All posts by gothicmangaka

Daphne and the dead seagull

Daphne woke up and knew she had to go for a walk by the sea. The hissing and cold wallops of its tides called her and she listened wondering what the sea wanted to show her. A wrecked ship? A beached kraken? A crystal bottle where inside was sealed another smaller crystal bottle? Daphne had found one of those. If she held it up to any light that was willing to shine on the morgue where she lived on that bleak, dour hill the crystal bottle inside the crystal bottle shimmered with flitting rainbows.

Daphne wondered if there was a ghost trapped inside, and thought she’d leave it sealed because ghosts imprisoned in bottles were there for a good reason. The weather that morning was fairly grey and the clouds were all grey. Not a bit of it seemed like it was going to be cheerful, which was entirely in keeping with Daphne had grown up to expect of it. She had started walking on the twisted lonely path away from the morgue. Behind her the morgue stood like a beached plinth of light sucking stone and plenty of curious lichens and mosses which possessed tiny eyes. Just next to the morgue was a small stone cottage with two squat little windows that looked like the morgue had a child. Daphne lived in the cottage, but she never thought to distinguish it from the morgue. They were the same to her.

As Daphne walked on the path she sang a traditional and soul destroying ditty to herself.

There was a sailor

who nailed himself to his boat

not meaning to

there was a sailor

who got eaten by the moon

he should not have gone out that night

there was a sailor

who tied himself to a big cod

why did he do that?

And on it continued as Daphne savoured the familiarity of its maritime vexation which she enjoyed keeping alive, perhaps she’d make somebody else learn it so its tune would never ever leave people alone?

Her path had come to a steep stony one picking its way down to the oozing sea shore. Beside it was a cairn of stacked bluish-grey stones which was added to every time somebody disappeared at sea. She went down like a spry little sheep to the sea shore, plucking the odd green leaf of salty sea beet that grew here ruminating upon it as she chewed it. A shape had caught her eye on the shore as she now crunched through its detritus of grounded up sea flotsam of stones, shells and brittle things regurgitated from the bottom of the sea.

The dead seagull was laid perfectly out on the gritty tide line. One white wing lay outstretched and crusted with silt and sand. Its yellow orange beak like an abandoned kitchen knife was still. Those rapacious eyes in its head were greyed over. Daphne knelt down in the wet grit staring with interest at the dead bird. She looked at its outstretched wing brushing delicately the feather vanes of their silt. She thought that she’d keep one treasure from the sea. Dead humans were always put in the morgue but it didn’t have to be that way….

Daphne went back up the path and in her arms she cradled the ragged bulk of a dead seagull, one wing hanging out stiffly. Behind her the sea tide hissed and churned. The morgue would have a new corpse and Daphne was pleased that it had feathers.

Story by Robin Collins

Art by Tom Brown




The story so far…


In the spring of 1888 Harriet Butterow and her friend, Petunia Middlestreet, perished in the sea while trying to salvage goods from a shipwreck. Their respective daughters, Amelia, aged six and Lilac, aged three, became the wards of Harriet’s father-in-law, Bartholomew Middlestreet, the landlord of the Squid and Teapot. In order to give the girls the best possible education and home life Bartholomew relinquished management of the inn to his long-term tenant, the odious Tobias Thrupp. Ten years slipped by and Bartholomew died. Nothing more was heard of the girls for the next two years, until they were rescued from Thrupp’s clutches by Abraham, a Passamaquoddy trader who took them to his reservation on the mainland. The girls lived happily with Abraham and his family until Lilac fell in love with Abner Badbrook, a silver-tongued rogue. The two eloped in the dead of night, only for Abner to desert Lilac when he learned that he was to become a father. Fearing that she would not be able to support her small son, Lilac left him on the steps of a convent. While being taken for adoption to New Brunswick, the child, Randall and his guardian, Sister Mary Selsley, of the Little Sisters of St. Chloe, were shipwrecked on Hopeless, Maine, along with the ship’s captain, Sebastian Lypiatt.


Amelia was saddened but not surprised by Lilac’s departure from the reservation. Her friend had been acting strangely for a week or so prior to her disappearance. It had become obvious to Amelia that Lilac was smuggling food and soft deerskin blankets to someone in the forest but she said nothing to Abraham or his wife, Cenopi.

