Tag Archives: Drury

The Visitor

Rhys Cranham had no problem with being around ghosts. In his role of Hopeless Maine’s Night-Soil Man, he encountered them regularly. Most were harmless, but others, such as Obadiah Hyde, the Mad Parson of Chapel Rock, certainly were not, and so Rhys made a point of avoiding Obadiah and his ilk whenever possible. Uniquely, among those of the spirit world, Miss Calder was inclined to be flirtatious. Rhys often wondered if this was more out of pity than anything else, as she would have known full-well that the life of a Night-Soil Man is lonely and loveless. This made him feel uncomfortable for all sorts of reasons, for, much to his own surprise, he found that he was not without feelings for her. This, in turn, gave him a dreadful guilt complex, as there was a definite frisson between Philomena Bucket and himself, and for a brief time, after she arrived on the island, it seemed as though romance was a possibility; or it was, until a hearty dose of sea-water swilled out the grains lodged in Philomena’s nose, and her sense of smell returned. It was at that point that Cupid almost dropped his bow in an attempt to make a hurried exit.
Yes, Rhys was fairly sure that he had met every ghost on the island, at one time or another, and could name each of them. That was why the apparition of a middle-aged man, currently wandering through the walls of his cottage, surprised him quite as much as it did. The Night-Soil man had fallen asleep in his armchair following his nightly rounds, and had been enjoying a pleasant dream that involved his swimming in an ocean of ‘Old Colonel’ ale. He awoke, bleary and with no small measure of disappointment. It took a few seconds of blinking and yawning before he registered the presence of his spectral visitor.
The ghost said nothing, but fluttered before him, beckoning and pointing to the closed door, through which he slipped like smoke. Seemingly unable to resist, Rhys rose to his feet, picked up his candle-lantern, and followed him. It was the early hours of the morning and the island slept. You could tell that it was sleeping by the way that the Gydynap Hills rose and fell slightly, filling the air with the sound of contented snoring. Occasionally a small flock of gnii would fly overhead, making the distinctive gnii, gnii sound, after which they were named. As ever, a thick mist shrouded the island, but the dimly phosphorescent spectre hovered in front of him like a beacon.
It was when they passed The Squid and Teapot that Rhys sensed that something was not right. The old place looked very much same, illuminated as it was by the candle-lantern, but Rhys could not remember the paintwork to be quite so neglected, while some of the window panes looked grimy and cracked.
“I’m surprised Bartholomew has allowed it to get into this state,” he thought to himself, as he wandered around the building. No sooner had the thought entered his head than he was forced to stop dead in his tracks. Something was definitely not right… and then he spotted it, or, to put things more precisely, he didn’t spot it at all. Where the flushing privy had stood, just a few hours ago, there was now an empty space, bordered by the blank, grey, back wall of the inn.
Rhys could not believe his eyes. Even in the unlikely event of Bartholomew wanting to demolish the privy, which had always been his pride and joy, and envy of the landlord of ‘The Crow’, there would have been some disturbed ground, some debris strewn around, but the whole area looked as though nothing had ever been standing there.
“Then I must be dreaming,” Rhys decided, and looked down at his hands.
You may not know this, but the Night-Soil Man had long been a lucid dreamer. He had, on many occasions, been fully aware that he was dreaming and was, from that happy position, able to direct events in a most satisfactory way. (Most Night-Soil men have learned to cultivate this ability, allowing them the companionship in dreams that they lacked in their waking lives).
Like anyone with a similar skill, however, Rhys knew that there were some anomalies that even the most lucid of dreamers was subject to, and the state of one’s hands was one of those anomalies. If you looked at them twice they would be different; they might have too many, or too few, fingers. They might turn into crab-like claws, or resemble several pairs of scissors, There was never any guarantee what you might see. On this occasion Rhys’ hands looked perfectly normal, but the mystery of the disappearing privy troubled him, so he racked his brain for other signs that he was in a dream.
“Text!” he said to himself. “That’s another one, text.”
He recalled that writing was rarely readable in a dream, and certainly never looked the same twice. He scanned around, looking for some words to test his theory.
The faded sign outside the inn proudly, though not unsurprisingly, proclaimed ‘The Squid and Teapot’. To give the legend on the sign some credence, it sat above a painting which depicted a cephalopod caressing a spouted utensil which did, indeed, closely resemble a teapot.
Rhys closed his eyes for a moment, then squinted at the sign again. Nothing had changed, the words were the same.
While all of this was going on, the ghost was becoming impatient, tapping his feet and drumming his fingers against folded arms, until gradually he began to fade away, as though his work was done, leaving a mystified Rhys standing alone in the deserted street. He shrugged and walked back through the town, towards his cottage. It was a strange journey, for although everything was familiar, the buildings appeared to sport small changes here and there, making the Night-Soil Man feel distinctly uneasy.
If Rhys felt that the differences in the town were unsettling, his heart almost stopped when he reached the cottage at Poo Corner. His cobbled pathway was gone, the front door was now a different colour and, like The Squid, the whole place looked neglected and unloved. Rhys cautiously entered and, in the glow of his lantern, the room sprang to life, sending shadows dancing over the bare walls.
The small parlour was sparsely furnished and bore little resemblance to Rhys’ cosy home. Slumped in the only armchair was the figure of a man. He was fully dressed and, although Rhys’ sense of smell was accustomed to the stench of night-soil, he was aware that he was in the presence of another Night-Soil Man; or, he would have been, had the poor fellow been alive. The man in the chair felt cold and stiff to the touch. Then a chill ran down Rhys’ spine as he recognised him; he found himself looking at the earthly remains of his ghostly visitor.
Suddenly, the silence was broken by a noise in the corner, It was a dry, rattling sound which Rhys immediately recognised.
“Drury!” he exclaimed, relieved to see the familiar skeletal form of his old friend getting to his feet.
“Dear old Drury, am I glad to see you.”
If Drury had possessed hackles, they would have risen. He tucked his head in to his shoulders and gave a low, menacing growl.
“Hey, what’s wrong old fella?”
The dog bared his teeth (inasmuch as you can bare teeth which are completely visible at all times) and the low growl became a full throated roar.
Rhys barely had time to raise his arms in defence as Drury leapt towards his throat.

