Tag Archives: tentacles

New England Gothic

Hello people! (and others)

Many years ago, when Nimue and I started this whole Hopeless, Maine thing, Nimue wrote two books that went along with the timeline of The Gathering.  The first of these two books was New England Gothic, which takes place before book one and gives a lot of background on Annamarie and her earlier life (Yes. Those of you who have read Sinners will be having feels at this point) NEG is a bloody wonderful strange tale and we thought we’d bring it and the other prose book out along with the graphic novels, lavishly illustrated, of course. Well, this was before we learned a lot of things about the publishing industry (some of which we would rather not know, but that’s a long story for another time) We do plan to release both of these books in PDF form in the near future on the same Etsy site that the game is on. Then, hopefully, later there will be the fully illustrated print version. In the meantime, you can get New England Gothic in installments by pledging to Nimue’s Patreon!

Hoping, as always, this finds you well, inspired and thriving.

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Ms Lovelace and Ctholin.

Poor Ms Lovelace used to be a  travel writer until the shipwreck. Now she finds  herself in a strange world  known as Hopeless, Maine,  with strange powers bestowed  upon her by her new “patron”,  Ctholin…

Ctholin would very much like Ms Lovelace to write stories about him so he can be as famous as his cousin. Problem is, Ctholin is three inches high, has a lisp, and puts about as much unspeakable horror into the hearts of men as a soggy biscuit. Ms Lovelace is not quite sure if Ctholin is really as powerful as he claims. She wonders if perhaps she hit her head during the wreck and is now just talking to a clam. The new powers are nice, but she hasn’t really found a use for them beyond heating her tea.
Ms Lovelace wishes she had taken that cruise to Crescent Isle instead.

Words and art here by Francesca Dare! All of this happened at Asylum 2018. Francesca was with us in the author’s area and we got to spend time with her at long last! Ctholin is a small creature from our table who found a new home  (and a name and a personality) with Francesca. Many of us are now desperate for the further adventures of Cthollin.  For those of you who are not yet aware. Francesca is the artist/author of Penny Blackfeather which (Like Hopeless, Maine and other cool things) is published by Sloth Comics (which is sort of how we all met, except I’m pretty sure we were already fans of hers before that)

The Perilous Life of a Reviewer

A warning here (lavishly illustrated with photos) from the frighteningly brilliant Nils Visser. It may be wise to prepare to defend yourself (and your book) before sitting down to read Hopeless, Maine. Nils is the author of Amster Damned, (which I loved!) among other things, also,  he is apparently handy with a cutlass.

 

“Upon my first attempt to mind me own business and settle down for a good read of Hopeless, Maine SINNERS, I was blissfully unaware of the dangers posed…ere I knew it a slithering serpent with many rows of razor-sharp teeth materialised and attempted to snatch the graphic novel away from me. Fortunately, I’m skilled with a cutlass, and sliced the dastardly creature into sushi. I was given no chance to recover, however, as a first tentacle wrapped itself around the book, announcing the appearance of a far more dangerous creature. All I can say, never try to wrestle with an angry octopus. I have retreated, but have vowed: I’ll be back!”

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.

Our Toys need us!

Hello people! (and others)

This week the Vendetta will be departing from the norm because of special circumstances, and for the best possible of reasons.

Edrie Edrie and Walter Alice Sickert are some of our favorite people in the world, at all ever! They are our art heroes and have been part of our journey as creators since the beginning of the Hopeless, Maine project. Walter and Edrie are the hub of Walter Sickert and The Army of Broken Toys (Which is one of our favorite bands in the world at all ever. You may be seeing a pattern developing here) Walter is also a visual artist (And all around creative force of nature)  We commissioned him to do this Salamandra piece for the first graphic novel volume of Hopeless, Maine.


Bloody. Gorgeous.

He also wrote a hopeless, Maine song that had me in actual tears the first time I heard it. Here is a video Nimue made with the song as the soundtrack.

If/when the thing that we can not talk about happens, you know that the Toys will be a part of it, because they get it on a very deep level and are just plain bloody amazing.

Now, let’s get to the crux of the matter. Edrie is (for a brief time, and obviously through no fault of her own) sans job. In order for the band to be able to continue making music and art and love and tentacles and amazingness, they need the funds for studio time and all of the other necessary things. Here is how that is going to happen. They have a Patreon Page where you can go and pledge and as a side effect, be exposed to more brilliant, wildly creative art and music. In these times especially, WE NEED THESE PEOPLE MAKING ART. (Pardon the volume, I feel strongly about this) So please, please, pretty please with tentacles, get in there and be a part of this!

