Tag Archives: Doc Willoughby

Baking Bad

Regular readers of ‘The Vendetta’ may recall that The Squid and Teapot once experienced some difficult times under the stewardship of one Tobias Thrupp, a most egregious sort of fellow.  Thrupp’s evil nature and eventual downfall is recalled in the tale ‘The Supper Guest’.  To my knowledge, this is the only period in the inn’s long history that its reputation for generosity has  been tarnished. Except for this brief interlude, newcomers to the island have been given board and lodgings in exchange for some basic chores. This arrangement has continued until such times as they were able to make their own way or, as is more likely, disappear without a trace, as so many do on Hopeless, Maine.

Philomena Bucket had been a resident of The Squid and Teapot for two months. Originally, she had been living in a room on the ground floor of the inn but wishing to be as unobtrusive as possible, she asked to be moved to a tiny attic space that boasted a single window that looked out towards the ocean. At least, it would have, had it not been for the thick and ever-present mist that obscured everything. Now and then an inquisitive gnii would nudge against the glass, spilling its soft, warm light into the room. At first Philomena was alarmed by this intrusion but it had not taken her long to come to love these strange and enigmatic creatures.

Philomena had spent her early life on the streets of Cork, making a precarious living sketching anyone who might give her a few pennies for her efforts. After such an existence, Hopeless, bleak as it was, posed few challenges to her. She was given shelter and food – not plentiful but adequate – and no one looked twice at her, for which she was grateful. Her hair and skin were as pale and translucent as winter moonlight. This albinism, which had occasionally been a source of fear and derision, went by unnoticed on Hopeless. People had better things to worry about than the way that others looked. Besides, she was a hard worker who more than earned her keep, and that counted for much.

One of Philomena’s chores was to forage, in the hopes of finding something a little different to excite the palates of the inn’s patrons. On the day that our tale begins she came across a wreck washed up on the rocks. It reminded Philomena of her own recent arrival on the island. She had been a stowaway, the sole survivor of the ill-fated merchant ship, ‘Hetty Pegler’, which had been carrying a cargo of Irish whiskey. Unsurprisingly, this had been enthusiastically liberated from the ship’s hold and safely stored in the cellar of The Squid and Teapot.  Philomena wondered if this latest wreck contained such a treasure and without another thought, scrambled over the slippery rocks to find out. Being light and nimble, it took her no time at all to reach the ship and climb into its hold. To her disappointment, much of what remained of the cargo had been damaged beyond salvaging when the ship had been ripped open.  A dozen stout barrels, however, stacked above the water level, still looked as though they might contain something worth having.

News travels fast on Hopeless, especially when it concerns bounty from the sea. Before long a small procession of islanders could be seen carefully rolling the barrels over the rough coastal path, headed by Philomena who wanted to make sure that at least one of them reached The Squid and Teapot.

There was much rejoicing on the island when it was discovered that the recovered barrels contained rye flour. Although denser than that ground from wheat, it would make a pleasant change from the acorn flour they usually used, made from the acorns dropped by the island’s scanty oaks, or those washed up on the shore. Fortunately, those living on Hopeless have never demanded much in the way of choice or sophistication in their diet. The most exotic dish known on the island is starry-grabby-pie, which should not be confused with the Cornish delicacy, starry-gazey-pie. Starry-grabby-pie is far more appetising, having tentacles sticking out of the pastry, rather than fish heads and tails.

The rye flour was fairly distributed and before long the air was redolent with the intoxicating scent of baking that wafted from almost every home.

That afternoon, Philomena, standing in the kitchen of The Squid and Teapot, was preparing to make a batch of pies. She had not bothered to look too closely at the contents of the barrels earlier. After all, there was not really that much to see once the initial excitement had passed. Now, however, something disconcerting caught her eye. There were small black flecks in the flour that ought not to be there. She picked some out and examined them closely. They certainly were not mouse or rat droppings, as she had initially thought. She paused. Something in the deepest recesses of her memory stirred, stretched, yawned, scratched its belly and tried to go back to sleep. Philomena, being the woman she was, had no intention of letting it rest until she had remembered whatever it was that was bothering her.

