Category Archives: Hopeless Tales

story, poetry, rumour and gossip

Cometh The Hour…

Reverend Davies was not a happy man. This, in itself, was not particularly unusual, but the Reverend was a man with problems. Since Marjorie Toadsmoor had foolishly managed to get herself killed, some of the more physical aspects of her teaching role at the Pallid Rock Orphanage had undeniably suffered. Admittedly, her ghost was still there, and available to conduct lessons, but her obvious lack of physicality had a somewhat detrimental effect on maintaining class discipline. The same could be said of Miss Calder’s ghost, but at least her habit of allowing her face to become occasionally skeletal had the effect of concentrating (not to say terrifying) the average juvenile mind. If the place had to be run by ghosts, why couldn’t they be more like old Obadiah Hyde, the Mad Parson of Chapel Rock, who scared the life out of everyone, including the Reverend?
Another matter that worried Reverend Davies was the fact that he was perceived by many to be a spiritual leader, someone equipped to explain the mystery of what lay beyond the veil of death. It was embarrassing! Here he was, surrounded by ghosts who had no more idea of what happens next than he did. If the dead could not explain the afterlife, how could he be expected to?

Setting these thoughts to one side, the Reverend returned to his original problem of having to recruit help at the orphanage. The task of finding teaching staff had never been an easy one. There are a number of skills required for the education and control of the young which, like so many things, seem to be in short supply on Hopeless. Undeterred, however, Reverend Davies resolutely put on his hat and jacket and set off in search of someone – anyone – to fill the vacancy.

Passing The Squid and Teapot, it occurred to the Reverend that this very establishment could well be the answer to his prayers (this is, of course purely a figure of speech, as the Reverend was not given to a great deal of praying, except as a necessary public show of piety now and then). The Squid was always full of idlers propping up the bar, or gullible new arrivals to the island who might be persuaded to spend a few hours each day in the company of the young and impressionable.

Bartholomew Middlestreet was not Reverend Davies’ greatest fan, and when he saw the pastor’s cadaverous form sliding through the doorway, not particularly resplendent in a faded black frock coat and battered hat, he guessed that he was after something.
Instead of going to the bar, the Reverend stood in the centre of the room and eyed the clientele with the air of a recruiting sergeant, eager to hand the king’s shilling to some unwary yokel. The long-term patrons of the inn knew that look of old. It usually meant that the Rev, as he was unaffectionately known, was looking for help. Past experience told them that his concept of help usually called for hard work and little reward, so it was a good idea to avoid catching his eye at all costs.
Only one man seemed not to be studying his drink, his boots, or some invisible blemish on the wall, and Reverend Davies’ gimlet eye caught him with the pinpoint accuracy of a raptor. He was a slightly built character, with sharp features and closely cropped dark hair. He wore black, from head to toe, except for the unmistakeable rectangle of white collar that marked him out as a man of the cloth.
“Good afternoon Reverend,” he boomed, in surprisingly loud tones. “I hear that you’re looking for help at the orphanage.”
There was the faintest trace of an Irish lilt to his voice.
“Good Lord! How did you know that?” asked Reverend Davies, somewhat taken aback.
“The good lord had little to do with it, but there’s not much goes on in any community that isn’t common knowledge in the pub.”
The newcomer extended a hand,
“I’m Father Ignatius Stamage, new to this strange little island of yours, made truly welcome by mine host over there, Mr Middlestreet. I’d be happy to help.”

A small cloud of doubt passed through Reverend Davies’ mind. Although his own brand of religion was not hitched to any particular branch of the church, he was fairly sure that he was not, and never had been, a catholic. It could cause problems. The priest’s help would be very welcome, but what if the two men found that they had profound theological differences of opinion? What then?
It only took a few moments for Reverend Davies to remember that he had few, if indeed any, deeply held theological opinions worth disagreeing with, so this would certainly not be an obstacle to ecumenical harmony. What could possibly go wrong?
Summoning a strained grimace that he fondly believed to be a smile, the Reverend grasped the priest’s outstretched hand and shook it vigorously.
“Thank you Father,” he said, “the Pallid Rock Orphanage will be most pleased to welcome you.”

When the pair had left, Bartholomew Middlestreet banged on the kitchen door and called,
“It’s alright Philomena, you can come out now. They’ve gone.”
Hesitantly Philomena Bucket peeped around the door.
“Thank goodness for that,” she exclaimed, “I can’t abide priests or vicars at the best of times, but that one… well, the minute I opened me mouth he’d clock that I came from the Old Country, and next thing is, he’d be asking me when was the last time I went to confession.”
“And when was that?” Bartholomew asked, mischievously.
Philomena did not answer. She was staring out of the window, watching the two black-clad figures as they disappeared along the road.
“There’ll be trouble,” she said, shaking her head. “I can feel it in me bones. Mark my words, there’ll be trouble.”

Mrs Beaten’s bitter jam

Jam. For some, it is a dream based on little more than hearsay. For the fortunate few, jam is the memory of distant places now lost forever and the kind of luxury never to be hoped for again.

There are fruits on the island, but they tend to be bitter. You can make something sweet through the exacting process of malting barley, but this is more likely to go for brewing than to jam. Further, malted barley jam doesn’t keep that well, tending to ferment or mutate after a few days. Mugging bees does not result in enough honey for anything complicated. Jam batches are seldom, secretive and quickly eaten, if anyone dares to try, and they are never as good as the remembered jam of distant, brighter days.

