Tag Archives: gothic

Visitors

Almost two years had elapsed since Colonel Ruscombe-Green had left Hopeless, seeking adventure on the North American continent. He had been as good as his word and regularly corresponded with his friend and former batman, then later, valet, Bill Ebley via the Passamaquoddy trader, Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs. The five hundred dollars that Ruscombe-Green had donated to the island had long ago run out and Joseph, with no extra cargo to ferry, was once more visiting Hopeless just twice a year. Any letters between Ebley and the Colonel, therefore, were wildly out of date before they were received but it mattered little. The two had faced a lot together and were loathe to lose all contact with each other.

Ebley was surprised that the latest missive, dated just three months earlier, had an English postmark and the king’s head on the stamps. This was quite unexpected and Ebley opened the letter with some trepidation, wondering what events were serious enough to have led the colonel to return to Britain.

 

My Dear Ebley,

I trust Mrs Ebley, young Mildred and your good self are in the very best of health. I was delighted to hear that you had become a parent. Not before time, either, may I say. I am sure you will make an excellent father.  My heartiest congratulations to you both. No doubt by the time you read this letter Mildred will be almost a year old and leading you a merry dance.

You were probably surprised to read the postmark on the envelope. I currently find myself deep in the English countryside, somewhat strangely at the behest of an American millionaire. While in Connecticut last year, a fellow Mason – an architect who went by the unlikely name of Archway – introduced me to a somewhat eccentric cove who has dreams of living in a genuine English manor house. He is after somewhere that can be totally dismantled and shipped in crates and on pallets to the port of New Haven, Connecticut. Personally, I think the man has more money than sense but he gave me the job of finding such a place and is paying me handsomely for my trouble. After no little amount of research I discovered a suitable candidate in the Cotswolds, a fairly modest Jacobean Manor called Oxlynch Hall. The current owners had been assailed by death duty and forced to sell. In order that the transfer of deeds etc. may be facilitated with the minimum of difficulty, I am working with a local firm of solicitors, Bowbridge, Bisley and Thrupp. As I will be residing within the area for the foreseeable future all correspondence for me may now be directed through them.

Interestingly, while in conversation with the junior partner, Julian Thrupp, I mentioned that I had spent some years on Hopeless. To my surprise he knew of the place and was convinced that he has, or had, a relative living on the island. While this seems doubtful, I seemed to have fired his imagination for Thrupp now seems quite determined to visit Hopeless, despite my dire warnings that the place is not entirely safe (I didn’t go into any great detail or, by now, I doubtless would be writing to you from a padded cell). His one concession to my concerns was, for safety reasons, to travel with a companion. In this he will be joined by the senior partner’s young nephew, Dorian Bowbridge. I do not doubt that Joseph will provide their means of ingress to the island and in view of this will be probably making a special trip, outside of his normal routine. I will grateful if you will alert Sebastian at ‘The Squid’ of their forthcoming arrival, which is most likely to be in the summer of 1927. Tell Betty not to flirt too much with young Bowbridge or I will become extremely jealous.

I hope all goes well for you and your little family, my dear chap. You are all always in my thoughts.

 

Yours Sincerely

 

J W Ruscombe-Green (Col.)

 

The brace of Englishmen who arrived on the island cut strange figures indeed. The older man, Thrupp, stepped from the canoe unsteadily. With his city suit, bowler hat and briefcase the solicitor looked as though he was bound for Wall Street rather than a wild Atlantic island. His companion, on the other hand, appeared to have chosen apparel inspired by an H. Rider Haggard novel. Resplendent in a military-style pith helmet, complete with tinted goggles, a khaki safari suit, cravat and riding boots he cut a dashing, if eccentric, figure. The whole Big Game Hunter look was completed with a rifle slung casually over his shoulder. This was no ordinary weapon though; it was a horribly expensive James Purdey 12 bore shotgun, with a beautiful stock of close-grained French walnut, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Sadly, no one on Hopeless would have been remotely impressed with this extravagant accessory, mainly because there was no big game to hunt on the island. Unless, of course, you counted the kraken, which was bigger – much bigger – than most folks’ concept of big. It was a creature comfortably able to bat off a Howitzer shell as if it were a mosquito and would not even notice a hundred shotgun cartridges.

