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By Sarah Hapgood

A long spell of fine, sunny weather helped them to try and make the “monstrous behemoth”, as Bardin had accurately called the house, into something remotely approaching a home. There were days when it clouded over, and then the sky seemed to press down on the house, seemingly threatening to crush it. It was on days like this that the house seemed actively malevolent, when its dark corners appeared alive with something malignant, almost cannibalistic.

Bengo hated the long nights at the house most of all. They seemed interminable. Occasionally Bardin would condescendingly allow them to go back to the galleon for a night, but they were spending far too much time at the house for Bengo’s liking.

“We will be fine”, said Bardin “I’ve put a chamber pot under the bed in case you have your usual night-time problems, so you don’t have to go looking for the bathroom”.

“Oh gee thanks!” Bengo snarled.

“And”, said Bardin, with a flourish “I’ve put my whistle under the pillow, in case we need to summon help”.

Bengo groaned, rolled over and thumped his pillow.

Joby commiserated with him in the kitchen the next day.

“I get the same with Kieran”, he said “He insists on keeping his Bible conveniently to hand, as though he’s gonna clonk some intruder on the head with it! If you get really fed up, come and snuggle down with me, and we’ll leave those two to ward off demons”.

“I’d love to”, Bengo sighed “But I guess we’d better keep an eye on them”.

As was his usual custom wherever he found himself, Julian made himself at home, and often during the day he could be found in the library. Bardin found him excavating the drawers in a large desk in the corner.

“Did I make you jump?” said Bardin.

“Not at all”, said Julian “I knew it was you, I could hear the starch rustling”.

Julian was delighted to see Bardin blush slightly.

“Hah!” said Julian “It always reassures me when I can make a clown blush! I’m not sure what we do about all these books”.

Bardin looked at the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves crammed with books.

“Do we have to do anything with them?” he said.

“Well I’m a bit nervous about touching them”, said Julian “They could crumble to pieces if not handled right”.

“Then they might as well be dumped in the cellar I guess”, said Bardin.

Julian laughed.

“Bardin, I love you to bits”, he said “But you’re a total philistine!”

“Bengo says all I know about is junk”, said Bardin “But I don’t see the point of keeping decaying stuff around just because it’s old. It’s probably part of what’s fuelling the gloom around here”.

“You might have a point there”, said Julian, although he couldn’t bear the thought of Bardin letting the other clowns rip the books off the shelves with unbridled enthusiasm “Let’s leave them there though for the time being”.

There were voices approaching from the hallway. Kieran and Umbert came in, carrying all the paraphernalia required for another Blessing.

“Another bloody Blessing?” said Julian.

“It can’t do any harm now can it?” said Kieran.

“And it might even do some good”, chirped Umbert, who was holding a large unlit church candle.

“What are you planning to do with that?” said Julian, tartly.

“Bless this house”, said Kieran, succinctly.

He turned to leave and then looked back.

“Would you like me to bless you, Julian?” he said “Just to be on the safe side?”

“That won’t be necessary”, said Julian, having to resist the urge to shake Kieran for his impudence “I am more than a match of whatever this house contains”.

Kieran turned to Bardin.

“I’m going to bless you later though”, he said, and when Bardin opened his mouth to protest said “Bengo decrees it”.

“I suppose there could be a lot worse places to live”, said Bengo, standing at the back door, with the fresh spring breezes rustling his hair.

“It don’t seem too bad with the sun pouring in like this”, said Joby, who was mixing up batter in a bowl “So many parts of the house don’t get much light, that’s half the trouble. Reminds me of that gloomy old pile Julian had near Husgalonghi. That place gave me shivers as well”.

“I suspect that was largely because Julian was in it”, said Adam, coming over from the far side of the room, where he and Hillyard had been inspecting the wainscotting for mouse holes.

“Yeah, and you exposed me to him when I was young and innocent!” said Joby.

