Category Archives: Hopeless Tales

story, poetry, rumour and gossip

The Night-Soil Man

The following article discusses certain delicate matters not generally aired in polite society. Anyone of a sensitive nature may wish to stop reading now.
Hopeless is wonderfully rich in strangeness and mystery. It is home to a multitude of weird and unworldly creatures and sometimes it seems as if an ominous magic is lurking around every corner. While the human population and the more commonplace animal species living here are wary of these praeternatural neighbours, all recognise that, whatever dangers threaten to beset them, the business of living has to go on in all of its aspects. This inevitably includes the production and disposal of – and I blush to have to mention it – sewage.
In these modern times most people on the island enjoy the convenience of an unseen, efficient method of waste disposal. In the past, however, the gallant Night-Soil Man was our only method of removing the offending effluent. It would be common, after dark, to hear him rattling along the cobbled streets in his heavily-laden donkey cart. Although those days are, happily, long gone there still exist a few Night-Soil Men to service the more isolated and sparsely populated areas where it would be almost impossible to install any form of financially viable technology which would be sufficient to the task of  tackling the problem.
Maybe the best known modern day practitioner of this dying trade is Shenandoah Nailsworthy, a master of his craft. For those brave enough to be abroad at night, his burly form can frequently be spotted, scrambling over the rocky headland, burdened down with a large, tightly-lidded bucket, which is carried on his back like a rucksack. It should be noted that traditionally the work is always carried out in the hours of darkness in order to spare the sensibilities of the client.
There is a veil of secrecy surrounding much of the Night-Soil Man’s work. Indeed, the code of confidentiality that exists between him and his client has often been likened to that of the confessional. As Mr Nailsworthy once commented, “What happens in the privy stays in the privy.” Who exactly he said these words to is somewhat unclear though, as most people are disinclined to stand within speaking distance of him.
The comparison with the priesthood, perhaps, is greater than many may realise, as the general effluvium which surrounds him makes enforced celibacy an occupational reality. This is why there has never been a proud family tradition of night-soil collection with the tools of the trade passed from father to son. It has always been the occupation of a solitary man.  By the same token, however, it keeps him alive, as the otherworldly denizens of Hopeless, however bizarre or deadly they may be, will invariably give him a wide berth. After all, a foul stench is a foul stench in whatever dimension you partially-inhabit. The noxious reach of this lonely profession’s reek has even penetrated the folk-culture of the island. Besides a reference being made to him in the well-loved ballad ‘Ghost Writers in the Sky’, he is commemorated in a once-popular children’s street game; the song that accompanied it may still be heard occasionally:

Oh have you smelt the Night-Soil Man, the Night-Soil man, the Night-Soil Man,
Oh have you smelt Night-Soil Man who lives in Hopeless, Maine?

Oh yes I’ve smelt the Night-Soil Man, the Night-Soil man, the Night-Soil Man,
Oh yes I’ve smelt Night-Soil Man who lives in Hopeless, Maine. POO!

According to custom, when this game is played two children form an arch with their raised arms and their playmates march underneath in time to the song.The child who is left standing beneath the arch when the ejaculation POO! is reached is deemed to be out (this last syllable should be shouted lustily and with feeling). The arms of the arch come down and the hapless child is allegorically put into the Night-Soil Man’s bucket and the lid sealed. Comparisons have been drawn with Oranges and Lemons, at the end of which the unfortunate loser is symbolically beheaded. It either fate were factual it would be difficult to pick a preference.
Rufus Lypiatt, the landlord of The Squid and Teapot, told me a charming story about his elderly cousin, Arabella, one of the few people who managed, on one memorable occasion, to have a brief conversation with Mr Nailsworthy. Apparently she had a very bad head-cold at the time. It seems that one night she had wandered down to the end of her yard to answer a particularly urgent call of nature just a minute or so before he made his nocturnal collection. Surprised and probably somewhat embarrassed on having intruded upon her, he asked why she didn’t put a lock on the privy door.
“There’s no need,” she replied. “I’ve lived here for over forty years and no one has ever tried to steal the bucket.”
Finally, it should be noted that should you find yourself in the position of requiring the Night-Soil Man’s services please don’t be tempted to cut corners and do the job yourself. It is a potentially perilous activity and the chances are you will not succeed. At best you will simply end up going through the motions.*

*Author’s note: Apologies for the last paragraph. The temptation was just too much to bear.

