Devious Devices

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

The Hopeless Traveller

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

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

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The Bounder

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

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

Art by Tom Brown

The spoon whisperers

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Art by Tom Brown

Moonshine!

Norbert Gannicox had taken a vow of sobriety. As you may recall from an earlier tale, the circumstances surrounding his father’s demise were somewhat macabre and had quite put him off alcohol for life. So, while he was happy to fulfil his role as the main distiller and supplier of moonshine on Hopeless, he carefully avoided imbibing anything stronger than coffee (This was sometime before the hairy variety was discovered. Even if it had been available I don’t believe he would have gone anywhere near it.)
As has been stated many times, resources can be scarce on this island and Norbert was finding difficulty in sourcing sufficient quantities of raw materials to provide the mash for his brew. Things were looking grim for the business until one day an article in The Vendetta caught his eye. Apparently there was an abundance – an infestation, one could say  – of the dreaded Night Potatoes. Norbert reasoned that, as vodka is made from ordinary potatoes, any brew distilled from Night Potatoes must be at least as good, or possibly better. It was worth a try.
It is not difficult to gather Night Potatoes. By finding one, and popping it into a sack, you may be certain that others will soon appear to rescue it. This is not a task for the faint-hearted or the lone collector however, for a vengeful Night Potato will fight back with some vigour, as their first victim, Stern Ericsson, found to his cost. Fortunately Norbert had come prepared and with the aid of a few friends several sacks were soon heaving with their wriggling and indignant forms.
Ignoring the protests coming from the sacks, once back at the distillery Norbert consulted one of Ebenezer’s notebooks. The handwriting was neat and the instructions precise:

Potatoes are ideally left unpeeled and, if desired, a small amount of malted barley may be added. The potatoes, whether whole or chopped, should  be  initially boiled to gelatinise the potato starch. When this is done, add more water to form a mash and then cool to approximately 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Add some milled malted barley to the mash. The potato starch will then be converted to fermentable sugars.

Norbert could see no problem here. True, these were no common potatoes but, in the scheme of things, a vegetable was a vegetable, whether it cursed and ran around or not. The time had come for action.

I won’t go into the harrowing details of Norbert’s process of preparing the mash. Maine is famous for its lobsters and doubtless many of us have quailed to hear one scream when it is cooked. Imagine the heart-rending cacophony made by a sackful of sentient potatoes, each one reluctant to enter the boiling water. Therefore, if only to appease my own sensibilities, I will fast-forward to the time when the whole process had been completed.

Norbert had purposely avoided mentioning the unconventional ingredients of this current batch of alcohol to his customers as he thought that it might be inclined to deter some from drinking it. In the event the very first batch of Night Potato Moonshine was to be delivered to Madame Evadne’s Lodging House for Discerning Gentlemen, a famous bordello (just down the road from The Squid and Teapot, as it happens).
Since Madame Evadne’s death a century or more earlier, a succession of capable ladies, retired, or at least semi-retired, from their erstwhile profession, had fulfilled the role that she had so successfully created; she was a  concierge, administrator, book-keeper, businesswoman and bouncer all rolled into one.
The latest of this long line of matriarchs was one Nellie Bagpath, a fearsome and formidable figure who ruled her charges and their clients with an iron fist in a velvet glove (sometimes literally, especially if enough money changed hands).
As soon as the delivery had been made and Norbert was safely on his way home, Mistress Nellie, as she liked to be addressed, thought it expedient to sample the brew before the clients got to it. She helped herself to a generous tot, and then another one or two, just to be certain that the Lodging House had received a fair deal. She decided that it had, but one can never be too careful about these things, so to be on the safe side she had another couple of tots to make absolutely sure.
Unusually for Mistress Nellie she took to her bed early that night. She was feeling a little under the weather and decided that the place could run itself.
“I’m not at all well,” she told her second-in-command, Alicia Ozleworth, in slurred tones. “Not well at all, but I am most definitely not under the affluence of incahol.”

