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The Indigo-ites had been at the old hunting-lodge for two months before they had their first visitor. During the dense snows of November, they were startled one morning to hear a frantic ringing on the old brass bell-pull at the front door. This caused immense consternation. No one had been anywhere near them since they had left Nuit, even the Gorgon had been conspicuous by her absence. Panic ensued in the great hall. The cupboard under the main stairs where the guns were stored was raided, and Tamaz dished them out, as this was now, unofficially, his job. Ransey had ordered Kieran to stay in the study. Kieran, who had been frantically trying to get back into Ransey’s good books since his shameful behaviour at the September Festival, had obeyed without question. Dogs barked, everyone shouted. Joby shouted that Farnol, who was supposed to be on watch-duty this lunchtime up in the tower was useless, as he’d obviously fallen asleep. Ransey and Mieps threw back the double front doors in beautiful coordination, as though they were unveiling the crowning glory of an evening’s entertainment.
Fabulous was disclosed, lying on the broad stone steps which led down to the front courtyard, where the animals were penned. He was unconscious, he had obviously used his last vestiges of strength in getting to the house in a thickening snow-storm. Although he wore a thick great-coat and thigh-length leather boots he was clearly unprepared for the severity of the winter weather in the Dead Lands.
“We’d better get him indoors”, said Ransey.
Fabulous didn’t regain consciousness until after 9 o’clock that evening. He woke up to find himself lying bundled up on the sofa in front of the fire in the library, which led off the hall. He was wearing a pair of Julian’s silk pyjamas (a fact which caused Julian some major annoyance, but had been shouted down by Adam as being the only one of them who was almost exactly Fabulous’s size), and Kieran was sitting on a cushion on the floor nearby him.
“How long have I been here?” said Fabulous, trying to sit up.
“Only a few hours”, said Kieran, coming to his aid “Don’t panic, you haven’t been in a coma for years! You’re not Rip Van Winkle! I’ll fetch you a brandy”.
“I don’t want to put you to any trouble”, Fabulous whimpered.
“Well strictly speaking this is your brandy”, said Kieran, busying himself at the drinks table “Your ancestors left us with a very nice well-stocked cellar here. We‘ve been enjoying it!”
“I’m glad they managed to do something right”, said Fabulous, bitterly.
“If you’re feeling strong enough suppose you tell me what possessed you to come up here, in this weather, and so badly prepared”, said Kieran, handing him a glass of brandy “You had no weapons on you at all. What if you’d met Herself out there?”
“I thought I had!” said Fabulous “When the snow started coming down really thick, I couldn’t see the shape of your house anymore. I must have started imagining things, thinking that She was nearby. I panicked like hell, I really thought my number was up”.
“But I repeat, what possessed you to make this trip?” said Kieran “What’s happened down there in Nuit?”
“Belle’s dead”, said Fabulous “She went into labour, the baby turned round in the womb, as though it didn’t want to come out into the world, as though it knew everything was wrong. Belle couldn’t birth it properly”.
“Why didn’t the doctor do a caesarian?” said Kieran.
“Our doctor is an old quack”, said Fabulous “He lives on at the house on a massive salary, and is usually completely incapable of performing even the simplest thing”.
“So why didn’t you get another doctor up from the town?” said Kieran.
“It was the middle of the night”, said Fabulous “No one would come up to us, you know what it’s like there. Anyway, the long and the short of it is, that the baby was butchered, you could say literally. He hacked it out of the womb, I’ve never seen anything like it, and I hope I never see it again”.
“And Belle?” said Kieran.
“God knows how, but she survived the birth”, said Fabulous “But it left her terribly scarred, mentally as well as physically. As soon as she was strong enough to be on her feet again, she left the house, she went down to the shore, walked into the sea, and became another of the town’s suicide statistics”.
“That’s appalling”, said Kieran, quietly.
“We should never have married, no one knows that better than me”, said Fabulous “Belle was my cousin you see, she had always lived with us, and it was assumed that we would always marry. After all, no one thought Soft was up to marriage! We did it really to keep everybody happy, but it was a farce, a god-awful farce, right from the beginning. I was no good for her, and she was very unhappy, you saw her, you know that. The baby was all that was keeping her hanging on really. Her funeral was a very big affair, suddenly the towns people decided they had loved her immensely, although God knows they had shown her bugger all consideration when she was alive! Of course I was to blame, they turned on me, I was a rubbish husband, I had let her down. I couldn’t deny it, I feel the same!”
“And I suspect Soft was only too pleased to pump up the vitriol?” said Kieran.
“It was a godsend to him”, said Fabulous “The excuse he had been waiting for. I was hated, people spat at me from their windows. No one would have cared if I had just disappeared. I knew it was only a matter of time before Soft arranged my ’disappearance’”.
“So you decided to do it for him?” said Kieran.
“I was not going to end up like my Grandmother!” said Fabulous “But I had nowhere to go, except here, and this was fraught with problems. I staged my own suicide. I made it look as though I had gone into the sea, like Belle. Everyone must have been only too happy to believe it”.
“And you came up here instead”, said Kieran “It was reckless, but you were desperate, so I understand it”.
“I can’t believe I made it here”, said Fabulous “You won’t send me away, Kieran?”
“How can I send you away!” said Kieran “It would be sending you out to commit suicide for real! Anyway, this is payback time for us. We owe you a lot. Without this place to come to, we would have been stuffed as well, and that’s all down to you. And besides, technically this is your house, we can scarcely turn you out of your own place!”
“I don’t want reminding of my ancestors”, said Fabulous, with a shudder “Have you come across anything … strange since you’ve been here?”
“We found a closet next to Adam’s room, in between his and Bardin’s”, said Kieran “Someone had fitted it up as a kind of priest’s hole I guess, complete with altar, candlesticks and statues. Only it was Satanic, somewhere to practice the Black Mass. Childish stuff, the usual puerile gob-in-the-eye-of-god effort”.
“You must have been shocked”, said Fabulous.
“Not really”, said Kieran “Seen it all before. Though I can’t say I was too enamoured of the picture of Our Lady. A desecration, shown with her tongue hanging out, looking lecherously at an angel”.
“Oh that would have appealed to my Grandfather”, said Fabulous “He liked to destroy beauty, and that would have applied to religious imagery as well. That must have been his idea. I don’t he was a Devil-worshipper really, more he just liked the idea of desecration. Did you destroy it?”
“We took it all out and burnt it”, said Kieran “There’s a tower across the back courtyard we haven’t been in yet. We couldn’t find the key to it, and the snows came so that really robbed us of any desire to go mucking around out there. I can’t say I’m in any hurry to see what delights he put in there!”
Fabulous was treated as an invalid for several days. He was kept in the library, and his meals brought into him there. Bengo was assigned to this duty, as Adam felt that if he put Joby onto it, he would spend all day yacking with Fabulous, and never put in an appearance in the kitchen. Bengo objected to having to wait upon Fabulous, who he bluntly described as “a jerk”. Bardin told him not to be “a tosser” about it, and that they owed their new life at the house to Fabulous. Bengo reluctantly submitted to his new duties as sick-room waiter. One morning, when the sun was shining, he went to pull back the curtains in the library after taking in Fabulous’s breakfast tray. Fabulous protested that he wanted them kept closed.
“But it’s a lovely day out there”, said Bengo “A bit of the winter sunshine will do you good”.
“I don’t want the windows exposed”, said Fabulous “What if I was to turn round and She was staring in at me?”
“But that’s why we keep a permanent watch-out”, said Bengo “During daylight hours. Anybody who sees Her will raise the alarm”.
“Just as they did when I arrived?” said Fabulous, pointedly.
“Oh that was Farnol’s fault”, said Bengo “He got engrossed playing Patience. No one’s allowed to take a pack of cards up there now, Bardy has forbidden it”.
“It’s easy for you lot to be so trivial about it all!” said Fabulous, crossly “You don’t have the worries I do. If you see Her you can survive, I can’t!”
“It is a problem”, said Adam, when Bengo returned to the kitchen “If Fabulous is going to stay with us, we can’t have him as the only mortal, it simply wouldn’t be fair on the poor chap”.
“So he’s gonna be staying with us FOREVER?” said Bengo, in dismay.
“Where else can he go?” said Bardin, who had wandered in after him.
“ANYWHERE!” said Bengo.
“Not in the foreseeable future I’m afraid”, said Adam “If his brother was to find out he was still alive, it would be disastrous for him”.
Tamaz hurtled into the kitchen, and gasped out “It’s Joby!”
“Yes, what’s happened to him?” said Adam “I sent him upstairs with Julian’s coffee, and he hasn’t been seen since. Really, his timekeeping is becoming deplorable!”
“Joby’s really upset”, said Tamaz “Julian, that old bugger, has said that if Joby has sex with Fabulous he’ll whip him, and Joby’s really upset. He’s gone back to bed!”
“Any excuse!” said Adam.
He went upstairs to Kieran and Joby’s room, which overlooked the back courtyard, and out towards the sea in the far distance. He found Joby rolled up in a blanket in bed, and with the curtains drawn. Adam yanked them open again.
“Aren’t you getting a bit too old to be playing the moody teenager?” he said.
“I won’t stand for it, Ad”, said Joby “I won’t stand for it, I tell yer. Kieran might be able to put up with it, but I can’t!”
“Do you know, Julian has always, ever since I’ve known him, lectured me about being too possessive and jealous”, said Adam “And yet he’s quite capable of it himself. I’m afraid he’s become increasingly possessive of you in these past few months”.
“I’m not his bleedin’ personal property, and I won’t put up with that kind of brutality!” said Joby “I’ll run away if he so much as tries it”.
“And just where do you think you will go?” said Adam “Don’t be a silly boy. Anyway, Patsy might have something to say about all this”.
“Yeah, most likely offer to take the thrashing himself!” said Joby “Or tell me that it’s not so bad really, you don’t feel so sore after a few days! And another thing, don’t I have some say about who I have sex with? Everyone’s treating this as a foregone conclusion, including you!”
“Joby, I have been on this merry-go-round with you so many times”, said Adam “Where it takes years and years for you to get your act together. First with Patsy, then with Hillyard, then with Freaky, and now with Fabulous. Well just this once, I would like to see you simply get on with it and get it over with!”
Whilst all this was going on, Kieran was tidying up Ransey’s desk in the study. A fact which made Ransey recoil in horror when he walked in and caught him at it.
“No!” he said, faintly “What are you doing?”
“I thought I’d make meself useful”, said Kieran.
“Stick to what you’re good at”, said Ransey, trying to recover himself “Laying the table, and tending the fires, and making cups of tea, not office-work! I remember when you helped with the filing in my office once at the Ministry. I couldn’t find anything for weeks afterwards!”
He pulled Kieran away from the desk, slapped his bottom, and then looked tenderly at his desk, like a worried mother checking on a sick child.
“I was just trying to get back into your good books that’s all”, said Kieran.
“I’m not angry anymore”, said Ransey, sitting down “It pains me to say it but I can never stay angry with you for very long”.
Kieran sat on his lap and kissed him.
“Oh Kieran, I adore you”, said Ransey, kissing his hair “When I first saw you it was like a light coming on in a dark house. You have no idea of the impact you made”.
“Are you feeling a wee bit stressed with it all?” said Kieran, softly.
“I was fine, until Fabulous turned up”, said Ransey “I’m concerned he could bring trouble in his wake”.
“If we can hide him here for a while, it should be o.k”, said Kieran.
“The others are talking as though he’s staying with us for good”, said Ransey.
“That could very well be the case”, said Kieran.
“Well I’m worried about you”, said Ransey “What about Joby?”
“I know that nothing will stop Joby loving me”, said Kieran “So don’t you worry about me there. Fabulous has got a sort of schoolboy crush on him, for all his swagger I strongly suspect he’s not very experienced in that department. He needs to get it out of his system. Trouble is, I can’t talk to Joby about it at the moment without him climbing the walls. You know what he’s like”.
“He should be made to talk about it”, said Ransey.
“You can try if you like!” Kieran smiled.
The problem was that Joby really couldn’t care less whether he himself fancied Fabulous or not. It was all a big grey area, and the problem with big grey areas is that sometimes they really aren’t all that interesting, they are simply a fact of life, like grey skies. Sexually, Joby was already extremely satisfied in just about every department in which he cared to engage. The others knew his wants and needs, (often better than he did), and looked after him accordingly. He simply had no inclination to go taking on an inexperienced boy who had a whole wagon-load of hang-ups with him. To put it bluntly, the idea bored him more than anything. And yet, at the same time, he was very fond of Fabulous, and he did want to see him shake off the dark legacy of his family, and get some chance to be a well-balanced individual, before it was too late. Without that, he could see another Marquis de Sade in formation.
One very wintry afternoon Joby returned to the house after a couple of hours rabbit-shooting with Mieps. Joby went to the front of the house to return the guns to the cupboard under the stairs, and Mieps went round the back to the kitchen door, to hand the spoils to Adam. Fabulous came out of his habitual lair, the library, still wearing Julian’s pyjamas, and expressed awe at the amount of outdoor clothes Joby was wearing.
“Bloody need ‘em out there!” said Joby “Still it gave me a change from the kitchen. Sometimes, at this time of year, I feel like a mole incarcerated in there!”
Fabulous chivvied him into the library, and told him to take off some of his clothes by the fire, whilst he got him a brandy.
“You get on with Mieps don’t you?” said Fabulous, handing him the glass.
“She’s alright, don’t let her scare you”, said Joby “Once you get used to her ways she’s fine”.
“She doesn’t say much”, said Fabulous “But she watches all the time”.
“As I said, that’s just her way”, said Joby “And it makes a nice change round here to have someone who doesn’t insist on jabbering on about everything all the bleedin’ time! I sometimes find it quite relaxing for a change”.
“Are you lovers with her as well?” said Fabulous.
“Sometimes”, said Joby “She’s quite funny, she’ll give little nips and growls, can throw you off your stroke a bit when you first get to know her!” “Is she entirely female?” asked Fabulous.
“Not completely entirely”, said Joby “But enough for it to count. Do women scare you?”
“Everybody scares me”, said Fabulous, candidly “I know what you’re going to say. ‘Oh you’re always so confident‘. I had to be. I had to put on an act. I couldn’t bear the thought of people guessing that I was afraid. It’s like you’re never supposed to let animals sense you’re afraid, well I’m like that with people as well”.
A lovers’ meeting (of sorts) occurred. Joby baulked at attempting anal sex with somebody so inexperienced and awkward, whether as the active or the passive partner, and instead simply masturbated Fabulous, who seemed to get a pleasure out of it entirely out of proportion, (in Joby’s opinion anyway), to what had happened.
“Well the trouble is you see”, said Hillyard, as he helped Joby wash some dishes in the pantry early that evening “He hasn’t got anything to compare it with”.
“Thanks Hillyard”, said Joby, dryly.
“We all have to start somewhere”, said Hillyard, adjusting his crotch “Even me”.
“I can’t believe you ever had to start!” said Joby “I just can’t believe there was a time when you didn’t have sex!”
“Yes there was”, said Hillyard “On that fucking desert island we were on! Not a sausage, not a bloody sausage, for two fucking years!!! I don’t know how I didn’t go off my bonce! Mind you, if we were there now, it’d be a different story wouldn’t it? I mean, you’re quite a little go-er these days”.
“Yeah and I’ll pay for it and all!” said Joby “Wait til fucking Julian hears about this afternoon!”
“Don’t you worry about him”, said Hillyard “Adam’s hidden the razor-strop!”
“He hasn’t?” said Joby, with undisguised relief.
“And refuses to tell any of us where it is, even Lonts, in case we accidentally blab it out, or Julian tortures it out of us or something”, said Hillyard “The old dears had a right old barney about it at the top of the stairs earlier, I’m surprised you didn’t hear it! I like it when Adam stands up to Julian, it’s as good as a night at the theatre!”
“It’ll stop Kieran insisting on being my whipping-boy as well”, said Joby “I’m having to step up his hidings as it is, he doesn‘t need anything more”.
“What’s he done now then?” said Hillyard.
“Started having bad dreams about Fabs’s grandmother”, said Joby “He says he can see the room she was walled up in, right down to the smallest detail”.
“Do you think she’s trying to contact him, as it were?” said Hillyard.
“He hasn’t said as much”, said Joby “But it sounds like it to me”.
The winter passed uneventfully, and they were untroubled by any further visitors, of any sort. As the days began to lengthen once more, and the thaw came in sight, Bengo became more and more exasperated at Fabulous’s insistence on hiding in the library with the curtains shut. One morning, whilst Fabulous was upstairs emptying his chamber pot into the loo (a job which everyone else had sensibly refused to do), Bengo ruthlessly pulled back all the curtains. When Fabulous returned the two of them nearly came to blows. Bardin had to rush in and separate them.
“Will you stop behaving like a complete dickhead!” said Bardin, bundling Bengo out into the hallway “I know how you feel about him, but that situation is going to change soon. We’re getting out of here when the thaw has come in earnest”.
“We’re not going back to that awful town are we, Bardy?” said Bengo.
“What would be the point in that!” said Bardin “No we’re going to press on further into the Dead Lands, and it’s up to Fabulous entirely whether he comes with us or stays here. If he comes with us then he has to accept that I’m Captain, and my word is law”.
“It’ll be nice to be on the road again”, said Bengo “Away from this whole area”.
“Good”, said Bardin “Meet me upstairs in our room for cocktails at 5 o’clock. I hope you can be trusted to behave yourself in the meantime!”
The sun was so strong at mid-day that Hillyard found the ice in the water-butts in the back courtyard were melting, and called Kieran out to look. He then jokingly turned him upside down and pretended he was going to dunk him in it. Joby watched this, and then went back into the kitchen where he and Bengo were making naan bread.
“You should have seen Bardy earlier”, said Bengo, for what felt like the umpteenth time “He was magnificent”.
“Shame the same can’t be said of you!” said Joby “What the bleedin’ hell were you thinking of, trying to pick a fight with Fabulous? You’re as bad as Kieran you are for picking fights with blokes twice your size! He’s like that with Julian, and he never wins!”
“I’m fed up with him that’s why”, said Bengo “He’s taken over that library, sits in there all winter with the curtains drawn, and the place turning more and more into a tip, it’s depressing!”
“Look, if I was in his place I’d be scared shitless of finding the Gorgon outside the window as well!” said Joby “He hasn’t got our protection. I’m nervous enough about facing her as it is!”
There was a frantic ringing of the hand-bell, which at the moment was kept up in the watch-tower, just in case it was needed to alert the whole household that something was afoot … like now. Joby and Bengo ran up the main stairs, and met Hoowie coming down the tower-steps. He had been on watch-duty.
“It’s Her, I swear it”, Hoowie gulped “She’s at the bottom of the track”.
Joby galloped up the narrow tower-steps, and picked up the binoculars. He could make out a shape at the far end of the dirt-track that led out to the track which they had followed up from the town. It was a tall, slender figure dressed in a long, shapeless garment. The face was indiscernible from this distance, but there were creatures moving around the person’s head, like some sort of a diabolical halo.
“I told you”, screamed Hoowie I told you, didn’t I!”
“Look, calm down a minute”, said Joby “You’re not helping, go to the toilet or summat! Bengo, take him downstairs”.
Bengo did so. Meanwhile, Bardin instructed Lonts to start bringing the animals in from the courtyard, and installing them in the great hall. Lonts thought it was hilarious that the animals were going to live in the house, and set about it with alacrity. Fabulous stood in the doorway of the library, almost close to tears.
“We can lock you in the downstairs cupboard if you like”, said Tamaz, teasingly “You’ll be safe from looking at her there!”
“Why can’t you go and face her down?” Fabulous demanded to know “You could face her and survive, and you’ve got the power to destroy her”.
“I don’t want to”, said Tamaz, simply, unexpectedly, and cryptically.
“Go and help Lonts with the animals”, Bardin ordered Tamaz “And you [to Fabulous] go and wait in the library until further notice”.
“Can I have some more of that?” said Hoowie, after draining a glass of brandy in Bengo and Bardin’s room.
“No!” said Bengo, firmly replacing the decanter on a side table “You drink much more at that rate of knots and you’ll pass out! I don’t know what you’re panicking for anyway, you don’t normally panic like this”.
“The Gorgon is one of the most terrifying creatures who ever lived”, said Hoowie “And you wonder why I’m panicking!”
“Yes, but she can only destroy mortals”, Bengo pointed out.
“We’re only assuming that”, said Hoowie “We don’t know it for a fact do we!”
“Oh you’re impossible you are!” said Bengo.
The hand-bell rang again from the watch-tower, where Kieran had taken over from Hoowie. Bengo left Hoowie in the room (who instantly made a bee-line for the brandy bottle once he was alone), and found Kieran at the top of the main stairs.
“She’s gone”, said Kieran.
Whilst Ransey was going round the building inspecting the outer doors for security that afternoon, Kieran went into the study and zealously examined all the books on the wall behind the door. He had had a brief look at them before, and had had found that some of them were notebooks. Disappointingly, most of these had turned out to be merely logs of how many birds had been shot on such and such a date, at various hunting-parties in the past. Kieran had got so fed up with the monotonous carnage of these that he hadn’t bothered examining the books any further, but now he decided to give them another look.
