Go back to previous chapter
Joby had spent a restless night, waking up at periodic intervals, convinced he had heard noises from further into the forest, noises that didn't seem to resemble anything he had ever heard before.
"All bloody nonsense", he told himself, on waking "I was probably dreaming the entire time".
When he had fully woken he found himself alone in the tent, apart from Lonts, who was sitting on his haunches, wearing his usual night-time garb of nappy and crucifix.
"You had a bad night didn't you, Joby?" he said, looking anxious.
"Were you awake too then?"
"Some of the time. You don't want to go home do you?"
"Back to that dreary house, with its cramped spaces and endless clutter? No thanks", said Joby "I'll take me chances with Laser Eyes instead".
"I was hoping you'd say that, because the neighbours don't like us very much".
"We're not that keen on them".
Joby was distracted by the smell of cooking coming from outside. He found Hillyard frying sausages in a pan over the brick stove.
"Who put you in charge of cookhouse?" said Joby, indignantly.
"Morning Ugly Git", said Hillyard, boisterously "I was doing it was surprise for you actually. I know how you like your sausages".
"That's very thoughtful", said Joby, suspiciously.
"Apparently the plan for today is that we all go into town together at once", said Hillyard.
"You make it sound like we're mounting an invasion".
"Nah, just to see if the nutter's ready to take on eight of us at once".
"Somehow I can't imagine him quaking at the thought of it!" said Joby.
They all wound up in the fish bar at the north end of the promenade. This was a dreary place, its only saving grace usually being a large picture window overlooking the sea. Today though this was being repaired after someone had had their head rammed through it the evening before.
"Grim", said Julian "I have yet to come across a decent eaterie in this town, and all the customers in this place look as though they're on day release from the local mental home".
"Does that include us?" said Ransey.
"Still at least it's cheap", said Adam "So that should please you, Jules".
"This booklet's quite fascinating", said Hillyard, who had spent the past twenty minutes absorbed in a leaflet he had picked up from a stand outside the sex therapist's tent on the pier "It claims to explode all the sex myths".
"Not at the lunch table, old love", said Adam.
"It says here", Hillyard went on, regardless "That few people can remain sexually attracted to their partner after twenty-five years together".
"Not a problem you're likely to have", said Joby "Seeing as twenty-five minutes is usually about your limit".
"Is it true then, Addy?" said Kieran "Are you still attracted to Julian after all these years?"
"Preferably when he's covered in mud", said Adam.
"Your sex life changes after a few years doesn't it?" said Joby "Bound to really, but I can't believe you suddenly stop wanting someone. I mean, there's a lot to be said for having sex on tap, and that's what a long relationship gives you. Easy access to a screw".
"Charming, thanks", said Kieran "Joby, the last of the great romantics! I've always said I spared some poor woman a fate worse than death with him".
"Yeah but that's got nothing to do with attraction has it?" said Hillyard "That's just sex as quick release. That means your partner might just as well be your left hand!"
"Sex becomes the small core at the centre of a long relationship", said Kieran "If that small core is wrong though the whole fabric falls apart, but if it's alright, then it just fits quietly into your life, like background music".
"Or not so quiet in your case", said Ransey "The walls back at the house aren't soundproofed you know".
"He picks now to complain!" Joby exclaimed "Have you been listening in all this time?"
"Not out of choice believe me", said Ransey "But the head of my bed is right up against your wall".
"Move yer bed then", Joby grunted.
"Where to?" said Ransey "Hillyard takes up the other side of the room".
"I'm sure Hillyard would be only too delighted to swap places", said Adam.
"Yes", said Julian "It'd be like having him in with you, Joby. What a treat".
"What other nuggets does that leaflet come up with?" said Adam "Try to pick something a bit less serious".
"Alright, a touch of astrology", said Hillyard.
"Reminds me of all that rubbish we had from Mixx", said Kieran "For all his fortune-telling, he couldn't predict he was going to die that night, could he?"
"According to this ..." Hillyard began.
"Your eyesight's getting worse", said Joby "I've really noticed it these last few months. You have to squint to look at clocks, and you're holding that at arm's length".
"According to this", Hillyard repeated, more firmly "The two signs of the Zodiac most likely to be unfaithful are Sagittarians and Taureans".
"Well that's alright, we haven't got any of them", said Kieran.
