Category Archives: Diswelcome

Diswelcome 5. HOSTILE FLORA

I was much relieved when the skyskiff made landfall on Hopeless. I understood that the crew needed to feed their families. If anyone was to blame for the barbarous slaughter I had witnessed, it was rich fools seeking to enhance their natural virility by means of make-believe magic, regardless of the tragic implications. Nonetheless, after having seen the crew unrestrained by any civility whatsoever, gleefully enjoying their brutal work even, I was eager to be rid of them.

“This hee-ah is Lowuh Hopeless, which you’ve been wantin’ to see so badly,” the skipper told me. “We’ll be back in seven days. We’ll wait an ho-uh at the most. In case you decide not to go native, and be wantin’ to retuh-n to the civilised wahld.”

Mewton? I restrained the grin that wanted to form on my face, but thanked him instead, trying to sound as sincere as I could.

The skyskiff had landed in what seemed the middle of a vast plain of mud, with tufts of sickly green vegetation dotted around. Vague shadows in the distance gave promise of higher, more solid ground, supporting far more vegetation.

The air was disconcerting. It was tense, like the sky at home before a thunderstorm, laden with ominous promise, daylight transformed into a weird, gloomy glow though still brighter than the sky here in Hopeless, which mostly resembled a discoloured twilight.

To my left, I could see people, tiny in the distance, crawling over the carcass of a wingless kyte, most likely the one we had hunted like ants scrambling over a juicy caterpillar. They were far away though, and I had my fill of dead and dying kytes for the day, so I opted to head for that promise of mainland up ahead. I could always intercept the inhabitants of Hopeless there, I reckoned, for surely those Hopeless folks would be heading that way too, to get back to wherever they lived.

There was another reason for my choice. Even though Ole Ted had said that a high tide was a rarity here, growing up along the Sussex coast had given me a very healthy respect for tidal movements. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to arrive at just such a rare moment that the tide did come in, and a child could see that a sudden surge of the sea in the middle of this muddy vastness could easily be lethal.  

Every step was a struggle, my boots sinking deep into the soggy underground, sometimes submerging altogether, leaving me knee-deep in the muck. Upon retraction, a foul decomposing smell would be released. The mud seemed to be toying with me, pulling and tugging me down, changing consistency, giving false impressions of shallow semi-solidity, only to then open up and inhale me into its suffocating depths.


Keep moving. Don’t stop moving.

Several times I had to retrace part of my path to more agreeable depths of mud, to seek a route less likely to see me drowned in mud.

I paid little heed to the wildlife, mostly small and buzzing, much as I would expect in any bog back home. I was alarmed several times, when I felt movement below the mud, something long and scaly briefly rubbing past my boots. Twice, fortunately at some distance, I saw thick limbs or tentacles emerge from bog pools for a brief instance, before silently slithering back beneath the surface. Once, I had to use my suitcase to swat something resembling a giant dragonfly, the length of a man’s leg, with rows of shark-like teeth between powerful jaws.

All in all though, my attention was focused on the need to keep on moving. It was disheartening to see that I barely seemed to be making progress towards that higher ground. At times it even seemed further away. My logic overrode the sense of panic at that. I recalled the low tide flats of Camber Sands at home, where your eyes play tricks on you regarding distance. Whether it appeared that way or not, I told myself, I am advancing, slowly but surely.

Battling the mud was exhausting, and at long last I gave in to the overwhelming urge to rest for a moment, just to catch my breath.

It didn’t take me long to begin to learn the mistake of this. A mere thirty seconds after coming to a halt, my skin crawled when I sensed movements around my boots, a great many worm-like tendrils circling, and then spiralling up my legs. I jerked a leg upwards, to see a tangle of greenish, snakelike vegetation slithering up and around my boot. A few kicks shook most of them loose, just in time to change footing, for the other boot, having been stationary all the longer, began to tighten around my calf and foot, squeezed by the mass of slithering strands.

Hopping from foot to foot, kicking wildly to escape the snare of Hopeless flora, I failed to see that tiny shoots of the stuff had appeared from the mud, to spiral upwards and then form a web around the bottom of my suitcase. Looking that way when the stuff began to tug at my suitcase hard enough for me to feel it, I saw thicker tentacles reaching up to get a firmer grasp on the suitcase. What followed would have seemed to any spectator as an absurd tug-of-war. Continuing to change my footing to kick away the relentless entanglement of my feet, I pulled at one half of the suitcase, sometimes winning, and sometimes losing the struggle with a local plant.

