Category Archives: Hopeless inhabitants

Dr Cornelius Porridge arrives on Hopeless, Maine

He knew he couldn’t run much further. His lungs burned with the effort and his teeth ached as he inhaled the dense, wet fog that seemingly blanketed every square inch of the island of Hopeless Maine. His legs felt like bags of wet sand as they carried him out of the thick woodland and to the edge of the granite cliffs that held back the Atlantic Ocean.

Realising he had nowhere to go he fell to his knees and looked down over the edge, towards the clamour of the water crashing against the rocks below. He couldn’t remember when he had started running or even how he had come to be on this cursed island. He just knew he had to get away.

The sound of branches being ripped from a tree focused his mind. He looked round to see the creature that was pursuing him. It was nearly eight feet tall, covered in furry, dark green and brown scales. Yellow eyes blazed at him hungrily as a blue, forked tongue licked saliva from its sharpened teeth.

“What do you want?” He shouted breathlessly at the beast. “Why do you constantly haunt my dreams?”

The beast’s eyes widened as it began to charge. He tried to get up and run, but it was no use. His legs refused to push against the ground. It was only when he looked down that he realised the ground was breaking away from the edge of the cliff. He scrambled forward, but it was too late. He instinctively reached out, succeeding only in grabbing a handful of dust, before falling towards the rocks below.

 

Doctor Cornelius Porridge woke with a start and stared, out of breath, at the ceiling. Blinking as sweat rolled from his forehead and into his eyes, he pushed the blanket down to the bottom of the bed and sat up. Despite it being the middle of January and no fire being lit, the sweat made his nightshirt cling to him as if it were a second skin. He looked around the room and realised he had been dreaming again.

He washed and dressed and as he was waxing his red moustache he looked at himself in the mirror and said, “How did you know it was a dream?” He stared at his unanswering reflection for several moments before putting on his greatcoat and top hat and letting himself out of the house.

 

When the steel tipped arrow thudded into his front door, missing his head by less than an inch, Porridge began to wonder if it was going to be one of those days. It wasn’t the first time someone had tried to kill him. In the six months since his return from a two year expedition in the Arctic and Northern Canada, there had been several attempts on his life. At first he thought the falling plant pot that had shattered by his feet had been blown off the high wall by the wind. Then there had been the horse drawn carriage that had lost control coming down Steep Hill in Lincoln. It was perfectly understandable that the driver had lost control. It was reckless of him to even attempt such a descent. It was strange however, that there was no sign of him when the horses had been steered away from him at the last moment.

It was only when he woke one morning face to face with the frothing mouth of a rabid llama that Porridge began to suspect foul play was afoot. Fortunately he was in the habit of keeping a loaded blunderbuss under his pillow for just such emergencies. It was as the beast began to chew the cud, getting ready no doubt for the first projectile of spittle, that Porridge grabbed his trusty weapon and let fly. The result had left a nasty mess on the curtains, but it was for the best he told Gertrude, his horrified maid.

Porridge pulled out the still quivering arrow and inspected the hole that it had made in his front door. “I wonder if his Lordship will lend me a fiver to get that fixed?” he mused. He turned around to look for the failed archer and noticed a group of people standing near the house. I wonder if they saw anything, Porridge wondered as he slowly walked over to the small crowd. As he drew near he could see that everyone had gathered around a woman prostrate on the floor.

“It was horrible,” cried the woman. “It was covered in green and brown scales and had yellow eyes like the devil himself.”

“Impossible,” said Porridge to himself. Shaking himself out of his reverie he stalked towards the prone woman. Kneeling down, he put his hand on her shoulder, “Did you say Green and brown scales?” asked Porridge. The woman looked at him and weakly nodded. “Yellow eyes?” the woman nodded again. “About eight feet tall?”

“You saw it too?” the woman asked. “It was horrible,” she re-affirmed.

“Impossible,” Porridge repeated as he released the woman and pushed his way back through the crowd. It was then, as he looked up towards his house, that he noticed the front door was open. He was certain he had closed it. He looked at the arrow in his hand. He had just locked the door when it had struck, narrowly missing his right ear. The door had definitely been closed. Also, it was a Tuesday. A fact in itself quite unremarkable, but Tuesday was Gertrude’s day off and she never came near the place if she didn’t have to. When he had left the house it had been empty, which could only mean one thing. Someone, or something, had gone in.

Porridge looked around in vain for a constable. “Typical,” he muttered. “Never one close by when you need one.”

He threw the arrow onto the floor and pulled a navy flintlock from inside his greatcoat. Gently pushing the front door open, Porridge stepped over the threshold and into the hallway.

“Who’s there?” he called, his voice croaking rather more than he would have liked. If it was a man he could dispatch him without any hesitation, but the thought of finally coming face to face with the beast that had been haunting him for the past six months had set his nerves on edge.

“I have a pistol,” he shouted. The affirmation engendering a firmness to his voice.

Porridge drew level with the door to the sitting room, it was ajar. He never left the doors inside open for fear of fire spreading. His mouth was dry and he could hear his heart pounding. Porridge had no doubt the creature was inside.

He drew breath and kicked the sitting room door open with a violence he hadn’t realised he could muster. The door crashed against a wooden bookcase. Porridge was showered with books as the bookcase wobbled in a most precarious way. A shadow darted from the window. Porridge instinctively threw out the hand containing the pistol towards the window and pulled the trigger.

A small hole appeared in the window as the small, lead ball flew into the street and shattered the glass of a nearby street lamp. Porridge’s attention was diverted from the window by a dull thud followed by a loud creak. He turned to look at the book case as he realised the massive oak structure and the several hundred volumes it contained was falling towards him.