 

Art by Tom Brown

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Chapel Rock

In the sixth century an Irish monk, Saint Brendan, along with fourteen companions, boarded a small leather boat and sailed out beyond the setting sun, seeking Paradise in the far west. Latter day scholars and adventurers now believe that he reached the shores of North America. This would be about seven hundred years before the Vikings attempted the same journey in their sleek, ocean-going, dragon-headed longships. The adventures of the saint are well documented, describing the many fantastical islands encountered on his journey. It is said that Christopher Columbus studied the account carefully before embarking on his famous voyage of 1492.
According to some old documents currently in the possession of Rufus Lypiatt, landlord of the Squid and Teapot, knowledge of the voyage of St. Brendan inspired a group of disaffected young monks to leave their monastery in Britain and set off on their own journey of discovery in the mid-1800s. Unlike Brendan they sensibly elected not to risk the trip in a craft that was little more than a flimsy, over-sized ox-hide bucket. Instead they opted to take advantage of the comparative luxury of a new-fangled steam ship. In the event, the experience of being ten days in a cramped hold, filled with generally underprivileged and somewhat sweaty fellow passengers sharing minimal hygiene facilities, made it abundantly clear that the dubious comforts of an ox-hide bucket probably had something of an edge over travelling in steerage.
After landing in New York they made enquires about any mysterious islands that might be found along the more northerly parts of the eastern seaboard. Strangely, everyone they asked, without exception, pointed them towards Maine. And so it came to pass that, upon one grey and dismal afternoon, a small band of less-than-fragrant monks found their habits flapping immodestly as a chilly north-westerly breeze welcomed them to the barren shores of Hopeless.
The apparent weirdness of the island, not to mention its inhabitants, immediately suggested that Brendan may indeed have landed here. It seemed a good place to settle, not least because few boats ever seemed to visit the place, so there was little chance of getting off anytime soon. Although there didn’t appear to be many buildings in the immediate area, providence led them to an abandoned chapel built upon a rock, not far from the shore. Its only occupants were the great black ravens, so familiar on the island. While others may have drawn certain conclusions from the word ‘abandoned’ the monks decided that it would be a splendid place to establish the very first monastery on Hopeless. With a youthful fervour that would have warmed the heart of the most fanatical Jesuit, they set about the task of renovating the humble chapel, planning to improve it, both in size and splendour.

As the monks toiled they little realised that beneath the cold grey flagstones of the chapel floor reposed the earthly remains of its founder, one Obadiah Hyde, a strict puritan who had brought his scrawny frame and joyless views to the island some two centuries earlier. Unsurprisingly, he was never a popular man and after his demise the building fell into disrepair.
It is no exaggeration to say that Hyde had his demons. He really did. Their names were Quarhouse and Mavis and they tormented him night and day. Their given task was to drive him into loose ways and revel in the pleasures of the flesh. While, for most of us, this would have been a short, pleasant and fairly uncomplicated journey, old Obadiah was steadfast. When their best efforts to lure him into a lascivious lifestyle failed, Quarhouse and Mavis resorted to spite. They swung upon his clothing, poked him with sticks and entertained him with an endless stream of ‘knock knock’ jokes. When he tried to sleep they gibbered and chattered incessantly. Eventually the curmudgeonly old puritan was driven to madness by their ceaseless torment, leading him to throw himself into the sea. After several lengthy discussions and committee meetings the relieved islanders thought it only right to drag him out of the water. They made a few half-hearted attempts to make sure that he was sufficiently dead, then wasted no time in interring him safely beneath the chapel floor.

