I was thoroughly exhausted after my odyssey through Hopeless’s tidal plain, but determined to get as far away from it as possible, by following something resembling a path which winded into a gloomy forest.
The trees were all the same, they had smooth bark, purplishly moist, and a few scant leaves clinging to their skeletal branches and twigs. The leaves seemed to pulsate, but looked wilted nonetheless. They were the colour of rotting liver. Coincidentally, that was the fragrance released by the awful trees as well. Long urine-yellow lichen clung to a lot of the branches, either swaying in a breeze I couldn’t feel, or else wavering slowly of their own accord, so I stayed clear of them, having no desire to lose my cap, or even my head, to their clutching fronds.
Despite the apparent deadness of the place, the wood was teeming with wildlife, in all shapes and sizes.
For this, at least, and in contrast to the hostile vegetation, I had come mentally prepared. When Gammer had heard of my assignment to Maine, she had taken me to visit a friend in the Sussex Weald before I left. The friend had been an alluring red-headed woman who lived in a solitary cottage deep within the woods. The cottage was named The Owlery. Gammer had told me the woman was the Wise Woman of the Wyrde Woods, and I had witnessed a Pook Dance on a moonbathed clearing around a stone circle.
I had grown up with the notion of Pooks, of course. It is nigh impossible not to be aware of their existence in Sussex. As many children do, despite all remonstrations to stay well away from Pooks, I had attempted at times to catch sight of them in and around the coastal village I grew up in. I might have even caught a few glimpses, but that was always hard to determine.
Not in the Wyrde Woods though, where Pooks swanned about openly on certain nights, leaving me wide-eyed, bewildered, and beguiled.
None of the creatures here, in this gloomy Hopeless forest, resembled any of the Pooks I had seen, other than that there was one notable commonality; namely that the diversity was so overwhelming it was near impossible to focus on one species long enough to apply individual descriptions. All the more so because not only was my body fully fatigued, but my mind was all a-whirl, and somehow Hopeless seemed to be absorbing my vitality, sapping at my very soul.
Instead of focusing on the individual, I accepted the collective. Like I had been during my brief sojourn in the Wyrde Woods, I was much minded of Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Market.
Flying, running, leaping,
Puffing and blowing,
Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
Clucking and gobbling, Mopping and moping,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
Cat-like and rat-like,
Ratel- and wombat-like,
Snail-paced in a hurry,
Parrot-voiced and whistler,
Helter skelter, hurry skurry.
My tired brain resolved to call the creatures ‘skurries’.
Although some of the skurries displayed some curiosity towards my appearance, none appeared aggressive. Most paid me no heed whatsoever, for which I was grateful, still reeling from my fight with a bloody plant of all things.
Through the vagaries of my thoughts, I heard my Gaffer’s voice speaking of essential basics. I recognised that as a sign that I was in urgent need of rest and respite, before my mind became so befuddled that it would direct my body to stroll into the huge, gaping, and tooth-lined maws of whatever land-predators roamed these parts.
It was then that I saw a tree unlike all of the others, with dry, soft bark, sheltered beneath a rich spring-green canopy, its great roots sinking beneath a mass of soft moss. No skurries crawled, hopped, levitated, flew, or otherwise lingered here, and the branches were mercifully free of the disquieting lichen.
Having lost my suitcase, I didn’t dare to disinvest myself from my satchel and knapsack, or even cap for that matter, but just lay down on a bed of soft moss embraced by two of the tree’s mighty roots. Part of my mind resisted, calling for caution, but I was simply too tired, and the moss felt finer than a soft goose-down mattress, cajoling me into a deep sleep.
Obadiah had forty different words for fog. From his fishing shack on the waterfront, he watched various fogs come and go, ebbing and flowing around the town. He needed every one of the words to describe the varied types that ran their blurry touch over the island.
There was the mist, the slight tendrils of cloud just barely wrapping around the houses. That one was so omnipresent that folks rarely even bothered to note it. Most of the town was mist-touched at any given time. The moments where you could see clearly end-to-end were the real rarities. Obadiah had no word for that kind of weather. It had never seemed worth it.
There were the pea-soupers, the thick deep fogs that ate the sound and blocked out all sight more than an arm’s length away. They rolled in on the regular, removing the rest of the town from view and giving Obadiah the impression that he lived on an island the size of his three rooms. If the windows weren’t sealed it was even less than that, as the fog seeped in through cracks and hid even the corners of his own house from him.
