Category Archives: Hopeless Tales

story, poetry, rumour and gossip

Demons and Monsters

The island of Hopeless, Maine has more than its fair share of unusual life-forms. While you might find a certain amount of pleasure in spotting a gentle flock of Gnii, weaving through the night sky, there is little joy to be derived from an encounter with most of the island’s other fauna, or indeed, flora. Not all of the more exotic entities mentioned in the Tales from the Squid and Teapot, however, are indigenous to Hopeless. Indeed, over the years the tales have revealed a surprising amount of creatures, generally believed to exist only in mythology and folklore, to have found their way to the island. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to revisit a few.

Tucked away, high on a shelf behind the bar of The Squid and Teapot, Bartholomew Middlestreet keeps an old, leather-bound journal detailing the visits of these demons and monsters. These accounts have obviously been recorded by several different hands, the years having faded some of the ink to sepia. Fortunately there are plenty of blank pages left for any new arrival to be noted, for the island seems to be a draw for the various weird, but not-particularly wonderful, denizens of earth, sea and sky. Bartholomew has mentioned on several occasions that is a great pity that the journal, unlike the tales, does not benefit from the splendid illustrations supplied by Mr Tom Brown and Mr Clifford Cumber.

Aboo-dom-k’n
Sir Fromebridge Whitminster was eaten by a juvenile aboo-dom-k’n, as was mentioned in his Obituary, and more recently, in the tale The Man in Grey.
Aboo-dom-k’n, also known as Apotamkin, features in the legends of the Maliseet and Passamaquoddy people. It is generally described as being a giant fanged sea-serpent with long red hair, given to lurking in the Passamaquoddy Bay, with the intention of dragging the unwary into the water and eating them.

Manchachicoj
In the tale ‘The Stowaway’ a strange, hideous half-blood demon is brought to the island from Buenos Aires, on a ship called the Annie C Maguire. Manchachicoj hails from the Northwest region of Argentina and was described as being small and deformed, but also seductive, elegant and romantic, which probably explains how he was able to mate with various mermaids and produce some extremely ugly progeny. Manchachicoj’s escape from the Annie C Maguire caused her to capsize when she struck the ledge at Portland Head Light, on Christmas Eve 1886. If you don’t believe me, look it up!

Pamola
According to the Penobscot people, Pamola is a bird-spirit who inhabits Katahdin, the tallest Mountain in Maine, and is apparently responsible for making cold weather.
He is usually described as having the head of a moose, the body of a man and the wings and feet of an eagle.
In the tale that bears his name, Pamola takes the simpler form of a huge bird of prey, having previously been created from bits of vegetables cooked up in an ancient Welsh cauldron, as told in the tale The Unquiet Gravy.

Buer
Buer is a most fearsome-looking demon. He has no body, as such, but has a lion’s head, from which radiate five hairy goat legs, which give him the ability to move in all directions. He features in the tale Bog Oak and Brass, where you will find a wonderful, not to say terrifying, depiction of him. He also makes a brief guest appearance towards the end of Baking Bad.
In the 16th century grimoire, Pseudomonarchia Daemonum (which means the False Monarchy of Demons), Buer is described as a Great President of Hell, with fifty legions of demons under his command. He usually appears when the sun is in Sagittarius. Editions of this book are still available to purchase, both in paperback and hardback, should you be interested!

Selkie
While neither demons nor monsters, at least as far as I am aware, seal, or selkie, folk are certainly as strange as any that you might wish to find. Originating in the folklore of the Northern Isles of Scotland, the Faroes and Iceland, the diaspora of the inhabitants of those islands took their legends across the Atlantic with them, rendering the coast of Maine rich with stories of the seal people. The most common theme is that of a man taking, and eventually losing, a seal wife for whom the lure of the sea is too great to ignore.
In the early Tales of the Squid and Teapot, we meet with the eponymous Betty Butterow, who learns, at the age of fifteen, of her selkie heritage. Betty features in many later tales, and a prequel, called People from the Sea, hints at her origins.

