Tag Archives: Doc Willoughby

The diagnosis

Doc Willoughby sucked on his teeth for a little while, as he tended to do when he wanted people to think he was considering matters carefully. The small ‘fff’ noise did not confer the dignity he imagined, but this was of little consequence. If Doc Willoughby had really understood how little dignity he was afforded, he might never have dared to even venture outside his own doors. Thankfully, a lifetime dedicated to the science of distilling had protected him from such discomforts.

He took a swig from the cup on his desk, which still had something in it. After a briefly unpleasant sensation in his mouth. It occurred to Doc Willoughby that some of what was in it had been a spider, probably now deceased. He shrugged, and swallowed anyway.

“Ffffff,” he repeated, on the inbreath, shaking his head slightly. “Too much excitement of the nerves,” he pronounced. 

His patient sighed heavily at this.

“You’ve been overdoing things,” the Doc continued, nodding to himself as he warmed to his theme.

“I was worried I’d gone too far with the fasting this time,” Reverend Davies admitted, seeming relieved. “Miss Calder has been nagging me about it.”

“Fasting is good for you,” Doc Willoughby said. “It would be terrible for me, but it is clearly right for your nature and constitution.”

“I haven’t slept in about a week now,” Reverend Davies added, a statement supported by just how bruised his eyes appeared to be.

“That’s overstimulation for you,” Doc Willoughby said.

“What should I do?” Reverend Davies asked. “I was thinking about prostrating myself in prayer for an entire night, do you think that would help?”

“It might,” Doc Willoughby said. “But I think the most important thing is to try and have less fun.”

The District Nurse

If Doc Willoughby had truly received the classical education that he liked to imply, or indeed, possessed a half-decent dictionary, he would have been aware that the words ‘Patience’ and ‘Patients’ were both derived from the Latin ‘patientia’, meaning to bear, or to suffer. As it is, this particular homonym hung like a raincloud over the Doc, for while he had never enjoyed an abundance of patience, he always felt himself to be burdened with far too many patients. It was, therefore, with a certain amount of foreboding and an unwelcoming scowl that he answered the door to a young lady whom he did not recognise.

“Can’t help you,” he growled, before she had said a word, “too busy. You’ll have to make an appointment. Sometime during the week after next there might be a free spot.”

Doc said this, ignoring the fact that his surgery was obviously empty and the unmistakable waft of the Gannicox Distillery’s Finest Aqua Vitae emanated from his every pore. The girl tilted her head to one side and smiled with such radiance that even Doc’s frostiness thawed a little.

“Oh, I don’t need an appointment, doctor,” she said sweetly, “I was hoping you might be able to give me a job.”

“I don’t need a housekeeper, cook, secretary or any other domestic service you might be offering,” replied Doc brusquely, and made to close the door.

“No… you don’t understand. I am a qualified nurse and I thought I might be able to help. You obviously have a really heavy workload.”

“Oh, I do, I do,” lied the Doc, whose cure for everything usually involved alcohol, both for himself and his patient. “A nurse, eh? Well, maybe you can be of assistance. Come on in and let’s talk about it.”

The possession of curricula vitae or references have never featured greatly in Hopeless, Maine’s employment market. People arriving on the island generally have a short life-expectancy and frequently disappear without a trace. Any skills they might possess must be quickly utilised before they are lost forever. It was not deemed unusual, therefore, for the Doc to accept the nurse’s qualifications on face-value. ‘’After all’’, he reasoned, ‘‘what harm can she do?’’

Nurse Marigold Burleigh stood in the gloomy living-room, dispassionately observing the pale, angular woman sitting before her.

“It’s chest pains,” simpered Mrs Davies. “My husband, the Reverend, is concerned that I might have acute angina.”

“You needn’t worry on that account,” said Marigold, “I can promise you, you haven’t got a cute anything. Now, stick out your tongue.”

Mrs Davies obediently thrust out her tongue.

“Hmmm… that’s not good,” said the nurse. “Now show me the palms of your hands…  and keep your tongue out. Try humming a tune. Now wave your hands from side to side and roll your eyes.”

Marigold’s face registered no amusement, just professional concern, as Mrs Davies threw dignity out of the window and followed her instructions.

“Oh, that’s bad. That’s very bad,” said Marigold. “I’m afraid you have a bad case of numptiness, but not to worry. I don’t think it’s likely to be fatal.”

“Oh gosh,” said Mrs Davies, coming perilously close to blasphemy. “What can I do?”

“There is a cure… but you might not like it…”

“Tell me, tell me… I’ll do anything.”

“Okay, if you’re sure. Is there a fresh-water pool anywhere close by?”

“Yes – Nudger’s Pond is quite near.”

“Perfect… now here is what you have to do… “

“Golly Mr Gannicox! I have never seen one quite as big as that before,” said Nurse Burleigh, with genuine surprise.

The bony lump which had formed at the base of Norbert’s big toe was unfeasibly large, by anyone’s standard.

