The end of an era

Joseph was tired. For the last twelve months he had been to-ing and fro-ing to the Passamaquoddy reservation, bringing in supplies purchased by the ex- Night Soil Man, Randall Middlestreet. These trips had taken their toll on him.

“You’re not a youngster any more,” Betty had scolded.

“It’s high time you moored that old canoe for good.”

It was true. Joseph was over seventy and had paddled across the treacherous channel more times than he cared to remember.

“You’re right,” he conceded, wearily.

“One more trip to say goodbye to everyone and then I’ll retire. It’s sad, though. My family has been alone in regularly trading with this island for generations – even before the founding families reached here. It will be the end of an era.”

Betty knew that Joseph wished he had a son to carry on the tradition. They had not been blessed with children. She smiled to herself ruefully and reflected that this was not for the want of trying.

“Okay. Just one more trip and then you finish,” she said, in a voice that would brook no opposition.

 

Although, in the past year, Hopeless had acquired enough Indian-made goods to last an eternity, Randall had asked that Joseph bring more over. It was his altruistic way of transferring his new-found and unexpected wealth, inherited from his mother, into the economy of the impoverished reservation.

Jingling with the money Randall had given him, Joseph kissed his wife goodbye and set off on his farewell trip with mixed feelings. It would be hard to say goodbye to his old friends on the mainland and give up his lifelong trade. On the other hand, the prospect of never again having to negotiate the hazards and eternal fog that beset the treacherous channel was appealing.

 

His days on the reservation went very much as expected. There were hand-shakes, back-slaps and manly hugs a-plenty, shared between Joseph and his friends and relations. At last the appointed day arrived for him to leave the mainland for the very last time and return to the cabin that he and Betty shared on Hopeless.

 

The morning was grey and dismal and a harsh north-east wind was freshening by the hour. These were not ideal conditions to cross the channel but there was every indication that this weather was hunkering down for the duration.  If he left his departure any later Joseph feared that he could be stuck here for another week and Betty would be frantic with worry. Throwing caution to the wind – quite literally on this occasion – and, with his last ever cargo lashed securely down, Joseph paddled into the foggy channel.

 

Betty Butterow looked at the worsening weather with a troubled eye. While she had every faith in Joseph’s abilities, it would need more than his considerable skills to ensure his safe arrival home. Maybe she could help. She made her way to the rocky shore where, years before, she had first learned of her true identity, that she was a seal-woman, one of the legendary selkie people.

Hidden in a cleft in the rocks was her seal-pelt. Betty could not remember the last time she had donned it. She had heard tales of seal-women who had gradually become less human with every transformation. That is why she was loathe to shape-shift too often. It always worried her that one day she would be unable to change back.

Stripping off her clothing, Betty resolved there and then to go as a seal and look for Joseph, to bring him home safely, whatever the consequences. If, as she feared, Joseph was dead, then there would be nothing to return to. No reason to be Betty Butterow any longer. She would become a seal forever and little by little, all recollections of her human life would be no more than a distant dream.

 

The selkie scoured the treacherous channel for hours. There was no sign of Joseph. She had twice circled the island, desperately hoping that he had moored somewhere other than his usual spot but to no avail. Then she spotted something floating close to the shore. It looked like a canoe. Full of hope, she raced towards it.  “Please, let him be alive… please, please…” she prayed; prayed to who or whatever might be there to listen. Then an icy hand gripped her heart; it was indeed Joseph’s canoe, but smashed and ruined. There was no sign of Joseph.

 

The island echoed with the mournful wail of the seal-woman. She raised her dark head above the churning waves and threw her anguished soul upon the wind.

Then, her heart breaking, she flipped over, dived through the icy water and turned her back upon the foggy shores of Hopeless, Maine.

 

In her haste to leave she had not seen the figure of a man on the shore. Dazed and confused, he rose groggily to his feet, her bellow of grief having dragged him from the murky shadowlands of unconsciousness. Joseph looked helplessly across the foggy channel, somehow knowing that the unearthly cry that had woken him and shattered the peace of the day had been that of his beloved Betty. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he watched the dark, sinuous shape of a harbor seal disappear into the foggy distance.

 

The ocean boiled and churned. Startled, the selkie came to a halt as the huge bulk of the Kraken erupted through the water and caught her in its deep and unswerving gaze.

It spoke, not in words but in thoughts that echoed in her head with a voice as deep and sonorous as the ocean itself. It was a voice that she had heard before, many years ago.

“Go back, selkie. It is not quite time yet. Not yours, nor his. Go back. He is safe. As I have said, Betty Butterow, the sea looks after her own.”

With that she felt a suckered arm entwined around her sleek body. The kraken gently hoisted her high into the misty air, above the angry waves and jagged stone teeth that have brought many a ship to its doom around the coast of Hopeless. The creature lifted her trembling body to the rocks where Joseph stood weeping.

With her heart-beating fit to burst, Betty sloughed off the seal-skin, her body shaking with a mixture of cold and emotion. With an effort she rose to her feet and stood, shivering and naked in Joseph’s embrace. Every minute of every day would now would be precious. Betty could feel the tears running down her husband’s face as he laid a soft kiss upon her lips.

“Let’s go home,” she whispered.

Art by Tom Brown

Advertisements

Mrs Beaten is Judging You

I, Mrs Emmaline Elizabeth Beatrice Beaten found myself shipwrecked upon the shores of Hopeless Maine some six months ago. It is a cold and wretched place, sorely in want of even the most basic things in life. The island has not a single manufacturer of doilies or tablecloths. The natives are coarse and vulgar, with no sense of etiquette or good manners. Even those who claim to form the social hierarchy show a distinct lack of breeding.

