Tag Archives: shipwreck

The Little Ship of Horrors

The islanders of Hopeless, Maine, are used to finding items of flotsam and jetsam washed up upon their shores. Indeed, without the bounty that the ocean provides, they would all be very much poorer. Everything salvageable is salvaged and, as often mentioned in these tales, much of that which is not immediately wanted finds its way into the attics of ‘The Squid and Teapot’.
While the sad, splintered remnants of once proud, ocean-going ships can often be discovered strewn upon the rocks, it is rare that a craft of any size, in apparently perfectly good working order, sails into safe harbour. It was something of a surprise, therefore, when Bartholomew Middlestreet spotted a four masted Tudor galleon anchored close to shore. Of course, Bartholomew had no idea that she was Tudor, only that she was old – very old, with a high aftcastle and a long, prominent beakhead. Bartholomew had never heard these terms, but had occasionally seen pictures of such ships.
To survive the waters around Hopeless was, in itself, remarkable, but for a vessel of such obvious antiquity, it was more than remarkable; it was downright spooky! Nevertheless, spooky or no, it did not take long for a few hardy souls to brave the waves, not to mention other dangers, to see if she contained anything worth having. However, without sufficient means to scale her wooden walls it was decided to catch the tide and physically drag her on to the rocks the following morning.
Practicality will always trump all other considerations on Hopeless. While you or I might be less than enthusiastic about purposely scuppering a perfectly preserved Tudor Galleon, on the off-chance that she might be carrying anything as mundane as a consignment of turnips, or even Spanish doubloons or French brandy, Hopelessians are nothing like as squeamish. They just can’t afford to be.
Early the next morning, with the tide coming in, a sizeable party had assembled with ropes and grappling hooks to drag the little ship ashore (and believe me, by modern standards she was tiny, which makes you wonder how the sailors, who sailed with Drake and Raleigh on their epic voyages, coped in such close and unhygienic proximity… but I digress. Back to the tale).

Whether it was by luck or divine providence, the ship squeezed comfortably into harbour between the rocks with barely a scratch on her hull. Without more ado some of the younger and more athletic of the islanders scrambled nimbly up the ropes, with the intention of having first grabs on whatever they might find, but none even reached as far as the main deck. They were stopped in their tracks by a seething gobbet of goodness-knows-what that covered the decks and crawled up the masts.
Imagine, if you will, a stinking ghastly grey-green jelly that bubbled and belched obscenely, occasionally throwing up tentacles and tendrils which would writhe and grope at whatever was in its way, only to sink once more into the foul amorphous mass from whence it had emerged.
The onlookers could only stare in horror, hanging on to the ropes for dear life and taking care not to set foot anywhere near the vile spectacle playing out before them.
“That’s gruesome,” muttered Ezra Owlpen.
“And I reckon it’s going to grow some more before long,” agreed his brother, Nehemiah, observing a particularly adventurous tendril curl its way up the mainmast and attempt to unfurl a sail.

As it happened, Nehemiah was to be proved correct. As the day wore on the gunge that covered the deck thickened and grew, its tentacular arms sometimes slipping over the sides of the ship and threatening to reach out and grab anyone careless enough to stand too close. When night drew in the whole tableau took on an eerie luminescence. Rhys Cranham, the Night Soil Man, stood on the cliffs immediately above the galleon and shuddered. He had witnessed some terrifying and uncanny sights during his working life, but none so awful as this. The tentacles and tendrils still writhed as before, but now and then a variety of almost human figures would be thrown up, each one with flailing arms and a gaping mouth, frozen in a soundless scream. They would thrash and flounder for a few seconds, then sink once more into the heaving morass. Rhys stood transfixed, not wanting to watch but unable to shift his gaze from that dreadful and demonic vision. Only with the weak blush of the Hopeless dawn did they stop their tortured dance, and Rhys could move once more, feeling sickened and tired and ten years older.

