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Betty Butterow

It was midnight when the full moon rose over Hopeless, Maine, to welcome in the Vernal Equinox. It shone palely through the grimy window of a small, candlelit room where a young mother was giving up her own life in order that her baby should live. The year was 1905 and Betty Butterow was about to become the newest, and by far the youngest, child in the orphanage.

Even as he took her from the weeping midwife’s arms, Reverend Crackstone disliked the girl. It was not totally irrational; while there was nothing in particular that he could identify to mark her as being remotely out of the ordinary, he knew her ancestry only too well. According to the information that he had been given her mother was Amelia Butterow, an unmarried woman who had lived on the island for all of her short life. What irked Crackstone was the knowledge that Amelia was a direct descendent of the O’Stoats, a  family riddled with heathen tendencies. Not just any branch of the family, either. Colleen O’Stoat, Amelia’s great grandmother, was known to have had the gift of ‘The Sight’. During her lifetime there had been tales of witchcraft and shape-changing told about Colleen which had, over the years, grown in the telling. Added to this the fact that there was no clue to as to whom the child’s father might be only served to strengthen Crackstone’s disapproval of her. These Godless and immoral practices had always been all too common on the island. Time was no healer, in this instance. The passage of the years did nothing to dispel his hostility towards Betty, who was growing up to be quite stunningly beautiful, though no one ever told her so. The reverend gentleman was more than relieved when, at the age of fifteen, she left the orphanage to watch a cricket match and decided, for reasons best known to herself, never  to return.


Betty was a sensitive girl and acutely aware of Reverend Crackstone’s chilly indifference to her. She assumed that it must be her fault, somehow. She knew of her disreputable lineage; Crackstone had mentioned it in disparaging tones more than once, and she decided that she must have been born with wickedness flowing through her veins. Trying to ignore these thoughts, she left the orphanage and went to the cricket match at Creepy Hollow with mixed feelings. Although her fellow orphan, shy and introverted Randall Middlestreet, was blissfully unaware, Betty had developed something of a crush for him. Her heart would race, her cheeks flush and her knees turn to jelly on the odd occasions when he spoke to her.

That trickster, Cupid, plays a cruel game when he fires his arrows, for now that Randall had become apprenticed to the Night Soil Man he was beyond her reach forever. It was an unwritten rule on the island that Night Soil Men were unmarried, unattached and, save for their apprentice, solitary. Even, in the unlikely event of her being willing to put up with the more anti-social aspects of his job, the islanders and indeed Randall himself, would not have tolerated such a breach of tradition. From now on she would have to be content with seeing him from afar, if at all. Today, however he was allowed to play in the match; she really hoped they might have a chance to spend some time – maybe their final time – together.

She was disappointed to find, upon reaching the impromptu cricket ground, that he was nowhere to be seen. Betty had no idea that, due to a misunderstanding, Randall had gone to another part of the island altogether. Crackstone had done a good job in destroying any self-esteem Betty may have possessed and Randall’s absence was all that was required to convince the girl that he was going out of his way to avoid her. Walking along the headland, lost in her own thoughts, she allowed this erroneous belief to blossom; it grew inside her mind like a cancer.  Was it because people could see her as she really was? Ugly and horrible? Hideous even? Is this really what everyone thought of her? The world saw her as some foul creature to be avoided at all costs.

Nothing, of course, could have been further from the truth but each new thought was increasingly irrational and had her descending ever deeper into The Slough of Despond. Beaten down with self-loathing she walked blindly on until, finding herself by the shore, she decided that maybe the best course of action for all concerned was for her to end her life there and then. At least everyone would be spared the burden of her continued existence; she would walk into the ocean and never return.

Even in this unbalanced frame of mind, however, her first thought was for others. Everything on the island was in short supply; it would be selfish – sinful even- to destroy a perfectly good, albeit seventh-hand, set of clothes when another girl would be happy to wear them. With this in mind and with an uncharacteristic lack of modesty, she took off every stitch of her clothing, folding it neatly on a rock where the waves could not reach. Then, closing her eyes tightly, she waded into the mist-bound  ocean.

The icy chill of the wild Atlantic took her breath away but she knew what had to be done and steadfastly carried on. By the time the water was lapping around her thighs her body was blue with the cold. Soon it would be over. No more cold, no more ugly thoughts. No more rejection. No more…oooh… her descent into the waves was terrifyingly accelerated as a deep shelf beneath the waterline caught her unawares and before she knew it there was salt-water in her eyes, ears and nostrils. Tendrils of seaweed – she hoped they were seaweed- wrapped themselves around her legs.  Despite her plans to die, some primitive survival instinct made her kick out and try to escape. She thrashed ineffectively in an attempt to clutch on to life at all costs but it seemed to be to no avail; every movement made her predicament worse. Then, for reasons she could not fathom, she became perfectly relaxed and a great calmness came over her. Closing her eyes once more, she felt a comforting warmth enveloping every inch of her frail form, cosy and caressing, like a soft blanket. She was not breathing but strangely, she no longer seemed to need to. If this was death then it was not so bad – but no, she knew that this was not death. This was life in its truest form, with every sense vibrant and alert with a strength and certainty that rushed through her blood and sinews in a way that she had never before felt. Fearing nothing now, she threw herself into the embrace of the ocean, giving everything up to its irresistible will. Opening her eyes for the first time since her fears had subsided, Betty received the biggest shock of her young life. Her limbs had receded far into her body and where there was once pale flesh there was now a mighty grey frame of muscle and a warm, insulated hide.She had become a seal, strong and free and mistress of the seas. Then, as she swam, joyous and reckless, she remembered. This was not her own memory but the memory of soul, the memory of blood; the memory of bone; the memory that flowed through the countless generations of her kind. She was a Selkie, a seal-woman tasting the freedom of her birthright for the very first time. She knew then that her doubts and fears were groundless. Breaking the surface of the water, the seal that was Betty looked at the island with different eyes. Not only had her body changed but so had her perception. Where once there were only mists, there were now ghosts. Even from this vantage point she could feel their loneliness, sorrow and sometimes rage. These, she realised, were the gifts of her ancestors; ancient gifts that they had brought from a distant land when they fled persecution.

