Category Archives: Diswelcome

Diswelcome part 11 – UNDIGESTED FRAGMENTS

….days flow into one another, some long, some short. It took me a while to get used to the different way time functions here, but I feel I’m now acclimatised. Never before did I properly realise what a harsh taskmaster time is when regimented into seconds, minutes, hours…it’s truly liberating to just flow with the vagaries of a day that meanders aimlessly, rather than forever chasing it through imposed systematic limitations…

§ § § § §

…of food there is much to write, it has become a daily obsession. I suggested searching the sea for anything resembling lobsters, but both Salamandra and Owen strictly forbade me to go anywhere near the water, stating clearly that it would be better that way if I was planning on retaining my limbs…

§ § § § §

…the music box and its remarkable effect have lent Salamandra much optimism, to judge by her cheerful mood. She has questioned me endlessly about the Wyrde Woods, in between which I have managed to pose her a few more readers’ questions. That said, I haven’t seen much of her today, for she has retired to study some old books, with the music box in her hands, determined to discover how best to put it to use…

§ § § § §

…another encounter with tug-weed, intentionally this time. Owen took me tug-weed hunting. It involved poking at one of the plants with a long stick, waiting for sufficient quantities of its serpentine fronds to wrap themselves firmly around the stick, then wading into the water and chopping at the base of the fronds keeping feet moving at all times. We returned to the lighthouse with our two long sticks, bundles of still twitching tug-weed attached to their ends. The taste is nothing to write home about…its consistency is that of overcooked chicory, at which I needed to chew endlessly to reduce it to something vaguely digestible…

§ § § § §

…where we met some town folk, though I daresay reception was frosty. They had seen, of course, the column of bright sunlight around the lighthouse for the hour that it lasted, and there was much muttering of witchcraft. The only one who was nice was a lad called Donald, and his delightful little undead dog Drury. I petted it, and Lamashtu smelled that when we got back to the lighthouse. She told me I was a traitor and despicable canine-lover, after which she sulked at me disapprovingly for the rest of the evening. Salamandra said the cat would get over it, but better to close and lock my bedroom door that night…

§ § § § §

…a momentary lapse of memory. I put it down, just for a few seconds, before I remembered and tried to snatch it back. It was gone already. Salamandra announced that I would be spoonless for the remainder of my stay. It appears to be a thing of some shame, in the Hopeless community…

§ § § § §

…I was unfortunate enough to stray amongst some tombstones…I would describe the undead, but the merest thought of them gives me violent shivers…the eyes…oh the eyes…

§ § § § §

…Rather relieved that the Browns haven’t shown up…it would be hard to explain and I expect they shan’t be pleased…

§ § § § §

…like a dream. It’s hard to explain. I already told you time flows differently here, sometimes even backwards…but there is more to it. Rather than experiencing my stay in a continuous fashion, I appear to be drifting in and out, missing bits in between, including actions I was apparently involved in. It’s a quicksand of context, and sometimes I struggle to keep up. Things happen, at random, for no reason, without logic. I think Salamandra’s strength, and up to an extent Owen’s too, is that while most of the rest just let it happen to us, and try to cope, they are far more lucid, in control a lot of the time, though it costs them a great deal of energy. In contemplating this, I am much minded of a poet, one of these new-fangled ones, a chap called Poe.

You are not wrong, who deem

That my days have been a dream;

Yet if hope has flown away

In a night, or in a day,

In a vision, or in none,

Is it therefore the less gone?

All that we see or seem

Is but a dream within a dream.

It’s truly like that. I’m not sure if I am real anymore. Perhaps of more consequence to you, I’m not sure you are real anymore. Yes you, the one reading these words right now. Are you real? Do you know? For certain? I find it hard to tell. I may seem fictional to you, but how less fictional are you? Perhaps somebody is reading about you reading my words – a dream within a dream indeed…

§ § § § §

…Food, oh glorious food! I’m reduced to tears recalling Gammer’s home cooked meals…

§ § § § §

…time to say my goodbyes to Salamandra, Owen, and Lamashtu. It is with some sadness that I depart the lighthouse, but I’m looking forward to returning to Mewton…where I intend to devour all the bug chowdah on offer…

§ § § § §

…struck by sheer horror at the edge of the tidal plain. A thick fog obscured it. I could barely see more than a few feet in front of me. I heard the skipper of the skyskiff calling…

“Mistah Twynah! Mistah Twynah!”

