Category Archives: Tales from the Squid and Teapot

The Raven Stone

A Tale from The Squid and Teapot

Image by Stephen Candy, Sheepthulhu made by
Lynda McBookaldson

The note pinned to the door had no signature, but Rhys Cranham recognised the writing immediately:
“I have it on good authority that today you celebrate ten years as the island’s Night-Soil Man. With best wishes for many more to come. x “
This message was completed with a charming illustration featuring small birds and meadow flowers, neither of which were common on Hopeless.
“Ah, dear Philomena Bucket,” said Rhys to himself. “I had completely forgotten the date. Ten years… it seems like yesterday…”

Rhys pulled off his cap and scratched his head in amazement.
“Shenandoah, what do you make of this?”
Shenandoah Nailsworthy, the Night-Soil Man, scrambled nimbly over the rocks to where his apprentice was standing, then, as if held by some invisible hand, abruptly stopped in his tracks.
“That wasn’t there yesterday,” Rhys said.
“No,” agreed Shenandoah.
As a breed, Night-Soil Men usually tend to eschew unnecessary chatter.
After a pause of almost a minute, Shenandoah added, “Nobody has seen anything like this for years. Certainly not in my lifetime. I’ve got a bad feeling about it.”
Rhys looked thoughtful.
“I’ve heard the tales, same as everybody else,” he said. “Never expected to see it though. It looks smaller than I imagined.”
“Don’t be fooled,” said Shenandoah, a hint of fear in his voice. “There’s more to this than you know.”

The cause of this unbridled garrulousness was a solitary standing stone, slightly taller than a man, which had sprung up, apparently overnight, on the westernmost side of the Gydynap Hills. Its rugged surface was etched with runic symbols that glowed eerily in the pale moonlight.

After they had finished their rounds, Shenandoah invited the young apprentice into his cottage for a late supper – or it could have been an early breakfast. He motioned for Rhys to sit down, then produced a starry-grabby pie and two bottles of ‘Old Colonel’ from his larder.
“Don’t pay too much heed to the tales you’ve heard, because the truth is, nobody knows why that stone just turns up the way it does,” said Shenandoah. “The last time that it appeared was nearly a hundred years ago, so you and I have seen more of it than any other living soul,” he added, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
The two sat in silence for a while.
“Things don’t just appear for no reason, then go again,” observed Rhys. “It makes no sense.”
“You don’t know that it has turned up here for no reason,” said Shenandoah. “Anyway, strange stuff happens on Hopeless all the time, especially around the Gydynaps.”
His apprentice looked thoughtful and took a long swig of his beer.
“You reckon it’s best avoided?”
Shenandoah nodded.
“Don’t go near it, son,” he said.

Shenandoah sat, lost in deep thought, after Rhys had left the cottage.
He was well aware that his apprentice had no intention of keeping away from the stone. Whatever tales the young man had heard were certainly spurious, and would never serve to save him from the consequences of his own curiosity. Despite what he had told Rhys, the Night-Soil Man had a fair idea why it had appeared at this time. The date was not lost upon him; Midsummer-eve had held a terrifying significance to the Nailsworthy family for almost a thousand years, after his ancestor, the slave Cadman Negelsleag, killed a raven. Because of this insult to Odin, he and his descendants were cursed by a vǫlva – a Norse seeress, a shaman, practised in the old magic. The Nailsworthy family alone knew the terrible fate of Cadman and the secret of the Raven Stone.
Sighing, he dragged on his jacket, and stepped out into the cold air, to find a long, black feather lying on his doorstep. Picking it up, he turned his head slowly, and looked back at the cottage with sadness in his eyes. This was the final clue. There was no cheating fate. It was then that Drury came padding up to him.
“It’s time, Drury.” he said, a tremor in his voice. “Look after him, old fellah.”

There are few things sweeter – at least in the short term – than forbidden fruit. It was inevitable that thoughts of the mysterious stone would prey on Rhys’ mind all through the few hours remaining before first light.
“It could be gone tomorrow, and not back for another century,” he said to himself. “I think I’d like to take a closer look at those markings while there’s the chance; just for a few minutes, no more.”
And so, in the grey of a Hopeless dawn, he slipped out of the bunkhouse that was his home, and made his way towards the Gydynap Hills.

Hopeless is famously foggy, but on this particular day the fog seemed to be worse than ever. Rhys did not mind, at first, enjoying the concealment it provided. Soon, however, it became too dense to walk safely without putting one foot gingerly in front of the other and keeping his arms outstretched. It fuddled his brain, making time and distance seem to expand alarmingly.
After what felt like an eternity, the dim bulk of the Gydynap Hills loomed ahead. The fog before him, where the Gydynaps lay, was beginning to thin, though to his sides and rear it was as thick and impenetrable as ever. Thing started to get weirder by the minute; he could not see the stone now. If it was still there, it was surrounded by a small copse which had apparently sprung from nowhere in a very few hours. In addition, a flock of huge, black birds circled above its branches, cawing ominously. Drawn, as if by some force beyond his control, Rhys felt compelled to venture inside.

Shenandoah’s warning still rang in his ears, but it no longer seemed quite as ridiculous as it had in the cottage. Walking cautiously between the twisted and knotted trunks, young Rhys could swear he could make out a gentle, silver glow, somewhere ahead, as if shafts of moonlight were piercing a dappled canopy of foliage, but he knew that this could not be. The moon had long ago set.

Rhys wandered on for a few more minutes, towards the mysterious light, feeling a little surprised that he had not yet reached the far side of the thicket. From the outside it had appeared to be quite small, but there was no sign of the trees thinning any time soon. He felt suddenly nervous. Maybe it was time to turn around… and then he saw him. A dozen or so yards in front, a familiar figure was standing, bound to the rune stone and bathed in a cold, silver light. It was Shenandoah. He seemed to be wearing a cloak of glossy black feathers; but something told Rhys that it was not a cloak – it was a shroud, a living, fluttering, cawing shroud of ravens that gradually smothered the body of the Night-Soil Man, until not an inch of flesh could be seen.

The young apprentice was about to run towards the writhing mass of feathers when a sharp tug on his jacket pulled him up short.
He turned his head awkwardly to see Drury dragging him back.
“Let go Drury,” he yelled, but the dog was insistent, pulling him through the trees with preternatural strength. With arms flailing to keep his balance, Rhys ranted and swore at the dog, cursing him for a useless bag of bones that he’d toss into the sea as soon as he was free. If Drury understood the tirade – which he probably did – he chose to ignore it until he had moved the apprentice safely out of harm’s way.
Rhys rolled over on to the grass with Drury’s final tug, then leapt to his feet, ready to rush back and somehow tear away those infernal birds and rescue Shenandoah. But the trees were gathering in upon themselves, like a spring being wound. Within seconds there was barely enough space to slip a hand between the tightening trunks, which, little by little seemed to merge into each other, until all that was left was solitary hawthorn, gnarled and twisted, which gradually dissolved into the morning mist.

Rhys was stunned. Shenandoah was gone. Gone! Why had he been there? It made no sense. He dropped to his knees, on to the wet earth, and wept. Great sobs racked his body, his sense of loss so deep and wide that it felt as though nothing would ever be the same again. Then, blinded by hot tears, he felt a wet, furry muzzle nuzzling his neck and a long tongue licking his face. Something primitive stirred deep inside him, responding to the comforting touch of another living thing. Turning, there was only Drury to be seen, hairless and tongueless as ever, but wagging his bony tail as if to say, ‘We’ve still got each other, young friend.”

It took a week, or more, before Rhys felt able to move into the House at Poo Corner. He was the Night-Soil Man now; just eighteen, but after a three-year apprenticeship knew that he was ready. When the time came, he lifted the great lidded bucket, with its leather shoulder straps, from the wall, hefted it on to his back and stepped out into the night, alone on shift for the first time. Then an unmistakable, bony shape came rattling down the pathway, barking and panting. No, he will never be quite alone. Good old Drury.

Les Demoiselles de Hopeless, Maine

Squid and Teapot as personified by Lyssa Lopez Wain

There was once a musician who owned two dogs.
The larger dog went “Woof… woof… woof.”
So the musician named that dog ‘Bach’.
The smaller dog was more excitable, and went “Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof…”
And that dog he called ‘Offenbach’.

While that joke probably failed to have you rolling in the proverbial aisles, I am sure that you recognised it as being an attempt at humour. Maybe you even smiled. What is certain is, had you been a resident of the island of Hopeless, Maine, the joke would have sailed spectacularly over your head and out into the deepest reaches of space. Hopelessians have always been strangers to the goings-on of the opera house and concert hall, and this has been a source of deep regret to Miss Marjorie Toadsmoor, a governess at the Pallid Rock Orphanage. Since the day she first set foot upon the island, Miss Toadsmoor longed, above all else, to bring high culture to her fellow islanders.
……………………………………………………………………

Bartholomew Middlestreet and his wife, Ariadne, rushed down to the beach, where Philomena Bucket was already waiting for them. A worried expression was etched upon Philomena’s pale countenance.
“They’re over there,” she said, pointing. “I don’t know if they’re alive or no.”
The trio picked their way to where four bedraggled female bodies lay, face down in the dark sand.
A quick inspection by Ariadne verified that each was still alive.
“They’re young and strong,” she declared. “They’ll be fine after a night or two in The Squid.”
The Squid and Teapot had long had a reputation for hospitality, especially towards newcomers to the island, and within no time the four young women were safely tucked up in a large guest room on the first floor of the inn.

