Category Archives: Tales from the Squid and Teapot

The Northwest Passage

Rhys Cranham had found himself mysteriously deposited into the past of Hopeless, Maine, having been summoned there by the ghostly apparition of a previous Night-Soil Man. Although he had no idea, exactly, how far into the history of the island he had been thrust, the absence of the flushing privy, annexed to the rear of The Squid and Teapot, indicated that he was living in the Hopeless of many years earlier. Despite this, there was one face he recognised from his own time, and that was the bony visage of Drury, who had been around for longer than anyone knew. As far as Drury was concerned, of course, Rhys was a newcomer to the island, but the Night-Soil Man was grateful that his old friend was there to keep him company.

The role of the Night-Soil Man has changed little over the years, and Rhys had strapped on the bucket of the previous incumbent as naturally as if it had been his own. (In fact, it was his own. This version looked much newer and less battered, but, in Rhys’ view, lacked a certain amount of character.)


A week passed by uneventfully, or as uneventfully as a week on Hopeless ever gets. There was the usual array of night-stalkers to avoid, but the Night-Soil Man’s distinct odour was usually more than enough to keep them at bay. It was something of a surprise, therefore, when a dark figure arose from the shadows and ambled unconcernedly towards him. Even more surprising was the fact that Drury failed to growl, but instead wagged his tail enthusiastically.


“You must be our new Night-Soil Man,” said the stranger.
The news that there was a new holder of the office had obviously travelled quickly.
“Poor old Barney, I’ll miss him,” he continued sadly, then added, “but it’s good to meet you…”
For most of us, such an exchange would be unremarkable, but for the Night-Soil Man, it was astounding. Not since his brief flirtation with Philomena Bucket (who had temporarily lost her sense of smell) had anyone actually approached him voluntarily. If that was surprising, the words which followed came as even more of a shock.
“…I’m Elijah. Elijah Cranham.”
It took a moment or two for Rhys to fully appreciate that he was, more than likely, standing in the presence of one of his ancestors.
“You can call me Rhys,” he said, niftily avoiding giving his surname. He needed to know more about this man.
“But your accent… you don’t sound like a local.”
“No, I came to the island from England, via California, Canada and the Northwest… or rather, I should say, the Northeast Passage.”
Elijah laughed bitterly at the last remark.
As Rhys had never been away from Hopeless, none of these references meant a great deal to him, but he was keen to learn something of his ancestry, which had always been a mystery.
“You must be wondering how I can stand so close to you,” said Elijah, hurriedly adding, “no offence intended. It was the Arctic Ocean that did for my sense of smell. I fell overboard three years ago into that icy water, and was lucky to be dragged out alive. I haven’t smelled anything since. Then, after I found myself here, I got friendly with old Barney, the Night-Soil Man. Poor devil had no one to call a friend, as you will appreciate more than most, so he was glad for me to visit and have a chat occasionally.”
“And I’d be happy if you did the same with me,” said Rhys. “Call in whenever you want.”

The days unfolded into weeks, and little by little, Rhys was able to piece together some of his family’s history. Elijah, who had been little more than a boy at the time, left England in 1865, having heard about the gold fever that had gripped California over a decade earlier. He was told by reliable sources that there were still fortunes to be made there. Full of optimism, he eventually found himself in the Klamath Mountains of Northwest California, where the gold fields left a lot of men rich, but a greater number, including Elijah, disappointed. Undeterred, when he learned that gold had been discovered on tributaries of the Yukon River, in far-away Alaska, he decided to try his luck there instead, but again, to no avail (little did he know that he was twenty years too early for the gold-rush).


Far from home, and penniless, he heard tell of an expedition guaranteed to make everyone involved rich and famous. The plan was to discover the fabled Northwest Passage, a route linking the North Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific. Many had tried and all, so far, had failed. This expedition, however, would be different – the explorers would set off from the Pacific and sail eastwards, through the chilly Arctic waters, to the Atlantic. It took little persuasion for Elijah to sign up for the trip, certain, this time, that fame and fortune would not elude him.


“And we did it!” exclaimed Elijah. “We bloody well did it, but nobody outside of this island will ever know. We were the first expedition to make it through the Northwest Passage. Then, with victory in our grasp, a terrible storm blew up and, as far as I know, everyone on board drowned, except me, and it looks as though I’m here to stay. No one ever seems to leave this place, so I suppose I’d better make the most of it. Maybe it’s not too late for me to settle down and raise a family. What do you reckon, Rhys?”


Rhys regarded the man who was his grandfather, several times removed, with eyes that were brimming with tears.
“I’m sure you will, my friend. I’m sure that you will.”

(and if you don’t have a rousing chorus in your head already, you will soon!)

.

Out of Time

Readers may recall that Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, had found himself mysteriously deposited in a Hopeless that he did not recognise. He discovered, in a poorly furnished version of his cottage, the dead body of another Night-Soil Man, guarded by the skeletal hound, Drury. Initially relieved to find that his old friend was there, Rhys changed his mind when it became obvious that not only did Drury not recognise him, but that the dog decided to literally launch an attack, hurling himself in Rhys’ direction. Had Drury been in receipt of hot breath, or indeed, any variety of breath, it is certain that Rhys would have felt the benefit of it on his exposed throat.
Those who have followed the deeds, and misdeeds, of Drury, will not be surprised to learn that, while he makes an exemplary guard-dog, his killer-instinct is pretty much non-existent. If he were human, the idiom ‘all mouth and no trousers’ would immediately spring to mind, which, for Rhys Cranham, was fortunate. Having leapt on to the Night-Soil Man and knocked him to the ground, Drury was at a loss as to what to do next, other than amble back to the corner of the room and look at Rhys with a baleful eye-socket.
From his horizontal position, wheels and small cogs began to whirr and click in Rhys’ mind. The missing privy at The Squid and Teapot, the disappearance of his cobbled pathway and the fact that Drury did not recognise him, all pointed to his having been transported back to an earlier date in the island’s history. While this realisation would have reduced many of us to gibbering wrecks, Rhys was not particularly fazed. After all, he had lived on Hopeless for all of his life. The occasional strange occurrence was to be expected, and could often be viewed as a welcome diversion from the monotony of day to day living.
The immediate priority for the Night-Soil Man was to get Drury on-side, before he dealt with the problem of disposing of the corpse slumped in the chair.
Suddenly inspiration struck. He burst into song and the parlour was filled with the notes of a surprisingly pleasing baritone voice.

“In Dublin’s fair city,
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone…”

Drury looked up with interest.

“… As she wheeled her wheelbarrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o.”

