Tag Archives: short fiction

Journal of Doctor Hedley Case

First Entry

I have found myself somewhat delayed in my jaunt to the colonies. Our ship ran aground in the middle of the night and gave us all a terrible fright! Fortunately I was able to get to the life boats in plenty of time, so much so in fact, that I was able to bring quite a few of my books along. I really must thank Mother dearest for splashing out on the top notch rooms so close to the lifeboats. I’m not sure how many of the crew made it out, but there does seem to be decidedly less of us, oh well!

Fortune smiles upon me a second time, the Island is inhabited! However, the locals seem very odd. They were eyeing us from a distance. But being the “man of the world” I am, I marched up to the crowd and introduced myself with all the gusto I could muster. “I am Doctor Hedley Case, pleased to meet you all!”

I won them over in an instant! I’ve never seen such a miraculous change in demeanour. “Doctor!?” they said “We’ve needed a man like you on the island” and helped to carry both my scientific journals and the more maimed of the survivors to the town proper.

Almost everyone seemed to want to buy me a drink, which would have been marvellous, but for the exotic beverages they drink here. What do you do to beer to turn it green? I could not identify a single flavour. Never mind, “when in Rome” and all that. Fortunately, my public school background means I have excellent gag reflex control and could act perfectly natural.

I have a feeling I’m going to really enjoy my time on this jolly little Island.

Second Entry

Tragedy and woe. All that was looking up is now obscured by the bleak sphincter of despair.

One of the townsfolk insisted on escorting me to where he said I would be “working,” as if a man of my breeding did such things. But try as I might to explain to the little chap that I would not be staying on the island for long, he seemed impervious to the very notion I would ever leave.

He took me to the residence of one Doctor Willoughby. What an inscrutable fellow. Before he had even laid eyes upon me I’m sure he had made his mind up to dislike me.

He was curious to know all about my Doctorial experience. So I regaled him on all my academic achievements. Studies into the darkest regions of the mind! Modern science attempting to dissect the human soul and understand its inner workings. Truly I stand as a man at the threshold of a bold new frontier.

His reply wounded me as if he had cut me with one of his wretched knives. “So you’re not a real Doctor”. What backwards terrible dark age have I been marooned upon?! It was worse than talking to Father. Psychoanalysis maybe in its infancy, but to dismiss it so callously as poppycock?! The silly old fool! This man has clearly never read the works of Cidney Fraud.

Well, that was it. The whole town changed before my eyes. Where everyone had been so generous in offering me food and bed to sleep upon, now they are asking me to kindly remove my belongings and shove off!

It’s a bloody good thing my pursuit of knowledge has given me such a robust and enduring mind. A normal man would have been rocked by such harsh rejection. Yes, he’d be rather upset I’d say.

Third entry.

*This page is indecipherably water damaged. As if someone has spent a great deal of time crying over it.*

Forth entry.

I have found a mostly unoccupied and mostly upright abandoned house in the less trendy part of town. I think this will suit me just fine as temporary accommodation. By my reckoning it will be two weeks before our ship is reported missing. A Further four weeks before news could reach Mother, and then a further three weeks till rescue. I just have to hold on until then.

Fifth entry.

Catching something to eat isn’t working out as well as I envisaged. If I am going to eat again in the next few months, I am going to need a job. It can’t be that hard. I’m sure I have a cousin who had a job for a few weeks; it practically runs in the family. I shall play to my strengths. I’m going into town to find someone mentally disturbed that needs analysing.

Sixth entry.

Off to a good start! This town has a wealth of disturbed and unhappy people. My first patient, Mr Derrick Jones is a veritable encyclopaedia of problems. He is plagued with vivid nightmares that his mother is trying to feed him to a sea monster with big wavy tentacles.

Well, it couldn’t get any more rudimentary than that for dream interpretation! So I confronted him head-on. To rip the bandage off, as it were!

“I say, good fellow, do you worry about the size of your Johnson?”

He was so overcome with both conscious and subconscious emotional realisations that he accidentally lashed out punching me square in the face. After committing such a social faux pas he stormed off, no doubt overwhelmed by the revelation I bestowed upon him.

Fortunately, I have decided that all consultations must be paid for in advance to mitigate the effects of such extreme reactions. Thus tonight I dine upon something very turnip like but with more eyes.

Seventh Entry

Hugo survived the shipwreck! He was found later than the rest of us on account of there being no room in any of the lifeboats. The poor Devil had to swim to shore. The careless chap has lost an arm somewhere along the way. He never did seem to have any luck the poor old bean.

He was ranting about a malicious rumour among the survivors. Apparently, someone took up a large proportion of a boat with books, leaving less room for people.

I have moved my books to the attic for safe measure. Unbalanced people can sometimes overreact in preposterous ways when they are emotional. I suspect Hugo may have been breastfed for too long the poor fellow.

Still, the public school boys are reunited! What a force we shall become. I have already encouraged him to start to repairing and maintaining the house if I am to peddle my skills to earn us coin.

Eighth entry.

Hugo really is being impossible. He is taking forever to fix the hole in the kitchen wall. His excuse? “It’s very difficult to hammer in nails with only one arm”. With such an attitude he will never overcome adversity. I am refusing to help him in anyway so that he can grow as a person. He really is very lucky to have such a supportive friend in me.

Ninth Entry.

I’m having a surprisingly difficult time in helping the residents of Hopeless Maine. None of them seem to be responding to my therapy sessions in the way that’s laid out in Fraud’s case studies. Indeed, I felt so exasperated listening to Mrs Cheesewright’s problems I exclaimed “Well I think I would be pretty traumatised if I had been through all that! That’s ridiculous!” She said it was the most helpful session yet, even though I didn’t in anyway manage to connect the trauma to her parents. I am at a loss.

Tenth Entry.

The residents of Hopeless Maine are clearly too demented for just a “talking cure”, I’m going to have to find helpful medicines on the island through trial and error.

Hugo isn’t talking to me at the moment. He lost an eye trying to hold a nail in place with his teeth. The trauma is causing his anger to misdirect at me of all people. Sometimes, being the only person to truly understand the human mind can be a lonely existence.

Eleventh Entry.