“Bunions seem to be a family curse,” he said miserably. “Both my parents suffered with them.”

 “Sadly, there is not a lot I can do,” said Marigold. “Although, I imagine Doc Willoughby could remove it with surgery.”

“No, no, that’s okay,” said Norbert hastily. “I’ve put up with it for this long…”

“There is an old folk-remedy you might like to try. Do you know where Nudger’s Pond is?”

“Yeeees,” said Norbert, uncertainly. “What do I have to do?”

“Numptiness?” said Seth Washpool. “That’s a new one on me. How did I catch it?”

“It’s possibly congenital,” replied Marigold.

“That’s not likely,” said Seth indignantly, “not at my age. Why, I can’t remember the last time…”

“No,” Marigold quickly interrupted, “I mean that you probably inherited it from one of your parents.”

“Well, that would be all I did inherit,” said Seth, somewhat bitterly. “Can anything be done about it?”

“Hopefully, if you act now, it won’t be fatal. There is a cure, but you might not be too keen to try it… Do you know Nudger’s Pond, by any chance?”

Word soon spread that numptiness was, apparently, endemic on the island. Along with a series of very minor ailments that could be similarly addressed by the application of a quaint folk-remedy, the disease kept Marigold busy all day. She reported back to Doc Willoughby later that evening, reassuring him that nothing of any concern had arisen during her rounds and the islanders of Hopeless were, by and large, in rude good health. The Doc gave a most uncharacteristic smile – if, indeed, the chilling rictus that creased his face for the briefest instant could be construed as being a smile. Marigold beamed back at him. She was an absolute beauty, and no mistake. If the doctor had been a younger man and remotely sober he could have been more than a little smitten with her.  Sadly, he was neither of these things, and quite possibly, never had been.

Despite that it was almost midnight, Marigold had one last call to make. Durosimi O’Stoat’s house was more than a little forbidding in the misty moonlight, but it troubled her not at all. She banged on his door, making it rattle in its frame. Durosimi thrust his head from an upstairs window.

“Yes? What do you want at this hour?”

“Mr O’Stoat? I’m Nurse Burleigh. I am Doc Willoughby’s assistant.”

“I need no medical help,” said Durosimi dismissively. “Any business I might have with Willoughby has nothing to do with his quackery.”

“I must speak to you,” said Marigold. “It is regarding your personal safety.”

“My safety?” Durosimi laughed mirthlessly. “You should worry about your own safety, young lady, disturbing me in the middle of the night.”

“Oh, I am safe enough,” Marigold’s voice had changed. There was an ancient darkness to it that make Durosimi start. “You should beware, O’Stoat. A vengeful spirit stalks you even as we speak. It is the ghost of a young Night-Soil Man. Does that ring any bells?”

For a moment Durosimi’s face went ashen, then he composed himself.

“How do you know this?” he asked.  “Come to that, who are you, exactly? Certainly not some lackey of Willoughby’s, I’ll wager.”

Marigold laughed and walked away. A wind suddenly shook the trees and Durosimi could have sworn that it spoke.

While Marigold and Durosimi were exchanging unpleasantries, a mile away, across the island, Rhys Cranham and Drury were an hour or so into the Night-Soil Man’s round. Suddenly the silence of the night was broken by the sound of voices.  Rhys stopped to listen; there must have been ten or twelve people chanting, by the sound of things. That was unusual; Nudger’s Pond was no place to be at this time of night. The noxious odour of the Night-Soil Man guaranteed that no night-prowler could stand to come within yards of him, but if people were out there singing they were definitely in danger. And then he saw them, illuminated by the pale full-moon peering through the mist. Wading around the pond, dressed only in their underwear and obviously in a deep trance-like state, was a group of islanders.

Were they drunk? Rhys dismissed the thought when he recognised Norbert Gannicox, who eschewed strong drink. And there was the unmistakable scrawny form of Seth Washpool, who definitely didn’t. And… was that…? It can’t be, but it looks like…? Surely not! But it was Mrs Davies. Something had to be done. The Reverend’s wife could not be seen wandering around Nudger’s Pond in her nether garments. Drury must have had the same thought, for in an instant he was running as fast as his bony old legs would take him, excitedly barking towards the Vicarage end of the Pallid Rock Orphanage. Within minutes the wraith of Miss Calder could be seen fluttering towards them, while the Reverend, resplendent in a striped nightshirt with matching cap, came plodding behind her, intent on preserving his wife’s modesty and reputation.  It was then that the wind which Durosimi had heard rustled through the trees circling the area. It seemed to be laughing at them. Rhys thought that he caught a single word whispered in the leaves.

 The sound they made was “Triiiickksterrrr”.

Gossip and Single-Malt

Doc Willoughby rolled the whisky around his palate appreciatively. This was the real thing, right enough. He could only wonder how Durosimi had come by the stuff and, more to the point, why he was sharing it. Their last meeting had not ended on a particularly cordial note, to say the least, with the Doc being sent away with a flea in his ear for being too ethical when it came to the matter of hurling various unwitting participants back in time. (My apologies to any reader who has just choked on their coffee. I appreciate that it stretches credulity when the words ‘Doc Willoughby’ and ‘too ethical’ appear in the same sentence).

