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Things didn’t go quite according to plan. In the end it wasn’t anything mysterious or supernatural which defeated them at the house, but hard-headed practicalities, and the catalyst was the weather.
Since the end of Winter, and the big thaw after the big freeze, they had had very little rain, apart from the odd light shower, which often barely dampened the ground. By early summer everything was tinder-box dry. The ground was parched.
“I hadn’t expected it quite so soon in the summer”, said Adam.
“I hadn’t expected it at all”, said Joby “I dunno why though, as we always did have hot summers up here”.
The real course of alarm though was that the water level in the lake began to recede alarmingly.
“We’ve got a problem”, said Bardin “If we decide to stay here at the house, we run the very real risk of the galleon being marooned on a mud-bank, and we’ll be stuck here whether we like it or not. I can’t risk that happening. We have to move on whilst we still can”.
Bengo couldn’t believe his ears. This was an even better idea than the party had been.
“We’re leaving! We’ve leaving!” he cried, dancing round the kitchen.
“Yeah alright, cam down”, said Joby.
“No, shan’t!” Bengo laughed “Even Bardy can’t argue with the weather! We’ll have the party on the galleon instead”.
The belongings they had taken up to the house were packed up and moved back down to the galleon. Even Bardin had to concede that he felt relief that matters had been taken out of their hands.
On the morning they left Joby stood outside the kitchen door, looking out over the countryside. Hillyard came to join him.
“We could never have made it work here”, said Joby “I dunno how the people who lived here survived”.
“Well they didn’t”, said Hillyard, bluntly “We always assume they were here a long time, but perhaps they weren’t”.
“True”, said Joby.
The others had all headed back down to the galleon by now, so they turned and walked back through the house alone, the last ones to leave. At the front door they turned for a final look back, and caught a flicker of movement at the top of the cellar steps, under the main staircase.
It briefly appeared, whatever it was, too solid to be a ghost, and yet curiously not human. It was reminiscent of how Pabbio had looked when he had scuttled away from them, out of the conservatory on his island. Something loathsome, abhorrent.
“Come on, let’s go”, said Hillyard, pulling Joby out of the doorway and into the sunlight.
“Wait a mo”, said Joby “Please don’t mention this to Kieran, or at least not for a very long time, when we’re well away from here”.
“I won’t mention it”, said Hillyard “Whatever it is, everything about it stays here”.
And he slammed the door firmly behind them.
Down on the galleon Kieran dumped his and Joby’s tote-bags on the sofa in their cabin. Once unloaded of his burden he stood and looked around him with satisfaction.
“Home sweet home”, he whispered.
Toppy had spring-cleaned the room in their absence, so it was looking uncharacteristically tidy, but even so Kieran felt a great relief to be back here again.
If Joby had known at that moment how relieved Kieran was to be back on the galleon, he wouldn’t have had a moment’s worry about the probability of him returning to the house to sort out the undesirables lurking in its depths.
Kieran leaned against the bunk and offered up a prayer of gratitude for being back on the galleon. He had just completed this when Joby appeared. He picked Kieran up in his arms and swung him around.
“How does it feel to be home?” he asked.
“Fantastic”, Kieran laughed.
“God, I love that sexy Irish voice of yours”, said Joby “Say it again”.
“Fantastic!” said Kieran.
“You wait til later”, said Joby, kissing him on the lips.
“Why later?” said Kieran.
“’Cos I can’t stop now”, said Joby, in dismay “Adam’s got us under the cosh. We’ve gotta get settled back into the galley, and do a stock-take. He seems convinced the others have been eating us all out of house and home whilst we’ve been up at the mausoleum. Talk about paranoia!”
“Oh well, I’ve got to help Hillyard with the animals anyway”, said Kieran.
“Later we’ll crack open our secret whisky supply”, said Joby “That’s if Toppy hasn’t been secretly swigging from it behind our backs!”
“Oh listen to that”, said Adam, pausing in the galley “The engines have started”.
“They got them going”, Bengo beamed “Hillyard was a bit worried that they wouldn’t, after they haven’t been used for a while”.
“We’re on the move”, said Adam.
“About bloody time”, said Joby, coming into the room “Away from that sodding house at last!”
“I wonder where we’ll end up next”, said Adam “Somewhere we can get fresh food I hope”.
“I wouldn’t bank on it”, said Joby.
“Ah Normal Joby is back”, said Adam, facetiously “Joyful Joby had departed again”.
“No he ent”, said Joby “I just don’t want you raising your hopes, only to have ‘em dashed again, that’s all”.
“I rarely get carried away on a wave of giddy euphoria, old love”, said Adam.
“Well it’s just in case you do”, said Joby “Innit nice though that we can just get up and leave a place like that? Wouldn’t have been able to back in our time”.
“It would have been a lot more hassle, tis true”, said Adam.
“What would have stopped you?” said Bengo.
“Mortgages, contracts, that sort of thing”, said Joby “You’d have to stay put until someone else was prepared to take it on”.
“Good job we didn’t have to do that”, said Bengo “We’d never have found anyone to take over that place!”
“Not just nobody would have wanted it”, said Adam “But there is no one else around to have it!”
“Nice innit”, said Joby.
The very next day the lake turned into a T-junction, branching off into a broad river to the left and right, just halting dead ahead.
“This is exasperating”, said Bardin, surveying the scene from the main deck.
“Why is it exasperating?” said Adam.
“Because if I’d known this was coming up I wouldn’t have bothered with stopping at that house”, said Bardin.
“The only thing that’s exasperating round here is you!” said Joby.
“Yes Bardin, I thought you Sagittarians were supposed to be positive thinkers”, said Adam “I’m supposed to be the brooding, moody one!”
