Category Archives: Hopeless inhabitants

Our secret lives

There is a version of me who wears a hat and goes out to take care of the pigs. There is a version of me who does not. Two lives, two selves, swimming in and out of focus. Whichever version of myself I am, the other life seems to be a dream. Perhaps there are other dream lives I forget.

Yesterday I dreamed that I was at The Crow and I ordered the breakfast special and it turned out that I was the breakfast special and everyone was eating plates of me. I ate me, too. Is this real? Is this one of the lives I lead? No one else has ever admitted to being on a breakfast menu.

It seems preposterous to me that I could ever be human. All those fingers. The shoes. 

Tomorrow when I wake up perhaps I will be a pig herder dreaming of being a breakfast. Perhaps in truth I am really a breakfast and sometimes I imagine that I am an owl man. Perhaps none of these things are real and you are dreaming me in your own desperation.

Lights in the darkness

You may have wondered about the lamps. There is no grid on Hopeless, Maine. There are no gas pipes, and since the end of the trade in oil pressed from giant oceanic gnii, there hasn’t been much in the way of reliable lamp oil, either.

Of course any dead thing that washes up on a beach can be rendered down for oil, if you’ve the stomach for it. When the choice is make and use hideous corpse oil, or sit in the dark wondering what it is that you can’t see… well, it’s surprising how attractive those dead things can become. Thanks to the tides, dead things are mostly what wash up on the shores of Hopeless.

Balthazar is one of the island’s more successful inventors. No doubt his greatest achievement is having built a lighthouse, mostly from the bones of a massive sea monster. Balthazar tries very hard to be a scientist, but often finds he is an accidental occultist who has almost no idea how any of that side of his work… works.

Lamps being such good and useful things, people tend to adopt them and try to work out how to keep them going. The one powered by hurdy gurdy mercifully doesn’t need you to actually play a tune. Several are uncomplicated enough to just need oil of some sort. There’s one you have to wind by hand, and one where a weight drops on a chain. The one that was supposed to gather daylight and release it again at night somehow mostly gathers moths, and feeds on them. It is probably best to stay well away from that lamp, in case it gets ideas.

Defining a demon

Lamashtu is in many ways the classic witch’s familiar. You’ll find him hanging out with Annamarie Nightshade in the graphic novels, and he also plays a role in New England Gothic. He looks like this not because it’s a fair representation of who and what he is, but because this is what’s expected.

Quite a few things on Hopeless, Maine work in this way, because reality and magic alike are affected by belief and intention. People tend to see what they expect to see.

There’s a case for saying that the island is full of demons. It depends on how you like to define things. If you’ve read Personal Demons (which is in The Gathering) you’ll have met the rather self announcing owl demon. Part of the point with that story is that the obvious demon probably isn’t the only demon. They don’t always turn up looking the way you expect them to.

Evil often isn’t self announcing. Usually, the people perpetrating it firmly believe that they are, in fact, the good guys. If you’re reading the graphic novels, this is a line we’ve explored extensively through the character of Reverend Davies. It would be fair to say that the Reverend always feels like he’s acting for the best and doing what’s right, but sometimes he’s alone in those beliefs and his actions are, in practice, hideous.

Screamers

Screamers are charming little creatures resident on the island. They don’t mean any harm, they just want to get on with their lives.

Their lives involve hanging out in the undergrowth, and killing small prey by first stunning and disorientating them. That’s where the screaming comes in. It’s a terrible noise and will also stun and disorientate humans. It’s just that we are far too big to eat and they don’t tend to hunt in packs.

This screamer is the work of Cliff Cumber.

Screamers are fragile little things, and are easily harmed. It doesn’t take much effort to kill one. This, however, is a singularly bad choice. While the body of the screamer may fly apart, the scream does not. It continues. It may follow you.

This does not entirely answer our frequently asked question of ‘what is screaming all the time?’ Lots of things scream. People especially. Not all screaming can be attributed to screamers be they alive or deceased.

This next screamer is the work of Matilda Patterpaw.

Screamers are one of the few beings that can live inside helltopiary. Apparently the helltopiary has figured out that the consequences of eating screamers are far worse than the consequences of leaving them alone.

His Late Master’s Voice

Memory of a hand, swollen about the fingers. A hand that offered food, that patted. 

The familiar smell of a body that meant home. Belonging. Comfort.