His face paled as the realisation dawned on him that this was the end. Before he could draw breath the shadow fired towards him, hitting him like a cannonball in the midriff. Porridge slid into the hallway gasping for breath. As he managed to draw oxygen into his body he heard books falling, like leather raindrops, onto the floor. The books were followed by the crash of oak shelves as the bookcase shattered.

The sound in the sitting room faded into irrelevance compared to the sight unveiling itself in the hallway. A huge creature, a cross between a bear and a dragon, stood before him. Its yellow eyes glared at Porridge with complete puzzlement.

“I say old boy, what on earth do you think you’re playing at?” asked the creature, pushing the words through a gap between its two front fangs.

“W…what?” stammered Porridge.

“That firearm,” the creature pointed at the pistol. “You could have hurt someone.”

Porridge blinked as the creature flicked a thin, blue forked tongue at him.

“My pistol, I still have it,” said Porridge as he pointed it at the creature.

“It’s a single fire flintlock, so it won’t do any further harm unless you throw it.”

“What do you want?” gasped Porridge as he let the pistol fall to the floor.

“Well, a thank you would be nice.”

“Thank you?”

“You’re welcome. After all, I did just save your life in there,” the creature gestured in the direction of the sitting room.

“Save me? You’ve been trying to kill me for the last six months,” exclaimed Porridge as he struggled to sit up.

“Kill you? Nonsense. If it wasn’t for me you would have been dead six months ago.”

“What about the bookcase?” asked Porridge.

“You had far too many books on the top shelves,” said the creature. “When you kicked the door open with such force into the bookcase, even I wouldn’t have been able to stop it crashing over. Quite unnecessary if I may say so ”

“What about the arrow? That only just missed me.”

“Yes, it did, but it didn’t miss the Loxosceles reclusa on the door,”

“The what?”

“Loxosceles reclusa,” repeated the creature. “A brown recluse spider. Quite deadly and about to bite you. I don’t know how you didn’t see it. One bite and your bowels would become an unstoppable force of nature.”

“Oh,” said Porridge, not entirely convinced.

“What about the llama?”

“Alouitious?”

“Who?”

“Alouitious, the llama. I sent him to watch over you. Why did you shoot him?”

“He was rabid.”

“Rabid?”

“He was frothing at the mouth.”

“He wasn’t rabid, he was just a messy eater.”

“He had red eyes,” added Porridge.

“Yes, he’d been crying. His girlfriend had just left him. I asked him to do me a favour, I thought it would take his mind off things and you shot him. Talk about having a bad day,” the creature shook its head and looked at Porridge. “He was very upset and he’s not too keen on coming back either. After everything that’s happened I can’t say I blame him to be honest.”

Porridge studied the creature for several seconds. “What about the plant pot?”

“Ah, yes. Sorry about that. I did whistle though. Stopped you in your tracks.”

“So you didn’t push it?”

“No, why would I push it? It was the wind.”

Porridge looked slightly crestfallen, but rallied when he remembered the runaway carriage.

“Well, what about the runaway carriage? There was no driver and you were nowhere to be seen.”

“Ah yes. The driver had lost control. I managed to throw him off and steer the carriage away from you at the last moment. The horses seemed quite spooked, I can’t imagine why.”

Porridge raised an eyebrow. “There was no one driving,” he insisted.

“I didn’t want you to see me so…I hid.”

“Where could you hide on an open carriage?”

“It was my defence instinct kicking in. When I want to hide I become…invisible.”

“This is ridiculous,” snorted Porridge.

“How else do you explain the horses turning at the last moment?”

Porridge considered the question as he stared at the creature.

“Do it now. Become invisible.”

“I can’t,” said the creature with an indignant tone. “I can only do it when I’m startled or under stress,” the creature could tell Porridge was still having trouble believing him and decided to push on. “Anyway, the driver was an idiot. He should never have been allowed to drive a carriage down such a steep hill.”

“He wasn’t allowed. The City Magistrates banned all carriages from using that street because of the sharp incline.”

“The City Magistrates you say,” the creature looked out of the window before settling his unnerving gaze straight at Porridge. “Tell me Doctor Porridge, do you know where you are right now?”

“I’m in the City of Lincoln. In my house. In the hallway to be precise.”

“Are you certain?”

“Quite certain. Where do you think we are?

“Well, I’m afraid we’re not in the City of Lincoln and we’re certainly not in your hallway.”

“Of course we’re in my hallway,” said Porridge, unaware he was angrier at the creature’s geographical repudiation than he was in fear of its physical presence or intent. “Where else do you think you are?”

The creature studied the prone figure for several seconds before reaching out a muscular, scaly paw. Porridge shuffled back, but the creature grabbed hold of his arm and hauled him to his feet as easily as if he were a kitten and walked into the sitting room. Porridge followed the creature as it cleared a path through the fallen books to the drinks cabinet. The creature poured brandy into two glasses and offered one to Porridge. He hesitated.

“Take it,” the creature said. “You may need it with what I’m about to tell you.”

Porridge took the glass and sat in a large leather chair, satisfied that if the creature had wanted him dead they wouldn’t be drinking brandy together.

“How did you get back?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t follow,” said Porridge, the question taking him by surprise.

“The island of Hopeless Maine. How did you get from there to here?”

Porridge shuffled uncomfortably in his chair. In the six months since his escape from that dark, mist shrouded island he had often wondered exactly how he had returned. He had spent two years surveying Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in a small, hydrogen filled dirigible. During his last flight he had been caught up in a huge storm which had caused considerable damage. He was already losing height when the gondola was hit by lightning and caught fire. It was only by luck, or so he had thought, that he found land. The island of Hopeless, Maine.

“I can’t remember,” he said after a short pause.