Over the following weeks Amelia retreated increasingly into her own thoughts. She took to wandering along the river bank, as though seeking something. In blocking out the rest of the world she seemed to have switched on part of herself that had formerly been sleeping.

Amelia had often heard the seals before, of course, going about their business in Passamaquoddy bay. The plaintive barking that was so familiar, however,  one day became an invocation, a siren-call to those who could hear its message. Like one in a dream Amelia made her way to the water’s edge, then hesitated. The abiding memory she had of her mother was of being warned never to go into the ocean. After Harriet herself became a victim of the grey Atlantic, Amelia could see the sense in this, not knowing the real reason for her mother’s fears.

‘Strictly speaking’, she told herself, ’This is not the ocean. I can be careful.’

In truth, whatever her mind had said, a greater force was at work within Amelia and all of the warnings in the world would not have prevented her from being drawn towards the seal-song.

There is a point where practicality, driven by instinct will always prevail over the modesty imposed by social mores. That morning Amelia gazed over the expanse of shining water and without a second thought, took off her clothes. She laid each garment carefully on a dry rock, then – for reasons beyond her comprehension – threw herself into the chilly waters of the bay.

After the initial shock of hitting the water she began to panic. For a brief moment the old Amelia took control, thrashing and screaming in the swirling current. Then a great calmness swept over her. Dimly she imagined that this must be the end. If this was death it was not so bad. It did not come as some hostile enemy but almost as a gentle guardian, come to gather her into its warm embrace. But she was confused; none of the things she had been led to expect was happening. There was no bright light, no welcoming family waiting with outstretched arms to usher her into the afterlife. What she did feel, however, was warmth and strength and a undeniable desire to eat some fish. Amelia looked down at her body. It was sleek, fat and furry. Instead of arms and legs she had flippers. Then something in her remembered; this was a memory not spun from intellect but from instinct. A memory that flowed in her blood and lived in her bones. She was Selkie.

In the event, there was a family to welcome her, after all. The Harbor Seals had sensed that she was near and had been waiting. Amelia had come home.


It was a full two years before Amelia once more took on human form and again it was instinct that drove her to do so. She had watched with curiosity as a man, woman and tiny child bobbed across the water on an upturned dining table. Amelia, who still retained some shadow of her former attributes, could not help but swim up alongside the strange craft. It had been a long time since she had heard human speech. The conversation centred around the child, who the woman had referred to as “Young Randall Middlestreet.”


She dimly remembered that she had once had a friend with the same name. An ache grew inside the selkie, suddenly wanting to know more and if her friend was close by. She watched as the little party washed up on to a foggy shore – a somehow familiar foggy shore, she thought –  and made their way inland, abandoning the table and rough tarpaulin that had served as a makeshift sail. Amelia dragged herself onto the rocks. As she dried, her skin sloughed off to reveal her human form. She folded the sealskin and hid it in the rocks, then, in the best tradition of Adam and Eve, became suddenly aware and ashamed of her nakedness. The only item to cover her modesty adequately was the old tarpaulin, which she draped about her as best she could and, in bare feet, made her way inland.


Amos Gannicox was sitting outside his cabin when he saw her. His face suddenly became a deathly white, as though he had seen a ghost. It must be admitted that seeing ghosts was not that unusual on this island. Amos had seen several in his years there. This particular ghost, however, had a special place in Amos’ heart.

“Ha… Harriet. Is that you?” he asked, nervously.

“ Pardon?” Despite her selkie years, Amelia had not forgotten her manners.

“I’m sorry,” said Amos, seeing now his mistake. “It’s just that you reminded me of a dear friend who died over fifteen years ago. You could be her twin. Her name was Harriet.”

“My mother was Harriet…” said Amelia as memories of her childhood flowed back.


It did not take long for Amos and Amelia to piece together the events that had led up to her disappearance from the island. She told him about her time on the reservation and her living with the seals. Amos reddened. Harriet had always claimed that Amelia’s father was a selkie and he had dismissed it out of hand as delusion. The girl’s story now gave the tale some credence.

After Harriet’s disappearance Amos had salvaged some of her things as keepsakes. He had been secretly in love with her and could not bear to see her few possessions scavenged by the other islanders. From these he found some suitable shoes and a dress, which was a much tighter fit than Amelia had expected it to be. She could not remember having been quite so rounded when on the reservation.