By now Drury was on his feet and wagging his tail. There was definitely something about this song that appealed to him.
Rhys launched confidently, and with no small amount of gusto, into the chorus, knowing full-well what effect the song would have on the dog. In his own time, Drury had become instantly enamoured with a version of ‘Molly Malone’, played on a wax-cylinder. While the Irish tenor on the phonograph did a decent enough job, Rhys felt sure that his own effort was vastly superior.
The old magic of ‘Molly Malone’ was working. Drury was wagging not only his tail, but his rear end as well, excited by the singing. It was almost as if he was able to remember the future, which, in view of this taking place on Hopeless, Maine, was by no means outside the realm of possibility.
After a half-a-dozen rousing choruses of ‘alive, alive-o’, Rhys felt that enough was enough. He was definitely in Drury’s good books by now and the osseous hound was sitting happily at his feet. Rhys looked at him fondly, and said,
“Drury, old friend, there’s something we have to do.”
The dog cocked his head to one side, listening intently.
“You’ve been around Night-Soil Men for most of your life… and… um… more,”
Drury had never accepted the fact that he was no longer alive, in the literal sense, so Rhys was being careful. He looked across the room at the corpse in the armchair.
“I don’t know what his name was, or why he died, but there is something important that must be done.”
To Rhys’ surprise Drury rattled to his feet and trotted out through the door, only to return a minute or so later, dragging a bedsheet. There was a clothes peg attached to one corner.
“Up to your old tricks, I see,” muttered Rhys, then he realised what the dog intended him to do.

Rhys spread the sheet on the floor of the cottage and manoeuvred the body of the Night-Soil Man on to it. It took but a few minutes for Rhys to wrap him up and, with some difficulty, hoist him on to his shoulder. Drury watched impassively as he made his way outside, bearing his burden.

The job of a Night-Soil Man is difficult and dangerous, and few enjoy a normal life-span. It has long been their practice to take on an apprentice who, hopefully, will have learned his trade before his master finally succumbs to whatever fate awaits him. When that time comes, the apprentice is expected to dispose of his master’s corpse by dropping him into the bottomless sink-hole that lies at the end of his garden. Although this sounds harsh, it ensures that the body will not be ravaged by any of the denizens who stalk the island, or swim in the wild ocean beyond. When the time came, Rhys, his body racked with sobs, had sent his predecessor, Shenandoah Nailsworthy, into the mysterious depths of the sinkhole. It was not a task he had expected to have to repeat, but now, here he was, doing it for a stranger, who, apparently had no apprentice.
“I never knew you my friend, but for some reason your spirit came to find me,” he said, recalling the ghost who had led him there.
With as much reverence as possible, Rhys let the body, still wrapped in its sheet, slip soundlessly into the sink-hole,
“The Night-Soil Man is dead. Long live the Night-Soil Man.”

Rhys walked sadly back to the cottage with Drury at his heels.
“I guess it’s up to me now to be the new Night-Soil man,” he said aloud, then added,
“I wonder what year this is?”
If Drury knew, he was not saying.

The Visitor

Rhys Cranham had no problem with being around ghosts. In his role of Hopeless Maine’s Night-Soil Man, he encountered them regularly. Most were harmless, but others, such as Obadiah Hyde, the Mad Parson of Chapel Rock, certainly were not, and so Rhys made a point of avoiding Obadiah and his ilk whenever possible. Uniquely, among those of the spirit world, Miss Calder was inclined to be flirtatious. Rhys often wondered if this was more out of pity than anything else, as she would have known full-well that the life of a Night-Soil Man is lonely and loveless. This made him feel uncomfortable for all sorts of reasons, for, much to his own surprise, he found that he was not without feelings for her. This, in turn, gave him a dreadful guilt complex, as there was a definite frisson between Philomena Bucket and himself, and for a brief time, after she arrived on the island, it seemed as though romance was a possibility; or it was, until a hearty dose of sea-water swilled out the grains lodged in Philomena’s nose, and her sense of smell returned. It was at that point that Cupid almost dropped his bow in an attempt to make a hurried exit.
Yes, Rhys was fairly sure that he had met every ghost on the island, at one time or another, and could name each of them. That was why the apparition of a middle-aged man, currently wandering through the walls of his cottage, surprised him quite as much as it did. The Night-Soil man had fallen asleep in his armchair following his nightly rounds, and had been enjoying a pleasant dream that involved his swimming in an ocean of ‘Old Colonel’ ale. He awoke, bleary and with no small measure of disappointment. It took a few seconds of blinking and yawning before he registered the presence of his spectral visitor.
The ghost said nothing, but fluttered before him, beckoning and pointing to the closed door, through which he slipped like smoke. Seemingly unable to resist, Rhys rose to his feet, picked up his candle-lantern, and followed him. It was the early hours of the morning and the island slept. You could tell that it was sleeping by the way that the Gydynap Hills rose and fell slightly, filling the air with the sound of contented snoring. Occasionally a small flock of gnii would fly overhead, making the distinctive gnii, gnii sound, after which they were named. As ever, a thick mist shrouded the island, but the dimly phosphorescent spectre hovered in front of him like a beacon.
It was when they passed The Squid and Teapot that Rhys sensed that something was not right. The old place looked very much same, illuminated as it was by the candle-lantern, but Rhys could not remember the paintwork to be quite so neglected, while some of the window panes looked grimy and cracked.
“I’m surprised Bartholomew has allowed it to get into this state,” he thought to himself, as he wandered around the building. No sooner had the thought entered his head than he was forced to stop dead in his tracks. Something was definitely not right… and then he spotted it, or, to put things more precisely, he didn’t spot it at all. Where the flushing privy had stood, just a few hours ago, there was now an empty space, bordered by the blank, grey, back wall of the inn.
Rhys could not believe his eyes. Even in the unlikely event of Bartholomew wanting to demolish the privy, which had always been his pride and joy, and envy of the landlord of ‘The Crow’, there would have been some disturbed ground, some debris strewn around, but the whole area looked as though nothing had ever been standing there.
“Then I must be dreaming,” Rhys decided, and looked down at his hands.
You may not know this, but the Night-Soil Man had long been a lucid dreamer. He had, on many occasions, been fully aware that he was dreaming and was, from that happy position, able to direct events in a most satisfactory way. (Most Night-Soil men have learned to cultivate this ability, allowing them the companionship in dreams that they lacked in their waking lives).
Like anyone with a similar skill, however, Rhys knew that there were some anomalies that even the most lucid of dreamers was subject to, and the state of one’s hands was one of those anomalies. If you looked at them twice they would be different; they might have too many, or too few, fingers. They might turn into crab-like claws, or resemble several pairs of scissors, There was never any guarantee what you might see. On this occasion Rhys’ hands looked perfectly normal, but the mystery of the disappearing privy troubled him, so he racked his brain for other signs that he was in a dream.
“Text!” he said to himself. “That’s another one, text.”
He recalled that writing was rarely readable in a dream, and certainly never looked the same twice. He scanned around, looking for some words to test his theory.
The faded sign outside the inn proudly, though not unsurprisingly, proclaimed ‘The Squid and Teapot’. To give the legend on the sign some credence, it sat above a painting which depicted a cephalopod caressing a spouted utensil which did, indeed, closely resemble a teapot.
Rhys closed his eyes for a moment, then squinted at the sign again. Nothing had changed, the words were the same.
While all of this was going on, the ghost was becoming impatient, tapping his feet and drumming his fingers against folded arms, until gradually he began to fade away, as though his work was done, leaving a mystified Rhys standing alone in the deserted street. He shrugged and walked back through the town, towards his cottage. It was a strange journey, for although everything was familiar, the buildings appeared to sport small changes here and there, making the Night-Soil Man feel distinctly uneasy.
If Rhys felt that the differences in the town were unsettling, his heart almost stopped when he reached the cottage at Poo Corner. His cobbled pathway was gone, the front door was now a different colour and, like The Squid, the whole place looked neglected and unloved. Rhys cautiously entered and, in the glow of his lantern, the room sprang to life, sending shadows dancing over the bare walls.
The small parlour was sparsely furnished and bore little resemblance to Rhys’ cosy home. Slumped in the only armchair was the figure of a man. He was fully dressed and, although Rhys’ sense of smell was accustomed to the stench of night-soil, he was aware that he was in the presence of another Night-Soil Man; or, he would have been, had the poor fellow been alive. The man in the chair felt cold and stiff to the touch. Then a chill ran down Rhys’ spine as he recognised him; he found himself looking at the earthly remains of his ghostly visitor.
Suddenly, the silence was broken by a noise in the corner, It was a dry, rattling sound which Rhys immediately recognised.
“Drury!” he exclaimed, relieved to see the familiar skeletal form of his old friend getting to his feet.
“Dear old Drury, am I glad to see you.”
If Drury had possessed hackles, they would have risen. He tucked his head in to his shoulders and gave a low, menacing growl.
“Hey, what’s wrong old fella?”
The dog bared his teeth (inasmuch as you can bare teeth which are completely visible at all times) and the low growl became a full throated roar.
Rhys barely had time to raise his arms in defence as Drury leapt towards his throat.