(Tell them Tom and Nimue sent you)

Enter a world of Steamcrunk Imagination!

 

Love and tentacles (As Walter would say)

Us.

The Annual Hopeless Rock Race

However austere and impoverished their environment, human beings will always find reasons and means for celebration.  Hopeless is no exception. It is an island so basic in its comforts and amenities that the occasional diversion likely to ignite the smallest spark of joy is often embraced with surprising enthusiasm.

The Annual Hopeless Rock Race has been a tradition since the late nineteenth century. It was the brainchild of no less and unlikely a personage than Reverend Malachi Crackstone. After finding himself shipwrecked he became somewhat homesick and harboured fond, if rose-tinted, memories of England. One of those memories was of the traditions upheld by his fellow countrymen; traditions, it must be said, of which he had heard tales but never actually witnessed. It confounded him why an otherwise perfectly rational young man would choose to run up a hill bearing a sixty-pound woolsack on his back. Equally baffling was the urge for apparently sane men and women to risk life and limb hurtling down a steep gradient in order to catch a fugitive cheese; a cheese which would have been rendered quite inedible after such a  journey. There were many, however, who considered such activities to be a worthwhile use of their time, so who, in that case, was he to disagree?

It one day occurred to him that the more able bodied inhabitants of Hopeless  would find enjoyment and health-giving exercise in a similar endeavour. In the absence of sacks of wool or wheels of cheese they would have to make do with the island’s most common commodity, that being lumps of rock.

Traditionally the Rock Race was always held on the day preceding the first full moon following the vernal equinox. It sounds complicated but the parson’s logic was that those islanders who could never remember when Easter was likely to fall in any given year could use this event as a reminder (as you probably know, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following this particular moon).

Forty years on and the race was still a much-anticipated and popular event. Crackstone had long gone to meet his maker, albeit in mysterious circumstances, and since his departure, both from this life and the Rock Race committee, the day had become a much more joyous and liberal occasion, helped along by the Gannicox Distillery and its near neighbour, the recently opened Ebley Brewery.

The concept of the Rock Race was simple: several rocks of roughly similar weight would be selected and competitors would be required to run, carrying their chosen lump of stone, from The Squid and Teapot to Chapel Rock, a distance of about one mile. Once under the remains of the chapel, the rock could be discarded but the participant would then be required to find a piece of cutlery in the ruins. This would usually be a spoon, which had either been left by a Spoonwalker, or dropped by one of the ravens who lived there, having discovered that the occasional Spoonwalker made a welcome addition to its diet. Once found, the cutlery would be rushed back to the Squid where the victor would be awarded with a refreshing glass of ‘Old Colonel’ and the inn’s speciality dish, a Starry-Grabby pie (this is similar to the Cornish Starry-Gazey pie but instead of having fish heads and tails staring heavenward from the pastry the Starry-Grabby pie has squid tentacles pointing upwards).

Any seasoned rock-racer was well aware that some rocks are easier to carry than others. While the weight of each had to be somewhat uniform, no such restrictions were imposed with regards to  its shape, so the quest for the perfect rock was always a feature of island life for the days – and sometimes even weeks – leading up to the great event.

Cardew Gannicox, nineteen years old and heir apparent to the island’s famous distillery, discovered what he considered to be the ideal rock sitting in a corner of the courtyard of Squid and Teapot. To be fair, it was not exactly a rock. It was a dressed stone block but, Cardew reasoned, every dressed stone had been a rock, or at least part of one, at some time during its long career. Seeing victory in his sights, Cardew gathered up the stone and took it home for safekeeping.


The day of the race at last arrived but while  contenders for the coveted prize were limbering up, Betty Butterow had other things on her mind. For the past five years she had dutifully tended to the welfare of the Squid’s resident ghost, Lady Margaret D’Avening, also known as The Headless Lady. Whenever the moon was full, Lady Margaret comes out to haunt the inn’s indoor privy, which had been constructed from some of the remains of her former home, Oxlynch Hall.

