Tag Archives: Drury

The Indispensable Man

Ever since the episode with the phonograph – described, you may remember in the tale ‘Ghost in the Machine?’ – Gwydion Bagpath had begun to register the existence of Philomena Bucket. Previously, she had barely caught his attention. As the self-appointed elder of the Commoners, his lofty position had rendered him far too busy to notice her. There had been beachcombing and salvaging expeditions to oversee. In addition to this, he felt that it was his duty to ensure that the Nailsworthy family were attending properly to the venerable elder trees that the community relied upon. Then there was his role as both chairman of the Gydynap Preservation Society and the Common Committee (organisations which met for a liquid lunch, twice yearly in ‘The Crow’). On top of these onerous duties was the business of standing around and looking important; the gravitas that his position required would not cultivate itself. But I digress. Gwydion had noticed Philomena Bucket and realised that, despite her pale skin and white hair, she was an extremely attractive young woman – that is to say, young by Gwydion’s standard. He was at least twice her age, but he was a widower looking for a young wife to comfort him through his old age and Philomena seemed to be perfect for the task. Philomena would be honoured, he felt certain, to be invited to step out with him, with a view to courtship and eventually marriage.

Blissfully unaware of Gwydion’s long-term plans, Philomena was happy enough (if not exactly honoured) to join him occasionally for a brisk stroll along the headland. As ever, Drury, the skeletal dog, would amble along beside her, sniffing everything in his path and chasing shadows.

‘Damned infernal creature,’ thought Gwydion uncharitably, seeing Drury as being less of a dog and more of a passion-killer. Of course, he would never voice this opinion aloud, knowing how fond Philomena was of her strange companion.

In order to win Philomena’s approval, Gwydion would use these walks to inform her of his many qualities. He would speak, at some length, of his altruism, his bravery, his generosity – the man’s virtues knew no bounds, at least in his own mind. Philomena, of course, was no fool and soon realised that she was being played like a fish on a line. She did not dislike Gwydion but the feelings he invoked in her were far from romantic – and she could never love anyone who displayed such obvious coldness towards Drury. She resolved, therefore, to find reasons to avoid these strolls. She would do this gently, however, to avoid hurting Gwydion’s feelings. That was her intention, anyway but being, perhaps, too kind for her own good, she left things too late and found herself, one foggy afternoon, in the position of being subjected to a proposal of marriage.

They had been walking towards the town when Gwydion suddenly dropped down on one knee and asked for her hand in marriage.

“I’m sorry Gwydion, but I can’t possibly marry you,” she stammered.

A pained look passed over the old man’s face and his voice shook.

“Your hand… give me your hand… “

“I told you no…”

“For heaven’s sake, give me your hand, you idiotic woman, and help me up. My back has gone and goodness knows what else. I’m stuck.”

Try as Philomena might, this was to no avail. Gwydion was well and truly locked into a kneeling position and no amount of heaving by Philomena could budge him.

“I’ll get Doc Willoughby,” she said. “He’ll know what to do.”

Doc Willoughby knew exactly what to do. He arranged for a couple of burly lads from the Common to come along and carry Gwydion, still stuck with one knee bent in the time-honoured proposal attitude, back home.

“Silly old fool,” the Doc muttered. “What was he doing down there, anyway?”

“He was proposing marriage,” replied Philomena, simply.

“Well I propose that he stops making himself look ridiculous and give up chasing young women. He must be seventy, if he’s a day.”

Sad to relate, Gwydion never recovered from this latest affliction. Even though he was eventually able to stand normally again, his joints were past their best and his life was never the same. To the relief of everyone concerned, he reluctantly gave up his committees and overseeing duties. The job of Elder of the Commoners was discontinued; most had long realised that elder did not necessarily mean wiser. It came as something of a shock when Gwydion realised that nothing had suffered for his absence and life on the Common progressed as it always had. Before many months had elapsed, he died, a broken man. Little by little the name of Gwydion Bagpath faded from people’s memories.