It was turning-out time at The Squid and Teapot and Sir Fromebridge Whitminster, actor/ manager and raconteur had begun the short stagger back to his home. He was singing quietly to himself, having enjoyed several pints of ‘Old Dogwater’, when his rendition of a song that seemed to be totally comprised of the words  ‘Tum-te, Tum-te,Tum, Dee Dum Dee’, was brought to a halt when he saw a strange apparition wandering in the moonlight. The figure was that of a woman of matronly build and mature years. She was dressed in a flowing, full-length white nightdress and thick, pink woollen bed socks. With arms outstretched and eyes glowing with an eerie luminosity she lurched towards him. Ever the gentleman, Sir Fromebridge swept off his fedora and made a deep bow.
“Good evening, dear lady,” he said in his best Shakespearean voice. “May I be of some assistance, perchance?”
The apparition passed by as though he were invisible, which was probably just as well as the deep bow had put his back out and he was the one in urgent need of assistance.
“I am the Potato Lady of the Night ” she moaned as she drifted by.
“Ah. Jolly good” he replied in agonised tones. “I say, could you possibly…?
But, alas, she couldn’t, as she was out of earshot and he was stuck.

This island is rife with ghosts and demons, vampires and all sorts of nameless creatures, slithering, creeping and wandering around on pilfered cutlery. These are the stuff of nightmares but when they saw Mistress Nellie in this new guise, every last one of them gave her a wide berth.

Someone else who enjoyed the disdain of the Hopeless horrors was Shenandoah Nailsworthy, the Night-Soil Man. This is not an image you‘ll want to dwell upon, but he was half-way through his rounds and had just settled down to eat his sandwiches.
Shenandoah is not a man who surprises easily but the sight of a woman with luminous eyes wandering the cliff tops in her nightdress and pink woolly bed socks was not all that common. Even less common was the fact that she came right up to him and planted a kiss upon his grizzled cheek.
“I am the Potato Lady of the Night” she intoned.
“Well heck”, he said. This was as close to swearing as Shenandoah ever got.
“Heck!  I’ve heard of women like you but never met one. You must have a really nasty head cold. Would you like a sandwich?”
He lifted one from the lunchbox sitting on his bucket lid.
It was too late. She had gone, wailing into darkness.

Whether by accident or instinct, the Potato Lady of the Night made her way to the gates of the Gannicox Distillery. Norbert was in bed and dreaming fitfully of screaming potatoes and old men floating in barrels. It was a relief to be woken by a relentless banging on the door.  Blearily he went downstairs.
“Who’s there?” he called.
“I am the Potato Lady of the Night”
“Well I haven’t asked for a delivery, especially this late. Come back in the morning.”
The banging continued and Norbert decided that discretion was the better part of valour and let her in.
“Mistress Nellie?” he gasped. “Are you okay?”
She drifted by him as if he didn’t exist and made her way to the storage sheds.
Puzzled and still half-asleep Norbert followed.
She made her way to the large vat that contained the Night Potato moonshine and turned on the tap.
“Come out my brothers and sisters, be free, be free once more” she wailed as the precious liquid splashed on to shed floor.
Norbert was rendered helpless and speechless as the alcohol flowed around his feet.
The woman that had been Mistress Nellie turned to face him, though face is maybe not the right word. Her features had become grotesque and shapeless, a gnarled and knobbly thing, not unlike the shape of a very large potato with bulging eyes that shone with a sickly yellow glow.
“I am the Potato Lady of the Night” she said again, then for some reason added “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Despair seemed like a good idea. Snapping out of his paralysis Norbert screamed and ran away as fast as he could. He ran over the hills, careless of the dangers of  the night-creatures and the dreadful reek of the Night-Soil Man, who had his second surprise of the night when Norbert fell over his bucket. Eventually he found himself outside Madame Evadne’s where the usual activities were well underway He knew what he must do. Racing in, he went to the cellars and found the cask of moonshine. Rolling it outside he knocked out the bung and let the contents empty into the gutter.
Alicia Ozleworth, Mistress Nellie’s deputy, watched from the doorway, not a little horrified at his actions. Norbert explained all and promised to fully refund the cost of the liquor.
Exhausted, he made his way home through the darkened streets. Suddenly he was stopped in his tracks by an anguished voice
“Excuse me, old chap, could you possibly give me a hand…?”

Needless to say Mistress Nellie Bagpath was never seen in the flesh again, though a couple of people reported spotting a strange, potato-like wraith in pink bed socks, wailing over the headland. It did not get a lot of attention. That sort of thing is hardly newsworthy here. What was newsworthy, however, was a rare but timely delivery from the mainland supplying the Gannicox Distillery with several casks of cereal and Alicia Ozleworth becoming the new boss – or Mother Superior as she called herself – at Madame Evadne’s. Sir Fromebridge, as you may know, is sadly no longer with us, but something tells me that although he’s dead, we’re unlikely to have seen the last of him. After all, this is Hopeless, Maine.