As you might imagine, this was a less than comfortable arrangement both for ghost and patrons. Fortunately Betty one day had an idea which improved matters no end; if just one of these stones was to be removed and positioned in another part of the inn, or its immediate environs, maybe Lady Margaret could transfer her energy, or whatever it was, into that and haunt the location in which the stone had been placed. To the barmaid’s amazement it worked. The ghost was more than happy with this as she had become decidedly desperate for a change of scenery. This evening, however, would herald the next full moon and Betty had no idea where Lady Margaret might find herself manifesting. The stone, which had been quietly sitting in the corner of the Squid and Teapot’s courtyard had vanished. It seemed that someone had taken it and Betty was beside herself with worry.


It was not the best of race days that year. In fact, it was a total disappointment. A miserable, drizzly rain had ensured that the competitors were thoroughly uncomfortable long before the race was over. The rain had made the rocks slippery and difficult to hold. There had also been several minor accidents, due to the greasy conditions underfoot. Cardew Gannicox had not won the coveted prize, though there were few, by then to witness it. He had been beaten by young Lemuel Nailsworthy, whose victory was only secured by the severe shortage of discarded spoons that year. By nightfall the only signs that the annual Rock Race had indeed taken place was the redistribution of several lumps of stone and The Squid and Teapot having three more spoons in the cutlery drawer.


Randall Middlestreet was thankful that the rain had stopped. The Night Soil Man’s job was not the easiest at the best of times, negotiating the various hazards of the island in the darkness. The incidence of rain just added to the misery. Making his way over the headland, however, he felt quite content with his lot. It had turned into a fine, if chilly, night and the full moon was making his progress much easier. Besides that, there was a delicious Starry-Grabby pie in his bag that Betty at the Squid had made especially for him. It had long been a tradition on the island that the Night Soil Man receive a Starry-Grabby pie on race days, the reasoning being that, as he could not compete, he should get a pie anyway. This year the tradition had been further enhanced by the inclusion of a bottle of the Ebley brewery’s ‘Old Colonel’.

Randall decided to take his meal break in the ruins at Chapel Rock. He knew that it was haunted; he’d seen old Obadiah, the ghost of the Mad Parson, more than once. They had even had a conversation which, admittedly, mainly comprised of Obadiah hurling a torrent of arcane insults at him. It was fair to say that ghosts held little fear for Randall. They were, on the whole, harmless and there were many worse things on Hopeless to worry about. Placing his bucket on the flattest surface he could find, the Night Soil Man spread a cloth over its lid and beaming with anticipation, upon it laid his pie and beer bottle.

He had barely swallowed the first mouthful of pie when the wraith of Obadiah Hyde manifested no more than a dozen yards away from him. The mad parson gave no indication that he knew Randall was there. Ghosts can be like that, sometimes being visible in several dimensions, realities, universes – call them what you will – and not totally sure which one they are actually inhabiting. Tonight Obadiah was oblivious to everything except the sense of a strange presence that drew him like a magnet towards a square-cut stone sitting in the ruins. This was something new.

Randall Middlestreet watched, fascinated, as the apparition flickered like a candle through the remains of the old chapel. Little by little, one of the blocks of stone began to glow. It was with no more than a faint luminosity at first, which grew very gradually into a steady greenish light, as if lit from within. Then, from the stone, the distinct but ghostly form of a woman appeared. The Night Soil Man could tell the ghost was female (despite the restrictions imposed by his calling, Randall had always been appreciative of the female form) but her lack of features above the neck made her a particularly ghastly sight. Obviously the shade of Obadiah Hyde thought so too, for the ghost visibly recoiled when he saw her. The Headless Lady grew in brightness until suddenly, with a flash that made Randall jump and nearly knock his bucket over, she seemed to fill the night with her presence, leaving the parson cowering before her, and despite her lack of a head, let out the most terrifying  Banshee wail that had the Night Soil Man scampering back over the headland leaving his bucket, pie and beer behind.


Betty Butterow was running a mop over the floor of the privy, her last task at The Squid and Teapot before going home to her husband, Joseph. For several years now she had become used to the Lady Margaret D’Avening’s head suddenly appearing from nowhere and wishing her goodnight. Tonight, however, a less hardy soul might have suffered a heart attack to find her ghastly visage burst like a cannonball through the stonework, screaming at the top of her voice

“Hyde, thou murderous, pox-ridden piece of dog dung, may’st thou rot in Hell for evermore…”


Finding herself in the hated presence of her killer, Obadiah Hyde, had been too much for Lady Margaret to bear and therefore she wasted no time in relocating to the comfort and security of the familiar stonework of the Squid and Teapot privy. She was beside herself. I mean that quite literally. She sat, shocked and shaking, upon the toilet seat while her head floated a foot or so beneath the cistern. It was indeed fortunate that Betty was there to comfort her; the two had formed a close friendship over the years; Betty’s gift of ‘The Sight’ had given her an invaluable advantage when it came to conversing with ghosts and suchlike.