One of them was almost completely blank, apart from some words written in ink which started at random on odd pages within the book. There was a short poem in which somebody plaintively wrote how they would be looked for after their death, but only to be found gone, and sadly missed. Words to the effect that “you will look for me in the cornfields”, “you will look for me at the setting sun”, “and then you’ll remember me”. At which somebody else had caustically written underneath “isn’t this all a tad arrogant? Why should YOU be missed that much?!” The same handwriting that had written the bitchy riposte appeared later on in the book: “THE GORGON ORIGINALLY LIVED IN A DARK, SUNLESS LAND, WHERE ALL WAS BARREN. SHE APPEALED TO THE GODS TO BE ALLOWED TO MOVE DOWN TO THE SOUTHERN LANDS, WHERE ALL WAS SUNNY AND WARM. HER WISH WAS GRANTED. BUT SHE ANNOYED THE GODDESS ATHENE BY COMPARING HER BEAUTY TO HERS, AND WAS BANISHED BACK AGAIN, DEFORMED AND FATALLY UGLY - GREEK MYTHS”.
There was no other handwriting in the notebook at all. Kieran turned the book upside down and shook it. He was rewarded with the scrap of a photograph falling out of the pages. It had plainly once been part of a much bigger picture, but now only this scrap remained. Somebody had tried to burn it, it was charred around the edges. To the extreme left of the picture was the side of a man (or at least presumably a man, as the head was missing) in a severe black suit. Holding onto his hand was a little girl of about 6 or 7. She was smartly dressed in a fetching burgundy velvet coat with black frogging, and black patent leather shoes. Her head though was almost completely obscured by a long purple veil, held in place by a little black hat. All that could be discerned of her face were a pair of little dark eyes looking out beseechingly through the folds of the veil.
Kieran put the photograph in his back pocket, and then took it upstairs, where he transferred it to the pages of his Bible, in the sure and certain knowledge that this was the only place in the house that nobody else looked in! The old picture of the little girl in veils was highly significant, of that he was certain, but at the moment the reasons why were elusive.
After dinner, as a high wind, which seemed to have come up from nowhere, battered the house, Kieran joined Joby in Bengo and Bardin’s room, where they all lounged on the bed and got drunk. Hoowie was asleep in a chair nearby, with a blanket draped round him.
“Why don’t you sleep in here with us tonight, Kieran?” said Bengo.
“Oh thanks!” said Joby “And leave me to sleep in that room over the corridor on me own!”
“No, I was assuming you’d be here as well”, said Bengo.
“For the time being I think we might as well enjoy having a bit of extra space”, said Joby “It ent gonna last after all, especially if we hit the road again”.
“And if we go back to living on a boat at all, chances are there’ll be another communal bed”, said Bardin.
“Do you know, I’d quite like to have a Spanish galleon”, said Kieran “That’d be something else to live in now wouldn’t it”.
“What’s a Spanish galleon?” said Bengo.
“Big, clumsy great thing”, said Joby “Looks impressive, but not very practical”.
“We could be pirates in a Spanish galleon”, said Kieran.
“Yeah, that’d be a bit of alright”, Joby admitted.
“When this bloody snow’s all gone”, said Bengo “I’d like to go to the coast over there and have a proper look, there might be a route we could follow that keeps us near to the sea”.
“First though”, said Kieran, reluctantly “Some of us might have to go back to Nuit”.
A howl of protest went up from the clowns.
“What the bleedin’ hell for?” said Joby “We’ll probably get lynched as soon as we arrive!”
“Well I wasn’t suggesting we make a big entrance”, said Kieran “Sort of creep in secretly and stealthily”.
“Yeah, that’s really gonna happen!” said Joby.
“What for, Kieran?” said Bengo.
“I want to get back inside the Governor’s House”, said Kieran “Make sure there’s no one in there who shouldn’t be. I don’t think all the evil died with Fabulous’s grandfather”.
“Can’t you just give old Flashy immortality, and that’ll make him invincible, and then he can go and sort it all out himself?” said Bardin “It’s his territory after all”.
“Yeah and you can bet any money you like we wouldn’t get any thanks for interfering!” said Joby.
“I’m a bit nervous about doing that”, said Kieran “I was only too keen to do it for you lot, it’s in my best interests after all! But making him immortal, well he’s our friend now, but who’s to say he wouldn’t be an enemy at some point in the future?”
“Kiel, you can’t go through eternity worrying about who might be a future enemy!” said Joby “Anyway, I can’t believe he could be anymore trouble than bloody Codlik, and we got rid of him in the end!”
“Yes, because he drowned himself!” said Kieran “Now what if I’d made him immortal …?”
“You wouldn’t have been THAT daft!” said Joby.
“I can see we’ll have to talk about this again”, said Kieran.
“Just remember though”, said Joby “It’s a toss-up between cleaning up Nuit, and having a Spanish galleon, you can’t have both!”
Bengo was woken up a short time after turning in by Hoowie getting into bed next to him.
“I woke up”, said Hoowie, citing a classic case of the Bleedin’ Obvious “And the fire had gone low. I was fucking freezing!”
“Why can’t you go back to your own bed then?” said Bengo.
“Walk those dark corridors all on my own at this time of night?” said Hoowie “No thanks, you dunno what might be out there!”
“Well whatever it is it’ll get a far bigger fright meeting you!” said Bengo, crossly.
“Can I have a feel-up of you?” said Hoowie.
“No you can’t, I’m not in the mood”, said Bengo “Go to sleep! And don’t wake up Bardy!”
“Did you hear that noise?” said Hoowie, after a couple of minutes.
“It was the wind”, said Bengo.
“No, listen!” said Hoowie.
There was the sound of a woman calling in the far distance, impossible to make out her words, but she was definitely calling out.
“It’s Her ent it?” said Hoowie.
Fabulous ran up the stairs and into their room, throwing open the door so violently that it banged against the wall and nearly bounced back on him.
“What the fuck’s going on?” said Bardin.
“I’m sleeping in here”, said Fabulous.
“No you’re not!” said Bardin “It’s bad enough that I wake up and find Hoowie in the bed, without you as well!”
A new room was made up for Fabulous, ironically in the small room off Adam’s that had once been used by his Grandfather as a depraved chapel. This suited Fabulous, as it was windowless. It also suited the others as it meant the library could finally be turned back into a normal room again. Another event was, that bowing under pressure, Adam returned the razor-strap to Julian. The pressure hadn’t just been from Julian though, but from the others, who were finding it a pain sharpening razors on a block of wood. Adam caustically remarked that they would find it an even bigger pain when Julian got his favourite instrument of torture back, but they didn’t heed his warnings. Adam was the first one to be selected as its victim, and Hoowie, to everyone’s surprise, the second.
“I could’ve told you this was gonna happen, as soon as he got it back”, said Hoowie, crossly.
“Actually I think I told you”, said Adam “Now help me put my apron on, I’m feeling rather sore”.
“So am I!” said Hoowie, fastening up the back of the pinny “He’s got a memory like a fucking elephant, he doesn’t forget ANYTHING! Every little misdemeanour there is gets stored up in his brain”.
“Well as your particular little misdemeanour only occurred yesterday afternoon”, said Adam “He hasn’t exactly had much of a chance to forget it has he, old love?!”
“What?” said Hoowie, obstinately “What did I do then that was so terrible?”
“You panicked when the Gorgon appeared and got completely rat-arsed”, said Bengo, mechanically, as he set out some baking dishes on the kitchen table.
“That was your fault that was”, said Hoowie.
“I didn’t exactly prise your jaws open and force it down you!” said Bengo “Quite the opposite in fact, I tried to keep you rationed, and you took advantage the minute my back was turned!”
Ransey appeared in the doorway clutching another ring of keys, which he tossed up in the air skittishly and then caught again.
“I think it’s time we all stopped being stupid”, he said.
“Fat chance!” said Joby.
“And went and had a look at the tower across the back courtyard”, Ransey continued.
“B-but Bardy isn’t here”, Bengo protested (Bardin had gone out duck-shooting on the dismal nearby marshes with Mieps and Tamaz).
“Do we need him here to cut the ribbon then?” said Joby, sarcastically.
“Smash a bottle of champagne against the door?” Adam giggled “I’ll have to fetch Lo-Lo, he’ll find all this tremendously exciting”.
It was an oddball little procession that wound its way purposefully across the back courtyard a few minutes later. Kieran and Hillyard had also joined the throng, and Fabulous shouted at them from the main back doors that it was all a terrible mistake.
“You go back indoors”, said Bengo, barely concealing his contempt of him “Or you’ll catch your little death of cold!”
Julian, pulling on his coat, pushed past Fabulous, not even deigning to give him a glance, and joined the others. Ransey got the door to the tower unlocked after much effort and much cussing, and they went in single-file up the narrow stone steps inside, lit only by empty slits in the walls. The same key unlocked the door at the top, and they went into a large, baronial-style room, complete with impressive stone fireplace, which had clearly once been used as a private study-cum-library. Inevitably, considering it had been decades since it had last been unlocked, the place was covered in dust and cobwebs, causing everyone to sneeze violently. Curiously, the only window in the room looked out over the back courtyard, not the countryside to the west as you might expect.
“Quite some study this”, said Kieran, looking up at the high ceiling “I bet you wish you’d had a place like this, Ransey!”
Bengo saw something strange at the desk, and cautiously went over to it. A shape sat hunched in a chair over the desk-top. It was a heap of bones barely held together by old clothing and cobwebs.
“Flashy’s grandfather I presume?” said Julian.
Bardin was furious when he got home to find that all this had happened whilst he had been out. Bengo long-sufferingly explained that they would have found Fabulous’s grandfather whether he had been with them or not. Meanwhile, across the corridor, Kieran sat in the window and got out his Bible, taking out from within its pages the picture of the little girl in veils. He hastily tucked it back into the Bible when he heard somebody approaching the door. Joby came in with a tray of tea.
“Shouldn’t you be comforting Fabulous?” said Kieran.
“Behave yourself!” said Joby “Anyway, I keep hoping him and Hoowie’ll start up a mad passionate affair, don’t look like it’s gonna happen though! Anyway, we’ve got more pressing matters on hand, what are we gonna do about the old bastard’s bones?”
“The decent thing is to give them a burial”, said Kieran.
“All very well”, said Joby “But who’s gonna be undertaker? I don’t fancy handling ‘em!”
“We’ll come up with something”, said Kieran “We need to get them out of the way if we’re gonna have a poke round in that room”.
In the event Hillyard and Ransey went back over to the tower, and crated the old man’s bones up in a packing-crate. A lid was hammered into place, and then it was manoeuvred, with considerable difficulty, back down the tower steps, and into the courtyard. Fabulous watched all this from the main back doors.
“This is all a bit much for you”, said Joby “Come on back inside”.
Hillyard clumped over the courtyard in his gumboots.
“We can’t bury him yet”, he said, bluntly “The ground’s too hard. We’ll have to leave him here until the thaw sets in in earnest. Still, at least we don’t have to worry about the decomposing, all that happened long ago!”
“Yeah great, Hillyard!” said Joby, pulling Fabulous back into the house and slamming the door “Ignore him”.
“He’s jealous isn’t he?” said Fabulous.
Joby decided to let this remark pass un-remarked upon. He steered Fabulous into the dining-room nearby, at which Fabulous insisted upon drawing the curtains.
“We couldn’t really leave him up there”, said Joby “I mean, you might want to use this house properly at some point …”
“I don’t give a damn what happens to this house”, said Fabulous “You can burn it down if you like, and you could have left him up there to burn with it!”
“Now we’ve gone to all the trouble of getting him down as well!” said Kieran, coming into the room.
Joby looked at him suspiciously. Kieran had one of his mischievous looks on his face.
“Joby, Adam’s yelling for you”, he said “I wouldn’t keep him waiting if I was you”.
“Alright”, said Joby, grudgingly “But you behave yourself!”
Kieran gave an enigmatic smile in response. Once Joby had left the room, Kieran went over to the windows and pulled back the curtains. Fabulous shouted in alarm.
“You don’t have to worry about this anymore”, said Kieran.
Fabulous looked at him in disbelief.
“W-when did it happen?” he asked.
“Sometime in the past couple of days”, said Kieran “I thought you should be the first to know”.
“WHY?” said Joby, cornering Kieran up in their room again “Why did you go and do it? We’re gonna have him round our necks forever now!”
“Not a nice way to talk about your devoted disciple”, said Kieran.
“And you can put a sock in that as well!” said Joby “I’ve got enough on my plate coping with you, let alone Tamaz and Bengo. Then I have Adam having one of his ’Alec my dear fellow’ fits, Hillyard trapping me in the pantry …”
“So that’s why you keep making excuses to go in there!” said Kieran.
“Assignations with Bardin and Mieps”, Joby continued “And then Julian summoning me …”
“To shove a hosepipe up your arse!” said Kieran.
“It is not a hosepipe!” said Joby “WHY?”
“What else could I do?” said Kieran “We can’t send him back to Nuit, not as he was, it would have been certain death. And we couldn’t abandon him up here on his own, not with the Gorgon around. He seems keen to stay with us, and it makes sense to stay as one of us”.
“You were against it the other day!” Joby exclaimed.
“I didn’t want an immortal on the outside”, said Kieran “A potential trouble-maker. What’s the old saying about inside pissing about, than outside pissing in? We’re stuck with him. And I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. To have him on side, as one of us, gives us quite an asset if we want to take on the potential horrors of the Governor’s House. He knows that place, not completely I know, but he knows it”.
Kieran helped Ransey to sort out some of the old volumes in the grandfather’s tower. Many of the books crumpled in their hands, but they did find a few of those strange notebooks which seemed to contain nothing but random disjointed jottings. Few were barely decipherable. One which proved to be of particular value contained these few lines: “LAST NIGHT FOR THE FIRST TIME I HEARD HER SCREAMING IN A DISTANT PART OF THE HOUSE … HAD MY ROOM FITTED WITH NEW LOCK AND PADLOCK. JUST AS WELL, AS SHE ESCAPED LAST NIGHT AND CAME RIGHT UP TO IT, I COULD HEAR HER ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR … SOMEBODY HAS TAMPERED WITH THE NEW LOCKS. SO I HAVE RETREATED INTO ONE OF THE INNER ROOMS. UNFORTUNATELY I WAS VERY PREOCCUPIED LAST NIGHT, AND I NEARLY FORGOT TO LOCK IT. SHE MANAGED TO PUSH IT AJAR BEFORE I THREW MYSELF AGAINST IT AND GOT THE LOCK FASTENED. CAUGHT A GLIMPSE OF HER LONG WILD HAIR. BUT FORTUNATELY NOT HER FACE … DOCTOR IS USELESS. CAUGHT HIM YESTERDAY EVENING GIVING ALL THE PATIENTS AN AIRING ON THE PATIO, JUST BECAUSE IT WAS A WARM NIGHT. STUPID OLD FOOL”.
“What?!” said Kieran, somewhat understandably.
“Talk about house of many mysteries!” said Ransey.
Fabulous wasn’t proving to be very helpful so far. His infatuation with Joby had got beyond a joke. Bengo and Hillyard could barely contain their antipathy towards him. For Hillyard, who was normally so affable with everybody, this was quite something. He took to going out into the woods and hacking down bits of trees, to try and work off his aggression. Bengo, using an umbrella as a shade against the strengthening sun, often strolled out to talk to him. Bardin had got so exasperated with Bengo’s surliness towards Fabulous, that he had given him a severe hiding, but Bengo obstinately refused to ease up the hostilities.
One afternoon Joby had been summoned in to see Julian. Fabulous strode into Kieran’s room in an annoyingly imperious way. Kieran informed him where Joby was.
“Well he’d better not be long that’s all I can say”, said Fabulous, turning on his heel to stride out again.
“FABULOUS!” Kieran roared.
Fabulous returned to Kieran’s bedside somewhat more sheepishly, without a trace of his normal swagger.
“Now let’s get one thing clear”, said Kieran, emphatically “YOU have no say over Joby around here, do I make myself plain?”
It was plain that Kieran Had Spoken. Fabulous tried his best to keep a low-profile for the rest of the day. Kieran and Ransey eventually went over to the old tower, with the intention of continuing the clean-up operation. But a gathering storm had made the place so dark, forbidding and shadowy that they abandoned it, and returned to the study in the main part of the house.
“We need to go over this place with a fine-tooth comb”, said Ransey, when Adam took some tea in to them “From cellar to the rooftops”.
“What on earth do you expect to find up there?” said Adam.
“In this place?” said Ransey “Just about anything!”
“Well you won’t get many volunteers once this storm has passed”, said Adam “The thaw has really set in in earnest, and everybody will be wanting to get outside. I think we’ve all had just about enough of the house!”
Joby though was considerably vexed by what he regarded as all these “airy-fairy plans”. He said they couldn’t seem to decide whether they were going to resume their travels into the unknown, go and seek out the Gorgon in her lair, or furtively return to the Governor’s House. He wanted some system, some order, he said, and he simply wasn’t getting it. To add insult to injury Fabulous was failing to absorb himself into the group. When he was heard calling Bengo a “little fat dancer with girly hair”, the other clowns united against him in righteous indignation. This wasn’t entirely because Bengo was one of their own, but because they saw Fabulous as a vain, pampered, strutting idiot, who thought too much of himself for comfort. In desperation Bardin called a summit meeting of clowns (and Hoowie) in the dining-room, in which he was prepared to give them a stern lecture.
“We don’t like him, man”, said Farnol, plaintively.
“If that’s your only contribution you can shut up right now!” said Bardin.
Bengo was sitting at the table, looking wretched, with his hands tucked under his armpits. Shag and Mutton Broth were so terrified by Bardin’s attitude that they were holding hands under the table.
“He’s a brat who’s had it too easy”, said Hal.
“Had it too easy?” Bardin exclaimed “In that past few months he’s seen his baby being hacked to death under his eyes, and he’s been completely ostracised by his own community. They even spat on him! And you say he’s had it too easy!”
Bengo gave a painful moan and ran out of the room.
“Now look what you’ve done!” Bardin shouted at them all.
“That was you that was”, said Hal, unrepentantly.
Kieran ran into his bedroom, where Joby was sleeping under the bedclothes.
“What the fuck, Kiel?” he said, groggily “I was having a really deep sleep there”.
“If you sleep that heavily now, you won’t sleep tonight”, said Kieran.
“Since when did you turn into ward sister?” said Joby “We’ll have to call you Nurse Flannery!”
“Put your trousers on”, said Kieran, holding up the garment “And go over the passage and see to Bengo, he’s in a real state”.
“Then let Bardin sort him out!” Joby protested “He’s married to him!”
“It’s because of you he’s upset”.
“Me?! I’ve been in here having a kip, or trying to, how can I have upset him?”
“It’s all that stuff over Fabulous”, said Kieran “Ach come on, Joby, it’ll mean a lot to him if you go over”.
Joby bad-temperedly put his trousers on.
“You’ll soon be back again”, said Kieran.
“Yeah, to wring your fucking neck!” said Joby.
He found Bengo screwed up into a little ball, crying like a little child.
“Joby, I have tried to like him”, he said “But I can’t. I know I’m a fool to get jealous, but I do, that session you had with him in the library …”
“That was weeks ago!” said Joby “And it hasn’t been repeated has it!”
“Why is that?” said Bengo “I don’t understand why nobody fancies Fabulous, I mean, he’s a good-looking bloke and all”.
“I didn’t feel anything with him”, said Joby “Not a thing. I’m fond of him, I worry about him, but I didn’t feel anything like that”.
“Even Julian doesn’t fancy him”, said Bengo “I asked him the other day, and all he said was ‘he doesn’t float my boat, old bean’. Now that’s really unusual!”
“Not half!” said Joby.
“None of it makes sense does it”, said Bengo “I mean, you get a really ugly, hairy little runt like Hoowie, and he NEVER goes short of a shag, and then there’s Fabulous …”
“Just the way it works out sometimes”, said Joby “So much of sex is based on instincts we don’t even know we’ve got, all animal-stuff I spose. I expect Hoowie gets it ’cos he’s got a lot of raw energy, too much so at times, whereas Fabs is … well I think he’s cold”.
“He can’t be that cold”, Bengo pointed out “He seemed to really get a kick out of you!”
“I think a lot of that was him just trying to convince himself, with the benefit of glorious hindsight”, said Joby “He’s heard about orgasms, and wants to persuade himself he’s had one. But I was there, and it didn’t seem to ring true to me, it wasn’t how people normally act after a good seeing-to. I think it was all bluff”.
“What a bloody shame!” said Bengo.
Bardin came into the room.
“Right”, said Joby, getting up again “Now you’re here you can take over. I’m going back across the corridor, to spank Kieran!”
“Oh don’t look at me like that, Bardy”, Bengo sighed, when they were alone “You’ve got that look on your face that you had the very first time we met, as though you hated my guts”.
“Gross exaggeration!” said Bardin “I was, am, just mildly irritated that’s all!”
“I will try and accept Flashy more”, said Bengo “Particularly after what I’ve just heard today”.
