Tag Archives: Hopeless Maine

Spoonraker

I don’t  think that I have ever told you the tale of how my late friend, the celebrated actor-manager, Sir Fromebridge Whitminster, first came to Hopeless, Maine.

Regular readers will recall that, before he arrived on the island, he was – at least, according to his own account – the toast of the London stage.

Being a born raconteur, Sir Fromebridge would never let the truth interfere with a good story, especially when it concerned himself. In the light of this, I give fair warning that some of the details given in following tale may be less than accurate. Only one person was on hand to witness the great man’s appearance on these shores and that was Jarvis Woodchester, the Night Soil Man at the time. He is in no position to contradict Sir Fromebridge’s version of events, as Jarvis shuffled off his mortal coil at a relatively early age, presumably having been celestially promoted to emptying the great cesspit in the sky.  Luckily, Jarvis’s successor, Shenandoah Nailsworthy, has been able to fill in a few missing pieces, based upon what his late master told him. It is from these accounts I have cobbled together the following tale.

 

Jarvis Woodchester, the Night Soil Man, was taking a well deserved rest.  Although generally known as being a somewhat surly man, tonight Jarvis was unusually happy. He had recently taken on an apprentice, young Shenandoah Nailsworthy, who, at that moment, was on the far side of the island, emptying the bountiful privy that catered for the needs of the patrons of “The Crow”. The other inn on Hopeless, “The Squid and Teapot”, was on Jarvis’s round. Thanks to one of the previous landlords, Sebastian Lypiatt, the hostelry enjoyed the modern luxury of a flushing privy that deposited its effluent far out into the ocean, therefore needing no attention from the collectors of the euphemistically named night-soil.

At this hour most of the drinkers had gone home to their beds and only a few lights still lit the building. Jarvis settled himself down on the rocks overlooking the inn; this was always a good place to stop, mid-round, for a bite to eat.

It was an unusually clear night, the moon was full and riding high in the sky and the sea was fairly calm. Jarvis, who was usually fazed by very little, was suddenly taken aback to see a figure emerge from the dark water. It looked faintly human in shape but was, as far as the Night Soil Man could ascertain in the moonlight, covered in some kind of black shiny skin. Sticking vertically out of its head was a short pipe-like appendage and instead of feet, it sported a pair of large, ungainly flippers. Jarvis wondered what manner of beast he was looking at. He gripped the edges of his bucket, ready to run if needs be, as the creature began to change before his very eyes.

“A shape-shifter,” Jarvis muttered to himself, uneasily.

The creature puffed and grunted as it sloughed off the skin and flippers. The process of metamorphosis seemed to be a long and painful affair, the outer layer being peeled away to a series of ejaculations which sounded uncannily like “Damn!”, “Blast!” and occasionally, “Bugger!”

Finally, after much effort and profanity, standing on the beach – or what passes for a beach on Hopeless – seemed to be a man in late middle-age, incongruously dressed in a white dinner-jacket, dark trousers and a bow-tie. He sneezed violently several times as he made his way inland. Then he spotted Jarvis.

“What-ho,” he cried, with a wave of his hand.

Jarvis had never read anything by P.G. Wodehouse and therefore had no idea that this was a common salutation employed by some of the stranger sections of British society.

The newcomer walked up to Jarvis and introduced himself. This was a new experience for the Night Soil Man. Obviously the combination of a heavy cold and the wind blowing from the sea rendered the stranger impervious to the ever-present effluvia that surrounded his new companion.

“The name is Whitminster.

Fromebridge Whitminster,” he said, dramatically,  then sneezed again.

“Sir Fromebridge, in actual fact.”

This meant nothing to the Night Soil Man.

Rummaging in the inside-pocket of his jacket Sir Fromebridge retrieved a cigarette case. Flicking a black-oxidised and somewhat battered Ronson lighter, he lit a cigarette that was, I have been reliably informed, of Balkan-Turkish make. He inhaled deeply, tried to look suave, then totally ruined the effect by being gripped by a sudden, violent and uncontrollable paroxysm of coughing.

“Damned things,” he complained, as soon as he was able to speak again.

“Still, must persevere, if the part calls for it.”

“What were you doing out there?” asked Jarvis, incredulous that anyone could be so foolish as to be floundering around in the sea around Hopeless, especially at night.

“Well… It’s all very exciting. The whole thing is being kept very hush-hush, for some reason, though. The fact is, I’ve never been in a film before. It’s called Spoonraker, or some such.” said Sir Fromebridge.

To Jarvis much of this was little more than gibberish, although he recalled, from some dim recess of his mind, that the word ‘film’ referred to a thin covering of some description. Sir Fromebridge was obviously talking about the shiny black skin that he had been wearing.

 

“I was dropped into the sea, oh, ages ago now and told to swim to the island where some fairly important film people would be waiting. If this obviously fake Rolex that I was given actually worked it would tell me that I’ve been stuck for about four hours in freezing water. No wonder I’ve got this dratted cold.”

The actor paused, blew his nose, then added,

“You’re not tied-up with the film, I take it?”

Randall shook head emphatically, confident in the knowledge that he had never been wrapped in black, shiny material at any point in his life.

Just then the actor’s attention was drawn to a large, box-like contraption that had just been washed in on the tide.

“I do believe that’s my sea-trunk,” he exclaimed.

“How odd. That was safely stored in my cabin on the ship. One could almost believe they weren’t expecting me to return…”

Sir Fromebridge laughed to himself nervously.

“Ah well, maybe the film unit will arrive tomorrow.”

“In my experience, tomorrow never comes,” observed the Night Soil Man dryly, then, being uncharacteristically helpful, added

“How about I take you down to the Squid before Isaac locks up for the night? I’ll help you take your luggage with you.”

 

The two men made their way to the inn, dragging the large sea-trunk behind them.

For much of his life Jarvis had been deprived of the pleasures of conversation and was finding that he quite enjoyed it.

“So… what was that thing you were in called again?”

“Thing…? Oh, you mean Spoonraker.”

The Night Soil Man pondered the word a while before he spoke again. It was a strange name to give a second skin but, as Sir Fromebridge was the most amiable shape-shifter that he had ever encountered, he decided to let it go.

“And you’re definitely one of the good guys?”

“Oh, assuredly,” replied the actor. “In fact, I’m more than good. I’ve been led to believe that nobody does it better.”

The peace of the evening was suddenly interrupted by a series of metallic scraping noises as a troop of small, odd-looking thieves artfully lowered a cache of stolen cutlery from an open window of The Squid and Teapot.

“So you’re a Spoonraker, eh?” said Jarvis. “I’ve no idea what that means but something tells me that you’ll fit in well on Hopeless.”

Art by Tom Brown

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From the writings of Salacia Went

From the writings of Salacia Went, Hopeless, Maine.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”. The accuracy of Darwin’s words becomes more evident by the day. Since the ship bearing me to the new world was slain by a fateful storm and I woke on boards briny and broken, spitting the sand of this place from my mouth, I have seen adaption and I have seen failure lead to death. For the mist-wrapped isle of Hopeless, Maine is magnificent in its cruelty.

Another quote springs to my mind, as fragments of the world outside of this one often do.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

Although I am certain that even the formidable mind of Madame Curie would have found Hopeless confounding, I take her words and hold them close and make them my mantra. For there is much to be feared here. Much to be understood.