To be continued…

An Afternoon Stroll

Drury, the skeletal hound, was enjoying a particularly productive day. Mrs Beaten was mysteriously missing two pairs of unmentionables from her washing line, Reverend Davies was wondering where his scarf had gone and a diminutive cephalopod was suffering severe heart palpitations, having been tossed in the air several times – and all this before his afternoon walk with Philomena Bucket. Could life, or more correctly, afterlife, really get any better?
It had long been Philomena’s practice to take a walk between the busier times at The Squid and Teapot. Having cooked a batch of Starry-Grabby pies that morning, and washed-up after the lunchtime trade, she felt that she had earned her hour or so of leisure time. There are those who would argue that battling through the inclement, not to say downright hostile, weather that plagued Hopeless, Maine, along with the island’s many hazards, hardly constituted leisure. Philomena, however, was a hardy soul, and usually never happier than when striding the Gydynap Hills with Drury beside her, but for some reason, today she felt differently. The daylight hours of December are scant for all of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, but on Hopeless, where the sun is perpetually fighting a losing battle, winter days rarely struggle to be any more than a dismal twilight. Philomena was not particularly bothered by this, but an air of foreboding, and the promise of returning to the cheer of The Squid seemed especially attractive.

Drury liked it when Philomena sang to him. Sometimes it would be a traditional Irish ballad, a music-hall ditty or, more often than not, just scraps of a half-remembered song that she had heard somewhere or other along the way; Drury did not care, and had no interest in its origins. He just loved to hear her soft, lilting voice. It made him feel warm inside, or it certainly would have, had he actually possessed an inside. Today she was singing ‘Shortenin’ Bread’. As to the meaning of the words, Philomena had no more idea than did Drury. She thought it must be a nonsense song; after all, if mamma’s little baby did indeed indulge in the pastime of shortening bread, which apparently he or she loved to do, it would be hazardous in the extreme. As far as Philomena was aware, the only way to shorten bread is with a bread knife and no one in their right mind would let a baby loose with such an implement.

She was pondering these thoughts, and in the middle of singing the chorus for the forty-fifth time (in fact, the chorus, which consists solely of the words ‘Mamma’s little baby loves shortenin’ bread’ was the only bit of the song that Philomena knew), when she was suddenly stopped in her tracks by the sight of a brace of spoonwalkers, tottering along in front of her and carrying between them something that looked remarkably like a bottle of ‘Old Colonel’ ale. Drury let out a low growl, and would have given chase, but Philomena placed a hand on his bony back, and commanded him to stay (it says much for their relationship that she could actually do this. Drury has long been thought to be untameable).
Although the dog had been successfully looking after himself since long before Philomena, or, come to that, her beloved old granny, was born, the barmaid wanted to go home and would not have felt comfortable leaving Drury alone and up on the hills after dark, chasing these vicious little cutlery thieves .
The pair watched the spoonwalkers creep unsteadily into a cleft in the rocks. This, in itself, would not be deemed unusual, but the pale yellow light that issued from within the hill was decidedly other than normal.
Throwing caution to the wind, Philomena, with Drury at her side, tiptoed to a spot near to which the spoonwalkers had disappeared. Upon closer inspection the cleft was larger than it had at first appeared, being as high as Philomena was tall, and just about wide enough for her, or a particularly thin man, to squeeze through. While she had no wish to enter the cave herself, Philomena could not help but notice that a particularly thin man had, indeed, already accomplished the feat, and was squatting on the ground, surrounded by a band of, apparently adoring, spoonwalkers. His eyes looked huge and glowed with a ghastly luminescence in the pale candlelight.
“It’s Linus!” gasped Philomena, with surprise.
Linus Pinfarthing had not been seen on the island for months. Following the death of Marjorie Toadsmoor he had become a drunkard and, as such, his disappearance was generally attributed to his having fallen off a cliff and into the sea. No one really knew the full extent of his story, related in these very tales, of how he had been possessed by the Trickster, then later saved by a band of grateful spoonwalkers that he had once rescued from the clutches of the trapper, Zeke Tyndale.
Philomena watched, fascinated, as the cadaverous figure clambered to its feet and swayed dangerously in the greasy light of tallow candles. A chilling rictus, that might easily have denoted pleasure or pain, masked his face, and he began to dance clumsily, with the spoonwalkers milling around his feet on their cutlery stilts.
She wondered what to do. Should she tell someone; raise a rescue-party to take him back to the town? The sad truth is that the friendship of spoonwalkers – which, as far as I am aware, no other human being had previously enjoyed – does not make one invulnerable to the fatal madness induced by their gaze; it was clear to Philomena that Linus was well beyond the reach of reason. Into whatever strange landscape his mind had retreated, that was his home now. There could be no escape until his wasted body gave up entirely, and by the look of him, that day would not be too far away.
Philomena had never harboured any great affection for Linus, but to see him now, reduced to the shadow that he was, brought a lump to her throat.
“Come on old friend,” she said to Drury, hurriedly turning her back on the tableau inside the cave, “it’s high time we were getting back.”