To be continued…

An Afternoon Stroll

Drury, the skeletal hound, was enjoying a particularly productive day. Mrs Beaten was mysteriously missing two pairs of unmentionables from her washing line, Reverend Davies was wondering where his scarf had gone and a diminutive cephalopod was suffering severe heart palpitations, having been tossed in the air several times – and all this before his afternoon walk with Philomena Bucket. Could life, or more correctly, afterlife, really get any better?
It had long been Philomena’s practice to take a walk between the busier times at The Squid and Teapot. Having cooked a batch of Starry-Grabby pies that morning, and washed-up after the lunchtime trade, she felt that she had earned her hour or so of leisure time. There are those who would argue that battling through the inclement, not to say downright hostile, weather that plagued Hopeless, Maine, along with the island’s many hazards, hardly constituted leisure. Philomena, however, was a hardy soul, and usually never happier than when striding the Gydynap Hills with Drury beside her, but for some reason, today she felt differently. The daylight hours of December are scant for all of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, but on Hopeless, where the sun is perpetually fighting a losing battle, winter days rarely struggle to be any more than a dismal twilight. Philomena was not particularly bothered by this, but an air of foreboding, and the promise of returning to the cheer of The Squid seemed especially attractive.

Drury liked it when Philomena sang to him. Sometimes it would be a traditional Irish ballad, a music-hall ditty or, more often than not, just scraps of a half-remembered song that she had heard somewhere or other along the way; Drury did not care, and had no interest in its origins. He just loved to hear her soft, lilting voice. It made him feel warm inside, or it certainly would have, had he actually possessed an inside. Today she was singing ‘Shortenin’ Bread’. As to the meaning of the words, Philomena had no more idea than did Drury. She thought it must be a nonsense song; after all, if mamma’s little baby did indeed indulge in the pastime of shortening bread, which apparently he or she loved to do, it would be hazardous in the extreme. As far as Philomena was aware, the only way to shorten bread is with a bread knife and no one in their right mind would let a baby loose with such an implement.

