Category Archives: Hopeless Tales

story, poetry, rumour and gossip

Hopeless Romantics

While others rush to immerse themselves wholeheartedly in the fads and fashions of their age, over the years the inhabitants of Hopeless have steadfastly ignored such shallowness. This is not totally out of choice. In fact, it’s not at all out of choice. No one enjoys a spot of puddle-deep diversion more than the average Hopelessian but when you live on an island surrounded by fog and crawling with an assortment of nasties these things just don’t turn up by mail-order. Anything of a remotely novel nature generally arrives by accident.
One such serendipitous item is now  a treasured possession of Rufus Lypiatt, current landlord of The Squid and Teapot. This is a carpet-bag which was left at the inn by the renowned librettist, Mr. W. S. Gilbert. You may recall that Mr Gilbert returned to the mainland in something of a hurry following a night apparently disturbed by several spoonwalkers invading his bedroom. The bag he left behind contained several items of interest, not least of which was a collection of hand-tinted daguerreotypes of nineteenth century works of art, including some reproductions of paintings by the group who called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
When, in the latter years of the nineteenth century, this book was shown to Beatrice Merrywalk, one of the older girls in the orphanage, she immediately fell in love with Romantic art and Sir John Everett Millais’ painting of Ophelia in particular. Although she had absolutely no idea who Ophelia was, she sensed from the painting that here was young woman who epitomised all of the yearnings for tragic romance that stirred in her own breast. It felt to her that Death was the greatest artist of all, perfect in its dark finality. Having become quietly obsessed with Millais’ painting, she decided that she not only wanted to become Ophelia, the girl in the stream, but to be seen in that role forever, so that people would understand the turmoil and anguish churning in her young heart. To add to her sense of the dramatic, not to say melodramatic, she had come across ‘The Death of Chatterton’, another picture heavy with the illusion of romantic death, this time of a young poet. Maybe if she, as Ophelia, could find her Chatterton, they could let the world know of, and appreciate, their great pain.
That cruel trickster, Adolescence, is famous for filling certain young heads with dark clouds and yearnings for a picturesque death. It was, therefore, almost inevitable that Beatrice would find her Chatterton before too long had elapsed. He arrived in the form of Algernon Box, an unassuming young man who lived alone in an old and falling-down cottage next to a babbling creek that led down to the sea. Like so many on Hopeless, Algernon’s parents had disappeared under mysterious circumstances and as a consequence the lad was given to staring at the most incongruous items with dewy-eyed sensitivity and looking glum.
No one objected when Beatrice moved in with Algernon. The orphanage was happy to have one mouth fewer to feed. Besides, on Hopeless none of the usual rules apply. Life is difficult enough without unnecessary complications. To call these two young people lovers, however, would be a vast overstatement. They were bound together by a common bond of platonic melancholy. This usually involved staring at incongruous items with dewy-eyed sensitivity and looking glum. Their conversation, when it dragged itself out of the Slough of Despair, would invariably turn to the subject of finding a suitable artist to capture their last, tragic moments as perfect replicas of Ophelia and Chatterton.  They named the little plot of land upon which they lived Tragedy Creek and planned their suicide pact.
