The small island sparkled in the bright sunshine, the sunlight bouncing off the almost luminous white glare of the ruined building which sat at its peak, and sparkling off the waves which frolicked all around. The galleon lay at anchor in the cover at the south-east corner of the island. Up on the main deck Bardin could be seen doing some mild gymnastic exercises, his lithe body bending this way and that, with all the suppleness of his acrobatic training.
Up at the top of the island his long-time partner, both as a clown and in marriage, sat Bengo. He was sitting propped up outside the whitewashed building, running a comb through his long tangled hair. He had just been washing himself all over, using a bucket which was kept inside the one-roomed building. At the same time he was staring pensively out towards the western horizon. Joby came out of the building, rubbing his tangled mop vigorously with an old towel.
“I dunno why washing in there feels better than using the hip-bath”, he said “But it does”.
“I think it’s because we’re almost outdoors”, said Bengo “I feel like that when I’ve showered on deck sometimes too”.
“What are you looking at?” said Joby, sitting down next to him.
“Oh just the direction of the Phantom Light, and all that”, said Bengo.
“Don’t worry about all that”, said Joby “We’re not heading that way”.
“I hope not”, said Bengo “I don’t fancy falling into another dimension. I don’t know how you, Kieran, Adam and Julian coped with it all those years ago. It must have been terrifying, particularly being thrown into prison and all”.
“It was at first”, said Joby “Especially when travelling up in the far northern lands. God, that was bleak. All that wasteland between The Loud House and Marlsblad. BUT I couldn’t imagine going back to the old world now”.
“Would your old world accept the rest of us?” said Bengo, turning his soft brown eyes on Joby “Bardy and me, and the other clowns, not to mention Lonts and Tamaz …”
“Well it would certainly liven things up wouldn’t it!” said Joby.
He gave Bengo a playful punch on the shoulder.
“Look, don’t worry about it, mate. We’re not going in the direction of the Phantom Light, ok?”
“No, Bardy wants to go up north”, said Bengo, glumly “He wants to revisit all your old haunts. Henang and all that. I’ve told him he’s being bloody thoughtless, that you lot won’t like that, but he seems to think you’ll come round to the idea. He’s even more nuts than ever!”
“Oh I dunno, he may be right”, Joby laughed.
“You WANT to go back up there?” said a startled Bengo.
“Yeah, why not”, said Joby “I’ve had enough of being down south for the time being. And it would be interesting to see the Port West area again. See if they’ve managed to get back on their feet again after that awful cataclysm they had during Brinslee’s time”.
“I remember we took part in that festival they had there years ago”, said Bengo, and he gave a little giggle “Us clowns lived in a caravan whilst it was on”.
“Praps we could find you another one”, Joby teased.
There was a very loud but muffled bang from some distance away, out across the ocean.
“What the hell was that?” said Bengo “That’s not the first one I’ve heard since we’ve been here”.
“Dunno”, said Joby “I can’t even tell what direction it’s coming from. Always sounds like a very loud firework to me. Perhaps that’s all it is”.
“Well whoever’s setting them off is doing it at random times”, said Bengo.
“I suppose it could be a distress flare, except we can’t see anything, and it’s been going on all the days since we’ve been here”.
Another loud thud erupted, still at quite some distance away.
“I suppose Bardy will want to go and investigate that at some point”, Bengo sighed “I’d quite like us to stay here for a while, but I guess that’s just not practical. This only being a large rock in the ocean and all”.
“Is Bengo alright?” Adam asked Joby, adopting a conspiratorial whisper, when he had got Joby alone in a corner of the galley “Only he doesn’t seem quite his usual chirpy little self. He’s not homesick for Zilligot Bay is he?”
“God, no”, said Joby “He loves it here, but Bardin’s unsettling him with all his big, grand travel plans. I think he’s a bit better now I’ve reassured him we’re not going anywhere near the Phantom Light, and that I’m quite looking forward to going back up north”.
“Bengo is whining”, came Bardin’s voice from the doorway, causing Joby to jump “If you pander to him like that, he’ll keep it up all day, given half a chance”.
“Oh now Bardin!” said Adam.
Bardin walked further into the room. He was topless and his naked torso and arms were sunbronzed. He pushed his cap to the back of his head.
“He perked up when I reassured him”, said Joby “That worked better than you tearing a strip off him!”
“Tough love, that’s all it is”, said Bengo “Tough love. Bengo needs that sometimes, otherwise he’d just sit in a corner mumbling into his beer and feeling sorry for himself”.
“I’ll give you some tough love later!” said Adam.
“We have a good plan”, said Bardin “Much as this island is great for a short stay, it’s not practical in the long term”.
“I’ve already told him that”, said Joby “You must’ve heard those loud bangs just now”.
“Yes, and not the first time either”, said Bardin “Coming out from somewhere to the north-west at a rough guess”.
He turned to leave the room.
“Anyway”, he said “We’ll only have a few more days here, so I suggest you enjoy the mild sunshine whilst you can”.
“Oh aye aye Capitan”, said Adam, languidly.
That evening, after supper, Bengo and Bardin were having a little contretemps in their cabin.
“If you don’t pull yourself together and stop whining”, said Bardin “You’ll be worse than useless to me on this trip”.
“Ooh”, said a furious Bengo “And if you keep that attitude up, then I’ll stay here on this island!”
“Don’t be daft”, said Bardin “It’s nothing but a glorified rock in the middle of the ocean. There’s nothing here. Anyway, if you think I’m leaving you behind, you can think again”.
Bengo chucked a couple of cushions at him, and then pushed him backwards into one of the armchairs. He then set about tickling him, until Bardin was begging for mercy.
“I knew I’d get you to lighten up somehow”, said Bengo, pausing for breath.
“I AM lightened up!” said Bardin.
“Like hell!” said Bengo “Adam said to me earlier that if you carry on like this it’ll feel like we’re all in the army. And he says we’re meant to be a spiritual order, not a military one, and I couldn’t agree more. I’d be rubbish in an army. They’d cut my hair for one thing”.
“No one is touching your hair”, said Bardin “Anyway, I do NOT think we’re an army. If anything, I’m treating this whole trip as if we’re putting on an epic show. It’s both exciting and terrifying at the same time. But it does also mean we have to be organised, and if I don’t get bossy and organise things, then God knows where we’ll be … and don’t talk anymore crap about staying on this island. I’m not the only one who can get a hiding round here y’know”.
“Ooh!” said Bengo.
Since they had left Zilligot Bay Bardin had reinstated a night-watch system up on the main deck.
“We don’t want anything sneaking up on us in the night”, he said.
This was done on a strict two-hour rota, with three each on each shift. In the meantime, all the others took to the saloon for a communal sleep-in. Overnight a fine rain began to fall, but at daybreak the distant booming sounds began again.
“For fuck’s sake”, Joby groaned “What IS that?”
“I’m going up on deck”, said Bardin, groping for his trousers “It’ll be interesting to see if anything stands out in this light”.
“I’ll join you”, said Hillyard.
Rumble, Lonts and Ransey were up on the main deck. To Bardin’s disappointment there was a fine sea-mist over everything, which limited visibility.
“Any lights, anything like that?” said Bardin, going over to them.
“No”, said Ransey “But noise will travel quite some distance out here. It’s probably coming from many miles away”.
“Sounds like somebody blowing something up”, said Lonts.
“Mm, it could be I suppose”, said Bardin “I keep thinking it’s coming from the north-west, but it might be the mainland, but then I suppose noise can play tricks right out here”.
“Are you alright, mate?” asked Rumble, going over to him “All this seems to be getting to you”.
“I guess I was just hoping for a short spell of peace and quiet”, Bardin sighed “And now all we seem to be getting is bloody Noises Off all the time!”
When the sun finally rose in all its glory though the day became peaceful and calm. The ocean was as smooth as a millpond, and everything seemed bathed in a yellow-orangey glow, Adam went up to the dilapidated white building to do some sketching before they departed again. Whilst he was there Hillyard was prowling around the interior of the building, inspecting the walls.
“Hilly, what ARE you doing, old love?” said Adam, who had his sketching materials set up in the doorway “Looking for dry rot?”
“Nothing really”, said Hillyard, straightening up “Am I bothering you?”
“Not at all”, said Adam “I’m just curious as to what you’re up to”.
“I keep thinking there must be more to this island than meets the eye”, said Hillyard “I mean, what’s the point of this building? What’s it doing here?”
“Well I suppose somebody must have lived here once”, said Adam “We’re always coming across abandoned buildings on our travels. Why should this one bother you so much?”
“Dunno”, said Hillyard, scratching his head “Except when you look at it practically, it makes no sense to have a building here. I mean, apart from a couple of fruit trees, you can’t grow anything on this island, and there’s nowhere to graze animals. Most of it’s bare rock. So unless they lived off fish all the time, it’s hard to see how anyone could sustain themselves here. I mean, that’s why we’re not stopping here ourselves, see?”
“Mainly because it wouldn’t be fair on the horses or the goats”, said Adam “There’s nowhere for them to be”.
“Exactly”, said Hillyard, in a I Rest My Case M’Lud tone.
“It might have been a lookout of some sort”, said Adam “Or an observatory, or a wireless station, like Buskin’s house on the Weather Rock, d’you remember?”
“I think that was before I met up with you fellers”.
“Surely not? I could’ve sworn you were there!”
“Perhaps it was the second time around”, said Hillyard “When Kieran went to fight Angel up by the Skirra Fludd lighthouse. I remember going to fetch him from the lighthouse. Christ, he was well beaten up. Broke my heart to see him like that. Makes me even more angry when the likes of Cloris make snarky remarks about him being the Vanquisher of Evil. They haven’t got a clue what he’s been through at times. They’re not fit to lick his boots. Her sort make me well angry when I stop and think of ‘em”.
“Then don’t think of them”, said Adam “Even Ransey doesn’t want to fiddle with the wireless, in case he locates her on the airwaves! If we follow Bardin’s planned epic route we will wind up back in that region. How do you feel about that?”
“Doesn’t bother me”, Hillyard shrugged “It’ll be fascinating to see it again after all these years. And I don’t think the clowns have ever seen that part of the world, have they?”
“I don’t think so”.
“Well then they can see what we’ve been talking about all these years”, Hillyard began to pace around the centre of the floor.
“So what are you looking for now?” asked Adam.
“Oh trapdoors, loose bricks, that sort of thing”, said Hillyard “We’ve been in so many places that have had secret stairways and passages tunnelling down into the island. Hy Brasil was like that. I was wondering if this would be the same”.
“I’ll leave you to it then”, said Adam, going back to his sketching.
HIllyard failed to uncover any traces of an underground staircase or passageway, but that didn’t stop him being utterly convinced that there must be something leading down into the interior of the rocky island. All the talk of trapdoors got Bengo reminiscing about their theatre days.
“We used to have a trapdoor in part of the floor”, he said “We used to drop Bardy down through it sometimes. It would be quite handy to have one like that here!”
“Tell Hillyard not to get too stuck in to excavating this island”, Bardin called over “We will be leaving here the day after tomorrow”.
“Tell him yourself!” Bengo and Adam chorused back.
They made the most of every moment they had left on the island. The Indigo-ites were practical enough to know that it wasn’t a place they could feasibly stay for any great length of time. As Hillyard and Adam had already discussed, it wasn’t a great place for the animals. The terrain was too steep and rocky, and there was nowhere really to cultivate food. What it did have was good weather. The island seemed to exist in a little parallel universe all of its own, whereby each day was warm and sunny, and the ocean waters around the island were calm and still.
“It reminds me of the sort of island one would have had in the Mediterranean”, said Adam “Back in our time”.
“Perhaps it was”, said Joby “Who knows how potty everything gets. Things get realigned in this world. We’ve been here for centuries now, and much of it still baffles me”.
The mysterious booming noises seemed to have eased, as suddenly as they had started. But it didn’t stop the Indigo-ites referring to the island as Boom Island.