“I’m here!” I shouted back. “I’M HERE, WAIT FOR ME!”

Despite suspecting just how dangerous it was to do so blindly, I floundered into the mud, trying to make my way towards the sound of the skipper’s voice.

In this I was defeated by Hopeless fauna a bird of sorts, its coat a hybrid of red and dirty orange, it’s many eyes seemingly blind, and its blue beak capable of producing human sounds…parroting human voices.

To judge by their imitations, there was a whole flock of them over the tidal plain. They seemed to be everywhere around me, their calls coming from left, right, front, and back.

“Mistah Twynah! Mistah Twynah!”

“I’m here,” I sobbed softly.

“I’M HERE! I’M HERE!” The call was picked up by the whole flock.


Sussex folk are notorious for being stubborn, so I did not give up. I do not recollect how long I stumbled through the mud, blinded by the fog, driven near to madness by hearing the skipper’s voice, and my own, all around me. Suffice to say, that when the fog lifted at long last…there was no sign of the skyskiff.  

§ § § § §

…realisation that any notion of departing from the island was hopeless…it was hopeless…it was Hopeless.

§ § § § §


Diswelcome part 10 – A GIFT FROM THE WYRDE WOODS

I retrieved a small rectangular package from my satchel. It was neatly wrapped in brown paper, tied with a string, from which dangled a label with spidery hand-writing on it.

Not wanting to draw the attention of grabby skurries, I didn’t set the package down on the table, holding it out in my hand instead.

“What is it?” Owen asked.

“I don’t know,” I said truthfully. “It was given to me by someone in the Wyrde Woods, back in Sussex. A Wise Woman. She told me to give it to Salamandra.”

“What is the Wyrde Woods,” Salamandra asked.

“A place in England, but not quite in England,” I answered. “Like an island within an island.”

She smiled. “I like it already.” Taking the package from me, she studied the label.

I knew what the label said, having read it a few times during my journey.

To Salamandra of the Lighthouse

Dearest Sister-In-Craft,

Play, to drive worries away.

Yours, Sally Whitfield of the Owlery

P.S. Lasts Exactly One Hour! Use WISELY.

P.S.S. Self-ReCharging BUT at own

pace – it’s Sussex Stubborn (days –weeks).

I hoped Salamandra would be able to make more sense of it than I could. I watched curiously as she began unwrapping the package. I suspected some sort of legendary demon-vanquishing weapon would be of most use to Salamandra, but the package was small and light, hardly the sort of thing likely to contain a mighty smiting thing.

Salamandra uncovered a small, cardboard box. Opening the lid, she lifted out a small mechanical device with a tiny crank.

I stared at it, slowly shaking my head in disbelief. It was a small music box, just a child’s toy. It seemed a bit of a poor joke to send Salamandra a toy. I felt somewhat cheated, even though logic had already told me that the package was unlikely to conceal a flaming sword, or some such fiercesome weaponry.

Salamandra gave the tiny crank an experimental turn, delight on her face when she heard the first hesitant notes thus produced. She continued to turn the handle, and suddenly, seemingly totally out of place in the fortress-under-siege atmosphere of the lighthouse, the notes of Greensleeves rang out, vulnerable but compelling, the tinny sounds lent amplification by acoustics of the lighthouse.

The notes were contagious, and I could not help but sing along.

Alas, my love, you do me wrong

To cast me off discourteously

For I have loved you well and long

Delighting in your company

Greensleeves was all my joy

Greensleeves was my delight

Greensleeves was my heart of gold

And who but my lady Greensleeves?

I felt foolish when I finished singing and the echoes of the toy’s last notes died down. I looked at the contraption in Salamandra’s hand intently, waiting for something to happen…something spectacular. Magic, fireworks…anything at all to demonstrate that bringing the toy to Hopeless had a tiny bit of meaning.  

Nothing happened.

