Check out our episode here! The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor by Shaenon K. Garrity and Christopher Baldwin
On a dark and stormy night, through windswept torrents, Haley is going after her heart's desire: a better grade on her book report. Unfortunately for Haley, the fourth essay on Wuthering Heights isn’t passing muster and her teacher begs her to do one on a different book, and no, not Jane Eyre. No more castles, no more gothic romances, why can’t she be into sexy vampires like the other girls? While stopping on a bridge to spout poetry in the rain like a proper gothic heroine, Haley sees someone in the river below, drowning. Abandoning her pile of books, Haley races down and helps the man to safety toward some unfamiliar lights. As Haley loses consciousness, lightning flashes revealing a gothic castle.
Two finely dressed men on horseback galloping by spy a maiden unconscious on a rock. The more jovial of the pair is enthusiastic in his attempts to save the maiden, but alas, the cold river water prevents him from wading past his ankles. Thankfully his sullen companion doesn’t demonstrate the same delicate disposition and is able to fetch the maiden.
Haley wakes in a large four poster bed to a looming silhouette. It’s not a monster, it’s something far worse… the housekeeper! GASP! The stoic housekeeper, Wilhelmina, has come to inform her that Master Laurence is owed thanks for saving her, though the loudly enthusiastic Master Cuthbert wants Haley to say it was him. But Haley remembers being the one to do the saving? As she ponders this, Haley wanders out to the balcony and meets a ghost, but after a short introduction, Wilhelmina drags her back inside to get dressed.
Meanwhile, the dark and brooding Master Laurence is trying to tell Cuthbert to get rid of the girl; their priority is finding their brother. Haley comes down the grand staircase then, and while Laurence is kicking her out, she makes a remark about the “cute, crabby guy” who looks like them. As she might prove useful in finding his wayward younger brother, Laurence asks her to help find Montague. Under the manor, Cuthbert is writing of his heroism as he walks into a room where a strange, green glowing device is located.
Haley and Laurence leave the manor, and as they walk, Haley asks a ton of questions: where are they, when are they, what year is it, is this place real? Laurence avoids each one. Frustrating! They are heading into Bloodwolf Forest and aren’t far into this dark and foreboding place when the earth shakes. Telling her to stay, Laurence runs off. Back in the manor, Cuthbert tells Laurence he has fixed the strange machine after a crack opened.
Another boom shakes Bloodwolf Forest and rocks Haley. When the world stops shaking, Haley notices she’s in a different place and the castle ghost is there. The ghost is Cecily, and Haley is the first person who's been able to see her so she’s very excited. Usually Cecily can’t leave the manor, but every now and then she can get out to the countryside. To help Haley get back, Cecily makes will-o-the-wisps to guide them before being yanked back. Following the wisps, Haley is taken to a brooding man on a stark and lonely strand… It's Montague!
Montague explains he has been trying, through a series of ingenious schemes such as a tunnel, catapult, large kite, another catapult and inflatable pony, to escape whatever this place is for years in order to find help from the outside. Haley, being from the outside, volunteers to lend a hand. Passing an awfully nice cliff-side hermitage and through baleful catacombs, Montague takes Haley, via a back entrance to the underground room, to the Infernal Device. Erm… yeah. Haley isn’t equipped for this. As Montague hands Haley a pamphlet titled “Getting to Know Your Gasket UNIVERSE,” droplets of green ooze seep from the walls, and as Haley is looking at the pamphlet, the ooze is looking at her.
The pamphlet gives strictly forbidden information not to be shared unless you are about to politely die. It tells how there are countless universes and sometimes things crack and cause unsightly reality leakage. Oops. A gasket universe is installed, which is what Willowweep is, and contains the leakage between the two universes. In this case, the two universes are a quaint little one filled with pandas and Carolina-style barbecue and one infected with a force of penultimate evil. If the gasket universe of Willowweep should fail… APOCALYPSE! Whomp, whomp.
Well, that wasn’t very helpful. Montague explains that he and his brothers are foundlings and have been charged with looking after the gasket universe all their lives. Willowweep, as it looks now, has taken on the form of the gothic novel as it had an unusually powerful radiation (Haley feels very vindicated by this). While Montague deals with another crack, Haley slips out to get some air.
In Bloodwolf Forest, Laurence and Cuthbert are out searching for Haley who is not where Laurence left her. While Laurence will continue to look in the forest, Cuthbert goes to the Blasted Heath where he meets a sinister monk with glowing green eyes who brings Cuthbert under his thrall with the promise of candy.
The brothers coincidentally meet up in a hermitage as the rain starts again, neither Laurence or Montague noticing anything off about Cuthbert. Back in Willowweep manor, the housekeeper performs her duty of tromping over the hills crying “Oh waily waily waily!” and finds Haley after slipping in the mud. Taking her back to the manor, Haley is comforted with snacks and a roaring fire. When the brothers return, they are intent on using romance and poetry to persuade Haley to help them. Laurence’s endeavors are thunderous, Cuthbert’s flowery and Montague needn’t bother as Haley is going to help them, but he still takes the opportunity to have a dramatic moment.
