The White Hare

The close bond between Philomena Bucket and Drury, the skeletal hound, is surprising, given the manner of their meeting. Regular readers will recall that this was mentioned in the tale ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightdress’, when Drury introduced himself to Philomena by attempting to steal a particularly attractive, and somewhat robust, full-length Victorian Nightdress from her washing basket. Despite this awkward start to their relationship, the pair became great friends and could frequently be seen together, walking on the Gydynap Hills.
Another resident of the island who has taken more than a passing interest in Philomena is Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man. When she first arrived on Hopeless, Philomena was suffering from anosmia (or so Doc Willoughby announced. Most of us would just say that she had lost her sense of smell.) This was brought on by her inhaling cotton pollen while stowing-away aboard the merchant ship, ‘Hetty Pegler’. When the Night-Soil Man saved her life, she promptly fell in love with him, being shielded from his noxious stench by her temporary affliction. The full account can be found in the tale ‘Scents and Sensibility’, but it is sufficient to say that a promising love affair was brought to a tragically abrupt close when her nasal passages were cleared and normal service resumed. Despite this, the two have always carried a torch for each other, albeit from a distance.
During those times when Philomena was rash enough to venture abroad during the hours of darkness, one can guarantee that Drury would be rattling along by her side and, from somewhere safely downwind, Rhys Cranham could be found, keeping a watchful eye upon her.

It was on such an occasion that our tale begins. Philomena, having finished her work at The Squid and Teapot, desperately needed to get outside. The Squid had been unusually crowded and rowdy that evening, upsetting Lady Margaret D’Avening, the Headless White Lady who haunted the inn’s flushing privy. Lady Margaret tended to regard full-moon nights as her own, and the constant to-ing and fro-ing in and out of her domain had put her quite out of sorts. As much as Philomena liked the White Lady, she had no desire to spend half the night listening to the ghost complaining at length about the Squid’s patrons, and how standards had dropped over the last century. With escape in mind, Philomena had set off towards her beloved Gydynaps, with Drury happily capering by her side. A full moon was riding high in the sky and battling, with some success, to shine her pale beams through the fogs which habitually swathed the island. Somewhere overhead the spectral Mild Hunt could be heard clattering clumsily and noisily through the heavens. The wraiths of the six maiden-ladies, eternally doomed to hunt for some lost pamphlets (as told in the tale ‘Ghost Writers in the Sky’) were always careful to avoid landing anywhere near Drury. Experience had taught them that the osseous hound delighted in harassing their spaniels and exacerbating the irritable bowel syndrome of their famously flatulent mules.
“Blasted ghosts!” thought Philomena. “You don’t get a minute of peace from them when the moon is full.”
It was at that point that she spotted, what she at first believed to be, another apparition on the path before her. Drury saw it too, and if he had been in receipt of hackles, like a living dog, they would have risen.
The creature in front of them was a hare. She sat as motionless as a statue, and glimmering pure white in the moonlight. The barmaid had been on Hopeless for long enough to know that this was no ordinary hare; conventional animals who might find themselves washed up on the island did not stay conventional for long. Tentacles, scales and various novel appendages would generally replace their distinguishing attributes, that is, if they survived long enough for such a metamorphosis to take place.
The white hare gracing the pathway was majestic. There was something otherworldly, magical, even, about her, over which the awful, transforming curse of Hopeless, could have no command. Philomena racked her brains, trying to recall the legends she had heard regarding such creatures, but they all alluded her.

From his vantage point on the rocks, Rhys Cranham could see the hare as well. Being a Hopelessian, born and raised, he had never beheld such a beast, but something deep within his heart was moved by the animal’s poise and quiet dignity. He was surprised that Drury was apparently making no attempt to chase her.

Philomena and Drury watched the white hare for some time. Like Rhys, she had expected Drury to chase her away, but the dog was content to sit quietly by Philomena’s side. It was only when the moon slipped behind the clouds that the spell was broken and the hare vanished into the night.

If you have been following these tales in recent editions of ‘The Vendetta’, you may be forgiven for thinking that this is no more than another prank by the wily Trickster who called himself Linus Pinfarthing. Indeed, traditionally the shape of a hare is one of the Trickster’s preferred disguises. But Linus was in no condition to trick anyone at that precise moment, lying drunk, as he was, on his unmade bed.

Philomena made her way back to The Squid and Teapot, totally unaware of the Night-Soil Man’s protective presence some way behind her. She felt excited and could hardly wait until morning to tell the Middlestreets, and her good friend Marjorie Toadsmoor, all about the vision of the beautiful white hare. On reaching The Squid, however, she was surprised to find lights shining in some of the windows. Normally, at this hour, the inn would be in darkness.
She was met at the door by an ashen-faced Ariadne Middlestreet.
“Oh Philomena…” was all that she said, before falling into her friend’s arms, weeping.
“Whatever is it Ariadne? Tell me.”
Philomena feared that something awful had befallen Bartholomew, but then the landlord of the inn appeared in the doorway. He looked haggard and drawn.
Tenderly he wrapped his arms around both women.
“It’s Marjorie,” he said softly, his voice trembling. “Linus was in a terrible state. He said that he found her lying on the rocks. She’s dead Philomena. Drowned.”
Drury raised his bony face to the moon and howled.