“Nothing’s happened,” I pointed out, needlessly.

Salamandra shook her head in disagreement, a lovely smile on her face. “It’s filled my ears with beauty, and made me feel all the better for it. What do you say, Owen?”

I looked at Owen, concerned to see his face was thunderstruck, wide-eyed, his mouth opening and closing, but apparently incapable of coherent speech.

“Owen?” Salamandra asked.

Owen tried to speak, gave up, pointing instead at that which he was gazing at.

I followed his stare to one of the lighthouse windows, to see the colour of daylight spill in with glorious abundance.

We jumped up and rushed outside, to find ourselves bathed in glorious sunshine pouring down from a heavenly blue sky. It was just a patch, stretching about half a mile in each direction around the lighthouse, beyond which the murky gloom of Hopeless seemed more sullen than ever, but within that circle…oh my!

All sorts of things long dormant were emerging from the ground. Lush green grass was sprouting before our very eyes, and diverse flowers, representing all colours of the rainbow and some unknown unfolded to bloom in luxurious resplendence. Out at sea, aquatic beings large and small broke the surface to experience the wonder. On land too, critters, creepers, crawlers, floaters, and fliers were drawn to the circle, although at the circumferences I saw various native fauna and other…things…scurrying for the safety of shadowy fissures, or the Hopeless murk beyond our small kingdom of unexpected sunshine.

Scores of fluffbuns emerged, sniffing cautiously at the air first, with disbelief in their single eye, before rejoicing and frolicking about playfully.

Salamandra strode into a patch of green, spinning around, laughing, her arms outstretched to the sky.

“Daylight is a colour!” She shouted at me joyfully.

I nodded my head. I had never thought of it as such, but from the perspective of Hopeless, it was indeed a colour: A warm, radiant, cheerful, and homely colour.

Caught up in Salamandra’s joy, a dozen fluffbuns bounded over to her, running around her in playful circles, yipping excitedly. She lowered her arms, stretched out her hands, and a few of the fluffbuns leapt into them to nuzzle her fingers, or raise their heads for a chin-scratch.

The idyllic moment was spoiled somewhat, when Salamandra, with snakelike speed , closed her hands around several of the creatures, snapping their necks in quick succession, and then holding up the corpses. The surviving fluffbuns around her made off in a hurry, squeaking anxious alarm.

“SUPPER!” Salamandra enthused. “It’s a day of culinary delights!”

“I do love to see her happy,” Owen spoke at my side.

“Speaking of which,” I said. “A lot of readers would like to know when you two…”

“Tell them to mind their own business.” Owen smiled enigmatically. “I do not know this Wyrde Woods, but that Wise Woman has chosen her gift well.”

“It’s really just a toy,” I reflected. “The sun is nice, but…”

“NICE?” Owen shook his head. “I don’t think you even begin to comprehend the value of this…how it empowers. Don’t you worry, when Sal is finished revelling in it, she’ll find a way to put it to good use.”

“Well, then I’ll be sure to visit the Wyrde Woods again, and thank Sally Whitfield.”

Owen gave me a funny look. “Yes, you do that. If you ever make it back there again.”

Diswelcome part 9 – Post Luncheon Interview

I looked at the first question on my list, and experienced a moment of panic. Back home, the questions had seemed perfectly reasonable, but after all the risks I had taken to reach this moment, they seemed trivial, shallow, and mundane. I dearly hoped that Salamandra wouldn’t find them boring.

“Ahum, erm,” I began. “Salamandra. What is your favourite colour?”

Owen laughed. “Seriously? You’ve doomed yourself to Hopeless to ask Sal what her favourite colour is?”

I shrugged apologetically. “They’re readers’ questions, not mine.”

“I like the question.” Salamandra smiled. “My favourite colour is daylight.”

“That’s not a colour,” I objected.

She blazed with sudden fury, her hair rising in an angry cloud. “Now listen, Scribbler. I don’t know how often you’ve seen daylight, but I’ve seen it about four whole times. That makes me quite the expert, and as such, I assure you that daylight is a colour.”

I nodded quickly, reminding myself that my job required me to be an objective observer. “Daylight it is.”