Now that I am recovered from the shock of my arrival in this place, I see that I have a moral duty to perform. I must raise these people up from their sordid condition. I must instil in them a sense of right and wrong, and a clear understanding of how this applies to matters of personal toilet and the correct way to send out invitations. Although I am by nature a humble, and modest woman, it is clear to me that I have been called and must cast aside my reserve in order to lead these hapless islanders into the light.

(Every Sunday, Mrs Beaten will be sharing her annoyance, while awkwardly betraying her own poor manners and lack of common sense, sometimes through the medium of little sketches.)

Our Toys need us!

Hello people! (and others)

This week the Vendetta will be departing from the norm because of special circumstances, and for the best possible of reasons.

Edrie Edrie and Walter Alice Sickert are some of our favorite people in the world, at all ever! They are our art heroes and have been part of our journey as creators since the beginning of the Hopeless, Maine project. Walter and Edrie are the hub of Walter Sickert and The Army of Broken Toys (Which is one of our favorite bands in the world at all ever. You may be seeing a pattern developing here) Walter is also a visual artist (And all around creative force of nature)  We commissioned him to do this Salamandra piece for the first graphic novel volume of Hopeless, Maine.


Bloody. Gorgeous.

He also wrote a hopeless, Maine song that had me in actual tears the first time I heard it. Here is a video Nimue made with the song as the soundtrack.

If/when the thing that we can not talk about happens, you know that the Toys will be a part of it, because they get it on a very deep level and are just plain bloody amazing.

Now, let’s get to the crux of the matter. Edrie is (for a brief time, and obviously through no fault of her own) sans job. In order for the band to be able to continue making music and art and love and tentacles and amazingness, they need the funds for studio time and all of the other necessary things. Here is how that is going to happen. They have a Patreon Page where you can go and pledge and as a side effect, be exposed to more brilliant, wildly creative art and music. In these times especially, WE NEED THESE PEOPLE MAKING ART. (Pardon the volume, I feel strongly about this) So please, please, pretty please with tentacles, get in there and be a part of this!

(Tell them Tom and Nimue sent you)

Enter a world of Steamcrunk Imagination!

 

Love and tentacles (As Walter would say)

Us.

The Lady From Baltimore

The Passamaquoddy trader, Samuel, looked pensively over the bay and wondered to himself if any other rich and elderly widow had ever taken the trouble to leave the security her well-appointed home to visit his less than salubrious reservation.

He rubbed his chin quizzically, pondering why the woman who called herself Mrs Spillman had chosen to do just this. She must be at least eighty years old, he reasoned. What had inspired her to leave an affluent area of Baltimore and travel the five hundred or more miles to this particular part of Maine?

What Samuel was to learn, a day so later, was that this recent visitor had journeyed with a purpose; a purpose that would have sounded very much like a wild goose chase to most people.

Mrs Lilac Spillman, although of very mature years, was an exceedingly determined woman who knew her own mind. There had been another trader here, many years ago, who, along with his little family, had welcomed her and her friend, Amelia, into their home. Lilac had been no more than a girl then and to her eternal shame, had walked out on them without a word of thanks. She  disappeared without even saying goodbye, slipping away like a thief in the night on the arm of a gambling man named Abner Badbrook. Badbrook eventually abandoned her in New York, leaving the hapless girl alone in a strange city, friendless, penniless and pregnant.

Lilac shuddered to think how she had betrayed the Indian family’s hospitality. She remembered that the trader had biblical name – Abraham – and that he had rescued Amelia and herself from a grim fate on the island of her birth; a place that she once vowed never to visit again. Abraham must be long dead, she thought, but maybe – just maybe – someone living on the reservation might still be visiting the island occasionally. One trip was all she wanted; just the one. She knew that her remaining months, possibly weeks, were few and despite her earlier disdain, Hopeless, Maine was calling to her.

 

When she heard that there was, indeed, a trader, Joseph, now living on Hopeless and due to arrive any day, her heart leapt. Could this be the Joseph that she remembered? Abraham’s son? He had been a boy of eight or ten at the time. That would make him seventy, at least. She thought it unlikely that it was the same person. However, when she saw Joseph standing outside the governor’s house she recognised him immediately. He was the image of his father. Although hazy about many things, Mrs Spillman’s long-term memory was as sharp as an eagle’s eye.

It took a moment or two for her to notice the burly man who was standing quietly, almost shyly, behind Joseph. Despite his very pale skin and tendency to walk with a stoop, as though he was accustomed to carrying a heavy burden upon his back, there was something about him that reminded her of someone she knew long ago. Then, when she was introduced to him, she thought her heart would break.

 

After forty years as Hopeless, Maine’s Night Soil Man, Randall Middlestreet had taken the unusual step of giving up his post to his apprentice. The new-found freedom of being able to associate with his fellow islanders had not lost its novelty value, even after some weeks following his abdication. Therefore, when Joseph invited Randall to join him on a trip across to the mainland, the former Night Soil Man was as apprehensive as he was excited. His life had changed greatly recently; he little suspected the new direction it was about to take.

 

You will recall that the first part of this tale concluded with Mrs Spillman sobbing into Randall’s neck and calling him her son. To say he was taken aback is an understatement. Randall had always understood that his mother had died in childbirth. To find, after fifty-five years, that she had been alive and well and living in somewhere called Baltimore was a surprise, to say the very least. The torrent of emotions that stormed through him at that moment was overwhelming. Feelings of joy and anger, love and betrayal, all mixed up with a generous helping of confusion, almost bowled him over; that, and the not insubstantial weight of the elderly lady clinging to his neck.