As Lady Margaret recounted her tale, all became clear to the barmaid. The mystery of the missing stone had been solved and Betty promised that it would be recovered and placed back in the grounds of the inn, far away from Chapel Rock, before the next full moon, when the headless lady was due to manifest again. Betty wondered if there would ever be any resolution to the differences between Lady Margaret and The Mad Parson. She felt fairly sure that if this was ever to be, she would have to be the one to make it happen.

For some reason the words ‘A cold day in Hell…’ immediately spring to mind.

Art by Tom Brown

The Ravens of Chapel Rock

Wildlife, or at least the varieties not in receipt of tentacles, is not particularly plentiful on this island of Hopeless. Whatever position any particular species finds itself in, while clinging precariously to the food chain, it can be confident that something, somewhere will regard it as being no more than lunch. Although humans are far from being exempt from this aspect of island life (and death) their innate deviousness gives them a definite edge in the survival stakes. The only other creatures to rival, and indeed surpass, them in this respect are the small colony of ravens that live on Chapel Rock.

In the late 1600s the Reverend Obadiah Hyde managed to browbeat a few of the more God-fearing unfortunates who had found themselves shipwrecked with him to build a simple chapel. Being the pious puritan that he was, he offered them the prospect of an eternity of fiery damnation as an alternative. After his strange and unlamented demise the place quickly fell into disrepair. The ravens, being naturally theatrical creatures, had a fine sense of the dramatic and decided that this would be a splendidly Gothic place to set up a permanent home. They only briefly deserted the area when, about two hundred years later, some young monks thought it would be a good idea to give the ruins a new lease of life as an abbey. When that came to nothing the ravens returned and since then have enjoyed a fairly uninterrupted existence.

As far as anyone knows they were roosting on the island long before any human set foot upon it. The gradual trickle of people coming to Hopeless, whether by design or accident (but usually accident) has had no detrimental impact upon these birds at all. One reason is that virtually every culture that has washed-up here has brought with it a wealth of lore and superstition surrounding ravens, often endowing them with a supernatural, almost god-like, presence. This, coupled with the simple fact that they are not particularly edible, even to the unfussy palate of the average islander, has probably secured their continued success.

Any student of natural history will tell you that the average lifespan of a raven in the wild is about twenty-one years. The ravens of Chapel Rock, however, seem to enjoy greater longevity than this, often surpassing that of a human. Several factors have been attributed to this but the most likely, in my opinion, is the addition of the occasional spoonwalker to their diet. Anyone in need of a spoon or two need only go to the base of the rock to find various bits and pieces of cutlery discarded by their late owners.

Back in the first half of the nineteenth century, in the years before the attempted renovation of the chapel, one of the ravens, which had a distinctive white tail-feather, took to visiting the other inn on the island every night. Here it waited to be fed scraps of meat and the odd beakful of beer. In return it would utter a few words that it had picked up from the locals. It did this for many years and became something of a novelty. In its honour the landlord proudly renamed (and misnamed) his drinking establishment “The Crow”.

I would love to be able to tell you that this bird was the inspiration for Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem but sadly there is no record of Mr Poe ever visiting the island, as much as the place would have undoubtedly fascinated him. At the time  he would have been newly married and his young wife – his very young wife – would not have liked Hopeless one bit. At thirteen years old she would have been more interested in skipping-ropes than spoonwalkers.

I was asked recently who actually owns the island. There was no doubt in my mind.

“The ravens,” I said.

Art by Clifford Cumber

Tentacoils

‘Twas chillblist, and the tentacoils
  Did writhe and wrangle ‘midst the waves:
Beleaguered was my little boat
Far off the coast of Maine.

Above the storm, a voice sang fell

 A knell, if not a note in tune,

But th’ wind did snatch the words away

 And left my soul in swoon.

 

“Beware the mermaids, child!” it cried
  “The howlers wild, with nails that slash!
The noisome gnii, the beasts of sea
and those your spoon wouldst snatch!”

 

 

“Beware the tentacoils!” it sang

“Beware the stinging succubus

The eyes that glow, the shades that grow,

And demons of the dust!”

 

But firm I took my oar in hand:
  Long time in dark for hope I sought —
‘till in Hopeless State I came to rest,
And lay awash in thought.