Everyone gave the area around the Little Ship of Horrors, as it became known, a wide berth. Even Rhys avoided walking the nearby headland, for fear of what new terrors might yet assail his eyes. Then one day, about a week after the ship was first spotted, the Owlpen brothers plucked up the courage to go and see what was happening.

“There’s nothing there any more,” said Ezra, to the large group squeezed into the bar of The Squid and Teapot. “A few planks and that’s about it.”
“What about the cannon? I definitely saw cannons. They can’t have washed away?” said Norbert Gannicox.
“It’s like Ezra said,” replied Nehemiah, “there’s next to nothing left. And the gunge is gone too.”
“But where has it gone?” muttered Norbert.
An ominous silence descended. There were more than enough abominations lurking on Hopeless; no one wanted to wake up and find themselves being consumed by a carnivorous jelly.
“I say we find every scrap of what’s left of that ship and burn it,” said Bartholomew. “It might not do any good, but it certainly won’t do any harm.”
There was a general babble of agreement and spirits brightened considerably when Bartholomew added,
“And a pint of ‘Old Colonel’ on the house for everybody.”

It seemed as if the whole island had turned out to gather up whatever scraps of the ship they might find, and destroy them. Remarkably, even Reverend Davies and Doc Willoughby thought it important enough to find a window in their busy schedules and join in. This was almost unheard of, and, on reflection, it would have been better if the Doc had stayed in bed. From the moment he set foot on the shore a strange light shone in his eyes and, eschewing all other company, Doc walked almost robotically to a lonely stretch of beach, as if pulled along by some unseen force. Was it by chance that he found the plank with the name of the ship inscribed upon it in gold lettering? With uncharacteristic glee, and finding previously untapped reserves of energy, he dragged it home, unseen by the others. Muttering and cackling to himself like a man possessed (which is possibly what he was) he laid the weather-beaten plank in the darkest corner of his cellar and locked the door. That night, by the light of a tallow candle, Doc Willoughby went down to gaze at his prize, his eyes glittering with a mixture of pride and awe and no small amount of temporary insanity. He knew that in some, but as yet unknown way, it was more than fate that had brought ‘Mary Willoughby’ to the shores of Hopeless, Maine.
To be continued…

The Deal

“I used to be somebody, once.”
Geoffrey Stancombe stared miserably into the dregs of beer pooling in the bottom of his tankard.
Philomena Bucket patted his shoulder consolingly,
“You still are somebody, you daft thing. Sure, if you weren’t, I couldn’t be seeing you sat sitting there, now could I?”
“No, I mean really somebody. I used to have it all. Money, power, a girl on each arm. It’s all gone… all gone.”
The other drinkers in the bar of the Squid and Teapot said nothing. They had heard it all before. This had been a regular lament of Geoffrey’s ever since he had washed up on the island a few days earlier, boasting of his luxury yacht and expensive clothes. All his rescuers could see was a slightly built, wild-eyed man of middle-age, who had arrived bedraggled, half-dead and clinging to a rectangular piece of wood that had once been a door. In fairness, Geoffrey was not that unusual. Newcomers frequently made improbable claims, citing wealth and position but – even if these were true – such things cut no ice on Hopeless. Anyone who managed to survive more than a few weeks would be simply judged by their ability to fit in, and the ways in which they might contribute to the benefit of all. So far it looked as though Geoffrey was doomed to fail on both counts.

It was half a lifetime ago that he had met the stranger who had turned his destiny upon its head. He had been sitting in a dockside pub in Liverpool, drowning his sorrows in a smoke-filled bar, when she sidled up and offered to buy him a drink. Geoffrey was well aware that he was being set-up for some scam or other, but he was slightly drunk, down to his last few pounds and she was young and attractive; what was there to lose? Several more drinks were taken before she made her play. He could recall their conversation as if it was yesterday.
“I’ll give you twenty-four.”
“Oh, come on! I was hoping for at least forty.”
“Sorry, twenty-four or the deal’s off.”
“But why? I’ve heard that you’ve offered hundreds in the past.”
“That, as you rightly say, was in the past. I cannot afford to be so generous these days. Times have changed.”

