Category Archives: Hopeless Tales

story, poetry, rumour and gossip

Hopeless Friendship

The sloop drifted, dull brown timbers on grey waves. Its sails were rags, the portholes in the little forward cabin were dark. No hands held the wheel. And yet, it seemed to holding some sort of course. Not entirely direct and not swift, but with the cresting of each wave it drew slowly closer to Hopeless and the low earth cliff that lay to be devoured by the hungry sea.

Standing on the rank grass at the cliff edge was the pilgrim. He watched the sloop coldly. He did everything coldly these days. The warmth of life had left him. It was his own fault, he had thought that he understood the nature of the world and had been wrong. Now he was stranded between life and death and only his quest for the light at the end of the world could sustain him.

Friendship, he thought, was a peculiar name for a boat. Friendship was about warmth and laughter and human contact. There was, in his experience, little warmth or human contact with a boat. Cold loneliness had been his experience.

And every journey had to be paid for.

The ship of the weird sisters had demanded a sword in payment. The Demeter had taken every life aboard, and who knows what price the crew and passengers of the Marie Celeste had paid.

The pilgrim, in life, had always been in favour of payment in advance. This was no exception, and as he watched the boat approaching he found his thoughts driven back to another boat, on a different sea.

It had been the shortest day of winter, when the pilgrim had chartered passage on an open boat (known as a Billy Boy) from the Humber to Boston. The first Boston that is, the one in England. They had set off in the early evening from the old whaling quay at Hull and followed the coast south. It was full dark when they reached the Boston Deeps and the pilgrim began the ritual that was the true purpose of the journey. Singing loudly and joyfully, he praised the oceans and cast flowers upon the water. He spoke in rhymes of his love of the wind and water. With tears of passion in his eyes, he cried out in ecstasy.

By the time they reached the Haven, he was spent. Looking out across the marshes, to the place of the skraeings, he saw lights fly up into the sky amid strange guttural howls. The pilgrim shuddered, wondering if his gifts were not enough. But then a new sound drifted across the water. A voice, high and keen, sang an old song of the landsman who kept his faith and his promises and the pilgrim knew that his offerings had been accepted.

Now, so many years later and hundreds of miles away, the pilgrim waited for his reward. No mighty clipper, no warship, no royal barge would do for him. But instead the simple boat of a fisherman, a sloop called Friendship. It was a promise honoured, and the first spark of hope he had felt for many long days and nights.

The sloop bumped against the cliff, and the pilgrim stepped aboard…

Story by Jim Snee– art by Tom Bown

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Mrs Beaten shares her views on the subject of trousers

It is a mystery to me why certain women feel that trousers are suitable attire for them. Such women have always been a puzzle to me, but they exist on this island in greater numbers. Trousers do not flatter the female form, nor do they conceal it appropriately. Instead, they can lead to rude highlighting of knees at moments of leg bending, and careless exposure of the sock, or worse yet, the ankle. What kind of woman wishes to display her ankle to all and sundry?

What is the trouser for? Do they imagine that by wearing it, they can partake of masculine power in some way? Do they wish to do things that cannot properly be done in skirts? I do not know what those things might be, having worn skirts my whole life and found them perfectly suitable for almost everything I have undertaken. I admit, that my experience of wading ashore in the aftermath of the shipwreck was a time when I felt my skirts and petticoats to be less than advantageous, but no normal person leaves the house of a morning with a view to having to deal with being shipwrecked.

There is a dignity in skirts. There is a smoothness of movement and a pleasing swish when one turns a corner. There is no unwholesome suggestion of the knee. One might imagine that beneath the skirt, a woman is not the same as a man at all. We might contain any mystery there. We may have wheels, or tentacles, or complex mechanical parts, or extra teeth. Why ruin this by wearing the trouser and dispelling uncertainty about the frequency and placement of limbs? It makes no sense to me at all.

Mrs Beaten is sick of your drama

Today I tried to speak with Frampton Jones about the exceptional presentation of his shirt collars. He was clearly not interested in my opinion which disappointed me. I assumed that a man with a good collar standard would also have more elevated manners. He was in a hurry to be elsewhere and did not handle this with grace.