The Infernal Device is ridiculously complicated and Haley can’t make heads nor tails of it, so they all decide to turn in for the night. A little later, Haley, on her way to say goodnight to Montague, spots a cool library and the sinister monk who is covering the statues of horses on the fountain in glowing green bile. By the time she gets to the courtyard, Cecily in tow, the monk is gone, but Cuthbert is there, acting even stranger. The next day, the group are examining the green bile covered fountain when Haley tells them her invisible friend has something to say.
Cecily, the ghost of Willowweep Manor, came from a universe infected with the bile. She tested an experimental teleportation device, but obviously there were some kinks and she ended up here. She tells them, through Haley, that the bile changes everything into a part of itself until nothing is left! Dun! Dun! Dun! As the sound of crashing and the yips of infected wolves can be heard, our intrepid groups make ready to fight back. The housekeeper, Wilhelmina, Haley and Cecily will stay in the manor and protect the central Infernal Device. Laurence, with his sword, Cuthbert with his rapier and Montague with his butter knife will take their horses and see that all device stations are in working order.
As he is journeying through Bloodwolf Forest, Laurence happens upon the monk who confronts him. Back at the manor, the grounds are infested with bile-infected bunnies. They are not cute. Suddenly the earth shakes and Haley sees the landscape has shifted again. Laurence and the monk are on the Blasted Heath and the monk runs Laurence through with his own sword. Running to help him, the earth shakes again and Haley is taken into the forest, surrounded by bile-infected animals. Meanwhile, Cuthbert and Montague are on the beach but are separated by one of the shakes. Luckily this also puts Haley in Montague’s path, and she quickly explains what has happened to Laurence. It also starts raining. (This is a gothic novel after all.) Cuthbert was transported back to the manor where the monk is trying to get inside. As Cuthbert is weak-willed and has a malleable mind, the monk easily makes Cuthbert tell him the best way to invade the house as we see his horde of bile-infected animals growing behind him.
Haley and Montague are racing to help the felled Laurence when the earth shakes and they see Willowweep Manor infected with the bile. Then the earth shakes again, separating them. Oh crud, indeed. Haley trudges through the mud and reaches the hermitage, finding inside the resident hermitess who was the previous caretaker of Willowweep but is now retired. She gives Haley some much needed motivation, soup and delightful lemon meringues. The gasket universe may run on rules, but Haley will defy them. Giving Haley one final gift, an umbrella because it’s really pouring out there, the hermitess sends Haley on her way.
When Haley reaches Willowweep Manor she finds Cuthbert trying to drown himself with rain for his betrayal. He really isn’t a complicated person. On route, they meet with Montague who has found the injured Laurence. Together they head to the Gatehouse where Haley gives an impassioned speech about breaking out of the confines of their assigned roles. Haley declares that she is no maiden, oh no, she is a Gothic heroine!
The mad monk is loudly exclaiming bad poetry, much to his own disgust, when Cuthbert, covered in a bedsheet, pretends to be the ghost of Willowweep. He is annoyingly distracting, gaining the monk's ire and attention. Then Montague steps forth with witty quips and a buttered tea cake. Cuthbert returns in full plate armor, and all the while, the injured Laurence is watching from secret passageways through the eye holes cut out of paintings.
The monk is properly mad now and calls forth his legions of gothic villains to attack. Haley was making her way to the Infernal Device, but at this onslaught, she goes to aid Montague and Cuthbert; however, the onslaught was merely an illusion to give the monk time to flee. Before they can take a breath, the real legion hits. This time it is the bile-infected animals and they trample Cuthbert. Wilhelmina, in full Valkyrie garb, jumps down from the mezzanine, tackles a bear and punches a deer in the face, giving Haley, Montague and Cuthbert enough time to escape, dump Cuthbert with Laurence, and get Cecily to lead them to the Infernal Device.
The Infernal Device has been sabotaged and is coming apart. Montague offers to hold it together while Haley tracks down the monk who has, in true villainous gothic style, gone to the nearest perilous height for a climactic battle. Phew, there are a lot of stairs! Wielding her umbrella, Haley is able to knock the monk upside his head, nearly toppling him from the tower, but she can’t let him fall. As she helps him up, a large portal rents the air causing them both to fall over the edge and down into the main mechanism of the device. The battle continues but the rules have slightly changed, reality is malleable and Haley can bend it to her will. The monk transforms into his true self, a very unattractive mass of green sludge. Haley is able to trap it in her umbrella and bends reality to make it a sealed bottle. With the help of Cecily, who is corporeal here and able to transform into her true purple moth-like-alien self, they return to Willowweep.
The bile has receded but there is much work to be done, foremost is fixing the Infernal Device. The hermitess has come to help, which is great for Wilhelmina, as the hermitess, who is called Sibyl, is her tragic tale of lost love. After a montage of panels where the group fix the device, restore Willowweep Manor, have lunch, and cavort with birds, only one crack remains, and it’s the one to Haley’s home. After some emotional goodbyes, Haley steps though, but Sibyl doesn’t close this crack back up.
Back at school, Haley hands in her assignment. It’s not the requested book report, it’s an actual book of her adventure in Willlowweep Manor, so the teacher calls it extra credit. Haley is different now, sporting adventurer-meets-mechanic garb and a pile of books which center more on celestial mechanics and horrid novels than gothic romances. Montague peddles toward her on a contraption that can only be loosely labeled a bicycle (thank you Wilhelmina), and they ride off together for coffee.