Category Archives: Hopeless Tales

story, poetry, rumour and gossip

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.

The White Hare

The close bond between Philomena Bucket and Drury, the skeletal hound, is surprising, given the manner of their meeting. Regular readers will recall that this was mentioned in the tale ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightdress’, when Drury introduced himself to Philomena by attempting to steal a particularly attractive, and somewhat robust, full-length Victorian Nightdress from her washing basket. Despite this awkward start to their relationship, the pair became great friends and could frequently be seen together, walking on the Gydynap Hills.
Another resident of the island who has taken more than a passing interest in Philomena is Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man. When she first arrived on Hopeless, Philomena was suffering from anosmia (or so Doc Willoughby announced. Most of us would just say that she had lost her sense of smell.) This was brought on by her inhaling cotton pollen while stowing-away aboard the merchant ship, ‘Hetty Pegler’. When the Night-Soil Man saved her life, she promptly fell in love with him, being shielded from his noxious stench by her temporary affliction. The full account can be found in the tale ‘Scents and Sensibility’, but it is sufficient to say that a promising love affair was brought to a tragically abrupt close when her nasal passages were cleared and normal service resumed. Despite this, the two have always carried a torch for each other, albeit from a distance.
During those times when Philomena was rash enough to venture abroad during the hours of darkness, one can guarantee that Drury would be rattling along by her side and, from somewhere safely downwind, Rhys Cranham could be found, keeping a watchful eye upon her.

It was on such an occasion that our tale begins. Philomena, having finished her work at The Squid and Teapot, desperately needed to get outside. The Squid had been unusually crowded and rowdy that evening, upsetting Lady Margaret D’Avening, the Headless White Lady who haunted the inn’s flushing privy. Lady Margaret tended to regard full-moon nights as her own, and the constant to-ing and fro-ing in and out of her domain had put her quite out of sorts. As much as Philomena liked the White Lady, she had no desire to spend half the night listening to the ghost complaining at length about the Squid’s patrons, and how standards had dropped over the last century. With escape in mind, Philomena had set off towards her beloved Gydynaps, with Drury happily capering by her side. A full moon was riding high in the sky and battling, with some success, to shine her pale beams through the fogs which habitually swathed the island. Somewhere overhead the spectral Mild Hunt could be heard clattering clumsily and noisily through the heavens. The wraiths of the six maiden-ladies, eternally doomed to hunt for some lost pamphlets (as told in the tale ‘Ghost Writers in the Sky’) were always careful to avoid landing anywhere near Drury. Experience had taught them that the osseous hound delighted in harassing their spaniels and exacerbating the irritable bowel syndrome of their famously flatulent mules.
“Blasted ghosts!” thought Philomena. “You don’t get a minute of peace from them when the moon is full.”
It was at that point that she spotted, what she at first believed to be, another apparition on the path before her. Drury saw it too, and if he had been in receipt of hackles, like a living dog, they would have risen.
The creature in front of them was a hare. She sat as motionless as a statue, and glimmering pure white in the moonlight. The barmaid had been on Hopeless for long enough to know that this was no ordinary hare; conventional animals who might find themselves washed up on the island did not stay conventional for long. Tentacles, scales and various novel appendages would generally replace their distinguishing attributes, that is, if they survived long enough for such a metamorphosis to take place.
The white hare gracing the pathway was majestic. There was something otherworldly, magical, even, about her, over which the awful, transforming curse of Hopeless, could have no command. Philomena racked her brains, trying to recall the legends she had heard regarding such creatures, but they all alluded her.

From his vantage point on the rocks, Rhys Cranham could see the hare as well. Being a Hopelessian, born and raised, he had never beheld such a beast, but something deep within his heart was moved by the animal’s poise and quiet dignity. He was surprised that Drury was apparently making no attempt to chase her.

Philomena and Drury watched the white hare for some time. Like Rhys, she had expected Drury to chase her away, but the dog was content to sit quietly by Philomena’s side. It was only when the moon slipped behind the clouds that the spell was broken and the hare vanished into the night.

