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Joby lay on the sofa in his cabin, holding a mug of whisky to his forehead. The evening felt oppressive. Dark clouds had been gathering all afternoon, and now, with the humidity combined, it all felt very intense.
“Are you trying to test the limits of the Magic Whisky Bottle?” said Kieran, coming into the room.
“Hah!” said Joby “I’m not gonna be lectured on drinking by a ruddy Irishman!”
“Well no I’m only thinking of you”, siaid Kieran, picking his way over to the sofa “Imagine what Adam will say if you turn up for work tomorrow nursing a hangover”.
“He can complain all he wants, the wicked old monster”, said Joby “I’ll take a day off. I must be owed about a decade’s worth by now!”
Kieran had just sat down on the sofa, when an ominous, loud rumbling noise broke out beneath them. Joby said afterwards that it sounded like an Underground train rumbling below them. The whole boat began to shake, and various objects could be heard sliding off shelves and tables all around them.
“Holy fuck!” said Joby, struggling to sit up “I think this is the big one!”
Kieran hastily rescued the oil-lamp from the nightstand, to stop it smashing onto the floor, and turned it down. Joby ran out into the passageway. A sudden jolt, like severe aircraft turbulence, nearly knocked him off his feet. The dogs were barking madly from the dining-room.
“Lonts!” he yelled “Calm the dogs down!”
“I’m trying to, Joby!” Lonts called back.
Julian appeared in the doorway of his cabin, clutching the woodwork.
“Ah a true patriotic Englishman”, he said “Still holding onto his drink, no matter what”.
Joby realised he was still clutching the mug of whisky, and quickly drained the last dregs. He put the mug on the floor and then proceeded down the corridor to the little area outside the galley, the dining-room, and Bengo and Bardin’s cabin. Bardin had appeared there, wearing his pink nightdress.
“Almost worth the Earth moving for the sight of you like that”, said Joby.
Bardin stood there calmly, until the rumbling ceased.
“About 40 seconds”, he said “I’ve been counting it. We could get an after-shock at any moment though. Hillyard!”
“I’m here”, said Hillyard, coming out of the dining-room.
“Lower the second anchor”, said Bardin “We don’t want to be ripped from our moorings. Kieran, could you go down below and calm the horses?”
“I will”, said Kieran.
“I’ll go and speak to the goats”, said Bengo “I have a special affinity with them”.
“That doesn’t surprise me”, said Bardin.
Rumble and Mieps came down the quarterdeck steps.
“It’s as black as a coal-hole up there”, said Rumble “And it’s supposed to be a Full Moon tonight as well”.
“Come below and bolt all the hatches”, said Bardin “Could everybody else make sure all the oil-lamps are secure? We don’t want any random fires breaking out”.
He had barely spoken when another ominous rumble broke out.
“There it goes”, said Bardin.
The others all scooted off to their various occupations. Bardin counted the seconds again, whilst holding ontot he door of his cabin, about 50 this time. He was hoping they’d get a longer respite before the next one, or preferably that it wouldn’t come at all.
Down in the hold the ship felt like a bucking bronco. Even Bengo, who, as a true clown, could usually be relied upon to try and make a joke of a dark situation, was struggling with this one. Kieran pulled him into a corner of the below-deck stables, and they held onto each other until the after-shock passed. Kieran was mumbling a prayer under his breath.
“OK”, said Kieran, when the latest tremor had passed “Let’s calm the horses down, give them some grub”.
“Is it over?” said Bengo “Was that it?”
“I don’t know”, said Kieran “Sometimes after-shocks can last for days, let’s hope that’s not the case. Come on now”, he patted Bengo’s shoulder “We’ve survived enough shit so far”.
“I keep thinking of the earthquake which destroyed the Village Of Stairs”, said Bengo, emotionally.
“Let’s calm the horses”, said Kieran.
“D-don’t tell Bardy I mentioned the Village Of Stairs will you?” said Bengo “I’ll only get one of his ‘now Bengo’ lectures, and I don’t think my nerves could stand it right now!”
“Ach just tell Adam if he does”, said Kieran, patting him again “And tell Bardin to make sure he’s got his extra-starchy knickers on!”
There was another after-shock, and then things went eerily quiet. Everyone waited impatiently for the dawn to come. Fortunately, at this time of the year, it came early. And it was then that they could fully inspect the ship for damage. Hillyard was pleased to report that there was no external damage to the ship below deck.
“I should have known she wouldn’t let us down”, said Bardin, patting the wall as if he was patting the flank of a horse “Keep the second anchor down, just in case though. I’m going to go above deck and see what the state of play is up there”.
He put on his oilskin jacket over his nightie, and thumped up the quarterdeck steps. When he emerged from the hatch into the dreary grey dawn light, he found the air choked with dust. He reached into his pocket and put a handkerchief to his mouth. Rumble was up on the poop-deck, inspecting the bulwarks. He was wearing an old pair of swimming-goggles, and had a scarf tied round his face.
“Where’s all this dust come from?” said Bardin, going up to him.
“It must have all got swirled up from the desert and down from the mountains”, said Rumble.
“You can’t stay up here”, said Bardin “Not in this air quality, it’s like the bottom of an old fish-tank. Come below”.
They all spent the next few hours putting things back to rights below deck. Later that morning Hillyard drove Bardin, Kieran and Joby in the truck to see if Woolly and the Girls were alright. At the barrier they were confronted by Eunice, who looked seething with rage.
“None of this would have happened if you hadn’t bought HER here!” she said, pointing in the direction of the yacht.
“We are not responsible for her!” Bardin yelled, leaning out of the passenger window “Don’t be so bloody stupid, woman! She came here entirely of her own volition, and Cloris might be a complete pain in the neck but she is not responsible for the earthquake! Now get out of the way, or we’ll run you over as well!”
“And don’t get any bright ideas, there will be no witch-lynchings here!” Hillyard shouted at Eunice.
A strange cry, sort of half-animal half-human came from the direction of the Old Temple.
“Bloody hell”, said Joby, under his breath “The Gorgon hasn’t got out has she?”
“No”, said Kieran “But that was her”.
Eunice had heard it too, and giving an ashen-faced glance in the direction of the Old Temple, she walked back towards the village.
The damage could have been worse. No houses had completely collapsed, although the chimney of one had toppled over into the street, and various children were standing around the rubble, gazing at in awe. Some nearby windows had also blown out.
“We’re OK”, said Glynis, coming out to meet them “The ceiling fell down in our bedroom, but we got out unscathed. I saw Rosa earlier. She said their back door got stuck, but they climbed out through the pantry window, and spent the rest of the night in the garden. It felt safer”.
The children had gathered around Kieran, and were besieging him with tales of their exciting night. One little boy swore that his bed had flung him clean into the air.
“Well at least you didn’t hit the ceiling”, Kieran joked.
He pulled some chocolates out of his pocket and passed them round the children, who accepted them enthusiastically.
“Where did you get those chocolates from?” said Joby, suspiciously, as they walked back to the truck.
“Oh I just found them in me pockets”, said KIeran.
“Huh”, said Joby “Well if we need earn any money in the future, we can put you on stage as a conjuror!”
When they got back to the ship, Ransey came to greet them, in a state of some excitement.
“I’ve been talking to H on the wireless”, he said “He took the air-buggy out earlier, just after the Quake first struck, to inspect the headland and the East Coast”.
“And?” said Bardin.
“He said the sea had vanished”, said Ransey “It had pulled out so much he could see creatures on the ocean bed, even at that time of night”.
“A tidal-wave?” said Bardin.
“Yes”, said Ransey “The Quake here must have triggered one off. Fortunately heading away from us …”
“In the direction of The New Continent”, said Kieran.
“OK”, said Julian “So what’s going on? Did you do this?”
Kieran was standing in the middle of the cabin, facing him, like a boy who had been called into the headmaster’s office.
“Did I do what?” he said, innocently.
“Oh don’t give me all that fey Irishman act, you know damn well what I’m referring to!” said Julian “Did you cause that tidal-wave to happen?”
“Now Julian”, said Kieran “The earthquake here triggered the tidal-wave, which can often happen. I thought you being a well-educated feller really might have known that”.
“Get out!” said Julian “Before I throw something at you!”
“It was you who called me in here!” Kieran laughed, but he got out anyway.
He bumped into Joby in the corridor outside.
“What’s going on?” said Joby.
“Julian accused me of causing the tidal-wave”, said Kieran.
“And did you?” said Joby, suspiciously.
“Ach not you as well! ‘Et tu Brute!’”
“I know what you’re capable of, Kiel, stop acting all innocent”.
“Let’s just say I called on God for some help”.
Outside the galley, further down the corridor, Bengo was trying to confess to Bardin.
“When I was down in the hold with Kieran”, said Bengo “When the earthquake was hitting, I made a bit of a fool of myself”.
“You peed your pants?” said Bardin.
“No I did not pee my pants!” said Bengo, furiously “How dare you! I haven’t done that since I was little!”
“Yeah, but you did used to do it”.
“Well I didn’t do it this time! I could box your ears for that!”
“Alright children”, said Adam, emerging from the galley “Calm down. What on earth is the matter?”
“I did not pee my pants!” Bengo reiterated, crossly.
“I’m very relieved to hear it, Bengo”, said Adam.
Kieran and Joby came into view.
“Is there any tea going, Adam?” asked Kieran “I feel I could do with some”.
“Yes of course there is”, said Adam “Joby, why are you scowling like that? It doesn’t enhance your face at all”.
“Nothing does”, said Joby, and he pointed at the galley “I’m going in here”.
“Jolly good”, said Adam “I really do think it would be a good idea if everybody were to calm down a bit”.
“Well tell him to stop winding me up!” Bengo squawked, pointing at Bardin.
“Bardin, why don’t you find something quiet to do somewhere”, said Adam.
“Like what?” said Bardin.
“Something that doesn’t require you to talk”, said Adam.
“There is nothing like that!!” said Bengo “Nothing like that exists!”