It was many, many years later that an American soldier named Dwight Eisenhower, (who, I am reliably informed, did quite well for himself in later life) revealed that he always carried in his pocket a copy of the following poem. It’s a pity that Gwydion had not read it…

The Indispensable Man

Sometime when you’re feeling important;

Sometime when your ego’s in bloom

Sometime when you take it for granted

You’re the best qualified in the room,

Sometime when you feel that your going

Would leave an unfillable hole,

Just follow these simple instructions

And see how they humble your soul;

Take a bucket and fill it with water,

Put your hand in it up to the wrist,

Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining

Is a measure of how you’ll be missed.

You can splash all you wish when you enter,

You may stir up the water galore,

But stop and you’ll find that in no time

It looks quite the same as before.

The moral of this quaint example

Is do just the best that you can,

Be proud of yourself but remember,

There’s no Indispensable man.

Story by Martin Pearson-art by Tom Brown

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Ghost in the Machine?

I have no idea how the phonograph survived the storm and subsequent shipwreck – but survive it did. This was, unfortunately, more than could be said for the captain and crew of the ‘Golden Cross’, the merchantman that had set out with the honourable intention of ferrying the new-fangled Edison-Bell machine across an inhospitable ocean to England, only to flounder early on in its journey. It would be not unreasonable to suppose that the fogbank that suddenly loomed in her wake was the downfall of the ‘Golden Cross’, concealing as it did – and still does – the treacherous rocks and unnamed terrors lurking in the waters surrounding the island of Hopeless, Maine.

The crate had looked promising, sitting foursquare on the beach. An address label revealed that the intended consignee was the recently founded Gramophone Company, of Maiden Lane, London, England. This gave no clue whatsoever regarding the contents of the crate to the Nailsworthy brothers, twin boys who had never heard of a gramophone, London or, indeed, England. Despite this, they carried it with great care and not a little difficulty back to the Common, wary not to disobey the large, red stencilled letters, which advised ‘This Way Up’ and ‘Do Not Drop – Fragile’.

Regular readers will know that The Common is home to a small community, originally descended from some of the earliest settlers on the island. These are called Commoners. They are recognised by all on Hopeless for their homely disposition, scavenging prowess and no small amount of inbreeding.

A crowd had gathered, anxious to see the wonder that had been revealed, once an inordinate quantity of packaging and padding had been removed from the crate. What could it be? A polished wooden box with a big brass horn and a handle that seemed to do nothing in particular. This was certainly a conundrum that confounded the brains of the brightest of the Commoners. Although it made no sense, the strange item was treated with a certain amount of awe and reverence; after all, they reasoned, anything that had required such delicacy to transport must be a treasure of some worth. In view of this, the phonograph was set up with great ceremony in the middle of their meeting hall.

It was a week or so later that Philomena Bucket chanced to call by. As ever, Drury, the skeletal dog, was scampering along beside her, rattling happily and attempting to mark his progress with phantom micturitions.

No sooner had she set foot upon the Common than the Nailsworthy brothers appeared and ran excitedly to her.

“Miss Philomena, come and see. Come and see what we’ve found.”

Before Philomena could protest the boys dragged her to the meeting hall and proudly pointed to the mysterious machine.

“Why, it’s a phonograph” she said. “I haven’t seen one of those for ages. I wonder if it still works?”

“D’you know what it does? Can you make it work? Can you… can you? ”  asked Hubert and Osbert Nailsworthy excitedly. “Show us, miss Philomena – pleeease…”

“I think so,” Philomena smiled. “But I need to find some things first. I’ll come back this afternoon.”

It took no time for the word to get around that Philomena Bucket was going to make the machine do something quite wonderful, though no one knew quite what that would be. This did not prevent Gwydion Bagpath, the self-styled elder of the Commoners, speaking knowledgably on the subject, having gleaned whatever information he could from the Nailsworthy boys.

“It is as I guessed,” he said with an air of importance, “I recognised it immediately, of course. It’s called a um… called a…”

Gwydion racked his brain to recall what the boys had said it was.