Little did she realise, as she revelled in her new body, that the greatest gift she had been given that day was a powerful sense of self. The despondent Betty who had left the orphanage that morning had died and had been re-born.

Having circled the island, roaring and bellowing and savouring her new-found abilities, she decided to rest. Finding a suitable spot she dragged herself up onto the rocks to bask for a while and as she slumbered, so she dried. Gradually a change came upon her. The comforting, heavy sealskin slowly sloughed off and once more the Selkie became Betty, shivering and naked as the day she was born. Waking, she instinctively folded the skin and concealed it in the rocks, promising herself many more Selkie adventures in the days to come.


It was purely by luck that Madrigal Lypiatt was alone when she made her way back to the Squid and Teapot after the cricket had finished. Seeing a naked girl sitting on the rocks was not a common sight on the island and Madrigal made it her business to find out what was going on. Betty’s story about going swimming did not fool Madrigal for one moment. No one in their right mind would swim in these treacherous waters but having no better explanation, accepted what the girl had told her without argument. Throwing her shawl, which was fortunately of generous dimensions, around Betty the two quickly made their way back to the inn, thankful that most people were still hanging around Creepy Hollow, barely able to believe their eyes after Crazy Wally’s dramatic departure from the island.

It did not take Madrigal long to work out that Betty was unhappy at the orphanage. Astutely, she wondered if the alleged  swim was really something much more dramatic, possibly a drastic effort to escape its walls forever.To send her back would cause nothing but harm. Fortunately, a good landlady is never short of a plan or two and, following a short conversation with her husband, Sebastian, a solution was hit upon. Betty found, to her great delight that The Squid and Teapot had acquired in her a new barmaid who would work for board and lodgings. A cosy attic room in the inn was to be her very own, a luxury that she had never before known. Betty Butterow was home at last.

Few of the wild creatures found in any known zoological taxonomy venture very close to the island. Even fewer live to tell the tale. Many folk were surprised, therefore, to hear that a full-grown harbor seal had, on several occasions, been seen boldly swimming close to the rocks. There was talk in the Squid that this was an omen, maybe things on the island were set to improve. From her position behind the bar, Betty Butterow, gently blossoming into womanhood and still tasting the salt-water tang of the sea in her nostrils, quietly smiled. She mopped the ale slops from the counter and said nothing.

Art by Clifford Cumber

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The Supper Guest

In 1630, or thereabouts, the Spanish dramatist Tirso de Molina published a play entitled ‘The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest.’ (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, later adapted the plot of this play for their opera, Don Giovanni). I may be going out on a limb here but I feel certain that Senor de Molina is unlikely to have expressed the remotest interest in the concept of time travel. It is equally unlikely that he knew of the existence of the island of Hopeless either. In view of these assertions we can be reasonably confident that he was not influenced by the events I am about to unfold to you.

 

Standing, somewhat larger than life-size, in the courtyard of Madame Evadne’s Lodging House for Discerning Gentlemen (which still bears the name today) is a statue of the lady herself, who parted this life in 1891, aged eighty three. It was placed there a short time after her death in recognition of the many good works she did on the island.

While some may disapprove of her chosen trade (after all, a bordello is a bordello, whatever else you might choose to call it) few would deny that she was a true philanthropist. Her business interests made her a considerably wealthy woman and she was never slow to use this wealth to help the poor and needy of Hopeless – and there are many.

 

In the opening years of the twentieth century the Squid and Teacup had become a sad place indeed. The inn had long fallen from its former glory, when it had been host to such notaries as Mr. W.S.Gilbert, to become no more than a run-down drinking-den, serving cloudy beer and occasional bouts of dysentery. To call it squalid would be to give squalor a bad name. This was all attributable to the extreme idleness of the landlord, one Tobias Thrupp. He was a stout, squat man who sweated profusely at every opportunity. If asked he would tell you that he was someone who believed in fairness. The only indication of this, however, was the way in which he embraced each of the seven deadly sins with an equal degree of enthusiasm. If the truth is to be told, his only friends bore the names Pride, Gluttony, Sloth, Envy, Avarice, Wrath and Lust.

Unsurprisingly, he was a frequent visitor to Madame Evadne’s, which, since her death, had become something of a social club for both sexes, offering additional facilities for a small remuneration (and half price for the over 60s every Tuesday).