“Let me see if I can help restore your memory,” said the creature. “You were undoubtedly drawn to the island by the lighthouse on the North shore. You actually crashed by a small lake on the South side of the island. I was being held captive in that lake,” the creature’s face altered. Porridge wasn’t sure if it was a smile or indigestion.

“There are squid in that lake,” continued the creature, “Who now think you’re a deity.”

“I’m worshipped by a cephalopod?”

“Not just one, there’s a whole village down there. We all saw you come down in a ball of flame and they thought you were going to liberate them onto dry land. Whilst they were distracted I made my escape. If it hadn’t been for your, very timely, arrival I may have been next on the menu. I knew I owed you my life so, when I saw your balloon…”

“Dirigible.”

“…Dirigible burning on the shoreline, I had to help.”

“So it was you who dragged me from the shore line and into the woodland?”

“Yes, it was,” said the creature. “The squid were about to come ashore and they would have undoubtedly dragged you back in. They do come out of the water occasionally, usually to hunt, but tend not to venture too far. As soon as you were safe I had to leave as they were rather upset at my disappearance and may have tried something stupid. ”

Porridge realised he hadn’t touched the brandy and took a large gulp. “This is all very interesting,” he said, wiping his lips with the back of his hand, “and I’m very grateful, but how do you get into my dreams?”

It was the creatures turn to take a swig of brandy.

“I have the ability to project myself into people’s dreams.”

“Why would you want to?”

“As I said, after your fortuitous arrival helped me escape, I felt I owed you a debt. But every time I tried to say hello, you ran screaming. So I decided to project into your dreams. It was only when there that I realised you are as clumsy when dreaming as you are when you’re awake.”

The furrow on Porridge’s brow deepened.

“They say,” continued the creature, “that if you die in your dreams you will die in reality. I think I’ve saved your life seven times in all. You’re a full time occupation Doctor Porridge.”

“So…” said Porridge, trying to collect his thoughts, “when I was last asleep, you were there. When I fell off the cliff you saved me?”

“Sort of,” said the creature, putting his empty glass next to the decanter. “Except, you weren’t asleep. I caught you just before you hit the rocks and you fainted.”

“But I awoke with a start. My heart was pumping,” said Porridge, the words coming out slowly as the truth sank in.

“No,” said the creature. “As you fainted you re-entered a dream state. I projected myself in and that’s when I saw the spider. Unfortunately, when I fired my crossbow I became visible and a woman saw me. I managed to take the key from your greatcoat and hide in your sitting room,” the creature looked at the fallen bookcase. His attention turned to Porridge at the sound of glass shattering on the floor.

Porridge was slumped in the chair, his shoulders rounded and his face as white as the morning frost.

“So…” he leaned forward in the chair, “…what you’re saying is…I’m still on Hopeless Maine. That this is just a dream?”

“I’m afraid so.”

The remaining blood drained from Porridge’s face and he fainted.

 

Doctor Cornelius Porridge opened his eyes and looked around. He was in a log cabin which was dimly lit by a small oil lamp resting on a table in the corner of the room. The door opened and the creature from his nightmares walked in. Porridge felt no fear.

“Ah, I see you’re awake. No ill effects I presume?”

Porridge shook his head. His body ached as though he had fallen off a cliff. He smiled at the thought and looked at the creature.

“So, this is real then? I’m still on this cursed island?”

“I’m afraid so. Many have tried to leave. All have failed.

Porridge sat up on the edge of the bed and extended his hand.

“Doctor Cornelius Porridge,” he said. “At your service.”

The creature extended its huge arm and its paw engulfed Porridge’s hand.

“Barnaby,” said the creature. “Pleased to meet you at last.”

“Tell me,” said Porridge, “why were the squid holding you prisoner?”

Something akin to a smile spread across Barnaby’s face. “Well,” he said, “that’s a long story.”

 