“Ah yes, it’s called a pornograph I believe”.

Morning wore into afternoon and the excitement in the air was almost palpable as the Commoners waited impatiently for Philomena to return. She, in the meantime, had been ransacking the storeroom of the ‘Squid and Teapot’, looking through the spoils that had been salvaged from the wreck of the ‘Hetty Pegler’, the ship that had brought her to the island several years earlier.

The ship’s skipper, Captain Longdown, had possessed a phonograph exactly like the one salvaged by the Commoners. While Longdown’s phonograph had not survived, some of its cylinders had. Without a phonograph, however, they were quite useless but, thanks to the ‘waste nothing’ philosophy of the island, they had been squirreled away just in case they might come in handy for something one day.

A reverential hush descended upon the meeting hall as Philomena, with Drury at her feet, wound the handle of the spring-gear that powered the machine. She fixed a cylinder in place, positioned the horn for best effect and gently lowered the circular brass reproducer, with its sapphire needle, on to the cylinder’s surface. This began to turn and suddenly, from the depths of the horn, there arose the tinny but unmistakable warblings of a strangulated Irish tenor, who was professing his love for a girl with a wheelbarrow; a girl who apparently sold sea-food.

Philomena gazed wistfully at the Phonograph, her mind transported back to the land of her birth. Her reverie, however, was rudely interrupted by the screams of panic as her audience lapsed into mass-hysteria, believing themselves to have been subjected to all sorts of diabolical witchcraft. Unfazed, Philomena replaced the cylinder with one that played only music. It was Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’, a tune beloved by every manufacturer of music-boxes, pretty much since the day that the old boy wrote it. Music-boxes were something that the Commoners could understand. They had seen them before. They knew how they worked. It was generally accepted, by one and all, that music-boxes were definitely not at all diabolical.

One by one the audience drifted back in and Philomena was eventually able to convince even the most sceptical that there was no imp or ghost singing, no demonic voice to ensnare them. Hopeless had its fair share of terrors, this was not one of them. Gingerly, Philomena wound the handle, put the  ‘Molly Malone’ cylinder back on and sang along, her sweet soprano voice mingling with that of the tremulous tenor. Gwydion Bagpath tentatively joined in with the chorus, then, following his lead, another voice picked it up, then another and another until the meeting hall rang with the strains of

‘Alive, alive oh,

Alive, alive oh,

Crying cockles and mussels,

Alive, alive oh.’

By common request the handle was wound and ‘Molly Malone’ was played over and over, more times than anyone could count, until Philomena, quite frankly, felt that she would be happy if she never had to hear the song ever again. Drury, however, was more than content to sit in front of the phonograph’s horn, his head cocked to one side, enjoying every moment. Alive, alive, oh – it was a good thing to be.

Story by Martin Pearson-Art by Tom Brown

 

A Dog’s Life

Killigrew O’Stoat loved mornings like this. As mornings go, this particular one was not exceptional, pervaded, as always, by copious amounts of chilly fog. The quality that Killigrew appreciated was daylight. It was midsummer and although very little occurred to mark the changing of the seasons on Hopeless, the summer months gave him the gift of being able to finish his work while basking in the semi-opaque dawn of another Hopeless day.

 

For three years Killigrew had been the island’s first – and self-appointed – Night Soil man. Being reclusive in the extreme, the anti-social stench, coupled with the nocturnal nature of the work, gave him the solitude he so craved. With his night’s labours finished, it was pleasant to rest for an hour on the rocky headland, listen to the waves breaking upon the rocks far below and allow his mind to wander wherever it wanted. On the morning of our tale, however, his reverie was interrupted by a sound he had not heard for some years; the barking of a dog. Although the founding families had brought a few pets and domesticated animals with them to Hopeless, these had not fared well, mostly falling prey to the many hazards – natural, supernatural and decidedly unnatural  – that were (and indeed, are) the scourge of the island. The mere sound of a dog barking, therefore, released in Killigrew a wave of nostalgia. If there was a dog on the island he had every intention of getting to it before it met an unpleasant fate.