 

Art by Tom Brown

New Hopeless, Maine illuminator!

Dear people (and others) It is my great pleasure to introduce you to a new visual artist who has recently washed ashore on our bleak (but seldom dull) island. He was found drawing (stunning) pictures of our dear Professor Elemental, and… I pounced! (with success) He is with us now as a guest artist (probably taking up residence near the coast for the views and fresh tentacles)  His name is Clifford Cumber, and he describes himself thusly,

“Cliff Cumber draws occasionally for people he likes very much, when he can fit it into a life filled with almost-teen children, and when his wife deems his mental state sufficiently stable to use sharp objects. He is formerly of Great Britain, now resident in Maryland, and while that sounds made up, it’s actually a real state in America. Honest. Follow him on the twitters, @cgcumber.”

As you can see, he is a modest (and busy) sort of chap.

Without further ado, here is his image of Obediah from a recent episode of Tales from the Squid and Teapot.


The Distiller

Though not rich in natural resources, Hopeless has always scraped by on the bounty that the sea delivers, whether it is the occasional whale carcass or the flotsam washed up from the frequent shipwrecks.

Ebenezer Gannicox was well known as a beachcomber (or, more correctly on Hopeless, a rockcomber) so when he suddenly went missing from home no one really worried too much. He had done this before on several occasions, embarking upon what he described as a foraging mission. Ebenezer was a wiry little man and a distiller of some distinction who relied upon the sea to provide some of the raw materials necessary for his trade. The casks of malted barley, blackstrap molasses and other such luxuries carefully stored in his sheds attested to his success as a forager. It has also been suggested that he was possibly adept as a wrecker too, but this has never been mentioned in polite and civilized company (though it does get talked about quite frequently in the bar-room of ‘The Crow’)

.

Hopeless has never been unduly troubled by the rule of law, especially those laws which seem, to many, totally irrelevant to the smooth running of society. After all, when the overriding priorities of your daily life are avoiding being eaten, avoiding being driven insane and avoiding having your cutlery stolen, all else fades into insignificance. So whether the offence is deliberately luring ships onto the rocks, or the manufacture of moonshine, poitin or pocheen (call it what you will), no one worries too much. To be fair, the amount of time and effort required to do either of these things will put most people off. They are far too preoccupied with the straightforward business of avoiding being eaten, avoiding being driven insane and avoiding having their cutlery stolen.

While wrecking is generally approved of as a necessary resource, there are inevitably naysayers who will list reasons why the distillation and consumption of moonshine should be banned. Some will invoke law, others religion. A few will offer the excuse that it may cause blindness but this only ever happens when the equipment used has been contaminated, or the methanol has not been removed from the brew, or you put a stick in the cup when you’re drinking it. (It seems that if you want someone to stop doing something you don’t approve of, tell them that they will go blind. This is a strategy famously employed by priests and headmasters for generations.)

 

After six months had gone by questions began to be asked as to Ebenezer’s whereabouts. His son, Norbert, scoured the coastline but there was no sign of him anywhere. It was as though he had vanished off the face of the earth, which was not an unknown occurrence on this most perilous of islands. The general consensus, however, was that Ebenezer was too wily a character to put himself in danger.  But when more months passed and the search had to be abandoned, Norbert and his mother resigned themselves to the fact that the old man had foraged one time too many.

Over the years Ebenezer had stockpiled an impressive supply of moonshine. It was stored in casks of all sizes, courtesy of the aforementioned shipwrecks. There were pins, firkins, kilderkins, hogsheads, butts and tuns, each containing gallon upon gallon of  the Gannicox Special Distillation, as it was called. This was fortunate, as Norbert was reluctant to take on his father’s role and become the island’s chief distiller. Instead he decided to become a distributor.

For the next five years he made his way diligently through Ebenezer’s stockpile. He delivered it in jugs, in bottles or sometimes in a firkin strapped onto his back. Each container bore the legend ‘Gannicox Special Distillation. 80% alcohol by volume. Keep out of the reach of children and Spoonwalkers’

Eventually, he came to the last cask – a huge two-hundred and forty gallon tun which sat in the darkest corner of the shed. Norbert estimated that while this would keep his customers happy for the rest of the year, the time had come for him to learn the distiller’s art if he wanted to remain in work.