Geoffrey remembers himself hesitating, until the stranger purred softly in his ear,
“Look… it is an excellent bargain. You’d be a fool to walk away from it.”
He felt himself weakening.
“And you would meet all of my demands?” he asked
“Oh yes. I am not out to swindle you.”
“And I get twenty-four years.”
“Twenty-four years and not a minute less,” she smiled. “It’s a small price to pay.”

When you, yourself, are only twenty-four years old and are offered the same span again, pain-free, trouble-free, debt-free and guilt-free, it feels like a no-brainer. You are standing in the very centre of a story, your own story. Your life, so far, feels long and endless. Much of it is a blur, or something viewed through the wrong end of a telescope. Time has been slow and kind, a sluggish stream that never reached birthdays, Christmas and school holidays quite soon enough. So you reason that future time will equally languid. Forty years would have been good but, hell, in forty years you would be really, really ancient and probably in no fit state to enjoy the extra time afforded to you anyway. No, twenty-four years of luxury would be good enough.

“What a fool I was,” Geoffrey thought bitterly, not realising that he had said the words out loud.
“And why a fool?” asked Philomena, sitting down opposite him.
Geoffrey said nothing for a moment. The easy way in which Philomena’s voice had sidled into his head, shattering his reverie, reminded him of the young woman in the pub in Liverpool. But there the resemblance ended.
“Can you come and walk with me a while?” he asked her, almost shyly. “It’s nothing that I want to speak of in here.”
“Give me a moment,” said Philomena, “I’ve a couple of things to finish off, than I’ll be with you.”

They walked in silence for a while, making their way in the direction of Chapel Rock.
Philomena slipped her arm into the crook of his. It felt the right thing to do.
Geoffrey told her about the conversation in the pub and the bargain that he had struck. He told her how his life had changed, almost immediately. Everything he wanted was suddenly available. Nothing was beyond his grasp. For years this hedonistic lifestyle seemed wonderful then one day, not so long ago, he woke up and realised that his existence was a totally empty sham. He had no friends or lovers, just a great many people who were attracted only to his wealth and power. Everything had gone sour and all that was left were his possessions, each one no more than a lifeless trinket, a symbol of his squandered years. To make matters worse, time itself had somehow forgotten how to dawdle. He had failed to notice how the lazy stream of his remembered youth had become a raging torrent that cruelly and casually swept away twenty-three years and eleven months in the blinking of an eye. The bargain he had made granted him twenty-four years and not a minute less. Now all that was left was one month and not a minute more. He was terrified.
Geoffrey fell silent. Minutes that felt like hours slipped by. Unable to bear it any longer, Philomena asked,
“So what did you do?”
“I ran away. Leastways, I sailed away. I had a yacht and a crew of three to sail her. But there was a storm. That’s all I remember until I found myself on this island. I suppose the crew must all be dead by now.”
“But you escaped… whatever it was you were running from.”
“Do you think so?” he said, brightening up.
“I guess it depends on how long you were at sea,” Philomena said, then added, “I’ve got to get back to The Squid now. I’ll catch up with you later. I’m sure everything will be fine.”

When Philomena arrived back at The Squid and Teapot she found Bartholomew Middlestreet sitting at a table, in the now empty bar, playing solitaire.
“What was that all about with Geoffrey?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” said Philomena pensively. “What he told me was difficult to believe, yet there was something…”
“Well, those things he said in here about being rich and powerful, not a word of it is true.” Bartholomew interrupted. “But I’m not calling him a liar – I think he’s genuinely deluded.”
“Well, that’s a relief, anyway” said Philomena, thinking of the story Geoffrey had told her. “But how can you be so sure?”
“When we found him I could have sworn he was dead,” sad Bartholomew. “There was no pulse that I could feel, then suddenly he sits bolt upright, throws up a great stream of water and asks where he is. They say that drinking sea-water drives people mad and I guess that’s what happened to Geoffrey. Besides, the girl who turned up the following day says that they were part of the crew of the yacht that floundered on the rocks off Scilly Point. They were the only survivors.”
“At least the bit about the yacht was true, even if it didn’t belong to him,” said Philomena. “I didn’t know about the girl, though. Where is she now?”
“I haven’t seen her since then,” said Philomena replied Bartholomew. “Odd that. Most newcomers stay here in the Squid.”