 

The little that was left of the life-raft had been reduced to matchwood, having been dragged over the rocks by two long, sinuous and suckered arms. Those arms were now wrapped tightly around the middle of the raft’s former occupant, a grizzled man in nautical gear, who thrashed around like a fish on a hook, fighting desperately to avoid being dragged into the creature’s lair. The source of the barking – a scruffy looking dog of indeterminate breed – dashed frantically around in impotent rage. Killigrew raced along the headland and down to the beach, leaping over rocks and boulders, careless of his own safety. To the Night Soil Man’s horror he could only watch helplessly as the terrified seaman was pulled, kicking and screaming, into a dark cleft in the rocks.

Yet another tendril-like arm slithered out and tightened itself around the frantic dog, who snarled and bit angrily.

Killigrew knew that there would be no reprieve for anything dragged into that lair. He had never seen any more than those serpentine, grasping arms but knew from experience that the nightmare that wielded them was a vicious killer. He had witnessed this before.

Gasping for breath, Killigrew threw himself heroically into the entrance of the cave, thankful that the gaping maw devouring the gory remains of its victim were somewhere deep in the lightless recesses behind him. Immediately, as if by some unheard command, the dog was unceremoniously dropped on to the ground and the writhing arms seemed to shrivel as they receded past him, back into the cave. Killigrew smiled to himself. His overpowering stench had, at least, served to save one life today.

The great curse of the Night Soil Man’s existence is also its blessing. The work is foul and the incumbent, though respected, is a pariah, avoided by all. The silver-lining to this malodorous cloud is that he is also shunned by every living creature ( not to mention the undead and the not-at-all-sure-whether-they’re-alive-or-no) on the island. There are, of course, exceptions but these, like the monstrous Wendigo and Pamola, the bird-demon of the Maine Indians, are as ancient as the land itself and don’t really count. Dogs, however, are the undisputedly non-mythological exceptions that simply adore awful smells. Every dog owner knows that their beloved pet loves nothing better than to inhale or roll in the vilest of things – and this is how the dog on the beach became Killigrew’s only friend and faithful companion.

It would be less than helpful if I continue referring to the dog on the beach as simply ‘the dog on the beach’; in future I will call him by the, frankly unimaginative, name that Killigrew gave him: Dog.

In fairness to Killigrew, he remembered that the hairy, bouncy creature with a leg at each corner and an exceptionally long tongue standing before him was generally referred to, in the English-speaking world, as ‘dog’. The constraints of his amnesia, however, prevented him from recalling that these animals would usually have a unique name bestowed upon them, such as Bonzo, Lassie, or possibly Spot, a useful attribute when summoning them for walks, etc. Fortunately confusion was avoided, as on Hopeless such niceties are not necessary; in the absence of any other canine competition, ‘Dog’ was name enough.

For ten short but happy years Killigrew and Dog were inseparable. If anyone spotted the Night Soil man – usually no more than a silhouette on the skyline – rest assured, Dog was at his heels, or chasing ahead in pursuit of a spoonwalker, or other quarry (which he always failed to catch). Occasionally Dog would wander off on his own, sniffing and snuffling around the island while Killigrew slept but always returning in the evening, announcing his presence by scratching at the Night Soil Man’s door. Those were the best years of their lives. Then one dreadful day, in late spring, Dog went for a lone walk and did not come back.

Killigrew was frantic with worry. He waited for hours, neglecting his work, hoping for the familiar scratching at the door that would tell him that all was well but it never came. At midnight, in desperation, he decided to go and look for his beloved friend. He scoured the island with a flaming torch in his hand, calling Dog’s name, his voice breaking with anguish. It was dawn when he found him, curled up in one of his favourite hideaways, in the shadow of Chapel Rock. At first Killigrew thought  – hoped – that his friend was just sleeping, but the awful truth soon dawned. Weeping hot tears, Killigrew scooped Dog’s lifeless form into his arms and grief-stricken, carried him back to his cottage.

