Tag Archives: squid

Optimists – Chapter Covers

The theme for the chapter covers in Hopeless, Maine, Optimists, is creatures. Teaselheads, spoonwalkers, moths, dustcats, builder-squid and an ur-deer all feature. It’s good to get to focus on them a bit.

The spoonwalker is nesting, and we get to see what colour baby spoonwalkers are! The teasleheads demonstrate critical stages of their curious life cycle. We have a dustcat wrecking ball – when dustcats are alarmed, they hold each other’s tails, meaning all the sharp bits go on the outside. Small angry cartwheels are more normal, but a full blown wrecking ball is a thing to behold – ideally from a safe distance! 

The ur-deer is a shy woodland creature, slightly alarming to behold. Mostly harmless. May attempt to run up you if you corner it, which you do not want it to do. The moths are mostly poisonous, annoying and likely to eat your underwear. There are quite a lot of moths in this volume, because we got a bit excited about them, and they are pretty, so long as they don’t bite you, and you don’t bite them.

Chapter 5, as presented above, involves builder squids. These were somewhat the fault of Dr Porridge, and live in a freshwater lake somewhere in the middle of the island. I have stories about them. I rather like the idea of squids making things.

Hopeless, Maine: Optimists is the fourth volume in the Sloth Comics editions of Hopeless, Maine and comes out at the end of March (2022). These are most readily available in the UK and can be ordered from bookshops and comics shops. Places that sell books online will likely sell them to you. A number of sites have the book on pre-order – Hive, The Portobello Bookshop, Blackwells, Bookshop.org, Book Depository , Foyles and Waterstones – currently Amazon doesn’t have anything useful going on, but that’s ok, you probably weren’t going to shop there anyway 🙂

The Secrets of the Squid

Norbert Gannicox and Bartholomew Middlestreet appeared to be transfixed by the key that Norbert had placed upon the bar of The Squid and Teapot. It was ornate, obviously old and, until that morning, had spent the previous half-century or more hidden in a damp cupboard, in a dusty corner of the Gannicox Distillery. The box in which the key had been found also contained a mysterious letter, signed by Sebastian Lypiatt (a previous landlord of the inn), who had suggested that it would be preferable for ‘the item’, as he called it, to be kept anywhere other than The Squid and Teapot, and asking Solomon (Norbert’s grandfather) to do the decent thing, and hang on to it.

It was Philomena Bucket who broke the spell, mopping up puddles of spilt beer and rearranging the dust on the floor with a sweeping brush.

“What’s that old thing you’ve got there that’s causing so much interest? “she enquired, casually brushing a shower of pastry crumbs over Norbert’s boots.

“It’s a key to a door we don’t seem to have,” replied Bartholomew, shaking his head. “I know every door in this inn, and I also know what every key to every door looks like, and none of them look like this one.”

“Then maybe it doesn’t belong here at all,” declared Philomena, then added, jokingly, “unless, of course, you’ve not yet found the secret doorway that leads to a treasure chest.”

“I can’t imagine that,” said Bartholomew, although the sudden enthusiastic look on his face told Philomena and Norbert that he certainly could imagine it, and the prospect excited him no end.

“Well, if you don’t look you won’t find anything,” said Philomena, philosophically. “I don’t mind having a poke about, up in the attics, if you like.”

The truth of the matter is that Philomena enjoys nothing more than rummaging around in the attics of The Squid and Teapot, so this was not too arduous a chore for her.

“Yes, alright, if you’re sure, but that’s a big space to cover on your own,” said Bartholomew.

Just then his wife, Ariadne, wandered in and was immediately press-ganged into helping.

“If you two take a look in the attics, Norbert and I will see if there are any secret doors in the cellar,” said Bartholomew, adding pessimistically, “but I don’t expect we’ll find anything.”

The Squid and Teapot is one of the oldest buildings on the island of Hopeless. Originally thought to have been a church, and constructed long before the founding families arrived here, it has changed in shape, size and purpose considerably during its lifetime. Over the years it has been the subject of several building projects, leaving it both impressive in appearance and somewhat eccentric in design.  The inside of The Squid, as it is affectionately known, is no less remarkable. While its cellars contain as many barrels of alcohol as the Ebley Brewery and Gannicox distillery are able to provide, plus anything else vaguely alcoholic that the tide brings in, the spacious attics are an Aladdin’s cave, filled with any spoils of the sea which, for now, are not required for use on the island.

While Bartholomew and Norbert peered and prodded behind the barrels in the cellar, Philomena and Ariadne busied themselves moving boxes away from the attic walls in the hope that they would find the elusive doorway. The light filtering through the small, grimy windows, however, was not particularly good, and their tallow candles illuminated little. It was beginning to look like a lost cause.