The Wendigo
A malevolent, flesh-eating spirit found in the folklore of the First Nations, the Wendigo found its way to Hopeless, Maine following the Passamaquoddy trader, Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs. In the tale, simply entitled The W-ndigo, young Randall Middlestreet, the most famous Night-Soil Man (due to the fact that, to date, he is the only one to retire and raise a family) finds himself promoted from his role as an apprentice in a most bloodthirsty and traumatic manner. The W-ndigo has been described as resembling a gaunt skeleton, recently disinterred from the grave, and giving off the odour of death and corruption. The illustration accompanying the tale is the stuff of nightmares. (Also, it is best not to name them so as not to draw their attention)

Kraken
A huge creature of cephalopod-like appearance, the Kraken first appears in Scandinavian legends as a sea-monster lurking in the waters off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. Stories of the Kraken travelled across the North Atlantic with the Vikings, and later sailors from the Nordic countries. We first catch sight of this awesome creature in the less-than-likely setting of a cricket match. Unsurprisingly, the tale is called Cricket!

The Man in Grey

Since being relocated to The Squid and Teapot, via his hat, the ghost of Father Ignatius Stamage had been a model of discretion. Any who were not aware of his presence would regard the fleeting shadow, which they might catch out of the corner of their eye, as no more than a trick of the light. It was an arrangement that suited all concerned.
Bartholomew Middlestreet, the inn’s landlord, smiled wryly to himself as he contemplated how his old friend, the late lamented actor/manager, Sir Fromebridge Whitminster, might have conducted himself, had he been haunting the place; he had not been renowned for his discretion. Bartholomew imagined that the ghost of Sir Fromebridge would be no less louche or raffish than he had been in life. It was a pity that the old boy had been taken from them by the sea monster, aboo-dom-k’n; he had certainly added some colour to Hopeless.
It was while entertaining these thoughts that it occurred to Bartholomew that there were some odds and ends of Sir Fromebridge’s property stored away in one of the attics. Could his wraith be invoked to haunt his favourite scarf? Would he be able to, after so many years? More to the point, should The Squid be host to any more ghosts?
Not wishing to make this decision on his own, Bartholomew decided to ask the opinion of his wife, Ariadne, who generally had the last word in most matters.
“Shouldn’t you ask him if he wants to haunt The Squid?” she enquired.
“And how do we do that?” asked Bartholomew, perplexed.
Philomena Bucket, who could not help but overhear the conversation, volunteered, with some hesitancy,
“Well, I’ll have a go. I have a little bit of experience in those matters. I used to help me old granny when she did her séances back in Dublin. She was always convinced that I had ‘The Sight’, but I’m not so sure.”
“You will never stop surprising me,” said Ariadne, warming to the possibility of attending a séance. “What do we need to make it happen?”
“Not much,” replied Philomena. “Just an open mind, I suppose.”