It was Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, who discovered their travelling trunk, caught among the rocks. Other, less scrupulous people, would have prised it open and taken anything worth having, but not Rhys. He was aware that there were newcomers up at The Squid, and the trunk had to belong to one, or more, of them. With years of practice behind him, the Night-Soil Man hefted it on to his back and carried it up to the inn, where he left it on the doorstep.

Bartholomew and Ariadne were at a loss to understand a word that the four young women uttered.
It was only when the front door was opened, revealing the travelling trunk, that any headway was made in communicating with them.
“Aah.. le coffre!” exclaimed one, happily.
“No, it’s not a coffin. It’s a chest.” explained Bartholomew, helpfully, eyeing the shipping labels festooned over its surface. Even Bartholomew’s limited geographical knowledge knew vaguely that somewhere, across the waves, there existed a place called France. When Philomena appeared she agreed that the newcomers may, indeed, be from there.
Philomena knew just, one sentence in French.
“Parlay vooz Fransays?” she enquired politely.
“Ah, oui, oui,” chorused the girls delightedly, and started to chatter away, expecting Philomena to respond in kind, but the barmaid felt suddenly totally lost. Then a plan formed in her head.
“I’ll get Marjorie over,” she thought aloud to herself. “ She’ll know what to say.”

“The girls are delightful,” gushed Marjorie Toadsmoor a few hours later. “They tell me that they are dancers, though I must admit to being a little confused, for they gave the impression that they worked in a red mill, somewhere in Paris. I can only think that they dance purely as a hobby, and for the entertainment of the other mill-workers. It appears that the orchestra who sailed with them, and indeed, everyone else on the ship, perished in a storm. All they have left is that travelling trunk, which contains their costumes and make-up, and also a wax cylinder upon which may be heard their music.”
“Why, that’s wonderful,” exclaimed Philomena. “We’ve got a phonograph here on the island,” adding silently to herself, ‘‘and it’ll make a welcome change from that lousy tenor going on about Molly-blasted-Malone all the time.’’

Over the next few days wheels and cogs spun endlessly in Miss Toadsmoor’s head. She would devise an entertainment for the islanders; a thank-you for taking her to their collective hearts. There would be recitals, music and poetry, and the crowning glory, a stately dance by the young ladies of the Red Mill.
To Miss Toadsmoor’s joy she had discovered that the music on the wax cylinder was an excerpt from an opera, no less, entitled Orpheus in the Underworld, by one Monsieur Jacques Offenbach. Although Marjorie was not familiar with M.Offenbach, or his work, she loved the Greek myths and was certain that the young ladies, dancing to his music, would provide a pearl of high culture in an evening of simple, homespun entertainment.
She could envisage them already, swathed in their pure white costumes, diaphanous but modest and tasteful. The music would surely be ethereal, as befitted the tragic myth. As each day passed and the programme of events arranged, it became difficult for her to contain her excitement.

The big night arrived and the Meeting Hall was packed. Word had soon spread that there was to be music and dancing, although when it was revealed that the main act included an excerpt from a French opera, more than one heart dropped. However, the islanders of Hopeless are a stoic and steadfast band, at least for much of the time. The promise of free beer and starry-grabby pie (generously donated by both ‘The Crow’ and ‘The Squid and Teapot’) concentrated minds and cemented loyalties. They could put up with a bit of prancing around as long as one or two of their number were prepared to make fools of themselves, and they were able to join in a chorus or three of that all-time favourite, Molly Malone.

Marjorie Toadsmoor stood in front of the assembled islanders and introduced the evening’s programme.
“… And after Mr Jones’ poem, we will be treated to a medley of folk-songs from the children of the Pallid Rock Orphanage; then there will be a display of shadow puppetry by Norbert Gannicox, followed by Mr and Mrs Middlestreet performing the song, ‘Barnacle Bill the Sailor’. Following that, I am reliably informed, you will all join in with a rendition, played on the phonograph, of the popular song, Molly Malone (this raised a roar of approval from the audience, interspersed with a certain amount of excitable barking). Then will come our grand finale, an excerpt from Orpheus in the Underworld, by Monsieur Jacques Offenbach, and danced by Les Demoiselles de le Moulin Rouge. I have not seen this dance myself, as yet, and I am as excited as you all must be. So, without more ado… ”
The evening went well. Even Reverend Davies and Doc Willoughby, sitting in the front row, appeared to be enjoying the entertainment. The children of the orphanage sat quietly beside the Reverend as soon as their act was finished, filling up the remainder of the available spaces.
Philomena was in charge of the phonograph, with the ever-faithful Drury by her side. When the time came, she gritted her teeth and played Molly Malone. The chorus of ‘Alive, alive oh’ was guaranteed to be popular, not least with Drury, who capered and gambolled like a puppy.
Marjorie groaned. She had no idea that the song Molly Malone was so popular. It was nothing short of an anthem to these people and anything which followed could only be an anti-climax. Oh, what a fool she had been! However, the die was cast and nothing could be done about it now.

Philomena Bucket looked at the container which held Les Demoiselles’ wax-cylinder. Stencilled upon its side were the words ‘J Offenbach: Galop Infernal.’ As mentioned earlier, Philomena’s grasp of the French language was flimsier than flimsy, but those words did not convey the sedate, ethereal music that Marjorie had imagined. It sounded much more fun. With a shrug of her shoulders she wound the handle of the Edison-Bell phonograph, fixed the cylinder in place, positioned the horn for best effect and lowered the circular brass reproducer, with its sapphire needle.
As the opening bars of Offenbach’s Infernal Gallop – commonly known to most people as the ‘Can-Can’ – filled the Meeting Hall, the four young ladies, clad now in short but full tricolour skirts, knee-length boots, low-cut basques and black stockings, came whooping on to the stage. Marjorie paled visibly and Reverend Davies, stony faced, suddenly developed a very noticeable pulse beat in a vein in his right temple. On stage, skirts were swirled coquettishly and legs were kicked provocatively high, revealing gartered, white thighs, above black stocking-tops. The dance grew ever more frantic and Doc Willoughby’s glasses seemed to be steaming up. The girls from the orphanage sat in awe, each one making a mental note to one day become dancers, just like Les Demoiselles. As for the boys… it’s probably best that we don’t enquire too closely.
“Well, at least it can’t get any worse,” thought Marjorie, consoling herself. It was then that the dancers turned away from the audience, leaned over and threw their skirts over their backs, exposing a fine view of four pairs of frilly drawers, each one wriggling its respective derrière suggestively.
Marjorie covered her face with her hands, completely missing the grand finale which featured the dancers doing the splits.
There was a moment of absolute silence when the music stopped, then suddenly the room exploded to a volley of applause, cheers, appreciative whoops, whistles and a few skeletal-sounding barks. There were also loud, insistent calls for more.
The dancers smiled and nodded to Philomena, who dutifully lowered the brass reproducer once more on to the cylinder, and the dance resumed. This time Les Demoiselles found themselves joined by several less-inhibited members of the audience, and Drury scampering around, in obvious ecstasy.
Reverend Davies left soon after, ushering the orphans before him and muttering that it was past their bed-time. Doc Willoughby was seen slumped on his seat, mopping his brow with one hand and fanning himself with the other.
A crowd gathered round Marjorie and the dancers, waxing lyrical with their praise and relegating Molly Malone to second place in their list of favourite tunes. The evening could not have been more successful.
There was just one question Marjorie wanted to ask Les Demoiselles; what, exactly, did they make at the Red Mill?

Hell’s Mouth

Squid and Teapot by Amanda Frick

You may recall that, in the tale ‘Bigspoon’, the orphaned twins, Winston and Wendell Westonbirt, successfully convinced most of their fellow islanders that a giant spoonwalker was stalking Hopeless. It was the Night-Soil Man, Rhys Cranham who debunked the hoax, but having spent his formative years in the Pallid Rock Orphanage, Rhys had no desire to land the boys into trouble with Reverend Davies. Instead he gave them the fright of their lives, then discreetly let it be known that Bigspoon would not be returning.
It took some weeks for before the twins were able to put their fears to one side and steal out of the orphanage after dark once more. This was obviously against all the regulations, and indeed, common sense, but these were the very reasons that influenced their decision.