A bemused Joseph led the two gentlemen to the Squid and Teapot where they were welcomed by Sebastian Lypiatt. After being shown to their rooms the duo decided to get down to business straight away and made enquiries about Thrupp’s long lost relative. Although honest to a fault, Sebastian was reluctant to be drawn on the subject, having been the last person to see Tobias Thrupp alive. The circumstances of their brief relationship, some twenty two years previously, consisted of Sebastian, a relative newcomer to Hopeless, forcibly ejecting the odious Tobias from Madame Evadne’s, an establishment in which he had long caused nothing but misery and no small amount of terror. Thrupp’s fate, thereafter, was something of a mystery. He had not, however, been a particularly popular man and little effort had been expended in searching for him. These days few people even remembered the man.

 

While mortal men may have fallible memories, there are those on Hopeless who do not. The creatures known as Spoonwalkers see all and forget nothing. I cannot pretend to know their lifecycle or longevity but, in the way that ants are said to possess a group consciousness, I truly believe that Spoonwalkers are similar.They are certainly more than small and inconvenient creatures that steal cutlery. When necessity dictates they will act in unison to further their own dubious ends. Are they telepathic? I think so.

 

There was a distinct rustle of activity on Hopeless after nightfall, as if dozens, maybe hundreds of creatures moved unseen in the darkness. Tiny scrapes of metal, taps of wood, squeaks, cackles and whispers filled the deserted streets as a diminutive and unseen army made its way through the town, past the old graveyard and the bridge, towards the vast, haunted caverns that are said to honeycomb the island. Even Randall Middlestreet, the Night Soil Man, stayed far away from their relentless march, well aware that his usual defences would not keep such a horde at bay.

 

Tobias Thrupp had spent his final years captive in those caverns, eventually bled to a husk and feasted upon by ghouls and vampires, until his body was gone and only his wraith remained. Even then there was no respite from the torment, as nameless creatures of the deepest pit harrowed his very soul. This night he wandered the dark bowels of island wailing and screeching in anguish, writhing beneath the relentless agony. In what was left of the shredded remnants of his consciousness he wondered dimly if he was in Hell. There was no one around to tell him that this was not so. He was still very much in the caverns of Hopeless, Maine. That was where the Spoonwalkers found him.

 

Maybe it was their glowing, madness inducing eyes that drew him out. Maybe not. Whatever the catalyst, some strange, wordless force dragged the sorry wraith into the purple night on an eerie tide of malevolent Spoonwalkers, chattering and swarming around his faintly iridescent shade. On they marched through the town and over the headland to the cove where the lights of The Squid and Teapot shone their welcome to the weary traveller. Tobias Thrupp knew this place well; he had once been its landlord. Although dim embers of recognition glowed in his tortured soul, something else began tugging at him, something stronger than memory. As one, the Spoonwalkers ceased their march and the wraith drifted free of them and into the building. The pull was stronger now. There was no resisting it even if he was able to.

 

Julian Thrupp and Reverend Crackstone were up late. They sat in the snug of the otherwise sleeping inn enjoying a pipe or two of the excellent tobacco that Thrupp had thoughtfully brought and savouring a few glasses of Gannicox Special Distillation. Young Bowbridge had retired early, eagerly looking forward to exploring the island the following day.

Crackstone had sought Thrupp out for two reasons; first and foremost he desired news of his beloved Cotswolds. Newly ordained, he had left England almost forty five years earlier, to teach for a year in the University of New Brunswick. When his ship, ‘The City of Portland’ capsized he and just four others found themselves washed-up on Hopeless. He decided that this was God’s will and here he must remain. Little did he know that all of the other passengers on the ship were rescued without further incident and were quickly able to pick up the threads of their old lives.

Crackstone’s other reason for speaking to Thrupp was to apprise him, in very plain terms, of the character of his relative. The reverend thought it only fair; doubtless rumour of Sebastian’s part in Tobias’ downfall would eventually come to light and the parson wanted to set the record straight before then. He remembered well the grief Tobias Thrupp had caused and the way in which he had allowed The Squid and Teapot to descend into squalor.

Before he had chance to broach the subject, however, there was a disturbance outside, sounds of clinking and shuffling, squeals and whispers. Crackstone had heard this before and a chill ran down his spine. Suddenly the temperature in the room seemed to plummet. Julian Thrupp screamed and pointed to the corner, where a faint, flickering luminescence had appeared. Before either man could move a muscle the uncanny light had taken an almost human form, though pale and semi-opaque, guttering like a spent candle.

