There is a certain pleasure in causing them pain. To seduce and betray, to see how much they will suffer before it becomes unbearable to them. Until they beg her to stop. She does not stop, unless it is to prolong the torment.
Melisandra has never found it difficult to make people fall in love with her. Perhaps the hunt would be more compelling if it called for more effort. They fall so easily, into this insane and vulnerable state. It is a mystery to her, she has never felt for herself whatever it is that possesses them, but watching the process is entertaining.
A man can wake into absolute love, and crumple into utter despair in a matter of a few hours. She holds their hearts in her hands. Often this is not a metaphor.
Compulsion is something she does understand. She has been into the sea enough times, enthralled by the unspeakable ones who dwell there. Hunger, she understands perfectly. It is the softness that fascinates her. The wide eyed adoration that insists on seeing her as more than a beautiful monster. They are wrong, of course, but it is a curious experience seeing herself misreflected in their eyes. Melisandra has always enjoyed her own reflection, however distorted it may be.
The hunt is never truly satisfying. The hunger never leaves. No matter how she draws out the process, and regardless of any new variations she brings, it is never enough. In the end the bright eyes dull. The adoration is reduced to blood on her skin and entrails between her fingers. There is no substance to it. No matter how she pulls them apart, she cannot possess what she inspires. It slips from her grasp, perhaps before the dying breath. Their hearts are always mute in the end, and only so much flesh after all.
Ancestry is very much part of the Hopeless Maine story. The Jones family claims to descend from pirates, while the Frog family show every sign of having originated in Innsmouth. The island celebrates its Founding Families.
Unlike most of America, Hopeless was not occupied prior to the arrival of settlers from further afield. In local indigenous languages it is referred to as The Place We Go When We Are Young And Trying To Prove Something. There are four tribes associated with the Maine area and I’ve tried to be careful around both honouring their existence and not putting this story on to them. The island is a silly place to live, and local people know that. The founding had everything to do with white capitalist exploitation of resources, and since the resources went away, has mostly been populated by people from shipwrecks.
On her father’s side, Salamandra is descended from one of the founding families – The O’Stoats. This is a family with a long tradition of murder, and unpleasant occultism, often combined. Her father – Durosimi, is present in the graphic novels and you can find her paternal grandfather in New England Gothic. The grandmother on this side is a significant absence and I might seek out her story at some point.
Salamandra’s mother, Melisandra, is a bit of a psychopath and we also see her in the graphic novels. We meet Balthazar – Melisandra’s father, but her mother has also existed as a significant absence. I’d suspected for a while that she might be a mermaid.
This year we started looking at the mermaid grandmother in earnest. Her name is Alraune – which is German for mandrake. Dr Abbey named her as part of the project we’re working on together. So far, we have one image of her, although clearly there will be more, and it will be interesting to see more of her mermaid form as we progress. It’s also been interesting exploring the dynamics between three generations of magical women, none of whom really get on with each other.
Generally, Melisandra preferred the people no one else could see to the ordinary people who lived on the island. They were more interesting to her, and she was more likely to indulge in conversations with them.
On this particular morning, she was watching a sky ship come in over the dark mountain. Other people might only see layers of cloud, one massive and ominous, with smaller, paler ones flying before it. It always amazed her how much they did not notice. Her father complained bitterly about the difficulty of leaving the island, but Melisandra saw people come and go all the time, in fantastical devices of all kinds. She didn’t blame the visitors for not wanting to bother with anyone else on the island.
She recognised this skyship at once and knew that it belonged to Captain Crystal. He had admired her for some time and made no secret of it. She liked to toy with him, secretly enjoying both his attention and her own dismissive cruelty. From his hovering skycraft, Captain Crystal called out to warn her that the black ones were coming to capture her. It wouldn’t be the first time some strange enemy had tried to stop her.
Melisandra made a fire in her nest, using a small dragon and commanding it to perform fire barking, Captain Crystal landed from his skyship.
