Category Archives: Tales from the Squid and Teapot

Cricket!

You may recall that Colonel ‘Mad Jack’ Ruscombe-Green had decided that it would be a good thing to instruct the islanders of Hopeless in the gentlemanly sport of cricket. He and his former batman, and soon-to-be batsman, Bill Ebley, who now acted as his valet, had fashioned some rudimentary stumps, a brace of cricket bats and even some primitive leg-pads from the wood of their wrecked rowing boat. It must be said that to make a functional cricket bat from limited resources is no easy matter. Fortunately Ebley had a certain amount of skill as a carpenter and managed to construct something that would be tolerably comfortable when hitting a heavy ball, such as the one that Randall Middlestreet, a lad who, until recently, had lived at the orphanage, had kindly donated. This was a treasured baseball, one of the very few on the island. Randall had let the colonel use it on the condition that he and two or three of the other orphans would be allowed to play. This came as something of a relief to the colonel, who had sensed a decided lack of energy and enthusiasm from most of the islanders whom he had tried to recruit to the team. However, by stiffening his upper lip and thinking of England, he had managed to assemble a sufficient number of players by allowing women and girls to take part.
“I only hope the M.C.C. doesn’t get to hear about this,” he confided to Ebley. “ I’ll never be admitted into Lords again.”
Ebley turned this over in his mind.
“With respect sir, that’s a crock of old night-soil,” he said.
He had picked up the local patois very quickly.
“They’d be proud of you, sir, bringing cricket to this God-forsaken place.”
“Mmm.. perhaps so but, after all, women and girls playing… it’s just not cricket!”
After much discussion with the respective landlords it was decided that the teams would represent the island’s inns. ’The Squid and Teapot Xl’ (Capt. J. W. Ruscombe-Green) would play ‘The Crow Xl’ (Capt. W.D. Ebley) at Creepy Hollow, where there was a reasonably flat area upon which a twenty-two yard pitch could be accommodated. The only problem was that part of the boundary was perilously close to the cliff edge, though the colonel was doubtful that, excluding himself and Ebley, anyone in either team would be sufficient to the task of hitting the ball any appreciable distance.
At last the day of the match dawned. It was definitely not the sort of weather for cold beer and a cream teas, even if these things had been available. Beneath a forbidding iron-grey sky a thin, drizzly mist clung stubbornly around Creepy Hollow.
“More of a day for rugby, really.” Ebley mused .
The islanders who had been persuaded to either take part or spectate were not remotely put out, however. After all, this was Hopeless in its summer finery. It looked a lot like Hopeless in its winter finery but was a degree or two balmier.
‘The Crow’ were to go into bat first. Colonel Ruscombe-Green marshalled his fielders as though they were going into battle.
“Lypiatt, I want you to be wicket keeper. Mrs Lypiatt – may I call you Madrigal? Fine leg, I think”
“Steady on colonel…” said Sebastian Lypiatt, uncomfortably.
“That Night-Soil chap can be out on the boundary. A long way out. Shout and tell him, someone… and you, young Middlestreet, I want you at silly point.”
“Really?” Randall Middlestreet looked puzzled.
‘’Yes really,” snapped the colonel. He was not used to having his orders questioned.
It took some time for the chaos to subside and the game begin in earnest. That was when the colonel realised that he was a man short.
“Where the devil is young Middlestreet?”
“He’s done what you asked him to” said his friend, Elijah Camp, a gangly lad who was waiting to bowl. “He’s gone to Scilly Point. That’s a mile or more away.”
The colonel turned several shades of red but said nothing. They would have to make do with ten players.
‘The Crow’ XI had a dismal innings. This had less to do with the Squid’s superior bowling and fielding skills than with the fact that at least eight players managed to hit the stumps down themselves. Bill Ebley scored an unimpressive seven runs before slipping on something anonymous, moist and many legged which had the misfortune of wandering across the pitch at just the wrong moment. Their final score was all out for twelve runs.
The day was descending into farce and the colonel was entertaining serious regrets as he went in to bat for ‘The Squid’ XI. They had an easy score to beat and if he could hit a couple of sixes very quickly it would have the wretched business over and done with. Bill Ebley, however, had other ideas. He had always prided himself as being something of a spin-bowler since his schooldays and, to everyone’s surprise, the first ball he delivered sent the colonel’s stumps flying.
“The blighter tossed me one of his googlies” the colonel complained, getting back to the makeshift pavilion. Madrigal Lypiatt gave him a wry, sideways look, unsure if he was being rude or not.
Things were looking bad for the Squid. Ebley’s bowling prowess was destroying them, when by chance, Sebastian Lypiatt, their ninth man in hit a six, sending the ball into an jagged outcrop of rocks. There was a lull in play while several fielders rummaged around for it without success. Then, from just beyond the rocks a scrawny, ragged figure with a mop of white hair and a straggly beard, appeared holding the ball aloft. He tossed it expertly to the wicketkeeper and, in a thin and wavering voice, burst into song.

“Jolly Boating weather,
And a hay, harvest breeze.
Joy on the feather,
Shade off the trees”

“Good Lord” gasped the colonel in disbelief. “He’s singing the Eton Boating Song.” and could not help himself but summon his finest baritone and join in.