“More whisky, Willoughby?” asked Durosimi, proffering the half-empty bottle.

Despite his concerns, the Doc was not going to refuse. Opportunities of this variety did not arise every day.

“So, what is the gossip in The Squid, lately?” queried Durosimi.

The day was becoming ever more peculiar. Between Durosimi’s unheard of generosity with his precious single-malt, and this sudden interest in the goings-on of the island, Doc could only think that the old scoundrel was going soft in the head. But so what? Where was the harm in humouring the man? Anyway, the world had become fuzzy and warm and, in soft-focus, even Durosimi did not look quite so forbidding.

“Well, that old charlatan John Dee seems to have sloped off. Back to his own time, I wouldn’t wonder. Good riddance too. Couldn’t stand the man,” said the Doc.

“No, neither could I,” said Durosimi, truthfully. “Anything else?”

“Oh yes – the Night-Soil Man, you know, what’s-his-name, has proposed marriage to that blasted Bucket woman. Never much liked her, either.”

“Really?” exclaimed Durosimi, suddenly interested and surreptitiously replenishing the Doc’s glass. “Tell me more.”

“Well,” began Doc, “when she first came to the island I treated her for anosmia. That’s a loss of the sense of smell.”

“I know what anosmia is,” said Durosimi, stiffly.

“Of course… as I was saying, she’d lost her sense of smell, and it seems that within a few yards of leaving the sinking ship in which she had stowed away, something nasty grabbed her with its tentacles and she was within an inch of becoming lunch.”

The Doc took a generous swig of his whisky, dropping all pretence of savouring it.

“How did she escape?” asked Durosimi, tipping the remnants of the bottle into the other man’s glass. “Did she use magic?”

“Magic? What makes you think she’d use magic? That’s ridiculous!” slurred the Doc.

Intoxication had made him bold to the point of foolishness. Durosimi quietly counted to ten and smiled thinly.

“Just a thought,” he replied. “Do go on.”

“Where was I? Oh yes, it looked as though she was done for, when young what’s-his-name, the Night-Soil Man, rescues her. The creature who was attacking her couldn’t stand his reek, and because of her anosmia, the Bucket-woman didn’t know that the wretched fellow stunk like a cess-pool. Of course,” continued Doc, “it was inevitable. He was her knight in shining armour, so the silly girl falls head-over-heels in love with him. All would have been well, but not long after that she got a nose-full of sea water, which flushed out the seeds that had been blocking her olfactory system. That’s the …”

“I know what it means,” said Durosimi, impatiently holding up his hand.

“So, naturally, once she found how awful he smelt, the romance was off.”

“But now it’s back on again?” asked Durosimi.

“Seems so,” said the Doc.

Durosimi said nothing for a moment or two, staring pensively out of the window, then he turned his head sharply and said,

“Doc, I think you should go. We’re both busy men and I have wasted enough of your time.”

“But I haven’t told you about Norbert Gannicox’s verruca, yet.”

“No… but we’ll have to save that one for another day. I look forward to it. Now let me show you out…”

With that, the Doc was unceremoniously bundled out through the door. Durosimi watched him swaying unsteadily down the cobbled pathway, and singing ‘Sweet Betsy from Pike,’ at the top of his voice, almost in tune.  He had just got to the first chorus of too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay when Durosimi decided that enough was enough and strode back into the house, slamming the door behind him.

Regular readers will remember that Durosimi O’Stoat, having learned that Philomena Bucket had somehow acquired magical powers which were possibly greater than his own, felt threatened, and plotted to get rid of her, once and for all. When, during the previous year, he confronted Philomena in the town hall, she had all but killed him, blasting him from one end of the room to the other. Strangely, she seemed to have no idea or memory of what she had done. Soon after, and to Durosimi’s relief she, and Doctor John Dee, disappeared, seemingly off the face of the earth. He thought – indeed, hoped –  that maybe Dee had whisked her back to Elizabethan England, where, with any luck, she would be burned as a witch. For a whole year there was no sign of either of them, then Philomena returned, apparently more powerful than ever, and able to throw off his strongest spells. It occurred to Durosimi that if he could not hurt the witch – as he now thought of Philomena – then he could at least weaken her, maybe even destroy her, by attacking those she held most dear. He smiled to himself, reflecting how love and grief are two sides of the same coin; there is an inevitability that today’s love will become tomorrow’s grief.

“And grieve she will,” he thought to himself. “That old fool Willoughby has told me all that I need to know. She must be using her magic to mask the stench of the Night-Soil Man – there is no other way she could possibly countenance marrying him. Well, she won’t be needing to do that for much longer. His days are numbered…”

The recently promoted ex-apprentice, Naboth Scarhill, read the note again, his chest swelling with pride. The scrap of paper only contained a handful of words, but they meant a lot.

