Category Archives: Hopeless Tales

story, poetry, rumour and gossip

Still trapped in Hopeless, Maine

By Keith Errington

This is a follow up to my previous post Why I ended up trapped in Hopeless, Maine which covers how a came to write a story for the world of Hopeless, Maine and explaining (justifying?) some of the decisions I made when writing it. Just like the initial story, The Prospect of Joy, my blog post demanded a follow up (well, in my head anyway).

The second of the four stories that go to make up the Oddatsea I titled The Journey of Faith – because the quest that Jason sets himself on is very much an act of faith and I wanted something in keeping with the title of the first story. Both were intended to sound like Victorian morality tales.

It is curious that I chose Jason as the name of Alison’s nephew – at this point I was still just writing stories for the Vendetta – the title of The Oddatsea for all four tales was only decided on once they had all been written, but there was a definite classical Greek vibe in Jason’s full name; Jason Hercules Pettigrew Johnson. Jason from the legendary ancient classical tale of Jason and his crew of Argonauts and their heroic quest for the Golden Fleece, and Hercules from the TV series starring Kevin Sorbo.

Anyway, that’s enough of names.

The story once again features a journey to the Island in a submersible – but this time it ventured much closer to the Island which allowed me to go to town on the terrors inhabiting Hopeless’s coastal waters.

I had a certain word length in mind when writing the story, so I knew fairly early on this was definitely going to end in a cliff-hanger. Thus, I followed the noble literary traditions of Charles Dickens and Flash Gordon. Jason was in a right fix – a proper cliff hanger – at the end of the story.

The brave and noble Jason needed a miracle to get out his predicament alive. So being the helpful writer that I am – I provided one, with hints at the end of that story and the resolution provided at the start of the third story, The Fate of Rapture. In this case, my Deus ex machina was delivered by a group of three wonderful characters known as The Aunties – which I nicked – with permission – from the equally wonderful Meredith Debonnaire.

By this point in my writing, I had read as much as I could about Hopeless, Maine – from the graphic novels and from the Vendetta – so I had a much clearer picture of the main characters, and the plots of Tom and Nimue’s stories. I consciously set out to avoid making any major changes to the Island, its characters or its history. In order to make this foolproof (hah!) I set this part of the story in a time we already knew about – starting at the end of the first volume, The Gathering and before the second volume Sinners.

Of course, I still managed to mess things up a bit! Originally the link between Hopeless and a particular historical era was never intended to be established – but I seem to have placed the events of those two first novels firmly in Victorian times.

Or did I? You see, I believe that Hopeless, Maine still sits outside of time – perhaps when you travel to the island time changes and becomes irrelevant? Perhaps Hopeless looks the same no matter when you get trapped there? Is it the other side of some trans-dimensional portal? A warp in the space time continuum? A very black hole? Who knows? (Which only goes to show, you can probably convince people of anything if you have a good enough story. I hope we do.)

I wanted Jason to be slightly ridiculous compared to the island’s inhabitants – hence the armour he carries and his weaponry. As far as I can tell, nobody (? – tell me if I am wrong Nimue) seems to carry any sort of gun on the island – so I reasoned that maybe something there renders them ineffective. Then again, without something special our blundering hero would end up dead pretty quickly. And without guidance, he would get lost.

Enter my favourite Hopeless, Maine character, Annamarie Nightshade. (It seems I was oblivious to so many things when I started writing these stories, including the fact that Nimue was working on a story of Annamarie’s childhood – which was to become the other book in the Kickstarter – New England Gothic.) Even though there wasn’t a lot to Annamarie in the first graphic novels, for some reason I immediately fell for her. I wanted her in my story too!

Now whilst I didn’t want to ride roughshod over the stories and background Tom and Nimue had already established – I was a fan, and so I wanted to write something that other fans would enjoy – little snippets of extra information about the characters they’d come to know. So there a few references to events, characters and even creatures that you would know from the books as well as new characters of my own.

