Not for the faint-hearted part one.

Not for the faint-hearted

A tale in three parts by Keith Errington (AKA the KEITH OF MYSTERY)

Part one – a beginning and an end

Not much was known about Flora, she lived on the edges of what many in Hopeless just called ‘the town’ – but which was in essence little more than a sprawling, overgrown village. She kept herself to herself and had few visitors. A pale beauty, some suggested she must have suffered from a touch of tuberculosis in her youth – although others pointed out how unlikely this was, as tuberculosis was generally fatal – especially here on Hopeless.

Like many on the island, she was raised in the orphanage and when she came of age she went to work for Mrs Grangewurm – the laundrywoman, but she didn’t last as she started to suffer from syncope – she would faint at inopportune moments. At first, they lasted but a few seconds, and were a minor inconvenience, but over time they became more pronounced and poor Flora became embarrassed and unable to face either Mrs Grangewurm, her job or other people.

So she moved out to the seaward side of town, and somehow, she eked out a living doing washing and ironing for folks who couldn’t afford Mrs Grangewurm’s prices.

And that’s the scene set for our story.

— < ooo > —

Enter young Horace D’Arblay – a thoroughly disagreeable individual of the type usually found in Victorian penny novels tying ladies to railroad tracks for not paying their rent. Although he was brutish and gruff, he nevertheless paid attention to his appearance – his one and only redeeming feature. As if having a neat beard could really compensate for a life of nastiness, meanness and petty grudges. When his latest manservant ran away, he decided to do without and so he called on Mrs Grangewurm to have his collars starched and his trousers cleaned and pressed. There followed an extended argument over prices – which ended with Mrs Grangewurm almost pushing Horace out of her door (she was a tough one, that one), and this meant that Horace had to look elsewhere for sartorial satisfaction.

Asking around in his usual polite and diplomatic manner – that usually consisted of shouts punctuated by thumps – he eventually learnt about Flora and set off to visit her.

Horace arrived at Flora’s humble cottage early evening – the sun was thinking about leaving – but had yet to make up its mind. So there was still enough light to adequately illuminate Flora’s figure as she answered the door to several, unnecessarily loud and insistent knocks.

Even Horace – with his heart made of ironwood – was struck by her beauty. She had a perfectly proportioned face with large, limpid eyes, her skin was wonderfully smooth and almost translucent, and her small delicate hands moved gracefully as she opened the door to face the brute.

For the first time in his life, Horace was stuck for words but managed to mumble something about his trousers, and getting things stiff again. She beckoned him inside and he lay his collars and trousers on the table in the small front room.

Horace now regained his composure and spoke about the work he needed doing and the price he wanted to pay. Flora listened quietly to his demands and simply nodded. The light from the window caught her dress in such a way as to emphasise Flora’s figure, the smooth curves of her breasts lying underneath the thin cotton, and Horace felt a familiar rising of the blood. Horace had always got what he wanted – he never asked permission and never thought of others. Now, with his passion rising he wanted Flora.

He stepped towards her and grabbed her – she didn’t flinch, even though his intentions were plain enough – evident in his burning eyes. He leaned in to kiss her roughly and she fainted, going limp in his arms. Horace simply bared his teeth in an unsightly grin.

— < ooo > —

Are you imagining the hideous fate that is to befall Flora? Are you shocked, dismayed, truly horrified at the events that have come to pass in my story? But no, I am not that kind of writer. Let me continue…

— < ooo > —

Over the next few days, there were no sordid tales in the local paper, no funerals for fallen women, in fact, no stories related to Flora at all. Flora’s small band of loyal customers continued to get their needs met – no shirt went un-ironed, no clothes were left unclean. If anyone asked how Flora was (although they never did) they would have received the reply “same as ever”.

Over the next few months, tales of Flora’s beauty attracted a number of visitors whose motives were not entirely wardrobe-based. Some were young men who were too shy or too polite to actually do anything, but at least they came home smartly dressed with the most immaculate collars and clean, pressed clothes.

A second group were bolder and propositioned Flora – presenting flowers or other small tokens and asking her to walk with them, but Flora always refused in the most wonderfully polite and sensitive manner, and these considerate fellows left it at that – disappointed but satisfied that they had at least tried their luck.

Sadly, there was a third group – a few bold and brazen types who were cocky and self-sure, pushy and occasionally violent who didn’t understand the simple no and would go that one step too far, with no regard for the consequences.

— < ooo > —

In many societies, suicides would be remarked upon, they would be noticed amid much outrage and outpouring of emotions – why didn’t we do more? I wish I had just spoken to them. How could they be so inconsiderate? And the like. In civilised societies, suicides are rare – or at least rare enough to cause comment. Some sectors of society even consider them sinful and frown upon the practice perhaps hoping to stop practitioners repeating their offence. Not so in Hopeless, Maine where suicide is often seen as a valid option for escaping the island. In fact, one could truthfully say that death was pretty much the only option if you were bored with life on Hopeless, Maine. And deaths were surprisingly common as the many interesting obituaries attested to.

And so it was, that no-one really thought too much about it when Horace’s body was found washed up on the shore. He’d probably just walked into the ocean – a common occurrence amongst the lost of Hopeless, Maine; or perhaps he had jumped off of the nearby Corpulent Cliff – a site well-known for attracting those tired of what passes for life on Hopeless.

Our tale continues in Part two…

The Deal

“I used to be somebody, once.”
Geoffrey Stancombe stared miserably into the dregs of beer pooling in the bottom of his tankard.
Philomena Bucket patted his shoulder consolingly,
“You still are somebody, you daft thing. Sure, if you weren’t, I couldn’t be seeing you sat sitting there, now could I?”
“No, I mean really somebody. I used to have it all. Money, power, a girl on each arm. It’s all gone… all gone.”
The other drinkers in the bar of the Squid and Teapot said nothing. They had heard it all before. This had been a regular lament of Geoffrey’s ever since he had washed up on the island a few days earlier, boasting of his luxury yacht and expensive clothes. All his rescuers could see was a slightly built, wild-eyed man of middle-age, who had arrived bedraggled, half-dead and clinging to a rectangular piece of wood that had once been a door. In fairness, Geoffrey was not that unusual. Newcomers frequently made improbable claims, citing wealth and position but – even if these were true – such things cut no ice on Hopeless. Anyone who managed to survive more than a few weeks would be simply judged by their ability to fit in, and the ways in which they might contribute to the benefit of all. So far it looked as though Geoffrey was doomed to fail on both counts.