My dear Naboth, thank you so much for agreeing to take over the role of Night-Soil Man from Rhys. You cannot know how much this means to me. Rhys has told me how highly he regards your work, and that you will one day become as great and renowned as any who have wielded the lidded-bucket and long-handled shovel.

Thank you again,

Your grateful friend



“Not in a million years,” said Salamandra firmly, fixing Doc Willoughby with a terrifying stare.

“Even if I thought that I could, there is no way that I would do what you ask.”

The Doc looked crestfallen. Knowing of her abilities, he had reached out, in some desperation, to Salamandra.

Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, had claimed to have been spirited back into the past, where he had lived for two months. Upon returning, and to his amazement, Rhys discovered that just a single night had elapsed since he had left. When the Doc heard of this, and was assured by Reverend Davies that Rhys was incapable of lying, he became obsessed with the idea. Such a course of action, he reasoned, if frequently repeated, would render a person virtually immortal, and Doc Willoughby had definite designs on being that person. It occurred to him that if anyone on the island could replicate this feat, then it would be one of the O’Stoat clan, a family long entrenched in occult practices. For once in his life the Doc’s instincts were spot on, for it had been the matriarch, Colleen O’Stoat, who had summoned the Night-Soil Man back to her own time.

“But why ever not?” the Doc protested. “What earthly difference would it make to you if I, or indeed anyone, was sent into the past?”

Salamandra regarded him with no small amount of contempt.

“Because,” she said, slowly and pointedly, as if addressing an erring child, “you have no business lurking around in a time which is not your own. Can you not see the damage you could cause with your every action? And you are supposed to be one of the more intelligent specimens of humanity on Hopeless – or so you keep telling everyone! It is indeed fortunate that Rhys Cranham did little else than shovel shit while he was there, or I dread to think what might have happened.”

The Doc winced. Salamandra was not one to mince her words.

“So that’s a definite ‘no’ then?” he asked, warily.

Salamandra did not reply, but gave him a look that would have turned wine to vinegar. She stormed off into the mist, towards the shore, her strips of cloth flapping and writhing as if possessed of a life of their own.

“That went well,” thought the Doc sourly.

He turned, intending to go back into town, when a tall, almost cadaverous, shape emerged from the mists.

“Ah, Willoughby. I thought it was you whom I heard speaking to my daughter.”

The Doc pulled up short and peered at the newcomer with incredulity.

“Durosimi? Really? I thought that you were dead.”

“No, no,” said the other, drily. “I’m sure that I would have noticed.”

Doc Willoughby had known Durosimi O’Stoat for a long time; he was not one to strike up a conversation without a good reason. The Doc wondered what it was that he wanted.

“I get the idea that your discussion with Salamandra turned out to be not quite as productive as you would have liked.”

“You could say that,” agreed the Doc.

“I could not help but overhear your conversation. It sounded… interesting.”

“I thought it was,” said the Doc, “but, like Reverend Davies, your Salamandra thought my plan to be unethical.”

“I don’t know where she gets these ideas from,” said Durosimi, a hint of sympathy in his voice. “Ethics, honestly! Nothing in this world would ever have been achieved if people had allowed ethics to get in the way.”

“So… are you saying that you might be in a position to help?” asked the Doc, hopefully.

“I would be happy to try, certainly, but it would not be without its dangers. You and I are both men of science, Willoughby, and as such, we appreciate the risks of experimentation.”

The Doc made no reply. He knew that this was no more than flattery. His own very basic grasp of medicine shared nothing with the dark arts that Durosmi practiced. However, if it meant that his goals were to be fulfilled, he would have signed away his soul – if, indeed he was in receipt of such a thing – there and then.

“Maybe we can talk about this in my home,” said Durosimi, placing a bony hand on the Doc’s shoulder and leading him towards a nearby building. If he noticed that his companion was crossing his fingers, he did not mention it.

The following morning saw the strangely charming, but totally incongruous, sight of Doc Willoughby walking purposely towards the Gydynap Hills, leading a small black goat on a tether.

Durosimi had assured the Doc, with some confidence, that it was not beyond his ability to send someone back in time… or at least, he could do this, in theory. The Doc was, understandably, more than a little reticent to volunteer himself for this experiment, and so it was agreed that a smallish, and fairly docile animal would be best suited to fulfil this pioneering role.  The Doc left the goat to Durosimi’s tender mercies, and waited to hear if and when the experiment had been a success.

A week went by. Nothing. Half-way through the following week the Doc received a cryptic message indicating that the experiment had been successful. Stopping only to throw on his hat and jacket, he made his way to the across the island with unaccustomed speed.

“Congratulations!” exclaimed the Doc, enthusiastically shaking a cold and bony hand, “I knew you would do it. Where is the little fellow?”

Durosimi looked puzzled.

“What little fellow would that be?” he asked.

“Why, the goat of course.”

“Oh, him. He went but hasn’t come back. I don’t quite see how he can.”