The elected governor of the tribe – or the  sakom, as he is known – had been entertaining Mrs Spillman in his family home for a few days prior to Joseph’s  arrival. After the necessary introductions had been made the sakom made it his business to linger and eavesdrop on their conversation. Upon seeing Mrs Spillman’s reaction to meeting Randall the sakom diplomatically ushered the three of them back into the privacy of his home, where, over coffee and biscuits, Mrs Spillman apprised her son of the details of her history and the reason why she had left him on the steps of a convent. How he had arrived on the island of Hopeless, though, was a total mystery to all. Randall had never been told the story of his rescue by Sebastian Lypiatt and the nun, Sister Mary Selsley.

 

A lifetime of being the Night Soil Man on Hopeless had made Randall something of a stoic, although this was not a word he would ever have used or even recognised. To adopt an attitude of accepting, without complaint, the ups and downs of daily existence is a necessary way of thinking on an island where unpredictability is the only predictable thing that the future holds. There was no point in regretting the lost years or blaming his mother for abandoning him. It would achieve nothing. Besides, she had had her reasons.

 

There was one other thing. Mrs Spillman had sold almost everything she possessed when she left Baltimore. Her worldly goods, including a large town house, had been converted into cash and lodged in a bank account.

“It’s all yours,” she told Randall. “I had no idea what would happen to my estate when I die. Now I know.” With that she reached into her travel-chest and retrieved a canvas bag. It was full of silver dollars.

“This will tide you over until suitable arrangements have been made,” she said.

Randall was aghast. He had little use for a lot of money. Hopeless was not the type of place where you could spend very much. He looked at Joseph for help.

“Take it and make her happy,” Joseph advised.

Randall looked about him at the spectre of poverty that stalked the reservation. Even Hopeless looked comfortable, compared with the poor living conditions many endured there. This place needed a helping hand. He knew what to do with at least some of his new-found wealth.

 

A few days passed and Joseph enlisted the help of his cousin, Samuel. Although refusing to set foot on Hopeless himself, Samuel reluctantly agreed to ferry Randall and Mrs Spillman across the treacherous channel to that strangest of islands. Joseph’s own canoe was full to bursting with furs, textiles and beaver pelts, purchased at a vastly inflated price by the suddenly wealthy Randall Middlestreet.

 

Although Randall was willing to pay Isaac Lypiatt, the landlord of The Squid and Teapot, to give his mother comfortable lodgings, Isaac refused, having inherited his parents’ generosity. He happily gave Mrs Spillman a room in which she could live out her remaining days in comfort. The Squid had been her home once and it was only fitting that it should be so again. It was the very least he could do.The Lady from Baltimore had come home to die.

The artist (Tom Brown, in this case) apologizes that there is not a new drawing this week. He is very much engaged with the final bits which will ensure that the next volume of the graphic novel series (Sinners) comes out on time and is as wonderful as we can manage.

An Englishman in Hopeless, Maine

He did not come with storm and tempest, he came with a small leather suitcase.

He paid the ferryman in cash, muttering a combination of thanks and apologies that the English seem to think necessary for such transactions, and then set off up the beach. He walked with a stick, a simple length of hawthorn with a V at the top, but he put no weight on it. Even when he stumbled on a rock, or slipped on the seaweed, the stick was a balance more than a rest.

By the time he had reached the saltmarsh his woollen overcoat was glistening with droplets of water, and his scarf hung limp. He wore no hat, and his untidy red hair was plastered to his head with the fine cold rain.

He paused to take in his surroundings. It’s strange how the mind plays tricks on people. The Englishman knew he was many hundreds of miles away from home, but his eyes were tracing familiar landmarks in the sparse vegetation and rocky outcrops.

Just like Begger’s Lane back home”, he thought to himself.

It was certainly true that the Hopeless landscape around him seemed remarkably similar to the abandoned staithes and marshes of the Fens where he had grown up.

Finally, the Englishman appeared to reach some sort of decision of the “this will do” variety and put down his case. Opening it, he revealed the sparse contents within, begging the question in the mind of the casual observer of why he bothered with a case at all. Had the Englishman written an inventory of the contents, it would have listed just three items; a jar marked salt, a candle and a box of matches. The Englishman took the jar marked salt and used its contents to trace a circle in the tussocky grass. Then he used the matches to light his single candle. And, with his staff in one hand and candle in the other he stood and waited.

I can smell your fear.” Came a soft voice from behind him.

Quite!” replied the Englishman. “Under the circumstances, anything less that absolute terror would be evidence of a foolhardy spirit.”

And you are not fool hardy?” Replied the voice, moving now; edging round the circle. A tall lean dark shape stepped into the Englishman’s peripheral vision. “You, weak and afraid, have come to Hopeless to see a vampire, and you are not a fool?”

I just want to ask a question…” the Englishman began.

A dangerous question that I refuse to answer!” snapped the vampire. He was stood in front of the Englishman now. Tall, pale (naturally) his white hair was long, as were his fingernails. He wore a morning suit, old but well-tailored and immaculately turned out.

The vampire took a long stride towards the Englishman. “Did you think a circle of salt would keep me out?” he asked with a sneer.

No” replied the Englishman, drawing himself up and casting off his shivers and muttering tone. “The circle is to keep you in, and it’s not salt.” With that he cast the lighted candle to one side, and where it fell a flame sprung from the ground, spreading quickly until it had encircled the two adversaries with a tall sheet of red and yellow flame.

You challenge me?” asked the vampire, his voice rising a little in his surprise.