Mrs Beaten makes jam because it is right and proper to have jam with afternoon tea. Even if you are obliged to use a mollusc in place of a scone – grains being in short supply. Mrs Beaten puts the jam on the mollusc first, and then the cream. The cream is also in very short supply. No one ever joins her for afternoon tea, as she has no friends and if she did, would hardly want them inside her house with their dirty shoes and unkempt hems. She fears these imaginary people would judge her, for replacing scones with molluscs and in fairness, she is right about this.

Her current batch of jam is made from beetroot. It is sweeter than the bitter apples of the previous batch. Yesterday she crept out at dawn and left a jar discreetly on the doorstep of a certain gentleman. She has no idea if he has found or understood the gift. But who else would make him beetroot jam? Absentmindedly, she smears a teaspoon of the stuff onto the back of her hand, and not onto the limp flesh of the shellfish.

Gazing down in horror at this debauched action, she wonders fleetingly what it would be like to smear jam onto someone else. Mrs Beaten crushes the idea at once. It will not do! She almost believes that other people will somehow know she has had this dreadful thought. All she can do is eat the jam quickly, in the hopes of hiding the evidence.

The Kindness of Spoonwalkers

Imagine that you are standing in a dimly-lit, locked shed, a tiny building tucked away and almost forgotten on the edge of the Gannicox Distillery. You could be forgiven for thinking that the stinking pile of rags you perceive, thrown haphazardly against a barrel of alcohol, had been discarded by some passing vagrant, who, with great good fortune, had chanced upon a more desirable set of clothing. Go closer… further investigation will reveal the blotched and worryingly unhealthy features of the once handsome Linus Pinfarthing. He is very, very drunk. Hunched motionless in front of Linus is a hare with pure white fur and blazing eyes. Linus believes this hare to be the vengeful spirit of his dead lover, Marjorie Toadsmoor, come to torment him. Linus is wrong, for the decidedly unvengeful ghost of Marjorie is quietly residing in a small monolith, recently deposited in the grounds of the Pallid Rock Orphanage, and the white hare is, in reality, Trickster, who is intent on destroying Linus.

It was late in the night when the raiding party arrived. They tottered up to the darkened shed and, wielding their spoons like crowbars, managed to prise out some nails securing one of the wooden planks that formed the wall of the building. The wood was old and rotten here and there, and broke off, leaving a gap of a foot or so; more than enough space for the half-dozen spoonwalkers to scurry through on their cutlery stilts. Why they had chosen to break into an old shed is a mystery, unless it was the smell of alcohol that had attracted them (we know, from past experience, that these enigmatic creatures are partial to a drop of the hard stuff when they can get it). Whatever their reasons, they were looking for something to steal, and nothing was going to stop them… and then they saw the hare.

In the not too distant past many believed spoonwalkers to be mythical, but these days no one on the island would dispute that they are very real indeed, and not to be crossed. Very little is known, however, about their social habits, except that they are inveterate thieves.
When they spotted the hare they were naturally curious, for no such creature had existed on the island, at least in living memory. Her fiery eyes concerned them not one bit; their own luminescent, ghastly green gaze could outstare and out-menace any rival, and it was clear that the hare was filled to the brim with commination.
The spoonwalkers cast their baleful gazes towards Linus, the object of the hare’s malice, probably wondering if there was likely to be anything in it for them when she had finished with him.
Linus regarded the raiding party blearily; as much as he despised spoonwalkers, he was far too drunk to try and avoid them, or even move. The creature, who appeared to be leading the raiders, stared with potentially lethal eyes at the young man, then froze. If spoonwalkers can be said to do a double-take, then this one did, almost falling off his stilts. His companions looked on with some amazement, never having seen old Septimus (or whatever his name was) act in such a way. Then they saw what he had noticed. The pale, blotchy face lying beneath a bundle of rags was known to them.
You may recall that in the tale ‘The Trapper’, Zeke Tyndale had captured and caged several spoonwalkers, with the intention of escaping the island and selling them to a freak-show in New York. At the time, Linus was possessed by Trickster (who referred to him as his ‘meat-suit’); while being many despicable things, Trickster regarded himself as the protector of helpless creatures, and was enraged to see anything caged and humiliated in such a fashion. Tyndale was duly punished and the spoonwalkers freed.
You will have guessed by now that the spoonwalker raiding-party was made up of those very ones, and before them they saw the face of their saviour, obviously being threatened by this long-eared monstrosity with white fur. Luckily for Linus, Trickster was unable to communicate that he had been the one who had saved them, and caught the full blast of a dozen glowing green eyes.

While Trickster is able to possess the body and mind of any creature, there is always a tiny place of refuge in which a small spark of the host’s true nature hides. Although Trickster was impervious to the malignant gaze of the spoonwalkers, the hare was not and madness gripped her. She reared on to her hind legs, boxed the air, then darted through the gap left by the broken plank. Trickster tried to escape but found himself trapped within the body of the white hare as she careered madly through the foggy night, in a headlong flight towards the rocky cliffs and restless ocean.

Spoonwalkers are never welcome visitors, and Norbert Gannicox had watched in some dismay as they broke into the little shed on the edge of his property. He was fairly sure that there was nothing of value in there, but he did not want them nesting anywhere near the distillery. Not wishing to tackle them alone, Norbert went to The Squid and Teapot for reinforcements; even a raiding party of spoonwalkers would be reluctant to attack a band of men armed with a selection of blunt instruments.
When Norbert, accompanied by Bartholomew Middlestreet, Seth Washpool and Ardle O’Stoat, each fortified with several pints of ‘Old Colonel’, burst into the shed, bracing themselves for a fight, there were no spoonwalkers to be seen, just a gap in the wall and the dishevelled and noisome pile of rags that was Linus Pinfarthing, barely alive and horribly intoxicated. In his hand was a solitary silver dessert spoon. None of the rescuers knew why it was there, and would not have believed it, even if Linus been able to tell them how he was saved, apparently by the kindness of spoonwalkers.