"Lonts is a Taurean", said Finia "His birthday's the end of April".
"That figures", said Joby "That's why he keeps on at us to have an orgy. You'd better watch him even more now, Ad".
"It certainly accounts for his vicious little temper", said Julian "The rage of the bull".
"I think it's all rubbish", said Lonts "I'm more faithful than anyone. I would never cheat on Adam".
"Take no notice Lo-Lo", said Adam, slipping an arm round his shoulders "They're just teasing you. And I'm surprised Gemini's don't rate pretty high on that list, after all that's what both Hillyard and Julian are".
"We obviously mellow with age", Julian snarled.
"Astrology's not a safe subject either from the sounds of things", said Kieran.
"Who are the most likely to be faithful then?" said Joby.
"Virgo's and Librans", said Hillyard.
"Oh how apt", said Julian, sarcastically "Your birthday's at the beginning of October isn't it, Ransey? Libra the Scales, sign of a well-balanced personality!"
"Better than a schizophrenic one", said Ransey.
A newspaper seller was slowly wending his way around the tables. Adam called him over and bought one.
"Oh dear Joby", he giggled "You've knocked Gorth off the front page".
"I should imagine everyone read quite enough of him yesterday", said Julian.
"'MR JOBY FOILS VICIOUS KNIFE ATTACK'", Adam read out the headline.
"What a stupid headline!" Joby sneered "How can a knife attack be anything but vicious? I mean, how else would you put it? Mr Joby foils friendly knife attack!"
"Don't knock it, old love", said Adam "This is quite a little eulogy to you, torrents of praise about your bravery and courage in defending Baby Lonts".
"Do they have a picture of us?" said Lonts.
"Only an old one", said Adam.
"More importantly, do they say anything new about the attacker?" said Kieran.
"Only that the Constable seems pretty certain that he's not a resident of Magnolia Cove", said Adam "His description doesn't fit anyone here. They believe in fact that he may have followed us down from the City".
"Cheering thought", said Ransey, glumly "Means I've got to have eyes in the back of my head".
"Why does he want to kill me?" Lonts suddenly wailed "It's not fair, I haven't done anything wrong!"
"Oh Lo-Lo", Adam hugged him "This man's a lunatic, as we were all saying last night, he doesn't need a reason for his actions. He could just as easily have taken a dislike to any of us. You mustn't take it personally".
"He's probably infatuated with you", said Joby "And got some daft idea in his head that if he can't have you no one will. It's the oldest one in the book is that".
After lunch they went to the cinema to catch up on the news. This turned out to be more like watching a freak show. Gorth held a press conference concerning his impending nuptials, and posed alongside Tamaz in Joby's old rose garden. Tamaz looked fat, but was the only one who seemed to have any idea as to what was going on. When the assembled reporters asked them to kiss and cuddle for the cameras, Tamaz had to instruct Gorth to slip his arm round his waist.
"Doesn't exactly bode well for their wedding night does it?" said Julian.
"Gorth's going to need diagrams probably", said Adam.
"Don't give the impression of being madly in love do they?" said Kieran, who found the whole scene acutely depressing.
The newsreel finished and the adverts came on. In the midst of the morass of hysterical blurb concerning various restaurants and barber-shops, came a truly startling piece from one of the sleazier newspapers. Someone had written a book about Hillyard's life, and it was being serialised in several instalments. The manic voice-over included the words "The book he tried to ban!"
"This is the first I've ever heard of it!" said Hillyard, who had sat open-mouth with astonishment throughout the entire thing.
"The doomed love affairs, the diseases, the truth about his relationship with the Vanquisher!" the voice-over went on "Read Trantin's expose of Hillyard's sensational story only in today's scorching 'Daily Man'!"
Hillyard got up and walked out.
"Who is this git Trantin?" he roared, after they had purchased a copy of the said rag from a news-vendor "I've never spoken to anyone of that name. Have any of you?"
"Oh I see", said Adam "Going to start getting paranoid now are we? Start flinging the accusations about?"
"You don't even know if these stories are real", said Kieran "With this kind of rag they usually make them up on the spot and then find someone who they think'll fit the bill. It was always happening in our time".
"Look at this bit", said Ransey, folding back his copy "He's got you in the autumn of 4002 attending some reception in the City".
"So?" said Hillyard.