Demons and Monsters

The island of Hopeless, Maine has more than its fair share of unusual life-forms. While you might find a certain amount of pleasure in spotting a gentle flock of Gnii, weaving through the night sky, there is little joy to be derived from an encounter with most of the island’s other fauna, or indeed, flora. Not all of the more exotic entities mentioned in the Tales from the Squid and Teapot, however, are indigenous to Hopeless. Indeed, over the years the tales have revealed a surprising amount of creatures, generally believed to exist only in mythology and folklore, to have found their way to the island. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to revisit a few.

Tucked away, high on a shelf behind the bar of The Squid and Teapot, Bartholomew Middlestreet keeps an old, leather-bound journal detailing the visits of these demons and monsters. These accounts have obviously been recorded by several different hands, the years having faded some of the ink to sepia. Fortunately there are plenty of blank pages left for any new arrival to be noted, for the island seems to be a draw for the various weird, but not-particularly wonderful, denizens of earth, sea and sky. Bartholomew has mentioned on several occasions that is a great pity that the journal, unlike the tales, does not benefit from the splendid illustrations supplied by Mr Tom Brown and Mr Clifford Cumber.

Aboo-dom-k’n
Sir Fromebridge Whitminster was eaten by a juvenile aboo-dom-k’n, as was mentioned in his Obituary, and more recently, in the tale The Man in Grey.
Aboo-dom-k’n, also known as Apotamkin, features in the legends of the Maliseet and Passamaquoddy people. It is generally described as being a giant fanged sea-serpent with long red hair, given to lurking in the Passamaquoddy Bay, with the intention of dragging the unwary into the water and eating them.

Manchachicoj
In the tale ‘The Stowaway’ a strange, hideous half-blood demon is brought to the island from Buenos Aires, on a ship called the Annie C Maguire. Manchachicoj hails from the Northwest region of Argentina and was described as being small and deformed, but also seductive, elegant and romantic, which probably explains how he was able to mate with various mermaids and produce some extremely ugly progeny. Manchachicoj’s escape from the Annie C Maguire caused her to capsize when she struck the ledge at Portland Head Light, on Christmas Eve 1886. If you don’t believe me, look it up!

Pamola
According to the Penobscot people, Pamola is a bird-spirit who inhabits Katahdin, the tallest Mountain in Maine, and is apparently responsible for making cold weather.
He is usually described as having the head of a moose, the body of a man and the wings and feet of an eagle.
In the tale that bears his name, Pamola takes the simpler form of a huge bird of prey, having previously been created from bits of vegetables cooked up in an ancient Welsh cauldron, as told in the tale The Unquiet Gravy.

Buer
Buer is a most fearsome-looking demon. He has no body, as such, but has a lion’s head, from which radiate five hairy goat legs, which give him the ability to move in all directions. He features in the tale Bog Oak and Brass, where you will find a wonderful, not to say terrifying, depiction of him. He also makes a brief guest appearance towards the end of Baking Bad.
In the 16th century grimoire, Pseudomonarchia Daemonum (which means the False Monarchy of Demons), Buer is described as a Great President of Hell, with fifty legions of demons under his command. He usually appears when the sun is in Sagittarius. Editions of this book are still available to purchase, both in paperback and hardback, should you be interested!

Selkie
While neither demons nor monsters, at least as far as I am aware, seal, or selkie, folk are certainly as strange as any that you might wish to find. Originating in the folklore of the Northern Isles of Scotland, the Faroes and Iceland, the diaspora of the inhabitants of those islands took their legends across the Atlantic with them, rendering the coast of Maine rich with stories of the seal people. The most common theme is that of a man taking, and eventually losing, a seal wife for whom the lure of the sea is too great to ignore.
In the early Tales of the Squid and Teapot, we meet with the eponymous Betty Butterow, who learns, at the age of fifteen, of her selkie heritage. Betty features in many later tales, and a prequel, called People from the Sea, hints at her origins.

The Wendigo
A malevolent, flesh-eating spirit found in the folklore of the First Nations, the Wendigo found its way to Hopeless, Maine following the Passamaquoddy trader, Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs. In the tale, simply entitled The W-ndigo, young Randall Middlestreet, the most famous Night-Soil Man (due to the fact that, to date, he is the only one to retire and raise a family) finds himself promoted from his role as an apprentice in a most bloodthirsty and traumatic manner. The W-ndigo has been described as resembling a gaunt skeleton, recently disinterred from the grave, and giving off the odour of death and corruption. The illustration accompanying the tale is the stuff of nightmares. (Also, it is best not to name them so as not to draw their attention)

Kraken
A huge creature of cephalopod-like appearance, the Kraken first appears in Scandinavian legends as a sea-monster lurking in the waters off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. Stories of the Kraken travelled across the North Atlantic with the Vikings, and later sailors from the Nordic countries. We first catch sight of this awesome creature in the less-than-likely setting of a cricket match. Unsurprisingly, the tale is called Cricket!

The Man in Grey

Since being relocated to The Squid and Teapot, via his hat, the ghost of Father Ignatius Stamage had been a model of discretion. Any who were not aware of his presence would regard the fleeting shadow, which they might catch out of the corner of their eye, as no more than a trick of the light. It was an arrangement that suited all concerned.
Bartholomew Middlestreet, the inn’s landlord, smiled wryly to himself as he contemplated how his old friend, the late lamented actor/manager, Sir Fromebridge Whitminster, might have conducted himself, had he been haunting the place; he had not been renowned for his discretion. Bartholomew imagined that the ghost of Sir Fromebridge would be no less louche or raffish than he had been in life. It was a pity that the old boy had been taken from them by the sea monster, aboo-dom-k’n; he had certainly added some colour to Hopeless.
It was while entertaining these thoughts that it occurred to Bartholomew that there were some odds and ends of Sir Fromebridge’s property stored away in one of the attics. Could his wraith be invoked to haunt his favourite scarf? Would he be able to, after so many years? More to the point, should The Squid be host to any more ghosts?
Not wishing to make this decision on his own, Bartholomew decided to ask the opinion of his wife, Ariadne, who generally had the last word in most matters.
“Shouldn’t you ask him if he wants to haunt The Squid?” she enquired.
“And how do we do that?” asked Bartholomew, perplexed.
Philomena Bucket, who could not help but overhear the conversation, volunteered, with some hesitancy,
“Well, I’ll have a go. I have a little bit of experience in those matters. I used to help me old granny when she did her séances back in Dublin. She was always convinced that I had ‘The Sight’, but I’m not so sure.”
“You will never stop surprising me,” said Ariadne, warming to the possibility of attending a séance. “What do we need to make it happen?”
“Not much,” replied Philomena. “Just an open mind, I suppose.”

