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Kieran was making his bed when Bardin called on him the next morning.
“I hope you’re not pretending that pillow’s me”, said Bardin, watching Kieran thumping one.
“Just trying to get some life into it”, said Kieran “All the stuffing seems to have gone out of them. Have a seat why doncha”.
Bardin approached the sofa with some trepidation.
“Borrow this cushion”, said Kieran, handing one to him “I find it helps”.
“Hm”, said Bardin, sitting down on it gingerly “If we do get attacked by any evil forces here, a fat lot of good I’m going to be as Captain, when I barely feel mobile!”
“You’ll rise to the occasion”, said Kieran “Care for some whisky?”
“How do you always manage to have a limitless supply of the firewater in here?” said Bardin “I swear you must use supernatural forces”.
“I wish I did!” Kieran laughed “No i’ve been doing some spiritual work for James over at the Inn. He’s kind enough to reimburse me”.
“Spiritual work? What kind?”
“Well more like some spiritual counselling. We have a little old pray together, and then often we just discuss the state of the world. I think he often just wants someone to talk quietly with”.
“Interesting”, said Bardin “I’ve always found James a bit of a closed book. Keeps a lot of himself in reserve”.
“After a lifetime of living out here I guess that’s not to be surprised at”, said Kieran “As you say, he keeps a lot of himself in reserve, but he’s very concerned about the world. I also think he’s worried we’ll all up sticks and move on”.
“I have no idea what we’re doing at the moment”, said Bardin “But I don’t see as we’ll be going soon at any rate”.
“It might not be good for us to suddenly abandon the right now”, said Kieran “Bardin, I’d like to explore this area a little more. We seem to be keeping ourselves to a very restricted area”.
“Probably because every time we try to go anywhere the old lady has hysterics! Sometimes I can quite see why the brothers never left home”.
“Well we have to accept that”, said Kieran “I wasn’t planning on us going far. Just a few horse-rides in the area”.
“We can start after lunch if you like”, said Bardin.
“Will your behind be up to it?” Kieran asked.
“It will be fine!” said Bardin “Not exactly the first time I would have had to pad a saddle!”
It was decided that the usual six would take the horses and ride as far as they could see from the Inn garden.
“They haven’t had a really good run since we’ve been here”, said Hillyard “I don’t know what we’ve been doing with ourselves”.
“Wondering what’s going on in the outside world mainly”, said Joby.
“Yeah well perhaps we should concentrate more on our own locality”, said Hillyard “Instead of fretting about the madness out there”.
“Funny, that’s what Kieran seems to be saying”, said Joby. “I wish Ransey would bloody well hurry up”, said Hillyard “The way he’s carrying on he’ll move into the wireless room at this rate!”
They climbed up onto the main deck, where Bardin was supervising the horses being taken ashore. In the background, Beatrix and Kitty were standing outside the Inn, with their meagre belongings by their feet.
“What’s going on there then?” said Joby.
“Dunno”, said Hillyard “Bardin! Come here!”
Bardin looked a bit huffy at being summoned thus, but he came over.
“What’s happening with Bea and Kitty?” said Hillyard.
“I think Lord Robert’s thrown them out”, said Bardin “Can’t say I’m surprised, amazed he hasn’t done it before”.
“Oh no I don’t like the sound of that”, said Joby “They might end up back on here”.
“I think I might have something to say there”, Bardin snapped.
“Well just for once I bleedin’ hope so”, said Joby.
“What about Anton and Wesley?” said Hillyard.
“Seems they haven’t been thrown out”, Bardin shrugged “Anyway, Bea and Cat Woman are moving into the Inn, so it’s not our concern. Come along, we haven’t got all day”.
“Oh blimey, aye-aye Captain”, said Joby.
Ransey and Hillyard rode separately, whereas Bengo and Bardin, and Joby and Kieran doubled up on a horse each. They galloped at full-throttle through the scorching heat of the day, out across the treeless expanse of the arid land which stretched to the horizon at the back of the Inn.
“We’re on the edge of the Scorched Lands here”, said Hillyard, when they paused for a more gentle hack along.