Whilst the thicker strands were engaged in our jester-esque tug-of-war, the smaller tendrils continued to explore their intended prize. Displaying far more intelligence than any species of vegetation known to me, they worked out how to unspring the clasps of my suitcase, and it snapped open, its contents scattering towards the ground. Immediately, all the plant’s tendrils and tentacles released whatever they were clinging onto, to all dive onto the loose items of clothing and toiletries, the separate elements of the plant wrestling with each other in their haste to lay claim to my belongings.

My boots and legs thus released, I beat a hasty retreat. I chanced one quick backward look to see that all trace of my belongings was gone, apart from my suitcase, but that was being pulled beneath the mud before my very eyes. I wondered with a wry smile what need a mud plant had for men’s shirts, or my pyjama bottoms. However, the thought of my razor in the grip of those persistent and apparently intelligent tendrils, was less cause for amusement.


This time I kept moving beyond pain and back again , until I had reached the higher grounds, where the ground’s consistency resembled the resistance of a wet sponge, and how mightily solid that felt!

Diswelcome part 4 – Kyte Hunt

“Kytes Ahoy! Kytes Ahoy!” The look-out cried. “To lahboahd, kytes to lahboahd.”

We had just cleared a series of billowing ridges, and were treated to the vast expanse of a near level valley, its bottom formed by gentle cotton-like undulations.


About twenty kytes were gliding serenely over the centre of the valley. About fifteen feet long, their oblong bodies tapered into vast triangular wings to either side of their streamlined rumps, with a long, muscular tail trailing behind them, ending in caudal fins.

As we closed in, it became apparent just how gigantic the beasts were. I began to discern eyes, a long row of them, just above the front edge of the flat circular head, and then another row below, enabling the creatures to look both up and down simultaneously. When their wings moved, they did so with slow grace, displaying all the elegance of a dancer.

Entirely oblivious to the busy activities of the crew all around me, I stared at the majestic kytes…spellbound. I would have never dared to dream that such magnificent creatures could possibly exist. What an enchanting sight to behold!

The closest kyte regarded us curiously, making no attempt to distance itself from the skyskiff, and lazily flapped its tail, as if wagging it in a friendly greeting.

“Aren’t they grandiose?” I asked dreamily, turning to the crew member nearest to me.

To my shock, I now saw that the crew had mounted numerous harpoon guns all along the railing, and were bent over them, sighting and aiming…

“No…no…” I began to say.

“FIYAH!” The skipper thundered. “HAHPOONS AWAY! FIYAH!”

The first harpoon sped towards the kyte, trailing a rope. Others followed.

I watched in horror as they plunged into the kyte, penetrating its hide and burrowing deep into muscle and flesh beneath. The kyte uttered screams of pain, and started to trash its body left and right, in an attempt to dislodge the harpoons.

“Bind those ropes!” The skipper commanded, and the crew tied the ends of the harpoon ropes to belaying pins.

“Get ready for the ride of youh life, Mistah,” one of the crew advised me. “Better hold on tight.”

“RELOAD,” shouted the skipper.

Clutching at the railing once more, I focused my attention on the kyte again. Instead of dislodging the harpoons, its wild movements had ensured that the harpoon’s barbs had found firm purchase, caught behind sinew or bone. In that process, the kyte’s wounds had been ripped wider, and blood gushed out of them, running down in rivulets until falling into the nothingness of the sky, a steady drizzle of bright red drops, like a macabre, ruinful rain.

The kyte stopped shrilling its pain, snorted, and then barked angrily.

“Hee-ah we go!” the skipper exclaimed. “She’s gittin’ ready to run.”

On cue, the kyte lurched forwards, its tale circling in a corkscrew motion to propel it forward with all of its might. All the grace of its former dance-like movements was gone, this was now a desperate struggle of life and death. The ropes attaching us to the kyte grew tauter in an instant. When they reached full rigidity, the kyte was momentarily jerked back, more blood gushing from its wounds. It screamed again, drawing concerned calls from the other kytes, which began to circle our skyskiff at a wary distance.