“I protected you”, said Adam.

Bardin could be heard shouting up the stairs in the hallway.

“I do wish Bardin would relax”, said Adam “Perhaps take up a little hobby now we’ve anchored for a while”.

“Such as?” said Hillyard.

“Lecturing perhaps. Character-Improvement classes”, said Adam.

“He already does those!” said Bengo.

Hoowie ran in through the back doorway.

“Here!” he said “Toppy’s just told me there’s gonna be a full moon tonight”.

“What of it?” said Joby “Is he frightened he’s gonna turn into a werewolf or summat?!”

“Toppy would make a most unlikely werewolf”, said Adam.

“HE’S more likely to be the werewolf”, said Joby, pointing at Hoowie.

“Yeah well we all know how Julian likes a bit of scruffy rough!” Hoowie flared back at him.

“Ladies please!” said Adam “Put your handbags away at once! Anyway, what’s the great significance of a full moon?”

“Well Kieran’s always said that things can become extra-hyper at the full moon”, said Hoowie.

“I might’ve known he’d be in the loop somewhere”, said Joby “He shouldn’t be filling your head with stuff like that, you can’t take it!”

The night was clear, enabling the moon to cast the countryside in a dramatic glare.

“I’ve never known if there is any truth to the theory that phenomena is more active at the full moon”, said Adam “Or whether it’s just that it enables us to see more”.

The ship’s cat had been brought up to the house to do a spot of mouse-ing, and was so perturbed by the brightness of the moon that he refused to step into any patches of moonlight thrown onto the floor.

“Benje? Are you in there?” Hoowie called out. He was lying alone in bed, because Julian was finishing off a card-game downstairs.

“No”, Bengo shouted from the adjoining room “It’s one of the ghosts!”

“Oh don’t be like that”, said Hoowie “Come and join me in here until the others come up”.

“Why should I?” said Bengo, padding into the room wearing only his shirt “You insulted Joby”.

“He called me a werewolf!” said Hoowie “That was cruel”.

“Oh diddums”, said Bengo “Serves you right to get bitten on the arse. You’ve handed out enough cruel jokes on people over the years”.

“Don’t have it in for me, mate”, said Hoowie, pathetically “I can’t help getting jealous sometimes. Julian does have a special spot for Joby”.

“For God’s sake”, said Bengo, climbing onto the bed next to him “Are you gonna be like this forever?”

“I hope not”, said Hoowie “Here, I’m glad we can’t see the back of the house from this room. That tower thing gives me the creeps”.

“You can see the woods from here though”, said Bengo.

“Yeah, that’s why I’ve drawn the curtains”, said Hoowie “Got covered in dust doing it too!”

“I thought I heard you in here”, Bardin startled them by suddenly appearing through the connecting door “Bengo, you left a candle burning unattended in there”.

“Good”, said Bengo “I hope it burns the house down!”

“Kieran says this place needs love”, said Hoowie.

“Well it’s not gonna get it from me!” said Bengo “Ghastly old pile”.

“Ghastly?” said Bardin “It’s weird when you suddenly come out with Adam-words like that”.

“Come here and behave, Bardin”, said Bengo “Or I’ll smack your starchy bum”.

“Charming”, said Bardin, perching at the bottom of the bed “I wish everybody would stop getting so nervous, we’ve been in far worse places than this. Look at ‘The Cursed Isle’ for one!”

“That was one freaky fucking place”, said Hoowie.

“Exactly”, said Bardin “And what have we had here by comparison? Eh? A few weird noises and a roving glass eye!”

“I wouldn’t exactly say that was nothing, Bardy”, said Bengo.

“It’s small potatoes compared to what we’ve known”, said Bardin.

“Hey, I can hear something now”, said Hoowie, sitting up “A sort o scratching noise”.

“Coming from the wainscotting?” said Bengo “That’d be mice or insects I suspect. The cat’s been too spooked out to do very much”.