Written by S. A. Sanderson- author of Out of Time

Based on the Fictional person Dr Cornelius Porridge

Art by Tom Brown

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The Burn

A midnight stroll, paddling. The water is strange here, but I am stranger. It hisses from me as I wet my ankles, as it rises past my calves, vapour twisting into odd shapes that silently howl and disappear. I am almost up to my waist, but I am yet alight, flames submerged in elemental paradox. Small wisp-like things pretending to be fish play about down there, darting from the heat.
It is dark, but I don’t fear it. I provide my own light. This little bay all to myself, illuminated. I drag fingers through the shallows, little more than bone already, creepers of muscle. I look up at the moon with sockets almost vacant. My companion. My challenger. Does it seem different, here? Or have I merely spent so long inspecting its surface that I have begun to create the things I see?
And now, that familiar prickling on the vertebrae. I turn back towards the cliff-face.
Again, there is someone watching.
I washed up on this shore. I awoke to something slithering across my hand. It had burrowed away before I saw it.
I was cold. Naked. The clothes had burned from my back like they always did. I turned over and shivered on the sand, remembering the night. Hoping they had survived, the stupid mischievous lot of them.
The mast had been burning. The crew were running about. Someone screaming. And I was overboard.
I scrunched sand in my fist.
Stupid.
They tried to turf me out, once. The inhabitants here. I hesitate to say native, as I’m not sure anyone is. Gathered on the shore, tools and shovels, pointless anger. Or fear. Who knows the difference? They had their reasons.
Some of the mob waved at me with their implements and said “Begone or we’ll force you!”
I turned, opened my lipless mouth, and flame-tongued said, “Try.”
They haven’t come back.
It’s fortunate they don’t know where I sleep, during the day.
I took to swimming quite quickly.
By night, for one such as I, the perils of this island’s waters bear little danger. Things like eyes watched me pass in the dark. Some tried to do more than that. Tentacles and other, more indistinguishable appendages coiled around me, not quite touching because of the warmth, even down here, but probing nonetheless.
To their surprise, I had moved closer, right up to those maws, between the grasp of those mighty claws, looking into pupils the size of my torso. They had considered me, found me unappetising, and I turned away with a skull’s grin, feeling disappointment.
I became bored of those depths with similar swiftness.
“What are you doing?”
The words startle me. An answering flare of firelight. I turn towards the beach, and she is standing there. She blinks a little at my appearance, the light, but doesn’t move otherwise. This is rare.
I ask, “What do you mean?”
“It’s a pretty clear question.”
I hesitate, clearing a throat which isn’t really there. “Nothing.”
She tilts her head, frowns a little. “Sounds boring.”
“You shouldn’t be here.”
She frowns. “Why not? My beach too. Besides, you’re one to talk, standing there like yourself.”
She vexes me. I turn away, sighing out my frustration. It makes a little puff of embers that float into the night. “Are you just here to torment me, then?”
“Sorry. I’ve seen you here before is all. Just standing.”
“So you’re the one who’s been watching me.”
“Sometimes,” she says. “Hard to say whether it’s always been me of course, round here. Lots of beasties to do the watching, and some of them aren’t as polite as me.”
I turn back to her. “And you came down here anyway?”
“Yep.”
“What if I was one of the ‘impolite’ ones. What if I ate you, or something?”
She shakes her head, “Nah, could see you weren’t like that.”
“How could you tell?”
“You looked too lonely.”
Weeks on that vessel. Walking the same deck during the day, hiding myself away at night. Through sufficient palm-greasing and careful negotiations, I had secured my rather unorthodox arrangement. I was sure the sailors thought me eccentric. This suited me. They left me alone.
It was still dangerous, the safety of the crew and any fellow passengers a constant worry while I had the planned the venture. That was why I chose a smaller vessel, not a liner. I would not be culpable for disaster. In the end it was a necessary risk. I needed space to lose myself, somewhere where I could endure the burn without endangering a soul. I had a fantasy of losing myself in those great American plains.
Every dusk my cabin would glow with flickering light, lowering myself into the bathtub that had been installed within, a tried and tested method back in Islington. I endured the sniggering and raising of eyebrows with ease.
If only they had known how important it was.
I found only one marker of civilisation after I awoke. One small derelict house overlooking the bay, at the cliff-top. Things skittered from my shambling, much of what I found already damp and useless. But there had been clothing, at least.
Sure that this meant others existed here, I set out in search of sustenance. I found both. When I asked where I was, the people gave me knowing looks and grim smiles. “You’ll be from the sea then. Welcome to Hopeless.”
Somewhat fed, and no wiser about this place that had saved my life without asking, I saw the sun sinking, noticed my flesh begin to steam. I hurried away to the bay.
She comes again, often. Jessenia. Sometimes I am sat, hip-bones grating uncomfortably on rock. Sometimes I wander, footsteps searing the sand and the flotsam. Sometimes, like that night before, I wade out into the waves.
Talking is not always what we do. Just to exist with another while in my state is a painful luxury, a previously impossible thing. But this place is full of them.
She asks me. “Do you never talk to anyone?”
“No.”
“You can’t be,” she gestures, “like this all the time though.”
“No, I’m not. It’s just easier that way. People have become confusing things, best avoided.”
She snorts, “You don’t have to be on fire for that to be true.”
I smile at that, in my fashion. And somehow, she knows, and returns the favour.
The truth is, I don’t know how I feel. My intentions of isolation have borne unexpected fruit. Rather than bring me peace, it has given me time to stir things within myself. Fear of harm, the shame of being the other, and perhaps a little resentful bitterness, that they do not also burn. I could walk through their houses at night, leave them as charcoal.
I say as much.
“But you don’t,” is all she replies.
They decided to play a trick.
Returning to my cabin one night, already feeling the heat beneath my skin, I found my bathtub vanished away somewhere. I remember letting out an involuntary guttural sound, like a lost animal. And then I heard the laughter. Heads around the door, looking in.
I railed at them, but this only heightened their amusement. I felt myself grow hot, with embarrassment but also the promise of my curse. I grew desperate, pleading with them. They laughed in my face, a pampered baby.
Their expressions changed when the steam rose from my skin, when patches of it began to fry, then fall away as the flames built.
I have thought about them many times. I have changed my opinion just as many, but I still come back to the same thought.
I wish them to have lived.
“Why do you come here?” I ask of her one night. The critters wicker and rattle around us, kept away, I presume, by my light. “You must sleep, surely?”
She shrugs, “It’s not of much use to me if I’m honest.”
“Don’t you have things to do in the day? In town?”
“Nah. Never been there.”
“Why not?”
She grins, but it’s lopsided.
I found a cave. I wished not to exist somewhere obvious, or somewhere vulnerable to my nightly form. I would hide myself away. This choice proved to be shrewd, considering the locals’ views on me. I managed to fit a cot into the dankness, a small stove and some lamps, purchased from the town. I acquired some money, doing small jobs where I could, to keep my cupboards stocked.
I had no need of a clock or watch. After sleeping away most days, I would always be woken with enough time to vacate my new home. Thus I existed for weeks, only attracting unwanted attention with my strolls.
Until her.
Talking with her makes me feel human. I had convinced myself long ago that the word no longer applied. So I decided, a wavering hermit, to take another step.
“You know…” I begin, and falter. A man wreathed in his own fire. It is somewhere between senseless and farcical. “We could talk sometime… when I’m not…like this.”
She smiles gently. “That wouldn’t be very easy for me.” Even in the midst of the burn I must look downhearted. “It doesn’t bother me.”
I reach up, trace the line of my jaw, bone rasping on bone, tap fingers over my teeth in tuneless rhythm. “You’d be the first.”
“There’s always a first. If there wasn’t, there’d never be a second. That’s maths that is.” She cocks a brow.
“You’re odd.”
“Bang on lad.”
I am walking, waiting for her to appear. For once I see her first. She is standing up on the cliff, watching something. I dim myself, bringing my flames to a lull. It is a skill I learnt quickly but never usually exploit. Around the rocks of the cliff’s base I skulk.
She stands, the moon shining full on her, still watching, perhaps waiting. I’ve never noticed before, but up there on the headland she almost seems to be pierced by that lunar light. Shot through by moons-shine.
A time passes, and then she abruptly turns and disappears, obviously descending some unseen slope hidden from me. As her face turns my way, for that moment, I think I see the light reflect off her cheeks.
I return to sea and hide beneath, feeling strangely ashamed.
“That’s where you’ve been.”
I am emerging from the water, feeling like enough time had passed, that she may have gone away. I dip my skull, thankful at least for the lack of expression.
“What is it?” She asks, like some parent or teacher. She’s learned my pauses by now, the slight movements of bone and muscle remnants among the inferno. It is both strange and wonderful to be read when one is like this.
“I saw you earlier.”
She blinks, looks down. Where my stomach would be lurches. She sighs. “I was hoping to see him.”
“Who?”
Her smile is broken.
Above all, I deserve this.
People do things in a crack of time. They peel away part of themselves with an action, a dire flaw in their judgement. They clutch a certain logic which they revere as the only possible key. They destroy all else.
I have done such things. I have persecuted what I did not understand.
I hung a boy who didn’t deserve it. I was young and callous and filled with self-importance, a lack of understanding, no desire for it. I had found him poaching.
While he kicked and struggled for breath I locked eyes with someone in the crowd. A woman, staring at me with such hatred that it seemed like her eyes would boil me where I stood.
That night my home burnt as I slept.
I watch another boy now, younger than the one I put to death. He walks in file with a dozen others, all clad in the same drab colours, body and soul.
I catch the attention of a man who follows the procession. “That boy there,” I point, “What’s his history?”
The man frowns over spectacles. “A very fine way of asking such a gloomy question.”
“Please.”
He sighs, glances away to make sure someone else is still leading the children. “About, hmm, twelve years ago now, there was a shipwreck. Another shipwreck. We found a woman, washed up. Pregnant. She was barely alive when we found her, but she clung on until we were able to deliver her child, right there on the beach. And now there he walks.”
I stare at the retreating back. “Which beach?”
I am selfish, another truth. Here I stand, lamenting my grotesque and awkward existence, while others more deserving are robbed of the time they could have spent with those dearest. The reflection of my crime is not unnoticed.
Jessenia is waiting as I emerge from my cave that night. I feel myself studied. “You know, don’t you?”
I nod. “Yes.”
She nods too, says nothing more.
I say, “I’m sorry.”
She smiles weakly, turns away. “Don’t be. I’ve had twelve years to feel sorry, for myself. I don’t need anyone else’s apologies.”
There is a silence.
“I will try my best, to see he is cared for.”
She looks back at me. “You would?”
“Maybe, circumstances allowing,” I raise an en-flamed hand, “I could do it myself, one day.” Her eyes are beginning to shine in the moonlight. “Or, I can stay away-”
“No,” she shakes her head, bites her lip as one tear falls. “Thank you.”
“You should know,” I begin, unsure of myself, “I have done… terrible things. There is a reason for my curse. You may want me apart from him.”
She comes closer. “I know the person I’ve been speaking to. Whoever this man was, he must have been burnt away.”
I let out a breath I didn’t realise I had been holding. It gusts out as heat and fireflies. I start for a moment in shock, realising Jessenia is close enough to be set alight, but she is not.
She is moving towards me, fearless. I have not had someone so close to me in the night for many years. The flames move around her, through her. She does not heed them, has no need to. For the briefest moments they brush away silvery skin to show bone.
Jessenia puts her arms around my waist, her head to my chest, and again I find myself holding my breath. Carefully, as if she may break, I encircle her with my own.
Maybe, just maybe, I can find a way.
This lovely haunting tale was written by Tam Caddick, a new writer you should be keeping an eye on.  In fact, you can, right here.
Art by Tom Brown