The following night, after the inn had closed, Bartholomew, Ariadne, Philomena and Norbert Gannicox sat holding hands in candlelight around a circular table; in its centre sat coiled an extremely long and colourful scarf.
If the others had expected to see Philomena displaying the histrionics generally associated with conjuring the spirits of the dead, they were disappointed.
She asked, in calm and unhurried tones,
“Are you with us, Sir Fromebridge Whitminster?”
There was a minute of silence, then the sound of something being knocked over.
“Blast!” said a disembodied voice, “Who put that there.”
“Is that you, Sir Fromebridge?” asked Philomnena, hardly daring to believe that she had succeeded so easily.
“Yes, yes, hold on a mo, m’dear, I’ll soon be with you.”
The room grew suddenly colder. Then, close to Philomena’s shoulder, a form started to materialise. The apparition before them was not sporting the expected floppy fedora, scarf and greatcoat, but was instead clad, from head to foot, in an immaculate grey costume. He wore a tricorn hat, a powdered wig, a long riding cloak and riding boots.
“It’s not him,” hissed Bartholomew.
“Oh, I can assure you it is indeed I, Bartholomew dear boy. How good it is to see you again.”
In the dim light it was difficult to see the ghost’s features, but the voice was unmistakably that of Fromebridge Whitminster.
The ghost made a deep, theatrical bow.
“Now, what may I do for you, dear friends?”
“Um… we wondered if you’d fancy haunting The Squid and Teapot?” blurted Philomena.
The ghost made another bow, even more theatrical this time.
“My dear young lady, I would be delighted to… especially with such charming company as your good self and Mrs Middlestreet. Unfortunately, however, it is beyond my power. I am somewhat otherwise engaged. I have to honour what one might call a Faustian Pact.”
Sir Fromebridge went on to tell them that he had once made a bargain, with some mysterious Mephistophelean entity, to guarantee a further twenty years of life.
“You see,” he said, “when that sea monster took me, it was my time. My extra twenty years were up. The beast was just an instrument of destiny.”
Ariadne looked aghast.
“But what do you have to do in return?” she asked worriedly.
“Oh, nothing too arduous, I can assure you. I have taken over the role of ‘The Man in Grey’, resident spook at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, one of my old stamping grounds, as it happens. The other chap, my predecessor, had been haunting the upper circle for years and was overdue for a break. It’s not all bad; at least I get to see a few plays… although, these days some of the language can be appalling…”
“Yes,” said Bartholomew, “But don’t you get any time off?”
“Sorry, dear chap, I’m booked there for the next century or so, evening performances and matinées. Still, mustn’t grumble, and the get-up is pretty natty, what?”
They all had to agree that the eighteenth century look did, indeed, suit Sir Fromebridge.
“Anyway, must dash,” he said as his apparition gradually faded. “Lovely to see you all, and if you’re ever in London, do drop in.”
Those last words were so faint as to be almost inaudible, but it was an emotional moment, even for Philomena, who had never met the man in the flesh.

“Well, that’s that, I suppose,” said Norbert.
“It’s a pity, “ said Bartholomew, “but I guess we’ve enough ghosts without inviting any more in.”
“He seemed like a nice fellah, though,” said Philomena.
“He was,” agreed Norbert. “One of the best, though inclined to be accident-prone.”
“Maybe we could name something in his honour.” said Bartholomew. “How about that little cobbled street by the shore, where he met his end? We could call it Sir Fromebridge Whitminster Lane.”
“That’s a bit of a mouthful,” said Ariadne. “How about just calling it ‘Drury Lane’?”
In the corner of the room a pile of bones rattled to its feet, shook itself and wagged its bony tail.
Drury definitely approved of the idea.

Author’s note: The Man in Grey has been seen on many occasions in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. He always sits in the same seat in the Upper Circle, on the end of the fourth row. Afterwards he strides along the walkway behind the seats, then, upon reaching a particular spot by the Royal Box, fades away.
His presence at a matinée performance or a rehearsal is generally considered to be a good omen.

A Hopeless Afterlife

To say that the manner of his death had come as a bit of a shock to Father Ignatius Stamage would be an understatement. He had always been led to believe that ghosts were no more than harmless disembodied spirits, loitering in purgatory. He certainly did not expect Obadiah Hyde, the phantom Mad Parson of Chapel Rock, to crush his skull with a lump of stone. In fact, the whole business of death had turned out to be something of a disappointment. Following his unfortunate demise, Father Stamage had waited patiently for the expected triumphant ascent into the celestial realms. A month went by and nothing happened. Whatever could be causing such a delay? He didn’t think that heaven would be subject to bureaucratic slip-ups, but something was definitely not right.

Obadiah Hyde, meanwhile, had gone into a sulk, resentful of having to share his space with another ghost; worse still, one with no apparent fear of his ranting and raving. To add insult to injury, the rival ghost was that of a Catholic priest, a breed whose very existence was anathema to the old puritan. In protest, and much to the relief of Father Stamage, the Mad Parson disappeared huffily into the chapel ruins and refused to come out.