“It better be,” Salamandra declared with satisfaction. “Next.”

“Do you have a favourite book?”

Owen drew a sharp breath.

Salamandra’s face darkened. “I do, and the less that is said about it the better. Next.”

“Alright,” I said, scanning the list, seeking something less likely to cause offence. “This one is from Mrs Albert Baker’s Soup Kitchen in Lancaster, for street urchins and whatnot.”

“Does street urchin soup taste nice?” Salamandra asked. “It sounds prickly and spiky.”

“No, no, Mrs Baker feeds the urchins soup, so she’s always on the look-out for new recipes. She wants to know what your favourite soup is. To feed the urchins.”

“Ah, I see, to fatten them up a bit before serving them. That makes sense. Before your arrival, I would have said Owen’s kyte kidney soup. But I’ve changed my mind on that one, it’s bug chowdah now. Wouldn’t mind trying urchin soup though, for comparison.”

“That’s good,” I said, scribbling away. “As the ingredients for chowder will probably be easier to find in Lancaster than bits of kyte. The urchins are big fans of yours, by the way…”

Owen frowned. “There’s something I don’t understand.”

“Hush,” Salamandra said. “I’m being interviewed, don’t you know.”

“It’s about the interview.” Owen looked pensive. “Ned, you say you know me, know Salamandra. And more people do, because you were sent to ask their questions. How does that work, precisely?”

I was put off by his question, not expecting it because I assumed they knew. “Well, people buy the books…”

“Books?” Salamandra asked. “What books?”

“There’s books about us?” Owen asked.

“Well, yes. The Illustrated Adventures of Salamandra in Hopeless, Maine. Surely you…”

My voice trailed away as Salamandra and Owen exchanged a dark look.

“Must be that Brown fellow,” Owen mused. “And his missus.”

I knew the name of course, for who hasn’t heard of Tom and Nimue Brown? However, it seemed that there was potential turbulence ahead on our current course, so I deemed it wiser to know as little as possible.

“Who?” I asked innocently.

“Two outlanders,” Salamandra answered.

“Regular visitors to Hopeless,” Owen added. “The Aunties only know how they get in and out. They seem quite harmless; just wander about with sketchbooks, notebooks, pens and pencils.”

“Which is why I haven’t changed them into floating newts or spoon walkers,” Salamandra said darkly. “…Yet.”

It occurred to me that I might have got the Browns into a spot of bother.

“Truth be told,” I confessed, determined to take some responsibility. “When I write out your answers to these questions, it will be published in a newspaper, which people will hopefully buy to read more about you…”

“You’ve paid us,” Owen said. “That was the best meal I’ve ever had on Hopeless.”

“Bug chowdah,” Salamandra said dreamily. Then she furrowed her brow. “That Brown fellow better get us something nice to eat, or else…”

“There’s something else I brought for you,” I interrupted her, eager to change the subject. “A gift.”

Diswelcome part 8 PLEASE DON’T BE BORING

When Salamandra opened the door, she barely glanced at me, focusing on Owen instead.

Although not any of the many warm welcomes I had imagined, I didn’t mind so much, as it gave me an opportunity to stare at her. She was simultaneously familiar, I had – after all – seen her grow and mature since childhood, while at the same time I realised I didn’t know her at all, as if she was a complete stranger.

Salamandra was clad in a dress made from strips of old bed sheets. Her long dark hair was a myriad of braids which seemed to have a life of their own, swaying this way and that, lending her a frighteningly Medusian aspect. She had a broad mouth, with sensuous lips, and compelling oval eyes, but the most fascinating aspect of her face was the animation of it, changing continuously to convey a kaleidoscope of emotions and moods.

Helter skelter, hurry skurry.

“Where have you been?” Salamandra asked Owen. “I was in dire need of something more compliant than lighthouse walls to fly stuff at.”

“I’m sorry to have missed it.” Owen apologized, scratching the side of his slightly hooked nose. “There was a Blood Rain…”

Salamandra’s eyes lit up. “Did you get there in time?”

Owen grinned, indicated the basket on his back. “Half a kyte kidney…”

“You’re my hero,” Salamandra purred. She turned to me. “I have no idea who or what you are. Please don’t be boring.”