"So we were living on the island then!" said Ransey "And with Gabriel at the peak of his power at that time I doubt there were many receptions being held anyway".
"See how easily these stories are discredited?" said Kieran.
"But I can't just let him get away with it", said Hillyard "It's all lies, the whole lot of it. I don't even like bloody celery!"
"Eh?" said Joby.
"He's got me in this playing some stupid party game with a stick of celery", said Hillyard "Eating it from between someone's thighs".
"We'll have to bear that one in mind for Christmas!" said Adam.
"I've got to defend myself somehow", said Hillyard.
"Just ignore it, old love", said Adam "Chances are in a month's time everyone'll forgotten about it".
"And for goodness sake don't go involving lawyers", said Julian "Never take on the press in that way, because even if you win you won't come out completely unscathed. People will only say there's no smoke without fire".
"And it's not as if they're serious allegations", said Adam "No one's accusing you of treachery or murder. It's just a bit of sordid muck-raking. Treat it with the contempt it deserves".
"None of you lot seem to be taking it seriously", said Hillyard.
"Look, we've all been on public display for several years now", said Kieran "It was only a matter of time before someone did a hatchet-job on one of us. We've been lucky up to now".
"Yeah, and they must have picked on you because you're a soft target", said Joby.
Hillyard suddenly kicked Joby in the seat of his pants. Joby yelped and fell against Kieran.
"Just pack it in!" Kieran roared "I'm going into the post office to see if there's any mail for us".
He emerged again with one letter, addressed to himself and postmarked from the City.
"Perhaps it's the Ministry offering us Wolf Castle back", said Adam.
"Don't hold your breath", said Kieran, opening the envelope and scanning the contents "Oh just what we need! One of the City bishops will be passing this way sometime over the next few days, and wants to pop in and see us. It's Brother Monene, I can't stand him".
"Oh I think he's rather sweet", said Adam.
"Sweet!" Kieran exclaimed, in disgust "If there's one thing I can't stand it's trendy vicars".
"I see, they have to be all fire and brimstone do they?" said Adam "Fingers pointing down from the clouds, that sort of thing".
"No, but I don't want ones who talk all the time as though they were on a management team bonding course", said Kieran "And Monene's the sort who probably wears leopard-skin bikini briefs under his cassock".
"Oh how very 'News Of The World'", said Julian.
"Well at least he might take Hillyard's mind off his troubles", said Adam.
"Where's Joby gone?" said Hillyard, when they were back at the camp-site.
"Into the bushes for a slash I think", said Kieran.
"I-I wanted to apologise for kicking him earlier", said Hillyard "He caught me at a bad moment. I shouldn't have taken it out on him".
"Oh don't worry about it", said Kieran "It won't have done him any harm. I sometimes think Joby should be kicked up the arse on a regular basis, it does him the world of good".
"I hope he's not too upset over what that stupid article says about me and you".
"Neither of us have read it yet", said Kieran "What does it say then?"
"Just that you and me were having an affair all the time I was valeting for you when you were President".
"Got that wrong too then didn't he?" said Kieran "JOBY! Are you going to be long in those bushes?"
"As long as it takes!" Joby shouted back.
He finally re-emerged a few minutes later.
"What's the great hurry?" he said, finding Kieran sitting alone near the stove.
"I just didn't want to hear anymore excerpts from Hillyard's biography".
"Could just do without it at this time", said Kieran "Some bloody holiday this is turning out to be, you getting attacked by some nutter, the bishop wanting to drop in, and Hillyard's life-story put out for public consumption".
"Well if the bishop's coming round you'd better get the jammy dodgers out!" said Joby.
The bishop turned up that evening after supper, accompanied by a novice priest, who was barely out of his teens and looked several years younger. All eyes were instantly drawn to this boy who was possessed of extraordinary good looks, which even a scattering of acne around his nose and mouth couldn't mar. Fair hair framed an oval face, giving him a remarkably girlish look, accentuated by the fact that his flowing locks were tied at the back in a bun. So authentic was he in fact that Joby wished he could ask to look under his cassock just to make sure!
"So who is your wee friend, Brother Monene?" asked Kieran.
"I prefer first name terms, it's just Monene, particularly to you, the Founder of our Order", Monene gushed, waving his hands as though he was still in the pulpit "And my young assistant is called Ketts, aren't you Ketts?"
