Tag Archives: ghosts

Out of Time

Readers may recall that Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, had found himself mysteriously deposited in a Hopeless that he did not recognise. He discovered, in a poorly furnished version of his cottage, the dead body of another Night-Soil Man, guarded by the skeletal hound, Drury. Initially relieved to find that his old friend was there, Rhys changed his mind when it became obvious that not only did Drury not recognise him, but that the dog decided to literally launch an attack, hurling himself in Rhys’ direction. Had Drury been in receipt of hot breath, or indeed, any variety of breath, it is certain that Rhys would have felt the benefit of it on his exposed throat.
Those who have followed the deeds, and misdeeds, of Drury, will not be surprised to learn that, while he makes an exemplary guard-dog, his killer-instinct is pretty much non-existent. If he were human, the idiom ‘all mouth and no trousers’ would immediately spring to mind, which, for Rhys Cranham, was fortunate. Having leapt on to the Night-Soil Man and knocked him to the ground, Drury was at a loss as to what to do next, other than amble back to the corner of the room and look at Rhys with a baleful eye-socket.
From his horizontal position, wheels and small cogs began to whirr and click in Rhys’ mind. The missing privy at The Squid and Teapot, the disappearance of his cobbled pathway and the fact that Drury did not recognise him, all pointed to his having been transported back to an earlier date in the island’s history. While this realisation would have reduced many of us to gibbering wrecks, Rhys was not particularly fazed. After all, he had lived on Hopeless for all of his life. The occasional strange occurrence was to be expected, and could often be viewed as a welcome diversion from the monotony of day to day living.
The immediate priority for the Night-Soil Man was to get Drury on-side, before he dealt with the problem of disposing of the corpse slumped in the chair.
Suddenly inspiration struck. He burst into song and the parlour was filled with the notes of a surprisingly pleasing baritone voice.

“In Dublin’s fair city,
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone…”

Drury looked up with interest.

“… As she wheeled her wheelbarrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o.”

By now Drury was on his feet and wagging his tail. There was definitely something about this song that appealed to him.
Rhys launched confidently, and with no small amount of gusto, into the chorus, knowing full-well what effect the song would have on the dog. In his own time, Drury had become instantly enamoured with a version of ‘Molly Malone’, played on a wax-cylinder. While the Irish tenor on the phonograph did a decent enough job, Rhys felt sure that his own effort was vastly superior.
The old magic of ‘Molly Malone’ was working. Drury was wagging not only his tail, but his rear end as well, excited by the singing. It was almost as if he was able to remember the future, which, in view of this taking place on Hopeless, Maine, was by no means outside the realm of possibility.
After a half-a-dozen rousing choruses of ‘alive, alive-o’, Rhys felt that enough was enough. He was definitely in Drury’s good books by now and the osseous hound was sitting happily at his feet. Rhys looked at him fondly, and said,
“Drury, old friend, there’s something we have to do.”
The dog cocked his head to one side, listening intently.
“You’ve been around Night-Soil Men for most of your life… and… um… more,”
Drury had never accepted the fact that he was no longer alive, in the literal sense, so Rhys was being careful. He looked across the room at the corpse in the armchair.
“I don’t know what his name was, or why he died, but there is something important that must be done.”
To Rhys’ surprise Drury rattled to his feet and trotted out through the door, only to return a minute or so later, dragging a bedsheet. There was a clothes peg attached to one corner.
“Up to your old tricks, I see,” muttered Rhys, then he realised what the dog intended him to do.

Rhys spread the sheet on the floor of the cottage and manoeuvred the body of the Night-Soil Man on to it. It took but a few minutes for Rhys to wrap him up and, with some difficulty, hoist him on to his shoulder. Drury watched impassively as he made his way outside, bearing his burden.

The job of a Night-Soil Man is difficult and dangerous, and few enjoy a normal life-span. It has long been their practice to take on an apprentice who, hopefully, will have learned his trade before his master finally succumbs to whatever fate awaits him. When that time comes, the apprentice is expected to dispose of his master’s corpse by dropping him into the bottomless sink-hole that lies at the end of his garden. Although this sounds harsh, it ensures that the body will not be ravaged by any of the denizens who stalk the island, or swim in the wild ocean beyond. When the time came, Rhys, his body racked with sobs, had sent his predecessor, Shenandoah Nailsworthy, into the mysterious depths of the sinkhole. It was not a task he had expected to have to repeat, but now, here he was, doing it for a stranger, who, apparently had no apprentice.
“I never knew you my friend, but for some reason your spirit came to find me,” he said, recalling the ghost who had led him there.
With as much reverence as possible, Rhys let the body, still wrapped in its sheet, slip soundlessly into the sink-hole,
“The Night-Soil Man is dead. Long live the Night-Soil Man.”