The virtue of cleanliness

“There will be no unseemly wriggling,” Mrs Beaten asserts.

You think she is probably right in that regard and that wriggling – unseemly or otherwise – would be quite beyond you now. She has secured your entire person with a speed and efficiency that you are still trying to come to terms with.

“Filthy, disgusting beast,” she says.

You aren’t quite sure how to take this. Two people previously in your life have labelled you in this way. In your sister’s case, it had everything to do with a summer of failed attempts at taxidermy, resulting in distinct uncleanliness. But there was also that gentleman, late one night in a drunken haze, whose tone suggested delight rather than horror.

When a woman breaks into your room at night and swiftly binds you, it might be fair to assume that her intentions are both deviant and decadent. However, with Mrs Beaten it is notoriously difficult to tell.

She goes on to verbally chastise you for the appalling state of your collars, the lack of smooth gleaming whiteness in your shirts, and your generally slovenliness. You suppose she means to humiliate. You wonder what she knows, or guesses about your feelings on the matter. Would she stop at once if she knew? Or would she think up fresh torments? Her face is inscrutable.

She pulls out of your field of vision, and you hear her rummaging about, violating your privacy. You shudder. And then she leaves, and you are cold, and unable to escape and have no idea when she might come back or what she will do. Your mind skitters with dreads both named and nameless. It comes as a surprise to you that you manage to sleep like this.

You wake, sore and stretching, wondering if it was all just a terrible dream. The ropes are gone, if they ever existed at all. The whole scene seems so unlikely in the reassuring light of day that you almost persuade yourself it didn’t happen. But when you open your armoire, the truth is undeniable. Every shirt, freshly lauded to the point of almost shining, ruthlessly ironed to crisp perfection. You stare at them in silent horror.

Coming Home

“I am so bored! Being dead is dreadfully tedious, Philomena.”
Marjorie Toadsmoor, Hopeless Maine’s most recent resident to join the ranks of the island’s ghosts, sat on a rock and gazed miserably at her friend.
Philomena frowned.
“I wish I could make it easier for you,” she said. “Maybe I could visit more often.”
“No… it’s too dangerous,” said Marjorie. “There are too many horrible things lurking around at night. You would be as dead as I am in no time at all.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” replied Philomena, breezily. “After all, I’ve never had any problem being out after dark.”
“But you have a guardian, a protector.”
“Old Drury? He wanders off as much as he’s with me.”
Marjorie flickered disconcertingly in the evening mist.
“I didn’t mean Drury. Mr Cranham, the Night-Soil Man is always looking out for you.”
“Rhys?” Philomena gave a little laugh. “No, you’re wrong, he’s far too busy… and why would he?”
“Oh, Philomena,” said the ghost wearily, “don’t you know? Look over there, out towards Scilly Point. He’s there now, not fifty yards away, making sure that you’re alright.”
Philomena turned and looked at the spot to which Marjorie had referred. All she could see was an unusual rock formation looming in the fog. Then, to her surprise, the unusual rock formation jumped up and banged its foot on the ground, in an effort to ward off a sudden twinge of cramp.
“Does he always follow me?” asked Philomena, taken aback.
“Whenever you visit,” replied Marjorie. “I think he worries about you.”
Philomena fell silent and was glad that the misty darkness concealed the fact that she was blushing.
Although Philomena was grateful that Rhys was there to protect her, she was aware that while he was guarding her he was not doing his work. If she went wandering around in the dark too often, he would get nothing done.
The thoughts of what might happen to Hopeless without the services of the Night-Soil Man made her shudder.
“Don’t worry, Marjorie,” she said reassuringly to her ghostly friend. “I’ll think of something before tomorrow.”

Regular readers will be aware that Marjorie had died, partly from grief but mainly by being blown over by a freak gust of wind, when she thought that she had been rejected by her lover, Linus Pinfarthing. Linus was currently in a permanent state of alcoholic stupefaction, and being tormented by Trickster, who had taken the guise of a white hare, which Linus erroneously believed to be the vengeful spirit of Marjorie.

The following night Miss Calder, who oversaw the smooth running of the Pallid Rock Orphanage, came to visit Marjorie. Being abroad after dark held few terrors for her, having been deceased, and a wraith herself, for some time. Good-natured and charming as she was, Miss Calder had an annoying propensity for absent-mindedly allowing her face to become skeletal when deep in thought. This was an unfortunate trait, and regarded by many as being somewhat unsociable, not to say horrific.

“I do so miss your help at the orphanage,” said Miss Calder. “The children miss you as well.”
“Those days are gone forever,” wailed Marjorie mournfully. The sound was enough to freeze the blood of any who chose to be abroad at that time.
“Possibly not…” replied Miss Calder enigmatically. “I have been talking to Miss Bucket. She has a plan… I won‘t say too much at the moment, I don’t want you to get your hopes up, but cross fingers.”
“I would if I could,” said Marjorie, “but they keep slipping through each other.”