I have selected an interesting assortment of plants, fungi and …other to experiment with their possible medicinal effects. I shall begin trials today. I’ll show that so called Doctor Willoughby who’s qualified!

Twelfth Entry

The Ocean has been explaining to me why everyone is so unhappy. It’s the miasma in the air. I have created an air tight fortress by putting the duvet over my head and asking it to hold its breath.

Hugo has outdone himself being passive aggressive this time. He inflated his head to three times its normal size, melded into an armchair and then refused to do the washing up.

Thirteenth Entry.

I now see a massive flaw in my drug trials. I’m already a picture of perfect mental health. There can be no point in studying the effects of those drugs on me. I need to study the effects on someone who requires mental correction.

Fourteenth Entry.

I spotted Derrick Jones leaving something outside my front door this morning. He had left a human skull! How wonderful! I have longed for one of these for my office. I have begun drawing the diagrams on its delightful dome so I can be the proud owner of a Phrenology head. The sweet man must have felt dreadful after bashing me. Gosh, it feels really wonderful to be appreciated.

Fifteenth Entry.

The blue mushrooms with indigo fins are deadly poisonous. Another secret of this unforgiving landscape uncovered by yours truly.

Hugo’s funeral was a touching event. That Reverend Davis seems pretty glum though. I left a few of my cards at the orphanage in case he wants to make an appointment to talk about it.

The house seems much bigger and more solemn now. Still just as drafty! I shall have to get a man in to accomplish what poor Hugo could not.

Sixteenth Entry

That Damn Mrs Beaten! I go through the sufferance of attempting to explain psychoanalysis to a Woman, (which is of course completely futile) and she spurns my polite gesture and starts a damn crusade against me.

The front page headline of the Vendetta today reads “All feelings are obscene”, Mrs Beaten goes on to clarify that it’s okay to express feelings of moral outrage and at certain times disapproval and disappointment, especially where children are concerned.

She has smeared my practice as “nonsense at best” and at worst “corrosive to the moral fabric of society”. She asks, “If we start asking people how they feel, soon we might start asking them what they want! Where will it end?”

Well, this is me well and truly dashed. I always knew it would be a woman that would be the death of me, but this is even more depressing than even I dared imagine.

 

Here, we welcome the utterly brilliant poet, Rebecca Willson to the island. As this proves, she also has a penchant for comic prose! The art may have been done by Tom Bown (possibly)

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Hopeless Friendship

The sloop drifted, dull brown timbers on grey waves. Its sails were rags, the portholes in the little forward cabin were dark. No hands held the wheel. And yet, it seemed to holding some sort of course. Not entirely direct and not swift, but with the cresting of each wave it drew slowly closer to Hopeless and the low earth cliff that lay to be devoured by the hungry sea.

Standing on the rank grass at the cliff edge was the pilgrim. He watched the sloop coldly. He did everything coldly these days. The warmth of life had left him. It was his own fault, he had thought that he understood the nature of the world and had been wrong. Now he was stranded between life and death and only his quest for the light at the end of the world could sustain him.

Friendship, he thought, was a peculiar name for a boat. Friendship was about warmth and laughter and human contact. There was, in his experience, little warmth or human contact with a boat. Cold loneliness had been his experience.

And every journey had to be paid for.

The ship of the weird sisters had demanded a sword in payment. The Demeter had taken every life aboard, and who knows what price the crew and passengers of the Marie Celeste had paid.

The pilgrim, in life, had always been in favour of payment in advance. This was no exception, and as he watched the boat approaching he found his thoughts driven back to another boat, on a different sea.

It had been the shortest day of winter, when the pilgrim had chartered passage on an open boat (known as a Billy Boy) from the Humber to Boston. The first Boston that is, the one in England. They had set off in the early evening from the old whaling quay at Hull and followed the coast south. It was full dark when they reached the Boston Deeps and the pilgrim began the ritual that was the true purpose of the journey. Singing loudly and joyfully, he praised the oceans and cast flowers upon the water. He spoke in rhymes of his love of the wind and water. With tears of passion in his eyes, he cried out in ecstasy.

By the time they reached the Haven, he was spent. Looking out across the marshes, to the place of the skraeings, he saw lights fly up into the sky amid strange guttural howls. The pilgrim shuddered, wondering if his gifts were not enough. But then a new sound drifted across the water. A voice, high and keen, sang an old song of the landsman who kept his faith and his promises and the pilgrim knew that his offerings had been accepted.

Now, so many years later and hundreds of miles away, the pilgrim waited for his reward. No mighty clipper, no warship, no royal barge would do for him. But instead the simple boat of a fisherman, a sloop called Friendship. It was a promise honoured, and the first spark of hope he had felt for many long days and nights.

The sloop bumped against the cliff, and the pilgrim stepped aboard…

Story by Jim Snee– art by Tom Bown

The Prospect of Joy

 

Lady Alison Tiffany Hempton Addleby Pettigrew had a very long name, very long head of hair, two very long legs, and came from a very long line of somewhat eccentric English explorers and adventurers. Her grandfather, Allan Tiffany Addleby Pettigrew, had crossed the artic by balloon, and one of her distant ancestors, one Wilfred Addleby Pettigrew, had discovered the fabled Isle of Black. (Which subsequently disappeared in a rupture of the ocean floor sometime in the Sixteenth Century.) And although Alison shared her surname with her illustrious, intrepid and inspired ancestors, there was one important aspect about her that was thoroughly different – her sex. She was the first of the Tiffany Hempton Addleby Pettigrew women to take up exploring. She was a very determined young lady, and despite it being unfashionable and ill-advised, she was heroically determined to outdo all her masculine predecessors, or at the very least, equal their dauntingly impressive list of achievements.

To this end, she spent her formative years pursuing all those pursuits that admirable, well- prepared, professional explorers should. She learnt about geography, astronomy, navigation, survival, baritsu, fencing, horse riding, negotiation and more. She mastered several languages from both European and Eastern cultures, and a number of classical writing systems. She also kept herself physically fit, through hill-walking, cycling and workouts with dumbbells, medicine balls and a fitness instructor named Henry. (She always smiled when she mentioned him – I’m still not sure why).