Bearing all these things in mind, I wrote with particular care about Jason’s encounter with Annamarie. Mind you, I still couldn’t resist dropping a subtle hint and a hopeful nudge about Annamarie’s fate. (I was later rewarded by a beautiful piece written by Meredith Debonnaire for the Vendetta). There’s also a hint of Reverend Davies and vampires – or at least, something akin to the vampires in the graphic novels. Oh and Glass herons – let’s not forget those beautiful but vicious creatures.

For the last of the four stories – The Triumph of Hope, I returned to Victorian England. Well, I didn’t – the story did. It had a life of its own by now and was pretty much dictating where it went!

The one deliberate decision I made was to change voices and perspective throughout the four tales. Partly to keep them varied, but partly as a challenge. The first story consists of two first-person narratives, the second and third are third-person tales, and the last returns to first-person again and the strong female protagonist. (Two if you count Homily – and you really should – you underestimate Homily at your peril!)

I should say there is one scene it seemed like I waited ages to write – it’s a simple thing that happens between Jason and Homily, but it made me emotional as I had come to love the characters so much by then. (I had also been working late and drinking a lot of coffee – so that could have been a factor…).

The last story also features, albeit briefly, a main character from the main graphic novels – Owen Davies, his appearance hinting at his travels away from the island and also explaining why he is seen carrying a bonsai when he arrives back at the very beginning of Sinners.

Finally, the four-story tale comes to an end. Or does it? For goodness sake, the end of the story still hints at more to come. Anyone would think I did it on purpose!

It’s a great deal of fun living in Hopeless, Maine – as a writer that is, definitely NOT as a character! In many ways though, whether you are a character or a writer, you end up just the same – trapped on Hopeless, Maine.

My sincere thanks to Tom and Nimue for letting me play in their weird and wonderful world, getting me totally hooked – and for their collaboration on the successful Kickstarter. Thanks also to all the other wonderful contributors to this fantastical project who have inspired the rest of us. I’m very excited for the many mysterious, not-yet-to-be-talked-about ‘things’still to come, for all the crazy ideas in my head and for all the incredible stories still be told about Hopeless, Maine.

Keith Errington, December 2020.

The Persian Runner

“How much do you want for ‘The Squid and Teapot? I’d like to buy it.”

Bartholomew Middlestreet, the landlord of the inn, almost dropped the tankard he was drying.

“Pardon?” 

“How much for the inn. Name your price.”

The man who stood before Batholomew was a slightly built, ferrety little specimen. His sharp, city suit and shiny shoes were not items of apparel you would see every day on Hopeless. 

“I can’t sell the Squid, even if I wanted to,” said Bartholomew, not a little taken aback by the request.

“Oh, come on,” said the other, producing a bag of coins, with a flourish that would not have shamed a conjurer pulling a rabbit out of a hat. “Everyone has a price.”

“I don’t own the Squid,” said Bartholomew. “No one does. I manage it.”

The other man took some time to process this information. The concept of no one owning such an impressive piece of real estate was beyond him.

Garfield Lawnside had been on Hopeless for less than a week. The circumstances of his arrival on the island had puzzled him at first but logic told him that he had been Shanghaied. He could remember coming out of the waterfront bar in New York and wandering down a narrow side street – oddly, one that he had never before noticed. His drink must have been drugged, he thought, for the next thing he knew was that he was wandering around on some foggy hill, with no clue as to where he was. The strangest bit was that nothing had been stolen. His carpet-bag, which contained many of his worldly possessions, was still in his hand. Being a pragmatist, Garfield decided to make the best of it. He was a city man and was convinced he could do well around here. The locals seemed simple enough. Why, after that pale looking broad – Phyllis, or something – had found him wandering around, this Middlestreet guy had even given him free board and lodgings in The Squid and Teapot. What sort of businessman does that? 

“On Hopeless,” said Batholomew, without a hint of condescension, “we don’t tend to own things, especially land and buildings. We take what we need but no one owns anything. Ownership can be a complicated business and – let’s face it –  life round here is inclined to be uncertain, to say the least.”

Garfield had not been on the island long enough to grasp the full import of the landlord’s words. His mind was too busy, anyway, focusing on the line ‘we take what we need’.