When he was told of the child, Randall Middlestreet, Amos made a few enquiries and soon learned that the boy was in the care of the orphanage. Upon hearing this Amelia immediately resolved to go there herself. It was her plan to volunteer to help, thereby allowing her to keep an eye on Randall’s welfare.

Amelia had been there but a few hours before she found an unexpected ally in Sister Mary Selsley. The nun’s calling asked her to accept, without question, many things that, in a secular setting, she would find to be totally implausible. So, to recognise the existence of a shape-shifting selkie did not demand of her a huge leap of faith. Sister Mary had been born and raised on the wild west coast of Ireland where these creatures were known to exist and held in some regard. To those, like herself, who had lived among the selkies, there was something in their eyes and general bearing that betrayed them immediately when in their human form. These things she saw, and loved, in Amelia.

Sister Mary had nothing like the same regard for Reverend Malachi Crackstone, the principal of the orphanage. Besides his being a protestant, which was cause enough to meet the nun’s disapproval, she found him to be a mean-minded, unpleasant man, given to cruelty. She warned Amelia not to reveal any of herself to him, although the parson had already discovered that her great grandmother had been Colleen O’Stoat, a woman widely suspected of being a witch. Crackstone made no secret of his instant dislike for the girl, a dislike that forthcoming events would turn into something akin to hatred.


The mind and instincts of a seal and those of a human have little in common, outside of a desire for survival. That is why – perhaps mercifully – a selkie woman recalls her seal life as little more than a dream, and vice-versa. So, when the nun pointed out to Amelia that she was decidedly pregnant it came as something of a surprise. It certainly explained a few things but she had no recollection of ever mating. Sister Mary assured her she must have done so; to the nun’s knowledge there had only been one instance of a virgin birth and to suggest this might be another was nothing short of blasphemous.

“ As far as Reverend Crackstone is concerned,” advised the nun, “you’ve lived on the island all of your life and the father is unknown. He wont like it but it will stop him from asking awkward questions.”

There was another problem. A human gestation period is nine months, while a seal’s is eleven. A massive conflict was raging in Amelia’s body and she was not having a good time. In the event, the strange nature of the pregnancy brought on the onset of labour several weeks early.

It was a hard and traumatic birth. For two whole days and nights Amelia was wracked with pain that took a great toll on her strength. In her heart Sister Mary suspected that there would be little chance of Amelia or her child surviving the ordeal.


As the clock struck midnight, heralding the vernal equinox of 1905, Betty Butterow was born. As Sister Mary had feared, the fight to bring Betty into the world had been too much for Amelia, who, by now, was pale and very close to death. Crackstone, with a heart as cold as ice, took the child casually from the weeping nun’s arms and swept off to find a wet-nurse.

Tearfully, Sister Mary stripped the blood soaked shift from Amelia’s lifeless body and washed her.

“This girl should be returned to the sea, where she belongs” she told herself. “Not in the cold earth, where Crackstone would put her”

As I have mentioned before, Sister Mary was no delicate, frail thing. Effortlessly, she lifted Amelia into her arms and carried her out into the night air.


Unless you are a Night-Soil Man it can be perilous to walk about the island after dark. Fortune, or something else, was on the nun’s side, however, as she made her way to the precise spot where Amelia had said she had hidden her pelt.

A mist-shrouded full moon watched with a baleful eye as the sealskin was wrapped securely around Amelia’s lifeless form. For her own peace of mind Sister Mary said a few suitable words to her God, then, gathering up Amelia’s body, waded into the ocean, almost to chest height, and  placed her precious bundle upon its surface. She watched sorrowfully as the dark water folded over the girl and drew her into its inky depths. Making her way back to shore, soaked and shivering with bitter cold, the nun was comforted by the knowledge that she had returned Amelia to her true home.

A sudden noise made her turn. Just a few feet behind her a seal’s head burst through the water. For an instant that felt like a lifetime the two regarded each other in the moonlight. A spark of recognition flared in the seal’s dark eyes.

Sister Mary’s heart leapt.

“She’s alive,” she cried aloud, “Amelia, you’re alive!”

The seal lingered a moment longer and the connection that had momentarily flickered between them gradually faded, like a candle being slowly extinguished.