As you might imagine, all this was wildly unusual for a lady in society, and it was regularly remarked upon with tuts being muttered almost constantly when she occasionally mingled with the country’s social set. Partly because of this, but mostly because she had little time for her fellows, she withdrew early on and kept herself to herself. This was easy enough to accomplish, given that she lived in a large mansion in the English countryside surrounded by servants, landscaped grounds and a certain air of mystery.

As I was her nephew and perpetually intrigued by this “mad” and possibly dangerous lady, I would visit her often. I found her neither mad nor unfriendly; she insisted I called her Auntie Ally, which amused her – probably because she considered herself far too young to be an auntie. (Her brother – my father – was considerably older than she and had married, and then fathered, young).

She liked to tell me of all the activities she had planned, the trips she had been on, the strange people she had encountered and the effective use of a garotte. I was captivated by her.

One hot June day, she told me of the strange rumours she had heard of a mysterious island. No-one was quite sure where it was, but the few scattered accounts she had managed to put together had indicated three things. Firstly, that it was always surrounded by a strange mist. Secondly, it seemed that there were a handful of tales of people and ships disappearing near the Island – but remarkedly – not one of anyone actually returning. Thirdly, a solitary scrap of parchment from a fifteenth-century, fire-damaged collection of

books briefly mentioned a mist-covered island and then one other discernible word had been shakily scrawled in the margin; “Hopeless”.

Whether this was a comment on the search for the Island, the chances of returning from it, or more poetically perhaps, the name of the Island, Auntie Ally really didn’t know. But she became irrevocably intrigued by the possibility of its actual, physical existence.

She was planning an expedition she told me. “Can I come?” I asked.
“No” was the simple, but firm reply.

And that was that.

I was at college by this time and at a crucial stage of my education. So, most unfortunately, it was quite a while before I could find the time to visit again, and by that time Auntie Ally’s disappearance was in all the newsheets.

The following are the collected accounts from her personal papers, recovered from her exploratory vessel. I have omitted the more routine entries and those of a personal nature.

–– •◊• ––

I, Alison Tiffany Hempton Addleby Pettigrew, depart now, on a great adventure. I do so in the spirit of my many illustrious forefathers and the greats of exploration; Columbus, Polo, da Gama and others of their ilk. I would be modest – but modesty has no part in a great exploration; I have studied them all and I know that only through a steadfast will and an iron determination did they manage to succeed in their endeavours.

And so I set off now, my quest fixed firmly in my mind. I was fortunate that a relative owned a number of merchant ships, and a suitable vessel was hired for the conveyance of my very own transport of delight – the submersible, The Prospect of Joy. It had taken three years to build and was designed by the finest submarine builder in Europe – monsieur “Eau” Cousteau. Whilst I had supervised its construction at Chatham and had insisted on some modifications of my own, I cannot claim responsibility for its magnificence. And although it was a one-woman vessel, it was quite large – for I had ensured that plenty of fuel and food could be stored on board. It incorporated a number of truly revolutionary devices – the most impressive of which, was the atmosphere recycling unit – this patented and highly secret apparatus cleaned the air and allowed the submarine to stay in its natural environment under the water for weeks at a time. I am looking forward to seeing if it’s endurance would be matched by its captain. For in maritime tradition I was now Captain Pettigrew – yes, that has a certain ring to it – almost heroic I think!

–– •◊• ––

We have been asea for many days now – I have finally become accustomed to the roll of the ship and the nature of the changing seas. The Captain tells me we are about halfway. Of

course, he doesn’t know exactly what we are halfway to – he only has a longitude and a latitude to work with. Indeed, there may well be nothing there, but the clues I have pieced together point to that spot if they point anywhere at all.

Why a submarine I hear you ask? After all, it would surely be easier to discover an island in a boat? Well, the tales I read spoke of many shipwrecks, some quite ancient, and I wanted to see if I could find these and use the submarine’s equipment to recover whatever treasure was still extant. And the number of shipwrecks suggested treacherous waters for a surface vessel, and likely hostile natives – it was a matter of record that savages in war canoes had caused the fateful end of many a sea-going expedition. I shiver now, even to think of it – tall, strong, muscular, dark-skinned natives attacking the ships and dragging the helpless passengers into their canoes and then doing who knows what to them, whilst fires rage, native drums beat and strange substances are inhaled. I often lie awake at night thinking of it…

A submarine, on the other hand, may well be able to investigate the seas around the island whilst remaining undetected by local miscreants. And there was yet another reason – the sketchy accounts I had read spoke of strange sea creatures like none seen anywhere else on God’s Earth. Perhaps I could become the first to discover a new species – to document them and classify them. I must admit, the prospect filled me with an almost sensual feeling of anticipation. But the final reason I chose a submarine was simply childish fun – travelling under the water like Verne’s Captain Nemo would be immensely exciting!

–– •◊• ––

Finally, oh finally, we are here. As much as an empty patch of ocean can be a here. There is nothing on the Captain’s charts. I am suddenly reminded of Melville’s Moby Dick; “It is not down on any map; true places never are.” But, there is a curtain of mist in front of us – halfway to the horizon. The Captain has become quite agitated and is insisting we turn back. “There is nothing here!” he protests – but I assure him, the mist is the sign that I have been seeking. He refuses to lower the submersible into the water citing my womanly frailty and delicate beauty – why, I do believe he is sweet on me! I remind him of his contract, the money accorded to his account and afford him a kiss on the cheek and with that he orders his men to do the work whilst hiding his blushing cheeks from them.

–– •◊• ––

At last, it is time and I climb down, through the hatch and into my new temporary home, waving cheerily to the assorted sailors watching bemusedly from the rail. I reduce the buoyancy, throw the lever to disconnect the cradle and drift off into the unknown – free of all restraint and feeling a truly unique freedom to explore.

–– •◊• ––

It’s the end of the first day – a routine day. I have been spending most of it ensuring I was fully familiar with all the submarine’s systems, equipment, layout and living arrangements. It goes without saying that I had trained for this – I am not a foolish person, and proper planning was a topic close to my heart, but truly nothing can prepare you for an actual expedition – no matter the circumstance or mode of transport. I surfaced to signal to the ship that had so recently been my home and that I had now left a short distance behind – letting the captain know I was fine and everything was as expected. I took the opportunity to prepare a simple meal and sat carefully on the deck of the Prospect to eat it under the darkening sky. Later, I submerged, anchored the vessel in the currently placid depths and repaired to my cosy berth.