It was half a lifetime ago that he had met the stranger who had turned his destiny upon its head. He had been sitting in a dockside pub in Liverpool, drowning his sorrows in a smoke-filled bar, when she sidled up and offered to buy him a drink. Geoffrey was well aware that he was being set-up for some scam or other, but he was slightly drunk, down to his last few pounds and she was young and attractive; what was there to lose? Several more drinks were taken before she made her play. He could recall their conversation as if it was yesterday.
“I’ll give you twenty-four.”
“Oh, come on! I was hoping for at least forty.”
“Sorry, twenty-four or the deal’s off.”
“But why? I’ve heard that you’ve offered hundreds in the past.”
“That, as you rightly say, was in the past. I cannot afford to be so generous these days. Times have changed.”

Geoffrey remembers himself hesitating, until the stranger purred softly in his ear,
“Look… it is an excellent bargain. You’d be a fool to walk away from it.”
He felt himself weakening.
“And you would meet all of my demands?” he asked
“Oh yes. I am not out to swindle you.”
“And I get twenty-four years.”
“Twenty-four years and not a minute less,” she smiled. “It’s a small price to pay.”

When you, yourself, are only twenty-four years old and are offered the same span again, pain-free, trouble-free, debt-free and guilt-free, it feels like a no-brainer. You are standing in the very centre of a story, your own story. Your life, so far, feels long and endless. Much of it is a blur, or something viewed through the wrong end of a telescope. Time has been slow and kind, a sluggish stream that never reached birthdays, Christmas and school holidays quite soon enough. So you reason that future time will equally languid. Forty years would have been good but, hell, in forty years you would be really, really ancient and probably in no fit state to enjoy the extra time afforded to you anyway. No, twenty-four years of luxury would be good enough.

“What a fool I was,” Geoffrey thought bitterly, not realising that he had said the words out loud.
“And why a fool?” asked Philomena, sitting down opposite him.
Geoffrey said nothing for a moment. The easy way in which Philomena’s voice had sidled into his head, shattering his reverie, reminded him of the young woman in the pub in Liverpool. But there the resemblance ended.
“Can you come and walk with me a while?” he asked her, almost shyly. “It’s nothing that I want to speak of in here.”
“Give me a moment,” said Philomena, “I’ve a couple of things to finish off, than I’ll be with you.”

They walked in silence for a while, making their way in the direction of Chapel Rock.
Philomena slipped her arm into the crook of his. It felt the right thing to do.
Geoffrey told her about the conversation in the pub and the bargain that he had struck. He told her how his life had changed, almost immediately. Everything he wanted was suddenly available. Nothing was beyond his grasp. For years this hedonistic lifestyle seemed wonderful then one day, not so long ago, he woke up and realised that his existence was a totally empty sham. He had no friends or lovers, just a great many people who were attracted only to his wealth and power. Everything had gone sour and all that was left were his possessions, each one no more than a lifeless trinket, a symbol of his squandered years. To make matters worse, time itself had somehow forgotten how to dawdle. He had failed to notice how the lazy stream of his remembered youth had become a raging torrent that cruelly and casually swept away twenty-three years and eleven months in the blinking of an eye. The bargain he had made granted him twenty-four years and not a minute less. Now all that was left was one month and not a minute more. He was terrified.
Geoffrey fell silent. Minutes that felt like hours slipped by. Unable to bear it any longer, Philomena asked,
“So what did you do?”
“I ran away. Leastways, I sailed away. I had a yacht and a crew of three to sail her. But there was a storm. That’s all I remember until I found myself on this island. I suppose the crew must all be dead by now.”
“But you escaped… whatever it was you were running from.”
“Do you think so?” he said, brightening up.
“I guess it depends on how long you were at sea,” Philomena said, then added, “I’ve got to get back to The Squid now. I’ll catch up with you later. I’m sure everything will be fine.”

When Philomena arrived back at The Squid and Teapot she found Bartholomew Middlestreet sitting at a table, in the now empty bar, playing solitaire.
“What was that all about with Geoffrey?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” said Philomena pensively. “What he told me was difficult to believe, yet there was something…”
“Well, those things he said in here about being rich and powerful, not a word of it is true.” Bartholomew interrupted. “But I’m not calling him a liar – I think he’s genuinely deluded.”
“Well, that’s a relief, anyway” said Philomena, thinking of the story Geoffrey had told her. “But how can you be so sure?”
“When we found him I could have sworn he was dead,” sad Bartholomew. “There was no pulse that I could feel, then suddenly he sits bolt upright, throws up a great stream of water and asks where he is. They say that drinking sea-water drives people mad and I guess that’s what happened to Geoffrey. Besides, the girl who turned up the following day says that they were part of the crew of the yacht that floundered on the rocks off Scilly Point. They were the only survivors.”
“At least the bit about the yacht was true, even if it didn’t belong to him,” said Philomena. “I didn’t know about the girl, though. Where is she now?”
“I haven’t seen her since then,” said Philomena replied Bartholomew. “Odd that. Most newcomers stay here in the Squid.”

Geoffrey didn’t return to the Squid that evening, or ever again. He seemed to have vanished completely. The general feeling was that, in the state of mind that he was in, anything could have happened. Philomnena was sad but not surprised. Such things occurred on Hopeless with monotonous regularity and all thoughts of Geoffrey and his talk of a mysterious deal eventually faded from her mind.