I managed an: “Er”, as well as an “Um.”

“Er-um?” Salamandra asked, her mouth stern, but eyes twinkling. “Sounds medicinal.”

“A few hours ago his name was Ned Twyner,” Owen said, setting down his basket. “An outlander. Says he came to Hopeless out of his own free will.”

Salamandra rolled her eyes. “You should have taken him to see Doctor Hedley Case, not brought him to the lighthouse.”

“I’m quite sane, thank you,” I said.

Salamandra and Owen both raised an eyebrow.

I shrugged. “Reasonably sane.”

Owen addressed Salamandra. “I found him asleep in the loving embrace of a bed of snare-moss, where he decided to rest after barely escaping the clutches of tug-weed. He’s a scribbler, writes stories for something called the Brighton Gazette. Said he’s come to ask you some questions.”

“Questions?” Salamandra frowned.

“An interview,” I said. “If it isn’t inconvenient…”

“It’s inconvenient,” Salamandra declared at once. “I’m terribly busy…”

“I’m sure the china won’t mind if you turn your attention elsewhere for a while…” Owen  said dryly.

Salamandra glared at him. “None of it complained…well apart from that goblin cup, that is. I mistook it for an ordinary tea cup. It didn’t like that at all. Nearly screamed my head off.”

“If you’re busy, we could make an appointment…” I began to say.

“Busy, precisely,” Salamandra said. “We’ve got to go catch us some lunch, I’m famished.”

I looked at Owen’s basket.

Owen shook his head. “Tougher than a boiled tree creeper. The kidney needs to be left to decompose for a couple of weeks before we can eat it.”

“Delicious when it goes all gooey,” Salamandra licked her lips.

I slapped my forehead. “What am I thinking?!” I patted my knapsack. “I’ve got enough for all three of us. From the mainland: Bread, cheese, dry sausage, and a pot of bug chowdah.”

Salamandra pouted. “I had bugs for breakfast. They tasted bitter. And bits of their shell got stuck between my teeth.”

Owen shook his head. “If that is what I think it is, you’ll absolutely love it, Sal.”

“We’ll save the time it would have taken you to catch lunch,” I suggested.

“So you can ask me questions.” Salamandra looked at me thoughtfully. “But what if you’re boring? Harder to send you away when we’re eating your food. And I do so hate tedious conversation.”

“He’s rather amusing, actually,” Owen said. “Trust me on this.”

Salamandra relented and invited me into the lighthouse, where I was led to a large table on which I began to deposit the ample contents of my knapsack.

“Courtesy of the Merry Tentacle,” I said proudly.

Owen fetched a few bowls, chipped plates, knives and a single spoon which he clutched tightly. “We’ve only got one spoon left.”

I brightened, and fished a small rectangular linen bag from my satchel. “Ole Ted asked me to give you this. He said you’d appreciate the gift.”

I shook the little bag, which chinked merrily, then drew open the drawstring, turned it upside down to let the contents spill onto the table.

“NOOOO!” Salamandra cried out.

It was another Christina Rosetti moment. Even before the nine spoons in the bag hit the table, skurries appeared from everywhere: Falling from the ceiling, gliding in through a window, jumping from the top of a rackety cupboard, fluttering through an open door…one even gnawed its way through the considerable thickness of the tabletop.

I froze, staring in amazement as a fierce battle erupted between Salamandra and Owen on the one side, and the skurries on the other. All involved hissed, cursed, spat, growled, clawed, pinched, bit, and poked as they fought for possession of the spoons. Salamandra and Owen were on the losing side, until a black cat exuding sinister menace came to reinforce them, allowing retention of two of the spoons. The other seven, along with the skurries, vanished.

“Thank you, Lamashtu.” Salamandra smiled at the cat.

“You’re welcome,” the cat replied.

“It…it…” I pointed at the cat. “It…spoke…”

Lamashtu glared at me. “I’m well educated, I’ll have you know.”

Salamandra scowled at me. “I don’t think you’re going to last long on Hopeless, Scribbler.”