For the past couple of hours it had rained pretty intensely. Dr Xavier had said this wasn’t uncommon after an earthquake. Elaine wandered around the garden at the Doctor’s house, on the pretext that she was helping to check for exterior damage. The truth was that she felt safer outdoors. She had experienced a major earthquake before. Once, back in the City. It had been so strong that she had fallen out of bed, and had rolled under it for protection, spending the rest of the night holding onto the bed-legs. Something that still made her laugh to think of, even now. Even so, this one had left her feeling jangled.
She walked to the back of the house where, Antonia, the Doctor’s late wife, had built a small pond-cum-pool area. Elaine picked up a nearby chair, and sat down on it, hugging her jacket to her for comfort. There were lightning flashes far out to sea, out in the East Ocean. It was astonishing to think that a tsunami had headed over there, in the direction of the New Continent. She wondered if it had affected Hy Brasil, and the Third Island, where that strange woman Cloris had come from.
“You OK, Elly?” said Nixx, her brother, appearing on the terrace.
“Oh yes yes”, said Elaine “I’m just having a moment”.
“Yeah, there’s a lot to take in at the moment”, said Nixx “But if it’s any comfort we can’t find any serious damage to the house”, he patted an exterior wall as if in confirmation “This old place must be a lot tougher than it looks”.
“Good”, said Elaine, feeling a bit lost and bewildered “It’s certainly an improvement on that railway station we lived in for 7 years!”
“I’ll say!” Nixx laughed.
He came over to her, and knelt on the grass by her chair.
“Cheer up, girl”, he said, softly “Whatever happens here it’s a bloody damn sight improvement on being there!”
“How on earth did we manage that for 7 years? It all feels like some sort of strange dream when I think back on it now”.
“We’ve had a lot better time since”, said Nixx “Even Winter on the Weather Rock was an improvement on that! We’ve got some good friends here”.
“I hope the galleon doesn’t sail off again”, said Elaine.
“Why should it?”
“I don’t know, just a feeling. I think Bardin and Kieran and the others are getting fed up with the townspeople, and if they start giving them any more trouble now, after the earthquake, well they might just up sticks and go. I think that would be awful”.
“I can’t imagine they will”, said Nixx “Their friends, Glynis and Jan, are here for a start. Don’t forget, that’s the main reason why they wanted to come back here in the first place, because of them. I can’t see them running out, but if you’re worried, why don’t you pop over and have a word with them”.
“Bardin will think I’m just going to nag him about doing a film!” said Elaine.
“Well make it clear it’s not him you want to see”, said Nixx “Go and have a chat with Kieran instead. Come on, let’s get inside. You can’t sit out here, the storm’s getting worse”.
The following day Hillyard arranged with H for them to take both air-buggies out over the East Ocean. Hillyard landed the Indigo-ites air-buggy on the headland behind the Doctor’s house. Kieran had arranged to chat with Elaine whilst the others were gone, and Bengo would take his place in the air-buggy.
Kieran and Elaine walked out over the scrubland once the air-buggies had lifted off again. The worst of the storm had passed, but the air was still wild with a warm wind.
“In the old days I would have gone out dancing in a tempest like this”, said Elaine, her long hair whipping about her head.
“Not now?” said Kieran.
“I don’t feel inclined to at the moment”, said Elaine “Perhaps later, when things have calmed down a bit. I feel awfully tired”.
“It’s been a tiring time”.
“It was good of you to stay behind and speak to me”.
“No problem. It’s clear you’ve got something on your mind”, said Kieran.
“It’s nothing of any great importance”.
“People always say that when it is”.
“I’m just worried that one day you lot will suddenly sail away without any warning”, said Elaine “The townspeople are being very trying at the moment, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did”.
“We wouldn’t do that. We have done in the past, but that tended to be because we had no emotional connection to a place, but we have here. The only way we would leave permanently was if we were drummed out. We might occasionally take the ship out for some exercise, but that would only be for a few days at a time, and perhaps occasionally explore up the coast for a bit”.
“I’ve heard that some of the villagers are threatening to go and live up in the caves in the hills”, said Elaine “They don’t feel safe down here any more. I think it was Eunice hearing the Gorgon wailing from the Old Temple which did it”.
“They’d be more at risk of gorgons up in the hills, quite frankly”, said Kieran “But if they want to do that, then it’s up to them. Perhaps some of them SHOULD go up there, it would make life easier for the ones who stayed behind”.
“You feel like I do don’t you?” said Elaine, looking at him intently.
“That I am tired of some people, yes”, said Kieran “I know that’s not a very Christian attitude, but there are limits. We’ve all been rubbed raw by the World in recent years, and I’m running out of patience with ones who won’t help themselves or help others. Some of this lot are too quick to blame others for everything, and they get locked in emotionally. They allow themselves to be ruled by fear. I suppose I should be helping them, but, like you, I’m feeling a wee bit tired at the moment”.
“I feel like the World has been reset”, said Elaine “That we have been moved back to Square One on the board. That’s not a popular opinion. The Doctor didn’t like it when I said that one evening, he said he wanted the World back as it was last year”.
“He’s still working out the grief of losing his wife”, said Kieran “He feels lost. But at some point he has to accept that the World of a year ago is not going to come back. We’re moving into something different, and we have to accept that, however hard that is. These kind of tempestuous times are never easy, but I do believe they happen for a reason, that something had to change”.
Hillyard flew up the East Coast, and out over the ocean. Bengo, who had never been on this trip before, found it all very exciting.
“Can you take us out towards Hy Brasil?” he asked Hillyard in the pilot’s seat “See what damage has been done by the Wave?”
“We can go a bit of the way”, said Hillyard “We should be able to get a good view of it from quite a distance away. It’s not as if there’s anything blocking the view!”
Hy Brasil was almost completely submerged. Only the flat top of it was poking out of the waves, like a grassy iceberg. Peat Bog Island had sadly vanished completely. The Third Island likewise was also three-quarters submerged.
“Well Cloris was right to get out in time”, said Hillyard “She did something right anyway!”
“The cottage is still there!” said Bengo, pointing at the old cottage which sat at the top of Hy Brasil.
“Perhaps someday we can fly all the way out there”, said Hillyard “Land on the island, and see what’s what”.
“Planning for the future”, said Ransey “Always a good sign”.
Joby had walked to the Doctor’s house to meet up with Kieran. He arrived just as the air-buggies returned from their little trip out over the ocean.
“It was amazing, Joby”, said Bengo, excitedly, as he clambered out of the air-buggy “Only the top of Hy Brasil was left sticking out of the ocean, but the little cottage seemed to be intact”.
“Probably find your vegetable garden is still there, mate”, said Hillyard.
“It’s a bit of a way for me to go to work on it!” said Joby.
Elaine came round the side of the house.
“How did you get on with Kieran?” asked Bengo “Was he able to help?”
“Kieran is never what I expect”, said Elaine “I was dreading that he’d start preaching all Love and Fairness at me, but no, he understood completely. I think he’s finding the villagers as draining as some of the rest of us do”.
“Not half!” said Joby.
He and Kieran walked back through the silent village together. No one was outside, and the remains of the chimney still lay scattered in the street. As they neared the school though they could hear a woman singing. Her unaccompanied voice was beautifully in tune, and echoed around the empty building. Kieran and Joby paused outside the main entrance. “She’s got a good voice whoever it is”, said Joby.
“Sounds almost Irish”, said Kieran.
“Kieran, anything beautiful would sound Irish to you!” said Joby.
“That is true”, said Kieran “Dare we look in and see who it is?”
“It can’t be Deborah, the headmistress”, said Joby “She once told Bengo she couldn’t sing a note”.
The two of them crept delicately through the lobby area, and paused at the door of the main classroom. The door was open slightly, and they could peer through the gap. Standing in the middle of the classroom, surrounded by a large broken window, and a pile of rubble which had fallen on the cast-iron stove in the corner, stood Cloris. In spite of the warm weather she was wearing a coat and a large hat, and was standing there, as if she was facing a theatre full of people. When she noticed the men looking at her, she stopped and stared back at them in bewilderment.
“That was very beautiful, Cloris”, said Kieran “We heard you singing from out in the street, and we just had to find out who it was”.
“Kieran?” she said, perplexed “Where am I?”
“You’re in Zilligot Bay”, said Kieran “It’s at the very bottom of the main land-mass”.
“I don’t understand”, she shook her head “The last thing I can remember is we were all on the Gold River, at the inn where Stanley and James lived with their mother”.
“That was a good few years ago”, said Kieran.
Cloris looked as if she was about to faint. Kieran and Joby rushed to catch her.
“I d-don’t understand”, Cloris stammered “Years ago? I don’t understand. How did we all end up down here?”
“It’s a long story”, said Joby “Sounds like you’ve got a touch of memory loss. Don’t be alarmed, I’ve heard shock can do that sometimes”.
“How many years ago?” said Cloris.
“I’m not entirely sure”, said Kieran “We’ve all been travelling around a bit since then”.
“But where have I been?” said Cloris “What have I been doing? Where’s Lord Robert and Jane?”
“Lord Robert is back on your yacht”, said Kieran “It’s docked in the harbour here”.
“Is he still ill?” asked Cloris.
“I’m afraid he is”, said Kieran (although he didn’t add the general belief that there was nothing wrong with the malingering Lord Robert that a good kick up the arse wouldn’t cure).
“And Jane?” said Cloris.
“Jane’s absolutely fine”, said Kieran “She’s living here in town with a couple of friends”.
“Why isn’t she living on the yacht?” said Cloris.
“It’s a very long story”, said Kieran “But as I said, she is absolutely fine, and I expect she would love to see you”.
“Come on”, said Joby “We’ll show you where she is”.
Cloris was so shaken that they had to support her along the street, like two men walking a drunken Victorian lady back to her home, an image enhanced by the fact that Cloris’s large hat kept falling over her eyes.
“We never knew you had such a good singing voice”, said Joby.
“I never really got much of a chance to use it”, said Cloris “They didn’t encourage much singing at the Ministry”.
“No”, said Kieran “They wouldn’t”.
It was a very abstract but emotional reunion between Cloris and Jane.
“Is this the real Cloris?” said Jane.
“I-I don’t know what you mean”, said Cloris, almost indignantly.
There was the sound of loud shovelling coming from upstairs, as Woolly had been put to work tidying up the rubble in the girls’ bedroom.