She was pondering these thoughts, and in the middle of singing the chorus for the forty-fifth time (in fact, the chorus, which consists solely of the words ‘Mamma’s little baby loves shortenin’ bread’ was the only bit of the song that Philomena knew), when she was suddenly stopped in her tracks by the sight of a brace of spoonwalkers, tottering along in front of her and carrying between them something that looked remarkably like a bottle of ‘Old Colonel’ ale. Drury let out a low growl, and would have given chase, but Philomena placed a hand on his bony back, and commanded him to stay (it says much for their relationship that she could actually do this. Drury has long been thought to be untameable).
Although the dog had been successfully looking after himself since long before Philomena, or, come to that, her beloved old granny, was born, the barmaid wanted to go home and would not have felt comfortable leaving Drury alone and up on the hills after dark, chasing these vicious little cutlery thieves .
The pair watched the spoonwalkers creep unsteadily into a cleft in the rocks. This, in itself, would not be deemed unusual, but the pale yellow light that issued from within the hill was decidedly other than normal.
Throwing caution to the wind, Philomena, with Drury at her side, tiptoed to a spot near to which the spoonwalkers had disappeared. Upon closer inspection the cleft was larger than it had at first appeared, being as high as Philomena was tall, and just about wide enough for her, or a particularly thin man, to squeeze through. While she had no wish to enter the cave herself, Philomena could not help but notice that a particularly thin man had, indeed, already accomplished the feat, and was squatting on the ground, surrounded by a band of, apparently adoring, spoonwalkers. His eyes looked huge and glowed with a ghastly luminescence in the pale candlelight.
“It’s Linus!” gasped Philomena, with surprise.
Linus Pinfarthing had not been seen on the island for months. Following the death of Marjorie Toadsmoor he had become a drunkard and, as such, his disappearance was generally attributed to his having fallen off a cliff and into the sea. No one really knew the full extent of his story, related in these very tales, of how he had been possessed by the Trickster, then later saved by a band of grateful spoonwalkers that he had once rescued from the clutches of the trapper, Zeke Tyndale.
Philomena watched, fascinated, as the cadaverous figure clambered to its feet and swayed dangerously in the greasy light of tallow candles. A chilling rictus, that might easily have denoted pleasure or pain, masked his face, and he began to dance clumsily, with the spoonwalkers milling around his feet on their cutlery stilts.
She wondered what to do. Should she tell someone; raise a rescue-party to take him back to the town? The sad truth is that the friendship of spoonwalkers – which, as far as I am aware, no other human being had previously enjoyed – does not make one invulnerable to the fatal madness induced by their gaze; it was clear to Philomena that Linus was well beyond the reach of reason. Into whatever strange landscape his mind had retreated, that was his home now. There could be no escape until his wasted body gave up entirely, and by the look of him, that day would not be too far away.
Philomena had never harboured any great affection for Linus, but to see him now, reduced to the shadow that he was, brought a lump to her throat.
“Come on old friend,” she said to Drury, hurriedly turning her back on the tableau inside the cave, “it’s high time we were getting back.”

The Man in Grey

Since being relocated to The Squid and Teapot, via his hat, the ghost of Father Ignatius Stamage had been a model of discretion. Any who were not aware of his presence would regard the fleeting shadow, which they might catch out of the corner of their eye, as no more than a trick of the light. It was an arrangement that suited all concerned.
Bartholomew Middlestreet, the inn’s landlord, smiled wryly to himself as he contemplated how his old friend, the late lamented actor/manager, Sir Fromebridge Whitminster, might have conducted himself, had he been haunting the place; he had not been renowned for his discretion. Bartholomew imagined that the ghost of Sir Fromebridge would be no less louche or raffish than he had been in life. It was a pity that the old boy had been taken from them by the sea monster, aboo-dom-k’n; he had certainly added some colour to Hopeless.
It was while entertaining these thoughts that it occurred to Bartholomew that there were some odds and ends of Sir Fromebridge’s property stored away in one of the attics. Could his wraith be invoked to haunt his favourite scarf? Would he be able to, after so many years? More to the point, should The Squid be host to any more ghosts?
Not wishing to make this decision on his own, Bartholomew decided to ask the opinion of his wife, Ariadne, who generally had the last word in most matters.
“Shouldn’t you ask him if he wants to haunt The Squid?” she enquired.
“And how do we do that?” asked Bartholomew, perplexed.
Philomena Bucket, who could not help but overhear the conversation, volunteered, with some hesitancy,
“Well, I’ll have a go. I have a little bit of experience in those matters. I used to help me old granny when she did her séances back in Dublin. She was always convinced that I had ‘The Sight’, but I’m not so sure.”
“You will never stop surprising me,” said Ariadne, warming to the possibility of attending a séance. “What do we need to make it happen?”
“Not much,” replied Philomena. “Just an open mind, I suppose.”