Many others strive to understand the island and its ecosystem. The local botanist, Miss Nightshade, has already catalogued the local flora, how the heads of flowers and grasping fronds turn to follow you as you pass by, their shapes and scents and their uses if they can be subdued. Reverend Davies is known to have taken copious notes on the fleetingly corporeal fauna of the island, their indistinct forms and devious intentions. Frampton Jones records images of whatever spectacles he can with the infernal photographic contraption that he constantly hauls around like some journalistic Sisyphus. It seems only right that I turn my own hand to recording some aspect of Hopeless’ singular ecology.

And so, I turn my gaze skyward. To the astronomy of this place. A study that could take several lifetimes, I am certain, as there seems little to compare between these skies and those of my long-lost home. What was once a hobby has become my contribution to the island. For the skies of Hopeless are as perplexing and dangerous as everything beneath them.

The first observation of note: There is no sun here. Daytime is defined by a dim glow which passes overhead, filtered through dense cloud cover of some strange composition which taints the light, creating a diffuse sepia tone to the clouds, the air, the wan faces of my companions.

And yet, the nights are so clear. The clouds draw back as a great iris might open and the stars are revealed.

When first I began my study of these skies, I made new drawings each night, filling books and books with notable celestial markers, waiting for an inevitable cycle to show itself, a pattern to emerge.

It never did.

By my reckoning, I have lived on Hopeless for three years now and what nightly performance appears above our heads when the light fades bears no resemblance to any sane celestial calendar. One might describe the study of astronomy here more as drawing from a vast deck of cards.

However, there are observable relations between what happens above and below. Effects that my scientific mind shudders to describe as astrological. And so, I have done as Mr Darwin suggests. I have adapted. My telescope is a tool of divination. My notes have become the scribbled ramblings of occultists. My observations feverish and predictions far too accurate for the comfort of my old self.

Perhaps the most prominent of these, as the phenomenon is hard to miss, is the frequency of eclipses. While a rare enough occurrence in the old world, in Hopeless total solar and lunar eclipses happen several times a year although the former remain only vaguely observable through heavy clouds. As I have come to expect, there is no calculable design to their frequency, unless you consider that the moon simply makes up its mind to visit the sun as it pleases.

The effect on the populace is akin to mild annoyance, but for newer arrivals the phenomenon can be disconcerting if only for the fact that they plunge the island into complete darkness at seemingly random intervals.

An occurrence of particular note comes from the attendees of the birthday party of Hilde Parks, orphan of the Pallid Rock Orphanage. The locals report that, upon blowing out her candles, Hilde made a wish. A series of eclipses proceeded to occur in time with the pointed opening and closing of Hilde’s eyes, much to her amusement and the maniacal screams of the other Hopeless residents. However, once Hilde told everyone what her wish had been, the phenomenon ceased. This event set the record for daily eclipses at fourteen.

Although I could happily list hundreds of similar and entirely different spectacles, the Firefly Constellation is the next most obvious to discuss. Known only as a constellation by the loosest association, several times over the last few years, this swarm of lights has passed over Hopeless. Characterised by twenty or more softly glowing motes which are far too high for it to simply be its namesake. Notes of this phenomenon’s direction do not align with the observed behaviours associated with migration patterns of even Hopeless’ strange fauna.

The effect on the populace is a rare sense of wellbeing among observers, if only as it stands as a sign that there still remains somewhere outside of Hopeless for such things (whatever they may be) to travel to and from.

A particularly perplexing celestial feature is the occurrence of the Myriad Constellation. If this is indeed one constellation or many with similar traits remains to be seen, as the myriad constellation shifts when observed. When viewed from the corner of the eye, the constellation appears as a cluster of nine high-to-medium intensity stars. However, upon closer observation through a telescope, the myriad shifts, defying close observation or notation as to the true positions of the stars.

While the Myriad remains above, the locals have been observed to exhibit oddly transient behaviours. These nights have the streets of Hopeless somewhat busy no matter the hour. People move back and forth between each other’s homes, and some wander off into the woods. Of course, with what we know of the dangers of the wild places on the island, very few return.

Finally, I think it imperative to mention what I maintain to be the most dangerous of Hopeless’ celestial events. Although it manifests rarely, it is one which fills me with dread. For, on those rare nights when the light dies over our island and the clouds withdraw to reveal the Cuttlefish Constellation, the island becomes even more mysterious.

Beginning as a rift of shadow even darker than the void of space around it, at first the Cuttlefish Constellation appears to have scared away any other stars. Then, they begin to appear. Within that fissure of darkness, points of multicoloured light manifest. Truly a spectacle of petrifying beauty, the stars seem to pulse through spectrum after spectrum, often drawing the eye toward terrible colours which the human eye should never behold. And still, they move. They multiply as they undulate in waves of hypnotic beauty. And every eye on the island, although they might try everything in their power not to do so, turns upward.

I cannot describe, illustrate or begin to comprehend what happens next, for no one knows. We all awake in our beds, aching as if from a night of long toil, heads pounding as if we’ve all drank the Squid and Teapot dry.

It is on those occasions when I scoff at Madame Curie’s beloved words. For some things are beyond the understanding by mortal minds, and any sane person should fear them.–

Art by Tom Brown

We have been waiting to welcome Craig Hallam to our dark shores for some years now, as we are great fans of his work. (and we hope this will not be his last visit) We can recommend *all* of his fiction.  His Alan Shaw series is worthy of special mention (and he is working on the final book in that sequence now)  Go here to find out more.

The Queen of Flames

Randall Middlestreet was unique among Night Soil Men, inasmuch as none before him had retired. As has been mentioned previously in ‘The Vendetta’, Randall voluntarily hung up his bucket at the age of fifty-five, giving up both his job and the cottage at Poo Corner to his young apprentice, Jarvis Woodchester.
While the role of Night Soil Man is very far from being glamorous, it has its fair share of danger and excitement. Few can wander over the island at night as safely as he does, protected as he is from predators by the malodorous atmosphere which surrounds him at all times. It is this nocturnal freedom which allows him to see sights and wonders that others are denied.

Randall was well into his second pint of ‘Old Colonel’ and holding court in the snug of The Squid and Teapot. The small band of regulars were always happy to listen to his yarns. This is not to say that they necessarily gave these stories any credence. His accounts of encountering ghosts, demons and various fantastical figures would sometimes stretch their credulity but Randall always insisted that every word was true. Nobody really cared, for what could be better than sitting before a roaring fire, in the company of friends and listening to a good tale told well.