If you have been following these tales in recent editions of ‘The Vendetta’, you may be forgiven for thinking that this is no more than another prank by the wily Trickster who called himself Linus Pinfarthing. Indeed, traditionally the shape of a hare is one of the Trickster’s preferred disguises. But Linus was in no condition to trick anyone at that precise moment, lying drunk, as he was, on his unmade bed.

Philomena made her way back to The Squid and Teapot, totally unaware of the Night-Soil Man’s protective presence some way behind her. She felt excited and could hardly wait until morning to tell the Middlestreets, and her good friend Marjorie Toadsmoor, all about the vision of the beautiful white hare. On reaching The Squid, however, she was surprised to find lights shining in some of the windows. Normally, at this hour, the inn would be in darkness.
She was met at the door by an ashen-faced Ariadne Middlestreet.
“Oh Philomena…” was all that she said, before falling into her friend’s arms, weeping.
“Whatever is it Ariadne? Tell me.”
Philomena feared that something awful had befallen Bartholomew, but then the landlord of the inn appeared in the doorway. He looked haggard and drawn.
Tenderly he wrapped his arms around both women.
“It’s Marjorie,” he said softly, his voice trembling. “Linus was in a terrible state. He said that he found her lying on the rocks. She’s dead Philomena. Drowned.”
Drury raised his bony face to the moon and howled.

Snow

A tale from The Squid and Teapot

As most will have gathered by now, Hopeless, Maine is not renowned for its good weather. For much of the year it can be challenging for residents to ascertain exactly which season they might be currently enjoying. Fog-bound, gale-swept winters drift into equally inclement springs, summers and falls, without missing a beat. Sometimes the fog has been known to relent and generously become no more than a semi-opaque sea-mist. While such interludes can never be called halcyon days, they are treasured. In fact, any weather pattern in which fog plays only a secondary role is a welcome distraction. So, when one morning the island woke up to a blanket of snow, the wonder and excitement of many of the islanders knew no bounds.
Being an island, lashed by waves and salt-laden air, the incidence of snow on Hopeless is rare. What makes this particular snowfall even more remarkable, however, is that occurred in mid-August.

Bartholomew Middlestreet stood upon the doorstep of The Squid and Teapot and scratched his head in amazement. The last time that it had snowed was on New Year’s Eve. That was unusual in itself, but its memory had lodged in Bartholomew’s mind for another reason. That had been the night of the bar-fight in The Squid, and he had watched a stranger to the island, the instigator of the brawl, walk out into the snow and not leave any trace of a footprint. Hopeless was an odd island, to be sure, he thought, but lately it had become downright peculiar.

The landlord’s definition of ‘peculiar’ might have been revised several degrees along the scale, had he been with Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, a few hours earlier. Although used to the various horrors who called the island home (if ‘home’ is not too cosy a term for the living nightmares within which most of them dwelt), Rhys particularly disliked Creepy Hollow. The place, in itself, was not awful. It was the possibility of running into the wraith of The Eggless Norseman, Lars Pedersen, that worried Rhys. As ghosts go, the old Viking was harmless enough, but his mad, glaring eyes and gaunt form, little more these days than fading tatters of protoplasm, gave Rhys bad dreams. However, his work had to be done, and every few weeks the residents of Creepy Hollow required his services.
The unseasonal fall of snow had surprised Rhys, but it provided a certain amount of welcome illumination. While used to wandering around in darkness, the Night-Soil Man was grateful that the extra light helped to speed him along.
Intent on getting his Creepy Hollow duties out of the way, Rhys failed to see the lone figure standing in the clearing until he was almost upon it. The thought occurred to him that several things about the tableau made little sense. Usually, his proximity to most other life-forms would cause a certain amount of gagging and nose-holding, but the person in front of him did neither; indeed, it was as if the Night-Soil Man was invisible. Stranger still was the fact that there were no footprints in the snow, other than his own.
Rhys stood perfectly still and watched the figure, which he assumed to be that of a man, standing with arms raised, beckoning skywards with his fingers, as if willing the snow to fall. Seconds, or maybe minutes passed – Rhys had no way of telling – then, with his arms still outstretched, the mysterious stranger began chanting and rocking gently to the rhythm of his own song. Occasionally he would stamp one foot upon the ground. Gradually his movements became more fluid and dance-like. With his back arched and knees bent, he began to turn, and as he turned, so the snowflakes swirled around him. Faster and faster he went until he was little more than a blur within the blizzard that raged around his spinning form. By now Rhys was crouched in the shelter of the trees, his hat pulled down low, and his jacket wrapped tightly around him, and barely able to accept the evidence of his eyes, which were growing heavy. He was becoming lost in the mesmeric thrall of the storm, which raged and howled like a pack of hungry wolves (although Rhys had no way of knowing this, never having seen or heard a wolf in his life). Human shapes and nameless creatures could be seen flickering within the churning tempest, capering and writhing around the dancer, who by now, was almost invisible. Then, as if switched off by some unseen hand, the blizzard abruptly died, and all was still. Nothing was left to be seen but an expanse of snow, unruffled except for the Night-Soil Man’s own footprints.

