to tell them that he had once made a bargain, with some mysterious Mephistophelean entity, to guarantee a further twenty years of life. “You see,” he said, “when that sea monster took me, it was my time. My extra twenty years were up. The beast was just an instrument of destiny.” Ariadne looked aghast. “But what do you have to do in return?” she asked worriedly. “Oh, nothing too arduous, I can assure you. I have taken over the role of ‘The Man in Grey’, resident spook at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, one of my old stamping grounds, as it happens. The other chap, my predecessor, had been haunting the upper circle for years and was overdue for a break. It’s not all bad; at least I get to see a few plays… although, these days some of the language can be appalling…” “Yes,” said Bartholomew, “But don’t you get any time off?” “Sorry, dear chap, I’m booked there for the next century or so, evening performances and matinées. Still, mustn’t grumble, and the get-up is pretty natty, what?” They all had to agree that the eighteenth century look did, indeed, suit Sir Fromebridge. “Anyway, must dash,” he said as his apparition gradually faded. “Lovely to see you all, and if you’re ever in London, do drop in.” Those last words were so faint as to be almost inaudible, but it was an emotional moment, even for Philomena, who had never met the man in the flesh.
“Well, that’s that, I suppose,” said Norbert. “It’s a pity, “ said Bartholomew, “but I guess we’ve enough ghosts without inviting any more in.” “He seemed like a nice fellah, though,” said Philomena. “He was,” agreed Norbert. “One of the best, though inclined to be accident-prone.” “Maybe we could name something in his honour.” said Bartholomew. “How about that little cobbled street by the shore, where he met his end? We could call it Sir Fromebridge Whitminster Lane.” “That’s a bit of a mouthful,” said Ariadne. “How about just calling it ‘Drury Lane’?” In the corner of the room a pile of bones rattled to its feet, shook itself and wagged its bony tail. Drury definitely approved of the idea.
Author’s note: The Man in Grey has been seen on many occasions in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. He always sits in the same seat in the Upper Circle, on the end of the fourth row. Afterwards he strides along the walkway behind the seats, then, upon reaching a particular spot by the Royal Box, fades away. His presence at a matinée performance or a rehearsal is generally considered to be a good omen.
To say that the manner of his death had come as a bit of a shock to Father Ignatius Stamage would be an understatement. He had always been led to believe that ghosts were no more than harmless disembodied spirits, loitering in purgatory. He certainly did not expect Obadiah Hyde, the phantom Mad Parson of Chapel Rock, to crush his skull with a lump of stone. In fact, the whole business of death had turned out to be something of a disappointment. Following his unfortunate demise, Father Stamage had waited patiently for the expected triumphant ascent into the celestial realms. A month went by and nothing happened. Whatever could be causing such a delay? He didn’t think that heaven would be subject to bureaucratic slip-ups, but something was definitely not right.
Obadiah Hyde, meanwhile, had gone into a sulk, resentful of having to share his space with another ghost; worse still, one with no apparent fear of his ranting and raving. To add insult to injury, the rival ghost was that of a Catholic priest, a breed whose very existence was anathema to the old puritan. In protest, and much to the relief of Father Stamage, the Mad Parson disappeared huffily into the chapel ruins and refused to come out.
The priest watched impassively as a small band of men wrapped his remains up in an old sheet and carried them down the hill. He was not particularly sorry to see his corpse go. The passage of time, not to mention the attention of the ravens who lived in the ruins of the old chapel, had done nothing to improve its look. Even Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, had paled visibly when he discovered the body. Only old Drury, the skeletal hound, seemed to be unaffected by the sight, wagging his tail, giving the cadaver a thorough sniff-over and raising a hind leg to mark the spot (which, of course, he didn’t, but you cannot blame him for trying).
In the days that followed the discovery of the corpse, Drury became a frequent visitor to Chapel Rock. Despite himself, Father Stamage grew quite fond of him. The days when he believed Drury to be a demon from the lowest depths of Hell were long past, and now the priest recognised him for what he was; no more than a lovable old rogue who refused to acknowledge that he was dead. Briefly, Stamage wished that he had done the same thing, but on reflection realised that a skeletal priest wandering around might not be as warmly regarded as a mischievous dog.