“Swing, swing together
With your backs between your knees.
Swing swing together
With your backs between your knees.

It occurred to the colonel that if the strange fellow was an old Etonian then there was a more than good chance he would be something of a cricketer. Here was his eleventh man.
“Who is that chap” he asked Elijah Camp
“That’s Crazy Wally. Lives in the ruins at Chapel Rock.’’
Before another word could be said Sebastian Lypiatt was bowled out, having scored the only six runs that the Squid XI had achieved.
The colonel decided to take the initiative.
“Wally, old boy, do you know anything about cricket?”
The word ‘Cricket’ seemed to unlock a hidden door in Wally’s mind and he surprised everyone by capering about and repeating the words ‘Razor Smith’. To most this would have been gibberish but the colonel instantly recognised the name of the legendary Surrey slow bowler from the pre-war years.
Thrusting a bat into Wally’s hand he ushered him to the recently vacated wicket.
“We need just seven runs to win. Give it your best, old bean.”
Bill Ebley felt a temporary pang of pity for the unkempt scarecrow standing at the wicket. He decided to make sure that his innings would have a quick and merciful end, then they could all go home.
No one was more surprised than Bill when the fast ball he delivered was met by an expertly wielded bat and despatched to the boundary with ease.
The colonel was delighted.
“Well played sir. Another run and we’re home and dry.”
Bill Ebley gritted his teeth and hoped it was beginner’s luck.
The next ball that he sent down the pitch, he claimed afterwards, was the best that he had ever bowled.
Crazy Wally went to meet it with the skill of a seasoned test cricketer, sending it in a high, elegant arc but heading straight for the sea.
What happened next has become the stuff of Hopeless legend, still spoken of in the taprooms of both ‘The Crow’ and the ‘The Squid and Teapot’ in hushed tones of near-reverence.
The players and small band of spectators watched in amazement when, as the baseball reached the apogee of its curving flight, the long and languid tentacle of a kraken reached over the cliff-edge and caught it before it could commence its descent into the sea. Holding the ball in a neat and suckered curl it wavered for a moment, then, with unerring aim, hurled it with immense force towards the wickets and reduced them to matchwood in an instant.
Wally discarded his bat and, open armed, staggered towards the waving tentacle.
“You have come to take me to poor Mozzarella, my lost darling. You have come to bring me home?”
No one stirred as the serpentine limb reached down and grabbed the ragged man, almost gently, around the waist and hoisted him aloft, like a trophy.
For an instant Wally was suspended in mid-air, beaming and waving to his audience. Then, with a flip of its tentacled arm the kraken took him away forever.
There was absolute silence for a few moments then everyone started talking at once, hardly daring to believe the spectacle that they had just witnessed.
The colonel and Ebley drew away from the small crowd and made their way back to their lodgings.
“We’ll call that one a tie,” said Ruscombe-Green. “I don’t think we’ll be needing a rematch,do you?”

 

Art by Clifford Cumber

Jolly Boating Weather

With The Great War over, Colonel ‘Mad Jack’ Ruscombe-Green was finding civilian life a frightful bore. He and his batman, Private William Ebley, had been demobilised after the cessation of hostilities and while Ebley was content to spend his remaining days in London as the colonel’s valet, Mad Jack himself still ached for adventure.
When an invitation to yet another country-house party arrived by post the colonel’s immediate reaction was less than joyful. He knew that if he accepted he would be rubbing shoulders with the same dreary set of people, most of whom he despised. The prospect of a long-weekend in the company of minor aristocracy and various eccentrics made the memories of the trenches seem almost cheerful. However, this invitation had been from his old C.O. and he felt duty-bound to accept. Bill Ebley, on the other hand, relished these diversions and took little persuasion to pack the colonel’s bags and load the car.
The partygoers turned out to be as tedious as the colonel had predicted, save for one guest. An American gentleman of Norwegian descent named Frank Samuelsen was a breath of fresh air. Here was a fellow adventurer who revealed, in the course of conversation, that he and his late friend, George Harbo, had rowed the Atlantic some twenty-five years earlier. The story fired the colonel’s imagination. That would be just the ticket. Two months on the open ocean and then the vast continent of North America to explore. He took it for granted that Ebley would be his number two. After all, they had been through a great deal together.

Just a few weeks later the colonel was the proud owner of an eighteen-foot long oak rowboat. Following Samuelsen’s advice the craft had been fitted with a water-resistant cedar sheathing and kitted out with a compass, a sextant, a copy of the Nautical Almanac, oilskins and three spare sets of oars. And so it was that they set out from Falmouth with the eternal optimism of every explorer who ever lived. New York was just over three thousand nautical miles away. This would be a trip to remember.

Fifty five days later they were adrift and totally lost. The storm had raged for three days and nights, taking the little boat far off-course. Both men had suffered horribly from sea-sickness, their supplies had almost run out and the last set of oars were floating free somewhere miles away. The two adventurers were completely at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean and all hope had perished when they suddenly found themselves in the middle of a fog bank. It was as thick as either man had ever encountered. So thick, in fact, that they failed to see the reef that ripped the hole in their hull until they were upon it. With the sounds of splintering timbers and raging seas filling their ears the two were hurled onto the rocks and into the oblivion of unconsciousness.