“Can she use one of his many sofa’s to lie down on?” said Kieran “Cloris has a lot to catch up on. She doesn’t remember anything after the Gold River”.
“The Gold River?” Jane exclaimed “But that was years …”
“Yes, we’ve told her that”, said Kieran “I think she’s going to have a lot to take in”.
“A sort of amnesia I suppose”, said Joby, as he and Kieran walked back towards the barrier on Lighthouse Lane “Poor her. Fancy being told there’s a whole chunk of your life that’s gone missing. That’s a heck of a shock”.
“Like someone coming out of a coma”, said Kieran.
“It’s weird to think she has no memory of Hy Brasil, or the Third Island, or sailing round the Horn”, said Joby.
“Yes”, said Kieran “We’d better have a sharp word with Bardin to go easy on her with any recriminations in future. She’s not going to have the faintest idea what he’s on about. In some ways it might be better if her memory stayed missing. It would be too painful to remember all that”.
“She’s bound to find out though”, said Joby “Has she really come back for good though? The old Cloris I mean?”
“Let’s hope so”, said Kieran “The shell of Cloris was just too damn disturbing!”
“It’s nice for us to have a little excursion out alone together for a change isn’t it, Joby?” said Kieran.
“Yeah”, said Joby “Tho’ I don’t think visiting a creepy old hospital is my idea of a romantic date, Kiel! I’m not fond of hospitals at the best of times, but this place really gives me the creeps. It doesn’t seem to have improved any since I visited Jane here last year”.
“I think it’s a good idea to make it clear that Cloris has got people on the outside who haven’t forgotten about her”, said Kieran.
“Is she gonna have to stay here long?”
“Hopefully not, just enough time for her to rest and get over everything”.
“It’s bloody quiet round here innit”, said Joby, uneasily “I mean you normally expect hospitals to be a hive of bustle, people dashing about, but this place … it’s like the Marie Celeste!”
The only sounds that could be heard in the stark white-painted corridors were the hum of the strip lights, and the ceiling fans whirring overhead.
“Where do they get their electricity from?” asked Joby.
“Generators I expect”, said Kieran.
“Why can’t we do that on the ship?”
“Well we haven’t got any sockets and wires and lightbulbs, so I don’t see much point really”, Kieran chuckled “Jayz, and I thought I was supposed to be the Irishman!”
They eventually found the small side room in which Cloris had been placed. She was lying on her side in the sparsely-furnished room, but rolled over when she heard them entering. It was clear she had been heavily tranquillised, but she still raised a tired smile when she saw them.
“Are they looking after you alright?” said Joby, as though he had the gravest doubts that they were.
“They cover all the basics”, said Cloris, weakly “Jane came to see me this morning. She brought me those roses”.
She pointed to a small bowl of flowers on the table at the foot of her bed, the only colourful point of the room.
“Looks like they came from Rosa’s back garden”, said Kieran, moving over two chairs so that he and Joby could sit down “We’ll have to take you there when you get out. I always find it very peaceful there, a tranquil spot”.
“Will I be allowed to roam about the town though?” said Cloris “I get the impression some of the people here think I’m some kind of witch”.
“Ach well you know what small communities are like”, said Kieran “There’s usually a few around who are …
“As thick as shit”, said Joby, bluntly.
“It doesn’t help that I don’t know what’s happened to me”, said Cloris “Jane just keeps telling me how brilliantly I must have done to get the yacht round the Horn, but it’s hard to take pride in something which I have no memory of doing! And the longer this memory blackout goes on the more unsettled I feel by it all. What are people hiding from me? Did something awful happen to me … or did I do something awful? I feel I won’t get truly better until I know. Kieran, I am relying on you to tell me. What am I being shielded from? It’s my life, I need to know”.
Kieran explained about Hy Brasil, about how he felt something had got into her there whilst she was both mentally and physically exhausted. Cloris seemed more baffled by how she could have taken her crew to a bleak island such as the Third Island than anything else. She was horrified to learn that Jane and Glynis had been on the verge of starvation when Hillyard had airlifted them out.
“The important thing to remember”, said Kieran “Is that that person wasn’t you. We know that now. When I saw you down in the town a short while ago, I knew that whatever this thing was had taken you over completely. I thought then that we had lost you for good, that your soul had vanished”.
“Can you remember anything about just before you went to the school?” said Joby.
“No, it all felt like a dream”, said Cloris “As though I was dreaming I was singing in an empty room, and then I looked across and there you two were, and it was as if I woke up at that moment. I thought we were still on the Gold River! Will the lost memories come back? The doctors here say they don’t know”.
“I don’t know either”, said Kieran “The important thing is the here and now, for you to get your strength back. The sooner you’re feeling better, the sooner you can be discharged from here”.
“Back to the yacht?” said Cloris.
“Back to the yacht”, said Kieran “Where you rightfully belong”.
When they had left Cloris’s room, they strolled to the end of the corridor where an elevator stood. Kieran wanted to show Joby the buttons on the panel. Two of the bottom end buttons had B1 and B2 on them.
“Basements, so what?” Joby shrugged “Do you think they keep people chained up down there? Some kind of grisly Nightmare Hall experiments?”
“I don’t know what’s down there”, Kieran whispered “It may be nothing, but let’s just say I find it interesting”.
“What the hell are you doing?!” a male voice roared out behind them.
They turned to face a bearded man in a white lab coat. He was standing a few feet from them, and was almost shaking with anger.
“Nothing”, said Joby “Just trying to find out way back out of the building”.
“It’s easy to find your way out”, the man roared, stroppily “Everywhere is well signposted!”
“Yeah alright, calm down”, said Joby.
Kieran didn’t say anything, but simply looked at the man. To Joby’s astonishment, this seemed to send the man off the deep-end, and he went into another fit of hysterics.
“You needn’t think you’re scaring me!” he yelled, now almost spittle-flecked with anger.
“I’m not trying to scare you”, said Kieran, calmly.
“GOOD!” the man hollered “B-because you’re not!”
And he turned and walked hastily away.
“Blimey, if he’s the calibre of doctor they’ve got working here”, said Joby “No wonder they haven’t got many patients!”
Back on the galleon Adam was painting Bengo’s portrait up on the main deck. He had never done a head-and-shoulders portrait of Bengo before, and was finding it an enthralling experience.
“You have such a marvellously expressive face”, said Adam “It so rarely stays still. It must have been handy for a clown”.
“Well you get different types of clown”, said Bengo “You get the deadpan sort, which was more Bardy’s style. He just had one facial expression, which was to look disapproving usually”.
“That sounds a bit of a waste”, said Adam “Bardin has such an engaging little face, when he allows himself to smile”.
“I liked it when we did publicity shots”, said Bengo “He was often allowed to lighten up a bit more then”.
“Yes, there was that wonderful one I saw where you looked serious, and he smiled, as if you’d swapped roles”, said Adam “I loved that one”.
“How’s it coming along?” said Bardin, gravitating over from the poop-deck, where he had been scanning the West Ocean with a pair of binoculars.
“We have a very good subject here”, said Adam “I wasn’t sure whether to do him smiling or frowning, but smiling won out”.
“It’s better that way”, said Bardin “When Bengo frowns he just looks bewildered, as if he’s trying to get his brain to work”.
“Oh Bardin!” said Adam “I think the next one I do should be of the two of you”.
“Smiling or frowning?” said Bardin.
“Neither”, said Adam “Just looking relaxed and affable, to try and capture the secret of your long relationship”.
“I don’t think there is one”, said Bardin.
“Me being bewildered probably”, said Bengo.
Adam secretly thought that the root of their relationship was that they contradicted each other so well, and he could see how that would have worked in their stage act. Bengo had always been undeniably cute and handsome, but he needed Bardin to give grit to the oyster.
“Did you see anything, Bardin?” said Adam, glancing down at the binoculars in Bardin’s hand.
“Mieps said she saw a flash of white light out there this morning”, said Bardin “Sort of reminiscent of the big flashes we used to see from that direction last year, so I was trying to see if I could see anything. Nothing though”.
“It feels like the mysteries keep piling up don’t they?” said Adam.
Over the next 10 days they endured an intense heatwave. The air became like thick soup, and - apart from a brief glimmer of coolness in the very early mornings - it felt virtually impossible to do anything. Normally a heatwave was a marvellous excuse for the Indigo-ites to become as lazy as possible, but this one felt weird and unsettling, and everyone’s nerves were already jangled after the catalogue of recent events. This felt like an added turn of the screw.
Nevertheless they took it in turns to visit Cloris, as they felt sorry for her marooned in that grim hospital all by herself, plus she was still distressed by the big, gaping void in her memories. Even Julian turned up one day. “God help any snotty doctors who try to push HIM around”, said Adam.
Cloris told Julian that she was due to be discharged in the next couple of days, and that she had been offered a room at the Driftwood for the time being.
“Well that’s jolly decent of them”, said Julian “But why are you going there? Why aren’t you going back to the yacht?”
“I can’t”, said Cloris, blushing “I just can’t”.
“You have nothing to worry about”, said Julian, perching on the edge of her bed “They know that wasn’t the real Cloris before, and if they don’t by now, I’m sure Jane will tell them. You can’t be held responsible for all that”.
“It’s not just that”, said Cloris “I don’t actually WANT to go back there. The thought depresses me. I need to make a new start. They’ll be better off without me”.
“I’m not sure about that”, said Julian, thinking that if the yacht lost both Jane AND Cloris, it would be a dark day for them.
“I feel I’ve had enough of travelling anyway”, said Cloris “I’ve literally been floating around, adrift in space as it were, I would like to feel grounded somewhere. The Driftwood sounds like the place that could do that. I could help them out there, and I would be just up the street from Jane and Glynis. It’s ideal. Don’t try and talk me out of this one, Julian”.
“I wouldn’t dream of it!” said Julian “I may be a raving old queer, but I do have enough knowledge of women to know that it’s pretty pointless to try and talk them out of something once their minds are made up. Men are much easier to deal with”.
Cloris burst out laughing for the first time in quite some while.
“I would never have said that!” she laughed.
“Oh they are”, said Julian “If Bardin started refusing to come back to the ship, we’d bundle him up in a sack and haul him back there”.