“I’m just letting off steam”, said Bardin “Am I not allowed to do that?”
“You do it all the bleedin’ time!” said Joby.
“So do you”, said Bardin, squaring up to him like a yappy Jack Russell terrier confronting a lugubrious bloodhound.
“Ladies, please! Not now”, said Adam, separating them “Not when we’re about to embark on a whole new adventure”.
“Still feels like the old one to me”, said Joby.
“Why don’t you go and make us all a nice cup of tea”, said Adam.
“Because I wanna know where we’re going next first!” Joby protested.
“Yes Bardin, we need to make a decision”, said Ransey “Left or right?”
Bardin looked momentarily nonplussed.
“We can always anchor here until you decide”, said Ransey.
“We’ll go that way”, said Bardin, pointing to the left.
“That’s taking us north”, said Joby.
“I was about to say”, said Bardin “We go a little way along. If it doesn’t look as though it’s going to amount to anything then we turn round - as there is room - and head back to this point, and go right! OK?!”
“It’ll do”, said Joby.
“I do wish you wouldn’t wind him up like that, Joby”, said Adam, when the two of them had got back down to the galley (Bengo was still up on deck, talking to Hoowie).
“I enjoy it”, said Joby “It’s one of my favourite hobbies. Anyway, he’s Captain. He’s there to be provoked”.
“Start making the tea”, Adam ordered “And don’t go mad with the tea-caddy. The tea is on strict ration”.
“Why?” said Joby “We’ve got loads of it down in the hold”.
“Yes but we don’t know for how long that loads of it will have to last us”, said Adam.
“Yeah alright”, Joby groaned.
Adam crossed over to the sink and peered out of the port-hole above it.
“The cloud is really building up out there”, he said “Looks like we might be in for some rain”.
“Good”, said Joby “Stop us getting marooned”.
When the rain did come it was soft but steady, like a thick veil draping itself around the countryside. It became too thick to see properly, and they anchored the boat in the middle of the lake.
Up on deck a tarpaulin was set up to act as a makeshift shelter for the ones on watch duty. Bardin went up to join them for a while. It was whilst they were chatting that a movement was noticed on the steep, partially-wooded lakeside.
“It’s one of those man-beast things again”, said Rumble “We saw one on the shore before when we were near the Sea of Torment area”.
A huge figure climbed up the slope, its back to them. It was largely covered in fur, an didn’t appear to be clothed in any way. It’s large squat head rested firmly on it’s broad shoulders without having any benefit of a neck.
“It doesn’t seem to be taking any notice of us”, said Farnol, in a whisper, as though the creature might overhear him “I hope it can’t swim”.
“A damn great thing like that?!” said Bardin.
“Whales can swim”, said Farnol “And they’re huge things. I heard once that a whale’s tongue can weigh as much as an elephant!”
“A whale is an aquatic animal”, said Bardin “That thing isn’t”.
“Well we’ve not aquatic animals and we can swim”, said Farnol.
“This is a very silly conversation!” said Bardin “If, IF, that thing can swim, which is very unlikely, we’ll fire warning-shots and move on. Even if it can swim I doubt very much that it could keep up with us!”
The rain got steadily worse as the evening wore on. Bardin abandoned any idea of a night-watch, and instead instructed that all the outside hatchways and doors be firmly locked. They would hear if anything - particularly big creatures that could swim - were to clamber aboard.
Below deck things were very cosy, with the lamps lit against the gloom, although Joby remarked that he felt like “Noah on his bleedin’ ark!”
After supper was cleared away Bardin and Umbert decided to have another fiddle with the wireless set, in spite of the fact that the general consensus seemed to be that it was a complete waste of time.
As it turned out it wasn’t. For the first time in months they actually seemed to be picking up a jumbled tangle of messages, all supposedly emanating from the same location, a weather station situated somewhere unknown.
“Not Buskin though”, said Adam, sadly.
“Ssh!” snapped Bardin, imperiously.
Adam gave him a look which strongly suggested he was waiting for the appropriate moment to exact retribution. Bardin impatiently motioned Umbert to start making notes of what coherent scraps he could pick up. Several tense minutes followed, in which Umbert’s pencil flew staccato-like across a block of paper.
“That seems to be it”, said Umbert, after a while “Whoever it was, we’ve lost ’em again”.
“So what have you got?” said Bardin.
The others crowded round to hear.
“Right, this is the clear bits”, said Umbert, proceeding to read from the page.
“It’s like automatic writing”, said Kieran.
“Be quiet!” said Bardin.
Kieran pulled a face.
“God, it feels like war’s being declared”, said Joby.
“’URGENT - IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED’”, read Umbert “’SEVERE THUNDERSTORM … EFFECTIVE … HAIL TO 3 INCHES IN DIAMETER … THUNDERSTORM WIND GUSTS UP TO 70 MPH … AND DANGEROUS LIGHTNING ARE POSSIBLE IN THESE AREAS … PERSONS SHOULD BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR THREATENING WEATHER CONDITIONS AND LISTEN FOR LATER STATEMENTS … SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS CAN OCCASIONALLY PRODUCE TORNADOES”.
“Was that it?” said Hoowie “It was a weather report!”
“An extreme weather report, Hoowie”, said Adam.
“But it’s no use to us!” said Hoowie “It doesn’t tell us what area it’s on about!”
“It can’t be extremely far away”, said Ransey “As we’re clearly catching the edge of this storm. So somewhere there must be people capable of sending out proper wireless messages, but even so they could still be several hundreds of miles away. These storms can cover a very large area”.
“But we’ve got a coherent message from somewhere at last, that’s the main thing”, said Adam.
“The first time in quite some while”, said Ransey.
“I still say it was only a weather report”, said Hoowie.
“Belt up”, said Bardin.
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