Geoffrey didn’t return to the Squid that evening, or ever again. He seemed to have vanished completely. The general feeling was that, in the state of mind that he was in, anything could have happened. Philomnena was sad but not surprised. Such things occurred on Hopeless with monotonous regularity and all thoughts of Geoffrey and his talk of a mysterious deal eventually faded from her mind.

It was a some months later, while rummaging in the attics of The Squid, looking for something to read, that Philomena found the following passage in a slim book of short stories. For reasons she could not fathom, it made her blood run cold:

A rich man, living in Baghdad, sent his servant to market, as he did most weeks. When the servant came back, his face was pale and his hands trembled. His kindly master could not help but be concerned and asked the cause of his distress.
“When I was in the marketplace,” the servant replied with a shaking voice, “I spotted a woman in the crowd. I recognised her at once – she was Death. She looked at me with surprise and it seemed as though she was threatening me. My heart missed a beat. I was certain that it was I whom she sought. Oh, beloved master, I must flee from this city if I am to avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra where Death will not find me.”
“Take my fastest horse,” said the rich man “and ride like the wind.”
The next day the rich man went down to the marketplace himself, and who should he see but Death, mingling in the crowd.
“Why were you so surprised to see my servant when you saw him yesterday? He seemed to think that you were threatening him” said the rich man to Death.
“It is true, I was surprised, but there was no threat intended,” agreed Death. “You see, I did not expect to see him in Baghdad yesterday, for I had an appointment with him last night in Samarra.”

Shipwrecking on Hopeless, Maine

The fog by night is darker, deeper, shrouding everything. No stars shine through, no moonlight glimmers. All sounds are muted, colours dim, here is no hope here. No hope at all. Only cold and damp malevolence.

On the mist shrouded, grave dark sea, a boat shatters its hull against the malice of rocks. Hungry water sucks the living down, until only one remains, kept afloat by a large tea chest and drifting towards dawn and the shore.

James Weaselgrease shipwrecks on the shores of Hopeless, Maine. A man of science, he is in no way prepared to deal with all the folklore and songs of the supernatural. He’s even less prepared for the island’s ghosts, and other uncanny residents!

We’re shipwrecking at Festival at the Edge this summer, all being well, with a new Hopeless Maine project and an hour long performance. More about the festival here – https://www.festivalattheedge.org/

Philomena Bucket

 

Philomena Bucket had found it easy to stow away aboard the merchant vessel Hetty Pegler’, as she lay anchored in the Coal Quay of Cork. It had been almost as easy as Philomena’s decision to leave Ireland for good and seek fame and fortune as an artist in the United States of America.  That, unfortunately, was where ‘easy’ came to an abrupt halt. It took just three days for her to be discovered. Racked by hunger and confident, though misguided, in her belief that the ship would be deserted in the early hours, Philomena crept on all-fours from her hiding place in the hold, only to come face to face, or rather, face to knees, with the first mate, who was attending to his duties as middle-watchman.  It took very little time for Philomena to learn that here was a man who had little room for freeloaders on the ship and would happily have thrown her overboard. Fortunately, however, his respect for the chain of command overcame his natural instincts.

Captain Longdown was cut from a different cloth to his second-in-command. He had been at sea for forty years, had a weak heart and really did not want any more difficulty than was avoidable. To the first mate’s barely concealed disgust, he treated the waif-like creature, unceremoniously hauled before him, with great leniency. It was tricky enough keeping his crew in order at the best of times, without having this young woman aboard. Despite her bone-white pallor and long, snowy tresses, he could see that standing before him was a beauty, albeit an odd one, who could cause more than her fair share of trouble if left to wander about his ship.