“Only Death will give us what we most desire,” said Beatrice, and she truly believed this to be so.
You may have noticed that Hopeless is quite a strange place. The unusual and bizarre is fairly run-of-the-mill around here. In view of that, neither of the two young people felt remotely surprised when, one dismal afternoon, the very man they had hoped for arrived at the door of their cottage. In a deep, sonorous voice, he introduced himself as being an artist visiting the island and asked to be invited in. His gangly frame, lean to the point of appearing cadaverous, seemed to fill the tiny kitchen.
In truth, this mysterious visitor did not resemble anyone’s idea of an artist. In his smart, dark business suit he looked more like a lawyer. Or an undertaker. The only clues to his trade were contained in the portfolio he carried under his arm.
“I have the paintings you requested.”
The pair looked at each other in puzzlement.
“Paintings? We’ve ordered no paintings.”
“Oh but you did. I heard you. Is this not what you most desire?”
The dark stranger placed the portfolio on the kitchen table and, opening it, produced two paintings. One was of Beatrice. This was exactly as she had visualised herself; Ophelia, alone and tragic, lying in the creek that ran by the side of the cottage. The other painting was of Algernon as Chatterton. He had painted him as though in his home surroundings.
They both gasped.
“They are beautiful,” said Beatrice. ”But how…”
“You asked. Don’t you remember?” said the stranger, then, without another word he picked up his portfolio and left. At least they assumed he had left, for the whole episode passed as if it were a dream. Only the two works of art lying on the table proved that any of it had really happened.
Several days passed before either noticed some subtle transformations occurring in the paintings. Small creatures had suddenly appeared around the bodies, which had somehow started to appear less attractive. Ophelia began to bloat. The pallor of both became quite ghastly.  After another week or so things began to look really awful. They had become carrion. Although the corpse of Chatterton was subject to the attentions of anything that could crawl, squirm or slither through his window, Ophelia, out in the open, fared worse.
By the end of the second week Beatrice and Algernon had to turn the pictures around so that they faced the wall. The images of each had become the stuff of the most horrible nightmare imaginable. Faced with such brutal reality all their ideas of romantic death were gone. Alone and terrified they clung fiercely to each other and wept.
It was the night-soil man who found them. They were huddled together in the little cottage, a look of terror and madness imprinted upon their young faces. They had been dead for some days. He looked around him at the sparse furnishings and few possessions. It struck him as strange that amid all the poverty were two quite beautiful paintings, each depicting doomed youth.
Even now, Tragedy Creek is felt to be the most melancholic place on Hopeless. In over a century only a handful of people have stayed in Algernon’s cottage for more than a night or two. The most recent resident was a would-be poet who was later discovered to be a escaped convict. Although he reported no strange experience there, some claim to have seen two unhappy ghosts walking from the front door to the babbling creek. It was long ago thought best that the paintings be removed to more cheerful surroundings. Today they hang safely behind the bar in the Squid and Teapot.  Occasionally Rufus will be asked who the artist is. He always gives the same answer, usually with a wry smile. “I’m damned if I can tell you…
Art by Tom Brown