–– •◊• ––

Today, I had planned to skirt the mist covered area – looking for any signs on the ocean floor or in the undersea fauna and maritime life that the environment was changing and an island might be nearby. I rose early and manoeuvred my craft to run parallel with the edge of the mist. And here was my first surprise, the water in the distance was noticeably darker than that I was currently travelling through. Whilst ahead of me the visibility was good – here a shoal of small fish, there a solitary squid, below some modest coral; to my right side – starboard if you will – there was only an inky black greenness with occasional swirls of lighter grey-green water. The difference was striking.

–– •◊• ––

I had travelled around the misty area for three days, and I hadn’t been able to discern a shape to my path. By always keeping the mist on my right, I imagined I would circumnavigate the area in two days at most – given the lack of any landmass on the charts of the area, any island would surely have to be correspondingly small.

–– •◊• ––

It is now the fourth day of my trip around the island – for I am now convinced that an island does indeed lie at the centre of the mist, although, truth be told, I cannot place a finger on why I feel that so strongly. Navigation has proved difficult. At first, I thought only to circle the area of mist – feeling sure that I would return to the start and find the ship waiting for me. And although I have steadfastly kept the mist on my right, I have not returned to the ship’s position, or if I have, then the ship is no longer there. Perhaps an emergency has compelled them to return to the nearest port. I was not worried, the ship’s captain was beguiled enough to return for me, I had plenty of supplies, and if I was in real trouble, there was always the Island…

–– •◊• ––

Waking up this morning I found to my astonishment that the misty area was now to my left. I checked my instruments, but there were no signs that my little underwater ship had been turned around in the night. (My compass had long since proved useless – which would help to explain why so many vessels ran aground in this area). I resolved to surface that evening and check the stars.

I had been inching closer to the edge of the darker waters and occasionally I would catch a glimpse of a mast or a fragment of broken hull. Indeed as I am writing this, I can espy a piece of rudder just visible in the murk. It seems I would have to leave the safety of the clearer waters and venture beyond if I wanted to seek out ancient treasure. I would not be long – just a quick dip in. But I probably shouldn’t, something there is not quite right.

–– •◊• ––

Night-time – I have surfaced, but the night sky is full of constellations I do not recognise. Admittedly, there are wisps of cloud – or is it mist? – obscuring parts of the sky. I tried to force the stars into shapes I knew – but they did not oblige. I could not explain this, and I was struggling with it, but then – The Plough! Yes – a constellation I recognised – the first I learnt as a child. I hung on to this, despite the lack of other signs, I let the familiarity of the Plough reassure me, and I retired to my berth and slept.

–– •◊• ––

In the morning I realised that I still did not know where I was exactly. It was strange – part of me found that disconcerting – almost frightening, and yet a part of me found it exciting, after all, I could always land on the island and gain directions. Hopefully it will not come to that.

–– •◊• ––

There were things moving in the dark. Curious things. Strange things. There would be a flash of serrated fin or a brief sighting of a split tail, and even now – a dark mass, which as it came closer, was revealed to be hundreds of small fish I think. Yes, fish. Let’s say fish. I was very close to the dark water now, and as the fish turned I saw a rippling glitter which I thought most beautiful. That was, until I realised that it was hundreds of sets of wildly angled teeth that caused the effect. I wanted to see more – to know more. They looked dangerous. But you must take a risk to learn, must you not? Surely the risk is too great? But science! I should venture in for science. No, no, I should be cautious, history tells us that many an expedition failed through rash decisions.

–– •◊• ––

I feel I must learn more, the tantalising impressions of wrecks and strange, odd, well, weird really, marine life seem to be exerting a strange pull on my intellectual self, my curious self. I was suddenly reminded of a cat one of the servants had, many years past. It was forever chasing and catching frogs, and one day it had decided to investigate the well in an exploration that did not end favourably for the poor cat. Yes, my feeling self is ill at ease in these waters. I sense a sadness, a foreboding, a dark presence. But that’s just nonsense. I must investigate – after all, I’ve come all this way…

–– •◊• ––

I realise I have lost all track of the days that have elapsed since I launched from the ship, I can’t even bring myself to surface to gauge the time of day. The Prospect of Joy is touching the darker waters now on the starboard side, creating weird little eddies in the murky wall of water. Water which even seems physically different, exerting a greater drag on that side of my craft, so I am having to compensate in the trim and the heading to keep the Prospect from spinning around. I am strangely torn – half wanting to end the suspense and sink into the velvet green black darkness, half wanting to run away. Although, there is precious little space in the submersible to get very far on foot.

–– •◊• ––

I have not slept well. Strange dreams have been visited upon me and haunt my waking hours too. I am not a religious person, but I found myself praying last night. Praying. Preying. Preying on my mind.

I need to pull my self together and be the great explorer that is my destiny… or leave. Yes, I must leave. I don’t want to be a cat. My mind feels so woolly – what is wrong with me?

Leave, immediately….
…Or soon at the very least…

…But not before I examine, capture, erm… take a sample of the water, it is in my head I think, therefore I am Ishmael. Sorry? Who said that?

Is it too late? Can I still go? In. Out. Where is my hat?
Onwards. Away. To the Island or to my home? Where was my home?

The sea is only the embodiment of a supernatural and wonderful existence. I must anchor, go full speed, dive, surface. Swim, relax. Oh – I just don’t know anymore? So difficult to think. In two minds. To decide. Today. Too much. I must get a grip. A moment of clarity…

…So can I escape?

Or is it hopeless?

–– •◊• ––
That was the last entry in my Aunt Ally’s notebook.

At around the same time, I had received word she was missing, and immediately mobilised the family’s resources to find her. There was no trace of the boat that had given her submarine a ride, but by chance, they had encountered another ship the day before my aunt had launched into the sea, so we managed to determine a start point for our search.

After three days we found The Prospect of Joy. It was bobbing on the surface just in front of a wall of mist. I was a most superstitious person, and so arranged to have the vessel grappled from a distance and then reeled in. Once we had lifted it on board I wrenched open the hatch, expecting the worst. And the worst was what I found.