“I can’t imagine he’d be terribly pleased about that”, said Cloris.
“That would be spectacularly irrelevant”, said Julian.
The villagers began to behave even more strangely. Several of them suddenly upped-sticks and moved up into the caves in the hills. They gave the excuse that living in the caves would be a lot cooler than staying down in the furnace-like temperatures of the town, but the Indigo-ites were sceptical of this. Since the earthquake the locals had felt on-edge, and Kieran believed that it was because the Gorgon had been heard wailing from the bottom of the Old Temple.
“That’s severely unsettled them”, he said “I’m not sure they’re going to come down again in a hurry”.
“What the hell are they going to live on up there?” said Bardin.
“I suspect some will still come down in the day time to attend the allotments”, said Kieran “And some net-fishing can be done from the rocks. I’ve seen them do that anyway”.
“Well I hope they don’t think we’re going to be trotting up there every 5 minutes with donations!” said Bardin.
“What this town needs is leadership”, said Kieran, sitting in a deckchair up on the main deck one white-hot afternoon “Proper leadership, not the rubbish that passes for the Town Council”.
“Are you putting yourself forward?” asked Joby, squinting at him warily from the next deckchair.
“No I am not!” said Kieran “Jayz, what a thought!”
“It’s not Bardy is it?” said Bengo, equally warily, sitting cross-legged at their feet.
“I think Bardin’s got enough to do round here”, said Kieran “And to cut it short, I don’t mean any of us”.
“Thank Christ for that”, said Joby, closing his eyes again.
“I was thinking of Lissa”, said Kieran “She’s sensible, practical, without being overbearing about it and getting on everyone’s nerves”.
“And she’s a survivor”, said Joby “She’s proved that”.
“Does she want it though?” said Bengo.
“She may not actively want it”, said Kieran “But I can’t see her turning it down either”.
“Frankly, I don’t think some of this lot are worth anyone putting themselves out for”, said Joby.
“And the ones that aren’t can stay up in their caves”, said Kieran.
“Oh a very Christian-ly attitude that!” Joby teased.
“The Lord helps those who help themselves”, said Kieran “I don’t believe everyone else should be punished because of the mad whims of a few. This town needs getting back on its feet if it’s going to survive at all, and that means as much Normality needs to resume as possible, whilst at the same time acknowledging that some things have changed for good. I believe Lissa is pragmatic enough to do all that”.
Kieran continued to seem a bit restless over the next couple of days, often to be found prowling around the ship, deep in thought. One morning Joby went looking for him, and found him sitting on the little rocky beach where Woolly had first been encountered. Kieran had been for a quick dip in the sea, and was now sitting on one of the rocks trying to comb out his long, wet hair.
“Blimey, mermaids are a bit scrawny these days”, said Joby, climbing down to join him.
“Hah!” said Kieran “I thought this was the best time of year to go for a swim, the sea’s had all Summer to warm up”.
“Was it OK?”
“Yes, quite pleasant”.
“I’ve been thinking”, said Joby “Try not to look too shocked! Nobody seems to know where to go next for the best. None of us wants to go back travelling, as that would mean abandoning our mates”.
“And we missed them last Winter”, said Kieran.
“Exactly”, said Joby “And yet at the same time the lighthouse doesn’t feel the same. It went weird just before the earthquake, and nobody’s used it since. I even got Hillyard to help me bring down my plants to the ship. I dunno what’s happened there, but anyway, I was wondering if perhaps we should move the ship to the harbour, even if it’s just for the Winter months”.
“Well we’d have plenty of space”, said Kieran “There’s no focker there these days, even the harbourmaster’s deserted it!”
“Yeah and that ent right”, said Joby “We’ll be closer for the others, and we’ll have a safe harbour for the ship”.
“Have you run this one past Bardin?”
“Not yet, I wanted to chat to you first”.
“I can’t see why he’d find any problems with it”, said Kieran “It sounds a great idea. The ones who’ve stayed in the town could do with some support. I know the old nomad life is still nudging at us a bit, because that’s what we are at heart, but now is not the time for that. This world has gone through a metamorphosis, and we need to see how things pan out. We can still take the ship out for little voyages now and again, even if it’s just to check up the West Coast”.
“Hillyard was telling me H has been on at him to take the air-buggies out again”, said Joby “It’ll be more convenient to do that if we’re at the harbour, may even leave ours parked on the Doctor’s land”.
“How do I look?” asked Lissa. She was standing in a first-floor room of the Town Hall, and was wearing a smart lilac-covered gown which reached to her ankles.
“Very nice”, said Ransey, glancing over at her.
“Very nice?” Lissa laughed, nervously.
“Believe me, ‘very nice’ is the greatest of compliments, coming from him!” said Hillyard.
“I’m afraid I’m not the kind of man who dishes out flowery compliments”, said Ransey “If you want that it’d be best to ask Adam when he appears”.
“‘Oh you look absolutely splendid, old love’”, Hillyard mimicked his old friend “‘Quite radiant in fact’”.
“Do I look like a Lady Mayoress?” said Lissa “I can’t help being conscious of all the weight I’ve put on whilst living at the Doctor’s house”.
“You look great”, said Hillyard “Anyway, it’s best to have someone who looks a bit imposing in the role, you don’t want some scrawny old bag of bones rattling around”.
“Well Kieran seemed to manage alright”, said Lissa, and then gave a gasp, holding her hand to her mouth “Oh I didn’t mean to imply he was a scrawny old bag of bones”.
“S’alright”, said Hillyard “Joby’s called him that no end of times, and he is!”
“Oh Hillyard, he’s a very beautiful man”, said Lissa.
“Plus a scrawny old bag of bones”, said Hillyard.
“Finally I’ve found the damn thing!” Bardin announced, coming into the room, holding out a shiny purple sash, with a medal attached to one end “Buried in a box under a piano in a side room, for God’s sake! Like some unwanted old prop nobody’s used in years”.
“Perhaps it is”, said Lissa, reflectively “Perhaps they don’t go in for all this sort of thing anymore”.
“Then it’s high time they did”, said Ransey “What this town has lacked for years is decent leadership. Getting into this building was like breaking into an old tomb. Everything’s covered in dust, nobody’s used the offices in donkey’s years. There’s been no damn leadership, and that’s why everything’s gone to pot …”
“Yes alright, mate”, said Hillyard “I’ve lost track how many times we’ve had this speech from you lately”.
Bardin helped Lissa into the purple sash, adjusting it around her so that the medal rested on her hip. The Indigo-ites had also dressed up for the occasion, wearing their smart gear which had been reposing in boxes in the hold for years. Even their fob-watches had been dusted and polished for the occasion.
“The only thing I don’t understand”, said Bardin “Is why you’ve chosen Bengo to act as your official escort for the day. Out of everyone in this town you could have chosen, you chose BENGO!”
“Well why not?” said Lissa “My husband would hate to do it, and he still hasn’t got the energy anyway. Bengo is good-looking, and charming, and very endearing, and he will enjoy it no end. I thought you’d be proud”.
“I am proud”, said Bardin “But Bengo … as Official Escort?!”
“Come off it, Bard”, said Hillyard “All he has to do is stand on the balcony whilst Lissa does her speech, and smile at everyone, and then sit beside her at the official dinner in the Driftwood afterwards. How hard can that be?”
“As long as you don’t give him anything complicated to do”, said Bardin.
“I wasn’t planning to”, said Lissa “Although he must have had to do complicated things on stage numerous times, and he seems to have managed them alright”.
“Only because I was there to give him firm, basic instruction”, said Bardin “Left entirely to his own devices, and he starts dithering”.
“Almost ready?” said Bengo, bursting into the room, beaming and handsome “Bardy, why are you frowning? I hope you haven’t been upsetting Lissa”.
“No, I was just telling her not to give you any complicated instructions, that’s all”, said Bardin.
“Why would she?” said Bengo “Not everyone’s a total control freak like you!”
“More importantly than anything”, said Ransey to Lissa “Have you got your speech with you?”
“Yes indeed”, said Lissa, indicating a roll of paper on a nearby chair “And I have been rehearsing it many times at the Doctor’s house”.
“Don’t over-rehearse it”, said Bardin “Or it can end up with all the spontaneity sucked out of it”.
“Bardin!” said Bengo, crossly “You’re the one who’s going to start giving too many complicated instructions at this rate”.
“Let’s get going”, said Ransey “The balcony speech is scheduled for 2 PM, and we haven’t got much time”.
“Yeah it’ll take hours to walk into the next room”, said Hillyard, dryly.
Bardin sensed Lissa’s nervousness, as she began to fiddle with the sleeves of her dress.
“You’ll be fine”, he said, tapping her arm.
Lissa delivered her inauguration speech flawlessly. Only those positioned nearest to her could tell how nervous she was. Occasionally she had to discreetly grasp the other wrist which was holding her speech, to stop it fluttering over the balcony. The people who had gathered to hear it below were only a fraction of the town’s population, but as Adam said, they were the people who mattered. If the town was to stand any chance of being put back on its feet, then it didn’t need the hysterical, doom-spreading ones who had retreated up to the caves on the hillside. Lissa tried not to focus on the possibilities of what was happening in the outside world, if indeed there still was an outside world, but instead to take the future one “baby step” at a time.
It wasn’t the most dramatic speech of all time, but it was better to be low-key. Adam felt that Lissa’s greatest strength was her quiet normality, and that this should be played upon, as it was what was needed after this turbulent time. There was also concern amongst the Indigo-ites that it might seem as though they were taking over the town by some kind of military coup, so Lissa’s inauguration had to be as homespun as possible.
Lissa and Bengo had the idea that, at the conclusion of the speech, they should chuck candy apples (made by Rosa) to the children, and this turned out to be a smart move, as the children loved it. It also gave a festive air to the proceedings, removed from any dreary politics. Afterwards Lissa and Bengo walked along the street towards the Driftwood, followed by everybody else.
The inauguration had been a success, and Lissa settled into her new role. She continued to live at the Doctor’s house, but worked from the Town Hall. Her first priority was getting the earthquake damage repaired, and this kept everyone left in the town busy for a while. As well as harvesting the food which was coming to fruition at this time of the year. The ones who had migrated to the caves above the hills showed very little sign of coming back down, and frankly no one else cared terribly much whether they did or they didn’t.
