by Penny Blake

Soup Of The Day: With Nimue and Tom Brown

 

Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!

My guests this morning are our good friends Nimue and Tom Brown who have sailed in on a strange tide from their mysterious gothic island of Hopeless, Maine . Welcome to Lancaster Nimue and Tom, thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today! Tell me, have you brought along some soup to share with us?

We have brought some soup, but it’s probably awful. It’s the traditional Hopeless Maine dish – Bottom of the Garden Stew, which involves whatever you think might be edible, cut up really small so as not to be too alarming, and cooked for a long, long time. So it’s more for demonstration purposes than actual eating. Although it is mostly what urchins on Hopeless subsist on.

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Oh my goodness! That is… quite eye watering… indeed…um, let us just set it over there for a moment, perhaps near the window? Or is it likely to try to run away? There. Now then, why don’t you have a seat over here by the fire, how was your journey?

Aside from the anxieties caused by hefting a large jar of ominous gloop without breaking it, and thus releasing the contents, the journey was quiet. Nothing tried to eat us, and there was absolutely no unspeakable dread, which is pretty good for a train journey I tend to think.

Oh marvellous, travelling in the morning through Ire is always more advisable than travelling at night. That is a different story altogether! Now, while the kettle is boiling, why don’t you tell us a little more about the island of Hopeless?

Hopeless is an island off the coast of Maine – cut off from the coast of Maine, to be more precise. It is a place of strange magic, uncanny creatures, unwholesome sea airs and troubling miasmas.

And is it true that the pair of you are documenting its strange history through a series of graphic novels?

We have been doing this for some years now, first as a webcomic, and now in book form (thank you Sloth Comics).

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We have to channel the voices of the islanders – we don’t dare actually visit because while getting in is easy (insofar as being shipwrecked is easy) getting out is notoriously difficult. Fortunately, Salamandra is quite good at doing things through the ether, and my scrying skills aren’t too shabby either.

Oh I see! Now when I last saw Collin he was nursing a severed tentacle and this was apparently the result of an unprovoked attack by one of your Hopeless Mermaids? Goodness, are there any other strange or vicious creatures inhabiting the island?

Harsh landscapes tend to produce determined survivors with sharp teeth, I’m afraid. I’m not sure anything or anyone on the island would fail to fall into either the strange or the vicious category, human populous most certainly included! It does tend to drive people (and others) a bit mad after a while.

Goodness me it sounds like a very dangerous place to be living! Perhaps that is why, like us, you have a bit of an orphan problem? Does anyone do anything to try and help?

‘Help’ is such an interesting word, isn’t it? There’s lots of help. Doc Willoughby likes to help people who are ill. He helps them very diligently right up until they become dead. Reverend Davies likes to help people spiritually, and he’ll do that right up until they go entirely mad. Frampton Jones helps people stay informed of what’s going on, although there are some who feel that ignorance might be better. Annamarie is very good at helping people recover from the kinds of problems that seem to have been caused by witchcraft in the first place… And then there’s Owen, who really is quite a nice lad and really does mean well, but hasn’t the faintest idea what he’s doing.

Hm, you know I WAS thinking of visiting Hopeless for my holidays next year (Next time they decide spring Wizmas on us and things round here become a bit hot) but now I’m not so sure… if I were to go, what vital things would you advise me to take?

Well on the plus side, it is a fairly witch-friendly space, the witch-burning to witch-ratio is better than average at any rate. Take sugar, spices, anything that keeps well and does not mostly taste like mud or seaweed and you will make a lot of friends, which is often key to survival.

And would they welcome a witch do you think? Magic isn’t forbidden is it, as it is here?

There are always a few people who want to ban magic – or at least, magic that works in a different way to their own. The occultists and the cultists don’t get on so well with each other or the Reverend, or the witches, opinions remain divided as to whether the island’s inventors were really sorcerers, the magic in the underground community is not looked upon favourably by those who are less dead, and going into the graveyard at night is really taking your afterlife into your own hands… But other than that, it’s all fine and friendly on the magic front.

Hopeless does sound rather cut off from the rest of the universe, is there a newspaper or radio broadcast, anything where concerned citizens can keep up to date with what is happening on the island?

There have always been a few islanders with the means to get information about the world – demons have been used for this, along with other equally unreliable occult means. Most news come from those who survive the shipwrecks – usually a few each year. On the island, the only sources of news are The Hopeless vendetta – a very small newspaper run on recycled paper by the ingenious and slightly deranged Frampton Jones. He also has a big notice-board where people leave each other messages. Some evidence of this can be found at http://www.hopelessmaine.com

Oh Splendid. Now that kettle is singing away merrily, can I offer you both a hot beverage? Which would you prefer and how do you take it?

We’re both seething coffee addicts so ‘in a cup’ and strong enough to do your central nervous system an injury, for preference!

Coffee? Hm, let me see, I do have a little of that strange dark powder somewhere in a jar…yes, here it is! I hope you have had time to visit our little Frost Fair while you are here, does Hopeless have any regular celebrations or festivals? It sounds like the island folk could do with a little spirit-raising now and then!

The biggest annual event on Hopeless is Founders Day, when islanders gather together the things the founders found when they landed, and look at them mournfully – a feast of the inedible.  The annual church picnic is not terribly well attended, the hiring fair at the orphanage tends to be a lively affair though. The people of Hopeless love rituals and traditions, and tend to keep making up new ones, it’s the only way to keep themselves amused, and everyone likes an excuse to wear an outlandish hat.

Oh yes indeed! Hats are marvellous aren’t they? Much better than toupees at any rate. Well it has been so good to see you both today Nimue and Tom, thankyou so much for helping in my soup kitchen today, and for bringing your…er…bottom of the garden stew to share with the orphans….

I feel slightly troubled that we’re feeding this to them, their bellies being largely innocent of the kinds of things that go into Bottom of the Garden Stew. Are you going to be terribly upset if any of them are changed as a consequence… ?

Sadly, my dear, the only other food available to the poor street folk of Lancaster is a slightly toxic purple seaweed  – you may have noticed the extraordinary tint of the children’s’ hair? – but perhaps you are right… I know, I think I have some potatoes and onion hidden away somewhere that are not too bad, and I will save this …delightful brew…for Montmorency next time he calls, hopefully that will stop him calling quite so often, he is disturbingly persistent. Well now here are your hats and coats it was so lovely to see you!

Thank you for having us. Did you want us to take the mermaid away now? We brought a pole and the extra thick gloves just in case…

Oh yes I think Max and Collin would appreciate that very much indeed!  I think you will find them down by the river, or rather in it, clinging to a printing press and being pelted with oatcakes.

Now then, I hope you will all join me next week when Steampunk Author Kara Jorgensen will be dropping in to give me a hand,

Blessings on your brew my dears!

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One response

  1. gothicmangaka

    Reblogged this on The Moth Festival and commented:
    We are in the soup of the day! (with tentacles)

    Liked by 1 person

    January 26, 2017 at 9:46 am

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