I knew you would not give me my answer willingly, but if I can beat you then you will be compelled to give me my bearing.” The Englishman said, raising his voice of the noises that were emerging from the marsh around them. The vampire was summoning up support. Vampires and deamons could not cross into the circle of fire, but their rituals and spells could.

You will lose and I will claim you.” the vampire hissed.

Then that is our wager.” the Englishman called back. The noises around him were no longer indistinct, but definite chanting. The Englishman closed his eyes in concentration and began to recall the old words of the marshlands.

Needing something to focus power upon, the vampire began taking items from his pockets; piece of broken china, an old coin, a dog hair brush. With each item he uttered a single syllable and the darkness around him grew deeper.

The Englishman could feel the chill of the darkness begin to bite him. This would be close run thing. But first he must drive off the vampires allies.

Fire and Water, Land and Sea.” He called, and as he did so there was movement in the mist around his legs. “The horn is sounded, the drum is beat. Clay’s light shines on the marsh, carried by the wind.” The Englishman whistled through his teeth, a long forlorn note like a lonesome bird calling over the sea.

Lights began to jump from the marsh outside the circle.

The Englishman whistled again. “Whistle and they will come!” he called.

The lights came toward the circle, scattering the deamons and vampires as they moved.

The Englishman took a dandelion stalk from behind his ear and blew upon it, sounding it like a small horn. “Up Shuck!” he shouted, “Up Bryard! The wild hunt rides!”

A roar of hooves suddenly split the air and passed through both Englishman and vampire, though the circle of flame did not waver for a moment.

As suddenly as it came, it went. Leaving only silence. The vampire would have to fight alone.

But the vampire was old, cunning and powerful. Even as the first jack o’lanterns flickered into light, he had changed his chant and charms. Long fingers passed tokens and tools from hand to hand, some seeming to hang in the air until needed. Again the darkness thickened, and the cold bit and stung.

The Englishman knew that his last effort had come and that this would be the making or breaking of him. He gripped his staff tightly before him, both hand locked together. He thought of his lands and his people; the men from the water, the men from the marsh, the dark eyed travelling folk who had raised him. The woods spilt out of his mouth like blood from a wound.

There is a light at the end of the world!” he cried. “A light that burns so bright that none can ever endure it. A light that burns a hole in the hearts of men and boils the blood of fey.”

As he spoke, luminous mist appeared to rise form the ground around his feet, spiraling around him. His staff glowed hot and he, himself, began to radiate light.

I am touched by that light, and though the shadow falls upon me, I welcome it!”

The thunderclap split the twilight.

The mist and drizzle scattered.

The circle of flame shrank and died.

The Englishman stood alone.

Cast your staff down and it will point your way, coldblood!” came the vampire’s voice. As he spoke he rose from the ground like a mist, a short distance in front of the Englishman.

Coldblood?” the Englishman asked in horror?

Your heart is stopped.” replied the vampire, “Your blood runs cold.”

The Englishman looked at his hands and as he watched the colour drained from his fingers.

But I won!” he shouted.

The vampire laughed a cold harsh laugh. “When will you mortals learn?” he sneered. “There is no winning. There is nothing to win!”

And with that he sank and faded away.

The Englishman threw down his staff in anger. It spun and then came to a rest, pointing his way. Next to it lay a shell, one of the vampires discarded trinkets. The Englishman picked them both up.

Give me my scallop shell of quiet,

My staff of faith to walk upon,

My scrip of joy, immortal diet,

My bottle of salvation,

My gown of glory, hope’s true gage,

And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.”

Words by Jim Snee

Art by Tom Brown

Thirty years on …

Thirty years on …

Thirty years had passed since the Reverend Crackstone’s disappearance. The only person who knew the exact circumstances of his demise was Betty Butterow. Her dark hair by now was shot with silver but she was as beautiful as ever and still working as a barmaid at The Squid and Teapot. Although the fog-bound landscape had changed little, much had happened on Hopeless in those intervening years, as you will see.

 

Soon after Crackstone’s disappearance Betty and Joseph, the Passamaquoddy trader, set up home together in a small cabin in Creepy Hollow. At the time of this tale Joseph would be seventy years old, or more but still sprightly and continuing to ply his trade between Hopeless and the mainland.

 

Isaac Lypiatt had taken over the role as landlord of the inn following the death of his parents, Sebastian and Madrigal. Sebastian’s last couple of years had been spent in retirement, reminiscing in the snug of the Squid with his friend Bill Ebley, who was also Isaac’s father-in-law. It had come as something of a surprise to both families when Isaac proposed marriage to Mildred, a girl twenty years his junior. With their marriage, however, a valuable link was forged between the inn, the Ebley Brewery and the distillery (you may recall that Mildred’s mother was Costanza Gannicox).

 

You may remember, in the tale of ‘The Wendigo’, Randall Middlestreet had been thrust into the role of a full-time Night Soil Man within weeks of his leaving the orphanage. For all of his adult life this job was all he had known and it was beginning to take its toll. When, at the age of fifty, he had asked at the orphanage if there were any likely candidates to be his apprentice he was sent a a surly young man with a decidedly selfish streak. His name was Jarvis Woodchester. Randall was not confident that he would get on particularly well with his new assistant but hoped for the best; he was glad of all the help he could get.

Five years slipped by and to everyone’s surprise Jarvis became as competent a Night Soil Man as any who had gone before him, lithely scrambling over the rocky headland with his bucket on his back. It was with some relief that Randall relinquished many of his duties to his young protege, whom he trusted implicitly. He had spent over forty years of his life surrounded by stench and darkness, forced into celibacy and, save for necessarily distant communication with Joseph and Betty, virtually friendless. The role of Night Soil Man was considered to be a job for life but Randall Middlestreet was contemplating the unthinkable –  abdication.