Being the man he was, the unlovely Mr Thrupp used Madam Evadne’s as a vehicle to give full vent to those seven vices. The young ladies of the house (and also their ‘paying guests’) quailed visibly when his shadow crossed the threshold, which it did often. One didn’t need to be a soothsayer to know that the next few hours would bring a world of pain and violence to any who displeased him. While he always paid, albeit grudgingly, for his pleasures, there was not enough money on all of the island to compensate for the misery he caused. After his lusts and violent tendencies had been sated he would repair to the kitchen and devour alarming quantities of meat and beer, then stagger home drunkenly.

 

According to documents kept in The Squid and Teapot its fortunes changed for the better on Monday May 1st 1905. That was the day after Thrupp had rolled into Madame Evadne’s in his usual bullying fashion for the very last time. He had always been used to getting his own way but on this occasion things turned out differently. One of the young ladies, Madrigal Inchbrook, was entertaining a gentleman who had every intention of making an honest woman of her. He was Sebastian Lypiatt, a merchant seaman who had found himself to be the lone survivor of the shipwreck which had brought him to the island some months before. Sebastian was a big man and was not inclined to be pushed around by anyone. When Madrigal told him of Thrupp’s awful ways he decided to put matters right. To cut a short story even shorter, before he knew what was happening, an extremely disgruntled Thrupp was picked up like a rag doll and unceremoniously ejected from the building, being advised that he might not, in future, find himself in full receipt of the contents of his trousers should he return (or words to that effect).

Lying on the flagstones with his dignity and much of his clothing in tatters Thrupp gazed up at the stone effigy of Madame Evadne.

He rose unsteadily to his feet and waved his fist at her.

“ What sort of hospitality is that supposed to be?” he yelled. “Nobody treats me like that. Come to the Squid I’ll show you how to entertain a guest. Have supper with me sometime, you stone-faced trollop.”

The statue gazed impassively at him, as statues are wont to do.

Thrupp staggered away, muttering curses and vowing revenge.

Beltane eve, Mayday eve, Walpurgis, call it what you will, is not an ideal time to challenge the dead, especially on Hopeless.

 

The following night Thrupp was sitting in his parlour eating a lonely supper. His few customers had long departed, heading for home or maybe to The Crow, where the beer was less likely to be life-threatening.

Suddenly, he heard an ominous slow, scraping noise outside that made him pause. He put his fork down and looked around uneasily. The scraping continued; it sounded heavy and laboured. Silence. Then, just as Thrupp was about to resume eating his meal, there came a horribly loud series of knocks upon the door.

“Go away, I’m closed.”

The knocking continued.

“Didn’t you hear? I said I’m closed.”

More knocking.

Thinking it was the merchant seaman coming to dole out another dose of punishment he picked up a stout cudgel and carefully opened the door.

It was not Sebastian Lypiatt who met his eyes. It was the cold, blank stare of Madame Evadne’s statue.

The blood drained from his face.

“Wh..what do you want?” he stammered.

“You invited me. Here I am. What about your promise of hospitality?”

The voice was cold and hollow with a slight French accent (which was entirely false but during her lifetime she felt it gave the place a certain degree of class).

“Leave me alone… you’re not real… this is someone’s idea of a joke.”

“Believe me, it’s no joke,” she said and reached out a stony hand and grabbed his wrist. Her grip was hard and icy and a numbness flowed through him.

He whimpered with pain and fear.

“Come with me and let me show you how you can be truly hospitable”

He could give no resistance as she slowly, terrifyingly, dragged him through the darkened streets. He saw the outline of the bridge, the silent houses, the  monuments in the cemetery, all cold and still in the moonlight. Then he saw their final destination.

He screamed when she led him into the caverns beneath the town. He had heard the stories but had always laughed them off as fantasies to scare children.

“Don’t let them kill me,” he begged.

She made a noise that might have been a chuckle. It was hard to tell.

“Oh, they won’t kill you,” she said. Her words were as hard and cold as the stone that formed her. They offered little comfort.

“This is where the vampires nest. In their hundreds, I believe. They will certainly appreciate the endless supply of… hospitality you will be doubtless be giving them. Don’t worry, you are to live for a long time yet. Oh yes, a very long time.”

Somewhere, from deep within the caverns, a chorus of hapless souls wailed. In reply a score of bright eyes flickered in the darkness. White teeth flashed.

If you are familiar with Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni you will know that the statue consigned him to Hell. I can’t help but think that the Don got off lightly compared to Tobias Thrupp.

 

After Thrupp’s disappearance the Squid stood empty for months. As no one else showed any interest in restoring the inn, Sebastian Lypiatt and his new wife Madrigal decided to try and raise it back to the condition that it had enjoyed in happier times. According to my good friend Rufus Lypiatt (their great grandson and current landlord of The Squid and Teapot) within a year or so it once more became something of a haven against the fog and darkness that lingered beyond its walls. And so it remains today.

Art by Tom Brown

Devious Devices

Here’s a fine tale from the Hopeless Maine RPG developer – enjoy!