“So… if I see an empty building, then it’s mine to live in?” asked Garfield, slowly.

“Yes,” nodded Bartholomew. “And you can use whatever the previous owners left in it. They won’t be needing anything, anymore,” he added, ominously.

“How about land? Can I take that too?”

“I guess so…” the landlord replied. ” Though folks don’t tend to, very much.”

Garfield smiled to himself, and strolled thoughtfully out into the morning mist.

It did not take many hours for Garfield to find a deserted cottage. As Bartholomew had predicted, the erstwhile tenants had left it furnished and ready for the next occupant. Garfield wondered to himself why people would choose to up and leave their homes so completely. He also wondered where they went afterwards. As I told you earlier, he had not been on the island for very long. 

It was a day or two later, when pegging out a substantial piece of land for himself, that he hit a snag. There had been some heavy rain and some of the ground had become little more than a quagmire. Garfield had always prided himself on being something of a dandy, but the clothes that he was wearing when he arrived on the island was now the sum total of his wardrobe. The rest were hanging in a small hotel room in New York. His shiny, patent leather shoes would be ruined in all of this mud. He needed to be able to get over the boggy ground without actually setting foot on it. The thought occurred to him that, as nothing actually seemed to belong to anyone, there might be something in The Squid and Teapot that he could salvage to solve his problem. 

Philomena Bucket was not impressed when she caught Garfield trying to roll up a long length of carpet from one of the corridors of the Squid. He found himself subjected to a torrent of abuse that Philomena had been saving up since the day she had first set eyes on him. She did not like or trust the man she thought of as ‘the city-slicker’, not least because he insisted on calling her Phyllis. 

“But Bart said I could take what I wanted,” Garfield whined.

“Not from here you don’t,” said Philomena, then relented, adding, “If you’re desperate for a bit of matting go and have a look in one of the attics. There’s stuff up there, salvaged from a hundred shipwrecks. You’ll be sure to find something. And don’t you go calling Mr Middlestreet Bart!”

The attics of The Squid and Teapot are a veritable treasure trove of goods and chattels, deposited on the rocky shores of Hopeless, Maine by tides and by providence. The passing generations have carefully squirrelled these away, sensible of the knowledge that any newcomer to the island could always count on finding something to make the remainder of their (often tragically brief) life a little more comfortable. 

Garfield passed an appreciative eye over the scene that greeted him, promising himself that he would return and take as much of this bounty as he could carry. His task, at that moment, though, was to find something to keep his shoes pristine, while he pegged out the generous dimensions of his land. And then he found exactly what he was after and whistled softly through his teeth.

He unfurled a long, narrow stretch of carpet. It seemed to go on forever. It was a runner, designed for a corridor far longer than any found on Hopeless, or anywhere else that Garfield had been. It must have been at least fifty feet of the finest Persian workmanship, destined originally for a palace or some other equally impressive residence. It would be worth a fortune. 

It took no little effort to get the Persian runner down the stairs, into the courtyard, then into a borrowed barrow and trundled across the island to Garfield’s new abode. It seemed a pity to use it as a means of crossing a muddy piece of land but it was perfect for the task and within a short while the city slicker was marking out his patch, keeping his shoes clean and eyeing up anything that he might claim as his own. What was it that Bartholomew had said? 

‘We take what we need’. 

Over the following few days Garfield wheeled his carpet all over the island, using it as a means for putting his nose into all sorts of places that would have been otherwise inaccessible to him. Nowhere and nothing was safe from his greedy gaze; this, inevitably, was his downfall. 

You may remember that, at the bottom of the Night-Soil Man’s garden, is a sinkhole. The capstone that had once covered it had long been removed and stood up on end, a letter D etched into its face. Garfield had seen this, from a distance, and wondered exactly what it signified, what it hid. He was convinced that all manner of rich pickings were to be had from this seemingly backward community and he intended to leave no corner unexplored.

Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, was sleeping in his cottage and heard nothing as the Persian runner was rolled past his door. The capstone – and the, yet unseen, sinkhole – was a good hundred feet distant, so Garfield needed to roll up the runner behind him as he went, in order to gradually unfurl it again on the next stage of his journey. He sure hoped that the stone with the D written on it was worth the effort. What could it mean? 

