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.
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.
Leading spookologist and pie maker Israel Skelton has sadly departed from this life. We wait with interest to see if he will return as one of the ghosts, either to continue his ghostly mapping, or his pie making. Either seems possible.
Regulars at The Black Swann Bakery will of course know that for the last seventeen years, Israel Skelton has faithfully kept the shop stocked with tasty, largely edible pies. The secret of his crust goes with him to the grave, having been the subject of great speculation for those seventeen years. What was he making the pastry out of? We will never know. What made the gravy so tasty? The mystery remains. These two factors transformed otherwise normal Hopeless pie fillings into something one could almost feel enthusiasm for eating. It is rare praise to heap upon a person.
Israel Skelton leaves behind him a lifetime’s study of spookology – a patient mapping of ghostly activity around the town and beyond. His work established beyond any doubt that ghosts do disappear sometimes. His extensive interviews with ghostly residents shed almost no light on the issue of life after death – but we have come to know that ghosts have no more idea how being a ghost works than the living have insight into what that’s all about.
His was a life lived fully, and shaped by his twin passions for pies and ghosts. It’s not often one can say this of a person – that they lived their dream to the full, right up to the end.
Mithra Stubbs tells us that she shut the pie machine down very quickly but that there was a considerable amount of her colleague missing at this point. Food waste is a terrible thing, of course, and so she did the decent thing and baked the remaining pies. Some of you are, in effect, Israel Skelton’s final resting place, but comfort yourself in the knowledge that it might have been exactly what he wanted.
Speculation is already rife that the pie machine was in some way possessed by a malevolent and hungry force. Mithra told me this is nonsense and that the pie machine clearly loved Israel and always seemed excited when he came into the room.
Based on Israel’s own work, we understand that haunting tend to follow the bones or stay at the death site, except in the rare cases of strong willed individuals like Miss Calder. If Israel returns, will it be to haunt the machine that ate him, to haunt what remains of his remains, or to haunt those of you who ate his last pies? I can only feel it’s a question that would have greatly interested him.
You can find the rest of Israel Skelton over here – http://skeltoncrewstudio.com/ with comics related goodies, including Hopeless Maine pins.
This death was brought to you by the Hopeless Maine kickstarter. If you feel cheated of your death because you missed the early bird pledges, just let us know when you pledge and we’ll slide you gently into the mass grave we have planned.
Of course I see dead people. We all see dead people, although no one seems clear about the proper etiquette for such meetings. It only seems polite to acknowledge them – at least when they themselves are polite. There are a few it feels vulgar to acknowledge in the street. The one who haunts the… smaller room at the back of… the drinking establishment.
I do not like to speak of body parts, or to name them. But it is more an issue of absence, with the dead people. While I see dead people I do not see (their ankles). Not for reasons of propriety, decency or even careful not noticing on my part.
They don’t have any!
Most of them don’t even possess (feet) as though their ephemeral forms could not quite bear the sordid process of touching the ground.
I am undecided as to whether it is more becoming to have those unmentionable body parts under proper control, or whether it is a blessing to do without them. I dare not speculate as to whether they have (legs) or are just innocent manifestations of clothing with no human indecency left inside.
The new year was less than an hour old when Betty Butterow, her work at The Squid and Teapot finished, had almost reached the cabin that she shared with her husband, Joseph, in Creepy Hollow. With the exception of the Night Soil Man, there are few who voluntarily venture far afield on Hopeless after darkness has fallen. This is true even in the middle of the year, when the last few strands of daylight are reluctant to leave the sky; to be abroad on a dark and moonless midwinter night was unheard of. However, Betty, you will remember, was a selkie, a seal-woman, and had enjoyed the protection of the mighty Kraken itself when Reverend Crackstone had tried to kill her. Since that day few creatures, on sea or land, would have dared cause her harm.
A thunderous clip-clop, like that of huge but tired hooves, underpinned by a series of sharp and really quite irritating barks, stopped the barmaid in her tracks. These were not noises one heard on Hopeless very often. A flurry of smouldering paper fluttered by, though there was no breeze tonight. Betty’s heart suddenly began to beat faster, not with fear but with excitement. She knew what this was: a spectacle she had heard of but never actually witnessed. Then she saw them. Filling the heavens with clatter and disapproving sighs came the wraiths of six elderly spinsters, arthritically plodding across the night sky on three flatulent mules. At their feet yapped a brace of ghostly Springer Spaniels. This was The Mild Hunt of legend, eternally doomed to chase some fiery, fugitive pamphlets across the skies over Hopeless.