The Hopeless Traveller

I was sat in my favourite armchair one evening last week, reading the Vendetta and enjoying a brandy – from the last shipwreck, you remember? Lovely stuff. Anyway, there I was, glass in hand, God in his Heaven and all right with the World when I became aware of a soft clicking. Now I don’t own a clock and this noise seemed to be moving around, so I sat as quiet as I could. You know how it is when you are straining to hear something, every sense becomes heightened and damn if didn’t see something move near the top of the curtain, just out of the corner of my eye. 

I softly put the glass down, rolled up the paper and advanced on the curtain with the grace and stealth of a Leopard. Don’t scoff – a Leopard, I tell you. Anyway, the ticking got a little louder and…

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The Bounder

The Honourable Walter Leigh-Botham was the sort of chap for whom the terms ‘cad’ and ‘bounder’ had been expressly coined. He had been expelled from Eton for excessive bullying (even by the sadistic standards of the English public school system*) and, after his father had pulled several strings to get him into Oxford, had managed to get himself thrown out within a matter of months for successfully managing to seduce both the Professor of Divinity’s wife and daughter, though, to his credit, not at the same time. In truth, other than the various pleasures of the flesh, the only thing Walter ever truly excelled in was cricket. By 1914, in Walter’s twentieth year, war with Germany seemed inevitable. It was, in his estimation, an ideal time to get out of England, not least because he had an impressive pile of gambling debts and several paternity suits to his young name. Being ever resourceful and, it must be said, oozing with charm, he managed to persuade the captain of a merchant ship to give him a passage across the Atlantic free of charge, spinning a tale about a dying grandmother in Maine. Walter had absolutely no idea where, on the American continent, Maine was actually located but, by chance, he had happened to overhear a conversation in a quayside inn concerning a merchant ship bound in that direction. Not one to break the habits of a lifetime, Walter repaid the captain’s kindness by assisting many of the crew to gamble away their wages and viciously depleting their rum ration. By the end of the voyage everyone on board, including the ship’s cat, had really had more than enough of his shenanigans and shortly before they reached Portland they bundled him into the very barrel he had been instrumental in emptying and dropped him, not too gently, overboard.
Scilly Point, on the coast of Hopeless, had earned its unusual name some years earlier, although there were a handful of people who believed that ‘Silly Point’ would have been a far more appropriate moniker, and with good reason. A couple of local lads, hearing the news that two Norwegians had successfully rowed from New York to the Isles of Scilly, thought they could emulate the achievement. Sadly they couldn’t and were never heard of again.
Walter had no idea of this fascinating morsel of information when his barrel came ashore there. After a few hours bobbing  around on the Atlantic he would not have particularly cared either, having developed a pallor which was a decidedly delicate and interesting shade of green.
Scrambling unsteadily out of his barrel and over the rocks, he could not help but wonder where on earth he might be, as a small procession of blancmange-like creatures, shapeless and tentacled, crossed his path. He struggled on for some time, studiously trying to avoid anything that vaguely resembled a life-form in case it attacked him in some way. He was not wholly successful and was relieved when, through the mists, loomed the welcoming shape of The Squid and Teapot.
Sebastian Lypiatt, the landlord of the inn, though helpful to the latest arrival on the island, was more than a little suspicious of him. Having been a merchant seaman himself and shipwrecked here some ten years earlier, something in Walter’s tale of being an innocent passenger who had been shanghaied, robbed then viciously cast adrift by a sadistic captain and his rascally crew, did not ring true. He was relieved, therefore, when after a few days the young man decided to leave and find lodgings at Madame Evadne’s, an establishment with facilities far more likely to cater for his every need.
By the early years of the twentieth century Madame Evadne’s Lodging House for Discerning Gentlemen had become noticeably sleazier while expanding its business interests considerably. It had taken to providing gaming tables and alcohol as well as its more traditional pursuits for clients of both genders. This was an environment in which Walter felt truly at home and he settled back into his old ways with ease. His skill in knowing how to swindle the clients, water the drinks and run a crooked card table endeared him to Mozzarella Slad, the current Madame. She was a villainous woman whose underhand ways would have had Madame Evadne spinning in her grave. The once cheerfully vulgar bordello became a dark swamp of depravity and the following two dissipated years of Walter’s life saw him lose the few shreds of decency that he had left. Anyone who crossed him became fair game; his degenerate soul plumbed depths of evil that even made Madame Mozzarella gasp with a mixture of admiration and disgust.  He was, however, becoming a liability and bad for business. It was inevitable, therefore, that one day she would decide that enough was enough and when that day dawned she resolved to be rid of him forever.
The bright full moon was sailing high in a midnight sky when she eventually challenged him. The bordello was rowdy as ever and Walter, paunchy and bleary-eyed, stepped outside for a moment to clear the fetid air from his lungs. The bottle of spirits in his hand was half-full, a situation he intended to remedy before the hour was over. He didn’t hear Mozzarella creep up behind until she was almost upon him. It was only by luck that he turned in time, for the rock with which she intended to crush his skull only caught him on the shoulder. He lunged and, catching her arm, spun her into the courtyard to crash against a statue erected in the likeness and memory of Madame Evadne. For a split second he was sure that the statue opened its eyes and smiled, not particularly pleasantly, at him. He shook his head and looked again, but no, she was as she had always been. This pause had given Mozzarella just enough time to scramble to her feet and run, screeching into the night. In an instant he was in pursuit, angrily dashing across the headland, a red rage driving him on.
It was at the foot of Chapel Rock that Walter eventually caught up with Mozzarella. In a blind and all-consuming fury he threw her to the stony ground. Wrapping his hands tightly around her throat he felt something close to elation as the life was violently squeezed out of her. When it was done he knelt on the ground, exhausted. His face was florid, his breathing laboured and his heart banging against his ribcage.
Suddenly aware of something slithering over the headland towards him, he stiffened. At first he thought it was a serpent but upon seeing that its length was punctuated with an array of suckers, realised with horror that this must be the tentacle of some huge sea-creature. As if in confirmation, an identical arm stretched up over the cliffside and waved in the air above him. The tentacle that crept over the ground now wrapped itself tightly around the body of the dead Mozzarella and hoisted her on to her feet, like a marionette. So terribly fascinated was Walter by this gruesome puppet show that he did not notice, until too late, that the other arm had slyly descended. It entwined itself around his torso and effortlessly lifted him off his feet. As the two monstrous arms drew together he found himself face-to-face with Mozzarella, her dead eyes protruding from a horribly contorted face. The pair were drawn up, their bodies as close as if they were dancing, then dance they did. The monster shook them like rag dolls. Mozzarella’s head flopped against Walter’s face. Her flesh was still warm and the saliva that lingered on her open mouth slavered against his cheek. Walter screamed. Only the ravens roosting on the rock could hear his increasingly manic wails as the grotesque dance continued. Then, when Walter thought things could get no worse, a thin green mist quietly writhed up from the ruins of the chapel, a mist that began to take the shape of a man. It circled, slowly at first, around the strange tableau. Suddenly the scrawny, almost transparent form and grimacing face of the Mad Parson of Chapel Rock, Obidiah Hyde, was everywhere, screaming at Walter.
“Repent, sinner, for Hell is waiting.”
An ice cold chill gripped Walter’s heart as the wraith passed through him. The macabre dance and the howling ghost filled his brain, weaving deranged patterns in his mind.  This is all there is and ever has been, thought Walter, gradually forgetting who and where he was. The last thing he saw as he fell to the ground, crashing into unconsciousness, was the lifeless body of Mozzarella being tossed high, high into the night air. For one tiny moment that lasted an eternity she was a grisly silhouette painted upon the face of the full moon, then she fell; tossed like a discarded toy into the sea. Walter dimly wondered who she was and how she had arrived there.
Hours later, in a grey dawn, Walter awoke. All memories of his old life had been erased. His hair was white and he looked older, far, far older than his twenty two years. Crawling over to the ruined chapel he discovered a small vestry which would provide shelter from the elements. Rocking back and forth on his haunches, he giggled to himself as from its perch on the ruined roof of the chapel a raven dropped a teaspoon, which clattered and bounced on the flagstones. The man who had been Walter Leigh-Botham picked it up and vaguely remembered.
“ Spoon” he said, inspecting it intently.
This must be home.

