The ghostly form of Miss Calder looked at the equally ghostly form of her colleague at the Pallid Rock Orphanage, Miss Toadsmoor, and said, resignedly,
“Father Stamage is convinced that you are currently in purgatory, waiting to be despatched to Heaven or Hell. I suppose that he means well, but for goodness’ sake!”
Despite the best efforts of Reverend Davies, it was inevitable that the presence of some of the ghosts on the island of Hopeless, Maine would come, eventually, to the notice of Father Stamage, the orphanage’s newest member of staff.
In the event, and to everyone’s surprise, the priest was fairly sanguine about the whole subject, happily accepting that any wraiths that he might come across were of the purgatorial variety, awaiting further orders, as it were.
Reverend Davies did nothing to disabuse him of this point of view; as long as the priest believed the ghosts to be no more than harmless loiterers in the afterlife’s waiting room, then they would be left alone. While this seriously impeded Marjorie Toadsmoor’s teaching schedule, it was a small price to pay while the Reverend and Miss Calder, who managed to conceal her spectral identity in the Stygian gloom of her office, looked for a solution to their problem.
While Father Stamage may have accepted the presence of ghosts, demons were another matter altogether. Demons, in his view, have to be exorcised, and returned to The Pit from whence they came, whatever the cost, and exorcising demons was something he knew all about.
Hopeless has more than its fair share of these terrifying creatures but, by and large, they tend to avoid the limelight, being very recognisable, unless they are adopting a human disguise. The very sight of a demon in its true shape would freeze the blood of most people. Huge and nightmarish, they stalk their prey with razor sharp claws, dripping fangs, glaring eyes and writhing tentacles. I am happy to report that the priest’s blood remained at a steady ninety-eight and a half degrees Fahrenheit, for never in his life did he cross paths with such a being, although he was convinced that he encountered several. There are, however, real demons and there are perceived demons, and any newcomer to the island could be forgiven for believing that some of the strange creatures who inhabit Hopeless to be nothing less than demonic.
Drury, the skeletal dog was having a typical Drury type of day. This included a certain amount of mooching about, sniffing anything remotely perpendicular, fruitlessly chasing crows and raiding the occasional washing line. Bored, he ambled idly over to The Squid and Teapot hoping to catch sight of Philomena Bucket, but today she appeared to be otherwise engaged. He was just lifting a bony hind leg – albeit pointlessly – against the wall of the inn, when Father Stamage rounded the corner and almost fell over him, losing his hat in the process.
Immediately convinced that he was in the presence of a demon, for what else could this hideous and osseous monstrosity be, the priest instinctively embarked upon performing an exorcism. This is what he had been trained to do and the words sprang to his lips as though they had been lingering somewhere around the area of his tonsils, patiently waiting for a chance to escape. Drury, meanwhile, not best pleased at being stumbled over and shouted at in Latin, gave Stamage an angry stare, or as near to that as a skull can manage, and scampered off with the man’s hat clenched firmly between his jaws.
The exorcism was quickly abandoned and, as the priest gave chase, Latin was exchanged for some choice, if unbecoming, oaths in both Anglo-Saxon and Gaelic. Demon or not, Ignatius Stamage was determined to get his favourite hat back.
If there is one thing that Drury enjoys more than stealing washing, it is a game of chase, and this new playmate was very adept at it. The dog could forgive the bad start to their relationship, for this was as good a game as any he’d had in a long time. They had been running around the island for almost an hour and Father Stamage was becoming increasingly uneasy. Night was drawing in and Reverend Davies had specifically warned him not to wander too far afield during the hours of darkness. The Reverend had been vague as to why that should be, and, until now, the priest had supposed it was no more than a worry that anyone unfamiliar with the island could stumble over a cliff, or something of that sort. Now, however, with mysterious eyes floating in the sky, tentacled arms reaching from hollows, spoonwalkers tottering along on cutlery stilts, and dustcats scuttling through the air before him, brushing his clothes with their long suckered tongues, he guessed there may have been a reason for the Reverend’s caution.
“This place is positively teeming with demons,” he thought to himself. “I can see that I’m going to have my work cut out here.”
Drury, at last, grew tired of the game and, high on a rock where a ruined chapel stood, he dropped the hat and disappeared into the gloom, dashing off to find his good friend Rhys Cranham, the Night Soil Man.
“At least he’s gone,” Father Stamage thought to himself with relief, picking up his hat. “Is that the remains of a chapel I can see there? Maybe, with a little help, I can rebuild it and…”
Just then, screaming out of nowhere, came the angry wraith of Obadiah Hyde, the Mad Parson of Chapel Rock. A fierce puritan, both in life and death, he gave the priest the full benefit of his wrath, denouncing all papists as heretics, and probably adulterers as well. It was Hyde’s habit to do this, taking any hapless trespasser off-guard and, more often than not, watch them plunge to a watery doom, more than a hundred feet below. To his credit, though taken aback, Father Stamage stood his ground, confident in the knowledge that the ghost was harmless, no more than a noisy apparition let loose from purgatory.
While the priest may have been correct in his understanding of the nature of ghosts in general, he had little knowledge pertaining to the ones who haunt Hopeless. On this strangest of islands there is a marked failure to acknowledge the natural and occult laws that govern more conventional places. It came, therefore, as something of a surprise to Stamage when Obadiah Hyde picked up a rock the size of a man’s fist, and dashed it against his head. The priest staggered and fell awkwardly, lying for a while, dazed and not knowing where he was. Then, once the pain had subsided, he sat up. Hyde was still there, but somehow, something had changed.
“Hah, you didn’t expect me to get up from that one, did you?” said the priest, somewhat triumphantly getting to his feet.
“You didn’t,” said Hyde, his voice trembling with rage.
Father Stamage looked down to the floor, following the parson’s gaze. Lying beneath him he saw a crumpled body with a crushed skull, quietly bleeding over the stony ground.
“I really wish you hadn’t done that,” he said miserably. “It looks as though we’re stuck with each other now.”