New Hopeless, Maine illuminator!

Dear people (and others) It is my great pleasure to introduce you to a new visual artist who has recently washed ashore on our bleak (but seldom dull) island. He was found drawing (stunning) pictures of our dear Professor Elemental, and… I pounced! (with success) He is with us now as a guest artist (probably taking up residence near the coast for the views and fresh tentacles)  His name is Clifford Cumber, and he describes himself thusly,

“Cliff Cumber draws occasionally for people he likes very much, when he can fit it into a life filled with almost-teen children, and when his wife deems his mental state sufficiently stable to use sharp objects. He is formerly of Great Britain, now resident in Maryland, and while that sounds made up, it’s actually a real state in America. Honest. Follow him on the twitters, @cgcumber.”

As you can see, he is a modest (and busy) sort of chap.

Without further ado, here is his image of Obediah from a recent episode of Tales from the Squid and Teapot.


Meet Philomena Bucket

Please meet Philomena Bucket. She has recently shipwrecked on the island (which may explain her worried expression)

Philomena is a Traveller. Which is to say,  the example character in the Hopeless, Maine role playing game which is in development by Keith Healing. The whole project is coming along beautifully and has a publisher, so, fear not (or, not too much) it will be with you in the fullness of time. Keith understands the setting and the story in a way that makes us nearly giddy and is finding ways of having players explore and interact with the island and its flora and fauna (and those things which are uncomfortably neither or both) and create experiences and dark adventures.