“It was May-eve when it happened, years ago now. I was up by Chapel Rock when I first heard the music,” began Randall, taking a sip of beer. “Faint, to begin with; no more than a whisper on the breeze. I thought that old Iron Mills had started his fun fair up in the middle of the night. Then I saw the lights. They were winding down the path from the Gydynaps. From where I was standing – and I was a good distance away – it looked like a procession of people, all carrying flaming torches. Not ordinary torches either; the flames were all colours. And they weren’t constant. It was as if, one by one, they were flickering out, only to reappear a few seconds later. Either that, or they were Will O’the Wisps; that’s what they looked like to me, but I knew they weren’t. You all know what I’m like; if there’s a mystery to be solved, I’m there. I just couldn’t help myself, I had to get closer to see what was going on. The torchlight procession seemed to be heading towards the town, so that is where I
went.”
Randall took another generous swig of beer then sat in silence, staring into some hidden space that only he could see. His audience became restless.
“Go on… what happened next?”
It was Ebeneezer Gannicox, the distiller, who broke the silence.
“What did you see Randall?”
“Well, as the procession got closer, I could see exactly who – or what – they were. What they weren’t were people carrying torches. They were flames. Living flames of all colours. Flames that flickered and danced, flames that died and then burst back into life. And all the while they followed… well, you should have seen her.”
Randall emptied his glass, laid it on the table and watched happily as it was immediately replaced with another foaming pint.
“She didn’t walk, she danced… danced through the empty streets of the town to the music of the hurdy-gurdy that she carried. Of course, I had no idea then what the instrument was called. I’d never seen anything like it, or her, before or since. She was a vision! Her hair was as red as fire itself and what I thought were feathers in her hat – well, they weren’t feathers, they were flames.”
Randall paused for a moment to allow his listeners to digest the scene.
“Suddenly,” he said, “the music changed. It became quite unearthly. I couldn’t help but notice that, as she turned the handle, the instrument lit up. Coloured sparks flew from every bit of it. I was totally in thrall of this lady. I could not move. Then she did the most wondrous thing. She somehow attached her hurdy-gurdy to a street-light and as she played, as she wound the handle, every light in the town burst into life. They glowed brighter, far brighter, than they ever had before. And the music… oh, what wonderful music. I don’t know how long I sat there but it must have been hours, for the skies had started to pale. It almost felt as if she was summoning the sun to rise. We don’t often see a good sunrise on Hopeless but this one…” Randall left his sentence hanging in the air.
“It was so bright I was dazzled. I had to squint to see the lady as she turned towards the east. With the dancing flames following her, the strange cavalcade seemed to disappear into the glowing ball of the sun as it rose from the sea. I just sat there, sat for ages, totally mesmerized by what I had witnessed.”
Randall took another draught of ‘Old Colonel’ and fell silent, once more staring into that distant place that only he could see. The company knew that they would get no more out of him that evening.

It was late. Almost everyone had gone home and Betty Butterow was shooing out the last stragglers. She had floors to mop and tables to clear before she could leave. Only Bill Ebley remained. At eighty years of age he was one of Hopeless’ oldest residents. This gave him a dispensation to stay late, as Betty always insisted on walking him home.
“What did you make of Randall’s story?” she asked him as she mopped the floor around his feet.
Bill thought for a moment before replying.
“In 1915 I was in the trenches in France,” he said, adding, “we were in Mons.”
“There were a lot of stories flying around at the time, stories about apparitions, phantom armies and whatnot. Some even thought that there was an angel fighting on our side but I didn’t give any of it much credence. Still don’t. I did see something – someone – once, though and she sounds very much like Randall’s lady. I’ve never told anyone else this, not even the colonel, in case I’m thought to be mad. Maybe I witnessed what some of the others did, the ones who talked about the Angel of Mons. But the woman that I saw was no angel – I’m sure of that. She suddenly appeared, dancing through the mud and corpses on the battlefield as though it was a village green at Whitsun. There were shells and bullets screaming all around, yet she was totally unharmed and as far as I could tell, unnoticed by most. There was something deep and powerful, something elemental, about her; I thought that I was hallucinating. You hear about men going mad in the trenches. I was certain it was happening to me. Then one day, a year or so later, when I was on leave, a French gypsy offered to read my fortune. I was sceptical but when you never know if you’ll be alive from one day to another, where’s the harm? So this gypsy pulls out her tarot cards – the rummest pack I’ve ever seen – and swipe me, she drew a card and there, plain as day, is the Lady’s picture, just as I had seen her and exactly how Randall has described, to the tee.”
Bill got to his feet and pulled on his overcoat. He looked at Betty and added, almost as an afterthought,
“Apparently she’s known in the tarot as The Queen of Flames.”

 

Art by Tom Brown- Permission to use the likeness of Genevive Tudor graciously granted by herself.

The Sister of Mercy

One grey afternoon, in the closing months of 1842, Sister Evangeline, late of the Religious Order of the Sisters of Mercy, settled herself unsteadily into a small, birch-bark canoe. She was all too well aware of the amount of trust that she was placing in her God and the wiry Passamaquoddy Indian who had reluctantly agreed to transport her to a mysterious fog-bound island that lay just off the coast.

Her decision to leave Dublin, in order to join the Catholic community on the Passamaquoddy reservation in Maine, had not been an easy one. The death of her mentor and founder of the order, The Venerable Mother Catherine McAuley, had left her bereft. For ten years the two had laboured, shoulder to shoulder, providing food and shelter for the homeless women and children of the city. When Mother Catherine died Evangeline knew in her bones that it was time to move on to somewhere far away.


After being only a few weeks on the reservation she began to hear rumours of a small band of ‘fallen’ women on a nearby island. It seemed to Sister Evangeline that it was her Christian duty – and indeed her destiny – to seek out and help these poor souls who had been forced into such dissolute ways. The apparent name of the island – Hopeless – conjured, in itself, visions of purgatory.  The very fact that few seemed to be aware of its existence and even fewer entertained any desire to visit, did not deter her in the least. With a subtle mixture of bribes, cajoling and hints of eternal salvation, she managed to persuade an Indian, who confessed to having traded with the islanders on occasion, into providing the necessary transport to get her there.


If Sister Evangeline ever had any remotely positive preconceptions of what Hopeless may have looked like, these were quickly dashed within moments of setting foot ashore. The cloying blanket of fog that seemed in no hurry to disperse, successfully muffled any sound that might have tried to sneak across the narrow but treacherous channel that separated it from the mainland. Dark shapes that may have been buildings, or possibly strange rock formations, loomed ominously before her. Occasionally some of these would seem to move but the nun attributed this to a trick of the light, which was so sparse that one could comfortably (or more correctly, uncomfortably) call it funereal. This is not to say that the place was without light – it was just that the it was muted and not always found in the places one might reasonably expect. There was, for instance, an eerie glow emanating from a series of sickly-green orbs that seemed to be following her progress along the rough-hewn pathway. They peered from the rocks and skeletal bushes that marked its margins. Every now and then  these would shift position, often to the accompaniment of an ominous metallic scraping sound. Sister Evangeline clung steadfastly to the handle of her suitcase and cast her eyes heavenwards. Inexplicably, there seemed to be glowing eyes in the sky, as well. They appeared to be following her progress, bobbing along like small balloons in a breeze, except that there was no breeze. Something told Sister Evangeline that these strange lights represented no heavenly intervention. She shuddered. She had a distinct feeling that to wander from the path could lead to all sorts of unpleasantness and so, with faith in her heart, a hymn on her lips and mud on her habit, she made her way steadfastly inland.

If the island had first appeared to be grim, then some of its inhabitants were surely even grimmer. So pinched, lean and unkempt did they appear, the paupers who haunted the streets of Dublin looked positively decadent by comparison. It felt as if a mad look lingered in almost every eye that turned in her direction. There were some eyes that turned in opposite directions at the same time, which was somewhat disconcerting. The place and all who dwelt there gave, in her considered opinion, a vision of what Hell might be like (but without the warmth, of course).