 

Few people had seen Randall in daylight but news of his abandoning the position as Night Soil Man had spread like wildfire. This behaviour was unheard of and one or two of the more conservative islanders disapproved of such a flagrant break with tradition; Randall’s mind, however, was made up. It took several days of diligent scrubbing to remove the trademark smell of his calling completely, but with the aid of Joseph and Betty – who were thrilled at his decision – Randall was completely deodorised, dressed in some of Joseph’s old but scrupulously clean clothes and ready to be integrated fully into Hopeless society for the first time in his adult life. The house at Poo Corner and all that it contained was now the exclusive property of the new, young Night Soil Man, Jarvis Woodchester.

 

When Randall walked into the bar of The Squid and Teapot the place fell silent. Randall paled, convinced that he was being ostracized for his decision. Then someone started clapping. The applause became contagious. Even Lady Margaret D’Avening, the ghost who haunts the privy of the inn, popped her head out to see what the fuss was about. Regular readers will recall that Lady Margaret’s head was detached from the rest of her, so when I say she popped her head out, I am speaking literally. As it was not a full moon and being something of a stickler for tradition, she was loathe to manifest totally. Isaac Lypiatt handed the newly liberated Randall a foaming pint of ‘Old Colonel’ and the keys to the old attic room, which long ago was occupied by the young Betty Butterow. It was now his for life, if he so wished. Randall was overcome with emotion. He had no idea that anyone would do such a thing for him.

 

This new way of life required quite a bit of adjustment. To be able to walk and talk with others, to share meals and enjoy  convivial evenings in the Squid were pleasures most took for granted. For Randall each one of these things was a novelty. The only downside was his vulnerability. In his role as Night Soil Man the less friendly denizens of the island had given him a wide berth. It was the one advantage of the stench that had perpetually surrounded him. These days, however, he had no such protection and had to remember to exercise caution when out and about.

 

When, a few weeks later, Joseph asked Randall if he would like to join him on a trip to the mainland, the ex-Night Soil Man had no idea how to respond. The chance of a glimpse of the wider world was as terrifying as it was tempting. He agonised over making a decision for days on end. Eventually curiosity overcame fear and, with no small amount of trepidation, Randall found himself gingerly scrambling into Joseph’s canoe.

With a mixture of excitement and anxiety churning within him he wondered what adventures might be waiting on the other side of the treacherous channel that would take them to the coast of Maine.

 

Once on dry land Joseph’s first point of call was the home of his cousin, Samuel. Joseph’s heart always dropped when he re-visited the reservation. The poorly built wooden shacks, often with earth floors and no sanitation, were far inferior to the simple but comfortable conical birch-bark wetus, or wigwams, his people lived in when he was a boy. Unemployment was high and living standards low. Samuel was one of the more fortunate ones, though. For years he had made a precarious living as a trader to providie for his large family. Today Joseph was interested in a supply of beaver pelts that Samuel had obtained. He knew that his cousin would drive a hard bargain, even for family, but he was happily prepared to haggle. What he was not prepared for was the news that Samuel could not wait to impart.

“There’s been a woman here asking after you.”

Joseph raised his eyebrows quizzically.

“She was old,” said Samuel. “I mean, really old. Older than you, even.”

Samuel was Joseph’s junior by only ten years but he never missed an opportunity to tease his cousin about his age.

“Who is this woman?” asked Joseph, faintly irritated.

“A Mrs. Spillman. From Baltimore, I think. Said she knew your parents, years ago.”

Joseph shrugged.

“And where is she now?”

“ We knew you were due to show up sometime soon, so the Sakom said his family could put her up for a night or two, seeing she’s old, and that. They’ve got the best place on the reservation but it ain’t up to Baltimore standards, that’s for sure.”

The Sakom is the elected governor, or chief of the tribe. This was a generous thing for him to do. Joseph decided to waste no time and see what the woman wanted. Having nothing better to do, Randall tagged along. To Joseph the reservation was downtrodden and commonplace. Randall thought it was the most exotic place that he had seen and was keen to look around.

 

The Sakom, holding Mrs Spillman’s arm, led her gently out of his home and introduced her to Joseph. The old lady was small and her back bent but her eyes flickered with a mischievous fire that belied her age. She reached up and stroked Joseph’s face.

“Joseph. Dear Joseph,” she smiled. “Is it really you?”

The Indian drew back a little. He had no idea who she was, or how she knew him.

“ Mrs Spillman, ma’am, forgive me but I don’t know who you are.”

“No. I guess you don’t remember. It was a long time ago and you were a child. But hey, where’s your manners?” she laughed brightly. “Who’s your friend, there?”

Joseph blushed faintly.

“Sorry, ma’am. This is my good pal Randall Middlestreet.”

The colour drained visibly from Mrs Spillman’s face, as though she had seen a ghost. Her bottom lip began to tremble.

“R… R… Randall Middlestreet?” she stammered.

Suddenly, with surprising vigour, she fell forward and threw her arms around a very surprised Randall, hugging him tightly.

He could feel her frail body racked with sobs as she clung to him.

“My son. My son,” she cried. “My beautiful boy…”

 

To be continued…

Art by Tom Brown

The second Time Quake edition

Hello people! (and others)

We now continue(and conclude)  our adventures at Time Quake. Part one can be found here.

Once the Mermaid puppet (which was made by the frankly rather amazing) Lou Pulford , she became the focus of much attention and affection. Here is photographic evidence of this.