 

It had been a long, tiring day but Philomena could not sleep. Buttoned securely into an industrial-strength, full-length, Victorian nightdress, she lay in her bed in the little attic room, idly watching the gnii floating quietly by outside her window. She smiled to herself in the darkness, reflecting on the way in which time changes everything. Here she lay, three thousand miles from home on the strangest island imaginable. Why, just a few months ago, if she had witnessed these weird but strangely beautiful creatures passing by her bedroom window she would have thought that she was hallucinating… hallucinating! She suddenly sat bolt upright in bed. Hallucinating! That was it. A series of gears and cogs shifted in Philomena’s brain and several pennies started to drop. It must have been well past midnight but her earliest childhood memories finally gave up their secrets, providing her with the answers she had been looking for.

 

Doc Willoughby was not accustomed to waking quite so early in the morning. The insistent rapping at his front door, however, was enough to waken the dead (on Hopeless, one does not say these things lightly!) He peered out of his bedroom window to see that the disturber of his slumbers was Wilhelmina Woodfield, spinster of the parish and fully paid-up member of the hypochondriacal society. The Doc opened his window and glared angrily at her.

“Doc, you must help me. My arms and legs are on fire and a colony of woman-eating turnips in ginger wigs are nesting in my tin bath.”

The Doc eyed her wearily.

“Madam, your extremities are decidedly not on fire. As for the turnip infestation, I cannot possibly comment. This is, after all, our beloved Hopeless.”

By now a handful of Doc’s patients had joined Wilhelmina, all complaining of similar symptoms. Percy Painswick claimed that a candy-striped kangaroo has taken up residence in his bed. This was an especially remarkable revelation as Percy had never seen, or even heard of, a kangaroo, candy-striped or otherwise. Further down the street a growing throng of islanders could be seen running wildly around in various states of undress, screaming and gibbering through the morning mist.

“I need to think about this” exclaimed the Doc and slammed his window shut.

An hour or so passed before anyone knocked on his door again. By now, Doc Willoughby was up and dressed.

“Go away,” he shouted, without opening the door. “I can’t help you.”

“But I can help you,” said a voice. It was Philomena’s. “I think I know what the problem is. I’ve seen this before, in Ireland, years ago, when I was a child.”

 

Word soon got around that Doc Willoughby wanted to address those afflicted, summoning them to the courtyard of The Squid and Teapot that afternoon. This was easier said than done, as most of those attending were, by now, exhibiting a certain amount of noisily challenging and eccentric behaviour.

“I have been doing some research into your problem, at no small inconvenience to myself.”            The Doc had to shout to make himself heard over the cacophony. He caught Philomena’s eye and reddened a little.

“With some… ah… minor assistance from Miss Bucket I … that is, we… have come to the conclusion that you are suffering from Ergot poisoning, commonly known as St. Anthony’s Fire. The rye-flour that was found yesterday was infected with ergot fungus. It causes hallucinations and a burning sensation in the limbs.”

“What can we do?” asked one of the more lucid sufferers.

“Throw away your flour and eat nothing else that was made from it. Other than that there is nothing you can do. One of two things will then happen. You will survive… or you will die. Horribly, apparently, and in great pain. The good news is that I haven’t eaten any of the blasted stuff myself”

The Doc wandered off, leaving the assembled throng somewhat disappointed. Philomena decided to pour oil on troubled waters.

“Don’t worry,” she advised them. “This malaise will pass. You will all be fine. Just remember, these strange things you are seeing are just hallucinations. Go up and touch them and they will pop like a bubble.”

Philomena was, of course, perfectly correct. Once the ergot had done its work and the remainder of the flour was safely disposed of, tossed into the depths of the mysterious and bottomless sinkhole in the Night-Soil Man’s garden, all was well and there were almost no fatalities. Almost…

If you have read the tale ‘Bog Oak and Brass’ you will remember that the sinkhole was created centuries earlier, following a battle between the necromancer, T’Abram Spitch and a demon that he had inadvertently and magically freed from a sealed chest. The demon was a bizarre looking creature with the head of a lion, no body and five legs radiating from its head. These legs had cloven hooves and revolved like a Catherine wheel around the head, which remained static. A quick perusal of a 16th century grimoire – still available in various forms – snappily titled ‘Pseudomonarchia Daemonum: The False Monarchy of Demons’ by Johann Weyer, will tell you that the demon’s name was and indeed, still is, Buer. As scary things go, Buer sounds far-fetched, even by Hopeless standards. This is exactly what Percy Painswick thought. Whether Buer had been disturbed by the flour barrels being hurled into the sinkhole or just paying a social call, I have no idea but he was lurking in all his demonic glory when Percy passed by.