“I’m planning that we should head up in a vaguely north-westerly direction”, said Bardin, as they had a final Boom Island supper of potatoes and beer “If it was coming from that direction, then we shall hear more of it”.
“I thought we were heading up to the north of the mainland, Bard”, said Umbert.
“We will be heading there”, said Bardin “But we will be swinging out further into the ocean first, and then steering back to the mainland”.
Bengo and Adam sussed immediately why he was planning it this way. Bardin wanted to avoid the area around The Village Of Stairs, the native homeland of himself and the other clowns. The last time they had seen it, it had been devastated, destroyed, by a major earthquake. The sight of it had depressed Bardin so much that he had gone in on himself for a while. He wasn’t ready to see it again, not for some while anyway.
Over the next couple of days they sailed doggedly in a north-westerly direction. For most of that time the sea remained astonishingly calm. There was something almost other-worldly about its millpond demeanour.
“If the world was perfect”, said Joby “The ocean would be like this all the time”.
“Then it wouldn’t be the ocean, old love”, said Adam “With all its little moods and quirks”.
As they got further north the ocean became peppered with random rocks and islets. None of them were big enough to really be called islands in their own right, some were barely big enough to land a seagull on. But it did mean extra care was needed in guiding the galleon through them. Fortunately visibility was good.
“It looks as if there must have been a land mass here at some point”, said Julian, leaning on the bulwark “And this is all that remains of it”.
“What would have happened to it, Julian?” said Lonts.
“Probably submerged through flooding”, said Julian “There used to be tales of a land called Atlantis, which got devastated and completely submerged by a major flood. Back in my time people still talked about it, and made claims as to where it was. There was a mountainous ridge under one of our oceans, which was thought to be part of the remains of it”.
“I hope that doesn’t happen to our land-mass one day”, said Lonts.
“It’s too big for that”, said Julian.
One evening there was a spectacular sunset, and the combination of deep orange colours bathing the sea and the rocks in a vibrant but mellow glow had Adam rushing to fetch his sketch-pad again.
“I shall sketch my way around the world”, he cried out.
“I’ll do the rock cakes shall I?” Joby called back.
The following day the air was noticeably colder.
“I think it’s almost time to head back in the direction of the mainland”, said Bardin, up on the main deck “I don’t want us to be dodging ice-bergs as well”.
Much to Bengo’s relief Bardin seemed to have forgotten any previous ideas he’d had about heading as close as they dared to the Phantom Light, and Bengo wasn’t about to go and remind him. Later that morning though they had quite a surprise when a building appeared in the middle of the ocean. It was a stone, dome-shaped building placed on a level rock, and completely covering it, ensuring that the building had no outside space to it at all. Just barely enough to unload from a boat. As they moved closer to it, it became very apparent that it hadn’t been in use for quite some time. A heavy wooden door was the only entrance, and it was completely windowless and chimney-less.
“This ocean just constantly springs surprises”, said Bardin.
“A bit further north from here must be where we heard those strange noises that time”, said Joby.
“And where we ended up in a time-slip of 60 years”, said Hillyard.
“OK, let’s see what’s inside it anyway”, Bardin sighed.
He instructed the other clowns to use one of the long poles, which they sometimes used to manoeuvre into a mooring position, as a battering-ram. The hatch was let down at the side fo the ship, and they went to work lunging at the heavy door. It took an exhausting length of time before they finally managed to splinter the door open. Bardin was about to leap over into the entrance when Ransey yanked him back.
“What NOW?” cried Bardin, in exasperation.
“Be ore bloody cautious”, said Ransey “We have no idea what’s in there”.
“I can’t imagine there’s much, after all this time”, said Hillyard.
“Even so”, said Ransey “Take it slowly”.
Bardin stepped onto the ledge outside the door, and proceeded to enter the building with exaggerated care. Ransey followed close behind him. Then Hillyard, Joby and Kieran. They had armed themselves before going over, just in case, except Kieran, who was holding a lantern. They all recoiled when they saw what was inside. A skeleton, clad in the tattered remains of an old robe, was lying on the stone floor. It’s bony foot was manacled to the wall by a length of rusty chain. Its hand was reaching out to an iron loop which was set in the middle of the floor.
“Looks as though we’ve finally found a trapdoor for you, Hillyard”, said Kieran, with grim humour.
Hillyard knelt down on the cold, stone floor, and gave several tugs at the metal ring.
“As I thought”, he said “It’s firmly secured from underneath”.
“This whole planet is riddled with underground tunnels”, said Bardin “It appears as if this is another one. Someone abandoned this poor wretch here, and then slammed the door down on them”.
“Reminds me of that other island we found in the ocean”, said Hillyard, standing up again “You remember, the woman with the snakes crawling all over her?”
“She was a spiritual person that the Evil found and destroyed”, said Kieran “Whereas I suspect this is some kind of exotic punishment cell”.
“What the hell did the poor bastard do to merit this punishment?” said Joby.
“And who did it?” said Hillyard, giving a couple of stamps at the floor with his boot, as if it would suddenly yield up its secrets “This must connect somewhere, though God knows where”.
“Hillyard, can you try and saw through the chain?” said Kieran “Then at least we can finally give this poor soul a burial at sea”.
Hillyard bought a saw up from the hold, and, after locating the weakest link in the chain, managed to saw through it, finally releasing the human remains from their bondage. Kieran conducted a funeral service from the main deck of the boat, whilst some of the others hung back at a respectful distance. During the ceremony, the far horizon the west was briefly lit up by a dazzling silver white glow.
“From the direction of the Phantom Light”, said Hillyard.
“Hm”, muttered Bardin “I hope the funeral service doesn’t take long. It would be nice to get away from this area”.
“Well we could always go back to the comfort and security of Zilligot Bay”, said Hillyard, teasingly.
“Very funny”, said Bardin, putting his hat back on at the end of the service “Let’s go”.
Nixx trudged through the sodden undergrowth of the forest, his boots squelching on the slippery leaves. The weather had been dark, misty and wet for several weeks now. The unnaturally intense heat of the Summer was now a distant memory. He walked around, inspecting his small tribe of pigs, who were rootling around in the undergrowth. He occasionally whistled through his teeth to them, sometimes he had even been known to break into song.
He emerged out of the forest onto the patch of land next to the little pebbled area which served as their tiny slither of beach. The morning sea mist was slowly dissipating. He paused to gaze out, as he normally did, at the smooth gey sea. Never, in all the years that he had been following this routine, had he ever seen a single vessel out at sea. This part of the world was heavily depopulated. Sometimes it felt as if they were at the very edge of the world itself. Occasionally they had travellers who found their way here overland, wandering through the vast expanse of forest behind him, but no one had ever appeared from the sea.
Until today that is.
“Elaine! Elaine! Come and see, girl! We have visitors!” Nixx called up the stone stairway to his sister.
Elaine had been practising her ballet moves on the deserted station platform, lost in her own dream. She paused and ran over to the top of the stairs, which coiled down to the passageway which had once upon a time served to connect the stairs to the ticket office and the main entrance.
“What are you talking about, sweetie?” she called down.
“Visitors!” Nixx called back, sounding jubilant “On a ship no less! I told you it would happen one day, didn’t I girl? You should have more faith in your old brother!”
Elaine pulled her orange silk scarf from newel-post at the bottom of the stairs, and went to join her brother outside. Nixx was hopping about like an excitable squirrel, barely able to contain his excitement.
“I knew it, Elaine”, he said, giving her an enthusiastic squeeze “I knew they’d appear one day. I told you, didn’t I?”
Elaine gave him a soft smile, and then waved the orange scarf in the air, as a signal to the galleon they were here.
“Well they seem friendly enough”, said Bardin, staring at Nixx and Elaine through his binoculars “No one’s shooting at us anyway, so be grateful for small mercies”.
They moored the galleon at a concrete jetty, a short distance away from the old railway-station. Nixx and Elaine were running along the shore to greet them.
“We wouldn’t want to scare them off”, said Adam to Joby and Bengo “I think en-masse we could be a bit intimidating, so perhaps one person should step off the boat and do the old meet-and-greet routine”.
“That better not be Bardy then”, said Bengo, bluntly.
“Mm I suppose you’re right”, said Adam “Bardin has many fine qualities, but diplomacy isn’t really one of them”.
“You should do it”, said Hillyard, nearby “I can’t think of any one of us more diplomatic than you”.
“He’s right”, said Joby “Go ashore and turn on the old boyish charm”.
Adam approached Nixx and Elain on the jetty, feeling as if he was back in the Cold War, meeting people from the opposite side of a bridge somewhere. He shook hands with them both, and introduced himself. He didn’t get very far though before Nixx interrupted him with a “We know who you are, and I can’t tell you how pleased we are to see you! Come and sit by the fire”.
A wood-burning stove was alight in what must have once been the old station-master’s office. Nixx bustled around, putting another log on it, and then preparing to make tea. Elaine was sitting in the window, her hands folded in her lap, her orange shawl now resting around her shoulders. With the sun shining through the window onto her fair hair, Adam thought she looked like an old romantic painting, one advertising the virtues of contemplation and meditation perhaps. Her age was hard to gauge. At first she seemed quite young, but closer inspection revealed fine strands of grey in her hair, and on repose her face could sometimes take on a heartbreaking aura of melancholy, which came of age.
“How long have you both been here?” Adam asked them.
“About 7 years”, said Nixx, bustling around a large blue teapot “I dare say it’s not everyone’s idea of the perfect home, but … well there are worse places to live, and it’s served us well all these years”.
“You’re refugees from the City aren’t you?” said Adam.
“Aye”, said Nixx “We got lost in the Great Forest for some while, but we eventually managed to wind up here”.
“Have you been here all alone in that time?” said Adam.
“Ohno, we get the occasional visitor”, said Nixx, stirring the teapot “Mainly via the forest though. You’re the first to arrive by sea”.
“In 7 years?!” Adam exclaimed “That’s extraordinary”.
“Aye, well it’s been a troubled world”, said Nixx, sounding sombre for a moment “And I suppose no one likes to travel up here much these days. We’re too close to the Demon Lands for one thing, and there’s a lot around to be wary of, but I suppose that’s the same all over”.
“I’m afraid it is”, said Adam.
“D’you know”, said Nixx, reflectively “I never really understood what it was all about. Why everything went so wrong I mean. I knew there was some Evil influences that got into the Ministry years back, but it all just seemed to gradually escalate over time, until eventually there was nothing but chaos everywhere. No one’s in charge anymore are they?”
“It doesn’t appear to be so”, said Adam “Except perhaps in very isolated pockets”.
“Certainly not up here anyway”, said Nixx “We’re on our own, so to speak. I take it you and the brotherhood aren’t coming in to take control, like you did before?”
“We’re on a sort of a reconnaissance”, said Adam “To assess the damage worldwide. That’s the plan at the moment anyway”.
Some of the others, after getting Nixx’s permission first, had gone off to explore the rest of the old railway station. Bengo and Bardin went up to the platform where Elaine had been practising her dance steps just prior to their arrival. Bengo stood at the edge of the platform, looking in a southerly direction, where the long-disused steel railway tracks snaked away into the distance. Grass grew liberally along the track, and a short distance away it rounded a corner out of sight, seemingly into oblivion. At the opposite end it terminated abruptly, just beyond the platform on which they were standing.
“I wonder where it goes”, said Bengo, staring down the line “Or where it did go I should say”.
“I had a brief glimpse at the old map downstairs”, said Bardin “It eventually wound up in the City. Most lines did I suspect. Nixx and Elaine might have followed the line all the way up here. That map’s useful anyway”.
“It’s probably way out of date by now”, Bengo sighed “The landscape can change suddenly sometimes. It’s taken us by surprise like that in the past”.
“And not much use to us with the galleon anyway”, Bardin agreed.
“Still”, said Bengo “We could always walk along the track for a bit sometime”.