Roaring frustration, the kyte redoubled its efforts, gaining the necessary momentum to move forwards, dragging the weight of the skyskiff with it. Having gained enough speed, it suddenly nosed down into a steep dive, dragging the skyskiff into its plunge, bow pointed steeply down, and once more we hung on for dear life.

The skipper shouted at the crew manning the harpoon guns. “Let’s tiyah the beast out, fiyah at will!”

More harpoons sped towards the kyte. When they struck, the creature bucked wildly, uttering desperate sobs. Possibly in a vain attempt to escape the harpoons, it came out of its dive and banked to larboard, before turning starboard in a steep ascent that turned into a loop.  

“You’s kyte dancin’ now, Mistah,” one of the crew shouted at me.

I didn’t have the breath to answer. My fists clutching the railing had turned white, and most of my concentration was on anticipating the next sudden twist or turn…gut-wrenching motions as my body tried to adjust to being jerked sideways, up, down, and even, during particularly hair-raising moments, upside-down.

“Cease fiyah! Cease fiyah!” The skipper shouted, as we eased out of one such loop. “We git it wheah we wants it.”

He strolled casually across the heaving deck to join my side. “The trick is not to kill the beast. If it dies on us, it releases the gas that keeps it afloatin’. They-ha’d be a lot of dead weight plummetin’ down towahds the island, draggin’ us with it!”

I nodded, not caring to contemplate the impact of a skyskiff barrelling down into solid ground.

The stricken kyte, weakened no doubt by the loss of copious amounts of blood, started to slow, its evasive moments now sluggish, and almost bereft of power. Its screams, barks, and roars diminished into pitiful cries.

“That’s it!” The skipper hollered at the crew. “Start haulin’ her alongside.”

He helped, grabbing one of the harpoon ropes, and soon all six of them were straining at the ropes, hauling them in.

“HEAVE! HEAVE!”

With reluctance, I too, grabbed one of the ropes and begun the struggle of pulling the defeated kyte towards our starboard railing.

“HEAVE!”

When the creature was closely abeam, the ropes were tied to the belaying pins. The crew grabbed boat hooks, and used these to arrange the kyte’s body in such a manner that one of the wings draped over the railing, spilling onto our deck.

The kyte began to struggle again, beating the tip of its wing against the deck with forceful thumps, powerful enough to shatter a man’s leg, should it be in the way. Using smaller harpoon guns, the crew, shooting at point-blank range, pinned the wing to the deck. Then, grabbing axes and long meat cleavers, they began to hack wildly at the wing, cutting and cleaving at flesh and muscle.

I retreated to the bow, horrified. The kyte’s blood sprayed everywhere, covering the crew in so much gore that they resembled demons more than men as they carried out their bloody business.

The other kytes were still circling us, although their anxious calls had changed to deep, melodious, bass sounds, almost as if they were singing a resigned dirge of loss and mourning.

The kyte’s screams of pain mixed with pathetic mewls that cut through my soul. Some of its eyes were frantically looking in each and every direction, others staring aghast at the bloody ruin the crew were making of its wing. A few stared straight at me…I shuddered…the eyes focused on me seemed to convey a desperate plea for mercy. I recognised at that moment, the soul of a deeply-sentient being, in anguish at uncountable pains, fully aware of its imminent demise…even longing for it…wanting an end to the pain…begging it to end…

I wanted to look away, but those eyes wouldn’t release me.

“FOUND ONE! FOUND ONE!”

I willed my eyes away. One of the crew was holding his hand up, clutching a small object the size of a walnut, dripping with blood.

The skipper took it from him, then strode towards me through the gore on the deck.

“You ah-wight, Mistah?”

I managed a weak: “Why?” Indicating the butchery on the deck, I added: “Why this?”

The skipper opened his hand, to reveal the small item retrieved from the kyte’s wing. It was almost perfectly rounded, with the texture of an orange skin. “A genodus.”

“Genodus?”

“Ayuh. Similah to a tumah. As kytes grow oldah, they-ha staht growin’ in they-ha wings. All of ‘em have a few, some of ‘em as many as half-a-dozen.”

“What…does it do?” I asked, staring at the genodus in his hand.