Taking Philomena’s advice to heart, Percy strode boldly up to, what he imagined to be, his latest hallucination and tugged its leonine mane with some force, then tweaked the demon’s nose. For a second Baur was a little taken aback – but only for a second. Strangely, since then, no one has seen hair nor hide of Percy.

By Martin Pearson, art by Tom Browm

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What even is going on with Doc Willoughby?

If you’ve read The Gathering, you will know to be wary of Hopeless Maine’s Doc Willoughby. If you haven’t, I shall skip over some details about his medical practice. As the books progress, you’ll all find out more about his ideas. For now, suffice to say he’s the sort of man to pronounce: ‘sacrifices must be made’ and mean that people other than himself should be making sacrifices. Or being sacrificed.

He is the island’s only practicing Doctor. Now, many island residents have washed in from shipwrecks, bringing up to date knowledge of the world with them. Doc Willoughby is not one of those. He has no formal medical qualifications. He did know the island’s previous resident medic, but ‘training’ would be a strong word to describe what they did together. ‘Drinking’ might be more representative.

It is of course entirely possible that Doc Willoughby has read some medical books. He’s seen the insides of enough dead people to form a few relevant opinions about human bodies. He is, in all fairness, pretty handy with a needle, and people who need sewing back together have a slightly improved chance of survival if the Doc sews them back together than if he doesn’t. This may be because he is never afraid to pour alcohol over a wound.

He prescribes alcohol for most other complaints. Sometimes he adds a few herbs or berries, to change the colour and smell, because he thinks this makes his potions seem more scientific and credible. Usually he sticks to plant material he knows it is safe to eat.

Otherwise, Doc Willoughby takes a philosophical approach to illness, encouraging his patients to square up to their mortality and the likelihood of death. He considers statements like ‘you should die fairly quickly’ to be reassuring and uplifting.

In this scene, he is pictured with night potatoes. Liquor made from night potatoes is especially potent and dangerous – more on that here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/moonshine/

Disaster Narrowly Avoided

(By Frampton Jones)

This enchanting creature very nearly seduced Doc Willoughby!

Last week’s thunderstorms and wild seas cast a great many fish onto the bridge, and our platform out on the Devil’s Fingers.  Amongst the more usual residents of the ocean, was a mermaid. Once the storm abated, her enthralling singing drew many folks towards the bridge. Those of us who remember the last such experience stuffed our ears with wax and fabric to keep the singing out, and mounted a barrier on the bridge to keep people at a safe distance. Some of our younger men (my unfortunate nephew included) made efforts to get out to the mermaid, but we were able to keep them safe.

Our venerable Doc Willoughby, who really should know better, was completely overwhelmed, and, unable to gain the bridge, threw himself into the sea. He was fortunate, his clothing prevented swimming, and the mermaid herself was unable to get down from the platform, or else he would surely have been drowned and eaten. Jed Grimes had to knock him unconscious before the good Doctor could safely be returned to dry land.

When Doc Willoughby regained consciousness, and had his ears blocked, he was all for a few of us going down the bridge and ‘killing the ghastly creature’. There was much support for this and some folks went so far as to arm themselves. However, Sophie Davies made a plea for compassion. She asked if anyone had the decency to return the mermaid to the water. Not a single man offered to help. (In my defence, I was preoccupied with keeping the bridge closed). Annamarie Nightshade stepped forward however. We were treated to the unlikely sight of the Reverend’s wife and the resident witch assisting the mermaid back into the water. Despite their fierce reputations, the creature did not attack either woman, and made a rapid exit. It is said to be tremendously bad luck to kill one,  but worse luck still to be lured by their fatal music.

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.

Missing Girl Found!

(by Frampton Jones)

"I am not a lost girl!"The child who disappeared from Pallid Rock Orphanage along with Miss Calder, has now been found. The girl seemed dazed and could offer no explanation of where she had been all this time, who had taken her, or what had happened. Perhaps when she has had chance to recover from the trauma, she will be able to speak of her experiences. Pride requires me to add that I was the one who found the girl, aided by Doc Willoughby.

