Mrs Beaten has somewhat romanticised the Hopeless Maine mermaids for the purposes of this poster. She cannot bear to dwell too much on what she has seen…
Mrs Beaten has somewhat romanticised the Hopeless Maine mermaids for the purposes of this poster. She cannot bear to dwell too much on what she has seen…
Today I tried to speak with Frampton Jones about the exceptional presentation of his shirt collars. He was clearly not interested in my opinion which disappointed me. I assumed that a man with a good collar standard would also have more elevated manners. He was in a hurry to be elsewhere and did not handle this with grace.
People are so self involved. It’s always all about them. Here I am, trying to make positive changes for the good of one and all, and no one can even make the time to listen to me. Do they not understand how much better life would be if everyone had presentable collars? Do they not see the social and moral benefits of decent laundry? They do not.
Instead, they are always focused on some drama or another. A shipwreck. The fear of vampires. A barn on fire, a mysterious death… Do they not understand that the only way to deal with a crisis is to pretend it is of no great significance? It is the height of bad manners to press the details of one’s immediate suffering onto another human being who many then feel under some pressure to respond to it. Why can they not suffer quietly and make more effort to keep up good appearances? Where is the dignity that hides hunger and misery behind a neatly laundered curtain and puts a nice floral arrangement on the table when there is no food to put there?
I cannot decide whether this is a form of madness, or a form of laziness.
There are many strange and inexplicable things on the island, most of which you wouldn’t want to meet on a dark road at night, or even in weak sun at noon. There are weird beasties, worrying fogs, and innocuous-looking birds that scream. There are things that have been around as long as the island. And there are also things which have, perhaps, been around longer…
You might know them as the Agents of Change, or the Ocular Ones, or even the Aunties. Personally, they refer to themselves as Mildred, Ludmilla and Gertrude. They spend a lot of time floating around in saltwater, glaring at anything stupid enough to try eating them.
Their story, or at least a version of it, goes something like this: the island appeared. It came from somewhere. Ludmilla says it rose out of the ocean, Gertrude says it emerged from the fog, and Mildred says there was a geological phenomena involving an underwater volcano. All three agreed that it was messy and inconvenient, and for some time (a century or so) the Aunties were quietly outraged and considering how they might get rid of this lurking growly thing.
It was Gertrude who pointed out the persons.
“Well,” said Ludmilla, “I don’t know what they think they’re doing here. It’s not as if they’ll survive.” and she blinked her three eyes furiously.
“I don’t think it’s their fault,” Mildred warbled, “there’s bits of shipwreck everywhere.”
“Well that’s what you get when you sail ships close to mist-covered cursed places,” harrumphed Ludmilla.
“Oh the poor dears, they are trying,” trilled Gertrude, “look, they’re building things.”
“Bet they don’t even last a century,” said Ludmilla, and, after a pause, “That’s no way to go about building a house.”
The Autnies watched. They had a lot of eyes, after all, and the island couldn’t exactly get rid of them (even though it wanted to). It became clear that the island wasn’t letting its people go anywhere either.
If asked who started helping first, the Ocular Ones would shift and point tentacles and say things like: “I can’t very well go letting them eat that muck no can I?” or “Built his house right next to a soft spot in reality; of course I moved the whole thing!” or “Help is a strong word really, I just move resources around.” And if doing all this happened to remind the island who had been there first, well, that was merely a happy coincidence.
They did notice that, after a while, there were rather a lot more sea-beasts, some of whom thought that snacking on the Aunties was a valid life-option. The island, it seemed, was not happy with their meddling. Ludmilla, Gertrude and Mildred knew how to deal with fanged beasties though, and if they meddled a bit more and kept an eye on that nice young fisherman, well, all was well wasn’t it?
And then there was yet another beastie, sinking into the water.This beastie was different. This beastie wanted to change. And change was what the Aunties did.
Mildred made sure the nice fisherman found the now baby and took it home, and the three of them together made sure it would be mostly people-shaped. And then the Ocular Ones settled in for an interesting few years keeping an eye on the newest inhabitant.
“After all,” said Gertrude, “we’re almost like her parents now.”
“Hrrrummph,” said Ludmilla.
“Oh hush,” said Mildred, “we’ll miss all the interesting bits if you don’t quiet down.”