“What have you just heard today?” said Bardin.
“That nobody’s ever sexually aroused by him”, said Bengo.
“What about that session Joby had with him in the library?” said Bardin.
“Joby told me he didn’t feel anything”, said Bengo “And I believe him. Oh it’s so sad, I can’t imagine what that’s like”.
“No I bet you can’t!” Bardin smiled.
There was a kerfuffle out in the corridor. The clowns went out to find Ransey, Hillyard, Julian and Adam going up the narrow wooden steps to the attic. Bengo and Bardin fell in behind them. The attic was a soulless place, home to a number of bats, and several discarded packing-cases , one of which they had used to put the bones of Fabulous’s Grandfather in. Hillyard was sent up a metal ladder affixed to one of the walls, to try and bash open the trapdoor which led out onto the roof. Ransey complained about the amount of time it was taking him.
“Well next time we need a trapdoor breaking in”, said Hillyard, grumpily, when he had finished “You can do it!”
There was a shout as Kieran limped up to the attic, complaining vociferously about this latest expedition.
“What are you worried about the rooftop for, Patsy?” said Adam “Chances are we’ll only find moss and bird-droppings!”
“I hope that’s all you do find!” said Kieran.
They all stepped over the roof rather gingerly, taking pains to avoid broken skylights, and loose tiles. All around them the chimneys rose up tall, rearing into the sky like Battersea Power Station. The tallest was the one which serviced the kitchen stove, and was fixed to the edge of the roof, so that one side of it faced a sheer drop to the ground, way below. Chained to the rim of this chimney were the blackened bones of a person, who had been strapped there a very long time before, and left to die.
“Did you sense this?” Hillyard asked Kieran.
“I didn’t know what we find”, said Kieran “But I had a strong feeling we would find something, and that it wouldn’t be pleasant”.
Bengo slowly went back down to the bedroom floor, and found Fabulous standing in the window of his and Bardin’s bedroom, nervously chewing his fingernails.
“I wish you’d stop that”, said Bengo, batting his hand away from his mouth “You’ll have no nails left at this rate!”
“It’s in my blood you know”, said Fabulous “That man who was capable of doing such callous things … his blood is my blood”.
“But not all your family were like that”, said Bengo.
“They were, to some extent”, said Fabulous “My Mother used to have what she called Nice Or Hard Days. On the Nice days we would be spoilt and pampered, stuffed so full of ice-cream and sweets that we would be sick, and the then on the Hard days we had to be subjected to a brutal regime, locked in dark cupboards, and fed bread and water”.
“What was the point of that?” said Bengo.
“To teach us to value things”, said Fabulous “And to learn the power of punishment”.
“Bengo”, said Bardin, abruptly “Go and fetch your coat and boots, we’re going for a walk”.
The two of them headed for the forest. They walked further into it than they had ever been before, and came across a sort of stone cairn, or crypt. The iron gates which were at the top of the stone steps leading down into the earth were padlocked, and rusted over.
“Reminds me a bit of that sketch we used to do sometimes”, said Bardin “The churchyard-at-night one, where you had to play the village idiot, and I had to be the playful ghost”.
“I hated that sketch!” snapped Bengo “I was the stooge all the way through it. I had my arse repeatedly kicked, and a bag of flour tipped over me! I don’t know why you couldn’t have played the village idiot sometimes, and I be the playful ghost!”
“It wouldn’t have been anywhere near as funny”, said Bardin “You know that. I wonder what’s down here”.
“Don’t know and I don’t care”, said Bengo, stubbornly “I’ve had just about enough of dark mysteries at the moment. Probably just some more nonsense about Flashy’s grand-dad!”
Bardin took his hand and they slowly walked back to the house.
Adam was sitting on a stool outside the kitchen door, looking over towards the forest, from where Bengo and Bardin were returning in the distance. Fabulous strolled around the side of the house. These days he was warily venturing outside, but he was like a person new to swimming, who doesn’t like letting go of the hand-rail when in the deep end of the pool. When walking outside he still loitered close to the walls of the house.
“Where did they go?” he said, looking where Adam was looking.
“Just into the woods I think”, said Adam, getting up to fill a large kettle at the pump “We’ll have to see if Bardin’s little pep talk to the clowns has done much good”.
“I don’t understand them”, said Fabulous, sulkily “I’m not used to people like them. I’m used to witty, sophisticated people, people of quality like you …”
Adam gave a short, cynical laugh.
“And they are so weird and coarse!” said Fabulous.
“They grew up in vaudeville, Fabulous, you have to accept that”, said Adam “And those witty, sophisticated, quality friends of yours don’t seem to have been very much in evidence lately!”
“The clowns are not trendy!” said Fabulous, sounding peculiarly desperate.
“Oh I think they’re rather cool, in their own unique way”, said Adam “You’re really not going to get on very well with us, if you can’t accept people being different. You seem to like Joby well enough, and I’m sure he would be one of the first to admit he’s not sophisticated and trendy”.
“I understand Joby”, said Fabulous “I don’t understand that lot, they seem like aliens, not human”.
“I’ll have to tell them that!” Adam laughed.
Bengo and Bardin came in soon after, shedding their outdoor gear. Bengo asked for use of the biscuit tin, and then they both helped themselves. Bardin told Adam about the stone burial chamber in the woods.
“Probably find your grandfather used to put more of his victims down it, Flashy!” said Bengo, crossly.
Adam playfully slapped both him and Bardin on the bottom. Julian came clumping in through the back door, having just returned from riding.
“God, what a gloomy room this is!” he said.
“Tell me about it, old love”, said Adam “And it doesn’t seem to be improving with the days getting longer either”.
“Come upstairs with me now”, said Julian, abruptly.
“Well I …” said Adam.
“Don’t give me all that”, said Julian “You’re a Scorpio, your sign rules the genitals, something useful I’ve picked up from Finia’s blasted astrology, at long last!”
“OK”, said Adam, sniggering, and avoiding Fabulous’s boot-faced look “Bengo, Joby should be down to join you soon”.
Joby in fact had gone back to bed. Hillyard found him still there about half-an-hour later.
“You’re always lying around at the moment you are!” he said “Where’s Kieran?”
“Dunno”, said Joby “I’m gonna have to go and find him in a minute, make sure he’s not up to summat, probably down in the study with Ransey. What are you doing in here?”
“Can’t get in me own room”, said Hillyard, adjusting his crotch “The old dears are in there, I feel like a waif and stray”.
“Bloody strapping great waif and stray!” said Joby.
“Do you think Bardin would agree to call a summit meeting later?” said Hillyard.
“I shouldn’t think so”, said Joby “He’s just had one with the clowns. What do you want one for?”
“I can’t live in this house anymore”, said Hillyard, prowling around the room restlessly “Seriously, I can’t. It’s really getting to me. Just everything about it. It’s saturated with that gloomy old Evil. Isn’t Kieran picking up on it, or has he closed himself off?”
“I dunno what he’s playing at at the moment!” said Joby “He seems to be carrying out secret investigations, like a furtive Sherlock Holmes!”
“We’ve gotta get out of here, Joby”, said Hillyard “I’ll go off me chump if I have to live in these four walls anymore”.
“Where do you suggest we go then?” said Joby.
“We don’t have to go anywhere”, said Hillyard “We could just go and camp in the woods, now the thaw’s setting in. After all, we were quite happy camping out when we travelled all the way down here a year ago. We’ve always been happy living outside”.
“True”, said Joby.
“Go and live in the woods for a bit”, said Hillyard.
“Won’t we be at risk from being seen by the Desperadoes?” said Joby.
“Oh come on!” said Hillyard “Desperadoes my arse! We can soon sort them out! If not, we’ll let Kieran charm them”.
“That should be a disaster!” said Joby.
“We can live in the woods, whilst we decide where we go next”, said Hillyard “And if Kieran really is set on breaking into the Governor’s House, that’d be a better vantage point to do it from. Do you think he’ll agree to it?”
“He won’t have any choice”, said Joby, getting out of bed and putting on his clothes “He’ll have to do as he’s told, he likes it that way!”
Bardin immediately mobilised the clowns into clearing out the cellar of all the remaining stuff that was still fit to drink, as well as organising some of the others into packing up the better bedding to take with them. Nobody it seemed voiced any concerns about leaving the gloomy pile. In fact, Tamaz ran up and down the main staircase, whooping and yodelling. Hillyard, once the idea was publicly broached, was determined that they were going to leave the house that very day. Adam asked Fabulous how he felt about it. Fabulous replied that they could burn the place down for all he cared. Adam said he thought that would be a trifle melodramatic.
“You haven’t got much of this stuff left, Ad”, said Hillyard, as he helped Adam to box up some of the larger food stuffs in the kitchen.
“We have been here several months, old love”, said Adam.
“No worries”, said Hillyard, pausing to adjust his crotch “When we get into the woods it’ll be easier to sneak into town and do a bit of shopping. Some of us can wear disguises or summat, Bardin’ll know how to do that”.
Bengo was doing cartwheels round the kitchen, narrowly missing most of the furniture. When Adam told him to stop it he bent over backwards instead, and crawled around the floor on his hands and feet like a human spider.
“You’re pleased about it though, Ad?” said Hillyard.
“Oh yes”, said Adam “And it’ll do Julian good too. Living in houses never seems to agree with him. He sits in his room like a great spider, waiting to lure victims into his web. He becomes rather more human and versatile when he’s living out in the open”.
“I wish you’d stop worrying”, said Joby to Hillyard, coming out of the pantry with some more produce “We’ve said we’re doing it aren’t we! Going around asking people if they’re alright all the time like a bleedin’ old woman!”
“Joby”, said Kieran, appearing with a pile of old notebooks “Can you put some of these in your pack? They won’t all fit into mine”.
He scattered books everywhere, and got into a fluster trying to collect them all up again.
“And you’re no better”, said Joby, helping him to retrieve the notebooks “You’re really acting like some fussy old Irishman, getting himself in a state!”
“These might well come in useful one day”, said Kieran.
“The only thing they’re gonna come in useful for is lighting the fire with!” said Joby.
They didn’t move far from the house, because they relied on the underground well in the cellar for fresh water, but they put themselves out of its direct shadow, right on the edge of the forest. Once they were there Hillyard cracked open a bottle of warm beer, and toasted being out of its evil, shadowy, gloomy interior.
“It was like lying down in a coffin”, he said “And having somebody slowly screwing the lid down on you!”
If possible, the house seemed to become even more malevolent now that they were out of it. It sat there, brooding, a quarter-of-a-mile away from them. At times, at the risk of sounding unnecessarily dramatic, it seemed to pulse with Evil. As though it was trying to reach out some black tentacles and draw them back in. The Indigo-ites were reluctant even to go into the house for water, and when this became an absolute necessity, would go mob-handed and draw as much as it was possible to cart back to the camp with them.
After a couple of weeks of living out in the open, a time which included a couple of fascinating trips to the cliff-edges to have a look at the sea, they were startled and amazed to have a visitation from Brock, the he-man hunter-gatherer who had travelled down with them initially. Brock surprised them by being pleased to see them. He said he often came into the forest to go hunting, by himself, as he found the town increasingly claustrophobic, and needed to escape from it now and again.
“I had a feeling you were in that house”, he said “Not surprised you wanted to get out of it again!”
Of course he was badgered for news about the town. To their disappointment though he was rather reluctant to impart any news. He said the whole place was intensely gloomy, had been plagued by thick sea- mists all winter, and the only way these days he could feel free was to come up here into the woods, and do his beloved hunting.
“Weren’t you afraid of meeting Her up here?” said Lonts, referring to the Gorgon.
“From what I can gather I’ve got more chance of meeting her in the town!” said Brock “She’s been haunting the place a lot, usually after dark”.
“I know this is going to sound a silly question”, said Adam “But have you ever seen her yourself?”
“Yes”, said Brock, to everyone’s considerable surprise “I was walking along the seashore one day, and this was during the daylight hours too. I had just gone for a walk to work off some energy. I looked back at one point, and saw this woman standing at the foot of the cliffs, all dressed in black. Her head was completely obscured by this thick veil which hung down to her waist”.
Kieran was listening particularly intently to this bit, thinking of the picture of the little girl in veils, still tucked into the pages of his Bible.
“If her face was completely obscured”, said Julian “How can you be sure it was the Gorgon?”
“What other woman is going to walk around like that?” said Brock.
“Well there could be any number of reasons”, said Adam “Did she make any gesture to you?”
“No”, said Brock “Just stood there watching me. I found another way of returning to the town which didn’t involve having to walk back past her. It felt as though she had been following me”.
“How horribly eerie”, said Adam “And what news from the Governor’s House?”
Fabulous had been biting his nails on the edge of the gathering. For the first time he looked up alertly.
“Very little”, said Brock “The Governor is a virtual recluse, hardly ever seen. We get rules and regulations issued from there on a regular basis, little irritating things, like restricting licensing hours, but so far nothing life-threatening. There is a strong feeling around though that it is the calm before the storm, that something is going to break sooner or later. It’s like the time just before a storm, you can feel it coming in the air”.
“And now you know I’m alive!” Fabulous exclaimed, querulously.
“I never believed you were dead”, said Brock, bluntly “I never fell for that story that you had walked into the sea, it didn’t seem in character. There was only one place you could have gone, and as it turned out, I was right”.
“Why didn’t you come up to us, at the old hunting-lodge?” said Adam “If life in Nuit has been so bad”.
“Because then I could have come face to face with Her!” Brock laughed “Don’t you see? We all know she haunts your area”.
“She has certainly been around”, said Adam “But we’ve only seen her the once, and that was in the far distance”.
Brock gave them the valuable information that if they wanted to sneak down to Nuit to get in supplies, their best bet would be to go to the oldest streets in the town, which were conveniently situated closest to the forest. This was a higgledy-piggledy warren of little cobbled alleyways, chock full of tiny little one-room kiosk-type shops, which should supply all that they needed. These streets were always crammed full of people during daylight hours, and so a small party of the Indigo-ites shouldn’t attract any undue attention, as long as they were careful.
The following morning four of the Indigo-ites prepared to set off on this hazardous mission. Bardin, Bengo, Joby and Hillyard. Tamaz seethed that he wasn’t chosen to go shopping, even though Bardin pointed out that he would stick out like a sore thumb, and be sure to be recognised.
“Too risky?!” Tamaz exclaimed “And you’re taking HIM [pointing at Bengo], I would say that was bloody risky! He can’t stop shrieking ’oh Bardy!’ every five minutes. If that doesn’t give the game away nothing will!”
“Ignore him”, said Bardin, pulling Bengo away from Tamaz “He’s just narked because he’s not coming”.
Kieran was also narked that he wasn’t coming. He protested that he could hide all his hair under his hat.
“It’s not just your hair”, said Joby, confronting him in the tepee “But your eyes, your voice, everything. Everybody’ll know it’s you! Kiel, you’re a truly great man, but sometimes you don’t half act like a complete plank!”
Adam tried soothing the disgruntled ones by saying that they could go to the house and collect more water, but this hardly sufficed as a pleasing alternative.
The tiny bustling streets of Old Nuit came as quite a shock after so many months spent in virtual isolation, but the Indigo-ites were long used to this phenomenon. Bengo, annoyed by Tamaz’s remarks, refused to speak at all during the shopping expedition, to prove that he could carry off an act when it was absolutely necessary. The Indigo-ites didn’t address each other by name, in case it gave the game away, and doggedly refused to refer to anyone back home, for the same reason, though this was hard when they came across the stalls banked high with fresh fruit and vegetables, as they all knew how delighted Adam would be with this largesse when they got it home.
After having stocked up a hand-cart, which was a nightmare steering it through the street, through the mire of animal droppings (and some that appeared distinctly human) they decided to escape to the outer fringes of the town, and see a bit more of the countryside between the forest and the sea. A very wide rough steep track led from the sea up the hill that eventually ran out onto the cliff-top to the west of the town, the opposite side to the Governor’s House and the Emerald Steps. Halfway up this track was an old wooden chalet, which had clearly once, many years ago, been a refreshment stop for people walking in the countryside and on the cliff-top. It had been boarded up for a very long time, and the wooden chairs and benches in front of it were thigh-high in wild grass. And yet, towns people were sitting there, staring vacantly into space, as though they were patiently waiting for the café to open. It was an unnerving sight. Joby found it as unnerving as when he had seen the Twins in the garden of the Governor’s House. It was inexplicable, disturbing, against all human rationale.
They turned and went home.
The ones who had stayed behind had also had a vaguely unnerving experience. Adam, accompanied by Tamaz, Hoowie, and the remaining clowns had gone to the house to collect water, and had found that the building seemed to be imploding, quietly falling apart. Holes were appearing in the roof, and the walls and ceilings constantly crumbled and flaked. Adam decided that they would fetch water from the town in future, it was less risky!
That night Kieran and Joby were dozing in each other’s arms in the tepee, when they heard the sound of somebody running away through the forest in heavy boots. Bardin was alerted and he pulled up the shutters which covered the bulls-eye lamp hanging from the central post. He demanded an instant roll-call of everybody, and it quickly became apparent that Fabulous was missing, as was one of the pistols.
“He’s gone to the Governor’s House”, said Ransey “I would take bets on it”.
Bardin, Bengo, Kieran, Joby, Ransey and Hillyard went after him, with Tamaz in tow as an added insurance policy.
The Governor’s House was ridiculously easy to break into, in fact they just walked in. The staff were carousing in the back quarters, and the rest of the echoing building seemed devoid of life. The Indigo party roamed through the ground-floor rooms, shining lamps into dark corners. Eventually Kieran came across a room containing a telegraph machine. He said this didn’t surprise him in the least, in fact he had suspected it almost from the moment they had arrived there. The room was a mess, a whirlwind of papers thrown everywhere. They picked up a few and analysed them. Some were messages from Krindei, telling of a strange fog that had blanketed the city for three days, a peasouper which reached up as high as the third or fourth storey in the tall buildings there. Some were messages from Soft to Krindei (the only contact seemed to be somebody in the weather bureau there), saying that the town of Nuit deserved everything it got, and that he wouldn’t blame the rest of the world if it conspired to have Nuit destroyed once and for all.
“This is his own town he’s talking about!” said Joby.
The sound of hammering broke out in an upper part of the house.
“That should lead us to Fabulous”, said Kieran, calmly “Hillyard, will you stay here and send out a message on the wire, just chuck it out into oblivion, and I expect the Global News Agency will pick it up, they’re always spying on everybody”.
“Telling ‘em what?” said Hillyard.
“That we’ve overthrown the Governor of Nuit”, said Kieran.
“Isn’t that a bit premature?” said Hillyard “We haven’t even found him yet!”
“No sooner the word than the blow”, said Kieran.
“Take this”, said Ransey, handing a spare pistol to Hillyard “And don’t use it unless you absolutely have to”.
“Yeah I know!” said Hillyard.
Kieran cocked his pistol and led the way upstairs. They had to wander around a maze of corridors before they came to a green wooden door which seemed to lead to the direction of the hammering. Beyond it was a dimly-lit corridor, and Fabulous was there, nailing up strips of wood over a large opening in the wall. When he heard them approach he hastily picked up the pistol, which he had left on top of the toolbox.
“Don’t be daft”, said Kieran “You can’t damage us with it, just inconvenience us that’s all”.
“Don’t interfere, Kieran”, said Fabulous “I have to do this”.
“Do what, mate?” said Joby, gently, as though talking to a relative who was suffering a severe nervous breakdown.
“I don’t care what happens to me”, said Fabulous “I have to stop this Evil, going on from one generation to the next …”
Whilst he was rambling, Kieran and Joby pushed past him into the little room beyond the opening. Soft, who, judging by the bruise on his forehead, had been knocked unconscious, was lying on a narrow bed inside, fastened down with leather straps. The room was windowless.
“This is what my Grandfather did to my Grandmother”, said Fabulous “And I’m going to do it to him. You’re all looking shocked, you think I’m a monster too no doubt. Well let me show you something. Let me show you what kind of a man he is, just what he is capable of doing”.
Picking up a large ring of keys he led them to a metal door at the end of the gloomy corridor. He unlocked it and took them into another corridor, a much shorter one, completely dark and cobwebby. He passed into another windowless stone room completely dominated by a musty four-poster bed.
“This was my Grandfather’s room”, said Fabulous “And Soft has been using it as well. Look at the wall behind the door”.
Bengo turned and let out a scream, he then burst into tears. Fastened to the wall with leather straps were the mummified corpses of two young women, both had been immaculately preserved. Both were without their arms and legs.
“Soft did that to ‘em?” said Joby.
“Oh no”, said Fabulous “That was my Grandfather’s handiwork. They go back a long way. He hired them from the town to be his private secretary, one after the other. He surgically removed their limbs, so that they couldn’t get away or put up much of a fight, and had them brought in here … for his own personal use. When they died, he had them preserved”.
“But what has this to do with your brother?” said Ransey.
“Don’t you see?” Fabulous exclaimed, almost crying with frustration “HE CARRIED ON USING THEM! HE CARRIED ON USING THEM!!! THAT’S WHAT KIND OF A MAN HE IS!”