That night, in the bar of The Squid and Teapot, the talk was all about the freak snowstorm that had swept the island that morning. Not the slightest pile of slush or tiniest sliver of ice now remained, but that did nothing to ease the speculation, oiled as it was by copious pints of ‘Old Colonel’ and shots of the best spirits that the Gannicox Distillery could provide. The unseasonal weather had been blamed upon everything from the Kraken feeling out of sorts, to Les Demoiselles, the French Can-Can troupe, inadvertently doing some manner of rain dance, which had turned to snow.
“It’s a warning to us all. The lewd and sinful dancing that those French girls brought to the island will be our ruin,” mused Seth Washpool, adding, “or so Reverend Davies reckons.”
“There’s nothing wrong with them girls. That man thinks everything is a warning,” said Philomena Bucket impatiently, having little time for the clergy of any denomination.
“Well, whatever the cause, I can’t recall seeing anything like it before,” said Norbert Gannicox, “and never heard tell of such a thing, either.”
Bartholomew Middlestreet kept his own counsel. He had his own suspicions who, or what, might have been responsible.
“You must admit that strange things happen here all the while,” opined Linus Pinfathing. “Hopeless is a weird place on the best of days.”
Some of the others nodded sagely.
A small smile played upon Linus’ lips, as he could not help but add,
“And we certainly seem to be living in Trickster times.”
No one noticed Bartholomew’s glare at these words. He did not like, or trust, Linus.
“We certainly are,” he thought to himself . “We certainly are.”

The Trapper

A Tale from The Squid and Teapot

Squid and Teapot also by Martin Pearson

“Hey fella. What’s this critter called?”
Linus Pinfarthing stopped in his tracks and turned around slowly. Only one quizzically raised, and somewhat affronted, eyebrow betrayed his annoyance.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said what’s this critter called. Ain’t seen nothin’ like these things before.”
The newcomer, who was dressed in furs and buckskin, was holding up a cage in which an angry spoonwalker tottered around helplessly.
“That sir is a spoonwalker. How did he get to be in there?”
If the other man noticed the ice in Linus’ voice, he chose to ignore it.
“Well, I lured him there. Got me a few more, back in the cave.”
“Indeed? And you are…?”
“Zeke Tyndale, trapper and fur trader. Please to meet you mister.”
Tyndale offered his free hand which Linus reluctantly grasped. He held it for a few seconds, as if deciding whether to shake or no.
For reasons he could not explain, Tyndale shuddered, feeling as if his soul was being laid bare. Then Linus smiled, shook the proffered hand warmly, and said,
“Linus Pinfarthing at your service, sir. My dear fellow, I would love to see the rest of your collection.”
“Happy to,” said Tyndale. “Follow me.”

As the two men walked, Tyndale surprised himself by blurting out his life story to his new companion. He told how he had been a successful trapper, and had plied his trade right across the continent. Upon a whim he decided to try his luck in the far north-east, where, he was assured, he would find plenty of pelts, just waiting to be caught. Unfortunately, his small boat had run aground upon the rocks around Hopeless. Being a practical man, he had set up camp and decided to see if there was any game worth trapping on the island.
“Lucky I’ve still got all my traps and snares,” he confided, “but I ain’t seen nothin’ worth skinnin’ yet, ‘cept some things that look like cats…”
“That would be Dust Cats. You would do well to avoid them,” said Linus gravely. “Besides which, you would never catch one.”
“That sounds like a challenge to me,” laughed Tyndale.