Bill Ebley was used to waking up in odd places. His duties as batman to the colonel, and then, after the war, his valet, had deposited him in some strange surroundings but none to equal these. The room was conventional enough but he could have sworn that the trio of strange ornaments on the dressing table seemed to be moving ever so slightly. They were rum, that was for sure; they looked like socks with big glowing eyes, loads of tentacles and spoons for legs. It must be something to do with this Dadaism thing that he had heard about during the war. Blooming madness, in his opinion.
Blooming madness blossomed into full-flowered madness a minute or so later when the three ornaments decided to scamper across the dressing table and disappear through a hole in the skirting board. Ebley, never a man to knowingly panic under fire, screamed involuntarily. A second later a burly, middle-aged man dashed into the room.
“ You alright, guv’nor?”
Ebley was ghostly white.
‘What was that?” He gasped, then after a short pause. “You’re English! Am I in England? Or dead, maybe?”
“ Neither, my friend. You’re on an island off the coast of Maine, and I’m Sebastian Lypiatt, landlord of The Squid and Teapot.”
Sebastian revealed to Ebley that he had been discovered on the rocks by a foraging party and brought to the inn, which, incidentally, was occasionally plagued by creatures called Spoonwalkers.  When the valet enquired about the well-being of Colonel Ruscombe-Green he was met with a blank stare and told that no one else had been found.
“We’ll organise a search,” promised Sebastian. “We’re used to folks going missing on Hopeless.”
He didn’t mention that the chances of anyone actually being found were not so much slim as positively emaciated.

If Bill Ebley was taken aback by the creatures who shared his billet, Colonel Ruscombe-Green had been frog-marched to edge of reason, allowed to peep into the abyss and encouraged to wave at the demons. It took all of his mental resources to come to terms with his new reality. He found himself in a vast subterranean cavern, illuminated by a thin, sickly-green light. The air was filled with shrieks and screams, human beyond a doubt, that sounded like souls in torment. Just a few paces away from him an  assortment of ghastly, cadaverous creatures wandered, apparently aimlessly, around the cavern. They might have been people once but, except for a slight physical resemblance, all traces of their humanity had gone. They were sniffing the air and drooling like rabid dogs. Occasionally one would drift into the shadows and its leaving would invariably precede a heart-rending cry of abject agony and misery. If this was not Hell then where was it? And what were these monsters?
As if in answer one of them came up to him, drool hanging from its slavering chops. Had Ruscombe-Green known it, this was the very individual who had dragged him to the cavern, having found him unconscious on the rocks.
“Get back you Blighter …”
The creature, unsurprisingly indifferent to mild epithets, extended a bony arm and prodded him with a finger that was badly in need of a manicure. Then it drew back slightly, sniffing the air. It bared its teeth.
The colonel soon realised why it had recoiled. He tried not to gag as the air was filled with the foulest reek. Suddenly the cavern was alive with firelight and leaping shadows. A lone figure, smelling to high heaven, burst upon the scene brandishing a flaming torch.
“You heard what the gentleman said, now get away.”
The other creatures quailed against the cavern walls, as far away from the light and stench as they were able.
Reluctant to let go its prize, the aforementioned Blighter shielded its eyes and tried to grab the colonel’s arm, only to find itself much closer to the torch than, on reflection, it might have considered as being healthy.
Its skin and flesh was as dry as tinder and within seconds its body was engulfed in flames. Despite the revulsion the creature had instilled into both men, neither was prepared for the full horror of the writhing conflagration before them; its screams, as the flames consumed it, were unearthly and terrible to hear. The cavern, now filled with light, quickly emptied as the other fiends scuttled into the darkest depths like cockroaches.
“Quick, follow me,”
As they made their way out into the cold night air, the Colonel noticed that his malodorous rescuer had a tightly-lidded bucket strapped to his back.

“The fact is,” said the Night-soil man, “I’m safe enough around most things on the island. Nothing much will come near me. It’s the stink, see.”
The Colonel nodded in agreement. He didn’t dare risk opening his mouth.
“I saw that devil drag you in. Sorry I couldn’t have been quicker.”
The other man shrugged and waved reassuringly.
“I’ll get you to The Squid. Seb’ll get you right.”
Although he had no idea what the Night-Soil man meant, and despite the smell, the Colonel was grateful for whatever help he was about to get.

Some hours later, after Ruscombe-Green and his valet had apprised each other fully on their adventures of the day, the colonel said,
“You know, this is a damn rum place but these chaps have been good to us. We should reward them somehow.”
“Reward them sir?” Ebley looked confused. “With what? All we have are the clothes we’re standing up in and a boat that’s been reduced to not much more than matchwood.”
“So we have.” said the colonel. “But, one never knows, we might be able to salvage something from that.”
He paused, then a look of sudden inspiration spread across his face. Ebley had seen that look before; it usually meant work of some description.
“By Jove, I’ve just had a cracking idea. We’ll give our new friends the gift of civilization.”
Ebley gave him another confused look. The colonel looked triumphant.
“We’ll jolly well teach them how to play cricket”
And that, dear reader, is a tale for another day.

Art by Clifford Cumber

Moonshine!

