“Hey fella. What’s this critter called?” Linus Pinfarthing stopped in his tracks and turned around slowly. Only one quizzically raised, and somewhat affronted, eyebrow betrayed his annoyance. “I beg your pardon?” “I said what’s this critter called. Ain’t seen nothin’ like these things before.” The newcomer, who was dressed in furs and buckskin, was holding up a cage in which an angry spoonwalker tottered around helplessly. “That sir is a spoonwalker. How did he get to be in there?” If the other man noticed the ice in Linus’ voice, he chose to ignore it. “Well, I lured him there. Got me a few more, back in the cave.” “Indeed? And you are…?” “Zeke Tyndale, trapper and fur trader. Please to meet you mister.” Tyndale offered his free hand which Linus reluctantly grasped. He held it for a few seconds, as if deciding whether to shake or no. For reasons he could not explain, Tyndale shuddered, feeling as if his soul was being laid bare. Then Linus smiled, shook the proffered hand warmly, and said, “Linus Pinfarthing at your service, sir. My dear fellow, I would love to see the rest of your collection.” “Happy to,” said Tyndale. “Follow me.”
As the two men walked, Tyndale surprised himself by blurting out his life story to his new companion. He told how he had been a successful trapper, and had plied his trade right across the continent. Upon a whim he decided to try his luck in the far north-east, where, he was assured, he would find plenty of pelts, just waiting to be caught. Unfortunately, his small boat had run aground upon the rocks around Hopeless. Being a practical man, he had set up camp and decided to see if there was any game worth trapping on the island. “Lucky I’ve still got all my traps and snares,” he confided, “but I ain’t seen nothin’ worth skinnin’ yet, ‘cept some things that look like cats…” “That would be Dust Cats. You would do well to avoid them,” said Linus gravely. “Besides which, you would never catch one.” “That sounds like a challenge to me,” laughed Tyndale.
The trapper’s camp was surprisingly orderly, all things considered. He had salvaged the contents of his boat and stacked them neatly against a rock, covering everything with a badly stained tarpaulin. A circular fire-pit sat in front of the mouth of the small cave, which currently served as Tyndale’s temporary abode. “Home sweet home,” he said, gesturing for Linus to sit on a nearby rock. “Coffee?” “No thank you,” said Linus, ignoring the invitation to sit. “I am most keen, however, to see your little collection of spoonwalkers.” Tyndale beamed, happy to display his prowess as a trapper, and strode into the cave, beckoning for Linus to follow.
The cave was small, barely half-a-dozen paces from side to side, and illuminated by the glow of a single hurricane lamp. Tyndale’s bedding lay in an untidy heap. He carried the cage, and its irate occupant, over to the far corner, where Linus could see, in the dim light, several similar traps, each holding a dejected spoonwalker.
“These critters are goin’ to make my fortune,” declared the trapper proudly. “When I get off this island, I’ll take them to New York. Folks there have never seen nothin’ like these. They’ll give me a blank cheque to get their hands on them. Then no more trappin’ for me. I’m going to be a millionaire!” “And how do the spoonwalkers feel about this?” asked Linus. “Why, they’ll be fine and dandy about it, I reckon,” Tyndale guffawed. Linus sighed. “Do you know, Mr Tyndale…” “Call me Zeke.” “… Mr Tyndale, there are few things more disgusting to me than to see a creature – even creatures such as these – caged for the pleasure and greed of thoughtless humans.” “Well, that’s as maybe, Mr Pinfarthin’,” said Tyndale brusquely, “but trappin’ is my trade and what I can’t skin I’ll damn’ well sell… and believe me, these little guys will sell on the mainland, no problem.” “I think not, Mr Tyndale. Maybe you should be caged instead. Or would you prefer to be skinned?” Linus unlatched the cages and watched the spoonwalkers scuttle away on their cutlery stilts. “Now you look here, young fella…” “Young fellow? No, you look, Mr Tyndale…” Suddenly, the light of the hurricane lamp was dimmed as the cave filled with a swirling, smoke-like dark mist, which seemed to emanate from the body of Linus Pinfarthing. His form was changing, and the affable young man