They could only be so close to her home on such a night for one reason; the old stories told of them often being spotted in the winter months visiting the somewhat deranged ghost of Lars Pedersen, the famous Eggless Norseman of Creepy Hollow.
Betty kept very still and watched the ghostly cavalcade circle down to earth. In the air above her they had appeared to be colossal, filling the canopy of the heavens from horizon to horizon. Now, however, as they clattered to the ground, landing in awkward disarray, they assumed normal dimensions. The cacophonous chorus of yaps, brays, noisy expulsions of equine nether winds and several exclamations of “Dearie me” was enough to disturb the weary wraith of Lars Pedersen. Betty held her breath as he gradually manifested, as if through a doorway unseen. She was not a little surprised by the old phantom’s appearance. It occurred to her that he was fading away. After haunting the area for almost a thousand years Lars had become little more than an outline, as faint as breath on a chilly night. Despite this, she could see how gaunt and wild-eyed he was.
Betty watched for a while longer. The ladies seemed to be fussing around the old Viking. The mules had calmed down and the spaniels were sniffing anything and everything of interest. One wandered over to where Betty was hiding and licked her hand. It was a cold but not unpleasant sensation. It barked at her.
“Shoo” she hissed.
The dog refused to leave and continued barking.
Betty expected the ladies of The Mild Hunt to react to her presence but all they did was to admonish the dogs for their ceaseless noise.
It dawned on Betty that maybe the spaniels could see her when the other ghosts could not. This would make sense; rather like the way in which mortal dogs are said to be able to see things beyond human vision. Emboldened by this thought, the barmaid wandered into the clearing where the ghostly gathering had assembled. Not one of them saw her but the spaniels continued barking. The ladies were obviously speaking to Lars but their speech had become distant and indistinct to Betty’s ears. Uncanny though the tableau was, the spectacle of a group of elderly people talking, even ghostly ones, was not terribly exciting. Betty was almost relieved when the ladies of The Mild Hunt mounted their steeds, gathered themselves together and once more returned to their endless quest across the skies. The wispy shade of the Norseman waved briefly, then turned to leave, pushing open the portal that only he could see. Betty, never one to deny her curiosity full rein, followed, making sure to keep one foot in the world she knew.
If the ghostly spectacle of The Mild Hunt had been memorable, the sight that greeted her eyes now would be indelibly etched upon her mind forever. Incredibly, the land on the other side of the door was bathed in golden sunshine. The grass was green and lush, affording the half dozen goats grazing upon it rich pasture. Chickens and geese busied themselves noisily, while beneath an ancient spreading oak tree, a spotted pig basked contentedly.
On the near horizon purple hills rose up to meet the few fluffy white clouds that graced an otherwise clear blue sky. Birds sang and the scent of summer flowers filled the air. Although there was no sign of the warriors’ feasting hall or drunken revels of myth, Betty knew she was looking at Lars Pedersen’s private, very peaceful, Valhalla.
It suddenly occurred to the barmaid that the shape of the hills was somehow familiar. Then the realisation struck her. They were the Gydynaps! And if that were so…
The rest of the landscape gradually fell into place. Sunlight sparkled on the chuckling waters of nearby Tragedy Creek, while in the other direction ravens circled around the landmark she recognised as being Chapel Rock – minus the ruined chapel of course; Lars did not know about its existence. It was clear that Lars Pedersen was living an afterlife on Hopeless, Maine, but not a Hopeless that any living soul would recognise. Betty looked in wonder. Was this Hopeless as it was, as Lars knew it, or as it might have been? Or even might one day be? The thoughts raced madly in Betty’s head as she drank in the sounds and smells of this idyllic land, aching to be part of it. In silence, Lars Pedersen himself drifted into her field of vision and stood smiling before her. No one would ever refer to this Lars as The Woeful Dane, a nickname his ghost had acquired over the years. She saw him now as young and strong, his long golden hair and full beard plaited and his twinkling blue eyes bright and mischievous. With a slight bow, he held out his hand to her, invitingly. A delicious mist filled her mind, blanking out all thoughts and memories of the Hopeless she knew. Her life at The Squid and Teapot and even recollections of her soul-mate, Joseph became no more than a distant dream. Betty extended her arm towards the handsome Norseman, more than willing to accept his invitation. Just one step is all it would take to transport her to this wonderful new home – just one step.