Rhys walked sadly back to the cottage with Drury at his heels.
“I guess it’s up to me now to be the new Night-Soil man,” he said aloud, then added,
“I wonder what year this is?”
If Drury knew, he was not saying.

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.

A Hopeless Afterlife

To say that the manner of his death had come as a bit of a shock to Father Ignatius Stamage would be an understatement. He had always been led to believe that ghosts were no more than harmless disembodied spirits, loitering in purgatory. He certainly did not expect Obadiah Hyde, the phantom Mad Parson of Chapel Rock, to crush his skull with a lump of stone. In fact, the whole business of death had turned out to be something of a disappointment. Following his unfortunate demise, Father Stamage had waited patiently for the expected triumphant ascent into the celestial realms. A month went by and nothing happened. Whatever could be causing such a delay? He didn’t think that heaven would be subject to bureaucratic slip-ups, but something was definitely not right.

Obadiah Hyde, meanwhile, had gone into a sulk, resentful of having to share his space with another ghost; worse still, one with no apparent fear of his ranting and raving. To add insult to injury, the rival ghost was that of a Catholic priest, a breed whose very existence was anathema to the old puritan. In protest, and much to the relief of Father Stamage, the Mad Parson disappeared huffily into the chapel ruins and refused to come out.

The priest watched impassively as a small band of men wrapped his remains up in an old sheet and carried them down the hill. He was not particularly sorry to see his corpse go. The passage of time, not to mention the attention of the ravens who lived in the ruins of the old chapel, had done nothing to improve its look. Even Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, had paled visibly when he discovered the body. Only old Drury, the skeletal hound, seemed to be unaffected by the sight, wagging his tail, giving the cadaver a thorough sniff-over and raising a hind leg to mark the spot (which, of course, he didn’t, but you cannot blame him for trying).

In the days that followed the discovery of the corpse, Drury became a frequent visitor to Chapel Rock. Despite himself, Father Stamage grew quite fond of him. The days when he believed Drury to be a demon from the lowest depths of Hell were long past, and now the priest recognised him for what he was; no more than a lovable old rogue who refused to acknowledge that he was dead. Briefly, Stamage wished that he had done the same thing, but on reflection realised that a skeletal priest wandering around might not be as warmly regarded as a mischievous dog.

There was only one cottage on the Night-Soil Man’s round that necessitated his walking past Chapel Rock. The output of its residents was such that Rhys only needed to visit every few weeks, and so a month or more passed, following the discovery of the body, before they needed his services again.
Rhys was surprised to see Drury, snuffling among the rocks, wagging his tail and generally acting as though he was there with a friend. Thinking that it might be Philomena Bucket out on one of her ill-advised adventures, he wandered over to where the dog was standing. It took him a moment to see the darkly-clad apparition of the priest flickering silently amid the rocks. Rhys had no fear of ghosts, except Obadiah Hyde, who scared everyone. Indeed, he enjoyed the company of those who chose to speak to him, for the existence of a Night-Soil man is a lonely one, on account of the constant nauseous reek that surrounds him. Happily, ghosts have no problem with such human concerns.
Father Stamage too was glad of someone to talk to, for although Drury was a pleasant companion, his conversation was limited to a series of barks, woofs and yaps.
As if there was nothing remotely strange about a man and a ghost chatting amiably, it was not long before the pair became friends and the priest told Rhys of the chase to retrieve his hat from Drury, and the fatal encounter with Obadiah Hyde.
The Night-Soil Man made a point of visiting whenever he could. It was pleasant to be able to go to Chapel Rock and not be terrorized by the Mad Parson, who still refused to come out while Father Stamage was haunting the place. Rhys, however, soon realised that his ghostly friend was far from happy.
“I became a priest to serve a community,” Stamage had told him. “In life I wanted nothing more than to be among people.”
Rhys pondered these words, and recalled that Marjorie Toadsmoor had expressed very much the same thing, needing to be among the living. Rhys wondered if he could help, as he had with Miss Toadsmoor, transporting her to the orphanage in a Marjorie-sized granite monolith.
“Where would you choose to be?” he asked. “Back at the orphanage?”
“I think not,” said the priest, sadly. “My brief sojourn there was not a particularly happy one. I’m dead Rhys and I want to be surrounded by good cheer, something to remind me of life.”
“I know the very place,” said the Night-Soil Man, “but how I can get a big lump of rock there for you to haunt might be a problem. It’s a shame that you have no possessions left; that often works. I’ve known of ghosts who have managed to reside in something as small as their pocket watch.”
Just then, as if on cue, Drury appeared with a shapeless and much-weathered piece of felt in his mouth.
“My hat!” exclaimed the priest. “I wondered where it had gone.”
He regarded Rhys with eerie green light in his eyes.
“Do you think… “ he began,
“There’s only one way to find out,” replied Rhys.