Here, in Keth’s words, is how Philomena Bucket was born (or created) with some rolls of the dice-

“Philomena Bucket
These numbers tell us a lot about her. Philomena is of average build (STR 11) but a little sickly (CON  She could well appear a little pale and wan. However, her manual dexterity is good. She is not stubborn but can possibly be manipulated (WILL 10) but is of above average intelligence. She gets on pretty well with people (CHA 11) and is naturally drawn towards things spiritual (PSY 15).
Philomena rolled 52 on Class, making her as Middle class as could be, and 47 on Age. The player determines that as this is towards the top end of the range Philomena is 28 years old.
Given her physical characteristics and her high PSY Philomena’s player decides that she is an Artist specialising in painting. Her high PSY and DEX give her a base skill of 36% to which is added another 10% for her age, giving a total of 46%. She is pretty good but a bit rough around the edges.
She is a keen amateur Biologist.
Finally, and intriguingly, she is albino.”

If the roll had gone another way, she would have been inexplicably attractive to small bits of metal.

If you would like to know how all of this is developing and keep up with progress and news of release dates and such, I can recommend following the development blog, here!

 

Hoping (as always) this finds you well, inspired and thriving.

Save the Succubus Wasp

Octavius Chevin is a man with a mission. Originally trained as a naturalist he has spent his entire adult life on the island making galoshes for the fishing community. However, his retirement has allowed him to return to his first love of entomology. Recently he has campaigned tirelessly for the protection and study of one of the island’s rarest and most curious arthropods – the Succubus Wasp. A species he himself discovered, frozen in a block of ice, a year ago.
He’s written books and papers about Vespula Hasturis, to give it it’s proper name. He’s formed the local environmental organisation that seeks to protect the Succubus Wasp and, until recently, campaigned to expand the membership of the charity.
Unfortunately he remains the sole member of Save the Succubus Wasp. Due to becoming bed-ridden he has had to completely abandon his efforts to increase the organisation’s influence among the local community, but his passion for environmental work is undimmed.
Today, he lives by himself in the old mill out near Geezo’s Bight.
When this reporter visited the door was already open and he was met cordially by Mr Chevin who received him in his bedroom.
In person Mr Chevin cuts quite an imposing figure –  Despite looking alarmingly emaciated and somewhat wild-eyed, the man turns out to be rather welcoming. Speaking candidly and openly about having lost the use of his legs and being only partially able to use his arms, he remains sanguine. His voice is high pitched with a faint sibilant tone and he also has a nervous tic of punctuating his sentences with a short buzzing noise from the back of his throat. He becomes animated as conversation turns from his ailments to his beloved wasps.
‘I am privileged to be on a mission to preserve the natural habitat and therefore the small population of Vespulis Hasturis for the benefit of present and future generations’ he says. ‘It is a beautiful creature, but its numbers are dwindling: at the moment there is only one live pregnant queen wasp and two dormant, pregnant, ice-bound queens, on the island. There were more, of course, but since the discovery of the frozen colony and their subsequent revivification by my hands last year, they have inevitably come into contact with humans’.
He continues – ‘This resulted in their habitat being encroached on at a rapid rate and also some regrettable deaths, in both the wasp and human populations.
As a result, a lot of misinformed and plain ignorant opinions about these shy and retiring creatures have come about.’ Mr Chevin has started to push himself forward and attempts to lean in closer to me.
He carries on – ‘The wasp has a fascinating feeding cycle. The queen will inhabit the nearest living creature it can find and appears to exert some sort of mental control over it’s host by releasing a special type of pheromone into the nervous system, as a result the host loses all interest in eating and sleeping. As it feeds further on the host’s spinal fluid the host rapidly becomes paralysed. As there is a finite supply of spinal fluid, this necessitates that the queen must find a new host after a while. It is quite slow to disentangle itself from the cerebellum of it’s current host so it has to keep it’s potential prey occupied for quite a while before it can attack and infest it. They can’t survive for long outside of another living thing, you see’. Mr Chevin is now shaking with excitement.
I edge back a little as Mr Chevin seems to be unconsciously trying to grasp my wrist.
‘They only lay eggs once in a lifetime so it’s important that a steady supply of hosts is available to increase the chances of Queens giving birth to fertile males of the species and therefore being able to immediately mate again. Sadly the males die after the procreative act, only the queen matters!’
His voice becomes tremulous – ‘Our number one priority is to see them growing healthy and breeding and spreading and to stop this trend of dwindling numbers’ he says fixing me with that commanding stare of his. I agree that we have a duty to help promote the future of these fascinating insects but decide to excuse myself as Mr Chevin seems to be having some manner of fit. His head is shaking violently and rapidly from side to side and he sounds as if he is about to cough something up.
I make a hasty exit as I fear that my presence may have exacerbated his condition. In some extremity of discomfort I believe he involuntarily threw something after me, as I heard a thud as if something had forcibly struck the fine mahogany door as I closed it on my way out.
Environmental concerns are all our responsibility and this reporter asks his esteemed readership to consider taking up Mr Chevin’s ‘adopt a wasp’ campaign which proved so unpopular and short-lived last year. Subscriptions can be delivered by postal order to the Vendetta.
This dark gem is from none other than Mr Charles Cutting with art by Tom Brown.