“Let’s take a break,” said Ariadne after an hour of fruitless searching, and flopped down on to an old sea-chest that they had found to be too heavy to pull from the far wall.

“What’s kept in there?” asked Philomena. “It looks old.”

“No idea,” replied Ariadne. “It has always been here, as far as I know. We’ve tried to open it in the past, but not even crowbars will prise the lid up. Sadly, it’s locked tight, and we haven’t got the key. “

A meaningful silence filled the room, and the two women looked at each other for what felt like an eternity.

“You don’t think…” said Philomena.

She said no more, but rushed down the stairs, grabbed the ornate key that was still sitting on the bar, and returned, red-faced and breathless.

“What kept you?” grinned Ariadne. She moved off the chest and, with trembling hands, Philomena put the key into the lock. She expected the mechanism to be stiff and unyielding but was surprised by the ease with which it turned.  Gingerly, as if she half-expected something to leap out and attack her, she lifted the lid and peered inside.

“What’s in there?” asked Ariadne, excitedly.

“Nothing at all,” replied Philomena.

“Nothing? Oh for goodness sake…” Ariadne began, but Philomena cut her short.

“No… it’s empty but it goes down forever. There’s a ladder inside and I can’t see the how far it is to the bottom.”

“I don’t understand,” said Ariadne, “how can the chest be bottomless?”

“Because it’s not a chest. Not a real one, anyway. It won’t come from the wall because it’s part of it, a small extension built to look like a sea-chest. It is a secret passage! Come on, let’s see what’s down there,” said Philomena.

“I’m not sure that I can…” said Ariadne, hesitantly.

“Well I will!” replied Philomena, “Give me a candle and hang around up here until you know that I’m safely at the bottom. Will you do that?”

Ariadne nodded, feeling feeble, but unable to face the challenge of a vertical ladder that seemed to descend into nothing but unfathomable darkness.

Philomena tied her skirt into a knot around her waist and put her foot on the top rung, quietly praying that rust had not attacked the metalwork. Ariadne looked on anxiously as her friend disappeared into the gloom.

The shaft was cold and narrow, little wider than the span of Philomena’s shoulders. The smoky candle barely pierced the darkness, which seemed to wrap itself around her like a blanket.

“Can’t be far now,” she thought to herself. Her senses, usually so acute, felt numbed and the short while that she had been on the ladder felt like an eternity. Then her feet touched the floor.

Philomena reached out and felt cold stone all around her. She told herself not to panic; if there was no way out, other than the way she had come, then she’d climb back up. She would be fine.  The problem was that she did not feel fine, encased in what felt like a stone sepulchre. She allowed the meagre light of the candle to play over the unremitting wall of granite, but found no sign of a means of egress, other than via the ladder.

She was about to turn back, ready to face the long and perilous climb to the top, when she noticed the flame waver, a tiny flicker that would have been easy to miss. Raising a pale finger, Philomena traced it against the stonework. There was a definite line to follow, just enough of a crack to allow the tiniest whiff of air to find its way through the otherwise solid wall.

“This must be a door,” she told herself, pushing at the wall, but nothing moved. The candle was almost spent and its flame was growing weaker by the second. Then it went out altogether.

“Blast! I give up,” she moaned, almost in tears, and reached for the ladder. Philomena, however, had lost her bearings in the darkness and instead of touching cold iron, she found her hand leaning against a stone projecting very slightly from the rest of the wall. There was a soft rumble, and a mechanism that had lain idle for at least fifty years was coaxed into life. A second or two later a narrow section of wall slid back, revealing Bartholomew and Norbert. They were happily perched on a couple of beer barrels, and enjoying a quiet pint of Old Colonel.

They stared in surprise at Philomena, who was suddenly conscious of her skirt knotted up around her waist and her pale, bare thighs on show, for all to see.

“Hello there, fellas,” she said, unabashed. “I could really use a drop of that stuff.”

To be continued…

Hell’s Mouth

Squid and Teapot by Amanda Frick

You may recall that, in the tale ‘Bigspoon’, the orphaned twins, Winston and Wendell Westonbirt, successfully convinced most of their fellow islanders that a giant spoonwalker was stalking Hopeless. It was the Night-Soil Man, Rhys Cranham who debunked the hoax, but having spent his formative years in the Pallid Rock Orphanage, Rhys had no desire to land the boys into trouble with Reverend Davies. Instead he gave them the fright of their lives, then discreetly let it be known that Bigspoon would not be returning.
It took some weeks for before the twins were able to put their fears to one side and steal out of the orphanage after dark once more. This was obviously against all the regulations, and indeed, common sense, but these were the very reasons that influenced their decision.