The Westonbirt twins escaped from their dormitory a few minutes after their nine o’clock bedtime, just as darkness was falling. All seemed to be going well, to begin with, but after walking for no more than half an hour, it dawned upon them that they had absolutely no idea where they were. According to Winston’s calculations they should, by now, be in a position to peer through the downstairs windows of the once notorious Madam Evadne’s Lodging House for Discerning Gentlemen. I have no idea what the pair hoped to see; Madam Evadne’s had long ago become little more than a social club, and there would be nothing remotely salacious to be witnessed by looking through its grimy windows (especially the downstairs ones).
Reluctant to let the adventure end so early, they walked on. The night deepened and fog thickened around them, distorting shapes and even the most familiar landmarks. After two more hours they had had their fill of adventure. All they wanted was to retreat to the safety of their own beds, but by now were hopelessly lost.
“I’m tired,” declared Wendell, sitting down on a rock, then swiftly springing to his feet again.
“That is hot!” he exclaimed, rubbing the seat of his trousers,
It was then that the fog lifted slightly; to their great surprise they were standing in the middle of a heat-scorched area of barren earth and piles of rock. Hopeless is somewhat devoid of areas of outstanding natural beauty, but the spot in which they found themselves was singularly unpleasant. In the dim light they could see deep fissures in the ground, which revealed, far beneath their feet, terrifying glimpses of raging fires. The very earth on which they stood was hot and, occasionally, jets of smoke would erupt from the most unexpected places. It would have been enough to strike terror into the stoutest heart.
Then, as the moon pierced the thinning mist, a single beam illuminated a cleft in the rocks which seemed to have been fashioned into a crude doorway. Smoke drifted from its dark depths.
Winston looked at Wendell and said,
“This must be Hell.”
“And that must be the way in,” agreed Wendell, nodding towards the smouldering doorway. “Now that would be an adventure to tell the others about.”
While Reverend Davies would have been gratified that some of his more robust sermons had not fallen on completely deaf ears, he would have felt some dismay to learn that two of his charges were contemplating visiting Hell.
Before either boy could move, however, a dark shape emerged from the smouldering doorway, a dreadful hump-backed figure, silhouetted in the moonlight.
“It’s the devil,” wailed Winston, and as one they ran blindly into the darkness, away from the Satanic scene in front of them.

It was over a century ago that a certain William Whiteway had the notion that there was gold to be found on Hopeless. His idea sparked little enthusiasm with his fellow islanders, but William resolved to dig his mine anyway. For five long years he toiled, delving deep into the earth, with no more than a spade and pick-axe to aid his endeavours. Every stone, large and small, that he excavated was placed in a basket which, when full, was strapped to his back and laboriously carried to the surface. It was back-breaking agony, and all for no reward. Then, one day, his pick shattered a rock which opened up into a huge cavern, empty and austere, like some vast underground cathedral. William thought that his luck had changed; the smooth walls gleamed with a metallic lustre in the pale light of the candle that he had affixed to his battered helmet. Eagerly he chipped at the rock face, but there was no gold to be had, just some sort of black mineral that would be good for nothing.
To no one’s surprise William died soon after, an exhausted and disappointed man.

While the islanders of Hopeless are maybe not the most industrious of folk, they certainly know an opportunity when they see one, and the abyss that William had thoughtfully supplied for them seemed an ideal place to deposit their rubbish. For fifty years William’s Pit, as it became known, was the main repository for the island’s waste. As you may imagine, fifty years’ accumulation of assorted trash would be smelly, to say the least, until someone had the bright idea that they could burn it.
For a while that strategy seemed to do the trick, but it became clear that, although both the smell and the rubbish had gone, the blaze still raged. It appears that William had inadvertently opened up a vast seam of anthracite which had ignited. The fire began half a century ago and it has yet to be extinguished. It is well known that raging beneath that part of the island is an inferno, where lethal clouds of gas swirl through the subterranean caverns. Luckily this is confined to a relatively small area which the islanders wisely avoid. Only the Night-Soil Man goes there occasionally. He finds it a convenient place to dispose of his burden.

The boys were found next morning, far away from home and thoroughly chastened by their experience. When the Reverend Davies questioned them, he was unsurprised that they thought that they had visited Hell’s Mouth and saw Satan himself. He was well aware of the existence of William’s Pit and that the Night-Soil Man frequented it. However, if they believed they had visited Hell and met its master, he did not disabuse them of the notion; such a belief, he thought, would only strengthen his authority
.
It was late on the following evening that Miss Calder stopped Rhys Cranham as he passed the orphanage. She told him what had happened, and how his timely appearance had frightened the boys away from danger.
The Night-Soil Man smiled, but chose to say nothing, accepting the compliment, although it was undeserved. He had not visited William’s Pit for weeks.

(New Squid and Teapot art by Amanda Frick. If you’d like to share a squid and teapot – art of photo – do let us know!)

The Sleeper

Reverend Davies stood frozen in his tracks. Just a moment before he had been walking purposefully along the shoreline, attempting to compose the text of his next sermon. He found that a misty morning walk, with the angry ocean and barren rocks as a backdrop, was often helpful in inspiring him to bring the wrath and harsh judgement of the Old Testament to vivid life, for the benefit of the parishioners of Hopeless, Maine. His reason for stopping in mid-stride, and abandoning his musings on some of the least pleasant aspects of the book of Deuteronomy, was the sight of an ominous dark shape lurking low in the water, just a few yards away from where he was standing.
Minutes passed, and Reverend Davies, who dared not move or remove his gaze from the nameless menace, was developing cramp in his left leg. Convinced that the thing was biding its time before rushing up from the sea to drag him to his doom, he bore the agony like a martyr, and kept perfectly still, silently wincing with pain. I have no idea how long he could have maintained this position, but fortunately the incoming tide produced a particularly large wave which propelled the mysterious creature on to the beach, while, at the same time, liberally showering the Reverend with spray.

Banging his foot on the ground to relieve the cramp, the Reverend looked about him anxiously to see if anyone had witnessed his actions, or lack thereof. He felt a little embarrassed that he had confused a plank of wood with some deadly denizen of the deep. When it was clear that the plank held no threat, he decided to make a closer inspection. This appeared to be no ordinary plank. It was huge; a good eight feet long, ten inches wide, about six inches deep, and blackened with age. Emboldened now, he gave it a push with his foot, but found it difficult to shift; the thing was unbelievably heavy! How it had floated was beyond the Reverend’s understanding. “Maybe,” he thought aloud, “that is why it lay so low in the water.”
His sermon temporarily forgotten, Reverend Davies decided that this plank, or whatever it was, would be an ideal replacement for the lintel that sat over the front door of the orphanage, a worm-eaten piece of oak that had seen better days and needed replacing.

What he had discovered was, of course, a railway sleeper. He can be forgiven for not knowing this, as only a tiny handful of people living on the island would have seen, or even registered the existence of, such a thing as a railway, let alone a sleeper. Railway sleepers which are no longer needed are invariably recycled in some way, and this, it would appear, was the plan for this particular specimen. One other thing, of which the Reverend was blissfully ignorant, was that the sleeper he had destined to support the wall above the orphanage’s front door, had been formerly transported by ship. In the course of the voyage a terrified crew, with the help of their skipper, had unceremoniously jettisoned it overboard.

It took four strong men to remove the sleeper from the beach and deliver it to the orphanage. They lay it on the ground outside, where it would remain until needed, for while the plan to replace the old lintel was, doubtless, a good one, the Reverend had not appreciated the enormity of the task. The double doors would have to be removed and the walls would need supporting when the old lintel was pulled out. Failure to do this would almost certainly result in the front of the building collapsing. This needed much planning, and planning took time.

A week or so passed. A pallid full moon gazed down on Hopeless through the ribbons of fog, and saw Miss Calder flitting around the outside of the orphanage, hoping, no doubt, to ‘accidentally’ cross paths with Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man. She was fully aware that her feelings were irrational and could never be realised. Miss Calder had been dead for some years, and though a ghost, she entertained certain unaccountable yearnings for the Night-Soil Man. For his part, Rhys did not mind, for his was a lonely life, and, despite being a wraith, Miss Calder was surprisingly good company. Like Drury, the skeletal hound, she had not allowed the inconvenience of death to interfere with her participating fully in island life, and had continued to oversee the smooth running of the orphanage in an exemplary fashion.

Unexpectedly, a noise which Miss Calder first thought to have been the death agonies of some huge creature, rent the quiet of the island. Here and there lights appeared in nearby windows and pale, frightened faces gazed into the darkness. Reverend Davies, resplendent in a long, striped nightshirt and pink bed-socks, appeared on the doorstep of the orphanage, while Miss Marjorie Toadsmoor, their newest teacher, peeped timidly from the window of her attic room. The unearthly scream ripped through the air again and suddenly, bursting from nowhere, came the apparition of a massive steam engine, ghastly and shimmering with an awful luminescence. The faces of the driver and fireman could be clearly seen, contorted in terror as they frantically tried to bring the engine under control. Following helplessly behind were a dozen carriages, within which the bodies of their passengers were being tossed around as if they were rag-dolls. The onlookers stood transfixed as the phantom engine rolled like some stricken leviathan, falling clumsily on to its side and taking the carriages with it. The noise was deafening as it crashed into unseen obstacles, breaking down trees and buildings that were never there… then it was gone, and there was silence.
For most of us, such a sight would be traumatising, to say the very least. For the inhabitants of Hopeless, not so much. For them, the majority of hauntings are just regarded as one minor cause for concern in lives fraught with greater worries. They would be talked about in complaining tones the next day and, afterwards, mentally filed under ‘Nuisance Apparitions’. This particular apparition, however, was larger and noisier than most. Although lights were soon being doused and people went back to bed, there would be questions asked as to the origin of this particular disturbance, and, doubtless, blame to be attributed.