Norbert Gannicox had taken a vow of sobriety. As you may recall from an earlier tale, the circumstances surrounding his father’s demise were somewhat macabre and had quite put him off alcohol for life. So, while he was happy to fulfil his role as the main distiller and supplier of moonshine on Hopeless, he carefully avoided imbibing anything stronger than coffee (This was sometime before the hairy variety was discovered. Even if it had been available I don’t believe he would have gone anywhere near it.)
As has been stated many times, resources can be scarce on this island and Norbert was finding difficulty in sourcing sufficient quantities of raw materials to provide the mash for his brew. Things were looking grim for the business until one day an article in The Vendetta caught his eye. Apparently there was an abundance – an infestation, one could say  – of the dreaded Night Potatoes. Norbert reasoned that, as vodka is made from ordinary potatoes, any brew distilled from Night Potatoes must be at least as good, or possibly better. It was worth a try.
It is not difficult to gather Night Potatoes. By finding one, and popping it into a sack, you may be certain that others will soon appear to rescue it. This is not a task for the faint-hearted or the lone collector however, for a vengeful Night Potato will fight back with some vigour, as their first victim, Stern Ericsson, found to his cost. Fortunately Norbert had come prepared and with the aid of a few friends several sacks were soon heaving with their wriggling and indignant forms.
Ignoring the protests coming from the sacks, once back at the distillery Norbert consulted one of Ebenezer’s notebooks. The handwriting was neat and the instructions precise:

Potatoes are ideally left unpeeled and, if desired, a small amount of malted barley may be added. The potatoes, whether whole or chopped, should  be  initially boiled to gelatinise the potato starch. When this is done, add more water to form a mash and then cool to approximately 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Add some milled malted barley to the mash. The potato starch will then be converted to fermentable sugars.

Norbert could see no problem here. True, these were no common potatoes but, in the scheme of things, a vegetable was a vegetable, whether it cursed and ran around or not. The time had come for action.

I won’t go into the harrowing details of Norbert’s process of preparing the mash. Maine is famous for its lobsters and doubtless many of us have quailed to hear one scream when it is cooked. Imagine the heart-rending cacophony made by a sackful of sentient potatoes, each one reluctant to enter the boiling water. Therefore, if only to appease my own sensibilities, I will fast-forward to the time when the whole process had been completed.

Norbert had purposely avoided mentioning the unconventional ingredients of this current batch of alcohol to his customers as he thought that it might be inclined to deter some from drinking it. In the event the very first batch of Night Potato Moonshine was to be delivered to Madame Evadne’s Lodging House for Discerning Gentlemen, a famous bordello (just down the road from The Squid and Teapot, as it happens).
Since Madame Evadne’s death a century or more earlier, a succession of capable ladies, retired, or at least semi-retired, from their erstwhile profession, had fulfilled the role that she had so successfully created; she was a  concierge, administrator, book-keeper, businesswoman and bouncer all rolled into one.
The latest of this long line of matriarchs was one Nellie Bagpath, a fearsome and formidable figure who ruled her charges and their clients with an iron fist in a velvet glove (sometimes literally, especially if enough money changed hands).
As soon as the delivery had been made and Norbert was safely on his way home, Mistress Nellie, as she liked to be addressed, thought it expedient to sample the brew before the clients got to it. She helped herself to a generous tot, and then another one or two, just to be certain that the Lodging House had received a fair deal. She decided that it had, but one can never be too careful about these things, so to be on the safe side she had another couple of tots to make absolutely sure.
Unusually for Mistress Nellie she took to her bed early that night. She was feeling a little under the weather and decided that the place could run itself.
“I’m not at all well,” she told her second-in-command, Alicia Ozleworth, in slurred tones. “Not well at all, but I am most definitely not under the affluence of incahol.”

It was turning-out time at The Squid and Teapot and Sir Fromebridge Whitminster, actor/ manager and raconteur had begun the short stagger back to his home. He was singing quietly to himself, having enjoyed several pints of ‘Old Dogwater’, when his rendition of a song that seemed to be totally comprised of the words  ‘Tum-te, Tum-te,Tum, Dee Dum Dee’, was brought to a halt when he saw a strange apparition wandering in the moonlight. The figure was that of a woman of matronly build and mature years. She was dressed in a flowing, full-length white nightdress and thick, pink woollen bed socks. With arms outstretched and eyes glowing with an eerie luminosity she lurched towards him. Ever the gentleman, Sir Fromebridge swept off his fedora and made a deep bow.
“Good evening, dear lady,” he said in his best Shakespearean voice. “May I be of some assistance, perchance?”
The apparition passed by as though he were invisible, which was probably just as well as the deep bow had put his back out and he was the one in urgent need of assistance.
“I am the Potato Lady of the Night ” she moaned as she drifted by.
“Ah. Jolly good” he replied in agonised tones. “I say, could you possibly…?
But, alas, she couldn’t, as she was out of earshot and he was stuck.

This island is rife with ghosts and demons, vampires and all sorts of nameless creatures, slithering, creeping and wandering around on pilfered cutlery. These are the stuff of nightmares but when they saw Mistress Nellie in this new guise, every last one of them gave her a wide berth.