“See what the forest yields in terms of fresh produce too”, said Bardin “I’m sure Adam won’t object to that”.
As if right on cue, Adam appeared on the platform.
“I invited Nixx and Elaine over for dinner on the galleon”, he said “But they won’t come. They say they won’t venture out after dark, there are too many odd things in the area once night falls apparently”.
“S’alright”, said Bardin “We can always send Hillyard and Lonts over as armed escorts for them”.
“No, they won’t countenance it at all”, said Adam “So I suggested lunch-time tomorrow instead. Lunch is during the day”.
“Yes it often is”, said Bardin, dryly.
Bengo left Adam and Bardin to chat on the platform, and went back downstairs. He found Elaine in the echoey corridor at the bottom. She instantly gave a smile when she saw him, which transformed her face from its usual slightly sorrowful air. But it was hard not to smile at Bengo, with his soft brown eyes and his open, almost childlike expression.
“This must all seem odd to you”, she said “Us living in an abandoned railway-station”.
“No, not at all”, said Bengo “We’ve lived in some really weird places over the years, old lighthouses, empty churches, some of the older ones were on a desert island once. They’ve been trying to relocate it ever since, but I expect it’s vanished. The world keeps changing like that”.
“Yes it does”, said Elaine.
“How do you secure it at night though?” asked Bengo “I mean, it all seems so open”.
“Well the ticket-office is easily secured”, said Elaine “And Nixx and I have a couple of old luggage storage areas as bedrooms. Come on, I’ll show you”.
Bengo followed her down the corridor to a couple of small rooms which sat side by side. Elaine led him into a narrow chamber, with one small window of heavy frosted glass.
“This is reinforced”, she said, tapping the glass “So it feels quite safe”.
She also indicated the padlock on the inside of the door.
“When we both retire for the night”, she explained “We padlock ourselves in on the inside”.
The room had an old iron bedstead and a mattress in one corner, and the rest of the space was taken up by a small table, and various trunks and boxes. A kettle on a camping-stove stood on the table.
“I know it doesn’t look much”, said Elaine “But it can be quite cosy, and it’s a vast improvement on travelling out in the open, I can assure you”.
“Did you find anything useful in the left luggage?” said Bengo.
“Sometimes”, said Elaine “Tins of food and things, and washing stuff. Also some things that weren’t technically useful, but do wonders for morale, such as my orange silk scarf”.
“Oh I’m all for that”, he said “You were one of us weren’t you?”
“What, a clown?” Elaine giggled.
“Noo! I mean, a theatrical”.
“I think I could have been a clown quite easily”, said Elaine “Someone once told me I have a clown’s face, very expressive. No, I made movies”.
“Oh wow!” said Bengo “Bardy always gets a bit sniffy about cinema and television, and all that sort of thing. He can be such a theatrical snob, just ignore him if he starts, but I liked it. I bet you were a big star in the City”.
“No not really”, Elaine laughed “I mainly appeared in low-budget stuff, but I was usually in work, so I was grateful for that. It can be such an uncertain profession. I think if you show you’re flexible and reliable, and don’t get all pretentious and stuck-up, people will employ you more readily, don’t you think?”
“Yes”, said Bengo “I think it helped with us we had a clear identity, a theme. They knew what they were getting with Bardy and me. What sort of films did you make?”
“Horror comedies”, said Elaine “Sort of horror spoofs. As I got older and got a bit more influence in the industry though, I tried to move them more to the comedy side and less to the horror. I felt the world had enough horror in it already”.
“Oh it sounds great!” Bengo clapped his hands impulsively “You never know, if the world ever gets back on its feet again, perhaps we could all go into production together. I can’t wait to tell Bardy, he’ll be fascinated”.
“It wasn’t good, Bardy”, said Bengo, when he was back in his cabin on the galleon a short while later “In the evenings it must feel like being walled up alive in those little rooms, surrounded by a lot of dead luggage, and they’ve had 7 years of that!”
“What the hell happens here after dark?” said Bardin.
“Well I guess we’ll find out ourselves tonight”, said Bardin “I’ll have the night-watch patrol the beach at the front of the station as well”.
At around 11 PM Bardin went ashore to see if anything untoward had happened. There was a full moon which lit up the area, alleviating any intense gloom he had been expecting, from the way Nixx and Elaine had billed night-time in this part of the world. It was shimmering like a pathway across the ocean water. Apart from the soft sound of the waves on the pebbled shore there was very little noise at all. He found Rumble standing, rifle slung across his back, having a cigarette near the edge of the forest.
“Don’t stand too close to the trees”, said Bardin.
“Oh don’t you start, Bard!” said Rumble “What is this, Paranoia Cove? You’re getting as bad as those two in there”.
“Look, you’re meant to be the sensible clown out of all of us”, said Bardin.
“Well someone has to be I guess”, Rumble smirked.
“Anything could creep up on you out of the woods”, Bardin pointed out.
“With how quiet things are around here, I’d hear them coming a mile off!” said Rumble “Anyway Hillyard would see it, he’s pacing about near the front of the building”.
“Stop arguing, and move closer to the beach”, said Bardin.
Rumble sighed and moved a few feet closer to the pebbles.
“Happy now?” he said.
Suddenly the main doors of the old station building opened, and Elaine emerged, carrying two steaming mugs on a metal tray.
“I thought you could do with some cocoa”, she said “Bardin, I can make you one too if you like”.
“I’m fine, thanks”, said Bardin.
“I didn’t like the thought of you guys out here all alone”, said Elaine “And you could do with something comforting”.
“That’s a top-notch thought”, said Hillyard, going over to fetch a mug from her.
Elaine looked up at the Moon.
“Oh isn’t it beautiful”, she said “I haven’t had a good look at it in years. It’s so nice to be able to come out here and appreciate the night-time. Look at the way it shimmers on the water”.
“What happens here after dark, to make you so afraid?” said Bardin.
“Sometimes there are Things in the forest”, said Elaine “It’s a very haunted place”.
“What sort of things?”
“Strange entities. I can’t really explain much more than that. Odd things can happen during the day as well, but it’s more rare”.
“How do you know there are strange entities there?” said Hillyard “If you’ve been locked up indoors every night?”
“Visitors have told us”, said Elaine “We had to rescue somebody once, who was camping out in the forest. They had to flee from it, in terror of their lives”.
“Flee from what?” said Bardin, in exasperation.
Hillyard tutted at Bardin’s snappy tone. At this rate Elaine would be too nervous to tell them anything coherent.
“What did this person actually see?” said Hillyard, in a gentler tone.
“Something was pressing down on the canvas of his tent”, said Elaine “He could see a shadowy form”.
“An animal of some sort?” said Rumble.
“He went out to confront whatever it was”, said Elaine “He said it was human-shaped, absolutely jet-black, no features at all, like a figure cut out of paper. He said it lunged at him, and he fled. We had to accompany him back in the daytime to collect his things. He left the area immediately after. Look, you must understand. There is only Nixx and I here. We can’t afford to go confronting strange entities in the night-time forest. We are not a large group like you lot are …”
“It’s OK”, Hillyard patted her shoulder “We understand that. You’re doing the sensible thing”.
Shortly after Bardin and Rumble wandered back to the water’s edge. Hillyard carried on chatting to Elaine.
“You have to take Bardin with a pinch of salt”, said Hillyard “He has a tendency to bark a bit”.
“Oh don’t worry about that, that’s fine”, said Elaine “I’ve worked with enough directors like that over the years, I’m used to it. I had one who took a vehement dislike to me, I think he just didn’t like women at all, and he would make me repeat the same scene over and over again, even when I had it word-perfect the first time! I would annoy him by always responding as sweetly as I could. I knew he wanted me to get upset and angry”.
“Bardin’s not a bully”, said Hillyard, reassuringly “I promise you that. Although I suppose Bengo might disagree! No, it’s just he gets a bit impatient sometimes. You just tell us if he snaps at you again, we’ll soon sort him out”.
“I’ve often yearned to be able to do this”, said Elaine “To just sit out here and watch the ocean in the moonlight. I feel as if I’ve been let out of prison, even if it is only briefly”.
“Well we weren’t planning to move on very quickly”, said Hillyard “Bardin wants to do a bit of a reconnaissance of this area, so that might take a bit. It seems like there’s a lot to explore”.
“I can take you down part of the old trackway”, said Elaine “Show you part of the route that we came up by”.
“We could exercise the horses at the same time”, said Hillyard.
“I do not understand this never-venturing-out-after-dark nonsense”, said Julian, the next morning. He was reclining in the dining-room, with his booted propped up on the table “Couple of wussies if you ask me”.
“They are most emphatically not a couple of wussies”, said Adam “As they have survived this far, that was a particularly nonsensical thing you just said, even by your usual standards! And as Elaine said to Hillyard, there are only the two of them, it would be different for us”.
“Yes alright, alright, don’t go on”, said Julian, finishing the last of his toast “I didn’t get much sleep last night, with doing the 2 AM til 4 shift. It’s alright for you. In your hallowed position you get out of doing night-watches”.
“Well we can always swap places if you like”, said Adam, sarcastically “And you can work in the galley all day”.
“Do me a favour”, said Hillyard, pouring out some stewed tea “There’d be a full-scale mutiny within one day!”
“I’ll make you some fresh tea, Hilly”, said Adam “And take your big feet off the table, Jules, you know how much it upsets Toppy when you do that!”
The lunch-date on the galleon was postponed because the weather that day was too nice. Elaine suggested they should take advantage of it, and go for the proposed ride down the railroad tracks, as there was no guarantee how long it would last. Several of the Indigo-ites agreed to go along, some riding, some on foot.
“You can go on Matilda”, said Hillyard to Elaine “She’s a placid old thing, won’t give you any trouble”.
“Oh I don’t know, Hillyard”, said Elaine “It’s years since I’ve ridden horseback. I had to do it in a film once, and I was hopeless. I went to get on one day, and slid right off the other side!”
“You’ll be fine”, said Hillyard “I’ll keep hold of the harness”.
Elaine, dressed in a bright red smock dress over a pair of leggings, topped by a Spanish-style straw hat, approached the mare nervously.
“Don’t let her see you’re nervous”, Hillyard whispered “Or she’ll pick it up, you have to be confident around horses. They’re nervy creatures themselves”.
“Kieran’s riding a donkey”, said Elaine, perplexed.
“He likes doing that”, said Hillyard “It’s a religious thing, take no notice”.
Elaine was right. The weather was just perfect, a mild, sunlit late Autumn day. But everyone knew that the bleak wailing blast of a northern Winter would be on them very soon.
“Winter used to be my favourite season in the City”, she said, as she hacked along the side of the old railway track, with Hillyard walking alongside “Oh I loved it back in the old days. The fogs, the lit windows, the Yuletide bazaars, people warming themselves over braziers in the street, it was all so atmospheric. And everyone moaned about having to turn out on dark, frosty mornings, but I loved it. Nixx always used to think I was potty saying Winter was my favourite, but it was. But I’ve grown to hate it. The darkness falling in the middle of the afternoon, and us then having to lock ourselves away. In the Summer I spend most of my time on the platform, or down by the beach, trying to absorb as much fresh air and sunlight as I can, knowing it will have to sustain me all through the dark months. And, perhaps it’s old age coming on, but these days I seem to feel every draught, every cold spot”.
Hillyard sensed how much she missed the City as it had once been. He could imagine her life there, making her films, probably surrounded by a gang of likeminded friends, and felt intensely sorrowful for her. He had lived with the clowns long enough to know that there was a type of person, Nature’s born performers, who should ideally spend their lives surrounded by a crowd of other people, interacting with them, and entertaining them. He knew how rapidly Bengo and Bardin would decline, if they had to spend months on end locked away in solitary confinement in a tiny room. Damnit, he knew he himself wouldn’t be able to cope with it. The only ones he could imagine coping in that situation would be Kieran or Mieps.
“We’re going to have to find some way to make this Winter a bit easier for you”, he said, patting the horse.