Meet Barnabas Hemingway Trouser

People (and others) your roving reporter has recently encountered another reclusive resident of Hopeless, Maine and felt moved to introduce him (so to speak) to the island populace at large. (Partly as a warning to those of you who might be hoarding items of cultural interest)

My impressions of Mr. Barnabas Hemingway Trouser follow-
he is (ostensibly)  a writer and painter, (where he hopes to publish, we are not yet aware!) and yet if one were invited to see the contents of his attic, one might wonder where or how he has managed to collect so many rare books and objects of art. When pressed, Mr. Trouser says that none of these objects will have wandered in his direction from anyone who had actual need of it (Or true appreciation of it.)
He is not a virtuous person as such but if he sees a loaf of bread on the way out of a house he has just burgled he would pick it up to give to an urchin, spotted on a street corner. He does not seem to enjoy the discomfort involved with a planned break in and if, for instance, he were hiding in a garden awaiting his chance at night he would ask himself why he’s doing this when he could be in a nice warm bed at home. Despite not being a natural adventurer and ill-equipped for “roughing it” he is keenly aware that he cannot resist the thrill and sheer devilment that come with such exploits. On the whole, an interesting and engaging chap, but one would be advised to check contents of pockets and bags before, during and after a visit.

Mr. Trouser (when not being fictional) is, of course, in reality, the greatly esteemed Stephen Mosley, who is an engineer, artist, journalist, photographer and writer who releases his work under the name of “Actuarius.” His love of Art Deco and the between-wars period informs every aspect of his life. Although he is no reenactor, He considers himself a Futurist.  He rejects the conventional thought that aligns this with the war loving far right. Not so much a collection of contradictions as a life lived on his own terms. He is honoured to have a representative in Hopeless, Maine.

Ghost Writers In The Sky

A strand of folklore common to various cultures throughout the western world is that of The Wild Hunt. From the Viking settlements of Scandinavia to the plains of Arizona, via several points in-between, many attest to having seen this ghostly cavalcade of wraiths racing across the night sky, filling the air with the clatter of hooves and the baying of hounds.
No one would express surprise to learn that Hopeless has more than its fair share of Wild Hunts. On a particularly busy night two or three can run into each other and the result is invariably chaotic. There are always tantrums, hissy fits and disagreements regarding rights of way and inevitable disputes about who is entitled to pursue what or whom. Occasionally a scuffle ensues, which is one of the more entertaining spectacles for anyone brave or foolhardy enough to be abroad on such a night.
One of the lesser known and least exciting of these chases across the sky is locally referred to as The Mild Hunt. Legend has it that many years ago a group of six lady authors set out from England to seek intellectual freedom in the New World. They had little money and their only possessions were three mules, a pair of springer spaniels and enough paper and ink to keep them occupied on the long sea voyage. The journey was largely uneventful and the ladies spent their days sitting on deck, laboriously writing improving pamphlets, which were intended to be distributed among the grateful inhabitants of New England when they eventually reached their destination. Sadly, just as they had sighted Maine, a terrible storm arose, as if from nowhere. The wind picked up and every one of their pamphlets was swept into the air. The ladies scuttled around the deck trying to retrieve them but all to no avail. Before long, near one of the many little islands that cluster around that coastline, the ship struck an outcrop of rock and quickly sank; every living creature on board descended to a distinctly watery grave. Under normal circumstances that would have been the end of the tale but this particular rocky outcrop was part of an Island that is frequently omitted from the charts. An island that seems reluctant to let its dead rest for very long…
As far as anyone knows the drowned crew all retired to a happy eternity drinking rum in Davy Jones’ locker. The ghosts of the ladies and their livestock, however, had a different fate. So distraught were they over losing their handwritten pamphlets, they vowed to scour the skies until each one was retrieved. Doubling up on the mules, with the spaniels at their heels, they rose into the heavens, amid a chorus of brays and irritating barks, eternally damned to fulfil their quest. Occasionally, when not unceremoniously falling off the mules, they can be spotted taking tea and cake with other wraiths, notably The Mad Parson of Chapel Rock and The Headless White Lady who is known to haunt The Squid and Teapot (though how she manages to consume tea and cake is a mystery in itself).
The legend gave rise to a popular song, often heard around the island.

Ghost Writers in The Sky

A night-soil man went strolling out across the darkened land,
Upon a ridge he rested, his bucket in his hand.
For all at once he spied some paper flying through the air
Ghostly pamphlets, by and large, littering everywhere.

The edges of these pamphlets burned with a fiery glow,
The ink was black and shiny and the paper white as snow.
A bolt of fear went through him as they fluttered through the sky
For he saw the riders plodding up and he heard their mournful cries

Dearie me, oh
Dearie me, oh gosh.
Ghost writers in the sky

Their faces gaunt, their glasses blurred their skirts all creased and stained,
With wraith-like spaniels at their heels they clung on to the reins.
They’ve got to ride forever across the Hopeless skies
On flatulent old mules, you can often hear their cries.

As the riders loped on by him he heard one call “Yoo hoo,
If you want to help us out, young man, there’s something you can do.
If you should see some pamphlets a-fluttering in the breeze,
Stick them in your bucket, lad, and put the lid down, please.”

Dearie me oh
Dearie me, oh gosh!
Ghost writers in the sky
Ghost writers in the sky
Ghost writers in the sky

 

art by Tom Brown

A Rather cross letter.

Dear Mr Jones,

We are writing to express our displeasure with your report on the Children of Thasaidon’s annual feast of the lunar eclipse in last week’s Vendetta.

We were very distressed by your one-sided coverage of this year’s event.

You made it sound as if almost everyone present was some sort of deranged cultist, when in fact, the meeting was a philosophical and spiritual conference aimed at raising awareness of our beliefs.

We feel that the worship of The Demon Lord Thasaidon has been demonized since we arrived on the island and this article doesn’t help matters!

Implying that we are a secret society, and referring to us as a “lunatic fringe” in your article was misleading and insulting.

First of all, the feast was not limited to a “fringe group” of one particular religion, but had the support and participation of a broad cross-section of this island’s community.