Someone else who enjoyed the disdain of the Hopeless horrors was Shenandoah Nailsworthy, the Night-Soil Man. This is not an image you‘ll want to dwell upon, but he was half-way through his rounds and had just settled down to eat his sandwiches.
Shenandoah is not a man who surprises easily but the sight of a woman with luminous eyes wandering the cliff tops in her nightdress and pink woolly bed socks was not all that common. Even less common was the fact that she came right up to him and planted a kiss upon his grizzled cheek.
“I am the Potato Lady of the Night” she intoned.
“Well heck”, he said. This was as close to swearing as Shenandoah ever got.
“Heck!  I’ve heard of women like you but never met one. You must have a really nasty head cold. Would you like a sandwich?”
He lifted one from the lunchbox sitting on his bucket lid.
It was too late. She had gone, wailing into darkness.

Whether by accident or instinct, the Potato Lady of the Night made her way to the gates of the Gannicox Distillery. Norbert was in bed and dreaming fitfully of screaming potatoes and old men floating in barrels. It was a relief to be woken by a relentless banging on the door.  Blearily he went downstairs.
“Who’s there?” he called.
“I am the Potato Lady of the Night”
“Well I haven’t asked for a delivery, especially this late. Come back in the morning.”
The banging continued and Norbert decided that discretion was the better part of valour and let her in.
“Mistress Nellie?” he gasped. “Are you okay?”
She drifted by him as if he didn’t exist and made her way to the storage sheds.
Puzzled and still half-asleep Norbert followed.
She made her way to the large vat that contained the Night Potato moonshine and turned on the tap.
“Come out my brothers and sisters, be free, be free once more” she wailed as the precious liquid splashed on to shed floor.
Norbert was rendered helpless and speechless as the alcohol flowed around his feet.
The woman that had been Mistress Nellie turned to face him, though face is maybe not the right word. Her features had become grotesque and shapeless, a gnarled and knobbly thing, not unlike the shape of a very large potato with bulging eyes that shone with a sickly yellow glow.
“I am the Potato Lady of the Night” she said again, then for some reason added “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Despair seemed like a good idea. Snapping out of his paralysis Norbert screamed and ran away as fast as he could. He ran over the hills, careless of the dangers of  the night-creatures and the dreadful reek of the Night-Soil Man, who had his second surprise of the night when Norbert fell over his bucket. Eventually he found himself outside Madame Evadne’s where the usual activities were well underway He knew what he must do. Racing in, he went to the cellars and found the cask of moonshine. Rolling it outside he knocked out the bung and let the contents empty into the gutter.
Alicia Ozleworth, Mistress Nellie’s deputy, watched from the doorway, not a little horrified at his actions. Norbert explained all and promised to fully refund the cost of the liquor.
Exhausted, he made his way home through the darkened streets. Suddenly he was stopped in his tracks by an anguished voice
“Excuse me, old chap, could you possibly give me a hand…?”

Needless to say Mistress Nellie Bagpath was never seen in the flesh again, though a couple of people reported spotting a strange, potato-like wraith in pink bed socks, wailing over the headland. It did not get a lot of attention. That sort of thing is hardly newsworthy here. What was newsworthy, however, was a rare but timely delivery from the mainland supplying the Gannicox Distillery with several casks of cereal and Alicia Ozleworth becoming the new boss – or Mother Superior as she called herself – at Madame Evadne’s. Sir Fromebridge, as you may know, is sadly no longer with us, but something tells me that although he’s dead, we’re unlikely to have seen the last of him. After all, this is Hopeless, Maine.

 

Art by Tom Brown

The Distiller

Though not rich in natural resources, Hopeless has always scraped by on the bounty that the sea delivers, whether it is the occasional whale carcass or the flotsam washed up from the frequent shipwrecks.

Ebenezer Gannicox was well known as a beachcomber (or, more correctly on Hopeless, a rockcomber) so when he suddenly went missing from home no one really worried too much. He had done this before on several occasions, embarking upon what he described as a foraging mission. Ebenezer was a wiry little man and a distiller of some distinction who relied upon the sea to provide some of the raw materials necessary for his trade. The casks of malted barley, blackstrap molasses and other such luxuries carefully stored in his sheds attested to his success as a forager. It has also been suggested that he was possibly adept as a wrecker too, but this has never been mentioned in polite and civilized company (though it does get talked about quite frequently in the bar-room of ‘The Crow’)

.

Hopeless has never been unduly troubled by the rule of law, especially those laws which seem, to many, totally irrelevant to the smooth running of society. After all, when the overriding priorities of your daily life are avoiding being eaten, avoiding being driven insane and avoiding having your cutlery stolen, all else fades into insignificance. So whether the offence is deliberately luring ships onto the rocks, or the manufacture of moonshine, poitin or pocheen (call it what you will), no one worries too much. To be fair, the amount of time and effort required to do either of these things will put most people off. They are far too preoccupied with the straightforward business of avoiding being eaten, avoiding being driven insane and avoiding having their cutlery stolen.

While wrecking is generally approved of as a necessary resource, there are inevitably naysayers who will list reasons why the distillation and consumption of moonshine should be banned. Some will invoke law, others religion. A few will offer the excuse that it may cause blindness but this only ever happens when the equipment used has been contaminated, or the methanol has not been removed from the brew, or you put a stick in the cup when you’re drinking it. (It seems that if you want someone to stop doing something you don’t approve of, tell them that they will go blind. This is a strategy famously employed by priests and headmasters for generations.)