“Ah!” The skipper grinned. “They-ha’s some folk what believe that a genodus, dried and powdeh’ed, enhances and sustains noctuh’nal activities, if you git my meanin’.”

“Not really.”

He sighed. “They-ha’s plenty willin’ to pay good money foh just a scrit pinch of this stuff, in brothels from Bangah and Pawtlan, to Bahstan and even New Yahk.”

I stared at him, flabbergasted. “What about the meat? Can you…”

“You cahn’t eat it, Mistah, tastes like mummified bog lemming hide.”

He looked at me expectantly, and I realised he was measuring my reactions. When I said nothing, he continued: “Ole Ted was insistent you’d be paht of our fihst hunt.”

“He did?”

“Ayuh. Told me to tell you this…” The skipper briefly shut his eyes, as if searching his memory, and then continued. “If you’s feelin’ squeamish now: Do. Not. Go. To. Hopeless.”

I stared at him. I was strengthened by a sudden, granite conviction: No matter what awaited me down on Hopeless, no matter what manner of creatures I would encounter there…nothing could possibly equate the brutal savagery mankind was capable of.

“I’m fine,” I said. “Ready to touch down on the island.”

The skipper nodded resignedly. Something in my altered bearing changed his attitude. He became apologetic as he gestured at the mess amidships. “I git an invalid fathuh, a dementin’ muthah, a widowed sistah, a harried wife, and a total of five li’l uns at home. Ten mouths to feed altogethah, Mistah. Same such tales foh the rest of the crew.”

“I understand,” I said, sincerely. “Tis much of the same in Sussex for working folk.”

He nodded again, then made his way back amidships. Most of the wing had been shredded, one more genodus found. The skipper supervised the crew, half of whom, using boat hooks, began to turn the kyte’s feebly struggling body about to get at the intact wing. The other half of the crew began gathering chunks of flesh and strands of sinew to throw overboard, into the sky where gulls and other feathered scavengers I didn’t recognise wheeled around screaming frantically, nose-diving after the plummeting remnants of kyte, or contesting ownership of a seized titbit.

The utter barbarity continued when the other wing was in place on the deck, its soon demolished ruin yielding three more genoduses, much to the crew’s delight.

When the kyte was released from our bonds, it seemed barely alive at first, but somehow still contained enough strength to attempt to beat at the air with the stubs of its wings as it began its free-fall to the ground. To Hopeless.

Diswelcome – Upper Hopeless

UPPER HOPELESS

The Skyskiff was much the same as Free Traders use back in Sussex. It was open to the elements, barring the small engine house at the stern, with two small funnels rising from its low roof. The steam engine within powered the propellers, one each attached to outriggers on either side of the stern. An oblong inflatable was rigged to two low masts, and there were dorsal, caudal and pectoral sails attached to booms operated from the deck.

The craft was crewed by six men, all wearing oiled canvas breeches and anoraks. After hauling aboard my suitcase and a knapsack, which the innkeeper had kindly filled with ample provisions, I was kitted out in one of the protective suits as well.

“Expecting rough weather?” I asked.

I got the village-idiot-said-something-numb look, which the locals seem to reserve for outlanders or flatlanders as they call them.

“Expectin’ wildlife,” the skipper told me, with a knowing grin.

“I see,” I said, not understanding at all.

I waved at Ole Ted as we took to the sky, engine thudding erratically, propellers whirring, and plumes of smoke spitting from the funnels.

“He’s something else,” the skipper said. “Ole Ted is.”

“How did he lose his eye? And leg?”

The skipper chuckled. “Old Ted was a kyte huntah, just like us. Best skippah in Mewton by fah. Then one of the kytes he netted put up a scrid of strugglin’.”

It began to dawn on me that the skies over Hopeless might be fraught with potential hazards, and I hoped that the skyskiff crew would descend to the safety of the ground within a reasonable time. Whatever they were up to high over Hopeless wasn’t really any of my business. I needed to find Salamandra, and as far as I knew, she was mostly groundbound.

§ § § § §

The sky was clear, apart from that strange cloud formation I had noted the day before. The dark band hadn’t shifted an inch since then, it appeared to be oddly stationary. When the skyskiff headed straight towards the murky mass, I began to wonder if the dirt-coloured gloom was somehow related to Hopeless…

§ § § § §

The crew seemed content to ignore me, and I was familiar enough with skirring a skyskiff to know how to stay out of their way. Leaning over the railing, happy to rediscover the sheer thrill of riding the wind, I hummed a song from home.