“Three spoons in total now,” Owen said happily. He poured the bug chowdah into three bowls, then set the container from the Merry Tentacle in front of the cat, which sniffed at it cautiously, before beginning to purr loudly.

Owen held out one of the spoons to me. “Whatever happens, do NOT let go of the spoon.”

I nodded, wondering silently how many more blunders I would make during my stay on Hopeless…and what disastrous consequences might ensue.

During lunch, both Salamandra and Owen reminded me of the images of Hindu deities I had seen in a travelogue, all of them with a multitude of limbs. The arms and hands of my hosts seemed to be everywhere at once, reaching for bread, cutting cheese, and spooning lobster chowder into their mouths even as they wolfed down slices of sausage. They ate more gustily than Free Traders returning from a long, hard run over the English Channel, and demonstrated an equal disregard for table manners.

The chowder was particularly favoured. Salamandra used her index finger to sweep up every last remnant of the lobster stew from the sides of her bowl. Owen held his bowl upturned over his mouth, to catch every drop.

I was caught with indecision as to how to clean my bowl, but that was solved by Lamashtu, whose intense green eyes convinced me that I really wanted to push my bowl towards the cat so that it could lap at the remnants, leaving me to chew on a dry crust of bread – wondering sheepishly who got the better end of the bargain.  

“Scrumptious,” Owen declared with satisfaction.

“Indeed,” Salamandra agreed, giving me an amiable look. “A most generous gift. I’m minded to be nicer to you, Scribbler.”

Taking that as my cue, I reached into my satchel, placed blank sheets of paper on the table, unfolded the list of readers’ questions I’d brought across the Atlantic, and dipped my quill into my favourite ink-pot.

“Very well,” Salamandra sighed. “Let’s have your questions then. I’ll do my best to answer them.”

Diswelcome part 7 Chance Encounter


As can happen, my first notion of danger came to me in a troubling dream. In it, I had been caught in the clutches of a skystinger, and in that uncomfortable position was being berated by an angry and grizzled kyte hunter, who ended his tirade with the words: “Oh, you numb fool.”

“Oh, you fool! Fool!”

I struggled to understand why the kyte hunter’s voice had changed from a bass boom to a far gentler and higher tone, with a young man’s timbre.

“Oh, such foolishness!”

I opened my eyes…to be utterly astounded by my restricted view, darkness crisscrossed by narrow, angular patterns of a twilight glow.

Hopeless! I’m on Hopeless.

I tried to move, but found myself entirely restricted, smothered by a hundred thousand tiny grips. Fighting panic, I recalled my previous experiences of Hopeless flora, specifically its tendency to cling…ensnare…wrap…cover…choke…

It seemed that the moss had crept up in my sleep, spreading to take me into a suffocating embrace.

“Help,” I croaked.

I began to struggle, bucking my body in an attempt to shake myself loose, but that only resulted in the moss tightening its grip.

“Stop moving, you’re only making it worse.” The young man’s voice said, confirming that he hadn’t been a figment of my dream.

I relaxed my body as much as I could, immensely grateful that I wasn’t alone. “Please, help me.”

“That’s what I am doing,” the voice replied.

I could see him now, or rather, I could see a darkish shape move about through the mossy visor that restricted most of my view.

“What are you doing?” I asked, willing him to just rip the moss away.

“Tickling the snare-moss with a feather,” was the reply.

The moss giggled.


“Shush, be still, for crying out loud.”

I did my best to freeze into a statue, fighting the urge to remedy sudden itches, ask a thousand questions, or tell the moss to stop its maddening high-pitched titters, twitters and tee-hees. I was much encouraged in my efforts when I sensed that the giggling moss began to ease its relentless hold on me.

“Apart from being ticklish, snare-moss is generally slow,” the tickler spoke. “You must have been asleep for at least eight hours.”

“I was tired.”

“You’ve got to be an outlander. No sane local even slightly attached to life would lie down on a bed of snare-moss…oh, wait…that argument doesn’t really apply around here…plenty are disheartened enough…”

“I’m an outlander,” I confirmed, swearing a silent and solemn oath never to lie down on a bed of snare-moss again.

“Shipwrecked, were you?”

“No, I came to Hopeless of my own free will.”