The Night Soil man could not bear to think of Dog lying in the bare earth, where his body could be exhumed by any scavenger who happened to pass. To give him to the sea would be as bad, or even worse. He needed to keep Dog as safe in death as he had in life – but what could he do? And then he remembered the sinkhole at the end of his garden. He had not looked into it for years. Though it would break his heart to do, it seemed the best place to let his only friend spend eternity.

With some difficulty Killigrew dislodged the capstone that had served to seal the sinkhole. He peered down into the depths, then fell back in astonishment. He dimly remembered having seen a vague iridescence, deep in the bowels of the island. What Killigrew was witnessing now was no faint glow but a green inferno, raging untold fathoms beneath him.

With a heavy heart, Killigrew picked Dog up for the last time, buried his tear-stained face into his friend’s neck and sobbed a heartfelt “Goodbye, old friend.”

With as much tenderness as he could muster, he lowered Dog’s body into the mouth of the sinkhole, then let it go, watching in anguish as Dog fell, for what felt like an age, into the abyss, down to the cold green flames, far, far, below.

Like a man in a trance, Killigrew knelt by the side of the hole for an hour or more, his gaze transfixed upon the final resting place of his only friend.

Replacing the capstone, Killigrew scratched upon its face a large letter ‘D’ by way of a simple memorial.

It was with reluctance that Killigrew strapped on his night soil bucket that evening. He went to work feeling more alone than he had ever felt in his life.

 

Spring turned to summer, summer slipped into fall and the days became shorter. Killigrew had taken to spending hours just sitting by the capstone, where he recounted to Dog his adventures and the gossip of the island. Then, under the cover of darkness, he would go to work, returning home, hours later, exhausted.

 

Killigrew had no idea how long he had slept. It was dark outside but night fell early at this time of year. The Night Soil Man lay on his bed, hardly daring to breathe. Something had disturbed him, something familiar. There it was again… a scratching at the door. It couldn’t be… could it? Killigrew dashed outside, half-expecting to see Dog, tail wagging and ready for a night’s adventures. But Dog was not there. Of course he wasn’t! Then Killigrew stopped in his tracks. The capstone had been moved and was standing on end, the scratched letter D clearly visible in the moonlight. He raced over to the sinkhole and peered in. There was some faint illumination in its depths but nothing like the eerie conflagration that he had seen when Dog died.

Sadly, and cursing himself for being a fool, Killigrew made his way back to his cottage slamming the door behind him. Someone was obviously playing a very cruel joke on him.

 

A short distance away, Hyacinth Jones discovered that her husband’s long underpants had been mysteriously removed from the washing line… and somewhere, out by Chapel Rock, a dog barked.

By Martin Pearson-art by Tom Brown

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightdress

For a thousand years, or more, the mysterious island of Hopeless, Maine has witnessed a long cavalcade of migrants scramble up its rocky shores. Few have come here willingly but each one, in their own way, has attempted to construct some sort of life for themselves in this most inhospitable of places. For most, that life has been brief; the natural – and supernatural – perils of the island are many.  Some have gone without leaving any trace of their visit, while others have left various possessions, enthusiastically recycled by successive generations. This is why it is not uncommon to see a Hopelessian wearing  spats, plus fours, an Edwardian tail-coat and a tricorn hat. Nothing is ever wasted.

When Philomena Bucket came to the island, having stowed away on the ill-fated merchant ship ‘Hetty Pegler’, she owned nothing but the clothes she stood up in. Over the weeks and months that followed she acquired a modest wardrobe, garnered chiefly from the storeroom in the Squid and Teapot, where the forsaken possessions of some of its previous patrons were housed. Despite her humble beginnings, Philomena had no wish to abuse the hospitality of the inn and took no more than was necessary. There was one particular item, however, that caught her eye and she coveted above all others; this was a full length Victorian nightdress, buttoned at the neck and sturdily constructed to repel all but the most ardent attentions.