He said, “I am a prophet and can see your future”.
She noted that today he was wearing a mask, the effect was rather dashing.
“Have you got any food for me?”Melisandra asked. She was always hungry.
He said, “No food here.”
Melisandra did not hide her disappointment. She turned away from him, watching the flames die down around her.
“Wait,” he said. He had his knife out and in a single swipe, cut his hand off to give to her. He said, “I give you this weapon, when you need food, use it.”
Melisandra noticed something written on the knife – a name. Perhaps it was a message for her. She noticed names on both sides of the knife. Choices to make, perhaps. A prospective husband – if she decided she wanted one of those.
He said, “Choose the man from two. Read your tarot cards for survival. You will have a girl. And you can kill me now if you like.”
She took the knife, although she had never tried to kill anything as large as an adult man before. Still, she was very hungry, and even if she ate his severed hand it would not keep her going for long.
Before she could land a blow, many bone soldiers jumped down from the skyship to protect their captain. They were hideous, and strong, and she wanted to bite them to see how they would taste. She had no idea he had this army, and it impressed her. It made her wonder what other delicious secrets he might be keeping.
“Who are you, really?” she asked.
Captain Crystal laughed at her. He said, “I am a man of apocalypse, and the father of beauty, you will see my daughter, and your daughter too.”
He dismissed his bone soldiers with a single gesture, and she watched them jump into the sky as effortlessly as they had descended. The captain turned his back on her, apparently also leaving to ride in his skyship again.
Melisandra seized the opportunity, swinging the knife hard. The sharpness of it was wonderful to see, as the metal sliced so easily through his neck. She watched his head fall, and bounce on the sand, and wondered why he did not make a fountain of blood. His body did not fall. Instead, he simply stooped to pick up his head.
“You’ll come with me, one day,” he announced. “You’ll belong to me.”
Melisandra knew that she would not belong to anyone. But he might be amusing for a while, and at some point she would perhaps want to leave this place. She watched him ascend, still carrying his head. Offshore, the storm clouds rolled and boiled as they had all morning. She turned her attention to the hand he had left her, and started to gnaw on it. The flesh tasted of the sea, of dry crab and seaweed. There would be reasons for this. The island would be trying to lie to her, to make her think that none of what she’d seen was real, and that there had only ever been crows, and clouds and the long fingerlike legs of some long dead, ocean going crustacean.
(Art by Nimue, text a Nimue/Dr Abbey collaboration)
Melisandra is the monstrous mother of Salamandra, the main character in the Hopeless Maine books. Sometimes these things are just who and how you are – Melisandra’s mother was probably a mermaid, and not the nice sort of mermaid…
It was obvious from very early on that as a motley crew and not an organised studio with a proper budget, we could not approach casting by putting a call out. We would have to find our players. We’d got Reverend Davies. Fortunately, two of the cast were blindingly obvious in terms of who we wanted, so as the project got moving, we got in touch with them to ask if they would be up for it…
I’ve known Loretta Hope since she was a kid. She’s a fantastic human being, an actor, dancer, model and aerialist and more. Multitalented, lovely to deal with and someone who very much looks the part. She’s always been the person I wanted to have playing Annamarie Nightshade. I asked, and she said yes, she would be up for doing this with us. You can find out more about Loretta here – https://lorettahope.co.uk/
There’s some good moody seaside Annamarie relevant content here…
The other obvious choice was asking Suna Dasi to play Melisandra. Singer, dancer, voice actress and longstanding supporter of Hopeless Maine, it had to be her. She agreed, so that was all charmingly straightforward!
That left two characters to find. We needed a young man with circus or combat skills to be our Blind Fisherman. We wracked our brains, and came up with nothing. Loretta couldn’t find anyone suitable in her circus circles. We asked other circus folk… and eventually the perfect young man appeared. More of him soon.
Our other missing cast member was Durosimi, and it eventually dawned on us that he had been staring us in the face all along…