Also, we were visited (as you can clearly see) by this utterly splendid steampunk R2-D2 which made friends wherever it roamed (and it roamed everywhere)

We also sang the songs of our people (By which I mean songs of Hopeless, Maine, or songs that would fit in there) Nimue has written a Hopeless, Maine sea shanty (during which I groan disconsolately ) and she is expanding our repertoire all of the time. (because she is amazing like that)

 

During a slow moment on Sunday, Nimue and I sat down and sketched for a bit. (with people watching, which always feels a bit like performing without a net) We had noticed that we had no woodland fauna for Hopeless, Maine and set about to remedy this.

I am particularly pleased with the Goblin Cup. It is a bit like a pitcher Plant in that it waits for things to fall into it and then digests them. With the appearance of people on the island, it became aware that it could easily be mistaken for a cup in the gloom and filled with things that were much to its liking (beer, for instance) Now, we get to imagine what a drunken Goblin cup might get up to! The Small Brown Bird features in the Hopeless, Maine book that Nimue is writing at present. It is an excellent mimic (at the worst possible times) The Tree Creeper has no legs to speak of, but rather long toes. It can not take flight from the ground, and so, must creep up a tree using its toes until it can reach a sufficient hight for take-off.  The Ur deer…I’m still not sure what’s going on there, but i’m sure we will find out in time! I am fairly sure that the Puff Bug has a detachable head.

 

As I said in the first installment, this was an utterly brilliant event and the first of its kind. It will be ongoing, and we can recommend it.

For more information, you might wish to visit, here.

 

Fun Fair for the Common Man

Anyone who knows anything about Hopeless, Maine will be all too aware that it is no stranger to the occasional shipwreck and the rag-tag straggle of survivors who invariably accompany such disasters. Similarly, the island is equally familiar with the assortment of flotsam and jetsam which arrives upon its foggy shores in some abundance. These gifts from the sea can be practical, decorative or, indeed, both. Only rarely can they be said to be entertaining. This tale tells of one of those rare occasions.

 

In the tale ‘The Sweaty Tapster’ I told you of a small settlement, thought to be originally populated by descendants of the British slaves who were introduced to the island by its earliest known settlers, the Vikings. For generations they kept themselves to themselves, speaking a long extinct version of English and living peacefully in the shadow of the Gydynap Hills. Their dwellings, which were small and simple, were huddled around a patch of tough, spiky grass. In the distant past livestock might have grazed there but at the time of this tale the livestock had long gone; instead it had become the place where children played, deals were brokered and lovers met in the misty moonlight. It was common ground, or simply ‘The Common’ to all who used it.

 

There was one child who could only ever watch the others at their games; his name was Griffin Mills. Griffin had been born with a malformed leg and for his first few years could only drag himself along using a rudimentary crutch. It was not until he was in his teens that a thoughtful blacksmith fashioned him a caliper which, for the first time in his life, afforded him the ability to quite literally stand upon his own two feet. There was a price to pay, however. With the casual cruelty of youth his peers immediately dubbed him ‘Iron Mills’ and the name stuck. Before long everyone seemed to forget his real name and he was known as Iron for evermore.

 

As has been mentioned elsewhere in The Vendetta, sirens are known to haunt the rocky coast of Hopeless. When these creatures sing, women rush to get their children and husbands out of earshot, for few can resist their call. Iron – as we shall now call him – was no exception. Like the crippled boy in The Pied Piper of Hamelin, however, he was able to hear the music without succumbing to its lure, for his disability would prevent him from taking pursuit. Instead, the boy would lean from his window and listen to their alluring voices until his soul ached. He lusted for music; any music, such was the glamour that the sirens had put upon him.

Although not particularly religious, Iron even prayed to St. Cecilia, the Patron Saint of Music but nothing seemed to happen. It’s fair to say that her apparent indifference to his plight was breaking his heart and shaking his confidence daily. Then one morning everything changed when into his life stepped a character who rejoiced in the name of Cosimo Washpool, recent shipwreckee, raconteur and showman.

 

Washpool had enjoyed some success in the United States, touring with his one-man fun fair, hiring whatever casual help he needed in every town he that passed through. Upon a whim, he one day generously decided to allow the populace of Canada the chance to partake of the entertainment he offered. Unfortunately this was done as cheaply as possible and neither the ship nor her crew were sufficient to the task of successfully transporting a heavy steam engine and its attendant fairground rides through the capricious waters of the North Atlantic.

The upshot was, like so many before him, the unfortunate showman found himself stranded on the island of Hopeless, Maine and his crew drowned to a man. Just a dozen yards from the coast sat the shattered remnants of his livelihood, floundering in a half-submerged ship that threatened to disappear with every wave.

 

Sebastian Lypiatt, the landlord of ‘The Squid and Teapot’ rounded up some fellow islanders to help Washpool recover what he could from the wreckage. Over the years Sebastian had been involved in removing some unusual items from the sea but nothing compared with the contents of these latest crates and pallets. Brightly painted wooden ponies and ornate, rope-twisted and gilded poles were brought ashore, along with steps, canopies, garishly decorated boards and a host of other things, the like of which Hopeless had never before seen. These were as nothing, though, compared with the large and outlandish artefacts that the showman literally begged them to save before it was too late. The little party had to float a raft out to the rapidly sinking ship in order to rescue these last surviving, but decidedly awkward, items that seemed, on the face of it, to have little practical use.