Philomena reflected, with wry amusement, that most of her friends these days were ghosts. Besides Marjorie and Miss Calder, Philomena liked to engage in an occasional chat with Lady Margaret D’Avening, The Headless White Lady, who haunted the flushing privy of The Squid and Teapot. The Tudor mansion that Lady Margaret had originally haunted had been sold, disassembled and sent to Connecticut, where a millionaire planned to rebuild it on his estate. Sadly, the carefully numbered pallets of Cotswold stone had never been collected from the quay at Newhaven and little by little they had been ‘liberated’ by those requiring repairs to their walls and outhouses, until the last few remaining blocks were taken by an enterprising sea-captain, who promptly lost his ship, his crew and his life on the rocks around Hopeless, Maine. The stone blocks, and the flushing privy from the captain’s cabin, were salvaged and made a handsome addition to the ground-plan of The Squid and Teapot. What no one appreciated at the time was that the ghost of Lady Margaret had taken refuge in one of the blocks and was forever doomed to haunt its immediate proximity.
In the course of conversation Philomena learned from Lady Margaret that she had enjoyed several jaunts away from The Squid by the simple expedient of having someone deposit a block, which had been carefully prised from the privy wall, at various parts of the island.
“If it works for Lady Margaret, then why not Marjorie?” reasoned Philomena.

There was a certain amount of trial and error involved in getting Philomena’s plan to work. It had to be established which bits of rock, scattered around the scene of Marjorie’s demise, she was able to inhabit. Try as she might, the ghost found herself unable to get into anything smaller in size than she had been in life. It must be remembered that Cotswold stone is Oolitic limestone, which is far more porous than the dense granite rocks around Hopeless, and therefore an easier space for a ghost to occupy.
The problem was not insurmountable, and a note pinned to Rhys Cranham’s door was enough to have the Night-Soil Man wheeling the designated rock across the island to the orphanage, where Miss Calder waited expectantly; she was always very happy to see Rhys, much to his dismay (I think it was the inter-dimensional complications of a relationship with a wraith, not to mention the occasional skeletal-face thing, that put him off).
Under cover of darkness, so as not to upset the children with his trademark odour, Rhys set the stone into the ground, where it sat like a small monolith, just outside the orphanage.
Almost shyly, the following night, Marjorie drifted out of her new abode and looked about her, gratefully. It would take a while for her to learn how to become visible in daylight and, like Miss Calder, be able to wander around the orphanage, and maybe even the island one day. That, for now did not matter; the ghost of Marjorie Toadsmoor had come home.

The Fetch

A tale from the Squid and Teapot

Squid and Teapot from Herr Döktor’s Laboratory

“You disgust me!”
Ambrose Pinfarthing looked down at the mess that was his cousin, Linus, sprawled drunken and dishevelled upon the cottage floor. Vacant, bloodshot eyes stared out of a once handsome face, whose features were now puffed and blotchy.
It dawned upon Ambrose that he could not remember why Linus was living with him. In fact, he was sure that he had never even heard of him until a few months previously. He had certainly not invited him to stay.
“Get out,” he barked, giving Linus a shove with his foot. “You’re not welcome here. Get out and stay gone.”

The truth of the matter is that, some time ago, Trickster had selected the young man to be his human form on Hopeless; his meat-suit, as he called him. As Linus he had insinuated himself into island life, beguiling and charming all whom he met, while at the same time creating chaos and mischief wherever he could. Trickster’s downfall came when he cast a glamour over a young schoolmistress, Marjorie Toadsmoor, forcing her to fall obsessively in love with Linus, who still retained a tiny glimmer of humanity that Trickster had overlooked. Linus hated Trickster for what he was doing to Marjorie, but was powerless to resist. One night, while participating in a drinking competition in ‘The Crow’, he discovered that Trickster had no command over him while he was inebriated. Knowing that he needed to make Marjorie see sense, he drove her away, much to Trickster’s annoyance. Sadly, however, in her grief, Marjorie fell over a cliff to her death. Dredging the depths of despair, and forever cursed by Trickster, Linus retreated into a permanent alcoholic stupor.

Homeless and penniless now, and terrified of finding himself once more the captive of Trickster, Linus needed to find a free source of alcohol. He stumbled through the fading, early evening light of Hopeless town, the taunts of Trickster growing stronger in his mind as he gradually sobered up. Swaying slightly outside the Pallid Rock Orphanage, where Marjorie had so recently been a teacher, Linus regarded the building with tears in his eyes. Hanging above the front door was a single lantern, illuminating the front porch.
“Oh, Marjorie,” he sobbed, then a tiny movement, somewhere in the shadows, caught his eye.
He froze in his tracks. It could be a spoonwalker. Maybe more than one.
Linus did not like spoonwalkers. He had heard the stories of how their glowing eyes could drive a person mad. Whether that was true or no, it didn’t matter a jot. He just detested the creatures, the same way as other people hated spiders or frogs. As Trickster he had rescued a few spoonwalkers from capture, but that was something Linus himself would never have done.
Emerging, almost shyly, from the shadows was a white hare, which proceeded to sit upon the porch and regard Linus with dark, solemn eyes.
Just at that moment Seth Washpool and Ardal O’Stoat passed by, on their way to The Squid and Teapot.
“Seth, Ardal… look… what do you reckon this animal is? I’ve never seen nothing like it before,” said Linus, excitedly.
Seth and Ardal stopped and gazed at the spot at which Linus was pointing. Then they looked at each other and Seth shook his head sadly.
“Poor guy,” Linus heard him say as they walked away. “He hasn’t been the same since his girl died. Never sober any more, and now he’s seeing stuff.”

The hare loped down the road, occasionally turning her head to see if Linus was following. Curious, and having nothing better to do, he staggered after the mysterious creature. They passed Mrs Beaten, who looked sniffily at Linus and tutted audibly, but made no sign that she had seen the hare.
Doc Willoughby looked out of his surgery door.
“Evening Linus,” he said gruffly, “you need to cut down on the booze, son, or you’ll be seeing pink elephants before you know it.”
“A white hare,” said Linus, pointing.
“Whatever,” said the Doc, closing the door. “It’s all the same in the end.”

