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Bardin organised a shore-trip, so that Mieps, Hillyard and Julian could do some hunting. It as a heavy atmosphere on the edge of the woods, and the absence of any bird noise was very noticeable. The silence had a profound effect on the shore-party, reducing their normally voluble noise level quite markedly.
Bengo wandered off into a little grassy area directly adjoining the lake. He flopped onto the grass with a heavy sigh, and sat, with his knees crossed, staring out over the sparkling water. The beauty of the sun-dappled scene only made him feel more unhappy. It seemed sacrilege that there could be any misery at all in the world, when there was so much beauty around.
He heard the crunch of grass underfoot nearby. Thinking it was one of the others he glanced around, and saw a grotesque sight. Standing on the edge of the trees, facing him, was a hideous parody of a circus clown. It was decorated in full Motley & Slap, and yet its costume was covered in rips and dried blood. Its clown’s mouth which appeared more as if someone had slashed it with a knife - opened in a ghastly malevolent grin, revealing filthy, fang-like teeth.
“Oho!” Bengo laughed, contemptuously “You think I’m gonna be scared of that old Evil Clown routine, do ya!”
He clambered to his feet. For a moment the two clowns stood staring at each other, impassively. Then Bengo detected a flicker of uncertainty at the other clown’s demeanour. The script wasn’t going according to plan. Bengo was supposed to react in a terrified manner. Bengo remembered what Kieran had always said about Evil feeding off Fear. Bengo laughed and stamped his foot.
“Well go on then, what you gonna do?” he exclaimed “Speak! Or didn’t they give you any lines?!”
The clown turned and scrambled hastily back through the bushes.
“Coward!” Bengo yelled after it “You fucking coward!”
Bardin appeared out of some other bushes on the other side, followed by Rumble and Farnol.
“What are you shouting about?” asked Bardin.
“There was a clown here”, said Bengo “Oh I don’t mean one of us, you silly sod, I mean one of those evil-looking ones that crops up occasionally. It looked a right fucking mess. Just stood there staring at me. Trying to intimidate me. Well he didn’t”.
“Well shouldn’t we get after it or something?” said Rumble.
They crashed through the bushes where the clown had gone, but it was not a great surprise when they found no sign of him.
“I suppose the moral of the story is they’ll try any old stunt to try and unsettle us”, said Bardin “You should’ve come and got one of us though, not stood there yelling at it. What if it’d been armed?”
“It wasn’t though”, said Bengo “It missed a trick there didn’t it”.
“It might be next time”, said Bardin.
“Well then I’ll scream for you to come and rescue me won’t i!” said Bengo “Though I’d rather it was the other way round. You’d make a better damsel in distress than me”.
“I think we should go and tell the others about this latest development”, Rumble butted in.
“I don’t think Bengo was irresponsible at all”, said Adam, chatting with Julian up on the main deck a short while later.
“Is that what Bardin’s saying?” said Julian.
“He seems to be bellyaching about Bengo confronting the clown on his own”, said Adam “But it sounds like he did exactly the right thing. The clown intruder was expecting Bengo to be terrified, and he wasn’t. He’s a very courageous little thing on the quiet is Bengo”.
“Even so, Bardin’s right that he was lucky the wretched creature wasn’t armed”, said Julian “Still, it’s one less surprise they can spring on us. We just chuck Evil Clowns into the mix of things-we-might-have-to-expect”.
“I still don’t think we should let him get away, Bard man”, Farnol was saying, at a clowns’ conclave in the dining-room.
Bardin, who had been sitting chin-in-hand at the head of the table, sat up and stared at him in disbelief.
“And do you really expect us to scour this vast forest looking for an idiot in a clown’s suit?” he said “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re on a journey. We can’t take stupid lengthy detours to carry out some kind of clown-on-clown vendetta!”
“But what about Bengo?” said Farnol.
“What about me?” said Bengo “I’m alright. Don’t go chasing the idiot on my behalf!”
“I still want to point out again though”, said Bardin “That if this happens again, and it’s carrying a gun or a machete …”
“I come and get you”, said Bengo “Yes, so you keep saying, Bardy. We don’t have to keep going over this y’know”.
“What if it’s armed with a knitting-needle?” asked Hoowie.
“A knitting-needle?!” said Bardin “What are you on about, you total helmet?”
“Nothing, I was just making a joke”, said Hoowie “To lighten the mood a little”.
“Well don’t give up the day-job, that’s all I can say”, said Bardin.
“I’ve had enough”, said Benog, getting to his feet “I’m going to bed”.
On his way out of the room he gave a pointed look at Bardin, who silently acknowledged it.
“Right, this meeting is over”, said Bardin “Tomorrow we’re carrying on up the lake as planned. And that is the end of it”.
Bengo was already undressed and under the bedclothes when Bardin got into their cabin.
“If they carry on moaning after I’ve left, I shall go back in there and throw them out”, said Bardin, removing his trousers.
“They can’t go on for much longer”, said Bengo “Umbert and Digby will want to go to bed. Brrgh, it feels colder tonight. Soon be hot water bottle weather”.
“I’ll get Toppy to clean them in the morning”, said Bardin, sliding in next to him “Well we’re steadily heading North, so I suppose it’s only to be expected”.
“Huh yeah, we might have the pleasure of meeting that Hel creature next”, said Bengo “The one who’s half-woman and half-decomposing corpse. That’ll be fun”.
“There’s no guarantee she really exists”, said Bardin “That cackling old hag back at the Gorgon Pit might have been having us on. This is an enchanted forest after all. It doesn’t seem very clear what’s real here and what isn’t”.
“Like that stupid clown I saw”, said Bengo “It seemed real enough, but was probably a demon in some ridiculous get-up. His costume designer needs shooting, that’s all I can say”.
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