“What in Heaven’s name was that?” asked Reverend Davies, carefully picking his way over the cobbles to where Miss Calder stood.
“I have no idea, Reverend,” admitted Miss Calder, “But whatever it was, it has no place on this island, I’m sure.”
“I think I might know what it is that we have just witnessed.”
It was Marjorie Toadsmoor, an overcoat wrapped over her nightgown.
Marjorie had found herself mysteriously transported to Hopeless from Victorian Oxford some months before. The details of her previous life were shadowy and dim, but the sight of the ghost train had awoken some vague memory within her.
“I believe that was, what is commonly known as, a steam engine, pulling a train of carriages behind it… ”
“It sure was ma’am.”
Everyone turned to see where this new voice had come from.
The eerie shapes of the engine’s driver and fireman hovered unsteadily over the railway sleeper, as it lay on the stony ground.
“That there’s the Old 97, eternally doomed to haunt this old sleeper which brung it off the rails,” said the soot-grimed fireman.
The wraith who had been the driver – or, more properly, the engineer – was more than grimy; he looked to be badly burned.
“The last thing I remember,” he said, “we was going down the track making, ooh, must have been ninety miles an hour, when the whistle broke into a scream.”
“He was found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle,” volunteered the fireman, shaking his head sadly.
“Oh, you poor man,” wailed Miss Calder. “It looks as though you were scalded to death by the steam.”
“Well, that’s as maybe,” said Reverend Davies, briskly, “but we can’t be putting up with that racket all the time. How often is this likely to happen?”
“We manifest every full moon. The last time we did, we were on a ship. You should have seen their faces,” said the fireman, smiling at the memory.
“Indeed,” said Miss Calder, “but every full moon? Honestly! I don’t understand why some hauntings have to be so unoriginal. I make myself available day and night, all year round.”
The ghosts of the engineer and fireman said nothing, but silently retreated, somewhat shamefaced, back into the ethereal depths of the sleeper.
“It has to go,” said Reverend Davies firmly.

The following morning the sleeper was taken to Scilly Point, where the water was particularly deep. The little party, overseen by Reverend Davies, rolled it, with some difficulty, into the ocean, then they stood on the headland to watch it being taken away from the island by the receding tide.
“A pity about the lintel,” thought the Reverend, “but at least we won’t have to put up with that again.”

There is a popular saying that time and tide waits for no man. While this may be true, unlike time, which is fleeting, high tides and low tides occur regularly, twice each day. That which is carried out is often returned twelve hours or so later, but not necessarily at the same spot. This is especially true of an island which occasionally decides to change its shape without a ‘by your leave’, as does Hopeless.

Seth Washwell looked at the long, dark piece of wood sitting on the beach with obvious appreciation.
“What a great piece of timber,” he thought to himself. “I’ll get the guys to drag it back to the sawmill, I know exactly what to do with it, once it’s been cleaned up a bit and sawn into shape.”

It was around three weeks later that Reverend Davies was both surprised and delighted to receive the gift of a bespoke, single-seat church pew. This had been donated with the compliments of the Washwell Sawmills and Joinery, an establishment situated on the far side of the island. In fact, so pleased was the Reverend that he decided not to install the seat in the church, but rather keep it in his study at the orphanage, where he frequently worked late into the night, burning the midnight oil. With a couple of cushions it would make an excellent replacement for his chair, which, after years of wear, was falling apart.
As I have said, so many times in these tales, what could possibly go wrong?

The Apprentice – Part 2

Rhys Cranham looked aghast as he witnessed his apprentice of two weeks topple from the ruins of Chapel Rock. Young Gruffyd had been standing atop of the ruins when the wraith of Obadiah Hyde, the Mad Parson, had burst screaming from nowhere, causing the boy to lose his balance.
Rhys knew that there was nothing that he could do. It was a drop of a hundred feet, or more, to the sea, which boiled and frothed over hidden rocks. No one could survive a fall like that. The Night-Soil Man dropped to his knees and wept.

Rhys dreaded breaking the news to Miss Calder. She had brought Griff to his door and entrusted him with the boy’s life. He expected anger and disappointment from her; he found neither.
“It was not your fault,” said Miss Calder, laying a spectral hand on Rhys’ shoulder.
“I should have been there… I should not have left him,” said Rhys, bitterly.
The ghostly guardian of the orphanage sighed.
“Rhys…,” she said hesitantly, she rarely called him by his first name. “There’s something not right about any of this. It sounds a strange thing to say, but I don’t think that Gruffyd is dead.”
“No, you’re wrong. You’re just trying to make me feel better. That was too much of a fall.”
“I don’t know what has happened,” she said, “but believe me, I can sense the recently departed, and Gruffyd is not among them.”

Gruffyd Davies had been so shocked by the sudden and noisy manifestation of Obadiah Hyde that it had not crossed his mind that he was imminent danger of falling to his death. Only when he lurched backwards into thin air did the realisation dawn that all was not well. Then the breath was knocked out of him as he landed on something hard; this was not, as he expected, One-Hundred-Feet-On-To-Granite hard but something more organic, more muscular and worryingly suckered.
A tentacle, thicker by far than his own body, held him securely in its grip. This was followed by another that coiled in a serpentine fashion around him, pinning his arms and restricting all movement. He was beginning to wish that he had been dashed on the rocks; it would all have been over by now.
Little by little he was drawn into the bosom, or whatever bit it was, of the creature that held him; all arms, pale eyes and a massive beak. What was it? Then the cold North Atlantic swept over his head. He held his breath, trying to cling desperately on to life for a few more precious seconds. Griff’s fourteen years had been no one’s idea of a perfect childhood, but it had been good to be alive. Alive! It made him think of the song with that chorus ‘Alive, alive-o!’, which, in turn, reminded him of Drury, the skeletal dog. Good old Drury. He would be a good thought to die with. Griff smiled, and as he did, the breath he had been holding on to for so long left his body.

His Body? What was wrong with his body? How wasn’t he dead? Griff – he had liked the way the Night-Soil Man had abbreviated his name – felt himself move within the coils that held him. They were no less tight, but he had become slick and sinewy, fluid as the water itself. He knew that by writhing a little he could easily get free, but strangely, he had no desire to. The constriction had become a loving embrace.
A voice slipped quietly inside his head, an ancient voice, that thrilled him to his very core.
“The sea looks after its own, Gruffyd Davies.”
Then the coils slackened, and suddenly he was alone in the dark water.
For a moment Griff panicked, convinced that he would drown, or freeze to death. But then he realised that he wasn’t cold and his body felt strong and buoyant, and very, very different.
Somewhere close by Griff heard the cries of harbour seals, and something deep within him responded to their call. He called back, but his voice had now become a plaintive bark. The seals answered, as if they had been waiting for him. Dark heads came bobbing through the sea, in welcome. He was home.

There have long been tales of Selkies, seal-people, living around the coast of Maine. Some say that they arrived with the early European settlers. While many would dismiss these stories as no more than folklore, the inhabitants of the island of Hopeless know better. Skin-changers and shapeshifters are a fact of life for them; indeed, one of The Squid and Teapot’s best-loved and most famous barmaids was a Selkie, though few knew it. Like Griff, Betty Butterow grew up in the orphanage and was unaware of her heritage until she was in her teens. Unlike Griff, she stayed on Hopeless.

A year had passed since Griff had fallen from Chapel Rock. During that time Rhys Cranham had shown little desire to replace his apprentice, not trusting that he was capable of keeping anyone safe from harm. If it was possible for a Night-Soil man to become more introverted than his calling demands, then Rhys was that man.
Prior to Griff’s fall, the cottage at the foot of Chapel Rock was one of Rhys’ favourite stops. These days it was his most detested. He would service it with a heavy heart, and leave as quickly as possible, and this midsummer night was no different.
Lost in his thoughts, Rhys made his way down the stony pathway towards the cottage.
“Rhys…?”
The surprise of hearing his name being called tore the Night-Soil Man from his reverie. Who could it be? No one was ever about on the island at this hour… and then he saw him.
The figure standing on the beach was naked, clutching a pelt that gleamed silver in the moonlight.
“Griff… is that you? Where have you been? Miss Calder said you were alive. How…?”
Rhys started to walk towards the boy, then stopped in his tracks.
“Sorry. I forgot about the smell.”
“That’s okay,” said Griff, “I’ll manage. That’s the least I owe you.”

Griff told his strange tale to the bemused Night-Soil Man, who sat in silence while the boy spoke. When Griff finished speaking, Rhys plucked up his courage and asked the question that was hanging in the air.
“So… will you be coming back? To Hopeless, I mean.”
“Not permanently,” said Griff, sadly. “I can’t, not as a human, anyway. Sorry Rhys.”
“I know,” said Rhys. “You’ve found your family. I’m glad for you.”
“I’ll be around, maybe I can turn up here occasionally. Keep an eye out for me.”
“I’ll put some clothes in an oilskin under a rock. You can’t sit here naked. It’s not proper.”
Rhys smiled at his old mentor.
“Thank you,” he said. “And put a clothes peg in as well, please.”