A flurry of mild and mellow September days followed. The Indigo-ites had moved round to the harbour and, apart from Cloris’s old yacht, they virtually had the place to themselves. Some of the them busied themselves crab fishing from the breakwater, and Hillyard debated with himself about renovating an old lobster trawler.
One lunchtime he and Ransey fetched fried fish and potatoes from the Driftwood, and joined Joby on the bench outside the old harbourmaster’s hut.
“I bet it makes a change for you to eat something you haven’t had to cook yourself”, said Hillyard.
“I wouldn’t mind more of it, that’s for sure”, said Joby.
“I don’t understand why he’s abandoned this place”, said Hillyard, patting the wall of the hut “I thought he was tougher than that”.
“Don’t tell me you’ve got your eye on taking his place”, said Joby “Hillyard the Harbourmaster this time”.
“He could do that job”, said Ransey.
“The only thing that concerns me”, said Hillyard “Is that Bardin might be getting fidgety pants again. He’s seemed a bit that way since Lissa’s inauguration, as if he can’t settled”.
“I think that’s just the change of the season”, said Joby “It was around this time that we went off last year, but Bengo says he’s not really threatening to do so again. The thought of another Winter like the one on the Weather Rock would put him off. I’m hoping we’re stuck here for another few months anyway”.
“Oh well if hes starts getting really fidgety”, said Hillyard “I’ll take him up in the air-buggy, he can work some of his wanderlust out that way”.
Cloris woke up in the back bedroom of the Driftwood. The room was heavily darkened, the sunlight kept out by thick bobbled curtains. She stretched and rolled over to look at the clock on the nightstand. To her horror it read 20-to-1. Lunchtime! She had been asleep for over 14 hours.
She pulled herself out of bed, and wrapped a shawl around her shoulders. She could see enough sunlight through the small crack in the curtains to know that she couldn’t face it full on without the benefit of tinted glasses. She grabbed a pair she had borrowed from Rosa from the dresser, and made for the stairs.
On the ground floor Ernesto and Rosa were busy tidying the main bar, just in case anyone strayed in for lunch. Cloris wandered through the kitchen and into the back garden, where she found Julian sitting on a bench up by the wall, drinking a glass of tea, liberally sprinkled with mint.
“Oh my God”, said Cloris, standing there feeling like a vampire who was about to be disintegrated by the daylight “I wasn’t expecting anybody to be here”.
“Care for a glass of tea?” said Julian, gesturing at a tray at his feet, which contained a teapot and a spare glass.
“Why do you have a spare glass?” said Cloris.
“On the off-chance one of my lot might care to join me”, said Julian “But it seems they’ve all got more interesting things to do”.
“I’m not much company at the moment”, said Cloris, sitting down next to him.
“I’d rather have you like this”, said Julian “Than that grim automaton you were”.
“I feel I should be constantly apologising for whoever she was”, said Cloris, sipping at the mint tea.
“No need”, said Julian “We’re all just glad to have you back”.
He had a strong suspicion she was drinking heavily.
“I know what you’re thinking”, said Cloris “Somehow I need to get my act together”.
“We all go through a long dark night of the soul at sometime or other”.
“I can’t imagine you ever did”.
Julian gave a snort.
“Get Adam to tell you about the time I first re-encountered him again”, he said “In the jungles of Husgalonghi. You might be surprised. But like you, I had been put under a hex”.
“Good grief, really?” exclaimed Cloris.
“Mm, a voodoo hex”, said Julian “Grim times, I wouldn’t care to relive them”.
Cloris sat silent for a moment. Eventually she looked up towards the hills which overlooked the village.
“I wonder if the ones who have fled there will return”, she said.
“To be quite honest with you”, said Julian “I don’t give a damn if they don’t. They can stay up there for all I care. They’re no damn use to anybody”.
After they had finished their mint teas, they went for a little stroll up to the old barrier, which the Indigo-ites had erected across the lane leading to the lighthouse.
“Did I really come and stand here when … when I was out of it?” asked Cloris.
“Yes”, said Julian “But stop thinking of all that”.
“It’s just very hard to have a huge gap in one’s life that I can’t remember”, said Cloris, emotionally.
“Think of it as an advantage”, said Julian “There are plenty of memories I’d quite like to have total amnesia about! Memories can be a comfort, but they can also be a damn curse”.
“I must admit I don’t like this road very much”, said Cloris “Something a bit Off about it”.
“Probably due to the Old Shrine”, said Julian.
“And Her being at the bottom of it”, said Cloris “What on earth must it be like for her down there, after all these years as well?”
“It’s important to remember that she is not human”, said Julian “She is a Monster, literally. You wouldn’t feel sorry for a demon who was trapped down there. Think of the danger there would be if she was let out”.
“Being turned to stone?”
“Mm, it’s pretty grim, not to say terrifying. I would rank the Gorgons as the most frightening creatures we’ve ever come across. No one stands much chance against them”.
The season was changing. The air was fresher, the wind slightly cooler, and there was a fine mist overhanging everything in the mornings. Bardin and Lissa were walking around the garden of the Doctor’s house. The two air-buggies were parked on the headland nearby. Lissa was wearing a silk dress with thin purple stripes. She seemed to have adopted purple and lilac as her official colours.
“There’s no shortage of things to do”, she sighed, anchoring her hair out of her eyes “And we really must get on and make preparations for the Winter months. They will be on us before we know it, but I keep feeling people disapprove of everything I suggest”.
“Someone is always going to disapprove”, said Bardin “That’s the problem of power. Whatever you suggest, some awkward bastard somewhere will take umbrage at it”.
“I’m not as confident deep down as people think I am”, said Lissa “It doesn’t take much to make me feel small”.
“It’s all about attitude”, said Bardin “That’s what people notice. It doesn’t matter how you feel deep down. I used to refuse to read reviews because I knew that if I read a bad one I wouldn’t be able to shake it off for ages afterwards. And yet people must have thought I didn’t give a toss!”
“And yet how do you cope with having to do things that you know might make you unpopular?”
“You can’t afford to worry about that. If you feel in your heart of hearts that something has to be done, then you have to do it”.
“People are scared the Sickness will come back”, said Lissa “I think it haunts them all the time”.
“If it does we’ll do with it then”, said Bardin “At the moment I don’t know where it can be caught from! Sometimes I wonder if there’s anyone left in the outside world at all”.
“That’s why H is so keen to take the air-buggies out again”, said Lissa.
“I know”, said Bardin “He wants to fly over the interior this time, not so much up the coast. Get an overview of the forest beyond the Saturn Desert. Not a bad idea”.
“He wants to teach me how to fly”, Lissa smiled.
“You could be the Flying Mayoress!”
“That makes me sound like something out of a circus!”
“I’m a clown”, said Bardin “I make everything sound like something out of a circus!”
They rounded the back of the house, and saw the Doctor in the distance, standing on the headland and staring out to sea.
“He’s gone in on himself lately”, said Lissa “I’ve been told that it’s because we’re coming up to the first anniversary of his wife’s death”.
“Good God, yes I suppose it must be”, said Bardin “I can’t believe that was only a year ago, so much has happened! Poor devil, it must be hard for him. I found it bad enough when Bengo left me for a while, let alone … that”.
“It’s such a pity”, said Lissa, sadly. “She was a nice woman”, said Bardin “And the great shame of it was that she was just coming out of her shell towards the end too”.
“It doesn’t help that he’s still angry at the some of the villagers”, said Lissa “He sees their defection up to the caves as cowardice, that they gave into fear. He’s been quite harsh about them”.
“I can understand that”, said Bardin “I don’t feel any inclination to waste much more thought on them, I must admit. I don’t think any of us have got the surplus energy needed to consider their feelings at the moment!”
Bardin made his excuses to go home when he saw Elaine wandering about on the verandah at the back of the house. He was in no mood for any more excitable ideas for starting up a film studio, or putting on a stage production, so he wandered towards the main gates, where Ransey and Hillyard were waiting by the truck. Hoowie was also there, roaming about in an aimless fashion on the street side of the gates, which were slightly ajar.
Hoowie was preoccupied with looking at his own feet, and didn’t notice the old man until he was virtually upon him. He was briefly aware of a grumpy face bearing down on him, before the old man seemed to deliberately cannon into him.
“Hey watch what you’re about, mate!” Hoowie cried out, falling against the gate.
The old man seemed to rush past him, and was next seen steaming down one of the narrow alley-like streets which led down to the harbour.
“What was that all about?” said Bardin, coming over to him.
“Dunno”, said Hoowie, still hanging onto the gate “He just sort of pushed into me”.
Bardin stared at the fleeting figure of the old man. He was wearing baggy black trousers held up by red braces, and was carrying a bag of shopping. With his over-sized shoes slapping noisily on the stone path, he seemed almost clown-like.
“He moves pretty fast for an old ‘un”, said Bardin.
“That’s not all he does”, said Hoowie, examining his arm for bruises.
“You alright?” said Bardin.
“I think so”, said Hoowie, dubiously “I think that was done on purpose y’know. He had horrible little mean black eyes. I dunno where he suddenly appeared from”.
“Let it go”, said Bardin “There are some funny buggers round here sometimes. Have a word with Kieran when we get back, if you need reassurance at all”.
Hoowie was physically sick for a couple of days after this altercation, which raised some concern amongst the Indigo-ites. Even Bardin didn’t accuse him of “malingering”. Fortunately whatever he was suffering from didn’t get passed onto anyone else, so there was no talk of more quarantining. He also recovered pretty quickly.
“He had a brief skirmish with Evil”, Kieran explained to Julian “Probably best if he takes it easy for a wee while, gets plenty of sunshine up on deck, that will help”.
“Hang on a minute”, said Julian “This geriatric thug who cannoned into him … are you telling me it was a demon of some kind?” “A very minor one if it was”, said Kieran “Nothing to worry about”.
“Nothing to worry about?!” Julian exclaimed.
“It had no personal grudge against Hoowie himself”, said Kieran “It would have done the same to any of us who had the bad luck to be standing there at that time. It was making itself known, that’s all. Probably to try and unsettle us, which it has done”.