“Good Lord,” uttered Crackstone, in recognition, “Tobias Thrupp!”

The wraith seemed to reach out to its relative, mouthing wordlessly.

“He wants my help” Julian said, his voice shaking.

“No, pay no heed,” warned the reverend. “This is some devilish trick. This island is full of such evil.”

The wraith was beckoning now, as if urging Julian to follow.

“I must see what it wants.” insisted the solicitor and lunged towards the spectre.

As he did so the room seemed to explode with light. Crackstone was knocked back, his chair toppling to the ground. Then, without warning, the room was returned to normality. The reverend sat on the floor, dazed, looking around in confusion.

Julian Thrupp was gone.

 

Sebastian and his son, Isaac, were on the scene immediately, closely followed by Dorian Bowbridge, now sporting a full-length, crimson silk dressing gown.

Crackstone told them as much as he could remember and described the disturbance outside that had seemed to have precipitated the manifestation.

Isaac and Sebastian looked at each other.

“Spoonwalkers!” They said the word together.

Dorian looked confused. Their explanation did little to lessen his bewilderment.

After a certain amount of soul searching they decided that there was little they could safely do before daylight, which was still some hours away.

 

It was early light when the four men gathered outside The Squid and Teapot. Standing next to the Lypiatts was Crackstone, who carried a bible. Next to him was Bowbridge, ready with his shotgun. As they walked through the mist, others joined them. Word moves quickly on Hopeless. Bill Ebley, who had survived the Battle of the Somme, answered the call, as did Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs. By some unaccountable coincidence Betty Butterow came from the same direction and skipped along by his side.

The seven stood on the headland as dawn broke over Hopeless, etching them in silhouette against the skyline. They looked magnificent.

 

To be continued…

Art by Clifford Cumber

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Cricket!