The following night, after the inn had closed, Bartholomew, Ariadne, Philomena and Norbert Gannicox sat holding hands in candlelight around a circular table; in its centre sat coiled an extremely long and colourful scarf.
If the others had expected to see Philomena displaying the histrionics generally associated with conjuring the spirits of the dead, they were disappointed.
She asked, in calm and unhurried tones,
“Are you with us, Sir Fromebridge Whitminster?”
There was a minute of silence, then the sound of something being knocked over.
“Blast!” said a disembodied voice, “Who put that there.”
“Is that you, Sir Fromebridge?” asked Philomnena, hardly daring to believe that she had succeeded so easily.
“Yes, yes, hold on a mo, m’dear, I’ll soon be with you.”
The room grew suddenly colder. Then, close to Philomena’s shoulder, a form started to materialise. The apparition before them was not sporting the expected floppy fedora, scarf and greatcoat, but was instead clad, from head to foot, in an immaculate grey costume. He wore a tricorn hat, a powdered wig, a long riding cloak and riding boots.
“It’s not him,” hissed Bartholomew.
“Oh, I can assure you it is indeed I, Bartholomew dear boy. How good it is to see you again.”
In the dim light it was difficult to see the ghost’s features, but the voice was unmistakably that of Fromebridge Whitminster.
The ghost made a deep, theatrical bow.
“Now, what may I do for you, dear friends?”
“Um… we wondered if you’d fancy haunting The Squid and Teapot?” blurted Philomena.
The ghost made another bow, even more theatrical this time.
“My dear young lady, I would be delighted to… especially with such charming company as your good self and Mrs Middlestreet. Unfortunately, however, it is beyond my power. I am somewhat otherwise engaged. I have to honour what one might call a Faustian Pact.”
Sir Fromebridge went on to tell them that he had once made a bargain, with some mysterious Mephistophelean entity, to guarantee a further twenty years of life.
“You see,” he said, “when that sea monster took me, it was my time. My extra twenty years were up. The beast was just an instrument of destiny.”
Ariadne looked aghast.
“But what do you have to do in return?” she asked worriedly.
“Oh, nothing too arduous, I can assure you. I have taken over the role of ‘The Man in Grey’, resident spook at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, one of my old stamping grounds, as it happens. The other chap, my predecessor, had been haunting the upper circle for years and was overdue for a break. It’s not all bad; at least I get to see a few plays… although, these days some of the language can be appalling…”
“Yes,” said Bartholomew, “But don’t you get any time off?”
“Sorry, dear chap, I’m booked there for the next century or so, evening performances and matinées. Still, mustn’t grumble, and the get-up is pretty natty, what?”
They all had to agree that the eighteenth century look did, indeed, suit Sir Fromebridge.
“Anyway, must dash,” he said as his apparition gradually faded. “Lovely to see you all, and if you’re ever in London, do drop in.”
Those last words were so faint as to be almost inaudible, but it was an emotional moment, even for Philomena, who had never met the man in the flesh.

“Well, that’s that, I suppose,” said Norbert.
“It’s a pity, “ said Bartholomew, “but I guess we’ve enough ghosts without inviting any more in.”
“He seemed like a nice fellah, though,” said Philomena.
“He was,” agreed Norbert. “One of the best, though inclined to be accident-prone.”
“Maybe we could name something in his honour.” said Bartholomew. “How about that little cobbled street by the shore, where he met his end? We could call it Sir Fromebridge Whitminster Lane.”
“That’s a bit of a mouthful,” said Ariadne. “How about just calling it ‘Drury Lane’?”
In the corner of the room a pile of bones rattled to its feet, shook itself and wagged its bony tail.
Drury definitely approved of the idea.

Author’s note: The Man in Grey has been seen on many occasions in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. He always sits in the same seat in the Upper Circle, on the end of the fourth row. Afterwards he strides along the walkway behind the seats, then, upon reaching a particular spot by the Royal Box, fades away.
His presence at a matinée performance or a rehearsal is generally considered to be a good omen.

A Hopeless Afterlife

To say that the manner of his death had come as a bit of a shock to Father Ignatius Stamage would be an understatement. He had always been led to believe that ghosts were no more than harmless disembodied spirits, loitering in purgatory. He certainly did not expect Obadiah Hyde, the phantom Mad Parson of Chapel Rock, to crush his skull with a lump of stone. In fact, the whole business of death had turned out to be something of a disappointment. Following his unfortunate demise, Father Stamage had waited patiently for the expected triumphant ascent into the celestial realms. A month went by and nothing happened. Whatever could be causing such a delay? He didn’t think that heaven would be subject to bureaucratic slip-ups, but something was definitely not right.

Obadiah Hyde, meanwhile, had gone into a sulk, resentful of having to share his space with another ghost; worse still, one with no apparent fear of his ranting and raving. To add insult to injury, the rival ghost was that of a Catholic priest, a breed whose very existence was anathema to the old puritan. In protest, and much to the relief of Father Stamage, the Mad Parson disappeared huffily into the chapel ruins and refused to come out.

The priest watched impassively as a small band of men wrapped his remains up in an old sheet and carried them down the hill. He was not particularly sorry to see his corpse go. The passage of time, not to mention the attention of the ravens who lived in the ruins of the old chapel, had done nothing to improve its look. Even Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, had paled visibly when he discovered the body. Only old Drury, the skeletal hound, seemed to be unaffected by the sight, wagging his tail, giving the cadaver a thorough sniff-over and raising a hind leg to mark the spot (which, of course, he didn’t, but you cannot blame him for trying).

In the days that followed the discovery of the corpse, Drury became a frequent visitor to Chapel Rock. Despite himself, Father Stamage grew quite fond of him. The days when he believed Drury to be a demon from the lowest depths of Hell were long past, and now the priest recognised him for what he was; no more than a lovable old rogue who refused to acknowledge that he was dead. Briefly, Stamage wished that he had done the same thing, but on reflection realised that a skeletal priest wandering around might not be as warmly regarded as a mischievous dog.