The Stowaway

To discover the genesis of this tale we need to travel a great distance from Hopeless, to Catamarca Province which lies in the far north-west of Argentina. It was in this area, according to legend, that students of the dark arts would seek out the fabled Salamanca caves, where, some believed, lay the entrance to Hell itself. Here lurked terrors beyond our worst imaginings; terrors even greater than those encountered upon this island.
It was in these caves, in some far-off time, that the creature known as Manchachicoj was conceived, the spawn of a demon and a local witch. Manchachicoj soon grew up to be an eloquent, softly spoken romantic, driven by a burning obsession to seek out and seduce beautiful young women. Although his pedigree was a mixture of native Calchaquí and demon, with his charm and elegance you could be forgiven for arriving at the conclusion that he possessed all of the attributes of a classic Latin lover. Sadly, this was not the case, for Manchachicoj was somewhat hideous to behold; everyone he encountered eschewed the amorous attentions of this stunted, ugly creature.
After many centuries of unsuccessfully pursuing this quest all over Argentina it gradually dawned upon him that he was definitely not widely regarded as being boyfriend material. So, one bright morning in the latter part of 1886, while loitering around the docks in Buenos Aires, he made the decision that it was time to move on – and the three masted barque making ready to set sail for Portland, Maine looked perfect for the task.
With sails billowing as they left the quayside of Buenos Aires, Captain O’Neill looked lovingly around his ship. The Annie C. Maguire had made good progress. The passage from Liverpool to Argentina had gone exactly to plan and now, with a cargo of salt beef, he was determined to reach Portland by Christmas Day. Others on board were his wife and an eleven man crew. Just four thousand, seven hundred and twenty five nautical miles separated them from Christmas dinner in Maine. Little did he know that deep in the hold, sharing a barrel with a quantity of salt beef, was a diminutive and not particularly attractive stowaway.
Being a half-blood demon Manchachicoj’s senses were sharper than that of any mortal. He heard every conversation on board clearly and was able to see perfectly well in the pitch-black belly of the hold. Besides this, he had little need for food or drink. Occasionally, however, it pleased him to help himself to a mouthful of meat, or, in the early hours when the sailor on the middle-watch was half asleep, would steal a sip or two of water.
The long voyage passed without incident, and on the afternoon of Christmas Eve the imposing tower of the Portland light came into view. Manchachicoj was quietly dozing in his barrel at the time and the buzz of excitement on board brought him fully awake. But there was something else, some sound in the distance beyond the hearing of the others that drew his attention. It was enchanting  – a voice so achingly beautiful that it stirred him in ways he had never known. He was suddenly wrapped in a maelstrom of tenderness and lust, joy and sorrow, sunshine and moonlight. This must be the voice of the lover he had sought for so many centuries.
He scrambled from the barrel and made to climb out of the hold. He swore to himself. It had been battened down to safeguard the cargo as they entered the rough seas around the coast of Maine. Undeterred and driven wild with desire to see the owner of such a wonderful voice he found a marlin spike and began to hack away at the wooden walls of the ship with a superhuman frenzy.
If you examine the official report regarding the sinking of the Annie C. Maguire you will be told that she struck the ledge at Portland Head Light. The Lighthouse Keeper and some volunteers made a makeshift gangplank with a ladder, allowing everyone to clamber to safety. The report goes on to say that the cause of the wreck was puzzling; visibility was good and the crew swore that they had plainly seen the Portland Light prior to the disaster.
The truth of the matter is that the barque’s rudder had been damaged when Manchachicoj burst through; she was out of control. And so was poor Manchachicoj. His head was filled with an unworldly music that promised pleasures beyond all comprehension. Little wonder that he was so determined. There can be few in this world more obsessive and insistent than a siren-besotted Calchaquí-demon hybrid.
There we must leave the crew of the Annie C. Maguire, who all survived without a scratch and doubtless got to enjoy their Christmas dinner in Portland, though salt beef would more than likely have been off the menu. As for the barrels of meat, many made their way to the grateful populace of Hopeless. How that little episode eventually unfolded, however, is a tale for another day.
Oblivious to the damage he had caused, Manchachicoj swam frantically towards the source of the sweet-voiced songstress – which happened to bring him close to the coast of Hopeless. Demonic types conceived on land are not the most natural of swimmers. His technique, for want of a better word, resembled something between a dog-paddle and a panic attack but nevertheless, what he lacked in style he made up for in enthusiasm. Through dogged determination he fought his way through the icy waters towards his goal.
Both of his hearts leapt in unison as he saw her, a vision of loveliness perched daintily on an outcrop of rocks, known to the locals as The Devil’s Fingers. She was as beautiful as he had hoped and envisaged – and he was not at all fazed by her fishy extremities. As far as he knew, all of the girls in Maine looked like that. You must understand, Manchachicoj had never seen a mermaid or even heard tales of their fatal beauty. He had no inkling that, if he were a mere mortal, by now he would have drowned, having been driven mad by her siren song. Happily ignorant of these facts he was in love and anyway, drowning isn’t an option for a demon, half-blood or not, however badly he swims.
By the same token, the mermaid was impressed. Here was someone who had survived long enough to put himself in line to be properly seduced by her. It had never happened before. And looks aren’t everything, she told herself. Manchachicoj pulled himself up onto the rocks and the two gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes…You may ask if there was a ‘happy ever after‘ for these two? Some of you will remember the report in The Vendetta a few years ago of a mermaid turning up and singing seductively on The Devil’s Fingers. We nearly lost a few good men that day, including the venerable Doc Willoughby. These fellows were more than a little appreciative of the song she sang and it took a great deal of combined effort to stop them jumping into the sea. Fortunately everyone survived, including the mermaid. She was something of a disappointment to those who saw her, though. To put it mildly, she certainly wasn’t gifted with classic mermaid good looks. Have a look at the picture. Let’s just say she takes after her father.