* For our American readers, in Britain most people attend state run schools and enjoy a free education. The affluent send their offspring to public schools. Despite the name these are not available to the public, being very expensive private schools, not to be confused with actual private schools which are still fee-paying but not as exclusive. I hope that clears things up.

Art by Tom Brown

The spoon whisperers

We require cutlery; we require a spoon smith. This is not something we like to acknowledge of course. We like to think that our spoon’s cradle of life is the cutlery drawer and beyond its mundane journey from there to our breakfast table no one likes to ponder where the spoon goes or why it suddenly ceases to be a part of our lives any longer. The spoon has gone to sleep, we tell the children, it has moved on to pastures new, to the great spoon caddy in the sky… but inwardly we shudder when our hand gropes the naked crevice of the empty wooden slot where the spoons once lived and when we hear the creak, creak, creaking of the spoon smith’s cart, after dark, we crack open the kitchen door just a chink and whisper ‘yes, dammit, yes we need spoons, for the love of life be quick about it’. Then for a little while we can breathe easy and forget and not bother to wonder, where the spoons all wander. 

 

You can see them yourself, every morning on the shore line, Dyson Blythe and his wife Birgitta and they are not by any means the only scavengers down there. Of course it is metal they gather up into those great ragged sacks of theirs, metal to melt down in that furnace they have at the cottage by the caves, metal to be poured into all those careful clay moulds, metal to be cooled into spoons that will hold our bottom of the garden stew and stir our hairy coffee. We try very hard not to notice the carcasses in various states of decay, the unidentifiable vegetable matter and all the strange and suspicious looking artefacts that also make their way into those great grey sacks because surely, surely, there is enough metal washed up upon a shoreline as extensive as this to meet the spoon demands of our small and un-extravagant populous.  

 

There was great joy when they first came, of course there was. We listened with curiosity and delight to the tappity-tap of metal on metal and the claret glow, night and day, from the windows of the little cottage by the caves spoke only of spoons that would soon fill our pantries and stir our cauldrons. We smiled when we passed them in the street or on the strand, their hands and arms were stained black to the elbows from their work at the forge, but we didn’t mind their oddness, amongst our own they hardly stood out at all and, besides, soon there would be spoons, and when the brightly painted cart, intricately carved with green and golden fleur-de-lis came tinkling down the high road with its bounty gleaming like twists of moonlight captured like candy in a cane, we knew only joy.