The trapper’s camp was surprisingly orderly, all things considered. He had salvaged the contents of his boat and stacked them neatly against a rock, covering everything with a badly stained tarpaulin. A circular fire-pit sat in front of the mouth of the small cave, which currently served as Tyndale’s temporary abode.
“Home sweet home,” he said, gesturing for Linus to sit on a nearby rock. “Coffee?”
“No thank you,” said Linus, ignoring the invitation to sit. “I am most keen, however, to see your little collection of spoonwalkers.”
Tyndale beamed, happy to display his prowess as a trapper, and strode into the cave, beckoning for Linus to follow.

The cave was small, barely half-a-dozen paces from side to side, and illuminated by the glow of a single hurricane lamp. Tyndale’s bedding lay in an untidy heap.
He carried the cage, and its irate occupant, over to the far corner, where Linus could see, in the dim light, several similar traps, each holding a dejected spoonwalker.

“These critters are goin’ to make my fortune,” declared the trapper proudly. “When I get off this island, I’ll take them to New York. Folks there have never seen nothin’ like these. They’ll give me a blank cheque to get their hands on them. Then no more trappin’ for me. I’m going to be a millionaire!”
“And how do the spoonwalkers feel about this?” asked Linus.
“Why, they’ll be fine and dandy about it, I reckon,” Tyndale guffawed.
Linus sighed.
“Do you know, Mr Tyndale…”
“Call me Zeke.”
“… Mr Tyndale, there are few things more disgusting to me than to see a creature – even creatures such as these – caged for the pleasure and greed of thoughtless humans.”
“Well, that’s as maybe, Mr Pinfarthin’,” said Tyndale brusquely, “but trappin’ is my trade and what I can’t skin I’ll damn’ well sell… and believe me, these little guys will sell on the mainland, no problem.”
“I think not, Mr Tyndale. Maybe you should be caged instead. Or would you prefer to be skinned?”
Linus unlatched the cages and watched the spoonwalkers scuttle away on their cutlery stilts.
“Now you look here, young fella…”
“Young fellow? No, you look, Mr Tyndale…”
Suddenly, the light of the hurricane lamp was dimmed as the cave filled with a swirling, smoke-like dark mist, which seemed to emanate from the body of Linus Pinfarthing. His form was changing, and the affable young man who had walked into the cave had lost all substance. Tyndale cringed as the space was filled with nightmare visions of blood and sacrifice, through which he occasionally glimpsed animal and bird forms. Then, as swiftly as the mist had formed, it dispelled. Pinfarthing was gone. The trapper stood up, wondering what had happened, convinced he had been hallucinating.
Then he saw the hare.
It was sitting in the mouth of the cave, motionless, and looking straight at him. Now, here was a meal and a pelt he could not refuse.
Stealthily, he unhitched his hunting knife from its sheath, never taking his eyes from the hare. Just one throw is all that it would take…
“I gave you a chance,” said the Hare in a voice as deep and dark as the earth itself. “I gave you the opportunity to change your ways.”
Then the hare stretched and grew, and with growing, altered his shape into that of a coyote.
“Do you not know me, even now?” asked Coyote, shaking himself.
By now Tyndale was on his knees, trembling, as he watched Coyote turn black, and shrink once more, growing the feathers and wings of a great raven that tossed its head, and held the orb of the sun within its beak. It was a light that grew in intensity, almost blinding the trapper. Then, in the fierce unearthly glow, it seemed that all three beasts were there before him.
“Fear us now,” chorused the voices of Hare, Coyote and Raven. “We are The Trickster. We are The Guizer. We are The Eldest. We are The First and The Last.”
Tyndale screamed and squeezed his eyes tightly shut, hoping the three would be gone when he opened them again. Seconds passed like hours, or maybe they were hours.
Squatting on the floor of the cave, gibbering and shuddering, he heard the ominous rustle of wings, the padding of light feet on stone and the distant howl of a prairie wolf. He knew that there were no wolves on this island. What was happening to him? Tyndale opened his eyes once more. He was alone, and all of his world, and everything he would ever again know, was held within the cave.