At this point, you may be forgiven for imagining that we found a ravaged body, some inhuman horror, or no body at all. But what we found was far worse.

Aunt Ally was lying in her berth – apparently asleep, the picture of peacefulness, not a mark upon her. We brought her out and laid her on the cot in the Captain’s cabin. It was a while, but eventually, she opened her eyes and I breathed a sigh of relief. That feeling quickly drained from me and became deep dismay as she turned to look at me. Her face was entirely blank, her eyes devoid of the normal human spark. She sat up and we fed her, but she said not a word.

It has been six months since that fateful rescue, and Alison’s condition hasn’t changed. She breathes, eats, sleeps – the basic movements of life, but there seems to be no-one there. I cannot look her in the eye – the emptiness chills my soul. Her body is physically present – but there is no Aunt Ally – she is simply not at home.

Having read her account and being close enough to that mist to feels it’s power, I have my own fanciful ideas of what has happened. I am no scientist, and I fear if I fully state my thoughts out loud I would be laughed at. But even so, I will say that I just have this feeling that Aunt Ally was left behind that day we rescued her. Where she is, I do not know. What form she now takes, I can only fantasise.

I am having The Prospect of Joy refitted to my own design – for I am resolved one day to return and search for her – no matter the personal cost.

But, whatever has happened to her, I just pray it’s not Hopeless.

Written by Keith Errington who has joined us on the island for the first time with this fine piece. (we hope he will return as soon as may be)

Art-Tom Brown

The Aunties

There are many strange and inexplicable things on the island, most of which you wouldn’t want to meet on a dark road at night, or even in weak sun at noon. There are weird beasties, worrying fogs, and innocuous-looking birds that scream. There are things that have been around as long as the island. And there are also things which have, perhaps, been around longer…

You might know them as the Agents of Change, or the Ocular Ones, or even the Aunties. Personally, they refer to themselves as Mildred, Ludmilla and Gertrude. They spend a lot of time floating around in saltwater, glaring at anything stupid enough to try eating them.

Their story, or at least a version of it, goes something like this: the island appeared. It came from somewhere. Ludmilla says it rose out of the ocean, Gertrude says it emerged from the fog, and Mildred says there was a geological phenomena involving an underwater volcano. All three agreed that it was messy and inconvenient, and for some time (a century or so) the Aunties were quietly outraged and considering how they might get rid of this lurking growly thing.

It was Gertrude who pointed out the persons.

“Well,” said Ludmilla, “I don’t know what they think they’re doing here. It’s not as if they’ll survive.” and she blinked her three eyes furiously.

“I don’t think it’s their fault,” Mildred warbled, “there’s bits of shipwreck everywhere.”

“Well that’s what you get when you sail ships close to mist-covered cursed places,” harrumphed Ludmilla.

“Oh the poor dears, they are trying,” trilled Gertrude, “look, they’re building things.”

“Bet they don’t even last a century,” said Ludmilla, and, after a pause, “That’s no way to go about building a house.”

The Autnies watched. They had a lot of eyes, after all, and the island couldn’t exactly get rid of them (even though it wanted to). It became clear that the island wasn’t letting its people go anywhere either.

If asked who started helping first, the Ocular Ones would shift and point tentacles and say things like: “I can’t very well go letting them eat that muck no can I?” or “Built his house right next to a soft spot in reality; of course I moved the whole thing!” or “Help is a strong word really, I just move resources around.” And if doing all this happened to remind the island who had been there first, well, that was merely a happy coincidence.

They did notice that, after a while, there were rather a lot more sea-beasts, some of whom thought that snacking on the Aunties was a valid life-option. The island, it seemed, was not happy with their meddling. Ludmilla, Gertrude and Mildred knew how to deal with fanged beasties though, and if they meddled a bit more and kept an eye on that nice young fisherman, well, all was well wasn’t it?

And then there was yet another beastie, sinking into the water.This beastie was different. This beastie wanted to change. And change was what the Aunties did.

Mildred made sure the nice fisherman found the now baby and took it home, and the three of them together made sure it would be mostly people-shaped. And then the Ocular Ones settled in for an interesting few years keeping an eye on the newest inhabitant.

“After all,” said Gertrude, “we’re almost like her parents now.”

“Hrrrummph,” said Ludmilla.

“Oh hush,” said Mildred, “we’ll miss all the interesting bits if you don’t quiet down.”

And they turned mobile eyes back towards the island, waiting…

Written by the entirely amazing Meredith Debonnaire. (We are fans of her work, obviously. She writes about Tantamount, which is probably a sister town with Hopeless, Maine. You can also find Angel Evans right about…here)
Art-Tom Brown

Threads

We are profoundly excited and a bit giddy to have brought Druid, author, and knitter- Cat Treadwell to the Hopeless, Maine creative fold. This story gave me goosebumps (in a good way, if there is any other) on first reading and I have discovered that it still does so. Without further ado, I give you- Threads

_______________________________

 

Click-click

Click-click

Click-click

The needles moved almost automatically through her fingers, cloth coming together from fragile strands into something solid and…

Well, not exactly warm. But it would provide cover. Protection. Solace.

Wen’s thoughts drifted as she worked the thread in and out. She had no pattern and wasn’t entirely sure what she was making, but just seemed to know what stitches went where.

The sound was hypnotic, though. Therapeutic, she’d heard folks say. She tried not to think too much about it. If she did, the image always rose up in her mind, of a spidery creature with metal-tipped claws, skittering across the room just out of sight. So many things went unseen here in Hopeless.

But she could hear them, sense them. Sometimes their rank smell betrayed them, but she did her special best to ignore those creatures. Let them go about their business.

< Dark, wet, slithering, glistening>

Enough. Focus. Things to do.

Click-click

Click-click

She wasn’t even sure where the thread had come from – it was just there, in her basket. Was it a gift, slipped into her belongings by a kind visitor? Unlikely. Folk round here didn’t do that.

She paused for a moment, letting the cord slide across her fingers. Thicker than gossamer, more solid than silk. It seemed to be organic, woven from something living, but definitely not fleece. No sheep, rabbit or goat grew this. Plant, perhaps? Almost fibrous… maybe.