And they turned mobile eyes back towards the island, waiting…
It’s Tuesday, and regular blog followers may have noticed the absence of a Squid and Teapot post. For more than a year now, we’ve had Tuesday contributions from Martin Pearson, exploring the history of the island. Hopeless has been much enriched by his contributions, and intermittently terrified of his puns.
Martin is currently taking a break. There is only so much time a person can spend on the island before this becomes necessary. Unlike actual islanders, people who visit from this reality can leave, but don’t always manage to, so breaks are good and necessary.
But this isn’t one of those. No. Rather than take the opportunity to flee for safety, Martin is pondering an even more elaborate tangle with the island’s tentacles. A top secret tango that we’ll probably cave in and start telling you about sometime fairly soon.
In the meantime, Tuesdays may get used for other things. There’s a great deal going on in Hopeless Maine right now, both in the imagined life of the island, and the rest of world stuff where the island gets made. Or drops its fruiting bodies into people’s brains, as may be closer to the truth.
Huge thanks to Martin for his Squid and Teapot contributions. We wait with curiosity to see what he does next…
Other people’s bodies are questionable. Are they pleasing to the eye? Are they acceptable to the nose? Has proper effort been made in attiring the body and hiding the flaws? Is the body sufficiently modest in its presentation? To fail in any of these regards is shameful.
I feel it is my duty to point out to ugly people that they are ugly, and to tell fat people that they are fat. Does a person know they have awful pox scarring on their face if no one mentions it? Does a person understand the impact of having had all of their teeth removed from their mouth via punching if no one takes it upon themselves to explain? Of course not. They might start imagining that other people can tolerate such appearances and that who they are is more important than how they look, and frankly, that will never do.
However, I consider it the height of bad manners when someone feels entitled to make comment on my own appearance. I am so obviously a model of visual propriety and acceptable symmetry. A person who finds reason to criticise how I look can only be wrong, and it is ill mannered in the extreme to make incorrect criticisms in this way.
Try harder, for pity’s sake.
Hopeless has not always been fog-bound and desolate as it is today. Throughout its long history the island has enjoyed occasional but brief interludes of a much more pleasing climate. It was during the most recent of these verdant periods that the Danish settlers arrived.
The warriors came here first, in their long, fiercely elegant dragon-boats. They found the island to be a most agreeable place, with green pastures, bubbling streams and a sparse, timid population that was easily subjugated. It took little time for the invaders to realise that this would be a good island upon which to settle. Many were weary of having to fight. Maybe the Allfather would be kind and let them begin a peaceful existence in this new land.
They sent a longboat back with word of their discovery and over the next months and years a steady trickle of Danes found their way here, bringing with them everything that they needed to survive so many miles from home, including slaves from Britain.
It was high up in the hills, which are now known as the Gydynaps, that there lived a vǫlva – that is a seeress, a shaman, a wielder of the old magic. She was old and proud, only coming down to the village when summoned by the chieftain. In order to gain her favour and that of the gods, the settlers would ensure that she never went cold or hungry, regularly leaving food, furs and firewood at her door, especially on the occasions of the four great religious festivals, Eostre, Lithasblot, Winternights and Jul.
It was on the eve of Lithasblot, or Midsummer, that a slave (who, legend tells us, was one Cadman Negelsleag) was sent with a basket of food and wine to the vǫlva’s house. It was not a particularly arduous task and the day was pleasantly warm. The slave, knowing that his master did not expect him back for some hours, sat down upon a grassy bank and before long drifted into a deep and dreamless sleep.
It was a terrible commotion of squawking and croaking that dragged Cadman rudely from his slumbers. While he had been sleeping, two ravens had come down to inspect the contents of the basket and were quarrelling noisily over its ownership. Some of the food had been strewn on the grass and one of the birds was perched precariously on the edge of the basket, intent on removing the remainder. Without a second thought Cadman picked up a stone and threw it at the raven, hitting it squarely on the back of the head. It instantly dropped to the ground in a tangle of blood and feathers.
An awful dread came over Cadman when he realised what he had done. These birds were sacred to Odin and although the one-eyed deity was not his god, he was well aware of the power that Odin exercised in the minds of the Danes. Suddenly the beautiful summer day disappeared. The sky darkened, filled with threatening clouds. A cold wind shook the trees. The songbirds stilled their voices and an icy hand gripped Cadman’s heart.