 

After six months had gone by questions began to be asked as to Ebenezer’s whereabouts. His son, Norbert, scoured the coastline but there was no sign of him anywhere. It was as though he had vanished off the face of the earth, which was not an unknown occurrence on this most perilous of islands. The general consensus, however, was that Ebenezer was too wily a character to put himself in danger.  But when more months passed and the search had to be abandoned, Norbert and his mother resigned themselves to the fact that the old man had foraged one time too many.

Over the years Ebenezer had stockpiled an impressive supply of moonshine. It was stored in casks of all sizes, courtesy of the aforementioned shipwrecks. There were pins, firkins, kilderkins, hogsheads, butts and tuns, each containing gallon upon gallon of  the Gannicox Special Distillation, as it was called. This was fortunate, as Norbert was reluctant to take on his father’s role and become the island’s chief distiller. Instead he decided to become a distributor.

For the next five years he made his way diligently through Ebenezer’s stockpile. He delivered it in jugs, in bottles or sometimes in a firkin strapped onto his back. Each container bore the legend ‘Gannicox Special Distillation. 80% alcohol by volume. Keep out of the reach of children and Spoonwalkers’

Eventually, he came to the last cask – a huge two-hundred and forty gallon tun which sat in the darkest corner of the shed. Norbert estimated that while this would keep his customers happy for the rest of the year, the time had come for him to learn the distiller’s art if he wanted to remain in work.

For the next few weeks things went well. Norbert became adept at distilling and wondered why he had shied away from it for so long. At the same time he drew moonshine from the tun to fulfil his customers’ needs until one day the unthinkable happened; when he turned on the tap no liquor came out. No end of kicking and shaking would move the cask, so there was obviously still plenty of liquid inside. The only explanation was that something was causing a blockage. Norbert prayed that it was not a rat.

Deciding that the only way forward was to remove the top of the cask, he armed himself with a lighted candle, a crowbar and a step-ladder. To his surprise, however, it had already been loosened. The chances of the blockage being a rat seemed greater than ever. Norbert steeled himself, prised up the lid and peeped inside.

Nothing could have prepared him for the sight that greeted him. Old Ebenezer’s face peered up through the clear well of alcohol which had preserved  him perfectly. He looked happy enough, under the circumstances, but his eyes glowed with a greenish luminescence.  His big toe had become firmly wedged in bung hole, serving to stop the flow through the tap. Then Norbert noticed presence of spoons. A shudder passed through him. He could make out several lying on the floor of the cask.

Thinking things through, it seemed obvious to Norbert  that Ebenezer had stumbled upon a quantity of spoonwalkers nesting in the dark corner behind the casks. Everything pointed to it. They had probably been helping themselves to the moonshine for years. It was well known that to have eye contact with spoonwalkers for any length of time would invoke madness, and the glow in the old man’s eyes said as much. Had he climbed into the cask of his own volition or had they somehow managed to push him in? Norbert shuddered again and hastily replaced the lid.

 

Family loyalty prevailed over business interests and Norbert decided not to sell any more of the moonshine from the cask which had preserved his father so well. It occurred to him that it would be a fitting tribute to the old man if things were left pretty much as they were and the cask, complete with alcohol and Ebenezer, be ceremoniously buried on the cliff top, overlooking the coast where he did so much of his foraging. Unfortunately, that was not to be quite the way things turned out. When rolling it to the chosen spot the cask hit a small rock and bounced out of control, making its way over the cliff and into the sea. The last report of its progress had it  bobbing away on the Atlantic swell to a destination unknown. When it eventually made landfall someone, somewhere had an extremely nasty surprise.