Hyde was enjoying a leisurely, two-hundred year holiday in one of the classier parts of purgatory. He was feeling particularly smug for having got to the sunbeds before the Lutherans had the opportunity to throw their towels over them. His unusually sunny disposition soon faded, however, when he heard the distant but unmistakable sound of hammering emanating from his beloved chapel. What could it mean? Peering through the Astral mists he was shocked to find the old place being messed around. And messed around by monks, of all people. The nerve of them!! It was time to go back.
In recent years the ghost of The Mad Parson of Chapel Rock has been regarded with some fondness among the extensive pantheon of restless spirits who hang around Hopeless. In those days, however, it’s safe to say that the monks didn’t feel any particular warmth towards him. If any one word summed up his early manifestations it would be ‘bloodcurdling’. He would rage and scream, throw things around, mutter intrusively about ‘bloody papists’ in the middle of their devotions and appear without warning, generally putting the frighteners on all who beheld him.
When they could take no more of his haunting and taunting the monks decided the only possible remedy was for the ghost to be exorcised and cast out into the cold night skies forever.
One might assume that, having entertained such austere views in his lifetime, Hyde might have approved of fresh air and excorcism but as soon as the incense censer was swung and prayers of banishment intoned, the old ghost began to feel horribly queasy. The room became hazy, while the strangest of sensations made his ectoplasm tingle and not in a pleasant way. Little by little his wraith began to fade. Suddenly, just as he thought his haunting days were over for good, the ectoplasm started returning to his extremities and he felt himself being ushered to safety, far away from the detrimental effects of incense and chanting. Looking down he was most surprised to find that his benefactors were none other than his personal demons, Quarhouse and Mavis.
“You’re not the enemy any more” Mavis explained, pointing towards the chanting monks. “They are.”

Quarhouse and Mavis did their work well, whispering temptingly into youthful ears and telling them of the joys of earthly pleasures.The monks, once so full of piety and good intentions, didn’t stand a chance. They were young men far from home and quickly learning that the penitent lifestyle wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. It took little demonic influence to lead them on to The Primrose Path of Dalliance, which soon became a well trodden freeway leading to the joys of The Squid and Teapot and, with increasing frequency, Madam Evadne’s lodging house for discerning gentlemen.
Time is the great healer and during the years that passed, as all traces of the renovations disappeared, the ravens returned to Chapel Rock. Its resident ghost, Obadiah Hyde, The Mad Parson was content in the certain knowledge that things were very much as they should be. Occasionally he even allowed himself to smile indulgently as he fluttered eerily through the decaying ruins. Death had definitely mellowed him.

 

 