When Soft was heard coming round from his battering, Kieran took Tamaz into the little room, and gorgonised him.
That was the close of business for the day.
Joby went on a few paces ahead of the others, to alert the camp (or get them to put the kettle on in other words). Lonts was sitting by the fire in the misty, grey dawn, smoking his pipe. He espied Joby approaching and let up a deafening holler. Joby wanted to throw himself into his big, strong arms, but instead limited himself to a “yeah alright, calm down!”
The others arrived as well. Tamaz was looking very pale of cheek after his exertions. Bengo had been crying so much that one eye had almost got completely gunked up. Julian and Hillyard went to talk over by the washing barrel, where Hillyard stripped off his shirt and dunked his head into the cold clear water. Afterwards they wandered out along the marshy causeway and discussed the gruesome events of the night.
“So what happens now?” said Julian, when he had been brought up to date.
“Our work’s done here”, said Hillyard “We get out of here. On the way back, that’s why we’re so late getting home, Kieran left two messages, one at the Mayor’s office, and one at the newspaper office, telling them what’s happened. They know now that the outside world will soon be aware of what’s been happening now”.
“This isn’t exactly a free society in these parts, Hillyard”, said Julian “What makes you think both the Mayor and the Press won’t simply won’t conceal the fact that the Governor’s House has had a telegraph machine all this time?”
“Because the outside world knows”, said Hillyard “It won’t be long before they start to come sniffing round here out of curiosity, they always like a new story. The air-buggies will be flying overhead before long, and nobody’ll be able to conceal that!”
“And what happens at the Governor’s House?” said Julian “Does Nuit suddenly become democratic, and start having free elections?”
“Don’t know”, said Hillyard, plainly signifying he didn’t much care “That’s up to them. We have to get Flashy out of here though, for his own safety”.
“Why?” said Julian “He had nothing to do with all that. He seems as sickened by it all as everybody else”.
“The towns people already hate him”, said Hillyard “For what happened to Belle. All they’ll see him as is the last of the depraved ruling clan. They’re not going to let him live peacefully down some side street! Facts won’t matter to ’em, they’ll just want a scapegoat. If they get their hands on him they’ll probably tear him to pieces”.
“Literally no doubt”, said Julian, soberly.
They approached the headland, where a very steep narrow path led down to the sea. Halfway down were the ruins of an old watch-tower.
“I suggest”, said Julian “Provided Bardin’s amenable of course, that we bring the barge round to here”.
Hillyard’s face lit up for the first time that day.
“Part of us could use that to travel up the coast”, Julian continued “The other half could travel overland, with the wagons”.
“What a fucking shame we haven’t got the truck!” said Hillyard.
“Yes well we haven’t”, said Julian “So you’ll have to get over it!”
“I told you”, said Tamaz, to Bardin back at the camp “I told you he’s no good at times like that, he just goes all emotional and to pieces. You won’t have it though will you?”
“I can cope better when he’s around that’s all”, said Bardin.
“You’re as bad as he is!” Tamaz squawked.
“Freaky, that’s enough!” said Adam “Go and tidy the tepee”.
“That’s not my job”, said Tamaz, imperiously.
“I don’t care”, said Adam “Just go and do it”.
“Could somebody come and give me a hand here”, said Joby, who was frying chops in butter “I’m having to do double the work, with Bengo laid up …”
Bengo swept out of the tent, with his pinny slung over his shoulder. He looked grimly determined.
“I’m here”, he said.
“I think you should carry on resting, old love”, said Adam.
“I want to work”, said Bengo, as Toppy fussed round him fastening the pinny. When he was finished Bengo stamped over to the door of the tepee and shouted in at Tamaz “I’d like to see you do two shows a day EVERY day, three shows on a gala day, plus rehearsals and publicity stunts, year in year out!”
“Actually I think he probably could”, Bardin smiled.
“I am not weak!” said Bengo “I just get a bit emotional that’s all. Is that a crime?”
“Absolutely not”, said Adam “Anyway seeing things like that is bound to knock the stuffing out of you”.
“Five of us went down through the town to reclaim the barge. We all went armed, though that didn’t stop us getting accosted by a fat berk in a white apron down by the quayside, who demanded that we hand over Flashy to the towns people. As if we were going to do it just like that, and just because he shouted at us! Kieran was going to try and reason with him, but Ransey intercepted, thankfully, (otherwise we would probably have been there all night!) and we all went onto the barge. Once we were below deck, having a look round, Bengo got emotional again. I gave him a cuddle and told him to stop being daft. Hopefully if enough of us do that enough times it might even sink into Bengo’s dense brain eventually to stop being so hard on himself!
We got the barge going, which drew us quite a sizeable audience out on the quayside, and took it round the headland to the west of the town. The sea beyond the headland is murky at the best of times, and wisps of mist floated around us all throughout the journey. Anyway, we got it up to the cliff-path near here, and are pretty certain that it’ll be safe from any sabotage from the towns folk, as most of them are far too wussy to venture up this far.
Back at camp again we had another Scene. Tamaz can’t resist jibing at Bengo, but at least we found out what the causes of it are now. Toppy has said he wants to refurnish the barge, before we take off on our travels again, and make it more homely. So another shopping trip looms. Tamaz’s gripe is that Bengo will get to go on this one as well, and he won’t. Lonts said he didn’t see why Tamaz couldn’t go, as the towns people should be regarding Tamaz as a hero right now. There was some logic in this, though I don’t think they will be showering Tamaz with rose petals somehow, but at least they should keep a respectful distance! Tamaz said it wasn’t the shopping that bothered him so much, (which came as quite a shock to all of us), but he’d like to see a parade of elephants!!!! I don’t know how the blazes we went from choosing lace curtains for the barge to a parade of elephants, and I faintly asked why. Because he’d once seen some elephants when we did the Festival at Port West apparently. They’d all been having their water break, and when they’d finished they all linked trunks with tails and walked off again. He’d like to see it again. I said there was no way we were going to be able to rustle up a parade of elephants at such short notice, and he’d have to make do with a shopping trip. No wonder I can feel a headache coming on!
This time we went down to the town brazenly, and not remotely incognito. We accompanied Toppy whilst he went to choose his blasted curtain material. Tamaz decided he wanted a dress made up out of a bolt of purple taffeta, but Adam persuaded him that this would be a touch too garish. In the meantime Tamaz and Bengo are still at each other’s throats, constantly making digs at one another. Bengo seems to be losing on point-scoring, so when we went into a bar afterwards, he sat up at the counter and looked boot-faced and dejected, like the last puppy left in the shop-window. I had to go and try and jolly him out of it, which isn’t easy when he’s in that mood.
Fortunately Kieran, Ransey and Hillyard came in shortly with a map. It wasn’t much of a map to be honest. All it showed was mountains and coastline to the north of here (where we’re going), which is virtually what we already knew. Kieran said it was better than nothing, but I can’t see it making any difference all to our travels. Anyway, we got all the way down here without a map, and a map wouldn’t have shown us all the problems we’ve encountered in this very weird place!”
Rumble and Hoowie had been left behind to mind the camp, and to keep Fabulous company, because it was imperative he didn’t go anywhere near the town. When the others returned it was to find Hoowie in a real grot about the entire situation.
“All I asked you to do was to sit here the whole day”, said Bardin, following him into the tepee where they could have a row in peace “Was that too much to ask?! And at least you didn’t have to go shopping with Toppy, you know what he’s like!”
“That flashy piece of goods is not one of us!” said Hoowie, meaning Fabulous.
“Give the poor sod a chance!” said Bardin “Everybody has trouble adjusting at first. I know you did!”
Hoowie ran out of the tepee and took off along the causeway, in the direction of the house.
“Alright, I’ll go after him”, said Adam to Bardin.
Bardin watched helplessly as Adam followed Hoowie. He then turned to Lonts and Bengo, who had been standing pensively nearby, and barked at them to make some tea.
Adam caught up with Hoowie.
“He’s gonna ruin it all, I know he is”, Hoowie sobbed “He’s got bad blood in him, you know he has”.
“That is complete nonsense”, said Adam “I wouldn’t want people holding it against me personally because my father was a complete shit!”
“Oh c’mon!” said Hoowie “I bet he was nothing like Flashy’s grandfather and his brother!”
“I wouldn’t like to say”, said Adam.
“You’re class, anyone can see that”, said Hoowie “You’re the classiest, most sophisticated bloke I’ve ever met”.
“Good heavens”, said Adam “I can’t wait to tell Julian that!”
“Well he’s classy as well”, said Hoowie “But you’re even classier. In fact, I dunno how you put up with a bunch of vulgar tossers like the clowns at all!”
“That’s because they’re not a bunch of vulgar tossers”, said Adam “They can be extremely exasperating at times, but I find them rather sweet and funny. For all their toughness, they have a very childlike approach to life which I find rather endearing. They‘re like Lo-Lo in that respect”.
“Bardin’s saying that I was worse than Flashy when I joined”, said Hoowie.
“You were a tad problematical at times”, said Adam “But nothing that we couldn’t cope with. Now let’s get back to the camp. Julian will be coming out of the bushes soon, and he’ll be rather cross if he finds you still playing up”.
“Can’t you do that some other time?” said Julian.
It was after supper, and Adam was wiping a frying-pan with a piece of old newspaper.
“No I can’t”, said Adam “Unlike you I don’t have unlimited hours in the day”.
“Well get someone else to do it for a moment”, said Julian “I want to have a chat with you”.
Adam asked Toppy to take over, and then followed Julian to the edge of the forest. There was a full moon, and it was blanketing the marshes, the causeway, and the old hunting-lodge in an eerie glow.
“Every time I come across you you’re up to your armpits in some grotty job”, Julian complained, getting out his cigars.
“That’s because I’m very sophisticated and classy”, said Adam “According to Hoowie anyway. I’m the most sophisticated, classy bloke he’s ever met”.
“That clearly shows the limited circles he used to move in!” said Julian.
“Ooh you bitchy little gobshite!” Adam laughed, taking a cigarillo.
“Hey, see that?” Julian pointed at a dim and distant light was seemed to be slowly moving through the house “What do you think it is?”
“Why the hell should I care!” Adam snapped.
“Don’t be such a wuss”, said Julian.
“I’ll be what I damn well like!” said Adam “I’m exhausted, we’ve had a long and stressful day, and there’ll be an even longer and more stressful one tomorrow. You needn’t think I’m going to get worked up about any old lunatic wandering through the house with a lamp!”
And with that he stormed back to the camp.
Dawn was barely breaking the next morning when they packed up the camp, and prepared to leave. There was a general feeling of bad vibes in the air, a feeling that it was only a matter of time, and very little time at that, before some of the towns people would get up enough desperation to come looking for Fabulous. Kieran warned him that having immortality didn’t make you immune from harm. They could still feel pain, and if the towns people decided to exact a terrible retribution on Fabulous, he might feel the agony of it for a very long time. When people suffered great pain they didn’t cry for death’s merciful release for nothing, he pointed out.
Kieran, Joby, Bardin, Hillyard, Ransey and Julian were to travel up past the caves using the horses and the wagon. The others were to take the barge, and they would all meet up at a small cove marked on The Useless Map a few hours on. It was a considerable wrench for Bardin to insist Bengo travel on the barge for the day. Having Bengo around did give him strength, but he felt that Bengo needed a day of relative normality, whether he wanted one or not, and plus, Adam would already be one down with Joby out on the road, so he needed Bengo’s help.
At the headland overlooking The Dead Valley, they dismounted and surveyed the scene, exactly as they had done several months before, when they had arrived at the old hunting-lodge in the autumn. Bardin and Joby were standing by themselves, talking in low voices.
“We just leave it”, said Bardin.
“We don’t go looking for Her?” said Joby.
“Why should we?” said Bardin “It’s for them to sort out. We’ve got rid of their evil regime, shown them that they do have contact with the outside world after all, we don’t do yet more destruction for them. What do you think?”
“There’s been killing enough”, said Joby “I haven’t got the stomach for this one. I keep thinking of Tamaz …”
“Quite”, said Bardin, giving his arm a little squeeze “Let’s move on, and put this area behind us”.
A narrow river wound like an artery up through the centre of the Dead Lands, handily coming in through the sea, and the Indigo-ites could take the barge up along it. The Dead Lands seemed to become more and more aptly named the further they penetrated into them. Absolutely nothing, other than themselves of course, appeared to be alive in this part of the world. The hills and mountains were brown and devoid of trees or vegetation. There were no animals, and the only birds they saw were dead, lying rotting on the land.
The weather at least was bright, and Fabulous sat huddled up on the broad roof of the barge, resting his chin on his knees and staring glumly at the dirty water of the river as it swirled past.
“I’m getting very worried about him”, Adam said to Joby, one morning in the main room below “He seems to have developed a morbid obsession about his ancestors, and it’s preying on him too much. I’ve tried to tell him that all families have bad blood in them somewhere, but he won’t have it”.
“Too right they do!” said Joby “I could get seriously depressed sometimes when I remember that Josh is my brother!”
“Well exactly”, said Adam “You must go up and talk to him”.
“I should’ve realised that one was coming!” said Joby “Why have I gotta go and do it all the time?”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, it’s obvious!” said Adam “He trusts you far more than the rest of us. For some God-only-knows what reason, he thinks you are a fount of wisdom and commonsense!”
“What do I say though?!” Joby squawked “’Put a lid on it mate, you’re thoroughly pissing us all off!’”
“I do hope you try something a little more sensitive than that!” said Adam “If I wanted the sledgehammer approach to psychiatry, I would send Julian up there!”
Joby’s feeling though was that perhaps the sledgehammer approach was what was needed. He spent a fruitless while trying to talk Fabulous out of his dark cupboard, but Fabulous was locked into this black introspection. When Joby pointed out that he was well out of the reach of the towns people by now, Fabulous merely sulked that he would be an exile for the rest of eternity. It seemed hopeless to try and persuade someone who had spent their lives in a thoroughly insular backwater, that the world was a big place. In desperation, Joby asked Hillyard to give Fabulous a job grooming the horses, on the grounds that practical work was sometimes a soothing solace. Joby himself though was now thoroughly depressed by this frustrating conversation, and returned below deck in a temper, slamming the door into his cabin behind him.
“Sorry Kiel”, he said “I forgot you were asleep”.
“What’s the matter?” said Kieran, from his bunk.
Joby threw himself on the bunk and told him about the conversation.
“Well we have to make allowances”, said Kieran, reluctantly “He’s still very young. Most people are completely self-obsessed at his age”.
“We had to go through a lot more when we were his age!” said Joby.
“Ach Joby, you sound like an old man!” said Kieran.
“I am an old man!” said Joby “Don’t let appearances fool you! Look what we went through at his age, Henang, the Loud House, Kiskev …”
“Marlsblad, the Winter Palace, the Freak Colony”, Kieran quipped “As you’re insisting on giving a list of our early epic adventures!”
“Let alone being captured by Father Gabriel!” Joby went on “And finding ourselves alone in a really fucking strange new world”.
“We weren’t alone”, said Kieran “We had each other. And that’s the trouble you see. Fabulous doesn’t feel he fits in with us. I’m beginning to think Hoowie may have been right after all”.
“That’s not summat we hear everyday!” said Joby “Kiel, he’s not making any effort to fit in! The clowns won’t go near him, because he’s made it clear he despises ’em”.
“I think despises is a wee bit harsh”, said Kieran “He doesn’t understand them, and that alone shouldn’t be a problem, after all Tamaz has been contemptuous of them for years!”
“True”, Joby laughed “But I spose they can cope with Tamaz, he’s all hot-blooded and theatrical like them. Knows how to throw a good hissy fit. Whereas Fabulous just goes into these snotty sulks, and sits there brooding all the time. And everybody seems to be expecting me to work some kind of miracle and sort it out!”
“That’s because you did such a good job with me and Tamaz”, said Kieran.
“You two are a doddle by comparison!” said Joby.
Bengo tentatively poked his head round the cabin door.
“Would anybody like a cup of tea?” he said.
“You can come in all the way you know!” said Joby.
“Adam said you were in a really filthy temper”, said Bengo.
“That he is!” said Kieran.
“Bardy says he’s gonna tell the other clowns to be more outgoing and friendly to Flashy”, said Bengo, miserably “I’ve told him it’s a rotten idea, they won’t like it at all, and it’s bound to backfire in some really wretched way, but he won’t have it. He said it was completely unacceptable that all the time Flashy was moping on the roof, they just sat at the other end playing cards! Oh misery! It’s never gonna work! It’s gotta be one of the very worst ideas he’s ever had!”
“I think clouting him round the back of the head with a bag of cement ‘s the only answer”, said Joby “Fabulous I mean, not Bardin, so don’t go getting any ideas!”
“Anyway we haven’t got a bag of cement”, said Kieran.
Bardin’s idea was a non-starter anyway. The other clowns reacted to it with a grim determination to do exactly the opposite to what he suggested. For the rest of the day they had a tendency to stare glumly and silently at Fabulous. When bed-time rolled round Bardin was seething.
“I could have told you that was gonna happen, Bardy”, said Bengo, who was already in their bunk in The Glory-Hole “But you never, NEVER, listen to me, so you’re just gonna have to lump it”.
“I had to do something!” said Bardin, getting undressed in a temper.
“I don’t see why”, said Bengo “Just leave ‘em all alone. Why don’t you and me go for a walk on the shore tomorrow, instead of faffing about that lot?”
“OK”, said Bardin, getting into the bunk and turning down the lamp.
“It’s quiet out here isn’t it?” said Bengo, after a short pause.
“Of course it is, we’re out in the middle of bloody nowhere!” said Bardin “What do you expect to hear, traffic noises?!”
“We can’t even hear the sea anymore”, said Bengo “What if we just keep going along here forever, and never come to an end of it?”
“And we can do without that kind of morbid claptrap!” said Bardin “Of course we’ll come to an end of it!”
“Eventually perhaps”, said Bengo, grudgingly “But we might be stuck like this for thousands of miles”.
“Bengo!” Bardin exclaimed, in exasperation “Go to fucking sleep! You and Farnol were like this when you were kids. You’d wind each other up telling each other ghost stories, and then be too afraid to go to sleep! Nothing much has changed as far as I can see!”
Bengo stroppily turned over onto his side, taking half the bedclothes with him. After a while they could hear a strange noise coming from the main room on the barge. Fabulous was sleeping there on a camp-bed, after he had flatly refused to go in the communal bed.
“Is he having some kind of a fit, Bardy?” Bengo asked.
Bardin wearily heaved himself out of the bunk, and reached for his robe. Bengo followed him. They found that Fabulous had fallen off his camp-bed, and was lying half-conscious on the bare wooden floor, his bedclothes caught round his legs, and an empty wine-bottle rolling nearby.
“I thought we were getting through that rather quickly!” said Adam, leading the others out of the main cabin.
“He can’t be fucking trusted on his own in here can he!” said Hillyard, aggrieved at the waste of good booze.
“He certainly can’t be left to sleep in here”, said Adam, as Lonts returned the camp-bed to its customary position.
“Well don’t look at me”, said Joby “Our cabin’s so small you can barely open the door in it. I dunno how he’s gonna sleep on the floor in there, not unless you plan to make him sleep standing on his head!”
There clearly was only one viable place. The Glory-Hole. Bengo was furious.
“There must be some other place”, he said, as Lonts dragged the camp-bed in there.
“This is the only place”, Lonts boomed.
“Bloody hell!” said Bengo “Every time I get out of bed I’m gonna have to worry I’m putting my foot on his cheesy face!”
“Stop complaining, and get into bed out of the way”, said Joby “Or I’ll ping your knicker-elastic!”
“This is ridiculous”, Bardin said to Adam “Why can’t you and Julian sort him out? If it was anyone else caught boozing in the middle of the night you’d both do something!”
“That’s ‘cos they’re not interested in Fabs”, said Joby, bluntly.
“That’s quite enough from both of you!” said Adam “Joby, you are hideously in the way, go back to bed. And Bardin, you may be Captain old love, but you’re going to feel the back of my hand in the morning!”
“Bardy brought it on himself”, said Bengo, philosophically, as he and Farnol ate spam sandwiches at the front of the barge the next morning “It was a stupid thing to do, go cheeking Adam when he’s tired. Bardy’s had some utterly stupid ideas lately!”
“He’s never exactly been easy has he!” said Farnol “I always used to feel sorry for you having him as a partner. I dunno how you haven’t throttled him sometimes!”
“He can be very sweet”, Bengo sighed “He’s a very sensitive person. I remember once when we first knew him he burst into tears because he couldn’t get a routine right. I guess I’ve felt a bit protective of him ever since”.
Mutton Broth and Shag leaned over the roof of the barge, giggled inanely at them, and then disappeared again.
“What was that all about?” said Bengo.
“They think it’s hilarious that you’re having to share a cabin with Flashy”, said Farnol.
“I’m glad somebody’s getting a kick out of it!” Bengo snapped.
“Oh don’t worry, you’ll still get your oats”, said Farnol “You’ll just have to go in there during the day that’s all”.
“It wasn’t just sex I was thinking of”, said Bengo.