The Apprentice – Part 1

Ariadne Middlestreet could not sleep. This was by no means an unusual event; she had descended, on the distaff side of the family, from a long line of poor sleepers, each of whom had a natural proclivity to wake up after four or five hours. Ariadne also suffered with ‘fidgety legs’ whenever rain threatened, which it often did on Hopeless. This ensured that, like most of her female antecedents, she rarely enjoyed a long and refreshing sleep.
It was 3a.m. when she wandered downstairs to the bar of The Squid and Teapot, hoping to find Lady Margaret D’Avening, the ghost who haunted the flushing privy of the inn. Despite having been dead for several centuries, Lady Margaret was surprisingly good company, full of bawdy tales that would have had the Puritans of her day sanctimoniously rotating in their graves. She liked to refer to her chats with Ariadne as ‘our little tête-a-têtes’, which was somewhat ironic as Lady Margaret’s half of the tête-a-tête was often situated several yards from the rest of her. Tonight, however, there was no sign of the ghost, with or without her head. Then Ariadne remembered; they were in the dark of the moon, those few days between the setting of the old moon and the rising of the new. Lady Margaret could always be seen flitting around when the moon was full, but her manifestations gradually trailed off to nothing as it waned.
Ariadne sighed, poured herself a glass of water and wandered over to the window. It would be another hour or so before dawn, and a cloak of darkness hung heavy over the sleeping island. Suddenly, something caught her eye; it was the unmistakeable, flickering iridescence of a wraith wandering through the darkness, a sight not exactly uncommon, in her experience. It seemed to be heading in the direction of Poo Corner and the Night-Soil Man’s cottage.
Ariadne mentally ticked off the various names of the likely spirits who might be abroad at this hour. She obviously ruled out Lady Margaret. Then there were the ladies of the Mild Hunt, but they always travelled together, along with their mules and spaniels, so they were discounted, too. It couldn’t be Lars Pedersen, The Eggless Norseman of Creepy Hollow; he was so ancient as to be almost completely faded. Hmm… it might be the Mad Parson, Obadiah Hyde, but she had never known him wander far from his home on Chapel Rock. The Little Drummer Boy couldn’t go anywhere without banging that infernal drum of his; you could hear him a mile away. How about the dancing ghost, Clarissa Cockadilly? But no, she was doomed forever to haunt the swamp at the end of Forty Second Street.
“Who have I missed?” she said out loud to herself, then realisation dawned upon her. She had never regarded Miss Calder as being a ghost. The others all wore their wraithlike credentials on their, sleeve, as it were, (though Lady Margaret tended to tuck hers underneath her arm) but not so Miss Calder. She was an old friend, businesslike and efficient and dedicated to the care and welfare of the orphans. Yes, it made sense, and if she was heading for the Night-Soil Man’s cottage there could only be one reason.

Rhys Cranham was sitting on his doorstep, pulling off his boots when Miss Calder shimmered into view. Since taking over from his predecessor, the late Shenendoah Nailsworthy, Rhys had seen just about every cryptozoological and supernatural creature that Hopeless possessed. By and large, the ghosts ignored him and everything else with a sense of smell avoided him. Miss Calder did neither. He almost fancied that she flirted with him, which was nice, as the Night-Soil Man’s lot is a decidedly lonely one.
“Mr Cranham, how are you?”
Her silky voice reached him long before she did. He imagined it fluttering along on the early morning breeze with silver wings.
He rose to greet her as she drew towards him. The first pale strands of dawn were trying to battle their way through the mist, and occasionally through Miss Calder.
“Miss Calder, good morning. I guess you have some good news for me.”
“I do indeed, Mr Cranham,” replied the wraith, eyeing him appreciatively, then added,
“His name is Gruffyd Davies.”
“Davies?” The Night-Soil Man could not conceal his surprise. “I thought there had only ever been one Davies family on Hopeless.”
“There has,” agreed Miss Calder. “The Reverend and Mrs Davies found Gruffyd, as a tiny infant, abandoned on the beach. They had no idea who he was or where he had come from, so they placed him in the orphanage and named the child after one the Reverend’s ancestors – the original Gruffyd was one of the earliest settlers, I believe.”
Rhys shook his head sadly.
“Why give a child your family name then stick him in an orphanage… ?”
“Well, that’s as maybe, Mr Cranham,” said Miss Calder briskly, not wishing to be dragged into discussing the rights and wrongs of the Davies connubial attitude regarding the subject of child-rearing. “Gruffyd is now fourteen years old, a good lad and, I am certain, has the right build and temperament to be your apprentice.”
“And he wants the job?”
“Absolutely. He is a very quiet, solitary boy and has no wish to remain in the rough and tumble of the orphanage for a minute longer than he has to,” replied Miss Calder.
Rhys nodded thoughtfully.
“Okay,” he said. “Bring him along tomorrow evening… and don’t forget to put a peg on his nose.”

The role of the Night-Soil Man has often been discussed in these tales. He is a pariah, outcast from society by the foul smell that surrounds him, always. Perversely, he is, at the same time, held in the highest regard by his fellow islanders for the way in which that aforementioned malodorous aura repels the deadliest predators, allowing him to walk freely through the darkest night without fear. The work is back-breaking and dangerous and his life expectancy can often be short. This is why every holder of the post accepts, at some stage in his career, that the time is drawing near when the torch (or more correctly, the bucket) has to be passed and it would be expedient to take on an apprentice. These boys – apprentices are always boys – are selected from the orphanage. Incidentally, newer readers may be interested to learn that the most famous Night-Soil Man, Randall Middlestreet, was dropped in at the deep end, so to speak, at the age of fifteen when his master was devoured by the Wendigo. Randall also has the distinction of being, to date, the only member of his trade to retire and raise a family.

A few yards from the Night-Soil Man’s cottage stands a small bunkhouse, sparsely, but comfortably, furnished. For over a century some version of this building has been the accommodation of the apprentice, and there he will reside until his master dies. It is in here, on the following evening, that we meet Gruffyd Davies, a wooden peg on his nose, nervously unloading his few, meagre possessions onto to his bed.
Rhys had welcomed him with kind words, while keeping a respectable distance. It would take a while for Gruffyd to become acclimatized to the overpowering smell, but that was fine. There was no hurry – or so Rhys fervently hoped. He would give the lad a week or so before taking him out on his rounds.

Two weeks passed by and a casual onlooker (though, of course, there were none) would have witnessed the Night-Soil Man and his apprentice sitting quietly on the headland. They were happily munching cold Starry-Grabby pie, swilled down with a drop of beer (to the delight of Gruffyd) and gazing up through the mist at the full moon. Gruffyd was thrilled to spot a small flock of gnii twinkling across the night sky. Life had been a blur since he had started his apprenticeship, but he had taken to his new surroundings well, and had shown every sign of being eager to learn his trade.
“There’s just one more call tonight, Griff,” said Rhys. “It’s a cottage down by Chapel Rock that needs servicing. It won’t take long, and then we can head for home. You can grab another breather while we’re there; I won’t need your help clearing this one.”

As true as his word, Rhys left his apprentice to his own devices, while he trudged off, out of sight, swinging his bucket. The cottage nestled on the landward side of a huge lump of granite that was crowned by the ruins of the old chapel that gave the rock its name.

Although having been thrust into an adult world, Gruffyd was still very much a boy of fourteen, and like most boys of his age, he could never resist the challenge of climbing something. Maybe it was the effects of the beer, but the rock and the ruins seemed to be crying out for exploration, especially since the moonlight had managed to cut a path through the mist, making a valiant effort of turning night into day. What could possibly go wrong?
It took a matter of minutes for the lad to scramble to the summit and stand proudly on top of the ruins, waiting to surprise his master.

Before long, with the bucket now full and strapped safely upon his back, the Night-Soil Man made his way towards the rock. It took him only a few seconds to register that Gruffyd was nowhere to be seen, then he heard his shout.
“Rhys! Rhys! Look at me. I’m up here. Up in the ruins.”
“Griff, get down. Get down now,” Rhys shouted with alarm, knowing the danger, but as he did so a wild haired and angry apparition came screaming out of nowhere at the boy, its arms flailing wildly.
It was Obadiah Hyde, the Mad Parson of Chapel Rock. For centuries Hyde had made a special point of hating papists and adulterers. Tonight he added ‘Shouty adolescents who disturb my slumber’ to that list.
Rhys had warned Gruffyd at the outset of his employment that from now on he could expect to occasionally encounter a variety of ghosts, ghouls and horrors of all descriptions. The boy had seemed surprisingly sanguine about the whole thing, telling Rhys that he would be fine. However, Gruffyd had never expected anything quite as terrifying as the Mad Parson; a ghastly, cruel wraith who famously appeared from nowhere to scream in one’s face.
Taken by surprise, as any of us would have been, the boy stepped backwards, losing his footing. For a second that seemed to last forever, Rhys watched him standing at a crazy angle on the edge of the ruins, waving his arms as though conducting an invisible orchestra… and then he was gone.