The front of one contraption was painted to resemble a theatre, complete with a modestly-sized proscenium arch and artfully painted rococo flourishes. For reasons beyond the comprehension of any of its rescuers, three effete looking effigies in eighteenth century attire were placed along its length. The proscenium itself had curtains drawn tastefully back to reveal brass pipes and a bewildering assortment of gears and cogs. Accompanying this edifice was something that Sebastian recognised – or thought that he recognised. It looked like a miniature version of a ship’s boiler, mounted on wheels. While the volunteers from The Squid and Teapot manfully manoeuvred all of this ashore – not without a certain amount of sweat and profanity – Washpool was retrieving some mysterious looking tomes, all the time muttering to himself about the importance of keeping them dry.

 

To relate to you the full story of the bribes and bargaining, cajoling, shameless

pleading and extravagant promises that Washpool employed to effect the erection and siting of his beloved ‘Galloping Horses’ carousel and steam engine, would swallow up more lines than I have space for here. It’s sufficient to say that, had it not been for the experience of Sebastian Lypiatt, Bill Ebley and one or two non-natives of the island who had seen something of the wider world, none of it would have happened. They managed to transport what remained of the fun fair to the only space flat enough to accommodate it,The Common. There it sat until Washpool had gathered enough fuel to tempt the steam engine back into life.

 

Those who live on Hopeless are used to seeing odd things on a daily basis. Eyes in the sky, spoonwalkers and gnii were fairly familiar sights; as were vampires, werewolves and an assortment of night-stalkers, although, in fairness, most people only see these once. Things invariably take an unpleasant, not to say terminal, turn after that. The spectacle that adorned The Common, however, was unusual in the extreme, even by Hopeless standards. While the galloping horses cavorted around in an endless circle, the resurrected engine that drove it proclaimed its presence by belching smoke and powering the organ housed within the little theatre.  Louder than any siren-song was the stirring music emitted through a series of brass tubes that lay behind the proscenium arch. Gears turned, a flywheel spun and two bass drums were struck by hefty sticks as if by magic. One of the mysterious tomes that Washpool had tried so desperately to keep dry had been unfolded to make a wide ribbon of punch-holed cardboard that raced through the mechanism. It was the soul of the music, though few who saw it would guess as much. One or two of the onlookers were convinced that the effigies on the front of the theatre danced to the melody. My own view is that this had less to do with animatronic marvels than the efficacy of the produce of the Gannicox distillery. The smoke, the noise and a palpable air of excitement drew people from all over the island.  They came in their droves to stare, awe-struck at the spectacle and at at the front of the crowd, goggle-eyed with wonder and excitement, was young Iron Mills.

 

Iron was in love. To him the call of the fairground organ was as bewitching and potent as any melody seductively crooned by a siren. Besides that, unlike sirens, fairground  organs were unlikely to rip you to pieces and devour you, though you could get a nasty burn if you touched one in the wrong place. While the music was somewhat strident and occasionally a little off-key, it was undeniably music. Jubilation! St. Cecilia loved him and had done the business. If not for his gammy leg and a degree of dignity, Iron would probably have been tempted to fall on the floor and start laughing.

It did not take the lad long to a wheedle his way into Washpool’s favour and become an apprentice. He learned the arcane secrets of the showman’s art and the temperamental ways of a steam driven engine. The huge tomes of hole-punched card became as precious as any holy text to him and the upkeep of the carousel a sacred office. The music would play, the carousel rotated and the people would be drawn by the spell of the fun fair. Even the spoonwalkers, puddle rats and dustcats came out to see what the fuss was all about, but this was more to find what they might scavenge than for cultural reasons.

 

Time passed, as time has the curious habit of doing, but the little fun fair never lost any of its allure. The carousel would often stand still and silent for weeks on end until sufficient fuel was found to breathe life into the steam engine. The first puff of white smoke and steamy note would be a clarion call to the islanders; once more The Common would heave with excitement.

When Cosimo Washpool died, many believed that the music would die with him. They had forgotten about Iron Mills, by now a young man, who had worked at Washpool’s side, quietly mastering the idiosyncrasies of the steam engine and maintaining the carousel and organ. It took a little longer to gather fuel alone but in time-honoured tradition, the show went on. And on and on. For fifty long years Iron Mills ran his carousel, never failing to thrill generations of islanders with the marvel than was a steam-driven organ and a simple carousel of galloping horses – wooden, brightly painted creatures as fantastical and outlandish to the eyes of most Hoplessians as a spoonwalker might be to an Eskimo.

In the strange way that language and place-names evolve, The Common, over time became popularly known as Iron Mills’ Common, so closely was the man identified with the place. Eventually even the apostrophe disappeared (in the way that apostrophes often do, that is, when they are not being misplaced).

Of course, today Iron Mills himself is long dead and with his passing, so went the fun fair, for he had no apprentice or assistant. Sadly, there was no one who had been initiated into the mysteries of the mechanisms that kept it running.

If you should go to Iron Mills Common these days you can still see the sad remains of the fun fair, faded, rusted and silent. The cardboard, hole-punched, books that created the music have rotted away and anything worth salvaging from the engine and steam-organ have long ago been scavenged. Puddle rats nest in the engine’s boiler and a small colony of spoonwalkers have taken over the little theatre. The carousel is a mass of ivy; it twists up the tarnished poles and winds around the roof struts. Saddest of all are the wooden horses; they stand as if waiting to gallop once more but many are broken and all are bleached white by the weather.

Shenandoah Nailsworthy, the Night Soil Man, swears that on wild and moonless nights he has sometimes heard thin strains of music coming from the direction of Iron Mills Common. In all probability this is no more than the wind whistling through the few remaining organ pipes. But there again, maybe not. After all, this is Hopeless, Maine.