There was only one cottage on the Night-Soil Man’s round that necessitated his walking past Chapel Rock. The output of its residents was such that Rhys only needed to visit every few weeks, and so a month or more passed, following the discovery of the body, before they needed his services again. Rhys was surprised to see Drury, snuffling among the rocks, wagging his tail and generally acting as though he was there with a friend. Thinking that it might be Philomena Bucket out on one of her ill-advised adventures, he wandered over to where the dog was standing. It took him a moment to see the darkly-clad apparition of the priest flickering silently amid the rocks. Rhys had no fear of ghosts, except Obadiah Hyde, who scared everyone. Indeed, he enjoyed the company of those who chose to speak to him, for the existence of a Night-Soil man is a lonely one, on account of the constant nauseous reek that surrounds him. Happily, ghosts have no problem with such human concerns. Father Stamage too was glad of someone to talk to, for although Drury was a pleasant companion, his conversation was limited to a series of barks, woofs and yaps. As if there was nothing remotely strange about a man and a ghost chatting amiably, it was not long before the pair became friends and the priest told Rhys of the chase to retrieve his hat from Drury, and the fatal encounter with Obadiah Hyde. The Night-Soil Man made a point of visiting whenever he could. It was pleasant to be able to go to Chapel Rock and not be terrorized by the Mad Parson, who still refused to come out while Father Stamage was haunting the place. Rhys, however, soon realised that his ghostly friend was far from happy. “I became a priest to serve a community,” Stamage had told him. “In life I wanted nothing more than to be among people.” Rhys pondered these words, and recalled that Marjorie Toadsmoor had expressed very much the same thing, needing to be among the living. Rhys wondered if he could help, as he had with Miss Toadsmoor, transporting her to the orphanage in a Marjorie-sized granite monolith. “Where would you choose to be?” he asked. “Back at the orphanage?” “I think not,” said the priest, sadly. “My brief sojourn there was not a particularly happy one. I’m dead Rhys and I want to be surrounded by good cheer, something to remind me of life.” “I know the very place,” said the Night-Soil Man, “but how I can get a big lump of rock there for you to haunt might be a problem. It’s a shame that you have no possessions left; that often works. I’ve known of ghosts who have managed to reside in something as small as their pocket watch.” Just then, as if on cue, Drury appeared with a shapeless and much-weathered piece of felt in his mouth. “My hat!” exclaimed the priest. “I wondered where it had gone.” He regarded Rhys with eerie green light in his eyes. “Do you think… “ he began, “There’s only one way to find out,” replied Rhys.
Philomena Bucket found the hat hanging on the front door of The Squid and Teapot, with an explanatory note attached to it, penned in the familiar scrawl of Rhys Cranham. Much as Philomena disapproved of clergymen of any persuasion, she could not bear to think of anyone sharing eternity with Obadiah Hyde. Bartholomew Middlestreet, the landlord of the inn, placed the remains of Father Stamage’s hat safely in a box, and stored it in one of the attic rooms. “As long as he doesn’t drive away my customers, I’m happy for him to haunt The Squid,” he said generously. “He’ll be able to keep Lady Margaret company. She’s got a few hundred years of confessions to offload, so that should keep them occupied for a while.” Lady Margaret had once revealed to Philomena some of the more salacious details of her short, but somewhat scandalous, life. The barmaid grinned to herself. She hoped that Stamage didn’t blush too easily.
The ghostly form of Miss Calder looked at the equally ghostly form of her colleague at the Pallid Rock Orphanage, Miss Toadsmoor, and said, resignedly, “Father Stamage is convinced that you are currently in purgatory, waiting to be despatched to Heaven or Hell. I suppose that he means well, but for goodness’ sake!” Despite the best efforts of Reverend Davies, it was inevitable that the presence of some of the ghosts on the island of Hopeless, Maine would come, eventually, to the notice of Father Stamage, the orphanage’s newest member of staff. In the event, and to everyone’s surprise, the priest was fairly sanguine about the whole subject, happily accepting that any wraiths that he might come across were of the purgatorial variety, awaiting further orders, as it were. Reverend Davies did nothing to disabuse him of this point of view; as long as the priest believed the ghosts to be no more than harmless loiterers in the afterlife’s waiting room, then they would be left alone. While this seriously impeded Marjorie Toadsmoor’s teaching schedule, it was a small price to pay while the Reverend and Miss Calder, who managed to conceal her spectral identity in the Stygian gloom of her office, looked for a solution to their problem.