Without giving the nun another glance, the seal turned and headed for the open ocean, completely unaware of the identity of the human standing in the water behind her.

The selkie that had been Amelia Butterow was now a seal forever, forgetful of the life she had once known and the daughter she left behind on the mysterious island of Hopeless, Maine.

Art- Tom Brown


Abner Badbrook had left the city of Calais, Maine in something of a hurry. There had been a certain amount of unpleasantness with several of the locals when they discovered that five aces had mysteriously found their way up the left sleeve of his jacket. Having escaped their clutches, hitching a free passage on one of the many commercial ships that plied the river was easy for a man whose charm was only exceeded by his crooked nature. Charm, however, was not enough when some of the crew caught him cheating during a game of five card stud. In an act of admirable self-restraint  they revised their initial plan of keelhauling Abner and instead deposited him roughly on the banks of St. Croix river, in the heart of the Passamaquoddy reservation.


You will recall that Lilac Middlestreet and her friend, Amelia Butterow, had been liberated from the clutches of the evil Tobias Thrupp by Abraham, the Passamaquoddy trader and taken from the island of Hopeless to the safety of his reservation.

In the years that had elapsed since their rescue the two had happily settled into the life and customs of the tribe and, except for Lilac’s fair skin and red hair, they could easily have passed as Passamaquoddy girls.  As it happens, these were the very traits that caught the attention of Abner Badbrook as he lingered on the edge of the forest, holding a spy-glass to his eye, watching the women doing their washing in the river.

Abner was famished. His particular skill-set precluded his living off the land and – not to put too fine a point on it – he was becoming desperate. His instincts told him that his welcome might be less than cordial if he wandered into their village as a beggar, so, clutching at straws, he had spied upon the women, hoping that they would leave something remotely edible behind when they left. Sadly, for Abner, this seemed to be to no avail. Then he spotted the fair-skinned white girl. She just might be his meal-ticket.

Being a gambler Abner estimated that the odds of his being able to sweet-talk her into helping him were worth a try. All he needed was to get her on her own. As it happened Lady Luck was in a good mood that day and Lilac had decided to linger a while after the other women had gone.

Lilac was startled by the figure that emerged from the shadow of the trees. She thought to run but, being the girl she was, her curiosity overcame her fear and she waited to see what the stranger might do.

Abner, checking that he could not be seen from the village, wandered casually over and struck up a conversation. He slipped into charming mode as easily as you or I might put on a pair of well-worn and exceedingly comfortable carpet slippers. From the offset Lilac was as putty in his hands, completely buying his far-fetched story of having been kidnapped by river pirates and making a valiant escape by fighting off seven of them before leaping to freedom into the raging river. Caught hook, line and sinker, she promised to bring food, drink and warm blankets to her silver-tongued hero that very evening.

Events unfolded as you might expect. It was inevitable that Lilac would fall in love with the handsome stranger. Things happened quickly and before a week had passed the impressionable girl was making plans to elope with the card-sharp, whose latest gamble was playing out far better than he had hoped.

While running away might seem a drastic step to take, there was no question of them having a conventional Passamaquoddy marriage, even if Abner had wanted one and had made his presence known to the tribe. According to their customs a couple would have to go through a betrothal period for one year, during which time the groom had to prove to the girl’s father – in this case Abraham – that he was a capable hunter. He would be obliged to make bows, arrows, canoes and snowshoes for his prospective father-in-law. Also, during this year of courtship, the couple would have to be chaste. At the end of the betrothal the bride’s family would hold a feast, making speeches which exalted the groom’s geneology. Believe me, Abner’s geneology left little room for exaltation. None of this, of course was ever going to happen. And so, it was without a word to anyone, not even Amelia, that on one moonless night in midsummer, Lilac and her lover left the land of the Passamaquoddy people forever.


It was two years later, in the winter of 1904, that Lilac found herself in New York, penniless, alone and with a new born  baby to support. Abner had disappeared when the prospect of fatherhood was on the horizon, leaving the hapless Lilac to fend for herself. She was too ashamed to return to the reservation, even if she had had the means to get there. In desperation Lilac resolved to leave her small son on the steps of the Convent of the Little Sisters of St. Chloe. It broke her heart but she knew that as long as he was with her the child’s chances of survival would be minimal. Tearfully she wrapped him in a ragged blanket into which she had tucked a brief note bearing his name. Lilac had refused to give her son his father’s surname; she owed that man nothing, except her contempt. Besides, Randall Middlestreet sounded to be a far nicer person than Randall Badbrook.