The gloom around her deepened and Sister Evangeline surmised that the shadowy drapes of evening were drawing in. It occurred to her that, whatever unease she had felt earlier, this would be multiplied several times over with the advent of night. She needed to find shelter and find it quickly. No sooner had the thought entered her head than the unexpectedly warm and welcoming lights of an inn appeared, as if from nowhere. Thoroughly untrusting of this island by now, she cautiously wandered up to its walls and studied the sign swinging over the door. Painted upon it she could just make out the figure of a cephalopod that regarded her with a baleful eye. It was wrapping itself sinuously around a teapot, for some obscure reason known only to itself and the obviously talented but decidedly eccentric artist who had been responsible for the depiction. The nun shrugged, crossed herself and boldly ventured into the building.


Bartholomew Middlestreet, the landlord of the inn, had catered for a variety of castaways, fugitives and accidental tourists over the years, as had his father before him. Never before, however, could he recall having a nun cross its threshold. To say that he was surprised would be an understatement.

The truth was that Bartholomew had never actually met a nun before. He had seen pictures and heard tales – not all of them complimentary – but to encounter one in the flesh, as it were, was a new experience – and by no means an egregious one. The slightly bedraggled woman who stood before him was infinitely less terrifying that he had expected. She was petite, probably in her early thirties – his own age – with a pleasingly gentle lilt to her voice and a more than pretty face. When she enquired if there might be a modest room in which she could stay for a few days, she gave Bartholomew a smile which sent his pulse racing, rendering him more than a little tongue-tied and unusually awkward.


Sister Evangeline was nothing, if not discreet. Over the next week or so she was content to settle into her new surroundings and meet some of the islanders who frequented the inn. To begin with there had been a certain amount of distrust on their part; they expected to be lectured on temperance and godliness. They were pleasantly surprised, however. Despite her calling, Sister Evangeline had no intention of using her religion to browbeat people. She had long ago learned, on the streets of Dublin, that she could achieve far more with love and compassion than with cold, judgemental words. For her own part, Sister Evangeline began to see the inhabitants of Hopeless in a different light. They were not the deranged creatures she had at first imagined – well, not all of them. They certainly had little in the way of luxuries but on the whole they were simply ordinary people struggling to survive as best they could in a harsh environment. It was this thought that she carried with her when she made her way to the bordello, where the reasons for her mission to the island – the fallen women – were to be found.


As related in the tale ‘The Sweaty Tapster’, the bordello had been established more a century earlier by the female survivors of a convict ship that had been originally bound for Virginia. Over the years many women had found their way to its doors. While some had happily engaged in the business of the oldest profession, others had come there purely for companionship and protection. In a very short period they became .a tight-knit community that looked after itself as best it could. There had been odd occasions, in the past, where certain gentlemen had thought that they might take control and line their own pockets. Without exception, all such gentlemen had quietly disappeared without a trace.

It was unsurprising, therefore, that the arrival of Sister Evangeline was greeted with little enthusiasm. She had come looking for a pitiful rag-tag band of frail and abused womanhood; what she had found was a veritable bastion of female strength.

It took weeks for the nun to be regarded with anything but suspicion by the women. They expected her to have come with an agenda, intent on trying to lead each and every one of them back on to some narrow path of guilt-ridden righteousness. Nothing could have been further from the truth. While she disapproved, at first, of some of the more louche activities, her only concern was for their welfare. Sister Evangeline soon learned that to achieve anything at all she would need to lose her title, discard her wimple and habit and grow her hair.

And so it came to pass that  Evangeline moved into the bordello and little by little, became an essential part of the community. It took little more than a year for the others to ask her to take charge.

“Like a Mother Superior?” she asked, with a mischievous look in her eye.


The name Evangeline means ‘The Bringer of Good News’, which was certainly apt. The bordello and the general populace certainly benefited from her continued presence on the island. Evangeline herself, however, thought her name was a somewhat incongruous, given her new position. It was too pious, by half. Regular readers will have guessed by now that she became Evadne and for the clients who came to the establishment, that she euphemistically called a lodging house, she was Madame Evadne. To make her transformation complete she tried to affect a French accent when dealing with clients. Unfortunately, the result was a strange Gaelic/Gallic hybrid which was not unpleasant to the ear but, more often than not, slightly unintelligible, which added to her air of mystery to later generations.

For the next fifty years Madame Evadne oversaw the running of her Lodging House for Discerning Gentlemen with a firm but benevolent gaze. Over that time she became one of the island’s greatest benefactors. After her death a statue was erected in her honour in the lodging house courtyard. As you may recall from the tale ‘The Supper Guest’ the statue came to life on one memorable occasion, and protected her girls from a particularly evil man. She was a Sister of Mercy even in death –  you could say that she never really lost the habit.


This tale is dedicated to the memory of

Sister Evangeline/ Madame Evadne 1808 -1891

Art by Tom Brown

Hopeless, Maine goes forth.

Hello, again people (and others)!

We are going to indulge in a general catch up sort of Vendetta before we plunge back into the community generated Hopeless, Maine material. (of which there is a lot)

Things have been happening. Several of them. Some of them all at once. The next graphic novel installment of Hopeless, Maine (Sinners) is due out in early June from Sloth Comics, so it is time to get started on the next volume.  The next volume will be titled….something. We have not actually decided yet. We have figured out that the narrative that will be told over the two page spreads will be about Drury going on a bit of a rampage and encountering (By which I mostly mean, “trying to bite”) the local fauna. Spoonwalkers and Night potatoes and Dustcats have been shockingly popular with you all, so we will deliver in this series. (also, we rather love them, and we all need a bit of whimsey at the moment, I think) Here is the pencil stage of the first two page spread. Nimue is in the process of colouring it now, and i’ll share the finished version on the social medias no doubt. (Oh, I’m @GothicalTomB on twitter and Nimue is @Nimue_B)

Right. Art. Here it is.

If you have not met Drury yet, you are going to love him, I confidently predict. The chap chasing him is Donald, who Drury has attached himself to. Donald is a bit of an homage to Edward Gorey (Dresses like a Gorey drawing and has the “G” on his jumper”

 

So, the other things. Well, the Hopeless, Maine RPG written by Keith Healing (with bits by other Vendetta contributors) has a (new) publisher and is nearly complete. You will be hearing more about that in the autumn of this year. I’m just silly amounts of excited imagining people sort of co-creating as they explore the island in an RPG . Inventing personas, populating the island with people and further strangeness… In a week or so there is going to be a test campaign DMed by Keith. We will be on hand to watch, take notes and pictures, and eat free food. There will be content from that here on the Vendetta so stay tuned. Here is one of the pieces of art I have done for the Game. (which will also feature art from Cliff Cumber!)

 

There is also a Hopeless, Maine tarot deck in progress. It is mostly written by the frankly rather amazing Laura Perry. No projected date on this, as I have a few cards left to draw, but it is not far away.

Here is an image done specifically for the deck. It’s Balthazar Lemon as the King of Flames (wands)

There is an illustrated prose book (New England Gothic- written by Nimue) that should be out soon, and…another possible thing that I cannot discuss just yet (Though the mere possibility makes me giddy) OH! Yes. Ald also (hopefully timed with the release of Sinners) a Professor Elemental Hopeless, Maine song. (This is a thing we have wanted for *years* and it is finally coming to pass)

So, that’s probably it for now. Lots of paper to get dirty.