There was only one cottage on the Night-Soil Man’s round that necessitated his walking past Chapel Rock. The output of its residents was such that Rhys only needed to visit every few weeks, and so a month or more passed, following the discovery of the body, before they needed his services again.
Rhys was surprised to see Drury, snuffling among the rocks, wagging his tail and generally acting as though he was there with a friend. Thinking that it might be Philomena Bucket out on one of her ill-advised adventures, he wandered over to where the dog was standing. It took him a moment to see the darkly-clad apparition of the priest flickering silently amid the rocks. Rhys had no fear of ghosts, except Obadiah Hyde, who scared everyone. Indeed, he enjoyed the company of those who chose to speak to him, for the existence of a Night-Soil man is a lonely one, on account of the constant nauseous reek that surrounds him. Happily, ghosts have no problem with such human concerns.
Father Stamage too was glad of someone to talk to, for although Drury was a pleasant companion, his conversation was limited to a series of barks, woofs and yaps.
As if there was nothing remotely strange about a man and a ghost chatting amiably, it was not long before the pair became friends and the priest told Rhys of the chase to retrieve his hat from Drury, and the fatal encounter with Obadiah Hyde.
The Night-Soil Man made a point of visiting whenever he could. It was pleasant to be able to go to Chapel Rock and not be terrorized by the Mad Parson, who still refused to come out while Father Stamage was haunting the place. Rhys, however, soon realised that his ghostly friend was far from happy.
“I became a priest to serve a community,” Stamage had told him. “In life I wanted nothing more than to be among people.”
Rhys pondered these words, and recalled that Marjorie Toadsmoor had expressed very much the same thing, needing to be among the living. Rhys wondered if he could help, as he had with Miss Toadsmoor, transporting her to the orphanage in a Marjorie-sized granite monolith.
“Where would you choose to be?” he asked. “Back at the orphanage?”
“I think not,” said the priest, sadly. “My brief sojourn there was not a particularly happy one. I’m dead Rhys and I want to be surrounded by good cheer, something to remind me of life.”
“I know the very place,” said the Night-Soil Man, “but how I can get a big lump of rock there for you to haunt might be a problem. It’s a shame that you have no possessions left; that often works. I’ve known of ghosts who have managed to reside in something as small as their pocket watch.”
Just then, as if on cue, Drury appeared with a shapeless and much-weathered piece of felt in his mouth.
“My hat!” exclaimed the priest. “I wondered where it had gone.”
He regarded Rhys with eerie green light in his eyes.
“Do you think… “ he began,
“There’s only one way to find out,” replied Rhys.

Philomena Bucket found the hat hanging on the front door of The Squid and Teapot, with an explanatory note attached to it, penned in the familiar scrawl of Rhys Cranham. Much as Philomena disapproved of clergymen of any persuasion, she could not bear to think of anyone sharing eternity with Obadiah Hyde.
Bartholomew Middlestreet, the landlord of the inn, placed the remains of Father Stamage’s hat safely in a box, and stored it in one of the attic rooms.
“As long as he doesn’t drive away my customers, I’m happy for him to haunt The Squid,” he said generously. “He’ll be able to keep Lady Margaret company. She’s got a few hundred years of confessions to offload, so that should keep them occupied for a while.”
Lady Margaret had once revealed to Philomena some of the more salacious details of her short, but somewhat scandalous, life. The barmaid grinned to herself. She hoped that Stamage didn’t blush too easily.

The Exorcist

The ghostly form of Miss Calder looked at the equally ghostly form of her colleague at the Pallid Rock Orphanage, Miss Toadsmoor, and said, resignedly,
“Father Stamage is convinced that you are currently in purgatory, waiting to be despatched to Heaven or Hell. I suppose that he means well, but for goodness’ sake!”
Despite the best efforts of Reverend Davies, it was inevitable that the presence of some of the ghosts on the island of Hopeless, Maine would come, eventually, to the notice of Father Stamage, the orphanage’s newest member of staff.
In the event, and to everyone’s surprise, the priest was fairly sanguine about the whole subject, happily accepting that any wraiths that he might come across were of the purgatorial variety, awaiting further orders, as it were.
Reverend Davies did nothing to disabuse him of this point of view; as long as the priest believed the ghosts to be no more than harmless loiterers in the afterlife’s waiting room, then they would be left alone. While this seriously impeded Marjorie Toadsmoor’s teaching schedule, it was a small price to pay while the Reverend and Miss Calder, who managed to conceal her spectral identity in the Stygian gloom of her office, looked for a solution to their problem.

While Father Stamage may have accepted the presence of ghosts, demons were another matter altogether. Demons, in his view, have to be exorcised, and returned to The Pit from whence they came, whatever the cost, and exorcising demons was something he knew all about.
Hopeless has more than its fair share of these terrifying creatures but, by and large, they tend to avoid the limelight, being very recognisable, unless they are adopting a human disguise. The very sight of a demon in its true shape would freeze the blood of most people. Huge and nightmarish, they stalk their prey with razor sharp claws, dripping fangs, glaring eyes and writhing tentacles. I am happy to report that the priest’s blood remained at a steady ninety-eight and a half degrees Fahrenheit, for never in his life did he cross paths with such a being, although he was convinced that he encountered several. There are, however, real demons and there are perceived demons, and any newcomer to the island could be forgiven for believing that some of the strange creatures who inhabit Hopeless to be nothing less than demonic.

Drury, the skeletal dog was having a typical Drury type of day. This included a certain amount of mooching about, sniffing anything remotely perpendicular, fruitlessly chasing crows and raiding the occasional washing line. Bored, he ambled idly over to The Squid and Teapot hoping to catch sight of Philomena Bucket, but today she appeared to be otherwise engaged. He was just lifting a bony hind leg – albeit pointlessly – against the wall of the inn, when Father Stamage rounded the corner and almost fell over him, losing his hat in the process.
Immediately convinced that he was in the presence of a demon, for what else could this hideous and osseous monstrosity be, the priest instinctively embarked upon performing an exorcism. This is what he had been trained to do and the words sprang to his lips as though they had been lingering somewhere around the area of his tonsils, patiently waiting for a chance to escape. Drury, meanwhile, not best pleased at being stumbled over and shouted at in Latin, gave Stamage an angry stare, or as near to that as a skull can manage, and scampered off with the man’s hat clenched firmly between his jaws.
The exorcism was quickly abandoned and, as the priest gave chase, Latin was exchanged for some choice, if unbecoming, oaths in both Anglo-Saxon and Gaelic. Demon or not, Ignatius Stamage was determined to get his favourite hat back.