The Westonbirt twins escaped from their dormitory a few minutes after their nine o’clock bedtime, just as darkness was falling. All seemed to be going well, to begin with, but after walking for no more than half an hour, it dawned upon them that they had absolutely no idea where they were. According to Winston’s calculations they should, by now, be in a position to peer through the downstairs windows of the once notorious Madam Evadne’s Lodging House for Discerning Gentlemen. I have no idea what the pair hoped to see; Madam Evadne’s had long ago become little more than a social club, and there would be nothing remotely salacious to be witnessed by looking through its grimy windows (especially the downstairs ones).
Reluctant to let the adventure end so early, they walked on. The night deepened and fog thickened around them, distorting shapes and even the most familiar landmarks. After two more hours they had had their fill of adventure. All they wanted was to retreat to the safety of their own beds, but by now were hopelessly lost.
“I’m tired,” declared Wendell, sitting down on a rock, then swiftly springing to his feet again.
“That is hot!” he exclaimed, rubbing the seat of his trousers,
It was then that the fog lifted slightly; to their great surprise they were standing in the middle of a heat-scorched area of barren earth and piles of rock. Hopeless is somewhat devoid of areas of outstanding natural beauty, but the spot in which they found themselves was singularly unpleasant. In the dim light they could see deep fissures in the ground, which revealed, far beneath their feet, terrifying glimpses of raging fires. The very earth on which they stood was hot and, occasionally, jets of smoke would erupt from the most unexpected places. It would have been enough to strike terror into the stoutest heart.
Then, as the moon pierced the thinning mist, a single beam illuminated a cleft in the rocks which seemed to have been fashioned into a crude doorway. Smoke drifted from its dark depths.
Winston looked at Wendell and said,
“This must be Hell.”
“And that must be the way in,” agreed Wendell, nodding towards the smouldering doorway. “Now that would be an adventure to tell the others about.”
While Reverend Davies would have been gratified that some of his more robust sermons had not fallen on completely deaf ears, he would have felt some dismay to learn that two of his charges were contemplating visiting Hell.
Before either boy could move, however, a dark shape emerged from the smouldering doorway, a dreadful hump-backed figure, silhouetted in the moonlight.
“It’s the devil,” wailed Winston, and as one they ran blindly into the darkness, away from the Satanic scene in front of them.

It was over a century ago that a certain William Whiteway had the notion that there was gold to be found on Hopeless. His idea sparked little enthusiasm with his fellow islanders, but William resolved to dig his mine anyway. For five long years he toiled, delving deep into the earth, with no more than a spade and pick-axe to aid his endeavours. Every stone, large and small, that he excavated was placed in a basket which, when full, was strapped to his back and laboriously carried to the surface. It was back-breaking agony, and all for no reward. Then, one day, his pick shattered a rock which opened up into a huge cavern, empty and austere, like some vast underground cathedral. William thought that his luck had changed; the smooth walls gleamed with a metallic lustre in the pale light of the candle that he had affixed to his battered helmet. Eagerly he chipped at the rock face, but there was no gold to be had, just some sort of black mineral that would be good for nothing.
To no one’s surprise William died soon after, an exhausted and disappointed man.

While the islanders of Hopeless are maybe not the most industrious of folk, they certainly know an opportunity when they see one, and the abyss that William had thoughtfully supplied for them seemed an ideal place to deposit their rubbish. For fifty years William’s Pit, as it became known, was the main repository for the island’s waste. As you may imagine, fifty years’ accumulation of assorted trash would be smelly, to say the least, until someone had the bright idea that they could burn it.
For a while that strategy seemed to do the trick, but it became clear that, although both the smell and the rubbish had gone, the blaze still raged. It appears that William had inadvertently opened up a vast seam of anthracite which had ignited. The fire began half a century ago and it has yet to be extinguished. It is well known that raging beneath that part of the island is an inferno, where lethal clouds of gas swirl through the subterranean caverns. Luckily this is confined to a relatively small area which the islanders wisely avoid. Only the Night-Soil Man goes there occasionally. He finds it a convenient place to dispose of his burden.

The boys were found next morning, far away from home and thoroughly chastened by their experience. When the Reverend Davies questioned them, he was unsurprised that they thought that they had visited Hell’s Mouth and saw Satan himself. He was well aware of the existence of William’s Pit and that the Night-Soil Man frequented it. However, if they believed they had visited Hell and met its master, he did not disabuse them of the notion; such a belief, he thought, would only strengthen his authority
It was late on the following evening that Miss Calder stopped Rhys Cranham as he passed the orphanage. She told him what had happened, and how his timely appearance had frightened the boys away from danger.
The Night-Soil Man smiled, but chose to say nothing, accepting the compliment, although it was undeserved. He had not visited William’s Pit for weeks.

(New Squid and Teapot art by Amanda Frick. If you’d like to share a squid and teapot – art of photo – do let us know!)