Tag Archives: Doc Willoughby

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

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

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.