 

And, as in lone despair I lay,
  Demonic Shades, with eyes of flame,
came salivating for my soul
And sang, o sang, my name

 

And so a while I’ll linger on

To wander Hopeless in a daze

And bathe my soul in demon song

For all remaining days…

 

‘Twas chillblist, and the tentacoiled
  Did writhe and wrangle ‘midst the waves:
Beleaguered was my little boat
Far off the coast of Maine…

 

Words by Lou Pulford.

Art by Tom Brown

The Balloonist

You will not find Ivor Watson’s poems in any of the anthologies of nineteenth century American verse. For the few who are aware of his work he has always been viewed as a very minor poet, overshadowed by the likes of Longfellow, Whitman and Dickinson. The greatness and public admiration that he so desired always eluded him. In fairness, we cannot attribute this lack of celebrity to the fact that he died when still in his twenties; after all, it didn’t do John Keats any harm (except for the dying bit). To be brutally honest the real reason was that he was just not a very good poet.
Having been born into one of the wealthier families of New England, Ivor had the freedom to indulge his various passions to the full. One of these was a desire to take to the skies. He had been inspired in this by reading of the exploits of Mr John Wise, a famous balloonist of the time. In 1850 Ivor purchased Wise’s newly published book, the snappily entitled:
‘A System of Aeronautics, Comprehending Its Earliest Investigations, and Modern Practice and Art. Designed as a History for the Common Reader, and Guide to the Student of the Art, in Three Parts’.
Armed with this tome Ivor felt empowered to go out and buy a very expensive hot air balloon. This was a state of the art piece of modern technology and had been produced strictly to Wise’s specifications. And so, in the Spring of 1851, he set out to explore the heavens. What could possibly go wrong?

When all the gas escaped and the balloon floundered off the coast of Maine, to his credit, Ivor didn’t panic. Wise’s design ensured that if, for any reason, the balloon should become deflated when aloft it would collapse to form a parachute. This would ensure that the occupant of the basket descended to the earth in a reasonably dignified manner and without injury. That was the good news. The bad news was that he had landed upon the rocky shores of Hopeless.

We will now go forward in time and space. It was a year or so later that Mr Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was intrigued to take receipt of a small package, wrapped in oilskin, that his wife Frances had discovered, washed up on a beach. Inside was a small hand-written notebook. Within its pages were the ink-smudged last words ever written by Ivor Watson, which included his final poem. This Longfellow dismissed out of hand as being opium-addled nonsense but he was quite taken by the meter Ivor had employed (which is, I am reliably informed, trochaic tetrameter) and decided to use it himself some day.
By great coincidence the notebook is now in the possession of Rufus Lypiatt, landlord of the Squid and Teapot, having been inadvertently left there in a carpet-bag by Mr W.S.Gilbert, who had acquired it from Longfellow when he visited him in 1871.

Here, then, are the final words of Ivor Watson:

Tuesday April 15 1851 written from the comfort of my room in The Squid and Teapot.
I am thankful to have landed safely upon this island, though its austere bareness immediately troubled me for reasons which, at first, I could not comprehend. The basket of my ruined balloon still sits in the desolation of a long abandoned chapel. I will return there in the morning and see what might be done. It strikes me as being exceedingly strange that a house of God should have once existed in such a desolate spot.

When darkness descended upon the land I was loathe to venture far from the chapel, feeling that if evil was truly abroad its agents would be less likely to cause me harm if I stood upon consecrated ground. In the wan light of a full moon I witnessed certain creatures passing but in truth they resembled no fauna I have seen illustrated in any publication. I have always been led to believe that only denizens of the sea propel themselves with tentacles.
As the night drew on I began to fear that these horrors would indeed attack me. They came ever nearer, seeming to have no fear or respect for what was once the house of our Lord. As I was about to abandon all hope of deliverance I spied the figure of a man on a nearby hill. Although he carried a large burden on his back he scrambled over the rocks with great agility. The beasts, if creatures of flesh and blood they were, seemed to trouble him not. As he neared them they eschewed his very presence and thankfully retreated. I confess, I wondered who might wield such power over them and fretted that this might be yet another demon in human guise.
This fellow was certainly human but, in truth, his stench was untenable. Alas, it is the price I had to pay for his companionship and protection, for I believe that his reek, which is that of human filth, keeps the very demons of the pit at bay. I guessed him to be a collector of night soil. We have such men in Portland who patrol with pony and cart. Their business is conducted when gentlefolk are abed so this is the first of his type I have met. Despite the stench he is a good sort and accompanied me to this nearby hostelry.