“You can get off at the first landfall,” he said, not unkindly. “In the meantime, please keep out of the way.” He waved his hand dismissively, “Just go back into the hold, or wherever it was that you were hiding. I’ll get food brought down to you.”

Not wishing to advertise the presence of the strangely attractive stowaway, the captain entrusted the task of conveying her meals to the less-than-amused first mate, who fumed quietly. It was bad enough for a stowaway to be aboard, but for him, second only to the captain in rank, having to wait upon her was untenable.

From Philomena’s point of view, things were not too bad. She was enjoying a better quality of food and shelter than she had ever known. Staying out of sight was a small price to pay. The only fly in the ointment was a sudden attack of hay fever, which, in this enclosed space and hundreds of miles from the nearest land, puzzled her. The truth was that ‘Hetty Pegler ‘ had previously conveyed a cargo of raw cotton from Virginia, the spores of which still stubbornly fluttered around the rotund casks of Irish whiskey now gracing the hold. The result was that her previously pink, albino eyes were now quite red and her sense of smell seemed to have abandoned her altogether.

It was fully three weeks into the voyage that things started to go awry. A violent storm blew up from nowhere, mercilessly lashing the merchant ship and sweeping a young seaman overboard. For two hectic days the storm refused to abate. A ripped section of the foresail came free from the gaskets. It took four men to climb the rigging to secure the sail but only three returned. The other fell to his death, sprawled like a stringless puppet upon the deck. When, at last, the depleted crew breathed a weary sigh of relief as the tempest eventually blew itself out, an extra rum ration was distributed. Their troubles, however, were far from over. They had been blown far off course and it was not many days later, picking their way gingerly through the many islands peppering the coast of Maine, that the Captain Longdown, succumbing to his heart condition, watched the sun sink over the yardarm for the last time and quietly died. Command of ‘Hetty Pegler’ passed to the first mate, a man, we have already learned, not known for his tender heart.

 

The captain’s body was still cooling when the recently promoted first mate dragged Philomena up on to the deck. Stunned and blinking in the sunlight, she winced as he grasped her roughly by the wrist.

“Here is the cause of all of our troubles. This albino witch has cursed this voyage and all the time your oh-so-tender-hearted captain just stood by and let her do it.”

The superstitious crew muttered angrily as they saw, for the first time, the pale, fragile beauty being paraded, humiliatingly, before them.

“Even now she casts some sort of spell. Look at the fog curling up around us. This is not natural.”

The sailors looked and had to agree that the thick mist that had suddenly engulfed them was quite unlike anything they had ever experienced. Its murky tendrils, sinuous and smoky, curled over the ship’s sides, slithering up the masts and coldly caressing their legs. One could, indeed, be forgiven for believing it to be an enchantment, for the crew, to a man, stared in absolute silence, totally mesmerized by the ghostly fog. They quite forgot that their ship, now almost becalmed, was quietly inching forward through dark and hazardous waters. Only when the agonised scream of tortured timbers being reduced to matchwood shattered their reverie, did they realise that they had hit a submerged reef. The ‘Hetty Pegler’ was sinking.

“Abandon ship. Get to the lifeboats” yelled the mate, quite unnecessarily as it happened; the self-same thought had occurred to everyone else.

Philomena suddenly found herself alone, standing on the deck of a doomed ship. She could just make out the blurred forms of the retreating lifeboats. Despite the fact that everyone else had apparently escaped unscathed, there seemed to be an inexplicable amount of noise and commotion coming from their general direction. Terrified screams and huge splashes, as if a large object was being smashed to a thousand pieces by an even larger object, filled her ears. She strained her eyes, still sore from the hay fever, to see through the creeping fog and ascertain what, exactly, might be causing such a disturbance. Mercifully, they failed her and she was spared the spectacle of a gaping beak and long, thick tentacles writhing from the churning ocean, savagely ripping apart the fleeing lifeboats and their gibbering occupants.