Art by Tom Brown

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.

The Night-Soil Man

The following article discusses certain delicate matters not generally aired in polite society. Anyone of a sensitive nature may wish to stop reading now.
Hopeless is wonderfully rich in strangeness and mystery. It is home to a multitude of weird and unworldly creatures and sometimes it seems as if an ominous magic is lurking around every corner. While the human population and the more commonplace animal species living here are wary of these praeternatural neighbours, all recognise that, whatever dangers threaten to beset them, the business of living has to go on in all of its aspects. This inevitably includes the production and disposal of – and I blush to have to mention it – sewage.
In these modern times most people on the island enjoy the convenience of an unseen, efficient method of waste disposal. In the past, however, the gallant Night-Soil Man was our only method of removing the offending effluent. It would be common, after dark, to hear him rattling along the cobbled streets in his heavily-laden donkey cart. Although those days are, happily, long gone there still exist a few Night-Soil Men to service the more isolated and sparsely populated areas where it would be almost impossible to install any form of financially viable technology which would be sufficient to the task of  tackling the problem.
Maybe the best known modern day practitioner of this dying trade is Shenandoah Nailsworthy, a master of his craft. For those brave enough to be abroad at night, his burly form can frequently be spotted, scrambling over the rocky headland, burdened down with a large, tightly-lidded bucket, which is carried on his back like a rucksack. It should be noted that traditionally the work is always carried out in the hours of darkness in order to spare the sensibilities of the client.
There is a veil of secrecy surrounding much of the Night-Soil Man’s work. Indeed, the code of confidentiality that exists between him and his client has often been likened to that of the confessional. As Mr Nailsworthy once commented, “What happens in the privy stays in the privy.” Who exactly he said these words to is somewhat unclear though, as most people are disinclined to stand within speaking distance of him.
The comparison with the priesthood, perhaps, is greater than many may realise, as the general effluvium which surrounds him makes enforced celibacy an occupational reality. This is why there has never been a proud family tradition of night-soil collection with the tools of the trade passed from father to son. It has always been the occupation of a solitary man.  By the same token, however, it keeps him alive, as the otherworldly denizens of Hopeless, however bizarre or deadly they may be, will invariably give him a wide berth. After all, a foul stench is a foul stench in whatever dimension you partially-inhabit. The noxious reach of this lonely profession’s reek has even penetrated the folk-culture of the island. Besides a reference being made to him in the well-loved ballad ‘Ghost Writers in the Sky’, he is commemorated in a once-popular children’s street game; the song that accompanied it may still be heard occasionally:

Oh have you smelt the Night-Soil Man, the Night-Soil man, the Night-Soil Man,
Oh have you smelt Night-Soil Man who lives in Hopeless, Maine?

Oh yes I’ve smelt the Night-Soil Man, the Night-Soil man, the Night-Soil Man,
Oh yes I’ve smelt Night-Soil Man who lives in Hopeless, Maine. POO!

According to custom, when this game is played two children form an arch with their raised arms and their playmates march underneath in time to the song.The child who is left standing beneath the arch when the ejaculation POO! is reached is deemed to be out (this last syllable should be shouted lustily and with feeling). The arms of the arch come down and the hapless child is allegorically put into the Night-Soil Man’s bucket and the lid sealed. Comparisons have been drawn with Oranges and Lemons, at the end of which the unfortunate loser is symbolically beheaded. It either fate were factual it would be difficult to pick a preference.
Rufus Lypiatt, the landlord of The Squid and Teapot, told me a charming story about his elderly cousin, Arabella, one of the few people who managed, on one memorable occasion, to have a brief conversation with Mr Nailsworthy. Apparently she had a very bad head-cold at the time. It seems that one night she had wandered down to the end of her yard to answer a particularly urgent call of nature just a minute or so before he made his nocturnal collection. Surprised and probably somewhat embarrassed on having intruded upon her, he asked why she didn’t put a lock on the privy door.
“There’s no need,” she replied. “I’ve lived here for over forty years and no one has ever tried to steal the bucket.”
Finally, it should be noted that should you find yourself in the position of requiring the Night-Soil Man’s services please don’t be tempted to cut corners and do the job yourself. It is a potentially perilous activity and the chances are you will not succeed. At best you will simply end up going through the motions.*

*Author’s note: Apologies for the last paragraph. The temptation was just too much to bear.