The priest watched impassively as a small band of men wrapped his remains up in an old sheet and carried them down the hill. He was not particularly sorry to see his corpse go. The passage of time, not to mention the attention of the ravens who lived in the ruins of the old chapel, had done nothing to improve its look. Even Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, had paled visibly when he discovered the body. Only old Drury, the skeletal hound, seemed to be unaffected by the sight, wagging his tail, giving the cadaver a thorough sniff-over and raising a hind leg to mark the spot (which, of course, he didn’t, but you cannot blame him for trying).

In the days that followed the discovery of the corpse, Drury became a frequent visitor to Chapel Rock. Despite himself, Father Stamage grew quite fond of him. The days when he believed Drury to be a demon from the lowest depths of Hell were long past, and now the priest recognised him for what he was; no more than a lovable old rogue who refused to acknowledge that he was dead. Briefly, Stamage wished that he had done the same thing, but on reflection realised that a skeletal priest wandering around might not be as warmly regarded as a mischievous dog.

There was only one cottage on the Night-Soil Man’s round that necessitated his walking past Chapel Rock. The output of its residents was such that Rhys only needed to visit every few weeks, and so a month or more passed, following the discovery of the body, before they needed his services again.
Rhys was surprised to see Drury, snuffling among the rocks, wagging his tail and generally acting as though he was there with a friend. Thinking that it might be Philomena Bucket out on one of her ill-advised adventures, he wandered over to where the dog was standing. It took him a moment to see the darkly-clad apparition of the priest flickering silently amid the rocks. Rhys had no fear of ghosts, except Obadiah Hyde, who scared everyone. Indeed, he enjoyed the company of those who chose to speak to him, for the existence of a Night-Soil man is a lonely one, on account of the constant nauseous reek that surrounds him. Happily, ghosts have no problem with such human concerns.
Father Stamage too was glad of someone to talk to, for although Drury was a pleasant companion, his conversation was limited to a series of barks, woofs and yaps.
As if there was nothing remotely strange about a man and a ghost chatting amiably, it was not long before the pair became friends and the priest told Rhys of the chase to retrieve his hat from Drury, and the fatal encounter with Obadiah Hyde.
The Night-Soil Man made a point of visiting whenever he could. It was pleasant to be able to go to Chapel Rock and not be terrorized by the Mad Parson, who still refused to come out while Father Stamage was haunting the place. Rhys, however, soon realised that his ghostly friend was far from happy.
“I became a priest to serve a community,” Stamage had told him. “In life I wanted nothing more than to be among people.”
Rhys pondered these words, and recalled that Marjorie Toadsmoor had expressed very much the same thing, needing to be among the living. Rhys wondered if he could help, as he had with Miss Toadsmoor, transporting her to the orphanage in a Marjorie-sized granite monolith.
“Where would you choose to be?” he asked. “Back at the orphanage?”
“I think not,” said the priest, sadly. “My brief sojourn there was not a particularly happy one. I’m dead Rhys and I want to be surrounded by good cheer, something to remind me of life.”
“I know the very place,” said the Night-Soil Man, “but how I can get a big lump of rock there for you to haunt might be a problem. It’s a shame that you have no possessions left; that often works. I’ve known of ghosts who have managed to reside in something as small as their pocket watch.”
Just then, as if on cue, Drury appeared with a shapeless and much-weathered piece of felt in his mouth.
“My hat!” exclaimed the priest. “I wondered where it had gone.”
He regarded Rhys with eerie green light in his eyes.
“Do you think… “ he began,
“There’s only one way to find out,” replied Rhys.

Philomena Bucket found the hat hanging on the front door of The Squid and Teapot, with an explanatory note attached to it, penned in the familiar scrawl of Rhys Cranham. Much as Philomena disapproved of clergymen of any persuasion, she could not bear to think of anyone sharing eternity with Obadiah Hyde.
Bartholomew Middlestreet, the landlord of the inn, placed the remains of Father Stamage’s hat safely in a box, and stored it in one of the attic rooms.
“As long as he doesn’t drive away my customers, I’m happy for him to haunt The Squid,” he said generously. “He’ll be able to keep Lady Margaret company. She’s got a few hundred years of confessions to offload, so that should keep them occupied for a while.”
Lady Margaret had once revealed to Philomena some of the more salacious details of her short, but somewhat scandalous, life. The barmaid grinned to herself. She hoped that Stamage didn’t blush too easily.