Philomena Bucket glanced out of a window of The Squid and Teapot and nearly dropped the tray that she was carrying. There was the white hare again, and Linus Pinfarthing was following her. People on the street took no notice of the hare, a creature which had never before been seen on the island, and tended to give Linus a wide berth.
“Why aren’t they interested?” she thought to herself, then, from the deepest recesses of her memory, the answer came to her.
Years ago, when she was a child in Ireland, Granny Bucket had told her the legend of the white hare, the spirit of a pure-hearted maiden driven to suicide by a faithless lover. It was said that she had returned in this form to haunt the scoundrel, and bring him nothing but misery and death.
The white hare was said to be visible to only the deceiver and those with the dubious gift of ‘The Sight’ (which Granny Bucket was generally regarded to possess). So keen on vengeance was the ghostly creature that she would make sure that none would harm the man who wronged her, in order that she could continue to heap misery upon him until such times as it suited her to cause his death.
“So, if the hare is with Linus,” Philomena reasoned to herself, “then she must be Marjorie… and I can see her!”
Pennies slowly dropped in Philomena’s mind; for the first time in her life it dawned upon her that, like Granny Bucket, she had The Sight.
“But I don’t want it,” she said aloud, but no one heard.

Without knowing why, Linus followed the hare to the outskirts of the town. She eventually led him to a small outbuilding, unobtrusively hidden behind the Gannicox Distillery. Linus found that the lock on the door had rusted away; it was easy to get inside. When his eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, Linus discovered that the shed was dry and warm, there was even a forgotten, and quite huge, barrel of liquor at his disposal. The truth was that the building had not been used for years, not since old Ebenezer Gannicox had drowned there in a vat of moonshine. None of this would have mattered to Linus; he had a roof over his head and the means to keep Trickster at bay.
“Thank you,” he said to the hare, whose white fur glowed eerily from the far side of the darkened room. To his surprise the hare answered, and the voice that he heard was Marjorie’s.
“Don’t thank me, you faithless wretch. This is your punishment for treating me the way you have. No one will come to rescue you, I’ll see to that. It is just you and me now, day and night. And don’t think you can escape… madness then death is your only future, Linus Pinfarthing. This is the curse of the White Hare.”
With that, the soft eyes of the hare blazed red and the gentle face took on a terrible aspect.
“Just the two of us, forever,” she said.

A week or so had passed since Marjorie’s death and Philomena finally felt that she was able to visit the cliffs where her friend had fallen, and place a few flowers on the spot. She wished that she could have found something better than the pitiful bouquet of straggly weeds, but it was the best that anyone could have provided on Hopeless.

Philomena was nothing, if not conscientious, and made sure that she fulfilled her afternoon duties at The Squid before going to pay her respects to Marjorie. It had been a busy day and, laying her flowers on the ground, she sat with her back to the rocks, enjoying the peace. She had not planned to stay there very long, and certainly had not intended to go to sleep, but sleep she did.
Philomena woke with a start. It was bitterly cold and a thick fog had rolled in from the sea. She wrapped her shawl around her when she noticed, from the corner of her eye,a flickering light.
Then a voice, almost inaudible, whispered on the breeze.
“Philomena… thank you.”
“Marjorie… is that you?”
“Can you… can you see me?”
Philomena squinted into the fog, where the flickering light danced before her. Little by little it attained the hazy, but unmistakable, shape of Marjorie Toadsmoor.
Recovering from her initial shock, Philomena (who had become quite accustomed to bumping into the various supernatural entities inhabiting the island) and the ghost of Marjorie fell into conversation.
“But surely, you were the white hare that I spotted, come to punish Linus. How…?
Philomena’s question hung in the air.
“I know nothing of a hare,” came the ghost’s whispered reply. “But I could never cause Linus harm. I understand now why he said those things.”
“Then, if you’re not the white hare, what is going on?”

Trickster settled down for the night, never taking his eyes off the drunkard leaning against the large barrel. This was such a delicious joke, pretending to be the vengeful spirit of a dead girl. It was the best fetch that Trickster had played for a long time. He – or, for now, she – was enjoying the guise of a white hare. It was a good look.

(Author’s note: A Fetch (a) A trick or stratagem
(b) A disembodied spirit)

A Love That Was More Than A Love

For reasons that she could not explain, Marjorie Toadsmoor had fallen madly in love with Linus Pinfarthing. To borrow from Edgar Alan Poe, she loved with a love that was more than a love… but sadly, unlike the eponymous Annabel Lee, she had no choice in the matter. Linus had been possessed by the Trickster, and a glamour had been put upon Marjorie which had left her totally in thrall to the louche and charming young man.
Although at least as old as humankind, Trickster was not as wise as he believed himself to be. It had never occurred to him that Linus might have genuine feelings for the girl, and that to see her ensnared within this enchantment, like a beautiful butterfly caught in a web, troubled him. Linus decided that he would rather that she hated him than for both of them to be manipulated in this way. You see, there was still a tiny spark of humanity flickering dimly in Linus, and although Trickster owned him, body and soul, he secretly strove to break free. It was after a drinking competition in ‘The Crow’ one evening that he discovered, by chance, that when he was inebriated the old rogue had no power over him at all.