Philomena Bucket found the hat hanging on the front door of The Squid and Teapot, with an explanatory note attached to it, penned in the familiar scrawl of Rhys Cranham. Much as Philomena disapproved of clergymen of any persuasion, she could not bear to think of anyone sharing eternity with Obadiah Hyde.
Bartholomew Middlestreet, the landlord of the inn, placed the remains of Father Stamage’s hat safely in a box, and stored it in one of the attic rooms.
“As long as he doesn’t drive away my customers, I’m happy for him to haunt The Squid,” he said generously. “He’ll be able to keep Lady Margaret company. She’s got a few hundred years of confessions to offload, so that should keep them occupied for a while.”
Lady Margaret had once revealed to Philomena some of the more salacious details of her short, but somewhat scandalous, life. The barmaid grinned to herself. She hoped that Stamage didn’t blush too easily.

The Exorcist

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.”

Coming Home

“I am so bored! Being dead is dreadfully tedious, Philomena.”
Marjorie Toadsmoor, Hopeless Maine’s most recent resident to join the ranks of the island’s ghosts, sat on a rock and gazed miserably at her friend.
Philomena frowned.
“I wish I could make it easier for you,” she said. “Maybe I could visit more often.”
“No… it’s too dangerous,” said Marjorie. “There are too many horrible things lurking around at night. You would be as dead as I am in no time at all.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” replied Philomena, breezily. “After all, I’ve never had any problem being out after dark.”
“But you have a guardian, a protector.”
“Old Drury? He wanders off as much as he’s with me.”
Marjorie flickered disconcertingly in the evening mist.
“I didn’t mean Drury. Mr Cranham, the Night-Soil Man is always looking out for you.”
“Rhys?” Philomena gave a little laugh. “No, you’re wrong, he’s far too busy… and why would he?”
“Oh, Philomena,” said the ghost wearily, “don’t you know? Look over there, out towards Scilly Point. He’s there now, not fifty yards away, making sure that you’re alright.”
Philomena turned and looked at the spot to which Marjorie had referred. All she could see was an unusual rock formation looming in the fog. Then, to her surprise, the unusual rock formation jumped up and banged its foot on the ground, in an effort to ward off a sudden twinge of cramp.
“Does he always follow me?” asked Philomena, taken aback.
“Whenever you visit,” replied Marjorie. “I think he worries about you.”
Philomena fell silent and was glad that the misty darkness concealed the fact that she was blushing.
Although Philomena was grateful that Rhys was there to protect her, she was aware that while he was guarding her he was not doing his work. If she went wandering around in the dark too often, he would get nothing done.
The thoughts of what might happen to Hopeless without the services of the Night-Soil Man made her shudder.
“Don’t worry, Marjorie,” she said reassuringly to her ghostly friend. “I’ll think of something before tomorrow.”

Regular readers will be aware that Marjorie had died, partly from grief but mainly by being blown over by a freak gust of wind, when she thought that she had been rejected by her lover, Linus Pinfarthing. Linus was currently in a permanent state of alcoholic stupefaction, and being tormented by Trickster, who had taken the guise of a white hare, which Linus erroneously believed to be the vengeful spirit of Marjorie.

The following night Miss Calder, who oversaw the smooth running of the Pallid Rock Orphanage, came to visit Marjorie. Being abroad after dark held few terrors for her, having been deceased, and a wraith herself, for some time. Good-natured and charming as she was, Miss Calder had an annoying propensity for absent-mindedly allowing her face to become skeletal when deep in thought. This was an unfortunate trait, and regarded by many as being somewhat unsociable, not to say horrific.

