Go back to previous chapter
Toppy had a wretched night. He was still haunted by the thought of being left behind in the garden, and now during the still watches, he thought he heard something else moving about on the boat. It sounded like a large animal, a panther perhaps, creeping stealthily about in the gangway. It was growling and scraping against the thin walls. It sounded so REAL. But of course it couldn't be, not if he was hearing it. He remembered the spiders he had seen just before arriving in Toondor Lanpin. The others had since convinced him that he had imagined that whole terrifying incident. So he must be imagining this too, however real it might sound. He chewed on the shoulder strap of his vest nervously, and then rolled over until he was burrowing deep into Julian's back. He grabbed the sleeping man's nightshirt in his fists, and refused to let go until daylight came.
Little did Toppy know it at the time but he wasn't the only one who had heard the beast. Hillyard heard it too, and was equally unnerved. He had tried hissing at Ransey to wake up, but the other man was sleeping on the top bunk with his face turned resolutely to the wall. Hillyard picked up his pillow and flung it across the cabin. Ransey remained undisturbed, but Bengo on the bottom bunk woke up.
As soon as he heard the growling noise he scooted across the floor towards Hillyard.
"What is it out there?" he whispered, anxiously.
"I dunno", said Hillyard "But I wish we'd got round to putting bolts on these doors!"
"Can I get in with you?" said Bengo.
Hillyard shifted to make room for him in his bunk.
"Is this Tamaz's doing as well?" said Bengo "Will you hold me?"
"Don't worry", said Hillyard, himself sounding about as worried as it was possible to get "I don't think it can be real".
"It sounds real to me", said Bengo.
"It's alright. I'll look after you".
After a night of holding Bengo, Hillyard felt fairly nonchalant about the beast. Ransey hadn't noticed anything. He was more annoyed to find his two room-mates in bed together again. After Hillyard had gone to the heads, Ransey got hold of Bengo, who was pouring cold water into the wash-bowl, and yanked him out of the way.
"You're touchy this morning", said Bengo "Isn't it hanging straight?"
"Don't get smart Bengo, it doesn't suit you", Ransey snapped, preparing to wash.
"Not jealous are you?"
"I happen to be very fond of Finia", Ransey exclaimed "And it's not often I agree with Julian, but he's right on one thing. Finia shouldn't be wasting his time on a little creep like you!"
"I didn't think it would be any big deal round here", said Bengo, innocently.
"Oh get out and make yourself useful somewhere. If you can".
"Not more bloody mashed potato!" Julian snapped, as he walked into the galley "We need something a bit more substantial than that if we're going to combat the forces of darkness today!"
"We haven't got anything else", said Adam, who was wrestling with a large saucepan and a potato masher "I'm not happy with it either. I keep thinking there'll be a mutiny if I serve this up for breakfast, but there's nothing I can do about it. We can't even get any eggs, as the hens have been off their lay since we did that peculiar little time-warp thing".
"Well if they don't buck up soon we'll be having chicken casserole", said Julian.
"I can't imagine Hillyard would let you", said Adam "He's upset enough as it is, after finding those long scratch-marks on his cabin door earlier this morning".
"You think he'd be used to devilish practices by now wouldn't you!"
They lined up for breakfast as though they were in a soup-kitchen, holding out their plates whilst Adam slapped a dollop of mashed potato onto them.
"Great", said Joby, unenthusiastically "This and tea without powdered milk".
"I know", said Kieran "Almost as bad as having tea WITH powdered milk!"
"Where exactly are we going today?" said Ransey.
"After Tamaz", said Julian.
"I gathered that", said Ransey, tersely "But where exactly is he?"
"In a tower of stairs, from what I was told in No-Name".
"But you said it was Dolores telling you about a weird dream she'd had that you got that idea from", said Ransey.
"Maybe, but it's the only clue we have", said Julian "And he's obviously brought us all here for a reason".
"If it is him who's brought us", said Kieran "I'm becoming more inclined to think it's Dalman who's behind all this. It all seems too clever for Tamaz".
"Even so, where do we go looking for this tower?" said Ransey.
"The only place we can look", said Julian "Further up the mountain".
"And if we're out there after dark?" said Ransey.
"Then we're out there after dark", said Julian, simply.
It seemed to take an age to get everyone ready. Julian was annoyed when Kieran went into his cabin to have a session with the rosary beads, and after several minutes he sent Joby in to fetch him.