It is always odd finding myself part of the news, but on this occasion, I am delighted to have been of service. I have not yet had chance to speak with the ghost of Miss Calder regarding her demise.

I find myself wondering why some folk return from the dead and others do not, and what happens to those who do not walk amongst us.

Back at the press

(from Frampton Jones) I can only apologise for the abysmal quality of last week’s Vendetta. Apparently they had to tie me to a chair. It has been most embarrassing, but I have since been able to educate my nephew in the correct use of the press! Doc Willoughby says that I can start going out again now. They have taken away my old camera and smashed it up. I regret this. I feel there were mysteries I was close to solving, and now that knowledge is lost.

This newsletter edition is brought to you by Doc Willoughby and Modesty Jones.

Frampton Jones has not been very well.    Now that we have taken the camera off him, we   think hope he will get better soon.

There was a fire in Al Chevin’s barn. No one was hurt. ..

Arlingham Jones says  he’s seen a ghost and he’s pretty sure it was Miss Calder.

Jed Grimes s ays he has lots of bits of string for sale this week.    You can do lots of stuff with string. It’s really useful.  #

Piety and Malcolm Attila have had a daughter but apparently don’t know what to call her but don’t want any more suggestions thank you!

 

 

Otherwise we haven’t been able to find much news so probably nothing much happened.

Life without the lens

and still, there are tentacles

Since last week, Reverend Davies has exorcised my camera. Annamarie Nightshade has charmed it. Doc Willoughby took the lens off and cleaned it with alcohol, and Arthur Gibbous, glasses maker and inventor, took the whole thing apart and put it back together again.

 Currently, photographs, once developed, all look like the image I have published alongside this article. Consequently I cannot tell you if this is the picture I took of Parables Chevins’ remarkable meese (they’re emerging early this year!) or my attempt to capture an image of the sea creature that appeared off our shores on Tuesday. It might, equally, have been the outrageous street scene that followed a fire in a house of ill repute on Wednesday, or the frankly improbable wedding dress worn by Chastity Jones for her marriage to Exodus Chevins on Friday last. I didn’t know we had that many rodents on the island, and the patience required to skin and stitch them must have been tremendous.

A Hopeless Bridge?

The way forwards

Last night’s meeting at the Town Hall was a remarkable gathering, and I’ve not seen the place so crowded in years. Balthazar Lemon’s bridge plan has everyone talking. For anyone who wasn’t there, the man responsible for our island’s lighthouse plans to build a bridge connecting us to the mainland.

Unlike many of us, Mister Lemon was not born on Hopeless, and has seen something of the world. He is certain it can be done, and that science will defeat the currents where seamanship cannot. The bridge project calls for flotation devices, and a modest quantity of wood, which might be salvaged from derelict houses so save on work. On paper, it looks tremendously complicated to me, but one cannot help but be impressed by the sheer scale of Balthazar Lemon’s vision.

Imagine the possibilities, dear readers, if we are able to walk across the sea to the mainland! Think of the wonderful benefits, the opportunities for our younger people! We will be able to import coffee rather than depending on the odd shipment washing ashore! There might be proper whiskey on a regular basis rather than the eye watering stuff Doc Willoughby ferments – from what I dare not speculate! Balthazar Lemon needs your help, your spare timber, and whatever time you can donate to this most excellent cause. Let us build our way out of isolation and into a bright future!

Dead

a scene that will haunt me forever.
a scene that will haunt me forever.

 

Normally I do little more than naming the dead. It is the end of a story and I would rather share interesting news, things we can do something about. This morning, the word ‘Dead’ appeared, crafted from fish just outside my house. From the word came a trail of debris – shells, fish, driftwood, stones, leading all the way across town to the O’Stoat house. Others had found and followed the trail and a crowd had gathered there before I arrived. As no one else seemed inclined to venture in, I did so myself. The house was entirely empty, aside from human remains. Doc Willoughby is investigating and hopes to identify the body. It would appear that one of the O’Stoats is dead, and the other two have fled. Another sad chapter in the life of this cursed family.