You may recall that Colonel ‘Mad Jack’ Ruscombe-Green had decided that it would be a good thing to instruct the islanders of Hopeless in the gentlemanly sport of cricket. He and his former batman, and soon-to-be batsman, Bill Ebley, who now acted as his valet, had fashioned some rudimentary stumps, a brace of cricket bats and even some primitive leg-pads from the wood of their wrecked rowing boat. It must be said that to make a functional cricket bat from limited resources is no easy matter. Fortunately Ebley had a certain amount of skill as a carpenter and managed to construct something that would be tolerably comfortable when hitting a heavy ball, such as the one that Randall Middlestreet, a lad who, until recently, had lived at the orphanage, had kindly donated. This was a treasured baseball, one of the very few on the island. Randall had let the colonel use it on the condition that he and two or three of the other orphans would be allowed to play. This came as something of a relief to the colonel, who had sensed a decided lack of energy and enthusiasm from most of the islanders whom he had tried to recruit to the team. However, by stiffening his upper lip and thinking of England, he had managed to assemble a sufficient number of players by allowing women and girls to take part.
“I only hope the M.C.C. doesn’t get to hear about this,” he confided to Ebley. “ I’ll never be admitted into Lords again.”
Ebley turned this over in his mind.
“With respect sir, that’s a crock of old night-soil,” he said.
He had picked up the local patois very quickly.
“They’d be proud of you, sir, bringing cricket to this God-forsaken place.”
“Mmm.. perhaps so but, after all, women and girls playing… it’s just not cricket!”
After much discussion with the respective landlords it was decided that the teams would represent the island’s inns. ’The Squid and Teapot Xl’ (Capt. J. W. Ruscombe-Green) would play ‘The Crow Xl’ (Capt. W.D. Ebley) at Creepy Hollow, where there was a reasonably flat area upon which a twenty-two yard pitch could be accommodated. The only problem was that part of the boundary was perilously close to the cliff edge, though the colonel was doubtful that, excluding himself and Ebley, anyone in either team would be sufficient to the task of hitting the ball any appreciable distance.
At last the day of the match dawned. It was definitely not the sort of weather for cold beer and a cream teas, even if these things had been available. Beneath a forbidding iron-grey sky a thin, drizzly mist clung stubbornly around Creepy Hollow.
“More of a day for rugby, really.” Ebley mused .
The islanders who had been persuaded to either take part or spectate were not remotely put out, however. After all, this was Hopeless in its summer finery. It looked a lot like Hopeless in its winter finery but was a degree or two balmier.
‘The Crow’ were to go into bat first. Colonel Ruscombe-Green marshalled his fielders as though they were going into battle.
“Lypiatt, I want you to be wicket keeper. Mrs Lypiatt – may I call you Madrigal? Fine leg, I think”
“Steady on colonel…” said Sebastian Lypiatt, uncomfortably.
“That Night-Soil chap can be out on the boundary. A long way out. Shout and tell him, someone… and you, young Middlestreet, I want you at silly point.”
“Really?” Randall Middlestreet looked puzzled.
‘’Yes really,” snapped the colonel. He was not used to having his orders questioned.
It took some time for the chaos to subside and the game begin in earnest. That was when the colonel realised that he was a man short.
“Where the devil is young Middlestreet?”
“He’s done what you asked him to” said his friend, Elijah Camp, a gangly lad who was waiting to bowl. “He’s gone to Scilly Point. That’s a mile or more away.”
The colonel turned several shades of red but said nothing. They would have to make do with ten players.
‘The Crow’ XI had a dismal innings. This had less to do with the Squid’s superior bowling and fielding skills than with the fact that at least eight players managed to hit the stumps down themselves. Bill Ebley scored an unimpressive seven runs before slipping on something anonymous, moist and many legged which had the misfortune of wandering across the pitch at just the wrong moment. Their final score was all out for twelve runs.
The day was descending into farce and the colonel was entertaining serious regrets as he went in to bat for ‘The Squid’ XI. They had an easy score to beat and if he could hit a couple of sixes very quickly it would have the wretched business over and done with. Bill Ebley, however, had other ideas. He had always prided himself as being something of a spin-bowler since his schooldays and, to everyone’s surprise, the first ball he delivered sent the colonel’s stumps flying.
“The blighter tossed me one of his googlies” the colonel complained, getting back to the makeshift pavilion. Madrigal Lypiatt gave him a wry, sideways look, unsure if he was being rude or not.
Things were looking bad for the Squid. Ebley’s bowling prowess was destroying them, when by chance, Sebastian Lypiatt, their ninth man in hit a six, sending the ball into an jagged outcrop of rocks. There was a lull in play while several fielders rummaged around for it without success. Then, from just beyond the rocks a scrawny, ragged figure with a mop of white hair and a straggly beard, appeared holding the ball aloft. He tossed it expertly to the wicketkeeper and, in a thin and wavering voice, burst into song.

“Jolly Boating weather,
And a hay, harvest breeze.
Joy on the feather,
Shade off the trees”

“Good Lord” gasped the colonel in disbelief. “He’s singing the Eton Boating Song.” and could not help himself but summon his finest baritone and join in.

“Swing, swing together
With your backs between your knees.
Swing swing together
With your backs between your knees.

It occurred to the colonel that if the strange fellow was an old Etonian then there was a more than good chance he would be something of a cricketer. Here was his eleventh man.
“Who is that chap” he asked Elijah Camp
“That’s Crazy Wally. Lives in the ruins at Chapel Rock.’’
Before another word could be said Sebastian Lypiatt was bowled out, having scored the only six runs that the Squid XI had achieved.
The colonel decided to take the initiative.
“Wally, old boy, do you know anything about cricket?”
The word ‘Cricket’ seemed to unlock a hidden door in Wally’s mind and he surprised everyone by capering about and repeating the words ‘Razor Smith’. To most this would have been gibberish but the colonel instantly recognised the name of the legendary Surrey slow bowler from the pre-war years.
Thrusting a bat into Wally’s hand he ushered him to the recently vacated wicket.
“We need just seven runs to win. Give it your best, old bean.”
Bill Ebley felt a temporary pang of pity for the unkempt scarecrow standing at the wicket. He decided to make sure that his innings would have a quick and merciful end, then they could all go home.
No one was more surprised than Bill when the fast ball he delivered was met by an expertly wielded bat and despatched to the boundary with ease.
The colonel was delighted.
“Well played sir. Another run and we’re home and dry.”
Bill Ebley gritted his teeth and hoped it was beginner’s luck.
The next ball that he sent down the pitch, he claimed afterwards, was the best that he had ever bowled.
Crazy Wally went to meet it with the skill of a seasoned test cricketer, sending it in a high, elegant arc but heading straight for the sea.
What happened next has become the stuff of Hopeless legend, still spoken of in the taprooms of both ‘The Crow’ and the ‘The Squid and Teapot’ in hushed tones of near-reverence.
The players and small band of spectators watched in amazement when, as the baseball reached the apogee of its curving flight, the long and languid tentacle of a kraken reached over the cliff-edge and caught it before it could commence its descent into the sea. Holding the ball in a neat and suckered curl it wavered for a moment, then, with unerring aim, hurled it with immense force towards the wickets and reduced them to matchwood in an instant.
Wally discarded his bat and, open armed, staggered towards the waving tentacle.
“You have come to take me to poor Mozzarella, my lost darling. You have come to bring me home?”
No one stirred as the serpentine limb reached down and grabbed the ragged man, almost gently, around the waist and hoisted him aloft, like a trophy.
For an instant Wally was suspended in mid-air, beaming and waving to his audience. Then, with a flip of its tentacled arm the kraken took him away forever.
There was absolute silence for a few moments then everyone started talking at once, hardly daring to believe the spectacle that they had just witnessed.
The colonel and Ebley drew away from the small crowd and made their way back to their lodgings.
“We’ll call that one a tie,” said Ruscombe-Green. “I don’t think we’ll be needing a rematch,do you?”