In between the two extremes were the mousters, the corrywinders, the bell-smiths and dozens more. Obadiah knew every sort of fog the sea could cough up and had names for them all. Seventy years of waterfront living would do that to a man.
Which made this fog all the more unusual. It wasn’t like any other he’d ever seen. It crawled along the ground in slow waves, gently rolling along paths and around corners like it was looking for something. It didn’t spread out evenly, either, but clumped together in great dense folds. Parts of it were nearly transparent, while others seemed almost solid.
Despite its intermittent thinness, it muffled sound as well as the thickest fog Obadiah had ever seen. The whole house felt wrapped in cotton batting. The lapping of the sea, the creaking of the dock, the mournful calls of the birds—all of these, the background of Obadiah’s life, were gone. It was this sepulchral silence that kept him staring out the window. He told himself he was just casually watching, but the truth was that he needed to keep an eye on the world to reassure himself that it was still there.
A booming knock sounded at the front door. Obadiah startled from his chair, the sudden sound no less concerning than the silence that had preceded it. He craned his neck to try to see along his front porch, but the drifting fog and awkward angle kept him from getting a good view.
The knock came again. Obadiah headed for the front door, taking up his stout oaken stick as he did so. If it was a neighbor who needed help outside, he’d be happy to have the extra support to keep his footing in the thick fog. And if it turned out to be someone who meant him ill, he could still hand out a pretty good wallop.
A third time: the knock. “I’m coming!” called Obadiah, his voice abnormally loud in the silent house. “Who is it, anyway?”
“Me, Obie,” came the muffled reply. He cocked his head. Sounded a bit like Isabel, the neighbor woman. Nice woman, lovely young mother, but not the sort to just drop by randomly. Especially not in weather such as this.
“What do you need?” he asked, opening the door. To his surprise, the battered wooden porch stood empty. The rocking chair creaked gently next to the door, but only the wind was stirring it.
“Your help.” Isabel’s voice drifted up from the bottom of the steps. Obadiah squinted into the fog. It was swirling thickly here, obscuring even the railing posts beside the stairs. He could make out a humanoid figure, but no more.
“What is it, Isabel?” Maybe she needed his help finding a lost animal. Maybe she’d gotten lost herself. “You need to come in?”
He took a step back, holding the door open, but the fog-shrouded figure shook her head. “No. I need your help. Can you come down here?”
Obadiah hesitated. Something was off about her voice, though he couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. Still, if she needed help, he wasn’t about to turn her down.
“Let me get my coat,” he said.
“You don’t need it. Please, hurry.”
The air was chillier than he liked, but if Isabel was that desperate, he could handle the discomfort. Surely she only needed him for a short time if she was encouraging him to go out coatless. With a sigh and a shrug, he stepped onto the porch and closed the door behind him.
The fog had thickened again. Everything was a uniform shade of grey. Even the bottom step was hidden from view now. Obadiah gripped the railing with his left hand and his walking stick with his right, stepping carefully down the weathered steps.
“Isabel?” he called, unable to see her through the fog.
“Right here,” came the reply. He took a few tentative steps toward the sound.
“No, over this way.” Her voice was to the left of him now. He edged forward again, but still saw nothing.
“Where are you?”
“I’m here.” Her soft tones came from the right of him now. “I can see you. Just walk toward me.”
Two more steps, and there was still nothing there. “Girl, are you playing games with me?”
“Never, Obie.” But there was laughter in her voice, and not the kind sort, either.
“All right, enough of this. Nothing better to do than taunt an old man? I’m going back inside,” he grumbled.
“How do you plan to do that?”
Obadiah took several steps forward, expecting to see his house swim into view. It did not. There was nothing but an endless grey wall. He stopped, befuddled. “Musta gotten turned around in this.”
He turned back and tried the other direction, but found nothing there either. The fog swirled hungrily at his legs, hiding his feet from view. Isabel’s voice rang out from all around him, laughing gaily, shifting positions with every sentence.
“This way.” “No, over here.” “You’re close.” “Right here.”
“Obie.” This one practically a breath in his ear.
“Enough!” He whirled, striking out with his walking stick, but the heavy wood swooshed uselessly through the air. Obadiah staggered and nearly fell as the momentum tugged him to the side. The fog fluttered in its wake, forming curlicues that winked and smiled before vanishing into the main mass.