"Sorry", Joby mumbled, standing in front of Kieran "but you know what Little Lord Fauntleroy can be like".
"You look so sexy, looking at you does me so much good", said Kieran, putting his rosary over his head.
"Do I?" said Joby, in surprise.
"It's the white t-shirt against your sun-tan", Kieran got to his feet "Well I suppose we'd better get off. We'll soon have Tamaz getting his come-uppance, don't you worry".
"It doesn't bother me", Joby shrugged "I don't care if I never see the oily little jerk ever again".
"You know him better than any of us, Jobe. Would you say he was clever enough to do everything we've noticed since leaving No-Name? Create all these illusions I mean?"
"He's not a fool", Joby sighed "He knows how to get at people, but that doesn't necessarily mean a lot of intelligence. There's a vulnerable streak in him though, and you wouldn't expect that from someone who was totally evil. At least I don't think so anyway".
"Plenty of evil people have been vulnerable", said Kieran.
"Then I don't know", said Joby, irritably "All I can tell you is that he's nothing exceptional on the intelligence front. I wouldn't even say he was anything exceptional on the evil front. He's a little shit, but I expect Ketts suffered far more from Father Dalman than I did from Tamaz".
"Exactly", said Kieran, quietly.
They left the hens pecking around freely at corn scattered on the deck of the Indigo, and set off up the mountainside, wondering when they would see the boat again. As they retraced the previous day's route through the woods up the village square, they found that the locals were ever-smiling as usual, but they kept their distance. When they got to the square the neat man of the day before slammed shut the gates to the garden, as though he'd been expecting their arrival.
It was difficult to look nonchalant and casual, when everyone they met gave the impression they knew exactly what Kieran and his crowd were up to. The whole community had a dreamlike quality about it. There was no sign anywhere to tell them what the name of the place was, nothing at all to indicate that life here was anything but a serene, sunny state of limbo all the time.
There was only one other route out of the village, and that was up a track to the side of the walled garden. They followed it, as being the logical thing to do, and it led them eventually to an impressive metal bridge, which spanned a stomach-churning abyss. There were people scattered along the bridge, standing with their arms on the parapet, gazing serenely below them. They all, men and women, looked like the sort of characters that people an Escher drawing. Standing about for no reason, gazing thoughtfully into the distance, as though time and purpose didn't exist for them.
"We should go back", said Hillyard, out of the blue.
"We can't go back", said Julian "All routes lead and stop here. We can't go back until we've sorted it all out".
On the other side of the abyss another woodland track led downwards this time. The woods were beautiful and cool, but deathly silent. No birds sang, and there were no villagers scattered about. Halfway down they all stopped for a water-break, and Ransey asked the question that had been bugging him since the day before.
"Are we dead?"
"Don't talk nonsense", said Julian "That's the kind of foolishness our enemies are trying to encourage in us".
"It feels like it though", said Hillyard "Remember that fat old geezer in Xuste? He didn't know if he was dead or not".
"We'll keep going just the same", said Kieran "We can't do anything else".
It took them until late afternoon to complete their trek. The woods thinned out eventually and they were back on flat marshland at the bottom, following a causeway which led across the terrain to a small village on the other side. The community was livelier than the one they had left behind, and the houses packed more closely together.
The people walking along the one, narrow street were more animated, and there were a couple of shops and a bar, which seemed to be doing a roaring trade. Even so, the dreamlike quality was as strong as ever. Kieran and his crew had the upsetting feeling that if they were to speak to anyone, the people would stare at them blankly and not answer.
Dusk wasn't far off by now, and they were beginning to feel very tired, and not a little weak. They had only had one cup of black tea and a small serving of mashed potato that day, supplemented by a few sips of water. It was hardly enough to do a full day's hiking on. The bar looked highly inviting, like a jolly open-air seaside taverna, but the stark fact was they had no money and nothing left to barter with.
"We're dead, I know we are!" Toppy began to cry loudly.
"For the last time we are not dead", said Julian, firmly "Adam, calm the boy".
Lonts was already beginning to do so though. Since Toppy had got himself locked in the garden the day before, Lonts had been very protective of him, hauling the younger man round by his hand and even carrying him sometimes, as though Toppy was a family pet. Adam could only look on, bursting with pride.
"Whether we're dead or not, I don't wanna be trapped in this limbo land", said Hillyard, echoing the thoughts of them all "I'm starving. If I don't eat something soon I'm gonna start tearing the hind-legs off dogs".