The movements ceased for a second. When the tickling resumed, the tickler spoke again, slowly, emphasising each word. “You. Chose. To. Come. Here?”

“Yarr. I chose to come here.”

“Why in the name of every puff bug in Hopeless would you want to do that?

I fought my instinct to shrug. “I’m a journalist, for the Brighton Gazette. I came to interview someone.”

“You’re a bigger fool than I thought,” the tickler muttered. “There we are, my lovelies.”

The moss, now in uncontrollable fits of merriment, eased its hold on me entirely, and the entangled web that had constricted me began to unravel.

“Quick, now,” the tickler said. “Up and away.”

I scrambled up, but wavered unsteadily on my legs, until the tickler took my arm and led me away from the moss, which wriggled about angrily, squeaking a hundred thousand outraged protests.

I glared at the deceitful greenery, then looked at the tickler. I saw a young man, about my age, maybe a little older, with a narrow, thoughtful face, long black hair, and a tuft of scraggly hair on his chin.

“You’re Owen!”

He looked puzzled. “You have me at a disadvantage; I don’t recall meeting you before…”

“Ned, Ned Twyner.” I shook his hand enthusiastically. “We’ve never met, but I kind of know you…”

“Kind of know me?” Owen frowned.

“In a manner of speaking, I’ve read about your adventures! That’s why I came to Hopeless, to interview Salamandra!”

“Sal? You haven’t picked the best day. When I left this morning, she was busily flying plates, saucers, and cups at my head.”

“Flying? Throwing, you mean?”

“Oh, no.” Owen shook his head. “She was definitely flying them at me. I was lucky to get away unscathed.”

I glanced at a large basket behind him. It held a large roundish object, wrapped in an old sheet stained with fresh blood. Reminded of my own luggage, I checked that my writing satchel and knapsack were still companions, suddenly grateful that I hadn’t relieved myself of their burden before falling asleep, and also relieved that they weren’t bleeding.

“Well, I suppose you might as well come along,” Owen decided. “If she’s still fussy, she might choose to decapitate you with a teapot, rather than poor old me. And I can hardly leave you here on your own; I don’t think you’d last very long…”

I nodded my heartfelt agreement, and followed Owen, after he picked up the basket that had straps which he slid over his shoulders.

We walked at a brisk pace, pausing only when Owen deemed it safer to wait while a herd of ur-deer thundered by in a wild stampede, chased by something blurry, leaving me mostly with the impression of scores of glinting claws, hundreds of razor-sharp teeth, and several pairs of luminous green eyes.

The scenery changed as we climbed steadily upwards. Wet and slimy trees made place for evergreens, the spongy ground beneath our feet gained solidity, and rocky outcroppings started popping up every now and then. Before long, we started passing buildings. Some grand and elaborately designed, but crumbling with age, others seemingly hurriedly assembled with any materials that came to hand.

I frowned when I heard a sound that was simultaneously familiar and yet out of place somehow.

“The sea!” I exclaimed, when I placed the sound as waves lapping against rocks and shingle.

“Indeed,” Owen confirmed. “We’ve crossed the island.”

The sea came into view, as did a rugged coastline: Outcrops of craggy rocks, becalmed coves and pebbled beaches between precipitous overhangs and jagged edges of granite cliffs.

“It’s high tide!” I said joyously.

Owen looked at me strangely. “That does happen, quite frequently in fact, though not with predictable regularity, the waters here have a mind of their own.”

“I thought it was rare…” I tried to explain.

“That’s on the tidal plain, on the other side of Hopeless,” Owen said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “Tides are far and between there. Just as a truly low tide on this side is remarkable enough to cause folk to jabber on about it for a week or so.” 

Recalling Ole Ted’s talk on tidal peculiarities, I ventured: “And is it mostly highish tide on this side of Hopeless because it’s lowish…elsewhere?”

Owen furrowed his brow, before reluctantly conceding: “There are other islands which are cut off from general reality, aye. Ragged Isle for one, not to forget Tantamount.”

“Maybe I could visit them after Hopeless,” I mused.

Owen barked a laugh. “You are amusingly naïve, Ned Twyner. Did you think it would be easy to leave Hopeless?”