“Try again,” whispered Isabel’s voice. Clearly mocking though she was, Obadiah settled his grip on the cudgel and took her advice. He struck out blindly, swinging from shoulder to hip in a repeated X-shape. The laughter rose around him, mocking as he hit nothing but air over and over again, but Obadiah gritted his teeth and continued.
With every strike, he took a small step and made a quarter-turn. Swoosh, swoosh went the stick, and the circle Obadiah walked in grew steadily larger. He might not know which way his house was, but he knew it had to be close. If he just maintained the pattern….
Suddenly, the stick collided with something solid with a resounding crack. The impact jarred the walking stick from his hands, sending it spinning off into the fog. Obadiah reached out with desperate fingers and grasped the wooden ball that topped his porch’s newel post. He wrapped his arms around it, grabbing it like a drowning man seizing hold of a piece of floating wreckage.
“Wait!” called Isabel as Obadiah hauled himself up the three stairs to his porch, one hand always maintaining a strong grip on the railing. “I’m still out here, Obie. I still need your help.”
He shook his head. “No, you aren’t.”
“Look.” And then, in a voice quieter and more tremulous than before, “Obie? Is that you?”
He looked over his shoulder. Behind him, a path had cleared in the fog, the mists shifting aside to make a brief corridor. At the end of it, fifty yards away or more, stood Isabel. She looked confused and afraid. She appeared to have been crying.
“Obie, help!” She took a running step toward him and then the mists fell over her again, consuming her.
“See?” Isabel’s voice again, though Obadiah knew well it was not her. “She needs your help.”
Obadiah shook his head once more. “All I can do if I go out there is give you another voice to play with. And I don’t even have my coat.”
“Wait!” called the voice once more, but Obadiah was already at his front door, opening it to step into the safety of his house. Fog swirled in with him, but it dissipated quickly when the solid wood slammed shut behind it, tiny wisps of cloud vanishing against his carpet runner.
The knocking started again, loud and insistent. Obadiah, ignoring it, walked slowly around the house, checking the latch on each window and then pulling thick curtains to block out the view and muffle the sound. He turned on the record player, settled into his chair and let the scratchy sounds of a trumpet flow over him. He could still hear the knocking in the background, but he figured it would give up soon enough when it realized he couldn’t be lured back out.
Soft cries could be heard behind the trumpet now, the sounds of a young woman in distress.
“You can still save her,” whispered a voice clustered outside his windows.
Obadiah dragged his chair over closer to the record player and increased the volume. He’d seen too many men swept overboard in storms to wonder if Isabel could really be rescued. All you could do by jumping after them was add another death to the tally.
“A murk,” he said out loud. “That’s a good name for it. A murk.”
The fog would pass. They all did, eventually. He’d go find Isabel after that. If there was anything left of her to find.
By Micah Edwards, with art by Tom Brown.
Micah and Tom have collaborrated before and it is likely that they will do so again.
Sometimes, we take Hopeless Maine out for live performance as a radio show. This being the most obvious and logical solution to putting a graphic novel onto a stage, clearly…
The genius behind the radio play approach is Keith Errington, aka Rostov, aka The Keith of Mystery. For these purposes he has written, and repeatedly performed this entirely wonderful piece. if you’ve ever encountered the Prairie Home Companion you may spot the similarities, but the weirdness works very well even for the uninitiated…
The Sons of Gnii
It is my great honour to stand before you now in the ancient and traditional outfit of the Grand Spoon of the Sons of Gnii, Lodge number one, circle number three, Hopeless, Maine.
I wear the ancient costume including the garland of night potatoes, representing honest toil (and protection against vampires of course), the glass helmet – I’m carrying it or you wouldn’t hear me. Well I say helmet, it’s actually a goldfish bowl, but it represents the unique wildlife of the island and by implication relentless aggression.
I’m holding the ladle of hope – a large serving spoon on a ceremonial broomstick. Wait a minute, where’s the spoon? It was here just now. Damn it. That’s the fifth one this month. Well, just imagine the spoon.
I have the cape which represents the fog of the island and is woven from the skins of over a thousand Kniris. No-one has ever seen a Kniri, but then, it is rather hard to survive as a species when everyone keeps making capes from your skin.
The Sons of Gnii have some simple sayings as part of the brotherhood:
The Gnii are sacred.
The benefits of the Lodge are many – but they are not for you.
No, damn it, we are not the Masons.
Stay away from the mines.
What did he think was going to happen?
Don’t mess with the helmet.