“I don’t think about it at all these days”, said Farnol “Can’t remember the last time in fact. It wouldn’t bother me at all if we were a celibate order”.
“Everybody has their own different levels I suppose”, said Bengo.
“I don’t seem to have one at all!” said Farnol.
“Farnol!” Bardin shouted, coming round the corner of the barge on one of the very narrow gangways at the side “There is a heap of washing for you to do at the other end”.
“I’d better get on with it then hadn’t I!” said Farnol, getting up and sidling past him.
“What were you talking about?” said Bardin to Bengo.
“Sex”, said Bengo.
“What?” Bardin exclaimed “You two?!”
“No, Bardy”, Bengo sighed.
After stamping around up on deck for a few minutes, Bardin thumped back down the quarterdeck steps and into The Glory-Hole, slamming the door behind him.
“He’s still upset because of what you did, Adam”, said Lonts, who was sharing a small dish of jam with Snowy.
“I think that’s very harsh, Lo-Lo”, said Adam “I only did what needed to be done”.
“Yeah, and you do it pretty thoroughly!” said Joby.
“I strongly suggest you only speak when you’ve got something useful to say”, said Adam.
“That’ll be never then!” said Kieran.
Joby poured out a cup of tea and took it into The Glory-Hole, where he found Bardin sobbing on his bunk.
“Oh don’t look at me”, said Bardin “This is hardly being manly is it!”
“I think it’s a bit late for us lot to be worrying about being manly!” said Joby, sitting down beside him “Most people’d be upset after a going over by Adam!”
“No it’s not that”, said Bardin “I just can’t seem to stop weeping at the moment, it’s embarrassing. I wish I could cope with it all like you do”.
“I’m alright during the day, ’cos there’s so much to do”, said Joby “But it comes and gets me in the middle of the night, and then just these horrible images of what we saw keep coming into my head, at the worst possible time”.
“I’m starting to get frustrated because I can’t get over all that that happened back there”, said Bardin.
“It’ll take a while”, said Joby.
He lay on the bunk next to him and put his arms round him. Lonts burst into the room.
“Bardin! Joby!” he hollered “A tree’s appeared!”
“What do you mean, a tree’s appeared?” said Joby, irascibly.
“I don’t know why I bother telling you anything, Joby”, said Lonts, flouncing out of the room again.
“Neither do I!” said Joby.
The tree was dead, an ugly monstrosity stuck on the river-bank, with its blackened gnarled branches and roots clutching the skulls of animals and people, bleached white by the sun. Like a grotesque, nightmare version of a Christmas tree. Bardin felt he might well become broken under this latest grim disappointment. He paced the deck all afternoon, feeling that the welling-up of emotion and energy inside him might well induce him to go into a total collapse.
Late afternoon though the miraculous happened. They emerged finally from The Dead Lands, and they glided on down the river between luscious trees, with the sun dappling through the branches in a way that they had begun to think they would never seen again. The Indigo-ites threw an impromptu party to celebrate. Wine was brought up onto the deck and the gramophone.
“You must be pleased too, old love”, Adam said to a surprisingly glum-looking Fabulous “You’ve put the range of your grandfather behind you at long last. He didn’t extend this far. We’re beyond The Dead Lands now. I would have thought you would be feeling free”.
“I don’t know what I feel at the moment”, said Fabulous, maddeningly.
“If you ask me there’s more of his grandfather in him than we’ve cared to admit”, said Julian, when Adam joined him on the other side of the barge.
“How do you mean?” said Adam.
“Well he gets a certain relish out of destroying things”, said Julian “Oh only in a mild way, but it’s one to be watched. Since moving into The Glory-Hole he’s enjoyed putting a spoke in where Bengo and Bardin are concerned. Don’t look worried, I’m sure those two can manage it. What Flashy hasn’t yet grasped, which I find quite amazing, is that those two thrive on discord!”
They chugged out into a large lake, where the river, in a much broader incarnation, was to continue on its course on the far side. As darkness was approaching they decided to anchor in the middle of the lake for the night, just in case, going by some of their past experiences, there were any unpleasant surprises lurking in the woods at night.
Below deck, Kieran decided to chop and change Fabulous’s sleeping-arrangements. He had overheard the conversation between Julian and Adam earlier, and came to the conclusion that the only way round this was to halve the amount of time Fabulous spent in Bengo and Bardin’s cabin. He would alternate it from now on. One night in there, and one night sleeping half-in half-out of his and Joby’s cabin. Lonts was roped in to move the camp-bed and bedding, and both he and Bengo were full of praise for this idea. “I think Kieran is wonderful”, Bengo enthused.
“I think Kieran is a jerk!” said Joby, who wasn’t at all happy with this new idea.
“We can’t put him in the bed with us”, Farnol was saying, as Joby wended his unhappy way to his own cabin “We’d need a crowbar to get him in, there’s so little room”.
“Yeah alright”, said Joby “Stop harping on about it!”
“It’s a shame you have to put up with me at all isn’t it!” Fabulous snapped.
“Don’t start on like that”, said Joby “You sound like some sulky, snotty teenage girl! Just pack it in!”
At a chilly, but beautiful dawn the next day, Bardin went up on deck to survey the scene. The mist was slowly clearing from amongst the trees which promised a fine day ahead.
“We’ve made it out of the Dead Lands, Bardy”, said Bengo, bringing him up a mug of tea “And it’s all down to you. You got us here. You held us all together”.
“No I didn’t”, said Bardin “It’s Kieran who holds us all together, plus Julian and Adam, I don’t do anything”.
“That’s complete crap, Bardy!” said Bengo, fiercely “Anymore talk like that and I’ll put you across my knee!”
“Well I wasn’t coping with it at all, Bengo”, said Bardin, close to tears “It was grinding me down”.
“It was bound to!” said Bengo “You are so hard on yourself, far harder than you are with me or any of the others, and it’s so stupid! Isn’t life hard enough sometimes without beating yourself up into the bargain! I don’t know how you’re gonna survive eternity if you keep on like this!”
“Are you two fighting again?” said Hillyard, coming round the corner of the barge with Mieps “I thought you might call a ceasefire at the moment!”
“It’s Bardy, being hard on himself”, said Bengo.
“Why?” said Hillyard “You did a great job. I was beginning to think we were never going to get out of the Dead Lands. I suppose that weird tree we saw was like a sort of boundary fence, marking the end of it”.
“Or the beginning”, said Mieps “A warning to anyone travelling in from this side”.
“That’s more likely”, said Bardin.
The water glistened in the sunshine, as they chuff-chuffed up across the lake and out onto the long, wide river, bordered on one side by woodland, and on the other by open marshland stretching out towards the distant horizon. After a couple of days of this they came to an old settlement, long since abandoned, on the wooded side of the river. It had clearly once been a small fishing community, as many of the buildings had been given over to boat-building and repairing. The people, possibly only about a dozen-or-so, had had their living quarters on the first floor, reached via rickety wooden ladders and steps.
“I wouldn’t try doing anything too vigorous on this one”, said Joby, as he and Bardin inspected an old brass bedstead which had weeds growing up through it.
“I don’t know about the earth moving, but the floor might!” said Bardin.
“Even so”, said Joby “We can put the tepee up down below, that’ll relieve some congestion on the barge … if you know what I mean”.
“I can’t take much more of him in our cabin”, said Bardin, dropping his voice to a whisper, even though Fabulous, the object of their conversation, was over on the barge, well out of earshot “He deliberately winds us up, just to cause friction between us, and Bengo, the stupid, great nit, rises to it every time! Does he try that with you and Kieran?”
“He’s certainly jealous of Kieran”, said Joby “But I just tell him to belt up when he starts on about him, he should know by now that I’m not gonna take him making digs at Kieran, especially not after everything Kieran’s done for him”.
They went out onto the landing, where Lonts was standing, with Snowy under his arm.
“I don’t think you should be up here at all!” said Joby.
“Adam said I could come up here and look round, Joby”, said Lonts.
“Not one of his better decisions”, said Joby “Don’t blame me when you come crashing through the floor!”
Joby went on down the ladder and then outside, where Tamaz was sitting at the edge of the clearing, with one of the goats on a leash beside him.
“Why are so many places we come across deserted like this?” said Tamaz.
“’Cos the world got heavily depopulated I spose”, said Joby, sitting down on the grass beside him “It’s gonna take a while to get it back up to scratch, if it ever does. There were several billion back in my time”.
“Several billion?!” said Tamaz, unable to comprehend such an enormous world population “How did you all fit on the planet!”
“A question that often used to get asked!” said Joby.
Adam returned to the barge to find Fabulous, at one end of it, in another of his gloomy sulks.
“Why don’t you go and have a look round?” said Adam “It’s quite fascinating”.
Fabulous gave him a withering look, which made Adam strongly want to slap him. He decided bluntness was called for.
“I do think you need to make a bit more of an effort, old love”, he said “We all know what you’ve been through this past year, but you can’t afford to get stuck into a fug about it”.
“Everybody hates me”, said Fabulous, in his most petulant voice.
“They don’t”, said Adam “But they will do if you keep this up! I know the clowns can be a bit of a handful at times, but they will respond if you make a bit more effort to be friendly”.
Unfortunately, at that moment, he chose to look across to the abandoned settlement, where the clowns had set up a tripod over a camp-fire to make some tea, and all of them were sat round it, glaring contemptuously at Fabulous.
“I have always had this trouble”, said Fabulous “From my family, from the townspeople, from Belle, everybody hates me. Nobody wants me around. There is something about me that repels them”.
“Oh nonsense!” said Adam, in exasperation “People generally tend to respond according to how they are treated. Perhaps if they’ve been like that with you, it’s because they can sense that’s how you feel about them! Oh I’m tired of sounding like a bloody, hearty netball captain, I’m going below”.
“Did you see that?” said Bengo, grabbing Bardin’s arm “Adam’s just stormed below deck. Flashy must have upset him”.
Bardin grunted. He was tired of hearing about Fabulous and his peculiar attitudes. That’s all he seemed to hear about these days. As a subject of gossip, it was extremely tedious.
“Could we”, he said, with forced patience “Just for a change, talk about something else! I’m beginning to wonder what it was we talked about before he joined us!”
“Happy days”, Rumble muttered, cleaning out the little clay pipe that he had bought back in Nuit. He had taken up pipe-smoking, much to Joby’s disgust, who thought that having one pipe-smoker, (Lonts), around was quite bad enough! “Fact remains though”, Rumble continued “That he’s a problem, and we’ve gotta face that”.
“Hoowie was a problem when we first had him”, said Bardin “But I don’t remember spending hours on end talking over and over it like this”.
“That’s because the worst Hoowie ever did was to take all his clothes off in public”, said Rumble.
“That was bad enough!” Bengo joked.
“He could be irritating alright”, said Rumble “But we never felt threatened by him”.
Bardin gave a contemptuous snort at the thought of feeling threatened by Hoowie.
“Exactly!” Farnol chipped in “But it’s not the case with himself is it”.
“OK, he’s childish, he’s jealous, he’s insecure …” said Bardin.
“And he doesn’t want anyone else near Joby”, said Rumble.
“You … you don’t think he’d harm Kieran?” said Bengo, faintly.
Rumble didn’t say anything, but continued to clean his pipe.
“But that’s terrible!” said Bengo “Bardy, what are we gonna do?”
“Stop jumping to conclusions, that’s what we’re going to do!” Bardin snapped.
Hal stood up to speak, as though he was in the audience at a public meeting.
“It’s not just Kieran”, he said, and he looked significantly over to where Joby was cuddling Tamaz at the foot of a tree. Over on the barge Fabulous was staring fixedly at them, tears welling in his eyes.
Bardin gave a cry of extreme annoyance, and disappeared into the tepee.
“Perhaps it’ll be better when we’re on the move again soon”, he said, lying in bed that night with Bengo “We’ll have plenty to think about then, travelling in a strange area we’ve never been in before, and we don’t even have a map. The downside is we’ll occasionally have to have him in here with us again at night, unless we can always find somewhere to pitch on the land”.
“He’s ruining everything, Bardy”, said Bengo “We’d all be really enjoying all this at the moment if it wasn’t for him”.
“But you seemed to be enjoying it earlier”, said Bardin “When we were all washing in the river, he didn’t manage to ruin that”.
“You didn’t see what he was like when we got back on the boat”, said Bengo “Joby was playing Pontoon with Farnol and Rumble …”
“Oh yes”, Bardin laughed “Wearing only his wet towel from what I remember!”
“And Flashy started whining ’why do you want to do that?’ at him”, said Bengo “’It’s really boring’. And then, a little while later, I heard him saying to Joby that he thought Kieran was evil, because he thinks Kieran and Angel are cut from the same cloth”.
“Fuck!” said Bardin “What did Joby say? I’m surprised I didn’t hear him erupt!”
“He was sensible”, said Bengo “He cut Fabulous dead, and went into his cabin. I think Kieran’s persuaded him to laugh at it, he says it’s not exactly the first time somebody’s slagged him off, but I know Joby’s really annoyed about it”.
“I’m not surprised!” said Bardin.
“Both Kieran and Angel have special powers that other people can’t do”, said Bengo “There are some things Angel can do that Kieran can’t, and some things Kieran can do that Angel can’t, but Kieran’s the light angel, and Angel’s the dark one, why can’t Flashy see that?”
“Because he wants to hate Kieran”, said Bardin “We’ve got trouble, BIG trouble. I thought we could get round it by just being reasonable and getting on with things, and that he’d see sense after all. I’m not sure that’s going to happen now”.
The other clowns reported to Bardin that Fabulous suffered nightmares when he was asleep, which in turn kept them awake. During the day he took to the habit of sitting on a stool facing the wall. It was all very disturbing.
“Why do we have to be in the middle of nowhere with this happening?” Bardin exclaimed, as he and Bengo went for a walk in the woods to talk things over “If we were in civilisation, at least we’d be able to get him to a doctor!”
“I hope you’re not suggesting that we go back to Nuit?” said Bengo.
“Don’t be stupid!” said Bardin “If we took him back there they’d probably skin him alive, and us alive as well! No, we have to travel on, and hope we come to somewhere soon”.
He pondered long and hard as to whether they should abandon the barge and travel overland, but in the end decided to keep the barge for a while. They chugged on up the river, until it broadened out into an unnervingly still sea. Bizarrely, disused electricity pylons were strung along the countryside to their left. A vast expanse of sea faced them though, broken only by a small island made entirely of black rock set in the middle directly ahead of them. Never before had they felt so utterly that they had come to the edge of everything, and that all that lay ahead was this watery nothingness.
Looking through binoculars, Bardin saw that a very steep flight of steps had been cut into the rock on the side facing them.
“We can use those to get to the top of the island”, he said to Bengo, who was standing next to him with his hands stuffed into the bib of his pinny.
“What for?” said Bengo.
“Because”, said Bardin, with forced patience “From way up there we can get a good view of the surrounding countryside. Going out into that bleak sea doesn’t look very appealing at all. I want to know if it’s worth more our while to chug along the coast here”.
“I’d much rather we did that”, said Bengo, who didn’t think the sea looked very appealing either.
Bardin instructed Mieps to take the barge as close to the bottom of the steps as she could. Feeling rather impressive and Captainly, he then turned and walked smack into Bengo.
“Haven’t you got anything to do below deck!” he snapped.
Bengo stuck his tongue out at him.
Of course everybody wanted to go ashore and explore the Black Island, but somebody had to stay below deck and keep an eye on Fabulous, who was still doing his staring-at-the-wall routine. The clowns had no patience with him, and thought he was doing it to get attention. Joby got in a tizzy, and thought everybody wanted him to sit below and nanny him. This he flatly refused to do, and he strode ashore as though he was on his way to sort somebody out. Adam protested that nobody had meant Joby to do it, and he couldn’t understand why he was so tetchy all the time. Kieran miserably offered to sit with Fabulous, and everybody else happily agreed to let him.
“Do him good, that’s what it will”, said Joby, stumbling up the steps practically on all fours “Make him see that it’s us who are having our patience tried”.
“But I don’t think Patsy has ever denied that”, said Adam “Poor little thing, he looked most dejected when we left him behind”.
“I’ll take him a bit of rock back as a souvenir”, Joby grunted.
“You’re utterly impossible!” said Adam “Next time there’s a shore excursion you can stay behind, and I’ll take Patsy”.
“Bloody hard work this place ent it!” said Hillyard, who was crawling up behind Adam.
“I wonder who on earth cut these steps here”, said Adam “And why”.
“To get to the top?” Joby snorted with laughter.
“I don’t think you could get more irritating today if you tried!” said Adam.
Bardin, who was climbing ahead of them, blew his whistle.
“Now what?” said Joby.
A set of double wooden doors were set in the rock-face.
“Well that’s answered your question”, said Joby to Adam “The steps were to get here”.
The doors weren’t locked, and although very stiff and hard to budge, eventually were pulled open, to reveal a large room, which could be accurately described as cavernous, set into the rock. The entire wall space was made of rock. A large fireplace was opposite them, with a cauldron on a tripod set over it. The only other items in the room were a long wooden refectory table, and a wooden bench.
“Good grief”, said Joby “Talk about the Old Witch of Wooky Hole! I think she must have lived here!”
“It must have been like a travellers rest-stop surely?” said Adam “That’s what it feels like to me”.
Bengo and Bardin, meanwhile, had gone on up to the top of the rock, where they found the remains of an old beacon. Bardin stood facing the land and got out his binoculars.
“Can I have a look?” said Bengo.
“I haven’t looked myself yet!” said Bardin, polishing the lenses thoroughly.
The view through them looked promising. The countryside was densely wooded, with slivers of narrow beach along the shore, but here and there the roof of the occasional building could be glimpsed through the trees.
“Now that looks promising”, said Bardin, handing the binoculars to Bengo.
“I expect it’s just more deserted buildings”, Bengo sighed.
“It doesn’t matter!” said Bardin, in exasperation “It’ll be easier than travelling out through that”.
He gestured at the wide open expanse of the still sea.
“I don’t know what’s the matter with you at the moment”, Bardin continued “You could try and show a bit more enthusiasm”.
“It’s hard to”, Bengo protested “When we go back to the barge and see Fabulous staring at the wall!”
“Ignore him!” said Bardin “As much as you possibly can anyway. That’s another reason to travel up the coast, it’ll be less claustrophobic than being confined to the barge all the time out on the sea. Less scary as well. Being out there feels too vulnerable at the moment”.
“Why at the moment?” said Bengo.
“Because of him”, said Bardin “We don’t want to be trapped on a wooden barge in the middle of the ocean with somebody who’s going completely loopy!”
When Joby returned to the barge he felt guilty for leaving Kieran alone with Fabulous, particularly when he found Kieran playing Patience at the kitchen table, and Fabulous still staring at the wall.
“Has he said anything?” Joby whispered to Kieran.
“Not a word”, said Kieran, in a normal voice.
Joby took Kieran into their cabin and shut the door.
“I’m sorry, Kiel”, said Joby “I know you’re mad at me”.
Kieran didn’t reply. He leaned against their bunk with his arms folded.
“But I just wanted to show I wasn’t gonna put up with any ‘let’s understand Fabulous’ rubbish”, said Joby.
“It’s Bardin who’s being doing that, not me!” Kieran exclaimed.
“Yeah well”, said Joby “I’d like to tell him to stay here and mind the Nutter, but he’s Captain, so I can’t”.
“No, so you pick on me instead!” said Kieran.
“Look, next time we have a shore-excursion, you go, and I’ll stay behind”, said Joby, with what he felt was the height of magnanimity.
“I wouldn’t feel easy leaving you alone with him”, said Kieran.
“What’s going on here?” said Julian, throwing open the door.
“Eh?” said Joby.
“Are you talking about that psychopath out there?” said Julian.
“Ah you’ve noticed he’s with us then!” said Kieran.
“Don’t get sarky with me”, said Julian “We’ve lived with plenty of nutters before”.
“You can say that again!” Joby mumbled.
“All of which have been worse than him”, said Julian “Your brother, MY brother if it comes to that, Dobley, bloody Codlik, Crowley, Sade, why is everybody taking so much notice of this one?”
“Because he’s throwing this depressing atmosphere of gloom everywhere”, said Kieran.
“He’s an attention-seeker”, said Julian “That’s all it is”.
“I don’t think it’s as simple as that”, said Kieran.
“IT IS EVERY BIT AS SIMPLE AS THAT!“ Julian thundered, and slammed the door on his way out.
For the rest of the day he could be heard muttering about “bloody effete do-gooders” and “bloody woolly liberal thinking”. Kieran went to bed early to get away from it all. Lonts put Snowy and Brownie to bed early too, but this was more because he was concerned that Fabulous might take it into his head to attack them in some way.
The next morning they left The Black Island, and chugged on up the coast. Because the weather was hot and sunny Adam took himself up onto the roof of the barge, and sunbathed in the nude.
“Ransey will be going mad with sexual frustration when he sees you like that”, said Julian, slapping Adam’s bottom roughly as he sat down beside him.
“Nonsense”, said Adam “Although he can be rather disapproving. He used to get very narked in the early days when I sunbathed on Father Gabriel’s yacht. Mind you, that all changed when we reached the desert island, and he took to throwing off his clothes with gay abandon too”.