“So who sent the damn thing here?” said Julian.
“That I don’t know”, said Kieran “I do think it’s power is limited, but what it can do is cause fear and chaos, like all Evil does. If it gets out that Hoowie was sick after seeing it … well then you can imagine what a commotion this could cause in the town. The locals would believe the Sickness was back. God knows what would happen then. It’s best if we keep this to ourselves. I’ll tell the others. Don’t even tell our friends ashore, in case they’re overheard talking about it amongst themselves”.
“This one stays on the galleon”, said Julian.
“Exactly”, said Kieran “And if anything similar happens again, then we keep the afflicted one here amongst ourselves until it passes. It’s not contagious, we’ve at least learnt that. It’s just to stop any more Fear spreading. This town is like a powder-keg at the best of times these days”.
“What if this Thing does the same to one of the locals though?” said Julian “The hysteria will go through the damn roof”.
“It will have to try something different next time”, said Kieran “It’s lost the element of surprise for now. I would urge everyone to take care of themselves. Evil like this relies on people being not-up-to-strength. Someone less naturally fit than Hoowie may have been impacted much worse”.
“Why do these damn things have to keep impersonating clowns though?” said Bengo, feeling decidedly cross about the whole thing.
“It didn’t actually look like a clown, Bengo”, said Bardin “It just had clown-ish qualities. The baggy trousers and the big shoes etc”.
“Well I still don’t think it’s fair”, said Bengo “Trying to make out all clowns are evil, I’m getting really sick of it. Remember when we used to do the carnival parades when we were little? Nobody could have accused us of looking evil then. We were all cute and …”
“Bengo, you’re thinking again”, said Bardin “I’ve told you about that before, it never does you any good”.
“Oh shut up Bardy, I’m entitled to be cross about it”, said Bengo “Everybody always has it in for clowns, and it’s just not right”.
“So what are you going to do about it?” said Bardin “Set up a Stop Being Unfair To Clowns campaign?! Perhaps it adopted a clownish persona because it knew that would rattle us, and going by the way you’re carrying on, it has! Or perhaps because people notice clowns. If it just appeared as an average old man, we would have probably forgotten it by now”.
They were walking across the grounds towards the air-buggies parked on the headland beyond the Doctor’s house. Ransey and Hillyard were already waiting by theirs, and H, Lissa and Nyx were preparing to leave in the other one. Lissa and Nyx were both excited to be going on the excursion. Nyx, because he hadn’t been up in an air-buggy since they had arrived at Zilligot Bay months earlier, and Lissa, because she was to sit in the passenger seat, and absorb all H’s flying methods.
Bardin was aware that Elaine had appeared again outside the Doctor’s house.
“Come on, let’s get going”, he said, waving his cap impatiently at the others “Before she gets here and starts mithering me again”.
“I dunno why you’ve got such a problem against her ideas, Bardy”, said Bengo “It sounds like it could be fun, and it might improve public morale”.
“What public?!” said Bardin “There isn’t a public to improve the morale of!”
“You don’t know that yet”, said Bengo.
“Get in the buggy, Bengo”, said Bardin.
Bengo got in the back of the vehicle, with a resigned feeling that “get in the buggy, Bengo” would become a new catchphrase around the galleon from now on.
It was an exhilarating ride up over the vast expanse of the Saturn Desert, and then raising the air-buggies to fly up over the mountain range on the far side. Beyond the mountain range was the extensive forestland. On the segment hugging the West Coast was where they had found H several months beyond. They were going nowhere near that section though, but were flying up a short way over the interior. The weather was perfect. Fresh, clear and sunny, with good visibility.
“Flying is amazing”, said Bengo “Imagine how long it would take to walk or ride through all this!”
“Lissa would be able to tell you”, Hillyard shouted from the driver’s seat “She and Benjamin had to do it when they travelled up from the City, and that was a lot further north than this”.
At a small clearing in the forest they saw the remains of a building. Most of the walls were still intact, but something had lifted the roof almost clear off, apart from a small section. Both air-buggies flew lower, and could see two rooms, linked by a fireplace. Many books, crockery and ornaments lay scattered about. There was no sign of any life. It was sorely tempting to land the buggies and explore the ruins further, but through some hand gestures and mouthing through the windows, H and Hillyard decided to postpone this until another day.
A couple of days later Adam went down into the hold to collect a sack of apples which had been donated by Rosa a short time before. On entering the tiny corner of the hold where they had been left, he found Tamaz sleeping on top of the trunk which contained what was left of the Starhanger jewels. Tamaz often came down here to dust and polish the jewels. It was a little ritual of his which often helped to keep him calm.
Adam went over to him, intending to give him a little tease if he woke up. But as he got nearer to him he sensed that something was very wrong. He put his hand gently on Tamaz’s forehead and found him burning with fever.
“Oh no”, he breathed.
He went over to the steps which led up to the main passage. Lonts had been left stationed at the top, ready to take the sack from him through the hatchway.
“Lo-Lo, come down here”, said Adam, as quietly as he could “And help me move Tamaz. He isn’t well”.
Alarmed, Lonts came galloping down the ladder, and had to be cautioned by Adam to be gentler in his movements.
“Is it the Sickness?” asked Lonts.
“I don’t know yet”, said Adam “We need to get him upstairs. I just don’t see how Freaky could have caught anything, he so rarely goes ashore”.
Between them they gently carried Tamaz up to Kieran and Joby’s cabin, and laid him on the sofa there.
“He looks so pale”, said Lonts.
“Yes, it’s not good”, said Adam “He is really burning up though. Could you go and fetch me some cloths and a bowl of water. I will need to sponge him down. And at the moment, don’t tell anyone what’s going on, otherwise they might all start crowding in here at once, and that won’t do him any good”.
When Lonts had gone, Adam went over to Tamaz, and unbuttoned his shirt, feeling his chest, which was also burning.
“You poor little thing”, Adam whispered “Don’t worry, we’ll get you right. When did you start feeling ill?”
“It came over me down below in the hold”, said Tamaz, huskily “I suddenly felt really, really tired, so I thought I’d lay down for a moment. I didn’t know anything else until you got me up here. Is it the Sickness? It doesn’t feel like the Sickness, ‘cos I don’t feel nauseous. Just burning everywhere, and as if my skin’s really sore and itchy”.
“Are you thirsty?” asked Adam.
Adam poured out a glass of water, and held it to his lips. Tamaz took a prolonged gulp.
“This thirst”, he said “It feels like heat stroke, and yet it can’t be that, not at the moment”.
“Don’t try and speculate now”, said Adam “The important thing is for you to conserve your energy at the moment”.
“I may have to see Kieran”, said Tamaz “I think it’s more in his department. I really do”.
Kieran was summoned down from the main deck, with the minimum of fuss, although it was starting to become obvious amongst the others that something was afoot.
“Oh my God”, said Kieran, when he saw Tamaz “I’ve been such a fool, I should have known they would try something like this. Damnit, I got focking complacent!”
“Who’s They, and do what?” said Adam, impatiently.
“The Evil that is always at large in this focking world, and which we’re always fighting”, said Kieran, kneeling down by the sofa, and stroking Tamaz’s face.
“It’s not the Sickness is it?” said Tamaz, more as a statement of fact than a question.
“No it’s not the Sickness”, said Kieran, and he gave a weak smile “Which at least means you’re not highly contagious!”
“Patsy, I would appreciate it if you’d tell me what’s going on, old love”, said Adam.
“Evil plays a long game”, said Kieran “We’ve no doubt incurred a lot of wrath from it in recent years, what with getting rid of the Killer Clown, and then destroying Trinity”.
“Let alone the tsunami hitting the New Continent”, said Adam.
“Yes, that too”, said Kieran “We were given a warning with that old man who bumped into Hoowie recently, but I’m sad to say Tamaz was probably the one they really wanted to get. He’s our greatest weapon you see”.
“Well apart from you”, Tamaz croaked.
“Is Tamaz under some kind of hex, a psychic attack?” said Adam.
“Yes”, said Kieran “But this isn’t going to stop at a nasty fever. Oh Holy Father, this is about as serious as it can get”.
“Do they want to destroy Freaky’s power?” said Adam.
“It’s far worse than that”, said Kieran “They want to make him so weak that he can’t control it”.
Tamaz gave a sob, and Kieran made gentle, reassuring noises.
“I will have to stay blindfolded forever!” Tamaz wailed “And the only person I’ll be able to see is you!”
“Well that’s not a fate I would wish on anyone”, said Kieran.
“Or I’ll end up under the shrine, like that other one”, said Tamaz “Some of the villagers have been wanting to do that to me anyway!”
“I think we need to get Joby in here”, said Kieran.
“Can either of you tell me what the fuck is going on?!” Julian bellowed.
Adam and Kieran were facing him in his cabin. Joby had been left with Tamaz.
“I’ve told you what I know, Julian”, said Kieran.
“They are trying to destroy Tamaz?” said Julian.
“Tamaz is one of the best weapons we’ve ever had”, said Kieran “He is a very powerful weapon, one which he knows how to control, and which he’s always used only to help us. But if he were unable to control his power, then, not only would it be extremely dangerous to the rest of us, but he would be able to have no life at all. He would end up like all the other Gorgons, roaming the world in a solitary fashion, ostracised by all”.
“Who are these bastards?” Julian shouted “Everytime we destroy one lot, another lot seems to pop up!”
“That is the nature of Evil I’m afraid”, said Kieran “It has always been so, but you have to remember that ultimately it never wins”.
“Oh don’t give me all that!” said Julian.
“Jules, please do stop shouting, old love”, said Adam “It’s getting rather tiresome, and you might unsettle Freaky even further. He needs peace and quiet at the moment”.
Julian at least took a moment to compose himself.
“Where are they?” he growled “Any idea?”
“Well Evil can be everywhere …” Kieran began.
“I mean, these bastards that are attacking Tamaz, and who set that old man on Hoowie”, said Julian “They must be fairly local for this to be happening, and don’t tell you don’t know, because I won’t believe you. You’ve got some idea, I can see it written all over your face”.
“The hospital”, said Kieran, quietly.