 

Art by Clifford Cumber

The Distiller

Though not rich in natural resources, Hopeless has always scraped by on the bounty that the sea delivers, whether it is the occasional whale carcass or the flotsam washed up from the frequent shipwrecks.

Ebenezer Gannicox was well known as a beachcomber (or, more correctly on Hopeless, a rockcomber) so when he suddenly went missing from home no one really worried too much. He had done this before on several occasions, embarking upon what he described as a foraging mission. Ebenezer was a wiry little man and a distiller of some distinction who relied upon the sea to provide some of the raw materials necessary for his trade. The casks of malted barley, blackstrap molasses and other such luxuries carefully stored in his sheds attested to his success as a forager. It has also been suggested that he was possibly adept as a wrecker too, but this has never been mentioned in polite and civilized company (though it does get talked about quite frequently in the bar-room of ‘The Crow’)

.

Hopeless has never been unduly troubled by the rule of law, especially those laws which seem, to many, totally irrelevant to the smooth running of society. After all, when the overriding priorities of your daily life are avoiding being eaten, avoiding being driven insane and avoiding having your cutlery stolen, all else fades into insignificance. So whether the offence is deliberately luring ships onto the rocks, or the manufacture of moonshine, poitin or pocheen (call it what you will), no one worries too much. To be fair, the amount of time and effort required to do either of these things will put most people off. They are far too preoccupied with the straightforward business of avoiding being eaten, avoiding being driven insane and avoiding having their cutlery stolen.

While wrecking is generally approved of as a necessary resource, there are inevitably naysayers who will list reasons why the distillation and consumption of moonshine should be banned. Some will invoke law, others religion. A few will offer the excuse that it may cause blindness but this only ever happens when the equipment used has been contaminated, or the methanol has not been removed from the brew, or you put a stick in the cup when you’re drinking it. (It seems that if you want someone to stop doing something you don’t approve of, tell them that they will go blind. This is a strategy famously employed by priests and headmasters for generations.)

 

After six months had gone by questions began to be asked as to Ebenezer’s whereabouts. His son, Norbert, scoured the coastline but there was no sign of him anywhere. It was as though he had vanished off the face of the earth, which was not an unknown occurrence on this most perilous of islands. The general consensus, however, was that Ebenezer was too wily a character to put himself in danger.  But when more months passed and the search had to be abandoned, Norbert and his mother resigned themselves to the fact that the old man had foraged one time too many.

Over the years Ebenezer had stockpiled an impressive supply of moonshine. It was stored in casks of all sizes, courtesy of the aforementioned shipwrecks. There were pins, firkins, kilderkins, hogsheads, butts and tuns, each containing gallon upon gallon of  the Gannicox Special Distillation, as it was called. This was fortunate, as Norbert was reluctant to take on his father’s role and become the island’s chief distiller. Instead he decided to become a distributor.