People are so self involved. It’s always all about them. Here I am, trying to make positive changes for the good of one and all, and no one can even make the time to listen to me. Do they not understand how much better life would be if everyone had presentable collars? Do they not see the social and moral benefits of decent laundry? They do not.

Instead, they are always focused on some drama or another. A shipwreck. The fear of vampires. A barn on fire, a mysterious death… Do they not understand that the only way to deal with a crisis is to pretend it is of no great significance? It is the height of bad manners to press the details of one’s immediate suffering onto another human being who many then feel under some pressure to respond to it. Why can they not suffer quietly and make more effort to keep up good appearances? Where is the dignity that hides hunger and misery behind a neatly laundered curtain and puts a nice floral arrangement on the table when there is no food to put there?

I cannot decide whether this is a form of madness, or a form of laziness.

The Aunties

There are many strange and inexplicable things on the island, most of which you wouldn’t want to meet on a dark road at night, or even in weak sun at noon. There are weird beasties, worrying fogs, and innocuous-looking birds that scream. There are things that have been around as long as the island. And there are also things which have, perhaps, been around longer…

You might know them as the Agents of Change, or the Ocular Ones, or even the Aunties. Personally, they refer to themselves as Mildred, Ludmilla and Gertrude. They spend a lot of time floating around in saltwater, glaring at anything stupid enough to try eating them.

Their story, or at least a version of it, goes something like this: the island appeared. It came from somewhere. Ludmilla says it rose out of the ocean, Gertrude says it emerged from the fog, and Mildred says there was a geological phenomena involving an underwater volcano. All three agreed that it was messy and inconvenient, and for some time (a century or so) the Aunties were quietly outraged and considering how they might get rid of this lurking growly thing.

It was Gertrude who pointed out the persons.

“Well,” said Ludmilla, “I don’t know what they think they’re doing here. It’s not as if they’ll survive.” and she blinked her three eyes furiously.

“I don’t think it’s their fault,” Mildred warbled, “there’s bits of shipwreck everywhere.”

“Well that’s what you get when you sail ships close to mist-covered cursed places,” harrumphed Ludmilla.

“Oh the poor dears, they are trying,” trilled Gertrude, “look, they’re building things.”

“Bet they don’t even last a century,” said Ludmilla, and, after a pause, “That’s no way to go about building a house.”

The Autnies watched. They had a lot of eyes, after all, and the island couldn’t exactly get rid of them (even though it wanted to). It became clear that the island wasn’t letting its people go anywhere either.

If asked who started helping first, the Ocular Ones would shift and point tentacles and say things like: “I can’t very well go letting them eat that muck no can I?” or “Built his house right next to a soft spot in reality; of course I moved the whole thing!” or “Help is a strong word really, I just move resources around.” And if doing all this happened to remind the island who had been there first, well, that was merely a happy coincidence.

They did notice that, after a while, there were rather a lot more sea-beasts, some of whom thought that snacking on the Aunties was a valid life-option. The island, it seemed, was not happy with their meddling. Ludmilla, Gertrude and Mildred knew how to deal with fanged beasties though, and if they meddled a bit more and kept an eye on that nice young fisherman, well, all was well wasn’t it?

And then there was yet another beastie, sinking into the water.This beastie was different. This beastie wanted to change. And change was what the Aunties did.

Mildred made sure the nice fisherman found the now baby and took it home, and the three of them together made sure it would be mostly people-shaped. And then the Ocular Ones settled in for an interesting few years keeping an eye on the newest inhabitant.

“After all,” said Gertrude, “we’re almost like her parents now.”

“Hrrrummph,” said Ludmilla.

“Oh hush,” said Mildred, “we’ll miss all the interesting bits if you don’t quiet down.”

And they turned mobile eyes back towards the island, waiting…

Written by the entirely amazing Meredith Debonnaire. (We are fans of her work, obviously. She writes about Tantamount, which is probably a sister town with Hopeless, Maine. You can also find Angel Evans right about…here)
Art-Tom Brown

The Squid is resting, the Teapot is Silent

It’s Tuesday, and regular blog followers may have noticed the absence of a Squid and Teapot post. For more than a year now, we’ve had Tuesday contributions from Martin Pearson, exploring the history of the island. Hopeless has been much enriched by his contributions, and intermittently terrified of his puns.