“Oh Linus, why are you always drunk these days?”
A tearful Marjorie looked at the love of her life, sprawled awkwardly over an armchair. He reeked of stale alcohol and there were vomit stains on his once immaculate suit jacket.
“It’s because of you,” he slurred. “Can’t you see that this stifling, overbearing affection of yours has driven me to drink.”
Even as he said these words, Linus choked back his tears. The last person in the world whom he wanted to hurt was Marjorie, but he knew that he had to somehow free her from this illusion.
“Then you do not love me any more?”
He heard the tremble in her voice and, even through his drunken haze, wanted nothing more than to hold her close and tell her the truth. However, he steeled himself and shook his head.
“Never did. You were just… a plaything to me.”
Marjorie’s face went a deathly white and tears welled in her eyes. Without another word he watched as she fled from the room. Then it was his turn to weep.

Bartholomew Middlestreet had just closed the bar of The Squid and Teapot when someone hammered on the door.
“Philomena, when are you going to remember to take your key…?” he complained, but was surprised to see that the source of the knocking was not his barmaid, Philomena Bucket, but Reverend Davies.
“Good evening Reverend, sorry I thought you were…”
“Yes, yes,” interrupted the parson impatiently. “I’m looking for Miss Toadsmoor. I’d hoped that she might be here visiting the Bucket woman. She should really be back at the orphanage by this time. Tomorrow is a school day, and she has to be up early. It really is not good enough.”
Bartholomew was not one of Reverend Davies’ greatest fans, and looked at him icily.
“If you mean my valued barmaid, Miss Bucket, she is not on the premises at the moment, and neither is Miss Toadsmoor. I can’t help you Reverend. Goodnight,” he said, and started to close the door.
“Wait, please,” The Reverend’s tone had softened. “I’m sorry. To be honest Mr Middlestreet I am worried, worried more than you can guess. I have always found Miss Toadsmoor to be conscientious and above reproach, but lately… well, she has changed. Something is amiss, I am sure.”
Bartholomew and the Reverend stared at each other for a moment, the silence broken only by the ticking of the grandfather clock in the bar. It was unlike Davies to be so agitated, Bartholomew thought. Yes, something was definitely amiss and it would not surprise him if Linus Pinfarthing, whom he did not like or trust, was at the bottom of it.
“I’ll round up a search party, she can’t have gone too far.” he said, without much conviction.

Neither Reverend Davies nor Bartholomew could have guessed that Marjorie was romantically involved with Linus. Despite the Trickster’s spell, she was, as you may recall, still very much a Victorian lady, whose dread of scandal over-rode all other concerns. It was with this in mind that her love affair had been conducted with the utmost discretion; it was a secret shared with no one but her best friend, Philomena, who, while not a little surprised, could be guaranteed to be non-judgemental, prudent and fiercely loyal.

After fleeing from Linus, Marjorie rushed blindly into the night, careless of who or what might see her. His sudden rejection had left her bereft, her heart broken into a million shards. Remember, this was no ordinary loss, forged, as it was, from a cruel and unbreakable Trickster spell. It was darker, deeper and more painful than most would ever know. Trickster had ensured that without Linus’ love, her life would not be worth living.

Staggering to his feet, Linus blundered unsteadily after Marjorie. By now he was beginning to sober up, and he could already feel the Trickster trying to get a foothold inside his mind once more. He took a deep swig of the Gannicox Vodka from the flask that was never far from his hand these days, in an attempt to push the unwelcome tenant away.
“You can’t stay drunk forever, traitor,” hissed a voice in his head.
“Watch me,” retorted Linus, taking another slug of liquor, and the voice grew fainter.

He was just a dozen yards from the headland when the full moon managed to fight its way through the ever-present fog. There she was, standing at the very edge of the cliff, her long cloak fluttering in the breeze, silhouetted against the backdrop of sea and sky.
“Marjorie.. I am sorry. I didn’t mean what I said… please…”
She turned briefly at the sound of his voice. Had he been closer he would have seen the hope that flared in her eyes, but it was too late. A sudden gust of wind caught in the folds of her cloak, and she was gone.

The search-party was on the point of giving up when he appeared, carrying the lifeless form of Marjorie in his arms. Even Bartholomew felt pity for the young man as he lurched towards them, tears streaming down his face.
“I couldn’t save her…” he sobbed as helping hands lifted Marjorie’s body from him, and gently lay her on the ground. “The wind came out of the cloud by night…”.
“We know, lad, it isn’t your fault,” said Reverend Davies, displaying an unusual degree of sympathy.
Linus said nothing. He knew the truth.

Far away, up on the Gydynap Hills, Philomena Bucket and Drury both stood transfixed by the vision of a white hare that had suddenly appeared, as if from nowhere, on the pathway before them.
“How beautiful! I can’t wait to tell Marjorie.” thought Philomena happily, smiling to herself in the moonlight.

The First Cutlery Case

By Keith Errington

If you have a problem,

if no one else can help,

and if you can find him….

maybe YOU can hire…

The Cutlery Detective

Phillip Fork, The Cutlery Detective, was excited. His new venture in the role of private investigator was only a week old and already his first case was filed away. Well, it wasn’t really a cutlery case, and he did have to refuse it, but nonetheless it was a good omen, he thought.

He had been called to the cottage of Douglas Patch one morning and wasted no time in interviewing the man. Unfortunately, it turned out that Doug’s prize spade had gone missing during the night and he was distraught, in his own words, “It was a lovely digger that one, couldn’t have asked for a better tool. Lovely green handle it had, and a nice matt black blade. Not likely to find the likes of that again – not round here anyway.”