Washing day tended to be a somewhat drawn-out affair in ‘The Squid’. The process, devoid of any mechanical aid, was long and arduous, involving heating several cauldrons of water and the dexterous application of a wash-board. Soap, more often than not made from wood ash and any hard fat that was available, would be scrubbed into the soiled items, which were then rinsed and dried. It was a thankless task but perversely, Philomena enjoyed it. She appreciated cleanliness, having been forced to endure a certain amount of squalor in her formative years and being able to wash her own clothes gave her particular pleasure.

It was on one such day, some  ten weeks after her arrival on the island, that our tale begins. With the inn’s freshly laundered washing drying reluctantly on the line, Philomena felt free to tackle the task of cleaning her own clothing and bedding, which lay in a basket awaiting her attention. While, over the weeks, she had become accustomed to the strangeness of the Hopeless, nothing would have prepared her for the events that were about to unfold.

Although she could have sworn that no one or nothing had entered the laundry, the contents of the wash basket appeared to move. A sock was thrown across the room, closely followed by a rather pretty chemise that Philomena had inherited from a previous tenant. More disturbing, however, was the sight of her beloved nightdress rising from the tumble of washing and making its way towards the door. Its progress was slow, as though some internal force was being impeded by the cloth that held it. Then, with a whimper, the nightdress stumbled over the step and clattered to the ground with a noisy and totally unexpected rattle. Gingerly, Philomena carefully lifted the vagabond garment by the hem and gave it a gentle shake, then jumped back with a little squeal as a collection of bones clattered out,on to the smooth flagstones. She was even more surprised when the bones dragged themselves up into some semblance of a small quadruped that yawned, shook itself, raised a languid rear leg against the door frame (which remained defiantly undampened) then bounded away in the general direction of Hopeless town. Philomena could only stand speechless as she watched its bony tail wag its way into the distance.

Over the following week Philomena made a few discrete enquiries around the island regarding her osseous visitor, expecting to be denounced as a madwoman at any moment. To her surprise, no one even raised an eyebrow at her description of the skeletal beast. She had, it seems, encountered Drury, a hound of indeterminate breed, or breeds, who resolutely refused to allow the small matter of being dead to spoil his fun. Indeed, the general feeling was that Drury had no sense of his own demise and continued to do all of the doggy things that he had done in life. Philomena heard this with tears in her eyes, remembering her canine friends whose short lives had slipped by all too soon. If only they could have been like Drury and cheated death and if – unlike Drury – they could have hung on to their bodies at the same time, how lovely that would have been.

Of course, Drury was not universally adored or even approved of. While he could be something of an annoyance to various sections of the general community, the ghost population detested him. It is said that all dogs can see ghosts. I have no idea if this is true but Drury, having more than usual access to the afterlife, could see them quite plainly and found them boring. He made it his mission in death to get them to lighten-up a little and enjoy some jollity, an exercise which mainly involved Drury having fun at their expense. Whenever the Mild Hunt appeared (see the tale ‘Ghost Writers in the Sky’) the wraiths of the maiden ladies would try to shoo him away as he upset their highly-strung spaniels and nip the ankles of their mules, who became even more agitated – and therefore more flatulent- than ever. Obadiah Hyde, the ghostly Mad Parson of Chapel Rock detested him with a vengeance. If there was anything that Hyde disliked more than papists and adulterers (as described in the tale ‘The Headless Lady’) it was dogs, especially those of the deceased variety that stubbornly refused stay that way. In fact, the only ghost that Drury was unable to tease was the Woeful Dane, Lars Pedersen, also known as The Eggless Norseman of Creepy Hollow. Poor old Lars had been haunting the island for almost a thousand years and was so faded as to be almost non-existent. Try as he might, not even Drury could get a reaction out of him.