The Exorcist

The ghostly form of Miss Calder looked at the equally ghostly form of her colleague at the Pallid Rock Orphanage, Miss Toadsmoor, and said, resignedly,
“Father Stamage is convinced that you are currently in purgatory, waiting to be despatched to Heaven or Hell. I suppose that he means well, but for goodness’ sake!”
Despite the best efforts of Reverend Davies, it was inevitable that the presence of some of the ghosts on the island of Hopeless, Maine would come, eventually, to the notice of Father Stamage, the orphanage’s newest member of staff.
In the event, and to everyone’s surprise, the priest was fairly sanguine about the whole subject, happily accepting that any wraiths that he might come across were of the purgatorial variety, awaiting further orders, as it were.
Reverend Davies did nothing to disabuse him of this point of view; as long as the priest believed the ghosts to be no more than harmless loiterers in the afterlife’s waiting room, then they would be left alone. While this seriously impeded Marjorie Toadsmoor’s teaching schedule, it was a small price to pay while the Reverend and Miss Calder, who managed to conceal her spectral identity in the Stygian gloom of her office, looked for a solution to their problem.

While Father Stamage may have accepted the presence of ghosts, demons were another matter altogether. Demons, in his view, have to be exorcised, and returned to The Pit from whence they came, whatever the cost, and exorcising demons was something he knew all about.
Hopeless has more than its fair share of these terrifying creatures but, by and large, they tend to avoid the limelight, being very recognisable, unless they are adopting a human disguise. The very sight of a demon in its true shape would freeze the blood of most people. Huge and nightmarish, they stalk their prey with razor sharp claws, dripping fangs, glaring eyes and writhing tentacles. I am happy to report that the priest’s blood remained at a steady ninety-eight and a half degrees Fahrenheit, for never in his life did he cross paths with such a being, although he was convinced that he encountered several. There are, however, real demons and there are perceived demons, and any newcomer to the island could be forgiven for believing that some of the strange creatures who inhabit Hopeless to be nothing less than demonic.

Drury, the skeletal dog was having a typical Drury type of day. This included a certain amount of mooching about, sniffing anything remotely perpendicular, fruitlessly chasing crows and raiding the occasional washing line. Bored, he ambled idly over to The Squid and Teapot hoping to catch sight of Philomena Bucket, but today she appeared to be otherwise engaged. He was just lifting a bony hind leg – albeit pointlessly – against the wall of the inn, when Father Stamage rounded the corner and almost fell over him, losing his hat in the process.
Immediately convinced that he was in the presence of a demon, for what else could this hideous and osseous monstrosity be, the priest instinctively embarked upon performing an exorcism. This is what he had been trained to do and the words sprang to his lips as though they had been lingering somewhere around the area of his tonsils, patiently waiting for a chance to escape. Drury, meanwhile, not best pleased at being stumbled over and shouted at in Latin, gave Stamage an angry stare, or as near to that as a skull can manage, and scampered off with the man’s hat clenched firmly between his jaws.
The exorcism was quickly abandoned and, as the priest gave chase, Latin was exchanged for some choice, if unbecoming, oaths in both Anglo-Saxon and Gaelic. Demon or not, Ignatius Stamage was determined to get his favourite hat back.

If there is one thing that Drury enjoys more than stealing washing, it is a game of chase, and this new playmate was very adept at it. The dog could forgive the bad start to their relationship, for this was as good a game as any he’d had in a long time. They had been running around the island for almost an hour and Father Stamage was becoming increasingly uneasy. Night was drawing in and Reverend Davies had specifically warned him not to wander too far afield during the hours of darkness. The Reverend had been vague as to why that should be, and, until now, the priest had supposed it was no more than a worry that anyone unfamiliar with the island could stumble over a cliff, or something of that sort. Now, however, with mysterious eyes floating in the sky, tentacled arms reaching from hollows, spoonwalkers tottering along on cutlery stilts, and dustcats scuttling through the air before him, brushing his clothes with their long suckered tongues, he guessed there may have been a reason for the Reverend’s caution.
“This place is positively teeming with demons,” he thought to himself. “I can see that I’m going to have my work cut out here.”