It was a some months later, while rummaging in the attics of The Squid, looking for something to read, that Philomena found the following passage in a slim book of short stories. For reasons she could not fathom, it made her blood run cold:

A rich man, living in Baghdad, sent his servant to market, as he did most weeks. When the servant came back, his face was pale and his hands trembled. His kindly master could not help but be concerned and asked the cause of his distress.
“When I was in the marketplace,” the servant replied with a shaking voice, “I spotted a woman in the crowd. I recognised her at once – she was Death. She looked at me with surprise and it seemed as though she was threatening me. My heart missed a beat. I was certain that it was I whom she sought. Oh, beloved master, I must flee from this city if I am to avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra where Death will not find me.”
“Take my fastest horse,” said the rich man “and ride like the wind.”
The next day the rich man went down to the marketplace himself, and who should he see but Death, mingling in the crowd.
“Why were you so surprised to see my servant when you saw him yesterday? He seemed to think that you were threatening him” said the rich man to Death.
“It is true, I was surprised, but there was no threat intended,” agreed Death. “You see, I did not expect to see him in Baghdad yesterday, for I had an appointment with him last night in Samarra.”

Brief reviews of wonderfulness #1

Lovely reviews for Hopeless things…

The Passing Place

I have been known on occasion to promise to write a review for fellow authors. I have some fair firm rules on these promises, in that I don’t write a review unless I genuinely like what I’m reviewing. If I don’t like a book I won’t write a review, because there is enough negativity in the world and frankly just because I don’t enjoy something doesn’t mean someone else will not love it.

There is however another reason why I occasionally fail to write a review, sometimes while I intend to do so I get swamped with other stuff and the review falls off my list of things to do. (reviews are not alone in this, I forgot to cancel my sons mobile phone contract for over a year, because it kept dropping off my radar) What I mean by this is I am exactly as organised as the average…

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The Hoarse Whisperer

Mr. Stratford Park felt that something indefinable was missing from his life. Regular readers will recall that his Burns Night celebration went somewhat less than well for him, the islanders having renamed the occasion ‘First Degree Burns Night’, in commemoration of his slightly scorched buttocks. Deciding to put the event firmly – and appropriately – behind him, Stratford decided to look for a new project. If nothing else, the Burns Night disaster had confirmed for him that he enjoyed being the centre of attention; this had given him a certain hunger for being in the spotlight, or, at least, would have done, had spotlights been readily available on Hopeless.

For some weeks he agonised over what he should do next. Whatever his destiny, he knew that he would need to stand out in some way, in order to claim his rightful place as a leading light in the daily life of the island.
It was while perusing this very organ, ‘The Hopeless Vendetta’, that inspiration struck. Not everyone kept up with the news in the Vendetta. Indeed, the art of reading has passed several islanders by. What Hopeless needed was a purveyor of the latest headlines, someone to patrol the island proclaiming births, deaths, marriages and the usual catalogue of messy woes that filled up the spaces in between. Folk would be curious to learn whatever wisdom Mrs Beaten was choosing to impart; they needed to know their horrorscope, as provided by Idris Po; new arrivals on the island would have to be apprised of the best ways of staying alive for as long as possible. There was plenty of information to be passed on.

“Yes!” Stratford mused to himself, “this is the answer. Hopeless needs a Town Crier – an Island Crier. Someone who will bravely venture out and perform a vital service for the public, not unlike the Night Soil Man, only without the smell, the bucket and the unsociable hours.”

The first thing Stratford needed to do was procure a suitable costume for the job – and he knew exactly where to go. As mentioned several times in these tales, the attics of The Squid and Teapot contain many salvaged, but so far unwanted, items. People, along with an interesting variety of flotsam and jetsam, had been coming to Hopeless for many years. On an island where resources are often limited, nothing is wasted. In view of this, it proved relatively easy for Stratford, with the help of the landlord, Bartholomew Middlestreet, to unearth a tricorn hat, a pair of breeches and a handbell, the standard uniform of Town Criers the world over. Sadly, although his costume was vaguely correct, the chances of anyone marking Stratford out as being Someone Special were slim. In an environment where ‘make do and mend’ was more than a necessity, such an outfit was not particularly unusual or outlandish. The sight of an islander wearing a cloth cap, an Edwardian frock coat, plus-fours and hobnail boots would not raise an eyebrow. Similarly, when Miss Marjorie Toadsmoor, late of Oxford University, suddenly appeared in the regalia of a Victorian lady, the event passed without remark. And so, it came to pass that the self-appointed Town Crier made his way through the streets completely unnoticed. As far as the rest of the populace was concerned he was just another deranged soul wandering around aimlessly, ringing a bell and shouting.

After his first fruitless day’s work, Stratford retired to his cottage feeling downcast. Following a certain amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth it occurred to him that this was getting him nowhere and giving up was not an option. He had to project more, to be heard above the crowd. He needed to practice shouting. With this in mind he took himself to the lonely and mysterious Gydynap Hills to perfect his art.

For several hours every day Stratford would loudly declaim his “Oyez, oyez” to the hills, hoping that his usual baritone would somehow evolve into a Stentorian blast that would make people stop and take notice. Unfortunately the reverse happened.

Opera singers are not well represented on Hopeless, but had Stratford had the good fortune to have run into one and asked their advice, he would have been told that a powerful voice should emanate from the diaphragm and not the throat. In fact, Doc Willoughby would have told him exactly the same thing and, as far as I’m aware, Willoughby is even worse at singing than he is at being a doctor.  

Stratford sat in the snug of The Squid and Teapot nursing a pint of ‘Old Colonel’ and looking as dejected as a dog that’s been locked out in the rain.

“Whatever is the matter with you?” asked Philomena Bucket, breezing through with a tray of Starry-Grabby pies.

“No voice” Stratford croaked, barely audible and pointing to his throat.

“Ah, me and Drury heard you shouting when we were up on the Gydynaps the other day,” said Philomena, putting the tray down. “That’s what caused it. So what was all that about?”