Following the curious incident of the dog in the nightdress, Philomena Bucket could often be seen with a skeletal hound running along beside her. She did not care that the biscuits she threw fell straight through him, bouncing off his rib cage on to the floor, where it would be retrieved to be thrown again. Although he was not her dog – Drury did not seem to belong to anyone in particular – she knew that he would always be there.

“Maybe he is just an assembly of old bones,” she thought to herself, “but that doesn’t make him any less of a dog – and there can be no better friend to have”

As if reading her thoughts, Drury agreed by lovingly licking her hand with his imaginary tongue. It was good to be alive.

Story by Martin Pearson-art by Tom and Nimue Brown

The Further Adventures of Drury

Drury rampages through the two page spreads in the next volume of Hopeless Maine. He’s a cheery sort of dead dog.

One of the things that is always important to me in storytelling is working out what not to say. The gaps are everything. The silences are where you, dear reader, get to bring your stories, ideas, experiences, preferences, desires and so forth along and sneak them in and make part of Hopeless entirely your own.

I don’t want to tell you too much about Drury, for all those reasons. But here are some things I can tell you that won’t stop you playing with him. (I know you, you are exactly the sort of person to play with a cheerful dead dog and properly appreciate his many fine qualities.)

Drury was a very happy dog in life. He was (and to some degree still is) a medium sized mix of many and varied dog genes. He loved everything and everyone, and still does. He loved rats and spoonwalkers and other small, scuttling things so much that he could only properly express this by eating them. Drury loved being a dog. He wasn’t a clever dog, so he didn’t really notice the implications of dying, and just kept on being a dog.

I hesitate to call it ‘continuing by force of will’ because Drury is made of impulse, not will, and has no capacity to think anything through – that’s not just due to now having no discernible brain, he was always that way.

Often he forgets that he’s not as solid as he used to be and still expresses his great love of everything by chewing and swallowing it. Some of his cannier victims – those who survive the chewing part – often hang out in his ribs as with Drury around, inside the dog is often the safest place to be…

Why Donald does not love his dead dog

For the first eight or so years of his life, Donald was just your regular Hopeless Maine orphan with a dead dog as sidekick. He remembered very little about his family, and had no idea where the dead dog – Drury – had come from. But hey, the dead dog was neat, and funny, and adored him and it was all fine.

Then, as so many children who live for long enough do, Donald became curious. He took up exploring in his spare time, going out with other young orphans to poke about in old ruins, dodgy cellars, uneasy corners. There’s an element of natural selection here that young humans on Hopeless seem to relish, even though mostly what it does is punish the curious with death, leaving an adult population of survivors who have learned not to ask, not to look too closely, not to leave the path and never to wonder what the funny noise was. For some, childhood on Hopeless is truly a magical, if brief experience. Not all children want to grow up, and the island is all too ready to assist them in this.

Donald’s downfall did not come out of the darkness with far too many teeth. It did not lure him into a deep pool, or latch on to steal his blood. It came in the form of a book. A book hidden in a dusty attic, that called out to him when he first glimpsed its pale spine. He took the book back to his bed in the orphanage, and hid it under a loose floorboard.

Everyone in the orphanage has at least one loose floorboard or moveable bit of wainscoting to hide stuff behind. No one touches anyone else’s hidden stuff – it is one of the unspoken rules of the orphanage. Everyone pretends not to know where other people have hidden their things. So long as floors or ceilings are not compromised by the stash, and nothing comes out and kills someone, the adults also undertake to have no idea who has hidden what.

The book obsessed Donald. It haunted him. When he tried to sleep at night, his head was full of images that tormented his young soul. He could find no peace. He became silent, ghostly, unable to speak. For two years, he said nothing to anyone, and because weird afflictions are the daily business of the orphanage, no one bothered about it too much. He was later saved from this condition, but that, as they say, is another story.

Sometimes, late at night, he would sneak the book out and take it to a window in the hopes of illuminating a few words or images with moonlight. The book showed him other worlds, and while it filled him with misery, he could not let it go. He learned many of the words by heart. D is for Dog left a hollow pain in his chest, but he could not look away.