For the next few weeks things went well. Norbert became adept at distilling and wondered why he had shied away from it for so long. At the same time he drew moonshine from the tun to fulfil his customers’ needs until one day the unthinkable happened; when he turned on the tap no liquor came out. No end of kicking and shaking would move the cask, so there was obviously still plenty of liquid inside. The only explanation was that something was causing a blockage. Norbert prayed that it was not a rat.

Deciding that the only way forward was to remove the top of the cask, he armed himself with a lighted candle, a crowbar and a step-ladder. To his surprise, however, it had already been loosened. The chances of the blockage being a rat seemed greater than ever. Norbert steeled himself, prised up the lid and peeped inside.

Nothing could have prepared him for the sight that greeted him. Old Ebenezer’s face peered up through the clear well of alcohol which had preserved  him perfectly. He looked happy enough, under the circumstances, but his eyes glowed with a greenish luminescence.  His big toe had become firmly wedged in bung hole, serving to stop the flow through the tap. Then Norbert noticed presence of spoons. A shudder passed through him. He could make out several lying on the floor of the cask.

Thinking things through, it seemed obvious to Norbert  that Ebenezer had stumbled upon a quantity of spoonwalkers nesting in the dark corner behind the casks. Everything pointed to it. They had probably been helping themselves to the moonshine for years. It was well known that to have eye contact with spoonwalkers for any length of time would invoke madness, and the glow in the old man’s eyes said as much. Had he climbed into the cask of his own volition or had they somehow managed to push him in? Norbert shuddered again and hastily replaced the lid.

 

Family loyalty prevailed over business interests and Norbert decided not to sell any more of the moonshine from the cask which had preserved his father so well. It occurred to him that it would be a fitting tribute to the old man if things were left pretty much as they were and the cask, complete with alcohol and Ebenezer, be ceremoniously buried on the cliff top, overlooking the coast where he did so much of his foraging. Unfortunately, that was not to be quite the way things turned out. When rolling it to the chosen spot the cask hit a small rock and bounced out of control, making its way over the cliff and into the sea. The last report of its progress had it  bobbing away on the Atlantic swell to a destination unknown. When it eventually made landfall someone, somewhere had an extremely nasty surprise.

Art by Tom Brown

Werewolf Mark Making

Werewolf Mark Making

By Nimue Brown

Proper artists don’t seem to talk about drawing and painting so much these days, as about ‘mark making’ (https://www.thoughtco.com/how-does-mark-making-affect-your-paintings-2577630)

Being improper artists, Tom and I like to draw and paint things. Sometimes I colour stuff in.

We got thinking about mark making when exploring the idea of an arts and crafts movement on the island of Hopeless, Maine.

We give you…. Werewolf mark making

Werewolf mark making is much sought after by some collectors on the island, although many people find it more gruesome than is strictly speaking necessary. As you can see from the above image, the slash of claws and splatter of blood on an object indicates an attack. Indeed, werewolf mark making items invariably come from the scenes of violent deaths. In the absence of survivors, the exact way in which the marks were made remains purely speculative.

It may be that the item has been held up defensively, but to no avail. Perhaps it was hit accidentally by a poorly aimed paw. Either way, it raises a philosophical conundrum for the potential collector: Can it truly be called art if the werewolf was not consciously making it as an artistic statement? It’s important to focus on the big issues in cases such as these.