“I do so miss your help at the orphanage,” said Miss Calder. “The children miss you as well.”
“Those days are gone forever,” wailed Marjorie mournfully. The sound was enough to freeze the blood of any who chose to be abroad at that time.
“Possibly not…” replied Miss Calder enigmatically. “I have been talking to Miss Bucket. She has a plan… I won‘t say too much at the moment, I don’t want you to get your hopes up, but cross fingers.”
“I would if I could,” said Marjorie, “but they keep slipping through each other.”

Philomena reflected, with wry amusement, that most of her friends these days were ghosts. Besides Marjorie and Miss Calder, Philomena liked to engage in an occasional chat with Lady Margaret D’Avening, The Headless White Lady, who haunted the flushing privy of The Squid and Teapot. The Tudor mansion that Lady Margaret had originally haunted had been sold, disassembled and sent to Connecticut, where a millionaire planned to rebuild it on his estate. Sadly, the carefully numbered pallets of Cotswold stone had never been collected from the quay at Newhaven and little by little they had been ‘liberated’ by those requiring repairs to their walls and outhouses, until the last few remaining blocks were taken by an enterprising sea-captain, who promptly lost his ship, his crew and his life on the rocks around Hopeless, Maine. The stone blocks, and the flushing privy from the captain’s cabin, were salvaged and made a handsome addition to the ground-plan of The Squid and Teapot. What no one appreciated at the time was that the ghost of Lady Margaret had taken refuge in one of the blocks and was forever doomed to haunt its immediate proximity.
In the course of conversation Philomena learned from Lady Margaret that she had enjoyed several jaunts away from The Squid by the simple expedient of having someone deposit a block, which had been carefully prised from the privy wall, at various parts of the island.
“If it works for Lady Margaret, then why not Marjorie?” reasoned Philomena.

There was a certain amount of trial and error involved in getting Philomena’s plan to work. It had to be established which bits of rock, scattered around the scene of Marjorie’s demise, she was able to inhabit. Try as she might, the ghost found herself unable to get into anything smaller in size than she had been in life. It must be remembered that Cotswold stone is Oolitic limestone, which is far more porous than the dense granite rocks around Hopeless, and therefore an easier space for a ghost to occupy.
The problem was not insurmountable, and a note pinned to Rhys Cranham’s door was enough to have the Night-Soil Man wheeling the designated rock across the island to the orphanage, where Miss Calder waited expectantly; she was always very happy to see Rhys, much to his dismay (I think it was the inter-dimensional complications of a relationship with a wraith, not to mention the occasional skeletal-face thing, that put him off).
Under cover of darkness, so as not to upset the children with his trademark odour, Rhys set the stone into the ground, where it sat like a small monolith, just outside the orphanage.
Almost shyly, the following night, Marjorie drifted out of her new abode and looked about her, gratefully. It would take a while for her to learn how to become visible in daylight and, like Miss Calder, be able to wander around the orphanage, and maybe even the island one day. That, for now did not matter; the ghost of Marjorie Toadsmoor had come home.

After the storm

After the storm, the sailors saw a lost princess in the ocean.

I filled my dress pockets with stones
Walked quietly into the sea
Nothing but memory remains here
A shadow reflection of me.


I am the mist on the water
The passing outline of a cloud
A touch of sky and the ocean
Wearing the cold sea as my shroud.


Queen now of nothing but sorrow
The mistress of solitude, cries
Gone is the breath from my being
Absent is the light from my eyes.


Spectre of sadness remaining
The echo that once was a life
No peace in the deep my ending
No final escape from all strife.


I haunt myself at the shoreline
Condemned to exist and to be
Trapped for all time recollecting
And never again to be free.

(A collaboration from Dr Abbey and Nimue)

The Sleeper

Reverend Davies stood frozen in his tracks. Just a moment before he had been walking purposefully along the shoreline, attempting to compose the text of his next sermon. He found that a misty morning walk, with the angry ocean and barren rocks as a backdrop, was often helpful in inspiring him to bring the wrath and harsh judgement of the Old Testament to vivid life, for the benefit of the parishioners of Hopeless, Maine. His reason for stopping in mid-stride, and abandoning his musings on some of the least pleasant aspects of the book of Deuteronomy, was the sight of an ominous dark shape lurking low in the water, just a few yards away from where he was standing.
Minutes passed, and Reverend Davies, who dared not move or remove his gaze from the nameless menace, was developing cramp in his left leg. Convinced that the thing was biding its time before rushing up from the sea to drag him to his doom, he bore the agony like a martyr, and kept perfectly still, silently wincing with pain. I have no idea how long he could have maintained this position, but fortunately the incoming tide produced a particularly large wave which propelled the mysterious creature on to the beach, while, at the same time, liberally showering the Reverend with spray.