A Moving Tale (Part 2)

“I really appreciate what you are doing, Miss Toadsmoor,”
Miss Calder shimmered slightly in the perennial gloom of the office.
The young woman standing before her gave a small, but respectful, curtsey.
“Please, call me Marjorie.”
“I don’t think that is necessarily a good idea,” said Miss Calder. “We should maintain a degree of propriety and professionalism at all times, at least for the sake of the orphans.”
Marjorie nodded her assent. Although much of her life, prior to coming to Hopeless, was a mystery to her, the stifling decorum of upper middle-class Victorian society was so instilled in her bones that this formal arrangement sounded agreeable, even preferable.
“Excellent,” said Miss Calder, “and you are happy to work with me? My… ah… predicament does not disturb you?”
As if to test her new companion, for a second or two one half of Miss Calder’s face took on a ghastly skeletal quality.
“Not at all,” replied Marjorie, crossing her fingers behind her back.

Since her arrival on the foggy island of Hopeless, Marjorie had lived in The Squid and Teapot, relying upon the charity of Bartholomew and Ariadne Middlestreet. Feeling herself to be no more than a burden to the Middlestreets, she decided that she needed to be independent and seek fresh accommodation and some form of meaningful employment. It was her friend, the barmaid, Philomena Bucket who suggested that Marjorie could help Miss Calder at the orphanage. This was a surprisingly good idea. Having been, in her own words, the main dish at a vampire feast, Miss Calder was now reduced to being a wraith, a condition which presented certain obvious problems when it came to matters of handling and lifting.

Although the ghostly form of Miss Calder took a little getting used to, she was a perpetually young and attractive woman (except when she did the skeletal face thing) who was loved by the children in the orphanage. The same could not be said, however, of the Reverend Davies, a gaunt, cheerless man with Puritan views and bad hair.
“And you feel you can teach the orphans something worthwhile, Miss Toadsmoor?”
The reverend’s eyes bore into Marjorie. He was sceptical that a girl of barely twenty would be able to contribute anything to the education of the orphans.
“Although I know not where or when it occurred, I can assure you that I have received an excellent education, sir.”
“That’s as maybe,” said Davies pointedly, “but can you recall any of it?”
“I am fluent in French and Latin and have a little Greek,” she replied, haughtiness creeping into her voice.
“A fat lot of good that is on Hopeless,” he grumbled. “You will be casting pearls before swine, young lady, pearls before swine… but, very well, if you can keep the orphans occupied for an hour or two, I suppose you will have achieved more than most.”
With a wave of his hand, Reverend Davies dismissed Marjorie from his office.

If, during your school days, you have been forced to sit through a long and monotonous lesson, which has inspired within you not the smallest spark of interest, then you will appreciate the mind-numbing tedium that the unwary orphans found themselves being subjected to. Miss Toadsmoor was exposing her class to their very first taste of Latin. How could they not be thrilled by discovering the language of Virgil, Ovid and Marcus Aurelius, she reasoned to herself. Here was the very bedrock of the Romantic languages; what a gift she was bringing to them.

“And so, if I want to say ‘The girl walked in the woods’ it would be, in Latin, ‘Puella in silva ambulavit’.
“But why miss?” asked a bored voice from the back of the room.
“Because that is the translation,” said Marjorie, patiently.
“No, why did she walk in the woods? It sounds dangerous to me.”
“And me. I wouldn’t do that.”
“No way. I know people who have done that and never returned.”
Marjorie was beginning to feel overwhelmed by the babble of voices, affirming that the puella in question was decidedly chancing her luck by rashly venturing into the silvan groves.
“Perhaps I’ve made this too complicated,” she said, raising her voice above the growing hubbub. “Maybe if I just say, ‘The girl is in the woods…’ ”
“You mean she’s been buried in the woods, miss?”
“No! No! Please children. No one has been buried in the woods.”
Marjorie felt that she was losing control.
“Yes they have. My Uncle Colin was.”
“And Mrs Draycott. I saw her when they dug her up. Horrible, it was.”
Marjorie dropped her head into her hands, defeated.

“I don’t think this is going to work,” said Marjorie tearfully. “I am not connecting with the children at all.”
“I don’t agree,” said Miss Calder. “Maybe Latin isn’t what they need to learn, but the lesson certainly became more animated when you started talking about people being buried in the woods.”
“But I didn’t,” protested Marjorie, “I never mentioned it. They did.”
“Don’t you see, such things are far more relevant to their lives than talking about girls happily skipping around under the trees, whatever language you say it in? They live among horrors, Miss Toadsmoor, a fact to which I can personally attest.”
Marjorie looked downcast. “I confess, my time, so far, on the island has been spent within the shelter of The Squid and Teapot. I know little of the horrors of which you speak.”
“Then learn from the children, Miss Toadsmoor. Listen to what they can teach you. No one is asking you to turn them into academics. There are too many who regard the orphans as nothing but nuisances, barely one level above that of spoonwalkers. They rarely get listened to. I should be doing all of this, of course, but since my unfortunate…” Miss Calder hesitated, “… my unfortunate affliction occurred, I find it increasingly difficult to communicate. It sometimes feels as though I am the only living soul and all those around me are ghosts. Silly, isn’t it?”
Marjorie fell silent for a moment, reflecting on Reverend Davies’ observation that she would be ‘casting pearls before swine’. It was an unpleasant and unnecessary comment that certainly added weight to Miss Calder’s words.
“Thank you, Miss Calder,” she said, brightly. “You have communicated perfectly and your sentiments have been most enlightening. I see clearly now what I must do. Thank you again.”

It was a week or so later, when Marjorie and Philomena Bucket were walking with Drury, the skeletal hound, on the Gydynap Hills, that Marjorie suddenly asked her companion,
“Do you know the song ‘Have you smelt the Night Soil Man?’ ”
Philomena looked at her friend and frowned.
“I can’t say that I do. How does it go?”

Marjorie cleared her throat and began:

“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!”

“I know the tune,” laughed Philomena, “only we used to sing ‘The Muffin Man’ back in Ireland when I was a girl. Where the devil did you hear that?”
“Some of the orphans taught it to me,” said Marjorie. “Apparently, it’s a traditional street-song and has been sung by children here for generations. Since being at the orphanage I have learned so much about Hopeless; its flora and fauna, and the things that are neither, or both. Those children are a treasure trove of information.”
“I thought you were supposed to be teaching them,” said Philomena, throwing a stick for Drury to retrieve.
“Oh, I am, but we have an arrangement,” replied Marjorie. “If the children agree to let me teach them some basic arithmetic or a bit of poetry for an hour, in return I will allow them to teach me something about the island. It usually involves something gory, or scary… in fact the gorier and scarier it is, the better they like it. Are you aware that there is the ghost of a mad parson at Chapel Rock?”
“Yes, I’ve heard, but never mention him if Lady Margaret is haunting anywhere nearby. They have history.”
Philomena was referring to Lady Margaret D’Avening, The Headless Lady who haunts the flushing privy of The Squid and Teapot. Obadiah Hyde, the Mad Parson of Chapel Rock, was the reason she became headless.

The two women stood together in the swirling mist on the very top of the Gydynaps. On impulse, Marjorie grasped her friend’s hand and squeezed it gently.
“Thank you so much for finding me a place at the orphanage, Philomena. I really feel that I am doing some good, at last. What would I do without you?”
Philomena, who always found taking compliments to be a problem, was about to make some self-deprecating comment when Drury came trotting up and dropped a stick at Marjorie’s feet. When it came to people, Drury was particular and had his favourites. He would not place a stick at just anyone’s feet. Marjorie was one of the good ones, he had decided – and it was her turn to throw.

(Missed part 1? It’s over here – A Moving Tale)

A Moving Tale (Part 1)

“I cannot, in all conscience, remain here any longer, Philomena.”
Marjorie Toadsmoor looked uncomfortably at her friend. She had been resident in The Squid and Teapot for several weeks, and was beginning to feel that she had outstayed her welcome.
Philomena smiled, squeezing Marjorie’s hand reassuringly.
“Why ever not?” she asked. “I’ve lived here for ages and have no intention of moving.”
Marjorie’s face flushed.
“But you’re useful. You can cook, you clean, you do the washing and wait at table; The Squid would fall apart without you, Philomena dear, whereas I… for some reason I seem to have no aptitude for any of those things.”
Philomena had to admit to herself that this was absolutely true. Although neither woman knew it, before Marjorie arrived on the island, she had lived the existence of a privileged, upper middle-class Victorian lady, with servants to do her every bidding. As you may recall from the tale ‘Lapsus Linguae’, only a minute prior to finding herself standing beneath the lighthouse on Hopeless, she had been wandering among the Dreaming Spires of Oxford, excited at being one of the first female students to be accepted by that venerable university. She had been mysteriously plucked from space and time and robbed of all memory of her previous life. It was probably a blessing; there was little in the way of privilege on Hopeless.
“You can learn, it’s easy, “ said Philomena. “You’ve already rid yourself of them stuffy crinolines and corsets that you wore to begin with, to say nothing of that daft parasol…”
“It blew away,” said Marjorie, regretfully. “And yes, I can’t think why I was in that ridiculous get-up in the first place. The clothes you found in the attic for me is far more practical. But with regard to staying at The Squid and Teapot, I honestly don’t think I can be of any worthwhile use at all.”
“Well, if you’re certain,” said Philomena. “Let me see what I can find for you, but please, don’t think that the Middlestreets want you to go. You add a bit of class to the place.”
It was the truth. Ariadne Middlestreet had commented on more than one occasion that Miss Toadsmoor’s cut-glass English accent, fierce intelligence and impeccable manners had certainly done the reputation of the inn no harm. Everyone adored her, with the possible exception of Doc Willoughby, who did not like anyone who was perceived to be cleverer than he was.