“I don’t notice much gay abandon anywhere at the moment”, Julian grumbled “That bloody psycho is having an effect on everybody”.
“It’s very hard not to be affected by him”, said Adam, in a tense voice “When he’s sat there all the time, staring at the wall. He must be extremely ill to want to keep doing it. Even an attention-seeker would have got bored by now. But what else can we do? None of us can force him to be sociable, and quite frankly I haven’t the time, the inclination, or the interest to psycho-analyse him”.
“But what’s he got to be so damn moody about?” said Julian “He’s well away from the danger he was in, he can start afresh. Nowhere we go from now on, or whoever we meet, is going to be remotely interested in what bad stock he came from, and what happened in the past is his own concern”.
“I find it so hard to believe that he was once the swaggering boy we first knew”, said Adam “I’d do anything to have the old Fabulous back again. He could be annoying for sure, but it was a vast improvement on this one!”
Hillyard strolled into Kieran’s cabin, where Kieran was lying forlornly in his bunk.
“Cheer up”, said Hillyard.
“I can’t”, said Kieran “I’m a Pisces, the most miserable, cold-blooded sign of the Zodiac, according to one of Finia‘s books anyway, a cold fish!”
“Is Joby a Pisces as well then?” said Hillyard, jokingly.
“No”, he said “But Fabulous is, and look at the state he’s in at the moment!”
“I might have some good news for you there”, said Hillyard, leaning against the bunk “Just overheard the old dears talking up on the roof, all about him”.
“So?” said Kieran.
“So I think that’s a good sign!” said Hillyard “Look, Julian hasn’t shown any interest in Fabulous at all so far, but now, NOW, he’s getting concerned about him”.
“Only because he’s getting grossly irritated with Fabulous constantly lurking in a corner of the main room!” Kieran pointed out “Julian can’t stand unhappy people , he wants cheerful, uncomplicated, simple souls around him all the time. That’s why he likes you and Bengo so much. I’m amazed he hasn’t suggested putting Fabulous ashore and leaving him there, I wouldn’t put it past him!”
“I’m going to start believing Finia’s book if you keep this up!” said Hillyard “It’s like talking to Joby at the moment!”
“I’m sorry”, said Kieran “But Fabulous has got me down too. It’s starting to terrify me, the hole he’s digging himself into. I know, I’ve been there, you bury yourself so far at the back of that dark cupboard, that the chink in the door gets smaller and smaller, and further and further away, and that’s what’s happening to him”.
“You wait and see”, said Hillyard “I think that we’ll notice a change from now on. Julian gets things moving when he gets like that”.
“Julian would be very flattered to hear you have such confidence in him!” Kieran chuckled.
“I’ve seen it happen before”, said Hillyard “You see, what about we make a bet on it?”
“Betting with what?” said Kieran.
“Sex”, said Hillyard, bluntly.
“You don’t have to have a bet to have that!” said Kieran.
“No, but it’ll be a bit of fun”, said Hillyard “If you win, I’ll do whatever you want, and if I win, you do whatever I want”.
“But you’re not keen on my sort of thing!” said Kieran.
“Don’t matter”, said Hillyard “’Cos you aint going to win”.
“You’re very sure about that aren’t you?” said Kieran “How long do we give it, before this miraculous cure of Julian’s takes place?”
“A week”, said Hillyard “And I’m being generous there”.
“A week?!” Kieran exclaimed “Julian’s going to cure Fabulous of a chronic nervous breakdown in one week?! If he can do that Hillyard, I’ll think he’s godlike!”
“I don’t say COMPLETELY cured …” said Hillyard.
“Ah”, said Kieran “Hedging your bets now”.
“But strong signs of improvement let‘s say”, said Hillyard “How about that?”
“Alright”, said Kieran “It’ll be an interesting experiment. Don’t tell Joby about any of this though”.
“Why not?” said Hillyard.
A mischievous smile crossed Kieran’s face.
“Because he’ll suspect we’re up to something”, he said “And it’ll drive him mad trying to work it out!”
Kieran and Hillyard at once began to watch Julian and Fabulous like a pair of seasoned poker players taking part in a particularly tense game. Things proved a bit disappointing at first though. All Julian did that afternoon was to announce that Discipline had been somewhat lax of late (which was news to everyone else, as Discipline was usually very much in evidence), and it was time to rectify that. He began by thoroughly spanking Bengo and Bardin in The Glory-Hole. Adam remarked that he was quite pleased with this, as it would keep all three of them out of trouble for a while. Bengo sat outside The Glory-Hole door whilst Bardin was being seeing to, and then Julian came out and picked him up by the back of his breeches and took him inside for his punishment.
Whilst this was going on the barge had come in sight of a wooden jetty sticking out into the relatively shallow waters. Bardin confirmed - through the door - that this would indeed be a good place to moor for a while. He said that the horses could do with some much-needed exercise, and that he and Bengo would take two of them out to explore the nearby countryside.
“Shouldn’t we rub some cream into each other first though, Bardy?” said Bengo.
“Are you crazy?” said Bardin “We can feel our exquisite soreness totally if we go riding now. It’ll be like being rubbed down with sandpaper. Marvellous. We’ll do all that when we get home”.
Bengo’s eyes were shining brightly.
“Ooh”, he said, clapping his hands “It’s almost like it was before HE joined us!”
Kieran asked if he and Joby could come too, and this made Bengo’s day even further. Hillyard brought some old wooden planks up from the hold, and laid them across the decaying jetty, so that the horses wouldn’t slip and damage their feet. Julian took advantage of all this to go below and search Kieran and Joby’s cabin.
“What are you doing?” said Adam, coming in to find Julian pulling back the bedcovers and disturbing a whole set of books which Kieran had been reading in bed, and had managed to kick to the bottom in his sleep.
“I’m convinced Irish Boy is up to something”, said Julian “He’s got that look about him”.
“As far as you’re concerned he’s always got that look about him!” said Adam “Oh do stop this Jules, it reminds me of those dreadful Night Raids we used to have at school. Mind you, you used to quite enjoy those, I can see you haven’t lost your touch!”
“Hey”, said Hillyard, coming into the room, which made it extremely cramped “Laughing Boy’s got up off his stool and is roaming about the kitchen, he’s making me nervous!”
“Well at least he’s showing some sign of life!” said Adam “I’ll go and make him a cup of tea. Hillyard, could you put the bed back together again, it’s pointless me asking Julian to do it”.
“I don’t see there’s any point me doing it either”, said Hillyard “Kieran won’t notice!”
“Yes but Joby will”, said Adam “And we’ll never hear the end of it!”
Bengo, Bardin, Kieran and Joby rode up off the beach and cautiously through the forest. They went through a thin band of trees and came out into an overgrown patch of meadowland. Rising out it was a large, solid house built of stone, with tall chimneys, and what appeared to be a small watch-tower at the left-hand side of the building. With great excitement the four rode up past the house and tethered the horses to a the posts of a dilapidated wooden veranda at the back. They roamed round the bottom of the house and peered in at the cramped little windows. From what they could gather through the dusty gloom, the building was long deserted. The main door was locked fast. A rusty pair of wind-chimes hanging on the veranda twinkled eerily in the still silence.
“It’s not got a bad Atmosphere”, said Bengo, uncertainly “Has it, Kieran?”
“I don’t think so”, said Kieran “Although I wouldn’t like to commit meself too early”.
“Why is everything we’ve come across since leaving Nuit been long abandoned?” said Bardin “What happened to this whole vast area? Did the influence of Flashy Grandfather spread this far?”
“Could’ve been any number of reasons”, said Joby “Sometimes remote areas just got abandoned ’cos people couldn’t make a go of it there anymore”.
“The St Kilda effect”, said Kieran.
“Exactly”, said Joby “Just economic reasons, nothing more sinister than that”.
“I can hear water”, said Bardin, and he ran down the grassy bank to a stream nearby “Fresh water, how’s that?”
“It’s lovely”, said Bengo.
Bardin sat down cautiously on the grass, and Joby made a caustic remark about people who dashed about recklessly with a sore backside.
“It feels like I’ve sat down on a cactus”, said Bardin.
“Kieran did that once”, said Joby “I had to pull ’em all out”.
“Kieran, you’re so sexy!” said Bengo “As sexy as a clown!”
“Nobody in the entire world knows we’re here”, said Kieran, dreamily “That’s food for thought now isn’t it?”
“Nobody in the entire world probably knows about this area these days”, said Joby.
They lay in the grass for a while, listening to the tropical birds, the gentle jangle of the horses’ harness, and the tingle of the rusty wind-chains. After a while they all got up and prowled around the outside of the building once more. At the left-hand side of the building was a narrow turret door, which initially they thought led up to the watch-tower, but when they opened it (they were surprised this was unlocked, when the main door had been so securely fastened), a short flight of stone steps led in fact down to a large cavernous chamber, completely unlit, except for what came through the open doorway. On the far side was an archway.
“You stay here and keep the door open”, Bardin instructed Bengo.
“Why have I got to stay here?” Bengo sulked “Just because I’m the youngest?!”
“God, he’s worse than Lonts sometimes!” said Joby.
“Do as I say!” said Bardin “Do you want the door to slam shut, and then we all get trapped in here!”
“The others’ll know where we are”, said Bengo “The horses are outside”.
“Bengo!” said Bardin, in complete exasperation.
He then headed for the archway, along with Joby and Kieran. The archway led into another empty cavernous chamber, this one even darker than the first, as the light from the doorway was much more muted. Yet another archway was on the far side of this one.
“Do you think they just keep going on forever?” said Joby “Like a puzzle?”
They crossed the chamber, and found that this archway led onto a steep flight of forbiddingly dark stone steps, which burrowed down into the ground.
“We can’t explore these now”, said Bardin “We need torches and lamps. Somebody could break their necks going down those in the dark. We’ll come back when we’ve told the others what we’ve found”.
The main door was bashed in, after some considerable effort. It opened onto a whitewashed, high-raftered entrance hall-cum-dining-room, which was completely dominated by a magnificent wooden, hand-carved staircase, which had clearly once been somebody’s pride and joy. It was the centrepiece of the whole house, leading up from the hallway and then branching off into two different directions. One side led along a gallery and then up a very narrow staircase into the little watch-tower. The other side led to one of only two of the habitable bedrooms in the whole house (the other was on the ground-floor, down a corridor which led past the cramped kitchen). This upstairs bedroom was huge, with windows along two sides, giving it a light, airy feel that was missing from the rest of the house. It contained an enormous wooden bed, as elaborate and hand-carved as the staircase.
“This is going to be no one’s room”, said Bardin, who could see Julian moving in almost immediately and staking it as his own “We shall all use this one whenever we feel like it”.
“There’s a locked room upstairs on the next floor”, said Ransey, coming in.
“Well there would be wouldn’t there!” said Joby “What else do you expect!”
They trooped up a plain and simple staircase to the attic floor. Down the end of a passageway was a door that had been fastened three times over with bolts and padlocks, now long since rusted over.
“How very Lovecraftian!” said Adam “Who do you think they kept in there?!”
“I’m not in any hurry to find out”, said Joby “Not after what we found back at The Governor’s House. It’s given me an aversion to going into locked rooms!”
“What ever was in there can surely no longer still be on this mortal coil”, said Adam.
“We’ll soon know if we start hearing strange noises”, said Joby, dourly.
“That’s a cheering little thought!” said Adam.
They left the attic floor and went back down to the main staircase, which, when standing at the top of it, gave a vertigo-inducing view of the hallway. Some of the others were seated at the long wooden table at the bottom, in the elegant high-backed chairs ranged round it. It was agreed that this house would provide a convenient resting-place for a while. It was very close to the sea, and so they could still use the barge. There were drawbacks to the house, mainly that it hadn’t been lived in for a very long time, and the abandoned feel of the entire area they had travelled through was decidedly eerie, but there were advantages too. Most particularly the one that Kieran had pointed out earlier … that nobody in the world knew they were here.
“Do you want to have a look at the kitchen, Joby?” asked Lonts, when Joby reached the bottom of the main staircase.
“Not on your life!” said Joby “I’m gonna have more ’en enough of that place I expect. No, c’mon, let’s go and have a look round outside”.
Lonts followed him outside, and they walked round the veranda, which bordered two sides of the house. When they got to the left hand side of the house, Joby stepped off the veranda, and looked up at the outside façade.
“What are you looking for?” said Lonts.
“To see whereabouts that locked room is”, said Joby “And if it’s got a window”.
“It’s that one boarded up”, said Lonts, pointing up to the top floor, where a few planks had been roughly nailed across a window.
“Even more bloody creepy!” said Joby “I think I’m gonna keep on sleeping on the barge at nights!”
Hillyard strolled round a corner of the house, with his hands in his pockets. Bengo walked a few paces behind him.
“Shame we haven’t got a ladder”, said Joby.
“It’d be easier to break in the door inside”, said Hillyard “I’m not in any rush to do that though”.
It looked very likely that Hillyard was going to win his bet with Kieran. Over the next couple of days Fabulous was showing marked signs of improvement. He looked dreadful. He had lost a lot of weight and his clothes hung off him. Also, because he hadn’t slept properly in some good long while, there were thick dark rings under his eyes, and he was pale from lack of sunlight. But he was showing signs of renewed energy. He voluntarily decided to join the others in exploring the house, and even showed some mild interest in it. Even more remarkably, he was making some effort to get on with some of the other Indigo-ites. He astonished Bengo by engaging him in a conversation about modelling, asking him if he had done any. Bengo told him he had only ever done promotional photographs for shows at the Cabaret and the Little Theatre, some of which had involved him in wearing very little clothing, which had incurred Bardin’s disapproval, but Fabulous seemed flatteringly impressed by all this.
“I hope it doesn’t all turn out to be an act”, said Kieran, as he and Hillyard explored the bank of the stream late one morning.
“You’re only saying that ’cos you’re losing the bet”, Hillyard laughed.
“If it’s all genuine I’d be delighted to lose the bet!” said Kieran.
“It seems to be genuine to me”, said Hillyard “Mind you, I guess we’ve got used to not trusting how he behaves”.
“I think he’s just got bored with being depressed”, said Kieran “It can happen you know, and God knows it IS boring! Coming to this new area, perhaps it’s finally got it through to him that he’s safe from the people of Nuit here, and besides he can’t live buried up to his ears in guilt forever. I know, that’s rich coming from me! When are you going to claim your prize?”
“You don’t have to”, he said “Not if you don’t want to”.
“Hillyard”, said Kieran “I do have just straightforward sex now and again you know, in fact quite often, I don’t insist on being beaten up every time!”
“The old dears didn’t have half a go at it yesterday afternoon”, said Hillyard “Christening the new bedroom I think. I’m surprised they don’t injure ’emselves!”
“They’re the only ones that really can keep up with each other”, said Kieran.
“I have to go in and tidy up when they’ve finished”, said Hillyard “It looks like a scene of crime job!”
At this moment Adam and Julian had gone up the narrow wooden stairs to look at the watch-tower.
“This place must have been built for a bloody midget!” said Julian, who had to keep his head ducked all the way up.
He pushed open the trapdoor at the top, and climbed out into the tower. Adam paused at the trapdoor, sitting down on the edge of it.
“Hah, you’re out of condition!” said Julian, triumphantly.
“Nonsense”, said Adam “I just don’t feel to prove myself in some big macho way. Hadn’t you better get your little telescope out? That is why we came up here after all”.
“I must have worn you out yesterday afternoon”, said Julian.
Adam went into a little reverie thinking about Yesterday Afternoon. He was brought back down to earth by Julian giving a small cry of annoyance.
“We’ve got neighbours”, he said.
“Are they close?” said Adam.
“No, quite some way off”, said Julian “Look”.
Adam struggled to his feet, and took the telescope off Julian. Standing up where they were they could look out over the treetops. Beyond the forest the trees cleared completely, and the big area around a small mountain was as bald as a monk’s tonsure. Near the summit was a row of buildings snaking up to the top. From this distance, and through a heat haze, it was impossible to make out any distinguishing features, let alone if they were inhabited or not.
“I wonder if they’re watching us like we’re watching them”, said Adam.
“Let’s hope they don’t decide to drop in for a cup of sugar!” said Julian.
They christened the place Watchfield, a combination of the watch-tower and the field of overgrown grass in which it all stood in. Joby was aggrieved about the kitchen, which was decidedly poky, and situated at the bottom of a short flight of steps. He said it was wildly out of proportion with the rooms in the rest of the house.
“I guess that was often the way”, said Adam.
“Your lot obviously never grasped that the kitchen is the hub of the house”, said Joby.
“The ‘ub of the ‘ouse?” said Adam “Well if you’re going to poke fun at ‘my lot’, then I’ll poke fun at yours, or is that not the way?!”
“What was that horrible little room used for, Adam?” said Lonts, coming through from a tiny room which led off the kitchen, and which was lit only by a nasty little barred window.
“Oh I expect some poor over-worked wretch had that as his bedroom”, said Adam “The boot-boy for instance”.
“And jolly grateful he’d have been for it as well”, said Joby, putting on an affected, mincing voice.
“Joby, Fabulous seems to have wandered off into the field”, said Adam “Why don’t you go and see if he wants anything”.
For once Joby didn’t argue. He hated the kitchen, and was only too happy for an excuse to get out of it. He swore it would give him claustrophobia if he had to spend too much time in it. Fabulous had been sitting on a stool outside the back door, but he had got up and strolled further into the field.
“I thought I heard something”, said Fabulous, when Joby had caught up with him “A voice”.
“Probably one of our lot”, said Joby.
“No, it sounded too far off”, said Fabulous, and he gave a shrug “Oh well, I guess it could have been anything”.
“You need fattening up a bit”, said Joby, noting how baggy Fabulous’s shirt was on him “Kieran’ll be fatter than you at this rate!”
“I haven’t had much of an appetite lately”, said Fabulous, giving an apologetic smile “I’m sorry”.
“We have been quite worried about you, you know”, said Joby, gently “I know you’ve had to get a lot out of your system …”
“I felt as though it was all going to crush me, Joby”, said Fabulous “I couldn’t see any way to get beyond it, sometimes I still panic and feel like that”.
“You should put all your concentration on one thing at the moment, and one thing only”, said Joby “And that’s getting better. You’ve been very ill, and you’ve gotta get your strength back up. All that other stuff, you can’t do anything about. Belle, the baby, your grandfather’s sins …” “My brother’s sins?” said Fabulous, ruefully “I’m sorry you had to see what was in that room”.
“It was pretty horrible”, said Joby, giving a deep sigh “But we’ve seen horrible things before. That time we went into the City, to oust Father Gabriel. There were bodies everywhere, it was genocide. I’d only seen stuff like that in news broadcasts before, and that was bad enough! To see it for yourself, well it beggars belief really”.
“How can Kieran still believe in goodness triumphing, when he sees stuff like that?” said Fabulous.
“Because it does”, said Joby “It’s just the evil stuff tends to have a more sock-it-to-’em impact I spose!”
“Will the rest of them ever accept me?” said Fabulous.
“They already have”, said Joby “It’s just everybody’s been at a bit of a loss lately to know how to deal with you. C’mon, I’m hungry, let’s go and see if we can get some lunch”.
He and Fabulous joined Hillyard and Kieran at the big table in the hallway, and there partook of bread and cheese, and cider. Hillyard had claimed his reward from Kieran, and they let Joby in on what had been happening.
“You’re a couple of horrible little bitches”, said Joby “And anyway, Julian hasn’t cured Fabulous. What the fuck has Julian done?”
“He doesn’t take any notice of me”, said Fabulous.
“Be grateful for small mercies!” said Joby.
“I don’t care what you say”, said Hillyard, loosening his trouser belt “I think Julian in some subtle, mysterious way we don’t understand, has turned things around”.
“Subtle, mysterious way?!” Joby exclaimed “Julian?!”
“It doesn’t matter anyway”, said Kieran “Hillyard’s had his reward”.
“Yeah I bet he has!” said Joby.
“And Fabs IS getting better”, said Kieran.
“Mind you, he still LOOKS ill to me”, said Hillyard.
“Oh brilliant Hillyard”, said Joby “Knock a bloke down when he needs pulling up!”
“I wasn’t being unkind”, said Hillyard “Far from it. Merely saying that he needs looking after”.
“I feel fine really”, said Fabulous “I just don’t have as much energy as I’d like”.
Hillyard gave a look of triumph at Joby.
“You heard it straight from the horse’s mouth”, said Hillyard.
“Not about Julian I haven’t!” said Joby “Fabulous is getting better, I hope, but I still don’t see how you’ve won your bet”.
“Kieran let me win it”, said Hillyard.
“That doesn’t surprise me!” said Joby, casting a withering look at Kieran.
“Why don’t we go and poke around in the cellars after lunch?” said Kieran, feeling that this would be a good time to change the subject “Bardin and Ransey have been on about it”.
“We’d better take plenty of lamps with us”, said Joby.