Jellyfish women

Jellyfish women grow from the head down. These creatures begin life as regular jellyfish, with eggs growing into larvae that swim about for a bit and eventually find something to attach themselves to. They feed and grow as anonymous looking tentacled things. These eventually tuck their tentacles in and become small sea creatures. Feeding continues. Feeding and growing. So much feeding. Eventually the jellyfish bell and tentacles start to develop. And sometimes, the bell has a face.

Why certain jellyfish develop human-seeming faces is a bit of a mystery. If the jellyfish survives, it will continue to feed and grow – specifically growing downwards until it takes the form of an adult human female – often wearing a large and elaborate dress. This is clearly because the jellyfish woman incorporates the bell tent of the regular jellyfish form. It may just be an uneasy coincidence that this form exists.

When the jellyfish woman has feet, she finds a location where the depth is just right, and attaches herself to the sea floor again. Once this has been achieved, a jellyfish woman can in theory live forever. The sea depth is vitally important – no more than the head and shoulders of the jellyfish woman should be exposed by low tide. However, it is vital that the head at least is exposed as this is key to how the adult jellyfish woman feeds.

The ability of jellyfish women to learn and deploy human speech is another of their many mysteries. It is theorised that they are psychic and either draw the language from the head of a potential victim in order to speak, or project their words into the human mind. 

The jellyfish woman will use either seduction to lure a victim, or will try to persuade them that she is a normal human at risk of drowning. Once the victim enters the water, the jellyfish woman uses the poison in her tentacles to further entrap her prey. She consumes small amount of blood, but her poison is addictive and causes victims to voluntarily return, craving fresh hits. Feeding over an extended period, coupled with the impact of the poison, will kill the victim.

Snow

A tale from The Squid and Teapot

As most will have gathered by now, Hopeless, Maine is not renowned for its good weather. For much of the year it can be challenging for residents to ascertain exactly which season they might be currently enjoying. Fog-bound, gale-swept winters drift into equally inclement springs, summers and falls, without missing a beat. Sometimes the fog has been known to relent and generously become no more than a semi-opaque sea-mist. While such interludes can never be called halcyon days, they are treasured. In fact, any weather pattern in which fog plays only a secondary role is a welcome distraction. So, when one morning the island woke up to a blanket of snow, the wonder and excitement of many of the islanders knew no bounds.
Being an island, lashed by waves and salt-laden air, the incidence of snow on Hopeless is rare. What makes this particular snowfall even more remarkable, however, is that occurred in mid-August.

Bartholomew Middlestreet stood upon the doorstep of The Squid and Teapot and scratched his head in amazement. The last time that it had snowed was on New Year’s Eve. That was unusual in itself, but its memory had lodged in Bartholomew’s mind for another reason. That had been the night of the bar-fight in The Squid, and he had watched a stranger to the island, the instigator of the brawl, walk out into the snow and not leave any trace of a footprint. Hopeless was an odd island, to be sure, he thought, but lately it had become downright peculiar.

The landlord’s definition of ‘peculiar’ might have been revised several degrees along the scale, had he been with Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, a few hours earlier. Although used to the various horrors who called the island home (if ‘home’ is not too cosy a term for the living nightmares within which most of them dwelt), Rhys particularly disliked Creepy Hollow. The place, in itself, was not awful. It was the possibility of running into the wraith of The Eggless Norseman, Lars Pedersen, that worried Rhys. As ghosts go, the old Viking was harmless enough, but his mad, glaring eyes and gaunt form, little more these days than fading tatters of protoplasm, gave Rhys bad dreams. However, his work had to be done, and every few weeks the residents of Creepy Hollow required his services.
The unseasonal fall of snow had surprised Rhys, but it provided a certain amount of welcome illumination. While used to wandering around in darkness, the Night-Soil Man was grateful that the extra light helped to speed him along.
Intent on getting his Creepy Hollow duties out of the way, Rhys failed to see the lone figure standing in the clearing until he was almost upon it. The thought occurred to him that several things about the tableau made little sense. Usually, his proximity to most other life-forms would cause a certain amount of gagging and nose-holding, but the person in front of him did neither; indeed, it was as if the Night-Soil Man was invisible. Stranger still was the fact that there were no footprints in the snow, other than his own.
Rhys stood perfectly still and watched the figure, which he assumed to be that of a man, standing with arms raised, beckoning skywards with his fingers, as if willing the snow to fall. Seconds, or maybe minutes passed – Rhys had no way of telling – then, with his arms still outstretched, the mysterious stranger began chanting and rocking gently to the rhythm of his own song. Occasionally he would stamp one foot upon the ground. Gradually his movements became more fluid and dance-like. With his back arched and knees bent, he began to turn, and as he turned, so the snowflakes swirled around him. Faster and faster he went until he was little more than a blur within the blizzard that raged around his spinning form. By now Rhys was crouched in the shelter of the trees, his hat pulled down low, and his jacket wrapped tightly around him, and barely able to accept the evidence of his eyes, which were growing heavy. He was becoming lost in the mesmeric thrall of the storm, which raged and howled like a pack of hungry wolves (although Rhys had no way of knowing this, never having seen or heard a wolf in his life). Human shapes and nameless creatures could be seen flickering within the churning tempest, capering and writhing around the dancer, who by now, was almost invisible. Then, as if switched off by some unseen hand, the blizzard abruptly died, and all was still. Nothing was left to be seen but an expanse of snow, unruffled except for the Night-Soil Man’s own footprints.