There, standing on a ridge, was the vǫlva, her long, grey hair and midnight-dark cloak billowing in the freshening wind. In her hand was a long, ash staff, tipped with brass. The vǫlva’s face was a mask of anger.
“Cursed is he who kills the raven, most beloved of the Allfather,” she screamed, pointing her staff at the hapless slave. The staff crackled and sparked, then sent a cold blue bolt of light that froze his body to the core.
The vǫlva’s eyes glittered and it seemed to Cadman that she grew in stature, towering over him, filling the skies. She pointed to the smitten raven, where it lay on the grass.
“You will pluck just one feather from the bird that you have so wantonly slain,” she commanded.
Like a man in a dream the slave removed a feather from the dead raven.
“It will be upon each Lithasblot-eve, for centuries to come, that you will return to this place and pluck one feather from the raven that you will find here. Not until you have enough feathers to fashion yourself a raven-feather shroud in which to wrap your corpse, may you die. And the oldest man of your line who lives when your task is done, then it will become his burden, and so on, until your descendants are wiped from the face of the earth. Until that distant day you will walk in the shadows, hidden from the sight of men.”
Cadman felt himself slipping away, dragged by unseen hands into an eerie half-life, a shadowy, liminal dimension beyond all mortal understanding.
The island seemed to tremble at its very roots as a cold fog rolled in from the sea. Deep in its darkest caverns, nameless creatures began to stir from their long slumbers.
This, of course is only a legend. There may be no truth in it at all. But how many feathers does it take to make a shroud? Five hundred? Eight hundred? A thousand? If these events occurred at all then almost nine hundred mid-summer eves have passed since the curse was placed upon Cadman Negelsleag. For centuries his descendants have wondered if the legend has any truth and if it has, when might the shroud be complete and the curse passed on? Two hundred years ago the Negelsleag family, along with others, updated their names to something more pronounceable for the newcomers to the island. A curse, however, cannot be cheated; although names may change, blood remains the same. Our current Night Soil Man, the last of his line, knows that Negelsleag became Nailsworthy. Nine hundred years and nine hundred feathers ago it is said that his ancestor killed a raven. Shenandoah is a frightened man; he always stays at home on midsummer-eve and wonders if it will be his last in the mortal realm.
I really hope that this is just another tale, just another island myth – but who is to say? After all, anything can happen on Hopeless, Maine.
Art- Tom Brown
Mrs Beaten hasn’t been out in the daylight for some time now. She’s living on dried things that do not taste very good. Not that fresh things would taste much better. At night, she makes a dash to the well.
Mrs Beaten is afraid.
Someone posted a poster through her door. It’s just the kind of poster she likes to make. She’s proud of having mastered paper-making, and proud of her opinions. At least, she was.
How many people have seen this?
She does not know.
How many people have seen her laundry, hanging discreetly in the little back garden?
Certainly, her neighbours. She suspects the Jones girl is behind it, the one who only last week said ‘My uncle, Mrs Tidy Jones told me…’
The Jones girl who has clearly been mocking her all along.
But there’s truth in it, for her knickers do not express the best of her standards, and she feels the shame of it keenly.
We are profoundly excited and a bit giddy to have brought Druid, author, and knitter- Cat Treadwell to the Hopeless, Maine creative fold. This story gave me goosebumps (in a good way, if there is any other) on first reading and I have discovered that it still does so. Without further ado, I give you- Threads
The needles moved almost automatically through her fingers, cloth coming together from fragile strands into something solid and…
Well, not exactly warm. But it would provide cover. Protection. Solace.
Wen’s thoughts drifted as she worked the thread in and out. She had no pattern and wasn’t entirely sure what she was making, but just seemed to know what stitches went where.
The sound was hypnotic, though. Therapeutic, she’d heard folks say. She tried not to think too much about it. If she did, the image always rose up in her mind, of a spidery creature with metal-tipped claws, skittering across the room just out of sight. So many things went unseen here in Hopeless.
But she could hear them, sense them. Sometimes their rank smell betrayed them, but she did her special best to ignore those creatures. Let them go about their business.