“It’s beyond even my knowledge,” said Doc Willoughby, modestly. “I have never seen anything like this.”
Linus Pinfarthing looked on sympathetically.
“The poor fellow must have suffered some great trauma,” he opined. “You could almost believe he was somehow caged inside himself.”
“Yes, I agree,” said the Doc, nodding. “You may have something there, Linus.”
No one knew exactly how long the wretched figure had been sitting, rocking and whispering to himself in that cave. It was fortunate that Linus had happened upon him a few days earlier. They had tried to leave food and drink, but he appeared to want neither. He was existing on nothing but air, it seemed.

Zeke Tyndale looked through the bars of his cage and saw the thousands of creatures that he had trapped and slaughtered in his lifetime. They clamoured to break the bars down, to drag him away and rip him to pieces. He wished that they would, for death would be a welcome respite. However, Hare, Coyote and Raven, who guarded him day and night, had other plans. He knew that it was their intention that he would live, trapped in this cage for as long as it pleased them, and that would be a long, long time.

Linus Pinfathing

Squid and Teapot by Bish.

Regular readers may recall, in the tale ‘The Lord of Misrule’, how a quite violent, and uncharacteristic, bar-fight erupted in The Squid and Teapot on New-Year’s Eve. No one could say exactly who started it, although Bartholomew Middlestreet, the landlord of the inn, vaguely remembered an elegant stranger whispering in the ear of young Ambrose Pinfarthing, just moments before the evening descended into chaos.
The incident was never referred to again, and many of those who were there actually began to doubt that it had ever happened. As for the stranger, only Bartholomew noticed his presence, and all memory of his shape and form left with him, like his shadow, as he slipped away into the darkness.

It was some months after the affray in The Squid that Linus Pinfarthing moved into the family home on Refinery Road. There had been Pinfathings on Hopeless for four generations and, as far as anyone was aware, they had all lived in the same cottage since coming to the island. While most of us would baulk at the concept of a total stranger insinuating himself into our home, strangely enough, no one in the family showed any surprise, although, none could recollect having seen him before. It was as if he had come from nowhere, and cast some sort of glamour over them. Indeed, the same could be said for the rest of the islanders, for to all intents and purposes, before many days had elapsed, the general opinion on Hopeless was that Cousin Linus had always been a presence in the Pinfathing’s household. Unlike the rest of the clan he was noted for his good-looks, charm, wit and affability. Everyone liked Linus – men admired him and women either wanted to marry him or mother him, and sometimes both. He was popularity personified. Even Doc Willoughby and Reverend Davies smiled indulgently at the mention of his name.
Bartholomew Middlestreet was alone in having reservations about Linus, although he never voiced them. For some nagging reason that he could not identify, he felt that there was something not quite right or wholesome about the young man.

“Miss Toadsmoor, what a pleasure to bump into you this morning. I do hope that you are well.”
Linus swept off his fedora, and made a deep, theatrical bow, bending at the knee and throwing his arms wide.
Marjorie Toadsmoor blushed to feel her heart suddenly race. She was, or had been, a Victorian lady of the upper-middle classes. Since being on Hopeless she had all but forgotten about courtly manners, but in Linus’s company the starchy etiquette that had informed her upbringing came flooding back. Controlling her emotions, she curtsied primly and smiled.
“Good morning Mr Pinfarthing. I am very well, thank you.”
Linus looked up at the sky, heavy with fog.
“I think it is going to be a fine and sunny day. Would you do me the honour of joining me for a picnic luncheon later?”
This was all very sudden, and the chances of the day being anything but foggy seemed remote. Despite this, she heard herself saying,
“Why certainly, Mr Pinfathing, but on the condition that I bring a chaperone. It would not be proper otherwise.”
“Naturally,” agreed Linus with a smile. “I will call for you at the Pallid Rock Orphanage at noon precisely, and provide the picnic.”
Still blushing, and not a little confused, Marjorie made her way to The Squid and Teapot, in the hope that Philomena Bucket would agree to be her chaperone.