If there is one thing that Drury enjoys more than stealing washing, it is a game of chase, and this new playmate was very adept at it. The dog could forgive the bad start to their relationship, for this was as good a game as any he’d had in a long time. They had been running around the island for almost an hour and Father Stamage was becoming increasingly uneasy. Night was drawing in and Reverend Davies had specifically warned him not to wander too far afield during the hours of darkness. The Reverend had been vague as to why that should be, and, until now, the priest had supposed it was no more than a worry that anyone unfamiliar with the island could stumble over a cliff, or something of that sort. Now, however, with mysterious eyes floating in the sky, tentacled arms reaching from hollows, spoonwalkers tottering along on cutlery stilts, and dustcats scuttling through the air before him, brushing his clothes with their long suckered tongues, he guessed there may have been a reason for the Reverend’s caution.
“This place is positively teeming with demons,” he thought to himself. “I can see that I’m going to have my work cut out here.”

Drury, at last, grew tired of the game and, high on a rock where a ruined chapel stood, he dropped the hat and disappeared into the gloom, dashing off to find his good friend Rhys Cranham, the Night Soil Man.
“At least he’s gone,” Father Stamage thought to himself with relief, picking up his hat. “Is that the remains of a chapel I can see there? Maybe, with a little help, I can rebuild it and…”
Just then, screaming out of nowhere, came the angry wraith of Obadiah Hyde, the Mad Parson of Chapel Rock. A fierce puritan, both in life and death, he gave the priest the full benefit of his wrath, denouncing all papists as heretics, and probably adulterers as well. It was Hyde’s habit to do this, taking any hapless trespasser off-guard and, more often than not, watch them plunge to a watery doom, more than a hundred feet below. To his credit, though taken aback, Father Stamage stood his ground, confident in the knowledge that the ghost was harmless, no more than a noisy apparition let loose from purgatory.
While the priest may have been correct in his understanding of the nature of ghosts in general, he had little knowledge pertaining to the ones who haunt Hopeless. On this strangest of islands there is a marked failure to acknowledge the natural and occult laws that govern more conventional places. It came, therefore, as something of a surprise to Stamage when Obadiah Hyde picked up a rock the size of a man’s fist, and dashed it against his head. The priest staggered and fell awkwardly, lying for a while, dazed and not knowing where he was. Then, once the pain had subsided, he sat up. Hyde was still there, but somehow, something had changed.
“Hah, you didn’t expect me to get up from that one, did you?” said the priest, somewhat triumphantly getting to his feet.
“You didn’t,” said Hyde, his voice trembling with rage.
Father Stamage looked down to the floor, following the parson’s gaze. Lying beneath him he saw a crumpled body with a crushed skull, quietly bleeding over the stony ground.
“I really wish you hadn’t done that,” he said miserably. “It looks as though we’re stuck with each other now.”

A School for Scoundrels

Father Ignatius Stamage was Hopeless, Maine’s latest arrival. He had not been on the island for more than half a day when he felt compelled to offer his services to Reverend Davies, who was desperately seeking help in finding a replacement teacher at the Pallid Rock Orphanage, following the recent demise of Miss Marjorie Toadsmoor.
Although Reverend Davies was at first worried that the Catholic priest and he might have a few irreconcilable theological differences of opinion, he suddenly remembered that he did not really hold any theological opinions that were worth falling out over. With all thoughts of ecumenical harmony safely restored, he happily welcomed Father Stamage into the classroom, with the indifferent air of a herpetoculturist casually dropping a live mouse into a vivarium.

It was generally agreed among the orphans that the best thing about their classroom was the elderly blackboard, perched upon a rickety old easel, that had dominated the room for years. A blackboard without chalk is, of course, of little use, but luckily the orphanage enjoyed a seemingly endless supply of the stuff, following the mysterious arrival of a deserted French merchant ship, some years earlier. The ship’s hold had been full of chalk, and nothing else, much to the dismay of those undertaking the salvaging. Not unreasonably, they assumed that a French merchant ship might be carrying brandy, perfume or even risqué underwear, but not boring old chalk. Why would they have thought otherwise? The fact of France being Europe’s premier chalk exporting country had never featured greatly in the talk bandied around the bar of The Squid and Teapot.
But, I digress…
The combination of blackboard, plus chalk provided endless opportunities for the orphans to express a breadth of creativity barely suspected by the adults. Caricatures of Reverend Davies and Doc Willoughby were a regular feature, along with a variety of unflattering anatomical diagrams and accompanying verses that would have made a matelot blush. These were all executed with the perpetrator safe in the knowledge that the damning evidence could be quickly and permanently erased with the wipe of a duster, should anyone in authority suddenly draw near.
Today, however, the class sat in angelic silence as the slight, but commanding figure of Father Stamage strode into the room. Without a word, and in the time-honoured tradition of new teachers introducing themselves, he wrote his name in large capitals on the blackboard.
FATHER STAMAGE
“Good morning children, I am Father Stamage…” he began.
“Is that like Father Christmas?” asked a small, piping voice.
Stamage laughed mirthlessly.
“Ha ha.. no I am a priest, father of my flock… of you, so to speak.”
“Well, you’re not my dad. My dad was eaten by something nasty.”
“And mine.”
“Mine was too. I think it had tentacles.”
A chorus of agreement that Father Stamage was certainly not one of their dead parents filled the classroom.
Stamage held up his hands, as if in surrender.
“No, you don’t understand. Father is my title. I am a priest.”
“Like Reverend Davies?” one girl asked.
“Well… sort of,” Stamage conceded.
“So why aren’t you a Reverend too?”
Father Stamage knew that any explanation was going to involve a lengthy and time-consuming history lesson. That would have to be something for another day.
“It is complicated,” he said simply. “Let’s get to know each other first… so tell me your names.”
This seemed like safer territory. One by one the children recited their names.
When they had finished he said,
“Well, now I know your names, I’ll tell you mine. It is Ignatius.”
He wrote the name on the blackboard.
“That’s a funny name, sir.”
“It is unusual, I grant you,” agreed the priest, adding brightly, “I was named after Saint Ignatius, one of the co-founders of my religious order, the Jesuits.”
For an instant the room fell quiet, as if shocked into a silence, broken only when someone said,
“Miss Toadsmoor told us that the Jesuits were responsible for something nasty called The Inquisition, that they tortured and burned people…”
“Well, that’s not strictly fair… “ began Stamage defensively.
“Have you ever tortured and burned anyone, sir?”
“Can we watch when you do it again?”
“Ooh, yes sir. Say you’ll let us watch.”
“Please, sir. Please.”
“Will there be a party after?”
“I have never…” protested the priest, his voice noticeably sliding up an octave.
“I’ll bet it smells awful when you burn people, sir … though maybe it smells just like cooking. Does it smell like cooking, sir?”
“That’s enough, enough,” said Stamage, fighting to regain control. “We’ll talk no more about it. Now… who can recite their catechism?”
He knew it was a pointless question.