Banging his foot on the ground to relieve the cramp, the Reverend looked about him anxiously to see if anyone had witnessed his actions, or lack thereof. He felt a little embarrassed that he had confused a plank of wood with some deadly denizen of the deep. When it was clear that the plank held no threat, he decided to make a closer inspection. This appeared to be no ordinary plank. It was huge; a good eight feet long, ten inches wide, about six inches deep, and blackened with age. Emboldened now, he gave it a push with his foot, but found it difficult to shift; the thing was unbelievably heavy! How it had floated was beyond the Reverend’s understanding. “Maybe,” he thought aloud, “that is why it lay so low in the water.”
His sermon temporarily forgotten, Reverend Davies decided that this plank, or whatever it was, would be an ideal replacement for the lintel that sat over the front door of the orphanage, a worm-eaten piece of oak that had seen better days and needed replacing.

What he had discovered was, of course, a railway sleeper. He can be forgiven for not knowing this, as only a tiny handful of people living on the island would have seen, or even registered the existence of, such a thing as a railway, let alone a sleeper. Railway sleepers which are no longer needed are invariably recycled in some way, and this, it would appear, was the plan for this particular specimen. One other thing, of which the Reverend was blissfully ignorant, was that the sleeper he had destined to support the wall above the orphanage’s front door, had been formerly transported by ship. In the course of the voyage a terrified crew, with the help of their skipper, had unceremoniously jettisoned it overboard.

It took four strong men to remove the sleeper from the beach and deliver it to the orphanage. They lay it on the ground outside, where it would remain until needed, for while the plan to replace the old lintel was, doubtless, a good one, the Reverend had not appreciated the enormity of the task. The double doors would have to be removed and the walls would need supporting when the old lintel was pulled out. Failure to do this would almost certainly result in the front of the building collapsing. This needed much planning, and planning took time.

A week or so passed. A pallid full moon gazed down on Hopeless through the ribbons of fog, and saw Miss Calder flitting around the outside of the orphanage, hoping, no doubt, to ‘accidentally’ cross paths with Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man. She was fully aware that her feelings were irrational and could never be realised. Miss Calder had been dead for some years, and though a ghost, she entertained certain unaccountable yearnings for the Night-Soil Man. For his part, Rhys did not mind, for his was a lonely life, and, despite being a wraith, Miss Calder was surprisingly good company. Like Drury, the skeletal hound, she had not allowed the inconvenience of death to interfere with her participating fully in island life, and had continued to oversee the smooth running of the orphanage in an exemplary fashion.

Unexpectedly, a noise which Miss Calder first thought to have been the death agonies of some huge creature, rent the quiet of the island. Here and there lights appeared in nearby windows and pale, frightened faces gazed into the darkness. Reverend Davies, resplendent in a long, striped nightshirt and pink bed-socks, appeared on the doorstep of the orphanage, while Miss Marjorie Toadsmoor, their newest teacher, peeped timidly from the window of her attic room. The unearthly scream ripped through the air again and suddenly, bursting from nowhere, came the apparition of a massive steam engine, ghastly and shimmering with an awful luminescence. The faces of the driver and fireman could be clearly seen, contorted in terror as they frantically tried to bring the engine under control. Following helplessly behind were a dozen carriages, within which the bodies of their passengers were being tossed around as if they were rag-dolls. The onlookers stood transfixed as the phantom engine rolled like some stricken leviathan, falling clumsily on to its side and taking the carriages with it. The noise was deafening as it crashed into unseen obstacles, breaking down trees and buildings that were never there… then it was gone, and there was silence.
For most of us, such a sight would be traumatising, to say the very least. For the inhabitants of Hopeless, not so much. For them, the majority of hauntings are just regarded as one minor cause for concern in lives fraught with greater worries. They would be talked about in complaining tones the next day and, afterwards, mentally filed under ‘Nuisance Apparitions’. This particular apparition, however, was larger and noisier than most. Although lights were soon being doused and people went back to bed, there would be questions asked as to the origin of this particular disturbance, and, doubtless, blame to be attributed.