That night, in the bar of The Squid and Teapot, the talk was all about the freak snowstorm that had swept the island that morning. Not the slightest pile of slush or tiniest sliver of ice now remained, but that did nothing to ease the speculation, oiled as it was by copious pints of ‘Old Colonel’ and shots of the best spirits that the Gannicox Distillery could provide. The unseasonal weather had been blamed upon everything from the Kraken feeling out of sorts, to Les Demoiselles, the French Can-Can troupe, inadvertently doing some manner of rain dance, which had turned to snow.
“It’s a warning to us all. The lewd and sinful dancing that those French girls brought to the island will be our ruin,” mused Seth Washpool, adding, “or so Reverend Davies reckons.”
“There’s nothing wrong with them girls. That man thinks everything is a warning,” said Philomena Bucket impatiently, having little time for the clergy of any denomination.
“Well, whatever the cause, I can’t recall seeing anything like it before,” said Norbert Gannicox, “and never heard tell of such a thing, either.”
Bartholomew Middlestreet kept his own counsel. He had his own suspicions who, or what, might have been responsible.
“You must admit that strange things happen here all the while,” opined Linus Pinfathing. “Hopeless is a weird place on the best of days.”
Some of the others nodded sagely.
A small smile played upon Linus’ lips, as he could not help but add,
“And we certainly seem to be living in Trickster times.”
No one noticed Bartholomew’s glare at these words. He did not like, or trust, Linus.
“We certainly are,” he thought to himself . “We certainly are.”

A future Salamandra

In the summer of 2020, Dr Abbey started drawing Salamandra with green hair. I knew as soon as I saw these interpretations that there was no way Salamandra could have green hair during the graphics novel arc we have planned. Life is dour on Hopeless, colours are muted, and Salamandra has her attention focused on less-fun things.

I wrote the first draft of the graphic novels more than ten years ago. Since then there have been stories set before and during that time frame. Nothing had previously turned up that belonged after the graphic novels.

One of the things that happens with the island, is that pieces of the story turn up all over the place. They don’t come to me – we’ve got a hugely important story from Merry Debonnaire in the next graphic novel. Hopeless is strange and magical in its own ways, and sometimes it happens to people.

I looked at green haired Salamandra and realised that Dr Abbey could see something of what might come next. So earlier this year I sat him down and started asking about that. He had a lot to tell me!

I’ve been in the exciting process of developing those storylines for some months now. It will be a while before any of it makes it out into the world, but I can confirm that while there are two more graphic novels to come out, the story continues beyond the graphic novel arc.

We have to stop doing graphic novels because they are so labour intensive. We’re going to move into illustrated fiction and maybe poke about in light novel form hereafter, because that will be much more sustainable for us. There are some huge changes on the island by the end of the graphic novels. I feel very comfortable making it obvious that Salamandra survives because I am never going to write a story in which the magical girl does not get to grow up and live long and well.

(Green haired Sal by Dr Abbey)

The Trapper

A Tale from The Squid and Teapot

Squid and Teapot also by Martin Pearson

“Hey fella. What’s this critter called?”
Linus Pinfarthing stopped in his tracks and turned around slowly. Only one quizzically raised, and somewhat affronted, eyebrow betrayed his annoyance.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said what’s this critter called. Ain’t seen nothin’ like these things before.”
The newcomer, who was dressed in furs and buckskin, was holding up a cage in which an angry spoonwalker tottered around helplessly.
“That sir is a spoonwalker. How did he get to be in there?”
If the other man noticed the ice in Linus’ voice, he chose to ignore it.
“Well, I lured him there. Got me a few more, back in the cave.”
“Indeed? And you are…?”
“Zeke Tyndale, trapper and fur trader. Please to meet you mister.”
Tyndale offered his free hand which Linus reluctantly grasped. He held it for a few seconds, as if deciding whether to shake or no.
For reasons he could not explain, Tyndale shuddered, feeling as if his soul was being laid bare. Then Linus smiled, shook the proffered hand warmly, and said,
“Linus Pinfarthing at your service, sir. My dear fellow, I would love to see the rest of your collection.”
“Happy to,” said Tyndale. “Follow me.”

As the two men walked, Tyndale surprised himself by blurting out his life story to his new companion. He told how he had been a successful trapper, and had plied his trade right across the continent. Upon a whim he decided to try his luck in the far north-east, where, he was assured, he would find plenty of pelts, just waiting to be caught. Unfortunately, his small boat had run aground upon the rocks around Hopeless. Being a practical man, he had set up camp and decided to see if there was any game worth trapping on the island.
“Lucky I’ve still got all my traps and snares,” he confided, “but I ain’t seen nothin’ worth skinnin’ yet, ‘cept some things that look like cats…”
“That would be Dust Cats. You would do well to avoid them,” said Linus gravely. “Besides which, you would never catch one.”
“That sounds like a challenge to me,” laughed Tyndale.

The trapper’s camp was surprisingly orderly, all things considered. He had salvaged the contents of his boat and stacked them neatly against a rock, covering everything with a badly stained tarpaulin. A circular fire-pit sat in front of the mouth of the small cave, which currently served as Tyndale’s temporary abode.
“Home sweet home,” he said, gesturing for Linus to sit on a nearby rock. “Coffee?”
“No thank you,” said Linus, ignoring the invitation to sit. “I am most keen, however, to see your little collection of spoonwalkers.”
Tyndale beamed, happy to display his prowess as a trapper, and strode into the cave, beckoning for Linus to follow.