“Don’t feel you have to put your journey on hold for us”, Elaine replied “I know Bardin’s plan is to travel up round the northern coast, although I’ve heard it’s very, very bleak up there”.
“I’m not going to lie to you”, said Hillyard “I suspect we will have to move on at some point, although not for a little while. The others like it here. But we can’t bear the thought of leaving you to another Winter here either”.
They rounded the bend which turned away in a south-easterly direction, and then paused to look at the view before them. The metal track continued its way down through dense pine forest on either side.
“We walked all up along there”, said Elaine.
“Where’s the nearest town or village down there?” said Bardin, pulling up on the other side.
“There was a village a few miles out beyond the City”, said Elaine “But after that, nothing”.
“Nothing?!” Bardin exclaimed “You saw no one between there and up here?!”
“Only other stray travellers”, said Elaine.
“Did you hear anything about a town called Port West?” said Joby “On the coast, probably a few miles north of here”.
“The one that was destroyed all those years ago?” said Elaine “We have heard there is a small settlement there. A couple of visitors we had once said they were making their way there. Nothing like as big as it used to be, I’m sure, but perhaps a handful of dwellers”.
“And you never felt like heading up there?” said Hillyard, feeling that if they had travelled up this far, a few more miles wouldn’t make much difference.
“We sort of stayed here”, Elaine shrugged “I don’t know why, I can’t explain it. It was as if once we had reached here, we ran out of any urge to go any further”.
“What I don’t understand is why they haven’t been remotely curious as to see what this settlement up the coast is like”, said Joby to Adam, in the galley “Apparently it’s only a few miles up from here. You could walk there and back in a day comfortably”.
“I suspect, having found a safe haven, they just wanted to hang onto it”, said Adam “Elaine’s right, it must be very difficult when it’s only the two of you. It would be different for us. We could leave several of us here, to mind the shop as it were, and the rest go off and explore. Nixx and Elaine could both go up to this settlement, but may well come back here to find someone had ransacked their supplies, or even worse commandeered the whole place for themselves. Or they might meet hostility there, and be unable to defend themselves. We are lucky to have the large gang we do”.
“The only time we were in that position was when we first crossed over into this time”, said Joby “You, me and Kieran. Oh and bloody Angel for a while. God, that was rough”.
“It made all the difference just meeting up with Hillyard didn’t it”, said Adam “Fortunately for us had a strong practical streak to him”.
“Perhaps we should send a scouting-party up there whilst we’re here”, said Joby “And then report back. You never know they might even have a shop there, or something really novel like that”.
“I agree”, said Adam “At the moment it all feels a bit odd. I don’t like the thought of moving on and abandoning them here. I know they’re adults, and quite able to take care of themselves, but I think I would be haunted by the thought of them living out the rest of their lives here. Nixx trying to be relentlessly chirpy all the time, and Elaine turning more and more in on herself. I don’t know why they’ve got under my skin so much. I mean I know they’re nice people, but even so …”
“Praps it is just that”, said Joby “They’re nice people. In this mad world that can seem almost childlike these days. As if they’re extra vulnerable. There were nice people back in Zilligot Bay as well, but they had a whole community to take care of each other, whereas here it’s just these two. We had no problems in leaving Glynis and Jane back there, ‘cos we knew they’d be alright, probably couldn’t wait to be shot of us! But could you imagine leaving ‘em somewhere like this? All isolated, on the edge of the Great Forest?”
“I wouldn’t even have countenanced it”, said Adam “It would be like leaving them back on the Third Island again”.
“Oh and there’s another thing”, said Joby, pausing on his way out of the room, Columbo-fashion “Why is there a railway station right out here? I mean, who used it?”
“I don’t know!” said Adam, in exasperation “Perhaps it used to be a popular holiday destination at one time”.
“I can’t believe that”, said Joby “The beach is tiny for one thing, you get 5 people on that and it feels crowded!”
“Well perhaps hunting-parties used to come here and use the Great Forest”, said Adam “Like they did in Edwardian times. Some of the big estates had their own private railway stations”.
“Where’s the big house then?” Joby demanded to know.
“Perhaps it fell down”, Adam sighed “Perhaps some grouchy ex-footman with a grumpy face came along one night and dynamited it!”
Bardin was very taken with the idea of a scouting-party going up the coast to find the settlement Elaine had referred to, but he decided that they should go overland to give the horses some more decent exercise. He took the usual bunch to go with him, Ransey, Bengo, Hillyard, Kieran and Joby.
“I see you have left me without staff again”, Adam grumbled.
“It is for ONE DAY”, said Bardin “And you will have Farnol and Toppy to help you. Actually, say the right word and I expect Elaine might cover over and help you”.
“Oh because she’s a woman she must automatically want to do kitchen work?” said Adam “Isn’t that rather sexist, Bardin?”
“Well alright, ask Nixx then!” Bardin shouted on his way out of the door.
It had rained heavily overnight, and the path through the forest to the north was soggy and heavy-going. The track here though ran almost parallel with the coastline, and they could often glimpse the sea through the gaps in the trees. They went in single file, with Bardin at the front. Occasionally a roll of thunder could be heard in the very far distance.
“I hope that holds off until we get back”, Bardin called over his shoulder to Ransey.
He had barely said this when suddenly a woman sprang out of some nearby bushes, holding a rifle straight at him, causing Bardin’s horse to shy.
“Woah!” said Bardin, calming the horse, whilst the others pulled up behind him.
“Who are you?” the woman demanded to know, still holding the gun at them.
“My name is Captain Bardin and I am part of the Kieran Brotherhood”, said Bardin “We are here on a peaceful mission, simply doing an exploration of the area. We mean no harm”.
“Madam, could you put that gun down”, said Ransey “I can see your hands are shaking, and it’s making me nervous”.
The woman tentatively lowered the gun. She seemed to be in her mid-30s, dressed in a shirt and trousers, and a hard hat.
“Sorry, but I had to be careful”, she said “My husband is very ill, and I can’t afford any more unwelcome visitors”.
“What’s the matter with him?” Kieran carefully rode his mule up alongside Bardin. He took off his hat to show his distinctive hair, which was often the way he was recognised.
“It IS you”, said the woman, who seemed as if she was about to faint.
“Careful”, Ransey jumped down from his ride, and went over to her. He took the gun off her and disabled it “That’s quite some weaponry you’ve got there”.
Kieran also dismounted and went over to her, helping her to lean against a tree.
“I mainly use it for hunting purposes”, the woman replied “My name is Lissa, my husband is back there”.
She pointed a short way up the track.
In a small clearing stood a ramshackle canvas tent set up on poles. A meagre camp-fire was just outside it. A couple of ponies were leisurely cropping at the grass, oblivious to any drama around them. The opening flaps to the tent were fastened back, to show a very pale, painfully thin man sitting on a camping-stool with a blanket wrapped round his shoulders.
“We have visitors, my angel”, said Lissa, approaching him “GOOD visitors”.
As soon as the man saw Kieran, he seemed to hyperventilate.
“P-please help me”, he said “I think I’ve been Cursed”.
“You also seem malnourished and exhausted”, said Kieran, taking a close look at him “Have you come up from the City?”
The man nodded, “or rather a village nearby it”, he said “We’ve travelled all this way, I couldn’t have done it without Lissa”.
“You both seem exhausted”, said Kieran. Lissa had now removed her hat, and he could see she too was pale, with heavy dark rings under her eyes.
“We’ll take you back to the station”, said Kieran, straightening up “Finia can help you there”.
“The station? Finia?” asked Lissa.
“Finia is our resident First Aid practitioner”, said Kieran “And we’ll explain about the Station on our way back. Let’s get your things packed up”.
Their unexpected early arrival back at the Station caused quite a bit of excitement. Benjamin and Lissa were helped from their ponies, and the animals were safely tethered to a rail outside the main entrance of the Station building. The couple were then helped into the old ticket-office and seated next to the wood-burning stove. Benjamin wanted to explain excitedly about the Curse, but Kieran insisted that Finia attend to him first. Meanwhile Nixx prepared tinned broth for them both.
“Also have some of Elaine’s fruit drink”, he said “It’s her own concoction. She takes the peel off any fruit we find or are given, dries it out, and then stores it in a jar. She then puts it into a cup of warm water, and hey presto, we have a fruit drink”.
“What a great idea”, said Adam “Why on earth did we never think of that?”
Joby grunted in reply.
After the impromptu lunch, Kieran went up to the platform with Elaine and Lissa, and sat between them on the bench. Benjamin had fallen into an exhausted sleep by the stove.
“So it’s probably best if you tell me now what Ben meant by his Curse”, said Kieran.
“First let me say I had no idea you were here, or about this place”, said Lissa to Elaine “It would have made all the difference if we had found you first. We had followed the track for quite a way, but for some God only knows what reason, we decided to divert more into the Forest. I think I was hoping to find some wildlife, and get some much-needed protein for Benjamin. His health has never been the best, but well as you can imagine this journey has taken so much out of him. When we wound up in that direction”, she waved to the north “We saw the sea and thought it would be sensible to hug the coast for a while. But then we had an unexpected visitor”.
“An unwelcome one from the sounds of things?” said Kieran.
“He was alone”, said Lissa, her soft dark eyes taking on an anguished look “I didn’t like the look of him from the first, but Benjamin said we had to be charitable, that nomads - as we are now - should help one another. He said his name was Mortikai. I find it very hard to explain about him. Y’see, he didn’t actually do anything WRONG, it was more his …”
“General sort of vibe?” Kieran suggested.
“Being around him was like being permanently wrapped in a dark blanket”, she said “There was something vampiric about him, as if he was sucking the life out of us. Benjamin had it worse. As I said, he has never been a physically robust person, and Mortikai seemed to home in on that”.
“W-what did this Mortikai look like?” asked Elaine, softly.
“D’you know, that is what is so crazy”, said Lissa “We lived alongside of him for several days, but I struggle to remember his face. A lot of the time he was shrouded in this hooded cloak, and when I did occasionally see him, well he was very tall and very thin. All I can really recall is that he seemed haggard, with very distrustful little black eyes. I didn’t think anything of that at first. Whenever we meet people on the road they all have that aura about them, of pain and distrust. But this was something else, as if he secretly wanted to destroy people. My imagination must be getting the better of me”.
She shivered, and wrapped her arms round herself. Elaine took off her silk scarf, and draped it round Lissa’s shoulders.
“Did he say where he was headed?” asked Kieran “Was he going to the settlement to the north of here?”
“No”, Lissa shook her head “That’s where we were hoping to go, but we never seemed to get any nearer to it. I was starting to wonder if it was there at all. But he said he was going to somebody’s house, out in the interior to the north of here. Some woman called Trinity. He said she would help him”.
“And he didn’t offer to take you there?” said Kieran.
“I doubt we would have wanted to go!” Lissa gave a little laugh “But no he didn’t offer to take us. I got the distinct impression he wanted to get what he needed from us, and then leave us there in the Forest. When Benjamin became really ill, I had had enough, and I asked Mortikai to leave us. I needed to concentrate fully on helping Ben and enabling us to survive, and he wasn’t helping. I don’t like confronting people, but by then I had really had enough of him. I could almost feel him sapping my strength. Well of course, he turned very nasty, and said we would never live long enough to reach anywhere. I just took it as posturing, but unfortunately Ben believes Mortikai had Cursed us. I think curses can only work if the victim believes in them, so I refuse to, but Ben does believe it, that’s the trouble”.
“So why the hell has it taken them so long to get up here?” Julian demanded to know “And why is this Benjamin chap such a wimp?”
“Oh dear god, now you’re attacking these two!” said Adam, putting a hand to his forehead. They were chatting in Julian’s cabin later that day.
“I’m not attacking anybody”, said Julian “I am merely asking some pertinent questions”.
“You are as bad as Joby for constantly asking me questions at the moment”, said Adam.
“There is nothing wrong with having a healthy curiosity”.