But possibly the most significant, important and symbolic – a saying that sums up the Sons of Gnii:
Since its writing, the hairy coffee has become a thing of legend, and turns up in other projects.
Like the hairy coffee, Hopeless Maine is an alive sort of thing. It gets its tentacles into people’s heads, and spreads its ideas about, often without Tom or I being involved in any direct way. In many ways we feel like we don’t own the island – it certainly owns us. Sometimes it whispers strange things to other people.
If you’ve been affected by the contents of this blog and have something Hopeless you need to share, just let us know. We’re here to support people who have been driven slightly mad by the fictional island, and glad to share any fresh, or slightly-unfresh and mouldering discoveries anyone makes.
As some of you will know, we are working on translating the Blind Fisherman (The prelude to Hopeless, Maine) to film. Towards this end, I’ve started sketching settings that will appear in the film to help me visualise the settings so that I can move on to storyboarding. Once the script is finalised, we’ll storyboard and go on from there. In order to help make all of this possible, I’ve begun studying producing and other aspects of filmmaking. We have a studio, cinematographer, production design and an art director. Our plan is to make this the first in a series of Hopeless, Maine set films.
In the words of our cinematographer, Gregg McNeil ” We’re making a strong statement with this first chapter of the Hopeless Maine Anthology and we hope to continue this with other filmmakers, directors and storytellers each weaving their own visual tale.”
We will keep you up to date on our progress!
Hoping this finds you well, inspired and thriving.
We can now reveal that Hopeless, Maine is returning to North America with Outland Entertainment! The first two volumes will be printed and released soon, along with illustrated prose novels by Nimue Brown and Keith Errington and the Hopeless, Maine RPG is in development and may well be out at the same time. Here is the press release!
Cover art – collaboration between Nimue and myself.
If you have been following the blog, you will know that we are working with the altogether amazing Dr Abbey on a (growing) number of projects. Here is an amazing complex and utterly gorgeous design of Annamarie Nightshade in his style. The scan does not do it justice entirely as there are touches of silver and gold that catch the light as you move the piece. Below this is an earlier drawing of Annamarie by Tom Brown for contrast.
More of this to come, and news of further collaboration. Please stay tuned!
Hoping, (as always) this finds you well, inspired and thriving.
Although Hopeless, Maine has not been released in Japan, Kenichi Tsukuda was introduced to our strange island by Dr Abbey. (Whose amazing art and words you have seen here before) Not having read the books yet, he made this image of Our story becoming a Japanese Anime. The image shows an orphan witch and Nao Kumi, and the creatures that might be found on the island of Hopeless, Maine. It’s always exciting to see how other people are inspired by our story, especially views from other places.
Annamarie Nightshade is going to die. She knows this in her bones, in her toes. She knows this the way she know how to breathe. Annamarie Nightshade is going to die. Just not today.
Seeing the future is not a particular specialty of hers, but sometimes you don’t need to See. you just have to pay attention, and as a witch a lot of her job is paying attention. People are sick, the cemetery is full of vampires and O’Stoats, and they’re looking for someone to blame. Annamarie knows how that goes
She’s got tea on the hearth. She’s cursed Durosimi O’Stoat one last time. She’s hidden her broom in the attic, and tucked a bucket of seawater outside her door where it’s unlikely to be knocked over. Lamashtu is glaring at her. His tail twitches.
“I could just move you away from here,” he says.
“Oh, so they can burn me again next time?”
“You have no idea if this will work.”
“You have no proof that it won’t.”
“I won’t stay about to watch.”
“I’m not asking you to.”
The kettle sings. Annamarie reaches over and strokes Lamashtu carefully. He allows it.
“Keep an eye on Sal,” she says. He vanishes.
Annamarie waits until she can hear the mob approaching before she drinks the tea. It tastes sharp, and it burns all the way down. She doubles over, snarling, and collapses. She loses feeling in her fingers, in her toes, in her ankles. Her vision is beginning to blur when the door is kicked in.
She’s glad that her mouth has stopped working, because she’d have to laugh. Or cry. Or curse. Emanuel you fool, she thinks. The fog creeps in behind them, crawling into her house. Emanuel Davies is raving about purging the town, cleansing it of evil. Nobody seems to question that their witch is conveniently not struggling or cursing anybody.
At least if this doesn’t work I won’t feel anything, she thinks. She’s dragged along, head lolling. People are holding her, they must be. Torchlight gleams in eyes and she recognises face in the crowd.