Stratford made some unintelligible sounds, to which Philomena nodded wisely, pretending to understand.

“What you need is some honey,” she advised. “That’s what me old granny used to give us if ever we had a sore throat. I don’t know where you’ll get any from, but that’s what you’ll be wanting, to be sure.”
Stratford sipped his ale moodily, making no effort to reply.

It was a day or two later, when out walking, that Stratford’s attention was caught by a faint buzzing noise. Remembering what Philomena had said, he became suddenly excited. His throat was still raw and his voice no more than a whisper. He desperately wanted a remedy and this could be the answer. Where there was buzzing there were bound to be bees, and where there were bees there was honey. All he had to do was to follow the bee and his problems would be over.

It didn’t take long for Stratford to spot his quarry. The insect was dancing along, a foot or so above the ground, buzzing happily through the morning mist. Stealthily Stratford followed behind, confident that the tiny creature would lead him to an industrious nest, overflowing with honey (the fact that he had no idea how he was going to extract the precious comestible was, as yet, a thought that had not yet crossed the lonely expanse that was Stratford’s mind).

He was passing by the Old Mill, not far from Geezo’s Bight, when his attention was caught by a pale, emaciated face gazing from one of its grimy windows. The owner of the face seemed to be mouthing some words and tapping on the glass with skeletal fingers. Stratford stopped, trying to work out what the old man was saying but, try as he might, it was no use. He shrugged his shoulders and made to resume the chase, then realised that the elusive bee was nowhere to be seen. If only he had not stopped he would probably be in receipt of a quantity of throat-soothing honey by now. Hoarsely, he cursed the old man, who had already left his post by the window.

Angry and disappointed, Stratford barely felt the sharp prickle as the Succubus Wasp settled on the base of his skull and began to feed. All that he knew was that someone seemed to be whispering in his head, quietly persuading him that there was no point in carrying on the chase. He should go home, relax and allow his voice to return in its own time. As he made his way back to his cottage, Stratford began to feel dreadfully listless, deciding that nothing really mattered any more.

A week passed by before the regular patrons of The Squid and Teapot decided that there must be something amiss with their friend and drinking companion, Stratford Park. He had been acting strangely ever since the Burns Night episode, shouting and ringing bells all over the place but for him to miss poker night was unheard of.

When they found him in his cottage he was sitting in an armchair, staring into space and making strange buzzing noises. After much discussion, Doc Willoughby was called. A degree of harrumphing and chin-stroking followed, until the Doc solemnly  opined that the patient was suffering from no more than a mild virus, undoubtedly brought on by too much shouting. It was nothing that a few days rest would not cure.

As far as I am aware, Stratford is still there, sitting in his front parlour, becoming more and more emaciated and making no sound, other than occasionally emitting a faint and somewhat irritating buzz. Well-wishers bring him food but he shows little interest. The Succubus wasp has almost finished with Stratford. She has taken almost as much of him as he can give. The Succubus Wasp is nothing, if not patient. It is just a matter of time now before someone gets a little bit closer to her host than is safe.

Should you wish to know more about the strange, beautiful and deadly Succubus Wasp, you could do worse that look up an excellent article, published in the Vendetta some time ago, entitled ‘Save the Succubus Wasp’.

Diswelcome part 11 – UNDIGESTED FRAGMENTS

….days flow into one another, some long, some short. It took me a while to get used to the different way time functions here, but I feel I’m now acclimatised. Never before did I properly realise what a harsh taskmaster time is when regimented into seconds, minutes, hours…it’s truly liberating to just flow with the vagaries of a day that meanders aimlessly, rather than forever chasing it through imposed systematic limitations…

§ § § § §

…of food there is much to write, it has become a daily obsession. I suggested searching the sea for anything resembling lobsters, but both Salamandra and Owen strictly forbade me to go anywhere near the water, stating clearly that it would be better that way if I was planning on retaining my limbs…

§ § § § §

…the music box and its remarkable effect have lent Salamandra much optimism, to judge by her cheerful mood. She has questioned me endlessly about the Wyrde Woods, in between which I have managed to pose her a few more readers’ questions. That said, I haven’t seen much of her today, for she has retired to study some old books, with the music box in her hands, determined to discover how best to put it to use…

§ § § § §

…another encounter with tug-weed, intentionally this time. Owen took me tug-weed hunting. It involved poking at one of the plants with a long stick, waiting for sufficient quantities of its serpentine fronds to wrap themselves firmly around the stick, then wading into the water and chopping at the base of the fronds keeping feet moving at all times. We returned to the lighthouse with our two long sticks, bundles of still twitching tug-weed attached to their ends. The taste is nothing to write home about…its consistency is that of overcooked chicory, at which I needed to chew endlessly to reduce it to something vaguely digestible…

§ § § § §

…where we met some town folk, though I daresay reception was frosty. They had seen, of course, the column of bright sunlight around the lighthouse for the hour that it lasted, and there was much muttering of witchcraft. The only one who was nice was a lad called Donald, and his delightful little undead dog Drury. I petted it, and Lamashtu smelled that when we got back to the lighthouse. She told me I was a traitor and despicable canine-lover, after which she sulked at me disapprovingly for the rest of the evening. Salamandra said the cat would get over it, but better to close and lock my bedroom door that night…

§ § § § §

…a momentary lapse of memory. I put it down, just for a few seconds, before I remembered and tried to snatch it back. It was gone already. Salamandra announced that I would be spoonless for the remainder of my stay. It appears to be a thing of some shame, in the Hopeless community…

§ § § § §

…I was unfortunate enough to stray amongst some tombstones…I would describe the undead, but the merest thought of them gives me violent shivers…the eyes…oh the eyes…

§ § § § §

…Rather relieved that the Browns haven’t shown up…it would be hard to explain and I expect they shan’t be pleased…

§ § § § §

…like a dream. It’s hard to explain. I already told you time flows differently here, sometimes even backwards…but there is more to it. Rather than experiencing my stay in a continuous fashion, I appear to be drifting in and out, missing bits in between, including actions I was apparently involved in. It’s a quicksand of context, and sometimes I struggle to keep up. Things happen, at random, for no reason, without logic. I think Salamandra’s strength, and up to an extent Owen’s too, is that while most of the rest just let it happen to us, and try to cope, they are far more lucid, in control a lot of the time, though it costs them a great deal of energy. In contemplating this, I am much minded of a poet, one of these new-fangled ones, a chap called Poe.