“How can you tell the difference between the Scorched Lands and here?” said Bengo.
“The Scorched Lands were caused by the Ministry, and these are natural, you nit”, said Bardin.
“I know that”, said Bengo, crossly, pinching Bardin’s sides “I meant they both look similar”.
“The colour’s different”, said Joby “This is more beige, not so much blacky-reddy”.
“All I know is the blasted sun’s hurting my eyes”, said Bardin.
“Oh dear!” said Bengo, sarcastically.
“Am I not allowed to speak at all now?” Bardin snapped.
“No”, said Bengo.
“Only you two could find something to bicker about in the middle of bloody nowhere”, said Ransey.
“At least it’s providing some entertainment I spose”, said Joby “This feels like we’re on some barren planet. I’m bored already”.
“Will you lot listen to yourselves!” said Hillyard “Bunch of big fairies. Seem to have lost all your adventurous spirit”.
“Oh behave yourself”, said Joby “You’d rather be back home working on your still”.
“This is for the benefit of the horses”, said Hillyard, with unconvincing piety.
“They must be bored to bits with it too”, said Joby.
They reached the limits of of how far they had intended to go. Spread out before them was more vast expanse of scorched barren landscape stretching towards another horizon. The one speck on it though was a small house, complete with garden and picket fence. It looked as if some giant hand had picked it up from a suburban street, and then abandoned it on the desolate surface of another planet.
The Indigo-ites exchanged a brief glance and then rode intently towards it.
An elderly man of almost cadaverous appearance stood up from where he had been attending to a bush, and stared at them as they approached.
“I knew you would come”, he said “How do you do, I am one of the Watchers”.
The main room of the little house was stuffy, but it was still a welcome respite from the oppressive heat outside. The furniture was old and tatty, but yet it still clearly served all the purpose that was required of it.
“You live here all alone?” said Bengo, prowling cautiously around the room.
“Yes”, said the old man “My wife died some time ago. I have been here quite alone since”.
“You must get very lonely”, said Bardin.
“Indeed I do”, he said “But when one’s job is to observe humanity, and one has to stay detached, then I’m afraid loneliness rather comes with the territory. Let me make you all some tea. I think tea is the most extraordinary drink don’t you? It warms you when you’re cold, refreshes you when you’re hot. As an Irishman, Kieran, I’m sure you agree with that. The Irish were a great nation of tea-drinkers, like the English”.
“You seem to know a lot about me”, said Kieran.
“All part of the observation, my dear fellow”, said the man, removing some dainty cups and saucers from a cabinet.
“What the hell can you observe living out here in the middle of nowhere?” said Bardin, impatiently.
“Take your hat off, Bardin”, said Bengo “You’re indoors. You’re being disrespectful”.
“As a Watcher I am telepathic”, said the man “And so in touch with my fellow Watchers. You’ve met one of them. Brother Erebus”.
“The old man in the tower up north!” Bengo exclaimed.
“That’s right, Bengo”, the man chuckled.
They hadn’t been introduced, and yet the man seemed to know all their names.
“How many of you are there?” said Kieran, perched on the arm of the sofa, and fanning himself with his hat.
“To the best of my knowledge, four”, said the man “We are at all points of the compass, as it were. Myself, here in the torrid South. Brother Erebus in the cold, dark North. Sister Clytemnestra is on a small island off the West coast”.
“And in the East?” prompted Kieran.
“We are not certain of there”, said the man, pausing as he spooned powdered milk into the cups.
“I thought you were meant to be telepathic”, said Bardin.
“It can only work if the other person is there to respond”, said the man “And we haven’t heard from the person in the East in quite some time. As I’ve said before, we are here merely to observe”.
“Erebus was trying to map the world”, said Bengo “We told him it was a hopeless case. It changes all the time”.
“Yes, that was his particular speciality”, said the man, awkwardly, still faffing with the tiny cups.
Bardin began to feel impatient. The stifling humidity of the little house, combined with the man’s eternally abstract ways, was beginning to get to him.
“We do get frustratingly little detail from the outside world”, he said “Snippets here and there, and some of that’s in code. Anything at all would be a help”.