The following night, after the inn had closed, Bartholomew, Ariadne, Philomena and Norbert Gannicox sat holding hands in candlelight around a circular table; in its centre sat coiled an extremely long and colourful scarf.
If the others had expected to see Philomena displaying the histrionics generally associated with conjuring the spirits of the dead, they were disappointed.
She asked, in calm and unhurried tones,
“Are you with us, Sir Fromebridge Whitminster?”
There was a minute of silence, then the sound of something being knocked over.
“Blast!” said a disembodied voice, “Who put that there.”
“Is that you, Sir Fromebridge?” asked Philomnena, hardly daring to believe that she had succeeded so easily.
“Yes, yes, hold on a mo, m’dear, I’ll soon be with you.”
The room grew suddenly colder. Then, close to Philomena’s shoulder, a form started to materialise. The apparition before them was not sporting the expected floppy fedora, scarf and greatcoat, but was instead clad, from head to foot, in an immaculate grey costume. He wore a tricorn hat, a powdered wig, a long riding cloak and riding boots.
“It’s not him,” hissed Bartholomew.
“Oh, I can assure you it is indeed I, Bartholomew dear boy. How good it is to see you again.”
In the dim light it was difficult to see the ghost’s features, but the voice was unmistakably that of Fromebridge Whitminster.
The ghost made a deep, theatrical bow.
“Now, what may I do for you, dear friends?”
“Um… we wondered if you’d fancy haunting The Squid and Teapot?” blurted Philomena.
The ghost made another bow, even more theatrical this time.
“My dear young lady, I would be delighted to… especially with such charming company as your good self and Mrs Middlestreet. Unfortunately, however, it is beyond my power. I am somewhat otherwise engaged. I have to honour what one might call a Faustian Pact.”
Sir Fromebridge went on to tell them that he had once made a bargain, with some mysterious Mephistophelean entity, to guarantee a further twenty years of life.
“You see,” he said, “when that sea monster took me, it was my time. My extra twenty years were up. The beast was just an instrument of destiny.”
Ariadne looked aghast.
“But what do you have to do in return?” she asked worriedly.
“Oh, nothing too arduous, I can assure you. I have taken over the role of ‘The Man in Grey’, resident spook at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, one of my old stamping grounds, as it happens. The other chap, my predecessor, had been haunting the upper circle for years and was overdue for a break. It’s not all bad; at least I get to see a few plays… although, these days some of the language can be appalling…”
“Yes,” said Bartholomew, “But don’t you get any time off?”
“Sorry, dear chap, I’m booked there for the next century or so, evening performances and matinées. Still, mustn’t grumble, and the get-up is pretty natty, what?”
They all had to agree that the eighteenth century look did, indeed, suit Sir Fromebridge.
“Anyway, must dash,” he said as his apparition gradually faded. “Lovely to see you all, and if you’re ever in London, do drop in.”
Those last words were so faint as to be almost inaudible, but it was an emotional moment, even for Philomena, who had never met the man in the flesh.

“Well, that’s that, I suppose,” said Norbert.
“It’s a pity, “ said Bartholomew, “but I guess we’ve enough ghosts without inviting any more in.”
“He seemed like a nice fellah, though,” said Philomena.
“He was,” agreed Norbert. “One of the best, though inclined to be accident-prone.”
“Maybe we could name something in his honour.” said Bartholomew. “How about that little cobbled street by the shore, where he met his end? We could call it Sir Fromebridge Whitminster Lane.”
“That’s a bit of a mouthful,” said Ariadne. “How about just calling it ‘Drury Lane’?”
In the corner of the room a pile of bones rattled to its feet, shook itself and wagged its bony tail.
Drury definitely approved of the idea.

Author’s note: The Man in Grey has been seen on many occasions in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. He always sits in the same seat in the Upper Circle, on the end of the fourth row. Afterwards he strides along the walkway behind the seats, then, upon reaching a particular spot by the Royal Box, fades away.
His presence at a matinée performance or a rehearsal is generally considered to be a good omen.

Who’s a good boy?

Drury is a good doggo. He knows this in his bones, and is sometimes confused when people find him scary. Granted, he’s a large pupper and he knows he isn’t supposed to jump up at people, but he gets excited. 

Exactly when, or how, or why Drury turned out the way he did is a bit of a mystery – especially to him. In essence he was just a dog who was very into being a dog. And he was so enthusiastic about being a dog that when bits of him stopped being a dog, he didn’t really pay it much attention. He just kept bounding about. 

He must have been more alarming during the period when his softer tissues were retiring. It is unlikely that he noticed much about this, but a lage, decaying dog is not the cute floof most people want to see, much less be enthusiastically licked by.