< Dark, wet, slithering, glistening>
Enough. Focus. Things to do.
She wasn’t even sure where the thread had come from – it was just there, in her basket. Was it a gift, slipped into her belongings by a kind visitor? Unlikely. Folk round here didn’t do that.
She paused for a moment, letting the cord slide across her fingers. Thicker than gossamer, more solid than silk. It seemed to be organic, woven from something living, but definitely not fleece. No sheep, rabbit or goat grew this. Plant, perhaps? Almost fibrous… maybe.
It glistened as well. The skein wasn’t sparkly, but it held the slickness of something damp. Yet it was smooth, dry. Not quite soft, but pleasant to the touch.
Back to it. Must get on.
No – wait. The noise again. At the door?
She placed the work down carefully, safe on her side table away from the cats (where had they gone too, anyway? She hadn’t seen them in days), and moved to peep through the window.
The evening was grey, sunset holding on with a last glimmer on the horizon, but clouds moving in. The boats should all be in by now – looks like a storm’s coming.
No sign of anyone there, man or beast.
Suddenly a bird shrieked, frightened by something. Wen jumped, ducking behind the curtain.
Silly, silly. Just a bird. Probably been jumped by one of those cats.
Smiling to herself, she stood and took one last look outside, before pulling the curtains firmly, locking the world away. She had things to do, after all. Anyone out there could wait until morning.
The lantern flickered, casting shadows around the small room. It had seemed so cosy earlier, just her and her work. Cushions and firelight, the pleasure of creating something new. Chillier now. Maybe she should light the fire.
She pulled her shawl close around her shoulders, fingers lingering on these old threads. One of the first things she’d made, this. It had been green once, but the colour had faded over the years, the handspun wool becoming a little frayed at the edges, worn in places where it had been pinned.
She smiled. Yes, like me. But she enjoyed making treasures to comfort folk here. Hopeless had little enough of that, Lord knows. She’d never lacked for interest, and her neighbours looked out for her when they could.
She glanced around again, annoyed at the interruptions. Must get on.
The needles seemed warm as she picked them up, firm and eager.
Eager? Where had that come from? She chuckled quietly. This was going to be something, she could tell.
The completed fabric began to spread out across her lap, flowing smoothly, reaching out to cover her, row by patient row.
So many things around here seemed to move like this, Wen thought. The tides, of course, bringing folk to and from the town. The tendrils of relationships between us all, old-timers and newcomers. You could always tell those who were meant to be here. They came and stayed. Others didn’t last one night, but she knew. On her occasional trips to the market, she saw the look in their eyes, those that didn’t belong. Well, good luck to them.
This was her home, had been since she was a girl. She couldn’t remember anywhere else. Mother weaving to make ends meet, Father…
No. No Father. That’s why they were here.
The needles clicked. The fabric shimmered. Wen’s eyes began to drift close, but her fingers never missed a stitch.
Hopeless was its own creation, wasn’t it. A web, added to by everyone here. A bit tangled in places, perhaps, but with a definite pattern. An ‘evil-lution’, she thought it was called.
Some spun it with stories, inks and paint. Others with words in song. Even the fishermen used their nets to bring new life in, to keep us all going.
Webs didn’t work in water, did they? Wen imagined it – great layers of cobweb connecting the waves. But she didn’t think there were such things as sea-spiders. If anyone’d see that sort of thing, it’s be the folks here, and she’d never heard tell of anything like that, not in any of the mad fireside tales.
It was finished.
Wen held it up to the light, assessing the multitude of tiny turns, fractals, wheels and cogs, all held together with this fragile thread.
How long had this taken? She’d quite lost track of time. It still seemed dark outside – had she done all this in one night?
She blinked, gazing at the pattern again. So familiar…
She knew it. She had seen it before. No wonder her fingers had known what they were doing.
The web that held Hopeless, Maine together was clear before her. It didn’t cover the town across the rooftops, oh no. It grew beneath the cobbled streets, the fields and yes, even the waves. It holds us all, keeps us together. Tied together.
There – and there. She recognised the patterns of her neighbours. And… back at the start, the first few stitches clustered together.
There she was. Holding it all.