Be splendid to each other, please and as always, I hope this finds you well, inspired, and thriving. (If it does not, cake is always good)

 

 

The end of an era

Joseph was tired. For the last twelve months he had been to-ing and fro-ing to the Passamaquoddy reservation, bringing in supplies purchased by the ex- Night Soil Man, Randall Middlestreet. These trips had taken their toll on him.

“You’re not a youngster any more,” Betty had scolded.

“It’s high time you moored that old canoe for good.”

It was true. Joseph was over seventy and had paddled across the treacherous channel more times than he cared to remember.

“You’re right,” he conceded, wearily.

“One more trip to say goodbye to everyone and then I’ll retire. It’s sad, though. My family has been alone in regularly trading with this island for generations – even before the founding families reached here. It will be the end of an era.”

Betty knew that Joseph wished he had a son to carry on the tradition. They had not been blessed with children. She smiled to herself ruefully and reflected that this was not for the want of trying.

“Okay. Just one more trip and then you finish,” she said, in a voice that would brook no opposition.

 

Although, in the past year, Hopeless had acquired enough Indian-made goods to last an eternity, Randall had asked that Joseph bring more over. It was his altruistic way of transferring his new-found and unexpected wealth, inherited from his mother, into the economy of the impoverished reservation.

Jingling with the money Randall had given him, Joseph kissed his wife goodbye and set off on his farewell trip with mixed feelings. It would be hard to say goodbye to his old friends on the mainland and give up his lifelong trade. On the other hand, the prospect of never again having to negotiate the hazards and eternal fog that beset the treacherous channel was appealing.

 

His days on the reservation went very much as expected. There were hand-shakes, back-slaps and manly hugs a-plenty, shared between Joseph and his friends and relations. At last the appointed day arrived for him to leave the mainland for the very last time and return to the cabin that he and Betty shared on Hopeless.

 

The morning was grey and dismal and a harsh north-east wind was freshening by the hour. These were not ideal conditions to cross the channel but there was every indication that this weather was hunkering down for the duration.  If he left his departure any later Joseph feared that he could be stuck here for another week and Betty would be frantic with worry. Throwing caution to the wind – quite literally on this occasion – and, with his last ever cargo lashed securely down, Joseph paddled into the foggy channel.

 

Betty Butterow looked at the worsening weather with a troubled eye. While she had every faith in Joseph’s abilities, it would need more than his considerable skills to ensure his safe arrival home. Maybe she could help. She made her way to the rocky shore where, years before, she had first learned of her true identity, that she was a seal-woman, one of the legendary selkie people.

Hidden in a cleft in the rocks was her seal-pelt. Betty could not remember the last time she had donned it. She had heard tales of seal-women who had gradually become less human with every transformation. That is why she was loathe to shape-shift too often. It always worried her that one day she would be unable to change back.

Stripping off her clothing, Betty resolved there and then to go as a seal and look for Joseph, to bring him home safely, whatever the consequences. If, as she feared, Joseph was dead, then there would be nothing to return to. No reason to be Betty Butterow any longer. She would become a seal forever and little by little, all recollections of her human life would be no more than a distant dream.

 

The selkie scoured the treacherous channel for hours. There was no sign of Joseph. She had twice circled the island, desperately hoping that he had moored somewhere other than his usual spot but to no avail. Then she spotted something floating close to the shore. It looked like a canoe. Full of hope, she raced towards it.  “Please, let him be alive… please, please…” she prayed; prayed to who or whatever might be there to listen. Then an icy hand gripped her heart; it was indeed Joseph’s canoe, but smashed and ruined. There was no sign of Joseph.

 

The island echoed with the mournful wail of the seal-woman. She raised her dark head above the churning waves and threw her anguished soul upon the wind.

Then, her heart breaking, she flipped over, dived through the icy water and turned her back upon the foggy shores of Hopeless, Maine.

 

In her haste to leave she had not seen the figure of a man on the shore. Dazed and confused, he rose groggily to his feet, her bellow of grief having dragged him from the murky shadowlands of unconsciousness. Joseph looked helplessly across the foggy channel, somehow knowing that the unearthly cry that had woken him and shattered the peace of the day had been that of his beloved Betty. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he watched the dark, sinuous shape of a harbor seal disappear into the foggy distance.

 

The ocean boiled and churned. Startled, the selkie came to a halt as the huge bulk of the Kraken erupted through the water and caught her in its deep and unswerving gaze.

It spoke, not in words but in thoughts that echoed in her head with a voice as deep and sonorous as the ocean itself. It was a voice that she had heard before, many years ago.

“Go back, selkie. It is not quite time yet. Not yours, nor his. Go back. He is safe. As I have said, Betty Butterow, the sea looks after her own.”

With that she felt a suckered arm entwined around her sleek body. The kraken gently hoisted her high into the misty air, above the angry waves and jagged stone teeth that have brought many a ship to its doom around the coast of Hopeless. The creature lifted her trembling body to the rocks where Joseph stood weeping.

With her heart-beating fit to burst, Betty sloughed off the seal-skin, her body shaking with a mixture of cold and emotion. With an effort she rose to her feet and stood, shivering and naked in Joseph’s embrace. Every minute of every day would now would be precious. Betty could feel the tears running down her husband’s face as he laid a soft kiss upon her lips.

“Let’s go home,” she whispered.

Art by Tom Brown

The Lady From Baltimore

The Passamaquoddy trader, Samuel, looked pensively over the bay and wondered to himself if any other rich and elderly widow had ever taken the trouble to leave the security her well-appointed home to visit his less than salubrious reservation.

He rubbed his chin quizzically, pondering why the woman who called herself Mrs Spillman had chosen to do just this. She must be at least eighty years old, he reasoned. What had inspired her to leave an affluent area of Baltimore and travel the five hundred or more miles to this particular part of Maine?

What Samuel was to learn, a day so later, was that this recent visitor had journeyed with a purpose; a purpose that would have sounded very much like a wild goose chase to most people.

Mrs Lilac Spillman, although of very mature years, was an exceedingly determined woman who knew her own mind. There had been another trader here, many years ago, who, along with his little family, had welcomed her and her friend, Amelia, into their home. Lilac had been no more than a girl then and to her eternal shame, had walked out on them without a word of thanks. She  disappeared without even saying goodbye, slipping away like a thief in the night on the arm of a gambling man named Abner Badbrook. Badbrook eventually abandoned her in New York, leaving the hapless girl alone in a strange city, friendless, penniless and pregnant.

Lilac shuddered to think how she had betrayed the Indian family’s hospitality. She remembered that the trader had biblical name – Abraham – and that he had rescued Amelia and herself from a grim fate on the island of her birth; a place that she once vowed never to visit again. Abraham must be long dead, she thought, but maybe – just maybe – someone living on the reservation might still be visiting the island occasionally. One trip was all she wanted; just the one. She knew that her remaining months, possibly weeks, were few and despite her earlier disdain, Hopeless, Maine was calling to her.

 

When she heard that there was, indeed, a trader, Joseph, now living on Hopeless and due to arrive any day, her heart leapt. Could this be the Joseph that she remembered? Abraham’s son? He had been a boy of eight or ten at the time. That would make him seventy, at least. She thought it unlikely that it was the same person. However, when she saw Joseph standing outside the governor’s house she recognised him immediately. He was the image of his father. Although hazy about many things, Mrs Spillman’s long-term memory was as sharp as an eagle’s eye.