Hopeless is small when it comes to people: that’s Incompetence Chevin whose broken leg she set last month. Josephine, who goes to church and prays and comes to Annamarie for preventative tea. Her mouth tastes dry, and salty. Something in her gut boils.
Emanuel yells something. His face looks like a horrible mockery, stretched and unreal. You stupid bastard, she thinks, not entirely without fondness. She loses feeling in her ears, and all she can hear is the mob roaring. It sounds like waves. It sounds like an ocean coming to eat her.
She can still mostly see when they drag her to the stake. She just isn’t paying attention because her insides are crumbling into sand. Annamarie is aware of the heat. In the same way she is aware of the smoke. Of the crackling around her feet. She is already burning. She’s just thankful her sense of smell is gone too: she doesn’t want to smell herself cook. Please, she thinks, please…
Outside Annamarie’s cottage, Frampton Jones stands very still looking at the mess. At the bucket of seawater next to the door, which bothers him for some reason. Something inside it moves; it has a lot of eyes. Frampton does not step nearer to the thing in the bucket. He instead finds a stick and gently pokes it. It steals the stick.
Frampton is looking for another stick when he hears footsteps and turns. The blind fishermans walks out of the mist.
“What are you doing here?” he wants to take notes, but, well, Annamarie was a friend of sorts. It feels crass.
“Job to do.”
“I can’t imagine there are any fish here,” says Frampton. Seth sighs. He walks past Frampton and goes to the bucket. Frampton notes that he does so confidently, with no indication that he doesn’t know where he is. He crouches by the bucket, and mutters. Frampton inches closer. “Hello Aunty,” he hears. Which makes no sense.
Seth picks up the bucket, apparently not worried about the whatever-it-is. He walks away. Frampton follows him, because the alternative is to stay here at the empty house of a murdered friend. He’d rather not do that.
They reach the sea. It’s chilly, there’s a wind, and Frampton can still smell smoke. Seth carefully empties the bucket into the water. Something goes ‘ploop’. Frampton feels as if an important thing has happened. Seth remains quiet. Water seeps into Frampton’s shoes.
“Well,” says Seth, “that’s dealt with.”
The two men stand there, Frampton looking for a horizon he cannot see and Seth, presumably, thinking whatever mysterious thoughts a blind fisherman has. The fog gets thicker.
“Come on,” Seth says abruptly, “I’ve got tea.”
Annamarie doesn’t hurt. She doesn’t feel anything that she can recognise. She shudders. There are voices. She knows them. There’s a gentle puff of power. A breeze. She shivers. She moves. She dances, oh! This is it! It’s like flying a broom, except for how it’s entirely different. The wind carries her up. She holds onto the power in the air, moves it. Pushes. Drifts across the island and over the sea in a thousand tiny pieces. Concentrates, and draws herself together into… something. A form. It’s different, yes, but who said change is bad?
She pulls herself together and drifts upward, up and up and up through the mist and fog and ah! She turns her face (is it a face? She has to hold it together. She’s ash and water and flakes of salt) she turns her face up and feels the air move through it, looks up and sees sky. She grins.
Annamarie Nightshade is going to die. Just not today. Today she changes. I’ll have to see if the island can still hold me, she thinks. It might. She might be more attached than ever before. But it’s worth a try, she thinks. And if it turns out she’s still trapped, well. She’s never been any good at backing off from a challenge. But first, there’s a monster in the ocean she wants to check up on.
Annamarie gathers herself together, all her little pieces, and soars.
This piece was written by the rather astounding Meredith Debonnaire. She is the creator of Tales from Tantamount and other wonders. We wish to thank her, as this is utterly wonderful and gave us many feelings.
One of the things I like to do with the Hopeless Maine graphic novel series, is play with folklore. Here’s an example- the entirely traditional Mari Lwyds in a clearly non-traditional setting.
The Welsh Mari Lwyd tradition involves exactly the kit you see with horses skulls on poles and trailing costumes to cover the person holding the pole. You then go to houses and/or pubs for riddling fights.
When people migrate, they take their culture, folklore and beliefs with them. How that plays out can vary – it can mean that sometimes what the disaspora hold is an older form of the tradition than what develops elsewhere. People away from home can be more focused on keeping their traditions unchanged. Sometimes the opposite happens, and the tradition is influenced by what else is around, or evolves to suit the circumstances. Clearly, both trajectories are equally valid.