Art- Tom and Nimue Brown
As has been mentioned previously in ‘The Vendetta’, towards the close of the nineteenth century, two Norwegian-born Americans, Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo, successfully rowed across the Atlantic. Setting off from New York they made landfall on The Isles of Scilly, just fifty five days later.
Although the achievement was not widely reported, the news eventually reached Hopeless, Maine some fifteen years after the event, via a large piece of flotsam. This was washed ashore in the shape of a tea chest, in which a few old newspapers had been unsuccessfully used to protect some rather expensive crockery.
There are several families living on Hopeless who are able to trace their ancestry back for more than nine centuries. These are the descendants of British slaves, transported here when Vikings settled on the island. At some point, in the last two hundred years, one such family, who had for generations been known as Mearthelinga, updated their name to Marling. While the name Marling is far easier to pronounce and spell than Mearthelinga, Mr. Cyril Marling always regretted his ancestors’ decision. Instead of some proud Anglo-Saxon moniker that might have shaped his destiny in a completely different way, he had been gifted, instead, with a name that reminded him of a fish. Admittedly, a marlin tends to be a large and somewhat formidable creature but when all is said and done, it is still a fish. Then there was the matter of his first name….
Throughout his life Mr. Marling had found that to be called ‘Cyril’ had always been something of a bully-magnet. It somehow indicated its bearer to be mild-mannered, studious and bespectacled, although Cyril Marling was none of these things. And so, when his sons were born, he turned a deaf ear to his wife’s protestations and decided that they would be given names to live up to. His boys would proudly bear the appellations of great explorers, then maybe they could make their mark upon the world. Sadly, like so many others on Hopeless, Mr and Mrs Marling disappeared under mysterious circumstances before they had chance to see their boys grow up.
It was, therefore, the dismal fate of little Humboldt Marling and his younger brother, Magellan, to one day find their young selves languishing in the boys’ dormitory of the Pallid Rock Orphanage.
Unsurprisingly, the Marling boys fared no better with the bullies than had their father. What Cyril had failed to realise was that bullies the world over will latch on to whatever is available in order to bestow pain and derision upon their victims – and let’s face it, the names Humboldt and Magellan are quite substantial somethings upon which to latch. It is little wonder, therefore, that the boys looked only to each other for companionship, eventually becoming painfully and resolutely reclusive. As soon as they were old enough to take care of themselves they fled the orphanage and sought shelter as far away from its grim walls as was possible.
Due to the aforementioned phenomena of disappearing adults, Hopeless has many abandoned buildings littering its coastline, all in various states of disrepair. The Marling brothers’ chosen abode was an elderly, tumbledown, shack that squatted precariously on a headland, overlooking a sheltered cove. Although its best days were far behind it, the shack looked reasonably habitable if you held your head to one side and squinted. Once they had evicted the puddle rats that had taken up residence and boarded up the windows, the old place felt almost comfortable.
The boys were in their teens when the tea-chest arrived on their shore. With a great deal of excitement they prised open its top, only be disappointed with the contents. They had hoped for food, or at least something to barter at The Squid and Teapot. The landlord, Sebastian Lypiatt, could always be relied upon to give them a good deal but today not even Sebastian could have helped. The tea-chest contained nothing but old, crumpled-up newspapers and the ruined pieces of china that those inky pages were supposed to have saved from breaking. Despondent, the boys smashed up the chest for firewood and put aside the paper to help ignite it when the winter came.
Winter did come with a vengeance, at the close of 1911. The two were glad of the driftwood and kindling that they had gathered. It crackled and spat in their leaky little stove but served to keep them warm during that chilly December.
It was one morning, just after Christmas, that Humboldt was making firelighters from his supply of old newspapers, when he spotted the article concerning the Atlantic oarsmen, Samuelsen and Harbo. He read with wonder about the two intrepid adventurers who had taken a rowing boat from New York to somewhere called the Isles of Scilly, in England. Humboldt had no idea how far away England was, or how difficult such a venture might be but his imagination was immediately fired with an unquenchable enthusiasm. It took little effort to infect his brother with a similar passion and there and then the two resolved to emulate the feat of Samuelsen and Harbo and leave Hopeless forever, living up to the explorers’ names that their parents had bestowed upon them.