“But… but…” stammered the Doc.

“I am sure that if it could speak, the goat would have wasted no time in asking one of my ancestors to get him back here post-haste, but he is a dumb animal, and dumb animals are by definition… dumb. Until I can send a human being it will be something of a one-way street. I have not yet perfected that part of the experiment, I’m afraid.”

“Then that’s that,” said the Doc, somewhat deflated. “No one is going to volunteer for anything as hazardous as this. We don’t even know if the goat survived.”

“Then maybe it’s not a volunteer that we need…” said Durosimi ominously.

The Doc tensed.

“I can’t say that I’m totally comfortable with press-ganging someone,” he said.

“As you will,” said Durosimi. “But be sure to let me know if you change your mind.”

He watched the Doc, a bitterly disappointed man, shuffling miserably down the cobbled footpath.

“You’ve gone soft in your old age, Willoughby… but thanks for the idea,” he muttered to himself. “I’m sorry you didn’t want to see it through.”

Then an idea struck him and a menacing leer spread across his face.

 “Why,” he mused, “I think it’s high time that I wandered down to the Pallid Rock Orphanage, and let Reverend Davies know that I am in need of a young assistant.”

The Little Ship of Horrors (Part 2)

If you’ve not read part 1 yet, start here.

Bartholomew Middlestreet could hardly believe it when he heard himself say to Norbert Gannicox,
“I’m really worried about Doc Willoughby, Norbert.”
Norbert raised his eyebrows in surprise. He could hardly believe it either.
“You’re joking! You’re worried about the Doc…?”
Doc Willoughby was not normally the sort of person to elicit enough sympathy to cause worry in others, but Bartholomew was deadly serious.
“He’s acting really strange… almost being pleasant to folks. And his eyes look a bit too shiny.” he said.
It was Norbert’s turn to look concerned.
“That’s never natural. I wonder what’s brought it on?”
Bartholomew dropped his voice, conspiratorially.
“It’s only happened during the last couple of weeks… ever since that old-fashioned galleon turned up.”

As regular readers will recall, a Tudor galleon had recently sailed to the shores of Hopeless, carrying a strange and egregiously foul cargo. Even the islanders, who believed that they had seen just about every variety of the weird and not-so-wonderful, thought that this was just too much to bear. Eventually the ship was mysteriously destroyed and the jelly-like monstrosity that filled its decks had disappeared. Save for a few planks and bits of rigging, there was nothing much for anyone to salvage. Doc Willoughby, however, unbeknownst to his fellow islanders, came upon a piece of wood bearing the ship’s name. With a strange, unwholesome, light in his eyes he dragged the plank back to his home and hid it in a dark corner of his basement. The name of the ship was ‘Mary Willoughby’.

The thing that had given Bartholomew cause for concern was the way in which the Doc had appeared in The Squid and Teapot and greeted him that very morning.
“Bartholomew, old friend, I wonder if I might beg a favour?”
The innkeeper instinctively turned around, wondering of the coincidence of there being someone else in the bar named Bartholomew. As it happened, the inn was otherwise deserted.
“You mean me?” he stammered.
“Why yes,” beamed the Doc cordially, “I just need a bit of help for some… ah… some research I’ve agreed to do for… um… for Miss Calder at the orphanage… it’s a history project that she’s doing with the youngsters.”
The day was becoming increasingly bizarre; Bartholomew, who had known Doc Willoughby for most of his life, knew for certain that the man had never before entertained any intention of helping out at the orphanage.
“There are plenty of reference books in the attics,” said Bartholomew. “You’re welcome to go and take a look.”
“Capital, capital,” said the Doc warmly, shaking a bemused Bartholomew by the hand.

Doc Willoughby needed to find out whatever he could about the ‘Mary Willoughby’. He usually had little interest in ships of any description, but was now being driven by something beyond his understanding and control.
After much perseverance, and four hours of diligent perusal, he found what he was looking for. Having made his way through several hefty tomes that covered various aspects of European nautical history, Doc came across a list of British warships of the Tudor period. With great excitement, he found the reference that he was after.
“The ‘Mary Willoughby’ was a ship of the English Tudor navy, named after Maria Willoughby, a lady-in-waiting and close friend of Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of King Henry VIII. The ship was taken by the Scots in 1536 but recaptured by the English ten years later. She was sold in the latter part of the sixteenth century and never heard of afterwards.”

The entry was sparse, to say the least, but it told the Doc a great deal. If Mary Willoughby was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen of England, and had a ship named after her, then she must have been quite somebody. More amazing still, this ship had, hundreds of years later, somehow found its way to Hopeless. Found its way to him! The Doc reeled with the implications of his find. This was fate; a sign, no less. The Willoughby family must have been really important people, royalty almost… and these were surely his ancestors.
Leaving the nautical history books in an untidy pile, Doc started rooting among the other volumes, to see what he could find out about English aristocracy. It did not take long for him to unearth a noble Willoughby line dating back to the thirteenth century. As he read, the Doc swayed and cackled, the unearthly glimmer in his eye becoming brighter by the minute.
“I always knew that I was special,” he said to himself.