"Perhaps someone might donate us some food", said Adam, with an optimism he didn't believe "If we ask them in the right way".
"We could send Toppy in to beg at the tables", said Joby "Play the starving waif".
Whilst they had been talking the bar had been filling up. Men were studying menu's and complaining about the prices, women were smoking and staring languidly into space, and small children were running about amongst the tables.
The bar manager, a tall cadaverously-thin man, with the kind of face which was irresistibly reminiscent of a very young Boris Karloff, came out with a box containing some ageing fruit and stale biscuits.
"Take this", he said, handing the box to Hillyard "And get away from the front of my bar".
They took the box round the corner to a side-street where they could raid it their "largesse" in peace. This street was long and narrow, running down to the marshes, with houses along either side.
"If we destroy Tamaz and Dalman will all this cease to exist?" said Joby, waving his hand all round him.
"Could do. It's some kind of illusion they've cooked up", said Adam "But goodness knows why this one".
"Hell was like this", said Ransey "It took us all by surprise".
"Angel told me once it had to be like this", said Kieran "It had to be something you wouldn't expect, or people might get used to it otherwise, and then it wouldn't be Hell anymore".
"Not exactly licking flames and little demons with pitch-forks though is it?" said Julian "In fact the part on the other side of the bridge was more like Paradise".
"And we didn't fit into it", said Kieran.
"We don't fit in here either, and this looks normal", said Joby.
"It is a form of Hell in a way", said Adam "We aren't wanted and don't belong, reduced to begging for scraps, and trapped here".
"That is nonsense", said Julian, stoutly "If we truly were stuck here we'd make the best of it, like every other place we've fetched up in over the years".
"I don't want to stay here", said Lonts, getting emotional too now "Everybody keeps staring".
"We have to find that tower you mentioned", said Kieran.
After finishing the frugal repast they wandered up and down the street. By now it was dark and getting cold. All around them they could hear voices coming from the bar and the buildings. People talking, people laughing. There was the faint sound of some salsa-type music, the jolliness of which only seemed to deepen their gloom.
Julian had begun to suggest that they find somewhere to settle for the night, when Joby spotted the long-awaited tower. It could just about be glimpsed through a narrow gap between two of the houses, and could only be seen now because of some lights shining from its windows. It was stuck out on the marsh at the back of the village. Kieran had expected a long, narrow tower like a lighthouse, or the depressing Tower of Destruction card in a Tarot pack. Instead this looked square and fairly substantial, like a power station or nuclear reactor.
"Do we go now?" said Hillyard "In the dark?"
"Well we certainly don't belong here", said Julian, fiddling with his whip for comfort "We'd better go now, in case he decides to move the goal-posts again".
They walked across the causeway which led across the marshes to the tower. All around them in the distance they could see shapes. At first they thought they were seals or small marsh mammoths, but as the full moon appeared from behind the clouds they realised they were in fact women. Beautiful women with pearly-white skin, as smooth and slippery as fish, lying about like indolent mermaids.
At the tower door they were greeted (as though expected, funnily enough) by a dumpy middle-aged woman, who looked the very personification of the word "spinster". She wasn't fat in an obese sense, just rather round and shapeless, clad in an unflattering multi-layered outfit of brown and grey wool.
She went into raptures on meeting them, clasping her hands and exclaiming that she so very rarely had company, and would they care to come in for a drink? She seemed particularly taken with Julian, whom she couldn't help staring at. When she took them into her small sitting-room, it was Julian who got most of the attention, and who was led to a seat by the open fire.
"Seems she's taken rather a shine to you, Jules", said Adam.
"It's the whip", said Julian "Does it every time!"
"Phyllis's room (she turned out to have a name as prosaic as her appearance) was like an old-fashioned vestry in a village church, full of heavy, wooden furniture, locked bookcases and thick, badly-darned curtains and tablecloths. It was very snug, and when Phyllis produced a tray of sherry and a selection of nuts and crisps to eat, no one felt like moving any further.
Hillyard, Bengo (who, Julian observed, sat with his legs thrown over Hillyard's lap), Lonts and Toppy squeezed onto the well-upholstered sofa, and showed every sign of going to sleep there. In fact the only person in the room who couldn't relax at all was Kieran, who paced around, tapping his fingernails against every wooden surface in agitation.
"Father Dalman", he barked, suddenly "Is he here?"
"Of course", said Phyllis, calmly "I'm his housekeeper. He's expecting you".
