Doctor John Dee, alchemist and Court Astrologer to Good Queen Bess, was seeking, through the medium of his scrying-bowl, visions of lands and events far away in time and space. When the clouds had cleared from the dark waters of the bowl, several things had been revealed to the doctor, a few of which he actually understood. Most exciting, however, was the glimpse of three figures exploring the tunnels that wound beneath a mysterious island. This particular vision was especially enthralling, as Dee was convinced that here was the island mentioned by the legendary navigator, Saint Brendan, as being a portal to other worlds. Unfortunately for Doctor Dee his viewing was ruined when the antics of a skeletal dog, or ‘Hell Hound’ as he described it, upset him to such a degree that he had to stop watching.
You will have gathered, by now of course, that the island in question was Hopeless Maine, and the old Elizabethan’s Hell Hound was none other than dear old Drury, the dog who refused to acknowledge that he had died. It took the good doctor some hours to recover, but eventually he boldly decided to light a candle and fill the bowl once more, in the hope that he could find once again this strange land that he one day planned to visit.
Norbert Gannicox, Bartholomew Middlestreet and Philomena Bucket had been concerned that their candle-lanterns would expire before they could get out of the tunnels. It was with some relief, therefore, when they spotted daylight ahead. Upon closer inspection Philomena declared that she could see fog swirling some yards away at the tunnel’s mouth.
“Good old Hopeless Fog,” she had said and, after hours of darkness, it filled their hearts with cheer. Then Norbert had a thought.
“Be careful, Philomena,” he cautioned, “don’t go dashing outside. We must have descended a good two hundred feet or more before getting into the main cavern, and I can’t say we’ve climbed a lot since then. If we’re that far down, this must be an entrance from the cliff-face. All you’ll find on the other side of that hole is fresh air and the Atlantic Ocean.”
The faces of the other two fell, and they regarded the spluttering and stunted candles in their lanterns with some consternation.
“We’d best turn around now, and hope for the best,” said Bartholomew.
They turned to leave, when out of the darkness bounded Drury. He was about to throw his bony frame on to Philomena, as was his wont, when he spotted the foggy tunnel mouth ahead. With a cheerful bark he galloped through the gap before anyone could stop him.
“Drury…” yelled Philomena, her voice filled with panic. Even if Drury was seemingly immortal, a long drop into a raging ocean would carry him far from Hopeless, where his undead status might have little meaning.
After a second or two the dog’s inquisitive skull poked through the mist at the tunnel’s mouth, as if to say, “You called?”
Philomena regarded her friend with some surprise, and then it occurred to her that if Drury could go through with no mishap, then so could she. Without a word to the others she purposefully strode into the fog.
Bartholomew looked at Norbert with a mixture of dismay and resignation.
“Here we go again,” he said, and, as one, they followed in the barmaid’s footsteps.
It had been Philomena’s resolve to pursue Drury that had drawn the three into the labyrinth, far beneath The Squid and Teapot, in the first place. While, at that point, it would have been easy to have turned back, this latest venture was a definite leap of faith. After all, they were on the island of Hopeless, Maine, and anything was possible.
They appeared to have wandered into a sheltered valley, of sorts. The mist swirled about them, but seemed to be gradually thinning. The ground beneath their feet was smooth and hard, not at all like the usual rocky terrain of the island.
“Look at these cliffs,” said Philomena. “They’re like none that I’ve seen before… almost artificial.”
The others had to agree. For as far as the eye could see, the unbroken line of the cliff face rose smooth and black and totally unclimbable. For a while they followed its curve, but found no way out, and the foggy entrance through which they had entered was nowhere to be found. A soft yellow light suffused the sky above them, giving a clear view of the featureless and unremitting landscape in which they stood. Then Philomena happened to glance up through the thinning mist, and let out a completely uncharacteristic scream.
John Dee watched the mists clear from his simple, obsidian scrying-bowl. His mind was quiet as he waited for the visions to materialise, and his heart leapt to see, once more, the three explorers on the mysterious island. The Hell-Hound was nowhere about, thankfully. Maybe it had returned to the infernal pit, where it belonged.
The woman and her male companions seemed to be wandering through some sort of cavern. They looked confused and frightened, running their hands along the dark walls, obviously searching for some point of egress. Something stirred in Dee’s mind, and he allowed himself to look closer at the scene beneath him, being careful not to touch the water. A second later he almost fell off his seat in surprise as the woman peered up from the depths of the bowl, looked him squarely in the eye and, with terror written all over her face, opened her mouth in a silent scream.
“She can see me!” he said aloud to himself.
“Did you see that face?” asked Philomena Bucket, as she sank to the floor, her voice trembling,
The others shook their heads; they had genuinely seen nothing unusual.
“It was awful,” said Philomena, composing herself. “Not an awful face, I don’t mean that. It was just so… so huge. It filled up all of the sky. I can’t believe you didn’t see it.”
The others shook their heads again. They did not disbelieve Philomena. It was well known on the island that she was in receipt of that dubious gift known as ‘The Sight’. If Philomena claimed to have seen something weird, then no one disputed it.
“Do you think it was God?” she asked nervously, and slightly concerned, as they had not been on speaking terms for some years.
“I wouldn’t have thought so,” said Bartholomew. “More like the other fellow. Don’t forget, this is Hopeless.”
“He didn’t look particularly good or evil,” reflected Philomena. “Just a bit old, beardy and bewildered.”
“Well, I guess it’s gone now, who or whatever it was,” said Norbert. “Let’s get out of here before it comes back and brings some friends. I don’t like this place. Give me the tunnels any day.”
Doctor Dee pulled off his cap and scratched his head. In all of his years of scrying, he had never been seen by the object of his attentions; it was unheard of. Impossible even. And those people… they appeared to be actually walking in his scrying bowl. He could see its obsidian sides towering above them. That was impossible too. However, impossible or not, if any tiny people were in the bowl they would be placed in a gilded cage and presented as a gift to Her Majesty.
Dee beamed quietly to himself, thinking of the honours and riches such a novelty would reap.
He carried the bowl into a small chamber, annexed to his study. On the floor of the chamber was inscribed a magical diagram, composed of two circles, in which was drawn a pentagram, two heptagons and a heptagram. All around the edges of these symbols could be seen a collection of letters, both Greek and Latin, along with arcane words, said to be the secret name of the God of the Old Testament, and all of his angels. The whole made up the Sigillum Dei, an amulet said to give an initiated magician power over all living things. With care and reverence Dee laid the bowl in its centre and began to chant.
The room grew darker, until all light, except a pale glow emanating from the surface of the scrying-bowl, was extinguished. Then there was a small explosion, and Doctor Dee passed out.
“I have no idea how we get out of here,” said Norbert despairingly. “It was Drury who got us in, he should get us out.”
“There’s no sign of him anywhere,” said Philomena, sadly.
Just then the gentle yellow light that had lit their time beneath the obsidian walls was dimmed, and it was as if the whole world was being turned upside-down. The three of them were thrown roughly off their feet, tumbling over and over through a starless sky.
“Oh, what now?” thought Philomena, testily, just before she drifted into unconsciousness.
Doctor Dee awoke to find the room in chaos. There were scorch marks on the walls, the Sigillum Dei had been wiped clean from the floor and the obsidian bowl upturned. Stranger still, the three explorers were sprawled inelegantly across the floor. They were full-sized, barely conscious and looking not a little bemused. Dee peered across at them and cleared his throat.
“Good morrow,” he said politely, as though all that had occurred was the most natural thing in the world. “Allow me to introduce myself…”
To be continued…