Phillip sympathised, but he had to explain that it simply wasn’t what he did – he was The Cutlery Detective you see, not the Garden Tool Sleuth. The poor man offered him lots of money, but Phillip stood fast – after all, you were never going to succeed in business if you didn’t specialise.

And fortune delivered for Phillip, for within two days he received a message that some spoons had gone missing at no 9 Tendril Drive. The road was a small group of cottages, actually not that far from Mr Patch – maybe he had mentioned the cutlery detective to a neighbour? Phillip thought this was a good sign – if there were that many crimes in such a short space of time in such a small area, then surely there must be hundreds across the island happening every day?

Phillip wasted no time in following up the lead. He found a cottage with a broken gate – half hanging off its hinges, but still with a number on it hanging on by a single screw at the top. Phillip glanced down briefly – saw the number nine – and walked confidently up the path.

He found the front door slightly ajar. How thoughtful, remarked Phillip to himself, they were clearly expecting me. He entered the hallway but was taken aback by the untidiness of the place. A painting was askew on the wall and a Writhing Plant in a small pot had been knocked off its stand.

Phillip righted the stand and carefully avoiding the rustling leaves, put the pot back in place. He then went on to straighten the painting. That’s better he thought.

Phillip thought it odd that there was nobody to meet him, but then he realised they must clearly know of his reputation and therefore trusted him. And obviously, they were thoughtful enough to stay out of the way and let him get on with his work.

He passed a couple of open doors – to his left was a dining room, unremarkable except for broken cabinet containing just empty display stands. These people were both clumsy and untidy thought Phillip. Why there was glass everywhere. He avoided the room and looked through the doorway on the right. On a chair was a middle-aged man, clearly a busy butcher, as he was fast asleep, and his chest was covered in dried blood. Well, a hard-working man deserves his rest, observed Phillip, and moved down the hall to the kitchen at the end.

Now here was a crime scene, thought Phillip – yellow curtains and blue wallpaper – what were they thinking? His eyes caught sight of an open drawer. Aha! It was the cutlery drawer! Phillip drew a breath, flexed his fingers, stretched his hands out and crossed the room.

The drawer was neatly compartmentalised with a section for every item. Disappointing, he mused, not a single spoon was missing, just this empty section here – possibly a large knife? Phillip sighed, he found knives boring – so straight and uninteresting compared with the sexy roundness of a beautifully curved spoon. You could only cut things with a knife but a spoon – well, it just had so many uses.

Nonetheless, there was no denying that a knife was cutlery – even if this one was of some size – possibly even a carving knife. He retraced his steps and took the stairs to the bedroom to see if there were any clues there. But there was nothing, just a bedroom that its owner was clearly in the middle of re-organising – drawers were on the floor, wardrobes were open and clothes strewn all over the bed. Nothing here, noted Phillip and made his way downstairs again.

He went out into the large back garden – a standard place to check when hunting for cutlery. Although this was his first real case, Phillip had obviously thought through the whole idea and had reasoned that many people took cutlery into the garden; a spoon in a mug of tea, a knife to help cut the rhubarb, a fork to prick the night potatoes, or the end of a peeler to ‘dibble’ a hole for dark bulbs. Obviously, many people did a number of tasks in the garden and after a while forgot about the temporary implement they had removed from the kitchen, and thus a common solution to the problem of missing cutlery was delivered.

As Phillip diligently searched the back garden, he noticed a freshly dug patch of ground – maybe there was something nearby. But all he could see was a digging implement lying on the ground. Well, chuckled Phillip to himself, Douglas was wrong, spades with green handles and matt black blades must be very common, for here was another one!

As Phillip continued his search of the large garden, he noticed a shed across the other side to him. Just at that moment, he saw the door open, and a man emerged carrying an old, dusty and almost certainly moth-ridden carpet, rolled-up and over his shoulder. He was headed back to the house. He looked a rough type thought Phillip, dirty, bruised and covered in fresh, dark stains. Clearly the gardener.

Phillip waved. The man stopped, seemingly startled, and dropped the carpet. Phillip hoped the man might know something and started walking towards him, but the gardener looked this way and that, then grabbed a large haversack lying next to the shed, and ran off, jumping over the low fence on the far side of the garden. Well, he must have been late for something mused Phillip. Let’s take a look in that shed.

And there, on the bench was the missing knife. The gardener had clearly borrowed it to harvest some beetroot as its blade was red along with the well-worn handle. Phillip shook his head – this is too easy he thought and took the knife back to the kitchen. Being careful not to wake the sleeping butcher, he carefully cleaned the knife using soap and hot water till it was gleaming again, and then replaced it in the proper place and closed the drawer. 

With a happy smile on his face Phillip left the house, carefully and silently pulling the front door shut behind him, and then closing the rickety gate as he left the property, not noticing the number falling off as he did so. It fell into the mud upright. A number six.

Meanwhile, Mrs Ansty who lived a bit further up Tendril Drive – at number 9 – was slightly annoyed and also disappointed, where was the infernal man? How could she make tea or eat pudding without spoons?

Back at his desk, Philip put his feet up, took a glass out of a drawer and poured some potent looking liquid into it. A good day he thought. He would send a bill along to number 9 tomorrow. Case closed.

Trickster

He (I will say ‘he’ for the sake of convenience) is as old as humankind itself. Every race and every culture have known his name, be it Raven, Loki, Robin Goodfellow, Anansi, or one of a thousand more. For he is legion. He is Trickster.