It was only within the final few feet of reaching the capstone did he see the sinkhole. The runner had draped itself over the very edge and Garfield had stopped just in time. He stood uneasily on the brink, peering down into its fathomless depths. He found it hard to pull his eyes away from the faintly green and decidedly weird iridescence swirling far, far below. 

When not accompanying Philomena Bucket on her daily walk, Drury, the skeletal dog, could often be found hanging around the Night-Soil Man’s cottage. Despite being devoid of anything but his bones, Drury was still very much a dog and revelled in all things malodorous. Besides this, the Night-Soil Man liked him and was always good for a game of something or other. So, when Drury spotted the edge of the runner, some fifty feet from the cottage door, he could only conclude that it had been put there for his amusement. In Drury’s opinion most things on the island were also there exclusively for his amusement but right now, this carpet was obviously begging to be dragged away. 

Drury pulled on it but nothing happened. The game was on as far as he was concerned, and entered into the spirit of things by giving the runner’s edge an almighty tug. Fifty feet away Garfield Lawnside’s reverie was shattered by the ground beneath his feet being unceremoniously removed and his slight form sent down to examine, more closely, the iridescence that had so fascinated him. 

By the time Drury had reached Chapel Rock he had tired of the carpet game and left the Persian runner there for the elements to dispose of, as they chose. As for Mr Garfield Lawnside, no one was surprised that he had left so abruptly. As Doc Willoughby observed, with uncharacteristic insight, a man with shoes like that would never have fitted in.

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…

Why I ended up trapped in Hopeless, Maine

By Keith Errington

One of the wonderful things about Hopeless, Maine as a project is that the creators, Tom and Nimue, have opened up their world for others to play in. It’s a lovely, generous and munificent (love that word) gesture and it has resulted in some amazing and very talented people contributing to a glorious shared unreality.

And then I came along.

As many of you may know, I was responsible for the Hopeless, Maine Kickstarter last year where we launched two illustrated books, Nimue’s New England Gothic, and my own The Oddatsea. I thought I would write about how I came to write my story, the choices I made and why I made them.

The Oddatsea is actually composed of four short stories, that together make up the whole tale. The first was called The Prospect of Joy – and this is how it came about…

What attracted me to Hopeless, Maine? Was it the atmosphere? The dark humour? The weird creatures, amazing characters or the tentacles? There is no doubt I have come to love all those things, but if I am totally honest, it was actually the idea of playing in some else’s world that attracted me the most. I know I write best with limitations – give me some boundaries, some rules and I will creatively sidestep and subvert them. Basically, I like a challenge.

I had long wanted to contribute something, and my passion is for short stories. (Actually, my real passion is for a long novel, but my patience and attention span don’t seem to want to play ball!) Working for myself, and – fortunately – being very busy with work, meant that finding time to write was always going to be a problem. But in the beginning, I had an even bigger problem. I knew nothing about Hopeless, Maine!

Yep. I started my story knowing zilch, nada, nothing about the world in which my story was set. So that was my first challenge – how could I write a story set on an island I had never visited; metaphorically or otherwise? Oh alright, I had read the first graphic novel, so the one thing I knew was that you could never leave the island – and that was pretty much the only rule I was given when I asked Tom about what I could and couldn’t do. (Yes, I know I eventually broke it… twice!).

And that gave me an idea.

At what point did this mysterious power that stopped you leaving the island begin? It seemed to me that if your ship was in trouble off the coast – you were inevitably headed to Hopeless. But how far out at sea did the dreaded pull of Hopeless, Maine extend? It must end at some point? I started to think about a sort of aquatic Lagrange point – a point of no return. What would happen if someone travelled to that point and got stuck there – caught between trying to leave and the unnatural lure of the island?

My literary childhood had been all about ‘hard’ science fiction, Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Phillip K Dick, John Brunner, Richard K Morgan, David Brin, Herbert, – I was voracious, reading up to five books a week. Over time I read other science fiction (softer?) and eventually even other genres, but my earliest love was for science fiction. These days I also consider myself a steampunk – I just love that juxtaposition between history and mad science.