Art by Tom Brown

Hopeless Romantics

While others rush to immerse themselves wholeheartedly in the fads and fashions of their age, over the years the inhabitants of Hopeless have steadfastly ignored such shallowness. This is not totally out of choice. In fact, it’s not at all out of choice. No one enjoys a spot of puddle-deep diversion more than the average Hopelessian but when you live on an island surrounded by fog and crawling with an assortment of nasties these things just don’t turn up by mail-order. Anything of a remotely novel nature generally arrives by accident.
One such serendipitous item is now  a treasured possession of Rufus Lypiatt, current landlord of The Squid and Teapot. This is a carpet-bag which was left at the inn by the renowned librettist, Mr. W. S. Gilbert. You may recall that Mr Gilbert returned to the mainland in something of a hurry following a night apparently disturbed by several spoonwalkers invading his bedroom. The bag he left behind contained several items of interest, not least of which was a collection of hand-tinted daguerreotypes of nineteenth century works of art, including some reproductions of paintings by the group who called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
When, in the latter years of the nineteenth century, this book was shown to Beatrice Merrywalk, one of the older girls in the orphanage, she immediately fell in love with Romantic art and Sir John Everett Millais’ painting of Ophelia in particular. Although she had absolutely no idea who Ophelia was, she sensed from the painting that here was young woman who epitomised all of the yearnings for tragic romance that stirred in her own breast. It felt to her that Death was the greatest artist of all, perfect in its dark finality. Having become quietly obsessed with Millais’ painting, she decided that she not only wanted to become Ophelia, the girl in the stream, but to be seen in that role forever, so that people would understand the turmoil and anguish churning in her young heart. To add to her sense of the dramatic, not to say melodramatic, she had come across ‘The Death of Chatterton’, another picture heavy with the illusion of romantic death, this time of a young poet. Maybe if she, as Ophelia, could find her Chatterton, they could let the world know of, and appreciate, their great pain.
That cruel trickster, Adolescence, is famous for filling certain young heads with dark clouds and yearnings for a picturesque death. It was, therefore, almost inevitable that Beatrice would find her Chatterton before too long had elapsed. He arrived in the form of Algernon Box, an unassuming young man who lived alone in an old and falling-down cottage next to a babbling creek that led down to the sea. Like so many on Hopeless, Algernon’s parents had disappeared under mysterious circumstances and as a consequence the lad was given to staring at the most incongruous items with dewy-eyed sensitivity and looking glum.
No one objected when Beatrice moved in with Algernon. The orphanage was happy to have one mouth fewer to feed. Besides, on Hopeless none of the usual rules apply. Life is difficult enough without unnecessary complications. To call these two young people lovers, however, would be a vast overstatement. They were bound together by a common bond of platonic melancholy. This usually involved staring at incongruous items with dewy-eyed sensitivity and looking glum. Their conversation, when it dragged itself out of the Slough of Despair, would invariably turn to the subject of finding a suitable artist to capture their last, tragic moments as perfect replicas of Ophelia and Chatterton.  They named the little plot of land upon which they lived Tragedy Creek and planned their suicide pact.
“Only Death will give us what we most desire,” said Beatrice, and she truly believed this to be so.
You may have noticed that Hopeless is quite a strange place. The unusual and bizarre is fairly run-of-the-mill around here. In view of that, neither of the two young people felt remotely surprised when, one dismal afternoon, the very man they had hoped for arrived at the door of their cottage. In a deep, sonorous voice, he introduced himself as being an artist visiting the island and asked to be invited in. His gangly frame, lean to the point of appearing cadaverous, seemed to fill the tiny kitchen.
In truth, this mysterious visitor did not resemble anyone’s idea of an artist. In his smart, dark business suit he looked more like a lawyer. Or an undertaker. The only clues to his trade were contained in the portfolio he carried under his arm.
“I have the paintings you requested.”
The pair looked at each other in puzzlement.
“Paintings? We’ve ordered no paintings.”
“Oh but you did. I heard you. Is this not what you most desire?”
The dark stranger placed the portfolio on the kitchen table and, opening it, produced two paintings. One was of Beatrice. This was exactly as she had visualised herself; Ophelia, alone and tragic, lying in the creek that ran by the side of the cottage. The other painting was of Algernon as Chatterton. He had painted him as though in his home surroundings.
They both gasped.
“They are beautiful,” said Beatrice. ”But how…”
“You asked. Don’t you remember?” said the stranger, then, without another word he picked up his portfolio and left. At least they assumed he had left, for the whole episode passed as if it were a dream. Only the two works of art lying on the table proved that any of it had really happened.
Several days passed before either noticed some subtle transformations occurring in the paintings. Small creatures had suddenly appeared around the bodies, which had somehow started to appear less attractive. Ophelia began to bloat. The pallor of both became quite ghastly.  After another week or so things began to look really awful. They had become carrion. Although the corpse of Chatterton was subject to the attentions of anything that could crawl, squirm or slither through his window, Ophelia, out in the open, fared worse.
By the end of the second week Beatrice and Algernon had to turn the pictures around so that they faced the wall. The images of each had become the stuff of the most horrible nightmare imaginable. Faced with such brutal reality all their ideas of romantic death were gone. Alone and terrified they clung fiercely to each other and wept.
It was the night-soil man who found them. They were huddled together in the little cottage, a look of terror and madness imprinted upon their young faces. They had been dead for some days. He looked around him at the sparse furnishings and few possessions. It struck him as strange that amid all the poverty were two quite beautiful paintings, each depicting doomed youth.
Even now, Tragedy Creek is felt to be the most melancholic place on Hopeless. In over a century only a handful of people have stayed in Algernon’s cottage for more than a night or two. The most recent resident was a would-be poet who was later discovered to be a escaped convict. Although he reported no strange experience there, some claim to have seen two unhappy ghosts walking from the front door to the babbling creek. It was long ago thought best that the paintings be removed to more cheerful surroundings. Today they hang safely behind the bar in the Squid and Teapot.  Occasionally Rufus will be asked who the artist is. He always gives the same answer, usually with a wry smile. “I’m damned if I can tell you…
Art by Tom Brown