Sister Mary Selsley of the Convent of the Little Sisters of St. Chloe had relatives in New Brunswick. After a brief exchange of letters the childless couple happily agreed to raise young Randall as their own son. With the blessing of her Mother Superior Sister Mary arranged a passage for herself and the child on the SS Wycliffe, a journey that would take her away from the convent for some weeks. Or so she thought.


The storm that had raged for three long days was one of the worst the captain of The Wycliffe had seen in many a long year. He gave the order to abandon ship with a heavy heart and, in the best traditions of sea captains everywhere, resigned himself to a watery grave. Destiny had other ideas, though, and he found himself being hefted on to an upturned dining table by, what appeared to be, a prize-fighter masquerading as a nun. This, in fact, was Sister Mary who had never been known for her delicate femininity.

The two  found themselves floating through a foggy seascape, their only other companion was the small child that Sister Mary had lashed securely to a table leg.  The nun regarded the English sea captain with some warmth. Although he was a burly and rough looking man – even burlier and rougher looking than Sister Mary herself – he seemed kind enough. In fact, the captain took great pains to be a perfect gentleman in the presence of the nun, being careful not to spit or swear, lest he offend her. It was not, however, until they washed up on a barren, mist-strewn shore that he introduced himself.

“I’m Sebastian,” he informed her. “Sebastian Lypiatt. Let’s find that child some warmth and shelter.”

Sebastian and Sister Mary gingerly made their way inland with little Randall strapped papoose-like to the sailor’s back. This was a strange place, to be sure. Eyes seemed to be watching them from every direction, including above. Sister Mary was certain that she saw something scuttle by with teaspoons for legs but she told herself that this was only a symptom of the delirium caused by a lack of fresh water.

Before the day was out Randall Middlestreet and Sister Mary were safely ensconced in the old orphanage, a place which, the nun discovered, seemed to enjoy more than its fair share of bumps in the night. She decided that until rescue arrived, this was as good a place as any to stay and lend a hand. With luck, she thought, with a decidedly unecumenical smile, she might even manage to undermine the strictly protestant Reverend Crackstone, who appeared to be in charge.

Sebastian Lypiatt, satisfied that the nun and her charge were adequately catered for, made his way further inland. He stumbled upon a curiously named inn, The Squid and Teapot but this seemed to be too dismal a haven, even for a stranded sailor. Fortunately, he soon discovered the welcoming portals of Madame Evadne’s Lodging House For Discerning Gentlemen, which would be more than acceptable until either rescue or permanent accommodation materialized. Besides – a girl had caught his eye. Life on this strange island might just about be tolerable with Madrigal Inchbrook by his side.

Art by Tom Brown



Why do we do things we’re not supposed to?