Hopeless Romantics

While others rush to immerse themselves wholeheartedly in the fads and fashions of their age, over the years the inhabitants of Hopeless have steadfastly ignored such shallowness. This is not totally out of choice. In fact, it’s not at all out of choice. No one enjoys a spot of puddle-deep diversion more than the average Hopelessian but when you live on an island surrounded by fog and crawling with an assortment of nasties these things just don’t turn up by mail-order. Anything of a remotely novel nature generally arrives by accident.
One such serendipitous item is now  a treasured possession of Rufus Lypiatt, current landlord of The Squid and Teapot. This is a carpet-bag which was left at the inn by the renowned librettist, Mr. W. S. Gilbert. You may recall that Mr Gilbert returned to the mainland in something of a hurry following a night apparently disturbed by several spoonwalkers invading his bedroom. The bag he left behind contained several items of interest, not least of which was a collection of hand-tinted daguerreotypes of nineteenth century works of art, including some reproductions of paintings by the group who called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
When, in the latter years of the nineteenth century, this book was shown to Beatrice Merrywalk, one of the older girls in the orphanage, she immediately fell in love with Romantic art and Sir John Everett Millais’ painting of Ophelia in particular. Although she had absolutely no idea who Ophelia was, she sensed from the painting that here was young woman who epitomised all of the yearnings for tragic romance that stirred in her own breast. It felt to her that Death was the greatest artist of all, perfect in its dark finality. Having become quietly obsessed with Millais’ painting, she decided that she not only wanted to become Ophelia, the girl in the stream, but to be seen in that role forever, so that people would understand the turmoil and anguish churning in her young heart. To add to her sense of the dramatic, not to say melodramatic, she had come across ‘The Death of Chatterton’, another picture heavy with the illusion of romantic death, this time of a young poet. Maybe if she, as Ophelia, could find her Chatterton, they could let the world know of, and appreciate, their great pain.
That cruel trickster, Adolescence, is famous for filling certain young heads with dark clouds and yearnings for a picturesque death. It was, therefore, almost inevitable that Beatrice would find her Chatterton before too long had elapsed. He arrived in the form of Algernon Box, an unassuming young man who lived alone in an old and falling-down cottage next to a babbling creek that led down to the sea. Like so many on Hopeless, Algernon’s parents had disappeared under mysterious circumstances and as a consequence the lad was given to staring at the most incongruous items with dewy-eyed sensitivity and looking glum.
No one objected when Beatrice moved in with Algernon. The orphanage was happy to have one mouth fewer to feed. Besides, on Hopeless none of the usual rules apply. Life is difficult enough without unnecessary complications. To call these two young people lovers, however, would be a vast overstatement. They were bound together by a common bond of platonic melancholy. This usually involved staring at incongruous items with dewy-eyed sensitivity and looking glum. Their conversation, when it dragged itself out of the Slough of Despair, would invariably turn to the subject of finding a suitable artist to capture their last, tragic moments as perfect replicas of Ophelia and Chatterton.  They named the little plot of land upon which they lived Tragedy Creek and planned their suicide pact.
“Only Death will give us what we most desire,” said Beatrice, and she truly believed this to be so.
You may have noticed that Hopeless is quite a strange place. The unusual and bizarre is fairly run-of-the-mill around here. In view of that, neither of the two young people felt remotely surprised when, one dismal afternoon, the very man they had hoped for arrived at the door of their cottage. In a deep, sonorous voice, he introduced himself as being an artist visiting the island and asked to be invited in. His gangly frame, lean to the point of appearing cadaverous, seemed to fill the tiny kitchen.
In truth, this mysterious visitor did not resemble anyone’s idea of an artist. In his smart, dark business suit he looked more like a lawyer. Or an undertaker. The only clues to his trade were contained in the portfolio he carried under his arm.
“I have the paintings you requested.”
The pair looked at each other in puzzlement.
“Paintings? We’ve ordered no paintings.”
“Oh but you did. I heard you. Is this not what you most desire?”
The dark stranger placed the portfolio on the kitchen table and, opening it, produced two paintings. One was of Beatrice. This was exactly as she had visualised herself; Ophelia, alone and tragic, lying in the creek that ran by the side of the cottage. The other painting was of Algernon as Chatterton. He had painted him as though in his home surroundings.
They both gasped.
“They are beautiful,” said Beatrice. ”But how…”
“You asked. Don’t you remember?” said the stranger, then, without another word he picked up his portfolio and left. At least they assumed he had left, for the whole episode passed as if it were a dream. Only the two works of art lying on the table proved that any of it had really happened.
Several days passed before either noticed some subtle transformations occurring in the paintings. Small creatures had suddenly appeared around the bodies, which had somehow started to appear less attractive. Ophelia began to bloat. The pallor of both became quite ghastly.  After another week or so things began to look really awful. They had become carrion. Although the corpse of Chatterton was subject to the attentions of anything that could crawl, squirm or slither through his window, Ophelia, out in the open, fared worse.
By the end of the second week Beatrice and Algernon had to turn the pictures around so that they faced the wall. The images of each had become the stuff of the most horrible nightmare imaginable. Faced with such brutal reality all their ideas of romantic death were gone. Alone and terrified they clung fiercely to each other and wept.
It was the night-soil man who found them. They were huddled together in the little cottage, a look of terror and madness imprinted upon their young faces. They had been dead for some days. He looked around him at the sparse furnishings and few possessions. It struck him as strange that amid all the poverty were two quite beautiful paintings, each depicting doomed youth.
Even now, Tragedy Creek is felt to be the most melancholic place on Hopeless. In over a century only a handful of people have stayed in Algernon’s cottage for more than a night or two. The most recent resident was a would-be poet who was later discovered to be a escaped convict. Although he reported no strange experience there, some claim to have seen two unhappy ghosts walking from the front door to the babbling creek. It was long ago thought best that the paintings be removed to more cheerful surroundings. Today they hang safely behind the bar in the Squid and Teapot.  Occasionally Rufus will be asked who the artist is. He always gives the same answer, usually with a wry smile. “I’m damned if I can tell you…
Art by Tom Brown