“If he thinks that there’s going to be clear skies and sunshine,” said Philomena, as they sat waiting in the hallway. “He’s more of a fool than any of us took him for.”
Philomena was slightly put out that Mr Pinfathing had set his cap at Marjorie, who was no more than a slip of a girl, rather than at herself. However, she was not one to hold grudges and – after all – no one could be cross with Linus Pinfarthing for very long.
The clock in the hall chimed the hour and, as if on a signal, there came a sharp rap on the front door.
“It’s him, it’s him,” gasped Marjorie. “Oh, Philomena, what shall I do?”
“You’ll go out… we’ll go out, and we will eat his food, as you agreed,” said Philomena. “It is that simple.”
“Yes, but what if…”
There was another knock on the door. Philomena pulled it open before Marjorie changed her mind.
Suddenly, the hallway was bright with a shaft of honeyed sunlight. The two women stood blinking; they had both become unaccustomed to anything resembling good weather.
“Good day, and yes, it certainly is a good day, as I did indeed forecast. Come – I think that the lower slopes of the Gydynap hills will be a splendid place for us to picnic.”
Without more ado, the young man ushered Marjorie and Philomena through the empty, sunny streets and out towards the hills. Neither of the two women thought that it was at all strange for Hopeless to be deserted in the middle of such a phenomenally fine day. In fact, they didn’t think anything at all, for they were with Linus and that was enough.
It was not a long walk to the hills and it seemed the most natural thing in the world that their picnic was already set out when they arrived. There was a spacious tartan blanket laid out on the lush grass and a small table, heavy with a rich array of food and drink, the like of which neither woman had seen since coming to the island. The hills seemed alive with birdsong and the humming of bees as they gathered nectar from a scattered carpet of harebells, thrift, cornflowers and orchids.
Something kept telling Philomena that this was all wrong; none of this ever happened on Hopeless, but the thought refused to stay in her head. Instead, she downed another glass of sweet cider and munched happily on delicate white-bread sandwiches and soft, delicious honey-cakes. Marjorie and Linus were laughing and sharing food and drink, as lovers do.
“I’m glad that they’re happy,” thought Philomena, sleepily, as her eyes grew too heavy to stay open in the afternoon sunshine.

“Philomena, wake up,” pleaded Marjorie.
“I’m awake, and I wish I wasn’t,” came the reply. “What’s going on? Where are we?”
“I don’t know,” wailed Marjorie. “I can’t remember anything. Oh, I am so cold…”
A thick night-fog lay all around, blanketing all but the closest objects, and the dampness of the rough grass was enough to chill their bones.
“By the feel of the grass, I’d guess we’re on the Gydynaps. How the devil did we…?”
Before Philomena could finish her sentence, a blood-curdling howl rent the silence of the night.
Marjorie stifled a scream, but Philomena silently motioned for her to keep very still and quiet, as the rustle of someone or something moving stealthily in their direction caught her ears. Then their noses were assailed by a noxious smell, foul and unmistakeable.
“Rhys, we’re over here,” Philomena cried with relief, only caring now that the Night-Soil Man would hear her.
“Keep it down,” Rhys Cranham hissed as he emerged from the gloom.
“It isn’t safe out here at night. I don’t know what you’re doing, but you need to be gone. Drury found you. He is over there. Follow him. I’ll cover your backs.”
Gratefully the two struggled to their feet and went towards the spot where they could hear Drury, snuffling and rattling happily in the bushes.
“Are you going to be alright, Mr Cranham?” asked Marjorie concernedly, almost gagging through a hand that covered her mouth and clamped her nostrils together.
“I’ll be fine. There’s not much that can stand to be around the stench of a Night-Soil Man. Now go.”

“And you have no idea how or why you got there? You were gone for hours.”
Bartholomew Middlestreet, along with most of the patrons of The Squid and Teapot, had been searching frantically, once it was known that Philomena and Marjorie were missing.
The two shook their heads.
“If it hadn’t been for Rhys and Drury we’d still be out there,” said Philomena. “I dread to think what might have happened.”
“You gave us all a scare,” drawled a soft, educated voice from the corner of the room. “But at least you are both safe now. The hue and cry is over, so I’m to my bed. Good night all.”
“Goodnight Linus, it was good of you to help,” said Ariadne Middlestreet.
Bartholomew said nothing, but looked hard at the elegant figure, slipping through the doorway and into the night, and wondered why he did not trust Linus Pinfarthing.