A day or two later Philomena delivered the news that she had found an ideal home and job for Marjorie.
“Miss Calder, at the orphanage, she could really do with some help,” Philomena said. “The children would benefit from having someone like you around, Marjorie, and there’s room enough for you to live there, too.”
“But surely, Miss Calder is more than up to the task of catering for her young charges,” protested Marjorie.
Philomena looked uncomfortable.
“There’s something about Miss Calder you should know,” she said. “She isn’t… she isn’t… well… quite alive.”
“You mean the poor woman has passed away?”
“Not in so many words,” replied Philomena, carefully “It’s just that she’s dead, but that doesn’t stop her looking after the children as best as she can. Oh, no.”
“I’m not sure I could bear to stay there if Miss Calder is as you say she is,” said Marjorie, a slight tremor in her voice.
“Ah, sure, you’ll soon be fine with it,” replied Philomena, adding after a thoughtful pause, “maybe it will help if you meet someone to get you used to the idea. I know just the person. Come down to the bar at midnight.”
Marjorie looked intrigued. She had no idea what her friend was planning but was happy enough to go along with it.
“Very well. I’ll see you then.”

A full moon was shining wanly through the windows of the inn when Marjorie made her way down the stairs, the yellow light of her candle throwing huge shadows against the walls. Philomena was waiting for her.
“Promise me you’re not going to be too frightened,” she said, ominously. “If she sees that you’re scared, you’ll offend her?”
“She? Who are we meeting?”
“You’ll see,” said Philomena. “Now we need to go to the toilet.”
“I don’t,” said Marjorie, not a little taken aback. “I went before I came downstairs.”
“No, no,” said Philomena, “I mean, we need to go into the toilet – to the flushing privy next to the bar. Come on.”
By the flickering light of the candle, the pair slipped into the privy.
“Lady Margaret, are you there?” called Philomena, softly.
The room grew suddenly much chillier and, to Marjorie’s amazement, the figure of a woman suddenly appeared before them. To all intents and purposes she looked to be as much a creature of flesh and blood as they were, but there was something about her that suggested that she was somehow on the very edge of becoming slightly transparent. This impression was not reduced by the fact that she appeared to be clothed in little more than a fairly revealing night-gown.
“Lady Margaret D’Avening, allow me to introduce you to my good friend, Miss Marjorie Toadsmoor,” said Philomena, respectfully.
Despite having forgotten her roots, there was some deeply inbred obsequiousness lurking in the make-up of Marjorie, when exposed to the aristocracy.
“My Lady,” she said, performing a deep curtsey, “I am honoured indeed.”
Lady Margaret nodded imperiously. She had not been treated like this for centuries.
“You’re not here to be honoured,” said Philomena, “You are here to meet a real-live… um… a real-dead ghost. Lady Margaret came here with the stones that built the privy, and won’t mind me saying that if you can get used to her, then Miss Calder will be a pushover.”
“But Lady Margaret is young and beautiful…” protested Marjorie. “If she is truly a ghost, then I surely have no need to fear.”
Although she had lived on the island for some weeks, except for an initial encounter with a spoonwalker, Marjorie had not experienced any of the more exotic inhabitants of Hopeless, including ghosts.
Philomena gave Lady Margaret a wink.
“Time to do what you do best. M’Lady” she said, upon which the ghost raised her hands and lifted her head from her body, letting it float in the air beside her.
If the light in the privy had been better, one would have witnessed Marjorie’s complexion suddenly becoming an interesting shade of green.
“That’s my party trick,” said Lady Margaret’s head, “thanks to a mad puritan parson who disapproved of my religion and, more to the point, my love-life. Now… tell me all about yourself, young lady…”
It soon became clear to Marjorie that, despite being an aristocrat and a ghost with a severed head, Lady Margaret D’Avening was delightful, easy-going company and not at all scary, unless of course, she had other tricks up her sleeve.
She left the privy that night feeling far more comfortable about the prospect of living under the same roof as Miss Calder, a well-meaning ghost, if ever there was one.

To be continued…

Bigspoon

For most homes, having someone banging on the front door at seven o’clock on a Sunday morning is, generally speaking, an unusual event. The Squid and Teapot is certainly no exception to this, and when the stout doors of the inn rattled to a sudden matutinal tattoo one sabbath, it almost caused Ariadne Middlestreet to spill her coffee.
“Good morning Mrs Middlestreet,” said a polite, but spotty, youth to Ariadne, when she answered the knock. He was accompanied by a carbon copy of himself, down to the last pimple. Ariadne immediately recognised them as being the Westonbirt twins, Winston and Wendell, from the orphanage.
“And what are you boys after at this hour of the day?”
Ariadne is not a particularly maternal woman, invariably regarding anyone on the island, who has the misfortune to be under the age of twenty-five, as being up to no good. In this she is rarely disappointed.
“Miss Calder sent us, ma’am,” said Winston – though it could well have been Wendell. “We were raided by spoonwalkers again last night. Miss Calder wants to know if there is any spare cutlery in your attic, please.”
“Dam’ spoonwalkers,” said Ariadne, with venom. “Tell Miss Calder I’ll bring some over later.”
“We need them now ma’am,” said Wendell or Winston, with some trepidation in his voice. “We can’t do breakfast without.”
Ariadne sighed.
“Okay. What do you need?”
“A dozen dessert spoons and two large ladles, please ma’am.”
“Ladles? Spoonwalkers have no use for ladles, they’re way too big.”
“Well, they definitely took two last night.”
Ariadne sighed again.
“Stay here, you two, and don’t touch nothing. I’ll go and find you some cutlery.”
Ten minutes later the Westonbirt twins were happily jangling back to the orphanage with a bulging bag of non-matching dessert spoons and two ladles.

It always amuses Philomena Bucket when Drury, the skeletal hound, picks up a scent. His bony tail immediately lifts before he circles around, sniffing the ground, oblivious to everything else around him. All Philomena can ever do is to follow, if she chooses to. For Drury’s part, he has no need of an audience. The chase is enough. On the day of our tale, however, she decided to keep the dog in sight and see what he might find.
It was not until they dropped from the headland to the beach that Philomena could see the cause of Drury’s excitement. Imprinted deep into the dark sand was a set of cup-shaped indentations, as though a large and quite heavy biped, with exceedingly strange feet, had walked along the shoreline. Philomena racked her brains as to what manner of creature might leave such tracks, but nothing came to mind. She knew that there was every chance that answer to the mystery might be totally unremarkable, but her curiosity was aroused. She decided to get someone else to take a look before the tide came in and washed the prints away forever.

“It’s beyond me,” admitted Norbert Gannicox. “Looking at the stride, whatever it is must be at least four and a half feet tall. We’ve had some rum things wandering around the island over the years, but I’ve not seen anything with feet like that.”

The talk in The Squid and Teapot that evening was of the strange tracks that Drury had discovered. Harvey Winstone said that he had spotted similar ones in the mud behind the orphanage.
“They were like small bowls. I’ve never seen anything with feet like that,” he added.
Ariadne, listening with half an ear from behind the bar, suddenly paled.
“Spoonwalkers stole a couple of ladles from the orphanage the other night,” she said. “I reckon it’s to do with that.”
“But they’re too small to use ladles as stilts,” protested Norbert. “Dessert spoons are more their size.”
“But what if there’s one that’s not so small anymore?” said Harvey, a note of menace in his voice. “What if one has mutated into something bigger?”
Harvey had recently found some comic books washed up in a crate. Much of it was literally pulp-fiction, as most of the comics had become little more than a salt-sea mush, but deep in the middle of the crate a few had survived the worst ravages of the ocean. These had titles such as ‘Weird Stories’, ‘Creepy’ and ‘Tales to Astonish’. Harvey, innocent of the ways of comic-book writers, believed every word he read.
An uncomfortable silence descended upon the bar. Regular sized spoonwalkers were bad enough – just a glance from one of them had been known to drive folks close to madness. If there was something bigger out there, who knew what havoc they might cause?
“I’ve no idea what mutated means,” admitted Norbert, “but it sounds quite nasty. What are we going to do?”
There was a sudden hubbub of voices, each one advocating violence of some degree.
“Hold on,” broke in Bartholomew Middlestreet, ever the voice of reason. “Before we get too carried away, has anyone actually seen whatever it is that’s making these tracks?”
Nobody replied.
“Then I think, until we know exactly what we’re up against, we do nothing except be vigilant.”
There was a general murmur of agreement, but that night, as each customer made their way home, they could not help but tread with trepidation.

It is widely thought that the name ‘Bigspoon’ was coined by Harvey Winstone, who’s recent exposure to ‘Tales to Astonish’ etc. had brought to his attention the possible existence of Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, arguably the North American cousin of the fabled Yeti of the Himalayas. Since delving into this newly discovered world of cryptozoology, Harvey harboured a secret hope that Bigfoot’s big feet would one day stalk Hopeless, but until then he had to be content with a home-grown version.
(As if the island doesn’t have more cryptozoological specimens than you can shake a spoon at!)