You are not wrong, who deem

That my days have been a dream;

Yet if hope has flown away

In a night, or in a day,

In a vision, or in none,

Is it therefore the less gone?

All that we see or seem

Is but a dream within a dream.

It’s truly like that. I’m not sure if I am real anymore. Perhaps of more consequence to you, I’m not sure you are real anymore. Yes you, the one reading these words right now. Are you real? Do you know? For certain? I find it hard to tell. I may seem fictional to you, but how less fictional are you? Perhaps somebody is reading about you reading my words – a dream within a dream indeed…

§ § § § §

…Food, oh glorious food! I’m reduced to tears recalling Gammer’s home cooked meals…

§ § § § §

…time to say my goodbyes to Salamandra, Owen, and Lamashtu. It is with some sadness that I depart the lighthouse, but I’m looking forward to returning to Mewton…where I intend to devour all the bug chowdah on offer…

§ § § § §

…struck by sheer horror at the edge of the tidal plain. A thick fog obscured it. I could barely see more than a few feet in front of me. I heard the skipper of the skyskiff calling…

“Mistah Twynah! Mistah Twynah!”

“I’m here!” I shouted back. “I’M HERE, WAIT FOR ME!”

Despite suspecting just how dangerous it was to do so blindly, I floundered into the mud, trying to make my way towards the sound of the skipper’s voice.

In this I was defeated by Hopeless fauna a bird of sorts, its coat a hybrid of red and dirty orange, it’s many eyes seemingly blind, and its blue beak capable of producing human sounds…parroting human voices.

To judge by their imitations, there was a whole flock of them over the tidal plain. They seemed to be everywhere around me, their calls coming from left, right, front, and back.

“Mistah Twynah! Mistah Twynah!”

“I’m here,” I sobbed softly.

“I’M HERE! I’M HERE!” The call was picked up by the whole flock.

“I’M HERE! MISTAH TWYNAH! I’M HERE! MISTAH TWYNAH!”

Sussex folk are notorious for being stubborn, so I did not give up. I do not recollect how long I stumbled through the mud, blinded by the fog, driven near to madness by hearing the skipper’s voice, and my own, all around me. Suffice to say, that when the fog lifted at long last…there was no sign of the skyskiff.  

§ § § § §

…realisation that any notion of departing from the island was hopeless…it was hopeless…it was Hopeless.

§ § § § §

THE END

The Hopeless Maine family strikes again

There are many truly lovely people who have, one way or another, thrown themselves into the tentacled embrace of Hopeless, Maine.

It would be fair to say that we’ve had a tough few months. As many of you know, Tom had a stroke back in December – he’s recovered well but it was scary at the time. Nimue has been ill a lot – nothing so dramatic, but ongoing adventures in pain and weariness. And so it was that some of the wider Hopeless Maine family gathered together and did a lovely thing to cheer us up.

This was apparently the brainchild of Nils Visser – who you will have seen a lot of here on the blog with his glorious Diswelcome series. He pulled a fabulous team together to make this happen. He’s a fine chap, and responsible for inventing Snugglepunk. Or possibly Smugglepunk.

There’s Professor Elemental doing the music, aided and abetted by Tom Carunana. We love the Prof, and the video features some of the art Tom’s done for him over the years.

Bob Fry is a longstanding supporter and spoon fancier, also an essential part of Nimue’s Wherefore project.

Herr Doktor once went so far as to make a spoonwalker. He’s also widely believed to be a deity of the steampunk pantheon.

John Bassett can be held responsible for Steampunk Stroud, and is also part of the Hopeless Maine film team, wearing many different hats for that one. All in one stack, obviously.

Cair Going is a gorgeous person and we were there when she was crowned as Queen.

Bill Jones can teach you how to grow Victorians in your garden. You may have seen his work in Private Eye.

Lou Pulford has written for this blog and performed with us in public places and has the best tentacles.

Susie Roberts sings with A Cup Full of Tentacles – the performance side of Hopeless – when we’re allowed to go out and do unspeakable things in public places.

Deep gratitude to you all, for being in our lives, for being so relentlessly lovely, and for making us cry over this video. You are all splendid and we wish we could hug you all.

Diswelcome part 10 – A GIFT FROM THE WYRDE WOODS

I retrieved a small rectangular package from my satchel. It was neatly wrapped in brown paper, tied with a string, from which dangled a label with spidery hand-writing on it.

Not wanting to draw the attention of grabby skurries, I didn’t set the package down on the table, holding it out in my hand instead.

“What is it?” Owen asked.

“I don’t know,” I said truthfully. “It was given to me by someone in the Wyrde Woods, back in Sussex. A Wise Woman. She told me to give it to Salamandra.”

“What is the Wyrde Woods,” Salamandra asked.

“A place in England, but not quite in England,” I answered. “Like an island within an island.”

She smiled. “I like it already.” Taking the package from me, she studied the label.

I knew what the label said, having read it a few times during my journey.

To Salamandra of the Lighthouse

Dearest Sister-In-Craft,

Play, to drive worries away.

Yours, Sally Whitfield of the Owlery

P.S. Lasts Exactly One Hour! Use WISELY.

P.S.S. Self-ReCharging BUT at own

pace – it’s Sussex Stubborn (days –weeks).

I hoped Salamandra would be able to make more sense of it than I could. I watched curiously as she began unwrapping the package. I suspected some sort of legendary demon-vanquishing weapon would be of most use to Salamandra, but the package was small and light, hardly the sort of thing likely to contain a mighty smiting thing.