Martin is currently taking a break. There is only so much time a person can spend on the island before this becomes necessary. Unlike actual islanders, people who visit from this reality can leave, but don’t always manage to, so breaks are good and necessary.

But this isn’t one of those. No. Rather than take the opportunity to flee for safety, Martin is pondering an even more elaborate tangle with the island’s tentacles. A top secret tango that we’ll probably cave in and start telling you about sometime fairly soon.

In the meantime, Tuesdays may get used for other things. There’s a great deal going on in Hopeless Maine right now, both in the imagined life of the island, and the rest of world stuff where the island gets made. Or drops its fruiting bodies into people’s brains, as may be closer to the truth.

Huge thanks to Martin for his Squid and Teapot contributions. We wait with curiosity to see what he does next…

Mrs Beaten’s Guide to body shaming

Other people’s bodies are questionable. Are they pleasing to the eye? Are they acceptable to the nose? Has proper effort been made in attiring the body and hiding the flaws? Is the body sufficiently modest in its presentation? To fail in any of these regards is shameful.

I feel it is my duty to point out to ugly people that they are ugly, and to tell fat people that they are fat. Does a person know they have awful pox scarring on their face if no one mentions it? Does a person understand the impact of having had all of their teeth removed from their mouth via punching if no one takes it upon themselves to explain? Of course not. They might start imagining that other people can tolerate such appearances and that who they are is more important than how they look, and frankly, that will never do.

However, I consider it the height of bad manners when someone feels entitled to make comment on my own appearance. I am so obviously a model of visual propriety and acceptable symmetry. A person who finds reason to criticise how I look can only be wrong, and it is ill mannered in the extreme to make incorrect criticisms in this way.

 

Try harder, for pity’s sake.

The Raven-Feather Shroud

 

Hopeless has not always been fog-bound and desolate as it is today. Throughout its long history the island has enjoyed occasional but brief interludes of a much more pleasing climate. It was during the most recent of these verdant periods that the Danish settlers arrived.

 

The warriors came here first, in their long, fiercely elegant dragon-boats. They found the island to be a most agreeable place, with green pastures, bubbling streams and a sparse, timid population that was easily subjugated. It took little time for the invaders to realise that this would be a good island upon which to settle. Many were weary of having to fight. Maybe the Allfather would be kind and let them begin a peaceful existence in this new land.

They sent a longboat back with word of their discovery and over the next months and years a steady trickle of Danes found their way here, bringing with them everything that they needed to survive so many miles from home, including slaves from Britain.

 

It was high up in the hills, which are now known as the Gydynaps, that there lived a vǫlva – that is a seeress, a shaman, a wielder of the old magic. She was old and proud, only coming down to the village when summoned by the chieftain. In order to gain her favour and that of the gods, the settlers would ensure that she never went cold or hungry, regularly leaving food, furs and firewood at her door, especially on the occasions of the four great religious festivals, Eostre, Lithasblot, Winternights and Jul.

 

It was on the eve of Lithasblot, or Midsummer, that a slave (who, legend tells us, was one Cadman Negelsleag) was sent with a basket of food and wine to the vǫlva’s house. It was not a particularly arduous task and the day was pleasantly warm. The slave, knowing that his master did not expect him back for some hours, sat down upon a grassy bank and before long drifted into a deep and dreamless sleep.

 

It was a terrible commotion of squawking and croaking that dragged Cadman rudely from his slumbers. While he had been sleeping, two ravens had come down to inspect the contents of the basket and were quarrelling noisily over its ownership. Some of the food had been strewn on the grass and one of the birds was perched precariously on the edge of the basket, intent on removing the remainder. Without a second thought Cadman picked up a stone and threw it at the raven, hitting it squarely on the back of the head. It instantly dropped to the ground in a tangle of blood and feathers.

An awful dread came over Cadman when he realised what he had done. These birds were sacred to Odin and although the one-eyed deity was not his god, he was well aware of the power that Odin exercised in the minds of the Danes. Suddenly the beautiful summer day disappeared. The sky darkened, filled with threatening clouds. A cold wind shook the trees. The songbirds stilled their voices and an icy hand gripped Cadman’s heart.