Oh my love, you have a cosy bed

Cattle you have ten

You can live a lawful life

And live with lawful men

I must make do with nothing

While there’s foreign gear so fine

Must I drink but water

When France is full of wine?

As we approached the band, it began to assume a more distinctive shape, it’s upper half forming expansive landscapes, the dark clouds billowing up to form high ridges and towering peaks, between which were broad valleys, glens, or ravines. Ere long we were skirring through this surreal scenery, the helmsman taking care to stay clear of the various cloud formations. It all looked remarkably solid, even though I knew the mighty mountain ranges were naught but unsubstantial illusions.

The skipper joined me. “This hee-ah, is Uppah Hopeless.”

“Upper Hopeless! So the island lies below?” I asked eagerly.

One of the crewmen quipped: “You can tell the scribblah is a smaht fellah. I’d have nevah guessed that.”

“Well it ain’t Japan or Iceland below our keel,” the skipper said. “That should be about as cleah as the cause for yellah snow.”

I watched a creature emerge from behind a foul cloud. A bulbous head the size of our skyskiff, with multiple eyes so large they should have been terrifying to behold, but there was a merry twinkle to them, and they conveyed so much amiable warmth that it made the creature appear endearing, like an old childhood friend come out to play. I felt an urge to get nearer, to reach out for it, and stroke its salmon coloured skin.

I pointed. “Is that a kyte?”

The skipper’s eyes bulged. His mouth fell open in horror for a moment, before he regained his composure and shouted: “CHOUT! CHOUT!! SKYSTINGAH ON THE STAHBOAHD BOW. EVADE! NOW! NOW!”

“Evah-body HANG ON TIGHT!” the helmsman bellowed in response.

He spun the helm, and I clutched the railings tightly with both hands. The skyskiff lurched to port.

“FULL SPEED AHEAD!” The skipper hollered.

“Aye-Aye, Skippah! Full speed ahead!”

I looked astern, to see that the skystinger had now fully emerged from its cloudy concealment, revealing a long trail of pink tentacles, writhing in a most obscene manner. The creature’s giant eyes had lost all sense of implicated kindness, narrowing as they beheld our attempt to manoeuvre away, the look in them now one of chilling malevolence.

The skystinger followed us in pursuit, but to my relief, seemed unable to match our speed. One of the longer tentacles rose high in the air, before whipping in our direction. To my horror I realised that we were in reach of the tentacle’s furthest extremity.

“CHOUT!” a crewmember shouted. “INCOMING TENTACLE!’”

“SHIELD!” The skipper commanded. “SHIELD!”

“Aye-aye, Skippah! Shield!” The helmsman spun the helm again, and the skiff lurched once more, this time keeling over so far that we had to hang on for dear life.

The incoming tentacle now swept towards the copper-plated bottom of the hull. I braced for the shock of impact, but it never came. Instead, there was an insistent staccato, as of hail stones striking a window.

The skyskiff straightened out again, engine chugging at full speed, and fast moving away from the skystinger and its fearsome tail of tentacles, including the long one which had so nearly swept us all off the deck.  

I rushed to the side and looked down along the hull. It was peppered with dart-like quills, the size of a porcupine’s, but far tougher because they had punched right through the copper sheeting. Most were firmly embedded, but a few hung partially loose, and I could make out ridges of vicious barbs.


I reached out for one of the quills, but a crewmember grabbed my arm.

“You don’t want to be doin’ that, Mistah,” he said. “They-ha’s poison in them barbs, one tiny scratch and you’s as dead as a Tommyknocker.”

I quickly drew my arm back up, feeling foolish and out of place. “I can’t wait to get to the ground, away from these confounded skies,” I confessed.

The crew man laughed. “Suh-ely somebody told you Uppah Hopeless is by fah the safest paht of the island?”

I stared at him. He laughed again. I recalled the haunting cries from the sanatorium the previous night, and for the first time, began to doubt the wisdom in seeking Hopeless.