The label on the bottle was clear enough; ‘Do not open’.
There didn’t seem anything particularly interesting in the bottle, just sand, a couple of small pebbles all topped up with a lot of rather murky water. I shook it and something metallic bounced against the glass. I peered closely at the contents and through the swirling cloud of liquid dirt I could see a spoon. The bowl section was partly buried in the sand, the handle resting against the side of the bottle and then, just for a split second, I saw it. There was something written on the front part of the handle.
I squinted, as though that would make any difference. It was no use, the water was just too grim – so, I uncorked the bottle. I could swear I heard a young girl giggle. I looked around, but I was alone on the shingle beach. I looked up; the sunny day had begun to darken as a light rain started to fall.
I emptied the contents of the bottle onto the beach as the rain fell harder. I picked up the spoon and washed it in a nearby rock pool. The words etched onto the handle became clear.
“You shouldn’t have done that.”
A chill ran down the back of my neck. I dismissed it as a lucky raindrop. I felt nervous. I don’t know why, I’m not usually a nervous person, but the message on this spoon just spooked me. I dropped the spoon back into the dirt, firmly replaced the cork and threw the bottle as hard as I could into the Atlantic Ocean.
A fitful night’s sleep followed. I just couldn’t get that message out of my mind. On the rare occasions when sleep did take over there were visions of forbidding granite cliffs and a dense fog muting every colour.
I awoke early the next morning with a sense of doom enveloping me. I walked back down to the sea front to try and clear my head. The clouds had become darker and the rain was descending in vertical sheets as the waves swarmed around my boots. A dull clunking sound made me look down; it was the same bottle I had picked up yesterday.
Again I heard laughter, but this time something else – the sound of someone sobbing. It was only the faint, ghost of a sound, but I know I heard it. The crunching of footsteps on the shingle made me look around to see who I shared the beach with.
No-one. I was completely alone.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” a girl’s voice giggled.
I twisted around to see a thick fog rolling in from the ocean. But fog doesn’t talk, does it? There was definitely no-one else around. The message on the spoon must have spooked me more than I realised. The fog swarmed everywhere and within minutes I could hardly see my own feet. The laughing got louder.
“It won’t be long now,” the voice giggled.
“Who’s there? Show yourself,” as if I could see anything in this pea-souper.
More laughter.
“What’s so funny? Why are you laughing?”
“You’ll see. Not long now.”
“Not long to what? Where are you?”
“You’ll see.”
I tried walking towards the voice, but I was effectively blind. I stumbled forwards, my hands bracing my fall onto the sand.
This is a shingle beach, there isn’t any sand for miles in either direction. My hands dug in and clenched into fists. It was definitely sand. That wasn’t the only thing that had changed, the sea had got louder. No longer the gentle lapping motion of water on the pebbles, but now the giant crashing of waves against rocks. There are no rocks for miles.
No rocks and no sand.
I rubbed my hands together and could feel the sand smoothing down my skin. The freezing rain ran off my hair and dripped onto the sleeves of my coat. How can the rain be so cold? This is the middle of July. I looked up and thought I could see the fog thinning out.
“Almost there now,” the giggling voice seemed to mock me.
“Who are you?” I demanded. “Where are you? Show yourself.”
“Let him go,” a second voice moaned.
“No,” said the first voice, “this is fun.”
As the fog thinned into a mist I could see two young girls standing in front of me. One, slightly taller, had a mischievous smile on her face, the other tears trickled down her cheeks; both had a wan, jaundiced complexion. The mist seemed to dull the colour of their clothes, if they had any colour to begin with. I looked past them. Granite cliffs towered high into a dark green sky.
“Where is this place?” I asked
“You’ll like it here, given enough time,” said the taller one, the mischievous smile slowly replaced by a more sinister expression. “And you’ll have plenty of that.”
“It’s not fair,” said the second girl. “You should let him leave.”
“It’s too late for that,” said the taller girl.
“This isn’t the beach I walked onto,” I said. “Where am I?”
“This is Hopeless,” the tall girl smiled.
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s where you are. The island of Hopeless, Maine.”
“No, I can’t be in Maine. I can’t have crossed the Atlantic in only five minutes.”
The taller girl giggled again, “You haven’t crossed the Atlantic silly.”
“You’re not making any sense.”
“It makes perfect sense. You opened the door and came in.”
“What door?” I shouted, my anger starting to boil over. “Where am I?”
“When you uncorked the bottle it began. It didn’t matter that you threw the bottle back, you couldn’t stop it. You’re here now and you can’t leave.”
“Where’s ‘here’?” I asked, even though the awful truth dawning on me.
Both girls pointed to the top of the cliffs. Through the swirling mist I could see it. A huge metal sculpture arcing into the sky. Except, I knew it wasn’t a sculpture. The shape was the same and the engraving was the identical; ‘You shouldn’t have done that’.
“That’s impossible,” I croaked as the taller girl started laughing.
“The bottle is green,” said the other girl, “the same colour as the sky.”
“You mean I’m inside the bottle?”
They both smiled.
“You’re on the island of Hopeless Maine,” said the sad one, “and you can never leave.”

In the year of 1724, the month of July was unbearably hot. I sometimes wonder if it was the heat that induced a madness in me. Since I arrived on this forsaken island we have washed up on many shores. I have seen bridges span the widest rivers, buildings touching the clouds and dozens of poor, unfortunate souls have become my unwilling companions. I smile now as I think of the time I uncorked the bottle and I thought that was how I ended up here. It wasn’t. With the bottle came a note, written by the tall girl. It was the story of how she came to be in the bottle. I didn’t tell you that at the beginning because you may not have read this far.
Tell me, what colour is the sky?