Father Stamage was slumped, exhausted, in a chair in Reverend Davies’ office.
“Who is this Miss Toadsmoor the children keeping speaking of?” he asked brusquely. “She sounds like a dangerous influence to me.”
“Marjorie Toadsmoor?” asked Reverend Davies, at once wary as to what might have been said. “I would never have called her dangerous, though she was a single-minded young lady, to be sure. Sadly she is no longer with us.”
“Hmm! A good thing too,” said Stamage, grumpily.

It always comes as something of a shock to newcomers to Hopeless that the place is riddled with all manner of ghosts, wraiths, apparitions, ghouls and poltergeists. Reverend Davies rightly assumed that Father Stamage would have to be introduced to this supernatural element of island society somewhat gently. As a result, Marjorie Toadsmoor, who had been happy to resume her duties despite having been killed some weeks earlier, had been advised to stay out of the way for a while. Not wishing to be the cause of any difficulty, she had retreated to the small granite monolith that Rhys Cranham, the Night Soil Man, had kindly deposited in the orphanage grounds for her to haunt. Similarly, the orphanage’s other ghost, Miss Calder, was keeping a low profile in her small, gloomy office, where she reminded herself regularly not to let her face go skeletal, should Father Stamage stop by. At The Squid and Teapot the flushing privy was always strangely out of order whenever the priest visited. It had been hundreds of years since its resident ghost, Lady Margaret D’Avening, had been to confession. At the first sight of a priest she would be certain to manifest and ask for absolution, and that could be disastrous, until such times as he had been fully integrated into island life. With these measures in place, all seemed to run smoothly for a while. Unfortunately, no one had told Drury…

(Image of Pallid Rock orphanage from the comics)

Cometh The Hour…

Reverend Davies was not a happy man. This, in itself, was not particularly unusual, but the Reverend was a man with problems. Since Marjorie Toadsmoor had foolishly managed to get herself killed, some of the more physical aspects of her teaching role at the Pallid Rock Orphanage had undeniably suffered. Admittedly, her ghost was still there, and available to conduct lessons, but her obvious lack of physicality had a somewhat detrimental effect on maintaining class discipline. The same could be said of Miss Calder’s ghost, but at least her habit of allowing her face to become occasionally skeletal had the effect of concentrating (not to say terrifying) the average juvenile mind. If the place had to be run by ghosts, why couldn’t they be more like old Obadiah Hyde, the Mad Parson of Chapel Rock, who scared the life out of everyone, including the Reverend?
Another matter that worried Reverend Davies was the fact that he was perceived by many to be a spiritual leader, someone equipped to explain the mystery of what lay beyond the veil of death. It was embarrassing! Here he was, surrounded by ghosts who had no more idea of what happens next than he did. If the dead could not explain the afterlife, how could he be expected to?

Setting these thoughts to one side, the Reverend returned to his original problem of having to recruit help at the orphanage. The task of finding teaching staff had never been an easy one. There are a number of skills required for the education and control of the young which, like so many things, seem to be in short supply on Hopeless. Undeterred, however, Reverend Davies resolutely put on his hat and jacket and set off in search of someone – anyone – to fill the vacancy.

Passing The Squid and Teapot, it occurred to the Reverend that this very establishment could well be the answer to his prayers (this is, of course purely a figure of speech, as the Reverend was not given to a great deal of praying, except as a necessary public show of piety now and then). The Squid was always full of idlers propping up the bar, or gullible new arrivals to the island who might be persuaded to spend a few hours each day in the company of the young and impressionable.

Bartholomew Middlestreet was not Reverend Davies’ greatest fan, and when he saw the pastor’s cadaverous form sliding through the doorway, not particularly resplendent in a faded black frock coat and battered hat, he guessed that he was after something.
Instead of going to the bar, the Reverend stood in the centre of the room and eyed the clientele with the air of a recruiting sergeant, eager to hand the king’s shilling to some unwary yokel. The long-term patrons of the inn knew that look of old. It usually meant that the Rev, as he was unaffectionately known, was looking for help. Past experience told them that his concept of help usually called for hard work and little reward, so it was a good idea to avoid catching his eye at all costs.
Only one man seemed not to be studying his drink, his boots, or some invisible blemish on the wall, and Reverend Davies’ gimlet eye caught him with the pinpoint accuracy of a raptor. He was a slightly built character, with sharp features and closely cropped dark hair. He wore black, from head to toe, except for the unmistakeable rectangle of white collar that marked him out as a man of the cloth.
“Good afternoon Reverend,” he boomed, in surprisingly loud tones. “I hear that you’re looking for help at the orphanage.”
There was the faintest trace of an Irish lilt to his voice.
“Good Lord! How did you know that?” asked Reverend Davies, somewhat taken aback.
“The good lord had little to do with it, but there’s not much goes on in any community that isn’t common knowledge in the pub.”
The newcomer extended a hand,
“I’m Father Ignatius Stamage, new to this strange little island of yours, made truly welcome by mine host over there, Mr Middlestreet. I’d be happy to help.”

A small cloud of doubt passed through Reverend Davies’ mind. Although his own brand of religion was not hitched to any particular branch of the church, he was fairly sure that he was not, and never had been, a catholic. It could cause problems. The priest’s help would be very welcome, but what if the two men found that they had profound theological differences of opinion? What then?
It only took a few moments for Reverend Davies to remember that he had few, if indeed any, deeply held theological opinions worth disagreeing with, so this would certainly not be an obstacle to ecumenical harmony. What could possibly go wrong?
Summoning a strained grimace that he fondly believed to be a smile, the Reverend grasped the priest’s outstretched hand and shook it vigorously.
“Thank you Father,” he said, “the Pallid Rock Orphanage will be most pleased to welcome you.”

When the pair had left, Bartholomew Middlestreet banged on the kitchen door and called,
“It’s alright Philomena, you can come out now. They’ve gone.”
Hesitantly Philomena Bucket peeped around the door.
“Thank goodness for that,” she exclaimed, “I can’t abide priests or vicars at the best of times, but that one… well, the minute I opened me mouth he’d clock that I came from the Old Country, and next thing is, he’d be asking me when was the last time I went to confession.”
“And when was that?” Bartholomew asked, mischievously.
Philomena did not answer. She was staring out of the window, watching the two black-clad figures as they disappeared along the road.
“There’ll be trouble,” she said, shaking her head. “I can feel it in me bones. Mark my words, there’ll be trouble.”