Like all good innkeepers, Bartholomew is interested in his customers. In view of this, he felt compelled to find out what the Doc had been up to. It was not nosiness, he reasoned, but a genuine interest that urged him to go up into the attics after the Doc had hurriedly left, still muttering and chuckling to himself about having noble blood. Although Bartholomew didn’t hold out a great deal of hope, he decided – purely out of interest, you understand – to try and work out what the Doc had been looking for.
The task was much easier than he could have hoped. Doc had not bothered to tidy up after himself and the various open books led like a trail of breadcrumbs to the truth. It was not difficult to ascertain that Doc Willoughby was convinced that he was connected to an old and aristocratic English family. Bartholomew’s heart sank. He had seen something similar happen just months before, when Stratford Park believed that he was descended from the famous Scottish explorer, Mungo Park, and that episode had not ended well (as related in the tale ‘Burns Night’).

Once back home, Doc Willoughby made his way down to the basement. By the greasy light of a tallow candle he gazed, like one in a trance, at the plank of wood that leaned against the wall. The words ‘Mary Willoughby’ seemed to dance and shimmer before his eyes. Suddenly, a thin, luminous jelly-like substance rolled along its length, then reached out and lay a tendril on the Doc’s temple.
“Did you find it, Willoughby?” said a voice in his head.
“Oh yes,” whispered the Doc.
“Then let us in, and we will make sure you are given your due.”
The Doc hesitated.
“You know that you want to…”
Suddenly a voice, up in the surgery, broke the spell. It was Ariadne Middlestreet.
“Doc, Doc, where are you? There’s been an accident, come quickly. Bartholomew has fallen down the stairs.”

Let us leave Hopeless, for a while, and journey back to the not-so-merry England of 1582. So far the reign of ‘Good Queen Bess’ had been only slightly less barbaric than that of the other Tudor monarchs, and there was little sign of things improving. Traitors were still being hung, drawn and quartered, most things seemed to be punishable by death or maiming, torture was commonplace and heretics were being burned at the stake. These were dangerous times, especially for any who dared eschew the rule of law, or the teachings of the protestant church.
Doctor John Dee, scholar, occultist, astrologer and alchemist, knew that even his position as the Queen’s Counsellor could not protect him. A wrong word, an ill-judged look or a spiteful allegation could be enough to send him to the tower, and thence to the gallows, the flames or the block. Standing in the moonlight, upon the gently rocking deck of the ‘Mary Willoughby’, he was well aware that what he was about to do was madness, but the die was cast and there was no going back.

‘Mary Willoughby’, having been constructed about fifty years earlier, was older than most ships still afloat, and had seen more than her share of bloodshed and death. This suited Dee very well, for he, and his friend and fellow occultist, Edward Kelley, had boarded her with the intention of raising the ghosts of those who had died upon her decks.
“Where better to practise necromancy than on an old deserted warship, far from prying eyes?” Kelley had asked him.
Where indeed? Once the idea was born, the rest fell into place fairly easily. Dee had given the lone seaman, who had been charged with guarding the ship as she lay idle in Deptford docks, the handsome sum of two shillings to desert his post for a few hours. This the man did with a mixture of gratitude and fear, for Doctor Dee was infamous and his reputation and position at court was not to be argued with.

Beneath a full moon Dee and Kelley cast a circle of salt and, standing within it, uttered spells from an old grimoire. They invoked demons and angels, speaking their sacred and forbidden names in Greek, Latin and Hebrew. They called upon the dead to rise, to come and do their bidding, but nothing seemed to happen. After a fruitless and somewhat chilly hour, the two looked at each other in despair.
“Well, that was a waste of time and two shillings,” complained Dee bitterly, who was suffering from cramp and in desperate need of relieving himself.
Kelley sighed and drew out a long clay pipe with a tiny bowl. Into this he patted a equally tiny wad of tobacco. He had spotted a brazier burning on the aftcastle, and stepped out of the circle to get a light. Then he stopped in mid-stride.
“God’s wounds, John, what is this muck under my feet?”
Kelley lifted his foot and found, to his dismay, that a long, sticky strand of some glutinous substance was attached to it. Dee examined the goo closely, then shook his head, puzzled.
“I have never seen its like Edward, but behold…”
Tendrils of slime began squirming and climbing all around them, as if they possessed some diabolical life of their own. Confronting the spirits of the dead was one thing, but this gummy, seemingly sentient, abomination was something else entirely. Without more ado, and a few whimpers of terror, the two fought their way, with no little difficulty, to the side of ship, where they hurriedly descended to the small boat that waited below. Rowing frantically, and in their haste to leave, they failed to notice that a mist had started to form around the ‘Mary Willoughby’, through which they might have spotted some faintly human shapes writhing, as if in torment.