It took a moment or two for her to notice the burly man who was standing quietly, almost shyly, behind Joseph. Despite his very pale skin and tendency to walk with a stoop, as though he was accustomed to carrying a heavy burden upon his back, there was something about him that reminded her of someone she knew long ago. Then, when she was introduced to him, she thought her heart would break.

 

After forty years as Hopeless, Maine’s Night Soil Man, Randall Middlestreet had taken the unusual step of giving up his post to his apprentice. The new-found freedom of being able to associate with his fellow islanders had not lost its novelty value, even after some weeks following his abdication. Therefore, when Joseph invited Randall to join him on a trip across to the mainland, the former Night Soil Man was as apprehensive as he was excited. His life had changed greatly recently; he little suspected the new direction it was about to take.

 

You will recall that the first part of this tale concluded with Mrs Spillman sobbing into Randall’s neck and calling him her son. To say he was taken aback is an understatement. Randall had always understood that his mother had died in childbirth. To find, after fifty-five years, that she had been alive and well and living in somewhere called Baltimore was a surprise, to say the very least. The torrent of emotions that stormed through him at that moment was overwhelming. Feelings of joy and anger, love and betrayal, all mixed up with a generous helping of confusion, almost bowled him over; that, and the not insubstantial weight of the elderly lady clinging to his neck.

The elected governor of the tribe – or the  sakom, as he is known – had been entertaining Mrs Spillman in his family home for a few days prior to Joseph’s  arrival. After the necessary introductions had been made the sakom made it his business to linger and eavesdrop on their conversation. Upon seeing Mrs Spillman’s reaction to meeting Randall the sakom diplomatically ushered the three of them back into the privacy of his home, where, over coffee and biscuits, Mrs Spillman apprised her son of the details of her history and the reason why she had left him on the steps of a convent. How he had arrived on the island of Hopeless, though, was a total mystery to all. Randall had never been told the story of his rescue by Sebastian Lypiatt and the nun, Sister Mary Selsley.

 

A lifetime of being the Night Soil Man on Hopeless had made Randall something of a stoic, although this was not a word he would ever have used or even recognised. To adopt an attitude of accepting, without complaint, the ups and downs of daily existence is a necessary way of thinking on an island where unpredictability is the only predictable thing that the future holds. There was no point in regretting the lost years or blaming his mother for abandoning him. It would achieve nothing. Besides, she had had her reasons.

 

There was one other thing. Mrs Spillman had sold almost everything she possessed when she left Baltimore. Her worldly goods, including a large town house, had been converted into cash and lodged in a bank account.

“It’s all yours,” she told Randall. “I had no idea what would happen to my estate when I die. Now I know.” With that she reached into her travel-chest and retrieved a canvas bag. It was full of silver dollars.

“This will tide you over until suitable arrangements have been made,” she said.

Randall was aghast. He had little use for a lot of money. Hopeless was not the type of place where you could spend very much. He looked at Joseph for help.

“Take it and make her happy,” Joseph advised.

Randall looked about him at the spectre of poverty that stalked the reservation. Even Hopeless looked comfortable, compared with the poor living conditions many endured there. This place needed a helping hand. He knew what to do with at least some of his new-found wealth.

 

A few days passed and Joseph enlisted the help of his cousin, Samuel. Although refusing to set foot on Hopeless himself, Samuel reluctantly agreed to ferry Randall and Mrs Spillman across the treacherous channel to that strangest of islands. Joseph’s own canoe was full to bursting with furs, textiles and beaver pelts, purchased at a vastly inflated price by the suddenly wealthy Randall Middlestreet.

 

Although Randall was willing to pay Isaac Lypiatt, the landlord of The Squid and Teapot, to give his mother comfortable lodgings, Isaac refused, having inherited his parents’ generosity. He happily gave Mrs Spillman a room in which she could live out her remaining days in comfort. The Squid had been her home once and it was only fitting that it should be so again. It was the very least he could do.The Lady from Baltimore had come home to die.

The artist (Tom Brown, in this case) apologizes that there is not a new drawing this week. He is very much engaged with the final bits which will ensure that the next volume of the graphic novel series (Sinners) comes out on time and is as wonderful as we can manage.

An Englishman in Hopeless, Maine

He did not come with storm and tempest, he came with a small leather suitcase.

He paid the ferryman in cash, muttering a combination of thanks and apologies that the English seem to think necessary for such transactions, and then set off up the beach. He walked with a stick, a simple length of hawthorn with a V at the top, but he put no weight on it. Even when he stumbled on a rock, or slipped on the seaweed, the stick was a balance more than a rest.

By the time he had reached the saltmarsh his woollen overcoat was glistening with droplets of water, and his scarf hung limp. He wore no hat, and his untidy red hair was plastered to his head with the fine cold rain.

He paused to take in his surroundings. It’s strange how the mind plays tricks on people. The Englishman knew he was many hundreds of miles away from home, but his eyes were tracing familiar landmarks in the sparse vegetation and rocky outcrops.

Just like Begger’s Lane back home”, he thought to himself.

It was certainly true that the Hopeless landscape around him seemed remarkably similar to the abandoned staithes and marshes of the Fens where he had grown up.

Finally, the Englishman appeared to reach some sort of decision of the “this will do” variety and put down his case. Opening it, he revealed the sparse contents within, begging the question in the mind of the casual observer of why he bothered with a case at all. Had the Englishman written an inventory of the contents, it would have listed just three items; a jar marked salt, a candle and a box of matches. The Englishman took the jar marked salt and used its contents to trace a circle in the tussocky grass. Then he used the matches to light his single candle. And, with his staff in one hand and candle in the other he stood and waited.

I can smell your fear.” Came a soft voice from behind him.

Quite!” replied the Englishman. “Under the circumstances, anything less that absolute terror would be evidence of a foolhardy spirit.”

And you are not fool hardy?” Replied the voice, moving now; edging round the circle. A tall lean dark shape stepped into the Englishman’s peripheral vision. “You, weak and afraid, have come to Hopeless to see a vampire, and you are not a fool?”

I just want to ask a question…” the Englishman began.

A dangerous question that I refuse to answer!” snapped the vampire. He was stood in front of the Englishman now. Tall, pale (naturally) his white hair was long, as were his fingernails. He wore a morning suit, old but well-tailored and immaculately turned out.

The vampire took a long stride towards the Englishman. “Did you think a circle of salt would keep me out?” he asked with a sneer.

No” replied the Englishman, drawing himself up and casting off his shivers and muttering tone. “The circle is to keep you in, and it’s not salt.” With that he cast the lighted candle to one side, and where it fell a flame sprung from the ground, spreading quickly until it had encircled the two adversaries with a tall sheet of red and yellow flame.

You challenge me?” asked the vampire, his voice rising a little in his surprise.

I knew you would not give me my answer willingly, but if I can beat you then you will be compelled to give me my bearing.” The Englishman said, raising his voice of the noises that were emerging from the marsh around them. The vampire was summoning up support. Vampires and deamons could not cross into the circle of fire, but their rituals and spells could.

You will lose and I will claim you.” the vampire hissed.