There, standing on a ridge, was the vǫlva, her long, grey hair and midnight-dark cloak billowing in the freshening wind. In her hand was a long, ash staff, tipped with brass. The vǫlva’s face was a mask of anger.

“Cursed is he who kills the raven, most beloved of the Allfather,” she screamed, pointing her staff at the hapless slave. The staff crackled and sparked, then sent a cold blue bolt of light that froze his body to the core.

The vǫlva’s eyes glittered and it seemed to Cadman that she grew in stature, towering over him, filling the skies. She pointed to the smitten raven, where it lay on the grass.

“You will pluck just one feather from the bird that you have so wantonly slain,” she commanded.

Like a man in a dream the slave removed a feather from the dead raven.

“It will be upon each Lithasblot-eve, for centuries to come, that you will return to this place and pluck one feather from the raven that you will find here. Not until you have enough feathers to fashion yourself a raven-feather shroud in which to wrap your corpse, may you die. And the oldest man of your line who lives when your task is done, then it will become his burden, and so on, until your descendants are wiped from the face of the earth. Until that distant day you will walk in the shadows, hidden from the sight of men.”

Cadman felt himself slipping away, dragged by unseen hands into an eerie half-life, a shadowy, liminal dimension beyond all mortal understanding.

The island seemed to tremble at its very roots as a cold fog rolled in from the sea. Deep in its darkest caverns, nameless creatures began to stir from their long slumbers.

 

This, of course is only a legend. There may be no truth in it at all. But how many feathers does it take to make a shroud? Five hundred? Eight hundred? A thousand? If these events occurred at all then almost nine hundred mid-summer eves have passed since the curse was placed upon Cadman Negelsleag. For centuries his descendants have wondered if the legend has any truth and if it has, when might the shroud be complete and the curse passed on? Two hundred years ago the Negelsleag family, along with others, updated their names to something more pronounceable for the newcomers to the island. A curse, however, cannot be cheated; although names may change, blood remains the same. Our current Night Soil Man, the last of his line, knows that Negelsleag became Nailsworthy. Nine hundred years and nine hundred feathers ago it is said that his ancestor killed a raven. Shenandoah is a frightened man; he  always stays at home on midsummer-eve and wonders if it will be his last in the mortal realm.

I really hope that this is just another tale, just another island myth – but who is to say? After all, anything can happen on Hopeless, Maine.

Art- Tom Brown

Mrs Beaten is hiding

Mrs Beaten hasn’t been out in the daylight for some time now. She’s living on dried things that do not taste very good. Not that fresh things would taste much better. At night, she makes a dash to the well.

Mrs Beaten is afraid.

Someone posted a poster through her door. It’s just the kind of poster she likes to make. She’s proud of having mastered paper-making, and proud of her opinions. At least, she was.

How many people have seen this?

She does not know.

How many people have seen her laundry, hanging discreetly in the little back garden?

Certainly, her neighbours. She suspects the Jones girl is behind it, the one who only last week said ‘My uncle, Mrs Tidy Jones told me…’

The Jones girl who has clearly been mocking her all along.

But there’s truth in it, for her knickers do not express the best of her standards, and she feels the shame of it keenly.

Threads

We are profoundly excited and a bit giddy to have brought Druid, author, and knitter- Cat Treadwell to the Hopeless, Maine creative fold. This story gave me goosebumps (in a good way, if there is any other) on first reading and I have discovered that it still does so. Without further ado, I give you- Threads

_______________________________

 

Click-click

Click-click

Click-click

The needles moved almost automatically through her fingers, cloth coming together from fragile strands into something solid and…

Well, not exactly warm. But it would provide cover. Protection. Solace.

Wen’s thoughts drifted as she worked the thread in and out. She had no pattern and wasn’t entirely sure what she was making, but just seemed to know what stitches went where.

The sound was hypnotic, though. Therapeutic, she’d heard folks say. She tried not to think too much about it. If she did, the image always rose up in her mind, of a spidery creature with metal-tipped claws, skittering across the room just out of sight. So many things went unseen here in Hopeless.

But she could hear them, sense them. Sometimes their rank smell betrayed them, but she did her special best to ignore those creatures. Let them go about their business.

< Dark, wet, slithering, glistening>

Enough. Focus. Things to do.