Trickster scowled, wrapped up in his own darkness. There was, he reflected, nothing that he could inflict upon this abysmal island to which it had not already subjected itself. Even the humans had weathered his pranks, with the stoicism of those already saturated in misery… well, maybe not quite all of the humans. The girl had been the exception. Killing herself was more than he had hoped for; the truth to tell, not what he had originally wanted. And as for that wretch, the one who called himself Linus Pinfarthing… he was glad to be rid of him, to slough off that particular meat-suit.

Too late had it occurred to Trickster that, when he first possessed the body and soul of Linus Pinfarthing, he had overlooked a tiny spark of humanity burning deep inside the young man. It was a spark that had lain dormant, failing to be kindled by mayhem or murder, only to be fanned into unexpected flame by love and loss.
From the moment that Linus had first set eyes upon Marjorie Toadsmoor, Trickster, as puppetmaster, decided that she was to be the one. She would be pursued, ensnared and totally, willingly, enslaved by him. Oh, it would have been such a delicious trick to have made this girl Queen of the Island and render every last, miserable inhabitant in thrall to her. What games he might have played.
It had started out well enough. As Linus he had courted her with grace and chivalry, creating an illusion that would not have shamed a May-day picnic on the banks of the Isis, flowing languidly beneath Oxford’s dreaming spires. It was a pity that the Bucket woman had to be there to chaperone them. Things might have been so different. True, Philomena Bucket was pretty enough, but not Trickster’s type; she was far too worldly-wise and knowing.

Those who have read the tale ‘Linus Pinfarthing’ may remember that Philomena and Marjorie awoke, confused, many hours after their luncheon date with Linus. They found themselves lying on the damp slopes of the Gydynap Hills, having no memory of the picnic, or how they had arrived there. Trickster, on the other hand, had used that time well, insinuating himself into Marjorie’s psyche. Little did she know it, but from the moment she awoke from that unnatural slumber, Marjorie would have no choice but to fall in love with Linus Pinfarthing.

The burden of being possessed invariably takes its toll upon body and soul, and Trickster was allowing the young man no rest. By night he stalked abroad, calling up storms and creating chaos and illusion, while during the day he continued to be the affable Linus, the young man adored by virtually everyone on Hopeless. He could frequently be seen walking arm in arm with a fawning Marjorie, the epitome of old-fashioned courtship. Trickster knew that he was burning Linus out; that no human being could live like this for very long.

If you are familiar with any of the various stories told of the Trickster, you will be aware that he frequently overplays his hand, resulting in his plans going awry; this tale is no exception.

Organising a drinking competition in The Crow had seemed like a really good idea at the time. It had to be in The Crow, of course. Trickster knew that, had it been held in The Squid and Teapot, Bartholomew Middlestreet would have kept a stern eye upon the proceedings and imposed his own tedious set of killjoy boundaries. In The Crow, however, anything goes, being a much less respectable establishment; a decidedly Tricksterish sort of place, in fact.
Anyone who was there, and in the unlikely event of their being able to remember quite how the evening unfolded, would tell you that it was raucous in the extreme. The competitors warmed to their task with a relish and enthusiasm rarely encountered on the island, and none more so than Linus Pinfarthing. With the powers of the Trickster flowing through his body he was confident of winning, and set a cracking pace, downing pint after lukewarm pint of the flat, uninspiring concoction that passed for beer in The Crow (so unlike the robust nectar that was ‘Old Colonel’, much beloved by patrons of The Squid).
The evening ended, as Trickster had planned, in bar-fights and violence, generously interspersed with various acts of theft, casual groping and general skulduggery. What was not planned, however, was for Linus to become so horribly drunk that Trickster was unable to control him, thereby allowing the spark of humanity, mentioned earlier, to flicker into dim life.

I have often thought that drunkenness brings out, and magnifies, a person’s true nature. The innately violent may become positively dangerous, while those with an overly amorous nature might be transformed into raging sex-maniacs… you get the idea. Whether I am right or wrong, an excess of alcohol revealed Linus Pinfarthing to be a hopeless romantic, simpering into his beer about the love of his life, the sweet and beautiful Marjorie Toadsmoor. Through his drunken haze, Linus realised that in order to win her – to win her properly, as himself – he needed to be free of Trickster’s power, and alcohol had, for the moment, allowed him that liberty. With this revelation, the little spark grew strong in Linus, and as it did so, Trickster knew that he had lost the young man forever.

As insubstantial now as the swirling fog that surrounded him, the old rogue consoled himself with the knowledge that there would always be others to possess, others to do his work. Oh yes… and also that he would make sure that the traitor, Linus Pinfarthing, would never know of love or contentment ever again.

(Editor’s Note – there may be some bias here, as the proprietors of The Crow, and its regular visitors consider it to be quite the superior eatery, while considering The Squid and Teapot to be a lowly dive.)

Mrs Beaten’s Cold Hands

Mrs Beaten’s hands are very cold as she touches your face. It is dark, but you know it is her, those chilled fingertips are distinctive.

You are not sure why she is in your house, much less why she is in your bedroom, touching your face. You breathe slowly, keeping still in case she believes you to be asleep. You have an odd feeling that perhaps this is how she would touch you if she believed you to be dead.

Those cold, cold hands, so light and deft on your skin. As though she is searching for something. Signs of life? Or the absence of signs of life?

You are barely breathing at all now.

What would she do if she assumed you to be dead? Where would those questing fingers go? What might she want from you, in the darkness and the silence?

Your heart seems unnaturally slow. You can hear the faint rustle of her dress as she moves. It is also possible to hear the glide of her fingertips over the bones in your face. Her hands are on your throat now. Can she feel your pulse? Fingertips glide towards your chest and you think if she reaches your heart, that will be the end. All beating will cease.