She could have been referring to the parish priest in some remote backwater of Ireland. Kieran was beginning to find the whole surreal dreamscape extremely irksome. It was like some tiresome computer-game that he wanted to log out of, only to find that every command he tried didn't work.
"If he knows we're here, why can't we see him?" Kieran exclaimed, with uncharacteristic rudeness towards a member of the opposite sex.
"H-he does", said Phyllis "Want to see you I mean. I just thought you'd like a little refreshment first".
"Oh Patsy", Adam sighed, like a parent shaking his head over a disappointing school-report.
"I want to see him now!" Kieran bellowed "I've not time for all this farce!"
"Of course", said Phyllis, visibly trying not to cry "I'll go and check if he's ready".
"You didn't have to be so rude to her", said Joby, after Phyllis had gone "She's only doing her job".
"Don't worry about her feelings", said Kieran "She's not real. She's just part of this elaborate farce that Dalman's cooked up, like the town back there".
"She looked solid enough to me", said Joby.
Phyllis came back soon after, and said that Father Dalman would like to see them when they had sufficiently rested.
"Can't we stay here a bit longer?" said Lonts, sleepily.
"Anyone is welcome to stay in here for as long as they wish", said Phyllis.
"Can we?" said Lonts, hopefully.
"No, we've got to get on with the next stage of the game", said Julian, draining his glass of tongue-withering sherry and setting it on the mantelpiece "No one stays behind during any part of it, as that's doubtless what the enemy is hoping for. No arguments, or there'll be floggings all round".
On the way out of the room Joby apologised to Phyllis for Kieran's rudeness, and then dragged him out by his wrist.
"You sanctimonious little jerk, Joby", said Kieran "I told you she isn't real".
"We'll see", said Joby.
Phyllis had directed them into a large chapel that was elaborately adorned with gilded crucifixes and massed banks of candles. The only unusual thing about it was that it was windowless. She led them in and then departed rather hurriedly.
In here Kieran felt more vulnerable than ever, as if there were a dozen snipers arrayed around the walls, waiting to take pot-shots at them all. Instinctively he looked up and found Father Dalman staring down at them from a minstrel's gallery.
"We want Tamaz!" Kieran yelled, shielding his eyes against the lights "You might as well tell us where he is, 'cos we're going to find out in due course".
"Tamaz is not important", said Dalman, resting his hand on the wooden parapet.
"I don't agree", said Kieran "He's made himself important through a number of rather serious crimes he's committed".
"Rather piffling crimes actually", said Dalman.
"I don't agree", said Kieran "I'll give you a list, shall I? The kidnapping and torturing of Joby. The murder of Gorth. The wilful neglect of his own children. The vast waste of taxpayer's money he has caused in order to finance his own lifestyle. Not to mention the various assassination attempts he has ordered against members of my own family. Therefore I want Tamaz, and I'm not leaving here until I've got him".
"And what about me?" said Dalman "Don't you want me?"
"I understand you want to be Defender of the Faith", said Kieran "And to that end you abused and tormented a novice priest who trusted you and held you in high regard, in order that you could go around creating saints at will. I can't allow men like you to flourish in my church, Dalman. In fact I don't want to be responsible for creating a religion that causes such profound misery to people who entrusted their whole lives in it. For that reason I'm breaking up the New Church. There will be no religion for you to be Defender of, Dalman".
"You can't do that!" Dalman shouted "I'll fight you every inch of the way on this".
"Religion was outlawed once before", said Kieran "I can do so again".
"For the sake of one unimportant, meaningless milksop of a brat?" Dalman spat.
"It has to be nipped in the bud early", said Kieran "Or Ketts would just be the first of many. I am not going to stand by and see a thousand years of misery and oppression unfold, just to pander to the monstrous ego of men like you. Whilst there's breath in my body I won't let that happen".
Dalman was so taken aback he stepped further along the gallery and into the full glare of the candles. Ransey raised his revolver and shot him clean through the heart. Dalman fell to the floor with a heavy thud, as the pain in his chest began to paralyse him completely, and snuff the life out of his body.
"Glad to see you've lost none of your straight-eye, Ransey", said Kieran, after genuflecting automatically.
"I didn't see any point in him staying alive any longer", said Ransey, grimly.
"I don't want you shooting Tamaz so quickly though", said Kieran "I want him alive for a while yet. I have plans for him".
And with that he turned and left the chapel.
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site