For the next five years he made his way diligently through Ebenezer’s stockpile. He delivered it in jugs, in bottles or sometimes in a firkin strapped onto his back. Each container bore the legend ‘Gannicox Special Distillation. 80% alcohol by volume. Keep out of the reach of children and Spoonwalkers’

Eventually, he came to the last cask – a huge two-hundred and forty gallon tun which sat in the darkest corner of the shed. Norbert estimated that while this would keep his customers happy for the rest of the year, the time had come for him to learn the distiller’s art if he wanted to remain in work.

For the next few weeks things went well. Norbert became adept at distilling and wondered why he had shied away from it for so long. At the same time he drew moonshine from the tun to fulfil his customers’ needs until one day the unthinkable happened; when he turned on the tap no liquor came out. No end of kicking and shaking would move the cask, so there was obviously still plenty of liquid inside. The only explanation was that something was causing a blockage. Norbert prayed that it was not a rat.

Deciding that the only way forward was to remove the top of the cask, he armed himself with a lighted candle, a crowbar and a step-ladder. To his surprise, however, it had already been loosened. The chances of the blockage being a rat seemed greater than ever. Norbert steeled himself, prised up the lid and peeped inside.

Nothing could have prepared him for the sight that greeted him. Old Ebenezer’s face peered up through the clear well of alcohol which had preserved  him perfectly. He looked happy enough, under the circumstances, but his eyes glowed with a greenish luminescence.  His big toe had become firmly wedged in bung hole, serving to stop the flow through the tap. Then Norbert noticed presence of spoons. A shudder passed through him. He could make out several lying on the floor of the cask.

Thinking things through, it seemed obvious to Norbert  that Ebenezer had stumbled upon a quantity of spoonwalkers nesting in the dark corner behind the casks. Everything pointed to it. They had probably been helping themselves to the moonshine for years. It was well known that to have eye contact with spoonwalkers for any length of time would invoke madness, and the glow in the old man’s eyes said as much. Had he climbed into the cask of his own volition or had they somehow managed to push him in? Norbert shuddered again and hastily replaced the lid.

 

Family loyalty prevailed over business interests and Norbert decided not to sell any more of the moonshine from the cask which had preserved his father so well. It occurred to him that it would be a fitting tribute to the old man if things were left pretty much as they were and the cask, complete with alcohol and Ebenezer, be ceremoniously buried on the cliff top, overlooking the coast where he did so much of his foraging. Unfortunately, that was not to be quite the way things turned out. When rolling it to the chosen spot the cask hit a small rock and bounced out of control, making its way over the cliff and into the sea. The last report of its progress had it  bobbing away on the Atlantic swell to a destination unknown. When it eventually made landfall someone, somewhere had an extremely nasty surprise.