Art- Tom Brown

Hopeless, Maine comes to Time Quake

Last weekend, we had a bit of an adventure and brought Hopeless, Maine to Manchester (UK) We are basically hobbits (Eldritch Hobbits, naturally) and can only be lured away from our shire for the most excellent adventures. This was one such. Time Quake was a bold experiment put together by the same people who bring you The Asylum Steampunk Festival.  (Which is the largest, and my opinion, best steampunk event in the world) Thier involvement meant that this experiment was bound to be a success (Spoiler- it was)

We set up as the Hopeless, Maine tourist information stand and prepared to educate the unwary about life on our strange little island off the coast of Maine. We were armed with creatures, books, strange bunting, oddities, and the lovely tourist info posters drawn by the esteemed Cliff Cumber. Also- we had leaflets on island history and a piece by the mysterious Eldrich Bunting, explaining why you should choose Hopeless, Maine as your next vacation destination.  Here are some images from the event. I will be back after, for some more saying things to you.

Hello! I’m back! Wasn’t that fun?

At long last, we got to meet Lou Pulford and her lovely family!She has written some of our favorite Vendetta pieces and has written for the Hopeless, Maine RPG as well and…we are just massive fans of her in general. She presented us the amazing mermaid puppet shown above.

One of the things that draws us to these events is the chance to meet new people, be inspired by their creativity and to see people that we do not get to have time with otherwise. Two of these people are shown above. Dr. Geof is an actual genius and one of the loveliest people in the world at all ever. If you are part of the steampunk community, you are almost certainly aware of him. If you are not aware of him, click that link and your life will be improved. Pictured at the end is Ian Crichton. (sometimes known as Herr Döktor)  Any event is greatly bettered for us by getting to spend time with him. Like Geof, he is a genius and a lynchpin of the steampunk community, also an almost frighteningly charming and engaging chap. He makes things that can barely be believed.

This ends part one of the Time Quake vendetta. We hope (as always) this finds you well, inspired and thriving.

The Revenant

The grubby note pinned to the cottage door contained just five words:

‘Look at the Gydynaps – Randall.’

Joseph frowned. It was unlike Randall Middlestreet, the Night-Soil Man to leave messages, however brief. Wondering what it might mean, the Passamaquoddy trader, yawning and scratching, made his way to the front of the cabin to get a better view of the hills. At first he could see nothing strange, then he noticed it; a thin wisp of blue smoke was curling its way into the foggy air.

This was unusual. For Randall to have seen the fire, it must have been burning through the night – and the Gydynaps was not a place for camping. The hills were strange, even by the standards of Hopeless. Someone could be in trouble up there and Joseph, being the man he was, decided it was his duty to investigate.

As it happened, others had seen the smoke and had had similar thoughts. Bill Ebley and Solomon Gannicox were standing outside the Squid and Teapot  when they spotted Joseph. Bill waved a greeting and the pair waited for their friend to catch up before going on.

Joseph was quietly relieved that the others were there. Any expedition on this island – especially into the hills – could be hazardous and there were few men he trusted more than Solomon and Bill.

The three walked in silence for much of the time, aware that their every move was being scrutinized. By and large the watchers were invisible, their presence felt rather than seen. Then there were the ever-present eyes, hovering in the misty morning skies. These, while somewhat disconcerting, were deemed to be harmless. They were a phenomena of Hopeless known to everyone yet rarely mentioned. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement throughout the island that the eyes in the sky were to be ignored, as if by acknowledging their presence it would somehow cause them to be something more than the passive observers that they apparently were.

At last the trio reached the summit of the hills without incident. The plume of smoke was thicker here. It reached up from behind a ridge, where, Joseph remembered, there was a small cave hidden in the folds of rock.

Warily they made their way towards the smoke.

Standing perfectly still and warming himself before a small fire, was a slight figure – a young man – dressed in what appeared to be a long, white nightshirt.

Joseph could hardly believe his eyes.

“Daniel… is that really you?”

“Joseph?” the young man was obviously surprised. “How can this be?”

Bill Ebley looked at Joseph.

“Is that Daniel Rooksmoor?” he asked, half whispering. “I thought he was taken by that bird thing.”

All of the island remembered the Hallowe’en party, when Daniel Rooksmoor had wandered up into the Gydynaps and been taken away by Pamola, the bird-demon.

Daniel looked at the three men with some wonder.

“I imagined you all long dead,” he said. “I have been the guest in the kingdom of Pamola for untold years. From that lofty place I have watched this earth and all in it, wither and die.”

Bill looked at Solomon and twiddled his index finger next to his right temple, the worldwide sign denoting that someone is not in full receipt of their senses.

The distiller gave a small smile and raised his eyebrows in agreement.

Daniel saw this mummery and became angry.

“Daniel,” said Joseph, gently, “You have been gone but a few months. You are back on Hopeless now. Oh, Daniel, it’s good to see you. I thought you were dead.”

The boy was not placated.

“You all mock me. I have seen things beyond your understanding. You must believe me. It will be people like you who will grow deaf and blind to the plight of the world, who will let the greed of a few destroy it. There will be cruelty and bloodshed that would cause you to quake. I have seen the future and it is bleak – bleaker than you can ever imagine.”

Solomon Gannicox was losing his patience with the boy’s rambling.

“Come back with us Daniel, it’s not safe up here.”

“No. Never. It must be the will of Pamola that I have been returned to this time and place. I will not budge until I learn why. Go now and leave me in peace.”

Joseph made his way towards the boy.

“Daniel, you’re not well. I’m begging you, come with us…”

He reached to put a reassuring hand on the boy’s shoulder and it was then that something happened that neither of the three islanders would ever speak of again, even among themselves.

Daniel Rooksmoor fell to dust before their eyes.

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.