“No, except when you both expect me to be the oracle of all wisdom! Benjamin is not a wimp, it’s just that he’s suffered from bad health for some time now, and that might have been what has slowed their progress all the way up here”.
“They should have shot this Mortikai character and buried him in the woods”, said Julian “No one would have been any the wiser”.
“Elaine wonders if he might have been the same weirdo that their visitor had been spooked by in the forest round here that time”, said Adam “There certainly sounds something supernatural about him. Patsy is going to put some protection around the Station in a little while”.
“What sort of protection?” said Julian, warily.
“Oh Blessing the place, that sort of thing”, said Adam, going to the door “He thinks it’s for the best, as Benjamin and Lissa will be staying there for a while. Every little helps”.
Kieran did a Blessing ritual around the entire perimeter of the Station, and for good measure brought over a large wooden crucifix from the galleon and nailed it to the main doors.
“I’m not saying it will infallibly keep out any evil spirits”, he said “But it would certainly help to impede their progress”.
Benjamin was given Elaine’s bed for the night, and the two women dozed in armchairs nearby, occasionally waking to drink cocoa and chat in soft whispers, with blankets draped around their shoulders. They had a huge amount to talk about, with their journey up here, and their life down in the City and the village nearby. Lissa was fascinated about Elaine’s life as an actress, and wanted to hear all her showbiz adventures. By the time daybreak came round it looked as though Benjamin and Lissa would be staying at the Station for some time to come.
“That’s a relief”, said Julian, when he heard “I thought they might be moving in here!”
The next couple of days passed relatively pleasantly. For a time Bardin had abandoned the idea of seeking out the elusive settlement further up the coast, saying that they would probably see it soon enough when they set sail again.
“There’s too much in this area to investigate”, he said “And Mieps wants to do some hunting in the forest. I take it no one’s objecting to that idea?”
“Sounds alright to me”, said Hillyard “I’ll go along as well. I expect Lissa might want to join in too. Sounds like she’s a pretty good shot with a rifle, from everything she’s said”.
The three of them spent a satisfactory day wandering the forest nearby, and bagged a sackful of rabbits. When they got back to the Station cove, they all had a barbecue, roasting the animals on a campfire on the beach. Beer and wine was dug out of the hold on the ship, and a merry time was had by all.
“She’s not bad-looking is she?” said Julian, looking across at Lissa “If I was straight, I’d go for her like a shot”.
“Only because she reminds you of Mieps”, said Adam.
“There is a likeness, that is true”, said Julian.
“Lissa’s a bit more jolly though”, said Adam “I love Mieps to bits, she’s splendid, but she can be a trifle dour at times”.
“God knows what she sees in him”, said Julian, glancing at Benjamin, who was sitting propped up in a chair near the main doors “I can’t imagine she gets much juice out of him”.
“I think she adores him”, said Adam “Some women like a man who is quiet and gentle, they can relax with him”.
“Do you know what I think?” Elaine was saying to Bardin.
“I think you should slow down a bit”, said Bardin “You haven’t had a proper drink in years, and it’s going to your head”.
“No no listen Bardin”, said a tipsy Elaine “We should start up our own travelling troupe of performers”.
“You’ve always liked that idea, Bard”, said Rumble.
“Travelling minstrels”, said Elaine “Troubadours!”
“There’s only one problem with that idea”, said Bardin “We haven’t got an audience!”
“You don’t know that”, said Elaine “Not every area is going to be like this one. There must be some people around somewhere. We just haven’t found them yet. And they must be desperate for entertainment”.
“Desperate would be the word!” Rumble chuckled.
“I think it sounds fun”, said Bengo “We have done stuff like that sometimes. I vaguely remember we did some shows at The Dancing Dog in Snow Lake once. All I can remember is us sending Hoowie round with the hat afterwards”.
“You are weakening”, Elaine teased Bardin, prodding him on the chest “I can see you succumbing to the idea”.
“Well certainly you could play the real tits”, said Bardin “Tamaz always gets fed up with us making him do it”.
“Bardin!” said Bengo, crossly “Oh take no notice of him, Elaine, he doesn’t know how to behave in polite company”.
“It’s not a bad idea”, said Bardin “But we do need to talk about it when we’re stone cold sober. In the meantime we have plans for around here. There’s no stopping Mieps now, she wants to do some fishing tomorrow, and I also want to see if there’s any way of finding out about this Trinity woman and her house, where that Mortikai character was heading”.
“Do we HAVE to go looking for him?” said Bengo “I’m not sure I’m bothered about him”.
“If he’s making a serious nuisance of himself round here, then yes”, said Bardin.
“I have a pretty good singing voice”, said Elaine “Would you like to hear me sing?”
“Not really”, said Bardin.
Elaine began to sing anyway.
“It feels like looking for trouble if you ask me”, said Bengo “This looking for Mortikai rubbish”.
It was very late, and they were back on the galleon. Bengo and Adam were in the galley, making cocoa.
“Does it mean we have to go tracking down every bad ‘un we hear about on our travels?” he continued.
“I think it’s more of an excuse to explore the hinterland to the back of the Station”, said Adam, and he gave a brief laugh “Looking For Mortikai! It sounds like an old Play, like Waiting For Godot. I’m sure Patsy would appreciate the reference to that one! Anyway, don’t fret about it. Any exploration of the area is only going to take a day at the very most”.
“Is he still whingeing?” said Bardin, standing in the doorway.
“Ooh!” Bengo advanced on him with his hands outstretched, as if he was about to throttle him “You’ve had nowhere near enough discipline on this trip!”
“Probably because something’s always happening, or there’s always someone else around!” said Bardin.
“Bengo, why don’t you close the door?” said Adam “And stay on this side of it”.
Bengo got the gist of the situation remarkably quickly. He scurried to the push the door closed and shot the bolt across. Then he paused and leaned back against the door.
“That feels good already”, he said “Sometimes just lately it feels as if there are always hordes of faces around butting in”.
“It’ll get even worse if Elaine’s travelling minstrel idea gets off the ground”, said Bardin “No one will know a moment’s peace then!”
Adam came up behind him, and pinioned his arms behind his back. Bengo knelt on the floor, removed Bardin’s shoes, and then moved up to unbutton his flies.
“Probably best if you don’t speak for the entire time”, Adam said to Bardin, pinioning him even closer.
Bengo slid down Bardin’s trousers, and nearly got his eye knocked out by Bardin’s erection which was already poking at the front of his shorts.
“It’s been a long time”, Bardin whispered “Or so it feels anyway”.
He stepped out of his trousers. Adam sat down and put him across his knee, and then proceeded to spank him severely. Hard, rhythmic smacks. Bardin tried to hold off ejaculating, but it became impossible, and he came all too soon. Bengo ran his hands through Bardin’s hair, gently yanking his head about as he did so.
“Is your butt burning because of my smacks or because of the fire in the stove?” Adam joked, pushing his hand down into the back of Bardin’s shorts and caressing the warm flesh.
“It feels like it’s been forever”, Bardin mumbled “I was hoping on this trip that we’d find somewhere remote we could hold up and sustain ourselves for the rest of the Winter, and do loads of this sort of thing. And all we seem to do is keep bumping into people. If we do set off on our travels again, they’ll probably come and join us on here, and then there will be nothing like this!”
“Not necessarily”, said Adam “I doubt they’d want to come and live with us on here. More likely they’ll travel on land, and we’ll meet up with them at regular intervals”.
“I hope so”, said Bardin “And I don’t care if that does sound selfish. Oh God, I could fall asleep right here”.
“Probably best if Bengo takes you to bed”, said Adam “In the morning, I shall smack you again, just like now, with Bengo here. Only even harder this time, with the paddle”.
Late the following morning Bardin was lying naked on the sofa in his cabin. He was face-down, with his sore bottom exposed to the chilly air. After breakfast Adam had kept to his promise and spanked him a second time.
“Hello Bardy”, said Bengo, coming into the room.
“Hello sadist”, Bardin replied, mumbling into the cushion. He peered up at Bengo “I swear you and Adam have conspired together, to make me incapacitated so that I won’t want to ride anywhere”.
“Bullshit”, Bengo laughed “You’ve ridden with a sore arse before, loads of times. It doesn’t usually stop you”.
“Maybe, but I’m out of practice”, said Bardin.
“Well then we’ll have to get you back into it again”, said Bengo, slapping Bardin’s sore bottom.
“Ow! You little runt!” said Bardin “Did you come in here for a reason, or just to inflict more misery?”
“Elaine wants to come over and have a chat with you sometime”, said Bengo.
“Now be fair”, said Bengo “You did ask her”.
“No I didn’t! I said it might be best if we chatted sometime when she was more sober!”
“S’alright, I’ve told her you’re feeling a bit fragile this morning. She thinks you have a bad hangover”.
“If anyone should have a bad hangover, it’s her!” said Bardin “We could’ve floated the galleon on what she put away last night!”
“She’s happy to wait til this afternoon”, said Bengo.
Bardin groaned again.
“I don’t want to speak to anyone today”, he said “Well not anyone from shoreside anyway. I can’t see her this afternoon, we’ll have to put it off until tomorrow. She’ll wonder why I’m walking stiffly. I decree that this day should be a rest day. She’ll have to lump it. Could you put some cream on me?”
“Sure”, Bengo went over to the chest of drawers, and took a pot out of the top drawer.
“And massage it in GENTLY”, Bardin ordered.
“I’ll slap it on if you keep that up”, said Bengo “You clearly need another spanking today to make you pipe down a bit. I’m sure Adam will oblige”.
He slapped some cold cream onto Bardin’s behind, and massaged it in, causing Bardin to groan even more.
“Just a day of rest”, he groaned “That’s all I ask, just a day”.
In fact they had several days. There was enough in the immediate area to keep them occupied for the time being. With the weather turning colder by the minute (or so it felt like) many of them preoccupied themselves with more hunting in the forest, and getting in any fresh produce they could find. A couple of spare camp-beds were taken over from the galleon to the Station, for Ben and Lissa.
“I dread this time of year”, Elaine said to Bardin, who was supervising this operation by the other clowns “Winter’s here are so tough, and it can often make me depressed. You don’t know what a difference it has made having you fellows, and Lissa and Ben here. I feel as though the world has opened up”.
“Uh-huh”, said Bardin.
“Oh now Bardy, she was trying to be nice”, whispered Bengo, after cornering him in the corridor.
“Now don’t you start finger-wagging me AGAIN”, Bardin hissed back “You get quite enough satisfaction from watching me being spanked morning, noon and night. I won’t put up with you nagging me as well!”
“B-but I wasn’t trying to nag you”, said Bengo, looking crestfallen “I really wasn’t, Bardy. I was just trying to point out that she was being nice, and we don’t always get people being nice to us”.
“No, not terribly surprising is it!” said Bardin “And don’t do the puppy-dog eyes routine on me. It felt more like to me that I was being bamboozled with emotional blackmail, oh please don’t leave us here in the depths of Winter, blah-blah-blah”.
“Would it be so bad staying here for the Winter?” said Bengo “You’ve said yourself you want to explore the area”.
“Yes”, said Bardin “When I’m in a fit state to do so!”
That afternoon the first flurries of snow began to whirl down, and by nightfall it had covered everything in sight. It was a miserable time for the night-shift crew, and two hours could feel more like two days. Even Ransey, who was normally scrupulous about these duties, grumbled that it was “unlikely we’d be able to see anything anyway in this!”
At around 3 in the morning Elaine suddenly came running over to the galleon in her nightdress, and had to be admitted below deck by Rumble.
“I must see Kieran”, she said, breathlessly “I must! Believe me, I wouldn’t come over here if it wasn’t important”.
“That’s OK, Elaine”, said Kieran, appearing in his cabin doorway in his dressing-gown “What’s happened?”
“It’s Benjamin”, said Elaine “He’s in a terrible state, and there are some strange noises in my room …”
“That’s OK, I’ll come over”, said Kieran “Let me just throw some warmer clothing on”.