“That cat’s not been pulling his weight”, said Bardin, as though the cat was going to get a good telling-off at some point.

“What’s the time?” said Hoowie.

Bardin looked startled by this question. Normally Hoowie carried on as though time was a complete irrelevance to everything.

“About 9 o’clock”, said Bardin.

“Is that all?” said Hoowie, in dismay “Oh God, this night’s gonna seem endless!”

Kieran burst into the room.

“Come and have a look, quick!” he shouted “Something really odd outside in the valley. Come now!”

The other three followed him into the room at the back of the house, directly over the kitchen, which he and Joby had taken over as a bedroom. Joby was perched on the windowseat when they walked in, peering through a pair of binoculars.

“Look at that”, he said, handing the binoculars to Bardin.

Walking along what had, throughout the winter, been the ice road leading up to the tower, was one of the weirdest sights they had ever seen. It looked like a man-sized old-fashioned clothes-peg striding stiffly along the track towards them.

“What …?” said Bardin “What the hell is it?!”

“I dunno”, said Joby “But I’ve never seen anything like that before”.

They all crowded awkwardly onto the windowseat, taking it in turns to peer through the binoculars, although the moonlight was strong enough to give them a reasonable enough view of it.

“I told yer didn’t I?” said Hoowie “I told yer weird things could happen at the full moon!”

“Alright, let’s sit back a bit”, said Joby “I don’t like the way we’re all pressing on this old window. Probably make it fall out”.

The strange figure suddenly stopped and changed direction. It moved off the path and in an easterly direction, before disappearing out of sight.

“That’s all we need to scare the shit out of us”, said Hoowie “A pair of automated trousers!”

“Hey Joby! Joby!” Hoowie chased after him down the hallway the following morning, catching up with him at the bottom of the stairs.

“What?” said Joby “I’m going to the karsey”.

“How can you think about the loo at a time like this?” said Hoowie.

“Easy”, said Joby “I’m bursting!”

“Did you and Kieran talk about that strange figure after we’d gone?” said Hoowie.

“Not much”, said Joby “What’s there to say? We can’t figure out what the hell it was”.

“Nobody’s talking about it”, said Hoowie, sulkily “And Julian refuses to. Says he’ll lock me in the coal-cellar if I mention it!”

“No he won’t”, said Joby “It’s too dangerous down there”.

“But can you think why that weirdy stick bloke suddenly turned off the path like that?” said Hoowie, clutching at the banisters and peering up at him.

“Well perhaps he was bloody desperate for a pee as well!” said Joby, trudging on up the stairs.

Joby was actually in the process of answering the call of nature when Hillyard burst in on him in the bathroom.

“Fuck me, I can’t even piss in peace around here!” Joby exclaimed.

“I’ll wait until you’ve finished”, said Hillyard, loitering by the door.

“That’s real obliging of you”, said joby.

“That was a long ‘un”, said Hillyard, when Joby had eventually finished “I should’ve timed you, you’d have broken a record with that!”

“Sorry to have kept you waiting”, Joby growled, sarcastically.

Hillyard grabbed him by the arm and hauled across the corridor into a little alcove, the only purpose of which seemed to have been to install a window to lighten a particularly dark area of the house.

“For fuck’s sake, Hillyard”, said Joby, as Hillyard hustled him into the windowseat “What’s all this cloak-and-dagger stuff about? Has Ransey been exciting you with tales of his old spying adventures at the Ministry or summat?!”

“You have become so unadventurous since becoming one of Adam’s little helpers, do you know that?” said Hillyard.

“I’ve always been unadventurous”, said Joby “Left to meself I’d have stayed sitting on the sofa. I always had adventures foisted upon me. What’s all this about anyway?”

“We’ve got to go to the tower”, said Hillyard, as though awfully pleased with himself about it.

“I don’t wanna go to the bleedin’ tower!” said Joby “All we’ve had come out of that place is freaky weird shit!”