“Betty. Is that you?”
A voice dragged her out of her reverie. She lurched back, realising how close she had come to leaving this harsh but love-filled life forever. The vision of Lars faded and the portal to his Summerland suddenly snapped shut.
The voice – and it must be admitted – overwhelming stench of the Night Soil Man, had brought her back to the Hopeless she knew so well.
“Are you okay, Bet’?”
Randall Middlestreet looked worried.
Although she had possibly glimpsed Heaven, Betty knew that this version of Hopeless was where she belonged for as long as she was alive. This was home.
She smiled and blew the Night Soil Man a kiss.
“Never better, Randall” she said.“Never better.”
Art by Tom Brown
(Cross referenced with ‘Ghost Writers in the Sky’ and ‘The Eggless Norseman of Creepy Hollow’)
Betty Butterow, the barmaid of the Squid and Teapot had, you may recall, unexpectedly discovered a ghostly headless lady in the inn’s shiny new toilet annexe. Shrieking in banshee fashion at her great misfortune of having been reduced to haunting a privy, the apparition had managed to wake the whole inn. Fortunately there were no paying guests that night so it was only the Lypiatt family – Sebastian, Madrigal and their son Isaac – who were disturbed and they wasted no time in coming to investigate the cause of the blood-curdling wail emanating from the privy. Upon their arrival the ghost decided to sulk and disappeared back into the stones which, at one time, had formed a diminutive portion of her previous home, Oxlynch Hall.
It became apparent that the Headless Lady only deigned to manifest herself when the moon was full. This tended to create a degree of consternation with some customers who found themselves sharing a seat with her and more worryingly, finding her disembodied head resting weightlessly on their lap. It was the sort of thing likely to put anyone off the task in hand!
Fortunately for the ghost, Betty Butterow was the caring type who made it her business to give a welcome to everyone who visited the Squid. Having inherited the dubious gift of The Sight from her great-great grandmother, Colleen O’Stoat, she reasoned, therefore, that it was no more than her duty to make contact with the spirit and try to win her trust and friendship. And so, little by little, she did and in doing so unearthed her tragic story.
After the siege of Gloucester in 1643, when Royalist attempts to capture the city were thwarted, the Parliamentarians were keen to clear the county of Royalists and their sympathisers for good.
Sir Rupert D’Avening, master of Oxlynch Hall, was on the other side of the Severn in Wales, rallying support for the crown, when his home was sacked by the Parliamentary forces. The small garrison that he had left to guard both the manor, his wife and the tiny hamlet of Oxlynch stood little chance against the well-armed and dedicated Roundheads, who were spurred on at every step by one Obadiah Hyde. Hyde was a puritan rector of the worst sort. He preached Hell-fire from his pulpit and famously tried to fell the churchyard yew tree one Christmas when parishioners began to cut greenery for, what he regarded as being, ungodly, festive uses. Unsurprisingly, when he learned that Oxlynch was to be rid of its Royalist – and even worse – Catholic masters, he was delighted and became intent, to the point of madness, on contributing personally to their downfall.
While the Roundhead invaders were content to drive out the servants and ransack the manor for anything of value, the fanatical Hyde had another agenda.
If he had been a man given to celebration, which he most certainly was not, the parson might have thought that it was his birthday when he burst into the bedchamber of Lady Margaret D’Avening. It was with a mixture of disgust and glee that he discovered her to be flimsily clad and enthusiastically entertaining a young Royalist colonel who, having suspected little chance of intrusion, had foolishly hung his sword at the bottom of the four-poster bed. Confident in his own righteousness and without hesitation, Hyde grabbed the blade and ran the young man through the heart. Frozen with horror, Lady Margaret could only watch as the parson wrenched the sword from her lover’s twitching body. Roughly he caught her by the hair and dragged her from the bed; she felt herself being pushed on to her knees. There was a deranged look in Hyde’s eyes as he denounced her as being the Devil’s Whore, then, reminding himself that he was the instrument of a vengeful God, brought the sword swiftly down upon her pale neck. Popery, adultery and fornication were high on Hyde’s list of unforgivable sins and he had no compunction whatsoever about parting the lady’s head from the rest of her.