Art by Tom Brown

Ghost Writers In The Sky

A strand of folklore common to various cultures throughout the western world is that of The Wild Hunt. From the Viking settlements of Scandinavia to the plains of Arizona, via several points in-between, many attest to having seen this ghostly cavalcade of wraiths racing across the night sky, filling the air with the clatter of hooves and the baying of hounds.
No one would express surprise to learn that Hopeless has more than its fair share of Wild Hunts. On a particularly busy night two or three can run into each other and the result is invariably chaotic. There are always tantrums, hissy fits and disagreements regarding rights of way and inevitable disputes about who is entitled to pursue what or whom. Occasionally a scuffle ensues, which is one of the more entertaining spectacles for anyone brave or foolhardy enough to be abroad on such a night.
One of the lesser known and least exciting of these chases across the sky is locally referred to as The Mild Hunt. Legend has it that many years ago a group of six lady authors set out from England to seek intellectual freedom in the New World. They had little money and their only possessions were three mules, a pair of springer spaniels and enough paper and ink to keep them occupied on the long sea voyage. The journey was largely uneventful and the ladies spent their days sitting on deck, laboriously writing improving pamphlets, which were intended to be distributed among the grateful inhabitants of New England when they eventually reached their destination. Sadly, just as they had sighted Maine, a terrible storm arose, as if from nowhere. The wind picked up and every one of their pamphlets was swept into the air. The ladies scuttled around the deck trying to retrieve them but all to no avail. Before long, near one of the many little islands that cluster around that coastline, the ship struck an outcrop of rock and quickly sank; every living creature on board descended to a distinctly watery grave. Under normal circumstances that would have been the end of the tale but this particular rocky outcrop was part of an Island that is frequently omitted from the charts. An island that seems reluctant to let its dead rest for very long…
As far as anyone knows the drowned crew all retired to a happy eternity drinking rum in Davy Jones’ locker. The ghosts of the ladies and their livestock, however, had a different fate. So distraught were they over losing their handwritten pamphlets, they vowed to scour the skies until each one was retrieved. Doubling up on the mules, with the spaniels at their heels, they rose into the heavens, amid a chorus of brays and irritating barks, eternally damned to fulfil their quest. Occasionally, when not unceremoniously falling off the mules, they can be spotted taking tea and cake with other wraiths, notably The Mad Parson of Chapel Rock and The Headless White Lady who is known to haunt The Squid and Teapot (though how she manages to consume tea and cake is a mystery in itself).
The legend gave rise to a popular song, often heard around the island.

Ghost Writers in The Sky

A night-soil man went strolling out across the darkened land,
Upon a ridge he rested, his bucket in his hand.
For all at once he spied some paper flying through the air
Ghostly pamphlets, by and large, littering everywhere.

The edges of these pamphlets burned with a fiery glow,
The ink was black and shiny and the paper white as snow.
A bolt of fear went through him as they fluttered through the sky
For he saw the riders plodding up and he heard their mournful cries

Dearie me, oh
Dearie me, oh gosh.
Ghost writers in the sky

Their faces gaunt, their glasses blurred their skirts all creased and stained,
With wraith-like spaniels at their heels they clung on to the reins.
They’ve got to ride forever across the Hopeless skies
On flatulent old mules, you can often hear their cries.

As the riders loped on by him he heard one call “Yoo hoo,
If you want to help us out, young man, there’s something you can do.
If you should see some pamphlets a-fluttering in the breeze,
Stick them in your bucket, lad, and put the lid down, please.”

Dearie me oh
Dearie me, oh gosh!
Ghost writers in the sky
Ghost writers in the sky
Ghost writers in the sky

 

art by Tom Brown

Finding Hopeless, Maine

Finding Hopeless, Maine

Come in, dear traveller! I hear you are looking for directions. Yes ,yes, sit down. Now, you want to get to Hopeless, Maine. Are you sure?  You’ve been warned about it, yes? The witches, the eldritch terrors, the night potatoes… Alright, alright, I can see that you are a stubborn and headstrong sort, who will not be dissuaded. Not even if I tell you that most people are desperately trying to come the other way? Well it was worth trying. Now let me think; directions to Hopeless Maine. Hmmmm.

Well there are a lot of different paths, yes, and they tend to shift. I can’t guarantee that you’ll arrive safely. Or arrive at all. So here, dear traveller, are three ways of getting to Hopeless Maine that will probably succeed. You have been warned…

1) Collect all of your best spoons, and lay them out in the centre of your bathroom. Lock the door. Nail it shut. Turn the light off.  Watch the spoons. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait until the walls start crawling and you can hear things skittering. Wait. Do not take your eyes off the spoons. Wait. Bite your nails to the quick, sing, mutter; do what you must but keep your eyes on the spoons; everything depends on this, dear traveller. Sooner or later, a creature will arrive. It will take the spoons. If you are lucky, it will dance a slow and mesmeric dance. Watch. The. Spoons. When the creature leaves, you must follow it. Try to avoid looking at anything other than the spoons; the sight of the creature itself has been rumoured to cause madness and soul-deep tea cravings.