who had walked into the cave had lost all substance. Tyndale cringed as the space was filled with nightmare visions of blood and sacrifice, through which he occasionally glimpsed animal and bird forms. Then, as swiftly as the mist had formed, it dispelled. Pinfarthing was gone. The trapper stood up, wondering what had happened, convinced he had been hallucinating. Then he saw the hare. It was sitting in the mouth of the cave, motionless, and looking straight at him. Now, here was a meal and a pelt he could not refuse. Stealthily, he unhitched his hunting knife from its sheath, never taking his eyes from the hare. Just one throw is all that it would take… “I gave you a chance,” said the Hare in a voice as deep and dark as the earth itself. “I gave you the opportunity to change your ways.” Then the hare stretched and grew, and with growing, altered his shape into that of a coyote. “Do you not know me, even now?” asked Coyote, shaking himself. By now Tyndale was on his knees, trembling, as he watched Coyote turn black, and shrink once more, growing the feathers and wings of a great raven that tossed its head, and held the orb of the sun within its beak. It was a light that grew in intensity, almost blinding the trapper. Then, in the fierce unearthly glow, it seemed that all three beasts were there before him. “Fear us now,” chorused the voices of Hare, Coyote and Raven. “We are The Trickster. We are The Guizer. We are The Eldest. We are The First and The Last.” Tyndale screamed and squeezed his eyes tightly shut, hoping the three would be gone when he opened them again. Seconds passed like hours, or maybe they were hours. Squatting on the floor of the cave, gibbering and shuddering, he heard the ominous rustle of wings, the padding of light feet on stone and the distant howl of a prairie wolf. He knew that there were no wolves on this island. What was happening to him? Tyndale opened his eyes once more. He was alone, and all of his world, and everything he would ever again know, was held within the cave.
“It’s beyond even my knowledge,” said Doc Willoughby, modestly. “I have never seen anything like this.” Linus Pinfarthing looked on sympathetically. “The poor fellow must have suffered some great trauma,” he opined. “You could almost believe he was somehow caged inside himself.” “Yes, I agree,” said the Doc, nodding. “You may have something there, Linus.” No one knew exactly how long the wretched figure had been sitting, rocking and whispering to himself in that cave. It was fortunate that Linus had happened upon him a few days earlier. They had tried to leave food and drink, but he appeared to want neither. He was existing on nothing but air, it seemed.
Zeke Tyndale looked through the bars of his cage and saw the thousands of creatures that he had trapped and slaughtered in his lifetime. They clamoured to break the bars down, to drag him away and rip him to pieces. He wished that they would, for death would be a welcome respite. However, Hare, Coyote and Raven, who guarded him day and night, had other plans. He knew that it was their intention that he would live, trapped in this cage for as long as it pleased them, and that would be a long, long time.
Steampunk maker and creator Andy Arbon is making a spoonwalker nest! It’s a glorious work in progress…
Andy tells us… “the spoonwalkers have discovered this long-abandoned cutlery case in the corner of a cellar on the island and made it their home, laying three eggs. The nest is made using spoons in the same way a bird would use twigs, so if you have lost your teaspoons the chances are they are here. The eggs begin to glow green shortly before hatching. Practically this is part finished, I still need to add a mother spoonwalker and make a few improvements to the painting on the eggs.”
The reason spoons are always in short supply on Hopeless Maine, and thus jealously guarded by those who still have them, is spoonwalkers. Being soft, squidgy creatures who live on a cold, hard island full of hungry things, spoonwalkers adopted stilts at some point in their history. Then, when humans came along, they adopted cutlery. Mostly spoons. For whatever reason, it appears that knives and forks offend them and they’ll only pick one up in absolute desperation. A spoonwalker is more likely to limp away on three spoons than resort to a fork.