Adam came out of the saloon.
“Could you get Elaine some brandy?” Kieran asked Adam “She’s shaking, I think she’s going into shock”.
“Come with me, old love”, said Adam, guiding her with his arms around her “Don’t worry, Kieran will sort this out. You need to get warm”.
“Joby”, Kieran called “Could you come with me, I’m going to need your support”.
“Yep”, said Joby.
“It’s been going on for ages”, said Lissa, leading them down the dark stone corridor which led from the old ticket-office to the storage areas “Elaine and I had been dozing by the little fire in her room, when we woke up and heard it. It gives me the creeps”.
Kieran and Joby went into Elaine’s room. There were some glowing embers in the fireplace, and on the bed Benjamin lay, clutching a blanket around him, and shivering so much his teeth were literally chattering. At first they couldn’t make out what the noise was Elaine had referred to, but it gradually became apparent. A flat, emotionless androgynous voice was reciting Ring O Ring O Roses over and over again.
“Where the fuck’s that coming from?” said Joby.
“Don’t listen to it!” said Kieran “Joby take Lissa to the ticket-office …”
“But ... “ Joby began.
“It’s Satanic”, said Kieran “For God’s sake don’t listen to it. You two get out of here, then I can concentrate on helping Benjamin”.
Once they had gone, Kieran went over to Benjamin and said “Do you feel strong enough to walk? It’s important we get you out of this building”.
“What is that singing?” Benjamin stammered “It doesn’t sound human”.
“It isn’t, it’s demonic”, said Kieran “It’s very important you don’t listen to it”.
“But I can’t help it!” Benjamin wailed.
Kieran walked to the centre of the room and yelled at the top of his voice “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I order you to depart this place!”
He kept repeating this over and over until the voice gradually faded.
“It-it w-worked”, said Benjamin.
“You have to make friends with the Lord, Benjamin”, said Kieran, helping him to his feet “Now you must make a big effort to walk. We have to get get you all over to the galleon. They have infested this place, and it isn’t safe anymore”.
“I’ve brought it here haven’t I?” Benjamin shuddered.
“Don’t recriminate yourself, that’s what they want you to do”, said Kieran “Now come along feller”.
Everyone from the Station building spent the night on the galleon. Benjamin and Lissa occupied Joby and Kieran’s cabin, Nixx joined Umbert and Digby on camp-beds in the dining-room, and Elaine slept on the sofa in Bardin and Bengo’s cabin. Over breakfast it was decided that they all had to leave the area.
“We can’t afford to get snowed in here for the Winter”, said Bardin “This latest development has settled it. You should all collect what you need from the Station, we’ll come over with you, but Kieran agrees with me that you can’t stay here”.
“I could keep exorcising the place, but it would be like trying to stop the waves”, said Kieran “There is something very Evil about this area, and it has now got completely into the stonework of the building. Think of it like a bad fungus or mould. It’s not a healthy environment”.
“It should be burnt down”, said an uncharacteristically sombre Nixx.
“Maybe, but I think that would be a waste of valuable fuel”, said Kieran “It’s more important that we remove you from the scene”.
“I’m not ungrateful for everything you’re doing for us”, said Elaine “But will we be any safer travelling away?”
“Well obviously I can’t do a cast-iron guarantee of that”, said Kieran “But you stand a much better chance than if you stay here”.
Lonts joined Nixx in helping him to round up his pigs. Lonts was very excited about the prospect of keeping pigs on the galleon, and had already scattered straw on deck for them. Toppy was dismayed at the prospect of pigs being herded about the place, but it had to be done. Meanwhile, Elaine went up to the platform for one final brief meditation. She had done this every morning for the past 7 years.
“You can still do it on the galleon”, said Lissa, poking her head round the door which led out onto platform.
“I know”, said Elaine “I am not sorry to leave this place. It had become a prison, and Kieran’s right. The whole atmosphere has got markedly worse, I can feel it. A strange, morbid energy”.
Lissa came to sit next to her on the bench. The snow had ceased for the time being, but everything was coated in it.
“There are no track-marks left by birds”, said Lissa, reflectively “You normally see that when it’s snowed, track-marks left by birds and animals”.
“They seem to have gone”, said Elaine.
On the opposite platform, two figures materialised briefly out of the strange light cast by the snow. Two indistinguishable figures, all dressed in black. Between them they carried a coffin, which they dropped unceremoniously on the ground, and then began to prise off the lid.
“No!” Elaine called out.
The image slowly dissipated again.
“Come on”, Lissa touched Elaine’s arm “Let’s get away from here”.
They sailed further north in a blizzard, but Bardin was determined to put as much distance as he could between them and the old Station they had left behind. Benjamin’s health had been deeply worrying, and many of them had expected him to pass away at any moment, and they would have to do a burial at sea. Lissa’s brisk but well-meaning advice that hexes only work if you believe in them didn’t seem to be having much effect. But as the distance grew he slowly began to recover. He still remained pale and painfully thin, but Lissa assured them that he usually looked like that.
“That’s one of the things that put me off marrying him at first”, she said “I didn’t think he would be up to it!”
Initially her briskness could be off-putting, but in quieter moments the others saw how tenderly she dealt with him. How she calmed him down when his nerves became over-agitated, and how she addressed him as “my darling angel”. Although she was undoubtedly the strong one in their relationship, both physically and emotionally, it was clear that she cherished him.
“He adores her”, Julian observed “He can’t take his eyes off her when she’s in the room, I’m not surprised she laps it up!”
“Do you have to be bloody cynical about everything?” said Hillyard, who was touched by the couple’s devotion to one another.
“Ignore him, Hilly”, said Adam “It’s because none of us look adoringly at him like that!”
“No, I’m just confused as to why a strapping piece of womanhood like her”, said Julian “Wants to align herself with a pretty sad specimen like him”.
“Women are often like that”, said Adam.
“How would you know?!” said Julian.
“Strong women are often drawn to weaker men”, said Adam “They want someone to nurture and take care of, to bring out their own tender side. Some men are like that too. Not everything in life is a sexual Law Of The Jungle”.
“Hah!” said Julian.
The newcomers fitted in well on the galleon though, which was a merciful relief to the Indigo-ites, who were still haunted by the horror of the days of Anton, Beatrix, Cat Woman and Wesley, who had all been an almighty pain in the arse, and had made nuisances of themselves in a variety of ways.
Nixx was a cheerful, straightforward guy who was at his happiest when given a simple everyday task to do, and there was never any shortage of those on the ship. Hillyard and Ransey took to him straight away, and Lonts enjoyed helping him care for his pigs. Lissa was, as Julian had noted, a more outgoing version of Mieps. Like Nixx, she enjoyed doing everyday tasks, and spent her time between taking care of her husband and joining Mieps fishing up on deck. She appreciated being given Kieran and Joby’s cabin, particularly after all that time of living rough outdoors.
“Lissa could make a home anywhere”, said Benjamin, approvingly.
Joby was quite relieved to be out of the cabin. He often found the bunk hard, and had described it at times as satisfying Kieran’s Catholic love of punishment. It was a relief to be using the sofa in Bengo and Bardin’s cabin instead, which they had decamped to, taking Kieran’s Magic Whisky Bottle with them. Elaine had migrated to the sofa in Kieran’s cabin. This didn’t prove to be a problem as regards privacy for Lissa and Ben, as, to the Indigo-ites utter astonishment, Elaine often volunteered for night-watch duty.
“She WANTS to do it?” said Adam, in astonishment.
“Yep”, said Hillyard “Says she wants to make up for all those years when she never saw the night-time. I think it’s left her with a bit of claustrophobia. I have noticed she doesn’t like having doors closed when she’s in a room”.
“I can understand that”, said Adam “After all those years of being holed up for hours in that depressing little luggage storage room after dark”.
“Anyway”, said Hillyard “I’m going to find her a spare pair of boots, and some waterproofs”.
The Indigo-ites didn’t have to adjust too much of their own behaviour with having the visitors on-board, except an edict from Bardin that no one should stroll around below deck naked. As the weather was bone-scrapingly cold this wasn’t much of a problem anywhere.
“It might be different when we get to tropical climates, Bardin”, said Lonts “We could all go skinny-dipping together”.
“I can’t wait for that one!” said Rumble.
The only disappointment was that Bardin had to keep his trousers on. He couldn’t be spanked in the public areas either. Spanking sessions were confined to the galley and his cabin, the doors bolted, and only when their guests were safely at the other end of the ship, or up on deck. When they did happen though Adam always made up for lost time, and it was unusual for the paddle to be firmly applied to Bardin’s starchy posterior. Such furtiveness became part of the fun. It became a privilege to be admitted to the inner sanctum, to watch Bardin being tamed (however briefly that lasted). And Bardin himself had to use all his acting skills to conceal how sore his behind was at times.
“At this rate I’ll be paying for a brief glimpse of Bardin’s legs!” said Hillyard.
“I do think we need to develop a strict rota for disciplining him”, said Adam “He is more manageable after a chastisement session, and I’m sure that must make it easier for our guests to deal with him. Bardin’s somewhat acerbic tone can bewilder them at times. He is more mellow when he’s been spanked, so we have to keep it up, for their sakes”.
“Any old excuse, eh?” said Hillyard.
Elaine stood on the icy desk, her face raised skywards, feeling the snowflakes whirling down on her skin. Occasionally she tasted them in her mouth. Hillyard watched in amazement.
“You really are enjoying this aren’t you?” he said.
“I feel free for the first time in years”, said Elaine “It must be what being let out of solitary confinement feels like. I know it’s cold and visibility is poor, but it doesn’t matter. I’m quite happy to do any amount of night-watches, you just say the word”.
“Blimey, be careful what you’re letting yourself in for!” said Hillyard “Anyway, you can only do 2 hours at a stretch, it’s too cold to do anymore in one go. Two hours can feel like an eternity in these conditions”.
“I’ve become reacquainted with my love of Winter”, said Elaine, throwing open her arms in a dramatic gesture “It feels like meeting an old friend”.
“Fair enough”, Hillyard laughed.
At the end of their shift Hillyard went below to rouse Bardin to take over.
“Why have you got your hat in bed?” he asked him.
“Because it’s cold, in case you hadn’t noticed!” said Bardin, from his bunk.
“Yes I have, I’ve been up on deck since 2 o’clock!” said Hillyard.
“How did Madame Diva get on?” said Bardin, clambering stiffly over Bengo.
“Behave yourself, she did great”, said Hillyard, handing Bardin his trousers “It has reacquainted her with her love of Winter apparently”.
“She’s a complete barmpot”, Bardin tutted and rolled his eyes.
“If she is, she’s a harmless one”, said Hillyard “And she‘s the only person I’ve ever known who’s got enthusiastic about doing a night-watch!”
“Hm maybe”, said Bardin “But perhaps in the morning I should tell her it’s not all about communing with the sea and the night-sky, she needs to be vigilant as well”.
“Oh leave her alone, Bardy”, said Bengo, from their bunk “She’s doing great. She doesn’t need you giving her more direction”.
Bardin finished dressing and went to the door.
“I’ll be back at 6”, he said, making it sound more like a threat than a promise.
“I can’t wait”, Bengo groaned.
The final shift of the night passed with excruciating slowness, but things were livened up at one moment by another brief flash of light coming from the far horizon.
“There it goes again”, said Rumble.
“Uh-huh”, said Bardin, slapping his gloved hands together to try and keep warm “And hopefully it won’t be long before we will be going in the opposite direction, and we won’t be able to see it anymore!”
All remnants of the Great Forest slowly faded away the further north they went. After a few days of this they appeared to be in tundra territory, treeless and frozen. It spread away, completely featureless, into the far distance, a daunting sight. There was no sign of any settlement.
“Henang Prison must be around here somewhere”, said Joby, pulling his coat closer around him, as he stood on the main deck “The countryside looks dreary enough for it”.