Then that is our wager.” the Englishman called back. The noises around him were no longer indistinct, but definite chanting. The Englishman closed his eyes in concentration and began to recall the old words of the marshlands.

Needing something to focus power upon, the vampire began taking items from his pockets; piece of broken china, an old coin, a dog hair brush. With each item he uttered a single syllable and the darkness around him grew deeper.

The Englishman could feel the chill of the darkness begin to bite him. This would be close run thing. But first he must drive off the vampires allies.

Fire and Water, Land and Sea.” He called, and as he did so there was movement in the mist around his legs. “The horn is sounded, the drum is beat. Clay’s light shines on the marsh, carried by the wind.” The Englishman whistled through his teeth, a long forlorn note like a lonesome bird calling over the sea.

Lights began to jump from the marsh outside the circle.

The Englishman whistled again. “Whistle and they will come!” he called.

The lights came toward the circle, scattering the deamons and vampires as they moved.

The Englishman took a dandelion stalk from behind his ear and blew upon it, sounding it like a small horn. “Up Shuck!” he shouted, “Up Bryard! The wild hunt rides!”

A roar of hooves suddenly split the air and passed through both Englishman and vampire, though the circle of flame did not waver for a moment.

As suddenly as it came, it went. Leaving only silence. The vampire would have to fight alone.

But the vampire was old, cunning and powerful. Even as the first jack o’lanterns flickered into light, he had changed his chant and charms. Long fingers passed tokens and tools from hand to hand, some seeming to hang in the air until needed. Again the darkness thickened, and the cold bit and stung.

The Englishman knew that his last effort had come and that this would be the making or breaking of him. He gripped his staff tightly before him, both hand locked together. He thought of his lands and his people; the men from the water, the men from the marsh, the dark eyed travelling folk who had raised him. The woods spilt out of his mouth like blood from a wound.

There is a light at the end of the world!” he cried. “A light that burns so bright that none can ever endure it. A light that burns a hole in the hearts of men and boils the blood of fey.”

As he spoke, luminous mist appeared to rise form the ground around his feet, spiraling around him. His staff glowed hot and he, himself, began to radiate light.

I am touched by that light, and though the shadow falls upon me, I welcome it!”

The thunderclap split the twilight.

The mist and drizzle scattered.

The circle of flame shrank and died.

The Englishman stood alone.

Cast your staff down and it will point your way, coldblood!” came the vampire’s voice. As he spoke he rose from the ground like a mist, a short distance in front of the Englishman.

Coldblood?” the Englishman asked in horror?

Your heart is stopped.” replied the vampire, “Your blood runs cold.”

The Englishman looked at his hands and as he watched the colour drained from his fingers.

But I won!” he shouted.

The vampire laughed a cold harsh laugh. “When will you mortals learn?” he sneered. “There is no winning. There is nothing to win!”

And with that he sank and faded away.

The Englishman threw down his staff in anger. It spun and then came to a rest, pointing his way. Next to it lay a shell, one of the vampires discarded trinkets. The Englishman picked them both up.

Give me my scallop shell of quiet,

My staff of faith to walk upon,

My scrip of joy, immortal diet,

My bottle of salvation,

My gown of glory, hope’s true gage,

And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.”

Words by Jim Snee

Art by Tom Brown

The second Time Quake edition

Hello people! (and others)

We now continue(and conclude)  our adventures at Time Quake. Part one can be found here.

Once the Mermaid puppet (which was made by the frankly rather amazing) Lou Pulford , she became the focus of much attention and affection. Here is photographic evidence of this.

Also, we were visited (as you can clearly see) by this utterly splendid steampunk R2-D2 which made friends wherever it roamed (and it roamed everywhere)

We also sang the songs of our people (By which I mean songs of Hopeless, Maine, or songs that would fit in there) Nimue has written a Hopeless, Maine sea shanty (during which I groan disconsolately ) and she is expanding our repertoire all of the time. (because she is amazing like that)

 

During a slow moment on Sunday, Nimue and I sat down and sketched for a bit. (with people watching, which always feels a bit like performing without a net) We had noticed that we had no woodland fauna for Hopeless, Maine and set about to remedy this.

I am particularly pleased with the Goblin Cup. It is a bit like a pitcher Plant in that it waits for things to fall into it and then digests them. With the appearance of people on the island, it became aware that it could easily be mistaken for a cup in the gloom and filled with things that were much to its liking (beer, for instance) Now, we get to imagine what a drunken Goblin cup might get up to! The Small Brown Bird features in the Hopeless, Maine book that Nimue is writing at present. It is an excellent mimic (at the worst possible times) The Tree Creeper has no legs to speak of, but rather long toes. It can not take flight from the ground, and so, must creep up a tree using its toes until it can reach a sufficient hight for take-off.  The Ur deer…I’m still not sure what’s going on there, but i’m sure we will find out in time! I am fairly sure that the Puff Bug has a detachable head.

 

As I said in the first installment, this was an utterly brilliant event and the first of its kind. It will be ongoing, and we can recommend it.

For more information, you might wish to visit, here.

 

Fun Fair for the Common Man

Anyone who knows anything about Hopeless, Maine will be all too aware that it is no stranger to the occasional shipwreck and the rag-tag straggle of survivors who invariably accompany such disasters. Similarly, the island is equally familiar with the assortment of flotsam and jetsam which arrives upon its foggy shores in some abundance. These gifts from the sea can be practical, decorative or, indeed, both. Only rarely can they be said to be entertaining. This tale tells of one of those rare occasions.

 

In the tale ‘The Sweaty Tapster’ I told you of a small settlement, thought to be originally populated by descendants of the British slaves who were introduced to the island by its earliest known settlers, the Vikings. For generations they kept themselves to themselves, speaking a long extinct version of English and living peacefully in the shadow of the Gydynap Hills. Their dwellings, which were small and simple, were huddled around a patch of tough, spiky grass. In the distant past livestock might have grazed there but at the time of this tale the livestock had long gone; instead it had become the place where children played, deals were brokered and lovers met in the misty moonlight. It was common ground, or simply ‘The Common’ to all who used it.

 

There was one child who could only ever watch the others at their games; his name was Griffin Mills. Griffin had been born with a malformed leg and for his first few years could only drag himself along using a rudimentary crutch. It was not until he was in his teens that a thoughtful blacksmith fashioned him a caliper which, for the first time in his life, afforded him the ability to quite literally stand upon his own two feet. There was a price to pay, however. With the casual cruelty of youth his peers immediately dubbed him ‘Iron Mills’ and the name stuck. Before long everyone seemed to forget his real name and he was known as Iron for evermore.

 

As has been mentioned elsewhere in The Vendetta, sirens are known to haunt the rocky coast of Hopeless. When these creatures sing, women rush to get their children and husbands out of earshot, for few can resist their call. Iron – as we shall now call him – was no exception. Like the crippled boy in The Pied Piper of Hamelin, however, he was able to hear the music without succumbing to its lure, for his disability would prevent him from taking pursuit. Instead, the boy would lean from his window and listen to their alluring voices until his soul ached. He lusted for music; any music, such was the glamour that the sirens had put upon him.

Although not particularly religious, Iron even prayed to St. Cecilia, the Patron Saint of Music but nothing seemed to happen. It’s fair to say that her apparent indifference to his plight was breaking his heart and shaking his confidence daily. Then one morning everything changed when into his life stepped a character who rejoiced in the name of Cosimo Washpool, recent shipwreckee, raconteur and showman.