They did just that, but the cellar wasn’t anymore appealing than it had been before. Having tied ropes around themselves, mountaineering-style, they set off down the narrow staircase which led into the bowels of the earth. In spite of the lamps though the darkness became even more intense as they went down, and at one point the wall on one side of them dropped away completely, which was rather hair-raising, as a blackness akin to the abyss of doom was all that faced them on that side. Hillyard took a stone out of his pocket, which he had been using to hone tools, and dropped it over the edge of the staircase. Not a sound was heard from it.
“This isn’t safe”, said Hillyard “Get back up again”.
Kieran and Joby went over to the barge and pinched a bottle of whisky from the galley, retiring to their cabin with it.
“Adam’ll have forty fits when you don’t clock in in the kitchen”, said Kieran.
“Not at the moment he won’t”, said Joby “After a heavy session with Julian he’s usually pretty subdued. Blimey, talk about the taming of the shrew!”
“Better be careful”, said Kieran “He doesn’t like us talking about him like this”.
“He can’t hear us”, said Joby.
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that!” said Kieran.
Adam’s voice could be heard outside the door, giving an instruction to Bengo.
“Told you!” Kieran whispered.
“You little bastards!” said Adam, coming into the room “I suppose you think there’s an off-licence sitting conveniently at the bottom of the road, so that you can replace all that whisky you’re guzzling before anybody else notices!”
“This must be the tamed shrew you were talking about!” said Kieran.
“Get up, both of you”, Adam ordered.
Kieran and Joby reluctantly stumbled to their feet.
“I’ve heard some pretty feeble excuses for getting drunk before”, said Adam “But going down into a cellar is an entirely new one!”
“It was pretty rank down there, Ad”, said Joby.
“Well I’ve asked Hillyard to nail some planks across the doorway to it”, said Adam “I don’t see why anybody needs to go down there at all. You lot could have fallen over the edge and been sucked down into some never-ending abyss!”
“Would it really hurt if I pinched your bum?” said Joby.
“Get over to the kitchen”, said Adam “And Julian was shouting for someone to go to him in the hall just now”.
“You needn’t think I’m going!” said Joby.
“Patsy can go”, said Adam.
“Thanks”, said Kieran.
“I want a fire lighting”, said Julian, standing next to the great open fireplace in the hallway.
“A fire?” said Kieran “In this focking heat?”
“There’s a storm coming in”, said Julian “I saw it from the top of the watch-tower”.
“You ever thought of doing it yourself?” said Kieran “Just for a change like?”
“I don’t keep you around here just to get lippy”, said Julian, throwing himself down on one of the high-backed chairs and putting his feet up on the table “There isn’t much you’re good at, but you can light a decent fire”.
“No, I’m only the hayseed just in off the boat”, said Kieran, getting down on his knees and sorting out logs in the big basket “Never seen an indoor lavatory before, and the family pig was kept under the kitchen table!”
“That I can well believe sometimes!” Julian smiled “A supernatural Irish sprite that’s what you are, and you are supernatural aren’t you?”
Kieran gave him an enigmatic smile, and carried on sorting out the fire.
“Do you think I’m a demon, like Angel?” he said.
“No, God forbid, you’re nothing like Angel”, said Julian “But you do have strange powers”.
“Most of which I don’t understand meself half the time!” said Kieran.
“What a delicious fantasy to have had you straight off the boat though”, said Julian “You would have to be completely innocent of course, and I would be there on the docks with a purse full of gold coins to buy you with. Your sole duties would be to be as my whipping-boy”.
“Julian, you’re outrageous!” said Kieran, laughing.
“Just being entirely myself, old fruit”, said Julian.
Bardin decided that it would be an atmospheric night for all of them to spend the entire night in the house, except for Hal, Mutton Broth and Shag that is, who he decreed had to stay over on the barge to keep an eye on the animals. Hal said that this suited him just fine, as nothing on earth would induce him to spend a night in That Place, and that anyone who did so was raving mad. Bardin ignored this direct slur on his sanity, and sent Bengo over with the other clowns to bring bedding over to the house. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Adam and Joby were putting together a picnic-style supper.
“Of course that’s what you get when you go heavy drinking in the afternoons”, said Adam “It makes you terribly grumpy and out of sorts come the evening”.
“You would know of course!” said Joby.
“That was completely uncalled for, when all I’m concerned about is your safety!” said Adam.
“All you’re concerned about is the level in the whisky bottle!” Joby retorted.
“Not so”, said Adam “I was worried about you lot down in that cellar actually. It’s a terrible place”.
“I know”, said Joby “Sorry Ad, it shook us all as well”.
“Julian’s not best pleased I can tell you”, said Adam “He’ll probably send for you all one-by-one at some point”.
“Does that include Ransey as well?” said Joby “He was there and all!”
“I shall give Ransey a good telling-off”, said Adam “And I shall immensely enjoy it, he does tend to swan around as though he’s the only one amongst us who has got a brain!”
“And Julian’ll just enjoy himself anyway”, said Joby “Not half as much as he does with you though, you’re still his favourite whipping-boy by a long way!”
“Nonsense”, said Adam, blushing, as he poured himself and Joby a couple of glasses of cooking brandy “We understand each other that’s all. For far too long I kept him at arms length because I didn’t trust him anymore, and it was stupid. People can change. He’s still a thoroughly unscrupulous old sod when it comes to gratifying his kicks, but he does care about us all immeasurably”.
He went off into a bit of a reverie, remembering earlier when Julian had told him that he would take care of him for the rest of eternity.
“It’s really getting dark out there”, said Joby, who had gravitated over to the open back door “Gonna have some crackles and bangs later I spect”.
They dined at the big table in the hallway, using the chairs already assembled there, plus an assortment of others gleaned in various parts of the house, and some canvas stools. The firelight throwing their shadows large on the walls. Hoowie was annoying Bengo. He had been reading an enjoyable old romantic pot-boiler (the barge’s library consisted of a whole stack of these, picked up cheap in Nuit, Finia’s astrology books, an immense First Aid volume, a book on animal husbandry, Kieran’s Bible, and Julian’s extensive collection of vintage gay pornography). The dependable plot of this particular pot-boiler was that of a woman who finds out that the husband she adores was already married, that he was in fact a serial bigamist.
“Be hilarious if it turned out old Bardin was already married when he married you wouldn’t it!” said Hoowie.
“And when would he have managed it?” said Bengo “I’ve never let him out of my sight long enough!”
“When you dumped him and ran off”, said Hoowie “He had all those chorus-girls on the go in Toondor Lanpin”.
“Put a sock in it, Hoowie!” said Bardin, from across the table.
“What would you have done then eh?” said Hoowie, always relentless, to Bengo.
“Had him put in prison on a charge of bigamy”, said Bengo “Where I could keep an eye on him!”
“If you don’t put a sock in it, Hoowie”, said Bardin “I’ll send you across to the barge for the night”.
“You can’t send me out there in this”, Hoowie protested “I’ll get struck by lightning crossing the field!”
“I can dream can’t I!” said Bardin.
“Oh that’s nice innit!” said Hoowie, giving him the full benefit of his trapped wind look “All I was doing was posing a hypothetical situation for analysis and robust discussion”.
“Good grief!” said Joby.
“Have we got an intellectual in our midst, Hoowie?” said Adam.
“Intellectual my arse!” said Bardin.
“At least I’ve managed to finish a book”, said Hoowie, and he pointed at Bengo “Unlike him!”
Bardin shot to his feet, but Julian bellowed at him to sit down from the other end of the table.
“That’s quite enough”, said Adam “A bit of teasing banter is one thing, but you lot tend to take it too far. Let’s stop the jibes Hairy, I mean, Hoowie”.
Which caused everyone to laugh. Even Mieps, not normally known for bursting into gales of laughter, gave a gruff guffaw. Joby remarked that the wind seemed to be getting stronger than ever, and he hoped they weren’t going to find themselves sitting in the eye of a storm.
“I hope they’ll be alright over on the barge”, said Lonts.
“We’ve got the signal”, said Bardin “If they’re in trouble”.
The Signal was that one of them on the barge would fire a gun into the air a few times if they were in distress.
“That’s if we can hear it above this racket”, said Joby, dourly.
“People always hear gunshots”, said Bardin “That’s why I came up with that one”.
After supper Tamaz did a tap-dance in the middle of the hallway, one that Bardin had taught him whilst they were still living at the old hunting-lodge.
“He’s not a bad little hoofer is he, Bardy?” said Bengo.
“He’s light on his feet that‘s why”, said Bardin, which was about as close to heady praise as one could expect from Bardin.
Fabulous was watching Joby more than Tamaz. He had noticed that Joby often looked at Tamaz with unmitigated pride on his face, he clearly adored this strange creature, and was immensely proud of the progress Tamaz had made over the years. Since the beginning of his long slow recovery, Fabulous had been hoping that Joby would look at him that way, but he was still waiting. Fabulous glanced to his right and saw Bardin looking intently at him with those astute little brown eyes of his. Fabulous had an uncomfortable moment, of somebody looking straight into his soul.
“I think you should help Farnol and Toppy to clear the table”, said Bardin, eventually.
“I’m still not feeling well”, said Fabulous, haughtily, and he went to sit on one of the wooden settles next to the fire, staring intently into the flames.
Bardin and Ransey went up to the first-floor landing to look out of the window, as the watch-tower didn’t feel safe in this wind. The scene that greeted him dismayed him. Trees bent double in the wind, the sea flooding onto the land at the bottom of the field. The wind was screeching round the building, like some terrible demon shrieking to be let in. They returned to the main staircase. Bardin followed Ransey down. About halfway down, as he put his hand on the banisters, he felt it touch something sticky. In the dim light of the lamps and the fire it looked like blood. Bardin gave a startled screech, tripped, and fell down the remaining steps.
At the bottom Ransey picked him up, yelling for Finia as he did so. He carried Bardin into the ground-floor bedroom, at the end of the long corridor which led past the kitchen.
“I feel such a damn fool”, said Bardin, wincing with pain “The amount of times I’ve had to fall down a flight of stairs, I should know how to do it by now!”
“Yes, but this one wasn’t in the script, old love!” said Adam.
“You’ve only sprained it that’s all”, said Finia.
“That’s all?” Bardin squawked.
“Don’t be silly, Bardy”, said Bengo, sternly “Just imagine if you’d broken your neck!”
“Oh thank you very much!” said Bardin.
“I’ll put a bandage round it to support it”, said Finia “But you’ll need to rest it for a few days, there’s quite a swelling there already”.
“For a few days?” said Bardin “And how is anything going to get done whilst I’m laid up like an old man with gout?!”
“I can assure you that we won’t all go to pieces whilst you’re laid up, old love!” said Adam.
“I’ll look after you, Bardy”, said Bengo “Like I did at The Old Mill-House in Marlsblad, when you were took sick after seeing the Buzzy Monster”.
“Look after me?” said Bardin “You practically kept me a prisoner in my own room!”
“That sounds rather delightful”, said Adam “For the rest of us!”
“There’s nothing on the banisters”, said Kieran, coming into the room, followed by Joby “Not that we could see in that light anyway”.
“There isn’t now, no!” said Bardin, indignantly.
“Bardy, don’t talk to Kieran like that”, said Bengo.
“I’m sorry, but don’t you see?” said Bardin “He’s made it disappear again!”
“Who has made what disappear again?” said Adam.
“That lunatic we’ve been carrying with us”, said Bardin “He made that blood appear, to startle me, and now it’s gone again. It’s because I saw that he was jealous of Tamaz”.
“He is jealous of Tamaz”, said Kieran “But I don’t know about being able to make blood appear and disappear at will”.
“He can, I tell you!” said Bardin “Who knows what else he learnt back in that foul town!”
“Stop exciting yourself, Bardin”, said Adam, firmly.
“You don’t seriously think Fabulous is some kind of witch-doctor?” said Joby.
“That’s exactly what I think!” said Bardin “You said yourself, when he used to live at the Governor’s House, that he was always reading up on strange stuff”.
“Yeah, but that was weird stuff about insects and such like”, said Joby “Weird mating rituals, that kind of thing, not hocus-pocus”.
“Bardin, I insist you calm down”, said Adam “You’ve had a nasty shock”.
“I’ll get some brandy”, said Ransey “Pour enough of that down him, it should knock him out for a while”.
“Dr Ransey’s Bedside Manner!” said Adam, sarcastically.
“It’s a better suggestion than the rest of you all standing here trying to appease him for the rest of the night, whilst he just gets more and more hysterical!” said Ransey, and there was really no arguing with that.
When Bardin woke up next he found that the storm had passed, and the ancient dilapidated curtains billowed gently in a brisk after-storm breeze. His twisted foot was propped up on a cushion, and somebody had removed most of his clothing. He could hear no voices nearby, and this was very unusual. It alarmed him. He had a terrifying irrational fear that all the others had gone away and left him behind.
“BENGO!” he yelled, repeatedly.
Bengo eventually appeared, carrying a cup of tea in one hand, and a walking-stick in the other.
“I couldn’t rush, Bardy”, he said “I didn’t want to spill your tea”.
“What’s happening?” said Bardin “I can’t hear anything”.
“We’re all gradually moving our stuff back over to the barge”, said Bengo “It’s not easy, as the field got quite waterlogged last night. We thought you wouldn’t mind, and we didn’t want to wake you up from your peaceful sleep. But we’ve all had enough of this terrible house. We don’t trust it”.
“Neither do I”, said Bardin, taking the cup of tea from Bengo “Not after last night!”
“At least you don’t still think it was Fabulous!” said Bengo.
“I didn’t say that!” said Bardin “I don’t know what to think at the moment, I’m keeping my options open. But you’re right, this is a terrible place”.
“How are you feeling?” said Joby, coming into the room.
“Like a complete twat!” said Bardin.
“Don’t be daft”, said Joby “It could’ve happened to anyone“.
“But it didn’t, it happened to me”, Bardin snapped “Why oh why do I continue to kid myself I’m anything like a proper Captain, when really I’m nothing but a professional buffoon. Julian wouldn’t have done this”.
“Will you stop trying to be like Julian!” said Joby “One of him around is quite enough! You don’t have to strut about and shout all the time to be a credible leader you know! Kieran didn’t shout when he was President, well sometimes he did, but most of the time he sort of glided about and spoke gently”.
“Kieran has a lot of Presence though”, said Bardin.
“So have you, Bardy”, said Bengo, and he picked up Bardin’s clothes from a nearby chair “I’ll help you get dressed now”.
“I can put my own shirt on thank you”, said Bardin “It’s my foot that’s busted, not my arms!”
“I am going to wrap that stick round your bum if you keep this up, Bardy!” said Bengo “Now just shut up and let me help you”.
“And don’t be too long about it”, said Joby “Lonts is waiting to give you a piggy-back over to the barge, he’s been getting excited about it all morning”.
Bardin had a nasty turn as Bengo was helping him into the main hallway of the house. He thought he saw a figure rushing down the staircase towards them in a threatening manner. It took him some while to be calmed down. Eventually they got him over to the barge, and settled into his cabin.
“Kieran would like to come and see you now, Bardy”, said Bengo “I hope you’re not gonna be rude to him, or I’ll be very cross”.
“Oh you’re loving every minute of this aren’t you!” said Bardin, lying propped up on their bunk “Having me at your complete mercy”.
“Funny that”, said Bengo “The others are all feeling sorry for me for having to look after you!”
Bengo left Kieran alone with his old friend. Kieran gently touched Bardin’s bandaged ankle.
“Can you feel anything there?” he asked.
“A sort of warm feeling”, said Bardin “Can you cure my foot, Kieran?”
“Not immediately”, said Kieran “But I might be able to help it along a bit. Have you ever thought you might be a wee bit psychic, Bardin?”
“Not really, no”, said Bardin “Although theatre people often are you know. Our profession is riddled with superstition and ghosts, we tend to believe in all that sort of thing implicitly, goes without saying. I suppose it’s because we tend to see, or get an insight into, all human life during our work. If I am though, why didn’t you also see that strange thing over at the house?”
“I know how to block meself off”, said Kieran “It’s an invaluable trick at times like that. Some things aren’t meant to be seen. I don’t think you should go over there for a while, not until you’ve got over this shock anyway”.
Whilst he was laid up Bardin took to musing about plans to go and visit the houses on the top of the hill. An idea which horrified the other Indigo-ites, who had had quite enough of trudging off to look at settlements only to find yet more abandoned buildings. Bengo was put under pressure to forcibly stop Bardin from having any more ideas about this. Bengo (with some justification) wailed that this was all completely unfair, and locked himself in the heads for 45 minutes.
“Bengo, come out of there”, said Adam, on the other side of the door “We’ve only got one loo between us, and you’re hogging it”.
“Tell them to use a chamber-pot then”, Bengo retorted.
“If you don’t come out of there right now I’ll ask Lo-Lo to bash the door in”, said Adam, sternly “And I can assure you you won’t be able to explain that one to Julian very well, when he comes back aboard”.
Bengo miserably unlocked the door and emerged. Bardin had heard all the row from his cabin, and came hobbling out on his stick.
“He’s always done this”, he said “Right from when he was a kid. He’ll start wailing like a fog-horn next, be the most terrible row!”
“I swear to God you two need a professional dog-handler to manage you!” said Adam “Ully has my undying respect for having had to bring you up!”
“I don’t know why you had to get out of bed, Bardy”, said Bengo.
“My foot needs a little light exercise now and again”, said Bardin.
“Unlike your mouth, which gets heavy exercise all the time!” said Joby.
“I only have this room to walk it around in”, Bardin continued “As nobody’ll help me to get up on deck”.
Bengo dejectedly took the hint and helped his friend up onto the deck, and settled him at the steering end, where Julian joined Bardin a short while later, with two glasses of brandy.
“At least I can keep an eye on things here”, said Bardin “Down there, hidden out of the way, I can’t see anything”.
“What do you think we’re all getting up to, old chap?” said Julian.
“Well I don’t want anyone going back into that vile house for a start!” said Bardin “I’d suggest burning it down, but I’m not sure what we might be release by doing so!”
“At least you’re not still thinking that Flashy had anything to do with what you saw over there”, said Julian.
“Everybody’s jumping to conclusions all the time!” said Bardin “I haven’t made up my mind either way on that one. I’ve noticed he doesn’t like me being up here”.
“You’re getting rather too paranoid about that boy”, said Julian.
“I know”, Bardin sighed “But I keep thinking he’s trying to get me out”.
“As if he’s going to manage it!” Julian snorted.
“Life hangs so much on a thread all the time”, said Bardin “If you hadn’t let me join when I turned up on the old Indigo that time, I don’t know what would have happened to me”.
“There was never any question of not letting you aboard”, said Julian “Bengo had been losing his way before you came. Hillyard is devoted to him, as he is to all of us, but he couldn’t control him so masterly as you do, which is what he needs. I knew, even then, there was only one person for that job”.
“It’s what I’ve always done”, said Bardin “For as long as I can remember. Every morning waking up, thinking, ‘got to get Bengo licked into shape, we’ve got a show to do‘. That’s what my life had been ever since I was seven!”
Bengo trudged cautiously along the gangway at the side of the barge, with a quilt over his arm.
“Don’t want you getting a chill, Bardy”, he said.
“We’re in the middle of the bloody tropics!” said Bardin.
“But it’ll be dark soon”, said Bengo “And then the temperatures will plummet”.
“Not down to fucking zero they won’t!” said Bardin.
“Stop arguing, Bardy”, said Bengo, tucking the quilt around Bardin’s legs.
“That’s enough!” said Bardin “Now go back below, go on!”
Bengo shuffled off, whilst Julian gave an “aagh!” of mock-sympathy.
“Don’t do things like that”, said Bardin “It only encourages him!”
“So, have you actually come to a decision about the settlement on the hill then?” said Julian.
“Not really”, Bardin sighed “Do you think we’re actually in some kind of Demon Dimension? I keep thinking back to that house we saw before we arrived in Nuit, the one with the bloke hanging from the tree. The Demon House. Perhaps we’ve been in some kind of Demon Land ever since we left the forest below Wolf Castle, another dimension perhaps”.
“Then how does that explain the telegraph communication with the outside world that Soft had had at the Governor’s House?” said Julian.
“I don’t know”, said Bardin “But all this makes some kind of weird sense in a way. Are we doomed to sail around this dimension forever?”
“Now you’re getting unbearably poetic!” said Julian “If things got that desperate we would only have to sail back beyond Nuit, bypassing the town if we’ve got any sense, and travel back the way we came. It would take a bloody long time of course, but there is a way back, even if it’s a very tedious one”.
“In the meantime we keep sailing on”, said Bardin “And see what we come to”.
“Except the little side-trip you want to make up to the folks who live on the hill”, said Julian.
“You seem to have made your mind up that I’m going to do it!” said Bardin.
“When I see a man as rapt with curiosity as you are about something”, said Julian “I know he won’t rest until he’s investigated it”.