The cave was small, barely half-a-dozen paces from side to side, and illuminated by the glow of a single hurricane lamp. Tyndale’s bedding lay in an untidy heap.
He carried the cage, and its irate occupant, over to the far corner, where Linus could see, in the dim light, several similar traps, each holding a dejected spoonwalker.

“These critters are goin’ to make my fortune,” declared the trapper proudly. “When I get off this island, I’ll take them to New York. Folks there have never seen nothin’ like these. They’ll give me a blank cheque to get their hands on them. Then no more trappin’ for me. I’m going to be a millionaire!”
“And how do the spoonwalkers feel about this?” asked Linus.
“Why, they’ll be fine and dandy about it, I reckon,” Tyndale guffawed.
Linus sighed.
“Do you know, Mr Tyndale…”
“Call me Zeke.”
“… Mr Tyndale, there are few things more disgusting to me than to see a creature – even creatures such as these – caged for the pleasure and greed of thoughtless humans.”
“Well, that’s as maybe, Mr Pinfarthin’,” said Tyndale brusquely, “but trappin’ is my trade and what I can’t skin I’ll damn’ well sell… and believe me, these little guys will sell on the mainland, no problem.”
“I think not, Mr Tyndale. Maybe you should be caged instead. Or would you prefer to be skinned?”
Linus unlatched the cages and watched the spoonwalkers scuttle away on their cutlery stilts.
“Now you look here, young fella…”
“Young fellow? No, you look, Mr Tyndale…”
Suddenly, the light of the hurricane lamp was dimmed as the cave filled with a swirling, smoke-like dark mist, which seemed to emanate from the body of Linus Pinfarthing. His form was changing, and the affable young man who had walked into the cave had lost all substance. Tyndale cringed as the space was filled with nightmare visions of blood and sacrifice, through which he occasionally glimpsed animal and bird forms. Then, as swiftly as the mist had formed, it dispelled. Pinfarthing was gone. The trapper stood up, wondering what had happened, convinced he had been hallucinating.
Then he saw the hare.
It was sitting in the mouth of the cave, motionless, and looking straight at him. Now, here was a meal and a pelt he could not refuse.
Stealthily, he unhitched his hunting knife from its sheath, never taking his eyes from the hare. Just one throw is all that it would take…
“I gave you a chance,” said the Hare in a voice as deep and dark as the earth itself. “I gave you the opportunity to change your ways.”
Then the hare stretched and grew, and with growing, altered his shape into that of a coyote.
“Do you not know me, even now?” asked Coyote, shaking himself.
By now Tyndale was on his knees, trembling, as he watched Coyote turn black, and shrink once more, growing the feathers and wings of a great raven that tossed its head, and held the orb of the sun within its beak. It was a light that grew in intensity, almost blinding the trapper. Then, in the fierce unearthly glow, it seemed that all three beasts were there before him.
“Fear us now,” chorused the voices of Hare, Coyote and Raven. “We are The Trickster. We are The Guizer. We are The Eldest. We are The First and The Last.”
Tyndale screamed and squeezed his eyes tightly shut, hoping the three would be gone when he opened them again. Seconds passed like hours, or maybe they were hours.
Squatting on the floor of the cave, gibbering and shuddering, he heard the ominous rustle of wings, the padding of light feet on stone and the distant howl of a prairie wolf. He knew that there were no wolves on this island. What was happening to him? Tyndale opened his eyes once more. He was alone, and all of his world, and everything he would ever again know, was held within the cave.

“It’s beyond even my knowledge,” said Doc Willoughby, modestly. “I have never seen anything like this.”
Linus Pinfarthing looked on sympathetically.
“The poor fellow must have suffered some great trauma,” he opined. “You could almost believe he was somehow caged inside himself.”
“Yes, I agree,” said the Doc, nodding. “You may have something there, Linus.”
No one knew exactly how long the wretched figure had been sitting, rocking and whispering to himself in that cave. It was fortunate that Linus had happened upon him a few days earlier. They had tried to leave food and drink, but he appeared to want neither. He was existing on nothing but air, it seemed.

Zeke Tyndale looked through the bars of his cage and saw the thousands of creatures that he had trapped and slaughtered in his lifetime. They clamoured to break the bars down, to drag him away and rip him to pieces. He wished that they would, for death would be a welcome respite. However, Hare, Coyote and Raven, who guarded him day and night, had other plans. He knew that it was their intention that he would live, trapped in this cage for as long as it pleased them, and that would be a long, long time.

Linus Pinfathing

Squid and Teapot by Bish.

Regular readers may recall, in the tale ‘The Lord of Misrule’, how a quite violent, and uncharacteristic, bar-fight erupted in The Squid and Teapot on New-Year’s Eve. No one could say exactly who started it, although Bartholomew Middlestreet, the landlord of the inn, vaguely remembered an elegant stranger whispering in the ear of young Ambrose Pinfarthing, just moments before the evening descended into chaos.
The incident was never referred to again, and many of those who were there actually began to doubt that it had ever happened. As for the stranger, only Bartholomew noticed his presence, and all memory of his shape and form left with him, like his shadow, as he slipped away into the darkness.