Art by Tom Brown

Hopeless Romantics

While others rush to immerse themselves wholeheartedly in the fads and fashions of their age, over the years the inhabitants of Hopeless have steadfastly ignored such shallowness. This is not totally out of choice. In fact, it’s not at all out of choice. No one enjoys a spot of puddle-deep diversion more than the average Hopelessian but when you live on an island surrounded by fog and crawling with an assortment of nasties these things just don’t turn up by mail-order. Anything of a remotely novel nature generally arrives by accident.
One such serendipitous item is now  a treasured possession of Rufus Lypiatt, current landlord of The Squid and Teapot. This is a carpet-bag which was left at the inn by the renowned librettist, Mr. W. S. Gilbert. You may recall that Mr Gilbert returned to the mainland in something of a hurry following a night apparently disturbed by several spoonwalkers invading his bedroom. The bag he left behind contained several items of interest, not least of which was a collection of hand-tinted daguerreotypes of nineteenth century works of art, including some reproductions of paintings by the group who called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
When, in the latter years of the nineteenth century, this book was shown to Beatrice Merrywalk, one of the older girls in the orphanage, she immediately fell in love with Romantic art and Sir John Everett Millais’ painting of Ophelia in particular. Although she had absolutely no idea who Ophelia was, she sensed from the painting that here was young woman who epitomised all of the yearnings for tragic romance that stirred in her own breast. It felt to her that Death was the greatest artist of all, perfect in its dark finality. Having become quietly obsessed with Millais’ painting, she decided that she not only wanted to become Ophelia, the girl in the stream, but to be seen in that role forever, so that people would understand the turmoil and anguish churning in her young heart. To add to her sense of the dramatic, not to say melodramatic, she had come across ‘The Death of Chatterton’, another picture heavy with the illusion of romantic death, this time of a young poet. Maybe if she, as Ophelia, could find her Chatterton, they could let the world know of, and appreciate, their great pain.
That cruel trickster, Adolescence, is famous for filling certain young heads with dark clouds and yearnings for a picturesque death. It was, therefore, almost inevitable that Beatrice would find her Chatterton before too long had elapsed. He arrived in the form of Algernon Box, an unassuming young man who lived alone in an old and falling-down cottage next to a babbling creek that led down to the sea. Like so many on Hopeless, Algernon’s parents had disappeared under mysterious circumstances and as a consequence the lad was given to staring at the most incongruous items with dewy-eyed sensitivity and looking glum.
No one objected when Beatrice moved in with Algernon. The orphanage was happy to have one mouth fewer to feed. Besides, on Hopeless none of the usual rules apply. Life is difficult enough without unnecessary complications. To call these two young people lovers, however, would be a vast overstatement. They were bound together by a common bond of platonic melancholy. This usually involved staring at incongruous items with dewy-eyed sensitivity and looking glum. Their conversation, when it dragged itself out of the Slough of Despair, would invariably turn to the subject of finding a suitable artist to capture their last, tragic moments as perfect replicas of Ophelia and Chatterton.  They named the little plot of land upon which they lived Tragedy Creek and planned their suicide pact.
“Only Death will give us what we most desire,” said Beatrice, and she truly believed this to be so.
You may have noticed that Hopeless is quite a strange place. The unusual and bizarre is fairly run-of-the-mill around here. In view of that, neither of the two young people felt remotely surprised when, one dismal afternoon, the very man they had hoped for arrived at the door of their cottage. In a deep, sonorous voice, he introduced himself as being an artist visiting the island and asked to be invited in. His gangly frame, lean to the point of appearing cadaverous, seemed to fill the tiny kitchen.
In truth, this mysterious visitor did not resemble anyone’s idea of an artist. In his smart, dark business suit he looked more like a lawyer. Or an undertaker. The only clues to his trade were contained in the portfolio he carried under his arm.
“I have the paintings you requested.”
The pair looked at each other in puzzlement.
“Paintings? We’ve ordered no paintings.”
“Oh but you did. I heard you. Is this not what you most desire?”
The dark stranger placed the portfolio on the kitchen table and, opening it, produced two paintings. One was of Beatrice. This was exactly as she had visualised herself; Ophelia, alone and tragic, lying in the creek that ran by the side of the cottage. The other painting was of Algernon as Chatterton. He had painted him as though in his home surroundings.
They both gasped.
“They are beautiful,” said Beatrice. ”But how…”
“You asked. Don’t you remember?” said the stranger, then, without another word he picked up his portfolio and left. At least they assumed he had left, for the whole episode passed as if it were a dream. Only the two works of art lying on the table proved that any of it had really happened.
Several days passed before either noticed some subtle transformations occurring in the paintings. Small creatures had suddenly appeared around the bodies, which had somehow started to appear less attractive. Ophelia began to bloat. The pallor of both became quite ghastly.  After another week or so things began to look really awful. They had become carrion. Although the corpse of Chatterton was subject to the attentions of anything that could crawl, squirm or slither through his window, Ophelia, out in the open, fared worse.
By the end of the second week Beatrice and Algernon had to turn the pictures around so that they faced the wall. The images of each had become the stuff of the most horrible nightmare imaginable. Faced with such brutal reality all their ideas of romantic death were gone. Alone and terrified they clung fiercely to each other and wept.
It was the night-soil man who found them. They were huddled together in the little cottage, a look of terror and madness imprinted upon their young faces. They had been dead for some days. He looked around him at the sparse furnishings and few possessions. It struck him as strange that amid all the poverty were two quite beautiful paintings, each depicting doomed youth.
Even now, Tragedy Creek is felt to be the most melancholic place on Hopeless. In over a century only a handful of people have stayed in Algernon’s cottage for more than a night or two. The most recent resident was a would-be poet who was later discovered to be a escaped convict. Although he reported no strange experience there, some claim to have seen two unhappy ghosts walking from the front door to the babbling creek. It was long ago thought best that the paintings be removed to more cheerful surroundings. Today they hang safely behind the bar in the Squid and Teapot.  Occasionally Rufus will be asked who the artist is. He always gives the same answer, usually with a wry smile. “I’m damned if I can tell you…
Art by Tom Brown