The way they both changed. He knows, and he doesn’t know because Drury thinks about things in his own way. Part of him is still a mud rolling puppy. All of him is still the dog he used to be. Sometimes he forgets about his bones. He recalls bodies as though they were still here, as though nothing has changed.

But also the wind whistles between his ribs sometimes and he knows this is not how it used to be. 

A machine that does not smell of person. A voice that does not belong in a machine. Whispery and distant, caught in wax – not that Drury understands the process. A voice that would make his heart hurt, if he still had one of those. He doesn’t know where it went.

When I was a little child

I went into the sea

Down I went

And down I went

One, two three

And all the hungry fishes

Came to look at me

And ate me up

And ate me up

One, two, three.

Now I’m in the water

Calling, follow me

Tender little girls and boys

One, two, three.

It’s just a nursery rhyme. Something said to amuse babies as they fall asleep. There’s nothing substantial here. Just the remains of a dog, listening with total adoration to the uneasy whispering of his late master’s voice.

Dust and pepper

There are those who say that dustcats are foolish, thoughtless creatures. Annoying sometimes, but not malicious. This sort of thing is generally said by the kinds of people who believe in their hearts that humans are better than other entities. Only humans are capable of the kind of complex thought that makes deliberate malice possible. Only humans can be evil, because only humans understand the concept of evil and can choose.

Do the dustcats know? Do they know when they go through your kitchen and knock every jar from the shelf that they are doing you a great disservice? Of course knocking things over is always fun, but they are more careful with the possessions of people who have been kind to them. Violently evict a dustcat from your kitchen and there is every chance that they will come back for revenge.

Do they know about how rare it is to find salvageable spices in a shipwreck? Do they guess the amount of work it takes to find and process bits of local plant that are tasty and probably won’t kill you? Have they thought about it? For the people who imagine that dustcats are foolish things, living only by instinct, it may be hard to imagine the forms dustcat anger could take.

All that fine ground kitchen spice. It’s a lot like dust really, and is easy to suck up. 

Only people who have seriously upset a dustcat get to experience the ‘blow’ options that the cats have. What is taken in through the tongue can also be released through the tongue. It is a terrible misuse of precious spices to snort them up and spit them out in this way. It’s also a very effective form of assault.

Almost as if they understood that they had been called thoughtless and foolish. Almost as if they were making a deliberate point.

Bone Birds

Bone Birds were designed by Dr Abbey.

While the bone birds look a lot like birds made out of bones, all the theories about them assume them to be neither bones, nor birds. One school of island thought has it that these are in fact demons. Some islanders are confident that bone birds do not exist and will refuse to admit being able to see them. The Hopeless Maine Scientific Society considers them to be some sort of insect. Unlike (other?) demons, bone birds maintain fixed forms and look similar to each other. They gather in small flocks and tend to favour isolated open spaces – hilltops and clifftops especially. They are highly vocal, making unpleasant screeching noises when alarmed, and eerie whispery noises the rest of the time. While they tend to avoid people, they will attack anyone who comes into their nesting sites. During nesting season (which does not come at a coherent frequency), they will also attack you for the contents of your washing basket or laundry line. They take hats, and anything else easily removed, to use as nesting material. They aren’t gentle about this, and while they don’t eat people, they will bite people.

Screaming Geese

Geese are always terrifying, or course, but Screaming Geese are stand-out terrifying. They don’t scream. You will be the one providing all of that. Stood upright, an adult Screaming Goose is about three feet tall to the base of the neck. They can and will bite you in the face, favouring attacks to the ears and nose. They also particularly go for fingers and groins. They have teeth in their beaks. A blow from a wing will inflict pain and can break bones. 

Screaming Geese are a bit paranoid – but with reason. They are tasty. Their large eggs are tasty. They assume everything is a threat and defend themselves by attacking first. While any one bite isn’t that damaging, expect to get a lot of bites from multiple geese if you disturb them. Expect them to chase you for miles – or at least until you have left the woods, or died from the sheer number of wounds. 

Screaming Geese are woodland creatures. They stay off the paths. You should stay on the paths, but you probably won’t.

(Why yes, there is a bestiary on the way to go with the Role Play Game).