Meet Philomena Bucket

Please meet Philomena Bucket. She has recently shipwrecked on the island (which may explain her worried expression)

Philomena is a Traveller. Which is to say,  the example character in the Hopeless, Maine role playing game which is in development by Keith Healing. The whole project is coming along beautifully and has a publisher, so, fear not (or, not too much) it will be with you in the fullness of time. Keith understands the setting and the story in a way that makes us nearly giddy and is finding ways of having players explore and interact with the island and its flora and fauna (and those things which are uncomfortably neither or both) and create experiences and dark adventures.

Here, in Keth’s words, is how Philomena Bucket was born (or created) with some rolls of the dice-

“Philomena Bucket
These numbers tell us a lot about her. Philomena is of average build (STR 11) but a little sickly (CON  She could well appear a little pale and wan. However, her manual dexterity is good. She is not stubborn but can possibly be manipulated (WILL 10) but is of above average intelligence. She gets on pretty well with people (CHA 11) and is naturally drawn towards things spiritual (PSY 15).
Philomena rolled 52 on Class, making her as Middle class as could be, and 47 on Age. The player determines that as this is towards the top end of the range Philomena is 28 years old.
Given her physical characteristics and her high PSY Philomena’s player decides that she is an Artist specialising in painting. Her high PSY and DEX give her a base skill of 36% to which is added another 10% for her age, giving a total of 46%. She is pretty good but a bit rough around the edges.
She is a keen amateur Biologist.
Finally, and intriguingly, she is albino.”

If the roll had gone another way, she would have been inexplicably attractive to small bits of metal.

If you would like to know how all of this is developing and keep up with progress and news of release dates and such, I can recommend following the development blog, here!

 

Hoping (as always) this finds you well, inspired and thriving.