“What in Heaven’s name was that?” asked Reverend Davies, carefully picking his way over the cobbles to where Miss Calder stood.
“I have no idea, Reverend,” admitted Miss Calder, “But whatever it was, it has no place on this island, I’m sure.”
“I think I might know what it is that we have just witnessed.”
It was Marjorie Toadsmoor, an overcoat wrapped over her nightgown.
Marjorie had found herself mysteriously transported to Hopeless from Victorian Oxford some months before. The details of her previous life were shadowy and dim, but the sight of the ghost train had awoken some vague memory within her.
“I believe that was, what is commonly known as, a steam engine, pulling a train of carriages behind it… ”
“It sure was ma’am.”
Everyone turned to see where this new voice had come from.
The eerie shapes of the engine’s driver and fireman hovered unsteadily over the railway sleeper, as it lay on the stony ground.
“That there’s the Old 97, eternally doomed to haunt this old sleeper which brung it off the rails,” said the soot-grimed fireman.
The wraith who had been the driver – or, more properly, the engineer – was more than grimy; he looked to be badly burned.
“The last thing I remember,” he said, “we was going down the track making, ooh, must have been ninety miles an hour, when the whistle broke into a scream.”
“He was found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle,” volunteered the fireman, shaking his head sadly.
“Oh, you poor man,” wailed Miss Calder. “It looks as though you were scalded to death by the steam.”
“Well, that’s as maybe,” said Reverend Davies, briskly, “but we can’t be putting up with that racket all the time. How often is this likely to happen?”
“We manifest every full moon. The last time we did, we were on a ship. You should have seen their faces,” said the fireman, smiling at the memory.
“Indeed,” said Miss Calder, “but every full moon? Honestly! I don’t understand why some hauntings have to be so unoriginal. I make myself available day and night, all year round.”
The ghosts of the engineer and fireman said nothing, but silently retreated, somewhat shamefaced, back into the ethereal depths of the sleeper.
“It has to go,” said Reverend Davies firmly.

The following morning the sleeper was taken to Scilly Point, where the water was particularly deep. The little party, overseen by Reverend Davies, rolled it, with some difficulty, into the ocean, then they stood on the headland to watch it being taken away from the island by the receding tide.
“A pity about the lintel,” thought the Reverend, “but at least we won’t have to put up with that again.”

There is a popular saying that time and tide waits for no man. While this may be true, unlike time, which is fleeting, high tides and low tides occur regularly, twice each day. That which is carried out is often returned twelve hours or so later, but not necessarily at the same spot. This is especially true of an island which occasionally decides to change its shape without a ‘by your leave’, as does Hopeless.

Seth Washwell looked at the long, dark piece of wood sitting on the beach with obvious appreciation.
“What a great piece of timber,” he thought to himself. “I’ll get the guys to drag it back to the sawmill, I know exactly what to do with it, once it’s been cleaned up a bit and sawn into shape.”

It was around three weeks later that Reverend Davies was both surprised and delighted to receive the gift of a bespoke, single-seat church pew. This had been donated with the compliments of the Washwell Sawmills and Joinery, an establishment situated on the far side of the island. In fact, so pleased was the Reverend that he decided not to install the seat in the church, but rather keep it in his study at the orphanage, where he frequently worked late into the night, burning the midnight oil. With a couple of cushions it would make an excellent replacement for his chair, which, after years of wear, was falling apart.
As I have said, so many times in these tales, what could possibly go wrong?

The Ghost Ship

Drury, the skeletal dog, had been spreading happiness and mayhem in equal measure upon the island of Hopeless, Maine for far longer than any living soul could remember. Many generations had passed since anyone had deemed themselves to be his master; Drury was a law unto himself, a force of nature, a free spirit. In truth, he was the very essence of dogginess epitomised, notwithstanding the fact that he had died years ago. However Drury, being Drury did not allow this slight inconvenience to get in his way for one minute.

If any two humans could be said to elicit the osseous hound’s affection above all others, they would be Rhys Cranham, the Night Soil Man and the palely beautiful Philomena Bucket, who worked in “The Squid and Teapot”.

While Philomena frequently enjoyed the dog’s company by day, when Rhys did his nocturnal rounds, it was often with Drury at his heels. He was under no illusion, however, that the dog was attracted purely by his bountiful nature and irresistible charisma. There was little doubt that a Night Soil Man’s messy and malodorous calling had no little part to play in persuading Drury that here was as good a companion as one could wish for.

There were no stars visible on the night of our tale. Only the baleful eye of the full moon was able to penetrate the mist that blanketed the skies over Hopeless. Rhys looked up and could not suppress a slight shudder.