§ § § § §

Diswelcome – Ted Talks

TED TALKS

I spotted a solitary figure on the beach, just beyond the boats by the sudden drop to the turmoil of the tide pounding the rocks. His back was towards me, but he turned as I approached him, outlined by the ocean behind him, and a murky band formed by a group of filthy coloured clouds on the horizon.

The man was wearing a weather-beaten great-coat that matched his grizzled face. One eye was covered by an eye patch, the other half-concealed by wrinkled flesh. Most of his face was hidden by a frumious silver beard. He wore a sailor’s cap, from beneath which spilled wild locks of grey hair, and one of his legs had been replaced by a wooden peg.

“Mister Ted?” I asked, cautiously.

“Ayuh, Mistah. Ole Ted is what they-ha call me round hee-ha. And who might you be?”

“I’m Ned Twyner, from England. May I ask you a question?”

Ole Ted sighed deeply. “I reckon I know what the question is, and tis hahd tellin’ not knowin’, if you catch my drift.”

“Mayhap you could tell me why it’s still high tide? I don’t recall any sign of low tide all day.”

I could see he wasn’t expecting that question, for he looked surprised, before answering with a shrug : “Tis always highish tide hee-ah in Mewton, just a couple a times a month that it ain’t and it ebbs somewhat.”

“But…how is that even possible?”

“On account of it bein’ lowish tide most of the time…elsewheah.”

Elsewhere?

“Hopeless?” I asked hopefully.

Another forlorn sigh, before he shook his head and began to say: “Now listen, Mistah. You cahn’t git they-ha from…”

“…from heehaw. Yes, I’ve been told.”

I can sigh as well as the next man, so added a weary one of my own. “Them that asks no questions, isn’t told no lie.”

Now why would you be sayin’ that?”

“It’s something we say back home, in Sussex. Mostly to inquisitive strangers.”

“Ayuh. Well you know how things stand then.”

Suspecting that Ole Ted could talk in endless circles forever and longer, I decided on a different approach. I dug in my trouser pocket, found what I was looking for, and fished it out. I held out my hand to show him a dull, iron coin, with a prominent skull raised in its centre, around which were written the words Memento Mori. The coin had no monetary value…but was priceless nonetheless, when shown to the right people in any port around the world. I just hoped that applied to Mewton as well, isolated as it was.

“An Owler’s Ducat!” Ole Ted exclaimed. “Now wheah’d you git that?”

“My gaffer skirred under Captain John Hawkeye, on The Salty Mew,” I said with suitable pride.

“Ayuh. We’ve heahd of Cap’n Hawkeye, even hee-ah in the boondocks. Do you know what the coin means?”

“Yarr.” I agreed in Owler’s lingo, before reciting:

Tis the wayward life.

Tis Free Trader’s strife.

The Joy of the Owler’s soul.

“Ayuh. But you don’t look like much of a smugglah to me, Mistah.”

“Not smuggler. Free Trader,” I corrected him automatically. “My Gammer wanted me to pursue a different career. She said there were enough Owlers in the family.”

“Theah’s wisdom in that, Mistah. Now your ducat be obligin’ me to help you, but I feel I’d be helpin’ you most by tellin’ you NOT to go to Hopeless. See that building they-ha?” 

He pointed at the grim building on the slope.

I nodded, and he continued speaking. “You evah stop to think why a village this size would have a sanatorium lah-gah than its school? They-ha’s always some folk showin’ up, hell-bent on getting to Hopeless, you’s not the first. A few even make it back. But nevah the same, Mistah, nevah the same…” He tapped his gnarled index-finger against his temple.

“I want to go, regardless,” I insisted stubbornly.


Ole Ted shook his head with dramatic regret. “Now why would a young man such as yahself be wantin’ to go to Hopeless? Ain’t nothin’ they-ha that’s healthy, nor wholesome.”

“I am a journalist. I was sent by my paper, the Brighton Gazette, to interview someone who lives there, one Salamandra.”

 “HER?! They-ha say she’s a powahful witch of sohts. A wicked bad idea, Mistah. I figuh-ed you were smahtah, that’s just numb, if you don’t mind me sayin’ so.”

“The Owler’s Ducat,” I reminded him.

“Ayuh. I’m bound to it, and so must help you. And I will. Be hee-ah at dawn. They-ha’s a crew goin’ kyte huntin’. They-ha’ll take you if I tell ‘em to.”