Sitting in a quayside tavern a short time later, the pair sat huddled in a corner, drinking ale.
“Marry, John, that was strange,” said Edward Kelley, still trembling.
“Strange, indeed,” agreed John Dee. “I still cannot fathom what that vile jelly might have been.”
A young man, sitting just within earshot, looked up abruptly.
“Vile jelly? That’s a good phrase. I might be able to use that one day,” he said to himself.
Young Will had come down to London expressly to sell the gloves that his father made, back home in the Midlands. He had absolutely no intention of doing that forever, though. He hoped one day to become a moderately successful playwright.
“Well, it’s either going to be, or not to be.” he thought, stoically.

“I can clearly see that there is absolutely nothing whatsoever wrong with you,” said Doc Willoughby angrily, a glimmer still in his eyes, but his sunny disposition of earlier having disappeared behind a heavy cloud.
He had hurried to The Squid and Teapot, black medical bag in hand, expecting to find Bartholomew Middlestreet in a mangled mess at the foot of the stairs. Instead the innkeeper was sitting, quite comfortably, at a table in the bar, with Ariadne, Philomena Bucket and Norbert Gannicox.
Ariadne left her seat, crossed the room and quietly closed and locked the door.
“No, I’m fine,” agreed Bartholomew. “The truth is, you don’t seem to be yourself these days, and we’re all worried. What’s up Doc?”

To be continued…

Dr. Corvus Marconi has held his last séance

By Frampton Jones


Mentalist magician and séance conductor Dr Corvus Marconi has died suddenly in confusing circumstances.

Doc Willougby, who was himself present at the fatal séance ascribes the death to Dr Corvus Marconi banging his head repeatedly onto the table. “It was a silly way to go,” he told me. “I don’t know what he was thinking, but these magical types are a funny lot.”

Mithra Stubbs, also present at the séance told me that it was hard to tell whether Corvus was beaten to death by angry ghosts, or having some kind of fit after Doc Willoughby put a little drop of something in his tea, or both.

“There are no ghosts,” Doc Willoughby said. “The man was a charlatan. Definitely no ghosts. He pretended to call up some of my recently deceased patients, which was, frankly, offensive. But not so offensive as to give me a motive for killing him, obviously. He may have reacted badly to the whiskey, people do sometimes.”

Mithra Stubbs said “As far as I could make out, the ghosts were angry at having been called back and afraid they’d be stuck here. They were also pointing at Doc Willoughby a lot and shouting at him but as there were a lot of them, it was hard to make out words.”

Séances have always been a controversial activity – those who are dead and present to us find it preferable if people just visit them to chat. People who have departed, it is often argued, should not be brought back. We do not know why some of the dead remain and others do not, and it does not seem wise to interfere with the process. Currently the question of whether Corvus will return, and whether there should be a séance held to talk to him, is being hotly debated amongst fans of his work.

Cat Strauss lost to a dire plot of some sort

By Frampton Jones

Here is a mystery of considerable proportions. Herr Doktor is dead. Cat Straus is dead. Doc Willoughby has been terribly injured and is covered in bandages. No one saw anything, apart from Doc Willoughby. He tells me that he found Herr Doktor in the process of kidnapping Cat Strauss. He bravely attempted to rescue the victim, who tragically died when Herr Doktor chose to blow himself up rather than deal with his nemesis.

However, there are a great many witnesses to a kerfuffle earlier in the day in which Cat Strauss accosted Doc Willoughby in the street and called him, amongst other things a fraud, a Fog Cultist, and a liar.

And there are also a great many witnesses who saw Cat Strauss and Herr Doktor taking tea together yesterday afternoon at The Crow. And also plenty of witnesses who can attest that Herr Doktor normally just asks people if they’d like to go back to his lab and that charm, not force is his usual method of doing whatever it is that he does. Which all makes the kidnapping story seem a bit… unlikely. Given that the deceased left The Crow at twilight, and were seen to do so together, it is hard to imagine how, just a few streets later, this might have turned into a violent kidnapping scenario.

I am also inclined to recall that incident last year when, armed with a rolling pin and a frying pan, Cat Strauss undertook a very successful demon exorcism.

I am furthermore reminded that Herr Doktor suffered a break in only recently, and that explosives may have been stolen.

Happy to say that despite being almost entirely covered in bandages, Doc Willougby himself is in good spirits, and very much up and about. Whatever terrible injuries he suffered don’t seem to be slowing him down even slightly. And I’m sure we can all agree that this is the best possible news and in no way sinister at all.

Symon Sanderson has quite exploded

By Frampton Jones

The one islander who steadfastly refused to turn a blind eye to crime – Symon Sanderson, has died. Symon was a lone voice for taking murder seriously, in a community that has always tended to treat private killings as a private matter. That he himself has now been deliberately killed is a terrible irony. What is most strange about this whole case, is that Doc Willoughby has become a vocal activist for intervention.

Doc Willoughby made a formal statement to me for publication: “The man was blown up. Who has the resources to do something like that, eh? Clearly it’s the work of Herr Doktor. No longer should we tolerate his careless killing of fellow citizens.”