“Nothing remotely good happens on Hopeless under a full moon,” he thought to himself, then almost laughed out loud at his musings. Nothing remotely good happens on Hopeless at the best of times, why should tonight be any different? Dismissing such thoughts from his mind, he hitched his tightly lidded bucket up on to his shoulders. Just two more stops and then he’d sit down for a bite of supper, grateful that Philomena had left a cold starry-grabby pie and a flask of ‘Old Colonel’ on his doorstep earlier in the day. Lovely Philomena! Salty tears, borne of an impossible and unrequited love, threatened to cloud his eyes, until Drury gave a sharp bark, instantly dragging Rhys away from his reverie.

A few hundred yards from the shore, sitting in the pathway cast by the moon, was anchored an old-fashioned galleon. Rhys looked on in horror, for he knew at once that this was no ordinary craft. Even with its sails furled he could see that they, like the rest of the galleon, were rotting and ragged and shimmered with an eerie, lurid iridescence. He had heard of such a vessel before but always dismissed the tales of a phantom ship, damned to roam the seas for eternity, as an island myth. He had laughed at the legend that spoke of the ship that, once every hundred years, would anchor off Hopeless in order to send a press-gang of wraiths ashore to replenish its crew. He wasn’t laughing now.

“Thank goodness they’re still a fair distance away,” said Rhys to Drury. “Time to pack in for the night and get home and lock the door, I think.”
But Drury wasn’t listening. Unseen by Rhys, a small tender, known as a jolly boat, had drawn up on the beach, a short distance away. It glowed with the same ghastly light as the galleon. Half a dozen cadaverous shapes had clambered over its rotting sides and  were even now lurching up the sand towards the terror-stricken Night Soil Man.

The six crewmen were dreadful to behold. In their tattered, tar-stained apparel of a time long past, these hollow-eyed wraiths were barely recognisable as creatures who had once been living, breathing men. Their shrivelled flesh and hollow eyes chilled the blood of all who beheld them. Even wraiths can be taken aback, however. When they were within no more than a few feet away from Rhys, Drury sprang fearlessly into action, a calcified ball of canine fury.
As I have stated on many an occasion, Drury is, to those of us who know him, a bony but loveable bundle of chaotic mischief. In view of this, it is easy to forget that he also has access to those hazy, liminal regions that bridge the realms of the living and the dead. So, while the slightly overweight representative of the species Canis lupus familiaris, snoring contentedly on your sofa, can certainly see ghosts, not even the meanest, fiercest fighting dog in the world could wrap its jaws around a phantom leg. Drury can.    

“It’s that bloody dog again,” screamed one of the wraiths as a very real set of teeth attacked whatever bits of him Drury could get hold of.  
“He was here causing trouble the last time we came.”

Rhys had no idea what to do. He knew he would be no match for just one of the wraiths, much less six and although Drury was fighting valiantly, he wouldn’t be able to hold them all off for very long.

Sure enough, no sooner had the thought entered his head than an ice-cold hand had grabbed Rhys by the neck and started to drag him towards the jolly boat. The Night Soil Man could see a furious and struggling Drury being restrained by the remaining five ghostly sailors, who, quite frankly, was having their work cut out.
“Get a move on, Charlie,” shouted one of them. “We can’t hang on to this little bleeder for much longer.”

Suddenly and from nowhere the air was filled with a thunder of hooves, excited yapping, some nasal brays and the distinct effluvium of flatulent mules as the maiden ladies of The Mild Hunt swept down from the sky, their spaniels yelping madly and nipping at the heels of the surprised sailors. Suddenly dropped, with an ungainly clatter Drury fell to the ground and, with some relish, immediately joined in the fray, any previous dispute with the spaniels put to one side, at least for the time being.
Opportune as this intervention was, it had not prevented Charlie from escorting Rhys down to the jolly boat. He was just about to push the Night Soil Man headlong into its bilge when a sharp rat-a-tat-tat cut through the night like a blade. All who heard it stopped, frozen in their tracks. The mist on the beach swirled and gathered. Rhys turned his head to see shapes forming within its murky depths until, to the accompaniment of a stirring drumbeat, yet another phantom host appeared. These were the drowned sailors that the Little Drummer Boy had led ashore to safe haven many years before. Like the Mild Hunt, they regarded this island as their home. No upstart band of ragged-trousered wraiths was going to suddenly come in and scare the living daylights out of its inhabitants. That was their job! Besides, all of the ghosts on Hopeless (with the possible exception of Obadiah Hyde, The Mad Parson of Chapel Rock) had something of a soft spot for the generations of Night Soil Men whom they had seen come and go. They had watched them perform their thankless work night after dreary night with little chance of respite; this was a fate, they perceived, not unlike their own.