Oh, by the way – no spoilers lie ahead if you haven’t read The Oddatsea*.

I decided my story would have elements of science fiction and Victorian steampunk – harking back to Verne and Wells. But I also wanted it to fit with Hopeless, Maine – and for that, I drew on Lovecraft to a certain extent – his weird, literally maddening stories and dark sense of humour. (Well, I think he’s funny anyway).

I chose a female protagonist because I love strong women and it suited the story – I needed a rebel – someone who would go further – what could be more rebellious than a woman in Victorian society who is an explorer, an adventurer and takes no nonsense from anyone?

And I chose a submarine as her chosen mode of transport in the tradition of Verne and because I wanted something different – something that hadn’t travelled to Hopeless, Maine before. We knew ships became wrecked on the rocks of the island, but how would a submarine fare? It was a delicious unknown.

As I found time to write, you will be pleased to know I also found time to read all the graphic novels, and eventually as much of the Hopeless, Vendetta (this very website dear readers), as I could. So about two-thirds of the way through the story, I was as well-versed as I could be in the shared delusion of Hopeless, Maine.

The way I write is quite organic. Oh, I used to plan a story, plotting out every twist and turn, every character and every scene. But the problem was that this was all done in my head. And when I came to write it, I just couldn’t be bothered! As in my mind, it was already written – committing it to paper just seemed a painful chore.

I know to avoid that now. I start with a vague idea and a couple of characters – perhaps an overall aim of the story – but no more. And most of the time I do not even have an ending. I just start writing and it takes on a life of its own. This means that the way the story unfolds and what happens to the characters is probably as much as a surprise to me as it is to the reader! Anyway, it might seem peculiar and ill-advised, but it seems to work for me.

The Prospect of Joy was conceived as a single standalone story – and definitely not part of a quadrilogy (clumsy word – maybe that’s why writers stick to trilogies!). But I didn’t want a straightforward ending – in keeping with the overall feel of Hopeless, Maine, I wanted something unresolved, something uncomfortable, something where the reader could envisage their own resolution. On the other hand, I hate stories that just fizzle out – so, although ambiguous, it needed to feel like an ending.

In the end, I was fairly pleased with the way the story turned out – and even better, Tom and Nimue seemed to like it too. (Or perhaps they were far too polite to tell me they hated it! I did tell you they were very nice people didn’t I?) But as I finished it, I realised something. It was crying out for a sequel, by posing the ending as a sort of intriguing what happens next, I was caught in a fiendish trap of my own making. I knew I had to write a follow-up…

*just WHY haven’t you read it?

And also, you can get copies of the Oddatsea over here – https://hopeless-maine.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders

Bringing Salamandra Home

The sea gives, and the sea takes.

It takes the heat from your body and the breath from your lungs.

It gives you mystery and awe.

It takes the living, and gives back the dead.

It takes the dead and gives back the beyond dead… the changed… the terrifying.

The sea takes from the living and gives us shipwrecks, salvage, treasures to use for daily life.

It gives us people who did not want to be here.

And sometimes, just sometimes, what the sea brings to us

Is life.

Child Sal to the Dark Tower Came

Child Sal to the Dark Tower Came is the name of the first Hopeless Maine story I ever wrote for Tom. It happened long before I started working on the graphic novels. There are now three versions of the art for this story and they appear in order below – Tom’s first illustration for my short story, the version in The Gathering and Dr Abbey’s version. The words are new, and mine.

The title comes from a vague memory of reading Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. I don’t really remember the poem, except that it was miserable. The dark tower of this story is really a lighthouse, a light tower once it gets going. It’s an important image in terms of the history of the project. It also feels relevant now, because it comes in the story at a moment of profound loss and despair for Salamandra. It’s about having nothing you can really do, and yet still doing something.

 

Child Sal to the dark tower came

With windblown hair and eyes aflame

The sea and sky call out her name

And life will never be the same.