It glistened as well. The skein wasn’t sparkly, but it held the slickness of something damp. Yet it was smooth, dry. Not quite soft, but pleasant to the touch.

Back to it. Must get on.

No – wait. The noise again. At the door?

She placed the work down carefully, safe on her side table away from the cats (where had they gone too, anyway? She hadn’t seen them in days), and moved to peep through the window.

The evening was grey, sunset holding on with a last glimmer on the horizon, but clouds moving in. The boats should all be in by now – looks like a storm’s coming.

No sign of anyone there, man or beast.

Suddenly a bird shrieked, frightened by something. Wen jumped, ducking behind the curtain.

Silly, silly. Just a bird. Probably been jumped by one of those cats.

Smiling to herself, she stood and took one last look outside, before pulling the curtains firmly, locking the world away. She had things to do, after all. Anyone out there could wait until morning.

Click-click

Click-click

Ssssshhhh

Wen froze.

The lantern flickered, casting shadows around the small room. It had seemed so cosy earlier, just her and her work. Cushions and firelight, the pleasure of creating something new. Chillier now. Maybe she should light the fire.

She pulled her shawl close around her shoulders, fingers lingering on these old threads. One of the first things she’d made, this. It had been green once, but the colour had faded over the years, the handspun wool becoming a little frayed at the edges, worn in places where it had been pinned.

She smiled. Yes, like me. But she enjoyed making treasures to comfort folk here. Hopeless had little enough of that, Lord knows. She’d never lacked for interest, and her neighbours looked out for her when they could.

Silence.

She glanced around again, annoyed at the interruptions. Must get on.

The needles seemed warm as she picked them up, firm and eager.

Eager? Where had that come from? She chuckled quietly. This was going to be something, she could tell.

Click-click

Click-click

The completed fabric began to spread out across her lap, flowing smoothly, reaching out to cover her, row by patient row.

So many things around here seemed to move like this, Wen thought. The tides, of course, bringing folk to and from the town. The tendrils of relationships between us all, old-timers and newcomers. You could always tell those who were meant to be here. They came and stayed. Others didn’t last one night, but she knew. On her occasional trips to the market, she saw the look in their eyes, those that didn’t belong. Well, good luck to them.

This was her home, had been since she was a girl. She couldn’t remember anywhere else. Mother weaving to make ends meet, Father…

No. No Father. That’s why they were here.

The needles clicked. The fabric shimmered. Wen’s eyes began to drift close, but her fingers never missed a stitch.

Hopeless was its own creation, wasn’t it. A web, added to by everyone here. A bit tangled in places, perhaps, but with a definite pattern. An ‘evil-lution’, she thought it was called.

Some spun it with stories, inks and paint. Others with words in song. Even the fishermen used their nets to bring new life in, to keep us all going.

Webs didn’t work in water, did they? Wen imagined it – great layers of cobweb connecting the waves. But she didn’t think there were such things as sea-spiders. If anyone’d see that sort of thing, it’s be the folks here, and she’d never heard tell of anything like that, not in any of the mad fireside tales.

Click.

It was finished.

Wen held it up to the light, assessing the multitude of tiny turns, fractals, wheels and cogs, all held together with this fragile thread.

How long had this taken? She’d quite lost track of time. It still seemed dark outside – had she done all this in one night?

She blinked, gazing at the pattern again. So familiar…

She knew it. She had seen it before. No wonder her fingers had known what they were doing.

The web that held Hopeless, Maine together was clear before her. It didn’t cover the town across the rooftops, oh no. It grew beneath the cobbled streets, the fields and yes, even the waves. It holds us all, keeps us together. Tied together.

There – and there. She recognised the patterns of her neighbours. And… back at the start, the first few stitches clustered together.

There she was. Holding it all.

Wen smiled.

Art- Tom and Nimue Brown

Scilly Point

As has been mentioned previously in ‘The Vendetta’, towards the close of the nineteenth century, two Norwegian-born Americans, Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo, successfully rowed across the Atlantic. Setting off from New York they made landfall on The Isles of Scilly, just fifty five days later.

Although the achievement was not widely reported, the news eventually reached Hopeless, Maine some fifteen years after the event, via a large piece of flotsam. This was washed ashore in the shape of a tea chest, in which a few old newspapers had been unsuccessfully used to protect some rather expensive crockery.

 

There are several families living on Hopeless who are able to trace their ancestry back for more than nine centuries. These are the descendants of British slaves, transported here when Vikings settled on the island. At some point, in the last two hundred years, one such family, who had for generations been known as Mearthelinga, updated their name to Marling. While the name Marling is far easier to pronounce and spell than Mearthelinga, Mr. Cyril Marling always regretted his ancestors’ decision. Instead of some proud Anglo-Saxon moniker that might have shaped his destiny in a completely different way, he had been gifted, instead, with a name that reminded him of a fish. Admittedly, a marlin tends to be a large and somewhat formidable creature but when all is said and done, it is still a fish. Then there was the matter of his first name….

Throughout his life Mr. Marling had found that to be called ‘Cyril’ had always been something of a bully-magnet. It somehow indicated its bearer to be mild-mannered, studious and bespectacled, although Cyril Marling was none of these things. And so, when his sons were born, he turned a deaf ear to his wife’s protestations and decided that they would be given names to live up to. His boys would proudly bear the appellations of great explorers, then maybe they could make their mark upon the world.  Sadly, like so many others on Hopeless, Mr and Mrs Marling disappeared under mysterious circumstances before they had chance to see their boys grow up.

It was, therefore, the dismal fate of little Humboldt Marling and his younger brother, Magellan, to one day find their young selves languishing in the boys’ dormitory of the Pallid Rock Orphanage.

 

Unsurprisingly, the Marling boys fared no better with the bullies than had their father. What Cyril had failed to realise was that bullies the world over will latch on to whatever is available in order to bestow pain and derision upon their victims – and let’s face it, the names Humboldt and Magellan are quite substantial somethings upon which to latch. It is little wonder, therefore, that the boys looked only to each other for companionship, eventually becoming painfully and resolutely reclusive. As soon as they were old enough to take care of themselves they fled the orphanage and sought shelter as far away from its grim walls as was possible.