2) Contrive to find yourself shipwrecked while carrying the following in your pockets:

  • One month’s worth of nail clippings (yours or someone else’s)

  • A single baby tooth (any species)

  • A very sharp fishhook

  • A small bottle of rum

  • A turnip

  • Red shoes

  • A memory stolen from an elderly relative (must be an actual relative, although if you are lacking in these a memory borrowed from a badger and an ivory hairgrip will substitute well)

It is preferable to be shipwrecked on a night with a moon. Once shipwrecked you must follow the moon. So long as you have not lost any of the listed accouterments, you will find a road of moonlight to walk along. There will be beings, dear traveller, that demand tolls. Be very, very careful about what you give up; I heard a tale about a venturer… Well, you are so set on going and I would hate to dissuade you. What happened? Well, she traded the wrong thing to the wrong guardian, you see; the outcome was not pretty.

3) On a windy day, with the sun shining and clouds scudding over the sky, build a labyrinth. It need not be a large one, but the materials must be light. Walk it, turning back in every time you exit. If the wind changes the labyrinth, do not correct it. If the technique is working, you will find yourself walking in smaller and smaller circles, and getting quite dizzy. There will be a quite unseasonal mist, and a sound best described as a choir of snails trying to sing. Keep on walking, around and around and around… Side effects of this route include ending up somewhere else entirely, although they are likely to be more pleasant places than the intended destination.

Now, are you still sure you want to go?

This set of directions ( or love letter to Hopeless, Maine) was penned by the (frankly bloody amazing)  Meredith Debonnaire. You can (and should) find her blog here.

Art by Tom Brown

The sound of the cutlery moving.

Greetings people! (and others)

This week, we start a new regular feature on the Hopeless, Vendetta- TALES FROM THE SQUID AND TEAPOT. You will find this here every Tuesday. This column is written by the greatly esteemed Martin Pearson and we are proud and massively chuffed to bring him to the island and then, to you. So, without further ado, we give you the first tale…

When W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan) went to America in 1871 he was invited to visit the island of Hopeless. He reputedly spent a night in the Squid and Teapot and the experience gave him the idea for an operetta. Sadly this was never completed. If it had it would have been his first collaboration with Arthur Sullivan. As it is, only a tiny fragment of the libretto survives. This song, possibly incomplete, is almost certainly based upon Gilbert witnessing the mysterious spoonwalkers at first hand.

When you wake in the night
With your chest feeling tight
And sweat dripping down on the bedding.
You might fervently pray
You were far, far away,
In Timbuctoo, Bombay or Reading.
Then despite all your prayers
There’s a noise on the stairs
You know that your night’s not improving.
For that ominous clink
Makes one long for a drink,
It’s the sound of the cutlery moving.

Oh that ominous clink
Makes one long for a drink.
It’s the sound of the cutlery moving.

When the cutlery drawer
Isn’t quite as before,
And the spoons have all left without reason
You might think that the maid
Had somehow betrayed
All the trust you’d allowed her this season.
But you know in your heart
This is only the start
And the knowledge is really unsoothing,
For a spoon has no leg,
So the question I beg
Is “How is the cutlery moving?”

Oh a spoon has no leg,
So the question I beg
Is “How is the cutlery moving?”

What unholy sort
Is forced to resort
To stealing my spoons for prosthetics?
Do they need every one
To furnish their fun
And indulge in demonic athletics?
How I wish they’d depart,
It would lighten my heart.
They can keep all my spoons, thereby proving
That I’m terribly scared
And never prepared
To hear that dash’d cutlery moving.

Oh I’m terribly scared
And never prepared
To hear that dash’d cutlery moving.

​Obituary-Sir Fromebridge Whitminster

I was saddened to learn, this week, of the sudden death of my old friend and sometime drinking companion Sir Fromebridge Whitminster, last of the great actor managers, tragedian and founder of the ill-fated theatre troupe The Hopeless Players.