Meet Philomena Bucket

Please meet Philomena Bucket. She has recently shipwrecked on the island (which may explain her worried expression)

Philomena is a Traveller. Which is to say,  the example character in the Hopeless, Maine role playing game which is in development by Keith Healing. The whole project is coming along beautifully and has a publisher, so, fear not (or, not too much) it will be with you in the fullness of time. Keith understands the setting and the story in a way that makes us nearly giddy and is finding ways of having players explore and interact with the island and its flora and fauna (and those things which are uncomfortably neither or both) and create experiences and dark adventures.

Here, in Keth’s words, is how Philomena Bucket was born (or created) with some rolls of the dice-

“Philomena Bucket
These numbers tell us a lot about her. Philomena is of average build (STR 11) but a little sickly (CON  She could well appear a little pale and wan. However, her manual dexterity is good. She is not stubborn but can possibly be manipulated (WILL 10) but is of above average intelligence. She gets on pretty well with people (CHA 11) and is naturally drawn towards things spiritual (PSY 15).
Philomena rolled 52 on Class, making her as Middle class as could be, and 47 on Age. The player determines that as this is towards the top end of the range Philomena is 28 years old.
Given her physical characteristics and her high PSY Philomena’s player decides that she is an Artist specialising in painting. Her high PSY and DEX give her a base skill of 36% to which is added another 10% for her age, giving a total of 46%. She is pretty good but a bit rough around the edges.
She is a keen amateur Biologist.
Finally, and intriguingly, she is albino.”

If the roll had gone another way, she would have been inexplicably attractive to small bits of metal.

If you would like to know how all of this is developing and keep up with progress and news of release dates and such, I can recommend following the development blog, here!

 

Hoping (as always) this finds you well, inspired and thriving.

Death at Twilight

Lost souls
Lost Souls

(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 Greta 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.

Spoon mystery stirs up more trouble!

(by Modesty Jones)

Mrs Witherspoon's spoons are missing!

When I interviewed Mrs Witherspoon about recent events at the orphanage, she told me she slept soundly all through the night when one of the little girls was taken and Miss Calder was killed. I tried to talk to the little girl but she just stared at me. I guess she’s too traumatised to talk.

Apparently other people can see Miss Calder and talk to her, but I can’t see her, so that didn’t go very well either. Maybe she wasn’t there. How do you tell? But what Mrs Witherspoon did say is that all the spoons have gone missing from the orphanage kitchen too. I suspect a connection with the theft from The Crow. Did they break in to steal the spoons and kill Miss Calder by mistake? Or were the spoons an afterthought? All very mysterious.

What Beautiful Babies

Bertram Chevin, in all his glory.

Normally I don’t care much for the beautiful baby competition, but this year my camera cast the whole event in an entirely different shape.

All the usual array of mothers and bored dignitaries turned out to look at our island’s most recent offspring. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, to our eyes they looked so much like children. You could almost believe they were of human stock! The camera sees differently. Does it capture their true forms? I think it does.

The more pictures I take of you all, the more clearly I see you for what you are. Phantasms and nightmares.  I have not yet managed to photograph myself. Am I the same as you? Am I the one true person here? Sometimes it feels like that. Do you know what you really are, beneath the surface? Or do you think you are real? People of Hopeless, look upon the beautiful babies, and know the horror of your own nature!

12th Night

 

12th Night revels

 

 
The evening was crisp with an unusually clear sky, which may be why we had one of the best 12th Night turnouts for many years. Torches and masks made a dramatic show as we paraded around the town centre, and the traditional dance was a great success. I know there are some who want to modernise the event with lively tunes, but the traditional, mournful dances and slow airs have a certain majesty that suits the dark time of the year.

What haunts the skies?

Blood and feathers
Blood and feathers

 

Somewhere above us, hidden by the fog, strange and violent things are happening. The screams are enough to terrify the boldest man amongst us. The blood and feathers fall everywhere. Something in the clouds is killing the giant black birds that appeared last week. It doesn’t appear to be eating them, but pulling them apart and scattering their remains over the town.

 

What happens when there are no more birds? Will this latest fiend then unleash itself upon us, or will we be faced with something even worse? I dare not think.