It was less than a minute later that the wreck of the ‘Hetty Pegler’ came to an abrupt halt, with her wooden walls still intact, by and large, and bobbing about just above the waterline. Philomena’s feet were barely damp. She gazed about her with a mixture of relief and puzzlement. The ship appeared to have run aground on an island. Had the crew known how close they were to safety and not acted so hastily, they could have reached the shore with ease. Why, there were even lit candles, tiny beacons that would have guided them in. It was almost as though they were expected. She could not help but notice other lights, too. They seemed to be moving, as if with a purpose, yet high in the sky, barely discernible through the murky air. Wading thigh-deep through the chilly waters, Philomena wondered to herself how such a thing might be done but immediately dismissed the question from her mind, as the more pressing problem of getting dry and finding shelter occupied her. Stepping on to terra firma, she sneezed violently three times. Despite this, the cotton pollen that had insinuated itself deep into her nasal passages was determined not to move.

Within the hour, night had fallen and a weak, sickly moon peered through the misty sky. Philomena had made slow progress. She found herself walking a dark and rocky path that she fervently hoped led somewhere. Anywhere that had four walls – three walls, even – and a roof of some sort, would suffice. She was frozen. Her wet dress clung heavily to her pale legs and seemed to be getting heavier by the second. It was almost as if something was trying to drag her to the ground. She looked down and stifled a small squeal. Something was!

Welcome to Hopeless, Maine, Philomena Bucket.

To be continued…

 

By Martin Pearson-art by Tom Brown

An Ill Wind

In the month of March, 1888, one of the most severe blizzards in the recorded history of the United States raged along the east coast of the country, causing devastation from Chesapeake Bay to Maine. The storm claimed the lives of more than four hundred people. At least twenty-five percent of these casualties were seamen, lost to the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean. This is not surprising, taking into consideration that an estimated two hundred ships were either wrecked or grounded over a period of two days.

Where there are shipwrecks, there are, invariably, spoils to be had. Regular readers of ‘The  Vendetta’ will doubtless guess that some of these spoils found their way to the grateful shores of that somewhat strange and foggy island, Hopeless, Maine.

 

Harriet Butterow and Petunia Middlestreet stood knee-deep in icy-cold water. They were anxious to drag a large wooden crate ashore. Neither woman had any clue as to what the crate may have contained but it did not really matter. What could not be eaten, or modified for personal use, could be bartered. On this impoverished island nothing was ever wasted. Try as they might, however, the crate was reluctant to move.

The two young women had a lot in common; Harriet was a single mother and Petunia a widow. Besides having had a friendship which started in childhood, they also shared the bond of motherhood. Both had young daughters who, for today, were in the care of Petunia’s elderly father-in-law, the kindly Bartholomew Middlestreet, landlord of The Squid and Teapot. Harriet and Petunia were secure in the knowledge that their daughters, Amelia Butterow and Lilac Middlestreet, were in safe but albeit, somewhat arthritic, hands.

Like many islanders, it was news of the several shipwrecks littering the coastline that had the pair braving the bitingly cold March morning and looking to salvage as much of the precious wreckage as possible. After the long winter, supplies of everything were low on Hopeless and while the loss of so many lives was deeply regrettable, the islanders could only marvel at their good fortune when they saw the extent of the bounty that the storm had provided. All that was needed now was to bring it safely ashore – a task easier said than done.

It sometimes feels that Tragedy is a trickster always waiting in the wings and never missing an opportunity to show its face; sadly, that face is one that the people of Hopeless are more than familiar with. Even so, none are really ever prepared for it to appear.

The sea had seemed unexpectedly calm that morning, especially after the raging nor’ easterlies that had angered it over the previous few days. Anyone who has lived or worked on the water will tell you that a change of wind direction can achieve that in just a few hours. And that same person would also caution you to be wary; wary of both a capricious sea and all that it contained.