 

Due to the aforementioned phenomena of disappearing adults, Hopeless has many abandoned buildings littering its coastline, all in various states of disrepair. The Marling brothers’ chosen abode was an elderly, tumbledown, shack that squatted precariously on a headland, overlooking a sheltered cove. Although its best days were far behind it, the shack looked reasonably habitable if you held your head to one side and squinted. Once they had evicted the puddle rats that had taken up residence and boarded up the windows, the old place felt almost comfortable.

 

The boys were in their teens when the tea-chest arrived on their shore. With a great deal of excitement they prised open its top, only be disappointed with the contents. They had hoped for food, or at least something to barter at The Squid and Teapot. The landlord, Sebastian Lypiatt, could always be relied upon to give them a good deal but today not even Sebastian could have helped. The tea-chest contained nothing but old, crumpled-up newspapers and the ruined pieces of china that those inky pages were supposed to have saved from breaking. Despondent, the boys smashed up the chest for firewood and put aside the paper to help ignite it when the winter came.

 

Winter did come with a vengeance, at the close of 1911. The two were glad of the driftwood and kindling that they had gathered. It crackled and spat in their leaky little stove but served to keep them warm during that chilly December.

It was one morning, just after Christmas, that Humboldt was making firelighters from his supply of old newspapers, when he spotted the article concerning the Atlantic oarsmen, Samuelsen and Harbo. He read with wonder about the two intrepid adventurers who had taken a rowing boat from New York to somewhere called the Isles of Scilly, in England. Humboldt had no idea how far away England was, or how difficult such a venture might be but his imagination was immediately fired with an unquenchable enthusiasm. It took little effort to infect his brother with a similar passion and there and then the two resolved to emulate the feat of Samuelsen and Harbo and leave Hopeless forever, living up to the explorers’ names that their parents had bestowed upon them.

 

“Of course,” said Humboldt,  “we’ll have to wait until spring but that’s fine as there will be many preparations to be made. We will need provisions for the voyage. I guess at least one change of underwear each as well. The weather might get bad so probably some rudimentary shelter for us on the boat…”  His voice trailed off and his face fell. In his haste he had forgotten the, not inconsiderable, matter of not actually having a boat in which to make the trip. Then he brightened.

“April is four months away. That’ll be plenty if time for us to get hold of a boat.”

 

It seems to me, in unearthing these tales, that on Hopeless, Maine the old adage about being careful what you wish for is worryingly apt. I may be being fanciful here but I sometimes get the idea that the island – or something connected to it – is listening, making notes and taking a certain malevolent glee in granting wishes.

 

Humboldt and Magellan were thrilled but not particularly surprised, when, on one foggy morning in early April, an unmanned rowing boat appeared in their cove. There was a heavy yellow tarpaulin and a coil of rope neatly stowed under one of its seats and two pairs of oars lying along its length. Where it came from was a mystery that the boys had no wish to solve. Here was their passage to England, which lay somewhere to the east. By rowing in the direction of the rising sun they would be certain to reach their destination. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Before leaving, Humboldt fashioned a rough sign, which he hammered into the ground. Their cove, which had never been specifically named, had now become ‘Scilly Point’ in honour of their intended destination, and Scilly Point has been its name ever since.

 

Things did not go quite as planned for our brave explorers. The Atlantic ocean, which they had only ever glimpsed through a foggy haze, was far rougher and less predictable than either had expected. After only only a few days out they had become hopelessly lost, totally at the mercy of the wind and waves and surrounded by sea-ice. Had they known it, they were wildly off course and floundering about four hundred miles south of Newfoundland. Things were not looking good. The boys huddled together in the bottom of their little rowing boat, frightened and exhausted in the darkness,and fearing the worst.

 

At the orphanage, Reverend Crackstone had often told the children that righteous souls need not fear death, but when the time came, the Angel Gabriel himself would ferry them to heaven in a great chariot of fire. In view of this, Humboldt and Magellan felt no surprise when the stygian darkness that had surrounded them was banished by a great beam of light, brighter than either had ever seen. They felt a certain degree of apprehension, however, when Gabriel hailed them in a nasal, Liverpudlian accent,

“Ahoy there, you young buggers. Are you coming aboard or do you want to stay there all night?”

They peered out, only to be dazzled by the beam of a spotlight. A boat had pulled up close by – a tender from a cruise liner – and rough hands pulled the two to safety. Within half an hour they were huddled aboard the liner, wrapped in blankets and drinking hot cocoa, which neither had tasted before. It was then that an important-looking man in an impressive nautical uniform came up to them. To their relief he smiled.

“ It is not every day that one has the privilege of rescuing such brave young adventurers from death,” he said, kindly. The gilding on the peak of his cap glittered in the cheerful lights of the upper-deck where a small orchestra was playing popular tunes of the day.

“Don’t worry, chaps, we’ll have you safely back on American soil in a couple of days,” he said reassuringly. The sailor turned to leave, then checked himself, stopping abruptly.

“I do beg your pardon, you must think me very rude,” he said apologetically. “Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Captain Edward Smith of The White Star Line. It gives me great pleasure to officially welcome you aboard my ship, the R.M.S. Titanic.”

Art by Tom Brown

 

Counting Crows

For this tale we re-visit Hopeless as it was in the days when young Randall Middlestreet was the island’s Night-Soil Man…

It was almost midnight when Clarence Coaley and his younger brother, Cuthbert slipped out of the orphanage. Since Reverend Crackstone’s disappearance the place had become intolerable. Crackstone had been strict in the extreme – some would say even brutal – but with his going no one bothered preventing the bullies from having their own way any more. It had reached the point where the need to escape far outweighed the risks of wandering the island during the hours of darkness. Besides, Clarence knew of a secret cave; he was sure it would be the perfect place for them to hide.


Although Hopeless is not a particularly large island, there are plenty of places where anyone intent on staying hidden can do so with very little effort. What serves to concentrate the mind, however, is the need to avoid being eaten, maimed, driven mad or transformed into something rather disgusting. It is a safe bet that if you have found a dark and secluded place you are probably not alone. On this island, dark and secluded places are a favourite haunt of the sort of creatures someone might reasonably expect to encounter in their darkest nightmares.