Kieran almost expected Ketts to woof in reply.
"What is it you wanted to see me about?" said Kieran, inviting them closer to the camp-fire.
"Ketts and I are spending the summer going round towns in this area, meeting people and ..."
"Spreading the word?" said Joby.
"I prefer to think of it more as having a friendly chat about people's welfare", said Monene.
"He sounds like an insurance salesman", said Julian, to no one in particular.
Kieran felt he'd better introduce everyone in his party.
"Where's Adam gone?" he said, after everyone present had been greeted by the newcomers.
"He went for a swim a while back", said Ransey "He's not gone far".
"I'll go and fetch him if you like", said Lonts, who had decided he hated Ketts (or rather his good looks) with every bone in his body, and didn't wish to spend any further time in his company.
"No you won't", said Ransey "Not with Laser Eyes, as Joby calls him, still at large".
"That is one of the things I was anxious to talk to you about, Kieran", said Monene "We were all very distressed to hear of the attack on Joby, and I wanted you to know that if there was anything I could do ..."
"Like what?" said Joby, bluntly.
"I think it's Hillyard who needs the counselling actually", said Kieran "He's pretty upset about that idiot Trantin and his lies".
"You can say that again", said Hillyard "I can't believe some of the rubbish he's written about me".
"It would be natural for you to feel anger and frustration at this time", said Monene "You are only human after all".
"That it, is it?" said Kieran, after a lengthy pause "That your bit of counselling? Tell someone they're only human!"
"The Church cannot take the weight of someone's burden from their shoulders", said Monene "We can only offer a listening-ear".
"We can all do that!" Joby snorted "Fat lot of good you lot are if that's the best you can come up with. Sounds like a cop-out to me".
An uncomfortable situation was defused slightly by Adam returning from his swim, sopping wet and stark naked, carrying his clothes over one shoulder.
"Oh you're here are you?" he said to Brother Monene "Patsy did say you might drop in".
Ketts was staring wide-eyed at Adam, as though he'd never seen another man naked before.
"Put your knickers on, Ada dear", said Julian "We've got company".
"Where are you staying tonight?" said Adam, putting his pants on.
"We thought we might pitch here, if that's alright with you?" said Monene.
"There's no room in the tent", said Lonts, ferociously.
"Well I'm sure we could find space for a little one", said Julian, looking at Ketts suggestively "I wouldn't stand so close to the fire if I was you Ketts, you might set your cassock alight. It might be safer it you took it off".
"Jules!" Adam gave a gust of laughter.
"We don't mind sleeping outside do we Ketts?" said Monene.
Ketts didn't say anything, but that was the norm.
"I wonder if he can speak", said Joby, once they were under canvas "He reminds me of that weirdo next door in the City".
"Pyetr?" said Kieran, taking off his t-shirt.
"That's it. Says about one word every five days I think, just so's we don't think he's died and go and bury him by mistake".
"I noticed you ogling him. Ketts, I mean", said Kieran.
"I wasn't ogling him", Joby protested "Just curious. He looks so girlified I was wondering what he's really got under his cassock".
"Probably find he goes right round underneath like a teddy-bear", said Adam.
"You'll have to sneak out early in the morning and try and catch him cassock-less", said Julian "Or accidentally on purpose spill tea down it, some old trick like that to get him to take it off".
"You remind me of an old film I once saw, back in our time", said Joby "Bunch of high-school nerds were desperate to get a look at some prim girl's tits, so they kept coming up with all sorts of plans to try and get her to lose her clothes".
"Sounds like your sort of film, Joby", said Kieran.
"Pope Joan", said Adam.
"No that wasn't it", said Joby "'Screwballs', I think".
"There was a legend that a woman in the Middle Ages successfully passed herself off as the Pope", said Adam "She was only rumbled when she went into labour during a procession".
"Yes I expect that would give the game away somewhat", said Julian.
"Perhaps we've got a similar situation here", said Adam "Ketts might be a female time-crosser who's kept herself safe by disguising herself as a male priest. I rather like that idea, except he's a bit young for it to be feasible".
"Not necessarily", said Julian "I did wonder last winter if the time-cusps were opening up again. Women might start slipping through".
"Well they'd be quite safe with us wouldn't they?" Joby groaned.
"I'm glad to hear it", said Kieran.
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site