Of course there were some doubters who said the flier de los looked more like tentacles, who proclaimed the skills of the smithsonions unholy; their blackened hands a mark, not of their work, but of a pact with demons, still more who whispered that well meaning strangers would bring mishap upon us all. But it wasn’t until the twins were born that anyone gave their muttering a second thought.

Sebastopher and Tarrington Blythe were born on a Tuesday, ruddy and Bonny with full heads of bouncing copper curls like flame and their parents pressed into each chubby red hand a pair of beautiful silver spoons, the stock of their trade. So the boys lay in their cradles, tapping their silver spoons together and although they grew bigger and began to sit and crawl and, eventually to walk, still all they did was tap tap tap their spoons. Nothing could induce the boys to speak or play or to put the spoons down for even a moment but their parents did not worry overmuch, the skill each brother now had with his spoons meant that they could drum a multitude of meanings into their rhythms and Dyson and Birgitta grew extremely proud of their children’s inventiveness and skill as they lay awake at night listening to the twins conversing in their strange musical language.

And if occasionally they heard, from the dark beyond the yard outside, something drumming its own song in response, they must only have shook their heads and thought it merely the wind in the trees. And if occasionally they saw, through the chink in the curtains, soft glowing lights like rows of luminous eyes peering in from the night, they must have shrugged their shoulders and supposed it only foxfire or marsh gas. Such is the blind foolishness of every doting parent.

Nobody saw it happen. One late afternoon, creeping into evening with long green shadows under a sickly yellow sky, the four year old twins were sitting in the yard, under the twisted shade of the polymorphous rose tree. Their wide black eyes stared into the miasmatic gloaming and through the silence of their unspoken words their spoons rattled a furious rhythm, a cacophony which rang and echoed off the cave rocks that surrounded the little cottage. Rang and echoed off the cave rocks, and the trees and the hills for miles around and surely, surely, that was merely the echo of the children’s song and surely, surely, the lights that gathered that evening in the sliding fog around the cottage by the caves were merely foxfire and marsh gas.

Hard at work in the forge, their mother wiped the sweat from her brow, their father laid down his tongs and they listened to the silence that had opened like a gallows trap door. They ran into the yard, calling for their boys “Sebastopher! Tarrington!” But the yard and all the land around was silent. The lights, the spoons, the boys, the song, all gone, all gone.

Now the spoon cart comes only at night, we open the door, just a chink, just a crack, those are without doubt tentacles carved into the wood. We bolt the doors and fasten tight the shutters, that is no fox fire and marsh gas, that is not the wind in trees. And we always tell the children, “stop it, stop it at once, do not drum your spoon upon the table like that child,” because we do not like to think and we do not wish to know, where the spoons all go.

 

This word-magic is from the (frankly amazing) Lou Lou Pulford. (we are fans of her!) You can read more on her enchanting tea soaked, ententacled site- here.

 

Art by Tom Brown

The Poet of Tragedy Creek

Some time ago our late, lamented arts editor, Miss Bathsheba Caudle-Green, thought that it would enhance the cultural profile of the island if we had our very own poet laureate. After some consultation with the Mayor of Hopeless (who, at that time, was Alphonse Crackstone), a mutual agreement was reached whereby a modest cottage on Tragedy Creek, plus a small annual stipend, was arranged for the use of the successful applicant. It was later revealed that this was only achieved after Miss Caudle-Green had gained a not insubstantial degree of leverage by making reference to certain interests Mr Crackstone had in the recently re-opened Madame Evadne’s Lodging House for Discerning Gentlemen (Under new management).
Disappointingly, no one from the island applied for the post, so tentative advertisements were placed in the prestigious Kennebec Journal plus several other mainland newspapers. Despite this, only one candidate came forward; a young man named Leonard Stanley. Miss Caudle-Green was much relieved that her artistic ambitions for the island were bearing fruit and Leonard was immediately hired with no questions asked. Having few belongings, to speak of, he was soon transported to the cottage on Tragedy Creek amid a whirlwind of publicity and excited anticipation. Hopeless waited with baited breath for the pure bardic outpourings of its first poet laureate.
After several months of silence people began to wonder if the odd bardic outpouring, or, at least, a bardic trickle of some description, might yet be forthcoming; or, indeed, if the elusive poet was still on the island. Eventually The Vendetta sent Miss Caudle-Green to investigate. She came back shortly afterwards with ‘something he had been working on’ which she published in the paper following week.

Ode to Hopeless
by Leonard Stanley

What a wonderfully strange place is Hopeless,
This island surrounded by mist (and sea).
I really believe I would cope less
well, if anywhere else I should be.
So I think I’ll remain here forever,
as I’m someone who’ll quite often stay
a long time in places like Hopeless,
where the deer and the antelope play.*
So…‘til the mountains all flatten and slope less,
and the gallows (if we had one) is ropeless,
and the Vatican’s empty and popeless,
It’s here I will stay and I’ll mope less
frequently, on strange and mysterious Hopeless.
An island surrounded by mist (and sea).

*Actually they don’t but I like the image and it rhymes.