 

Art by Tom Brown

Chapel Rock

In the sixth century an Irish monk, Saint Brendan, along with fourteen companions, boarded a small leather boat and sailed out beyond the setting sun, seeking Paradise in the far west. Latter day scholars and adventurers now believe that he reached the shores of North America. This would be about seven hundred years before the Vikings attempted the same journey in their sleek, ocean-going, dragon-headed longships. The adventures of the saint are well documented, describing the many fantastical islands encountered on his journey. It is said that Christopher Columbus studied the account carefully before embarking on his famous voyage of 1492.
According to some old documents currently in the possession of Rufus Lypiatt, landlord of the Squid and Teapot, knowledge of the voyage of St. Brendan inspired a group of disaffected young monks to leave their monastery in Britain and set off on their own journey of discovery in the mid-1800s. Unlike Brendan they sensibly elected not to risk the trip in a craft that was little more than a flimsy, over-sized ox-hide bucket. Instead they opted to take advantage of the comparative luxury of a new-fangled steam ship. In the event, the experience of being ten days in a cramped hold, filled with generally underprivileged and somewhat sweaty fellow passengers sharing minimal hygiene facilities, made it abundantly clear that the dubious comforts of an ox-hide bucket probably had something of an edge over travelling in steerage.
After landing in New York they made enquires about any mysterious islands that might be found along the more northerly parts of the eastern seaboard. Strangely, everyone they asked, without exception, pointed them towards Maine. And so it came to pass that, upon one grey and dismal afternoon, a small band of less-than-fragrant monks found their habits flapping immodestly as a chilly north-westerly breeze welcomed them to the barren shores of Hopeless.
The apparent weirdness of the island, not to mention its inhabitants, immediately suggested that Brendan may indeed have landed here. It seemed a good place to settle, not least because few boats ever seemed to visit the place, so there was little chance of getting off anytime soon. Although there didn’t appear to be many buildings in the immediate area, providence led them to an abandoned chapel built upon a rock, not far from the shore. Its only occupants were the great black ravens, so familiar on the island. While others may have drawn certain conclusions from the word ‘abandoned’ the monks decided that it would be a splendid place to establish the very first monastery on Hopeless. With a youthful fervour that would have warmed the heart of the most fanatical Jesuit, they set about the task of renovating the humble chapel, planning to improve it, both in size and splendour.

As the monks toiled they little realised that beneath the cold grey flagstones of the chapel floor reposed the earthly remains of its founder, one Obadiah Hyde, a strict puritan who had brought his scrawny frame and joyless views to the island some two centuries earlier. Unsurprisingly, he was never a popular man and after his demise the building fell into disrepair.
It is no exaggeration to say that Hyde had his demons. He really did. Their names were Quarhouse and Mavis and they tormented him night and day. Their given task was to drive him into loose ways and revel in the pleasures of the flesh. While, for most of us, this would have been a short, pleasant and fairly uncomplicated journey, old Obadiah was steadfast. When their best efforts to lure him into a lascivious lifestyle failed, Quarhouse and Mavis resorted to spite. They swung upon his clothing, poked him with sticks and entertained him with an endless stream of ‘knock knock’ jokes. When he tried to sleep they gibbered and chattered incessantly. Eventually the curmudgeonly old puritan was driven to madness by their ceaseless torment, leading him to throw himself into the sea. After several lengthy discussions and committee meetings the relieved islanders thought it only right to drag him out of the water. They made a few half-hearted attempts to make sure that he was sufficiently dead, then wasted no time in interring him safely beneath the chapel floor.