When spoonwalkers are breeding, they have to collect spoons ready for their young to leave the nest. The trouble is, that maths is not their strong point. Every baby spoonwalker needs four spoons, and there are usually several eggs in a nest. When obliged to multiply four by several, the spoonwalker invariably concludes that it needs ALL THE SPOONS IN THE WORLD and sets out with this aim in mind.
After the hatching, any unneeded spoons will simply be abandoned at the nest site. Other spoonwalkers may well collect them. Sometimes, a happy and fortunate human finds such a stash. Island wisdom has it that if you find a nest of spoons, you can never trust those spoons. They will not behave, and may run off of their own free will. But still, it beats trying to eat stew with a fork.
Pinned up behind the bar of the Squid and Teapot is a yellowing scrap of paper upon which are the written a few verses of a song. There would be nothing remarkable about this other than the fact that the lyrics are specifically about Spoonwalkers. That in itself is, as far as I am aware, almost unique (you may recall that, although he had no idea of their identity, W.S. Gilbert referred to them in his song ‘Why is the cutlery moving?’).
What makes these verses especially interesting, however, is not the subject matter but just three letters and a date written carelessly at the bottom of the sheet: RLJ 1936.
Looking through the guest-book of The Squid and Teapot (which is not a particularly time-consuming activity) it seems that no one with those initials appears to have stayed at the inn during the year in question. One entry that does stand out, however, is that of ‘J Shines and friend’.
Could ‘J. Shines’ be Johnny Shines, a musician and travelling companion of the blues singer, Robert Leroy Johnson? Although usually associated with the southern states of America, it is well documented that Johnson and Shines performed as far north as New York, Chicago and even Canada. Excitingly, if ‘RLJ’ is Robert Johnson it is proof that he came to Hopeless in the last couple of years of his short life. Sadly, however, the why and how of his visit may never be known but it would be safe to assume that the two men would have shared a room to save money.
Now for a leap of faith; if Johnson was on the island could it not be that his famous ‘Crossroads’ was actually penned here on Hopeless? There is a school of thought that the blues singer sold his soul to the devil on a crossroads in Mississippi – but Hopeless is a far better candidate for diabolic dealings, surely. if Johnson was here in 1936 and stood on the crossroads that lead to the caverns just as the sun was setting, who knows what he might have experienced? There are demonic forms enough on this island to make him think that the devil was after him. All this is speculation of course; the blues song pinned up behind the bar may be nothing to do with Robert Johnson at all. What do you think?
It washed up in a bottle on the beach here at ‘Morrigan’s Bay’ and was not easy to decipher, being sloppily scrawled with many ink blots. Reminiscent of Vogon Poetry, it alludes to both Hopkins and Leer in a most amateur and offensive way, showing little grasp of the works it clumsily references. It is almost as if some spoon obsessed creature with tentacles has stumbled across the tatters of a beach-washed poetry book and this is its sad attempt at mimicry. I am not sure whether to feel pity or repulsion…
This is a rather grand title for a thing that we are doing. We are combining the philosophy of Wombles ( “Making good use of the things that we find, things that the everyday folk leave behind”) and a cottage industry/arts and crafts movement. It began because we are having a week-long exhibition as part of the upcoming Stroud Book Festival. We thought it would be much more interesting to create a Hopeless, Maine environment than just to have pictures framed and stuck on a wall. (There will be those too, but the things we have done to the frames make them the sort of thing you might actually find on the island in a home) All of the best things we have made so far (I think) have been things that Nimue and I passed back and forth, so it’s great fun to find a new sort of collaborating for us too. In the photo above, there is a thing that we are still not certain is a bowl or a pet, though we expect it needs regular feeding in either case.
We’ll be talking more about all of this closer to the event, and as we Womble further.
Hoping (as always) this finds you well, inspired and thriving.
Of all of the flora and fauna of the island of Hopeless, Maine, the Spoonwalkers are a clear favourite with readers and people we meet at events. (They even have their own mythology…) One of our first readers, Theronody Krishna Isley, has created a sculptural Spoonwalker in a profoundly appropriate setting. To see more of her lovely work, you , could go… here!