Sir Fromebridge washed up¹ on to our shores many years ago from England, following a fall-out with the management of an esteemed London repertory company. He cited artistic differences as being the main reason for his leaving the land of his birth and that of his beloved Shakespeare.

From the moment he arrived in Hopeless he became convinced that the island had been The Bard’s inspiration for Prospero’s Isle in ‘The Tempest’, possibly gleaned from tales related by a sea captain who had ventured to the early colonies. On one occasion I challenged this assertion, quoting the words of Caliban:

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not…”

It hardly sounded like the Hopeless I knew.

“Poetic licence, dear boy,” he said. “But the bit about the place being full of noise is deadly accurate.”

It would be impossible to celebrate the life of this man without mentioning the short-lived Hopeless Players; their history is not a particularly happy one. The troupe toured the island several times, aiming to bring Shakespeare to the people. The problem was that, by and large, not only the people but the the island itself were hostile to this intrusion of, what they regarded as being, largely incomprehensible language and convoluted plots.²

The tragedies which occurred within The Tragedies are too numerous to recall, but certain ones stand out. There was the memorable occasion on the North of the island when the profusion of ghosts on the stage made it impossible for an uncharacteristically elderly Hamlet to pick out which one was supposed to be his father. As it happened none of them were, as the actor assigned to the job was, at the time, being seduced in his dressing room by a passing succubus.

The following year saw the King Lear incident. In a less than salubrious town-hall the cry of “Out vile jelly” had a swarm of timid, diminutive and generally shapeless life-forms climbing out of the woodwork in the mistaken belief that they were being evicted from their homes. The final straw came during a production of MacBeth, or The Scottish Shambles, as the company came to call it. Sir Fromebridge had completely underestimated the potency of the witches’ spells when cast on this particular island, especially beneath a full moon. The sight of Birnham Wood being transformed into a window-box, Banquo’s sporran spontaneously combusting and Lady MacDuff sprouting bat wings and a tail was unforgettable. Any rapidly diminishing chances of the show going on were scuppered completely when a set of bagpipes scampered around the stage viciously attacking the surviving members of the cast. On the plus side, this was the only time any of their performances received a standing ovation. The applause was deafening and enough to waken the dead, had they not already been enthusiastically joining in from the second row of the balcony.

After that what remained of the troupe quickly disbanded and Sir Fromebridge spent his twilight years holding court in the snug of The Squid and Teapot, a quayside hostelry frequented by mainly British exiles. He was a familiar sight in his trademark flop-brimmed fedora and billowing black cape, sharing anecdotes of a flamboyant theatrical past and gossiping about his various leading ladies.³

To keep himself occupied he attempted to teach the local people the correct pronunciation of certain words, such as tomato, schedule, lieutenant and aluminium. Sadly, none of these really featured much in the vocabulary of the average Hopeless resident so all was to no avail. However, while his efforts to anglicise the natives came to nothing, the culture of the island managed to reach him in its various ways. In fact, the very last time I saw him he was lurching out of The Squid singing, almost in tune, a popular island ditty:

” You can bring Rose with the grotesque nose
But don’t bring Cthulu…”

To my knowledge he passed away soon after, slipping quietly away in his sleep. (4) He will be sorely missed.

Editor’s notes:
1) Many believed him to be washed up long before he came to Hopeless.

2) And also unaccountable financial discrepancies concerning ticket receipts.

3) The chances are that he didn’t mention the critic who observed that
‘Whitminster believes himself to be elevating the stage, when in reality he is only depressing the audience’

4) This is not completely true. Eye-witnesses relate that he staggered out of The Squid and Teapot, following a particularly agreeable liquid lunch, to settle down to sleep upon, what he seemed to believe to be, a large smooth rock. This was in fact the belly of a juvenile aboo-dom-k’n, basking in the thin, greasy light of some unaccustomed sunshine. This sudden burden disturbed the beast which, hardly believing its luck, slipped quietly into the sea, taking its lunch ( that is, the artiste previously known as Fromebridge Whitminster) with it.