I chose not to answer, partially because my attention was drawn to something catlike floating by in the air.

“There!” Owen pointed in front of us.

I looked to see a partially submerged, and slightly tilted, lighthouse in the distance.

“Not much further now,” Owen said. “Let’s go find out if Sal’s mood has improved.”

Diswelcome part 6: HURRY SKURRY

I was thoroughly exhausted after my odyssey through Hopeless’s tidal plain, but determined to get as far away from it as possible, by following something resembling a path which winded into a gloomy forest.

The trees were all the same, they had smooth bark, purplishly moist, and a few scant leaves clinging to their skeletal branches and twigs. The leaves seemed to pulsate, but looked wilted nonetheless. They were the colour of rotting liver. Coincidentally, that was the fragrance released by the awful trees as well. Long urine-yellow lichen clung to a lot of the branches, either swaying in a breeze I couldn’t feel, or else wavering slowly of their own accord, so I stayed clear of them, having no desire to lose my cap, or even my head, to their clutching fronds.

Despite the apparent deadness of the place, the wood was teeming with wildlife, in all shapes and sizes.

For this, at least, and in contrast to the hostile vegetation, I had come mentally prepared. When Gammer had heard of my assignment to Maine, she had taken me to visit a friend in the Sussex Weald before I left. The friend had been an alluring red-headed woman who lived in a solitary cottage deep within the woods. The cottage was named The Owlery. Gammer had told me the woman was the Wise Woman of the Wyrde Woods, and I had witnessed a Pook Dance on a moonbathed clearing around a stone circle.

I had grown up with the notion of Pooks, of course. It is nigh impossible not to be aware of their existence in Sussex. As many children do, despite all remonstrations to stay well away from Pooks, I had attempted at times to catch sight of them in and around the coastal village I grew up in. I might have even caught a few glimpses, but that was always hard to determine.

Not in the Wyrde Woods though, where Pooks swanned about openly on certain nights, leaving me wide-eyed, bewildered, and beguiled.

None of the creatures here, in this gloomy Hopeless forest, resembled any of the Pooks I had seen, other than that there was one notable commonality; namely that the diversity was so overwhelming it was near impossible to focus on one species long enough to apply individual descriptions. All the more so because not only was my body fully fatigued, but my mind was all a-whirl, and somehow Hopeless seemed to be absorbing my vitality, sapping at my very soul.

Instead of focusing on the individual, I accepted the collective. Like I had been during my brief sojourn in the Wyrde Woods, I was much minded of Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Market.

Flying, running, leaping,

Puffing and blowing,

Chuckling, clapping, crowing,

Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and moping,

Full of airs and graces,

Pulling wry faces,

Demure grimaces,

Cat-like and rat-like,

Ratel- and wombat-like,

Snail-paced in a hurry,

Parrot-voiced and whistler,

Helter skelter, hurry skurry.

My tired brain resolved to call the creatures ‘skurries’.

Although some of the skurries displayed some curiosity towards my appearance, none appeared aggressive. Most paid me no heed whatsoever, for which I was grateful, still reeling from my fight with a bloody plant of all things.

Through the vagaries of my thoughts, I heard my Gaffer’s voice speaking of essential basics. I recognised that as a sign that I was in urgent need of rest and respite, before my mind became so befuddled that it would direct my body to stroll into the huge, gaping, and tooth-lined maws of whatever land-predators roamed these parts.

It was then that I saw a tree unlike all of the others, with dry, soft bark, sheltered beneath a rich spring-green canopy, its great roots sinking beneath a mass of soft moss. No skurries crawled, hopped, levitated, flew, or otherwise lingered here, and the branches were mercifully free of the disquieting lichen.

Having lost my suitcase, I didn’t dare to disinvest myself from my satchel and knapsack, or even cap for that matter, but just lay down on a bed of soft moss embraced by two of the tree’s mighty roots. Part of my mind resisted, calling for caution, but I was simply too tired, and the moss felt finer than a soft goose-down mattress,  cajoling me into a deep sleep.

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.


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


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.


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.”


“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


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


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.”


“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…”


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