Perhaps he belonged to a night soil man, who would not have noticed the smell. Perhaps his owner was a necromancer – deliberately or accidentally, and loved Drury too much to let him go, even when bits of him started falling off. Perhaps he was conjured into being with the intention that he be awful and terrible, but he just continued being far too much of a dog for that to work out properly.

As a bone creature, one of Drury’s particular hobbies is finding things to dangle out of his mouth that function like a tongue. He also likes to bring people presents, as with the illustration above. He knows he is a good boy, and no amount of screaming will ever persuade him otherwise. 

What Donald Does

I’ve thought about Donald rather a lot – far more than would be obvious from reading the comics. He’s a character who began in the early version of Hopeless, Maine, before I was writing it. He wears a jumper with a big G on it – for Gorey. Edward Gorey. Donald has an ambivalent relationship with the skeletal dog – Drury – and is otherwise a young human trying to figure himself out.

One of Donald’s major life goals is to be Owen’s boy wonder. Although he wouldn’t phrase it that way because he’s had a comic-deprived childhood and has never seen a superhero in a cape. But, if wearing his pants over his trousers was part of what was called for to back Owen up, he’d do it. Grudgingly. 

Donald has noticed that while Owen means well and is really good at some things, he’s useless at practical details. Owen needs someone to remind him to take his gloves, to wear a jumper when it’s snowing, to carry a lantern in case the search goes on into the night… and Donald is the fellow for the job, at least in his own mind.

The other thing that is super-important to Donald is colour. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I work on coloring the next volume – Optimists. Donald likes colour so much that he spends his spare time concocting things that can be smeared onto walls. With varying degrees of success and odour. This means that the house on Gaunt Street is one of the most colour intense places on the island. The lighthouse also has colour, but Salamandra can do that by magic, and does not spend so much time boiling snails and collecting different shades of mud.

The Persian Runner

“How much do you want for ‘The Squid and Teapot? I’d like to buy it.”

Bartholomew Middlestreet, the landlord of the inn, almost dropped the tankard he was drying.

“Pardon?” 

“How much for the inn. Name your price.”

The man who stood before Batholomew was a slightly built, ferrety little specimen. His sharp, city suit and shiny shoes were not items of apparel you would see every day on Hopeless. 

“I can’t sell the Squid, even if I wanted to,” said Bartholomew, not a little taken aback by the request.

“Oh, come on,” said the other, producing a bag of coins, with a flourish that would not have shamed a conjurer pulling a rabbit out of a hat. “Everyone has a price.”

“I don’t own the Squid,” said Bartholomew. “No one does. I manage it.”

The other man took some time to process this information. The concept of no one owning such an impressive piece of real estate was beyond him.

Garfield Lawnside had been on Hopeless for less than a week. The circumstances of his arrival on the island had puzzled him at first but logic told him that he had been Shanghaied. He could remember coming out of the waterfront bar in New York and wandering down a narrow side street – oddly, one that he had never before noticed. His drink must have been drugged, he thought, for the next thing he knew was that he was wandering around on some foggy hill, with no clue as to where he was. The strangest bit was that nothing had been stolen. His carpet-bag, which contained many of his worldly possessions, was still in his hand. Being a pragmatist, Garfield decided to make the best of it. He was a city man and was convinced he could do well around here. The locals seemed simple enough. Why, after that pale looking broad – Phyllis, or something – had found him wandering around, this Middlestreet guy had even given him free board and lodgings in The Squid and Teapot. What sort of businessman does that? 

“On Hopeless,” said Batholomew, without a hint of condescension, “we don’t tend to own things, especially land and buildings. We take what we need but no one owns anything. Ownership can be a complicated business and – let’s face it –  life round here is inclined to be uncertain, to say the least.”

Garfield had not been on the island long enough to grasp the full import of the landlord’s words. His mind was too busy, anyway, focusing on the line ‘we take what we need’.

“So… if I see an empty building, then it’s mine to live in?” asked Garfield, slowly.

“Yes,” nodded Bartholomew. “And you can use whatever the previous owners left in it. They won’t be needing anything, anymore,” he added, ominously.

“How about land? Can I take that too?”

“I guess so…” the landlord replied. ” Though folks don’t tend to, very much.”

Garfield smiled to himself, and strolled thoughtfully out into the morning mist.