The Singing Snails of Hopeless, Maine

by @lindsayplum

The singing snails of Hopeless, Maine, their shells adorned with the dribblings and droolings of wax melted from the candles they carry so proudly, have always sung, but there was a time when their shells were undecorated. Nobody is entirely sure when the candles became ubiquitous, or who started the craze – if you can call something a craze when it has been going on far beyond living memory. Whoever it was, we can only speculate as to their intentions.

The most popular origin story for the shell candles involves two children and a birthday celebration. The children were siblings, both living at Hopeless, Maine’s famous orphanage, in the days long before Miss Calder. Legend has it that the proprietor was a particularly spiteful woman, who allowed treats only for her favourites, and who locked the birthday child in the attic for asking for a cake. The child’s sister, enraged and broken-hearted at this cruelty, devised a birthday delight. She crept out to the yard and collected snails in her pockets. She stole candles and matches from the kitchen. And she waited until night fell before climbing up onto the roof of the orphanage.

The attic window was barred, but the sash could be raised a few inches. She knocked, clinging to the frame to stop herself sliding down the tiles, until her poor imprisoned sibling opened the window. ‘Stand back,’ she said, ‘and I’ll send them in to you’.

She took a snail from her pocket and reached through the bars to set it on the windowsill. Lighting the first candle was perilous, as she had to let go of the window frame to strike the match, but once it was alight, she could return the matchbox to her pocket. A few drops of wax on the snail’s shell gave the candle a firm footing. Then the second snail, placed beside the first, the candle lit also from the first and carefully anchored to the shell. By now, the first snail was creeping from its casing and beginning to glide across the sill, heading into the attic. The girl held her breath as the snail oozed over the edge, its candle now horizontal and dripping wax onto the floor, but snail and candle remained stuck together.

One at a time, seven snails, each carrying a candle, sailed majestically down the wall to the attic floor. The girl clung to the bars, pushing her face between them so she could see. The child inside knelt on the floor, face illuminated by candlelight and joy, the centre of a slowly rotating circle of molluscs. They moved with purpose, keeping their distance from each other, somehow choreographed in their slimy birthday celebration. Both children watched, entranced.

And then the snails began to sing.

—————————————————————

We will probably never know the truth of where the candles came from, but what we do know is that the snails decided that they liked being little carriers of light, and have continued with what in humans we would call a tradition. They have even devised ceremonies analogous to some of our own.

Young snails, upon reaching a size where they can safely carry a candle, experience a kind of baptism, where a candle is placed on their back for the first time. They parade solemnly through the snail colony, followed by others who have replaced their own plain candles with brightly coloured ones. At snail funerals, the candle is allowed to burn down, covering the departed’s shell in wax. This behaviour was unknown for many years, and the significance of the caches of wax-coated shells was the subject of a great many theories, from offerings to sea witches to good-luck charms for children sitting their exams.

What can only be described as marital rites involve the establishment of a candle-pair, or candle-group. The snails thus bonded appear to promise to care not only for their partner or partners, but also to take responsibility for the replenishment of their candle.

These interpretations are, of course, based on human observations. There may well be gastropologists who have made a study of these rites and rituals, but unless or until humans and snails find ways to share their notes, we will never be entirely certain of the consequence of these activities.

Skitterlings

We’ve been designing some new Hopeless, Maine creatures! These are primarily for the role play game, but could turn up other places, too. Skitterlings were initially designed by Dr Abbey.

Skitterlings inhabit caves and tunnels, and make distinctive rustling noises as they move about in the dark. They can see perfectly well in the dark or in light. They tend to frequent walls and ceilings as this makes it easier to attack anything else that happens to be in their tunnels. Skitterlings will cheerfully eat anything smaller than they are, and at full size they can be larger than people. They’re also very protective of objects in their tunnels. That means you can use them to protect your hidden treasures/secrets assuming you can get past them in the first place to drop something off. If you bring a sacrifice, it is entirely possible to leave them an object to protect while they are eating. However, there is no meal tempting enough to stop a Skitterling from protecting its stash. Which might of course be treasure, or a carefully hidden weapon, but might equally be a stick that fell in from a hole in the ground, or a rusty bucket someone abandoned while running away. A Skitterling is best fought off with bladed weapons, and may retreat if you don’t seem to be threatening its precious stash. And yes, they will fight to the death to protect the rusty bucket.

Tom here- This was my interpretation of Dr Abbey’s design sketch. So much fun because he thinks of things that I never would, but there was also enough ambiguity in the design that I had the opportunity to discover how some elements would work in “reality”.