Click-click

Click-click

She wasn’t even sure where the thread had come from – it was just there, in her basket. Was it a gift, slipped into her belongings by a kind visitor? Unlikely. Folk round here didn’t do that.

She paused for a moment, letting the cord slide across her fingers. Thicker than gossamer, more solid than silk. It seemed to be organic, woven from something living, but definitely not fleece. No sheep, rabbit or goat grew this. Plant, perhaps? Almost fibrous… maybe.

It glistened as well. The skein wasn’t sparkly, but it held the slickness of something damp. Yet it was smooth, dry. Not quite soft, but pleasant to the touch.

Back to it. Must get on.

No – wait. The noise again. At the door?

She placed the work down carefully, safe on her side table away from the cats (where had they gone too, anyway? She hadn’t seen them in days), and moved to peep through the window.

The evening was grey, sunset holding on with a last glimmer on the horizon, but clouds moving in. The boats should all be in by now – looks like a storm’s coming.

No sign of anyone there, man or beast.

Suddenly a bird shrieked, frightened by something. Wen jumped, ducking behind the curtain.

Silly, silly. Just a bird. Probably been jumped by one of those cats.

Smiling to herself, she stood and took one last look outside, before pulling the curtains firmly, locking the world away. She had things to do, after all. Anyone out there could wait until morning.

Click-click

Click-click

Ssssshhhh

Wen froze.

The lantern flickered, casting shadows around the small room. It had seemed so cosy earlier, just her and her work. Cushions and firelight, the pleasure of creating something new. Chillier now. Maybe she should light the fire.

She pulled her shawl close around her shoulders, fingers lingering on these old threads. One of the first things she’d made, this. It had been green once, but the colour had faded over the years, the handspun wool becoming a little frayed at the edges, worn in places where it had been pinned.

She smiled. Yes, like me. But she enjoyed making treasures to comfort folk here. Hopeless had little enough of that, Lord knows. She’d never lacked for interest, and her neighbours looked out for her when they could.

Silence.

She glanced around again, annoyed at the interruptions. Must get on.

The needles seemed warm as she picked them up, firm and eager.

Eager? Where had that come from? She chuckled quietly. This was going to be something, she could tell.

Click-click

Click-click

The completed fabric began to spread out across her lap, flowing smoothly, reaching out to cover her, row by patient row.

So many things around here seemed to move like this, Wen thought. The tides, of course, bringing folk to and from the town. The tendrils of relationships between us all, old-timers and newcomers. You could always tell those who were meant to be here. They came and stayed. Others didn’t last one night, but she knew. On her occasional trips to the market, she saw the look in their eyes, those that didn’t belong. Well, good luck to them.

This was her home, had been since she was a girl. She couldn’t remember anywhere else. Mother weaving to make ends meet, Father…

No. No Father. That’s why they were here.

The needles clicked. The fabric shimmered. Wen’s eyes began to drift close, but her fingers never missed a stitch.

Hopeless was its own creation, wasn’t it. A web, added to by everyone here. A bit tangled in places, perhaps, but with a definite pattern. An ‘evil-lution’, she thought it was called.

Some spun it with stories, inks and paint. Others with words in song. Even the fishermen used their nets to bring new life in, to keep us all going.

Webs didn’t work in water, did they? Wen imagined it – great layers of cobweb connecting the waves. But she didn’t think there were such things as sea-spiders. If anyone’d see that sort of thing, it’s be the folks here, and she’d never heard tell of anything like that, not in any of the mad fireside tales.

Click.

It was finished.

Wen held it up to the light, assessing the multitude of tiny turns, fractals, wheels and cogs, all held together with this fragile thread.

How long had this taken? She’d quite lost track of time. It still seemed dark outside – had she done all this in one night?

She blinked, gazing at the pattern again. So familiar…

She knew it. She had seen it before. No wonder her fingers had known what they were doing.

The web that held Hopeless, Maine together was clear before her. It didn’t cover the town across the rooftops, oh no. It grew beneath the cobbled streets, the fields and yes, even the waves. It holds us all, keeps us together. Tied together.

There – and there. She recognised the patterns of her neighbours. And… back at the start, the first few stitches clustered together.

There she was. Holding it all.

Wen smiled.

Art- Tom and Nimue Brown