It did not take many hours for Garfield to find a deserted cottage. As Bartholomew had predicted, the erstwhile tenants had left it furnished and ready for the next occupant. Garfield wondered to himself why people would choose to up and leave their homes so completely. He also wondered where they went afterwards. As I told you earlier, he had not been on the island for very long. 

It was a day or two later, when pegging out a substantial piece of land for himself, that he hit a snag. There had been some heavy rain and some of the ground had become little more than a quagmire. Garfield had always prided himself on being something of a dandy, but the clothes that he was wearing when he arrived on the island was now the sum total of his wardrobe. The rest were hanging in a small hotel room in New York. His shiny, patent leather shoes would be ruined in all of this mud. He needed to be able to get over the boggy ground without actually setting foot on it. The thought occurred to him that, as nothing actually seemed to belong to anyone, there might be something in The Squid and Teapot that he could salvage to solve his problem. 

Philomena Bucket was not impressed when she caught Garfield trying to roll up a long length of carpet from one of the corridors of the Squid. He found himself subjected to a torrent of abuse that Philomena had been saving up since the day she had first set eyes on him. She did not like or trust the man she thought of as ‘the city-slicker’, not least because he insisted on calling her Phyllis. 

“But Bart said I could take what I wanted,” Garfield whined.

“Not from here you don’t,” said Philomena, then relented, adding, “If you’re desperate for a bit of matting go and have a look in one of the attics. There’s stuff up there, salvaged from a hundred shipwrecks. You’ll be sure to find something. And don’t you go calling Mr Middlestreet Bart!”

The attics of The Squid and Teapot are a veritable treasure trove of goods and chattels, deposited on the rocky shores of Hopeless, Maine by tides and by providence. The passing generations have carefully squirrelled these away, sensible of the knowledge that any newcomer to the island could always count on finding something to make the remainder of their (often tragically brief) life a little more comfortable. 

Garfield passed an appreciative eye over the scene that greeted him, promising himself that he would return and take as much of this bounty as he could carry. His task, at that moment, though, was to find something to keep his shoes pristine, while he pegged out the generous dimensions of his land. And then he found exactly what he was after and whistled softly through his teeth.

He unfurled a long, narrow stretch of carpet. It seemed to go on forever. It was a runner, designed for a corridor far longer than any found on Hopeless, or anywhere else that Garfield had been. It must have been at least fifty feet of the finest Persian workmanship, destined originally for a palace or some other equally impressive residence. It would be worth a fortune. 

It took no little effort to get the Persian runner down the stairs, into the courtyard, then into a borrowed barrow and trundled across the island to Garfield’s new abode. It seemed a pity to use it as a means of crossing a muddy piece of land but it was perfect for the task and within a short while the city slicker was marking out his patch, keeping his shoes clean and eyeing up anything that he might claim as his own. What was it that Bartholomew had said? 

‘We take what we need’. 

Over the following few days Garfield wheeled his carpet all over the island, using it as a means for putting his nose into all sorts of places that would have been otherwise inaccessible to him. Nowhere and nothing was safe from his greedy gaze; this, inevitably, was his downfall. 

You may remember that, at the bottom of the Night-Soil Man’s garden, is a sinkhole. The capstone that had once covered it had long been removed and stood up on end, a letter D etched into its face. Garfield had seen this, from a distance, and wondered exactly what it signified, what it hid. He was convinced that all manner of rich pickings were to be had from this seemingly backward community and he intended to leave no corner unexplored.

Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, was sleeping in his cottage and heard nothing as the Persian runner was rolled past his door. The capstone – and the, yet unseen, sinkhole – was a good hundred feet distant, so Garfield needed to roll up the runner behind him as he went, in order to gradually unfurl it again on the next stage of his journey. He sure hoped that the stone with the D written on it was worth the effort. What could it mean? 

It was only within the final few feet of reaching the capstone did he see the sinkhole. The runner had draped itself over the very edge and Garfield had stopped just in time. He stood uneasily on the brink, peering down into its fathomless depths. He found it hard to pull his eyes away from the faintly green and decidedly weird iridescence swirling far, far below. 

When not accompanying Philomena Bucket on her daily walk, Drury, the skeletal dog, could often be found hanging around the Night-Soil Man’s cottage. Despite being devoid of anything but his bones, Drury was still very much a dog and revelled in all things malodorous. Besides this, the Night-Soil Man liked him and was always good for a game of something or other. So, when Drury spotted the edge of the runner, some fifty feet from the cottage door, he could only conclude that it had been put there for his amusement. In Drury’s opinion most things on the island were also there exclusively for his amusement but right now, this carpet was obviously begging to be dragged away. 