Drury, at last, grew tired of the game and, high on a rock where a ruined chapel stood, he dropped the hat and disappeared into the gloom, dashing off to find his good friend Rhys Cranham, the Night Soil Man.
“At least he’s gone,” Father Stamage thought to himself with relief, picking up his hat. “Is that the remains of a chapel I can see there? Maybe, with a little help, I can rebuild it and…”
Just then, screaming out of nowhere, came the angry wraith of Obadiah Hyde, the Mad Parson of Chapel Rock. A fierce puritan, both in life and death, he gave the priest the full benefit of his wrath, denouncing all papists as heretics, and probably adulterers as well. It was Hyde’s habit to do this, taking any hapless trespasser off-guard and, more often than not, watch them plunge to a watery doom, more than a hundred feet below. To his credit, though taken aback, Father Stamage stood his ground, confident in the knowledge that the ghost was harmless, no more than a noisy apparition let loose from purgatory.
While the priest may have been correct in his understanding of the nature of ghosts in general, he had little knowledge pertaining to the ones who haunt Hopeless. On this strangest of islands there is a marked failure to acknowledge the natural and occult laws that govern more conventional places. It came, therefore, as something of a surprise to Stamage when Obadiah Hyde picked up a rock the size of a man’s fist, and dashed it against his head. The priest staggered and fell awkwardly, lying for a while, dazed and not knowing where he was. Then, once the pain had subsided, he sat up. Hyde was still there, but somehow, something had changed.
“Hah, you didn’t expect me to get up from that one, did you?” said the priest, somewhat triumphantly getting to his feet.
“You didn’t,” said Hyde, his voice trembling with rage.
Father Stamage looked down to the floor, following the parson’s gaze. Lying beneath him he saw a crumpled body with a crushed skull, quietly bleeding over the stony ground.
“I really wish you hadn’t done that,” he said miserably. “It looks as though we’re stuck with each other now.”

A School for Scoundrels

Father Ignatius Stamage was Hopeless, Maine’s latest arrival. He had not been on the island for more than half a day when he felt compelled to offer his services to Reverend Davies, who was desperately seeking help in finding a replacement teacher at the Pallid Rock Orphanage, following the recent demise of Miss Marjorie Toadsmoor.
Although Reverend Davies was at first worried that the Catholic priest and he might have a few irreconcilable theological differences of opinion, he suddenly remembered that he did not really hold any theological opinions that were worth falling out over. With all thoughts of ecumenical harmony safely restored, he happily welcomed Father Stamage into the classroom, with the indifferent air of a herpetoculturist casually dropping a live mouse into a vivarium.