Sadly, days after this was printed Miss  Caudle-Green resigned her position at The Vendetta, and has not been seen in cultural circles since. Mr Crackstone also vanished. It appears that he had secretly sold the cottage and took the proceeds, plus the funds for the laureate’s stipend, with him. With no job or home and despite (or possibly because of) his heartfelt Ode to Hopeless, Leonard Stanley was removed to the mainland. He was welcomed back by his previous employer who had been looking for him. He has now resumed his position in the piggery of the Bolduc Correctional Facility.

 

Art by Tom Brown

Hopeless, Maine Horoscopes

Horoscopes

Gemini: It’s your birthday, so you’ll be feeling your mortality keenly in the coming weeks. Death omens will be everywhere but if you are very careful, and avoid putting out to sea during the next tentacular spawning, you might just get through the year in something like a state of aliveness.

Cancer: Toilets are especially dangerous for you this month. Remember – always look before you sit, always have a talisman to clutch when you shit.

Leo: Be especially careful during any events of blood rain this month as your chances of slipping and falling to your death are higher than usual.

Virgo: Now is not the time to feel smug about apparent success. Now is the time to check carefully under the bed every night. Try not to sleep too heavily, it’s your only hope.

Libra: Beware of apparently friendly offers, the odds are they want something you won’t want to give.

Scorpio:  Nothing good whatsoever will happen to you this month.

Sagittarius: Next Tuesday you will be bitten by a dog. He’s probably rabid, we’ll have to kill him and some of you.

Capricorn:  The thing you are looking for has been eaten by a chicken, or buried by close family member for esoteric reasons.

Aquarius: Now is a really bad time for starting a new relationship. They’ll die, or they’ll kill you, or will turn out to have rabies from the Tuesday Dog Incident.

Pisces: I wouldn’t leave the house until after the full moon if I were you.

Aries: I’m pretty sure it was your dog. Everyone will blame whichever one of you it is and you’ll never be invited to parties again.

Taurus:  Late in the month, one of your more embarrassing secrets will be revealed thanks to a sequence of really bizarre coincidences.