“I should’ve known!” said Julian “Everything in this whole damn area seems to come back to that place sooner or later. There’s something going on up there”.
“The mistake perhaps we’ve made is thinking that there was some kind of giant bubble of Evil somewhere, like an octopus with tentacles, reaching out and dominating everything”, said Kieran “What has been going on in Zilligot Bay, right under our noses, is something else entirely, and it’s been going on for many years now”.
“I think it’s more important at this stage to work out what we do to help poor Freaky”, said Adam “How can we get him better, because I don’t want to think of the consequences for him if he is unable to beat this thing”.
“He needs spiritual protection and round-the-clock practical care”, said Kieran.
“Well we’re covered on both sides with that”, said Julian “You can do the spiritual mumbo-jumbo, and Adam, Finia and Joby can do the nursing”.
Kieran tried not to smile at his efforts being referred to as “mumbo jumbo”.
“No I’m afraid that’s not going to work”, he said “I have a feeling Tamaz is going to get worse before he gets better, and it might not be safe for the rest of you to see him. I’ll do all the bedside nursing, but he needs to be kept isolated until we’re absolutely sure he can contain his power again. I’m hoping this won’t take very long, but we’ll have to wait and see. It’s an unprecedented situation. The rule book hasn’t been written yet. It’s also important that we make sure none of this gets out to the outside world”.
“Huh, yes”, said Julian “We can’t trust some of that lot ashore not to start a blasted gorgon version of a witch-hunt!”
“Tamaz is right”, said Kieran “Some of them have always distrusted him”.
“That’s why he doesn’t go ashore much”, said Adam.
“We’ve all been so damn smug and complacent haven’t we”, snarled Julian “So pleased with ourselves that we could make a life here, even moving round from the Old Lighthouse so that we could fit right into this blessed little community”.
“I think we got too fixated with trying to help our friends”, said Adam “And took our eye off each other”.
“But as I said, it’s very important this stays on the galleon”, said Kieran “As we did when Hoowie got sick. It is vitally important no one ashore finds out about this. Adam, if you could go and have a word with Bardin, and then he’ll round up the others and tell them what’s going on”.
“Of course”, said Adam.
“So it’s the same bastards who attacked Hoowie?” said Bengo, who was in his cabin with Bardin when Adam went along to that end of the ship.
“They weren’t targeting Hoowie particularly though”, said Adam “He just had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time”.
“Yes, that was always his speciality”, said Bardin.
“I can take Tamaz in some of those tinned peaches we have”, said Bengo “He really likes those”.
“No Bengo, you are spectacularly missing the point, as usual”, said Bardin “Didn’t you listen to what Adam said? None of the rest of us can see Tamaz. Only Kieran can see him. For the time being. It won’t be safe for the rest of us to see him. I can see I’m really going to have to hammer this one home at the dining-room meeting in a minute”.
“Patsy will keep his cabin door bolted”, said Adam “So that will help”.
“Well how long has this horrible situation got to go on?” Bengo exclaimed.
“For as long as it takes”, Adam and Bardin replied together.
“I think for safety we should take the ship back to the Old Lighthouse”, said Bardin “We’ll have a lot more privacy there”.
“But won’t the locals know something’s up then?” said Bengo “If we suddenly leg it out of here?”
“Tough, they’ll have to lump it”, said Bardin.
“If anyone asks, we can say Hillyard wants to do some routine maintenance on the lighthouse”, said Adam “After all, we never said we were going to stay in this spot permanently”.
“At least we’ll have more space at the Old Lighthouse”, said Bengo “The animals will have more room to move around. They can be a bit cooped up here”.
“We’re moving”, said Tamaz, a couple of hours later “I can hear the ship’s engines”.
“We’re going back to the Old Lighthouse for a while”, said Kieran.
“To protect me from the town?” asked Tamaz.
“Partly that”, said Kieran, turning down the lamp to a more mellow glow “And partly also so that we can focus on each other for a change. There’s a general feeling that we’ve been neglecting that lately. We need to release some of our own special loving energy. Fighting Evil isn’t all about shootings, fires, earthquakes, and running demons over in trucks!”
Kieran noticed that Tamaz’s eyes were taking on a special kind of amber glow.
“It’s changing isn’t it”, said Tamaz, in quiet despair.
“Only temporarily”, said Kieran, placing a white cloth over Tamaz’s eyes “Rest now, it’s very important”.
It was a cold, grey dawn. Bardin went up on deck to see how the nightwatch had got on, and found - thankfully - that it had been a very quiet night.
“I hope the kid’s gonna be alright”, said Rumble, leaning on the bulwark.
“I would like to say that Tamaz is a pretty tough cookie and can survive anything”, said Bardin “But with this I’m not feeling so damn confident as I would like. Shit, I didn’t see this one coming”.
“None of us did”, said Rumble.
“You try and think of all the crap that could happen next”, Bardin sighed “And then something comes so completely left field …. Oh God”.
“Well one good thing”, said Rumble “I prefer being back here. The town’s alright, but I prefer this place, even if the lighthouse has gone all spooky on us”.
“When this particular crisis is over”, said Bardin, looking up at the tower “We can try and get to the bottom of what’s made that go awry. This show has got too many damn plot lines going on for my liking!”
A short while later Hillyard, Joby and Ransey were having breakfast together at a corner of the dining-room table.
“I think we should go and bulldoze that place”, Hillyard suddenly announced.
“What, the lighthouse?!” said Joby.
“No, you daft sod, the hospital”, said Hillyard.
“We haven’t got a bulldozer”, Ransey resignedly pointed out.
“And even if we had, I don’t see what that’s gonna achieve!” said Joby “I think it’s probably better if we try and find out what the hell’s going on there before we go smashing down any walls. They could have anything lurking in that basement for all we know”.
A cry went up from his cabin. It was Tamaz.
“Perhaps that means he’s turning a corner”, said Hillyard.
“Try not to speculate too much”, said Ransey “There’s nothing more bloody disappointing than a false dawn”.
Kieran pulled down Tamaz’s arms and laid them to his sides. Tamaz had been dozing on the sofa for most of the night, but as he came to consciousness the memory of the situation he was in had returned to him, and the dismay had been too much. In his writhings the handkerchief, which Kieran had placed over his eyes, had fallen off, and Kieran saw the strange amber light in Tamaz’s eyes had got worse.
“It’s worse isn’t it?” Tamaz sobbed “It’s worse. Oh God”, he put the hankie back over his eyes “If I look at you, you will get drained. Don’t look at me, please don’t look at me”.
“Tamaz, you have to rest”, said Kieran “If you’re exhausted, you will never be able to fight this thing”.
“Then why am I fighting it?” said Tamaz, turning his face to the wall “I’m a Monster. It was only a matter of time before I had to give in to that fact. I’ve been lucky I’ve had as long as I’ve had. Whoever’s doing this is only showing me what I really am”.
“And that is what they damn well want you think!” said Kieran “They want you resigned and in despair! That is exactly what they’re trying to achieve!”
“But I am a Monster”, said Tamaz.
“You are half-human”, said Kieran “And it is that side of yourself you need to hang onto”.
“The towns folk think I’m a Monster”.
“Well I don’t give a damn what they think! They probably think I’m a Monster too!”
“They’re not easy around me, that’s for sure”.
“Perhaps they know you caused the earthquake”, Tamaz gave a little snigger.
“Ach that’s better, the old Tamaz is still there”, said Kieran.
“Are we both Monsters?”
“Perhaps in our own way, we are. We both have a side to us that is … well supernatural I suppose. Some people would regard that as monstrous”.
“Does it bother you?” asked Tamaz.
“I try not to let it”, Kieran sighed “But I do feel isolated from people at times. It’s not a nice feeling. It’s one of the reasons Joby is so special to me. He’s never regarded me as different. To him I’ll always be the scruffy Irish lad. He knows it’s never been easy for me always being regarded as the outsider”.
“We’re all of us outsiders aren’t we”, said Tamaz “You, me, Lonts, Finia, Mieps, the clowns are too, because they’ve always been in their own little world. No one outside it understands them”.
“Only people forced together could squabble as much as they do!” Kieran smiled “We’ve all made the mistake lately of trying to fit in with the towns people”.
“And is that a bad thing?” said Tamaz.
“Not a bad thing, as such”, said Kieran “But we have perhaps denied to ourselves that we ARE different. It’s this town, it can suck you in, and because of everything that’s happened in the world in recent years, it’s made us fearful of the outside. We need to pull back for a while. Focus on ourselves as an Order”.
Ransey had come to the cabin door a short while after this, whilst Tamaz was sleeping again, and Kieran had given him a status update in the corridor, including what he thought their plans should be from now on.
“Hillyard’s got some mad idea he wants to raid the hospital”, Ransey whispered.
“Well that’s going to require a lot of planning”, said Kieran “I’m not sure I’m going to have the energy for all that, perhaps you fellers could do it? Bardin can take the truck in there, and run over any demons you find!”
“Don’t go giving him ideas”, said Ransey.
“So does this mean we’re gonna go back to being a reclusive Order from now on?” said Rumble, in the dining-room “That’ll suit me down to the ground! I never did think much of all that Wholesome Village Life stuff”.
“Look, let’s just get Tamaz better, and able to mix with the rest of us again”, said Bardin “We can’t do anything much until we’ve got past that stage. As usual, everyone’s jumping the gun too much”.
“That’s a bit rich coming from you!” said Bengo.
“Well maybe it is”, said Bardin “Maybe I know what I’m talking about!”
“Huh!” said Bengo “That’ll be the day!”
Tamaz’s eyes had mellowed from the fierce disturbing amber glare to a slightly more normal browny-orangey shade. Kieran rooted around in a drawer in his cabin and unearthed an old pair of sunglasses.
“Now these might be useful for receiving visitors”, he said, handing them over to Tamaz.
“Will they be enough?” said Tamaz.
“For the time being”, said Kieran “You won’t have to wear them forever, just until we’re certain things have settled down a bit”.
Tamaz put them on.
“You look like you’ve just been operated on for cataracts”, said Kieran.
“How many days has it been?” asked Tamaz “That we’ve been in here?”
“About 3 or 4”, said Kieran “It was about what I was expecting to be honest”.