“How on earth did you survive up here all those years ago?” asked Elaine.
“Dunno really”, said Joby “It was bloody hard at times, I remember that. By the time we got down to the marshlands we were practically starving. There were odd, weird buildings we came across”.
“Oh yes”, said Elaine “The Loud House, Kieran’s been telling me about that”.
“Not just there”, said Joby “There was an old inn we stayed at one night. Had some mad man in it with an axe”.
“Good grief”, said Elaine, her eyes opening wide with alarm “Sounds like one of my old films!”
“That was summat else alright”, Joby chuckled “Then we wound up in some time-slip at a house called Green Ways. I’ve never understood that one! And then there was Buskin on the Weather Rock. Bardin’s keen to find that place”.
“So we’re definitely going all around the top and down the other side?” asked Elaine.
“We’ll be OK”, said Joby, squeezing her arm “It’s gonna be a lot easier going by ship than it was going overland”.
“You lot really have had some adventures together haven’t you?” said Elaine.
“Just a few”, said Joby.
“And you, Adam, Kieran and Hillyard have been together all this time?”
“Well it was just me, Adam and Kiel at the beginning. We met up with Hillyard at Kiskev, or the remains of it. And then Lonts joined us a little further down”.
“You must be closer than any people I’ve ever met before”, said Elaine.
“I spose we are”, said Joby “Sometimes I think I know what Ad and Kieran are gonna say before they say it. I dunno what I’d do without any of ‘em”.
“And yet you’ve taken us in?” said Elaine “We must be such intruders”.
“No you’re not”, said Joby “We’ve had some bloody difficult guests in our time, but you’re nothing like them I can assure you. The way you’ve been volunteering for night-watch duty makes you worth your weight in gold!”
“I love it”, said Elaine “It really appeals to the gothic side of me. The cold, the howling wind, the sea, the lantern-light, all of it. I’ve always been told I have strange tastes!”
“You’ll fit in just fine round here”, said Joby.
There was the delicious smell of vegetable (tinned) soup wafting up the stairs.
“C’mon”, said Joby “Let’s go and get something to eat”.
Many of the others were already grouped round the dining-table when they went down. Tureens of steaming soup were arrayed down the centre, flanked by plates of cut bread.
“Bengo and I could have done with a little help setting out”, said Adam, when he met Joby at the bottom of the steps “I did only give you leave for a few minutes, not half-an-hour”.
“Yeah alright”, said Joby, taking off his coat “I’m not on a bloody chain-gang y’know!”
“Oh that was my fault, Adam”, said Elaine “I kept him talking”.
“Take no notice of him”, said Joby “He gets like this sometimes. If I didn’t know any better I’d swear it was time of the month!”
Adam swiped him with the tea-towel.
“Go and sit down”, he ordered.
Bardin was seated in his customary place at the end of the table, with a large map folded out in front of him.
“For God’s sake, Bardy”, said Bengo, trying to remove the map from him “Can’t we have one meal without you gawping at that?!”
“You object to me looking at it in our cabin”, said Bardin “And you object to me looking at it in here. Where AM I allowed to look at it, the heads?!”
“I don’t really see why you need to look at it”, said Julian “It’s bound to be years out of date anyway, and all we need to do is to keep trundling round the coast”.
“Exactly”, said Bengo.
“I like maps”, said Bardin, firmly, but he grudgingly put the map down on the floor by his chair.
“I’ll tell you one thing”, said Ransey “We must be miles above Snow Lake and the Demon Lands, and way above the river where the Cyanide Sisters were”.
“We’re miles above everything”, said Hillyard, ladling some soup into his bowl.
“That is both a terrifying thought”, said Adam “And an oddly reassuring one at the same time”.
“Like being on another planet”, said Hillyard.
“Snow Lake is on the east coast isn’t it?” asked Elaine.
“Yes”, said Julian “It’s high up, but just not as high as here”.
“I suspect if we just keep sailing on down past the Weather Rock, we’ll eventually come to it”, said Bardin “I shall do my own artist’s impression of the journey we’re on, and pin it behind me here”, he patted the wall behind him.
“Well hopefully that will keep you out of mischief for a little while”, said Adam.
The gaunt ruins of Henang Prison stood out starkly against the grey, metallic sky. Being the only stand-out feature in this entire area, it could be seen from many miles away.
“It’s even bigger than I remember it”, said Joby.
“I suppose because we only saw a part of it”, said Kieran.
“No wonder they built it here”, said Elaine “It must have made it very effective from a security point of view”.
Joby grunted. Their time in Henang was a part of his long, adventurous life that he still struggled to make any sense of. The three of them - himself, Adam and Kieran - had stumbled into this parallel universe quite by chance. They had barely set foot in the bleak, inhospitable terrain before they were rounded up and incarcerated in a cell. No trial, no questions as to who they were and what they were doing there, they were simply imprisoned, and that was it.
“And you thought you had time-slipped?” Elaine’s voice seemed to come at him from some distance away.
“Yeah, we thought that for years”, said Joby “Thought we had slipped 2000 years into the future. It took an age for us to realise we had actually side-stepped into another dimension”.
“So your time must be running alongside this one?” Elaine asked.
“I guess so”, said Joby.
He knew Elaine meant no harm with her questioning, but he was beginning to find it annoying. He felt like he was in a witness box in a court room, being quizzed about something that happened many lifetimes ago, and about which he was still confused. And the comment about their time running alongside the current reality was distressing. He recalled seeing the brief apparition of his father when they rounded the Horn several months before. He had no wish to be torpedoed back to what was called “his time”. It was a thought which alarmed and distressed him. For that reason he had been more stressed than he realised at the thought that Bardin might sail the galleon too close to the Phantom Light.
“Everything’s OK”, Lonts said to him, softly “Even if we get flipped back to your time, at least we’ll all still be together”.
Joby tried to imagine the galleon and all its inhabitants suddenly materialising in the 21st century. Would they all be allowed to stay together, or would they all be split up like orphaned children? He found it impossible to imagine the clowns, Tamaz, Lonts, Mieps, Hoowie, etc, being shoe-horned into the rigid expectations of that era. It was depressing beyond words.
“Joby?” Lonts was now looking very concerned,
“I’m OK, mate”, Joby squeezed his hand “Don’t worry about me. It’s just seeing that place again … you know what I mean”.
“Yes”, said Lonts “Bardin’s says we’re not going to stop here though. He wants to get out of sight of the Phantom Light”.
“Good”, Joby sighed “All this time-storm stuff is doing my head in. It’s freaking me out a bit”.
“I’ll go and make us some tea”, said Kieran “It’s the one thing in the galley I can do!”
The sea turned very stormy, bucking and rolling underneath them. Benjamin went down with severe sea-sickness (“he would!” was Julian’s unsympathetic comment), and even Elaine, who had thought the rolling sea exciting at first, found herself sitting glumly in a chair, nursing her stomach with a hot-water bottle. The light also became very dark, and everybody felt as if they were creeping around like moles.
“The sensible thing would be to find a sheltered area for a while”, said Bardin, when Joby took him up a mug of strong tea to the main deck “But I want to push on as quickly as we can. I don’t want us to get trapped here if the sea freezes over. At the moment we just have to get through this as quickly as possible”.
A flash of lightning briefly lit up the horizon to the north.
“Strange booms and thunder seem to have accompanied us throughout this trip”, said Bardin.
“Perhaps the time-storms are getting worse”, said Joby, glumly.
“Look, stop worrying about it”, said Bardin, nudging his arm “Even if we get caught in one it’s not a cast-iron certainty we’ll get catapulted back to your time. We could end up anywhere! Last time we wound up in one we got propelled 60 years into the future!”
“I know”, said Joby “Adam’s a bit tense at the moment, so I suppose it’s rubbed off on me”.
“What’s Adam tense about in particular?” asked Bardin.
“Seeing the Loud House again”, said Joby “That was not a happy time for us. He says it’s making him remember the time he beat up Kieran there. I have pointed out to him that was bloody aeons ago, and Kieran probably can’t remember it anyway, but hey-ho”.
“Well I wasn’t planning for us to stop at that place”, said Bardin “It always sounds as grim as fuck”.
“It was”, said Joby.
“Nope”, Bardin sighed “I’m going to keep pressing on until we reach that Weather Rock place. From everything you’ve told me, even if the house is now a ruin, it sounds like a good place to pause and have a breather. We’ll probably need it by then. Otherwise I don’t see any point stopping until then, it’s not as if we can go ashore and gather fresh produce, as there isn’t any!”
The Loud House appeared in view like the dark, gaping mouth of a tarantula. The only one on-board who was pleased to see it was Bardin, because this meant they had successfully traversed the entire northern coast, and they were heading back southwards again. His fear that they would get embedded in ice, as though they had been banished to some dark outer reaches of space, was alleviated slightly.
“God, it is VILE”, Elaine shuddered, watching it get nearer from the deck “I can sense the atmosphere of it from here. The whole area feels utterly morbid. What is it? Why is it like that?”
“Dunno”, said Joby “We never did find out what it was all about. Other than that it’s a place where time plays tricks, weaves illusions. There was all sorts of weird shit happening there. There was a woman who aged 100 years overnight, that sort of thing. Angel took Kieran there when they’d finished fighting”.
Joby recalled how shocked he’d felt when he saw Kieran’s beaten-up face for the first time.
“Those were bloody awful days”, he said “I know things haven’t been easy lately, but it’s nothing compared to that”.
“This must all feel very strange for you”, said Lissa.
“Unreal certainly”, said Joby.
“You’re not reminiscing again?” said Hillyard “You know it doesn’t do you any good”.
“It’s a bit hard not to, seeing all this again after all these years”, said Joby.
“Isn’t it an entrance to Hell or something like that?” said Hillyard.
“That’s exactly what it is”, Kieran called over, leaning on the bulwark.
“Oh my God”, Elaine whispered.
“It’s OK”, Bardin shouted, from the poop-deck “As I keep telling you, we are not stopping here! So everybody damn well calm down!”
“Well that told us”, said Elaine, quietly.
“I think I’m gonna have to have a word with Adam about him”, said Joby.
Bardin complained that the whole trip was turning into nothing but a jaunt down Memory Lane, and the older ones amongst the Indigo-ites wouldn’t stop reminiscing.
“Be fair, old love”, said Adam “It’s very hard to resist having one’s memories provoked when we’re in this part of the world”.
“But you’ve said yourself, and so has Joby, that it feels like another lifetime”, said Bardin, crossly.
“And indeed it does”, said Adam “But if anything we marvel at how far we’ve come. There was I, back in the day, an angry, embittered old loser with a drink problem …”
“I can’t imagine you like that”, said Bengo.
“He was!” said Joby.
“Thank you, Joby”, said Adam “And Patsy and Joby were a pair of scrawny, scruffy street urchins with numerous hang-ups”.
“Nothing much has changed there!” said Hillyard.
“Oh they have, Hilly”, said Adam “They used to constantly squabble for one thing, worse than Bengo and Bardin. Used to do my nut in”.
“Surely not?” said Bengo “No one’s worse than us”.
“Sexual frustration was what did it with Kieran and Jobe”, said Hillyard.
“It does it with us too”, said Bengo “Mainly because I just want to fuck Bardy all the time, and I don’t get the opportunity”.
“Bengo, really, we do have guests on board”, said Adam.
“They can’t hear me, they’re at the other end of the ship!” said Bengo “Plus Bardy keeps provoking me into arguments all the time”.
“I do not!” said Bardin “I just quietly get on with my own thing, and you usually decide to come in and start bellyaching about it! You’re always moaning about something”.
“Ooh!” said Bengo “That’s bloody rich coming from you! This entire conversation started because you couldn’t stop moaning!”
“And it’s been a delightful scene of sparkling, witty, sophisticated repartee. Noel Coward would be enchanted”, said Adam “But now we really must get started on lunch, we’re running late as it is. Bardin and Hillyard, you need to leave the galley”.