 

Washpool had enjoyed some success in the United States, touring with his one-man fun fair, hiring whatever casual help he needed in every town he that passed through. Upon a whim, he one day generously decided to allow the populace of Canada the chance to partake of the entertainment he offered. Unfortunately this was done as cheaply as possible and neither the ship nor her crew were sufficient to the task of successfully transporting a heavy steam engine and its attendant fairground rides through the capricious waters of the North Atlantic.

The upshot was, like so many before him, the unfortunate showman found himself stranded on the island of Hopeless, Maine and his crew drowned to a man. Just a dozen yards from the coast sat the shattered remnants of his livelihood, floundering in a half-submerged ship that threatened to disappear with every wave.

 

Sebastian Lypiatt, the landlord of ‘The Squid and Teapot’ rounded up some fellow islanders to help Washpool recover what he could from the wreckage. Over the years Sebastian had been involved in removing some unusual items from the sea but nothing compared with the contents of these latest crates and pallets. Brightly painted wooden ponies and ornate, rope-twisted and gilded poles were brought ashore, along with steps, canopies, garishly decorated boards and a host of other things, the like of which Hopeless had never before seen. These were as nothing, though, compared with the large and outlandish artefacts that the showman literally begged them to save before it was too late. The little party had to float a raft out to the rapidly sinking ship in order to rescue these last surviving, but decidedly awkward, items that seemed, on the face of it, to have little practical use.

The front of one contraption was painted to resemble a theatre, complete with a modestly-sized proscenium arch and artfully painted rococo flourishes. For reasons beyond the comprehension of any of its rescuers, three effete looking effigies in eighteenth century attire were placed along its length. The proscenium itself had curtains drawn tastefully back to reveal brass pipes and a bewildering assortment of gears and cogs. Accompanying this edifice was something that Sebastian recognised – or thought that he recognised. It looked like a miniature version of a ship’s boiler, mounted on wheels. While the volunteers from The Squid and Teapot manfully manoeuvred all of this ashore – not without a certain amount of sweat and profanity – Washpool was retrieving some mysterious looking tomes, all the time muttering to himself about the importance of keeping them dry.

 

To relate to you the full story of the bribes and bargaining, cajoling, shameless

pleading and extravagant promises that Washpool employed to effect the erection and siting of his beloved ‘Galloping Horses’ carousel and steam engine, would swallow up more lines than I have space for here. It’s sufficient to say that, had it not been for the experience of Sebastian Lypiatt, Bill Ebley and one or two non-natives of the island who had seen something of the wider world, none of it would have happened. They managed to transport what remained of the fun fair to the only space flat enough to accommodate it,The Common. There it sat until Washpool had gathered enough fuel to tempt the steam engine back into life.

 

Those who live on Hopeless are used to seeing odd things on a daily basis. Eyes in the sky, spoonwalkers and gnii were fairly familiar sights; as were vampires, werewolves and an assortment of night-stalkers, although, in fairness, most people only see these once. Things invariably take an unpleasant, not to say terminal, turn after that. The spectacle that adorned The Common, however, was unusual in the extreme, even by Hopeless standards. While the galloping horses cavorted around in an endless circle, the resurrected engine that drove it proclaimed its presence by belching smoke and powering the organ housed within the little theatre.  Louder than any siren-song was the stirring music emitted through a series of brass tubes that lay behind the proscenium arch. Gears turned, a flywheel spun and two bass drums were struck by hefty sticks as if by magic. One of the mysterious tomes that Washpool had tried so desperately to keep dry had been unfolded to make a wide ribbon of punch-holed cardboard that raced through the mechanism. It was the soul of the music, though few who saw it would guess as much. One or two of the onlookers were convinced that the effigies on the front of the theatre danced to the melody. My own view is that this had less to do with animatronic marvels than the efficacy of the produce of the Gannicox distillery. The smoke, the noise and a palpable air of excitement drew people from all over the island.  They came in their droves to stare, awe-struck at the spectacle and at at the front of the crowd, goggle-eyed with wonder and excitement, was young Iron Mills.

 

Iron was in love. To him the call of the fairground organ was as bewitching and potent as any melody seductively crooned by a siren. Besides that, unlike sirens, fairground  organs were unlikely to rip you to pieces and devour you, though you could get a nasty burn if you touched one in the wrong place. While the music was somewhat strident and occasionally a little off-key, it was undeniably music. Jubilation! St. Cecilia loved him and had done the business. If not for his gammy leg and a degree of dignity, Iron would probably have been tempted to fall on the floor and start laughing.

It did not take the lad long to a wheedle his way into Washpool’s favour and become an apprentice. He learned the arcane secrets of the showman’s art and the temperamental ways of a steam driven engine. The huge tomes of hole-punched card became as precious as any holy text to him and the upkeep of the carousel a sacred office. The music would play, the carousel rotated and the people would be drawn by the spell of the fun fair. Even the spoonwalkers, puddle rats and dustcats came out to see what the fuss was all about, but this was more to find what they might scavenge than for cultural reasons.

 

Time passed, as time has the curious habit of doing, but the little fun fair never lost any of its allure. The carousel would often stand still and silent for weeks on end until sufficient fuel was found to breathe life into the steam engine. The first puff of white smoke and steamy note would be a clarion call to the islanders; once more The Common would heave with excitement.

When Cosimo Washpool died, many believed that the music would die with him. They had forgotten about Iron Mills, by now a young man, who had worked at Washpool’s side, quietly mastering the idiosyncrasies of the steam engine and maintaining the carousel and organ. It took a little longer to gather fuel alone but in time-honoured tradition, the show went on. And on and on. For fifty long years Iron Mills ran his carousel, never failing to thrill generations of islanders with the marvel than was a steam-driven organ and a simple carousel of galloping horses – wooden, brightly painted creatures as fantastical and outlandish to the eyes of most Hoplessians as a spoonwalker might be to an Eskimo.

In the strange way that language and place-names evolve, The Common, over time became popularly known as Iron Mills’ Common, so closely was the man identified with the place. Eventually even the apostrophe disappeared (in the way that apostrophes often do, that is, when they are not being misplaced).

Of course, today Iron Mills himself is long dead and with his passing, so went the fun fair, for he had no apprentice or assistant. Sadly, there was no one who had been initiated into the mysteries of the mechanisms that kept it running.

If you should go to Iron Mills Common these days you can still see the sad remains of the fun fair, faded, rusted and silent. The cardboard, hole-punched, books that created the music have rotted away and anything worth salvaging from the engine and steam-organ have long ago been scavenged. Puddle rats nest in the engine’s boiler and a small colony of spoonwalkers have taken over the little theatre. The carousel is a mass of ivy; it twists up the tarnished poles and winds around the roof struts. Saddest of all are the wooden horses; they stand as if waiting to gallop once more but many are broken and all are bleached white by the weather.

Shenandoah Nailsworthy, the Night Soil Man, swears that on wild and moonless nights he has sometimes heard thin strains of music coming from the direction of Iron Mills Common. In all probability this is no more than the wind whistling through the few remaining organ pipes. But there again, maybe not. After all, this is Hopeless, Maine.

Art- Tom Brown