While Father Stamage may have accepted the presence of ghosts, demons were another matter altogether. Demons, in his view, have to be exorcised, and returned to The Pit from whence they came, whatever the cost, and exorcising demons was something he knew all about. Hopeless has more than its fair share of these terrifying creatures but, by and large, they tend to avoid the limelight, being very recognisable, unless they are adopting a human disguise. The very sight of a demon in its true shape would freeze the blood of most people. Huge and nightmarish, they stalk their prey with razor sharp claws, dripping fangs, glaring eyes and writhing tentacles. I am happy to report that the priest’s blood remained at a steady ninety-eight and a half degrees Fahrenheit, for never in his life did he cross paths with such a being, although he was convinced that he encountered several. There are, however, real demons and there are perceived demons, and any newcomer to the island could be forgiven for believing that some of the strange creatures who inhabit Hopeless to be nothing less than demonic.
Drury, the skeletal dog was having a typical Drury type of day. This included a certain amount of mooching about, sniffing anything remotely perpendicular, fruitlessly chasing crows and raiding the occasional washing line. Bored, he ambled idly over to The Squid and Teapot hoping to catch sight of Philomena Bucket, but today she appeared to be otherwise engaged. He was just lifting a bony hind leg – albeit pointlessly – against the wall of the inn, when Father Stamage rounded the corner and almost fell over him, losing his hat in the process. Immediately convinced that he was in the presence of a demon, for what else could this hideous and osseous monstrosity be, the priest instinctively embarked upon performing an exorcism. This is what he had been trained to do and the words sprang to his lips as though they had been lingering somewhere around the area of his tonsils, patiently waiting for a chance to escape. Drury, meanwhile, not best pleased at being stumbled over and shouted at in Latin, gave Stamage an angry stare, or as near to that as a skull can manage, and scampered off with the man’s hat clenched firmly between his jaws. The exorcism was quickly abandoned and, as the priest gave chase, Latin was exchanged for some choice, if unbecoming, oaths in both Anglo-Saxon and Gaelic. Demon or not, Ignatius Stamage was determined to get his favourite hat back.
If there is one thing that Drury enjoys more than stealing washing, it is a game of chase, and this new playmate was very adept at it. The dog could forgive the bad start to their relationship, for this was as good a game as any he’d had in a long time. They had been running around the island for almost an hour and Father Stamage was becoming increasingly uneasy. Night was drawing in and Reverend Davies had specifically warned him not to wander too far afield during the hours of darkness. The Reverend had been vague as to why that should be, and, until now, the priest had supposed it was no more than a worry that anyone unfamiliar with the island could stumble over a cliff, or something of that sort. Now, however, with mysterious eyes floating in the sky, tentacled arms reaching from hollows, spoonwalkers tottering along on cutlery stilts, and dustcats scuttling through the air before him, brushing his clothes with their long suckered tongues, he guessed there may have been a reason for the Reverend’s caution. “This place is positively teeming with demons,” he thought to himself. “I can see that I’m going to have my work cut out here.”
Drury, at last, grew tired of the game and, high on a rock where a ruined chapel stood, he dropped the hat and disappeared into the gloom, dashing off to find his good friend Rhys Cranham, the Night Soil Man. “At least he’s gone,” Father Stamage thought to himself with relief, picking up his hat. “Is that the remains of a chapel I can see there? Maybe, with a little help, I can rebuild it and…” Just then, screaming out of nowhere, came the angry wraith of Obadiah Hyde, the Mad Parson of Chapel Rock. A fierce puritan, both in life and death, he gave the priest the full benefit of his wrath, denouncing all papists as heretics, and probably adulterers as well. It was Hyde’s habit to do this, taking any hapless trespasser off-guard and, more often than not, watch them plunge to a watery doom, more than a hundred feet below. To his credit, though taken aback, Father Stamage stood his ground, confident in the knowledge that the ghost was harmless, no more than a noisy apparition let loose from purgatory. While the priest may have been correct in his understanding of the nature of ghosts in general, he had little knowledge pertaining to the ones who haunt Hopeless. On this strangest of islands there is a marked failure to acknowledge the natural and occult laws that govern more conventional places. It came, therefore, as something of a surprise to Stamage when Obadiah Hyde picked up a rock the size of a man’s fist, and dashed it against his head. The priest staggered and fell awkwardly, lying for a while, dazed and not knowing where he was. Then, once the pain had subsided, he sat up. Hyde was still there, but somehow, something had changed. “Hah, you didn’t expect me to get up from that one, did you?” said the priest, somewhat triumphantly getting to his feet. “You didn’t,” said Hyde, his voice trembling with rage. Father Stamage looked down to the floor, following the parson’s gaze. Lying beneath him he saw a crumpled body with a crushed skull, quietly bleeding over the stony ground. “I really wish you hadn’t done that,” he said miserably. “It looks as though we’re stuck with each other now.”