Decapitation is a bloody messy business. I mean that quite literally. Lady Margaret’s blood liberally sprayed the walls and door of her bedchamber and left no small amount on her attacker, either. Although he had witnessed and thoroughly approved of public beheadings many times, Hyde was totally unprepared for the close-up, physical reality of his abhorrent act and he fled the room, wild-eyed and even more entrenched in the slough of his own insanity than he had been previously.
For almost three hundred years the Ghost of Lady Margaret D’Avening haunted the bedchamber in which she died. Much to her dismay, the wraith of the soldier who had so recently enjoyed a brief spell as her lover, having no particular attachment to Oxlynch Hall, declined to join her and wasted no time in ‘going to the light’ as he put it.
As the years passed Lady Margaret’s apparition grew weaker and so she confined her energy to only appearing when the moon was full and she was at her most powerful. When she found her home being dismantled and shipped abroad she retreated into the stonework, which, along with her chamber door, was kept on its own pallet. After the little of what remained was eventually moved, she emerged briefly to try and find out exactly where she was and what was happening. Unfortunately she did this in full view of the captain and crew of the ‘Daneway’, who immediately abandoned ship and for their trouble, perished to a man in the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean.
Over the following months Betty Butterow and the ghost of Lady Margaret D’Avening became close friends. Inter-dimensional relationships are generally frowned upon in the wider community, so you must understand that this is a fairly unique situation that is only likely to happen somewhere like Hopeless (other magically tolerant islands such as Hy Brasil or Tír na nÓg spring to mind but never having visited either, I am in no position to comment).
It occurred to the wise and beautiful barmaid that if Lady Margaret could disappear into the stonework of her chamber then it followed that, should a stone, or stones, be placed in a different spot she ought to be able to manifest herself in that particular location. The ghost thought this over and agreed it was worth a try. The prospect of spending the next however many years witnessing the patrons of the Squid and Teapot easing bowel and bladder, unsurprisingly, held little charm for her.
It took a certain amount of badgering, not to say mild flirting, by Betty to persuade the landlord, Sebastian Lypiatt, to prise out one of the more modestly sized stones and place it in an unoccupied guest room. Sebastian was not particularly inclined to start ripping apart his prized privy but if it kept his favourite barmaid happy, so be it. Besides this, he was becoming more than fed-up being told how chilly the privy was feeling every time the moon was full.
Much to the delight of both Betty and Lady Margaret this seemed to work, though the ghost’s disembodied head steadfastly refused to leave the privy, for some reason known best to itself. This mattered little, as the Lady Margaret was in receipt of all of her faculties, head or no head. The physical aspect of an apparition is, after all, only there for the benefit of anyone lucky, or more probably, unlucky enough to see it.
Over the following months and years the block of stone was moved around the inn and its grounds, allowing the headless lady to haunt the premises properly, though she was careful not to drive business away. There was an exception to this rule, however. When a particularly troublesome guest had outstayed their welcome they would find, one night, when the moon was fat and full, that a medium sized and unassuming stone had mysteriously appeared in the corner of their room. Strange to relate, such guests rarely visited again.
In case you wondered, following Oliver Cromwell’s death and the growing certainty that the monarchy would once more be restored, Obadiah Hyde fled England’s shores in fear for his life. With a small party of like-minded and equally cheerless companions he decided to travel to the New World and be the founding father of his own austere community. It was something of a surprise for him, therefore, when he was shipwrecked on Hopeless and scuppered by two small but persistent demons when he tried to achieve his goal. This story is related in the tale ‘Chapel Rock.’
Art by Tom Brown
A strand of folklore common to various cultures throughout the western world is that of The Wild Hunt. From the Viking settlements of Scandinavia to the plains of Arizona, via several points in-between, many attest to having seen this ghostly cavalcade of wraiths racing across the night sky, filling the air with the clatter of hooves and the baying of hounds.