It was generally agreed among the orphans that the best thing about their classroom was the elderly blackboard, perched upon a rickety old easel, that had dominated the room for years. A blackboard without chalk is, of course, of little use, but luckily the orphanage enjoyed a seemingly endless supply of the stuff, following the mysterious arrival of a deserted French merchant ship, some years earlier. The ship’s hold had been full of chalk, and nothing else, much to the dismay of those undertaking the salvaging. Not unreasonably, they assumed that a French merchant ship might be carrying brandy, perfume or even risqué underwear, but not boring old chalk. Why would they have thought otherwise? The fact of France being Europe’s premier chalk exporting country had never featured greatly in the talk bandied around the bar of The Squid and Teapot.
But, I digress…
The combination of blackboard, plus chalk provided endless opportunities for the orphans to express a breadth of creativity barely suspected by the adults. Caricatures of Reverend Davies and Doc Willoughby were a regular feature, along with a variety of unflattering anatomical diagrams and accompanying verses that would have made a matelot blush. These were all executed with the perpetrator safe in the knowledge that the damning evidence could be quickly and permanently erased with the wipe of a duster, should anyone in authority suddenly draw near.
Today, however, the class sat in angelic silence as the slight, but commanding figure of Father Stamage strode into the room. Without a word, and in the time-honoured tradition of new teachers introducing themselves, he wrote his name in large capitals on the blackboard.
FATHER STAMAGE
“Good morning children, I am Father Stamage…” he began.
“Is that like Father Christmas?” asked a small, piping voice.
Stamage laughed mirthlessly.
“Ha ha.. no I am a priest, father of my flock… of you, so to speak.”
“Well, you’re not my dad. My dad was eaten by something nasty.”
“And mine.”
“Mine was too. I think it had tentacles.”
A chorus of agreement that Father Stamage was certainly not one of their dead parents filled the classroom.
Stamage held up his hands, as if in surrender.
“No, you don’t understand. Father is my title. I am a priest.”
“Like Reverend Davies?” one girl asked.
“Well… sort of,” Stamage conceded.
“So why aren’t you a Reverend too?”
Father Stamage knew that any explanation was going to involve a lengthy and time-consuming history lesson. That would have to be something for another day.
“It is complicated,” he said simply. “Let’s get to know each other first… so tell me your names.”
This seemed like safer territory. One by one the children recited their names.
When they had finished he said,
“Well, now I know your names, I’ll tell you mine. It is Ignatius.”
He wrote the name on the blackboard.
“That’s a funny name, sir.”
“It is unusual, I grant you,” agreed the priest, adding brightly, “I was named after Saint Ignatius, one of the co-founders of my religious order, the Jesuits.”
For an instant the room fell quiet, as if shocked into a silence, broken only when someone said,
“Miss Toadsmoor told us that the Jesuits were responsible for something nasty called The Inquisition, that they tortured and burned people…”
“Well, that’s not strictly fair… “ began Stamage defensively.
“Have you ever tortured and burned anyone, sir?”
“Can we watch when you do it again?”
“Ooh, yes sir. Say you’ll let us watch.”
“Please, sir. Please.”
“Will there be a party after?”
“I have never…” protested the priest, his voice noticeably sliding up an octave.
“I’ll bet it smells awful when you burn people, sir … though maybe it smells just like cooking. Does it smell like cooking, sir?”
“That’s enough, enough,” said Stamage, fighting to regain control. “We’ll talk no more about it. Now… who can recite their catechism?”
He knew it was a pointless question.

Father Stamage was slumped, exhausted, in a chair in Reverend Davies’ office.
“Who is this Miss Toadsmoor the children keeping speaking of?” he asked brusquely. “She sounds like a dangerous influence to me.”
“Marjorie Toadsmoor?” asked Reverend Davies, at once wary as to what might have been said. “I would never have called her dangerous, though she was a single-minded young lady, to be sure. Sadly she is no longer with us.”
“Hmm! A good thing too,” said Stamage, grumpily.

It always comes as something of a shock to newcomers to Hopeless that the place is riddled with all manner of ghosts, wraiths, apparitions, ghouls and poltergeists. Reverend Davies rightly assumed that Father Stamage would have to be introduced to this supernatural element of island society somewhat gently. As a result, Marjorie Toadsmoor, who had been happy to resume her duties despite having been killed some weeks earlier, had been advised to stay out of the way for a while. Not wishing to be the cause of any difficulty, she had retreated to the small granite monolith that Rhys Cranham, the Night Soil Man, had kindly deposited in the orphanage grounds for her to haunt. Similarly, the orphanage’s other ghost, Miss Calder, was keeping a low profile in her small, gloomy office, where she reminded herself regularly not to let her face go skeletal, should Father Stamage stop by. At The Squid and Teapot the flushing privy was always strangely out of order whenever the priest visited. It had been hundreds of years since its resident ghost, Lady Margaret D’Avening, had been to confession. At the first sight of a priest she would be certain to manifest and ask for absolution, and that could be disastrous, until such times as he had been fully integrated into island life. With these measures in place, all seemed to run smoothly for a while. Unfortunately, no one had told Drury…

(Image of Pallid Rock orphanage from the comics)

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.