“Thank you.”

Ole Ted shook his wizened head again. “You’ll be unthankin’ me soon enough. Just know this, anything that befalls you on that cuh-sed isle is beyond my control. I can git you to Hopeless, and do my utmost to git what remains of you off the island again. That’s all.”

“It’s a deal.”

§ § § § §

I barely slept that night, exhilarated by the knowledge that I would finally reach Hopeless. Upon the chime of midnight, however, that sense of triumph began to be replaced by other feelings.

I paid little attention to the screaming at first, assuming that the seagulls, whose cacophonic mayhem had ceased when darkness came to Mewton, had discovered something to excite them.

My attention was roused when some of the repetitive screeches began to sound like words – unmistakably English words.

Something, somebody… other than seagulls…screaming into the night.

Tentatively, I got out of bed and walked to the windows. I drew open the curtains, and then opened one of the windows, now clearly hearing the haunted howls, shrill cries, and plaintive wailing. My eye was drawn to the building on the slope…the town’s sanatorium.

I was close enough to see the barred windows, and unfortunately close enough to see dark shadows clutching those bars with pale hands, or else sticking their arms through it, hands clutching frantically at the air.

I dare confess that their screeches filled me with some trepidation.

“…The eyes! The eyes!! THE EYES!!! The eyes…”

“…Don’t DRINK me! PLEEEEEEEEAASE

“…I FEAR I FEAR I FEARIfeArIfEaRIfeArifearifearifear…I FEAR!”

Diswelcome – Mewton

By Nils Visser

MEWTON

When I arrived, it was hard to imagine anywhere more isolated than Mewton, Maine…but that was before I experienced the diswelcome that awaited me at my final destination.

Mewton had no railroad station. Coaches couldn’t negotiate the few rough tracks that offered a semblance of connection to the wider world. The fishing village’s minute landing field was only visited by an Air Mail cutter once a fortnight.

I had bartered passage to Mewton on such a flight, and as the cutter approached from the ocean, I found a porthole that allowed me an opportune view. I saw a wall of grim, grey cliffs, towering hundreds of feet over their base, battered and bashed by furious waves. We were coursing for a gap in the cliffs, where they sloped downwards to meet in a narrow glen, in which I could see cottages huddled protectively around a church. Just outside of the village, about halfway up one of the slopes, was a solitary low stone building, remarkable because it succeeded in looking even grimmer than the rest of Mewton combined.

There were more buildings on the lower side of town: A series of sheds, workshops, and racks on which fishing nets had been hung to dry. The ‘beach’ was a grassy slope elevated some twenty feet above the ocean’s raging waves, suggesting that the fishing craft parked there were dependent on flight to make it in and out of port.

Before too long I was hauling my suitcase through Mewton’s unpaved streets. My other luggage was my writing satchel, slung over my shoulder, containing paper, quills, and my precious inks. I checked in at the Merry Tentacle Inn, which boasted two whole guest rooms left mostly unused I was told , and quickly departed again to explore the village.

Mewton smelled of brine, as fishing villages and towns ought to. Apart from the pale green grass on the glen slopes, and the muddy brown of the streets, everything appeared grey. The wooden boards of the small cottages, many of which looked like they had been salvaged from the hulls of shipwrecked boats, had been white-washed in a distant past. The paint was faded now, or peeling and blistering to reveal the ghostly grey of the weary wood beneath. The few stone buildings on Main Street were constructed from the same grim rocks that made up the cliffs. There wasn’t much in the way of shops: A butcher’s, a baker’s, two General Stores, three fishmongers, a barber shop, and the Post Office.  The largest building was a tackle, bait, and net store.

My ears were filled with the screeches and squawks of seagulls wheeling overhead in the dull, overcast sky. The human population seemed vastly outnumbered by the seagulls, and added to the general greyness of Mewton, for I saw very few younger people, and only a handful of children.

The outlying structures between the village and the ‘beach’ were remarkably familiar in sight, sound and smell, for I had grown up along the Sussex Coast. The stench was a vicious, olfactorial assault which permeated everything. Remnants of fish, deemed unappetising even by the seagulls, were strewn around at random. Equipment dating from the previous century stood rusting or rotting in between machinery still in use. The quality of the boats ranged from possibly usable, to skeletal ribs rising from the ground in a spectral fashion.  