The Stowaway

To discover the genesis of this tale we need to travel a great distance from Hopeless, to Catamarca Province which lies in the far north-west of Argentina. It was in this area, according to legend, that students of the dark arts would seek out the fabled Salamanca caves, where, some believed, lay the entrance to Hell itself. Here lurked terrors beyond our worst imaginings; terrors even greater than those encountered upon this island.
It was in these caves, in some far-off time, that the creature known as Manchachicoj was conceived, the spawn of a demon and a local witch. Manchachicoj soon grew up to be an eloquent, softly spoken romantic, driven by a burning obsession to seek out and seduce beautiful young women. Although his pedigree was a mixture of native Calchaquí and demon, with his charm and elegance you could be forgiven for arriving at the conclusion that he possessed all of the attributes of a classic Latin lover. Sadly, this was not the case, for Manchachicoj was somewhat hideous to behold; everyone he encountered eschewed the amorous attentions of this stunted, ugly creature.
After many centuries of unsuccessfully pursuing this quest all over Argentina it gradually dawned upon him that he was definitely not widely regarded as being boyfriend material. So, one bright morning in the latter part of 1886, while loitering around the docks in Buenos Aires, he made the decision that it was time to move on – and the three masted barque making ready to set sail for Portland, Maine looked perfect for the task.
With sails billowing as they left the quayside of Buenos Aires, Captain O’Neill looked lovingly around his ship. The Annie C. Maguire had made good progress. The passage from Liverpool to Argentina had gone exactly to plan and now, with a cargo of salt beef, he was determined to reach Portland by Christmas Day. Others on board were his wife and an eleven man crew. Just four thousand, seven hundred and twenty five nautical miles separated them from Christmas dinner in Maine. Little did he know that deep in the hold, sharing a barrel with a quantity of salt beef, was a diminutive and not particularly attractive stowaway.
Being a half-blood demon Manchachicoj’s senses were sharper than that of any mortal. He heard every conversation on board clearly and was able to see perfectly well in the pitch-black belly of the hold. Besides this, he had little need for food or drink. Occasionally, however, it pleased him to help himself to a mouthful of meat, or, in the early hours when the sailor on the middle-watch was half asleep, would steal a sip or two of water.
The long voyage passed without incident, and on the afternoon of Christmas Eve the imposing tower of the Portland light came into view. Manchachicoj was quietly dozing in his barrel at the time and the buzz of excitement on board brought him fully awake. But there was something else, some sound in the distance beyond the hearing of the others that drew his attention. It was enchanting  – a voice so achingly beautiful that it stirred him in ways he had never known. He was suddenly wrapped in a maelstrom of tenderness and lust, joy and sorrow, sunshine and moonlight. This must be the voice of the lover he had sought for so many centuries.
He scrambled from the barrel and made to climb out of the hold. He swore to himself. It had been battened down to safeguard the cargo as they entered the rough seas around the coast of Maine. Undeterred and driven wild with desire to see the owner of such a wonderful voice he found a marlin spike and began to hack away at the wooden walls of the ship with a superhuman frenzy.
If you examine the official report regarding the sinking of the Annie C. Maguire you will be told that she struck the ledge at Portland Head Light. The Lighthouse Keeper and some volunteers made a makeshift gangplank with a ladder, allowing everyone to clamber to safety. The report goes on to say that the cause of the wreck was puzzling; visibility was good and the crew swore that they had plainly seen the Portland Light prior to the disaster.
The truth of the matter is that the barque’s rudder had been damaged when Manchachicoj burst through; she was out of control. And so was poor Manchachicoj. His head was filled with an unworldly music that promised pleasures beyond all comprehension. Little wonder that he was so determined. There can be few in this world more obsessive and insistent than a siren-besotted Calchaquí-demon hybrid.
There we must leave the crew of the Annie C. Maguire, who all survived without a scratch and doubtless got to enjoy their Christmas dinner in Portland, though salt beef would more than likely have been off the menu. As for the barrels of meat, many made their way to the grateful populace of Hopeless. How that little episode eventually unfolded, however, is a tale for another day.
Oblivious to the damage he had caused, Manchachicoj swam frantically towards the source of the sweet-voiced songstress – which happened to bring him close to the coast of Hopeless. Demonic types conceived on land are not the most natural of swimmers. His technique, for want of a better word, resembled something between a dog-paddle and a panic attack but nevertheless, what he lacked in style he made up for in enthusiasm. Through dogged determination he fought his way through the icy waters towards his goal.
Both of his hearts leapt in unison as he saw her, a vision of loveliness perched daintily on an outcrop of rocks, known to the locals as The Devil’s Fingers. She was as beautiful as he had hoped and envisaged – and he was not at all fazed by her fishy extremities. As far as he knew, all of the girls in Maine looked like that. You must understand, Manchachicoj had never seen a mermaid or even heard tales of their fatal beauty. He had no inkling that, if he were a mere mortal, by now he would have drowned, having been driven mad by her siren song. Happily ignorant of these facts he was in love and anyway, drowning isn’t an option for a demon, half-blood or not, however badly he swims.
By the same token, the mermaid was impressed. Here was someone who had survived long enough to put himself in line to be properly seduced by her. It had never happened before. And looks aren’t everything, she told herself. Manchachicoj pulled himself up onto the rocks and the two gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes…You may ask if there was a ‘happy ever after‘ for these two? Some of you will remember the report in The Vendetta a few years ago of a mermaid turning up and singing seductively on The Devil’s Fingers. We nearly lost a few good men that day, including the venerable Doc Willoughby. These fellows were more than a little appreciative of the song she sang and it took a great deal of combined effort to stop them jumping into the sea. Fortunately everyone survived, including the mermaid. She was something of a disappointment to those who saw her, though. To put it mildly, she certainly wasn’t gifted with classic mermaid good looks. Have a look at the picture. Let’s just say she takes after her father.

Art by Tom Brown

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.