 

This post written by the esteemed Martin Pearson, proving that it does indeed run (or slither) in the family.

Towards Hopeless

 

Hopeless Vendetta

Bill Jones is an artist, writer and performer (As Miserable Malcolm) from that centre of the creative universe that is Stroud, UK. (This enables us to stalk him regularly)

He has quite recently released (Via publisher- Head of Zeus) a new book titled The Life and Times of Algernon Swift which is gloriously saturated with puns, double meanings and artwork like that above. We own a signed copy, I’ll have you know!  It can be got via online book selling sites and in all fine book stores (Possibly several middling book stores, but we wouldn’t know, as we don’t go into those) His website is to be found here.

Tales of the night potato

The Legend of Stern Ericsson

By Graeme Talboys

Ericsson’s field is given to grass now, sour and wiry. Even the passing geese refuse to stop off there on their journeys to wilder climes. Nothing but the thin, cold wind plays there, and its game is spiteful.

Few, now, know who Ericsson was. Some even doubt he existed at all. But he did. He dug the soil of that field in a daily battle, breaking the sod as it slowly broke his back. For many years he had risen daily to the task with the rising of the sun and worked until the sun was gone from the sky. He grew vegetables there in the strange soils on the haunted hill.

It left little space in his head for ought but the small compass of earth in all its forms and moods. Letters meant nothing to him yet he could read the history of the world in that patch of soil. Many say it drove him mad. Once placid, his eyes had, in latter years, begun to glow with dull and obsessive fire.

With gothic inevitability, it was the night of a full moon that others noticed his eyes had taken a different shine; the same night that he was first heard to mutter: “They are here. The night potatoes are here.”

Some put it down to drink which he consumed with a destructive steadiness. Others simply pointed to the fact that no matter how much he consumed, his walk was ever steady and his speech never slurred. And those who put it down to the strong ale soon abandoned the idea as he was heard muttering it over and over at all hours of the day long after he had stopped appearing in the tavern of an evening. And he had taken to carrying his large, sturdy fork wherever he went – a fearsome tool that had broken many acres and lifted many a vegetable.

In the end it was thought his long years of toil had broken his mind before it had broken his back. Until, that is, a child who was out after dark when he should have been abed and asleep came screaming into his parents’ kitchen with tales of angry potatoes, eyes aglow, scuttering along Ericsson’s field.

Roused, the village men turned out in force. Alas, too late. What heroic action had been fought, they could not tell other than by surmise. All they saw as they approached the field was Stern Ericsson silhouetted against the rising moon, laying about his person with his dread fork as he was assailed by the vengeful tribe of root vegetables, their eerie pale eyes aglow with vengeance for generations of their brethren.

By the time the villagers had reached the spot, the warrior horde of perennial nightshades had gone. As for Stern Ericsson, prone on the ground he had tilled for decades, it was a sight they would never forget – the horror and despair in his sightless eyes; his arms and legs planted in the ground, earth banked up around his corpse.

The winter that followed was hard on everyone. Ericsson’s harvest had upped and run and there was little appetite for potatoes that year. And for many years after. Even now they are an imported delicacy, a luxury only to be found in shipwrecks.

No one knows what made them turn, nor why they turned on Ericsson, but there his field now lies, the cold wind knifing its way through the rough grasses. And if you dare to venture along the lane at night, just as a moon is rising, you’ll see a mound in silhouette, the final resting place of Stern Ericsson.

http://www.graemektalboys.me.uk/

 

 

From Lou Lou Pulford

“Where d’you want me t’put ‘em Ma’am?”

Perhaps there had been a misunderstanding. Another one. I had asked for vegetables. I had asked this very clearly and slowly, stretching my mouth around each syllable after the fashion of all well bred English women travelling abroad. Again it seemed my earnest attempts at meaningful communication had fallen foul of the islanders’ intellect. I do not mean to say that the locals here are backward in any way, simply that years of isolation for any community will lead eventually to the evolution of a very particular strain of intelligence… and it was the brick wall of this esoteric wit that my own frazzled faculties have been thrown up against since my arrival three days ago.