Nothing was said about the charity raffle, children’s workshops or free auguries from our seer – for which, I would like to point out, we didn’t charge a penny. In fact, your article seemed to focus on one minor incident in which a rather excitable member of our brethren plucked the still-beating heart from a goat and howled at the moon (all done in a good-natured spirit of fun I might add).

This was hardly what the feast was entirely about. In all, your coverage was so inaccurate that it could lead one to believe that your publication has significant prejudice against religious groups, regardless of their activities.

Furthermore, each time I try to get through to your office telephone number to put our case forward, Mr Jones, you act as though I were an annoyance!

An apology is in order. You should consider the ramifications of such irresponsible reporting, which will surely not go unnoticed by the public. As for the undersigned and those who were in attendance, we have lost confidence in the credibility of your news reports. We hope you are interested in regaining this confidence and look forward to your correcting the problem.

Kindly retract your statements and apologize. We understand that it may be difficult for the island’s sole local newspaper to be impartial in reporting such matters, but impartiality is important if you wish to have any credibility at all.

Yours sincerely,

Tycho Marcellus

Chief Hierophant of The Church of  The Children of Thasaidon, The Blood-Coloured, Jackal-Headed Lord of the Seven Hells of Zothique. (Bingo every Saturday).

 

This gem was brought to you by none other than the esteemed MR Charles Cutting. (Who is no stranger to dark regions and has explored such places as Kadath and environs)

Artwork by Tom Brown

​Obituary-Sir Fromebridge Whitminster

I was saddened to learn, this week, of the sudden death of my old friend and sometime drinking companion Sir Fromebridge Whitminster, last of the great actor managers, tragedian and founder of the ill-fated theatre troupe The Hopeless Players.

Sir Fromebridge washed up¹ on to our shores many years ago from England, following a fall-out with the management of an esteemed London repertory company. He cited artistic differences as being the main reason for his leaving the land of his birth and that of his beloved Shakespeare.

From the moment he arrived in Hopeless he became convinced that the island had been The Bard’s inspiration for Prospero’s Isle in ‘The Tempest’, possibly gleaned from tales related by a sea captain who had ventured to the early colonies. On one occasion I challenged this assertion, quoting the words of Caliban:

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not…”

It hardly sounded like the Hopeless I knew.

“Poetic licence, dear boy,” he said. “But the bit about the place being full of noise is deadly accurate.”

It would be impossible to celebrate the life of this man without mentioning the short-lived Hopeless Players; their history is not a particularly happy one. The troupe toured the island several times, aiming to bring Shakespeare to the people. The problem was that, by and large, not only the people but the the island itself were hostile to this intrusion of, what they regarded as being, largely incomprehensible language and convoluted plots.²

The tragedies which occurred within The Tragedies are too numerous to recall, but certain ones stand out. There was the memorable occasion on the North of the island when the profusion of ghosts on the stage made it impossible for an uncharacteristically elderly Hamlet to pick out which one was supposed to be his father. As it happened none of them were, as the actor assigned to the job was, at the time, being seduced in his dressing room by a passing succubus.

The following year saw the King Lear incident. In a less than salubrious town-hall the cry of “Out vile jelly” had a swarm of timid, diminutive and generally shapeless life-forms climbing out of the woodwork in the mistaken belief that they were being evicted from their homes. The final straw came during a production of MacBeth, or The Scottish Shambles, as the company came to call it. Sir Fromebridge had completely underestimated the potency of the witches’ spells when cast on this particular island, especially beneath a full moon. The sight of Birnham Wood being transformed into a window-box, Banquo’s sporran spontaneously combusting and Lady MacDuff sprouting bat wings and a tail was unforgettable. Any rapidly diminishing chances of the show going on were scuppered completely when a set of bagpipes scampered around the stage viciously attacking the surviving members of the cast. On the plus side, this was the only time any of their performances received a standing ovation. The applause was deafening and enough to waken the dead, had they not already been enthusiastically joining in from the second row of the balcony.

After that what remained of the troupe quickly disbanded and Sir Fromebridge spent his twilight years holding court in the snug of The Squid and Teapot, a quayside hostelry frequented by mainly British exiles. He was a familiar sight in his trademark flop-brimmed fedora and billowing black cape, sharing anecdotes of a flamboyant theatrical past and gossiping about his various leading ladies.³

To keep himself occupied he attempted to teach the local people the correct pronunciation of certain words, such as tomato, schedule, lieutenant and aluminium. Sadly, none of these really featured much in the vocabulary of the average Hopeless resident so all was to no avail. However, while his efforts to anglicise the natives came to nothing, the culture of the island managed to reach him in its various ways. In fact, the very last time I saw him he was lurching out of The Squid singing, almost in tune, a popular island ditty:

” You can bring Rose with the grotesque nose
But don’t bring Cthulu…”

To my knowledge he passed away soon after, slipping quietly away in his sleep. (4) He will be sorely missed.

Editor’s notes:
1) Many believed him to be washed up long before he came to Hopeless.

2) And also unaccountable financial discrepancies concerning ticket receipts.

3) The chances are that he didn’t mention the critic who observed that
‘Whitminster believes himself to be elevating the stage, when in reality he is only depressing the audience’

4) This is not completely true. Eye-witnesses relate that he staggered out of The Squid and Teapot, following a particularly agreeable liquid lunch, to settle down to sleep upon, what he seemed to believe to be, a large smooth rock. This was in fact the belly of a juvenile aboo-dom-k’n, basking in the thin, greasy light of some unaccustomed sunshine. This sudden burden disturbed the beast which, hardly believing its luck, slipped quietly into the sea, taking its lunch ( that is, the artiste previously known as Fromebridge Whitminster) with it.

 

This post written by the esteemed Martin Pearson, proving that it does indeed run (or slither) in the family.