Bengo immediately began to hope that Bardin’s recovery would be long and slow, as there was no way he could go horseback-riding over that distance with his foot in the state it was. Bengo began trying to think up desperate ways to keep Kieran away from their cabin. In retaliation Bardin made life even more difficult for his devoted carer, such as demanding a poached egg for breakfast, knowing full well that Bengo didn’t know how to poach an egg. Bengo took a crash course in egg-poaching from Toppy, and then spent a whole 15 minutes stood watching the pan as it gently poached, much to Joby’s annoyance, as he saw this as a gross dereliction of all his other duties. For the rest of the day Bardin was kept up on deck, in the hope that all the fresh air would tire him out and make him sleep.
That night though Kieran woke up screaming, waking everybody up. Ransey grumbled to consciousness in the main cabin, demanding to know where his glasses were.
“On the wash-stand”, said Adam “Where they always are”.
“Goddamnit!” said Ransey, as he put his feet on Fabulous as he got out of bed (Fabulous slept on the floor, refusing to sleep in the communal bed. Not that there was room for him in it anyway) “Isn’t there anywhere on this boat where I don’t go tripping over somebody!”
In the next-door cabin Joby was applying a wet flannel to Kieran.
“Don’t all come in here”, said Joby, to Adam and Ransey “There ent room. We’ll have the bleedin’ clowns in here next!”
“What’s happened, Patsy?” asked Adam.
“I had a bad dream”, said Kieran “That’s all”.
“It must have been quite some dream”, Ransey snapped, who didn’t see the point of being woken up for anything only slightly mild.
“I think I saw inside that locked room”, said Kieran “Over at Watchfield. There’s a man lying dead in the middle of the room. He’s died of terror, gnawed through his own hand in terror”.
“Yeah alright, calm down”, said Joby “We’re not going in there. What we saw at the Governor’s House was bad enough, without this as well”.
“Was there anything else in that room?” said Adam.
“Please don’t ask me!” Kieran begged “I can’t stand it, what I saw! Whoever put that man in there … with those things … knew they were going to terrify him to death”.
“I thought you had sealed yourself off from everything over there”, said Ransey.
“I can’t seal meself off in me sleep!” said Kieran.
“Brandy”, said Adam, authoritatively “I’ll fetch it”.
“Where would we be without it!” said Joby.
In the morning a fresh crisis developed. Hillyard discovered that the barge had sprung a leak and was letting in copious amounts of water. It was time to abandon ship. They simply didn’t have the means to repair such a large hole. For a few hours all was chaos as everything that could be removed from the vessel was, and taken over to a clearing in the woods. Nobody wanted to move back into Watchfield.
“You wouldn’t think we had one of the world’s richest men living with us”, said Fabulous, in a sneering way.
“That’s quite enough of that, thank you!” said Joby “I dunno how you think sneering like that’s gonna help anybody!”
“I’m just saying that you could be living in a big house in comfort”, said Fabulous.
“We had a big, comfortable house”, said Joby “Wolf Castle. We left it for some reason, and I can’t remember why now”.
Bardin’s frustration at his injury was reaching boiling point. Kieran had another session with him in the clearing to try and hasten it along a bit.
“We shall definitely have to travel up to the houses on the hill now”, said Bardin “This damp forest isn’t a very healthy place to stay”.
“It is a wee bit murky”, said Kieran “But you’re going to have to stop fighting this injury of yours, it’ll only slow it down even more”.
“That means letting everybody else decide things”, said Bardin.
“Just for the time being”, said Kieran, diplomatically, and he made Bardin a cup of hot tea laced with rum, to help keep Bardin in order.
“I keep thinking of gangrene”, said Joby, as he and Adam prepared a much-belated breakfast.
“What on earth do you want to keep thinking of that for, you strange boy?” said Adam.
“When Kieran had his dream about seeing inside that locked room”, said Joby “I got the impression it wasn’t just something that scared him, but something that made him cringe. I remember seeing a picture of somebody with gangrene once, and that didn’t half make me cringe I can tell you!”
“Yes, but I can’t imagine being locked in with somebody with gangrene would make you bite through your hand in terror”, said Adam “It’s not catching you know! Anyway, it would help if Patsy would tell us what he saw. I hope he doesn’t go into one of his deep broods about it. You know what he can be like sometimes”.
“Don’t worry”, said Joby “If there’s any danger of that I’ll smack his bum so hard he’ll be too sore to think about anything else!”
After a fretful day of salvaging everything from the barge that could be salvaged, some of them slept outside that night, in order to keep the fire burning, just in case anything dangerous got the idea of approaching them. The night passed uneventfully though, and in the morning they packed up, in order to move up the hill and into the clear landscape above.
“Adam’s going to ride with you”, said Hillyard, helping Bardin onto a horse “Aren’t you a lucky boy!”
Bardin gave a muffled noise of quiet dejection, having been already assured that morning by Bengo that he would look after him completely. Kieran meanwhile protested about having to travel in the back of the covered wagon.
“Why can’t I go on one of the horses?” he said “Am I that ugly or something that I’ve got to be hidden out of sight all the time?!”
“Yeah that’s right”, said Joby “Now stop arguing”.
There was a horrid scene when Fabulous told Tamaz that he would be completely powerless if somebody gouged both his eyes out. Tamaz got hysterical at this, and flew at Fabulous, hissing, and with claws extended. Joby managed to wrest them apart, kissed Tamaz’s tearful face, and got him into the back of Kieran’s wagon. Then he flew at Fabulous, and punched him in the mouth, sending him sprawling backwards.
“If I ever hear you say anything like that again”, said Joby “I’ll turn you out, I’ll send you packing, you won’t have any place with us!”
Joby went round the side of one of the horses, so that he could calm down out of view.
“Just as I think he’s improving”, he said to Adam, a few seconds later “He goes and fucks it up again!”
“It’s in his blood I’m afraid”, said Adam “Oh I don’t mean he’s as bad as his grandfather or Soft, but there is a devilment there, a perversity, that we simply have to keep working on”.
“He can’t seem to help himself!” Joby wailed, in despair “What does he think he’s gonna achieve by coming out with things like that?!”
“I don’t believe he thinks that far ahead”, said Adam “He doesn’t know why he’s doing this, other than perhaps it’s a way to get attention. Perhaps that was the only way he knew of doing it when he was a little boy, he knew if he said horrible things to people he’d get a reaction out of them”.
“He ent a little boy anymore!” said Joby.
“Are you two going to stand here gossiping all day?” said Ransey “We’ve got a journey to make. I thought you would understand that time is of the essence, Adam, but you always were too damn louche”.
“Well I’d rather be louche than a gun-toting old redneck!” said Adam, ambling off.
“You’re riding with me”, said Ransey to Joby.
“That’ll be fun”, said Joby, grimly. Excerpts from Bardin’s log-book:
“WELL THIS IS SOMETHING I CAN ACTUALLY DO ANYWAY! NEVER HAVE I FELT SO USELESS, NOT IN A LONG TIME. I STILL CANNOT BELIEVE HOW STUPID I WAS TO DO MY ANKLE IN LIKE THAT. FOR GOD’S SAKE, I ONCE HAD TO DO A STUNT WHICH INVOLVED ME FALLING BACKWARDS DOWN A FLIGHT OF STAIRS AND INTO A TANK OF WATER, AND I MANAGED IT WITHOUT SUSTAINING ANY INJURY OF THE SLIGHTEST KIND! ANYWAY, AT LEAST I CAN DO THIS, AND IT DOESN’T INVOLVE HAVING BENGO FOLLOWING ME AROUND WITH BLANKETS AND CUPS OF TEA. SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE I’M BEING MUMMIFIED THE WAY HE KEEPS WRAPPING ME UP. I CHUCK EVERYTHING OFF THE MOMENT HE MOVES AWAY.
THIS IS A POOR LITTLE PLACE, HERE ON TOP OF THE HILL, A ONE-HORSE VILLAGE, WHERE ALL THE ANIMALS LOOK HALF-STARVED, AND THE HUMANS NOT MUCH BETTER. BUT IT HAS ONE BIG SAVING GRACE, IT’S NOT CUT OFF FROM THE OUTSIDE WORLD LIKE NUIT WAS, OR LIKE WE THOUGHT IT WAS. EVERYTHING CENTRES AROUND THE LOCAL BIG HOUSE, WHICH IS A MONSTROUSLY HUGE TURRETED AFFAIR BUILT INTO THE SIDE OF THE CLIFF, AND YOU CAN ONLY ACCESS THE HARBOUR FROM THIS END BY ACTUALLY GOING INTO THE HOUSE, AND YOU CAN ONLY GET INTO THE HOUSE IF YOU GET AN INVITE. WE KEEP BEING REASSURED THAT WE WILL GET A SUMMONS VERY SOON, BUT NOTHING HAS HAPPENED AS YET, AND WE’VE BEEN HERE THREE DAYS. I’M OPTIMISTIC SOMETHING WILL HAPPEN THOUGH, AS HILLYARD’S MONEY IS CERTAINLY TALKING. THEY CAN’T MAKE ENOUGH FUSS OF HIM, HAVING ONE OF THE WORLD’S RICHEST MEN SUDDENLY LANDING ON THEM IS LITTLE SHORT OF MIRACULOUS. THEY’RE NOT INTERESTED IN POOR OLD KIERAN AT ALL (NOT THAT HE CARES), AS I EXPECT THEY FEEL MESSIANIC EX-PRESIDENTS CAN’T DO MUCH FOR THEM, BUT OLD MONEY-BAGS CAN.
WE ARE CAMPING IN THE BACK YARD OF THE VILLAGE PUB. THEY’RE A FRIENDLY LOT, BUT IT’S OBVIOUS THEY HAVEN’T GOT MUCH. THEY APOLOGISE BECAUSE WE HAVE TO WASH FROM A STAND-PIPE OUTSIDE, AND LIVE OFF BEER AND COLD-CUTS, BUT WE DON’T MIND AT ALL. THE WEATHER IS MILD, AND WE’RE QUITE HAPPY TO LIVE HERE FOR AS LONG AS IT TAKES. OUR ANIMALS ARE PROVIDING US WITH PLENTY, AND WE OFTEN HAVE ENOUGH LEFT OVER TO GIVE THEM SOME OF THE MILK AND EGGS. IN THE MEANTIME WE CONSTANTLY DRAW UP PLANS FOR OUR NEW BOAT, WHICH WE’RE HOPING THE NOBS UP AT THE BIG HOUSE WILL LET US HAVE BUILT, FOR THE APPROPRIATE GENEROUS FEE OF COURSE. AND SO WE WATCH THE BIG DOUBLE DOORS THAT LEAD FROM THE VILLAGE STREET INTO THE CASTLE, WAITING FOR THEM TO OPEN AND GRANT US AN AUDIENCE WITHIN”.
Several days went past, and the villagers began to view the ongoing silence from the Castle as an embarrassment. They were only too aware how poor the area was, and to have one of the world’s richest men being treated with such a total lack of courtesy was baffling to them. The Indigo-ites weren’t fazed by it. They had come up against rudeness from authority before. They enjoyed living the gypsy lifestyle, whilst there was an amenable pub nearby anyway. Their only frustration was that they were getting increasingly excited by the thought of a new boat, and they needed to get into the Castle to start putting all their plans into fruition.
“Perhaps if I offered to turn up and dance for them”, said Kieran, doing a little jig in the back room of the pub, where he, Joby, Hillyard and Ransey had taken root for the evening.
“I thought we wanted to get them on side!” said Joby, pulling Kieran over his knee and gently paddling his behind with a wooden spoon from amongst the wreckage of supper on the table.
“You’ll embarrass Ransey if you keep that up”, said Hillyard “Or get him excited, one or the other”.
“It’s very fortunate for Kieran that I don’t have those inclinations”, said Ransey.
“Jayz, it’d be fantastic if you did!” said Kieran, now upright again “I bet you’d be a firm spanker!”
“Behave yourself!” Joby laughed.
Bengo appeared in the doorway, looking considerably tipsy, and clutching an empty jug of beer.
“I’ve been sent over to get some more!” he cried, as though this was a source of wonderment to him.
“I think you’ve had quite enough”, said Ransey.
“Will you tell the other clowns that?” said Bengo.
“It would give me the greatest of pleasure!” said Ransey.
Bengo ran over and threw himself on Ransey’s lap, kissing him and nearly knocking his glasses skew-whiff.
“I think it’s time we were all in bed”, said Ransey.
The others cheered.
“You know what I mean!” said Ransey, which only caused them to cheer again.
Suddenly a tall, thin man appeared nervously in the doorway, and with good reason. Dressed as he was in some kind of mock-Medieval garb complete with doublet and hose, and ornate hat. His diffidence, whilst wearing such a flamboyant costume, was rather endearing.
“Is there a party on somewhere?” said Kieran.
“And we haven’t been invited?” said Bengo, in dismay.
“Do you blame ’em!” said Joby.
“I-I’ve been sent down from the Castle”, said the man.
“Why, have you done something wrong?” said Bengo.
“I have a message for you”, said the man.
“Well go on then”, Ransey snapped “We’ve waited long enough for it!”
“You are invited for an audience tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock”, said the man, and then bared in his teeth in what he hoped was a nice smile.
This news sent the Indigo-ites into a spin of excitement, and they talked into the night about the proposals they would put forward to the powers-that-be, all except Fabulous, who went to bed early, and lay in the back of one of the wagons, staring up at the canvas roof. Come the morning Hillyard was designated as head of the delegation, and he chose Ransey, Bardin, Kieran, Adam and Joby to go with him.
They wandered up the dusty village street to the forbidding big double door, and Bardin rapped on them with his walking-stick. After what seemed an interminable wait (“they certainly like to keep you hanging about round here”, Hillyard remarked) a hatch in one of the doors was opened to reveal an iron grille. A sun-burnt little face, which appeared to be full of outsize teeth, greeted them on the other side. Rather unnervingly, he didn’t seem to have the faintest idea who they were, and it was only when Ransey ordered him to go and find somebody who did know what was going on, that he reluctantly let them in. It soon became clear that this reluctance wasn’t out of any sinister reason, but mainly sheer bone idleness. Opening the Castle doors was a strenuous activity, involving the drawing back of huge bolts, and dragging the doors open with an ear-splitting scrape on the concrete floor. The door-keeper obviously only wanted to do this if it was absolutely necessary.
Once inside the Castle they found that everything about it was BIG. Massive stone walls and archways, all of it oppressively gloomy. The entrance corridor they were in wound away into the far distance, disappearing into darkness at the far end. Kieran paused, and strained to see to the further reaches. A portly man seemed to be hot-footing it briskly away from them, casting anxious glances over his shoulder as he did so. Kieran strained to see him better, but he had disappeared into the gloom at the end before he could do so.
The audience chamber, he remarked to the others afterwards, was like the wizard’s room in the Wizard of Oz. Massive and intimidating. A large window, set high up into the wall, let in long shards of dusty light. On a dais facing them, sat three men in ermine robes. From their facial likenesses they were clearly all closely related. Everything was designed to intimidate visitors, and it would have done, if the Indigo-ites hadn’t noticed that for all the bigness of everything, there was a shop-worn feel to the place. Tiles and bricks were chipped or missing, the ornate clothes of the three men looked badly in need of repairing or replacing. A gilt throne-like chair which stood against one of the walls had its crimson satin upholstery torn, looking depressingly decayed.
“Shall we ask them to sit down?” the middle one of the brothers asked the one sat on his left.
Adam found this so rude and arrogant that he was tempted to walk out, if it were not for the fact that he would then have to explain to Julian how he had personally harmed their chances of getting a new boat. Joby looked around them pointedly, as if to inquire exactly where they were supposed to sit, other than on the floor.
A team of flunkeys brought in a row of battered gilt chairs. The Indigo-ites sat down gratefully, as at least this way they would feel less like a police line-up. Conversation seemed to be extremely slow in getting off the ground. It was as if neither side were quite sure who was to start first. In the end Hillyard decided to come straight to the point, and outlined their hopes of commissioning a new boat from them.
Inwardly this news filled the three brothers with untold joy. This was big business, and from a man for whom money was no object. It was not in their breeding though to let any of this show on the outside, so instead the Indigo-ites had to be content with a regal bow of the head, to indicate that the idea was being greeted cordially.
“We will show you the view of our harbour”, said the central one, who seemed to be their spokesman. As he clambered down from the dais, manipulating his sumptuous robes as he did so, Kieran noticed that he had deep dark rings under his eyes, and looked slightly malnourished. Clearly all the prosperity in this place was on the surface only, and a pretty decaying surface at that.
The ermine-clad one led them down the dark corridor, which seemed to go on forever. At the end of it they came out onto a broad stone balcony overlooking a view of the most breathtaking splendour. The Castle was indeed huge, of a fairytale Gothic magnificence, and cut all the way into the side of one cliff. At the very bottom a handful of boats, of varying sizes, were moored in the harbour. To three sides of them were splendid mountains, and on the left-hand side the lagoon swept out onto the ocean.
“If we had been able to keep going with the barge”, said Hillyard “We’d have eventually come round to you here. Gone in the back door as it were”.
Kieran was transfixed on one ship, it wasn’t quite the Spanish galleon of his dreams, but it was the same size, and although, like everything else appeared to be round here, it looked as though it had seen better days, it just needed some work and care to restore it to its former glory. Adam was taking in the whole scene with an artist’s eye. He had an image of coming out here onto the balcony with his sketch-pad, whilst everyone else fussed over the boat.
“You don’t have women with you do you?” the ermine brother whispered to him, somewhat unexpectedly.
“That’s not strictly true”, said Adam “We regard Mieps as a woman these days, and Freaky … I mean Tamaz, well it rather depends what mood he’s in! He can be very womanly when he puts his mind to it”.
Joby was listening to all this with his most suspicious expression on his face. So far he hadn’t seen any women in the Castle itself (although there were some poor half-starved creatures in the village), and it suddenly occurred to him that, yet again, they might be having to protect Mieps and Tamaz from chronically-sexually frustrated males. Sex wasn’t on this guy’s mind though.
“I only ask”, he said, nervously “Because it’s not an easy place for a woman to live, round here”.
“How do you mean?” said Adam.
“They don’t live long”, said the brother, who was clearly finding this conversation extremely difficult.
“What happens to them?” said Adam.
“That I cannot say”, said the brother.
“Well I really think you’re going to have to”, said Adam “If there’s some terrible disease that affects women …”
“It’s not a disease”, said the brother, abruptly “Nothing contagious I can assure you. You’re the arty one aren’t you? I’ve got a picture you might be interested in”.
He took Adam into a nearby room, which was completely empty apart from a large and very memorable painting covering one wall. It was Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”.
“I haven’t seen that for years”, said Adam, breathlessly, wondering if it could possibly be the original.
“So much of the source of our troubles can be found in the Bible”, said the brother “Why women are accursed for example”.
“Some women I’ve met would say that was having to put up with men!” Adam joked.
“The figure to the left of Christ, sitting slightly apart from him, with the smug smile on her face“, said the brother, pointing at the painting “That’s Mary Magdalene”.
“I always thought it was his mother”, said Kieran, coming up behind them.
“I wasn’t aware there were any women in the picture at all”, said Adam “But yes, when you look at the face properly I would say it was a woman”.
“His mother”, said Kieran, insistently “We’ve had all this stuff before. All that Christ was married, and that was his wife, all that sort of thing. Everybody excitedly trying to locate the blood line. It’s the stuff of fable. The figure in the picture is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Queen of Heaven”.
“If you say so, old love”, said Adam, who couldn’t care less who the figure was meant to be, the picture itself was all that mattered to him.
“I really thought things were going to turn nasty for a moment”, said Adam to Julian, back at the camp in the back yard of the pub “Both of them so het up about who it was. As if it matters! It’s a work of art, and should be appreciated as such”.
“If that mad Irish pixy doesn’t learn to keep his trap shut”, said Julian “Our new boat will stay as much in the realms of fantasy as his brain clearly is! Couldn’t you keep him under control?”
“Be fair, Jules”, said Adam “I can’t keep Patsy silent when we’re out”.
“I don’t see why not!” said Julian.
“Well I know that you could order him to belt up in public”, said Adam “But I can’t!”
He stormed over to the entrance to the courtyard, where Rumble was smoking a roll-up, and staring pensively at the Castle. Lights were appearing in various windows, as the twilight rapidly descended.
“Are you o.k?” he asked, having overheard the words between Adam and Julian.
“Of course”, said Adam “I’ve had far worse than that from Julian over the years. He always thinks he knows better than everybody. Of course, Patsy can be absolutely insufferable when it comes to religious arguments, but I’m not going to belittle him in front of strangers, not even if our new boat depends upon it!”
“What do we do with this new boat when we’ve got it?” said Rumble.
“What would you like us to do with it?” said Adam.
“Find an island”, said Rumble “I want to go on retreat for a while, do some meditating. After all, I thought that was one of the reasons we came away in the first place”.
“I know”, said Adam “Things rarely turn out as you plan them, and we’re all still looking for a substitute for the Bay, but as long as we get this boat renovated relatively smoothly there’s no reason why you can’t eventually get your wish”.
“As long as Kieran doesn’t beat them up in the process!” Rumble smiled.
“We’ll keep getting Hillyard to bung money at them to keep them sweet”, said Adam “For all their silks and ermines they’re not exactly rolling in it. You should see the way their eyes light up when ever we discuss terms. All will be well … eventually”.
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