“I feel more as if I want to give you advice”, said the man “Stay away from the City. In all my years of observing humanity, one thing I have learnt is that this level of wanton evil and destruction has to burn itself out at some point in time. It is like a devastating cleansing process”.
“It seems to be taking a long time to burn itself out”, said Ransey “And what concerns us is the level of destruction”.
“Is there going to be anyone left at the end of all this?” said Bengo.
“We saw all this at the end of Father Gabriel’s reign of terror”, said Kieran “We rode into a whole city which had been reduced to a skeleton. There was hardly anyone left alive. Everything had to be rebuilt from scratch. It depresses the living fock out of me that it’s all happening again. At times like this it’s very hard to sit back and wait for it to burn itself out, even though that’s what I’ve preached myself in the past”.
“But you can’t go riding in there again, Kieran”, said the man “Not like you did last time. It was different back then. You were young. You were mortal. But these days you’re one of the immortal elders”.
“So I should just butt out and simply observe, is that it?” said Kieran.
“And advise”, said the man “And try and move things in the right direction, when you have the chance to do so”.
“Huh”, said Joby “With all this carnage going on? How do we hope to move things in the right direction?”
“It’s not easy”, the man conceded “As I see it, the world is facing a stark choice. To carry on tearing itself apart, or to try and conciliate. But for the latter to happen, people must want it enough to bring it about”.
“Well”, said Kieran “We’re not likely to go riding into the City again, not like last time anyway. We try not to bring attention to ourselves. After all, we’re not really supposed to still be around. To put ourselves at the centre of things, by bringing attention to ourselves could disrupt the natural order of things”.
“We’re like ghosts”, said Hillyard.
“And like ghosts, there is a limit to what you can do in the world of the living”, said the man.
“What’s the point of us then?” said Bardin, in exasperation.
“Oh Bardy, behave yourself”, said Bengo “You’ll be asking ‘what’s my motivation in this scene?’ next!”
“Does there always have to be a point, Bardin?” said Hillyard.
“Oh to him, there does”, said Bengo.
“Bardin, I didn’t know you had this pressing need to be a missionary”, said Kieran.
“Neither did I”, said Bardin “Until I saw what had happened to the Village of Stairs. But are we going to sit by and watch the whole world get reduced to rubble like that?”
“What do you suggest we do then, Bard?” said Hillyard “Get ourselves a few armoured tanks?”
“Oh you’d like that wouldn’t you!” said Joby.
“Yeah, for driving about in”, said Hillyard “Not for …”
“I think we should make tracks and head back”, said Kieran, sliding off the arm of the sofa “We’ll return again soon”.
“Any provisions you want?” Joby asked the man.
“Do you have any beer?” said the man “It’s so long since I’ve had any beer. I do miss beer”.
“We’ve got plenty of beer”, Hillyard assured him.
As the party of six set off on horseback, Joby said “I wouldn’t be surprised if we came back and found he’d vanished. Him, the house, the whole thing”.
“We wouldn’t get that corny a plot device surely?” said Kieran.
Tired and hot, they arrived back at the galleon as the sun was setting. Julian was waiting for them on the main deck.
“Where the fuck have you been?” he snapped “What the hell has kept you absorbed out there all day?”
“Your hair’s getting really long, Julian”, said Joby “It’s end up as long as Kieran’s at this rate”.
“Never mind that”, said Julian “Where have you been?”
“Having afternoon tea with an old man”, said Kieran.
“But you’ve been chatting to him all this time, and yet you don’t know his name?” said Adam, who was making tea himself down in the galley.
“We weren’t at a flippin’ garden-party Ad!” said Joby.
“I know but I’m astonished”, said Adam “I mean, he must have asked yours”.
“He already knew ours”, said Joby.
“Yes, he even knew mine!” said Bengo.
“Kept calling you Little Bengo”, said Bardin, with an odour of distaste about him.
“Well it makes a change from Stupid Fat Clown!” Bengo retorted.
“Haven’t called you that in ages”, Bardin sniffed.
“Beer!” Ransey shouted from the passage-way “It’s been a long day, I’m thirsty, and I need beer!”
“Righto”, said Adam.
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