This dark and lovely tale of Hopeless, Maine was penned by none other than the esteemed Mr. Symon A Sanderson, Author of the Steamside Archives.  Art by Tom Brown (and it is not the first time we have worked in this configuration!)



High in the roof space of the Squid and Teapot are gloomy attic rooms, these days used only for storage. Their meagre light is afforded through the small windows that look out onto barren rocks and the raging ocean below.  For Tobias Thrupp these rooms provided the perfect place to hide Amelia Butterow and Lilac Middlestreet, whom he had held as captives, following the death of their guardian, Lilac’s grandfather,Bartholomew Middlestreet.


Since taking over ownership of the inn,Thrupp, who, in his younger days had cut a handsome figure, had become debauched, grossly overweight and notorious for his greed and brutality. His foul ways and warped soul were reflected in his face and form. Evil had made him ugly. He had taken to terrorising the young ladies who plied their trade at Madame Evadne’s Lodging House for Discerning Gentlemen, while, at the same time, his idleness and obnoxious ways had succeeded in driving custom away from his failing hostelry. Regular readers will know that Thrupp’s eventual demise is related in the tale ‘The Supper Guest’, in which he is seen to pay for his execrable ways.

It was one morning in early spring when, by chance, the sixteen-years old Amelia glanced out of the tiny window and spotted a figure standing on the rocks below. This was most unusual, for the only way to reach those rocks was from the sea. Had she known more about the world in which she lived, Amelia would have recognised the man as being Abraham, the Passamaquoddy trader who sometimes visited the island in his birch bark canoe.

Leaning out as far as they dared, Amelia shouted for the help that was so desperately needed. With the roar of the ocean filling his ears, it took some while for the trader to comprehend the message she was trying to convey. To the girl’s dismay he suddenly disappeared. Amelia fell to tears, believing that she had somehow offended him. Her hopes were revived, however, when Abraham returned, brandishing a coiled rope.

“Catch, and secure it to something,” he called up.

Although he threw with perfect accuracy, it took several attempts before Amelia managed to keep hold of the rope, which she then tied securely to the large iron handle of the door which Thrupp was always careful to keep locked.

Both girls watched in trepidation as the Indian scrambled blithely up the sheer sides of the inn, graceful and skilled as an acrobat.

In one movement Amelia and Lilac, three years her junior, were swept into strong, brown arms, before their rescuer kicked down the door of the garret with no more effort than if It were made of matchwood.

Quickly and quietly, they made their way past an alcohol addled Thrupp, who lay comatose in, what Abraham hoped, was a puddle of stale beer. Once outside, the foggy air of Hopeless wrapped its welcome embrace around the girls for the first time in years. Free at last, the little party wasted no time in going to Madame Evadne’s, just a short distance from the inn.


As mentioned earlier, the young ladies of Madame Evadne’s were only too aware of Thrupp’s vile temper and feared what he might do if he found the girls hiding in the bordello. Plans were made, therefore, for Abraham to ferry them to the mainland where they would be safe. That is how Amelia and Lilac found themselves living on the Passamaquoddy reservation with Abraham, his wife Cenopi and their young son, Joseph. (The name Passamaquoddy, or Peskotomuhkati in their own tongue, simply refers to a way of catching fish with a spear.)

Abraham and Cenopi treated the girls as part of their family. They taught them the native language and traditions of the tribe.

The next few years ushered in the beginning of a new century and Amelia and Lilac became every inch young women of the Passamaquoddy tribe – Peskotomuhkati pilsqehsis – with their long braided hair, beads and full-length, sleeveless dresses. Meanwhile, Joseph, at ten years old, was hoping to become as skilled a trader as his father, though given the opportunity and sunny weather, he would far rather lie and doze on the banks of the St. Croix river, earning him the name Dreaming-by-the-river-where-the-shining-salmon-springs (in fact it would have been far more accurate to have called him Dreaming-by-the-river-where-the-migrating-herring-come-to-spawn but that somehow seemed to lack a certain air of romance. Unless you are a River Herring, that is.).

For Amelia and Lilac, life on the reservation was nothing short of idyllic, compared with the nightmare of their captive years. However, each had a destiny to fulfil, a tale to tell, however brief. And somewhere in the fog across a treacherous channel, Hopeless, Maine was waiting for the next chapter to unfold.


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

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.