It was some months after the affray in The Squid that Linus Pinfarthing moved into the family home on Refinery Road. There had been Pinfathings on Hopeless for four generations and, as far as anyone was aware, they had all lived in the same cottage since coming to the island. While most of us would baulk at the concept of a total stranger insinuating himself into our home, strangely enough, no one in the family showed any surprise, although, none could recollect having seen him before. It was as if he had come from nowhere, and cast some sort of glamour over them. Indeed, the same could be said for the rest of the islanders, for to all intents and purposes, before many days had elapsed, the general opinion on Hopeless was that Cousin Linus had always been a presence in the Pinfathing’s household. Unlike the rest of the clan he was noted for his good-looks, charm, wit and affability. Everyone liked Linus – men admired him and women either wanted to marry him or mother him, and sometimes both. He was popularity personified. Even Doc Willoughby and Reverend Davies smiled indulgently at the mention of his name.
Bartholomew Middlestreet was alone in having reservations about Linus, although he never voiced them. For some nagging reason that he could not identify, he felt that there was something not quite right or wholesome about the young man.

“Miss Toadsmoor, what a pleasure to bump into you this morning. I do hope that you are well.”
Linus swept off his fedora, and made a deep, theatrical bow, bending at the knee and throwing his arms wide.
Marjorie Toadsmoor blushed to feel her heart suddenly race. She was, or had been, a Victorian lady of the upper-middle classes. Since being on Hopeless she had all but forgotten about courtly manners, but in Linus’s company the starchy etiquette that had informed her upbringing came flooding back. Controlling her emotions, she curtsied primly and smiled.
“Good morning Mr Pinfarthing. I am very well, thank you.”
Linus looked up at the sky, heavy with fog.
“I think it is going to be a fine and sunny day. Would you do me the honour of joining me for a picnic luncheon later?”
This was all very sudden, and the chances of the day being anything but foggy seemed remote. Despite this, she heard herself saying,
“Why certainly, Mr Pinfathing, but on the condition that I bring a chaperone. It would not be proper otherwise.”
“Naturally,” agreed Linus with a smile. “I will call for you at the Pallid Rock Orphanage at noon precisely, and provide the picnic.”
Still blushing, and not a little confused, Marjorie made her way to The Squid and Teapot, in the hope that Philomena Bucket would agree to be her chaperone.

“If he thinks that there’s going to be clear skies and sunshine,” said Philomena, as they sat waiting in the hallway. “He’s more of a fool than any of us took him for.”
Philomena was slightly put out that Mr Pinfathing had set his cap at Marjorie, who was no more than a slip of a girl, rather than at herself. However, she was not one to hold grudges and – after all – no one could be cross with Linus Pinfarthing for very long.
The clock in the hall chimed the hour and, as if on a signal, there came a sharp rap on the front door.
“It’s him, it’s him,” gasped Marjorie. “Oh, Philomena, what shall I do?”
“You’ll go out… we’ll go out, and we will eat his food, as you agreed,” said Philomena. “It is that simple.”
“Yes, but what if…”
There was another knock on the door. Philomena pulled it open before Marjorie changed her mind.
Suddenly, the hallway was bright with a shaft of honeyed sunlight. The two women stood blinking; they had both become unaccustomed to anything resembling good weather.
“Good day, and yes, it certainly is a good day, as I did indeed forecast. Come – I think that the lower slopes of the Gydynap hills will be a splendid place for us to picnic.”
Without more ado, the young man ushered Marjorie and Philomena through the empty, sunny streets and out towards the hills. Neither of the two women thought that it was at all strange for Hopeless to be deserted in the middle of such a phenomenally fine day. In fact, they didn’t think anything at all, for they were with Linus and that was enough.
It was not a long walk to the hills and it seemed the most natural thing in the world that their picnic was already set out when they arrived. There was a spacious tartan blanket laid out on the lush grass and a small table, heavy with a rich array of food and drink, the like of which neither woman had seen since coming to the island. The hills seemed alive with birdsong and the humming of bees as they gathered nectar from a scattered carpet of harebells, thrift, cornflowers and orchids.
Something kept telling Philomena that this was all wrong; none of this ever happened on Hopeless, but the thought refused to stay in her head. Instead, she downed another glass of sweet cider and munched happily on delicate white-bread sandwiches and soft, delicious honey-cakes. Marjorie and Linus were laughing and sharing food and drink, as lovers do.
“I’m glad that they’re happy,” thought Philomena, sleepily, as her eyes grew too heavy to stay open in the afternoon sunshine.