Wednesday April 16 1851
Dear God, is there no respite from the demons that haunt this island? Disturbed from sleep last night, I swear I saw a tiny, almost fish-like figure scuttle through my room wearing pewter stilts that resembled spoons. I did but wonder if I had died and gone to Hell. Even the name of this inn screams of my worst nightmares. Squids and teapots are unlikely bedfellows in the waking world.
But at least now I have breakfasted and feel in better spirits. I prepare to make my way back in daylight to see if anything may be done with my late lamented air balloon.

Wednesday April 16 from the chapel ruins.
Good fortune has smiled upon me. As I made my way along I chanced upon some men of God seeking a place to build an abbey. Although papists, they seemed cheered by my description of the ruined chapel. We ventured here together and praise be, they have helped me secure my escape from this accursed island.
By prudently caulking my basket with moss and mud, then lining it with the fabric of my balloon, part of which will furnish me with a fine sail, I am now ready to put to sea and feel confident that this very evening I will be dining with my parents in Portland. However, before I may leave I have two tasks to complete. Firstly, I will write a poem to commemorate my journey. This should be in some heroic meter. I recall my Finnish nanny, dear Kaija, used to chant to me snatches of the epic tale from her native land ,The Kalevala. I always loved its rhythm. My other task before setting off is to wrap this notebook securely in oilskin, to protect it from the ravages of saltwater.

 

An excerpt from
The Song of Ivor Watson

On the rugged shores of Hopeless,
By the angry, murky water,
Wet and shiv’ring in the darkness,
I stood waiting for the morning
Hoping I’d survive ‘til sun up.
Then before me, not too distant
On the headland stood a stranger
With a bucket strapped upon him.
Oh the air was foul and fetid
In those places where he wandered,
Wandered with his lidded bucket,
O’er the rocks so slick and jagged.
“Tell me stranger” I beseeched him,
Trying not to retch and splutter,
“Tell me where I might find shelter,
Safely from the ghosts and goblins,
Those who gibber, scream and cackle
In the darkness, where my nightmares
Tentacled and fanged and slimy
Haunt me when I do not slumber.”
“Get you to the The Squid and Teapot”
Answered then the pungent stranger,
“There the company is pleasant,
There you’ll drink strong ale and porter.
Maybe try the local moonshine.
Local moonshine, giggling water”

In the safety of my chamber
Food and shelter soon refreshed me,
Drove away those nightmare visions
Spawned from fear and desperation
In the ruins of the chapel.
Exorcised those frightful demons.
Those who slithered in the darkness,
Those who shunned the gentle sunlight.
Nurs’ry monsters of my childhood.
So unto my bed I wander’d
Seeking sweet repose and comfort.
Then my eyes beheld a figure
Swathed in moonlight, small, misshapen
Spoons for legs and eyes a-glowing
Dancing on my bedside table
Capering within the moonlight
Even here the hell-spawn lingered.
Even here my nightmares taunt me.
Was it too much giggling water?

(The rest was an inky blur and completely unreadable. This, dear reader, is no great loss to literature)

 

Illustration by Clifford Cumber

Returning to Life

Modesty Jones, with tentacles

For the last two weeks, I have not had the strength to gather news, much less work the printing press. I have recollections of fever induced nightmares, sweating and fighting with monsters no one else could see. I gather I was one of the first to be struck down by this sickness. In these last weeks, and I estimate that nearly a half of the islanders have suffered from this monstrous contagion. Hunger Hill Establishment for the Weak and Confused has become a temporary hospital for the afflicted. Modesty Jones is currently in residence there (see photograph) which has not been a disaster for local journalism.

A number of eyes opened on my skin. I was not personally able to see through them, I do not know if anything else could. During the fever, I considered myself inhabited and others who have recovered report similar experiences. Most of the eyes have gone now, aside from one in the centre of my chest. I did not experience the outgrowths of tentacles, although others have suffered these disturbing growths. Some fall off with time, others have not, thus far.

I have not ascertained the extent of this sickness, but it appears widespread. I am not aware of any fatalities as yet, although there is much concern that abnormalities will remain. The cause is unknown, and there appears to be no cure beside waiting it out. Doc Willoughby remained unavailable for comment, which is unusual for him. All insight in this matter will be much appreciated.