Salamandra uncovered a small, cardboard box. Opening the lid, she lifted out a small mechanical device with a tiny crank.

I stared at it, slowly shaking my head in disbelief. It was a small music box, just a child’s toy. It seemed a bit of a poor joke to send Salamandra a toy. I felt somewhat cheated, even though logic had already told me that the package was unlikely to conceal a flaming sword, or some such fiercesome weaponry.

Salamandra gave the tiny crank an experimental turn, delight on her face when she heard the first hesitant notes thus produced. She continued to turn the handle, and suddenly, seemingly totally out of place in the fortress-under-siege atmosphere of the lighthouse, the notes of Greensleeves rang out, vulnerable but compelling, the tinny sounds lent amplification by acoustics of the lighthouse.

The notes were contagious, and I could not help but sing along.

Alas, my love, you do me wrong

To cast me off discourteously

For I have loved you well and long

Delighting in your company

Greensleeves was all my joy

Greensleeves was my delight

Greensleeves was my heart of gold

And who but my lady Greensleeves?

I felt foolish when I finished singing and the echoes of the toy’s last notes died down. I looked at the contraption in Salamandra’s hand intently, waiting for something to happen…something spectacular. Magic, fireworks…anything at all to demonstrate that bringing the toy to Hopeless had a tiny bit of meaning.  

Nothing happened.

“Nothing’s happened,” I pointed out, needlessly.

Salamandra shook her head in disagreement, a lovely smile on her face. “It’s filled my ears with beauty, and made me feel all the better for it. What do you say, Owen?”

I looked at Owen, concerned to see his face was thunderstruck, wide-eyed, his mouth opening and closing, but apparently incapable of coherent speech.

“Owen?” Salamandra asked.

Owen tried to speak, gave up, pointing instead at that which he was gazing at.

I followed his stare to one of the lighthouse windows, to see the colour of daylight spill in with glorious abundance.

We jumped up and rushed outside, to find ourselves bathed in glorious sunshine pouring down from a heavenly blue sky. It was just a patch, stretching about half a mile in each direction around the lighthouse, beyond which the murky gloom of Hopeless seemed more sullen than ever, but within that circle…oh my!

All sorts of things long dormant were emerging from the ground. Lush green grass was sprouting before our very eyes, and diverse flowers, representing all colours of the rainbow and some unknown unfolded to bloom in luxurious resplendence. Out at sea, aquatic beings large and small broke the surface to experience the wonder. On land too, critters, creepers, crawlers, floaters, and fliers were drawn to the circle, although at the circumferences I saw various native fauna and other…things…scurrying for the safety of shadowy fissures, or the Hopeless murk beyond our small kingdom of unexpected sunshine.

Scores of fluffbuns emerged, sniffing cautiously at the air first, with disbelief in their single eye, before rejoicing and frolicking about playfully.


Salamandra strode into a patch of green, spinning around, laughing, her arms outstretched to the sky.

“Daylight is a colour!” She shouted at me joyfully.

I nodded my head. I had never thought of it as such, but from the perspective of Hopeless, it was indeed a colour: A warm, radiant, cheerful, and homely colour.

Caught up in Salamandra’s joy, a dozen fluffbuns bounded over to her, running around her in playful circles, yipping excitedly. She lowered her arms, stretched out her hands, and a few of the fluffbuns leapt into them to nuzzle her fingers, or raise their heads for a chin-scratch.

The idyllic moment was spoiled somewhat, when Salamandra, with snakelike speed , closed her hands around several of the creatures, snapping their necks in quick succession, and then holding up the corpses. The surviving fluffbuns around her made off in a hurry, squeaking anxious alarm.

“SUPPER!” Salamandra enthused. “It’s a day of culinary delights!”

“I do love to see her happy,” Owen spoke at my side.

“Speaking of which,” I said. “A lot of readers would like to know when you two…”

“Tell them to mind their own business.” Owen smiled enigmatically. “I do not know this Wyrde Woods, but that Wise Woman has chosen her gift well.”

“It’s really just a toy,” I reflected. “The sun is nice, but…”

“NICE?” Owen shook his head. “I don’t think you even begin to comprehend the value of this…how it empowers. Don’t you worry, when Sal is finished revelling in it, she’ll find a way to put it to good use.”

“Well, then I’ll be sure to visit the Wyrde Woods again, and thank Sally Whitfield.”

Owen gave me a funny look. “Yes, you do that. If you ever make it back there again.”

Crustacean improvisation

leaving the scene of the crime.

The hermit crabs have not been told

Of how one end a reed should hold

They do not know to cut and dry

And knowing nothing, do not try.

The flute is narrow, it is so

And down it one large crab might blow

While keenly others play their roles

And scuttle forth to block the holes.

They long for music on the beach

A washed up band lies in their reach

Pray do not tell them as they roam

About the shipwrecked whole trombone.

Diswelcome part 9 – Post Luncheon Interview

I looked at the first question on my list, and experienced a moment of panic. Back home, the questions had seemed perfectly reasonable, but after all the risks I had taken to reach this moment, they seemed trivial, shallow, and mundane. I dearly hoped that Salamandra wouldn’t find them boring.

“Ahum, erm,” I began. “Salamandra. What is your favourite colour?”

Owen laughed. “Seriously? You’ve doomed yourself to Hopeless to ask Sal what her favourite colour is?”

I shrugged apologetically. “They’re readers’ questions, not mine.”

“I like the question.” Salamandra smiled. “My favourite colour is daylight.”

“That’s not a colour,” I objected.

She blazed with sudden fury, her hair rising in an angry cloud. “Now listen, Scribbler. I don’t know how often you’ve seen daylight, but I’ve seen it about four whole times. That makes me quite the expert, and as such, I assure you that daylight is a colour.”

I nodded quickly, reminding myself that my job required me to be an objective observer. “Daylight it is.”