Hyde was enjoying a leisurely, two-hundred year holiday in one of the classier parts of purgatory. He was feeling particularly smug for having got to the sunbeds before the Lutherans had the opportunity to throw their towels over them. His unusually sunny disposition soon faded, however, when he heard the distant but unmistakable sound of hammering emanating from his beloved chapel. What could it mean? Peering through the Astral mists he was shocked to find the old place being messed around. And messed around by monks, of all people. The nerve of them!! It was time to go back.
In recent years the ghost of The Mad Parson of Chapel Rock has been regarded with some fondness among the extensive pantheon of restless spirits who hang around Hopeless. In those days, however, it’s safe to say that the monks didn’t feel any particular warmth towards him. If any one word summed up his early manifestations it would be ‘bloodcurdling’. He would rage and scream, throw things around, mutter intrusively about ‘bloody papists’ in the middle of their devotions and appear without warning, generally putting the frighteners on all who beheld him.
When they could take no more of his haunting and taunting the monks decided the only possible remedy was for the ghost to be exorcised and cast out into the cold night skies forever.
One might assume that, having entertained such austere views in his lifetime, Hyde might have approved of fresh air and excorcism but as soon as the incense censer was swung and prayers of banishment intoned, the old ghost began to feel horribly queasy. The room became hazy, while the strangest of sensations made his ectoplasm tingle and not in a pleasant way. Little by little his wraith began to fade. Suddenly, just as he thought his haunting days were over for good, the ectoplasm started returning to his extremities and he felt himself being ushered to safety, far away from the detrimental effects of incense and chanting. Looking down he was most surprised to find that his benefactors were none other than his personal demons, Quarhouse and Mavis.
“You’re not the enemy any more” Mavis explained, pointing towards the chanting monks. “They are.”

Quarhouse and Mavis did their work well, whispering temptingly into youthful ears and telling them of the joys of earthly pleasures.The monks, once so full of piety and good intentions, didn’t stand a chance. They were young men far from home and quickly learning that the penitent lifestyle wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. It took little demonic influence to lead them on to The Primrose Path of Dalliance, which soon became a well trodden freeway leading to the joys of The Squid and Teapot and, with increasing frequency, Madam Evadne’s lodging house for discerning gentlemen.
Time is the great healer and during the years that passed, as all traces of the renovations disappeared, the ravens returned to Chapel Rock. Its resident ghost, Obadiah Hyde, The Mad Parson was content in the certain knowledge that things were very much as they should be. Occasionally he even allowed himself to smile indulgently as he fluttered eerily through the decaying ruins. Death had definitely mellowed him.

 

 

Art by Tom Brown

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

Finding Hopeless, Maine

Finding Hopeless, Maine

Come in, dear traveller! I hear you are looking for directions. Yes ,yes, sit down. Now, you want to get to Hopeless, Maine. Are you sure?  You’ve been warned about it, yes? The witches, the eldritch terrors, the night potatoes… Alright, alright, I can see that you are a stubborn and headstrong sort, who will not be dissuaded. Not even if I tell you that most people are desperately trying to come the other way? Well it was worth trying. Now let me think; directions to Hopeless Maine. Hmmmm.

Well there are a lot of different paths, yes, and they tend to shift. I can’t guarantee that you’ll arrive safely. Or arrive at all. So here, dear traveller, are three ways of getting to Hopeless Maine that will probably succeed. You have been warned…

1) Collect all of your best spoons, and lay them out in the centre of your bathroom. Lock the door. Nail it shut. Turn the light off.  Watch the spoons. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait until the walls start crawling and you can hear things skittering. Wait. Do not take your eyes off the spoons. Wait. Bite your nails to the quick, sing, mutter; do what you must but keep your eyes on the spoons; everything depends on this, dear traveller. Sooner or later, a creature will arrive. It will take the spoons. If you are lucky, it will dance a slow and mesmeric dance. Watch. The. Spoons. When the creature leaves, you must follow it. Try to avoid looking at anything other than the spoons; the sight of the creature itself has been rumoured to cause madness and soul-deep tea cravings.