Once the creature had been given a name, it was not long before there were reports of Bigspoon being sighted all over the island. He was five feet tall, or sometimes eight feet tall. He was green and scaly or there again, brown and hairy. He roared, he squeaked, he spoke fluent English… and he was only ever seen in passing, from the corner of one eye, in a bad light, obscured by mist and behind trees. He was, in short, an enigma. There were as many varieties of Bigspoon as there were people who had claimed to have seen him. One thing that all agreed on, however; his round, ladle-shaped tracks were everywhere. Panic began to grip the island.

It was maybe a week or ten days following the robbery at the orphanage that Rhys Cranham, the Night Soil Man, managed to put a stop to Bigspoon’s ramblings for good.
It was not quite midnight when he stopped for his break. Philomena had, as ever, left a generous slice of Starry-Grabby pie and a bottle of ‘Old Colonel’ outside his front door. Settling down, with his back against a rock, Rhys was about to take the first bite of his meal when a sudden movement caught his attention. Well aware of the tales surrounding Bigspoon, he was at once wary, hoping that his trademark effluvium would be enough to keep the creature at bay. He sat stock still and waited.

The figure that emerged into the moonlight was neither green and scaly, nor brown and hairy. It was a small boy with a ladle lashed to each leg, who hobbled awkwardly across the ground, in search of suitably soft patches of earth into which he might imprint his strange footmarks. Rhys smiled to himself, appreciating the hoax. He had been an orphanage boy himself and had often played tricks on the adults in his life. Hopeless, in the middle of the night, however, was not a safe place for anyone except the Night Soil Man, much less scrawny, adolescent hoaxers, such as the one he now saw before him..

Wendell, or possibly Winston, stopped in his tracks as a blood-curdling, animal howl issued from the nearby hillside. It was followed by the noise of rocks being crashed together, to the accompaniment of an assortment of yelps, gibbers and screeches. It sounded as though all the denizens of Hell had decided to hold an improptu party on Hopeless. Wendell (we’ll agree that it’s Wendell) kicked off the ladles and sped back towards the orphanage and the safety of the open window where his brother waited. Rhys lingered a while then wandered down to the spot where that the would-be Bigspoon had recently vacated, picked up the ladles and dropped them into his backpack.

“Did you hear it last night?” asked Harvey Winstone, clutching a tankard of ale close to his chest.
A murmur of assenting voices confirmed that they had, indeed, heard the wrath of Bigspoon. One or two swore that they had watched him raging over the hills, howling at the moon before eventually disappearing into the mist.
Philomena Bucket deftly carried another tray of drinks to across the crowded room, before going outside for a breath of air. Standing in the pool of yellow light by the open front door, she smiled to herself as she strained to read again the note that she had found outside the Night Soil Man’s cottage, when delivering his supper earlier that evening. It had been secured to the ground beneath the weight of two large ladles.
The message was clear enough:
“They won’t be needing these at the orphanage any more. Neither will Bigspoon. Yours ever, Rhys xx”

The Wanderer

The apple trees growing in the shade of the Gydynap hills are far from beautiful. They are old, gnarled and twisted, and, on the odd occasions that any of them bears fruit, the apples are small and bitter, barely good enough for making cider. This said, however, every springtime, without fail, they produce a gorgeous and fragrant blossom that speaks of a harvest that never arrives.
Philomena Bucket has always waited impatiently for the coming of the blossom; it reminded her of her childhood in Ireland. She had few happy recollections of her early life, but the flowering of the trees in her grandmother’s orchard always glowed in her mind like a beacon. After her grandmother died, the apple orchard, and all the stuff of memories, were brutally snatched away, and the adults of the Bucket family found themselves in the workhouse in Dublin. Philomena and her sisters were deposited in the Foundling Hospital for Orphans and Abandoned children, just south of the River Liffey.
Philomena dismissed those dark and distant days from her mind as she plucked a sprig of blossom and pinned it on her coat, laughing as a shower of petals cascaded from the tree, covering her hair and shoulders like confetti.
As spring days go on the island of Hopeless, this particular one was decidedly… well, almost spring-like. The wind was moderate, there was no apparent sign of rain, and the usual shroud of mist that hung over the land was surprisingly light. The green shoulders of the Gydynaps rose up into clear grey skies before her; it would be more than optimistic to expect sunshine as well.
Philomena hummed a little tune and walked with a definite spring in her step as she made her way towards the summit of the hills. Drury, the skeletal hound, sensing her mood and wagging his bony tail, gambolled like a lamb over the grass (not that Drury had recently witnessed a lamb gambolling, at least, not for the last hundred years or so).
The Gydynaps are possibly the strangest place on the island. This is not to say that there are – to quote the traditional Scottish prayer – a greater number of ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties wandering around there than on any other part of Hopeless. It is, instead, as if the hills are host to an indefinable presence, quietly possessing an aura of awe and antiquity that even the most insensitive soul could not fail to feel. And this is why they are shunned, for, unlike Philomena, most Hopelessians prefer the terrors that can be seen, and hopefully avoided, to the ageless, invisible, threat, that many believe pervades the Gydynaps.

Drury had spotted a crow foraging in the grass and decided that it would be worthwhile chasing the bird. Like crows the world over, this one had every confidence in her ability to avoid capture, and made a point of keeping just enough space between Drury and herself in order to give the dog the impression that he might just catch her.
Philomena was not worried when he disappeared from sight. Drury was his own master and would find her when he grew tired of the fruitless chase.

As the morning drew on the day became suddenly colder and a freshening wind brought ever-thickening wisps of mist on to the hills. Philomena drew her coat closer about her and was on the point of deciding to go back to The Squid and Teapot, where she had a room, when a bent figure, wearing something resembling a monk’s habit, appeared a few yards in front of her, as if out of nowhere. Philomena rubbed her eyes and concluded that the mist must be denser than she had thought.
“Good morning,” said Philomena, cheerily.
The elderly stranger raised a hand in greeting and Philomena thought he said,
“Imagine what.”
“Imagine what? What should I imagine?” asked Philomena confused.
The two looked at each other for a few seconds before Philomena realised what he had said.
“Maidin mhaith” she repeated back with a beaming smile, dredging up what she recalled of the language her grandmother had spoken.
The old man looked around, confused. The landscape had unexpectedly changed. From these high hills he could see that they were surrounded by water.
“What is this island called?” he asked, in a dialect of Irish that sounded archaic and unfamiliar, but to Philomena’s amazement she understood him perfectly.
“Why, this place is Hopeless,” she replied, surprising herself by answering him fluently in his own tongue.
“Indeed it is,” he said. “I have wandered for years, through hollow lands and hilly lands, but I have never seen anywhere quite as dismal as this.”
“Oh, it’s not too bad once you get used to it,” said Philomena, unconvincingly.
The self-confessed wanderer gave her a long, hard stare.
“Do I know you?” he asked. “I feel that I do… maybe a long time ago. Things are a bit hazy since I went into that hazel wood…”
‘Cheeky beggar’ thought Philomena, ‘I’m young enough to be his granddaughter,’ but she just smiled sweetly and said,
“Sorry, I don’t think so.”
Just then a slight breeze swept by, disturbing the apple blossom that still clung to her hair and shoulders.
The old man gazed at her, his eyes suddenly alight with longing and wonder.
“Yes… yes I do know you,” he said. “There is apple blossom in your hair… You are the one… I know it.”
Before Philomena could object, he had reached forward and taken her by the hands,
then, with surprising strength and agility, drew her quickly towards him and kissed her full on the lips.
“Ah… I taste fish,” he said. “You were once a fish, a trout. Do you recall?”
“I think you’ve got me mixed up with somebody else,” said Philomena, more than a little taken aback, and pulling away hastily. “I had a bit of cold Starry-Grabby pie for me breakfast. That’s what you can taste. I was never a fish. Honestly. I’d have remembered.”
The old man looked dejected.
“It was a very attractive trout,” he said. “All silvery. I could have sworn you were she. That is such a shame. But… you don’t fancy walking through some long, dappled grass with me, just in case you’re mistaken. It might bring it all back to you.”
“No thanks,” said Philomena, who was becoming increasingly uneasy. “Besides there’s no long grass up here, dappled or otherwise.”
“I suppose you’re right,” he said morosely. “To be honest, I’m beginning to doubt that I’ll ever find her. She only ever called me by my name once, then she ran off, faded into the brightening air, and I’ve not seen hide nor hair of her since.”
“Don’t give up hope,” said Philomena, feeling suddenly sorry for him. “Stick with it, and you’ll be sure to bump into her eventually.”
“Hmm, I hope you’re right,” replied the old man. “But if by chance you do see the girl, say that her Aengus is still wandering around looking for her.”
Without saying any more he turned and, with a wave of his hand, walked into the gathering mist.
Philomena stared after him until he disappeared from sight. Lost in her own thoughts, she was suddenly brought back to earth when Drury pulled up alongside her, his tail still wagging.
Her reverie broken, she tried in vain to catch the last few ragged ribbons of ancient Gaelic speech which floated through her mind, before they disappeared forever. But they were gone, like snow on the water, and with those words faded all memory of her encounter with the Wandering Aengus.

With apologies to W.B. Yeats.