No one would express surprise to learn that Hopeless has more than its fair share of Wild Hunts. On a particularly busy night two or three can run into each other and the result is invariably chaotic. There are always tantrums, hissy fits and disagreements regarding rights of way and inevitable disputes about who is entitled to pursue what or whom. Occasionally a scuffle ensues, which is one of the more entertaining spectacles for anyone brave or foolhardy enough to be abroad on such a night.
One of the lesser known and least exciting of these chases across the sky is locally referred to as The Mild Hunt. Legend has it that many years ago a group of six lady authors set out from England to seek intellectual freedom in the New World. They had little money and their only possessions were three mules, a pair of springer spaniels and enough paper and ink to keep them occupied on the long sea voyage. The journey was largely uneventful and the ladies spent their days sitting on deck, laboriously writing improving pamphlets, which were intended to be distributed among the grateful inhabitants of New England when they eventually reached their destination. Sadly, just as they had sighted Maine, a terrible storm arose, as if from nowhere. The wind picked up and every one of their pamphlets was swept into the air. The ladies scuttled around the deck trying to retrieve them but all to no avail. Before long, near one of the many little islands that cluster around that coastline, the ship struck an outcrop of rock and quickly sank; every living creature on board descended to a distinctly watery grave. Under normal circumstances that would have been the end of the tale but this particular rocky outcrop was part of an Island that is frequently omitted from the charts. An island that seems reluctant to let its dead rest for very long…
As far as anyone knows the drowned crew all retired to a happy eternity drinking rum in Davy Jones’ locker. The ghosts of the ladies and their livestock, however, had a different fate. So distraught were they over losing their handwritten pamphlets, they vowed to scour the skies until each one was retrieved. Doubling up on the mules, with the spaniels at their heels, they rose into the heavens, amid a chorus of brays and irritating barks, eternally damned to fulfil their quest. Occasionally, when not unceremoniously falling off the mules, they can be spotted taking tea and cake with other wraiths, notably The Mad Parson of Chapel Rock and The Headless White Lady who is known to haunt The Squid and Teapot (though how she manages to consume tea and cake is a mystery in itself).
The legend gave rise to a popular song, often heard around the island.
Ghost Writers in The Sky
A night-soil man went strolling out across the darkened land,
Upon a ridge he rested, his bucket in his hand.
For all at once he spied some paper flying through the air
Ghostly pamphlets, by and large, littering everywhere.
The edges of these pamphlets burned with a fiery glow,
The ink was black and shiny and the paper white as snow.
A bolt of fear went through him as they fluttered through the sky
For he saw the riders plodding up and he heard their mournful cries
Dearie me, oh
Dearie me, oh gosh.
Ghost writers in the sky
Their faces gaunt, their glasses blurred their skirts all creased and stained,
With wraith-like spaniels at their heels they clung on to the reins.
They’ve got to ride forever across the Hopeless skies
On flatulent old mules, you can often hear their cries.
As the riders loped on by him he heard one call “Yoo hoo,
If you want to help us out, young man, there’s something you can do.
If you should see some pamphlets a-fluttering in the breeze,
Stick them in your bucket, lad, and put the lid down, please.”
Dearie me oh
Dearie me, oh gosh!
Ghost writers in the sky
Ghost writers in the sky
Ghost writers in the sky
art by Tom Brown
(by Frampton Jones)
There have been ghosts on this island for as long as there have been people. Most residents will have seen one or two in their time, I have no doubt. Most of our departed did not appear to stay on, but every so often some pale echo of a lost citizen would manifest. Tragic and disturbing though they are, these ephemeral echoes of the once living are a familiar part of life.
I have noticed this year that the numbers of ghosts have increased significantly. They have gone from being a rare, uncomfortable occurrence, to being a frequent sight across the island. Some, like Vortigern Frog and Miss Calder retain many of their human qualities and will even converse with the living. However, many of the shades we are now seeing are far less substantial. I can only speculate as to why the dead are no longer departing as they once did. Are these echoes, or are we seeing spirits, doomed to continue here for all eternity? It is a hellish thought.
This week’s photograph shows a trio of the dead. I cannot identify them, they retain so little of their original humanity. I have never before been especially fearful of dying, but the horror and pathos of these figures fills me with dread. I fear we will none of us sleep easily in our graves, nor ascend to some better place.