“Philomena, wake up,” pleaded Marjorie.
“I’m awake, and I wish I wasn’t,” came the reply. “What’s going on? Where are we?”
“I don’t know,” wailed Marjorie. “I can’t remember anything. Oh, I am so cold…”
A thick night-fog lay all around, blanketing all but the closest objects, and the dampness of the rough grass was enough to chill their bones.
“By the feel of the grass, I’d guess we’re on the Gydynaps. How the devil did we…?”
Before Philomena could finish her sentence, a blood-curdling howl rent the silence of the night.
Marjorie stifled a scream, but Philomena silently motioned for her to keep very still and quiet, as the rustle of someone or something moving stealthily in their direction caught her ears. Then their noses were assailed by a noxious smell, foul and unmistakeable.
“Rhys, we’re over here,” Philomena cried with relief, only caring now that the Night-Soil Man would hear her.
“Keep it down,” Rhys Cranham hissed as he emerged from the gloom.
“It isn’t safe out here at night. I don’t know what you’re doing, but you need to be gone. Drury found you. He is over there. Follow him. I’ll cover your backs.”
Gratefully the two struggled to their feet and went towards the spot where they could hear Drury, snuffling and rattling happily in the bushes.
“Are you going to be alright, Mr Cranham?” asked Marjorie concernedly, almost gagging through a hand that covered her mouth and clamped her nostrils together.
“I’ll be fine. There’s not much that can stand to be around the stench of a Night-Soil Man. Now go.”

“And you have no idea how or why you got there? You were gone for hours.”
Bartholomew Middlestreet, along with most of the patrons of The Squid and Teapot, had been searching frantically, once it was known that Philomena and Marjorie were missing.
The two shook their heads.
“If it hadn’t been for Rhys and Drury we’d still be out there,” said Philomena. “I dread to think what might have happened.”
“You gave us all a scare,” drawled a soft, educated voice from the corner of the room. “But at least you are both safe now. The hue and cry is over, so I’m to my bed. Good night all.”
“Goodnight Linus, it was good of you to help,” said Ariadne Middlestreet.
Bartholomew said nothing, but looked hard at the elegant figure, slipping through the doorway and into the night, and wondered why he did not trust Linus Pinfarthing.

Mrs Beaten demands trousers

Trousers maketh the man. Although not in the way my neighbour Miss Jones seems to think because I refuse to accept that if she wears trousers, she is in fact a man. She asked me if I thought Mr Quentin who makes the herbal teas is in fact a man. He, after all, wears trousers and has tolerably presentable shirt collars. Of course he is a man.

“But how would you know,” Miss Jones said, ‘If he was really a woman?”

She says these things only to vex me. 

It is true, and demonstrably true that men who fall into moral decay eschew the trouser. If you have been unfortunate enough to encounter one of those vampiric gentlemen of the night, you will likely have noticed their penchant for flowing fabric, and not a trouser leg to be seen between them. It is equally true with the gentlemen who have dedicated themselves spiritually to the great master in the sky. No trousers! While their preaching is persuasive, how can one trust a man whose trousers are at best hidden, and may be fearfully absent? How can you trust a man when you have not seen whether his creases are properly pressed in?

Trousers are the measure of a fellow. Loose enough to hide any improper curve of unspeakable leg-parts. Fitting enough not to seem wanton or excessive. What is manhood without well proportioned trousers? 

And yet, how easily might we be beguiled by the well formed trouser? Who amongst us goes forth in the daylight, well trousered and appearing the very embodiment of manly virtue, only to cast off their trousers at night and appear robed and debauched? The very thought makes me shudder.

I could better forgive them if they had simply replaced the appropriate trousers with modest and sensible dresses. They have not. These loose, voluminous robes could hide anything! Who knows what depravity might continue beneath that flapping fabric? There is no restraint, no decorum. There is no recognition of civilization or decency.

Can-Can Fever

A Tale from The Squid and Teapot

Squid and teapot by Matt Smith

Hopeless was in the grip of Can-Can fever. Les Demoiselles de Moulin Rouge, who had found themselves shipwrecked on the island some weeks earlier, had made such an impression with their wild and uninhibited dance routine, which they had been happy to reprise on a weekly basis, that the whole island seemed to be under some sort of Can-Can spell. Wherever you might choose to go, the strains of Offenbach’s ‘Galop Infernal’ was being hummed, whistled, rattled out on the spoons or – best of all – played on the Bell-Edison Phonograph, that these days occupied pride of place in The Squid and Teapot. It was here that one patron was taken aback, wandering into the flushing privy, to find its resident ghost, The Headless White Lady, with her skirts up over her knees, Can-Canning for all that she was worth.
“That woman has a fine pair of legs on her,” he later commented, “especially when you consider that she’s been dead for hundreds of years.”


So popular had the tune become that, ever since the concert when Les Demoiselles had made their island debut, the wax cylinder of the much-beloved song ‘Molly Malone’ had sat gathering dust.


The spectacle of islanders (of both sexes) practising high-kicks and various feats of Terpsichorean diligence had become commonplace, as had the queue outside the surgery of an unsympathetic Doc Willoughby, each patient complaining of sprains, pulled muscles and, occasionally, the consequences of an over-enthusiastic attempt to perform the splits. Bartholomew Middlestreet was adamant that his strained expression and stiff, halting gait, was on account of his having put his back out while lifting a barrel, but no one took this explanation seriously.


The only voice of dissent was, unsurprisingly, Reverend Davies. Things grew a little tricky, however, when he was caught quietly humming the ‘Galop Infernal’, but he excused himself by maintaining, in haughty but hurt tones, that he was actually reminding himself of the allegro from the second movement of Beethoven’s tenth symphony, which the scoundrel Offenbach had obviously stolen. He had a very good chance of being believed, until Miss Toadsmoor innocently pointed out that Herr Beethoven had laid down his quill after nine symphonies, so the Reverend must be mistaken. If looks could maim, Miss Toadsmoor would have been carried out in a paper bag, but being a Man of God, and conscious that the Pallid Rock Orphanage was in desperate need of her services, he grudgingly let the matter go.