It was only a month or two ago that my dear friend Nimue Brown sat in my little soup kitchen in Lancaster nodding and smiling and making encouraging noises at my, obviously foolish, suggestion of a holiday to the island of Hopeless, Maine. Being a witch in my country is never easy, as women are not permitted to practice magic. I manage to hide my identity by running a little soup kitchen for the street orphans of Lancaster but it is a terrible strain and so when I heard about the plight of the poor orphans of Hopeless I decided to hitch my soup cauldron to the back of my broomstick and see if I could lend a culinary hand – nothing makes one forget the misery and futility of a poverty stricken life like a hearty bowl of home cooked soup.

It was now midnight (ish) on the third day since my arrival and, having spent a good amount of energy explaining why ‘bottom of the garden stew’ is not a nutritious diet for a growing child and the last of my good will reserves arguing that ‘just because it came out of the sea does not mean it can be called sea food’, I was now faced with a man bringing me armfuls of wriggling, root-flailing abominations insisting that these were potatoes.

‘Night Potatoes, Ma’am’ he sounded both exhausted and inexplicably pleased with himself.

‘Oh…but they are…um…moving?’ I thought I had made it quite clear that vegetables should on no account move of their own volition – much less glare at the cook with glowing eyes!

My benefactor leaned in conspiratorially ‘ better than them Gnii Ma’am… and the Spoon Walkers… and the Post Meridian Cucumber… and them After Eight Carrots..’

It was true; ever since the soup kitchen had opened its doors I had been inundated with a dauntless stream of locals proffering their contributions to the pot (along with various blessings, charms, curses, death threats…)

I sighed, better perhaps to humour this gentleman and his Night Potatoes than risk him return with some more frightful offering. ‘Very well, thankyou, thankyou so much I’m sure I shall find…something to do with them.’ I smiled gratefully and closed the door, leaving myself distressingly alone with a kitchen full of sinister spuds, who were now congregated around the stove, blinking menacingly at me with probable murderous intent. I rolled up my sleeves, picked up a rolling pin in one hand and a meat cleaver in the other and thought fondly of the onions of home, once again it was going to be a long Hopeless night but I was determined that at the end of all the screaming and the torment, all the carnage and the blood, there would be soup.

https://smithandskarry.wordpress.com/

The Lost Library

By Mark Lawrence

book-ghosts

Four walls, black with the memory of the fire that took the roof. Cold now. Even the stink of char is gone, rain-washed into the gutter. The building is haunted, naturally, how could it not be? What ruin that watches the world from dark windows is free of spirits? But the ghosts here are those of books. The phantoms of hundreds. Untold worlds and lives, riveted to ten thousand pages, each letter a black nail pinning to the page mysteries and marvels, all ready to unfurl in an open mind. They died with a crackle and a sigh and their ashes spiralled glowing into the dark skies of an all Hallows eve. Frogmire Morton built this place and filled it with row upon row of leather-clad tomes, wisdom rubbing worn covers with whimsy. Where they came from, and who wrote them, is perhaps as big a mystery as any contained within their many chapters. Why they burned though, that, sadly is no mystery at all. Little is as frightening to those seeking dominion over others than dissenting opinion, and in Frogmire’s small library were a multitude of voices, each page a window onto other worlds and other ‘might be’s. The ghosts of those books rustle here when the wind is still. Their characters walk invisible. They parade and promenade, discuss and discourse. And the children that play here on the black mud floor, with four scorched walls and the sky for a roof, find their imaginations infected with such strangeness that they return time and again. It seems a strange place to find hope. But hope is strange.

(Mark Lawrence is the author of numerous fantastic dark fantasy titles, and if you are somehow unaware of him, please saunter  over to his website and learn more! http://www.marklawrence.buzz/)