Why do we do things we’re not supposed to?
The label on the bottle was clear enough; ‘Do not open’.
There didn’t seem anything particularly interesting in the bottle, just sand, a couple of small pebbles all topped up with a lot of rather murky water. I shook it and something metallic bounced against the glass. I peered closely at the contents and through the swirling cloud of liquid dirt I could see a spoon. The bowl section was partly buried in the sand, the handle resting against the side of the bottle and then, just for a split second, I saw it. There was something written on the front part of the handle.
I squinted, as though that would make any difference. It was no use, the water was just too grim – so, I uncorked the bottle. I could swear I heard a young girl giggle. I looked around, but I was alone on the shingle beach. I looked up; the sunny day had begun to darken as a light rain started to fall.
I emptied the contents of the bottle onto the beach as the rain fell harder. I picked up the spoon and washed it in a nearby rock pool. The words etched onto the handle became clear.
“You shouldn’t have done that.”
A chill ran down the back of my neck. I dismissed it as a lucky raindrop. I felt nervous. I don’t know why, I’m not usually a nervous person, but the message on this spoon just spooked me. I dropped the spoon back into the dirt, firmly replaced the cork and threw the bottle as hard as I could into the Atlantic Ocean.
A fitful night’s sleep followed. I just couldn’t get that message out of my mind. On the rare occasions when sleep did take over there were visions of forbidding granite cliffs and a dense fog muting every colour.
I awoke early the next morning with a sense of doom enveloping me. I walked back down to the sea front to try and clear my head. The clouds had become darker and the rain was descending in vertical sheets as the waves swarmed around my boots. A dull clunking sound made me look down; it was the same bottle I had picked up yesterday.
Again I heard laughter, but this time something else – the sound of someone sobbing. It was only the faint, ghost of a sound, but I know I heard it. The crunching of footsteps on the shingle made me look around to see who I shared the beach with.
No-one. I was completely alone.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” a girl’s voice giggled.
I twisted around to see a thick fog rolling in from the ocean. But fog doesn’t talk, does it? There was definitely no-one else around. The message on the spoon must have spooked me more than I realised. The fog swarmed everywhere and within minutes I could hardly see my own feet. The laughing got louder.
“It won’t be long now,” the voice giggled.
“Who’s there? Show yourself,” as if I could see anything in this pea-souper.
“What’s so funny? Why are you laughing?”
“You’ll see. Not long now.”
“Not long to what? Where are you?”
I tried walking towards the voice, but I was effectively blind. I stumbled forwards, my hands bracing my fall onto the sand.
This is a shingle beach, there isn’t any sand for miles in either direction. My hands dug in and clenched into fists. It was definitely sand. That wasn’t the only thing that had changed, the sea had got louder. No longer the gentle lapping motion of water on the pebbles, but now the giant crashing of waves against rocks. There are no rocks for miles.
No rocks and no sand.
I rubbed my hands together and could feel the sand smoothing down my skin. The freezing rain ran off my hair and dripped onto the sleeves of my coat. How can the rain be so cold? This is the middle of July. I looked up and thought I could see the fog thinning out.
“Almost there now,” the giggling voice seemed to mock me.
“Who are you?” I demanded. “Where are you? Show yourself.”
“Let him go,” a second voice moaned.
“No,” said the first voice, “this is fun.”
As the fog thinned into a mist I could see two young girls standing in front of me. One, slightly taller, had a mischievous smile on her face, the other tears trickled down her cheeks; both had a wan, jaundiced complexion. The mist seemed to dull the colour of their clothes, if they had any colour to begin with. I looked past them. Granite cliffs towered high into a dark green sky.
“Where is this place?” I asked
“You’ll like it here, given enough time,” said the taller one, the mischievous smile slowly replaced by a more sinister expression. “And you’ll have plenty of that.”
“It’s not fair,” said the second girl. “You should let him leave.”
“It’s too late for that,” said the taller girl.
“This isn’t the beach I walked onto,” I said. “Where am I?”
“This is Hopeless,” the tall girl smiled.
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s where you are. The island of Hopeless, Maine.”
“No, I can’t be in Maine. I can’t have crossed the Atlantic in only five minutes.”
The taller girl giggled again, “You haven’t crossed the Atlantic silly.”
“You’re not making any sense.”
“It makes perfect sense. You opened the door and came in.”
“What door?” I shouted, my anger starting to boil over. “Where am I?”
“When you uncorked the bottle it began. It didn’t matter that you threw the bottle back, you couldn’t stop it. You’re here now and you can’t leave.”
“Where’s ‘here’?” I asked, even though the awful truth dawning on me.
Both girls pointed to the top of the cliffs. Through the swirling mist I could see it. A huge metal sculpture arcing into the sky. Except, I knew it wasn’t a sculpture. The shape was the same and the engraving was the identical; ‘You shouldn’t have done that’.
“That’s impossible,” I croaked as the taller girl started laughing.
“The bottle is green,” said the other girl, “the same colour as the sky.”
“You mean I’m inside the bottle?”
They both smiled.
“You’re on the island of Hopeless Maine,” said the sad one, “and you can never leave.”
In the year of 1724, the month of July was unbearably hot. I sometimes wonder if it was the heat that induced a madness in me. Since I arrived on this forsaken island we have washed up on many shores. I have seen bridges span the widest rivers, buildings touching the clouds and dozens of poor, unfortunate souls have become my unwilling companions. I smile now as I think of the time I uncorked the bottle and I thought that was how I ended up here. It wasn’t. With the bottle came a note, written by the tall girl. It was the story of how she came to be in the bottle. I didn’t tell you that at the beginning because you may not have read this far.
Tell me, what colour is the sky?
This dark and lovely tale of Hopeless, Maine was penned by none other than the esteemed Mr. Symon A Sanderson, Author of the Steamside Archives. Art by Tom Brown (and it is not the first time we have worked in this configuration!)