Things came to a head when half-a-dozen stalwarts of ‘The Crow’, generously lubricated and keen to impress, linked arms and Can-Canned themselves spectacularly over the edge of a cliff, never to be seen again. When they heard the news, Les Demoiselles were mortified, feeling responsible, and vowed that there would be no more shows unless the islanders stopped dancing in the streets; at least, that was a blushing Miss Toadsmoor’s somewhat genteel translation of some extremely earthy and robust Gallic sentiments regarding the antics of drunken fools and the desecration of their noble art.

A chastened Hopeless took note, the street-dancing stopped, and with its demise, all injuries and fatalities receded to pre-Can-Can levels. The occasional snatch of the familiar tune could be heard, but, by and large, the only evidence that it was still an ear-worm for most was the not-uncommon sight of islanders standing with a faraway look in their eyes, rocking slightly, as if being forcibly restrained, and tapping their feet to a melody that only they could hear.
With some semblance of order restored, Les Demoiselles agreed to resume their weekly concerts, with the proviso that ‘Molly Malone’ was also to be played at the end of each evening, in the vague hope that the strangulated Irish tenor, with his chorus of ‘Alive, alive, oh’, would once more regain prime position in the hearts of all Hopelessians.

(You can find this week’s Squid and Teapot illustrator over here – http://matt-illustration.squarespace.com/ )

Hopeless Maine Stories

Hopeless, Maine - New England Gothic & Other Stories ebook by Keith Errington,Brynneth Nimue Brown

If you backed our kickstarter a few years ago, you may already have copies of New England Gothic or The Oddatsea. You may have since managed to acquire one at an event. But, maybe you didn’t, and maybe this has left a gaping hole in your bookcase…

Much to our delight, Outland entertainment (who are publishing American editions of the graphic novels) are also publishing the prose fiction. It comes out in August and is widely available from book selling places, including…

In the USA…

Kobo (ebook version) https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/hopeless-maine

Barnes and Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hopeless-maine-keith-errington/1139080560?ean=9781954255128

Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/Hopeless-Maine-England-Gothic-Stories-ebook/dp/B098GWBBHW

And in the UK…

Hive – https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Keith-Errington/Hopeless-Maine–New-England-Gothic–Other-Stories/25936608

Wordery https://wordery.com/hopeless-maine-keith-errington-9781954255128

Bookshop – https://uk.bookshop.org/books/hopeless-maine-new-england-gothic-other-stories/9781954255128

(Also Amazon in the UK, but, other places are less likely to spend your money on going in to space).

And here, for your delectation, is Nimue reading a bit of New England Gothic

The Raven Stone

A Tale from The Squid and Teapot

Image by Stephen Candy, Sheepthulhu made by
Lynda McBookaldson

The note pinned to the door had no signature, but Rhys Cranham recognised the writing immediately:
“I have it on good authority that today you celebrate ten years as the island’s Night-Soil Man. With best wishes for many more to come. x “
This message was completed with a charming illustration featuring small birds and meadow flowers, neither of which were common on Hopeless.
“Ah, dear Philomena Bucket,” said Rhys to himself. “I had completely forgotten the date. Ten years… it seems like yesterday…”

Rhys pulled off his cap and scratched his head in amazement.
“Shenandoah, what do you make of this?”
Shenandoah Nailsworthy, the Night-Soil Man, scrambled nimbly over the rocks to where his apprentice was standing, then, as if held by some invisible hand, abruptly stopped in his tracks.
“That wasn’t there yesterday,” Rhys said.
“No,” agreed Shenandoah.
As a breed, Night-Soil Men usually tend to eschew unnecessary chatter.
After a pause of almost a minute, Shenandoah added, “Nobody has seen anything like this for years. Certainly not in my lifetime. I’ve got a bad feeling about it.”
Rhys looked thoughtful.
“I’ve heard the tales, same as everybody else,” he said. “Never expected to see it though. It looks smaller than I imagined.”
“Don’t be fooled,” said Shenandoah, a hint of fear in his voice. “There’s more to this than you know.”

The cause of this unbridled garrulousness was a solitary standing stone, slightly taller than a man, which had sprung up, apparently overnight, on the westernmost side of the Gydynap Hills. Its rugged surface was etched with runic symbols that glowed eerily in the pale moonlight.

After they had finished their rounds, Shenandoah invited the young apprentice into his cottage for a late supper – or it could have been an early breakfast. He motioned for Rhys to sit down, then produced a starry-grabby pie and two bottles of ‘Old Colonel’ from his larder.
“Don’t pay too much heed to the tales you’ve heard, because the truth is, nobody knows why that stone just turns up the way it does,” said Shenandoah. “The last time that it appeared was nearly a hundred years ago, so you and I have seen more of it than any other living soul,” he added, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
The two sat in silence for a while.
“Things don’t just appear for no reason, then go again,” observed Rhys. “It makes no sense.”
“You don’t know that it has turned up here for no reason,” said Shenandoah. “Anyway, strange stuff happens on Hopeless all the time, especially around the Gydynaps.”
His apprentice looked thoughtful and took a long swig of his beer.
“You reckon it’s best avoided?”
Shenandoah nodded.
“Don’t go near it, son,” he said.