Drury pulled on it but nothing happened. The game was on as far as he was concerned, and entered into the spirit of things by giving the runner’s edge an almighty tug. Fifty feet away Garfield Lawnside’s reverie was shattered by the ground beneath his feet being unceremoniously removed and his slight form sent down to examine, more closely, the iridescence that had so fascinated him. 

By the time Drury had reached Chapel Rock he had tired of the carpet game and left the Persian runner there for the elements to dispose of, as they chose. As for Mr Garfield Lawnside, no one was surprised that he had left so abruptly. As Doc Willoughby observed, with uncharacteristic insight, a man with shoes like that would never have fitted in.

The Little Drummer Boy

As has been noted before in these tales, the good folk of Hopeless, Maine, are not renowned for their love of walking. This, in many ways, is understandable. The island is a veritable smorgasbord of hazards, natural, supernatural and downright unnatural. The business of staying alive is tricky enough, without wandering around and taking unnecessary risks and – some would maintain –  unnecessary exercise. Philomena Bucket, however, was the exception to the rule. She loved to walk, especially in the early hours, with Drury, the skeletal hound, more often than not jogging happily along by her side. Despite appearances, Drury was not Philomena’s dog. He had been on the island for as long as anyone could remember and had but one objective in life (or death, depending on your point of view) and that was the pursuit of fun. At that moment, he considered Philomena to be the human most likely to provide the wherewithal to achieve this.

Our tale begins one grey, late summer morning. Summer mornings on Hopeless, it must be admitted, are very much like the mornings of any other season, except that it tends to get light earlier. So, it was almost 6a.m. when the sun finally managed to persuade the fog to let it through, the signal for Philomena to set off for her daily constitutional.

Philomena liked to vary the route she took for her walk. Some days she would wander up into the Gydynap Hills. On others, she might choose to stride out along the headland towards Chapel Rock, or maybe to the secluded part of the island which at that time was unnamed but known in later years as Scilly Point. Today, however, Philomena was feeling bold and decided to walk a particularly  long strip of narrow beach, only accessible at low tide. This was hazardous for a number of reasons. Besides the slimy, many-eyed and tentacled rock dwellers, whom Philomena felt could be avoided with Drury’s help, was the danger posed by ocean itself. While, even at low tide, these waters could be capricious, more worrying still were its denizens. Chief among these was the mighty Kraken, with suckered arms long enough to reach across the waves and drag the unwary into a watery grave. (Some say that the Kraken is as old as the ocean itself. Personally, I cannot believe this, but it is certainly ancient and quite pitiless).

Call Philomena brave, or merely foolhardy, but oblivious to any danger, she resolutely set off along the beach with Drury scampering happily along beside her. Within minutes an obfuscating sea-fog began to roll in, even more relentless than usual, until nothing was discernible beyond more than a dozen feet. Most people might have given up at this point but Philomena was nothing if not stubborn. Even Drury was slightly hesitant to proceed but emboldened by his companion’s determination, soldiered on with a spring (and a rattle) in his step.

Philomena was not able to say how far or for how long she had been walking. Fog tends to do that to the senses. Time and space can become meaningless in that grey cocoon and it is not unusual for one to easily lapse into an almost trance-like state. This was exactly where Philomena’s mind was hovering when she was pulled back to reality. There was a muffled drum-beat coming from somewhere in front of her, further down the beach. She stopped, wondering who, or what, might be making such a noise at this hour of the day. Then, to her surprise, she found herself suddenly confronted by the figure of a child, a boy with a drum marching through the mists.

“Are you lost, young fella,” she asked as he drew closer.

The boy looked at her with large, soulful eyes but said nothing, not missing a beat as he passed her by. He could not have been any more than twelve years old, Philomena reckoned.

“He’s too young to be out alone on such a dangerous spot,” she said to herself, seemingly unaware of her own vulnerability.

“I can’t leave him.”

She turned to Drury.

“Come on Dru’, we’ve got to catch him up, before he gets into real trouble.”

She turned back, following the steady beat of the drum but her eyes were unable to penetrate the fog and see the drummer.

“Hey, slow down, we’ll walk with you,” she called but to no avail. All she could do was follow the rhythmic rat-a-tat-tat of the drum and hope the lad stayed safe.

The tide began to come in, forcing Philomena and Drury to scramble to safety. There was no sound of a drum anymore, just the crash of the waves on the rocks.