“It was horrid as it was before”, said Tamaz “Everything was coated in that dark orange glare, and it felt like something was trying to take over my mind”.
“That is effectively what they were doing”, said Kieran “I’m not sure that staying here is going to be enough to keep you safe. We may have to sail away for a while, get you out of arm’s reach as it were”.
“That’s not all you’re worried about is it”, said Tamaz “You’re worried the town will find out about what’s happened to me. End up burying me at the bottom of an old temple too. I’m always aware of her y’know, I know that she’s there”.
“I think we all are, but it must be worse for you”, said Kieran “Holy Mother, I should have been more aware of what living in such close proximity to her might do to you. We’ve been so wrapped up in all the other crap that ....”
“It doesn’t matter”, said Tamaz “You can’t keep everybody in your head at all times”.
“It’s just that these days you’re sort of just there”, said Kieran “You get on with things, and it’s made me complacent I suppose. Everyone else seemed so much more needful. Cloris reappearing … and everything like that”.
“And you have to accept that I’m a monster”.
“Will you stop going on about that!”
“But it’s true”, said Tamaz “They will never accept me. How can they? With the power I’ve got? That would be like them accepting Angel living nearby!”
“You’re nothing like Angel”, said Kieran “You’ve only ever used your power to help us. Even when we weren’t on the same side, you never used it. Never even threatened to. You were a lost soul, a child lashing out at the world, not Evil, even though you say you were. Whereas destruction is all that Angel knows”.
“Is he truly Evil? I’ve never really been sure”.
“In all the many years … jayz centuries … I’ve known Angel, I have never, not once, known him show any empathy or emotional feelings towards anyone else. Not once”.
“Except you”, said Tamaz, bluntly “If he could be human with anyone, it would be you”.
“Even if by some miracle, that could be true”, Kieran sighed “And even if, by some even greater miracle, he could care for me, or anyone for that matter, he would still end up trying to destroy me. He can’t help himself. Destruction is a game to him. He would stamp on someone just to see what it felt like. He is a true psychopath of the worst kind. He has helped us many times, it is true, but only when I’ve presented it to him as a game, something to help lift the eternal monotonous boredom that he must live in. When you have no soul, no inner workings, that’s a helluva lot of empty void to fill”.
“Are you certain he would destroy you if he could?”
“Oh yes. In my much younger days there were times when I even wanted him to, when all this Vanquisher of Evil rawmaish got too much. He would also resent me for making him vulnerable, because to love someone you have to make yourself vulnerable, and he would never be able to tolerate that”.
Joby was the first visitor admitted to the cabin to see Tamaz, who kept his sunglasses on throughout, but at least they were able to hold hands and chat. Although Joby couldn’t resist making some jibes about the strong smell of whisky which pervaded the little room.
“I’m gonna have to air this place thoroughly before I move back in!” he said “This must be the Kieran School Of Nursing!”
At dusk Joby went up on deck, and found Kieran fast asleep in a deckchair, in the chilly gloom. Joby took a spare blanket from a nearby chair and tucked it around him.
“Was …?” said Kieran, drowsily.
“S’alright”, said Joby “You were catching up on your sleep”.
“Who’s with Tamaz?” said Kieran.
“Lonts wanted to visit him”, said Joby “I’ve told him though that if he lights up that filthy pipe of his I’m chucking it overboard! I’d chuck him overboard as well if I could, but he’s too bloody big for that!”
The lights were coming on all over the town in the distance, including the large building on the hillside which housed the hospital. They both stared at it intently.
“Kiel”, said Joby, eventually “Whatever is going on up there, do we have to have anything to do with it? Can’t we, just for once, stay out of it?”
“Is that what you all want?” said Kieran.
“Well no, Hillyard wants to bulldoze the place, the daft bugger!” said Joby “I dunno what the fuck good he thinks that’s gonna do! I know it goes against the grain for you to turn away from things, but just for once, it’d be nice if you left it all to play itself out. There’s been enough destruction in this world the past few years”.
“That’s for sure”, said Kieran “I’ve learnt a lot these past few days, one of which was I took Tamaz too much for granted. I almost seemed to use him as a robot at times”.
“He doesn’t see it that way”, said Joby.
“Why in God’s name didn’t it ever occur to me that bringing him to a Gorgon-infested area might not be a good idea?” said Kieran “It never damn well occurred to me! I can’t help feeling I’ve used him over the years”.
“Oh don’t start all that Catholic guilt stuff again”, said Joby “I’ve told you enough about that at times. Put a lid on it. Let’s all just be still for a while”.
“Like a rock in a stream, letting it all wash over us”, said Kieran.
“Summat like that”, said Joby.
There was a Full Moon the following evening, and Bardin organised a game of moonlit cricket ashore, at the base of the Old Lighthouse. Tamaz came up on deck, and watched from a deckchair, wearing sunglasses, as if it was a Summer’s afternoon. It was an enthralling game, so much so that at first they didn’t heed the shouting and banging that was coming from some distance away, from the far side of the village.
“Something’s up”, said Hillyard.
“Now what the fuck are they up to?” said Joby.
“Let’s take the truck down to the Driftwood”, said Bardin.
When they reached the tavern, Rosa and Ernesto came out to meet them. Both were in a state of agitation.
“The Troglydytes have come down from the caves”, said Ernesto, referring to the nickname they had given the villagers who had retreated to the caves in the hillside.
“And they decided to raid the hospital”, said Rosa.
“Why?” said Joby “What’s set them off right now?”
“A rumour has been going round for a while now that they have food supplies at the hospital that they haven’t been sharing with the rest of us”, said Ernesto “This gossip has been going round for so long that we stopped paying attention to it long ago …”
Bardin espied the man from the Town Council lurking on the other side of the street, looking shaky in his pyjamas and dressing-gown.
“Rumours have been going round for ages apparently”, said Bardin, striding over to him “And you’ve done nothing to quench them?”
“I-I can’t”, the man from the Town Council stammered “Because they’re true”.
“WHAT?!” Bardin seized the man by the lapels of his dressing-gown and had to be pulled off by Bengo and Kieran.
“It s-started with the best of intentions”, said the man “When we first heard rumours of the Sickness the villagers willingly donated supplies to the hospital, just in case the epidemic reached here, and t-they would need help. W-we didn’t know they already had a cellar full of supplies they had been hoarding for ages”.
“And when did YOU find out they were sitting on this little goldmine?” said Bardin.
“V-very soon”, said the man, sounding desperately sad “But the hospital convinced us that we had to keep the donations coming. There’s something about that place, Bardin. It leeches the life blood out of the town, it has been doing so for as long as I can remember. All my life. It’s way beyond my power, or any of us, to stop it, because it’s always been like that”.
“The villagers have been subsisting off vegetables from the allotments and what fish they can get!” said Bardin.
“I know”, and the man burst into tears.
“Stop it, Bardy”, said Bengo, gently “Can’t you see the state he’s in?”
Bardin reluctantly let go of the man’s dressing-gown.
“It was beyond my power”, said the man “S-something vampiric got into that place a very long time ago, and it’s been feeding off the life-force of this town ever since. The rumours of the Sickness was all it needed to increase the Fear amongst us”.
“Leave him be, Bardin”, Kieran whispered “This was all way beyond him. You have to make allowances”.
“Visitors stopped coming here long ago”, said the man, now calmer himself “Way before the Sickness. Well you were here last year yourselves. Something hasn’t been right here for years and years. This area gained a reputation for dark supernatural forces at work. Not helped by having the Saturn Desert right behind us, and the Horn nearby”.
“OK OK”, said Bardin “And we ourselves haven’t exactly done anything to make it better either”.
“It’s not your fault”, said the man “That’s what this town does to people. Somehow we get into this resigned state of ‘that’s the way it is’”.
Cloris came out of the tavern, clutching her shawl over her nightgown.
“Why don’t you come inside for a drink”, she said to the man.
“Y-yes”, said the man “I would like that”.
And he followed Cloris meekly towards the building. At the main door he turned and faced them again.
“Don’t blame yourselves”, he said “It is this town. That is what it does. It has done for many years now”.
In a daze Kieran walked towards the lane which led up past the allotments towards the hospital. Halfway up he saw the fair-haired woman facing him, the one who had directed them towards H in the demon-haunted forest earlier in the year. She was flanked by two dark women. All looked serious but sympathetic. They all radiated an intense energy of quiet positivity.
“You haven’t failed”, the fair-haired woman said “It had to be this way. It would be wrong for you to control everything”.
“This vampiric force …” Kieran began.
“It is not in solid form”, said the woman “Starve it. Seal off the hospital. It will rid the town off this Fear. Without that it will die”.
Rosa had poured Bardin a glass of brandy, and he sat in a corner of the main bar, staring at it, as if he was staring into a wishing-well. Bengo sat nearby, watching him apprehensively. Bardin looked up eventually.
“Is it over?” said Bardin “Whatever the hell this has all been?”
“We can only hope”, said Bengo, softly “That’s what Kieran said”.
“Something in un-solid form”, said Bardin “Something totally intangible. Something we couldn’t set fire to, or destroy in an earthquake”.
“Or run over in a truck”, said Hillyard, robustly.
Bardin gave a grunt of laughter.
“No wonder it eluded us for so long!” he said.
On their way out of the tavern they noticed Cloris sitting in a side room, alongside the Man From The Town Council. Both were hogging a carafe of brandy.
“It must have been very difficult for you all these years”, said The Man From The Town Council, gazing at her adoringly.
“Well not really”, said Cloris “Because there are long gaps which I can’t remember”.
“Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to start completely afresh like that”, the man opined.
“Bloody hell, he’s a fast worker!” said Bardin, when they got outside.
“Something good had to come out of all this”, said Bengo.
“Believe me, it’s not a criticism”, said Bardin “I’m just amazed at HIM, of all people! Talk about still waters run deep!”
There was a rumbling noise nearby, and a family appeared, wheeling some boxes on a sack-truck down the hill. They were exclaiming and giggling furtively amongst themselves as they headed home.
“That’s not a bad idea”, said Hillyard, slapping Bardin’s bottom as he helped into the passenger seat of the truck “C’mon, let’s go home”.
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