“At ‘em lads”, shouted one of the shipwrecked ghosts.
Spectral cudgels and belaying pins swung through the air, raining mercilessly on  phantom flesh until, before long, the press-gang was sent scuttling back to the jolly boat.
Rhys, who, in the confusion, had escaped Charlie’s clutches, felt himself being gently led to safety by the ghostly (and curiously wandering) hands of the maiden ladies of The Mild Hunt, who giggled girlishly to themselves as they flew once more up into the night, followed closely by their unruly spaniels.

The Little Drummer Boy and the drowned sailors lingered on the beach until the galleon could be seen to weigh anchor, set its decrepit sails and disappear from sight around the headland. Rhys, lying on the dark shingle, watched, still shaken, as one by one, the sailors dissolved into the mist.
“Thank you,” he cried, as the Drummer Boy, the last to leave, began to fade from sight.
Rhys could swear that he waved back to him, but it may have been his eyes playing tricks.
Drury nuzzled the Night Soil Man’s neck with a bony nose.

“And thank you too, old friend,“ said Rhys, getting up and retrieving his bucket. “Hopefully they won’t be coming back for another hundred years. Now let’s go home. I’ve had enough excitement for one night.”


Author’s note: Although that most famous of ghost ships, The Flying Dutchman, is generally associated with the  waters of the Southern Hemisphere, there have been reports of other crafts seen in the North Atlantic, as evinced in the following poem by Irish poet and lyricist Thomas Moore (1779-1852)

Written On Passing Deadman’s Island, In The Gulf Of St. Lawrence, Late In The Evening, September, 1804.

    See you, beneath yon cloud so dark,
    Fast gliding along a gloomy bark?
    Her sails are full,–though the wind is still,
    And there blows not a breath her sails to fill!

    Say, what doth that vessel of darkness bear?
    The silent calm of the grave is there,
    Save now and again a death-knell rung,
    And the flap of the sails with night-fog hung.

    There lieth a wreck on the dismal shore
    Of cold and pitiless Labrador;
    Where, under the moon, upon mounts of frost,
    Full many a mariner’s bones are tost.

    Yon shadowy bark hath been to that wreck,
    And the dim blue fire, that lights her deck,
    Doth play on as pale and livid a crew,
    As ever yet drank the churchyard dew.

    To Deadman’s Isle, in the eye of the blast,
    To Deadman’s Isle, she speeds her fast;
    By skeleton shapes her sails are furled,
    And the hand that steers is not of this world!

    Oh! hurry thee on-oh! hurry thee on,
    Thou terrible bark, ere the night be gone,
    Nor let morning look on so foul a sight
    As would blanch for ever her rosy light!

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.

Dr. Corvus Marconi has held his last séance

By Frampton Jones

 

Mentalist magician and séance conductor Dr Corvus Marconi has died suddenly in confusing circumstances.

Doc Willougby, who was himself present at the fatal séance ascribes the death to Dr Corvus Marconi banging his head repeatedly onto the table. “It was a silly way to go,” he told me. “I don’t know what he was thinking, but these magical types are a funny lot.”

Mithra Stubbs, also present at the séance told me that it was hard to tell whether Corvus was beaten to death by angry ghosts, or having some kind of fit after Doc Willoughby put a little drop of something in his tea, or both.

“There are no ghosts,” Doc Willoughby said. “The man was a charlatan. Definitely no ghosts. He pretended to call up some of my recently deceased patients, which was, frankly, offensive. But not so offensive as to give me a motive for killing him, obviously. He may have reacted badly to the whiskey, people do sometimes.”

Mithra Stubbs said “As far as I could make out, the ghosts were angry at having been called back and afraid they’d be stuck here. They were also pointing at Doc Willoughby a lot and shouting at him but as there were a lot of them, it was hard to make out words.”

Séances have always been a controversial activity – those who are dead and present to us find it preferable if people just visit them to chat. People who have departed, it is often argued, should not be brought back. We do not know why some of the dead remain and others do not, and it does not seem wise to interfere with the process. Currently the question of whether Corvus will return, and whether there should be a séance held to talk to him, is being hotly debated amongst fans of his work.