 

Amos Gannicox smiled to himself as he waved to Harriet. He had been on the island for almost four years now and had every intention of winning her heart completely before another year had passed. He was a patient man and felt sure that his patience would pay off before too long. He was well aware that Harriet still harboured hopes that Amelia’s father – who she genuinely believed to be a Selkie – would return to her, but almost seven years had passed since he had left and this seemed most unlikely.

Lost in his own thoughts Amos was brought back to reality by a sudden scream. No – two screams.

An icy hand gripped his heart. A few seconds ago two young women had stood in the water, laughing and care-free. Now they were gone. Look as he might, there was no sign of either. All that remained was the crate which they had been trying to shift. Amos scanned the shoreline frantically. This could not be – he had only taken his gaze off the object of his affections for a few seconds. Panic stricken he ran towards the spot where they had been standing. Others were running too, frantically shouting the women’s names but it was soon obvious that searching would be futile. They had disappeared completely. The ocean, or something dwelling within it, had claimed them.

 

Bartholomew Middlestreet was devastated. Although the shadow of death always stalked the island, he never imagined that his daughter-in-law would be taken before he was and now it fell upon his old shoulders to tell two little girls that they had become orphans. Lilac, at three years old seemed too young to understand but Amelia Butterow, aged six, took it badly. So badly, in fact, that she was literally dumbstruck. The truth is that the girl never uttered another word for the remainder of her days. It is a strange coincidence for, as regular readers will recall, her father,who was of the seal-people, a Selkie, was never heard to speak either.

 

Bartholomew was resolved to look after the girls himself; he had no intention of either of them going to the orphanage. The running of The Squid and Teapot would have to be left to Tobias Thrupp. Tobias, shipwrecked at the same time as Amos Gannicox, had been living there for four years and had done little enough, so far, to pay for his keep.

 

Ten years slipped by; ten years that saw The Squid and Teapot decline in every way. Bartholmew Middlestreet devoted himself wholly to the well-being and education of the girls, oblivious to everything else, including the fact that Thrupp was dragging his beloved inn into certain ruin. Then, one day in the final year of the century, a strange thing happened. Bartholomew, Lilac and Amelia disappeared without a trace. And no one noticed!

 

Whether Bartholomew died of natural causes, or by Thrupp’s hand, is unclear, but die he certainly did. One can only surmise as to the cause. What is known, however, is that a corpse left outside for a night on the headland is unlikely to still be there by daybreak. The age-old problem of disposing of the body is no problem at all on Hopeless.

As the old man had been absent from the inn for so long, ownership of The Squid passed seamlessly to Thrupp. The girls, too, had not been seen for years and were all but forgotten. Such disappearances, while unfortunate, are not uncommon on this island.

 

In unearthing and relating these tales for you it sometimes feels as though I am putting together a vast and complex jigsaw puzzle, filling intriguing gaps in the picture as each new piece comes to hand. Like any jigsaw, this one has areas filled with light and clarity; it also contains great sweeps of darkness. The rest of this tale is, I fear, one such piece, darker and more dreadful than any other I know, or, indeed, ever wish to know.

 

To be continued…

Art by Tom Brown

Shipwreck!

Shipwreck on the North Coast
Shipwreck on the North Coast

 

Last Friday, the evening tides carried in more debris than usual, including several dead bodies (unidentified and now buried). It appears that a small ship of unknown origin hit the rocks on our north coast. Various intrepid folk have been out to the wreck, bringing back all kinds of interesting goods. I remind all readers that scavenging rules are simple – finders keepers. Anything washed up on the beaches belongs to the person who manages to make off with it. Rumours of coffee and chocolate led to scenes of brawling over the weekend, but no lasting damage done. Mithra Stubbs at the Black Swann Bakery claims to have shipwreck coffee for sale, by the mug. Having sampled it myself, I can’t say that it tastes any different from the stuff she usually sells. Perhaps this means that Mithra’s ersatz coffee is especially convincing. I wouldn’t want to suggest outright that one of our fair citizens might be lying through her teeth, but there is scope for doubt here.