“It better be,” Salamandra declared with satisfaction. “Next.”

“Do you have a favourite book?”

Owen drew a sharp breath.

Salamandra’s face darkened. “I do, and the less that is said about it the better. Next.”

“Alright,” I said, scanning the list, seeking something less likely to cause offence. “This one is from Mrs Albert Baker’s Soup Kitchen in Lancaster, for street urchins and whatnot.”

“Does street urchin soup taste nice?” Salamandra asked. “It sounds prickly and spiky.”

“No, no, Mrs Baker feeds the urchins soup, so she’s always on the look-out for new recipes. She wants to know what your favourite soup is. To feed the urchins.”

“Ah, I see, to fatten them up a bit before serving them. That makes sense. Before your arrival, I would have said Owen’s kyte kidney soup. But I’ve changed my mind on that one, it’s bug chowdah now. Wouldn’t mind trying urchin soup though, for comparison.”

“That’s good,” I said, scribbling away. “As the ingredients for chowder will probably be easier to find in Lancaster than bits of kyte. The urchins are big fans of yours, by the way…”

Owen frowned. “There’s something I don’t understand.”

“Hush,” Salamandra said. “I’m being interviewed, don’t you know.”

“It’s about the interview.” Owen looked pensive. “Ned, you say you know me, know Salamandra. And more people do, because you were sent to ask their questions. How does that work, precisely?”

I was put off by his question, not expecting it because I assumed they knew. “Well, people buy the books…”

“Books?” Salamandra asked. “What books?”

“There’s books about us?” Owen asked.

“Well, yes. The Illustrated Adventures of Salamandra in Hopeless, Maine. Surely you…”

My voice trailed away as Salamandra and Owen exchanged a dark look.

“Must be that Brown fellow,” Owen mused. “And his missus.”

I knew the name of course, for who hasn’t heard of Tom and Nimue Brown? However, it seemed that there was potential turbulence ahead on our current course, so I deemed it wiser to know as little as possible.

“Who?” I asked innocently.

“Two outlanders,” Salamandra answered.

“Regular visitors to Hopeless,” Owen added. “The Aunties only know how they get in and out. They seem quite harmless; just wander about with sketchbooks, notebooks, pens and pencils.”

“Which is why I haven’t changed them into floating newts or spoon walkers,” Salamandra said darkly. “…Yet.”

It occurred to me that I might have got the Browns into a spot of bother.

“Truth be told,” I confessed, determined to take some responsibility. “When I write out your answers to these questions, it will be published in a newspaper, which people will hopefully buy to read more about you…”

“You’ve paid us,” Owen said. “That was the best meal I’ve ever had on Hopeless.”

“Bug chowdah,” Salamandra said dreamily. Then she furrowed her brow. “That Brown fellow better get us something nice to eat, or else…”

“There’s something else I brought for you,” I interrupted her, eager to change the subject. “A gift.”

Lapsus Linguae

Reverend William Spooner, Dean of New College Oxford, was an old and trusted friend of the well-to-do Toadsmoor family. When, one bright morning, he suggested that their youngest daughter, Marjorie, should take the Oxford University entrance examination, the household was gripped by a level of excitement which may have been considered unseemly in some Victorian circles, where a muted “Good show” might be all that was permitted. But excited they were, for this was an historical moment; in this year of 1885, the august university had at last deigned give women the opportunity to study within its hallowed halls of learning.
The family’s proudest moment was shattered and turned to grief just a few weeks later, however, when their brilliant daughter disappeared, never to be seen by them again.

Marjorie Toadsmoor is one of Hopeless, Maine’s newer residents. I have no idea how or why she arrived there, and come to that, neither has she. Like Garfield Lawnside, the city slicker who had designs to buy the island (see the tale ‘The Persian Runner’), she wandered down the wrong street one day and ended up on Hopeless. Finding herself standing in the shadow of a lighthouse and looking out over a wild and foggy sea, struck her as being somewhat bizarre as, just minutes before, she had been walking through Oxford. As you may appreciate, the town of Oxford is very far from being coastal.

It is fortunate that those on Hopeless are not slaves to fashion, or even vaguely aware that such a thing exists. Indeed, Hopeless seems sometimes to hover within its own time, sheltered from all aspects of modernity. I may be wrong (and I frequently am) but if she had been transported from any era, past or future, it would not have mattered to anyone, particularly. I mention this only because Marjorie appeared upon the shores of the island as the very essence of the modern Victorian lady-about-town. As it was, resplendent in bonnet, hooped skirt and carrying a parasol,, she looked no more out of place than anyone else on the island – and with each step she took, all but the most fleeting memories of her past life gradually melted away, like snow upon the water.

Marjorie’s first experience of the strangeness of Hopeless happened within an hour of her arrival. Wandering inadvertently into a narrow alley, she found herself looking at a diminutive, fish like creature, with glowing eyes and tendril – like appendages, foraging among the rubbish. It appeared to propel itself along by employing a pair of silver dessert spoons as stilts. Not being particularly fond of most varieties of fauna at the best of times, Marjorie let out a scream of terror. The creature spun around upon its spoons and glared menacingly at the young woman. It has been reported on several occasions that the stare of a spoonwalker – for spoonwalker it was – can induce madness. Whether this was the case, I do not know but the situation was not helped when, in a bid to escape, it shot beneath her skirt and out of the other side before she could draw breath to scream again.