The Stowaway

To discover the genesis of this tale we need to travel a great distance from Hopeless, to Catamarca Province which lies in the far north-west of Argentina. It was in this area, according to legend, that students of the dark arts would seek out the fabled Salamanca caves, where, some believed, lay the entrance to Hell itself. Here lurked terrors beyond our worst imaginings; terrors even greater than those encountered upon this island.
It was in these caves, in some far-off time, that the creature known as Manchachicoj was conceived, the spawn of a demon and a local witch. Manchachicoj soon grew up to be an eloquent, softly spoken romantic, driven by a burning obsession to seek out and seduce beautiful young women. Although his pedigree was a mixture of native Calchaquí and demon, with his charm and elegance you could be forgiven for arriving at the conclusion that he possessed all of the attributes of a classic Latin lover. Sadly, this was not the case, for Manchachicoj was somewhat hideous to behold; everyone he encountered eschewed the amorous attentions of this stunted, ugly creature.
After many centuries of unsuccessfully pursuing this quest all over Argentina it gradually dawned upon him that he was definitely not widely regarded as being boyfriend material. So, one bright morning in the latter part of 1886, while loitering around the docks in Buenos Aires, he made the decision that it was time to move on – and the three masted barque making ready to set sail for Portland, Maine looked perfect for the task.
With sails billowing as they left the quayside of Buenos Aires, Captain O’Neill looked lovingly around his ship. The Annie C. Maguire had made good progress. The passage from Liverpool to Argentina had gone exactly to plan and now, with a cargo of salt beef, he was determined to reach Portland by Christmas Day. Others on board were his wife and an eleven man crew. Just four thousand, seven hundred and twenty five nautical miles separated them from Christmas dinner in Maine. Little did he know that deep in the hold, sharing a barrel with a quantity of salt beef, was a diminutive and not particularly attractive stowaway.
Being a half-blood demon Manchachicoj’s senses were sharper than that of any mortal. He heard every conversation on board clearly and was able to see perfectly well in the pitch-black belly of the hold. Besides this, he had little need for food or drink. Occasionally, however, it pleased him to help himself to a mouthful of meat, or, in the early hours when the sailor on the middle-watch was half asleep, would steal a sip or two of water.
The long voyage passed without incident, and on the afternoon of Christmas Eve the imposing tower of the Portland light came into view. Manchachicoj was quietly dozing in his barrel at the time and the buzz of excitement on board brought him fully awake. But there was something else, some sound in the distance beyond the hearing of the others that drew his attention. It was enchanting  – a voice so achingly beautiful that it stirred him in ways he had never known. He was suddenly wrapped in a maelstrom of tenderness and lust, joy and sorrow, sunshine and moonlight. This must be the voice of the lover he had sought for so many centuries.
He scrambled from the barrel and made to climb out of the hold. He swore to himself. It had been battened down to safeguard the cargo as they entered the rough seas around the coast of Maine. Undeterred and driven wild with desire to see the owner of such a wonderful voice he found a marlin spike and began to hack away at the wooden walls of the ship with a superhuman frenzy.
If you examine the official report regarding the sinking of the Annie C. Maguire you will be told that she struck the ledge at Portland Head Light. The Lighthouse Keeper and some volunteers made a makeshift gangplank with a ladder, allowing everyone to clamber to safety. The report goes on to say that the cause of the wreck was puzzling; visibility was good and the crew swore that they had plainly seen the Portland Light prior to the disaster.
The truth of the matter is that the barque’s rudder had been damaged when Manchachicoj burst through; she was out of control. And so was poor Manchachicoj. His head was filled with an unworldly music that promised pleasures beyond all comprehension. Little wonder that he was so determined. There can be few in this world more obsessive and insistent than a siren-besotted Calchaquí-demon hybrid.
There we must leave the crew of the Annie C. Maguire, who all survived without a scratch and doubtless got to enjoy their Christmas dinner in Portland, though salt beef would more than likely have been off the menu. As for the barrels of meat, many made their way to the grateful populace of Hopeless. How that little episode eventually unfolded, however, is a tale for another day.
Oblivious to the damage he had caused, Manchachicoj swam frantically towards the source of the sweet-voiced songstress – which happened to bring him close to the coast of Hopeless. Demonic types conceived on land are not the most natural of swimmers. His technique, for want of a better word, resembled something between a dog-paddle and a panic attack but nevertheless, what he lacked in style he made up for in enthusiasm. Through dogged determination he fought his way through the icy waters towards his goal.
Both of his hearts leapt in unison as he saw her, a vision of loveliness perched daintily on an outcrop of rocks, known to the locals as The Devil’s Fingers. She was as beautiful as he had hoped and envisaged – and he was not at all fazed by her fishy extremities. As far as he knew, all of the girls in Maine looked like that. You must understand, Manchachicoj had never seen a mermaid or even heard tales of their fatal beauty. He had no inkling that, if he were a mere mortal, by now he would have drowned, having been driven mad by her siren song. Happily ignorant of these facts he was in love and anyway, drowning isn’t an option for a demon, half-blood or not, however badly he swims.
By the same token, the mermaid was impressed. Here was someone who had survived long enough to put himself in line to be properly seduced by her. It had never happened before. And looks aren’t everything, she told herself. Manchachicoj pulled himself up onto the rocks and the two gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes…You may ask if there was a ‘happy ever after‘ for these two? Some of you will remember the report in The Vendetta a few years ago of a mermaid turning up and singing seductively on The Devil’s Fingers. We nearly lost a few good men that day, including the venerable Doc Willoughby. These fellows were more than a little appreciative of the song she sang and it took a great deal of combined effort to stop them jumping into the sea. Fortunately everyone survived, including the mermaid. She was something of a disappointment to those who saw her, though. To put it mildly, she certainly wasn’t gifted with classic mermaid good looks. Have a look at the picture. Let’s just say she takes after her father.

Art by Tom Brown

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

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

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.