“Of course,” said Humboldt, “we’ll have to wait until spring but that’s fine as there will be many preparations to be made. We will need provisions for the voyage. I guess at least one change of underwear each as well. The weather might get bad so probably some rudimentary shelter for us on the boat…” His voice trailed off and his face fell. In his haste he had forgotten the, not inconsiderable, matter of not actually having a boat in which to make the trip. Then he brightened.
“April is four months away. That’ll be plenty if time for us to get hold of a boat.”
It seems to me, in unearthing these tales, that on Hopeless, Maine the old adage about being careful what you wish for is worryingly apt. I may be being fanciful here but I sometimes get the idea that the island – or something connected to it – is listening, making notes and taking a certain malevolent glee in granting wishes.
Humboldt and Magellan were thrilled but not particularly surprised, when, on one foggy morning in early April, an unmanned rowing boat appeared in their cove. There was a heavy yellow tarpaulin and a coil of rope neatly stowed under one of its seats and two pairs of oars lying along its length. Where it came from was a mystery that the boys had no wish to solve. Here was their passage to England, which lay somewhere to the east. By rowing in the direction of the rising sun they would be certain to reach their destination. What could possibly go wrong?
Before leaving, Humboldt fashioned a rough sign, which he hammered into the ground. Their cove, which had never been specifically named, had now become ‘Scilly Point’ in honour of their intended destination, and Scilly Point has been its name ever since.
Things did not go quite as planned for our brave explorers. The Atlantic ocean, which they had only ever glimpsed through a foggy haze, was far rougher and less predictable than either had expected. After only only a few days out they had become hopelessly lost, totally at the mercy of the wind and waves and surrounded by sea-ice. Had they known it, they were wildly off course and floundering about four hundred miles south of Newfoundland. Things were not looking good. The boys huddled together in the bottom of their little rowing boat, frightened and exhausted in the darkness,and fearing the worst.
At the orphanage, Reverend Crackstone had often told the children that righteous souls need not fear death, but when the time came, the Angel Gabriel himself would ferry them to heaven in a great chariot of fire. In view of this, Humboldt and Magellan felt no surprise when the stygian darkness that had surrounded them was banished by a great beam of light, brighter than either had ever seen. They felt a certain degree of apprehension, however, when Gabriel hailed them in a nasal, Liverpudlian accent,
“Ahoy there, you young buggers. Are you coming aboard or do you want to stay there all night?”
They peered out, only to be dazzled by the beam of a spotlight. A boat had pulled up close by – a tender from a cruise liner – and rough hands pulled the two to safety. Within half an hour they were huddled aboard the liner, wrapped in blankets and drinking hot cocoa, which neither had tasted before. It was then that an important-looking man in an impressive nautical uniform came up to them. To their relief he smiled.
“ It is not every day that one has the privilege of rescuing such brave young adventurers from death,” he said, kindly. The gilding on the peak of his cap glittered in the cheerful lights of the upper-deck where a small orchestra was playing popular tunes of the day.
“Don’t worry, chaps, we’ll have you safely back on American soil in a couple of days,” he said reassuringly. The sailor turned to leave, then checked himself, stopping abruptly.
“I do beg your pardon, you must think me very rude,” he said apologetically. “Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Captain Edward Smith of The White Star Line. It gives me great pleasure to officially welcome you aboard my ship, the R.M.S. Titanic.”
Art by Tom Brown
Mrs Beaten is strangely quiet. She hasn’t put up a single judgmental poster in more than a week. Has she fallen ill? Was she kidnapped? Or does it have something to do with the giant oceanic gnii?
Has she been silenced in favour of more exciting news? Would you be perfectly happy if that were true?
Back when Hopeless, Maine had an economy, and seaweed was not the primary content of everyone’s diets, the wealth of the island was due to giant oceanic gnii. Hopeless was on the migratory route of these amazing creatures. As a consequence traps were laid and a refinery built, and the oil and the money rolled in.
The giant oceanic gnii stopped coming after a while. Some thought they had become extinct, others that the clever beasties had simply learned to avoid the nets. Either way, no one has seen a giant gnii in a long time.
And yet this image is clear evidence that one has been by – there’s no other way of getting that sort of a view, and the tentacles and lamps are highly suggestive.
If you’ve seen the giant oceanic gnii and want to send in a report, please do!