 

 

Child Sal in boots too loose by far

Led by her ancestral star

None would dare her entrance bar

Deserted tower, door ajar

 

 

Child Sal in loneliness comes in

To empty rooms devoid of kin

And hopes a new life to begin

A home to make, a future win

 

 

Child Sal to the dark tower came

And here in secret hoped to reign

Until her heart comes home again

Across the sea, to Hopeless, Maine.

To ride a surf horse

It is a horse day. Usually tumultuous, the sea is a grey sheen of deathly pallor, and so still. Glass still. Unnaturally so – assuming anything in this place could properly be called natural.

The sky is also grey. This is perfectly normal. The sky is a cold, untarnished steel grey polished smooth and hanging over the sea, each a mirror of the other, passing grey smoothness back and forth into infinity.

In other times and places it is the lively rush of sea foam that gives birth to surf horses. Here, where the usual rules are seldom honoured, horses are most often born in stillness and in silence. They come from the waves that never were. The sea undulates softly with them. Grey explodes into vivid green and vibrant blue. Where colour infects the placid sheet of the poised and waiting sea, the horses come. Proud and wild, ferocious and terrifying. They are like no horse you have ever seen, and yet still they are pure horse; nostrils flaring, flanks powerful, tails flicking water to make brief, unlikely rainbows in the air.

If they come to you at dawn or sunset, catching shards of light from a distant horizon, they may seem more real than anything else. On this island of misty greys and insubstantial, haunting things, the horses in the water may look more substantial and more trustworthy than the uneven sand beneath your feet.

They speak of other ways of being, these horses. They say, in whispers you can almost hear, that if there can be horror, why can there not also be delight? Look into their deep, soulful eyes for the delight they promise. Look into their tooth sharp not so equine mouths for the horror they are capable of. They are beautiful and they are grotesque, between the sea and the sky in this dire and perfect moment.

Catch one if you dare. Rise it in search of dreams. You can never return. Whether you have left the island with them is another question entirely. The sea is vast, and deep, and very cold.

 

Art by Dr Abbey.

Thanks to Potia for the inspiration for this blog post.

Mrs Beaten on the perils of frivolity

There is something offensive about the way they gather on the beach when the weather is in the slightest way tolerable. They go there as if it is a place for fun and frolicking, and as though they feel some personal entitlement to frolic where others can see them.

It is so undignified, so unseemly. Some of the women lift the hems of their skirts to navigate the wet sand. A few of them even go down there in trousers. What is the world coming to? What an appalling sight for young children to behold! The human body improperly hidden is a terrible thing.

The beach is not a place for merrymaking. It is a place to scavenge, when one must. It is a place to die, for all that washes in there. It should be mournful. Why do they insist on filing it with laughter? What can they possibly find to laugh about? It is such a disturbing sound – giggling especially. It sounds like loss of control, like unreason made manifest. If we do not control ourselves carefully at all times, there is no knowing what may happen. I speak from unhappy experience.

One moment you might be going through your normal morning routine, and the next, you might entirely lose control and try to kill someone using only the fork that is in your hand. It is never safe to drop guard. Never safe to be incautious.

I cannot bear to be near the beach when other people are so dangerously out of control. I must go at twilight, when it is quieter. The risks of what else will be there seem less troubling to me than the company of people losing their minds. I will go only for the most essential and practical of reasons – to see what the tide has bought in and whether any of it is useful. Frivolity is fatal sometimes, and far too few people understand this.

Two Headed Jim and the Death of the One Eyed Goat

I wrote this about two years ago. I remember that is was inspired by something Professor Elemental said – but whether it was that he very much wanted to read a story with this title, or never wanted to read one, I cannot recall. I don’t always respond well to people going ‘never do this’ if I think it will be funny… it was originally posted to Patreon – many thanks to everyone who helps fun me doing this sort of daftness.

Being a grim and troubling novel, set upon the island of Hopeless Maine. Great mystery surrounds this novel, including the mystery of why the author ever let anyone else read it, and the mystery of what on earth was even going on in the final chapter.