Shenandoah sat, lost in deep thought, after Rhys had left the cottage.
He was well aware that his apprentice had no intention of keeping away from the stone. Whatever tales the young man had heard were certainly spurious, and would never serve to save him from the consequences of his own curiosity. Despite what he had told Rhys, the Night-Soil Man had a fair idea why it had appeared at this time. The date was not lost upon him; Midsummer-eve had held a terrifying significance to the Nailsworthy family for almost a thousand years, after his ancestor, the slave Cadman Negelsleag, killed a raven. Because of this insult to Odin, he and his descendants were cursed by a vǫlva – a Norse seeress, a shaman, practised in the old magic. The Nailsworthy family alone knew the terrible fate of Cadman and the secret of the Raven Stone.
Sighing, he dragged on his jacket, and stepped out into the cold air, to find a long, black feather lying on his doorstep. Picking it up, he turned his head slowly, and looked back at the cottage with sadness in his eyes. This was the final clue. There was no cheating fate. It was then that Drury came padding up to him.
“It’s time, Drury.” he said, a tremor in his voice. “Look after him, old fellah.”

There are few things sweeter – at least in the short term – than forbidden fruit. It was inevitable that thoughts of the mysterious stone would prey on Rhys’ mind all through the few hours remaining before first light.
“It could be gone tomorrow, and not back for another century,” he said to himself. “I think I’d like to take a closer look at those markings while there’s the chance; just for a few minutes, no more.”
And so, in the grey of a Hopeless dawn, he slipped out of the bunkhouse that was his home, and made his way towards the Gydynap Hills.

Hopeless is famously foggy, but on this particular day the fog seemed to be worse than ever. Rhys did not mind, at first, enjoying the concealment it provided. Soon, however, it became too dense to walk safely without putting one foot gingerly in front of the other and keeping his arms outstretched. It fuddled his brain, making time and distance seem to expand alarmingly.
After what felt like an eternity, the dim bulk of the Gydynap Hills loomed ahead. The fog before him, where the Gydynaps lay, was beginning to thin, though to his sides and rear it was as thick and impenetrable as ever. Thing started to get weirder by the minute; he could not see the stone now. If it was still there, it was surrounded by a small copse which had apparently sprung from nowhere in a very few hours. In addition, a flock of huge, black birds circled above its branches, cawing ominously. Drawn, as if by some force beyond his control, Rhys felt compelled to venture inside.

Shenandoah’s warning still rang in his ears, but it no longer seemed quite as ridiculous as it had in the cottage. Walking cautiously between the twisted and knotted trunks, young Rhys could swear he could make out a gentle, silver glow, somewhere ahead, as if shafts of moonlight were piercing a dappled canopy of foliage, but he knew that this could not be. The moon had long ago set.

Rhys wandered on for a few more minutes, towards the mysterious light, feeling a little surprised that he had not yet reached the far side of the thicket. From the outside it had appeared to be quite small, but there was no sign of the trees thinning any time soon. He felt suddenly nervous. Maybe it was time to turn around… and then he saw him. A dozen or so yards in front, a familiar figure was standing, bound to the rune stone and bathed in a cold, silver light. It was Shenandoah. He seemed to be wearing a cloak of glossy black feathers; but something told Rhys that it was not a cloak – it was a shroud, a living, fluttering, cawing shroud of ravens that gradually smothered the body of the Night-Soil Man, until not an inch of flesh could be seen.

The young apprentice was about to run towards the writhing mass of feathers when a sharp tug on his jacket pulled him up short.
He turned his head awkwardly to see Drury dragging him back.
“Let go Drury,” he yelled, but the dog was insistent, pulling him through the trees with preternatural strength. With arms flailing to keep his balance, Rhys ranted and swore at the dog, cursing him for a useless bag of bones that he’d toss into the sea as soon as he was free. If Drury understood the tirade – which he probably did – he chose to ignore it until he had moved the apprentice safely out of harm’s way.
Rhys rolled over on to the grass with Drury’s final tug, then leapt to his feet, ready to rush back and somehow tear away those infernal birds and rescue Shenandoah. But the trees were gathering in upon themselves, like a spring being wound. Within seconds there was barely enough space to slip a hand between the tightening trunks, which, little by little seemed to merge into each other, until all that was left was solitary hawthorn, gnarled and twisted, which gradually dissolved into the morning mist.

Rhys was stunned. Shenandoah was gone. Gone! Why had he been there? It made no sense. He dropped to his knees, on to the wet earth, and wept. Great sobs racked his body, his sense of loss so deep and wide that it felt as though nothing would ever be the same again. Then, blinded by hot tears, he felt a wet, furry muzzle nuzzling his neck and a long tongue licking his face. Something primitive stirred deep inside him, responding to the comforting touch of another living thing. Turning, there was only Drury to be seen, hairless and tongueless as ever, but wagging his bony tail as if to say, ‘We’ve still got each other, young friend.”

It took a week, or more, before Rhys felt able to move into the House at Poo Corner. He was the Night-Soil Man now; just eighteen, but after a three-year apprenticeship knew that he was ready. When the time came, he lifted the great lidded bucket, with its leather shoulder straps, from the wall, hefted it on to his back and stepped out into the night, alone on shift for the first time. Then an unmistakable, bony shape came rattling down the pathway, barking and panting. No, he will never be quite alone. Good old Drury.

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.