“Righto”, said Hillyard.
Hillyard went back up to the main deck, where he found Kieran standing, looking out to the ruins of the Skirra Fludd lighthouse in the distance.
“Better not start reminiscing about that”, said Hillyard, approaching him “Or Bardin will have another hissy fit”.
“He likes those”, said Kieran “It’s hard for me not to remember the fight I had with Angel here though. But Bardin’s right to want to press on. The entire sea had frozen over when we did that, and we can’t risk it happening again. This would be the worst place on Earth to get stuck in”.
“Or get any damage to the ship”, said Hillyard “I can’t help recalling when I came to fetch you from the lighthouse though. Jeez, you were all smashed up. Such a fragile little thing”.
“Fragile little thing?!” Kieran exclaimed “I’d just gone 10 rounds with Angel!”
“I can’t help it, you do look fragile, always have”, said Hillyard “When I first saw you I thought you’d get knocked over in a strong wind”.
“I hope I have proven you wrong on many an occasion since”, said Kieran.
“Why do you think I get so angry at your critics?” said Hillyard “Ones like Cloris who jeer at you”.
“Ach, Cloris has gone off her head”, said Kieran “Take no notice of her”.
“They couldn’t have endured half the stuff you have”, said Hillyard.
“Well”, Kieran smirked “Perhaps it’s because I’m a Catholic, I love a hard time!”
A shout came up from Rumble, who was standing on the opposite side of the deck, looking out towards the Loud House. Kieran and Hillyard went to join him.
Something had rounded the corner at the far end of the rambling, dilapidated building. It was tall, very tall, like the behemoth they had once seen on the New Continent. Heavily-built, it appeared to be decaying, with skin falling off, and hair that had come out in patches. It snarled angrily at the galleon and raised a gigantic fist at it.
“That’s the first living creature we’ve seen in ages”, said Kieran.
“Yeah, but I don’t think we’ll stop to introduce ourselves”, said Hillyard “Do you?”
“It’s a monster”, said Kieran “That might sound juvenile, but it is. I can’t put it any simpler than that”.
To their consternation, the behemoth strode purposefully towards the edge of the sea. It didn’t stop when it got to the water, but continued striding onwards, as though it was ambling on a country lane.
“Holy shit”, said Rumble, under his breath.
“It’s OK”, said Kieran “Don’t be alarmed. We’re out too deep here, it won’t be able to reach us”.
“What if it can swim?!” said Rumble.
The creature had got up to chest height in the water before it seemed to think better of it, and paused. By that time the galleon had sailed on a short distance. The behemoth stood watching them, its eyes blazing with anger and confusion. It looked like an ugly, gigantic statue which somebody had erected in the water.
“Did you see anything like that here before?” asked Rumble.
“No, thank God”, said Kieran “I doubt we would have stood much of a chance with it!”
“I guess we’d better go and tell His Captainship about it”, said Hillyard.
“Well this is a bit of a game-changer”, said Bardin.
They were talking with Bardin in his cabin, feeling it best to inform him privately before they alarmed their guests with what they had just seen.
“In what way?” said Hillyard “We weren’t planning on stopping up here anyway”.
“No I know”, said Bardin “But I was wondering if we should send a hunting-party ashore at some point, but I’ve changed my mind. We don’t know how many creatures like that are in this area”.
“My gut feeling is that it’s something to do with the Loud House”, said Kieran “But even so, you’re right to be cautious”.
“And it’s not as if there’s anything to hunt anyway”, said Hillyard “I’ve not seen any wildlife since we left the Great Forest behind”.
“If it’s any comfort it didn’t seem very bright”, said Rumble “The way it just waded into the water as if it felt it could just walk out to us”.
“Yes, there was no careful thought and planning there”, said Kieran.
“OK”, said Bardin “We’ll keep pressing on down to the Weather Rock, that is our sole priority at the moment. The night-watches are going to be even more important”.
“Elaine will be pleased”, said Hillyard.
Kieran sat on the small rocky outcrop staring out at the featureless Grey Sea. Everything seemed to be grey or silver, the sea, the sky, the rocks surrounding him. Behind him, further up on the island stood the main building on the Weather Rock. Many years ago it had been inhabited by Buskin, a garrulous, fussy little man, who, from this lonely outpost, had issued weather reports to much of the mainland. Kieran felt sad on remembering him. When did Buskin die? Did he die here, still on-duty, starved of human company?
The astonishing thing was that the house seemed to have barely changed at all in all these years. It was still very much as he remembered it. Clearly it had had inhabitants since, and the way everything was in reasonably good repair, some can’t have been that long ago.
“You look like a merman sitting there”, said Hillyard, appearing on a rock above him.
“Well I’m not about to dive off into the water”, said Kieran, squinting up at him “Actually it’s a good job the sea’s quite calm today, I wouldn’t recommend sitting here otherwise. It would be very easy to get swept off. Have you found anything interesting in the house?”
“Saucepans”, said Hillyard.
“Saucepans?” said Kieran, in a neutral voice.
“Ah, more interesting than you might think”, said Hillyard “C’mon, I’ll show you”.
Kieran clambered up the rocks and followed him up to the house. He could hear voices in other parts of the building, where some of the others were still exploring. In an alcolve tucked under the stairs was some of Buskin’s old broadcasting equipment. Ransey had given it a good going-over, and concluded that although some of it might still be usuable, it would take quite a bit of work to renovate.
Hillyard picked up a lantern, which he had left on the bottom step, and led Kieran into the kitchen. The lantern was needed because the windows had been left shuttered against the elements. On the kitchen table was set out a row of copper saucepans, and a couple of wooden spoons.
“Look at the note”, said Hillyard “We found it right next to the saucepans”.
Kieran picked it up.
‘TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN’, written in block capitals with a thick pen ‘THIS AREA IS SOMETIMES INTRUDED ON BY MONSTERS. THE SAUCEPANS ARE USEFUL FOR SCARING THEM OFF. THAT IS ALL’.
“To the point”, said Kieran.
“Some monsters, if they’re scared off by saucepans!” said Joby, appearing in the doorway.
“Well if they’re similar monsters to the one we saw at the Loud House”, said Kieran “It might make sense. Although it was huge, there was something almost childlike about it. That doesn’t make it any the less dangerous, but I can see it might be driven off by a cacophonous noise. What used to be called Rough Music, whereby villagers would make their displeasure known at anyone who had annoyed them by banging saucepans outside their house”.
“Anything’s worth a try I suppose”, said Hillyard “Better than wasting valuable ammo firing at them”.
“This area was prone to things like that back in Buskin’s day too”, said Joby “I vaguely remember finding some notebook in which somebody mentioned seeing strange things out on the marshes near here”.
Kieran went back out into the hallway. Elaine and Lissa came down the stairs, arm-in-arm.
“What a lovely house!” Elaine enthused.
“Lovely?!” said Joby, in disbelief.
“Yes”, said Elaine “Almost cottage-y and homely. All lace curtains and patchwork eiderdowns. We love it”.
“And there’s even a little piano in the living-room”, said Lissa, crossing over to the room on the other side of the passageway “You could have a very cosy afternoon tea in here”.
“Jam and crumpets on the Weather Rock”, said Joby.
“We want to stay here”, said Elaine.
“You can’t stay here!” said Joby “You’d go off your nut living here all the time!”
“Oh we don’t mean all the time”, said Lissa “I mean, just whilst we’re on the island. Bardin has said this might be a good place to hole up while the worst of the Winter weather is on. You lot could all have your privacy down on the galleon, and we four could stay in the house. The night-watches will continue, so we’ll feel perfectly safe”.
“This place always gave me the creeps a bit”, said Joby.
“Believe me, after the old Station it’s a palace!” said Elaine “And it’s probably only going to be a few weeks anyway”.
“Let ‘em have it, Joby”, said Hillyard “They haven’t a proper home since they left the City”.
“They can have it if they want”, said Joby “I’m just baffled why they would want it!”
“The only drawback is we’d have to go to the mainland for firewood”, said Lissa.
“Or collect driftwood”, said Elaine.
“Well Bardin’s right, we might as well have a breather for a little while”, said Hillyard.
“And we won’t then be getting on your nerves on the galleon all the time”, said Lissa.
“You don’t get on our nerves anyway”, said Joby.
“The night-watch can patrol the island as well”, said Hillyard
“We’ll have to see if there’s anymore info in the house about these ‘monsters’”, said Kieran.
“Oh we can do that”, said Elaine “There are tons of books all over the house. Lissa’s a great reader, she’ll love peering through all them”.
“It’s all getting so hale and hearty around here that sometimes I feel like I have strayed into a Famous Five book”, said Julian, who had gone over to inspect the house later that day.
“Well there was a Julian in those too, old love”, said Adam, prowling round the kitchen.
“Yeah, and he was a right, fascist upper-glass git and all”, said Joby.
Adam had to stifle a laugh. Hillyard had managed to get the shutters open on both the kitchen windows, and Adam was scrutinising the views from each one. One looked out over the back of the house, at the scrubland and the marshes on the mainland, and the other looked up the coast, in the direction of the Loud House, from whence they had came.
“Some good vantage points here”, said Adam.
“Even better from the room above”, said Hillyard, coming into the room “You can see for miles from up there. Useful”.
“Are you going to use this room?” Julian asked Adam.
“No I am not”, said Adam “It’s for the Four, I’m very happy with the galley. I have absolutely no inclination to get to grips with a different stove at this stage in the proceedings”.
“I’m going to go and help Lissa tune the piano in the parlour”, said Hillyard.
“Oh my God!” said Joby.
“I wouldn’t have thought retuning the piano was the most important priority”, said Julian, in a low voice, when Hillyard had gone across the hall.
“Leave him be”, said Adam “Anything that is good for morale should be a priority, as the clowns would say”.
A horrendous racket soon broke out from the parlour.
“Are you sure about that?” said Julian.
The only immediate concerns on the island was getting firewood. The area was still sorely lacking in trees, but every so often a shore-party would be dispatched to collect wild grass and gorse for the purpose. This was supplemented with any driftwood they could find, and a small store of logs found at the back of the house. The galleon had its own supply in the hold.
Elaine still joined in with the night-watches, and - to the never-ending astonishment of the Indigo-ites - her enthusiasm, if anything, escalated. She enjoyed prowling the rocky island after day, armed only with a lantern. Most of the time they were careful with lights after dark though, concerned that if they were seen from some distance away it might attract any more unsavoury elements from the mainland.
As the weather closed in, everyone assumed it must be nearly Christmas-time, and a festive supper was held in the dining-room on the galleon, to which the Four were naturally invited.
“This is really weird for us”, said Bardin, from the head of the table.
“Oh why’s that?” asked Lissa.
“Well the original plan was”, said Bardin “That we would stay in Zilligot Bay until after Christmas”.
“Yes we were”, said Adam “Good heavens, I had forgotten that already”.
“And not depart until the Spring”, said Bardin “And now look what’s happened! We’ve come all this way, and met you lot”.
“I hope it’s not all been bad”, Lissa laughed.
“Apart from the fact that it’s been bloody hard work at times, it’s not been bad at all”, said Bardin “Although now we’ve paused for breath, I can’t help feeling we’re left with more questions than answers”.
“Yes, such as that body in that weird building out in the ocean”, said Ransey.
“The Phantom Light”, said Joby.
“And that sinister Trinity woman”, said Bengo.
“I have a feeling she may not be that far onto the mainland”, said Kieran “I’ve been looking at some of Bardin’s maps. We’re about level with the Great Forest on the far side, and the land mass narrows at this point for a while”.
“What are you suggesting?” said Julian.
“I’m suggesting that, when the Winter’s over”, said Kieran “We make a land expedition. Obviously not all of us, some will have to stay here and mind the shop, but …”
“That is definitely a job for the Spring”, said Bardin.
The others all raised their glasses and chorused “To the Spring!”
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site