2) Contrive to find yourself shipwrecked while carrying the following in your pockets:

  • One month’s worth of nail clippings (yours or someone else’s)

  • A single baby tooth (any species)

  • A very sharp fishhook

  • A small bottle of rum

  • A turnip

  • Red shoes

  • A memory stolen from an elderly relative (must be an actual relative, although if you are lacking in these a memory borrowed from a badger and an ivory hairgrip will substitute well)

It is preferable to be shipwrecked on a night with a moon. Once shipwrecked you must follow the moon. So long as you have not lost any of the listed accouterments, you will find a road of moonlight to walk along. There will be beings, dear traveller, that demand tolls. Be very, very careful about what you give up; I heard a tale about a venturer… Well, you are so set on going and I would hate to dissuade you. What happened? Well, she traded the wrong thing to the wrong guardian, you see; the outcome was not pretty.

3) On a windy day, with the sun shining and clouds scudding over the sky, build a labyrinth. It need not be a large one, but the materials must be light. Walk it, turning back in every time you exit. If the wind changes the labyrinth, do not correct it. If the technique is working, you will find yourself walking in smaller and smaller circles, and getting quite dizzy. There will be a quite unseasonal mist, and a sound best described as a choir of snails trying to sing. Keep on walking, around and around and around… Side effects of this route include ending up somewhere else entirely, although they are likely to be more pleasant places than the intended destination.

Now, are you still sure you want to go?

This set of directions ( or love letter to Hopeless, Maine) was penned by the (frankly bloody amazing)  Meredith Debonnaire. You can (and should) find her blog here.

Art by Tom Brown

The sound of the cutlery moving.

Greetings people! (and others)

This week, we start a new regular feature on the Hopeless, Vendetta- TALES FROM THE SQUID AND TEAPOT. You will find this here every Tuesday. This column is written by the greatly esteemed Martin Pearson and we are proud and massively chuffed to bring him to the island and then, to you. So, without further ado, we give you the first tale…

When W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan) went to America in 1871 he was invited to visit the island of Hopeless. He reputedly spent a night in the Squid and Teapot and the experience gave him the idea for an operetta. Sadly this was never completed. If it had it would have been his first collaboration with Arthur Sullivan. As it is, only a tiny fragment of the libretto survives. This song, possibly incomplete, is almost certainly based upon Gilbert witnessing the mysterious spoonwalkers at first hand.

When you wake in the night
With your chest feeling tight
And sweat dripping down on the bedding.
You might fervently pray
You were far, far away,
In Timbuctoo, Bombay or Reading.
Then despite all your prayers
There’s a noise on the stairs
You know that your night’s not improving.
For that ominous clink
Makes one long for a drink,
It’s the sound of the cutlery moving.

Oh that ominous clink
Makes one long for a drink.
It’s the sound of the cutlery moving.

When the cutlery drawer
Isn’t quite as before,
And the spoons have all left without reason
You might think that the maid
Had somehow betrayed
All the trust you’d allowed her this season.
But you know in your heart
This is only the start
And the knowledge is really unsoothing,
For a spoon has no leg,
So the question I beg
Is “How is the cutlery moving?”

Oh a spoon has no leg,
So the question I beg
Is “How is the cutlery moving?”

What unholy sort
Is forced to resort
To stealing my spoons for prosthetics?
Do they need every one
To furnish their fun
And indulge in demonic athletics?
How I wish they’d depart,
It would lighten my heart.
They can keep all my spoons, thereby proving
That I’m terribly scared
And never prepared
To hear that dash’d cutlery moving.

Oh I’m terribly scared
And never prepared
To hear that dash’d cutlery moving.

​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.

Towards Hopeless

 

Hopeless Vendetta

Bill Jones is an artist, writer and performer (As Miserable Malcolm) from that centre of the creative universe that is Stroud, UK. (This enables us to stalk him regularly)

He has quite recently released (Via publisher- Head of Zeus) a new book titled The Life and Times of Algernon Swift which is gloriously saturated with puns, double meanings and artwork like that above. We own a signed copy, I’ll have you know!  It can be got via online book selling sites and in all fine book stores (Possibly several middling book stores, but we wouldn’t know, as we don’t go into those) His website is to be found here.