“I’d best go to the orphanage, the lad will be one of theirs, I guess.” She had aimed the comment at Drury; by now, however, the dog had lost all interest in the walk and was attempting to extricate a diminutive but somewhat irate gelatinous creature from a crevice in the wall.

 

The office was small and badly lit.  Miss Calder chose to remain standing while Philomena told of her encounter with the drummer boy.

“No, he’s not resident in the orphanage,” Miss Calder said sadly. “Although, I wish he was.”

Philomena rubbed her eyes. The fog must have really upset them for the woman in front of her seemed to waver slightly as she spoke. Once or twice – and this must be a trick of the candlelight, Philomena thought – half of her face even appeared to be little more than a skull.

“I think you were in great danger, Philomena,” Miss Calder said gently. “The Drummer Boy is known to me; a ghost who came to save you. Three fishermen were taken this morning, from just up the beach where you were walking.”

Philomena raised a quizzical eyebrow.

“Ghost? But it was broad daylight… well, except for the fog…”

Miss Calder smiled mischievously.

“Ghosts are all around, Philomena. They don’t need darkness. The very need to manifest is enough.”

Philomena shifted uncomfortably in her chair.

“Long ago,” said Miss Calder, “a convict ship left England, bound for Virginia. A terrible storm blew it hundreds of miles off-course and few survived. Those who did settled on Hopeless but not all who made landfall lived to tell the tale. The boy you saw was part of the detachment of marines guarding the convicts – the drummer boy who used his drum to call the marines to quarters, an important role. I don’t know how, exactly, he met his fate, but the story is that, when they landed on Hopeless, he beat his drum to warn the others of a terrible danger – a danger that he did not survive. He has been seen a few times, over the years and generally thought to save only the good and innocent, like himself. You have been fortunate, Philomena.”

Philomena reddened and lowered her eyes. After the briefest moment she looked up to reply but Miss Calder had vanished.

Not Quite A Dog

By Detective Deirdre Dalloway

What he got was not quite a dog. It was just a sort of dog. The sort-of-dog certainly acted like a dog, alternately running around in circles chasing its own sort-of-tail and wriggling around on its sort-of-back with its sort-of-paws flapping joyfully. But it was a sight that made Michael Dalloway smile and shudder at the same time. Because the dog was composed entirely of bones.

Suddenly aware of his presence, in spite of its lack of nose, eyes and ears, the sort-of-dog bounded up to him and within seconds Michael Dalloway’s fears were gone and he was sharing his trek with a bouncing, bounding companion. Along the top of the cliffs they went, and the dog set quite a pace. It was as though it had a purpose. Yes, it definitely seemed to have a purpose, and before long Michael Dalloway realised that in following the skeleton dog, he was getting further and further from the lighthouse. He was being guided by a dead animal away from the only sign of human life that he could discern.

And yet the dog was clearly not dead, in the conventional understanding of the word. It had no eyes, nose or ears but this did not hamper it. It had no tongue either, but if Michael Dalloway slowed down for a rest from the load he was carrying, it would seem to lick his hand to encourage him onwards. And when he had lightened his load by drinking tea and eating most of the biscuits, the sort-of-dog had sat and begged like any other dog to be fed. That the biscuits fell straight through onto the wet peat did not seem to bother it at all.

Yes, the dog was sort-of-alive, so Michael Dalloway decided to take a chance on it, and sure enough, just as the drenched, rain-blinded and exhausted traveller was wondering about regretting his decision, they cleared a small copse of dead trees and a dimly lit settlement came into view. Both of them now bounded through the spikey gorse towards it, the dog still leading the way through the darkness, now past simple, mainly unlit dwellings, to a rather more welcoming looking inn. Scratchy recorded music was audible through a broken window. The dog threw itself at the door to make its presence known and it was opened from inside by a man in an apron.

“Drury!”, he exclaimed, “There you are! Everyone, look! Drury’s back! We put your favourite tune on, old boy, to encourage you to come in from the rain”. The man stooped to tickle the dog’s skeletal jaw. “And you’ve brought someone with you. Do excuse my manners, Sir. I’m  Rufus Lypiatt, the landlord of the Squid and Teapot, and this is my pub. We welcome all unhappy travellers. I take it that you are one of those? Do come on in. We were just about to play ‘Molly Malone’ on the gramophone again.”

Find out more about Detective Dalloway here – http://detectivedalloway.com/ 

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

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