A grey and sickly dawn was trying listlessly to illuminate the mouth of the cave, when Clarence heard, coming from somewhere outside, the ominous clanking of cutlery on the move. Alarm bells immediately rang in his head. Peering out, it did not overtax his powers of deduction when several pairs of ghastly green orbs appeared not more than a dozen yards away. This was a spoonwalker raiding party, returning home after a hard night of larceny.

By now both boys were wide awake and wasted no time in removing themselves out of the situation, leaving behind the few belongings they had brought from the orphanage. Unfortunately we will never know the spoonwalkers’ thoughts on discovering, on the floor of their lair, a bag containing a cold starry-grabby pie, two changes of underwear and a risque magazine.


Randall Middlestreet had almost completed his round. This was his favourite part of the day, with his work done and a chance to sit down and watch the sun, yet again, fail to fight its way through the fog. Suddenly, a movement, about a hundred yards or so to his left, grabbed the Night-Soil Man’s attention. Two figures – boys, by the look of them – emerged from a cleft in the rocks and appeared to be heading towards the Gydynaps. Randall guessed that they had run away from the orphanage. Why they would want to go clambering up the hills so early in the morning, however, was beyond him. He pondered whether or no to follow but thought better of it. At this hour the night-stalkers would be safely tucked up in their beds, so they would be no problem. The boys will be fine, Randall told himself. He yawned, hoisted up his bucket and struck out for home.


The Gydynap Hills had always been out-of-bounds for the children of the orphanage. It was not that they were any more dangerous than any other part of the island, or even forbidden because of their reputation for weirdness. If the truth is to be told, it would have been terribly inconvenient and too much trouble if the adults in charge of the orphanage had been required to traipse around the Gydynaps looking for stray orphans. This of course made the hills very attractive to absconders such as Clarence and Cuthbert.


Had it been visible, the sun would have been seen to be high in the sky when the boys spotted the cabin. The pair were tired, hungry and beginning to regret their decision to leave the relative security of the orphanage. They could hardly believe their luck; it would surely take an ice-cold heart to turn away two frightened little waifs. This is what they believed, at least but they were deluding themselves. They were, in fact, a pair of sweaty, sly-looking, lanky adolescents sprouting hair and acne who would probably have elicited about as much sympathy as a brace of diseased puddle rats.


Clarence knocked on the cabin door, timidly at first. When no response was forthcoming he banged harder. The door swung open invitingly, revealing a cosy-looking room inside.

The boys wandered in and immediately felt at home. There was a pot of coffee on the stove and a table laid for two. Despite this, no one appeared to be in.

It did not take long for the brothers to set about exploring, hoping to find something to eat.

It was with a gasp of delight that Clarence discovered small larder that contained a greater variety of food than he had ever seen. The provender supplied by the orphanage was bland and spare but here was stored all sorts of wonderful things. On a cold, stone shelf sat the most mouthwatering array of cheese, butter and cold meats. Yet another shelf held a ceramic crock filled with soft, white bread. Further investigation revealed biscuits, candy, a baking tray laden with fresh cakes and a big bottle of soda-pop. This was marvellous!

As has often been said, the island exists on that which the sea provides, by and large. These were the sort of delights that few on Hopeless would ever dream of tasting.

Meanwhile Cuthbert, who was slightly less worldly than his brother, had his interest whetted by a small desk near the window. It was strewn with paints, brushes, charcoal and various drawing implements, all tools of an artist’s trade.

‘So, this is who owns the cabin,’ said Cuthbert to himself.

On the desk was a watercolour sketchbook. Cuthbert opened it to the first page, which depicted a decrepit looking crow; it had ragged feathers and sad eyes. The caption above it said: ‘One for sorrow’.

On the following page the decrepit crow was joined by a younger, jauntier looking bird. This page was headed with the words ‘Two for joy’.

“Put that down and help me get some of this grub out,” yelled Clarence.

Cuthbert reluctantly left the book and joined his brother.

“This isn’t right,” he said.

Clarence snorted derisively.

“They’ve got plenty and we’re hungry.Seems fair to me.”

“I didn’t mean that,” said Cuthbert. “This is more than weird. People don’t eat as well as this on Hopeless. There’s something strange going on here.”

“Worry about it after we’ve eaten,” said Clarence, tucking into a large hunk of bread, thick with butter.

Cuthbert felt uneasy but told himself he was being a fool.

“Pass the butter…” he said.


Randall Middlestreet had not slept well; his conscience had been giving him a bad time. Despite reminding himself that the two boys were not his problem, a nagging voice in his head told him otherwise and gave him no rest.

“You should have stopped them – or at least followed,” it admonished.

In the end, Randall made a deal with his conscience. He would deviate from his planned route that evening and go to the Gydynaps to check on them, before he did anything else.


By the time Randall had reached the summit, the first shades of night were drawing in. He had searched every cave and hollow on the way up without success. The boys were nowhere to be found.

“Maybe they returned to the orphanage,” he thought but without much hope that this was, indeed, the case. Having once been an orphan himself, he knew that there was little incentive to return. He lit his lantern and turned to make his way back down the hill, when he noticed the cabin. It was almost hidden between the rocks, just a few yards from the track.

Randall wandered over, hoping the boys had sought shelter there. If they had it would have been cold comfort. The front door was hanging off its hinges and the windows were broken. Grass was growing through the floorboards.

Randall raised his lantern and cast his eyes around the tiny room. There was no sign of them here; only broken, rotting furniture, shattered crockery and puddle rat droppings. Then something caught his eye.  Lying on the ground, amid all of the filth and decay, was a book. It had no sign of mould or water damage and looked as though it had been placed there that very day. Randall leant down and examined a few of the pages, which seemed to be filled with paintings of crows. There was little in it to interest him. He flipped through to the last page. Seven crows stood in a line. The first was old and decrepit. Then his eye was drawn to the two birds on the far right of the page. They were smaller than the others, cowering, with their wings wrapping around each other as if in terror. There was a caption at the head of the page. Randall did not read much these days. He held up his lantern, struggling to make out the words.

‘Seven for a secret never to be told’

Art by Tom Brown

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 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

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.