Doc Willoughby has, in the past, been one of the loudest voices in favour of not interfering with other people’s personal choices around killing.

Symon Sanderson has indeed exploded in a manner that suggests he did not simply eat the wrong thing. Bits of the device thrown at him were found at the scene of his death (by me). Herr Doktor tells me that he is entirely innocent but that someone broke into his lab only a few days ago, and he’s not quite sure what was taken. “There’s a lot of stuff in my lab,” he said, ’it’s hard to keep track of it all.” I asked him how he knew there had been a theft and he said the muddy footprints on the floor and the broken window were a bit of a giveaway. Symon Sanderson had been investigating all of this before his untimely demise. What he learned, we will probably never know.

Witnesses who prefer to remain anonymous claim to have overheard Doc Willoughby shouting in the street only moments before the explosion. It might be a coincidence of course. The Doc has had a terrible run of bad luck with people dying around him for as long as I can remember, although that does seem to have hit a peak in recent weeks, even by his usual standards.

Symon will be missed. Which is also a terrible irony because whoever threw the infernal device didn’t miss him at all.

Rebecca Field confirms all of my personal theories

By Doc Willougby

Today I viewed the body of recently deceased Rebecca Field, and it is the only obvious conclusion that she died at the hands of that notorious fiend and fraudster, Herr Doktor. I’ve been saying since he arrived that it would simply be a matter of time before he killed, and this is the first time I’ve confidently been able to blame him for a death.

This is why I am a pillar of the community, and he is not.

There were no witnesses to Rebecca’s death. I think that’s always pretty suspicions. I found her body myself and was immediately alerted to the fact that something was wrong by the strange, blue tinge to her lips and the pool of blood around her body. It takes a trained expert to properly understand these things. Herr Doktor is not a trained expert, no matter what he has being saying to people.

It is my years of experience that make it possible for me to say that Rebecca Field was definitely murdered, and to be able to identify the killer. These are not things I can easily explain to lesser minds. It is all a matter of nuance and special insight. She had not been drinking. I had not given her anything to drink. I was nowhere near her until long after she passed away. I can tell that, because I can tell these things about a body that no one else can.

The stab wound in her chest definitely wasn’t a stab wound, it must have been caused by some kind of experimental ray gun of the type Herr Doktor likes to make and try out on people. We’d see more of these injuries if he wasn’t so infernally good at hiding the bodies. But I know what he’s doing. I can look a man in the eye and understand these sorts of things, because I have special training.

I knew Rebecca Field was going to die. I looked into her eyes and I saw the death right there, waiting to happen.  I saw it long before she started telling people that my cures were not working and that she doubted my methods. I saw that death, and once again I have been proved right in a way that clearly had nothing to do with me whatsoever.

Bertram Fiddle’s death a total mystery

It is my unhappy duty today to inform you that beloved islander Bertram Fiddle has died. Bertram was declared dead in the surgery of Doc Willoughby late last evening. It is only by chance that I happened to be passing as Doc Willoughby was attempting to remove the body from his office, and in assisting him, I was able to also interview him about the tragic death of this much loved local figure.

Here are the various answers our good doctor gave to the question ‘how did Bertram die?’ I repeat them here in the order in which I recall them which may not be the order they were given in – as I was helping move a body at the time I had no free hands with which to make notes.

“It was nothing to do with me.

It was an accident, clearly. He just came in here and died, just like that. Didn’t even tell me what was wrong with him first.

He was a dear, dear friend with whom I have never once had anything even slightly resembling a falling out. I would certainly never have hit him. And we weren’t drinking. We were going drinking together, you understand, but we had not actually started drinking.

It’s a complete mystery to me how he died, but death often is a mystery, isn’t it?”

Readers, I can only leave you to draw your own conclusions.

It is a tragic loss to the island. We will all miss his unique humour, his unique facial hair, and his unique relationship with reality. I also note with some unease that we have now lost our one resident detective. Who can forget his work on the case of the uncanny night shaving, or his relentless efforts to solve the conundrum of the pig in the latrine? And now, faced with the mysterious death of Bertram Fiddle himself, who amongst us has the skill and determination to step up and find answers?

Not that island justice can be relied upon to deliver anything much. Whether it’s our usual apathetic response of shrugging and supposing we have to live with it, or our heavy handed torches and pitchforks response that invariably punishes the wrong person anyway… justice is not our collective strongpoint. And I can only feel, in the sad loss of Bertram Fiddle, that our collective scope for justice has just taken a sorry blow and may never truly recover from it.

There will be a memorial service next week, and a wake, but no actual funeral because Doc Willoughby was so upset that he just got on and buried his dear friend himself.


You can find what remains of Bertram Fiddle here – https://www.bertramfiddle.com/

Bertram’s death is in no small part a consequence of the kickstarter we have underway at the moment. At time of posting, we have 38 open graves remaining for would-be corpses. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/countrostov/tales-of-hopeless-maine