Chapter one: It begins in gore. Our central character is liberated from his mother’s exhausted body by people who know nothing about caesareans, but who once had a drunken conversation about the procedure with Doc Willoughby. Despite the two heads, the child is only given one name.

Chapter two: In which very little happens that is memorable, but we learn that Jim Chevin’s two headed status is likely the consequence of there being too little variety in his gene pool. Things are muttered darkly, but no one comes out with it and says ‘incest’ as it’s clearly more gothic to just imply that.

Chapter three: Jim Chevin grows up feeling angry and misunderstood. He expresses this through inexplicable acts of weirdness towards sea creatures. We assume the author means us to sympathise with his condition but most likely it will just make you feel a bit queasy about whelks.

Chapter four: Jim Chevin graduates to doing fairly sinister things with chickens. He also does peculiar things with feathers that may or may not be a metaphor for his troubled inner life. No one around him cares. The reader probably doesn’t care either and only struggles on because the book hype promised “unspeakable horrors that will literally make you cack yourself.” And who can resist the lure of that kind of marketing?

Chapter five: In which there are unspeakable horrors and you cack yourself.

Chapter six: This chapter seems to have been written carelessly and in haste, perhaps in the assumption that no one would make it beyond the shocking events of chapter five. However, at this point there is, finally, a brief mention of the one eyed goat.

Chapter seven: This chapter is an unexpected climax for the story, pitting man (well, Jim) against nature (the goat) and it seems to belong in an entirely different sort of novel. The sort of novel in which men battle giant otters, angry fish, unreasonable landscapes and so forth. Jim confronts his lifelong nemesis, the one eyed goat. None of the preceding chapters in any way support this plot development. Man and goat are involved in an epic, cliff top battle. The goat plunges to his doom in the sea. In a strange act of continuity, whelks are involved.

Chapter eight: This chapter gives every impression of having been written by someone else entirely – someone who only read the title and not the rest of the book. This author expounds at length on the various moral and philosophical truths we can take from the story of two headed Jim and the death of the one eyed goat. The word ‘pathos’ is used seventeen times in this chapter, while the term ‘over intellectualising’ doesn’t even come up once.

Written in dust

Dustcats are clearly flavour of the month, so here’s a bit more dustcatty goodness!

Dustcats sleep in the air, often floating in profoundly undignified positions. It makes them attractive to other sorts of cats, who will, if chance arises, lunge after their wafting tails and dangling tongues. On the whole, this causes the dustcats very little trouble.

To protect themselves while sleeping, dustcats exhale small clouds of dust intermittently. It is enough to inconvenience a would-be predator, and the ensuing coughs and sneezes will wake a vulnerable dustcat, usually giving it time to flee upwards. The lingering taste of dust makes it more tempting not to eat a dustcat, but merely to try and play with its tail without suffering too much. Sometimes small children will participate in this sport as well.

Theophrastus Frog is probably the only person, living and not living, to have paid much attention to the dust that emerges from the tongue of a sleeping dustcat. Often it is of no great consequence. Sometimes however, patterns emerge in the cloud of exhaled materials. A person might observe landscapes – familiar and unlikely. There may be faces – horrific or identifiable, or both.

Theophrastus Frog has kept a diary noting the forms the dust takes. Or at least, the forms he perceives, for there may be some element of interpretation involved. It gratifies him to know that on the day before he died, three different dustcats made a dustface that he recognised as his own. He wonders if there is a predictive quality to the images made of dust. He wonders if these might be fragments of dustcat dreams, given form. He wonders most often if it is just that he is entirely mad, and seeing images where no images exist.

In the dust, he has seen shipwrecks and monsters from the deep. He has seen views of the island as though from above, and wonders if dustcats themselves go high enough for such views. His own dustcats seldom leave the snug safety of the library. He does not think they can have witnessed these perspectives first hand. Do they share their dreams with some other being? Or does the island perhaps breathe out through them sometimes as they innocently exhale?

(This piece was originally posted on Patreon some years ago. Making comics is time consuming, and does not pay a living wage, so Patreon support is really helpful for keeping us going. https://www.patreon.com/NimueB )