“Well let’s go and see what’s causing it”, said Hillyard “We can’t make a home here without knowing who the neighbours are can we!”

“I don’t care”, said Joby, stubbornly “I’m happy for them to stay where they are”.

“But they’re not are they!” said Hillyard, in exasperation “Look, I’ve spoken to Bardin and he’s up for it”.

“I might have known”, Joby groaned.

“Do you want to be counted in or not?” said Hillyard.

Down in the kitchen Bengo was telling Adam about a show they had all once done long ago at the Cabaret.

“It was about a werewolf, a jokey one of course”, said Bengo “I’ve been racking my brains since yesterday, trying to remember when we did it. I don’t think it was one of our adult shows, must’ve been when we were kids”.

“Who played the werewolf?” said Adam.

“Mutton Broth”.

“Mutton?” Adam exclaimed “But he’s always so scared of his own shadow all the time!”

“Yeah, but he’s really ugly”, said Bengo, matter-of-factly “And him being timid all added to the comedy you see. A timid werewolf”.

“Of course”, said Adam “I confess I’m not very clued up about the finer points of comedy”.

“No, you could never have been a clown”, said Bengo “You’re much too suave and mysterious for that”.

“Am I?” said Adam “Good heavens. I can’t wait to tell Julian that one, he’ll be most annoyed!”

“Bengo, I’ve got an announcement”, said Bardin, swanning imposingly into the room.

“Something shitty I won’t like I suspect”, said Bengo.

“We’re going to the Tower tomorrow”, said Bardin “Find out once and for all what’s going on there”.

He turned to leave.

“Bardin!” Adam shouted “Come back at once you little wretch! You can’t come in here and make an announcement like that and arrogantly walk out again”.

“What’s the big deal?” said Bardin “It’s only for a day”.

“The big deal is that you will leave me without an assistant for the day”.

“Two assistants”, said Bardin “Hillyard’s trying to persuade Joby as well at this moment”.

“You …” said Adam “Well you’ve finally managed it, you’ve made me completely lost for words!”

“Bardin! Apologise at once!” said Bengo.

“What for?” said Bardin “Organising things?! That’s what I’m here for! We’ll be gone for a day. Farnol and Toppy can help you in here, or down in the galley if you prefer”.

“And who else is going on this jaunt?” said Adam.

“The usual six”, said Bardin “Me, Bengo, Joby, Kieran, Hillyard and Ransey”.

“Then I want it putting on record”, said Adam “That I strongly object to this whole thing”.

And he slammed out of the back door. Bardin had the grace to look abashed.

“I don’t understand what all the fuss is about”, he said “He must’ve known we were going to have to go there sooner or later”.

“Yes, but it’s the way you suddenly burst in and break it on people, Bardy”, said Bengo.

“What am I supposed to do?” said Bardin “Break it to him gently over a mug of cocoa?!”

“Bardin”, said Bengo, very slowly and precisely, as though talking to a mental defective “I’ll go and see if he’s OK. YOU put the kettle on”.

Bengo caught up with Adam at the edge of the forest. The little clown began to apologise for his friend’s thoughtless behaviour, but Adam gently shushed him.

“I’m certain I saw something moving amongst the trees”, he said “A figure in the distance”.

“It might be one of our lot”, said Bengo “Mieps doing some hunting perhaps”.

“No, she’s not hunting today”, said Adam “She’s busy putting rat poison down around the house, because the cat doesn’t like being there”.

Bengo looked to where Adam was staring, but had to confess he couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

“No”, said Adam “Whoever it was, they’ve gone”.

They turned and walked slowly back in the direction of the house. Bengo repeated his apology about Bardin.

“Oh don’t worry about that, old love”, said Adam “Once you’re back home again I shall give him a good spanking in the kitchen”.

“I am really gonna look forward to that!” said Bengo, with enthusiasm.

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