Tag Archives: tentacles

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)


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


‘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.

Monsters and Mysteries

another setback for the bridge

All this week, sea monster sightings have moved progressively closer to land. Many fisher folk have reported strange things in the water. On Monday morning, disaster struck, as a terrifying, tentacle beast from the deep tore into the bridge. Workers fled in panic as boards were smashed, and the furthest section reduced to little more than firewood. We lost a week’s work in half an hour. However, the bridge team are not defeated, although questions have been raised about the viability of the project. We must consider defending the bridge from hostile sea creatures.

 During the half an hour of carnage, I was able to take this picture. I have new camera lenses, thanks to the ingenuity of Arthur Gibbous. However, the camera is still being peculiar. With the naked eye, numerous witnesses clearly saw the tentacles destroying our work. No one observed the floating entities with their disturbingly human faces. Does the camera lie? Is it capturing a truth beyond our perceptions? If these entities were present on Monday, I have no idea what they were. They appear to have emerged from the sea and do resemble jellyfish a little. Has anyone seen them before?

What the Camera Sees

As several people pointed out to me, last week’s picture was odd. There is something growing on my camera. This week I can only offer you an image of that. I have no idea what it is, or how it got there, much less how to remove it without damaging the delicate equipment. Viewed from the outside, my camera appears perfectly normal, however, pictures taken with it look like this. Sometimes the fauna (or is it flora) moves when I look through the lens at it.

I assume they must be very small, and inside the camera. Peering in creates an impression of vastness, as though the imagine shows another place or time. It is most unsettling. If I watch for too long, it seems as though they become aware of me, and able to see me. I feel I should not look, but morbid fascination draws me back repeatedly.