My tour of Mewton was mercifully short, for there really wasn’t much to see. I was grateful this dire place was just a temporary stop, like so many others on my long journey from Sussex. I didn’t want to stay here a minute longer than I had to. All I had to do was arrange some sort of passage to…

§ § § § §

…“HOPELESS ?!?”

They all reacted in the exact same manner…all of the Mewton folk I tried to talk to about finding a way to reach a small island named Hopeless. They stared at me like I was some kind of a possibly violent lunatic, as they repeated the name of my destination. That was followed, invariably, by:

“You cahn’t git they-ha from hee-ah.”

The reply confused me at first. “Pardon me? Heehaw?”

I got it the second time, when a fishmonger became exasperated, and pointed repeatedly at the ground by his feet…“Hee-ah! Hee-ah!”… and then at the door of his shop… “They-ha! They-ha!”

§ § § § §

Made despondent by my lack of progress in finding a possible means to reach Hopeless, I returned to the Merry Tentacle. There were only a few customers in the inn, and I chose a table by a window, offering me a view of that foreboding, low building on the slope. I could see now that its narrow windows were barred.

It was fast becoming clear to me that reaching Hopeless seemed…hopeless, but I hadn’t come all this way to give up now. I’d be the laughing stock of the news room at the Gazette, if I returned with empty hands after having travelled so far.

By now I was quite famished, and I recalled that Gaffer had always said victuals should forever be a primary concern, before sipping away at his illicit Dutch Gin or French Brandywine.


There was no menu of any kind, so I beckoned the voluptuously rotund innkeeper, who swayed her waist as she approached my table. She was wearing a low cut apron, apparently designed to accommodate the ample bosom that threatened to spill out of her blouse.

Ignoring her none too subtle winks, I asked: “Do you serve food?”

“Ayuh, Mistah! We got all kinds of food. Spoilin’ you with choice, is the Merry Tentacle’s motto!”

“Excellent,” I said, somewhat relieved. “What’s on the menu?”

“Bug chowdah or quahog chowdah. Both of the finest kind.”

BUG?!

The expression on my face appeared to trigger the amusement of the local clientele, especially the two old men seated closest to me, who grinned and guffawed appreciatively.

“I see, wonderful…erm, do you serve any other kinds of food?”

“Othuh kinds?” The puzzled look on the innkeeper’s face provided my answer.

The quahog sounded so outlandish, that I opted for the bug option, in the hope that it was unlikely that anyone in the world would truly serve bugs as a meal.

The two old men were still chuckling when the innkeeper returned with a steaming bowl. Their comments were just loud enough for me to hear…

 “…flatlander…”

 “…from away…”

The innkeeper set the bowl in front of me. “One servin’ of bug chowdah, Mistah. Don’t you be minding these chucklin’ old-timahs now. They-ha wicked numb, not a braincell between ‘em.”

Bug chowdah turned out to be a delectable creamy lobster stew, and I speak not one false word when I state that it was one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted.

I told the innkeeper so, when she returned to collect my empty bowl.

“Mighty kind of you to say so, Mistah!” She beamed, then leaned in low, to add in a conspiratorial tone: “Now if you don’t mind me meddlin’, tis Ole Ted you’ll be wantin’ to speak to.”

“Ole Ted?”

“Ayuh. Ole Ted. This time of day, he’s usually to be found down the road apiece. By the boats.”

Diswelcome

This is Nils Visser as he will appear in the next Hopeless Maine graphic novel…

We’re excited to announce that we’re running a story by Nils Visser over the coming weeks. Diswelcome will be appearing chapter by chapter here on the blog, and will manifest on Fridays. Here’s the opening, to wet your whistle…

PORTLAND, MAINE – The following has been copied from a number of parchments secured in a bottle, which washed up on a beach near Rockport not long ago.

The writing appears to be the journal of one Ned Twyner, from England, who disappeared on a remote stretch of Maine coast many years ago. Twyner was nineteen years old at the time. He was an apprentice journalist for the Brighton Gazette, and on assignment.

The journal is incomplete. Several pages, or parts of pages, have been rendered illegible in a manner that has confounded experts. What they all agree on is that the damaged sections seem to have been partially…digested…