The Eggless Norseman of Creepy Hollow

Regular readers of the ‘Vendetta’ will recall that some years ago we reported the discovery of an ancient burial site in the garden of Mr Jasper Fingle. At the time there was a certain amount of shock expressed in some quarters that the island had been host to settlers much earlier than previously suspected. For some of us, however, this came as no surprise at all. Jasper Fingle lives very near to the area of the island known as Creepy Hollow. It was given this name years ago, not long after the arrival of the Founding Families in the early nineteenth century – and with good reason.
The Legend of the Eggless Norseman of Creepy Hollow, sometimes called the Woeful Dane, has irrevocably intertwined itself with the history of one of our oldest families, the Chevins. Young Ophelia Chevin discovered that she had the dubious gift of ‘The Sight’ when she was only eight years old. Unsurprisingly her imaginary friends were more numerous and a good deal more useful than those of most children. While others enjoyed the insubstantial companionship of mute entities whose function was to be merely there to listen, or take the blame for various misdemeanours, Ophelia’s were kept fully occupied. They not only played games with her but helpfully did many of her chores and made sure that anyone who had been foolish enough to upset her were soon to regret their actions.
The most unusual of these companions was a large and generously bearded wraith who wandered abroad with a pronounced limp and a mad look in his glowing eyes. Although somewhat alarming to behold, he harmed no one but spent his haunting hours frantically searching for his stolen gull eggs. It seems that he had lived on the island centuries before and the details of his tragic demise were related to Ophelia by the ghost himself during his more lucid moments. It is a well-known fact, as any self-respecting psychic medium will tell you, that there are no language barriers in the afterlife. Even the English spirits can manage to communicate reasonably well with anyone, although generally they prefer to speak, and sometimes wail, extremely loudly and slowly in their own tongue, certain in the knowledge that they will be understood.
It was not until she reached adulthood that Ophelia recorded the ghostly account in her journal, now a treasured document still in the keeping of one of her many descendants. I am privileged to have been allowed to peruse this document and relate to you the strange tale of The Eggless Norseman of Creepy Hollow.
In those far off days the cliffs around the island were home to various colonies of sea birds. They would gather in their tens of thousands, squabbling, feeding, breeding – and most important of all, laying eggs. Like the inhabitants of St. Kilda in the Outer Hebrides, the early settlers became skilled in scaling the slippery cliff-faces, slick with algae and guano, to retrieve the precious eggs which had become, along with the occasional careless gull, the mainstay of their diet.
Old Lars Pedersen was lame and therefore had no skills as a rock climber or egg-thief. He was, however, an accomplished wood carver. He would barter his plates, bowls and spoons for furs, cloth and, more than anything else, gull eggs. The workmanship and art that went into these simple utensils was huge. His spoons, especially, were greatly prized. And rightly so, for the eggs for which he traded them had been hard won (and often hard boiled).
When, one morning, Lars  awoke to discover that his stock of spoons and all of his eggs had completely disappeared he felt as puzzled as he was distressed. His home was well furnished, he had a fine bronze torque, a beautiful copper mirror and many valuable pieces of jewellery that he had hoarded since his seafaring days. To steal only eggs and spoons and nothing else made no sense. Ever practical, Lars shrugged off the intrusion and set himself the task of replacing supplies of both. After a day or two of dedicated carving and oiling his bartering skills with copious amounts of mead he soon replenished his empty shelves with freckled eggs of various hues. Just a few nights later these too disappeared. Those versed in Old Norse profanities may well have recognised a few of the choice comments he made about the incident. Yet another theft was the proverbial straw that broke the pack-mule’s back. He decided there and then to stay awake and catch the thief in the act. For three long nights he lay beneath his furs feigning sleep but there was no sign of the burglar. On the fourth night, just as he began to think that the thefts had stopped for good, he heard an ominous scraping and shuffling noise. At first he could see no sign of movement in the darkened room. Despite this, the scraping and shuffling carried on, occasionally accompanied by some high-pitched, excited chattering. Still no one was visible in the gloom.
“I am bewitched” he thought to himself uneasily.
Suddenly a pale shaft of moonlight shone through the smoke-hole of the hut, directly illuminating the strangest creature Lars had ever beheld. He described it as somewhat resembling one of the fish-egg pouches often seen washed up by the tide; the type sometimes called ‘Mermaid’s Purse’. This creature was larger, though.
“About the length of your hand,” he told Ophelia.
Several sets of tendrils extended from its body. Strangest of all was the fact that the creature was actually entwining some of these tendrils around four spoons and using them as stilts. And by the intricate runic carvings along the handle they were his own spoons, no less! As his eyes became more accustomed to the moonlight Lars spotted other shapes in the dimly-lit space. There must have been eight or ten of them, each wearing spoon-stilts and carrying more eggs in their tentacular grasp. Lars could not help but let out a little cry of surprise. As one, every creature’s eyes suddenly turned towards his prone body, and now they glowed horribly with a fierce green luminescence. He couldn’t move. It was as if their baleful and malevolent gaze had frozen him to the spot. He watched in terror as the weird band thieves scurried stiffly out of his hut, gibbering and squeaking. The wooden eating utensils tapped the ground with an ominous rhythm as they conducted their own version of an egg and spoon race.
It wasn’t until the last creature had disappeared into the night that the use returned to the Dane’s body. Although his limbs were able to move once more he was rooted to the floor, unable to remove the image of those terrible green eyes from his rapidly disintegrating mind.
Soon, all reason had drained from him. In the confused jumble that now filled his head all that made any sense was the memory of those eyes. They burned into his soul and took on the hue and shape of gull eggs. Pale and speckled, sometimes they would be a delicate blue, sometimes brown but eventually, always reverting to those dreadful lurid, luminous green orbs. Eggs and eyes became indistinguishable, portals to a ghastly quagmire that sucked him down ever further into a dark morass of madness.
“ My eggs” he croaked,  trying to rise to his feet and failing miserably. His last actions were to reach out, clutching at thin air in a vain attempt to regain his lost eggs.
He was found at daylight lying cold and dead on the floor of his hut, a look of terror on his face and his eyes wide and staring at something that lurked beyond human vision.
For almost eight hundred long years his troubled phantom has haunted the place that has since become known as Creepy Hollow. He has witnessed the coming of the mysterious fog that seems to permanently surround the island. As the fog rolled in so the sea bird colonies deserted the rocks forever and with their passing the little Danish settlement disappeared, unable to sustain itself without their bounty.
Is it the body of Lars that Jasper Fingle discovered? We’ll probably never know. What we do know, however, is that those strange, misshapen thieves took a liking to spoons. They were a vast improvement on the twigs and bits of driftwood they had previously utilised. With these, they were able to climb and hunt much more efficiently.
Should you be on the island and in the vicinity of Creepy Hollow it would be fruitless to go looking for the Woeful Dane. These days he has become less substantial, and as his shade gradually fades so does his madness. If anyone should stumble on the wraith unexpectedly he would make a feeble attempt at the wild-eyed lunacy they might expect but it would be obvìous that his heart – if he had one – was just not in it. I have it on excellent authority that occasionally the ladies of the Mild Hunt have been seen to call by and whip him up a protoplasmic three-egg omelette but their spaniels invariably overdo the yapping and begging, and this, along with the pungent nether-winds of their famously flatulent mules, quite frankly, spoils the meal entirely for him. I don’t believe he’ll be seen at all before long. But don’t concern yourselves. There are more than enough ghosts and night-walkers on the island to furnish our nightmares forever.

 

Art by Tom Brown

Recently discovered residents of Hopeless, Maine!

New residents discovered!

Hopeless, Maine sits in a particularly cold and damp pocket of Casco bay and is hardly a tropical isle. Thanks to the efforts of two recently discovered residents though, it has just become much, much cooler.

Derek Dubery and Lisa Cunningham-Black have heroically donned Hopeless, Maine attire and done a series of photos for us. We (it hardly needs to be said) are over the mist-enshrouded moon.

So, without further ado, please allow me to introduce you to our new found islanders, they are “Captain” Jerrimiah Thomson Flynn and Bonnie Black. (It’s unknown whether the Captain title is genuine or not) If Bonnie and Clyde were to have been born off the coast of Maine, it likely would have been these two. The Captain has at some point in his “career” led a group of local brigands, but they have disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Not long after this, he was seen in the constant company of the young lady pictured. When asked their feelings regarding the underground residents of the island, they expressed a willingness to go “which ever way the wind blows”.

This reporter is not entirely certain they can be trusted, but they are certainly stimulating company.