“Are you alright, miss?” It was Philomena Bucket who found her, crouched upon the floor and shaking like an aspen.
Marjorie looked up and was surprised to see a strangely beautiful woman with white hair and a pale, kind face. An albino! Something rang a distant bell in her mind; she had known an albino, a kindly man who was always getting his words mixed up, but that seemed long ago and far away.
“What was that creature… the one walking on spoons?” she asked.
“Ah, that would be a spoonwalker. Nasty little devils they are, to be sure,” replied Philomena.
“I have been attacked by a spoonwalker… and I am all alone in this strange place. Whatever will become of me?” Marjorie said, miserably, mainly to herself.
Her mind went back to the albino man whom she had known. His affliction had something to do with spoons; she couldn’t recall exactly what it was. Maybe he had been attacked by a spoonwalker, too. That was why he mixed up his words. Yes – he must have fallen foul of a spoonwalker, as she had. That would explain it.
“I fear I have become infected,” she told Philomena. “I can feel the virus coursing through me now, even as we speak. Oh, dear me.What shall I do?”
Philomena had never heard of such a thing before but decided that, if the young woman really believed herself to be ill, she needed to see Doc Willoughby.

The surgery was closed. The sign outside read:
‘Go away. Out on house calls. Back later.’
Philomena correctly surmised that this meant that the Doc was sleeping off a hangover and would not be in business for some hours.
“You’d better come back to the Squid and Teapot with me,” she said. “At least you’ll have somewhere to stay.”
“The Tid and Squeepot? What a strange name for an inn… Oh my gosh… it’s beginning already!”
“What is?” asked Philomena, bemused.
“My speech,” wailed Marjorie. “My meech has become spuddled!”
“Come on,” said Philomena, “let’s get you settled safely in The Squid.”

Once in The Squid and Teapot, Philomena found Marjorie a comfortable room and made her a cup of camomile tea, to soothe her nerves.
“Thank you so much,” said Marjorie, gratefully sipping the tea. “But won’t your employer be angry? I worry that he will be on you like a bun of tricks when he finds out. It would be a blushing crow for you, I’m sure, if he had you chewing a lot of doors as punishment.”
“Not at all,” replied Philomena, quickly catching on to her new friend’s strange way of speaking.
“It was not so long ago that I was a stranger here, too. You can always be sure that there will be a welcome in The Squid and Teapot for newcomers to the island.”
“An island! Gosh, I’ve always had a half-warmed fish to see more of the world,” said Marjorie, suddenly enthusiastic. “Might we go now, and maybe wake our may to the doctor’s surgery later? I’m as mean as custard to have a look around.”

The pair left the inn and had barely walked a dozen yards before Drury, the skeletal hound, spotted Philomena and came bounding up, his bony tail wagging madly.
“Aaargh… oh my goodness! What is that bowel feast?” wailed Marjorie.
“It’s only Drury. You’ll soon get used to him.”
“But he is nothing but bone. Has he no mister or mattress?”
“No. Drury is a free spirit, in every sense of the word,” laughed Philomena.

After they had walked a while, and Philomena had pointed out the orphanage and the brewery, she said, somewhat hesitantly, to Marjorie.
“This speech problem you have… it doesn’t happen all the time?”
“Indeed no.” replied her companion. “I don’t know why but it seems to come in stits and farts.”
Philomena was still stifling a smile when they saw Reverend Davies coming towards them.
“Good afternoon reverend,” said Philomena, with little enthusiasm.
“God afternoon miss um… um…. and who is your delightful young friend?”
Before Philomena could answer, Marjorie dropped Reverend Davies a deep curtsey and gushed.
“Oh, dear vicar, I am Marjorie Toadsmoor. I am so honoured to meet one who is doubtless a shoving leopard to his flock and a lining shite to all on the island.”
Reverend Davies stood quite still, his face puce, his mouth gaping open and the veins on his neck sticking out like knotted ropes.
“Must go, reverend,” said Philomena, propelling Marjorie away with some haste. “Things to do, people to see.”
“He was very rude,” confided Marjorie. “He couldn’t even be bothered to reply. What mad banners.”

“Those are the Gydynaps,” said Philomena, pointing to the hills in the distance. “Drury and I often go walking up there.”
“I can’t do a willy hawk in these shoes,” said Marjorie. “Besides, it looks as though it’s going to roar with pain at any minute.”
Even as she said the words, the skies opened.
“Let’s find some shelter,” said Philomena.
As they hurried through the rain, Philomena crossed her fingers that Marjorie would not comment upon the sign outside the salvage store which proclaimed ‘Free shoes and bags, yours for the asking.’

It was fortuitous that Doc Willoughby had recovered from his hangover sufficiently to have opened the surgery. Philomena and Marjorie burst through the door, shaking the rain from their bonnets and giggling like schoolgirls.
“You must be feeling better,” said Philomena. “Do you still need to see the Doc?”
“I think I do, “said Marjorie, “my words are still getting mixed up, like a sadly made ballad.”
Just then the Doc himself appeared, obviously not in the best of humours. After he had listened to Marjorie’s self-diagnosis he sighed wearily. The Doc, though not as learned as he would have people believe, had heard of Spoonerisms and knew that they had absolutely nothing to do with spoonwalkers. However, being nothing, if not an opportunist, he rarely missed a chance to impress and leaned forward on his desk, steepling his fingers.
“Young lady,” he pronounced gravely, “I fear you have, what we in the medical profession call, Lapsus Linguae.”
“A slip of the tongue?”
‘Dammit, the girl knows Latin. How the hell does she know Latin?’ Doc thought to himself, not a little irritated.
“That, of course, is how we describe it to non-medical people,” he said, back-pedalling like mad. “But it’s much more serious than that. However, I can give you a preparation which should clear it up in a day or two.”
The Doc decanted some coloured water into a medicine bottle and handed it to Marjorie.
“Thank you so much doctor,” she said. “I was concerned that you would think I was telling you a lack of pies.”
“My pleasure, “ said the Doc, unconvincingly, hurriedly ushering the pair to the door.

“I’m feeling better already!” pronounced Marjorie later as she sat in the snug of The Squid, tucking into a slice of starry-grabby pie. Her bottle of coloured water stood half empty beside her.
“By the way, Philomena,” she added, “silly me didn’t catch your surname.”
Philomena smiled, a little uncomfortably.
“Don’t worry about that now,” she said. “It’s probably best we stick to first names until I know you’re really better.”

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.